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Archive for July, 2012

Life is hard for a lot of people I know right now.

My aunt, who is primary caregiver for her daughter awaiting a kidney and her husband recovering from a major accident, recently told someone she was burning the candle at both ends and in between. Hard.

Numerous friends are in the same boat as we are (graduated seminary with no job in sight) and while it’s some consolation to be together, if the boat you’re in is sinking, well, that’s hard.

Others are bearing unimaginable burdens. Hard.

And sometimes I just want life to be easy.

I want someone to cook for me. To clean my house. To watch my kids.

So I can, what? Read a book from start to finish without putting it down? Lounge to my heart’s content? Get flabby? Have a stress-free life?

Maybe. I don’t know.

I’m just a little whiny lately, especially where housework is concerned. I’ve never had a dishwasher, so I spend far too many hours of my life washing dirty dishes. And I’ve been trying to stretch our food supplies by cooking more from scratch, which is better for us anyway but also takes more time. (My husband gave me license to buy frozen breaded fish for our fish ‘n’ chips Opening Ceremonies dinner but I was too cheap to allow it. We had fish and breading in our house. Who cares if it overwhelmed me?) Ditto for hanging clothes on the line instead of using the dryer — takes more time but is better in the long run and saves on the electric bill. (But man am I more tired these days!)

Enough about my virtues. I could spend twice as long talking about my faults.

So I whine about how hard my life is.

And then I read something like this. And I remember that my life is not all about me. Or my comfort.

Then I read something like this, from the Book of Common Prayer:

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

Suffering, then joy. Pain, then glory. Jesus didn’t take the easy road. His was the hardest of all.

To wish my life to be anything else is to deny that I walk with Him, desire to be like Him.

It is against all earthly notions to want to suffer. I don’t want to suffer. Or face hardship. Or travel the hard road. Or be uncomfortable. Sometimes I want to be ignorant of the hard stuff and irresponsible in my response to the hard stuff. I want to shut my eyes and escape into a world where children aren’t hungry, marriages are happily ever after, and all is right with the world.

We know all too well that all is not right with the world, and we could spend endless hours arguing about what would make the world “right.”

All is not right with the world. At least not yet.

In Pixar’s WALL-E, one scene sticks in my mind like no other. Late in the movie, we meet the humans, who have abandoned Earth because life was considered unsustainable. They’ve been living in space doing nothing and they’ve gotten flabby and useless. But they discover that Earth can support life again, so the captain wants to go back. The ship’s computer tells him that he’ll survive if he stays on it. And here it is: The captain says, “I don’t want to survive. I want to live.”

Survival isn’t always easy, but sometimes it’s like life on auto-pilot. Just getting by, getting through.

Living isn’t easy, either. But it’s life.

And there’s something powerful and moving and inspiring about choosing to live, not just survive, even and especially when life is hard.

Life is not comfortable for me right now. But it’s life. And I’m thankful for it.

And someday it will get better. Maybe soon. And maybe not.

But it will get better.

In the meantime, I’m trying my best to choose life. And enjoy it.

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Yep. Olympic fever has hit our house hard. The kids napped well yesterday so we rewarded them with staying up late to watch the opening ceremonies. Isabelle, our 4-year-old, almost outlasted us all. She was still going strong at midnight while my husband was struggling to keep his eyes open. Corban and I were long gone to our beds. We also celebrated with a theme meal of oven-fried fish, and oven-fried potatoes (our version of fish and chips), mushy peas (apparently an English veg) and scones. I love all things England and the Olympics being in London has taken me on a serious trip down memory lane from my days at this magnificent place.

Earlier in the week, Corban started training for the 2028 Olympics.

Or the circus. Of course, he also did this.

We had a friend over and the girls were all dressed up. He’s not to be left out, even if it means dressing like a princess.

Today he and I got to spend the morning together. For most of the summer, about every other Saturday, Phil takes Isabelle to Lowe’s for their Build and Grow workshop, which gives Mother and Son some one-on-one time. We walked to a yard sale and then to the farmers market. I love fresh, local vegetables, especially since I haven’t yet cultivated my own green thumb. We also got a treat: pumpkin whoopie pies. It was a nice way to spend a couple of hours. I forget how much I enjoyed the times when it was just Isabelle and me before Corban was born and how little time I take for one-on-one with either of them right now.

When I don’t, I miss out on things like this.

Isabelle had created an elaborate doctor’s office scenario with these “friends.” I started paying attention when she said, “Um, my hamster doesn’t feel good because he has too many stomachs. He can’t walk on them because he has too many.” Later, the hamster doctor couldn’t fix him so the leprechaun doctor came in. I was in tears laughing, and I didn’t want her to stop so I tried to hide my laughter behind the book I was reading. Whose kid is this? Oh, wait.

If the Olympics had storytelling, Isabelle would be a champ.

One day this week, I was preparing something in the kitchen and the kids asked me for some tape so they could put up some pictures they’d made. Later, I discovered this.

They had created an art gallery in our bedroom. Creative. And encouraging.

It’s been a good week, for the most part. God is encouraging us through the unexpected and we continue to seek and wait on Him. But it’s almost August and we aren’t homeless or hungry yet, so that alone is reason to praise Him. And even if we were those things, we would praise Him.

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The Titanic sinks. Britain enters World War I.

I promise, I’m not reviewing the first season of Downton Abbey. But my husband and I had just finished watching that when I started reading Promise Me This by Cathy Gohlke. Set in the same time period but  nowhere near the same story. I was all set for the setting, and with the Olympics starting this week in London, I have England on the brain.

All of that, and the fact that this is a heartwarming, breathtaking, gut-wrenching story of sacrificial love, made for an enjoyable read. I can’t wait to pick of Gohlke’s next book, releasing in September.

Orphan and “gutter rat” Michael Dunnegan forms an unlikely friendship with Owen Allen, who is sailing for America on the Titanic. Michael stows away on the ill-fated ship and Owen saves Michael’s life — at the expense of his own — when the ship sinks. Michael makes it to America and takes up Owen’s dream of prospering the family garden business and bringing Owen’s sister Annie to America. What follows is the lengths to which the characters will go to protect family and make good on promises in light of the sacrifices of a man they all loved. It is painfully sad and joyously hopeful and even if you’re tired of Titanic-themed stories (I thought I was), check this one out. The ship’s sinking is the catalyst for the story but not the main action.

Even when I enjoy a book, it’s rare that I dog-ear a page to save a quote, but I did just that. (To my husband’s mock horror that I would “ruin” a library book.) I was moved by this:

It can’t be that easy. It can’t be that whatever happens, you  just keep going. Michael was sure of it.

“That’s all there is to it,” she said as if she’d heard his thoughts. “Each morning, when we wake — if we wake — we pick up whatever it is we’ve been given to carry for that day, with the sweet Lord Jesus in the yoke beside us to tote the load. Each night we lay it down, giving it into God’s hands. If it’s still there in the morning, we pick it up and begin again. If the burden is gone or if there is something different, we know where to start.”

Want to read more? You can find the first chapter here.

The characters in this book face some heavy burdens. Don’t we all? This story is a ray of hope in ever-increasing darkness.

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This came across my Facebook feed this week and I had to share it.

 

This is one of the hardest things about parenting, for me.

The endless questions. The constant chatter. The nonstop noise.

I’m an introvert. And a contemplative. I think more than I speak and when I speak, I tend to write because the words come out better that way. I enjoy silence. And quiet. I almost “shushed” someone in a library this week, and she worked there! I used to love having music on when the house was quiet as a way to focus my thoughts, but more often than not I now choose silence.

In the devotional I’m reading right now, Blessed Are You, the meditations open and close with a call for silence and stillness before the Lord. And sometimes I laugh when I read it because silence and stillness just aren’t part of my life right now. “Mom, mom, mom, I need …” are sometimes the first words of the day. And with a potty-training 2-year-old in the house, just when I’m about to start something or relax for a moment, the urge hits and we’re running to the bathroom to avoid “clean-up on aisle 9.”

Even if I could find time for silence, cutting out the noise altogether is increasingly difficult. Every spring and summer, when we’re able to throw open the windows and let fresh air in, my husband and I are surprised at how noisy things are outside. Suddenly we can hear the train and every car that drives by with music blaring and people and kids walking by. None of which are bad things, mind you, but summer is a season for noise.

Winter, on the other hand, is much quieter. When I was working a full-time job outside the home, before marriage and babies, I liked to pause on the front steps of my parents’ house in winter as I left the house, breathe deep, and relish the quiet.

In winter there is a stillness unmatched by any other season. Life emerges in spring. And flourishes in summer. And begins the descent to death and dormancy in autumn. And in winter, all is quiet. Animals sleep and burrow. Humans huddle in their homes. Nature rests.

There are a lot of things I dislike about winter, but the quietness of it is not one of them.

Our life with two kiddos, a job hunt, writing deadlines and the general stuff of life is painfully noisy. And I yearn for quiet. Although it makes me uncomfortable. When the kids were with their grandparents for a week earlier this month, our house was unnaturally quiet. And it disturbed me. Maybe because it leaves my ears open to hear from God, who is quieter than I’d like Him to be right now. Or maybe I’m the one drowning Him out.

A friend of ours talks about spending days in silence while visiting a monastery. And how youth groups come to the monastery to spend time in silence. How uncomfortable and refreshing I imagine something like that would be.

For now, though, I know I must seek out silence. Silence will not come to me. It won’t just happen. If I need it, I need to make it happen. Turn off the TV or the music. Wake up early. Or sit outside before the demands of the day take over.

Are you a silence seeker? How do you find time and space for it in your day?

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This week has been a blur. I’m in the thick of a writing deadline and with my husband still in the hunt for a full-time job, I’m bringing home the bacon. (Mmm … bacon.) At least that’s the case this month. So I’ve spent more time out of the house writing (and drinking copious amounts of coffee) this week than I have in the last couple of months. Blogging hasn’t been high on my list of priorities, but I don’t want to lose the rhythm I had going, so I’ll try to keep up. If not, I promise I’ll be back. Don’t go away! (Okay, that sounds a little desperate.)

Even with deadlines breathing down my neck, writing makes me smile. More than that, it feeds my soul. And I come home mentally tired but spiritually refreshed and better able to hang with the kiddos.

Speaking of hanging with the kiddos, Phil has made the writing possible by staying home with them four mornings this week so I could write. It’s not easy (I know!) and I love him more for it.

Last week we started potty training Corban and this week, he’s catching on like it’s his job. I don’t want to get my hopes up that he’s going to be easier than Isabelle was, but we have drastically decreased our diaper use in a week. Even Isabelle has stopped wearing any overnight diapers this week. All I can say is “Thank You, Jesus.” Our finances are tighter than they’ve ever been and spending less money on diapers is a major deal.

Because money is tight, we’re trying to better consume the food in our house before we have to go to the store to buy more. That means kitchen adventures are plentiful. And mostly successful. Yesterday we made scones to eat for breakfast this morning. Yummy. And I repurposed some leftover shredded beef from tacos into a beef pot pie. Also delicious. Next up: I’m going to make some cornmeal crackers for snacking on. Crackers from scratch … who knew? I certainly didn’t. I’ll let you know how that one turns out.

I’m lovin’ our kids’ imaginations. At least once this week, they introduced themselves as “bread” and “Fred.” Those were their names. And they stuck to that story. Now Isabelle, who is fond of rhyming these days, is making up her own exclamations. Today I heard her say, “Jiggers and jaggers!” when she was attempting something difficult and as we approached a set of bleachers in the park across the street she said, “Bleed my beachers.” Not exactly “Kiss my grits,” but it’s close. I hope this doesn’t turn into preschool swearing. I’m not ready to deal with that yet.

She comes by ridiculousness honestly. In conversation with my husband today I said these words: “Well, the Titanic just sank …” I was referring to the plot of a book I’m reading. It’s not everyday you can slip “Titanic” into conversation. And speaking of the early 20th Century, we finished watching the first season of Downton Abbey last night, and I’m thrilled that our library system has Season 2, even if we have to wait for it. We can’t get it instantly on Netflix right now, so waiting our turn is our best option. Maybe by the time Season 3 premieres, we’ll be caught up.

We still don’t know what tomorrow (or the next day or the next day) will bring but we are praising God and trusting Him because He is good.

Whatever your situation today, rejoice in that.

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever.

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I don’t know what the weather is like where you are, but here, it’s hot. And dry. The grass is  more brown than green, and plants and gardens are slightly to moderately withered. I know this isn’t unique to our part of the world.

And it’s how I’m feeling about life.

© Rocky Reston | Dreamstime.com

Dry.

Cracked.

Withered.

Longing for refreshing rain.

Or as David, the psalmist, said:

O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water. (Psalm 63:1)

I don’t know what it’s like to be without water. Or to thirst to death. I can, in part, imagine the agony.

© Steve Mann | Dreamstime.com

But my soul is thirsty. Sprinkles of rain aren’t enough. I need a downpour.

The psalm continues with praise and glory to God in the midst of the circumstances.

My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods.

Amen, Lord Jesus. Amen.

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Home is where the heart is, so the saying goes.

Home is so much more than that and often leaves me at a loss for words. This week we left the home where we were raised, where our extended family lives and returned to our now home, where our kids have grown up, where one of them was born, where our life and ministry are.

And in between those two places, we find bits of home.

Like with our friends Josh and Rachel and their three girls. Their home is our waystation on our trips from south-central Pennsylvania to Illinois and back. Our kids play together. Our talks last long into the night. And every time we leave, we wish we didn’t have to.

And in Toledo, Ohio, which is a sort of halfway point. When we took the kids there two weeks ago to meet my parents, we stopped at this park. On our way back from Illinois this week, we stopped there again. For lunch. And a hike. To a swinging bridge.

Even though we’d only been there once before, it felt familiar. Like we weren’t exactly nomads or strangers.

Because that’s exactly how I feel right now. Like people without a home. Wanderers. Lost in the wilderness.

But still we get glimpses of “home.”

Like with our friends Paul and Dawn and their girls, who three years ago were unknown to us but now are our closest friends in the area. The kids and I went to their daughter’s birthday party last night and Phil met us there after work. As our kids played together after the party wound down, Dawn and I talked in the kitchen and the men-folk sat outside talking through life. There was something comforting about the whole thing. We’ve journeyed together and are now in the same “what in the world do You have for us God?” boat. And even when it seems like the boat might be sinking, it’s nice to be in it with other people.

And when a friend and mentor at church gifts us with a Book of Common Prayer. Words can’t fully describe how this touches me. I am drawn to the ancient practices of Christianity and knowing that someone recognized this and thought to provide a means to discover those practices more fully is soul-strengthening.

And moments like this.

Watching the fireworks in our hometown with the people we love. This was one of my favorite things about the Fourth of July festival growing up. I’ve been reluctant to take the kids out to a fireworks display because of the late hour and the crowds and such.

But grandparents make these sorts of things much more manageable.

My heart always breaks a little when we leave because I know we miss these sorts of opportunities more than other families. Maybe that just makes them more special.

And this one I throw in just for fun. In the midst of stressful circumstances and not knowing where to go next or when, these kids are a gift. They say  hilarious things and do hilarious things and give us moments of unparalleled joy (between moments of unparalleled frustration).

These are my reasons to smile this week.

“Home is …”

How do you fill in the blank?

 

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