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.

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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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Tricks of the Trade

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Chapter 4

Yesterday evening, my husband began the process of teaching me how to mud sheetrock in the one room of our house that now has walls. It’s one of those things that looks fairly easy when you’re watching it, but turns out to be a lot trickier once you slap that first sticky blade full of white goo on the wall and start spreading.
“Just imagine you’re frosting a cake,” I told myself as I tried awkwardly to smooth the gloopy substance over the screws I was covering. In fact, the whole process had reminded me of making a giant batch of vanilla buttercream while I watched Steve put the huge mixer blade on the end of his drill and start whipping the mud in the bucket to a smooth consistency. He must have drawn the same comparison in his mind since when he was done mixing, he said, half jokingly to Etienne who had volunteered to rinse the mixer blade in the hose,

“Just don’t go licking it.”

I like making these comparisons in my mind whenever I tackle something new that I’m not sure I’ll be able to handle. It boosts my confidence. I have often, for example, noticed the similarities between construction work and, say, sewing. It’s the same idea, you know- studying the pattern or design, measuring and cutting the pieces and putting them together. I mean, is there really such a big difference between a needle and thread or a hammer and nails?
I’ve often thought building houses would be a really fun hobby that I would be totally capable of if it weren’t for two things. First, of course, the expense would be a hindrance. But the second, an even greater deterrent- my pitiful lack of upper body strength. Few things have put a damper on my attempts to help my hubby on his various renovation projects through the years than my puny arms. They were already whimpering at me after only a few minutes of reaching overhead to mud the screws on the ceiling.

“But why do you have to help?” you might ask. “Isn’t your husband a contractor? Can’t he do the work without you?”

And I would reply yes to the last two questions. But since we never seem to be able to find a home that is not in rather desperate need of repair, I have simply preferred to learn how to help than to sit around waiting for him to get home from work at night.
I can’t seem to help myself anyway. I am rather an impatient person by nature and if there is a big job that needs doing in front of me, I’m gonna try to get it done as soon as possible. (Unfortunately, this ‘get it done’ attitude doesn’t usually impact my list of daily housework though. Not sure why.)
That is why this whole house saga has been such a trial for me. I do not like unfinished work. I’d rather someone do a quick, half-ass job and call it done than have it sitting there waiting for some future, potential perfection. And I’m happy to do the half-assing myself. The hubby and I do not share this outlook, if you haven’t noticed.
I remember when we moved to Memphis five years ago. We were going to live in an apartment complex for the first time in my life and I remember thinking,

“Hooray! Finally a place to live where we won’t have to renovate!”

Steve was the manager of this particular apartment complex and as such, he had tried to find us a nice, ground floor apartment. But when we arrived, it was to discover a few of his workers frantically cleaning and scrubbing an apartment that obviously hadn’t been lived in in a while. The smell when we walked in was, to put it mildly, off-putting.

“Did the carpet cleaners make it yet?” Steve asked his workers, trying not to wrinkle his nose.

“They’re on their way,” was the reply.

So we decided to go grocery shopping while we waited for the carpets to get cleaned and hopefully released from the clutches of that awful smell. We got home late and all was quiet and dark in our new apartment. We unlocked the door, laden with groceries, expecting the fresh smell of industrial strength shampoo, but all that machine had managed to do was dredge up the foul odors of who knows how many years past, leaving us standing in a cloud of eau de wet dog.

“Should we?” asked my hubby.

“We should,” I replied.

And after putting our groceries in the fridge and our children in their beds, we tore out the entire carpet and left it in a moldering heap on the front porch to be dealt with later. Then we went to bed ourselves, breathing a little easier.
The next morning Steve had to go to work, but before leaving, he told me he would bring some tools home that night to help scrape all the old carpet padding off the subfloor so we could begin replacing what we had removed. But I couldn’t stand just sitting there all day, staring at that big old mess and waiting for the necessary tools. So I found a good substitute in my trusty old kitchen spatula.

And when, during my scraping, I encountered hundreds of little staples that had been holding the carpet in place, I discovered that a butter knife worked fairly well in prying them up. Of course neither the spatula or that butter knife ever worked very well after that, but the floor was cleaned and ready to go by the time the hubby got home.

In addition to the now unnecessary tools he had brought home that evening, he had several boxes of a faux hard wood laminate that was to take the place of the stinky carpet. And when I protested that he wasn’t going to have time to lay it all, he taught me how to measure and cut the pieces to fit and then spread the adhesive.

It’s just like making a quilt,” I told myself, going so far as to pull out my clear plastic quilting ruler to make the job easier. Even Steve had to admit it was the perfect tool for the job.

And now, with this biggest of all renovations before us, I figured I might as well learn to mud and add it to my list. Of course, we hope to be able to have the funds necessary to hire out the majority of the sheet-rocking and mudding since it is such a mammoth task. But just in case, I figure it’s a good idea to start increasing my store of construction knowledge. And who knows, I might even learn to hang the sheet rock itself.
But I should probably do some push ups first.

Sunshine and Sheetrock

Chapter 3

It has been 2 1/2 weeks since we moved, and I can’t decide if it feels like it has been 2 1/2 days or 2 1/2 months. The days here have flown by astonishingly fast and yet it feels like a lifetime ago when we were living in our little house, planning for this great adventure.
It has made a huge difference, these last few days, not only to be free of thunderstorms, but also free from catastrophe (knock on wood). Of course, it’s raining again now, but I feel as if we are better prepared to face it and are adjusting to the fact that living in a trailer means that the weather is just going to be in our faces a whole lot more. I hadn’t anticipated that side of things.
And as doleful as these first few chapters have been, the reasons and hoped-for benefits in moving here have not diminished in my mind. If anything they have increased- most importantly the benefits for my children.
So whenever I am tempted to bemoan the loss of hot water or my appliances or my full-sized kitchen, I watch my boys and am more or less content. Take yesterday, for instance.

We were all up early, and the air in the trailer was unexpectedly cold. But the forecast was for another bright and sunny day. The boys grumbled a bit, stumbling out of their warm beds, out into the chilly morning and up to the big house to use the bathroom, but they were soon back again, more cheerful and ready for breakfast.

Breakfast was also a little disappointing- our two options lately being toast and jam, or some form of eggs. But every morning, their sighs for the good old days of hot blueberry muffins or cinnamon rolls have grown smaller, and they are growing resigned to what mommy calls the ‘reduced menu.’

Normally, school begins directly after breakfast up in the living room of the big house where we have made things as cozy as possible with a few chairs and a table for writing. There is also a working fireplace in this room which has been very welcome on these cold mornings. James has already learned to build a good fire in it, and takes pride in this responsibility each morning.

But yesterday, I let the boys have the day off from lessons because something very important was happening. I myself wouldn’t let myself believe it until our old friend Mr. W. showed up on his motorcycle (oh the boyish thrill) to help us get started on our first project- sheet-rocking an upstairs bedroom.

I didn’t want to bother the men as they worked, but I kept an ear open from the trailer as I did the dishes, waiting for the sounds of power tools to start. As soon as I heard some, I quickly made a fresh pot of coffee as an excuse to go up and see their progress, even though they had hardly had a chance to get started.

As I neared the top of the stairs, I peeked through the railing and folks, I don’t exaggerate when I say I got a little misty. For there it was, in all its dusty white glory- our first piece of sheet rock up on the wall. But don’t laugh- you might have cried too if you had waited eight years to see such a thing. They made rapid progress after that, and it was such fun to see the boys up there, mostly getting in the way, but helping a bit here and there. I have so wanted them to be able to be part of this whole process.

Something I have also wanted for them is the liberty to roam free, both in our yard and the neighborhood. Both of these things were an impossibility in our last house, so much so that we have never even owned bikes for the boys (except for one that was stolen almost immediately after we had bought it). My youngest three didn’t even know how to ride a bike, and their recurring request for bikes had been perpetually met with,
“When we move to the big house, honey.”

Once we finally decided to move, it was nearly Etienne’s eighth birthday so at long last, we bought him a bike. He begged and begged to be taught how to ride all that first week, but we were so busy with moving and all. Finally, he just got up on the thing and taught himself to ride in about five minutes. His brother Sebastien asked for a turn and took about ten minutes to figure it out.
But one bike between four boys was a problem, so I went to the thrift store the next day and found some nice bikes for a really good price. Of course, the one I found for Sebastien was as pink and girly as possible, but I talked him into riding it by promising we would spray paint it soon, and in the meantime, he could peel off all the Frozen stickers and other paraphernalia that were plastered all over it. No Anna and Elsa around here folks.
So I’ve also gotten misty a few times these last weeks, seeing the boys tearing off on their bikes, exploring the neighborhood, meeting new friends and enjoying the park down the road. I have wanted that for them for so long. And they need it far more than I need a hot shower in the morning.

By late afternoon yesterday, the upstairs room was sheet-rocked. It still needed to be mudded, but I went and had a quiet moment in there with my baby girl, soaking in the sight of white walls instead of two by fours- white walls that were stained pink by the setting sun. We don’t mind pink so much, my girlie and I. And oh folks, it was a much needed morale booster.
Of course, we are only sheet-rocking this one room for now, as a place to store all of our belongings, which are currently strewn about the house, preventing the start of our next big project- redoing the electrical that was torn out and stolen all those years ago. But it was a beginning.

As I went back outside with the baby on my hip, I heard the sound of power tools again, coming from the backyard. Perplexed, I went to investigate, and up went my morale again. There was my hubby, surrounded by his four sons, finally able to grant them another of their recurring requests that had been answered with,
“When we move to the big house.”

Together, they were building a fort.

James came running down the hill, all excitement, a piece of paper flapping in his hands that he eagerly explained were his blueprints for the project. Etienne gave me a huge grin from a distance, waving daddy’s drill in his hand while Sebastien stood next to him, looking gravely important as he handed down screws and dropped every other one, bless his heart.

And Christian, fully recovered from his trip to the ER, piped up from across the yard,

“Wook mom! Wook! We’re finawy bildin’ it!”

“Yes, son,” I replied, more to myself than him, “We finally are.”

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Hope

Chapter 2

I would love to be able to say that our first week in our new situation went unexpectedly well- that all my worries and fears had proved groundless and that I went to bed every night encouraged and hopeful. But the arrival of an unprecedented amount of rain quenched our enthusiasm before we had hardly begun our work. It was rain in the truly southern style- drenching downpours that turned the lovely spring landscape into sodden rivers and our yard into a bog of clay. We slogged along as best we could for the first half of the week, but with the sudden and dreadful loss of my sister’s baby on Wednesday, all thoughts of our house were put on hold and the rest of the week was spent with her, visiting with family, cooking, cleaning and simply commiserating.
Saturday was the funeral- a slightly sunnier day, although the graveyard was still swampy from the recent floods. We said goodbye to my mother, who had flown in for a whirlwind 24 hour trip and then stumbled home to the trailer late Saturday night where I dimly registered, as I fell asleep, that we had church in the morning.
I woke up in plenty of time to get ready- it was difficult not to as the rain had begun to pour down and the thunder to rumble yet again. Feeling miserable, I crawled out of bed and grabbed the key to the house, reaching for a flashlight and an umbrella. But the umbrella had disappeared. There was nothing for it but to run. It wasn’t cold outside, but the drops of rain seemed to be as big as chicken eggs, so that by the time I reached the porch, I was completely drenched. I shoved the door open and lifted my lantern high, heading through the darkness to the bathroom. Halfway there, I stepped in an unexpected puddle of water. I groaned. Despite the boarded up windows, the house was leaking somewhere. Making a mental note to tell Steve, I completed my task and taking a deep breath, headed back through the rain, slipping and sliding through the mud as I tried to run, the hem of my pajama pants soon sticky with orange clay.

We were all so exhausted from the week’s events that it was no easy job getting everyone out of bed. I threw some bread in the toaster and tried to piece together some nice clothes for the boys since they had gotten their Sunday outfits dirty at the burial the day before. The rain continued to pour so hard that our driveway had become a stream, flowing out to join the river that an hour before had been the road behind our house. Once we were all dressed and fed, Steve and I watched the flooding outside.
“Do you think they will cancel church this morning?” I asked.
“I’m not sure,” he replied. “Do you want to try and go?”
I hesitated, but then, imagining being stuck in the trailer all day and missing out on the fellowship I was craving, I said,
“Let’s go.”
We had managed to find our one wonky little umbrella- a child-sized Winnie the Pooh emblazoned thing that was completely bent out of shape, but it did little good. We were all pretty well soaked by the time we had crossed the few yards to the van.
Then, as we hastened to buckle carseats, Steve looked across at me and said,
“You remembered to lock up the house, right?”
My falling face was answer enough.
“Don’t worry about it, I’ll do it,” he replied as he wrestled with the stubborn buckles on the baby’s chair.
But seeing as I was already drenched and we were running late, I hopped out of my seat and ran. There was little point in tiptoeing through the puddles now. The water simply poured over the sides of my shoes.
When I got back to the van, dripping and panting, hastily applied mascara running down my face, I couldn’t blame my husband for laughing at his bedraggled wife. The whole week had been so awful, and now this. I had to laugh too. It was either that or cry, and I had cried enough that week.
We managed to get to the freeway, slowly making it through the waterlogged streets, and we were almost to church when I heard the hubby moan,
“Oh no, not again!”
“What?” I gasped, wondering what else could possibly have gone wrong.
He simply pointed in front of him where I saw the needle from the temperature gage on the van bobbing up into the dangerously hot zone. My heart sank as he pulled into the nearest gas station, stopped, rolled up his sleeves and popped the hood. He soon ascertained what he thought might be the problem, rectified it by pouring a full jug of coolant into the system, and started off again, fingers crossed. But by the time we limped into the church parking lot five minutes later, we were back in the danger zone.

I’m still glad we chose to go to church that day, as embarrassing as it was to show up looking like a drowned rat in a vehicle that was smoking around the edges. And even though the week’s events caused me to cry through most of the service, comfort was close at hand in the form of understanding hugs, smiles, and offers of help from fellow brothers and sisters. We managed to get the van home by means of a tow truck although it took two trips in smaller cars to get us all back to the trailer.
The rain had stopped by mid afternoon, all our visiting family members had flown back home, and it was time to start back where we had left off. The first step was to try and do something about our yard. After a week of slipping and falling through the mud on the way to the bathroom, we went to work with a will, Sunday though it was, to fix the problem. If an ox falling in a ditch qualifies for help on the Sabbath, surely we do too. And I was determined to have something prepared before the next rainfall, which was due that night. Thankfully the solution was near at hand- a long sheet of plastic and an enormous pile of gravel in the backyard, leftover from building a retaining wall a few years ago.
Even the boys joined in, struggling along with unwieldy half-filled shovels until the job was done- a straggling gravel walkway leading from the trailer to the house, giving a much needed foothold for whenever the yard should choose to become a river again.
We finished just as the sun was going down, and after a quick bite of dinner, decided we would all just go to bed, exhausted from the labor and the residual grief of the past several days.

We have managed to fall into a somewhat normal bedtime routine- the boys all bunking down in the ‘living room’ while her highness, princess Caroline sleeps in her royal pavilion. ( a sheet tucked in around her portable crib).
Christian, however, has continued to find excuses to be with us at night. Sunday night was no different. As I crawled into bed after brushing my teeth, I heard a scuffling and bumping from the cupboard above my head. Slightly alarmed, I reached up and pulled open the small door to be greeted by an impish face half hidden in his security blanket. Trying to be severe and failing utterly, I hauled him out of the cupboard and sent him back to his bed, ignoring his many protests.

He went to sleep quietly enough, but unfortunately that was not the last we were to hear from him that night. At 1:37 the following morning, I was awakened by an awful, gasping, choking noise interrupted by the occasional strangled scream. Behind that, I could hear James talking in a soothing voice and whacking someone on the back. It took me a minute to realize it was Christian and that something wasn’t right. I shook Steve awake as I jumped up, but Christian had already stumbled to our bed.
Steve picked him up, trying to figure out what was wrong, trying to calm down the boy who was writhing in his arms, struggling for air and turning blue in the face. My first thought was that he had somehow swallowed something and was choking, Steve wondered if he were having an allergic reaction. But after a few panic-filled minutes of trying to ascertain the problem and having no success, we got dressed and headed for the hospital, Steve flying through the streets and I in the back, holding up my baby’s head so he could get some air.
The streets were of course empty, as well as the Emergency room when we arrived, all three of us breathless to varying degrees. Within minutes, they had him hooked up to a breathing machine, and within a few more, were able to tell us that he was suffering from nothing more than a sudden and very severe case of croup. This surprised us both, seeing as he had never had any problems with respiratory illness before, and the severity and suddenness of the attack had taken us completely unaware.
But it was a relief as well, having such an obvious answer and the means to fix the problem quickly. They said they wanted to keep him for observation for a few hours, so needless to say we were exhausted when we were finally discharged and went back home. Christian was all right, but I went to sleep with a sense of foreboding, hearing the rain begin outside again and wondering just what the next day would bring.

But when we woke up (a little later than usual) it was to a morning so glorious that it felt as if the sun were brand new. The sky was so blue and free of clouds, the air so clean, with the oppressive, stormy mugginess gone. And optimism, in spite of everything that had happened, rose up in my heart.
Things seemed so inexplicably hopeful that aside from being thankful my youngest boy was all right, there was joy to be found even in the mundane tasks ahead of me- making breakfast, teaching school, taking out old windows and restoring them, mowing a yard and then keeping my baby from eating the grass- even walking up the gravel walk we had made the day before that now kept the residual mud at bay.

It felt like an unmerited gift, this peace that had descended in the face of trouble- a gift from God, granted no doubt on behalf of the many prayers that I know have been going up for me and my family of late. Goodness knows, my own prayers lately have been full of little more than despair and hopelessness.
And I realized, in a way I never have before, just how important those prayers are going to be if we are going to see this thing through- that though I have been so worried about the needed labor and money, it will all be given in vain if my faith is weak and I allow depression to creep in, sapping my energy and determination and putting limitations on what I think God can and can’t do.

And so we have pushed on in the strength that I now know only God can give. Progress has been small but it has been there. And Lord willing, tomorrow, the first work party begins.

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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.