Sunday, December 6, 2015
When we lived on Hazel Ave. there was a widow, Betty, who lived nearby that would stop and chat with us when we were working out in the front yard. If we walked by her house she would pop out to say hello, and once she even stopped in the middle of the road for a moment as she was driving by while I was watching Bennett jump in puddles, tiny Ainsleigh snuggled up in the Ergo.
I sensed her loneliness. I understood her grief. I wanted to connect, but aside from a Christmas basket drop off last year, and a few conversations, it never happened. We spoke often in the weeks leading up to our move. The weather was warm, and she would walk by most days. Just before we moved she dropped a letter through our mailbox asking for our forwarding address. I left a note with our information in her mailbox as we left the neighborhood for our new home.
Shortly after moving into our new house I decided to try keeping up a relationship with Betty. We wrote short letters back and forth for a couple months. Betty provided her number at the bottom of every letter, but I didn't call her because I am terrible on the phone. Just the thought of calling someone makes my stomach ache, never mind actually picking up the phone and dialing a number.
In one letter I invited her to our new home for lunch. After a long stretch of time passed she wrote back to say she had been ill. I was concerned enough after reading her letter I tried to call her, but she was busy, running out the door, or on her way somewhere, and asked me to call back.
I didn't call back for a month. I thought, she's too busy, she obviously doesn't need more people in her life, you thought she was lonely, but obviously she's fine, it would probably be awkward to have her over for a meal, you hardly know her ....
On a bitterly cold morning at the end of November I felt enough courage - and shame at how much time had passed - to call again. I was relieved when the call went to voicemail. I was grateful it was now up to Betty to decide if we were going to continue to communicate.
The following night I was lying on the couch after a long, exhausting day. I had been ill all day, the kids had been kids, and I had to keep up with them even though I didn't feel my best. I was wiped out. Phsyically and emotionally. I could feel the absence of Charlotte in the house as I stared at the lights on the freshly decorated Christmas tree. I was finishing a mug of tea, just about ready to kick my blanket off my feet and shuffle to bed (at 8:00! I was feeling really ill) when my phone rang.
It was Betty.
I stared at the phone for a moment before answering, my stomach jumping nervously. I almost didn't answer, afraid the conversation might be awkward, or strained, but I am so glad I chose to accept the call.
When Betty converses she shoots from one topic to another like a pinball, and it requires quite a bit of energy to keep up with her ricocheting thoughts. We talked about the kids, our new home, and a few other things before we began talking about grief. Betty spoke of her late husband for a while. She talked about what it was like when he died, and what the first year without him was like.
I held the nest necklace I had recently purchased ( a quiet way to keep all three of my children near me) in my hand and listened to her speak while the weight of my own grief descended on my shoulders. I touched the eggs inside the nest - one, two, three - then I took a deep breath and told her about Charlotte. I thought she knew the vague outline of what had happened to Charlotte, but she didn't even have an inkling. As I told her my story of grief she listened with sympathy and understanding.
Earlier in the evening I had been reading a storybook Bible to Ainsleigh on the couch. She squished in next to me, placed the Bible in my lap, patted the cover and said, "Bible," so I read to her. After every page she said, "more Bible," so I kept reading to her, page after page after page until her head dropped onto my shoulder and she began rubbing her eyes.
I was so sad all day, and that moment was like hope crystallized for me. It was like God saw me and knew I needed a reminder that while the month of December is really sad for me, it's also a really good season when we celebrate a pure light coming into our broken world.
And then Betty called and I again felt like God saw me. God is the greatest Comforter. We are to turn to Him when we feel broken and lost, and He will give us grace and peace. It might be through a little girl, or a widow, or a complete stranger, but He will give us what we need in every moment and situation.
I needed to talk about Charlotte that night. I didn't know I needed to until I put the phone down, but with each word that came out I felt a little more peace and calm enter my heart. I needed to pass her story on. I needed to talk about how hard the sixth Christmas is without her to someone who is trying to make it through a third Christmas without a loved one. And so God provided.
Isn't that amazing?
I left our old neighborhood feeling like I was escaping a place I didn't belong. Everyone was so well connected, and I felt so adrift. Some of that is definitely up to me. There were times I didn't cross the street when I could have. There were moments I could have tried harder to connect, but I didn't because I was worried I wouldn't fit in. A lot of people were close, and I chose to make friendships elsewhere, because I didn't feel welcome.
But when I moved out of the neighborhood, a couple relationships stayed with me. I felt so certain I was on the outside I didn't realize being in the center isn't everything. Often one or two meaningful relationships are worth far more than five shallow ones. I have to be friends with people who will let me have the space to be me. Truly me. Emotionally shattered through most of December me. I lost the ability to be false when Charlotte died. I just don't have the energy. Life is far too short for pretense.
You might not fit where you think you should fit, but there is a place for you, your heart, your spirit, your unique sense of humor, and your incredible, radiant self. Don't confuse someone else's place for yours. And don't expect all of you to match up perfectly with all of someone else. Yes you need the twenty-four hour friend, but you need the phone call every few weeks from the person who lives two miles away and sends the occasional letter just as much.
Satan wants us to focus on where we don't fit in, but Jesus wants us to see, and know, how much we matter and where we belong. If you feel small, or left out, marginalized in any way, believe me, that is Satan. He likes it when you feel small, because it stirs up feelings of anger and jealousy. God likes it when you feel loved and cared for, because you are His child and He loves you immensely
Friday, December 4, 2015
God placed a need to be in community on my heart this year, and then he led me to a place where that need could begin to be filled.
Our church is BIG. It's not mega-church big, but coming from fairly small churches I find it big, and a little intimidating. For years I wanted to get involved with a community group so we could get to know a few people well, but I didn't know how to go about doing so.
When we moved to our new home in June it was empty aside from a fridge in the kitchen, and a washer and dryer in the utility room. We didn't ask for the washer or dryer in the contract, and ours were newer and in better shape, so we decided to get rid of them.
We were going to sell them on Craigslist, but then I thought it might be easier to call the church and see if anyone was in need. Within a couple days we had a new home lined up for the washer and dryer.
Two men I didn't know very well came to pick up the set and deliver it to its new home as a favor to the person who needed it. We chatted for a while in the driveway, then the subject of Saturday night church came up.
"We have a community group that meets Thursday nights. It's all West Salem families who attend Saturday night services," one of the men said. "Would you like to join us when we start up again in the fall?"
I said we would be very interested, we chatted a few moments more, and then they headed off to complete their delivery.
I was really excited to have a prayer I had been praying for a long time answered through a chance meeting via an abandoned washer and dryer.
And then we went to the first meeting when the group resumed this fall.
We were the only ones with young kids. We were the only ones who brought our kids to the group. And they did not behave. AT ALL.
Bennett and Ainsleigh were up and down the stairs, through the banisters and onto the back of the couch, and into everything. I was horrified by their behavior. The other members of the group were remarkably kind. One couple has five grown boys while another couple has four grown children, so they understand kids, but still we needed to make changes if we were going to attend.
Having kids is so humbling, isn't it?
One of our main issues was the time. 7:00 on a Thursday night is really, really late for our kids. Ainsleigh is in bed by 7:00 most nights, if not 6:00 or 6:30. Every group meeting the kids were bouncing off the walls because they were exhausted.
After weeks of trial and error, and a lot of frustration, and feeling like we should give up, we figured out a routine that works some of the time: a snack, a show on my phone, a baby gate for the stairs, a pacifier for Ainsleigh, and a willingness to bail if things get too crazy. There's also been some discussion about moving things to our home so the kids can go to bed while me meet. Everyone is willing to work around us, which is really nice and considerate.
It's been really good for us to get involved in a group and spend time in prayer and study with other couples from our church. It's also been really challenging. I admit, I often don't want to go, because I know it's going to be rough, but I always benefit from our meetings.
At the beginning of the year when I prayed for God to show me how to be in community I had no idea I would be part of a great community group at the end of the year. Sometimes an answer to prayer comes quietly and quickly, other times it comes slowly but with great force. This was one answer even I couldn't miss, or mistake for something else.
When I was worried about moving I asked God to be with me, and remind me that He had a plan for our family and would place us where He wanted us. With every sale that fell through, and with every challenge we faced I asked God to place us in the neighborhood and home He waned us to be in.
We've lived here a few months and I've been astonished by the number of people from our church and Bennett's preschool class (who don't attend our church) that surround us in all directions. But that's how God works. He astonishes. He amazes. And if we ask him to place His hands on our lives He'll send us where we need to be.
Wednesday, December 2, 2015
The first house Jon and I bought was a small bungalow built in 1939. It was 1,400 square feet with an unfinished basement, but the top floor was one giant room, which equaled a lot of wasted space for our family because of the way we live.
I didn't feel like we could entertain very often, because the house was so small. Coming from the bedroom hallway into the kitchen was such a tight squeeze I found myself wedged between the counter and pantry at the end of my second pregnancy!
When the housing market improved we decided to sell our house in the hope of finding a home that fit our family a little better. I wanted to have friends and family over without feeling like the house might burst at the seams.
See, I'm a paradox. I love to entertain. I enjoy feeding people, and spending time around a big table with food debris piled high in the middle, stomachs full and conversation flowing. That is my idea of a great evening, BUT, I'm an introvert. So for every great evening I need three days of recovery (preferably alone with a stack of books and tea - iced or warm). With two children this is nearly impossible, but when we found our new home, and I saw how much room we would have to entertain, I knew I would have to figure out a way to decompress with two children running up and down the halls with endless amounts of energy, because at this time in my life I feel God calling - and pushing me - to live in community.
What does that mean?
I don't think living in community means going out and making new friends. Or trying to force friendships with people that don't fit you or your personality well. Living in community can mean making new friends, but it often means engaging your people, the ones who are already in your life. And if you claim you don't have time for friends - old or new - or community, I suggest you re-prioritize your life. Creating friendships outside our marriages is so important for individual growth and a healthy life. Couple friends are important as well, but I need my girls like I need food and water.
And while one aspect of living in community involves engaging the people I already know and care for, I think a secondary aspect involves throwing open the front door, so to speak, and loving every. single. person I encounter as Jesus would. And in those encounters going beyond the basics and being brave enough to step out in faith and share Christ's love so that everyone I cross paths with has the opportunity to know Christ and enter into the forever community that is waiting for believers in heaven.
I am not so great at living out that paragraph ^^ up there. I have a lot of growing to do, so, that's what I'm going to write about for a while. Living in community. Being in community. Creating new communities, and enjoying the established ones. I know it's been a while since this blog has been a regular thing, but I hope you'll join me as I try to write regularly again.
Wednesday, November 4, 2015
We're roughly one month into an absolute nightmare with our main vehicle. We're on our second mechanic, and I've just about lost my mind from the stress of it all.
I am attempting to keep our lives going. I'm finding rides to preschool for B, and borrowing cars, and sending J grocery shopping, and figuring out how to entertain the kids at home since getting anywhere on foot from here isn't easy.
As we've been dealing with this series of mechanical issues we've also been presented with an interesting opportunity: how do we respond? How do we tell an automotive shop we need a refund and we will be taking our business elsewhere, and still represent our faith?
I can tell you how I want to respond to the automotive shop: a LOT of yelling. Maybe some throwing. A chair kick or two to really make my point.
I can tell you how I have responded to my people, the ones who have to put up with me day in and day out: not well.
The last few weeks have been hard. Really, really, over the top, full of stress hard. It doesn't feel good to be put in a position of uncertainty and mistrust. It's uncomfortable to feel like you don't know what's going on, and you're not sure what the truth is, or who to trust.
And as all of this is going on I'm reading through the Bible- straight through, book after book, page after page - and I can see how I should be behaving is not matching up with how I am behaving. I'm doing okay with the people I don't know well, but I'm failing miserably with the people I care for.
But here's the awesome thing about the Bible: at its core it is a story of a nation (Israel) who fails over, and over, and over, and yet God says, I still love you, you are still mine, I will preserve a remnant, I will not wipe you out completely, I am writing a story and you are central to it, and I will give you grace again, and again, and again.
I need that grace. Every day. I mess up a lot. We all do. The mechanic we initially hired to fix our car did. And instead of kicking chairs across the office we firmly asked for a refund and took our business elsewhere. We're still in the process of getting our refund. We're still figuring things out, but we're staying calm, because we can't be a witness to anyone if we're trying to get our way by yelling and screaming.
And I really, really need to apply that concept to my home life. I keep telling my kids I love God, but they need to see me love God by following his commands. And in Mark 12 it is written,
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
Friday, September 18, 2015
We have three days of preschool and one evening of Cubbies behind us, and we are exhausted. We transitioned from one small thing last year - music class once a week - to all in this fall, and the result so far is overtired kids and lots of time trying to decide if we're making the right choices.
Preschool is only two days a week for three hours in the morning. Placing Bennett in the 3 year old class was a good decision for him - and me. I love going to pick him up. I miss his face so much I go inside to pick him up. It's more efficient than waiting in the pick up line and I get to see him come up the stairs with a big smile on his face, eyes on his teacher, following the rules. It's always nice to know he can behave well, since he often chooses not to at home!
Cubbies is part of the Awana program. It's a little hard to explain, but it's basically a two hour Sunday school class on Wednesday evening - Bible verse memorization, craft, game time ... I really wanted B to attend, but I was worried about him getting lost in the chaos. Thankfully a dear friend is a table leader and she agreed to have him in her group. It's as good as me being there with him, so I feel a lot calmer about leaving him than I thought I would. She held him when he was new, she knows he has food allergies, she knows he can be shy, and she knows I can be a little paranoid and she loves me anyway.
And both of these things - preschool and Cubbies - require snacks. Of course. After the first day I told J we'll have to increase our food budget to ensure Bennett has food that is easy to pack and eat. I'm really, really worried that he'll eat something he isn't supposed to, but I can't control what he does when he's at school so I have to trust we taught him well and that his teacher will pay attention and remember he can't eat anything unless it comes in the door with him. So far, she's been great, but I know having 15 kids to take care of is busy and hectic. On top of everyday snacks there's birthday days, and special treats, and field trips, and I've started baking and freezing treats so I always have something on hand in case I need it.
There has been some refusal to all of these new activities, but no tears, and "I loved everything" comments at every pick up, so I feel he's ready, but it's still been hard! We're also trying a community group on Thursday nights, and we are the only ones with young children who attend, so that's been a new, challenging thing as well. It's a lot of new, and a lot of change, and we're all a little introverted so there's been many quiet times and extended afternoon breaks from each other (everyone to their own rooms for an hour, mama included!).
We're managing, we're coping, we're adjusting, and I think in a couple weeks we'll be in the swing of things and life won't feel so overwhelming. I have limited advice since we've barely dipped our toe in the waters of activities outside the home, but here's a few thoughts on the matter:
Thoughts on scheduling: I have two built in quiet days right now, and I think we'll definitely keep that in our schedule if we can. Two days where we don't have anything to do, but we can make time for friends, or a library trip if we feel up to it.
Thoughts on food allergies: Educate every caregiver and teacher. Remind them your child has food allergies every. single. time. you place your child in their care. Prepare, plan, have a dedicated allergy bag with all medicine and a snack or two, and every time you walk away pray for their health and safety just like you would for any child you send out into the world.
Thoughts on anxiety: If you are a mama who has buried a child I understand how anxious you feel when you leave your child in the care of someone else. If you're like me, it's hard to walk away. I wonder if I'm doing the right thing. I worry I'll never see him again. But part of growing up is gaining independence, and as I've mentioned before I don't want my fear and anxiety to hinder Bennett's or Ainsleigh's lives. I can't stop them from living a normal childhood because their sister died unexpectedly. But I can make sure I'm as comfortable as possible with where my living kids are and who they are with, so for now all of Bennett's activities away from me are at our church.
How are you managing fall activities? Do you miss your babies? Can you believe they're old enough to be in school? Do you feel like your school is a good fit for your family?
It's hard to know if we are doing the right thing, but I think approaching every school and extracurricular decision with prayer and a willingness to alter course if things aren't working is the best mindset for our family. After all, this is only the beginning of Bennett's long (and in so many ways short) journey to independence.
Friday, September 4, 2015
This morning I made muffins for Bennett and Ainsleigh. When they finished baking, at 8 am because we'd been up since just before 6 am, the kids were desperate for a bite so I split open two steaming muffins for us to share. The kids hovered near me in their helper tower, which is always in the middle of the kitchen waiting to be used - or abused - now that we have room for it, while I waited for the muffins to cool down a bit. Then I fed all of us from the same fork, bite by bite, until both muffins were gone. After we finished we meandered to the living room, Ainsleigh in my arms, because even closing in on 2 that's her best place, her happiest spot. Ainsleigh nestled in close, head under my chin, face pressed into my neck, while Bennett raced ahead to find a book for me to read.
It rained on and off throughout the day. We meandered a lot, from room to room, from book to book. I read all of Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist in between demands and wishes from Bennett and Ainsleigh. I read the four books on army tanks Bennett picked out at the library three times. Big nonfiction books with concepts that are probably beyond him - and me to be honest - like war and conflict, but he is interested, and asks questions when he gets confused.
The kids had a bubble bath at 10:30, (so I could read a few chapters) followed by a big snack, and then Ainsleigh fell asleep for two hours. We run earlier than a lot of families I know, but this is our current season, and I'm embracing being the ones waiting in the parking lot for Trader Joe's to open at 8 am. 2-4 in the afternoon can be long and rough for us, because quiet time and naps are done and everyone is restless, but as the weather cools and the sky occasionally spits rain I've made that our time to get out and walk the dog around the block, or up the hill, or to the playground at the nearby school.
I needed a day to wander through the house, connect with my tiny ones, and feel sad. I am so very sad right now. So very sad, and so very glad, because a dear friend of mine is moving. Sad to see her go, glad for her family to have this opportunity. Weeks ago when she said, "There's a job offer in Minnesota," my heart sank. I just knew her husband would take the offer and she would go.
There's three of us. Three mamas with twelve babies between us if you count the ones in heaven as well as the ones we rock in our Earthly homes. I wouldn't be the mother I am today if I didn't have those two in my life. I've never had that experience before, the one of truly, authentically belonging in a friendship. Houses can be messy, hair can be frightening, kids can misbehave, tears can fall, no one judges if you laugh until you pee your pants (with that many kids between us how can you not?), and they are the ones I would call in the middle of the night, or at 2 in the afternoon, anytime anything good or bad happened.
Three weeks ago we spent two very hot nights helping our friend pack, paint and stage her home. On the second night we sat on the front lawn for twenty minutes with cold drinks in our sweaty hands, and we talked, and talked, and talked. We might have been out there for forty minutes, or two hours, but I'm sure it was closer to twenty. We can pack a lot of conversation into a few minutes. We're used to talking over screaming, fighting, crying, and generally loud kids having a great time together.
I know my friend isn't leaving my life. I know that. I get it. But I loved having her a few minutes away, and having her way out there in Minnesota is going to be a big adjustment. But as I was reading in Bittersweet this afternoon, when you have those kinds of friends you make time to visit them, you figure out a way to get yourself across the country, because those friendships are rare.
I've had bursts of sadness and joy over these last few weeks as we've prepared for her to go. On Monday her kids ran around with mine for a few hours. I cry every time I think about our girls born a few hours apart who won't grow up together, so I try to focus on how much they fight when they are together because they both are so strong, and determined. On Wednesday night we had our last pedicure and movie night for a while.
I'll never forget how she called me soon after Charlotte died and invited me out, even though she didn't really know me. And how she listened to my story over ice cream without saying anything but, "I'm sorry." I poured so much grief, hurt, and pain out in Cold Stone that night, and she just let me do it even though it was only our second time spending time together. The she introduced me to the third member of our group, and we all clicked, and it all made sense, and it's been the three of us for five years now. And it will still be the three of us, our friendship is just going to have a different shape, and I'm trying to adjust to that idea.
I'm standing in the middle of a lot of change right now, and it's hard for me to stay focused on God and the fact that even as everything around me shifts He is still good, He is constant and He is in control of our lives! Last Thanksgiving I asked my aunt how she was doing as her children married and moved away from her. She responded, "It's sad as they have children, but at the same time it isn't because they're not just leaving me. They are following God's calling for their lives."
Sometimes God calls us away from the people we love, and it really hurts, but as Shauna Niequist writes in Bittersweet change brings growth. In two, or four, or six years we may look back and see, oh, that's why ... oh, that's how God brought this about .... Something I learned when Charlotte died is that I may never gain understanding, but with time comes perspective. Right now I don't have any perspective, but it will come, probably when I least expect it.
"When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate.
And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow." - Shauna Niequist
Tuesday, September 1, 2015
There is something so satisfying about coming home from a store with bulk bins and filling all of my jars and containers with flours, quinoa, granola, oatmeal, flaxseed and beans. If I was really dedicated I would take my containers to the store, like so many people do, but I just can't seem to manage it. It's like reusable bags: I can remember both kids, or one kid and the bags. It's probably better to leave the bags behind.
On Saturday J and I went to Bob's Red Mill store near Portland to stock up on flour and buy a few things for our end of the world food bins. There's a LOT of unrest happening in our world right now. There's droughts, weather catastrophes, a heartbreaking refugee crisis, wars, and human trafficking happening right this very minute, and that's a short example taken from a very long list.
We take for granted our ability to go to the grocery store and buy the food we need when we need it. Or want it. J knows alllllll about ice cream runs at odd hours. We decided to make emergency food barrels just in case the world goes sideways and we have periods of time where resources are scarce. Costco has huge emergency food buckets, and you can buy them online of course, but B can't eat a lot of the food in the buckets. Even the gluten free ones don't work for us (where's the gluten, egg, peanut, corn, soy, dairy free buckets, people?! Come on, it can't be that hard to figure out what to put inside!)
All that to say we bought a lot of food on Saturday. At Bob's Red Mill I found as quiet of a corner as I could, list in hand, while J traveled from me into the bulk aisles to find what we needed. Now, if you've never been to a store with a large bulk section it. is. an. experience. While I was waiting for J to come back from fetching gluten free flour, one woman just wandered into the middle of an aisle and yelled out, "Where's the nutritional yeast???" That's how confusing those narrow aisles with bins upon bins get: people just start shouting in the hopes someone will shout back so they can Marco-Polo themselves to the bin they want without reading every. single. label.
As I mentioned before, if you are really dedicated to bulk buying you bring your containers. One guy waded into the fray with a reusable bag which he dropped on the floor and began pulling containers out of. He was lean, but muscly, he obviously worked out, and I was delighted to see that his containers matched him: they used to be full of protein powder. Perfect.
Using containers that had a prior purpose means you are really dedicated to bulk buying. You go once a week. You often get the same things. You know how much you'll need for a week, and you don't even have to measure. Before you fill your recycled containers with mung beans and pea protein you have to weigh them at the front counter so you don't get charged for the weight of the container.
If I were to bring in all of my containers I would be up there weighing them for a week. My cupboard is heavy on mason jar storage solutions. Perhaps forgetting the one or two I usually mean to bring is more courteous than dismissive of our fair Earth. Maybe?
The truly dedicated make reusing containers into an art form. They heave it on the scale, watch as the number is written down, and then casually say, This jar originally held my childhood dog's ashes. When he became one with the spirit world I hiked for days to his favorite meadow where I sprinkled his ashes under a full moon while drinking beer I made myself. And then I washed it out and brought it here so that nothing would be wasted.
I feel a little guilty when I forget my containers and reusable bags. Like all the dedicated people are staring at me when I ask for a bag at checkout. Can you tell?
After buying FIFTY pounds of gluten free oats, and a whole host of other things, we loaded up the Subaru, and headed home. We need to buy a few more things, and then we will make emergency food buckets. In 6-8 years we might be eating oats for a year. I'll let you know how it goes. Also: I think we're thisclose to buying a grain mill. Because grinding your own flour kind-of makes up for the whole failure to remember your bags and containers, right?