looking back


Six years ago this week Drew and I had one of those awkward conversations that only happens (so it seems) at christian colleges. We’d been ‘hanging out’ for months, staying up late every night in the lobby debating politics and faith and taking breaks to watch 30 rock and eat bowls of cereal. It was painfully awkward: sort of flirty, sort of overly serious. The end of the semester looming large.  That was the semester of the Koinonia experiment and so even on the night we finally confessed our feelings to each other we were pretty much immediately interrupted by a dozen of our favorite people and so there was a long walk in the freezing cold around the streets of quiet palos heights, timidly stumbling through feelings and fears. We talked about all the reasons we shouldn’t pursue anything : I was about to move into the city for an internship, Drew was about to move to Oxford for his semester abroad. Then graduation. Then our gloriously open futures of hope and promise! I was certainly not going to build that bright and shiny future around some guy who I’d only just admitted to being interested in. We muddled through the stories of our last relationships and talked about our fears and our hopes for the future. When we finally turned back towards campus I was firm with resolve that while this was all very flattering and exciting, it was certainly not the right time. As we rounded the last corner I asked Drew “So now what?”, wondering how we should navigate the final weeks together on campus without making it more awkward than it already was. And he looked up at me with those beautiful blue eyes and said “Well. I guess I’m wondering if you’ll be my girlfriend.”


Isn’t that adorable? He was just so earnest and genuine that every bit of my resolve melted away. I had no idea what that would mean for two people living 6 time zones apart. I had no idea if it would work or if we would last through finals week, but he took my hand and we hurried back to the warmth of campus and all the waiting friends for that walk of DTR shame through the dorm lobby. I was so so happy and scared and totally out of my element.



Fast forward one year and that wonderfully earnest man was proposing on the beach (in november. after dark. in chicago. a tale for another time!), formally ushering in the new season of life in which we would try to make those bright and shiny life plans together, somehow. We were dreaming of grad school for him in Chicago and of a new job for me, I was applying for americorps terms and falling in love with my neighborhood. Young love in the city of my dreams. It was a beautiful year!



Toronto! First there was the whirlwind summer of home depot cart-pushing, an americorp term and living with amazing friends who hosted us so beautifully: giving us the space to work out those early growing pains and the camaraderie to help us laugh at ourselves when we took it too seriously. But then September came and we packed ourselves up and headed north, optimistic and somewhat incredulous, feeling very grown up and very lost and hoping nobody would notice. By November I was in a horrible job situation with a family that withheld wages, trashed their house (where I nannied their four children) and would then “let me go” two days before christmas. We were so homesick and so incredibly poor. Drew was finding a wonderful community at ICS and loving his classes but I was perpetually sick and exhausted and feeling totally lost. Not the future of promise and opportunity that I’d imagined for myself, the fledging community developer. But, we soldiered on. My best girlfriends came to celebrate thanksgiving and lifted our spirits, reminding us of who we used to be and of the grandness of this unexpected adventure. I got a better job early in the new year and fell in love with the family and three little girls. I wish I could have told my November 2011 self to just hold on a little longer!



This year was so wonderful. There was a long rejuvenating summer back in the states where we got to visit everyone we loved and missed. When we returned I continued nannying for my favorite girlies, spending our days exploring the east end of the city, playing dress up and baking treats for tea parties. It was a bit like playing dress up at parenting for me and I am so grateful for all that I got to learn while loving on those sweethearts! This was also the year of wonderful friendships through ICS and our church and the year we found our favorite local haunts – places that made the great lonely city feel small.



This was the year we lost Selah. She swept in and out of our lives so fast and the gray end-of-winter days continued on. Her death definitely changed things for me. Life was no longer just hard, the dreams were not just losing their shine – all seemed lost and I just wanted to give up. There were many long months of recovery and soul searching and we were carried by so many good friends. When we headed back ‘home’ to the states in August and sort of accidentally on purpose (“It wouldn’t be the worst timing ever” -famous last words) got pregnant, I was surprised by how hopeful I felt.  We spent the fall in new jobs with reasonable hours and enough income to pay our bills. We tried to make a home in the suburbs. We tried to wrap our head around TWINS. It was two years ago this week that we found out our two would be a boy and a girl and I will always remember that moment as the one where it really got real.

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This was the year of the twins. They arrived on the scene and demanded every last bit of everything we had. All energy, thoughtfulness, planning, ambition, desires, all of it was given over to the adorable little tyrants, a desperate offering to calm the screaming and plead for sleep. By november last year we were a shell of our former selves, but the light at the end of the tunnel was visible at last! The kids were starting to stand up and move around a bit more, bringing at least equal measures of delight and chaos into our home, and new rhythms were on their way. I remember so many beautiful walks on crisp days. It would take two or three rounds of naps/change/nurse/change to get us all out the door, but once we made it I would soak up the fresh beauty and marvel at how I spent three years just a few miles away, dreaming about a future I did not know. How I ran and biked in the forest preserves just behind our apartment, never imagining that I would one day be that path-hogging mom pushing the enormous stroller full of adorable roly poly children.
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And here we are. November 2015. When I look back on it all it seems just impossible that in such a short span we could have lived so many places, befriended so many wonderful people, and experienced so much love and so much heartache and so much joy. Life in Lexington seems to have a smidge more stability and we are spending our Saturdays doing perfectly ordinary things like raking leaves and folding clothes and sitting at the doctor’s office with sick kids. Life is so intensely day-to-day, an improvement on the hour-by-hour chaos of last year but still exhausting. I so look forward to the days where our routines will become boring and we’ll want for adventure again. Then we can finally go camping!


November finds Drew putting together a new tutoring business. I’m looking forward to finding more ways to join in the amazing work our church is doing to serve the needs of our neighborhoods and to building better friendships with the wonderful, thoughtful, fascinating women I’ve met there. Evelyn continues to be a force to be reckoned with, picking up on new words and responding to our facial cues and our emotions like an old soul, then surprising us with the intensity of her tantrums when she can’t communicate what she’s feeling. Her laughs bubble up from somewhere beautiful and pure, I can’t help but be carried along into whatever silliness she dreams up. Rowan delights us with his little toddler work ethic, always busy cleaning or reorganizing or sorting toys. He too loves to laugh and will grab our hands and jam them into his ribs or neck, begging for a tickle. I love the juxtaposition of his big cackling laughter and wild personality with his soft, high pitched voice. Every day on our way out the door at daycare he stops at every person we meet to say “bye bye” in the most angelic, near-inaudible tone. My precious loves.


If all goes according to plan (ha.), 5 years from now Drew will be graduated and searching for or working in a new job. A permanent job. (Can you even imagine! The glory!) R&E will be in 1st grade (!) and I dream of a wonderful little nonprofit where I can spend part of my days learning about and serving some fabulous people, and then head home in time to hear about the adventures of our 6 year olds. Perhaps there will even be another person in the woodlands by then, throwing us back into the frenzy of newborn needs and toddler chaos, reminding me how short this whole season is.

I’ve started reading Wendell Berry’s novel Jayber Crow again and it is as wonderful and slow and thoughtful as ever, with sentences that stick with me for hours and days after I put it down. I’ll end this long remembering with one of my favorites:

“The mercy of the world is you don’t know what’s going to happen.”


6 thoughts on “looking back

  1. i loved this! and also thankful that we aren’t warned of our whole life in advance, just that we receive it bit by bit 🙂 so cute!

  2. Julianne you are such an amazing writer! It’s hard to believe all the changes we’ve all been through in the last few years (especially the TWO BABIES). We really treasure that time we were in Toronto with you & drew.

    1. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that it really happened – all those rainy days on the bus or cozied up with you and everyone, brunching away. And now we’re all onto new adventures again! Thanks for reading, Jill!

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