June 27, 2013

Four Years

Four years ago Ben and I left for India. Newly married and having just suffered a miscarriage, we felt God pulling us to a strange land that neither one of us had ever felt particularly drawn to. The logistics worked out perfectly and before we knew it we had left everything behind: our possessions, family, and security. Ben gave up his position at PA school and, upon leaving, we had no back up plan for what was next. We had nothing except each other and a few thousand dollars we had saved. We didn't do a bunch of fundraising, soliciting, or planning. We simply packed up and left. It seemed too simple yet simple made sense to us. We yearned to get away from it all and live with one focus: on the Lord Jesus and spreading his message. We trusted that God would provide for our needs if we sought to honor him. We lived at a children's home and spent a little time travelling to various remote villages to share the Good News. There were some really good times and some really bad times. We became deeply wounded through a relationship and when it was time to return home, we were broken and beaten down.

The next step was unknown to us. As we returned home, our home church at the time was looking for a couple to live on site at their base in the Amazon jungle of Peru. Ben had been on one trip there, serving as a translator for the leaders, as well as other similar trips when he was younger. The Amazon jungle and jungle towns had always been a place of 'home' to Ben, as silly as that sounds. Ever since I met him, his eyes would get starry when he talked about his past trips there. The feeling of home. That in some strange way a part of him belonged there. That part of him came alive when he was with those people. If I had to guess at which country we would've end up in I would have guessed Peru, not India. It made a lot more sense.

So when these people we dearly loved and respected extended the offer to us to be their on-staff missionaries, living with the indigenous people and being financially supported by our church family, it sounded like it was meant to be. In theory. However, when we met to talk about it and were patient and listened, we did not feel a calling to go there. We felt the opposite. I can't say I was too disappointed, because the idea of living without electricity and a boat ride from civilization was a lot for me to take in (although I'd had my fair share of 'roughing it' experiences in foreign countries, this was to the extreme). But I had already submitted my fears to God and was not about to let that be an obstacle. It didn't matter anyway, as it became clear to us that the work to be done in the Amazon was not going to be done by us.

Every part of us expected to stay abroad and to not come back. To get out of the rat race forever. The idea of staying here was almost as scary to us as leaving. But somehow we ended up back here, and the door to PA school once again opened, easier than it had the first time. As we've tried to wait patiently on God's voice for each major decision, somehow we've ended up in a home. With a regular job. With two kids. A lot like the typical American family, actually. We used to be so afraid that we would end up living a life imploded upon our little family with ourselves at the center (which I pray that it never is). At times I feel confused about where we are, which isn't necessarily a bad thing!

God really does work in mysterious ways. I don't know exactly what I've learned from this little journey of ours. I think one big thing I have learned is that other peoples' perceptions of your life matter very little in the grand scheme of things. That's one of the major themes God has taught me through all of this, and continues to teach me. You can live your whole life a slave to what people think about you- in a materialistic, worldy sense but sometimes even moreso in a spiritual, "Godly" sense. It goes both ways. And it goes for big things as well as little things. I know women who are insecure about their messy homes, and I know a woman who is insecure about her clean home because people imply it's a sign that children, or God himself, must be neglected. It goes for so many things. Disciplining your children too much, not enough, or not the "Godly way", having lots vs. few children, the type of schooling you choose, the type of food you feed your family, the amount of the body that one's clothing covers, the type of church you go to, even your type of worship style. The thing is... you cannot judge someone based on what you see. Only God has the authority to judge because only he knows the depths of our hearts. His is the only judgment that matters... Romans 14 and 1Corinthians4 have been my teacher lately. I digress. I don't even know what I'm writing about... what was the topic of this, the future? Yes, the future based on the last four crazy years. Lessons learned.

The only sure thing I know about our family's future is that I don't know what it holds. I don't know what tomorrow holds. I don't know where God will take us. But I hope that we will always, always be ready. For anything. Jesus told us to be expectant. To be ready. To be awake, not asleep. To not become too comfortable here. That this land is not our own. That our time here is limited. To be ready to fight the good fight and to love whether that be here amidst a broken, suffering world or in another country amidst a broken, suffering world, until the Story is finished. That's what I keep my eyes on: the end of the story. That's what really matters.

June 24, 2013

Home makeover: Girls' room

I painted this room this past weekend, all by myself! I don't love this room but I love what it's purpose is. The furniture is my old college furniture, it's crowded and matchy-matchy, but this is the room where hugs are given, tears are cried, and prayers are prayed.

I wanted the room to look less like a baby room/nursery and more of a room that could grow with the girls.

Girls' Room Before:


The color I chose was Spring Mint by Benjamin Moore. Choosing paint is hard. The lighting in each room is different at different times of day, and paint chips are notoriously poor in estimating how a color will look on your wall. So far I've been on target with my paint colors by going light (paint usually turns out darker than you think). However, this room ended up being my least favorite paint choice. You can't tell at all in the picture, but I think it's too dark.  The color is a blue-green, kind of like a seafoam, which isn't the easiest color to pick out and one that could easily go bad. It's also a budget paint job. I finished the first coat and one-third of the second coat before I started running out of paint. I conserved the remaining paint by completing a second coat only on the areas that would be most exposed, leaving patchier areas behind the furniture and on the bottom portion of the walls. Oh well. I didn't want to buy a second gallon :)

I would have preferred to place this directly across from the door but I wasn't about to put that heavy stuff over the crib. I painted those wooden flowers from Hobby Lobby, and the rompers were handed down from my mother-in-law. The shelves hold two of my favorite pictures of the girls:

This is Anna's bed. I know, such a big girl! She loves sleeping in this bed and she can get up and down herself. Because it's a double bed it can function as an extra guest bed in a pinch. When Kimberly outgrows her crib they will both sleep here together.

For now, she's happy in her crib.
These are the framed Christian nursery rhymes I made here from the Christian Mother Goose Book. They always make me laugh.
My mom sewed these curtains herself along blackout fabric so they completely block the light. I made that lamp shade. We throw her dirty clothes in the white bucket and keep clean sheets in the hamper underneath.

A portion of one of my favorite poems.

I have this double mailbox I intend to screw up so I can 'send' little notes and treats to the girls (thanks for the idea Sarah Forbes!).

Well, that's about it for the home makeover. I think I only have the living room left, and the yard. Someday I will get around to those. They are currently being well-lived in!

June 19, 2013

The desire of my heart: Complete

It's one of those nights where I literally feel dragged to the computer by the tugging of my heart. It never fails. Right when I think I have nothing of substance to say, that God must be doing nothing important in my life and that I am wasting it away with decorating a room or a birthday or something frivolous, the Holy Spirit presses down on my heart and compels me to write. To show me that he is doing something. That he is authoring the story of my life, as I speak, as I write.

If you were to ask Ben and I when we were first married, "How many kids do you want?" we would have said, without hesitation, "at least four." That was what we believed and what was in our hearts, that God had called us, and many Christians, to have more children than the average American household. There are many beliefs we held about why this was true:  Children are a gift from God. It is an American myth that you have to be financially secure and in a position to provide everything for your children. Really spiritual Christians who have their priorities in order have more children.  Having lots of children is God's higher calling for one's life. So many people cannot have children at all, it's a travesty to not have as many as God can give you. And most glaring of all: Having a large family is the better, and more noble, route. Some of these beliefs are true. Many of them are not true. Others are sometimes true. Apart from them and, more importantly, we both felt that our heart's desire was to have a full household: The pitter patter of feet down the stairs on Christmas morning. The full breakfast table. The household commotion. The family youth group.

It's amazing how the desires of one's heart can change right under your nose. Recently I've had this itch to get rid of our baby stuff. Once Kimberly outgrows some baby gear item I have the impulse to give it or sell it. I first dismissed this as simply a product of my "less is more" mindset. But as I've mulled it over and talked with Ben, we started to realize that we are both experiencing a change of heart. A changing and a maturing of sorts, and it has been happening at the exact same time. Several months ago if one of us had asked the other if we thought we would have a third child, both of us would have said "Yes, but not anytime soon". However, recently we discovered that we both are sensing in our heart that our family is complete, and experiencing an inner peace that how things are now is how they are supposed to be. That this might be what God has for our family. Our family of four. That doesn't mean God won't change our hearts in the future, and certainly we are open to wherever he brings us, but as of now the deepest part of us is saying this is it. God has dealt bountifully with you.

It's only recently that I've come to believe this desire is from God. When I first began to suspect my heart was changing in this area my critical self drew a few initial conclusions: You feel this way because you are tired. You feel this way because you are selfish and you don't want to put in the hard work of having more kids. You feel this way because you are materialistic. Your priorities must be out of order. This is probably not what God would truly want from you. You are giving up because you've had some trials. You are taking the easy road. You are copping out.

The Enemy always wants to silence us with doubts and fears. He is ruthless and will stop at no means to facilitate our own self-destruction. But it is just that, self-destruction. We cannot self-destruct unless we allow ourselves to.  We hold the power. We hold the ground. We either belong to God or we don't. One thing that helped me move past these doubts was seeing how God was also pressing this on Ben's heart. When he has joined together a husband and wife their spirits are one. It was confirmation to discover that the desires of our hearts were both changing.

On my heart is that our family is complete. That he has gifted us with two wonderful girls and he desires us to invest deeply in them in ways we could not if we as parents were spread more thinly. I believe he wants to do some great things through Anna. She is a special child; she also has special needs that require more attention and energy. I believe if she is watered well she will blossom and bear incredible fruit, and that one of my greatest callings is to invest in her growth as much and as deeply as possible. Kimberly is so young still that I do not yet have a grasp on her, but I will with time. And perhaps at some point in the future, God will call us to new things in different seasons,  like foster parenting, something that's been on my heart a lot lately. I want to be on guard against holding our little family too tightly in my hands... not creating our own little world where our family is at the center. I want to expand and step outside of ourselves to bring in whoever God calls us to. It's too easy to miss these opportunities when you aren't actively expecting them or looking for them to come your way.

I still love large families. I still think God is honored by bringing children into this world in the face of adversity and scarcity. I still believe that he provides for all his children and rejoices over each one that enters this world, and I still think there are many ungodly reasons why couples choose to have few, no, or delayed children. But I no longer view smaller families as less of a calling. I no longer view being a mother of four as being more noble than a mother of two. I no longer put the large family on a pedestal. I have matured in my Christian walk enough to know that God deals with each person differently and only he can judge our decisions and the motivations of our heart.

The wonderful thing about God is that he does change the desires of our heart. We are always afraid that he will call us to something that we dread, something that makes our souls cringe. But the opposite is true; so much more often he molds our will and our hearts perfectly to yearn for the things he has for us in this life, if we allow him to. I am thankful that he has given us peace about where our family is right now. Sure, things could change in the future. They always can.

But for now, I'm not saving that baby gear.

June 18, 2013

Belated Birthday

We never had a birthday celebration for Anna this year. When she turned two, I thought that I wasn't into the whole birthday party thing. We had one for her first birthday, but the one-year is considered a milestone birthday. I didn't grow up having regular birthday parties. I'm not a particularly good hostess. Anna was also in this social phobia stage and Kimberly was a newborn. So it was a no-brainer. I didn't want to put the time or money into a party.

However, recently I started thinking that I did want to celebrate Anna's birthday. Maybe it would be a good opportunity to get my mind off some of the difficulties in our lives right now. The methodical, predictability of putting together crafts and making decorations could be a welcome distraction from the chaos I felt on a daily basis. And I could use some of those craft supplies I collected over the years that were gathering dust. Another draw was that it would be an opportunity to have a social gathering where every food was ANNA-FRIENDLY!! How awesome would that be! Imagine- not having to keep her from any foods present! I was convinced. We decided to throw a little get-together. We had a lot of good friends we wanted to celebrate with, but due to Anna's stage of life and our accommodations we decided to keep it small with friends who had kids Anna's age.

We spent very little money, used a ton of stuff we already had on hand, made almost everything else ourselves, and had a lot of fun!

We talked about the party for several days before and Anna was super excited.

I made these party hats and little treat bags with craft supplies. All they had at the grocery store were Dora and Elmo lol.

Bouncy cow gets a hat, and my homemade banner.
I wanted Anna-friendly food that was fairly easy and still appealing to the masses. Not an easy task. I succeeded for the most part, but I did end up making the potato salad with mayonnaise. I was too hesitant to go with a vegan mayonnaise and trying to create a ranch seasoning mix from scratch didn't seem like good idea. Everything else was allergy free, though.

The Menu:
  • Grilled chicken with garlic-free barbeque sauce (only one brand I've ever found, sold only two months out of the year at Whole Foods which is not located in Augusta- sheesh!)
  • Homemade milk and garlic-free guacamole and corn chips
  • Green beans cooked in homemade garlic-free chicken stock
  • Fruit salad
  • Asian noodle salad
  • Potato salad
  • Milk-free dinner rolls
  • Snacks for the kids: raisins, cheerios, and butter-free popcorn.


Dessert was Rice Krispy treats with milk-free margarine and milk-and-egg free cupcakes with milk-free icing!

Another homemade banner!

Backyard setup

I did this to my forehead thanks to our ridiculous low-hanging chandelier. Without having the table underneath it my clumsy self got knocked on the head.

Thankfully I came up with a last minute fix.

Kimberly got into the cow spirit.

Birthday girl.

My homemade cow cut-out

Sleepy girl.