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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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.

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.

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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Be it ever so humble…

Well folks, I have a funny little story to share with you this evening.

A few years ago, the hubby and I, in keeping with long-standing tradition, were trying to decide what to do for our anniversary at the very last second. I had been hinting for a long time that I would like to go somewhere overnight- somewhere quiet and lovely where we could enjoy some natural beauty, but we were broke and had four kids and getting away was tough. Well we managed it in the end by asking some friends if we could stay at their riverfront property where they kept a trailer and a screened in porch for shelter. They graciously said we could and we had a lovely time and I blogged about it here.

I blogged about how we stayed in the cozy screened in porch, but what I did not blog about at the time was that we had planned to sleep in the trailer.  However, due to unforeseen circumstances, the porch ended up being a better option.

Now I don’t write this story to embarrass our good friends.  They had an unbelievable amount of crazy going on in their lives at that time.  Being in the hospital for months with premature twins who were hanging on to life by a thread was just one thing they were dealing with. But apparently, what with all the hubbub of their lives, they were unaware when they gave us a key to the trailer, that the electricity had been unplugged.  This wouldn’t have been a big deal at all, except for one minor issue- the fridge and freezer had been left full of food.  And folks- when you leave a fridge full of food unplugged in the shimmering heat of a Tennessee July, you have a problem.

I probably don’t need to ask you to imagine the smell that reached our noses when we first entered that trailer, nor describe in any detail the cloud of insects that suddenly made a desperate bid for freedom through the open door where we were standing.  We stood there for a moment, retching slightly, closed the door, and made other plans.

But all through that lovely evening, as we kayaked in the river, cooked steaks and corn on the cob on the grill, watched the sunset and finally dozed off to sleep to a chorus of singing frogs, we couldn’t stop thinking about the trailer and the unpleasant surprise that would greet our kind friends, when and if they ever got out of the hospital and out to their property again.

So the following morning, we made ourselves a lovely breakfast, took a few deep breaths of sweet, dewy morning air and headed back to the trailer.  Thankfully, they had everything we needed- lots of paper towels, scrubby brushes, rubber gloves and plenty of Lysol.  Gas masks would have been nice, but we made do, holding our breath and scrubbing as fast as we could until we had to run out again, gasping.  The hubby even had some heavy duty garbage bags in the back of his car for us to haul out the rotten food.  It didn’t need much help mind you.  That food was nearly walking out the door on its own.

As we drove away later that day, our trunk full of smelly food, we felt happy.  Happy that, even though we had spent a good part of our romantic getaway in less than romantic circumstances, we had been able to repay our generous friends a bit and perhaps make their lives a little easier down the road.

Fast forward a few years, and you find me sitting on the couch in my older sisters living room, laughing heartily at her new plan for us to finish our house- by moving a trailer onto our property and working from there.  I soon realized she was in earnest however, and she asked me if I new anyone who had a trailer we might be able to borrow.  And guess what, I had an answer ready.

Turns out, our friends had let the riverfront property go, and the trailer had been in storage somewhere for some time. I’m not sure they even used it again after our stay there.  And when we asked, they once again graciously allowed us to use it, albeit for a longer period this time.   So apparently we had tackled that awful fridge, not so much for the sake of our friends as for ourselves.  God has a sense of humor I guess.

And now I suppose you would like to see some pictures.  Well, here you go.

The boys are really excited about the whole set up, at least for now, and it is a lot bigger than I remember it being, so that’s always a bonus!  And most important of all, it will allow us to take full advantage of all this wonderful outdoor space, and Lord willing, eventually, our home.

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We spent most of the afternoon over there today, getting things ready for the final move and doing a little yard work. The bulbs we planted years ago are finally up, which makes this place feel more homelike already, despite everything else that still needs doing.

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And a cute baby picture, just because. She spent most of the afternoon happily plucking clover or being raced around the yard in her stroller by her brothers. I am so thankful for a happy baby!

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And I’m thankful, more and more each day, for good friends. We are so blessed!

Is it better to give?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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