My 2011 Year in Review

bye 2011. nice knowing ya

I feel compelled to do a year in review. I don’t journal and I don’t remember things when I try to. Only when something triggers a memory do I smile or cry over it. These facts are not very promising for a good review. Only a few key things come to mind.

The biggest event of our year was the engagement of my oldest daughter. I knew she was getting engaged that day but she didn’t. I was at a homeschool conference, waiting all day for the call that finally came. “Mom! I’m engaged!” I stood on the curb of the conference center and cried with my girl, the one who grew up while I was growing up. We were both happy and you can’t ask for more than that.

I turned 40 in 2011 and I think what they say is true. Forty is fabulous, except for the weight gain, hormonal shifts, eye-sight struggles, and well, nevermind. During this year, the most hilarious good news/bad news situation has presented itself. My dark chin-hair that I have to stay after has turned gray. I’m just not sure how to feel about that.

Another big event of my year was a performance of Messiah that I got to be in. It was such a highlight of my years of singing. It was also a huge growth experience that let me see what I could do if I practice and practice and pray and cry a little and beg for mercy and practice some more. And then pray again.

That positive experience sprang from all I learned in a small group I participated in this past spring. The study we did in that group significantly changed me. The book we used is called Changes that Heal. I will blog about it more later because I am going through it again. I will forever see this time as pivotal in my spiritual growth. The changes I went through as a result have netted me new friends, new perspective, even a new me. Now that I have hyped the book beyond belief, I will move on.

My husband and I had a great anniversary trip to Asheville NC this past summer. This anniversary trip stands out because we got to meet up with the couple who has become or great friends. You know who you are and we will never forget watching the evening primroses open so beautifully and standing for hours talking to you both.

The most recent big news is my husband’s new job. He got a great job as an electronics technician for a local company. After two years of running his own business to keep us afloat, God has gifted us with a much less stressful job with good hours and great benefits. The new year will be very new for us with stability and paychecks and everything!

Of course there were bad things in this past year. They seem fuzzy now. I vaguely remember some fights, some failures, some fatigue and some frustration. Surely there was all of that, but the God that loves us has smoothed so much of that over. What was meant for evil has turned out for our good and what was not smoothed over is still covered in the ever-present hope of His redemptive plan.

Now we look forward to a new year, a new job, and a new marriage! Fresh starts are everywhere and I am ready to see what’s next. What was the highlight of your year? Take a few minutes to reflect and share it too! Happy New Year!

What the Fire Gave Us Part 2

Today I will take on Part 2 of What the Fire Gave Us. If you missed part 1, you can click here to read what you missed.

the light of day

It took a few days after the fire to finally get an insurance adjuster out to our house. The ice storm had overwhelmed the system. Everything was a mystery until they could see it and tell us what to do. Only nine months before the fire, our agent came to the house to update our information. He told us that because we now had eight people living there, double what we had moved in with, we should double our coverage. My husband agreed and that decision made all the difference. Our previous coverage would not have been enough.  I was so relieved to finally walk with our adjuster through the house and hear him talk about how they were going to take care of things. He told me to find a place to rent and they would take care of that too. A crash course in insurance is not fun but it was comforting to see it kick in. The relief I felt after that meeting was a lot like joy.

But before our insurance company could get to us,  the love of our friends came pouring in. Money, gift cards, and a crib for our youngest to sleep in. Oh and the food! Some of the best food I’ve ever eaten came for us during this time. The employees of a trucking company that learned of our situation, gathered a truck load of clothes, toys, furniture and appliances for us. All these donations meant that the insurance money would go that much further. One friend set up a call for me with a couple who had a fire few years earlier. Their advice was invaluable.  I wrote page after page of names and donations for thank you cards. It was staggering to see it all written in one place. The love we experienced was more comforting that I could ever explain.

Only one week later and just in time for Christmas, we found the place that would be our home for the next eleven months. It was a beautiful rental that had just been restored. It had a great yard and the perfect driveway for bikes and scooters. The neighbors had farm animals that we got to enjoy with out the work of caring for them. The memories my kids have of that house are some of the best from their childhoods. God placed us where we could be happy, even amid terrible circumstances.

When you have a house fire, you have to write down everything you lost. And when you got it. And how much you paid for it. And how much it will cost to replace it. I don’t know how people did this before the internet but thank God for it! We had a 6-inch stack of papers, with 17 items on each one, when we were finally through with that project. It was all-consuming work that lasted until February. Between doing this and shopping for every single thing people need to live, it was full-time. My husband was self-employed at the time and I have always stayed at home. Inventory is all we did, all day every day. I don’t know how people who have to go to work would get all this done. Hopefully, there is an app for this now.

Okay, that’s not all we did. We also fought hard to make sure no one messed up our house while they were restoring it. Three powers are at work in this process; the insurance company that wants to hold on to every penny possible, the restoration company who wants to hire the lowest bidder and make a great profit, and the family who wants to live in a house that is as good or better than it was. After the inventory, the daily job was making sure our house was okay and our choices were installed. We spent a lot of times at Lowe’s writing down tiny item numbers off sinks, appliances, switch plates, stain colors and so much more. The struggle between all the interested parties got so intense that I started kneeling down in my bathroom by the toilet to pray before meetings with the adjuster I had been so happy to see only months before.

I tell all that in an attempt to convey that all this was not fun. It was the hardest year of my life. At the same time, it was the best thing that ever happened to us. I would not want to complain, only to be honest about what the experience was like. God clearly used this time for our good. We had an old house that needed lots of improvements, not just cosmetic ones. Because of the fire, the house was brought up to code with new electrical, plumbing, heating system and insulation – all things we could not have afforded to upgrade. For the first time, I was able to pick colors and styles by what I liked! Within reason, I could choose new fixtures and details I had only considered by price before.

breaking in that new sectional

This was also true of our new belongings. After years of hand-me-down and cast off furniture, I got to go to a furniture store and pick what I liked! I found out I didn’t even know what I liked. My sister gave me great advice that I still use – “buy what you like and it will all go together.” I didn’t believe it, but it worked. Shopping was fun at first but for the first time in my life, I got tired of buying new things. I took off so many tags and stickers….all those things we bought one thing at a time over the span of years, I bought nearly all at once. We found out our bank was looking out for us too. Turns out you can’t suddenly start spending hundreds of dollars a day without the bank shutting down your card, even at Christmas time. Good to know.

The Red Cross, great people and so helpful, gave us $111 for each family member. That means we got a voucher for $888, with one odd condition. Only Kmart accepted the vouchers and we had to spend it all at one time on only clothes and shoes. Have you seen the old episodes of  sitcoms where you win the contest to keep all you can gather in one minute? That is about what it was like. It was a lot of fun and a lot of work. That about sums up the whole year.

When we were finally able to move back home, we felt like strangers there. It was our house, but it wasn’t. Another blessing from the fire was getting to turn the garage into a 4th bedroom, something we had dreamed of for one day had happened. All the projects we had dreamed of doing were all done and we were stunned. I am still stunned when I think of God’s works and His ways through it all. I doubted Him and questioned Him and He still used me and my family to show off, to show how all things can work together for good. How it is all confusing but all true.

One of my favorite memories from right after the fire really sums up what I was feeling and how I feel about the fire now. When we were still at my mother’s house, I was trying to put my cranky, sleepy, 3-year-old boy down for a nap in a bed that wasn’t his and he didn’t like it. He was crying and saying, “I can’t like it, I can’t like it.” I can so clearly remember his sweaty little face and his curling hair as I started to rub his forehead and sing him his sleeping song. He was still saying, “I can’t like it” only he was losing his passion and relaxing. Suddenly the words changed to “I like it, I like it, I like it.” He could no longer deny that what I did for him was for the best, in spite of his initial protest. I wish I could say I surrendered that easily.

Now our family dates everything by asking, “was that before the fire or after?” For almost a year, I would go to look for things where I kept them before the fire or I would look for things I no longer owned. It was disorienting to be in the same house but with so many changes. Not only had the house changed, but we had too. We had been warned about the high rate of divorce after house fires, but we had become closer by the grace of God. Our children had to grow up fast that year and take on  a lot of responsibilities. Our family had the great privilege to feel the love of so many friends and even strangers. Even all our old pictures were miraculously unharmed by the fire. With everyone safe and our memories still tidy in their boxes, what more could we ask for? I am still stunned when I look around me and see all that the fire gave us.

What the Fire Gave Us – Part 1

                      fire and ice

In a few days it will be the anniversary of a life-changing event for our family. I know I have used the words “life-changing” for things like kitchen tips and parenting ideas, but this was serious drama in the life of a family that avoids serious drama.

It was December 15, 2005, two weeks before Christmas and deep into an ice storm. Our town was coated in thick ice and a branch of our beautiful crabapple tree had fallen on the power line to our house. My husband had to cut it away for us to get out the front door. When it was all clear, we decided to spend our evening at Wal-Mart, where there was power and light, stocking up on what we would need to get through a power outage with only a wood stove for heat and cooking. We left Lydia, our capable twelve-year-old behind because she hadn’t been feeling well and didn’t want to go. I considered leaving my two- year-old there to get some sleep, but we decided we shouldn’t since her caretaker wasn’t feeling great.  I also unknowingly left my cell phone on the kitchen counter. All important decisions that would change everything for all of us.

We stopped by our favorite hibachi place for several trays of food that were all riding in my lap when we turned carefully onto our street. The first thing I noticed was streetlights, on! Figures, I thought, after hours of loading up on supplies, the power was on in record time. Then I noticed the flashing lights of emergency vehicles, ambulances and fire trucks, right near our house. I thought our elderly neighbors must have taken a fall on the ice. Then, a moment later, it was clear. The emergency vehicles are at our house and smoke is coming out of the attic vents of our house. Our house!

We slow to the edge of the road, I shove big trays of hibachi somewhere and run

so cute and so capable – my daughter at 12

awkwardly across the ice to our house. At this point, my husband utters the word my brain has not allowed me to think – the name of our 12-year-old daughter. It isn’t long before we see her with her grandmother, crying by the side of the road. It’s amazing how everything else falls away, even when your house is on fire.

We were then accosted by firemen who were yelling over all the noise, asking us if anyone else was in that house. Our poor neighbors were bothering them to check again and again because there are so many of us. It didn’t seem right to them that only one child was outside of a house that seemed to be overflowing with children. I was yelling back at them, “Will someone just tell me what happened?”

           a lot like this but louder

At this point my main concern was Lydia and whether or not we would be in trouble for leaving her in a house with a wood stove that was still smouldering when we left. We went to my mother’s house nearby for Lydia to tell us and the fire chief what happened. Lydia, slightly distracted by the fact that the fire chief looked like George Clooney, told us how the power had come back on but it all was too bright. The lights were blinding and bluish. Smoke came out of the VCR. She called my phone, only to hear it ring on the counter. She then called her grandmother, who lives just a block away. Grandma came to check things out right away. While she was here, they heard popping noises we later realized were spray paint cans exploding in the garage. After that – yes after!- the smoke alarms started going off. My daughter grabbed the phone and they ran outside.

At this point in the story, the fire chief gets up, very suddenly, and goes into the other room to make a phone call. In my fear, I was sure he had gone to call social services. After all this poor child had been through, it was time to give her away to a nice foster family. I was sure that was what he was doing. That was the closest I came to freaking out the whole time. I was so upset that my mother asked what the phone call was for. He said he had called the guy to tell them it sounded like an electrical fire. We would later find out that the crab apple tree had taken out only part of the line to our house, leaving one line to shoot 220 volts through our house instead of the normal 110. This had caused the fire.

not our house but very close to what it looked like

Two hours later, they let us go in our house. Everything was black and wet.. I only made it a few feet without having to turn around and leave because the fumes were still so bad, even two hours after the fire was out. As badly as I wanted to see my house, I couldn’t take the fumes. I saw enough to know that even though the fire was from only one room of the house, the garage, everything in our house was ruined. A black and brown glaze was on everything like it had all been baked in a kiln. Water dripped from everywhere and the plaster had been pulled away, down to the bricks, in a vigilant search for hidden fire. The room over the garage was where the two-year-old would have been sleeping.

It is amazing the crazy things that go through your mind in a crisis. Earlier in the day, I

      everywhere, on everything

discovered that someone had spilled orange juice and it had run under the frig and made a gooey mess that I was dreading. As I looked into our kitchen I thought, I won’ t have to clean that up now.

So, we go back to my mother’s house and we stay. I try to put all my children to bed on a strange night, in their clothes, in this familiar place. All the hotels are full of people who are without power so we are grateful to have family nearby. The option mentioned to us by the fire chief was our local high school set up as a shelter. Why would I want to add going back to high school to an already terrible night? So grateful to God for family and safety and even for that fact that I didn’t get that call. As bad as coming home to my house surrounded by fire trucks was, no little girl should have to make that call and no one wants to get that call either. When I think of the danger and anxiety of that drive across town, I know God was in the details.

As I lay there that night, I wished I was more familiar with how insurance works. I thought through a million things that would have to be replaced just to get through the week. I wondered where the money would come from. I had a knot in my stomach that would not relax and I couldn’t seem to get warm. My husband had to leave right away to secure the house against people who might try to take advantage of the van-sized hole in the back. We were processing everything apart and alone and it felt so wrong. I’m not sure I ever slept that night.

The morning brought so many wonderful blessings and shows of support that I will need to stop here and leave you wondering, like I was that night. The story of what God did through our trial is too big to add to the story of the trial itself. Look for Part 2 on Friday. I hope it is as uplifting for you as it is for me when I think back on what the fire gave us.

One Thousand Sour Grapes

The Cover of One Thousand Gifts

You can’t get far in Christian circles, especially as a woman, without hearing about Ann Voskamp and her best-selling book One Thousand Gifts. As with most snarky people who criticize things out of jealousy, I have not read this book. I only have read excerpts. I knew right away it wasn’t for me. It is oozing with the kind of perfectionism that I have to run from like an alcoholic from a bar. I can get so caught up in trying to act perfectly and think perfectly and parent perfectly that I forget what else I’m strung out on…grace. The great grace that allows me to fail and get back up. The grace that gives me unconditional love even when I’m a tad jealous of a best-selling writer. I have to stay away from this type of self-help book or it can easily turn into Martha Stewart for my mind. That doesn’t mean I can’t have fun dreaming of how I would have written the book.

  • One Thousand Fits – as a mom of six, I’m pretty sure I could write this one and have it published by Christmas.
  • One Thousand Guilts – again, I’m the mother of six.
  • One Thousand Quilts – a book about all the quilts I have sewn, in my spacious sewing room, in my dreams.
  • One Thousand Jilts – a dating book
  • One Thousand Kilts – a very niche book about tartans and plaids. Ok, I’m clearly losing the rhyme.
  • One Thousand Sniffs – a book about crying at the hairdresser. I’m the leading expert in the field.
  • One Thousand Tiffs – a book about girlfriends or the holidays or the workplace? So many ways to go with that one.
  • One Thousand Shifts – a book about how I will have to get a “real job” working at a
    The Cover of One Thousand  Shifts

    Starbucks when the kids are grown.

  • One Thousand Whiffs – a book about how to win at the what’s-that-smell game mothers  have to play so often.
  • One Thousand Sifts – a cookbook to drain every last merchandising dollar from the other books.

To be clear, I’m not making fun of Voskamp or her very personal and successful book. I’m making fun of myself as a woman and a writer. I would love to have something out there that is as beloved as her book. I would love to be looked to as an authority on motherhood or marriage or anything really. It is hard for me to stick to being me, when I see that what appeals to people is so far from what I am. God has called me to be this woman I am now and to continue to grow towards what He has called me to. If that is a book that inspires Sara Groves to write a song (like Voskamp’s) then great. If I never write one thousand pages, then so be it. I  pray that I will be content to be whatever He has planned for me because it is the only perfection I will ever attain, by His grace.

Sweet (Inner) Child of Mine

Me trying to be grown up. My inner child is    still scarred by that kitchen.

The past year has been a very big year for me emotionally. I have learned so much about the things that were holding me back and what I need to do to move on. I wrote this post about trying new things and facing the world as an adult. Everything changes when you stop being a timid child and start taking the place God set you up in as a grown up. Even the little things like how I have stopped buying white underwear. I was buying them out of habit and I don’t like them. I like the solid colored ones so I buy those. And if they have a bow on them, it comes off with the tags. I am not ten any more so bye-bye bows.

That is a silly way that I have started to stand in my place as mother and wife and woman. I have also fussed at my husband for telling me I shouldn’t have french fries so close to dinner. That poor man didn’t know I was coming to grips with my new-found security as a grown woman. He just sat dumbfounded in the McDonald’s drive-thru. In big ways and small ways, growing up has been good. But recently I realized it was getting out of hand.

I was leaving a restaurant, dressed in my church clothes, and walking out to the car where

really this one

my children were waiting. I saw a huge, I mean huge, sycamore leaf start blowing across my path. My reflex was to go after it, grab it up and show it to my kids. The next quick thought was about how silly I would look, as a grown up, chasing that leaf. Thankfully, I had one more thought; I am not that grown up, I’m getting that leaf! It was not the largest leaf I’ve ever seen, nor the prettiest but I just didn’t want to be that person who thinks they are too old or too dignified or too whatever to do the fun thing – the childish thing.

I have always been that person who tells everyone to look at the moon or that tree or those clouds. I have always been a joiner when a game is coming out of the box. When we bought Just Dance 2, I had to make a decision for fun over dignity. There is no dignity in a short, white, amateur woman dancing. So I just laugh as I flail around to a song that is actually saying, “got me lookin’ so crazy right now.” It is funny and true. The kid in me has been winning out for all these years in good ways and bad ways, but I caught myself trying to throw that poor baby out with the bath water. There are things about my inner child that need to stay.

In the Bible, Paul talks about how when he was a child he did childish things but as a man he put away those childish things. He is describing spiritual growth and what must happen for growth to occur. But Jesus tells us that unless we become as children, we will not see the Kingdom. So growing up must be about doing both in some way. We must sort out the childish things that hinder out growth and hold on to the wonder, acceptance and childlike faith of our younger years.

As a mom, it is important for my children to see me still amazed at the world around me, still willing to put fun ahead of formality, and still believing in things that are just too big for me to understand. They may even be less amused by a giant leaf than I am. They could be tired of me showing them the same moon they saw last month, but I believe it is good for them to see that side of me. They have no trouble seeing me as their parent, but can they see that I am God’s child, just like they are, no matter what age I get to be?

It makes me think of an elegant, elderly lady I sat next to in a waiting room one day. We were both reading quietly for several minutes. A little while later, I heard her laugh out loud a little. Then, after a minute, she laughed even longer and louder. Something in her book was funny and she gave in to it. She laughed in the face of decorum and societal norms and I smiled. I wanna be that lady when I grow up.

Let’s Talk About Crying

I can't believe I found this.

I cried at the hairdresser’s today. Yep, right there in her chair while her hands were in my hair. I was talking to her about how, if I had waited for the perfect circumstances to have more children,  I would probably have stopped at three kids and missed the last three I have now. As I said those words, tears came to my eyes, more than they can hold, and they fell on my face. She thought she had sprayed my face. I had to tell her it was me.

I am so mystified by this. I don’t cry in front of others if I can help it. I have said those words about my kids before without crying, lots of times. Even weirder? I cried at the same point again when I retold this story to my family. It was just as surprising and involuntary then.  What does it mean?

Am I crying for the children I am not having now? I feel at peace with shutting down that season of my life. Were there hormones released while talking in a relaxed environment with another woman? This poor woman has not been my stylist that long. I didn’t want to explain to her for fear of crying more. Not that I really could explain, obviously.

I grew up in a house where crying was a problem. If you started, you need to stop as soon as possible, sooner actually. I would cry at my piano lessons out of frustration and tell the teacher I had something in my eyes. I cried one day at school and told everyone I just needed my allergy drops. I cried in 6th grade math because I couldn’t get it. I wanted to disappear.

I spent most of my adult life trying to rein that in. I cry less and less for each year I live. I tell my kids to cry when they are sad all they want but crying out of frustration makes things worse. My family sees me well up a lot, but not full on crying.

as close as I could find to the moment

I cry at movies all the time. That one scene in Sense and Sensibility where Emma Thompson makes that unearthly noise of relief and joy gets me every time, and I have watched it a lot of times.

No one cries alone with me. Anyone crying will set me off. God just recently pointed out to me that crying is the one emotional response we can’t hide. Anger, happiness, fear even, but all the emotions that cause crying, all the kinds of crying, are so visible. I think He was trying to tell me that we shouldn’t ever do it alone. It is our soul’s way of signalling our need for others to come along side us. When God came to us as a human, he cried too. Not just in the one famously short verse, but multiple times. Crying is so essentially human.

Obviously, the subject of crying is something I need to give more thought to. I would love to cry freely when appropriate. I would love to learn how to stop it on command for my daughter’s upcoming wedding. I would love to know what to say to others when they cry. I would love to know what to tell my hairdresser.

Has anything like this ever happened to you? Let’s talk about crying openly as a start to crying openly. I already went. You go ahead, in the comment box below.

The Seasons and other Clichés

she loves him and he knows

I really love fall. I know almost everyone says they love fall, but not like me. I love it like nerd loves Star Wars or like Leia loves Han. I say to Fall, ” I love you” and it calmly says, “I know”, because I have loved it so openly for so long. I go outside and pick up leaves. We don’t rake our leaves until they are all brown. I annoy my children by making them look at certain trees and run to the window to catch a good steady cascade of leaves. I know which trees to go see; I could be the tour guide of local Fall color.

In the fall you get a string of days that are just warm enough to sit in the sun. Then the cold

so beautiful

comes and I sigh and think, that was good while it lasted and then, like an extra gift, another string of warm days come and the colors that seemed to peak last week, kick it up a notch this week. Even the first chilly nights are great and we light a fire and drink something warm and get out our sweaters. I warned you about clichés, but they are clichés for a reason.

Like all things that bring on such intense feelings, the love I have for Fall is bittersweet. I soak it up almost desperately because I hate the winter. I am cold-natured and crabby in the winter. Turns out I am a color junky when it comes to nature and I hate the grayness as much as I love the color. My yard turns brown and gray. The crabgrass we managed to ignore all winter is now a sickening blonde color and everything in my yard looks ugly. In the Fall I am clinging to the beauty because the dread of what lies ahead is so strong.

so bleak

My life feels like it has rolled ahead of the calendar in a downhill free-fall into winter, the metaphorical winter. I had my days of blazing intensity and beauty all around me, but slowly winter has crept into my heart. I have prayed less and zoned out more. I have criticized and complained. I used to cry at commercials but now I cry for no one. The worst is, I can write about it unemotionally as well. I am dormant now and, as with the seasons, it must be necessary. There must be some purpose to this dying time because I have been through it before and so has everyone.

I am not depressed nor hormonal, not any more than usual. This is different. It’s like God is ever-present but very dim and shifting in the light. I read my Bible without feeling anything. I hear sermons without connection and I haven’t sought out my friends. They have not looked for me. Although I know how common these feelings are, it does not help to soothe me. Soothe is the wrong word because I am not agitated or in distress. I am calmly slipping into dormancy while appearances stay the same. My work gets done and the days tick by but the color and warmth is fading from them. Winter.

dying? or surrendering?

I write this and put it out there because I tire of the women who share the beauty of life, the sparkle of their home and the happiness of their children without acknowledging the blah. There are great seasons of blah. It is the way of things. I am not going to try and spiritualize my way out of a season of blah. Most people in the Bible had theirs so I will wait out mine. Too many women speakers and authors try to tell us how to feel good about our lives. Maybe we should just feel the way we feel and give it over to the only One who can truly manage it. This is where Grace abounds, when we are at the end of ourselves and we surrender.

I used to think surrender, in the spiritual sense, meant to stop doing wrong things and start doing good things. But, if you think about it in terms of war, it means to give up fighting for your side. You don’t then take up arms to fight with the side you surrendered to. You are captive. The metaphor breaks down fast , but there is something to it. Surrender is not about doing. It’s about being. Right now I am being dormant, appearing to die even. But the clichés would remind us that Spring is always next. Always.

There is something so deeply comforting in this promise that the LORD gave to Noah,

” As long as the earth endures, seed-time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” Genesis 8:22

all four. always

This promise was made after the flood, along with the promise to never flood the earth again. I am thinking that the God we are made in the image of, didn’t like the gray any more than we do. He knows what is best for us and, if you will allow one more cliché, we wouldn’t enjoy the summer if we never experienced the winter. Pray for me as I wait out this winter in my heart. I pray that by sharing all this, others will know they are not alone in feeling the chill.

If you can relate or if you have any tips on winterizing the soul, please share them in the comments below.