"I'm not gonna state
Obvious observations everybody makes
But baby, be prepared to be surprised.
It's all I know."
"You'd better be prepared to be surprised" is a lyric that has just kind of 'stuck' since I heard it when I was 18. It comes to mind often. And is true.
Not that I feel like I "have" to keep up the details of our lives on the internet, some of the way the world simply works now is to keep in touch with people you care about through social media. And a mass e-mail seemed a little... silly. We have many dear friends (and even family!) and caring folks who have asked recently "So, what are you guys up to now? I saw you were selling your house? What happened? Where do you live?" and other very good questions in the same vein. This probably will be a big-blah post for many, but for those who have been wondering what we're doing and why we're doing it, this is the post for you! It's also a post for us to have as a Remembering Stone in our lives. The end of the year is such a great time to reflect and refocus.
To begin this post I jotted down the Majors of our last almost-four years. Dating was just... bliss. We were fully on the proverbial Cloud Nine and life was easy. There was nothing new/huge/awful happening with either of our families and though a few friends were in some sad seasons, overall "our world" was pleasant! Our families met for the first time in Florida and spent Christmas together at my parent's house. It was at the turn of that year, January 2012, that we say "we got on the hamster wheel" and feel like we've been running ever since.
Caleb and I together have talked back through these years many times, and we notice how the "highlights" don't cover all the nearly-as-big small details like postpartum recovery, relational tensions with other people, deciding to live with my family as newlyweds and not "in our own little place," having a single, widower dad, trying to or trying not to get pregnant, one sibling leaving a family holiday because of a fight with another one, all the time time spent at basketball, one sibling struggling with deep depression, another with anger issues, another with social anxiety, not being able to "make it better" for everyone, the 24-hour each-way drives to and from Oklahoma/Maryland, bleeding and previa scares in pregnancy, shooting, editing and producing for clients (and feeling like a failure of a "business woman." "If you can't do it right or the best, you shouldn't do it at all."), hiring a moving company who came three days late and then tripled the quote, leaving us to pack and drive our own moving truck in 48 hours, the bitter cold and building in a house with no heat, trying to lose and gain weight, wanting to be generous and present and close but feeling like nothing is making a difference, new sadnesses and death and stress in friend's lives, having a "blank-eyed" tired husband, falling asleep with vomit-acid in your nose for the ninth month, having $900 in our joined bank accounts at one point, working 18 hour days, starting a baby clothes shop for a hot second, watching mom suffer, being in the hospital with Roo the week she died, offending people by accident, feeling numb, trying to be more orderly, mastitis.
It doesn't cover all the outstanding things of wonder and goodness we've experienced, either. I read a quote on a plaque outside Barnes&Noble yesterday that said "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." (Soren Kierkegaard) I think it's another line that will stick for me. Because, to be honest, I don't *feel* like the last four years have been *that* hard. I feel like we've been supported, comforted, loved. I feel like these things are just a part of life ("adulting"). I feel like it's not supposed to be easy and I people who I esteem to have "easy lives" seem to get overwhelmed by their "big things," even if those seem awfully simple to me. I figure if that's the case, how many others could look at my life and feel the same? I have a very strong sense that I KNOW my life has been good, and I am doing a disservice to those who have suffered in ways I've never known to act like I've been through hell. I'm kind of picky about words and saying things like "miserable" or "that was so so hard" or "hardest thing I've ever done" or "worst thing ever" or "suffering" or "season of trial" because they matter. I'd say most things in my life aren't SO HARD. They can challenge me, or put me in a bad mood, or be disappointing or tiring or annoying. I certainly battle personal motivation and inner fears. But I think everyone does that. And I think we all know that feeling. However, there are feelings I completely do not know, and there are words that should be reserved for the people who do.
With that said, I feel as if I'm understanding life backwards. And that it's okay to say "Hm. Yeah. This has been a lot. Not the most any person has ever endured, but... it's been a big four years. I'm a bit tattered, yet full of hope. Different, but glad for the change. And, well, a little... in need of a deep breath." Here's the rundown:
Mom was rediagnosed with breast cancer
Caleb and I got engaged
Flew back and forth between Florida and Maryland for mom’s chemo treatments
Planned a wedding
Caleb took biggest renovation project in his business to date, I was shooting weddings
Helped my family move back to Maryland in June
Got married in August
Found out we were pregnant
Mom had lung surgery and tough recovery
October-December I was horribly sick and nauseous
Mom started chemo again
Went on a one-month work trip to Oklahoma to put the roof on our house
Hosted a workshop seven months pregnant
Continued with mom’s chemo
Had our first baby!
Shot three weddings the month he was born, and eight more the rest of the season
Mom had cancer in her brain and radiation to treat it
Her health rapidly declined, chemo continued
A second Oklahoma work trip to install windows and build staircase
Mom was given 6-8 weeks to live
She died on January 22, 2014
Found out I was pregnant on February 28, 2014
Was horribly nauseous and still breastfeeding our eight-month-old
Flew from DC to Vancouver for a friend’s wedding, then went to Santa Barbara for a month
Began to miscarry our last night of the trip
Baby Ryan was “born” a few hours after a flight to Texas in a friend’s bathroom
Our boy turned one!
Took a two-month long work/fun road trip from Maryland to California and back with my little sisters
Decided to start aggressive saving for final push to move into our Oklahoma house
Packed apartment in Maryland
Both of us worked 12-15 hour days to make enough money to finish building
Passed due-date milestone for our second one
Moved all our belongings to an unfinished house in Oklahoma
Spent most of October, November, December, January building in the cold
Moved out of everyone’s houses we stayed in and moved into our own liveable (but very unfinished house)
Homeschooled youngest sister in Oklahoma for second semester
Caleb took the current biggest renovation project of his career (for an amazing client/friend we love!) But life had caught up with him and was quite anxious, lethargic, ‘depressed’ and overworked
Our boy turned two!
Took another two-month work/fun road trip mostly for my weddings all over the country
Found out we were pregnant for the third time
I spent all of July, August and September in bed and throwing up. Finally went to the hospital for fluids and meds.
Put our unfinished house up for sale. Had 12 showings in two weeks and accepted a cash offer before changing our minds and deciding to keep the house (Aren’t we fun?)
Caleb stopped taking construction jobs
Drove from Oklahoma to Maryland for a month of work in October (I had 14 clients between families/weddings that month),
Drove back to Oklahoma in November,
Fourth “work trip” on our Oklahoma house: finished the exterior!
Drove back to Maryland in December
Caleb began trying to make a living doing music in Maryland
Living in a bedroom in my dad’s house in Maryland,
(where we’ll hopefully stay until we have our baby in March)
Record album/s for Caleb
SPRING/SUMMER 2016 PLANS
Produce project I started two years ago
Have a baby!
Shoot a Maryland wedding in April
Drive to Oklahoma for a brother’s wedding
Drive to Minneapolis for a best friend’s wedding
Drive to San Diego for all of May and June for Caleb to play music
July-ish come back to Oklahoma until my next Maryland weddings
FALL 2016 PLANS
Finish the kitchen in Oklahoma house
Finish the flooring
Finish the staircase
*Maybe* finish the inside trim
When Caleb and I were engaged, we invited his twin brother Daniel to come be with us in Maryland. He was coming from a YWAM trip in Australia where he had just been reignited with passion for music. Both Caleb and Daniel spent their childhood and teenage years playing the heck out of the instruments they loved (piano and violin). They wanted to be the next Joshua Bell's and dreamed of doing music as a career. They were offered full-ride four-year music scholarships, but they were at a fork in the road of life, and decided to start a family construction business with their dad and younger brother instead. This was not a bad decision by any means, but looking backwards Caleb, at least, sees a lot of fear in his choice: fear of 'secular' eduction, fear of not being able to provide for a future family, fear of all the people who said "You can't make a living in the arts." Music was still played at home and in church, and they even produced their own hymns album, but their energy turned to buying land, building houses and a construction business.
It was a big deal for Daniel, six or so years later, to be turning back to his first love. As soon as he arrived we began supporting his excitement and trying to figure out ways to make money through music. Through a missed 10K race, a field and a chance meeting, we connected with a favorite wedding venue and created a photography-music package to offer couples. We set up a blog and youtube channel, created business cards, and the boys played on the streets and sidewalks as often as they could (though Daniel did more given he was single and not in the middle of running a construction company and planning a wedding). A year later, and after Dan had worked through a number of his own personal struggles, he was back at it and music was his largest passion in life. (He'd text us pictures of himself eating dinner alone saying "Eating with my girl!" and his viola was sitting on the chair across from him ;) It was funny.) At this point we had a new baby and my mom was in her final months. Caleb's construction was going great! And while Dan was making lots of connections and even a decent living for a single guy, his life was late nights, crazy schedule, spontaneous freedoms, optimistic ideas, driving from city to city, and lots of gusto. At this point he approached Caleb a number of times almost begging him to quit construction and do music with him full-time. They did weddings together, and occasional "gigs" but to take it to the next level, they would both need full-time commitment.
We discussed it so much, but it was just not the right time for Caleb. And it couldn't have been more perfect for Daniel. It wasn't that Caleb didn't want to, or that it didn't sound like an amazing life to live! it was just that his world was very sweetly tied to his wife's -- and her family -- and between adjusting to having a newborn and being there for my family, we didn't have the flexibility we did when we were single. And we didn't want to be anywhere else. Caleb said "No, but you go for it, buddy" with music-sadness in his heart, but knowing it was right. Honestly, he said no for me and for my brothers and sisters. It was one of the most eagerly sacrificial choices he's ever made for me.
Now fast forward two more years, and we're at last summer with a whooooole lot of life lived in those 24 months. Caleb and I did so much soul-searching and question-asking and calculating and imagining and running into conversational brick walls and having break-throughs. We were in Oklahoma, living in our unfinished house, with Caleb teetering on the edge of taking over the family company completely (as his dad was wanting to go different directions in life). He had acquired two incredible clients, with calls coming in daily from their peers. It was the sweet spot of the renovation industry, and exactly where you'd want to be if building was your career. Things were on the move! He was making good money! He was getting a bit of a name as the master craftsman builder he is! And... he was despondent. Emotionally and spiritually he was face-to-face with many "inner demons" since living back in Oklahoma. Physically he was worn to the bone, and mentally he was an anxious mess. I felt so bad for him, and knew he couldn't go on like this. My heart had that "dull ache" for him, and I started to dread seeing those weary eyes come home (not that I didn't want them home! I just didn't want them weary! And it was awful to not be able to cheer him up).
We had a long summer trip planned from Mid-May to Mid-July where I had 10 weddings (literally all over the country: from Boston, Minneapolis, Austin, California, and on). We combined some sight-seeing, some friend visiting, and some family gatherings into our time and we used it to think HARD. We must have talked for 10 hours a day about "What are we doing with our lives?!" and trying to pull from all the wisdom we've heard from other married couples 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years ahead of us, while also thinking about how we could utilize our very new "internet world" that all generations up until this time have never had access to. What do we want together? What is it that we care to build? When it really comes to money and financial security, how much does it matter (because let's be straight: money is so helpful and great)? What risks are we personally okay with, but not okay with as parents? What in our life is restful and what is stressful? Who do we want to become and where do you want to push ourselves? What's worth giving up, and what's never or rarely worth giving up?
In the meantime, we attended Daniel's wedding (yay!) in Southern California, and we got to see and hear about their lives. The years Dan had spent single were pivotal in creating a foundation for him as a musician, and as a newlywed he was absolutely killing it! Working hard, but certainly living a "dreamy" life with great schedule and income and doing what he loves everyday. Caleb kept saying "I wish I was so happy about my work. I just don't know if I can keep doing construction." I, personally, thought taking over the family business would be amazing for our futures and thought he could do it! But I told him I wouldn't even consider it if he felt like this weariness wasn't "just a phase." If he couldn't get excited about building. "I don't know what this is. And I have no idea how long it will last." he'd say.
Though we have always discussed this in our relationship, we walked away from the Big Summer Trip of 2015 with a very, very clear target: Togetherness, Generosity, and Peace. We wanted to make decisions that would allow us the most time as a family to live day-in and day-out together -- me and Caleb, Caleb and Rowdy, Rowdy and me, the three of us, etc. If possible, and as a long-term goal, we are so moved by the thought that "For how you spend your days is, of course, how you spend your life." And if we spend most of our days apart, we'll spend most of our lives apart. Without question there have been and will continue to be seasons where we might be away from each other for 12 out of 16 waking hours (or whatever). We have God-given responsibilities we can't neglect for the sake of (even a meaningful) idea. But, if possible, can we choose paths that sacrifice something else more than our time spent side by side?
This even taps into so much valuable history and the principal of "The Village." Most people have lived in clans, tribes, groups, villages, peoples, dwellings, or whatnot for the whole lives. I've read much about women and mothers, in particular, in those cultures. There wasn't much of that "I'm alone all day with these kids and my husband comes home too tired to help and I'm so overwhelmed and lonely and need an adult conversation" feeling. Women, typically, worked together all day. I'm sure they got tired and were scared and experienced depression. But their kids played with the other village kids, and worked together, and midwives cared for them after births, and there were no cars to drive up and down the highway, and the world was small, and no one was responsible for "everything," but everyone was responsible for something. Not to over-glorify these hundreds and hundreds of years, because there were downfalls. People stuck in a lifestyle they could never escape, personal vision often marginalized and squashed, shame for going out on your own or trying something new, etc. But with the technology, ability and first-world passion for independence, we've done something quite brand new the last 100 or so years (in some parts of the world, but certainly in America). You marry, leave the 'clan,' live alone, work sensible jobs, buy a house and get into a mortgage, have some kids, raise them, retire, and... enjoy the grandbabies and cruises and heritage of old age! (To note: these things are not bad!!) But in the past few generations, you see the effect of sending a man away from his family all day, and a woman being left "alone" with kids all day, or women having to fight to be able to work, or being pressured with financial debts to have both work... And, at least from what I can tell, it's a dangerous cycle. It's not a death sentence or necessarily bad, but it's had effects and we'd be foolish to not note them. Some families have done "this way" so well. With incredible intention, care and relational closeness. My parents, even! They worked so hard to not have dad be MIA in our lives, or to have mom be left to do "the woman's things."
Regardless, we are curious if there is another way? We don't claim to know anything. Or have any of this figured out. We're completely in the middle of it all. But what if I die from breast cancer like my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother did? What if most of my life is behind me? What if we don't get as much time as we would have picked? Do we have to be strung-out, financially stressed, lonely, and "dead inside"? Or what can we do to at least put the odds in our favor? Knowing that life doesn't really ask you what you want, and tragedy strikes far far outside our control?
Well, at least at this point here's what we know: we're happiest together, we're happiest when we're open-palmed and not tight-fisted, and we're happiest when we are, well, peaceful (I know that sounds stupidly obvious, but we've had some of the best moments in our lives during the saddest events because we experienced that special-peace. It was dramatic and wonderful.).
So, with that said, Caleb decided to walk away from construction and the commitment it would require of him to build, and to experiment with playing music first (with a nice-sized list of other income options should music not "work"). We joke that we've been saving all our money in the bank of The House, and since we really weren't sure *what* or *where* we wanted our life to go, Caleb especially loved the idea of selling what we had, putting the cash into a no-touch-savings, and trying to just make our monthly bills/live within our means until we figured it out. (Turns out we both LOVE active, urban places and aren't as much "country people." Another realization of Caleb over the summer. So it didn't seem to make sense to keep putting money, energy and time in a house way out in the country when it just didn't seem like "us." We thought we would far rather have a smaller, simpler house in an area that we could walk/bike to most of our life. We lived like that in Santa Barbara last year for a month, and we both thrived. We LOVED spending so little time in cars, and so much time outdoors.) I told Caleb it was his call -- I could continue the vision of a "home for our great-grandkids to come back to" and make the Oklahoma house be a huge part of our lives, or I could walk away from it. Whatever he thought was best. And he wanted to sell. So there it was: music-trial, very simple living, selling most of our stuff including the house, and focusing on a slower, simpler speed where we could be together.
And then... right as we came to this decision, we found out I was pregnant. Ta-da!
This didn't necessarily change our plans completely at first. An amazing friend came out to Oklahoma and helped us get rid of about 60% of our stuff and clean the blazes out of the house. We took pictures and posted the house on Craigslist. We instantly had enormous response and showed the house 12 times in about 2.5 weeks! It was exciting! We had a few offers and accepted one from a completely wonderful family with adult and teenage children, ready to settle down into their next stage of life. We adored (still do!) them. But that night Caleb couldn't sleep. Something wasn't right. We were both awake at 5:00 am and talked for six or seven hours straight. I said he should go take a walk, think and pray, and really push into what feels most peaceful to him. He returned and said "I just can't sell it. I don't know why. It doesn't feel right and I don't want to make decisions out of obligation or fear. Especially one this big." So he made an awful (but graciously received) phone call, and we decided that morning to keep the Oklahoma house! With the vision being: it'll be our home-base. We don't have debt on it, so if we leave it it doesn't "cost us." Caleb can still go to Southern California and play music, or we can go to Maryland/wherever for my weddings, and it will be there waiting. In the meantime, we have some new ideas about using the house and property, and making it fit us better.
We still don't know what we're doing ;)
But there is something about feeling like if I died tomorrow, I don't have a regret for how I tried to live. We really are trying to take advantage of opportunities as they come, to not live in fear, to be willing to try new things or keep old things if that's better, and to most of all: enjoy. Enjoy each other, enjoy the people we get to know, enjoy the places we get to be. And maybe we'll get burnt out from all the back-and-forth (though right now we do love it. A few months in a place, then off to the next! is so perfect for us. We love change and suitcases and another adventure to look forward to. But we are growing to appreciate enough time to create some sort of routine and rhythm that's not total-chaos.)
So: short answer. Caleb is playing music on the street, and hoping to book weddings/events throughout the year. I'm completely proud of him, and no one loves seeing that shine back in his eyes more than me. So far it's going better than expected and the response from passer-by is exhilarating. He's so happy and it's contagious to our whole family! I'm still doing photography and making plans to finish a project in the works for two years. We are in Maryland right now and will be until April (I wanted to have this first baby without-mom with my sisters/people nearby. It just felt right.) And then we'll be off to San Diego for two months to see what music is like on the west coast vs the east coast. After that we'll reevaluate and see what life looks like, but our hope would be to finish the kitchen, downstairs flooring, and staircase this summer or fall in Oklahoma. If we aren't a case-study in "millennials," I don't know what we are ;) But this little system means we get to see both our families and closest friends a lot, we get to be together, and we get to try our hand at things we love to do. We assume this type of lifestyle won't last forever, but it's very neat to get to try now. And who knows what will happen! #whentwopeoplewhoarenttypeAgettogether
I wanted to end this post with something I mentioned in the middle of it. Togetherness. Generosity. Peace. Mostly: generosity. We need this to be center candle in our life choices, not because we are just so charitable and full-of-character and spiritual, but just the opposite. We have been given to o frequently and so joyfully these last four years. With no exaggeration I can talk in length about every state we've visited, every house we've stayed in (some overnight and some for months or years), every person who has made themselves available to us. Whether it's Caleb's mom inviting us over for soup and hot rolls, or my dad offering to run our business accounting in his "free time," or the extraordinary memories my mom's closest friends made for our family in her final months, or the meals, or the rides, or the families who have had my little sisters sleep over (over and over and over), or the texts (heavens the texts and emails and notes from people who simply care!), or the people who my teenage brothers can just call and ask for some very inconvenient favor from that typically a mom would do, or our Oklahoma neighbor coming over and doing dishes with me because she knows I hate doing dishes, or a basement full of mementos when Ryan miscarried and we arrived home for the first time, or an aunt who worked so hard so quietly and in many ways held us together those years. Do you know how much a tin-foil pan of chicken-and-rice can change your life? Do you know what it means to let me come into your world and take, because you so warmly offered? Do you know what a bed waiting, or a ride from the airpot, or a picture text of pink sky means? It means you are not alone. It means there is hope. It means love lives and has not died.
I literally can't even cook meals without images of the faces who have come to the Snyder Home. How often we returned from Lord-knows-where and the meal was left on the counter with a note? How often we were taken care of when we asked, and before we even asked?
I don't know if there is anything I (or we) could mean more when we say: Thank you for all you've done; you've changed our lives. When I look backwards, my night sky is filled with stars. They seem so small, and "one missing" might not seem like it makes much of a difference... but every single one adds to the outstanding sight. And the more I look, the more I see, and the brighter they shine.
I've been hesitant to post this update because I don't want to sound whiny, or know-it-all-y, or entitled, or like a melodramatic sob-story. I have had a good good life. And I hope the most that gets sensed when reading is that I am so grateful. I love knowing and being married to Caleb. I love being a mom to our kids. I love all of our brothers and sisters, and our remarkable parents. I love getting to travel for work and for the clients who trust me again and again. I love my friends and how I 'need' them. I don't love the struggles, but I do love seeing what they did in me. I love thinking about the relief we'll feel when we're finally done with this Dangerous Place; when we'll finally be able to look backwards and understand the supernatural. And I love getting to participate in the Great Song, one little life in a handful of places in this dizzyingly large universe. I'll sing my note, probably out of tune, and feel the thrill of hearing the voices around me. I love the surprises. And I love that the best IS yet to come!
Well, that's what has been happening in our brains this year. We're crazy. But the perfect fit for each other -- all three of us. It just works. Our little family wishes you and yours a very Merry Christmas!
Caleb, Kristen, Roo, and New Baby <3