Category Archives: home

A Pair of Cleats

I went to a weekend women’s retreat for the first time in eight years. I left my children with tears in their eyes. It was a hard parting. The eight year old stood stoic on the lawn as I pulled out of the driveway. The three year old saluted grimly. The six year old buried his face on Daddy’s shoulder.

me. alone.

It was only for two days. They would be with Daddy. I knew they would be safe. They would be at home. They would be fed and clothed (after a fashion, anyway.) It would be ok.

But I am mommy. The kisser of boo-boos. The pourer of milk. The dinner maker. The teachable-moment-catcher. The toilet paper roll-changer. The tucker-inner. The nose wiper. The bad dream stopper. The multitasking superhero in yoga pants who makes everything better.

And I am wife. The morning coffee maker. The homemaker.   The appointment booker. The hanger-upper-of shirts. The bed maker. The confidante. The raiser of mini-cloned namesakes. The other half.

I love my job description. It’s glorious. Truly.

But while it’s hard, it’s harder still to leave it. The morning of the day I left, the two year old learned to climb out of his crib. That’s great for milestones. Bad for sleeping. Facepalm.

I know from personal experience that God can meet me right on the dirty linoleum at the sacred altar of the kitchen sink on a rainy Wednesday morning. He’s like that. So I don’t leave much. In fact, I’m confident that if I never had a day off during my children’s growing years, it would be ok. Probably 95% of mommies around the world never get such a luxury. It is not a necessity. Oh, it was wonderful, refreshing, renewing to go away for the weekend. I laughed hard and lived on too much coffee, spent time praying and crying and shopping with friends. It was a mountain top experience.

But not much lives on top of a mountain.

Men cycle in 24 hour periods. Their hormones peak, plummet, and start fresh every morning. They can work hard and rest hard within every 7 day course. But women cycle longer. Our hormones take about thirty days to rise and fall before new beginnings. We have been created for long haul living. Long term loving. Days go by without lunch breaks. Our on-call night shift starts the day a baby is born- and we might not go off duty for years. I live in the land of spilled Cheerios and broken English, car seat battles, and being the first and last face my children see Every. Single. Day. For over a decade. Farmers work hard during the growing season; they can’t rest until the harvest is in. The growing season for raising a crop of straw-headed boys can seem relentlessly long and thankless. But. We were made for this.

God made the world, way back in Genesis. And it was good. It was all good. It was all going swimmingly until chapter 2, verse 18, when God said, “it is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” So, He made woman. And to the two of them, God gave the first command, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it, have dominion over… every living thing.” Genesis 1:28.

In no other religion or belief system on earth are women held with more equality and honor than Biblical Christianity. I know that; I have seen it lived. But when I see the word “helper” it still makes me think lesser, comparatively insignificant, of smaller value. My husband outweighs me by over 100 pounds, he earns more money, manages a large store, and leads worship on a large stage. I stay home, keep kids alive, spend his paycheck on ignominious expenses like groceries and diapers, tend a garden, and write a blog. I don’t feel very important. I know – I know, through the lenses of heaven, my daily life is fulfilling the first command, and it will not seem so insignificant when I can see from that vantage point. But for now, when I’m tired, the children misbehave, the house is sticky, the garden plants die slow agonizing deaths, my husband feels overwhelmed or neglected, and the pet lizard runs out of food, it hardly feels like my efforts have any value.

The Greek word for helper in the New Testament is Paraclete. It sounds like a “pair of cleats”. Jesus told His disciples He had to leave, but God “will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever… You will know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” John 14:17. He was referring to the Holy Spirit. It has very similar connotations as the Hebrew word for helper (ezer) that referred to woman in Genesis.

I’m not going into an exhaustive study, but I got excited at this. The Holy Spirit is the power of God. There is nothing insignificant about Him. Bible translators used the word Helper to explain Paraclete, but English fails here. My two year old “helps” with the dishes. But the Paraclete is the advocate, the strength, the conscience, the gentle pressure that draws us in the direction of truth.  He is all the power and love of the Lord – in a whisper.

I can’t go off every weekend to get filled up with good Bible teaching and coffee. It’s not practical – and it wouldn’t be enough. I can’t fill up with enough goodness and patience – and caffeine – to last through a week of normal. I would run dry within minutes of 7 a.m. on Monday.

But. I can plug in to the source of power. I can be a conduit for the power and strength of God for my husband and my family. By dwelling with them, 24-7, just like the Spirit of God with any believer who asks Him to, I am conveying the strength – and joy and peace and confidence – of the God of creation Himself. The pressure is not on me to produce the power. Just by being present and plugged in, I will share it. It’s the only long term answer that will last through years of “helpmeet” status – the epitome of wife and motherhood. I can lace on my “pair of cleats” and run with confidence by connecting to the source of energy by reading the Word of God and praying. A little – every day – goes a long, long way.

That even trumps coffee.

It is good to be home.

Fat Angels

Approximately sixty years ago, a man planted a Christmas tree in the front yard of the house he had built for his family. And rain fell and the sun shone down and it grew older. And the man grew older. Eventually a new family moved into the house behind the tree. Still the pine grew. It towered over the house, a quiet sentinel, marking time by pushing roots down deep and thickening girth, ring upon ring under gnarled bark.

 

Trees are quiet things. I had been largely oblivious to it. My mind certainly wasn’t on trees as I unceremoniously dumped water on little people’s heads that evening. The little people screeched their disapproval as mom’s waterboarding interrupted their bath time play. I continued unsympathetically with our nightly routine, warm water threading white rivulets through the spaghetti sauce on their round cheeks. Bath time is not a quiet ritual around here. So I missed the tree’s heroic moment. Heroic moments are sneaky like that.

I heard the thud. But one of the children was in the room overhead, rummaging through the Lego box like young thunder. Another was practicing long jumps across the living room rug and vaulting onto the loveseat. So thuds hardly registered on my internal Richter scale. It was only when my oldest called from the living room window, “Mom – there’s a truck on our front lawn…” That I felt a need to investigate.

Indeed – there was a truck on our front lawn. It was an odd place to find a pickup truck. I glanced over at my older children in mutual confusion as we stared out the window, watching the truck. The driver seemed as confused as we were. For a moment, he sat there, facing the tree that he had just crashed headlong into. Then he backed up, nearly hitting the telephone pole, swerving wildly, forward and back several times. He must have had trouble seeing over the smashed up hood, but I suspect his vision was compromised already since tire tracks proved he’d careened nearly 30 feet off the road. I strained to see the license plate, but the driver managed to find the road and speed away before I got a look. The oldest boys and I ran out the front door and surveyed the carnage. A headlight and bits of metal and glass littered the snow. The old pine had a gash across it, bark severed from the trunk, several branches hanging limp. I glanced back to the house. Two wet chubby bodies glistened in the front window, shameless in their curiosity. I hurried back and found towels to sop up the puddles left from their tub escape (and to cover their bright white thighs). My mind whirled. Should I call an emergency number if a guy just drove across our front lawn? I texted my husband with one hand as I toweled dripping children. He was nearly home from work, and drove in as I was strapping on diapers. “Call the police!” he remonstrated me from the doorway, and tromped over to survey the scene. I googled the number for the local police department and called. No answer. Nonplussed, I dialed 911. The dispatcher listened as I stumbled over my words. “A guy just drove over our lawn, hit our tree, and drove away…”

“Ok…” He responded. It was awkward. I explained no one was hurt, but the man (I was pretty sure it was a man we’d seen in the driver’s seat, but you never can tell these days) had seemed very confused and unsafe.

“I think they’re already on this,” the dispatcher mentioned. “Thanks.” And he hung up.

I continued with the evening ablutions of pajamas and books until the dispatcher called back a few minutes later. “Just wanted you to know,” he explained, “the driver crashed not far down the road from you. He won’t be going anywhere for a long time.”

“Thank you for letting us know.” I responded, and started to ask for more information, but the man said an officer would be in contact and bid me good evening.

About half an hour later, we saw a tow truck trundle by with a familiar smashed up pick-up truck on its hook. We had a good discussion that evening about how alcohol or drugs can impair your ability to think. (The cause of the driver’s recklessness was never revealed to us, but it opened the door for some conversation anyway).

 

As I lay in bed that night, it occurred to me how close the driver had come to my children and me. The tree was within ten feet of the corner of our house. He must have been going far above the speed limit to fly over thirty feet off the road, up the knoll, and still smash the vehicle into a tree with such force. I shivered. It had been dusk, and thankfully, wet and chilly, so none of my children had still been out playing in the yard when he came. But they could have been… I shut my eyes and breathed a prayer.

 

“Thank you, Lord, for that tree. Thank you for guarding us…”

 

I’ve often joked that I must have had a fat guardian angel, since there has often been a space of about 10 feet between my indiscretions and a true emergency. I remember the winter after I learned to drive my dad’s 4 cylinder pickup, sliding off slick white roads a couple times into soft snowbanks. I’d had to grab a shovel and work my way out, but it was harmless compared to what could have been if I’d made sudden contact with a telephone pole not far away.   I’ve never (knowingly) met an angel, but I suspect their wingspan is far greater than the little Valentine cherubs of the cartoons. Perhaps the ten foot span that often came between me and peril was actually a supernatural warrior sitting in the snow – calmly flexing. A single angel has been known to wipe out entire armies (check Isaiah 37) and make grown men fall on their faces in fear (Daniel 10). A guy like that would have no trouble stopping a measly pick-up truck with his pinkie – or a sappy pine bough.

The driver himself wouldn’t have stood much chance at his speeds had he chosen to interact with the telephone pole down near the pavement rather than heading upwards over the turf for several dozen feet. I wonder if he appreciated this fact when he woke (wherever he woke) the next morning and realized how exciting his previous evening had been. I’m guessing he missed it. But we prayed for him to find purpose in his lease on life anyway.

 

Sixty years ago, a man had no idea how pivotal one little sapling would prove to be. But I know. My house and my kids were protected. Cupid strikes again. Ha. Like a rock.

Go Cupid.

 

God is so good to me.

 

Trust Fall of Faith

Someone made an offer to buy our old house last week. The timing was interesting.

This week – exactly one year ago – we moved out of it.

We’ve tried to sell before. For over eight years, we’ve tried to sell. But the market isn’t what it was when we bought, and our mortgage (created for first time home buyers) has a clause that prevented us from renting it out. It seemed fine a decade ago, expecting our first, with the housing market booming. It became less fine as the years passed, the housing market crashed, and we expected our 4th, and 5th, and 6th.  Every time a potential buyer began the process, a different road block would pop up.  It got a little ridiculous.  We inquired about getting a new mortgage without such a clause, but as housing markets struggled, the bank said there wasn’t enough equity in it and refused.

 

Finally, last April, we were granted a reprieve from the confines of the mortgage, allowing us to rent it out while promising to simultaneously try to sell (again).

But if we don’t sell, and don’t re-inhabit at some point, we could technically be in breach of our mortgage contract and the bank could foreclose on us, even though we have paid the mortgage every month and it is inhabited by a contented renter.

Will they do it? I don’t know. I’m not a bank. (Though I haven’t convinced my kids of that yet.)

Was it risky to have taken this chance for a year?  Was it a good idea to leave the small house (with a smaller monthly cost of living) for a larger, costlier one?  Was it smart to have taken on a second mortgage on a new house when the last hadn’t sold?   The bank could destroy our credit by taking back that old one.

It’s humbling.

I might have thumbed my nose at someone else faced with foreclosure, assuming them reckless with their money and resources. Or at least, I might have over a year ago.

But now…

Sometimes following God isn’t the most financially sound choice. Or most comfortable. Or most logical.

Yes, we are called to be wise with our money and bodies and time and resources.

 

But sometimes wisdom isn’t smart.

 

The day we moved, April 2016, we tried to squeeze everyone into one last picture on the longest wall

 

The Bible says that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10).

But people who feared God often did stupid-looking things.

 

Noah spent years building a boat on dry land and moved into it amidst the jeers of his neighbors.

Abraham moved – before knowing where he was headed.

Moses challenged Pharaoh with a stick.

Joshua attacked Jericho by walking around it.

Gideon challenged the Midianites with a horn and a torch.

David stood up to Goliath with a leather sling.

Ezekiel gave the people God’s message by being silent.

Jonah brought a nation to its knees with 8 words that didn’t even include the word repent.

 

And Jesus said He could save the world by dying a criminal’s death.

 

None of that seemed logical. None of them looked smart.

But it’s always wise to follow God.  Even if it looks stupid to everyone else.

 

A friend left a couple days ago, moving from our cold muddy New England Spring to Brazil.  There are snakes and spiders there that can kill you. The humidity and sun are merciless. None of her family live there. She doesn’t know the language.  She is young, single, blonde, and beautiful. She will spend the next 20 years or so on this quest.

But there are indigenous groups of people who have never heard the gospel. They don’t have a written language, so they don’t have access to the Bible. Her job is to be accepted into one of their communities, learn their language, write them an alphabet, dictionary, and grammar rules, and then translate the Bible into their language. It isn’t lucrative. It is dangerous. It is very hard, and lonely, and frustrating.

It seems reckless.

Last song before we moved out

I know that being a Christ-follower doesn’t mean we’ve been given a license to be stupid. Most of the time, it means being logical. I don’t smoke (because it’s bad for my lungs), or drink (I need every brain cell I’ve got), or party (unless staying up past 10 p.m. counts). I try to budget and shop at thrift stores. I don’t play with matches or run with scissors (much). I eat my veggies and read a lot and buckle my seatbelt and vote. I try to be wise with my daily life. Of course, I’m capable of doing plenty of dumb stuff without permission or thought (Not everything makes it onto a blog!). But generally, I try to live without stepping on any snakes that could turn and bite me.

And still, the uncomfortable moment came to step out in reckless hope.

God was there when each of our six kids were born.  God was there when one was born who would need a wheelchair.  God was there when we bought the little house.  God was there when we had to make the decision to move out of it.

leap of faith?

 

We’d made some crazy-looking decisions.  So we prayed like crazy.  And prayed some more.  And held our breath.  And jumped.

Maybe it will end in foreclosure.  But maybe a bad credit rating isn’t of prime importance in God’s kingdom.

But a humble, willing heart is.

 

The buyers backed out on Friday. So we wait, again, wondering if we were wise to take on a second mortgage, to leave the house we weren’t allowed to leave, to trust God to provide for the children He gave us.

If I’m reckless, I hope it is because God told me to be.

I guess it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks.

I can’t stop trusting just because I already took the first step of faith.  After all, it isn’t the first step that hurts – it’s the possibility of a sudden stop at the end!

Who knows what God has planned between now and then?

 

the view from our old back deck

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13

 

 

Thresholds

It was Tuesday afternoon.

And I was chopping onions and chives for potato salad.

And I wondered where I would store such things in my new house.

And it seemed petty.

(Though I can’t just leave them on the dining room table all the time.  All chives matter after all.)

 

It was Tueday afternoon.

And I was yelling.

Everyone was grumpy.  It was wet outside, spirits were damp, noses were runny.

I had streaks on my shirt shoulder from the baby.

 

It was a Tuesday afternoon.

And Jesus went to Lazarus’s house.

But he wasn’t there.  Well, his body was, but it was just a shell.  Empty.  Buried.  Lifeless.

And Jesus wept.

 

(Actually, I don’t know if that happened on a Tuesday.  But it wasn’t long before Passover weekend; people were already headed to Jerusalem to prep for the feast, and Jesus knew they were in the countdown leading to His own day of death.  So it very possibly could have been…)

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Two Tuesdays ago, we bought a house.  We. Bought. A. House!

My husband said he would carry me over the threshold like newlyweds entering their home together for the first time (but he wouldn’t let me take a picture of it, to preserve his manliness.)  The house echoed.  It was so empty.  So clean.  Not even a single dead fly lay belly up on the windowsills.  No fingerprints on the door.  No crayon marks on the walls.

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Now there are. (It doesn’t take long!)  The flies get captured to feed to the pet praying mantises.  (So I caved on the pet thing.  But we’re still not getting a puppy.)  Little smudges cross the glass of the door where toddlers watch for Daddy in the evening (and for any chance to escape undetected to the great outdoors).  Two children were caught decorating the inside of the closet with the contents of the re-discovered crayon box (at least it was the inside).    The house is full of life and promise.

 

We bought the house from someone who gutted it and redid the inside five years ago.  I think they expected to stay here longer.  But within six months of starting the work, he was diagnosed with ALS (remember the ice bucket challenge?)  So their renovation plans changed.  He built a wheelchair ramp.  He created a first floor master bedroom.  He tiled the whole bathroom to make a walk – or drive – in shower.  He installed a bidet (that’s a new adventure for the kids!)  The thresholds are low.

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Some people have patted me on the back and said we deserve this house.  I concur that it is lovely to have a big backyard for the boys, and wheelchair access, and to not sleep on the living room pull out sofa every night, listening to the dishwasher hum its evening routine within feet of my head.  Rejoice with me.  I have yearned for this for years.

But we don’t deserve it.  Just because we have six kids and a wheelchair does not equal rights to a larger accessible space.  Just because you think we are nice (and you haven’t seen me at bedtime when they won’t sleep) does not mean we should have nice things.  Just because we trust God does not mean our faith guarantees we get what we want.

The man who owned this house before us didn’t deserve to die any more than we deserve to live here.  We all live in this sin-scarred world full of germs and degeneration, a place where it rains on the just and unjust, where life isn’t fair and doesn’t make sense.

There are probably hundreds of mamas living in cardboard shacks with their six children who have far greater faith than me.  And I know much nicer people.  And just having a wheelchair does not mean that my son is guaranteed the right to easier access.  It doesn’t even mean he deserves them.

Rather, it is grace.  It is always grace.

It was grace that brought Jesus to the tomb of his friend Lazarus, dead for four days.

When he got there, Jesus wept.  Why?

Because the world had lost a good man?  Lazarus was a good man.  He was generous and hospitable (you don’t become the stopping place for a rowdy group of a dozen grown fishermen and IRS agents unless you’re really good at sharing!)  He was known and respected.  But Jesus knew him too – as a friend.  He didn’t deserve to live any more than anyone else just because he was a nice guy, or to die because he was any worse of a sinner than his neighbors.

It wasn’t weakness.  This was the Man who had complete control of the very weather over His head, who could command legions of angels to His bidding, who made demons shriek in terror.  Jesus could make Chuck Norris cry.  Jesus didn’t cry because He was weak.

Did He weep because He missed him?  Jesus knew the exactly what would happen in a few minutes.  He would call Lazarus back from the grave.  Come back from the beautiful place where there was no pain, no worries.  No tears.  Come back to the land of death, where people would hate Lazarus so much they’d want to kill him – all over again.  Come back from the comfortable, bright, safe place beyond the grave, back to the hurting, grumpy, wet, petty place where people think it matters where the onions are stored, where people decide whether they think you’re worth life or death based on their preference to your appearance.  Come back to limitations and frustrations.  Come back from the land of the living.  Maybe I would cry too.

But I don’t think that was the cause of Jesus’ tears.

I think He wept because He ached for His friends.

Jesus wept because the strongest Man on earth was also the most compassionate Man.  Because sometimes grace is allowing a man to die and never hurt again while his family aches on earth, but sometimes grace is bringing a man back from that good place to live in a decaying body again. In that moment, Jesus felt their deep sorrow.

Sometimes grace means rejoicing on earth.  Sometimes it means heartbreak.  I would love to hear Jesus laugh.  I bet it is infectious.  But so are tears to a Man with a big heart.

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The Jesus I know is a God of grace.  Five years ago a man was diagnosed with an incurable disease.  That same year, a child was born with a lifelong disability.

The man was capable, financially wise, and sensible.  He prepared for his physical decline by preparing his home and his soul to meet the challenge of dying.  Meanwhile my son underwent surgeries, bought a wheelchair, and got a couple more siblings to prepare him for the physical and mental challenge of living.

A year ago, in late May, I committed to praying daily for a new house for our growing family.  A year ago, in early June, that man died.  He was committed to a new forever home that would never decline and never ache again.  But there were tears on earth.

I wept when I read the obituary and realized the timeline.  I do not know why God chose to do it this way.  But I do know Jesus Himself ached for the heartbroken family even as He welcomed a soul into eternity.

I walked through the house this man rebuilt.  He died in this house.  And for a while it stood empty.  Silent.  Waiting.

Now it is full of life.  And crayons and oatmeal.  Loud baby squeals echo and pokemon battles rage (the stuffed kind, not the virtual.  They find them – and throw them at their brothers.)

Last Monday, I looked out between fingerprints through the kitchen window as a thundercloud swelled across the sky.  The stately old elm tree at the back of the field stood stark against the foreboding grey.  I called the boys inside.  We watched as the heavens opened.  Rain poured in sheets.  Lightning ripped the clouds.  Thunder shook the heavy atmosphere.  It was majestic.  It was terrifying.  God reminded us that He is big.  He is powerful.  He is utterly in control.

And I hugged my littlest men close and felt their cubby warm softness.  And I knew God was also gentle.  He is compassionate.  He is utterly good.

And I do not deserve His grace.

But still He gives it.

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“The Lord your God, who goes before you, He will fight for you… and in the wilderness you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries His son, in all the way that you went until you came to this place.  [He] went in the way before you to search out a place for you to pitch your tents, to show you the way you should go.”

Deuteronomy 1:30-32

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Vanilla House

We found a house.

We made an offer.

They said no.

We haggled, they haggled back.

We agreed.

Now we wait on the bank and all the paperwork.

It is twice the size of our old house, almost exactly.  And half as old.  The walls are straight.  The basement is dry.  There is already a wheelchair ramp, and an accessible shower, and no rugs to slow down the child with wheels.  A stream full of frogs to be caught borders one side; big grassy fields invite soccer and breathless games of tag on the others.

We are hopeful; even a little bit excited now.

Soon.

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Funny, it wasn’t my first choice.  In fact, when we looked at it with the realtor, I dismissed it quickly.  It was missing vital points of my “must-have” list.  It has no mudroom or entry area where stacks of boots and winter coats can live.  It has no laundry room where piles of clean and dirty can meet and greet.  It has no pantry area for the kitchen where I will spend most of the next decade or two.  It has no garage or barn.  It isn’t closer to where my husband works.  It has none of the character or intrigue of an old house, no nooks or crannies or little rooms to hide in with a book.  I call it the vanilla house.

It needs sprinkles.

I am not used to starting with a clean slate.  What a wonderful chance.  What a terrifying chance.  How exactly do I do this?!?

Interior decorator I am not.  Nor am I particularly organized to live without a pantry or bookshelves or a place to hang coats.  That gift skipped my generation, or at least my time and money constraints…   I am not sure how to make this clean palette of a house into a beautiful, inviting home.  I thought maybe a house that came with some flourishes of someone else’s life would help.  But instead I’ll have to start scouring Pinterest for how to build a pantry out of pallets and coconut oil.  Isn’t that what kids are into these days?

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All the furniture that seemed too snug in our old house will seem lonely in this new space.  I don’t own a single bookshelf now.  Or curtains.  Or a lawnmower.  Or a big garbage can.

I hope the neighbors are nice – even when they discover they’re living next to six young brothers.

I hope I can make the vanilla house into a vibrant, tasteful home.

I hope you can come visit.

Soon.

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The Young and the Reckless

It’s been an odd two months.

I’ve hardly watered a houseplant.

I’ve shared laundry duties.

I’m not the one who locks the door at night, or turns off every light, or starts the dishwasher before bed.

I haven’t written down when a single library book is due in 2 months.

I’m not always the choice for bedtime-story-reader.

I haven’t done nearly as many dishes.  (You could even say my sink doesn’t runneth over.  Dare I even write this blog anymore?!?)

Maybe I should call it a vacation.  It’s been a month of Sundays since I ran a household.  We aren’t home after all.  A man I’ve never met lives in our old home.  I haven’t been back since the day we left.

But mostly I’ve felt unraveled.  I’ve wondered.  Was this whole plan to get out of our little house wise?  Is it of God?  Is it crazy?  Was it impetuous?  Was it wrong?  When I look back at these months, will I be able to say we followed God on this crazy venture, or ran reckless in the opposite direction?  It has been a challenge.

Homeschooling is hard when you’re not “home.”

Mothering is hard when you’re in your own mother’s house.

Marriage is hard when both of you have been uprooted from your traditional head and heart roles.

Meal times are hard when someone else cooks differently than you would.

Relaxing is never quite relaxed.

Sometimes following God does look reckless.  Ask Noah, who built a boat where there was no water.  Or Moses, who told off the most powerful ruler of the world with just a staff in his hand.  Or Mary, who told everyone she was pregnant with the son of God.

But sometimes reckless is just that, reckless.

Where is my heart?

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They say hindsight is 20/20.  I’ve certainly learned things that way.  But Sarah, the wife of Abraham, didn’t have the benefit.  She couldn’t walk through the hallowed archways and see pictures of faithful who came before her, because she was one of the first listed in the hall of faith.  She must have wondered too.  A lot.

God had promised her husband he would have descendants.  But she hadn’t given him even one yet.  It was the one thing on earth Sarah wished for more than anything.  A son.  But years had passed.  Sarah’s arms remained empty.

True, with no child tugging on her skin or waking her through the night, Sarah remained youthful and beautiful.  She had no stretch marks or pregnancy weight, no hormone crashes, no sleepless exhaustion hanging under her eyes.  Far past menopause she still turned the heads of kings.  Manual labor was delegated to her servants.  Her job as trophy wife to a rich man was simply to supply an heir.  But she couldn’t.  Twice her husband allowed her to be taken into other men’s harems.  Maybe it would solve both their problems if she simply disappeared.  But God always stopped it.

Finally, in desperation, Sarah came up with the only solution she could imagine.  She would give Abraham an heir all right.  Just not from her body.  Sarah didn’t have the ability to get pregnant, but she had power.  She could force a surrogacy.  She had a servant, a nice girl, healthy and promising.  Culture dictated this was perfectly legal.

Abraham himself was 85 and getting a bit impatient.  When Sarah came to him with a thinly veiled broken heart and an open proposition, he was enticed.  He took her up on it.  And finally, Abraham had a son.

But it wasn’t the son God had promised.  Abraham and Sarah had to wait another fourteen years before God reiterated His promise again.  Finally, they believed Him.  Finally, Sarah got pregnant.  From that child of promise, she and Abraham became the parents of millions, the whole nation of Israel.

But from that other son came nations too.  Throughout the millennia since the two half-brothers were born, their descendants have fought each other.  That one time Abraham listened to his wife rather than waiting on God has cost many lives and much heartache.  It was expensive impatience.

I hope I haven’t asked my own husband to do that.

Not that we have harems around here, but…

I had wished so hard for a bigger house.  But it seemed like the one thing we never could have.  My husband was content to wait; little houses do cost less than big ones after all.  I was finding it harder.  Every morning I woke up on the pull-out sofa in the living room.  In the little house, even one thing out of place made paths wheelchair inaccessible.  Entertaining was difficult when little ones were always napping in all the rooms upstairs, and even our own family overflowed the dining room table.  It felt like a losing battle.  I wanted a new house.  I didn’t think I’d be happy till I got one.

At least it felt like it.

But I didn’t want to be reckless Sarah.

Once she ran reckless after her own heart and did the practical thing.  But it only brought sorrow.  She could have had kings for husbands.  They wanted her.  They might have given her princes for children.  She could have raised her servant’s child as her own.  He went on to have 12 princes out of his own descendants.  She could have made something of herself.

But I wanted to be righteous Sarah.

She was the one who made it into the Hebrews 11 hall of faith.  That was the Sarah who followed bravely after God when He led her husband into the wilderness.  It was that Sarah who believed God could make her pregnant with a husband as good as dead. (And you thought yours had issues!)  That was the Sarah who didn’t make something of herself.  God made Sarah.  When God singled out a nation as an example of His grace to all humanity, He chose Sarah to be its mother.  The very son of God would be her great-great-great-great (a bunch more greats) grandson.  She could have birthed princes.  But instead, from her came the King of all creation.

Sarah’s first god was too small.  It was years – decades – before she realized how big her God could be.

I look ahead as far as I can see and tremble. The mountains look huge.  Insurmountable. The responsibility of two mortgages…  A big impending tangle with Ben’s faceless insurance world…  Long demanding work hours owning my husband’s time…  I feel overwhelmed.  That’s when I forget my God is big.  He doesn’t always take us the practical, well paved route.  I still wonder if this is crazy.  But maybe, just maybe, I’m not being reckless.

So I fall again on my knees and beg God to keep me from making far-too-small plans.  He has big hands.  Big plans.  Don’t let me try to make something of myself, Lord.  I’ll only make a mess.  You Yourself make me.

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I’ll have to wait and see how He does it.  And let the houseplants rejoice that I’m not in charge.

The Rendering

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I pushed open the front door and felt an unnerving emptiness.  No pattering feet rushed to greet me from inside, no jostling elbows pushed me from behind.  I tried to brush away the lonely feeling.  This was, after all, a unique chance to get some cleaning done without my customary “help”.  I couldn’t ignore the opportunity.  But the quiet seemed unnatural.

It has been almost two weeks since we packed up the boys and a big mattress and a few days’ worth of clothes in laundry baskets and headed to my parents’ house for a sleepover of unknown proportions.  Call it adventure.  Call it desperation.  Our family has grown large for our quaint little two bedroom house.  I was pregnant with our first child when my husband and I accepted the terms of our mortgage.  A decade, 6 kids, a mountain of toys and clothes and diapers, a wheelchair, and thousands of Legos later – we know it is time to do something about space.  My parents graciously offered to allow us to come stay with them in their larger home while we made ours more sellable or rentable or larger with an addition.  So we took them up on it.

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We have tried to sell our little house off and on for the past 7 years.  Well over a hundred strangers have walked through it; a handful have made offers.  But for one reason or another, they each fell through.  And we stayed.  We considered renting it out, but for various reasons, we couldn’t do that either.  We half-joked about simply walking away from it.  But, albeit small, it was still a house.  Our home.  A warm shelter, decadent by the standards of most of the rest of the world – I should not thumb my nose at it.  I am blessed and I know it with a good marriage, a growing handful of boys, wonderful friends, and a great God.  Having little personal or storage or counter space are all minor details in the grand scheme.

But perspective can be hard to maintain when you’re nearsighted.  I remember about two years ago sinking low into a pity party about feeling so stuck in our circumstance.  It was Christmas Day, and it had been long.  After a busy day filled with visiting both sets of grandparents, my husband drove our car, heavy-laden with toys, sugar, and very tired children, back into the driveway.  As the tires crunched on the frozen gravel, I looked up at our home and noticed the curtains billowing from our second story window.  I questioned my sanity, wondering if I had managed to leave a window open wide all day at the end of December in New England without knowing it.  My husband (and resident hero) went in to investigate.  Apparently the window had simply decided to fall out.  How nice.  He put it back in and turned up the heat.  As we carried exhausted children to their crowded bedroom and unloaded boxes of new toys into my literally-falling-apart house, the emotions of an over-stimulated holiday season overwhelmed me.  I did NOT like that house anymore.  But like weight that refuses to shrink even after diet and exercise, it remained mine.  Last Christmas (or three days before it), the fridge died and we ripped a whole in the side of the kitchen to get it out and replaced.  There was also the time the basement flooded.  And we gave up our bedroom to the children because we couldn’t squeeze another bed into theirs.  Then a bat flew by my head as we were trying to sleep on the pull-out sofa in the living room…    It has been a daily struggle to always be thankful for my humble abode.

Now, I know that difficult doesn’t equal wrong.   Biblically, difficult is the season when God does what is most right.  So we decided it was time to step it up a notch and make life more difficult by moving the family to the in-laws’ house so we could work on ours.  I know that my children are safe and loved at my parents’ home, and have been handed the rare opportunity to build deep relationships with their grandparents.  Here is a safe and comfortable haven for my family so my husband and I have the ability to work on little house projects that prove challenging with my regularly employed spastic, eager, sticky-fingered volunteers.  Already I’ve pried army men out of radiators, vacuumed innumerable legos from between floorboards, and spent far too long debating with myself whether the discovered ninja turtle figures should go live in the guy box or the animal box of toys.  I’m getting stuff done.  My husband has spent a long week mostly being a bachelor at his own house tearing apart the kitchen and putting it back together.  I did say he was the resident hero, didn’t I?

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But it is hard.  Adding a young family of eight to an older family of three (my adult sister lives with my parents too) naturally turned routines on their heads.  My husband went from the head of the household to a shadow in someone else’s house who appears briefly in the morning and evening before bedtime.  And I lost my sink-central command post when we moved to someone else’s kitchen.  My parents’ household sleeps at different times, eats different things, and puts the toilet paper on the other way around.  I miss my husband.  Our world is askew.

I find myself missing our old normal life.  True, old normal meant no personal space, not all fitting around the dining room table, teaching math while extracting crayon wrappers from baby’s mouth, juggling doctor appointments with homeschooling, and vacuuming at 10 p.m.  But even while my normal life was breathlessly challenging, being stripped of normal rubs a raw hurt on my heart.  I miss the days of small things.  Of small house.  Never thought I’d say that.  In my current season, all my boys still come to mama with their worries and their boo boos, their joys and pet earthworms, their hopes for their future and of what they want for dinner.  I’ve always known where they were since there was no space to get away from each other (and they aren’t old enough to drive yet.)  Exhausting and exhilarating at the same time, the pulse of my whole household has always flowed through me.  A great deal of life has happened between the walls of our small house, and I have always, by necessity, been in the center of it.  To move all that life to someone else’s house really changes the flow.  Hearts depend on pressure to keep life moving, after all.  The squeeze is necessary.

But this upheaval is for a purpose.  It is cleaning time.  I thought that meant fresh coats of paint and a new kitchen ceiling.  But I’m realizing it goes deeper.  (Doesn’t it always?)  I wiped the counters around my empty crock pot a few days ago and remembered that I hadn’t rendered lard recently.  (See, I’ve grown domestic in my decade as a kitchen-owner.)   Nasty pig fat gets cooked down till the good clean lard rises to the top.  Good lard is pure white.  There’s nothing “piggy” about it.  It’s so clean you can make it into perfect flaky pie crust without even a hint of bacon.  The cooking process is called rendering.  It’s long and hot.  It separates the impurities from the pure final product.  The end result is so good, I’ve actually slathered it on my cheeks as a face cream.  (True story – but maybe for another post.)  I realize fat gets a bad rap these days, but historically the fat parts of meat are considered the better ones.  Even holy. (Leviticus 3:16 “…All the fat is the Lord’s.”)  After all, bacon.  What’s not awesome?

This is my own separation time.  The imperfections of my home for the past decade have occasionally overwhelmed me in the last couple years. (No. Closets. For. Real.)  But separated from it, I find a growing affection for my cozy humble home.  Perhaps it wasn’t as bad as I often thought.  At least I was stuffed in there with the people I like most in all the world.  And pizza delivery is quick when you live in the middle of the city…

Separated from my routine, I can see how important it was.  Everyone in my family has gotten physically sick in the transition of the past two weeks.  Routine is mundane, but how vital!  Maybe boring wasn’t such a bad plan after all.

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The separating of our family life has been hardest.  It’s neither wise nor safe to have little ones around a construction zone.  So I am torn.  I can stay with them while my industrious husband does the grunt work alone, or I can work with him while my capable parents spend time with their grandchildren who have been taking turns being sick.  I’ve done some of both.  Go… Stay… It is lonely in the middle.  I’m not accustomed to the feeling, which makes me turn introspective.  And grumpy.  That brings me to the greatest division…

This world is not my home.  I forget so easily.  What I do now impacts eternity, but it is not eternity.  I’ve been given the chance to step back from my nearsighted tunnel vision and see more clearly.  Moving to bigger walls or higher ceilings isn’t a panacea for my real homesickness.  I miss heaven.  I just haven’t been there yet.

When Jesus came to earth, I wonder how He dealt with the smallness of everything.  The lack.  He didn’t even have a place to lay His head.  At least I have a pull-out sofa.  His own family, his own country, rejected Him.  At least mine still invite me to stay a while.  He was killed to try to force Him to stay in the smallness, the insignificant, the lack.  But even in this humble place, this dirty, messy, small-minded little world, He never lost sight of the big prize.  He came for me.  For us.  He came to our little home to invite us back to His.  When He left, Jesus said He was going to get to work on a place to share with me.  Forever.

I don’t think my forever home will have closets either.  But I won’t be needing a place to store baggage when I get there – or extra toilet paper, homework folders and tax files, wheelchairs, laundry, legos, or the next size of clothing.

Maybe my current home is closer to heaven than I realized.

“Do not fear, little flock; it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  Luke 12:32