Progress and patience

There is a scene in one of my favorite Narnia books that goes something like this-

“Quick! Quick!” shouted Aravis. “We might as well not have come at all if we don’t reach the city in time! Gallop, Bree, gallop!”

It was all Shasta could do to prevent himself from shouting out similar instructions, but he thought, “The poor chap’s doing all he can already,” and held his tongue. And certainly both horses were doing, if not all they could, all they thought they could, which is not quite the same thing.

But at that moment everyone’s feelings were completely altered by a sound from behind. Shasta knew it at once. It was the same snarling roar he had heard that night by the river- the roar of a lion. Bree knew it too. And now the horses discovered that they had not really been going as fast- not quite as fast- as they could.
At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, we’ve been feeling a little bit like those horses lately. Of course, we have had nothing so terrible as a lion on our heels, but let’s just say, a few months ago I thought we had a lot on our plates and now I feel like they were only half full. I thought we were stretched to our limit this past winter, but I’m starting to feel like Elastigirl from the Incredibles and hoping I can return to my normal shape some day. Just when I thought we couldn’t go any faster, we needed a fresh burst of speed.

There were many months, you know, where I sat in the trailer and just looked at the house, wishing there were something I could do to forward the work. Now, there is so much work to be done, painting, sanding, slowly and painstakingly making the downstairs habitable, that by the end of the day, I hardly have the energy to fall into bed.  

The hubby’s brother was here for another month long visit, to help push the business along, and let me tell you, starting a business from scratch is not for the faint of heart. It.is.hard.

They were both so busy, I felt almost like a single mom for the time, but I was so busy, I hardly noticed.  

The biggest project we tackled during the last month, on top of all their business craziness, was refinishing our floors downstairs. Having had some success with the sanding and floor painting technique upstairs, we wanted to see what we could do down below. It is the cheapest solution out there, but in order to make a sub floor work as your actual floor, you have a little bit of labor to put into it to make it look half way decent.  

The problem with our floors is that some of them are original hardwood (in very bad condition) and some are just sheets of plywood screwed down. We debated for a while what to do. Carpet was out of the budget and some kind of cheap linoleum went against our inclination, but floor paint would not hold up so well in such a highly trafficked area as we knew the living room and kitchen are going to be.   We tried staining the plywood, but it failed to cover the myriad of old paint splotches and other messes that nine years of construction had left behind, so we sanded off as much of all that as we could (oy, my knees are still sore) and decided to see what a brown floor paint would look like.  


We painted the old hardwood first, after much patching of cracked boards and gaping holes. The first color we chose was a kind of reddish brown, but we thought it had too much of a purple hue to it. 


so we tried a darker one next- it was called ‘black bean’ (which still makes me laugh.We liked it better, but the floors ended up looking kinda plasticky so my brother in law suggested we ‘distress’ them a little bit. (of course, he described his technique in French, so it sounded much more artsy and interesting). 


All he did was take the sander and run it lightly over the top of the ‘black bean’, to make it look a little more authentic, or something of that nature.  Anyways, the result was that the reddish brown of the first coat underneath peaked through a little and we really liked the effect. So we finished up the hardwood and headed to the plywood to do the same thing, hoping the two floorings would sort of look matching by the end.  


But man, there was a lot to do to the plywood first. Wood filler and a putty knife became my best friend as we filled in all the myriad seams and nail holes and cracks and tried to level out discrepancies with a belt sander between the different boards that had shifted over time. Then all that wood filler had to be sanded smooth again before we could finally put a coat of paint on. Then, once the paint had dried, it had to be ‘distressed’ as well. 


We liked the result, but had discovered the great drawback to floor paint. It shows absolutely every footprint and smudge of dirt and scratches ridiculously easily. I was trying not to panic, imagining how much of my future life would be spent scrubbing my floors and hiding scratches when the hubby just suggested we slap a little polyurethane on it.Eureka! It worked! Although the super fast drying poly we bought turned out to take much longer to dry than the can claimed, so we had to construct an interesting network of planks around certain areas for a while, so as to be able to access the toilet and avoid stepping on the floor. 

After the polyurethane had cured for several days, we were finally able to install what I have been longing for for many years- a second toilet and a sink with actual running water! Of course, it’s only the half-bath that is functional, but it’s a lot better than nothing.

As for a bathroom with an actual bath, I’m trying my best to be patient. There was a good weekend that we set aside to start working on it in earnest, but both the hubby’s work cars died on that day and so the days had to be given to fixing those vehicles instead. The old van is still dead. You could pray about that. The hubby really needs a truck. 

And then, as many of you have asked about, there’s my kitchen. We haven’t been able to install a sink there yet, since we have been working towards replacing some expensive plumbing parts that were stolen a while back from under our house. But we were finally able to reorder them today. I have a fridge and a stove, waiting to be delivered, but without a sink, there isn’t much point in cooking up there yet. So the trailer still continues to serve as our life line for food and (tiny) showers.  

We have also been busy collecting furniture from people. Folks told me that when the time came, we would have no problem filling up this giant space with stuff, but I admit, I doubted them. I was a fool. So.much.furniture has been given. I am overwhelmed. Beds, chairs tables, dressers, rugs- all in good condition and some of it absolutely beautiful. Some old friends gave us the most beautiful dining room set- hutch, buffet, all matching and the table that can extend to fit about 20, if we squished (and had enough chairs).  

I finally got it all moved in yesterday, and last night, in spite of plebeian paper plates and grilled burgers for dinner, we ate our first meal in our dining room. I might have cried a little. 

We aren’t quite out of the woods yet. As you can see, we are still without windows. We are going to need some prayer for what to do about those as well as the days get hotter and hotter and we have no HVAC installed. AC is fairly useless without windows anyway.   

And for those who have asked, our options for the windows are either the hubby continues to build them little by little as he has time, or we hire someone else to do it.  And unless things change, the first option is our only feasible one, which means p-a-t-i-e-n-c-e for me.

So all in all, lots to be thankful for but still lots to be done.   

I am torn most days between being gratefully excited at how much has come together and a bit overwhelmed at how much still needs to be done and praying, praying, praying that God will prosper the work of our hands, both with the house and the business. But I am finding that the more exhausted and overwhelmed we feel, we feel God drawing closer still, in new and unexpected ways, to strengthen and encourage. 

My mantra every morning as I face the day has become- “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.” And it’s a good one.

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All things bright and……

   
Sometimes as parents, we say things to our children without thinking them through- sometimes make rash promises to them that they somehow remember with remarkable clarity, considering how everything else you tell them seems to slip in one ear and right out the other. And sometimes these words and promises are spoken by the other parent without you even being aware and then the parental ‘unit’ as a whole is held responsible. For instance-
“Mom! I’m tired of sleeping in Lina’s pink, girly room. When are we gonna get around to painting our room?”
“I’m not sure about that buddy. It’s not exactly on the list of priorities right now. But we’ll do it soon.”

“Well, when we do paint it, I want it bright red.”

“Bright red?” 

“Yes, and maybe dark blue and turquoise.”

“Hmmmm. Well, I’m not sure that will happen.”

“But mom! You said we get to pick out all the colors for our own room.”

“I said what?”

“Yah! Remember? Or maybe it was daddy? Yep, it was daddy. He said red would be fine.”

“Well, I made no promises of that sort.”

“But daddy said…..” etc. 

You get the picture.

Fast forward a few weeks and still, not having forgotten ‘the promise’ and ignoring all mommy’s suggestions of how nice and boyish a tasteful sage green would be in their room, they begged to go to the paint store. I finally yielded, with the proviso that I would have at least some small say in their final color choices.  

“Oh, you poor chump,” you might well be thinking to yourself at this point. “You took all your children to the paint store and let them pick out a color? How long have you been a parent?”
And yes, in hindsight, I now see that I should have gone to the store alone, picked out a dozen colors that I myself liked and then let them pick from my choice, thus fulfilling the terms of the promise and making myself happy into the bargain. But no, naively thinking it would be a fun outing, last week, I and my five children marched into the paint aisle at Lowes and approached ‘the wall.’

You know what wall I mean- the wall covered with little squares of every possible color shade imaginable- ten bajillion little colored squares, all shiny and bright like candy and every one ‘the perfect color’ for their bedroom. 

Thus the battle began. 

“This is the red I want mom! It’s perfect!” says the oldest child, holding up a scarlet card so vividly bright that I can hardly look at it without watering eyes.

“I don’t think I want red at all,” says the second. “How about a nice orange? Look- this one is called psi, psi….ummm.. What kind of pumpkin?”

“Psychadelic pumpkin,” I reply drily.

“Have you ever seen a black bedroom?” the third dreamily asks, thumbing through a rack of ‘midnight dreams’ and ‘matte ebonies.’ “A black room might be cool.” 

“I have to pee, mom,” says the fourth. “and look, Haha! the baby is running down the aisle pushing a paint roller!”

Back and forth we went, I trying to explain to my children about matching tones and how a color on a small card might look pretty, but once painted on four walls would be absolutely overwhelming, they insisting that it would be ‘so fun!’. I finally talked them down from the red, only to have it replaced by an almost equally garish blue. From ‘stormy sea’ to ‘tranquil sky’ we fought it out but in the end, the promise won out. Eight tearful eyes stared up at me and pled- “but daddy said we could choose.” ‘Ballistic blue’ it was.

The only thing I could do now was try to tone down the blue with a milder color- perhaps a gentle yellow? But once yellow was mentioned, out popped the ‘egg yolks’ and the ‘tropical sunshines’.  

I was so exhausted by this point that I said yes to the first one they agreed on but when I got to the counter and saw just how French’s mustardy it was, I quietly whispered to the lady to make it two shades softer. At long last, foot sore and battle weary we took our cans and headed to the car.

But once we were home and I had opened the yellow paint can, I saw my breath had been wasted on trying to tone it down. It looked three times brighter than in the store, and once on the walls, well, you’ll see.

 
It is difficult to describe the bedrooms in the upstairs of our house and even more difficult to get a good picture of them. There are crazy angles and rooflines everywhere and are full of what would generally be called ‘character.’ The boys room is particularly character-ful. It is an enormous space in the shape of an L (“L for Lewin!” the boys like to say) 

There is a small platform running around half of it with two steps leading to the ‘main floor’ if you will. There are sloping ceilings and big skylights and four enormous holes for windows without, of course, any windows in them yet. So deciding where to put our lovely colors was a challenge. But I did my best. 

I hoped the color would grow on me as I progressed but by the time I got it all up, I texted the hubby.   

“What do I do if I really don’t like the color we picked?”

“Do the boys like it?” he texted back.

“Ummm, yes. The boys love it,” I grudgingly admitted.  

“Then keep it.”

“Maybe the blue will make it look better,” was my next hope. But I guess I’m just a boring person. I don’t care for loud colors in a house and by the time I was done, I felt like the room was screaming at me. It didn’t help matters when the little neighbor girl popped her head in the door to see the progress and immediately said, 

“Oh my goodness! It looks just like my school gym! Those are exactly our school’s colors!”

  
 I’m sure some of you locals know exactly what school she was referring to. And although I have nothing against said school (Go Chargers!) it wasn’t what I was hoping for in a bedroom.  

But of course, the boys loved it.

By the end of two very long days of painting, I was exhausted and frustrated and trying to think of a way to make the room look better. I looked at the yellow and blue and tried to think of what it reminded me of, other than a junior high basketball team and then it hit me.  

It looked like Legos.  

Maybe I could salvage the situation by making a Lego themed room. We already had Lego yellow and Lego blue- since we had come this far, why not go all the way? I asked the hubby what he thought. He said he would try and find some accent paints to go with what we had chosen- in Lego colors.

To make a long story short, he came back with these.   

 My hubby has a gift for choosing colors and he suggested using gray to go on the platform part of the floor. (we are painting all the floors upstairs and saving up for carpet some day). I never would have thought of gray, but heaven knows, I’ve stepped on enough gray Lego pieces in my life. So on went the floor paint.  

   
And by the way, in order to give you a sense of the size of this room, the hubby and I measured just this back section and realized we could easily park the trailer in it.

Well, I thought the floor looked okay. But where to put the other colors? I couldn’t decide if his next idea was insane or brilliant. He suggests painting the light wells to the skylights different colors. Would that be totally over the top? But I figured at this point, there was no going back- might as well embrace the insanity. I got a ladder and started in.  

After the first light well was finished, all I could see was another sports team (Go Seahawks!) but I kept going.   

 And by the time I had finished the fourth, I had to admit that, although definitely bright, the effect was at least interesting.   

But I still needed to tie the colors in more.  

Underneath the plywood covered, windowless windows are four rectangular holes in the wall with storage space behind them.  

  Eventually the hubby wants to finish these out and put little hinged doors on them, to keep toys in etc, but that probably won’t be happening for a while. So to cover them up, I cut four ‘Lego bricks’ out of wood, painted them and nailed them in place, along with some very temporary curtains to cover the ugly plywood windows. 

We also needed some kind of rug to cover the vast floor space, so on our way home from church one day, we swung by a salvage store that just happened to have the very rug we needed. It had just come through the door and was priced incredibly low. We grabbed it, along with some smaller accent rugs in equally loud colors. At this point, I was all in. Go big or go home, right? And somehow, remarkably, the room came together.  That, or I had just been looking at everything so long that I was willing it to work, whether or no.

    
    
   
Yes, it’s bold and loud and childish and Lego-y, but really, nothing describes my children more. And after all, it is their bedroom. Why shouldn’t they have a say? They have certainly waited long enough to live (and play Legos) in it. 

   
 

The half way house

I’m not really sure what would be considered the half way point on this monumental house project of ours. Was it way back when we restructured the whole thing, gave it a new frame and floor plan? Was it when we spent two months digging out a full basement just so we could jack the whole building up a few inches and put some proper feet under it? Was it before the first or after the second complete wiring of the house? 

The hubby says, on average, that the half way point for most home construction is the sheetrock. Of course, I don’t think that average really counts for our house considering all of the special, extra and unexpected things that came with it, but it is true that a myriad of tiny things still need to be tackled now that the sheetrock has been installed.  

Obviously, there is the painting- lots and lots of painting- priming and cutting in and spraying and rolling and the backbreaking labor that results in 4,000 (4,000!!!) square feet of colored walls and ceilings. But we are nearing the end of that.   

 There is all the extra wiring that now needs to be done- the outlets and light switches and smoke alarms, not to mention (we counted twice, thinking we must be mistaken) the seventy-two (SEVENTY-TWO!) light fixtures that need installation. To be perfectly frank, at this juncture, we are nowhere near being able to afford real light fixtures in numbers that large so if you ever come a visiting in the future, you will probably be greeted with the sight of a lot of naked light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. We’re taking baby steps here, folks.

But naked or not, we finally got them all installed and today, for the first time ever, instead of searching for a plug at the end of a bewildering tangle of extension cords crisscrossing the house, you can now flip a switch and get some light in return. And you can’t imagine the wonder of a plug in an outlet! Don’t get me started on the marvel of outlets! These are exciting things folks. 

Even more exciting are the two bedrooms. For all intents and purposes, the house is still a construction zone. We are still functioning with one toilet and no other running water. There is no kitchen of any description unless you count the recess in the wall where my fridge will someday go. But last night, Oh Joy! we ditched the trailer for the night and slept in a couple of upstairs bedrooms we had been pushing to get ready.  

    My craft room and my girlie’s room were the first rooms we had painted and we got to thinking that maybe, if we could put a few finishing touches to them, we might just make them habitable. This meant dealing with the floors first, which were really in terrible condition.  

They are original hardwood, but after much consideration, we decided they were too damaged to try and restore. So this meant me and my palm sander got down on our knees and tried to remove as much of the ancient rubbly mess, sheetrock mud and paint residue as possible.    

   
Then lots of shop-vacuuming and damp-mopping and finally, several coats of a good floor paint.  

   
   
Then, there was a little trim to put up and we even managed a few doors.    

    

Eventually, we want the entire upstairs carpeted, but since that isn’t really in the budget right now either, we found some nice carpet remnants and had the edges bound, just to make the floors a little comfier.  (And please disregard the plastic where the windows should be. Be patient. I imagine we might just get those durn windows finished sometime this century.)     
   

But windows aside, some generous folks donated a few used beds to our cause so that by the end of a very exhausting day, we were thankfully able to collapse onto something comfortable.

   
   So now, although I nearly despaired many times along the way, I can finally say, nearly nine years (NINE!) to the day after we purchased this place, we are sleeping in it. 

Of course, we aren’t technically living in it yet. We are still going to be in limbo for a while, trudging back and forth from trailer to house for our water supply and a place to cook our meals. We are now working hard on completing one of the four (FOUR!) bathrooms and the kitchen will be after that, although it might just be a hot plate and a sink for a while. 

All that to say, I think we can safely say that we are past the half way point now, although I’m not sure we will ever be able to call this place truly finished. But isn’t that true of most things in life? What good would heaven be otherwise? 

For today we are grateful- grateful no longer to be seven people sleeping in a thirty foot camper- grateful for a couple of rooms that (when the door is shutting out the rest of the house) actually look mostly completed- grateful for so much support and help from family and loved ones and grateful for a light at the end of the tunnel. (and a light at the end of a switch.)

Saying Uncle (temporarily)

Hello dear friends.  Thanks for sticking with this poor old blog.  Writing has been on the bottom of the list just now. 

  It’s been an encouraging few weeks, despite the pessimistic title of this post.  Work on the house has progressed steadily if slowly.  Our glorious white drywall is beginning to bloom with painted color and every weekend more and more work is being done on the long suffering windows.  

It’s a little eerie, wandering through the cold, echoing, empty spaces of that house.  Large sheets of plastic shroud the holes in the walls where the windows should be and they seem to whisper “just wait a little longer- just a little longer.”

I am willing to wait, but the wait has been cold- very cold.  After an abnormally warm December, January’s frosts hit us hard and I won’t lie to you- it’s been a little tough. The trailer was not built to weather the cold and the interior of the house has no defense against it. Seeing as we are hooked up to a hose for our water supply, there have been several days when the water has been kept a frozen prisoner in the spigot. 

“We can do this!” I have been telling myself. “Think of the pioneers! Or better yet, think of the Walmart down the street that sells water!”

  But when the toilet in the house froze solid, I began to lose my nerve a bit.  It’s kinda hard to watch your kiddos huddled in blankets over their schoolbooks and after all that, running to your sister’s house everyone someone ‘has to go’ can be a litttle wearing.  

I talked to the hubby. We talked to God and we asked him if he could help us find a way to get tolerably through the frigid month of February or at least help us avoid becoming victims of cabin fever induced insanity. 

The next evening we received an offer of a temporary house- a house sitting gig that would extend (you guessed it) through the month of February.  

I debated the question for a while.  After all, I don’t like to back down and we have stuck it out this long, I kinda hated to give up.  Fears of the work grinding to a halt or people breaking in to steal more of our stuff have also plagued me, but the offer seemed like a pretty clear sign.  And then there were my kids to think of.  

So starting Monday, we will say farewell to the trailer for a while.  At least the kids and I.  The hubby will be dividing his time between the two places to make sure things stay secure and so the work can go forward.   

There are definitely mixed feelings of relief and uncertainty floating around in my head, but I am choosing to look at it as simply a vacation.  Y’all can pray that I will use it as such and that come Spring, we will return to the work with renewed vigor and (God willing) an end in sight.

Not your average White Christmas

Shards of papery board litter the floor I walk on. Plastery crumbs crunch under my feet while small clouds of chalky dust rise at each step. The December breeze blows through the window frames still awaiting their shining panes of glass and I shiver in cold and delight as I look at our smooth, snowy, brand new walls. This may not be your average white Christmas. But after a particularly wintry year, it’s one of the happiest I’ve known.

A few days ago, however, I was not this happy. I was all kinds of discouraged and depressed and convinced deep inside myself that this important step towards completing our long-awaited home would never come. My life, you must understand, was doomed to be one weary, interminable ‘work until you drop’ cycle with very little to show for it. I’ll be honest with you, I’ve been having a hard time facing each day.
But this morning I woke up long before the sun- expectant, excited, nervous- although still trying to wrap myself in that self-protective cushion that would prepare me for any dashed hopes or further delays.
This morning there was none of the usual grunting at the children to leave me and my caffeine fix in peace and get themselves a bowl of cereal- I had a broad smile with a side of sizzling sausage and eggs waiting for them when they woke up. The coffee was hot for daddy, the baby changed and dressed before she had a chance to complain, the blankets folded, the pillows and beds stowed away. I felt like my old self again- that self that decided to move us to this place nine months ago- full of optimism and energy and hope- that self who was so confidently sure that life in a trailer would never get her down.

Still I was cautious in my optimism. Only a fool wouldn’t be. But lo and behold, the work crew arrived exactly when they said they would. Not only that but they started in right away- no forgotten tools or last second runs to the hardware store.

Then I watched, breathless,  as the first heavy board was lifted overhead and the first screws went in to hold it in place. I may or may not have wept a little. Then I may or may not have danced a little jig and the workers may or may not have thought me crazy.
I have been sneaking up to the house all morning, in between school lessons, just to see how much they have gotten done. Man, those guys work fast!  Then back to the trailer, dancing another little jig. The boys may or may not have thought me crazy.
But throughout all my joy, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of guilt- a shadow of shame, knowing (as I very well did) that the only reason I was so happy is because things are finally going right, at least for today. Today was a good day.  But alas, I have failed myself and my family over and over again on this journey as I have let the bad days negatively dictate how I have interacted with my husband, my kiddos and with the God who has written this story for us. I have been weak, I have lost faith, I have listened to the Tempter who told me to despair.

In the window of the trailer hangs a snippet of a Bible verse. It simply reads ‘Rejoice in it.’ The words catch my eye each time I head out the door and it is astonishing to me how many different ways I have reacted to this simple imperative.
Sometimes it does the job I wanted it to do when I first hung it up so many months back. It serves as a reminder that this day (good or bad) is the day that the Lord has made- so please, my dear, act in accordance with that fact.
Sometimes it prompts a guilty and grudging obedience and helps me to put on a plastic smile in the face of adversity.
Sometimes I have a little argument in my head with that snippet which usually consists in listing every excuse I have, to show how and why I should be exempt from such a command. After all, my life is legitimately difficult right now.
But more often than not, I feel fear when confronted with those words.  Yes, fear. I am afraid to rejoice because perhaps, if I allow myself to be glad about the fact that I live in a trailer with seven people while I stare at that stubbornly incomplete house, God will look down and say,
“Oh look, she has finally learned her lesson of contentment. She has finally understood what it means to be joyful in all circumstances. I think I will just leave her there. Why mess with a good thing?”
This fear makes me want to cling to my melancholy as a kind of insurance that we will get out of this situation some day.

Of course, in my more rational moments I know that this is nonsense. I know that God wants us to strive for better things and I know that he doesn’t want us to sit on our hands and accept that this life is always going to be hard, so why try?

I also know, in my better moments, that it is not the actual circumstances we are to rejoice over as if God is pleased when we laugh lightheartedly at the grief and pain and struggle in our own lives and at the world at large.
We don’t rejoice because of the mere physical day (good or bad) but because of the Lord who made it. We don’t rejoice merely because of the sheetrock we can finally see, although it is a wondrous sight, but because of the Lord (and his people) who gave it.
And we don’t rejoice at Christmas, merely because of the snow (if you are so lucky) and the lights and the music and presents. These things are just a bonus from a bountiful God. We rejoice because now we can say, every single day, in every single circumstance, that Emmanuel has come to be with us.

Oh Come, thou dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by thy drawing nigh.
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

 

 

The roller coaster called Emotional

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I’m not sure what to write tonight, but I feel like I need to write something to update y’all on what is going on in our crazy lives since so many of you keep asking and it is difficult for me to give you a very clear picture as we pass in the hall at church or bump into each other around town.

As you might have guessed from the title, life has been really up and down lately.  I often find myself asking God to please just give us a few quiet months, where nothing dramatic happens, either happy or sad so that we won’t either be holding our breath in worry or anticipation or letting it out in a terrified yell or a burst of relieved laughter.  I’m just feeling emotionally drained.

I told my hubby the other day (not that he needed telling as I’m sure he noticed the fact) that I have cried more in the last six months than I have in my entire life combined.  But not all the tears have been sad.  Happy tears are kind of a new experience for me, but I am finding that joy is just as prone to turn on the water works as grief these days.

Take my dad, for instance.  A few weeks back he had a pretty serious brush with illness involving a collapse at home, an emergency surgery and a gangrenous gall bladder removal.  His subsequent painful recovery was incredibly difficult for my family nearby to watch and incredibly difficult for those of us living far away to feel so helpless and useless.

But this painful recovery was very short lived and he was up and about and released from the hospital far earlier than his amazed doctors thought would be possible.  We know how heartily he was prayed for by hundreds of people and it is always amazing to feel that kind of love and support when it comes in the hard times.

And yet, in the midst of all that joy, it was brought home to me stronger than ever the realization that my father is fading out of this life and that his ultimate recovery will not come this side of heaven.  And so the ride continues.

Of course, the saga of the house rolls on.  This trailer life (combined with a dismally rainy autumn) seems to wear us down little by little so that by every Friday night, I feel as if I just can’t make it another week.  But then Saturday comes and another work party and the sight of those good people with their servant’s hearts tromping up through the muddy yard to help us realize our goal makes me feel ashamed for my complaining spirit. And then comes Sunday and the refreshment of worship at a wonderful church and comeraderie with fellow believers riding their own roller coasters and encouraged again, we find the strength for another week.

We have had to give up on the dream of getting into the house by Christmas (definitely some sad tears there) and are buckling down to endure the winter’s cold as best we can, but I am currently snuggled up cozy in my sister’s bed with the prospect of a little house sitting while she and and her husband travel the world to help orphans in far away Romania. A very welcome gift from my amazing and generous little sister.

And let me just say, all of my sisters (and of course my mother) are amazing women and I have cried and laughed so much with them of late- the last few months having impressed upon me on a whole new level that the bearing and nurturing of children takes a special kind of courage that the world will always underestimate.  Motherhood ain’t for the faint of heart, folks.

The hubby’s business continues to grow slowly, one step at a time and there are days when my patience wears thin and I want him to realize success all at once- I want to see that all of his hard, hard labor will pay off sooner rather than later.  But then I see the evidence of how far we really have come, how much he has accomplished, how people are coming to recognize not only his remarkable talent, but his upright character and integrity as a man of business and I am ready to burst with pride that I get to call him my husband. And his brother is here for an extended visit to help push things forward and lend a hand where needed.  Another joy.

My work at the church continues, and although I am often physically drained at the end of a long Wednesday of cooking for 300 and singing in the choir, they are deeply satisfying days for me and I am enormously grateful for a job so well suited to my talents and one that has allowed us (in conjunction with some very generous people) to finally purchase a new and reliable van.  I still can’t turn the key in the ignition without ‘feeling all the feels’ as some folks say. 

So as we enter this season of Thanksgiving, I can’t say that everything has turned out exactly how I would have planned or wanted but through all the ups and downs, I am above all grateful for a God who doesn’t change and who can be depended on in all seasons of life.

And in spite of the fact that He doesn’t change, he loves us enough to meet us where we are- either rejoicing on the heights or wallowing in the depths and even, in clearer moments, gives us the ability to enjoy the ride. 

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

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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