fasting.

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Until this year, I never fasted for Lent. Fasting is a word that has always made me feel a bit uncomfortable. As a child, I remember my parents fasting, and I fasted from a meal for the purpose of prayer a couple of times back in Bible college, but quite honestly haven’t given it much thought ever since.

Even though I’ve known the Lord for years and years and should’ve known better, I think in my head I thought of fasting as something religious people do to make their god happy with them, and something non-religious people do for health reasons. And so when I heard of Christians fasting for Lent — the 40 days before Easter — I didn’t understand. It felt very legalistic to me: “If I give up ____ for 40 days, then God will be pleased with me.”

But one of our pastors, John, preached a sermon about fasting last month to begin the season of Lent, and it had a big impact on me. He spoke of fasting as a way to get hold of the Christian’s attention. We’re so distracted. We don’t truly, deeply hunger for God because we’re never hungry for anything. We’re so desperate to be comfortable, and the opportunities to make ourselves comfortable are limitless.

We fill up on all the gifts this world has to offer, and the consequence is that our appetite for Christ has grown small.

What fasting really is, is the act of setting aside something we really want for a season in order to grow our hunger for what we need.

John told the story of asking his wife Anna what he should give up for Lent. She told him, “Reading.” And he was incredulous. “What!? That’s not even a thing! No one in the history of the Christian church has ever given up reading for Lent!” But she told him when he comes home from work and picks up his phone to read texts or articles on Facebook, when he picks up a book in the evening, he’s distracted. He isn’t connecting with his family. What they need is for his full attention those few hours of the day and of the weekend.

So John decided to listen to her, and give up reading at home for the 40 days of Lent. He shelved his books and checked his phone at the door each evening. He didn’t do it to try and win points with God; he did it in order to pay attention, in order to see if the hunger he felt for his phone and his books would increase His appetite for the right thing. He chose to trade something he really, really wanted, for something that he needed.

He challenged our church family to consider doing the same thing; fasting doesn’t have to be food, although it could. It can be any good gift of God that we hunger for.

I really wanted to try it. And, so after a bit of thought, I made the decision to fast from caffeinated drinks for Lent. I’m not a soda drinker, so what that means for me is coffee (including decaf) and caffeinated tea.

I’ve had a niggling thought in the back of my mind that I needed to stop drinking coffee for a long time, but honestly haven’t had the courage to do it. I adore coffee, as you well know. And I was drinking way too much. Up to three cups a day, with an afternoon teatime of English Breakfast tea.

Drinking coffee and caffeinated tea had such a hold on me, and I feel kind of ridiculous admitting it. More than anything, reflecting back on the last five weeks, I felt like I had a right to have them.

Life is stressful. Social interactions are hard. Running errands is exhausting. So when I feel blue or even just bored, I make another cup of coffee. I bring my travel mug to church and homeschool co-op and swim lessons to get me through the awkwardness of feeling anxiety around people. I stop at Starbucks for a $5 latte because I’ve got a huge to-do list and I deserve a treat.

I also knew that I felt miserable, physically. My stomach always hurt, my bottle of Pepto-Bismal always close at hand. My anxiety was still simmering below the surface of my life most of the time, even with medication and exercise. I was disproportionately stressed and angry. And I couldn’t stop drinking coffee.

But I thought of John’s decision, and it gave me the strength I needed. Fasting is an exchange. It’s setting aside this thing I really, really think I need to survive, in order to pay attention. I don’t want to need it so badly. I want to be a less stressed-and-angry person for my family. I want to need Christ badly. I want to want Him more.

Having said all of this, I was very scared.

I honestly didn’t know how I was going to live for 40 days without my comfort drinks.

But on March 1st, I gave them up. And I learned a whole lot about myself in the past few weeks.

In his book A Hunger for God, John Piper says, “Christian fasting is a test to see what desires control us,” and this month I’ve had some humbling, un-lovely things to learn about my desires.

The biggest thing it exposed is my idol of comfort: that’s what my desire for coffee and tea are really. And if we get honest, this fast only just pulled back the top layer of that idol back since I still consumed many other things that bring me comfort: sweets, wine, the Internet, and books, to name a few.

Removing just one of those crutches showed me how very selfish all those cravings are. They’re about me; making myself comfortable, myself happy.

If Christian fasting is a test to see what desires control me, then I failed the test.

What’s more, the very first week a friend offered me a cup of coffee and without even thinking, I said, “No, I’m okay, thanks, I gave up coffee for Lent.” I actually said those words. I could’ve kicked myself for being that person. No one wants to be around that person.

So from that moment on, suitably chastened, I decided not to talk about it, except to a very few people. That isn’t what this exercise is about at all, having people know what I’m doing. And more than anything, the goal of all of it is to help make coffee not the point of my life. Constantly talking about giving up coffee is still making it the point.

That first week was the hardest. When I felt those overwhelming cravings and even surges of anger and feeling like a victim, I made a practice of saying to the Lord, “I hunger and thirst for You more than coffee.” Many times it was just words. Many times I really hungered and thirsted for coffee way more than God.

I’ve gone off coffee one time before, several years ago, and remembered this: that first week left me literally depressed. I wanted to sleep all the time. I felt a thick, dark weight settle over my life. I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning.

At the beginning I counted down the days until I could drink coffee again. I fantasized about sitting down with our straight-from-the-oven Easter cinnamon rolls and a steaming mug  and my mouth would water. I’m not sure if that’s the exact right thing to fill my mind with during a fast.

But I also remembered that it gets easier over time.

Gradually, over the 40 days, it did get easier. Until, ironically, last week leading up to the end I rarely thought about the breaking of my fast. I finally started to enjoy my cup of hot herbal tea. And when I woke up on Saturday morning and made myself a French press of Starbucks Pike Place roast, it tasted delicious, but I didn’t even finish the cup. It was decaf, but it instantly made me feel sick (is coffee intolerance a thing!?), and just didn’t feel worth it to me. So I heated water for a cup of Rooibos tea.

I wish I could tell you I had some really deep quiet times with the Lord over this month, but you know what? I didn’t. I take medication for anxiety that left me so very sleepy without caffeine. I don’t think I ever once got out of bed before 7:00 am this month, and usually it was 7:30 or later. I rarely exercised because I didn’t have the energy.

I feel like I lost a big part of my personality all month.

But after the initial withdrawal wore off, you know what I also lost? A lot of my anger. And stress. And anxiety.

So much so, that I had to gradually keep shaving off my medication dose over the past few weeks. That was never my intention; I just needed to do it in order to be functional. Now I take a fraction of the dose. I can wake up early in the morning again. I went for a run today. I have energy. And I feel great.

I found a lot of my other driving desires seemed to be less intense. I didn’t crave a glass of red wine every evening. I didn’t need our bedroom addition to look like a Pinterest post. I didn’t need to be on Instagram — in fact, a couple of weeks into Lent I stopped checking it altogether.

Quitting coffee did not solve all my life problems (wouldn’t that be nice?). I still get stressed and angry and anxious and materialistic. But I would say it’s at a much more proportionate level to the reality of my life and my sinful heart.

And I was reminded, many many times I day, how much I do not hunger for God.

Isn’t it just like Him that I give up something I desperately desire and have so foolishly chased after, and He gives me gifts? I don’t deserve that at all. I deserve His displeasure, because I replace wanting Him with silly, silly things like coffee and tea. At the very least, I deserve His halfhearted, distracted attention, because that’s what I give to Him.

But instead He blesses me and blesses me and blesses me. With His good pleasure. With His forgiveness. With His attention and with freedom from my addiction to self. This month He’s allowed me to taste and see that He is good in a fresh new way. Before, I had what I wanted, but really I was missing out. In what other areas of my life am I doing that?

I used to be a bit terrified of fasting. It felt like too much to ask. I thought of every reason to rationalize my way out of it by pretending it was about legalism. And, just as with sin, the person I was hurting the most was myself.

I’m not scared anymore. I’m stronger than I thought I was. I don’t “need” all these comforts in my life, all the time. There are things I really need, and I’m interested to be embarking on a journey to learn more about them.

I also know this now: fasting is very deep.

It’s deep in a way that sitting with my Bible and going to church on Sunday aren’t. Maybe that sounds irreverent. I believe those two practices are essential to the Christian life. But possibly, by neglecting the practice of fasting, I’m not fully experiencing the good that the other spiritual disciplines have to offer me.

I’m still perpetually, unceasingly “nibbling at the table of the world,” as John Piper says. Like Anna’s example of trying to have a conversation with John while he’s checking his texts, I’m giving half my attention to God and half to things that don’t matter.

Fasting isn’t about making God happy. God is happy with me, because of Jesus’ perfect righteousness. Fasting is about longing. It’s about looking for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. It’s about joy and it’s about freedom.

My first Lenten fast was imperfect — there’s much more I could’ve done, more I could have given up. It didn’t begin to plumb the depths that fasting has to offer me. After 40 days, I see that more clearly than ever. But it’s a start, and somehow, I feel like starting may be half the battle. It’s made me hungry for more.



easter 2017.

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My parents are selling their house in Blythewood and hoping to buy a house a little closer to downtown. So yesterday we celebrated one last family holiday there. It was also my brother Danny’s 30th birthday! We had fun eating fried chicken and chocolate cake, hunting for Easter eggs, and enjoying this lovely spring weather.

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the home stretch.

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I’m long overdue for a house update.

Our house addition started February 13, which means we’re entering our eighth week. Can you believe it?

People told me the construction process would feel like an eternity, but February and March were such extremely busy months for us, that it’s flown by. All except the weekend the roof was being replaced. That felt like an eternity for sure. If you’re wondering why, imagine the sound of something like large rodents scurrying and stomping overhead, interspersed with lots of pounding (on your very skull) and every so often, what sounds like bodies hitting the roof.

That kind of did a number on our family, partly because we hosted our two CPC New Members’ classes the weekends they were here working. I truly thought I might have a break-down at one point, from the stress of it all.

But God gave us the strength we needed to just put one foot in front of the other, and what’s more, He gave us joy. Just in the nick of time. We loved having the big group of people over, as we always do, and if anything it was even more special than usual, because they came to us in all our mess.

And then right after, the Lord gave us a wonderful gift: our window shipment was delayed, and so the builders had to take a week and a half off work. They apologized a lot, but David and I felt that the timing couldn’t have been better.

We desperately needed a break: from noise, from interruptions, from thinking about the addition at all really.

When business resumed last week, we felt rested and energized for the home stretch.

Right now Scott is estimating that they’ll finish up at the beginning of May!

Alright, enough talking. Let’s take a tour around, shall we?

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Here’s the current state of our current bedroom. We had this window boarded up a few weeks ago.

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Now I am standing inside the new little hallway of the addition, looking back into the house. As of tomorrow that window will be a doorway (the cord to that Roman shade gave out not a moment too soon, didn’t it?)! Up until now everyone has crawled in and out through a window.

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Still standing at the window, I’m turning and looking at what will be a tiny alcove. You can see the bedroom doorway to the left, and it will open out into that alcove. The room beyond that wall is our bathroom!

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Hooray! Here’s our bathroom! Isn’t that privacy window fun? There will be a built-in linen cabinet on the right, then the double vanity, and on the other side of that half-wall is the shower. To the left across from the shower is the room for the toilet.

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Here it is! The kids are enamored by the fact that someone can actually close a door and use the potty in privacy while other people are in the bathroom. You know what I love about a building project? You can design it to fit your family’s particular needs, and what we need is a multi-user-friendly master bathroom.

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Now we head out of the bathroom and turn to look down another little hall into the bedroom. That door on my right is the walk-in closet.

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I’m looking out of the hall window to our front porch.

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And here, my friends, is our lovely new bedroom. Don’t you love those big windows? And the vaulted ceiling? David gets all the credit for ensuring that it happened. I didn’t have an opinion either way, but now that I see how charming the room looks, I’m thrilled.

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I turn and look back down the hall I came from. The closet is that first doorway on the left, then the bathroom. Turn right at the end of the hall and it leads to the doorway to our living room.

Don’t you like how the addition isn’t just a big box-like room? It has a hallway and an alcove, and I haven’t shown you yet, but our genius architect figured out a way to add built-in bookshelves off the living room. Yes, it is tailor-made for the Gentino’s.

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Hello again, bedroom! Our bed will go against that wall. We plan to go with a minimal look, furniture-wise, but hope to fit a reading/drinking-wine-and-chatting corner in under the windows across the room from the bed.

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And here we are again at the outside. As you can see, we gained most of the windows this past week since I snapped the above photos, as well as insulation and hardwood floors.

If the addition looks large compared to the rest of the house, that’s because it is! It increased our square footage by a third. Here’s one more glimpse:

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Doesn’t that roof look pretty? It was worth all the craziness! I’ve never in my life considered roofing style, but suddenly found myself needing to choose shingles. I went with architect-style, light-black onyx, mostly by looking around and seeing what I liked.

If you don’t think the roof looks all that remarkable, may I give just remind you…?

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The roofers said that our shingles were pretty much crumbling in their hands as they removed them.

And that’s all for now!

Happy April, my friends!



lessons from anne.

Hello there, friends!

Forgive me for being MIA. Quite honestly, I haven’t had the energy for blogging. But I miss you all! I plan to give you a nice Spring Bookshelf post soon, but for now I thought I’d write about what I’m currently finishing up: the Anne of Green Gables series.

I was poking around for comfort books to read, and right around that time my Mom and I watched the movie Anne of Green Gables with Judah and Amelie for their first time. They adored it! Amelie said, “Oh Mom, I just love Anne. She has the best imagination, doesn’t she!?” And Amelie has had a “window friend” ever since, which is, now that I think of it, truly what I always hoped for in a daughter.

So I decided to read back through the series of books. I haven’t read them beginning to end since I first got married, and I was surprised at how much I’d forgotten. Now, I love the Anne movies — at least the original Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Green Gables, The Sequel — after that I stopped watching them.

But I’m reminded that if you’ve only watched the movies and haven’t read the books, you’ve missed out on so much! The series is full of sparkle and insight that the movies just can’t capture. Growing up I enjoyed the books for their stories and romances, but reading them again as a 35-year-old has me struck with just how profound L.M. Montgomery’s writing is. Old-fashioned it may be, but the true lessons I’ve gleaned from Anne this time around are timeless.

Here are a few I’ve been mulling over:

1. Be a lover of nature

From the very first moment we meet Anne, on the carriage ride with Matthew Cuthbert to Green Gables, she’s exulting over nature. And she never stops. I love the way Anne has an actual relationship with flowers and trees and brooks and meadows. She notices them. She enjoys them as if they’re friends.

As a little girl she builds imaginary playhouses with Diana and names her favorite spots, as a college student, she goes for long walks, and as a busy mother of six, she gardens. Her enthusiasm for the great outdoors is so genuine and contagious, that her children grow up loving it too.

Anne makes me want to get outside, open my eyes, and see the things around me — not in order to make a nature lesson for my kids, but just for the sheer pleasure of it.

 

2. Never lose your imagination

One of the things that makes Anne so beloved is that she’s no stranger to adversity. Orphaned as a baby, she lived in and out of the orphanage and foster care until age eleven. It seems that one of the gifts that saved Anne during those heart-breaking years was her imagination.

She had imaginary friends. She loved poems and stories. She spun stories about people, or pretended that life could be different than what it was. And don’t we love her for it?  Her imagination was a wonderful comfort and joy to her, both as an orphan, and later as an adopted daughter.

And as a grown up too! One of my favorite conversations Anne has with her children ends with her saying to her daughter, with the wisdom of someone who has lived and knows, “An imagination is a wonderful thing to have . . . but like every gift we must possess it and not let it possess us . . . you must learn to keep on this side of the borderline between the real and the unreal. Then the power to escape at will into a beautiful world of your own will help you amazingly through the hard places of life.”

 

3. Determine to see the best in people and in life

This is Anne’s second gift that allowed her to live a difficult life without becoming consumed by despair and resentment. There’s a way to read Anne’s story in two narratives: one of her seeing the best in people, and one of her fearing the worst. I found myself reflecting back over the books and thinking of the things she could have chosen to feel about her life.

Even after she found a home, Matthew and Marilla certainly weren’t always ideal caregivers. Marilla could be gruff and strict. Matthew was shy and quirky. They didn’t have a lot of money. And Anne always knew she wasn’t pretty — at least not in the way other girls were. There were hard seasons for her and losses and people that were unkind, and she married a doctor who worked incredibly long hours.

But from the very beginning she had this amazing strength of character that said, “I choose to find the best.”

Because of that, Anne’s life turns out very, very differently from the way it might’ve (you can contrast her to Katherine Brooke, for instance). It isn’t trouble-free, but it is rich in the best of ways: with people and with gratitude.

 

4. Stay young at heart

I love the Meredith children’s speculation about grown-up Anne . . .

“They say she isn’t like other people,” said Jerry.

“Mrs. Elliott says that is because she never really grew up,” said Faith.

“She’s taller than Mrs. Elliott.”

“Yes, yes, but it is inside — Mrs. Elliott says Mrs. Blythe just stayed a little girl inside.

I love Anne’s sense of wonder throughout life. I love her imagination. I love that her growing in life responsibilities and wisdom doesn’t come at the expense of her child-likeness.

It makes her a delightful friend and wife, and a wonderful mother. My favorite thing that Anne’s children say about her is that: “Mummy understands.” It doesn’t keep her from setting rules and disciplining and keeping house and sometimes doing things for herself that she enjoys doing.  She never tries to be her kids’ best friend. But it means she can put herself into their shoes and truly remember what it felt like to be a child.

They love they way she listens to them. They love that she doesn’t laugh and make light of their funny sayings. They love that she takes their dreams seriously. They feel accepted by her, exactly the way they are.

 

5. Embrace a simple life

Here’s something that just astounded me on this most recent reading through the books — something I’ve forgotten from years of re-watching the Anne movies and forgetting how the story was changed. Do you know that in the original story, Anne never gets a book published?

I was so certain that was a fact in the movies that I looked avidly for it, but couldn’t find it!

When she graduated from Redmond College, Anne was full of promise. She was smart. She was popular. She’d had several small pieces published in magazines and had lots and lots of potential to do great things.

And she chose the other path.

She settled down. She got married and had a bunch of kids and kept house and reflected that there was no time any more to really write in the way she’d once dreamed of doing.

That is my favorite little hidden gem.

Does Anne ever feel a pang thinking of the “what might have beens”? Yes, probably. But she is happy with the simple life she chose. She keeps learning and growing within the limits of her life. She never ends up needing to prove anything to herself or the world in order to feel joy.

She is content.

She knows that people matter more than success.

This, more than so many things, is what I long to teach my children. Yes, I want to encourage their dreams. Yes, I want them to be passionate and inspired and work hard and have great opportunities. But most of all, I want them to see that success does not always equal what a lot of the world says it does. I want them to see that there is great value in a simple life. And no matter what form it takes, success never, ever makes you happy.

Oh, Anne, thank you for being so delightful and for teaching us so many things!

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lately

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Hi friends!

I thought I’d do a quick photo update post of what we’ve been up to the last couple of weeks.

If you can believe it, our church just had our first official church-wide picnic a couple weeks ago! It was a lovely, 70-degree Sunday afternoon and a great time was had by all. The consensus was: Let’s do this more often!

And, now, onto the house update . . .

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Weeks 4 and 5 have been all about framing. Yesterday the heating/air guys came, as well as the electrician. We asked our contractor if our friend Ben could do the electrical work, and it’s fun having him apart of the project.

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Seeing the walls and roof go up made it all seem so much more real! Currently we all climb through the windows to work/see inside. Our builder, Scott, is trying to wait as long as possible before he cuts the hole in our living room wall, which I very much appreciate!

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Look at those nice, big windows! Don’t they make the addition seem so cheerful?

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In the meantime, David finished the chicken coop! He has a couple last touches to do, but the girls have lived out there for nearly a week now, and are doing great. We were a bit scared with this extreme cold snap we’ve had the last few days (it was 27 degrees this morning!), but they have all their big-girl feathers on and haven’t seemed to mind a bit.

David and Amie still have to coax them up the ramp into their coop at night, but they make it down in the morning all on their own.

(Also you may be thinking: Girls? Are you sure? The truth is, we won’t know their gender for a couple more months, but we like to pretend they’re all girls)

It’s an amazing feeling of relief to have that project over with.

Now I feel really dumb about the silly fights David and I had over it. Why did I care so much? Why did I have to prove my point all the time and generally be so difficult?

It’s funny how that works.

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We’ve had the strangest weather lately: weeks of 70 degree days, followed by snow flurries this weekend. Seeing ice mixed with a thick layer of pollen on Sunday was a first for me.

Just last week I organized everyone’s clothes and stashed winter things in the attic! I literally threw away Noah’s coat because it had officially been through four boys and had holes in it. So we’ve done a bit of improvising this week.

We all managed to venture out on this freezing-cold morning to swim practice, and were thankful to come home to hot chocolate and heat vents.

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If Organization is one of my keys to staying sane right now, Routine is the other one.

With all the construction noise and interruptions, it is so tempting to throw our entire schedule out the window and spend hours scouring Pinterest for bathroom faucets and paint colors, but that makes everyone crazy (myself included). I’ve learned these last five weeks to allow interruptions to happen, and then as best I can, pick right back up with our routine afterwards.

We still do school. We go to CC and swim practice and play with cousins. I cook dinner. We have pretend “quiet rest time” in the afternoon from 1-3 even when the house shakes with drilling and pounding. Am I getting as much done? Absolutely not. I’m just doing the best I can and letting the rest go.

Routine has been our comfort.

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Somewhat ironically, Judah chose to take a really big test for Classical Conversations called Memory Master. He’s working on memorizing every single piece of information we’ve learned this year. The testing starts in three weeks, and so we’re doing what we can in-between answering questions about light switch placement and shower tile. Thankfully we’ve been reviewing ever since August, which makes it not nearly so big and scary.

I just have to laugh at the timing of it all; also I’m very proud of my boy for how hard he’s working even though I know lots of loud noise is not easy for him (he and I hate the noise; the other three kids seem totally oblivious, ha!).

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We’re getting down to all the fun interior details which I’ve daydreamed about forever, but still make my head spin. This weekend our roof will be replaced, and hardwood floors go in next week.

Oh yeah, I’m also head to a homeschool conference Friday and Saturday in Greenville, and we have our CPC New Members class at our house on Sunday! Hopefully all the new members will have a sense of humor when they see our craziness.

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When the busyness presses in, I imagine myself laying on my bed under that lovely vaulted ceiling, in a room filled with light.

All of this is just the biggest gift. There are no words to explain it. I often have to remind myself that it’s really, truly happening.

I walk through the shell of our new bathroom and walk-in-closet and it feels surreal. Lovely and surreal. Like living inside an Apartment Therapy post.

We heard all kinds of horror stories about builder/homeowner relations, but I have to say thus far our builder, Scott, could not be more pleasant and easy to work with. He’s very experienced but never makes me feel like an idiot for the things I don’t know. I’ve taken to asking his opinion about decisions, and I like his ideas.

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We got a whole lot of rain this weekend, and since a portion of our roof is under tarps, we had some leaks, as you can see from the ceiling and the way we had to pull the bed out when water streamed down onto David’s pillow the other night.

The good news is: Amie will get a new ceiling for her room! You can’t really tell but the ceiling of this room has always been a strange, almost drop-ceiling-like material, because this room was actually an addition too. I’m thrilled to see it go. Tomorrow they will be sealing that window on the left off and make it a wall (our new bathroom is just on the other side!).  We also have an exterior door in that room, behind the door, which will be sealed off (pictures to come).

Isn’t this so fun!?

Happy Hump Day!

 

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six years ago.

Has it really been six years?

Oh, the places we saw, the people we met.

I look at these photos that seem like something out of a beautiful dream, and yet, my main memory is: Sick.

Sick, sick, sick. I did not go to the Taj Mahal — David and Judah visited the Taj Mahal while I holed up in a hotel room in an enormous foreign city with a migraine and a one-year-old.

Even so, I’m thankful for every single sight I saw: snow capping the Himalayas, orphans with beaming faces, enough stand-still traffic jams to last a lifetime.

And I look at the Julie in those pictures and ache for her, because it’s going to get so much harder, up ahead. I had yet to face the darkest moments of my life. God’s rescue was going to feel a lot like death.

But if I could, I would give her a big hug and say, “God is not punishing you. Nothing — not one single minute or one single tear — will be wasted. He is going to use all of it for your good and for His glory, I promise.”

Mostly I’d just say to her, “He will never, ever, ever leave you alone.”

I wish I could also say, “Your life will hold more pain than you know now, but it will also hold surprises so beautiful you couldn’t possibly dream them up.”

You know what’s funny? Why couldn’t God have just left all of that out? The whole journey to India, the illness, the abrupt return and grief and depression so bad I wanted to die. All the subsequent challenges of the last six years. Why couldn’t He have just plopped us down, right here and now in Columbia with our church and our family of six?

I don’t know, entirely, the reason.

What I do know is it’s all so inexplicably part of our story that I can’t imagine our life any other way — no, I wouldn’t want to imagine it. I am the person I am today because of what I’ve been through, the good and the bad. I trust God today in a way I never did before. I can sit with people who are suffering in a way I was oblivious to. I can be just a bit more patient in trials because I’ve tasted hope. I can look ahead to the future with confidence because I know nothing will be wasted, that God is going to make all things new.

No, I wouldn’t change a thing.

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the condition: 3 weeks in.

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A little recap:

Week 1: Demo, initial inspection, stake out space, footers

Week 2: Footer inspection, lay brick skirt

Week 3: Begin framing, week cut short due to rain (thus the tarps!)

Hardest part of process: the noise!!! And the interruptions. Don’t even get me started on how hard it is to have a homeschool day in the midst of this.

Best part of process: knowing how much the extra space will help our homeschool days in the future, constant entertainment for our kids and our neighbors. We talk to way more neighbors than we ever have before, and at least three have told us that we’re inspiring them to consider their own renovation project!



kitchen cabinet project.

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I don’t know if it’s the construction happening outside or the feel of spring in the air, but I’m in major Project Mode. Actually, when I’m stressed, one of the most calming things I know to do is to organize something.

The only way I know how to explain it is that when certain parts of my life feel big and somewhat out of control, here is this one small thing I can bring order to, be it the hall closet or the kitchen pantry or a bookcase. I manage stress much better with an organized house, it’s just the way I’m made. David laughs at me because even on vacation or on an overnight hotel stay I clean up and bring order to our little, temporary place.

Do you think I’m crazy yet? It can be an obsession of course — I have to remember my family shares my home and I can’t always impose my need for order onto them (although, come to think of it, I kind of try to). But by and large, we’ve all discovered that the key to living peaceably in a small house is staying organized, and they like it too.

As soon as the building project started, I raced around the living room, de-cluttering. I stowed all but one of our cute throw pillows in the attic and put away several knick-knacks, just to streamline things a little bit. Chaos reigns outside our front window, but inside there’s room to breathe.

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Anyway, I thought I’d share with you a couple of my projects from the last couple of weeks.

First, the kitchen cabinets.

I read this post over at Modern Mrs. Darcy, who just moved with her family to a new house and talked about conquering the blank slate of a new space. She mentioned a few organizational tips she picked up during the unpacking process, including the idea of stacking sheets pans and cutting boards in a basket in the kitchen or dining room (see the post on Apartment Therapy here).

Something clicked right then for me, and I jumped up to inspect our kitchen. My kitchen looks cute, but it is often functionally a pain in the neck because it’s teeny-tiny. Two people can technically work in it at a time — but with much stumbling over one another.

I love baskets and I love the idea of having my sheet pans and cutting boards within easy reach!

Only problem?

I have zero space for said basket. And I mean zero.

Every available area of floor space in our kitchen and dining room is put to use.

However, the idea got me on a roll.

I hate my kitchen cabinets, I mean really hate them. They are white and cute on the outside but so very old; the paint and wood is crumbling on the inside, they are dark and awkward, and every single time I pull an item out from my lower cabinets, I have to rinse and dry it to remove peeling paint and wood shavings. Yuck.

So I thought to myself, Okay, I can’t have a cute basket for my pans, but what can I do to make this situation a little better?

(This is an extremely helpful question to ask when considering any problem area in your home)

And that launched a couple-hour project of purging my kitchen cabinets!

I’ve been pretty good at maintaining the upper cabinets because we removed the doors from most of them. You may think the plants on top of our refrigerator are decorative (and they are!), but they’re also a reminder to never, ever open the cabinet immediately over them. No amount of scrubbing when we first moved in could remove the smell in that cabinet.

I can’t even explain to you what it smells like, and actually I don’t want to think about it anymore.

I so wish I were better at “before” photos! I almost never think of taking pictures at the beginning of a project.

Oh well. Just imagine me on my hands and knees, removing every item from the lower cabinets, and literally sweeping them out with a broom. They were pretty bad.

I made three piles: a donate pile, a throw away pile, and a “wash me now please” pile.

I’m embarrassed to say this is the first time I’ve completely organized and cleaned out those cabinets — reached into the furthest, darkest corners — in the three and a half years we’ve lived here. Sigh.

I’m baffled by the phenomenon that in a kitchen as small as mine, somehow those corner cabinets still turned into a scary black hole. I was thrilled to discover not one but TWO Pyrex dishes I’ve lost for at least a year. And all that time I thought I’d loaned them out!

So my biggest kitchen problem is accessing the pots and pans and cutting boards I use every single day, multiple times a day.

I looked around and decided that the place for them is on the bottom shelf of my island.

Of course it’s not as cute as a staged shelf with plants, cloth napkins and a mound of cookbooks. But who cares!?

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You guys, it’s a game-changer.

It’s been a week and I feel like I have a new kitchen! Chores that used to make me groan, like chopping onions for soup, now feel simple. I reach down to my open shelf — I do not have to root around in a dark space and then rinse wood-shavings off my cutting board — and I chop the onion!

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After sweeping and wiping everything out and washing pots and pans, I went with a greatly minimalized cabinet approach, shown above. The items are easy to reach and I don’t mind giving them a quick rinse because I don’t use them every day!

When you think about it, most of us have way more in our kitchen than we use or even need. I’ve hung on to a very few family heirlooms from each side of our family, and have purged what I just never use (it is helpful to consult parents and siblings before giving these things away!). Even items we received as gifts for our wedding, if we never ended up using them, have been donated.

It sounds harsh I know. But there are many things that make life stressful; clutter should not be one of them. It’s the simplest to remedy!

I didn’t solve all of my kitchen woes, but just tackling one of them is a big help.

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Finally, a windowsill lined with succulents always makes a room more cheerful.

I feel ten times better after this project and find our little kitchen a much happier place to be!

Next up: my composting project!