So what’s the hold up?

After several months of pondering and pontificating about life’s hard questions, it’s about time that I blogged about something a little more concrete.  Some generous friends made it possible for the hubby and I to get away from our current situation for a night and thanks to that and this glorious and invigorating fall weather, we are heading back to the fray, strengthened and refreshed.

Here’s a quick update on the house.  Work parties have continued to arrive every Saturday and we have succeeded in redoing the electrical and are moving on to the list of small things that need to be done before sheetrock can be installed.

This, as you might imagine, after a summer of getting almost nothing done,  has been incredibly encouraging.

We have people constantly asking for details about the work that is going forward, wanting to know if there is anything they can help with and almost always concluding with some kind of a remark about how exciting it is to be close to doing sheetrock, since then, the end will be in sight.  And to this last  remark I always have to say yes and no.  The sheetrock is a huge step, yes, and will do wonders for boosting morale around here, but there is one other rather large project remaining that seems to be often overlooked in our calculations. And that project is…..

..the windows.

This big old house has a ton of windows, which is exciting as they will add much light and beauty to the finished project, but they are, as of yet, still to be made.

“Made?” you might ask.  “Why don’t you just purchase them like any other red-blooded American?”

“Good question,” I would respond. But there are a variety of reasons why we are making and not buying them. (and by we, I mean Steve, who is not an American) then reasons are these.

Our house was built in two parts- the front part of it is good deal younger but the back part of it was so old and in such terrible shape when we bought it that we pretty much had to start from scratch on it.

This means that we still have most of the original windows from the front part of the house, but most of them are in terrible need of refurbishment.  This I have been trying to do very (very) slowly all summer and the process looks something like this.

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Here’s a window freshly removed from it’s old place.  Looks nice, eh? I’ll be honest with you- there have been many times that I have doubted we could ever make anything remotely nice out of these eyesores.  The first step, obviously, is to remove the old glass and save what remnants that we can.

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As you can see, we’ve salvaged quite a lot.  The next step is the scraping- not a job that I delight much in, I must admit.

 

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Sometimes the windows fall apart when you remove the glass, so we get to scrape each little individual cross piece.  Tons of fun, and makes quite a lovely mess.

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Here’s just a portion of the windows. Some are done being scraped, some haven’t been begun and some have been carted away by kindly friends (ie saints) to their own homes where they work on them through the week.

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Eventually, we get them down to their bare bones and there they wait to be painted, have missing parts restored, get their hardware cleaned up and then, of course, get reglazed and reglassed.  Quite a process.

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I can’t wait until these are put back in their proper places of dormer and wall.  Not only will they be beautiful, but they will help keep out the cold, which is beginning to be a bit of a nuisance.

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So those are the windows in the front.  The windows in the back have no originals to be refurbished and so, in order to comply with the code in our area for maintaining historical accuracy, we either have to pay someone to make them, or make them ourselves

Currently, they are just big holes, boarded up.

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The hubby made a good start on the frames years ago, before everything fell apart, but as you can see, we still have a long way to go.

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So long story short, the windows are what might just be holding us up for a while.  We are trying to get around the problem, but there really isn’t any way except to slog right through it to the other side.  As I said, we have people who are stepping up to help with the scraping and the sanding and even the building and we are so grateful.

But several of you have asked for a more specific thing you can help with and all I can say is, there’s an awful lot of wood and glass still to be purchased to make these windows a reality.  Any little bit would help! Thanks!

 

Hope is a virtue

My dear readers,

I’m taking the time to sit down and write an update, since I know many of you have been praying for us and many of you have even given financially to help us in our hour of need. And yet we have very little to show for all those prayers and dollars given.

This has been the longest summer of my life, and for more reasons than just lack of progress on our house project. A public blog is not the place to go into all of those reasons. Suffice it to say, it has been a summer of testing in nearly all the virtues God calls us to embrace, and I feel as if I have failed every single test.

Turns out, I’m not the patient person I always prided myself on being, nor the kind, joyful person either. I’m neither as gentle nor as self-controlled as I assumed I was and as for faith, hope and love- don’t ask those who have lived with me for the past several months how well I have succeeded in any of those areas.

Of course, I’ve always been taught that God gives us times of testing to teach us to stop relying on ourselves and our own perceived goodness and to lean more and more on him. And after all this testing, that is just where I am left now- exhausted, spent and leaning. But mostly, the leaning feels more like despairing than actual resting in God.
More than anything else I have seen in myself this summer is a tendency to give up- to despair. I never before knew that hope was a virtue that needed to be practiced like patience or love. But it most definitely is. And I most definitely am not good at practicing it.

But now, hope of an earthly sort revives again.

Tomorrow morning, we have the first work crew coming to start on the house. And instead of being excited, I find myself almost dreading it because of that very virtue- hope.
Hope is painful because disappointment is painful. I have spent many long years building up very thick walls against the hope of ever finishing this darn house. And now, if we are going to move forward, I have to start pulling those emotional walls down so we can start putting physical ones up.

I’ve asked God what to do with this hope that I dread to foster. I know that this is just a mere house- that even if we end up failing in the end, God is still God and he will take care of us. I am constantly torn between caring desperately about it and despairing apathy towards it.
But I found an article yesterday that helped put some things in perspective. It read,

“In order to understand hope, we need to understand that Jesus was and is the God-Man, who calls us to be fully human, even as we embrace the divine. Without Christian Hope, we cannot do this, because Hope calls us to care and yet not to care. Hope says,

“This is not the way it is supposed to be and I care very much.”

But at the same time, Hope says,

“This is not how it will always be, so I will not care too much.”

Hope tells us to work, because there is something to work for- something not yet seen. Hope also tells us to play because there is something to celebrate- something not yet fully known.
Therefore, Hope frees us to work when it is time to work and to play when it is time to play and to do both as acts of worship unto God.
When we work, Hope reminds us to work as children, not orphans, who labor alongside their Father, knowing that there comes a time to leave the fields and go home. Home- where supper will be on the table, where wine will be served, jokes be told, songs sung and friends and family celebrating together. And Hope reminds us that the Father who works with us in the field is the very same Father who provides the meal and sits down to celebrate with us.
Hope gives us this pleasure. Hope gives us this rest. And hope gives us the courage to get up in the morning and head out to the fields again tomorrow.”

So if you think about it, you can pray for us- pray that our work and our play will be just that- acts of worship unto God accompanied by that pleasure, that rest and that courage that the Father gives us by hoping, not in an earthly home, but in Him.

Devil’s advocate

 

Sorry for the radio silence, folks. My poor old blog has been suffering for want of subject. I just figured that no one wanted to read two and a half month’s worth of those “Why yes, we are still living in a trailer and waiting for the big push,” kinds of updates.  Because that is what you would have gotten. And alas, that is what you are getting now.

I’m not gonna lie to you- this summer has been rough.  It has been long and slow and hot and sprinkled throughout with a few extra trials that, coming into the season, weren’t even on our radar. Each one has served to push us a little further off schedule and some days I’ve felt a little (or a lot) like a frightened rabbit, chased into a tight corner while the hounds of life (in my own little world and the world at large) snarl and snap their jaws.

This summer has revealed so many chinks in my armor that I begin to doubt that I’ m really the person I always thought I was.  The strong, patient, hopeful woman (I admit) I took pride in being has been replaced by a weak, short tempered, pessimistic creature that I don’t even recognize.

“The trailer demons” (as I have lovingly dubbed them) like to greet me every morning with assurances that we will be stuck here forever, that I will never have the patience to get through the day without losing it with my kids, that we were kidding ourselves to think that this attempt would ever work and that we might as well throw in the towel before we invest any more time or effort or emotion into this house.

In short, I have grown so discouraged by our still uncertain future that I forced myself to take a weekend to avail myself of the means of grace. And after much prayer and reading and a truly glorious time spent in God’s house yesterday, I caught a glimpse of my old self.  But this morning, the demons of discouragement came roaring back. So I turned, once again, to C.S. Lewis and his own work on demons.

We studied the Screwtape Letters quite a bit in high school and in rereading them, I was again reminded just how helpful they can be when dealing with the attacks of the evil one.  So I took the liberty (I hope Lewis will forgive me) of rewriting a few of those letters as a pep talk for myself.
(Just remember that the narrator is a senior demon writing to a demon in training and that The Enemy is God)

My dear Wormwood,

I am delighted to hear that your patient’s circumstances have put her into the uncertain position of living in a trailer with five young children while she waits for her husband to finish a larger house for her.  Remember, we want her to be in the maximum amount of uncertainty, so that her mind will be filled up with contradictory pictures of the future, everyone of which arouses hope or fear. There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy. For he wants them to be concerned about what they do, our business is to keep them thinking about what might happen to them.

Your patient will, of course, have picked up the notion that she must submit with patience to the Enemy’s will. What the Enemy means by this is primarily that she should accept with patience the tribulation which has actually been dealt out to her- the present anxiety and suspense. It is about this that she is to say, “Thy will be done,” and for this that the daily bread will be provided. But it is your business to see that the patient never thinks of the present fear as her appointed cross, but only the potential tribulations.

Let her regard those as her crosses: let her forget that they cannot possibly all happen to her, and let her try to practice fortitude and patience towards them all in advance, for real resignation to a dozen different hypothetical fates is impossible and the Enemy will not greatly assist those who are trying to attain such resignation.  A plea for aid during present and actual suffering, even where that suffering consists of fear, is what the Enemy is looking for.

For what you must understand is that our patient lives in time but the Enemy destines her to eternity.  The past is frozen and the future unknown and so he would have her continually concerned either with eternity (meaning with Him) or with the present – bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace or giving thanks for the present pleasure.

Our business is to get her away from both. It is far better to make her live in the future. Biological necessity makes all her passions point in that direction already so that thoughts about the future inflame either hope or fear. Hence, nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present but fear, discontent, anxiety, etc all look ahead.

Of course, the Enemy wants our patient to look to the future too, but not to place her treasure in it.

We do.

His ideal is a woman who, having worked to the best of her ability for the good of those around her, then commits the issue to heaven and returns to the duty demanded by the present.

But we want a woman made haggard by the future- haunted by visions of a possible heaven or hell upon earth- ready to break the Enemy’s commands in the present if by so doing, we can make her think she can attain one or the other- basing her faith on the success or failure of plans she may not even live to see. We want a perpetual pursuit of the rainbow’s end- never content nor patient nor happy in the now, but burning (as fuel on the altar of the future) every real gift which is given her in the present.

And one of these gifts is actually time itself. Humans are not usually made anxious or discontented by mere misfortune, but by misfortune perceived as injury and you will find that nothing throws her into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which she counted on having at her own disposal unexpectedly taken away from her.  It is the nagging child (when she looked forward to a quiet cup of coffee) or the neighbor needing her husband’s help (when she had counted on that time being spent in helping her) that throw her out of gear.  They anger her because she regards her time as her own and feels that it is being stolen.

Let her believe that she starts her day as the lawful possessor of 24 hours. Let her feel as a grievous tax that portion which she has to give to her husband and neighbor and child.
You have here a delicate task. This assumption that you want her to make is so absurd that once questioned, even we cannot find a shred of evidence in its defense. This woman can neither make nor retain even one moment of time- it all comes to her by pure gift.  She might as well regard the sun and moon as her own property.

She has, in theory however, committed herself to the Enemy and if the Enemy actually appeared to her in bodily form and demanded her total commitment for even one day, she would never refuse. In fact, she would be greatly relieved if that one day involved nothing harder than excercising patience and love towards her family in tight quarters while she waited for a larger home.

We must never let her realize that in reality, she is actually in this position of commitment every day. Don’t let her thoughts come anywhere near it. Wrap in darkness the thought that her future is unknowable and that the present is the only time in which any prayer can be prayed or any grace recieved.

This is the great object.

Your affectionate uncle,

Screwtape

A New Adventure

One of the first things that drew us to the church that we currently attend was its Wednesday night activities. I distinctly remember the first time we entered the building on a Wednesday, four children in tow, shyly uncertain about where we were to go. It wasn’t too difficult to find it out, judging by the sound of noisy chatter, the stream of people coming and going and the smell of food.

My first instinct when we peeked into the fellowship hall was to feel slightly overwhelmed. There were so many people, the room was buzzing like a beehive, and there was just so much activity. Being what you might call an introverted person, making my way into that room and finding a seat at one of the long tables was daunting. But the hubby led the way and we were soon pulled into the hive, welcomed heartily and directed by friendly strangers to the food line.

I soon discovered that this was not just an occasional thing, but that every week, a first rate dinner was provided for all these people before they dispersed to various Bible studies, classes and choirs. I remember wondering to myself who did all of the cooking and how on earth they managed it- I mean, making fettucine alfredo with grilled chicken for 250 people was no small thing, not to mention the full salad bar and homemade desserts that were provided. And surely the cleanup for such a meal must mean a lot of work for someone.

But as I looked around, I noticed various people bustling around with trays for refilling things, keeping drinks replenished, pushing garbage cans around the room to help with cleanup. I remember sitting next to a lady who was trying to get to know us, in between making sure that her many children were eating their dinners. At one point her older son came over and plopped himself down next to her, complaining in a bored voice that there was nothing to do.
Without batting an eyelid she told him that instead of complaining, he should go to the kitchen and offer to help with the dishes. And he did! I was pretty impressed by this and everything else that went on that evening to prove that many hands make light work.

Still, I thought there must be one person who headed up the majority of the cooking, and after a few weeks discovered that there was one woman, hired by the church to make up the menu, do the shopping and then cook all of that food, helped along the way by a dedicated group of volunteers. I was a bit in awe of this woman and all that she did, but have since had the privilege of getting to know her and have found nothing awful about her- just a friendly and cheerful woman, happy to serve and a fellow lover of the joy of cooking.

That was four years ago now, but I have continued to be impressed with the efforts of so many to provide this weekly blessing of a meal for the entire church body. It not only means many busy young moms get a night off from cooking, but also provides a very sweet time of fellowship with other church members that we otherwise wouldn’t have. After all, there’s nothing like a good meal to draw people together, and I have always viewed this meal as a real ministry to us members.

Imagine my surprise then, when about six weeks ago I received a phone call from the church, asking if I might be willing to take over this daunting task, this weekly cooking of a meal for 250 people. The call came in the middle of all of our moving craziness, and what with the prospect of renovations and other demands on my time, my immediate thought was how impossible it would be. However, I didn’t say no right off, but I asked for some time to consider. As a parting shot, he reminded me that it was a paid position.

It only took me a few moments consideration to realize how much I wanted to take the job, and not just for the money, although any increase to our current income would be a blessing. It suddenly came over me how much I missed cooking, how much I needed that stress relief (yes, cooking is a stress relief for me) and how bored I was already growing with the limited menu I was able to cook in our tiny trailer kitchen.
As I lay in bed that night, my mind was going a mile a minute, thinking of all the things I would like to try and how much fun it would be to learn to cook in that industrial sized kitchen.
I talked to the hubby and he said to go for it. I asked my kiddos what they thought, and I’m not sure why, but they were all super excited at the prospect. My oldest boy, sounding somewhat awed himself said,

“Oh wow, mom- seriously!? That means you would be the head chef of the entire church!”

Well, not exactly son.

I went ahead and agreed to take the job, starting at the beginning of the next school year. This gave me, so I thought, plenty of time to start planning and training and picking the former cook’s brain for information and tips on how she managed the task each week.
But before I could do much of that, I got another surprise call from the church, asking if I would be willing to start my job a bit earlier and oversee a last second dinner they were trying to pull together against the arrival of a prospective new pastor- in just three days time. I cautiously agreed, but was relieved when it was suggested that we simply order pizzas and all I would need to do was come up with salad and dessert. That, I was sure I could handle.

And so, a few days later, armed with a shopping list, a blank check from the church and a Sam’s club card, I embarked on my new job. I had never actually been to a Sam’s club, being members of Costco ourselves, so I had to do a bit of exploring to figure out where everything was. I was also a bit at a loss to know how much food to buy. I had decided to make my favorite Caesar salad with the homemade croutons, but the number I had been given was anywhere from 200-300 people.
I decided it was better to be safe than sorry and by the time I checked out, my cart was heaping with romaine hearts and french bread.

When I got to the church, I thought it would be wise to start with dessert. I had decided on something simple for my first attempt- brownies, with a cream cheese swirl just to add a bit of interest. I had even decided (much to the hubby’s horror) to use a boxed mix. I got out the packages- sixteen in all, and stared down the enormous industrial mixer that I had no idea how to use. There was also, thankfully, a normal sized kitchen aid, so I decided to start the cream cheese filling in that while I tried to figure out the big mixer.
Before long, the cream cheese was whipping and soon I had all the brownie ingredients piled into a mixing bowl so large that I could barely wrap my arms around it. As I tried to wrestle it into place, pulling levers here and pushing buttons there, I heard a quiet voice behind me saying,

“Excuse me, but you seem to have some splattering over here.”

I whisked around and briefly registered the man who had entered the kitchen before a blob of cream cheese hit my face. Turns out, cream cheese filling for 300 takes up more room than usual in a kitchen aid. I hurried to turn off the machine, and grabbed up some paper towels, embarrassedly scrubbing the sticky white blobs all around me while the man kindly offered to help.
After splitting the cream cheese batch into two, he helped me get the big mixer bowl into place and I pushed the button, only to be greeted by a cloud of choking sugar and cocoa powder. More embarrassed scrubbing followed, but even with all that, I eventually managed to slide eight enormous pans of brownies into the oven, prettily marbled with cream cheese and sprinkled with fresh raspberries.

There was now nothing to do but make my salad dressing. My original recipe called for 1/2 cup of mayonnaise, amongst other things, but after multiplying it out for 300, I was a little horrified to realize that I would need to use the entire Sam’s club jumbo tub of mayo that I had purchased. As I dumped it into a bowl followed by lemon juice and enough garlic to choke a pig, my greatest difficulty was in believing that we would really need this much food, especially as I filled enormous bowl after enormous bowl with chopped romaine and stored it in the fridge.

Before long, other people began arriving to help, and I soon realized how much more there was to do. There were drinks to be made, tables to be set, all the dessert to be cut up and put on plates. Add to that the fact that I had undercooked most of the brownies and they had to be thrown back in the oven, and time was getting short. A few minutes before it was time to begin, the pizzas arrived- about seventy of them, and I started dressing the salad.

Then the people began to arrive. This being a somewhat different occasion than a normal Wednesday night dinner, we still had no idea how many would show up. But it was soon clear that 300 was an underestimation. I had a moment’s panic, looking at the enormous line of people stretching out the door and realizing that if we ran out of food it would be my fault. I started frantically chopping more lettuce and making more croutons.
Pizza after pizza disappeared, tray after tray of brownies vanished into the crowd that seemed only to grow, and I watched the clock, wondering if the food was going to last until 6:30.

Towards the end, I ran out of my homemade dressing and croutons and hoped the people still in line wouldn’t notice the change as I tossed more lettuce with a bottle of ranch and some boxed croutons I dug out of the back of the pantry.
But as crazy as the night was, I soon felt that I was in my element, running around making sure that we were well supplied with everything and seeing, with pleasure, just how many people had been served and were happily eating and enjoying each other’s company.

It brought back floods of memories of my dad, as I used to watch him making the rounds of the restaurants he managed or even hosting big parties at our house. And it was an unexpected joy for me to feel that that part of my dad was a part of me, and to put to use all that he had taught me over the years when I used to work for him.

At the end of the evening, eyeing the last little piece of pizza, the empty brownie pans and the half a romaine heart that was all that remained of the feast we had prepared, I felt tired, but satisfied. I know now that I have my work cut out for me, but I also now how much I am looking forward to the challenge and how thankful I am for the willing hands that have made these evenings what they are and I’m honored by the prospect of serving the church in this special way.

Cloud of Witnesses

I would consider myself, by nature, a cheerful person. I’ve always thought (somewhat proudly) that I am pretty level-headed and easy going, although in recent years (and after five children) I am starting to second guess that self assessment a bit. But all things considered, I don’t have a desponding personality, nor would I call myself a pessimist.

Nevertheless, if you have been following this blog for any length of time, you may have noticed a shift in the overall tone of my writing. As I myself look back over the last year or so, I can see that I am now more prone to paint in darker shades. Of course, it would have been difficult to wax despondent when blogging about doll-making or cake-baking. But since I have had to put those things aside for the time being, what remains for me to blog about is daily life. And daily life has been knocking us about of late.

It’s also, unfortunately, much easier to write when things aren’t going too well. A tale of woe is much more interesting to put on paper than a story about how everything is awesome. It’s no wonder books often seem to come to an end once things turn ‘happily ever after.’

I’ve thought about quitting the blog until I have something more encouraging to write- I wish perhaps, that I could tell you that we have made a ton of progress on the house or that one of the many difficult paths we have been treading has suddenly been made smooth. But it wouldn’t be true. Also, I can’t seem to give up the writing. So this is what you get.

As we have struggled along during this time, my continual prayer has been, “Lord, what do you want me to learn in all of this? What lessons am I to have engraved on my heart as I emerge (hopefully) from the other side of this rough patch?”
And some days, I feel as if I can glimpse a purpose to all of this craziness- sometimes sense the ways in which he is molding me to be more patient, more trusting, more faithful. And then there are the days when I just don’t make it through without throwing in the proverbial towel and going to bed in tears.

But I am privileged to be part of a wonderful church and in particular a Sunday school class whose teacher is remarkably gifted with words. He has the ability to paint pictures through stories that are at once funny, touching and convicting and he seems able to draw spiritual lessons from the most unlikely sources.
Yesterday, for instance, he was explaining to us how young men in the school where he teaches are trained to lift weights- how with enough practice and the proper technique, they are able to lift amazing amounts.
But with every student, there comes a point where they are maxed out. There is a moment where it becomes evident to those looking on that the limit has been reached, and it shows in subtle ways- turned in elbows- a leaning too far forwards- faults in training that might not show until the new and heavier weight was tried.
The same can be said for the spiritual life- when life becomes too heavy or unexpected burdens are added, we can suddenly see the faults in our training- the chinks in our armor, that we never knew were there.
This picture struck me forcibly, coming as I do from a background where I considered myself well-trained in spiritual matters. I always thought I was strong, but it has only been in the past few years that God has seen fit to start adding more weight- gradually at first, but then in ever increasing increments until my knees begin to shake and I cry out for mercy. I have begun to see how very weak I am. And each new trial seems to show not only myself, but also the devil all of my vulnerabilities and how he might prey on them.
I have listened to the tempter as he has turned my focus inwards, convincing me that I am alone in my struggles, that God has singled me and my family out for special hardships. He has taken the selfishness already present in me and expanded it in different ways. I have lately taken to wandering paths of self-pity before untrodden- my prayers that God would show me what he wanted me to learn barely audible.

As you may have heard, my birthday was last week and the celebration of that day left much to be desired. Thankfully, I managed to get a redo a few days later, inviting a few of my closest friends out to enjoy dinner with me. And as I sat there, drinking in adult conversation that can only truly be appreciated by those who spend long days with children, I was brought up short. For sitting around me were three women who have experienced, in the last several years, a remarkable amount of hardship and suffering- all varieties of trials and seas of sorrow that I haven’t even dipped my toe in. I watched them as they spoke and heard the evidence of the ways they have risen above their circumstances and each in their own way being witness to the mercy and faithfulness of God.

And there, literally staring me in the face, was the answer to my prayer.

“This is what God wants you to learn,” I told myself. “This is what he wants you to see. You have not been singled out for hardship, but instead have been called to join the ranks of those learning that painful but all important lesson that this world is not your home, but the place where you must live- by faith. And with those two words, the training of my youth kicked into gear and brought these others to mind.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Or, as the hymn that I had memorized before I knew what the hymn writer was even talking about-

Art thou weary, art thou languid, art thou sore distressed?
“Come to me,” says One, “and coming- be at rest.”

If I find him, if I follow, what his burden here?
Many a sorrow, many a labor, many a tear.

Finding, following, keeping, struggling, is he sure to bless?
Saints, apostles, prophets, martyrs- answer yes.

Worst. Birthday. Ever. (I hope)

Well, I knew this year’s birthday was bound to be a bit of a let down. Positioned as we are, with finances askew and the hubby literally working until 2 am most nights, I figured he wasn’t gonna have a lot of time or energy to put into, say, a birthday trip to Florida or even a super fancy, five-course meal made by himself, like the last couple of years. He has been so busy that I didn’t even want to mention it was coming up, nor was I sure it was even on his radar.
My dear sister, being aware of his distraction of mind, asked me what I would like to do for my big day, and I told her a nice lunch at her house (my birthday being Sunday) would be nice. Nothing fancy, just something I wouldn’t have to cook myself in the confines of the trailer.
On Saturday night the kids and I went to her house, as is our new custom, to wash away a week’s worth of grit and grime, do laundry and to touch base with the 21st century a bit ie., catching up on email and watching a movie on a big screen tv.
I also take this time to relate the week’s events to my sister and perhaps blow off a bit of steam.
I was telling her about the stomach bug that had swept through our ranks the week before- how I had never before appreciated how truly miserable a stomach bug could be until I had to face it without the modern conveniences of a washer/dryer or even hot running water, not to mention a real bathroom.
But at the end of my grisly tale, I could at least be thankful that the beastly stomach bug (realizing, no doubt, that a mother of five children could not afford to get sick) had decided to be merciful and let me off the hook.

“Well, happy almost birthday,” said my sister as I loaded all my laundry and squeaky clean, technology loaded kids into the car. “We’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yep,” I replied confidently. But as I drove away, a sudden wave of nausea seemed to sweep over me.

“It’s all in your head,” I told myself as we got home and put laundry away in various baskets and drawers.

“It’s all in your head,” I assured myself as I tucked the boys to sleep in the tent where they have been sleeping on all these nice, dry nights.

“It’s all in your head,” I fairly shouted at myself as the hubby walked in the door, asking how my day had been and did I have any idea what I wanted to do for my birthday.

“I know what I don’t want,” I replied. “I don’t want to be sick.”

But before I went to bed, I put a bucket by my bedside.

It wasn’t the throwing up that actually woke me. It was the rain storm. We had been enjoying such a long spell of lovely, dry weather that we had become negligent in checking the weather report. I must admit, my first response to the rain was selfish. My stomach was complaining loudly and all I could think of as I stumbled to the trailer door was that I would have to go through the rain to get to the toilet. But then I saw the tent looking rather swampy and realized that, even with precautionary tarps etc., the poor boys were probably in for a wet night. I thought about going to check on them, but other things soon took precedence. The stomach bug had triumphed.

I don’t need to go into detail about the rest of that night. Suffice it to say, my birthday morning dawned chilly and wet and full of the sounds of bedraggled children making their way back to the trailer, complaining of wet blankets and soggy pillows.
I rolled over in bed where I had spent the last few hours curled up in a fetal position and told the hubby he was going to have to call my sister to cancel birthday plans and take the kids to church by himself. Even as I said it, a small, bright thought popped into my head- the thought that even though I was sick, a day off from the kids might be nice.
His reply extinguished that bright thought immediately.

“I’m sick too,” he groaned.

I’m not sure what happened to the rest of the morning. Sick as he was, the hubby took charge and got a hold of my sister, who earned several more jewels in her crown by coming and taking the boys to church herself and then kept them the entire afternoon.
We kept the baby with us and she had a glorious day toddling around the trailer, being mostly ignored. The hubby and I took turns crawling out of bed to change her diapers and make her bottles and then let her have the run of the place. I watched helplessly on as she tossed baby wipes like confetti, banged pots and pans, dumped a costco-sized pack of q-tips in the bathroom and emptied entire sleeves of crackers onto the floor, singing her little baby songs all the while. But at least she was happy.
All I could do, as the hours dragged on and I slipped in and out of sleep was to pray that this would be one of those twelve hour bugs, but the twelfth hour came and went with no relief in sight. My mother called to wish me a happy birthday, and I managed to have a conversation with her, which was a nice distraction. But throughout the day, every complaint was made worse by the elephantine headache I had, caused by the fact that I hadn’t been able to keep any coffee down that morning. The tylenol wouldn’t stay down either. I cursed my caffeine addiction and made vague and insincere resolutions that I would drink less coffee in future.

At some point in the afternoon, Steve managed to get into his car and run some work errands that absolutely had to be run before Monday. He was kind enough to take godzilla-baby with him. I then realized that in all likelihood, all the boy’s bedding was still soaking wet inside the tent. I dragged myself out there and did my best to drape the dripping blankets and sodden pillows onto a makeshift clothesline so that they might have something to sleep with that night. Then, spent with the brief effort, I went back to bed and slept like the dead.

My sister kept the boys until sundown, and when I heard the car doors slam and their cheerful voices coming up the drive way, I tried to prepare for their exuberant return by sitting up in bed and slapping a smile on my face. But as they drew near, they got very quiet and I could hardly hear their footsteps as they tiptoed into the trailer.
Then in a line, they came towards me, faces as somber as funeral marchers. One by one they each handed me a homemade birthday card, and in voices as quiet as they could make them, wished me a lugubrious “Happy Birthday, Mom”.
Despite my protesting stomach I had to laugh out loud at the pathetic scene before me, imagining how my sister must have drilled them not to disturb me too much with their well- wishing. I gave them each a hug and smiled over the brightly decorated cards, laughing at the childish messages of affection and early attempts at poetry.
My sister and her friend had written too- hilarious messages of condolence and understanding. And there was a card from my mother, who never forgets a birthday, with Target gift cards inside to boot. And thus I thought, looking at the respectable pile of paper before me and the crop of towheaded children surrounding me,

“Well Nicky, things could be worse. And next year is bound to be better……in theory.”

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P.S.
The stomach bug ran it’s course after 24 hours. As you can see, I woke up feeling much better this morning. And the first thing I did was to guzzle a cup of coffee. It stayed down. God is good.

Bricks and stones may break my bones

One of the wonderful things about this big old house of ours is the big old yard that comes with it. As aforementioned, it has already become the frequent scene of frolics and boyish larks- fort building and bike riding, sleeping in tents and eating al fresco meals, and even a few good water fights, early in the season as it is.

But delightful as finally having some property has been, it also has had its challenges. Now you might be thinking,

“Here’s the part where she starts complaining about all the extra mowing and trimming a big yard entails,” and you would be partially correct.
There certainly is a good deal more mowing to be done, and like any good southern yard that has been ignored for many years, it has done its best to return to nature by winding itself up in poison ivy and kudzu and a dozen other nameless and sinister vines and shrubs. But I like to mow, and trimming the hedges is a job I don’t mind too much- at least in the spring.
However, aside from the usual maintenance, I believe our yard is unique- unique in that over the years, it has become a kind of storage unit for the hubby’s many house project leftovers.
I sometimes wonder how so much stuff has ended up heaped in odd and assorted piles all over my yard and a mental image always pops up in my head in response to my wonderings. It’s usually a conversation between two imaginary men who work for my husband and goes something like,

“Hey man, so that job is finished. What do you think we should do with all this extra (fill in- lumber, brick, cinder block, sheetrock, etc.)?”
“Heck, I don’t know,” replies the other.
“I know, let’s stick it in the bosses back yard!” says the first guy.
“Yah, that’s a great idea,” agrees the second. “It’s not like they’re ever actually gonna live there anyway.”
And then they proceed to leave behind whatever was in the truck and drive away, laughing maniacally.

Of course, this scene is purely imaginary since we don’t actually own a truck and my poor van is usually commandeered for the purpose whenever Steve needs to haul something. But I’m pretty sure the van would never have been able to transport the enormous stacks of cinderblock that are sitting in our driveway or the piles on piles of lumber sitting in varying states of decay throughout my lawn. But there they are. Or I should say, there they were. Because a week and a half ago, I decided to tackle the yard.

There’s not a whole lot that can be done to the interior of the house right now since Steve is so insanely busy at work, so I wanted a project to keep my mind off all that wasn’t getting done inside. So I started in on the wood. A few years ago, we cut down several large trees in the yard and cut them into big logs, hoping to be able to use them in our wood stove at some future date. These logs had since become a moldering heap of mostly rotting wood, infested with every kind of creepy crawly creature imaginable.
So, armed with long sleeves and very thick gloves, I began the process of sorting through the remains, fishing out what wood was salvageable, squealing girlishly when a particularly leggy insect scurried into view and then tossing the rest onto a compost heap where they could finish the job of returning to whence they came.
And then it was on to transferring big stacks of two by fours to their new home under the house and the shoveling and removing heaps of sand and then burning old cedar shingles and siding in a rusty burn barrel.
I worked diligently, going to bed each night with aching muscles and a sense of accomplishment, but all the while ignoring the worst pile of all- the mammoth pile of bricks and stones. The bricks were the remains of chimneys from inside our house and several other places, the stones were all the big rocks that had been removed when we had dug out our enormous basement a few years ago. We hope to put them to future use in building walls, columns, etc.
I kept putting it off, hoping that somehow, magically it would disappear, or maybe those imaginary workers would come take it and leave it in someone else’s back yard.
Of course, I didn’t have to move that pile. I could have left it in the middle of my nice big lawn, all overgrown as it was with vines and a miniature forest growing out of the top. I could have waited until the hubby had time, which would probably be in about ten years- or could have called up all my girlfriends and said,

“Hey! Come for a playdate with your kids and we can all move bricks!”

But that brought me to think of my own kids.

“Now hang on,” I told myself. “You had all these kids for a reason, right? You just never knew until today that you brought them into the world so they could help you move the biggest pile of bricks on the planet.”

Inspired by these reflections, I gathered my big boys around me and, being the nice mother I am, offered them a penny for every brick that they moved from the middle of the lawn to the parking area where they would be hidden, neatly stacked and denuded of weeds, behind the cinder blocks.
They were actually thrilled with the idea. I’m not the kind of mom who remembers to give her kids an allowance, so any chance to earn money is usually jumped at. They set to work with a will. I was pretty sure that they were going to give up quickly. I mean, one brick doesn’t weigh much, but the stooping and picking up and trundling wheelbarrow load after wheelbarrow load across the yard gets old fast. But they kept at it.
James had been doing the math in his head, and told me exultantly that if he moved 100 bricks, he’d get a whole dollar. I smiled inwardly, thinking they would never get that far. But they did. And then they reached 200, then 300, then 4. By the time the sun was setting they were stacking their 800th brick and couldn’t wait to start the next day. I was amazed and also slightly alarmed. The brick pile, as I stared at it through the twilight, did not look noticeably diminished. And my wallet held two bucks and one quarter, but I couldn’t part with the quarter as it was sacred to the purpose of my Aldi shopping cart.

By the next afternoon I had four eager hands stretching towards me, demanding no less than fourteen dollars. Still being without cash, I asked them if they would accept a new lego set in exchange. Oh boy, wouldn’t they! But they would like it now please, mom.
I decided to oblige them, since they really had worked incredibly hard, and goodness knows, I hadn’t wanted to move those bricks myself.
So I loaded everyone up and drove the 20 minutes to Target, where we wandered the lego aisle for an unbelievable amount of time, considering how short the aisle was and how few sets they could actually get for fourteen dollars. At last they had whittled it down to two sets, and had reached a stalemate- two boys wanted one, two another. To my untrained eye, one set looked pretty much like the other (who knew there were so many differences to be found in lego helmets!) but the fighting grew so bitter that I was obliged to flip a coin.
We arrived back home, two boys exultant, the other two sniffling a bit in a disappointed way. But off they all went to build the new set. I figured their brick moving fervor was now passed and I sighed as I looked at the remaining pile, figuring we might be half way through. I set to work, thankful that they had at least moved 1,400 of the darn things.
But I must admit, I’m not as young as I once was and I only managed 100 before calling it quits for the night. As I unloaded the wheelbarrow, sorting the bricks into two separate stacks (one for the smooth interior bricks, the other for the rough exterior ones) I found myself chanting to myself ,
“Rough, smooth, rough smooth, take the rough with the smooth, take the rough with the smooth….”
Then I had to stop and laugh, thinking how glad I would be to take the smooth at some point. It’s been rough for a long time now.

The next morning was a Friday, and as I worked with the boys on their lessons, I tried to gear myself (and the boys) up to tackle the pile again. But before we could, a friend called asking if James’ best friend could come and play for the afternoon. I agreed, and resigned myself to the boys disappearing on their bikes for the day.
But as soon as he got here, the boys had him surrounded, making wild promises of ‘free’ legos if he helped move the stack of bricks.
“Boys,” I said uncertainly, “I don’t want to make your friend come over here just to work…”
But he interrupted with, “Are you kidding! Where are the bricks? Let’s go!”

Soon the bricks were flying again. After about the tenth load, I suddenly had the brilliant idea to back the old van up to the pile, open the hatch and fill it up with ten times the bricks that the wheelbarrow could hold. The boys were thrilled with this arrangement, and I soon found their little friend was a born foreman, directing the brick laying, keeping track of the numbers and announcing with authority when they had a big enough load. Then they all joyfully tumbled into the back of the van, perching on the bricks as we bumped down to the stacks, where they formed a line and handed them to me one by one, shouting, “Rough! Smooth! Rough! Smooth!” and laughing all the while.
It’s a true saying that many hands make light work, and by the end of that day, they had earned another lego set. I even took them out to dinner as an extra reward and let them have a big sleepover in a tent in the backyard. The next morning, I finished the negligible amount of bricks that were left (only about 400) while the boys played with their hard earned legos.
But after their friend had gone, I found myself staring disconsolately at the remaining pile of stones, almost as big as the bricks had been.

“Take the rough with the smooth,” I muttered, but as I bent down to pick up the first rock.

“Hey mom,” said my oldest, suddenly appearing at my elbow, “We’ll be glad to help you with the rocks. And don’t worry, we’ll only charge you half price.”

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A Trailer Tale

Well folks, I know I have already started a book this year, and I’m not giving up on it just yet, but I find that there is another story that is being played out right in front of me in my daily life. I was thinking of keeping you all updated on the progress of our house by putting in a story form. If it proves too much to do, I’ll just stick to posting photos, but I think I’m gonna need this outlet, just to help me feel human through the next several months. So humor me, won’t you?

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Introduction

Yesterday my husband and I, along with our five children, moved out of our tiny house in the Projects. When we first moved into that house five years ago, we told ourselves optimistically that it was a temporary situation until such time as we would finally be in a position to finish the enormous fixer-upper (or money pit, whichever you prefer) that we had purchased years before, when the real estate market was booming and Steve had had a job with good prospects. I suppose that in the big scheme of things, five years might be called temporary, but in the daily grind, it had begun to feel like an eternity as our family of five stretched to six and then seven, and we were still in our small house, still in a terrible neighborhood, and still as far from finishing our big house as ever.

And so, one desperate day, we decided it was time to take a risk and make one last ditch attempt to complete the mammoth task that had been haunting us for so long. We packed up our belongings and moved back across town, almost eight years to the day after we had signed the fateful papers that made us the owners of a four-thousand-square-foot retreat for pigeons, rodents and stray cats.

Now you might think that it would be impossible to downsize seven people from a two bedroom, one bath situation. But once we had fit the bare minimum of our possessions into our new ‘temporary home’ (a trailer we had moved onto our property) we knew we had achieved the impossible. And after we had all five children bedded down for the night for the first time, my husband and I were able to agree with our good friend who had lent us the trailer in saying,

“Congratulations. You now live in a clown car.”

But this ‘clown car’ is sitting in the shadow of a house so large that it could hold a clown convention, if there even is such a thing. And that house is what we hope to make a home of. That house is what we hope will make living in a trailer and roughing it, pioneer style, worthwhile.

Chapter 1

It had taken us several weeks to make a slow transition from our small house to the property, sorting through all of our things, throwing away more junk than I thought possible for such a small space. There was even more junk to be tossed sitting in our big house, where we had been leaving most of our excess stuff for the past seven years. Sometimes, when people ask me about the house, I like to tell them that it is nothing more or less than the most expensive storage unit in the history of the world.
But after several trips to the dump and filling a burn barrel several times over with old, moldy, cardboard boxes (and mouse carcasses) and giving the place a thorough sweeping and shop vacuuming, we made the final move. We locked the door on our tiny house and began our new adventure by pulling into the backyard late on a Wednesday night.

The first thing I noticed as we clambered out of the van was just how dark it was. Not only that, but the stars were so bright that I could see Orion and the Big Dipper (the only two constellations I have ever been able to recognize). As I pointed them out to the boys, I wondered when I had last seen anything but the faintest star or two overhead.
The darkness and the clarity of the stars surprised me a bit, since the house is still well within city limits. But then I remembered our old house, how the building across the street had installed flood lights to keep night time loiterers and thieves away, and how each of those astonishingly harsh lights were pointed directly at our house each night, illuminating our rooms, obliterating the night sky and making midnight trips to the bathroom an eye-watering misery. The quiet darkness of our new yard seemed like a welcome silence after much excessive noise. But it also made it kinda difficult to see.
So I gave my oldest son James a key to the trailer and told him to run ahead and turn some lights on, while we unloaded a few more things. But instead of the beacon lights of our new home appearing, I saw a smaller one bobbing down the hill towards us and an excited voice calling through the darkness,

“Hey mom! Look what I found in the trailer! It’s a super cool lantern! Just follow me and I’ll show you the way!”

I laughed as I followed him, pointing out that we were really living like Laura Ingalls now. He replied that he would rather pretend to be Argus Filch, leading us to Hogwarts. But a more unlikely Hogwarts replica you will never find- the trailer consisting, as it does, of a kitchen/living/dining room space, a very small bathroom with no hot water and no functioning toilet and a ‘master’ bedroom, which is separated from the rest of the ‘house’ by a gray curtain and contains a decent sized bed with just enough space on either side to wedge yourself along and climb in. (Before long, we realized that it was far easier just to fling yourself.)

The real challenge of course, lay in getting all the kids down for bed at once. We soon discovered that if we took the removable kitchen table from off the wall to which it was attached, there was just enough room to fit Caroline’s pack ‘n play. Thankfully we had purchased the smallest portable crib on the market when she was born, so that it would fit into our old bedroom closet. I never imagined we would need to make it fit into a space smaller than that.
Next we found that the bench seat in the living room folded down to make an adequate bed for two moderate-sized bodies and we had brought a small mattress along from our old house, which just fit in the living room area, making bed space for two more boys. So there they all were, tucked in amongst all our unpacked bags and boxes, and ready, at least in theory, for bed.

And then a question came from the hubby, half-jokingly, half-serious-

“Sooo, what’s for dinner, babe?”

The poor guy hadn’t had a bite to eat since lunch, and here it was, ten o’clock in the evening. I had managed to stock some food in the tiny fridge the day before, but as for cooking anything, it appeared that one of the boys was using my box of pans for a pillow. And even if I had been able to make anything, the table had been replaced by a crib, and every available seat had been transformed into sleeping quarters of some kind. Also, the lights had to be off if any sleeping was feasibly to be done. So there was nothing for it but a box of wheat thins and a hunk of Cheddar cheese eaten in the cozy confines of our bedroom.

It was kind of romantic, in a way, and we had a nice chat planning out the next days events. But you didn’t really think that all those kids would just fall asleep like that, did you? We were soon joined by our fourth son, a precocious rascal of a child who has his father wrapped around every one of his fingers. He declared that he was owed a share of our humble meal and unabashedly demanded a handful of crackers. After daddy had generously filled both his hands and told him to avoid making crumbs in the bed (Did I roll my eyes then? Yes I did. ) he started in with his predictable stream of questions.

“So dad,” he began. What you must understand is that if dad is in the room, I might as well be invisible. “Are we weally wivving here now?”

“Yep. This is our new house,” daddy replied.

“Hmmmm. It’s a wot smaller den I thought it would be. How wong will we wiv here? Will we still be here for Chwistmas?”

“I don’t know buddy, we hope not, but we might be.”

“Aaaand what about birfdays?”

“Well, we will be here for some birthdays.”

“Whose birfday is next?”

“Mine!” I replied, and he turned to me as if finally finding me an object of interest.

“Oh! It will be yours? Are you gonna get wots of pwesents?”

“I’m not sure. That’s up to you guys you know.” And then, always curious to see what he will say in response to such questions,
“Are you going to get me something?”

“Yeeeess,” he returned, after some hesitation, “But what do you wike for pwesents?
Maybe you would wike…….some fish?”

“Ummm, well, (snorting back laughter at this ridiculous idea) I don’t really like fish very much.”

“Okay,” he continued, thinking hard, and then as if conferring on me the greatest of favors, “Well, I guess I will only get you one fish den.”

After thanking him graciously, I told him it was time to get back in bed, but his face fell so tragically at this proclamation that I had to laugh. He, however, did not think it was funny, and met my laugh with real tears.

“It’s okay C,” daddy consoled. “You don’t need to be afraid. We’ll be right here.”

“It’s not dat,” he wailed. “It’s dat I have to go to the bafroom!”

Now the trailer has a small toilet, as I said before, but seeing as it isn’t hooked up to the sewer, we won’t be using it. Thankfully, the vast majority of our children are boys, so daddy prepared him to use our default option (a nearby tree). But it soon became apparent that a tree would not suffice, and we would need to make the trek to the toilet.
Now using our other toilet is rather a production. It is located at the back of the big house, and the big house was locked up and in the middle of the night, a lightless void inside.
Christian is afraid of using that toilet, even in the daylight, so I encouraged him to be brave as we put our shoes on and picked up the lantern. This toilet is hooked up to the sewer, but it is not hooked up to the main water line, which means every time we use it, we have to refill the tank with a bucket. I told you we were roughing it. So I let Christian carry the lantern light, hoping it would bolster his mood, while with a bucket in hand daddy headed for the garden hose. Thankfully, I remembered to turn off the alarm before we went in, but even unlocking the creaking door made him whimper.

Bu in spite of all the encouragement we parents could lavish on him, the darkness and the spooky ‘bathroom’ proved too much for his four year old nerves, and after several minutes of his weeping and my cajoling, he ‘pwomised’ that he would never need to use the ‘bafroom’ again, and we were forced to give up.

We sighed as we headed back, re-locking the house and leaving the full bucket by the door in case we needed it again. But by the time we had reached the trailer, Christian had broken his recent promise. I sighed once again, and once again, daddy headed for the garden hose.

There next followed a cold midnight shower, during which I was amazed the entire neighborhood wasn’t awakened by the shrieks. But it was enough to wake the baby, who was also poopy. Half an hour later the small ones, thoroughly cleaned and snuffling back tears, were back in bed and finally drifting off to sleep.

I thought about crying myself for a moment, but I couldn’t summon the energy. And despite all the drama and all the adjustments I knew were ahead of us, I went to bed smiling instead. Deep down I was still glad that we were here- still excited that over the next few weeks, we might just start to see some progress, and overall, relieved that the spirit of adventure in me hadn’t died quite yet.

And I reminded myself, as I knew I would need to over and over again in the coming months, that God was big enough to handle the big things in life (overwhelmingly large house projects) and the little things (the emergency midnight bathroom sagas of a four year old child). Somewhere along the way, I fell asleep.

This is our story

Well folks, this might be my last post before I fall off the grid, so to speak, and blogging might start to get spotty. My little house in the projects is echoing bare and empty. I have enough eggs and milk in my fridge here for the morning and have started stocking up my little trailer fridge. (it didn’t take long to fill that thing up, let me tell you) I did a deep cleaning of my big house today in preparation for the fact that my baby will soon be crawling all over the floors. Well, at least as deep as I can clean with windows that are open to the elements and never ending piles of rubble in the corners that seem to produce never ending heaps of dust. And I’ve sorted the last box of stuff for long term storage.

These past few weeks have been exhausting both mentally and physically. There have been a few moments of sheer panic where I have felt like we are making the biggest mistake of our lives. And there have been moments of joy and excitement as we begin to dig in and get our hands dirty, all the while imagining what it might be like to finally be done with this project. But whether we succeed or fail in the attempt, I hope to be able to acknowledge (with a cheerful heart) that this too is part of the story of our lives that God is writing.

This story- this tale that God has made me a part of, is so drastically different from anything I ever could have imagined in those days when I used to plan out my future. My plans were modest, unambitious and mostly centered around my home town, marrying a boy from my home church, having my own children so that I could add to the number of extended family already surrounding me. On days where I was feeling particularly ambitious, I dreamed of doing something as crazy as opening my own bakery. But on most days, even that seemed like reaching too far.

My story has, of course, looked nothing like that. Within five years of high school graduation I had somehow or other spent a year abroad and consequently married a man who was definitely not from my home town. I had ended up in college three thousand miles from my family and earned a degree in vocal performance, which last I checked, had nothing to do with baking cookies. And then down the years- moving and moving and moving again- having babies and losing babies- having jobs and losing jobs- making what we thought were good decisions only to find out later they were the worst decisions we could have made- but also finding amazing grace emerge from the seemingly darkest times.

Throughout these many years, I have often felt as if I had not control whatsoever over our story- like a pawn in the hand of an Almighty (and sometimes careless) God. I remember when we were living in Memphis several years ago- in an apartment complex in a bad part of town- the only white family for miles, or so it seemed. It was a difficult time for me- adjusting, trying to sort out what it felt like to be a minority, trying to be friendly to strangers in a strange world but really wishing I could just hide until this part of my life were past. During that time, we had some friends from our new church over for dinner. I was embarrassed to have them, since our living conditions were less than ideal, and it was clear from the moment they walked in our door that they had never been to this part of town in their lives. After their initial exclamations of surprise were past, they began trying to figure out how we came to be there.

Were we missionaries? Did we have a ministry to these people? Was there an organization we were part of? Surely there was some greater overarching purpose to explain why we lived where we did. But no- the simple answer was tough circumstances- Steve’s job and the fact that we had been apart for six months had finally forced us to be where we were. We hadn’t planned it- it wasn’t in the script. We seemed to have had no other choice.

Now of course that isn’t exactly true. Steve could have quit his job- I could have continued to live with my parents, any number of smaller decisions on our part might have changed the outcome of that time. I know, for better or worse, that we are responsible for our actions and that we are not helpless puppets pulled about on strings whichever way God directs. But I gave up a long time ago trying to sort out where human accountability and God’s sovereignty meet. Even so, I still feel helpless a lot of the time- that no matter how hard I try, the outcome of whatever we are dealing with is probably not going to be what I imagine or plan. It might be worse- it might be a good deal better- but in the end, it will be His plan, not mine.

Keeping all that in mind however- God might the author, but he has given me the role of main character. As such, he has made me capable of responding in a way that pleases or displeases him. He is letting me contribute to the outcome of my own story by how I act as each new circumstance rolls towards us. And as little as I might know about the final ending, I do know what kind of a character I want to be in the current chapter. I don’t want to be the timid and fearful woman that I so often see in myself, wanting to give up even before the next challenge begins. I don’t want to be the woman who lays on her bed and cries in self pity because her life doesn’t look like that of her friends. I don’t want to be the woman who is ashamed of the place that God has placed her, hiding herself from the world and those who might reach out to help.

That is who I don’t want to be. But who do I want to be? I’m not always sure what kind of character I am- my varying traits seem to change from day to day. But it is always safe to look to Jesus. Jesus who was poor and did not have a home to lay his head (we’re in good company!) But even more- Jesus, who lived his life in constant communion with the Father, asking for daily bread and not worrying about tomorrow. Jesus, who gave freely of everything he had, although he had so little. And Jesus, who died for us that we might learn to die to ourselves and live for him, no matter what the next chapter might bring.

Is it better to give?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, in between packing boxes and sweeping Godzilla-sized dust bunnies that have quietly come into existence over four years of behind-the-furniture neglect. This current upheaval in our lives has caused me to look back over the last several years and ask myself how we ever got here.  It has also made me ask myself what I would like to see in our future, if we are ever so blessed as to achieve our goal in finishing the house.

But mostly I have been pondering where we are at in this very moment- this tenuous, day to day, moment to moment craziness that our lives have suddenly become. I have had many people approach me with questions, trying to figure out just why we are doing what we are doing.  I have had people worrying, doubting, unsure of the wisdom of our decision. (which is totally understandable.  I am doing the same thing every day) For the most part, people have been understanding, but I have had the occasional person pitying poor me and my children for having a husband and father who is putting his family in this difficult position, declaring that if it were them, they would not stand for it.  This has been frustrating for me, since I do not like to be pitied, but I understand it is all part of putting our lives on display to some degree, as we have. I know our situation is confusing. And so I would like to try and clarify these things for people, and give some kind of outline to the jumble of emotions and myriad of extenuating circumstances that are defining our lives just now.

First of all, let me just say that this whole scheme is something I have been pushing hard for, not something my husband has been forcing me into.  It has been a decision made after much prayer and consultation with others.  And boy-o-li, as soon as we decided to take this crazy step and the prospect of getting out of our current house became a real one, the over-crowded feeling of seven people in two small bedrooms (and one bath)- the need to leave this less than friendly neighborhood- the urgent desire to finish a long awaited project- all of it intensified dramatically.  I suddenly felt that we had to get out or bust.

Sunday afternoon was particularly trying in this respect- Steve was out of town, we had come home from church slightly exhausted to a rainy, quiet afternoon.  I really wanted a nap, and so despite the rain, I told the boys I would like them to go play outside.

I had just dozed off when I was suddenly awakened by the unmistakable sounds of gunfire.  One, two, three, four, five, six shots in rapid succession, followed by a dramatic squealing of tires and shouts from down the street.  I remained on the couch, frozen for a second, realizing that I had just sent all of my children out into a war zone.  But before I could panic fully, they were all scurrying back inside, eyes wide, gasping about bad guys and guns and ‘what was happening?’  I herded them all to the kitchen, and then, peering cautiously out the curtains, tried to see what was going on.  But after the initial uproar, things quieted down, and it appeared that no one was hurt.  My heart stopped racing and I could breath again.

My sister and brother in law came by to keep me company for the rest of the afternoon.  As we tried to chat, the boys were noisily wrestling all over the living room, and several times I found myself trying to send them back outside.  But then I kept remembering that outside was not safe.  We made it through the evening, but the following morning, I was up with the sun, packing like there was no tomorrow.  This is only one of the compelling reasons for my preferring life in a trailer.

Of course there are days when the uncertain prospect of the future months has caused self-pity to creep into my heart, but it is far from my biggest struggle.  When I think about it, I am no stranger to roughing it.  It comes with the territory, being married to a contractor who is always moving on to the next renovation project.  But even if I had married a man with a normal 9-5 job, a man who followed the expectations of a society that considers having 2-3 children and a nice (finished) 4-bedroom house in the suburbs as ‘normal’, I’m not sure I would be content with such a life.  I love the challenge of a new project just as much as my husband.  I’m not afraid of getting my hands dirty.  In fact, the busyness of renovation and the intense labor it requires satisfies something deep inside me.  I love going to bed at night, exhausted from a day of intense physical labor- feeling like I have accomplished something big.

I went out to coffee with some girlfriends several weeks back, and as we were talking about the house, one of them said-

“Nicky, if we had lived in the pioneer days, you would be the one up in the covered wagon with your bonnet on, heading west and we would be the ones staying put, waving goodbye and saying “Have a nice life.  We’ll miss you.”

I laughed heartily at this depiction of myself, and in a way, felt liberated that someone had recognized this fact about me and was willing to joke about it.  Because there are times when I feel ashamed of the fact that one of my favorite things to wear is a pair of sturdy shoes, a grubby t-shirt and a hankie over my hair.  I feel funny admitting that I like to come alongside my hubby and learn to swing a hammer or tackle an insanely large renovation project like the one before us.

Of course, I don’t want to live perpetually that way.  I am going to want to be settled in a proper home again, and probably sooner than is possible, given the amount of work we have to do.  But I don’t consider those things as the biggest obstacles to overcome.

What has been the hardest thing for me has been to finally get to the point of being forced to ask for help.  With that ‘pioneer spirit’ that I seem to possess comes a stubbornly independent streak- a determination that I will be beholden to no one.  For eight years we have held on, waiting for the time when we would have everything together, assuring everyone who asked that we would ‘figure it out somehow’.

And even now- even when I have put the word out that we are finally willing to accept help, I am humiliated and ashamed over the fact.  I avoid people’s eyes when they ask me about it. I find myself mumbling, making excuses, still trying to get out of further direct offers for help.   Deep down, I know this is all fear- fear of failure, fear of people donating their time and money and effort for a project that might ultimately fail.  It is an intense feeling of vulnerability- being this open.  The more people who are involved, the more responsibility I feel for making sure that we succeed- the more guilt I feel for having failed all these years.

In our struggle to come to this decision I have searched the Scriptures, hoping to learn how to be willing to graciously ask for help.  But when you read about helping in the Bible, it almost exclusively talks about being willing to help others, talks about being a cheerful giver- free with your time and money- not being stingy.  We have longed for years to be the kind of people that could be on the other side of the fence, helping other people out of tight spots, being the cheerful givers that God’s Word describes.

But being commanded to give to those in need presupposes that there will be those that are unable to give, at least of their money.  And I never wanted to be one of those kind of people- I can’t imagine anyone who would.

I was griping about this fact to one of my sisters once, and she gently reminded me that in my refusal to be willing to ask for help, I was denying other people the chance to fulfill that important function of the body of Christ.  I was willing to concede that she had a fair point.  But all that that left for me was an enormous piece of humble pie to swallow.  And humble pie is not tasty.

Since I posted our fundraiser link 5 days ago, we have received an average of 1,000 dollars a day.  How this makes me feel is difficult to describe- it isn’t exactly happiness- more of an uncertain gratitude that makes me second-guess everything about the worthiness of our goal and our right to ask for this generosity.

But slowly, tremulously, there is a new found joy underneath it all.  In our willingness to admit our need for help comes a death to self that is both painful and liberating.  It brings into view a larger picture than our own individual story, and characters are beginning to come into play from all over the world. It is a beautiful and wonderful thing.

So now I am simply praying for the grace required to play the humble role of receiver, trusting that if God allows it in the future, I will some day be able to be the most cheerful giver of all.  And I believe that begins with a simple Thank You.