Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Center

I wake only a few hours into the new day, pulling back hair and lacing up shoes. I step outside and smack into the icy black.

The darkness makes bright contrast of the stars, and I am joy filled. Only the early bird catches the wonder and glory that a 6am jog offers. I begin rhythmically, slowly, still shaking loose the tension from dead sleep. I begin my offering.

Lord, you are Creator. You are Perfect. You are Holy. You are Majesty. You are Awesome.

With each breath, I praise. I inhale, I worship. I'm alone. Except for Him. And He makes perfect company.

The next 30 minutes I focus on His glory. Except when I don't.

I have to pick up the preschool forms today.

I forgot to call the dentist.

I better clean the window where Henry taped the picture of the airplane.

Did I mail in the mortgage check? I need to set-up automatic monthly withdraw.

I totally blew her off yesterday. Why was I such a grump? Why can't I just be nice to people when I'm in a bad mood? What's wrong with me? Is it that hard?

My mind like mexican jumping beans, shuffling from thought to thought, checklists, regrets, self-doubt, and now my heart is racing but not because I'm jogging.

I shake my head fast as if to clear the etched sketch that needs reset.

Now where was I?

Focus, Ali. Focus on Him.

And I do. Back on track, thanking Him for the peace that stills my soul. For 30 minutes I pray, I distract, and I pray again.

I approach home feeling centered, having hit the ground running, while fixing my eyes on Him, or at least trying to anyway.

The minis wake, I begin this all too familiar juggling act, but unlike the carny, I can't seem to master this set.

Back to center, Ali. Back to Him.

I herd them outside to the van. It's Tuesday and we have to be at Bible study in 20 minutes. I double-click the key expecting the doors to open. They click. And nothing. I double-click again. Nothing. The doors don't budge and it's freezing and I know that's why. I open the front door and find the ice scraper, and while the baby cries and the big ones tug at the other's unbuttoned coat, I scrape. Ice chips away and flurries sweep. I pull out the key again. Click. Nothing. Again. Nothing. The doors are still frozen and it's been ten minutes and we are going to be late. I climb on top of the front seat, leaning heavily out the door thinking if I can just see where the ice is maybe I can get this dang-gone door open. The baby is now screaming and Harper is now crying and I try the key again, but the door still won't budge. We are definitely late and nothing is working and I take that scraper and with all the might behind me I strike the door. Pop. The scraper cracks and splits in two and I am now cussing. Words that begin with F and I feel rage and I scream at the kids, all freezing and crying, "Get in the van. This way. Now." The big ones crawl through the front door, and I jostle the baby in her carrier, hitting my head and hers and I'm sweating and still cussing.

I throw the car into reverse and I'm a bat out of hell. I've lost it. A door frozen shut and it's all lost. My cool, my sanity, my Jesus.

Just like that I've lost center and I pull over because humility does that. And with my hands in the air, I'm like that crazy ol' loon on the park bench mumbling to herself because I'm lost.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 4:16

Look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith . . .
Hebrews 12:2

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
2 Corinthians 12:9

The quiet still of my soul in the morning runs out but there is always more for the taking. I have to keep coming back to Him because on my own, I am a raging screaming loon.

Each day, each hour, each minute, I am losing myself to stress and monotony and the demon who sneaks up and bites me. I can't do this alone but I keep trying, forgetting that it was never meant to be this way.

"It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you."
John 16:7

And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.
John 14:16-17

I'm not made to do this by myself. He sent me a Helper. And I come dehydrated, shriveled, dry and sunken.

. . . but be filled with the Spirit.
Ephesians 5:18

Back to center. That is the story of my days. Always coming back. Because I can never stay put. My flesh rots and I crumble and there isn't a day that passes that I don't wind up lost.

Back to center. It's my only way.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

His Presence via email

Have you ever felt the Lord's Presence so heavily that you literally sunk deeper in your chair?

Last week was rough. Looking back, it's a blur. I was so exhausted, the days were so long, and the kids were so fussy that the memory of last week is nearly lost.

I know that the Lord was busily at work during every sleepless detail of last week but I was too irritable to appreciate it.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23

This morning I sent my husband and my sister an email to share with them a Henry & Harper quote. It said:

H&H were running laps around the house, and both of them came into the family room huffing and puffing. Henry said, "I'm tired." Then Harper said, "I'm tired too. Let's read our Bibles, Henry."

Within 20 minutes of sending the email I received responses from both Matt and Morgan.

Matt said, "Love them . . . Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."

I stinkin' adore this man. While I'm over here laughing at the silliness of my three-year-old, my husband, a man of few spoken words but a tremendous amount of wisdom, manages to observe the beautiful Truth from this seemingly cute illustration. I want to soak myself in a Matthew 11:28 bath for a few days.

Morgan's response was equally lovely.

She said, "Those moments have to melt your heart . . . Love that. I booked you a pedicure with Dawn on Friday. I'm watching your kids."

Oh, Morgan, you speak my love language = Dawn (and I have a gift card that Matt gave me for Mother's Day - thank you, Jesus). I have known (and loved) Dawn for years. Her chair at the Spa where my sister works is heaven-sent. It sits next to a window that looks out at a sanctuary of birdhouses, and when I sit in that chair and watch those birds, without a single interruption from my kids, I become a new woman. A new woman with cute toes.

I received Matt and Morgan's emails and I was instantly overwhelmed by the Lord's merciful Presence. I want to sit here and rest in their unexpected and simple acts of love as I know it will only be minutes before I lose sight of His goodness. Thankfully Lamentations 3 never expires.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Already

The kids were still in their swimsuits sucking down popsicles when I blinked. I opened my eyes to the warmth of Autumn in the trees and its chill prickling my shoulders. The clerk mentioned he was staying late to unpack Christmas inventory and by the time I lifted my head to comment Already?, the twinkle lights were wrapped around the display tree.

Already.

The pool towels hadn't even made it through the wash before the kids were hooded in fleece. I'm never ready for the already.

The notebook pages curl as I carry over the list of unchecked items to next month. Vacuum the van. Mend the hole in my overworn shirt. Send congratulatory wedding card to my friend who married last Spring.

I pray through each moment, asking that the leaves keep their glorious shades of orange and that  Greta's chubby foot is forever nestled below my shoulder as I nurse. All while fantasizing about the day when the kids use the bathroom unassisted and my wardrobe isn't limited to nursing tops and elastic. I want to co-sleep yet sleep through the night. I want a substantial payday yet not another long day away from my husband. I want to be home with my children yet have more time for myself. I want that pair of pre-baby jeans yet another of Grandma Abby's pumpkin cookies.

I want the already but I don't. I'm a mess and it's no wonder Paul preaches about the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

And when I think I've arrived, when I am full and surrounded abundantly, emptiness and discomfort come and plop down on my lap. My present focus flees as they squelch my contentment. The next stage and season bring more to be desired. And it all flies past, the days only a blur leaving nothing in focus.

There is always more space for me to be filled by Him . . . through Him who gives me strength.

It is already October. I want to sprawl out on a pile of leaves covered in the giggles of my babies, drinking in this season. But my mind is my enemy, squandering the days with angst and if onlys, allowing Facebook to fool me into believing that there is such a thing as having it all. So I find myself crying out, enduring my own wrath, my irritability and frantic demands. My own mess throws me to my knees, I fall bruised and sore. And in the already He lifts me up by His grace and fills me with living water and I kick myself for not falling sooner. There is humility in His timing. 

It is already.







 






*A sprinkling of the moments I want to savor from the last month as I pray to be present and content in the already.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A God story. The finale.

In case you missed them: Part 1 and Part 2.

A couple of weeks after telling Josh & Jess that we would happily be their squatters, I was having ice cream with a friend. Sharon is middle-age, single, and has made the decision to follow God's call into vocational missions. She believes God is sending her to Papua New Guinea. Say that three times fast. Sharon has found an organization called The Finishers Project, and they focus on helping folks who want to finish their lives in mission for the Lord. I just love that.

Anyway, Sharon is potentially months from her move to Papua New Guinea, and she was recently confronted with an issue regarding her current living situation. Her lease will end next month and it makes no sense for her to sign another lease. She could change from a year lease to a month-to-month rental contract but her rent would increase significantly. Considering that Sharon is working to save save save so that she can begin her missions journey, the month-to-month option is unwise. So when she found out about our situation with Josh & Jess, she asked me a question that I was not expecting, "Would you and Matt consider letting me live in your condo until I move?"

Um, huh?

Sharon completely caught me off guard. See, when we decided to move into Josh & Jess' house, we also decided to put our condo on the market once and for all. It was too perfect. We could stage the condo, throw the lockbox on the door, and walk away without ever pulling out that gallon of Sherwin Williams Desert Sand ever ever again. No more frantic toilet scrubbing and kids-dog-van disappearing tricks. Oh I could cry!

But God had given us a house. A rent-free bona fide house. And I owed it to Him and to my friend Sharon to at least pray about letting her live here. Plus, I knew that as soon as I asked Matt, he'd shoot the idea down, and I'd play the good ol' submit to my husband card and we'd be on our merry way to attached garage living.

I called Matt at work, told him about my interaction with Sharon, and continued in my head, I know, I know, I'll tell her it's just not going to work out. Surely someone else has a house they can loan her.

And then I realized what my husband was saying on the other end of the phone, "Honey, yeah, why wouldn't we let her live in our house?"

HUH?!

And just like that, I realized what a ridiculously ungrateful selfish brat I am to the core. It's a miracle that God has not capsized me and fed me to a giant fish.

Matt was all for it. Matt didn't even have to think about it. The fact that God made Matt my husband, to lead me and our family, is clearly no mistake.

God was giving us a house. A house we do not deserve. And God is asking us to give away our condo. The condo that we did not deserve.

And thus begins the lesson that He has been hammering into my skull over and over and over again ad nauseum. For real, I have this vision of the good Lord looking down on me and grabbing a trash can to catch his vom because once again, His little girl just ain't getting it.

And so I am humbled. Asking God to show me how to open my palms wide, allowing all the stuff to trickle between my fingers, never once tightening a muscle to hang on. God is showing us what it looks like to let His blessings flow. As He uses another family to provide for us, He uses us to provide for another. It's community. It's the Gospel. It's Jesus.

And so we are moving. In fact, we are moving 5 years to the day after meeting at the altar. And I am so thankful. I am so thankful for God's provision. His timing. His faithfulness. His promises.

I could go on and on. A friend who recently heard about this story said, "It's dripping with mercy." And it is. His mercy abounds. Because each and every day I take the gifts from my Lord and I squander them. I throw away leftovers and spend too much on too much and I question His ways that are not my ways. And yet He continues to provide for me in ways that I could never ever imagine.

I am drenched in His mercy.

And as I sit here overcome by His love, I can do nothing but shake my head and ask, "Why me? Why us?" It makes no sense.

And I guess that's just the point.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A God story. (Part 2)

Read Part 1 here.

It was THE.HOTTEST.DAY.OF.THE.YEAR. For real, I think it was the hottest day we had this year. Matt claims it was the second hottest, but second hottest day of the year is a mouthful, so let's just stick with my story, k? I add this small detail only because if the bushes were going to spontaneously catch fire, it would have been that day. It was scorching.

My phone rang. It was my friend, Jess. I don't talk to Jess on the phone much. In fact it had been a while. So when she called I immediately assumed she was calling to ask me a question, you know, she had an agenda. And then it hit me. As quickly as I thought, "Huh, that's Jess calling," I thought, "Oh my gosh, she's calling me about her house." I just knew it (cue the Holy Spirit.)

Jess and I small-talked. It was good small talk. Like I said, we hadn't chatted in a while. We had some catching up to do. And she was gearing up for the move of her lifetime. Her husband's company was transferring them to London. ENGLAND! And if any two people are more perfectly fit for an international transfer, it's Josh & Jess. They are the super cool traveling type. Jess is the kind of person who straps her baby on her back and shuffles between time zones with ease. I sort of hate her. But I really love her so it's cool.

Small talk ceased and Jess wanted to get to the point. CUE THE HOLY SPIRIT. Jess went into this whole long explanation about their pending move and Josh's promotion being a 2-year assignment and some whacky living allowance formula and the bottom line was that it made no sense for them to sell their house while they were gone. The only thing that made sense financially was for them to ask someone to live in their home and care for it while they were away.

So they prayed. And prayed and prayed and prayed. And they got their friends to pray. Because it was their bloody house and they weren't about to hand over the keys to any ol' chap.

And don't ask me why. I don't know why. It makes no sense why. But God put US on their hearts. US. A family of 2 adults and THREE very small kids. And an EIGHTY POUND dog. And two fish, but whose counting? Our kids are in the color-the-walls stages. And our dog, well, he's just big and hairy but really, why us? Why not the sweet and tidy widowed homemaker who boasts 2011 Notary Club Garden of the Year and who answers the question, "When did you last clean your baseboards?" with Two weeks ago Friday, unlike my answer, Never.

Why us? Why?

And that's when Jess dropped the big one. They not only wanted us to live in their home but they wanted us to live in their home RENT FREE.

As in no rent. As in free. As in, what-the-what?

I told you the bushes were on fire.

I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe that God was giving us the opportunity to live in a real bona fide house and we weren't even going to pay for it. IT MADE NO SENSE.

Until it started to make sense.

You see, that's only half of the story. The first half of the story is awesome. The kind of awesome where I'll forever be able to say with confidence that God is our Provider. The kind of awesome that allows me to talk about the blessing of a home in terms of me and my wants and desires and Yay! God!

But I don't think that's the point. I didn't even mention to you that up until one week before Jess called, my husband and I were one payment away from paying off some serious credit card debt. And I mean serious. It was one week after sending in our final credit card payment that Jess called about the house. One week. Coincidence? I don't think so.

And the not-coincidences don't stop there. But this is already a multi-part post so I'll spare you the list, but know this: God has been orchestrating this very moment for years. And to see all of these little moments come together for this big moment is one of the coolest things I have ever been a part of.

Part 3, the finale, tomorrow.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A God story. (But aren't they all?)

This is the first in a series of posts that I like to call, We have news to share and No, I'm not pregnant.

I have a story. And it's good. It's a story of patience and faith and prayer. It's one of those stories that only God can write. He writes all the good ones.

6 years ago I bought this condo with my sister. We were young, single, and eager to make sister memories, just us. After a ridiculous amount of legalese, signatures, and initial-here's, we closed on our first grown up purchase. The only thing missing was the reality show film crew.

Just as soon as we threw our first of what was supposed to be many epic parties, something happened. I met someone. And it was serious. So serious that I even told Grandma Hollywood about him. Because once Grandma Hollywood knows, you can never take it back or else she'll forever ask questions such as "What happened with so-and-so? He was such a nice young man. Why don't you like him?" It's her way of saying, "I was married at 19 years old. What's wrong with you already?"

Well, I liked him alright. I liked him so much that 11 months after our first date, I met him at the altar. And bless my sister's heart. She stood by me on my wedding day, tucking my hair into my veil, holding my flowers so that I could kiss my groom, and without any hesitation, she moved out of the condo so that he could move in.

And as if life wasn't already moving fast enough, my now husband and I filled up those 1630 square feet with an 80-pound lab and 3 sweet babies before we could even celebrate 5 years as Mr. and Mrs.

Somewhere in all that we got the idea that condo life wasn't the best fit for our growing family. Somewhere in all that we decided to sell the once bachelorette pad turned honeymoon crib and find ourselves a real bona fide house. With a yard and an attached garage and a place to dump your shoes when you walk in.

Thus began the cycle of never-quite-selling the condo. It went something like this: Touch up walls with Sherwin Williams Desert Sand. Put condo on the market. Meticulously clean condo for a showing praying through each stroke of the toilet wand that this is going to be the one! Shuffle dog and kid(s) into the van and disappear for an hour. Receive feedback stating that the condo is too close to a busy road (it is) and the parking sucks (it does). Get pregnant and take condo off the market because in a state of hormonal rage I declare that I just can't take it anymore. Have baby. Acquire more crap. Curse under my breath as my toddler slips on ice walking out to the van while I lug a newborn through the stupid why-do-we-live-in-Ohio mess only to find that the automatic van doors are frozen shut. Call husband crying because I want an attached garage and I want one now.

Touch up walls.

Repeat.

This went on for 3 years.

3 years of wanting. 3 years of praying. 3 years of asking.

Finally, after the birth of our 3rd, before summer could turn to fall and fall into winter and winter into the frozen tundra that freezes van doors and ices over walkways, I told my husband that we needed to pray and pray hard. Because I was starting to get the sense that selling the condo wasn't God's plan. And I wanted to be okay with that. I wanted to mean it when I said that I'm content here. Because I am. At times. And then there are the times when my now-four-year-old son wants to ride his bike and my exuberant daughter wants to pick dandelions in the backyard but instead the best I can offer is a seat in front of the window to watch the cars whiz by.

Please don't feel bad for me. We have 1600 square feet! We have drywall and running water and appliances and a thermostat and the list of what we have far far far exceeds the list of what we don't. But like any good ol' fashioned American, my dream included more.

But God, in His infinite wisdom, knew better. He knew we could not handle more. Not yet. He knew that more means more responsibility, and He who has begun a good work in us had only just begun.

So we prayed. Specifically we prayed that if God did not want us to sell, that He would make that clear. Because we were paying a mortgage with an interest rate that did not make sense. So if we were to stay, we wanted to save money with a refinance. I was so determined to hear God in this that I told Matt, "If God wants us to put this condo back on the market, He's going to have to speak to us through a burning bush."

Would you believe it if I told you that two weeks later I called my husband at work and said, "God spoke to me through a burning bush today."

Part 2 tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Summer Update Part 2

My precious little life-sucker is in her daddy's arms giving me a few moments to add Summer Update Part 2. Same song, second verse. Wordless. Adorable children. Happiness captured. Meltdowns and tantrums not captured although experienced by all - some more than others (Har-per, cough, cough).

















And that, my friends, is how you do summer.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Happy Birthday to our self-proclaimed princess

I now interrupt this Summer Update series to bring you a very important message.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HARPER LYNN!

Our self-proclaimed princess* turns three today (even though I lied about her birthday yesterday so that I could leave her at Pepe's Playhouse while I went Krogering. Stop judging me on my daughter's birthday.)

*I have a strange aversion to the word princess but God likes to see me uncomfortable so He gave me a daughter who entered the world proclaiming royalty.

Harper, you are pure spunk mixed with a healthy dose of sass sprinkled generously with feisty-ness all wrapped in the most precious package of love. Each night you give me a hug, a big squeeze, and a kiss on the lips (in that order) and it continues to be the highlight of my day. I love you when you jump in my arms the minute I walk in the door just as much as I love you when you are throwing a tantrum, body flailing on the floor. Your highs and lows humble me and remind me that we both need Jesus. Speaking of Jesus, I love that your favorite story in the world is the story of baby Jesus. There aren't words to describe the joy I feel when I open a book (any book) and you scurry through the pages looking for a baby-in-a-manger.



Harper Lynn, I love you. You make me so happy. Kiss. Kiss. Kiss.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Summer Update Part 1

Though summer is officially not over (I know this because the pool is still open), it feels like it's over because a) my mom is back to work, b) my husband, who has never in the entire six years that we have known each other, made an ill comment about my appearance, recently said to me, "you need a pedicure," and c) yesterday on facebook I read talk of Honeycrisp apple picking.

So in my mind, summer is over. OVER.

And guess what, the last event I blogged about was Mother's Day.

It's safe to say that according to my blog, summer came and went with nothing to show for it.

And that's pretty much true. Except that I just downloaded (or uploaded, I don't know the difference) 350+ pictures off the camera, all of which captured memories from Summer 2012.

And that is why you, my fair-weathered fan, will be receiving this little update that I like to call, "Summer Update Part 1." You might realize that this title is awfully creative. And by awfully creative, I mean awful. That's because I have three small children, one of whom has been sucking the life out of me, literally, which includes all of my creative brain cells. You might also realize that this blog post title implies there will be more than one part to the summer update. And that is also true. But I make no guarantees, people. Did you read the part about my cute little life sucker? At the rate she is eating, she might just consume me whole before I ever get a chance to add part 2. So you've been warned. Oh, and what the title doesn't tell you, but you should know, is that this update will be wordless. Because I don't have time for words. She sucked those out of me as well.

But I digress. Allow me to get this show on the road. Without further ado, I give you, Part 1.










Until next time . .

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Dedicating Greta

We dedicated our sweet Greta girl on Mother's Day at church. She wore the same dress that Harper wore, a gown handmade by my great grandmother. My great grandmother died giving birth to my Grandma Hollywood and her twin brother (who also died). Though Grandma Hollywood never wore it (my great grandfather's grief prevented him from ever seeing the dress on my grandmother), all of the baby girls (and a couple of the baby boys) have since worn it, beginning with my Auntie Kay. What a precious legacy that dress holds.






This is the third baby we've dedicated at Vista Community Church (see Harper's dedication here and Henry's dedication here). It is an honor and privilege to dedicate our babies among such an incredible church body. We are so so grateful for the precious blessings of children and faith community.