Yesterday I found out that my childhood friend, Jiah Quayle, died this week. I hadn’t been scrolling Facebook so I didn’t hear right away, and my mom gave me a call to let me know.

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Jiah at a Cross Country trip, fall 1997.

The emotions quickly moved from shock to grief, as I thought about my friend’s amazing life. I moved to Waldport in elementary school, but I think middle school is when my friendship with Jiah really began. Every memory of him, he is smiling, confident, and friendly. In high school we ran Cross Country together, and worked at the same restaurant. Being in a small school in a small town, we shared many friends and experiences. We didn’t really stay in touch after high school, but I have been watching a bit on Facebook as he battled with cancer, lost his leg, seemed to be doing well, but ultimately ended the fight this week. I am so sad for his wife, Jamie, and their 5 kids that he leaves behind. I am praying for them, and the community of Waldport, who was so supportive of this man who was such an integral part of the community as a home builder, volunteer fire fighter, and coach. He lived a great life, and though I am very sad to see him go, I am proud of the way he lived.

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At our high school class graduation trip, river rafting. Jiah is the guy on the left, smiling as usual. (And surrounded by girls, also usual. He was just so nice and so cute!)

I looked through some of my high school memories this morning, looking for pictures of Jiah, and found some articles I wrote for our school newspaper, and other articles I saved from our time in Cross Country together. I did one article for our school paper to explain the sport to non-runners. He had some great quotes: He said while racing, “I just zone. I don’t think. If I do, then I mess up.” Afterwards he said he’d feel “Like I’m going to puke. But I always feel better than beforehand when the race is over.” He joked that runners are “A whole bunch of freaks. Psycho runners” but that he ran “for the satisfaction of knowing I can do something that a lot of other people can’t, and the fun of being with the team.” He liked cross-country, having practice running all over town and on trails. Track work was his least favorite. “I hate running in circles” he said.

Though he didn’t start out fast, confessing that at the start of freshman year it took him about 33 minutes to run a 5k course. But by our senior year of high school he was the fastest runner on the team. He took 11th place at the district competition, and both the men’s and women’s teams from Waldport made it to the State competition. At the State meet he ran a personal best for the season, at 18:38, almost twice as fast as he could run when he started! In his final high school race, he also beat out his rival, Brendan May of Newport, who was generally considered to be the better runner. Jiah finished 12 runners ahead of him at State. He was our school MVP for the men’s Cross Country team that year.

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Maybe this doesn’t mean much to many people, but I thought, someday it will mean something to Jiah’s kids, as they are struggling through high school, and I will tell the story he won’t be there to tell. Jiah lived life as if embracing an adventure. Maybe he lived in the same small town most of his life, maybe he isn’t well known outside of his community, but he is known to have lived well, and that counts for a lot. Jiah knew the value of perseverance, hard work, and doing something with so much of your guts, it feels like they’ll spill. He knew how great it felt afterward. He was proud to do what many people can’t do. As I watched from a distance, as he battled with cancer, it seems like he carried this attitude throughout his life. Persevering, working hard, giving his all, and taking time to love people. He always loved people. He was always friendly. Everyone liked Jiah. I’m so sad to know he’s no longer in this world.

I think the apostle Paul may have been a runner… he definitely talks about racing a lot. To borrow some of Paul’s words, Jiah has run his race, and received his prize. And he did not run in vain. He got the prize – a family and community that loved him, as he loved them. What greater prize can this life offer than that? See ya on the other side, my friend.

(1 Corinthians 9:24, Galatians 2:2, 2 Timothy 4:7, Hebrews 12:1)

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Dear Morning,
I hate you. You are not dear to me. I should have said wretched morning, but that’s not much of a way to start a communique. I don’t understand why you continue to come around EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. When I am trying to sleep, no less! Have you no common courtesy?No decency? Don’t you know when you are not welcome? With your sunshine and your birds. The only good thing about you is that you bring me coffee. Please leave me alone. I much prefer your cousin, 10am.

Dear Nap,
Oh dear, sweet nap. You called to me alluringly, beckoning me to the bed for a sweet interlude in the middle of the day. After the disruption of Morning, I thought, “A visit with Nap is just what I need to brighten my day.” And so I responded to your invitation, and savored your delights. And yet, you have wrecked my day. Because now it is evening, and the kids haven’t been fed or bathed yet, and I don’t think I’ll be able to fall asleep tonight.

Dear Night,
I adore you. You bring me peace and quiet. And TV shows and movies that are not animated. I love the time you give me to read uninterrupted. I just wish I had more energy to be productive in those quiet hours you bring. Now all I can think about is my dear Nap, and that maybe I shouldn’t’ve have that cup of black tea this afternoon. I love you, Night, and we’ve shared many great years, but I think we need to stop spending so much time together. I’m getting too old for you. Please let me go to sleep now. I have a feeling Morning is going to come around way too early.

Dear Daylight Savings Time,
You are the worst visitor in the history of the world. Granted, I don’t mind so much when you visit in the fall and give me an extra hour of Night, but when you come in the spring and bring Morning with you, much too early, it is just cruel. I ought to stop playing your game, and yet every year you do this to me. And I let you. Why do I let you? I am too tired to argue. But please, can you just not come next year? Come in the fall with your extra hour, but don’t take it away again in the spring, okay? You better bring me an extra cup of coffee today. Then maybe I’ll forgive you.

IMG_6873I grumbled down the road, mad at my children for not being happy. Why can’t you just be happy? Why do you have to whine about everything? And of course, my thoughts asked myself the same question. Why am I having such a very bad day? What really has gone so wrong, that I feel so awful in this moment?

“Let’s just be happy!” I almost-yell at them in the back seat, with forced cheerfulness and a fake smile plastered on my face. I don’t remember what else I say to try to convince them that life is not so very bad, but I hardly believe myself, so I doubt they do either. But as often is the case with children, they recover, and by the time we reach our destination, they – and I – are able to put on not-so-forced cheerfulness. We walk into the preschool, funfetti cupcakes in hand, doused in sprinkles as that irrefutable sign that life can be full of sunshine even on a very rainy day. Rainbow Sprinkles… colorful little bits of cheer, with a subtle crunch, imparting joy to every bit of frosting or whipped cream or ice cream they are so generous as to decorate.

It is my son’s third birthday. My baby, my dear heart. My last little one. My last one to ever have a third birthday. The one who still needs me so desperately at times, who still awakes in the night on occasion, and is comforted just to hold my face close to his, with his chubby little arms around my neck. And we bring cupcakes in to celebrate with his little preschool friends.

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What was so very bad about this day? Mostly, it was nothing more than a case of things not going as expected. It snowed in the morning, in March. It had been snowing all weekend. In other parts of the country they are having an unusually early spring, but here, we had snow flurries once again. In the valley where I live it did not stick to the ground— indeed, it was not even freezing temperatures on the ground —but at my little boys’ small school there are teachers who live in areas where the snow stuck and made roads difficult, so school started at 11:00 instead of 8:30. Never did it occur to me that I ought to check if school was delayed, until I pulled into the parking lot, and no one was there, and the buildings were dark. Gone with the snow flurries were all my hopes of all I had to accomplish in the morning, when all the kids were at school, because now school would be one and a half hours, instead of 4. Back home we went with our cupcakes, as I tried not to think about how I had arisen an hour early to have the cupcakes ready in time to bring them, or how I had to drag my littles out of bed and rush through the morning routine so we would not be late. The kids didn’t mind going back home to play, and yet every little argument, and extra spill I had to clean up, every ant that dared cross my kitchen countertops, every tear over inconsequential matters, and every interruption bothered me exponentially more than it might, had I been expecting to spend the day with my kids instead of with my tasks. So by the time we returned to school at 11, it felt like a not-very happy birthday.

Why couldn’t I look at those extra hours with them as a gift instead of an inconvenience? When my oldest boy was three, I spent almost every waking moment with him and my newborn daughter. Actually, many of the sleeping moments too! When my first baby turned three, I had time to plan parties, take walks in sunny California, look for bugs and have picnics. I remember a little grassy area in the middle of our condominium complex where we lived. We’d walk there, and play by the bushes and palm trees. We’d happily watch ants and grasshoppers, and the occasional praying mantis. We’d walk to the park a half-mile away and I would play too. What happened? Am I any fun anymore?

Now my youngest baby is turning three, and life is swallowed up by activities for the older ones, and errands, and work. I am glad to have time as a grown-up, doing grown-up things that do not necessitate bringing my kids along or involving them somehow. But am I missing something essential? I remember when my now-three-year-old baby was born, and I had been working part-time, and stopped to be home with my baby, but also to spend time with my two-and-a-half year old. I just sensed that he needed me, particularly, for a season. I am so happy I took that time to be there with most shy,  sensitive, soft-spoken and tender-hearted child. Am I there for my baby the way he needs me to be? He has siblings to play with, so it makes sense that since I am not his sole companion, as I was for my firstborn, that I not play quite as much.

It truly is a great challenge to have four children. Not even considering the toll on my body, four children is a lot to balance. Being there to listen to them all, to teach them, play with them, take them to activities, care for their physical needs. I think I spend too much time “managing” them and not enough “participating” with them.

What was so very bad about my day, that I found myself yelling at spilled yogurt instead of just patiently cleaning it up? Why do I retreat into myself when I am having a hard time, instead of turning toward others. I have always had a hard time asking for help. I don’t know why. I have had serious theories about this. Shyness, lack of feeling I have the right to ask for help, feeling it is easier to just do it myself, thinking that others ought to just take initiative and do it – and feeling disgruntled that I even have to ask. I don’t know why it is hard for me. But it is even hard when it comes to my kids. I know they are better off for having to do chores. No one gets to skate through life without working. Or very few do, anyway. Why cannot I find joy in working with them? Why does it often feel like involving them in the household work is harder than just  doing it myself? Yet if I am left with the bulk of it, then no one really wins, because they aren’t learning, and I am not able to be there for them in other ways, where they would really prefer me to participate rather than merely tolerate their imaginative worlds of adventure.

It was not really a very awful day, yet it felt like it. But it was my attitude that needed fixing – not my circumstances. The only things that were really wrong was that I failed to connect with God when things did not go as expected, and I failed to connect with my children in a healthy way.

C.S. Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters is set upon the premise of one of the demons in management giving advice to one of the younger demons assigned to try to steer a particular young man away from God’s devoted pursuit of him. At one point the elder demon advises the younger with something like, “Most of the time we don’t have to really be very much involved in their lives. They pretty well are able to self-destruct on their own.”

I wouldn’t hazard a guess about how exactly devils and angels are involved in this world. I don’t think I have a little devil on my shoulder, and in fact I think I am pretty securely ensconced in God’s protection. But I can identify with Paul in Romans 7, as he describes the struggle within himself to do good, and yet only ever able to succeed by the grace of God, often falling into those behaviors he despises in himself.

19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.

I am pretty well able to self-destruct, and if I am not careful to mend the dear relationships I hurt through my own self-centeredness, I will bring destruction upon others as well.

I have prayed in the past, Lord, help me to be wise. And I have seen, over time, that I begin to function in greater wisdom, as I let the Word of God soak into my soul. I have prayed, Lord, help me to see people as you see them, with compassion instead of judgment. And I have seen God alter my perspective as well. But I still struggle with patience! And I struggle to seek help, and I have to daily, actively choose God, instead of self-loathing. I cannot love others well, when I struggle so within myself. O wretched woman that I am, who will save me from this body of death?

I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! …There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death… For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.  For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. (Romans 7:24-8:6)

Thanks be to God, who can turn terrible awful days into not-really-so-very-bad moments, and into grace, and fresh opportunities to live in God’s light, and love, and peace, when I will turn my eyes away from this world and its challenges and inconveniences, and towards God and others. I have no great answers to share today. Life on earth will probably always be more full of questions than answers, but there is joy in the journey, if only we look up and see it.

By the time I picked the boys up again at 12:30, I had reconciled myself to not completing most things on my list, and we enjoyed our afternoon and some time with a few friends that evening. My poor boy got scared of the fire on his three candles on the cupcake and ran away from the table as we tried to sing to him. (Too bad I didn’t get that on video!) But as the evening wore on, after awhile he came to sit on my lap, and I gently rocked him and cuddled him, and my three-year-old baby fell asleep on my lap. I don’t remember the last time that happened. I savored every moment.

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Our new house, Oct 2016

One month in, we still have boxes in every room. Except the laundry room and bathrooms. Those rooms are too small. The designated kitchen is not full of boxes, but since it is connected to the dining room (which still does have boxes), it hardly counts as unpacked. And the house isn’t pretty yet. It’s messy. No pictures on the wall. Our “curtains” are still bedsheets and cheap fabric sheeting/packing material that is literally staple-gunned to the window frame (on the top of course, so we won’t see the holes later).

“One month in!” you exclaim, “Get your act together! How can you live like that?!?” (Actually you are probably nicer than that, but these mean voices pop up in my head at times as if people are judging me, when in fact, they probably aren’t, and if they are, who cares? Jesus loves me. )

What have we been doing all month? Two soccer teams, busier-than-normal work schedules this month, church, small groups, school activities, and you know, things like dishes and laundry which generally keep me pretty darn busy even without the unpacking nonsense.

So, it is with great surprise that we found ourselves hosting some friends to go trick-or-treating, having another friend to dinner, and hosting a family (with a dog!) who found themselves in need of emergency housing for the weekend.

Guess how many of them cared about my boxes and lack of pictures on the wall and baskets of laundry? None. One friend even said, “It’s kind of nice to see I’m not the only one who has a messy house right now!” I’m not saying I’d like to make a FIRST impression this way, but kindness speaks louder than boxes, and a home is not made comfortable by fancy pillows and great decor as much as it is by a sense of the presence of God and welcoming people in the home.

I’m not a great decorator, a particularly “neat” person, or a fancy chef. Yet people tend to say our home feels like a peaceful place where they can relax and feel safe. It’s not the quiet kids that make it so (I don’t have any quiet kids), or the inspirational words on the wall (I don’t have those either). It’s the Spirit.

I got the keys to the house on a Friday at 5pm, and by 6pm the loaded moving truck arrived with our helpful friends in tow. But the very first thing I did, alone in my home, before the truck arrived, was walk through the house in prayer. Sometimes singing, sometimes praying in the Spirit, sometimes praying in my understanding, but all the while inviting in the presence of the Lord. I anointed every doorway, inside and out, with anointing oil, as a symbol of God’s presence in every room and passage. When the light hits it just right, in some places you can still see where my finger swiped the oil onto the post above the door.

God is here.

I want people to be here too.

When was the last time someone came to your home and shared a meal? This most basic form of human connection over regular human needs: food, shelter, a safe place to be with someone who is kind. We’ve had seasons of hosting people fairly often, but I realized that in the season of moving (since the spring, when we went into escrow the first time), we really haven’t hosted in the last six months due to the “in-process” state of the home. Apparently, God decided our time was up. Ready or not, here they come!

Hospitality is a calling to believers in Christ. The Good Samaritan shows us that, along with a bevy of other verses. To name a few:

Hebrews 13:2 “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
Romans 12:13 “contribute to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.”
1 Peter 4:9 “Be hospitable to one another without complaint.”
Titus 1:8 “Rather, [be] hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.”

Many other examples are given in the Bible of people who are hospitable, and are commended and blessed by God and others for their actions.

I’ve been reading Jen Hatmaker’s latest book, “For the Love.” She writes,

   “If Jesus is the heart of the church, people are the lifeblood… If Jesus’ basic marching orders were 1.) to love God and 2.) to love poeple, then the fruit of that obedience includes being loved by God and loved by people. We give and get here. According to Jesus, the love of God and people is the substance of life.
…A shared table is the supreme expression of hospitality in every culture on earth…Loneliness can be a prison, but we have keys… They look like tables and couches beef stew and crusty French bread… The keys include good questions and good listening around a fire pit; they certainly contain stories and laughter. They don’t require fussing or fluffing, so don’t let anything stop you, because a messy kitchen only tells me someone cares enough to feed me, which is a good key.
Instead of waiting for community, provide it, and you’ll end up with it anyway.”
(pages 114-118)

Open the doors. Let people in. As an introvert, this isn’t always easy for me. People take extra energy, even when I love them and I really want to be with them. One time this past summer when I was overwhelmed with life I almost had a panic attack about going to a barbecue with some of my best friends. Because ALONE is a real need for me. But LOVE is also a real need, and though I get it from God, I also need to get it from people, and I need to give it to people.

When I open up my home, I want it to look nice, because no one really wants to sit on my mismatched socks, or walk on my kids’ legos, or look at a pile of dishes or mail while they eat. And maybe also because sometimes I do worry about what others will think of me. I want you to like me, and I want you to think I’ve got my life together somewhat. But sometimes I need to get over myself and just invite you in.

What about you? Who can you invite in this week?

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Full disclosure: The rest of the house, with the junk in front that we haven’t figured out where to keep. Yep, you are welcome here. Just ignore my junk.

Have you ever had an experience where you notice – this is healthy me, and that is unhealthy me?  You know the difference. And the people around you can tell the difference too. I am not talking about body health, I am talking about soul health— when you notice how healthy are your interactions with others, and if your words are words of life, and if you are happy with the way you react to situations. This weekend I went on a little trip, and it turned out to be a comedy of errors— keys locked in car, forgot something and had to go back, took a wrong turn and ran late. It could have been a tragedy of errors, but it was a comedy. What made the difference? The difference is that I responded with God in my head and soul, instead of shame, fear and failure.

School is back in session, and this year ALL FOUR of my kids are in school – including the youngest in preschool. He’s with his big brother, who is in Pre-K, and they get to do some activities together, which I think is awesome. Meanwhile, I have about 3.5 hours per weekday to DO THINGS WITHOUT INTERRUPTION and in SILENCE if I choose, or my music, with no one complaining that they don’t like that song, or that I shouldn’t sing along. My husband is so wonderful and said if I just sit around all week he wouldn’t even care because he knows what a break I need! However, that is not only not my style, but it is also not even close to possible, because we are FINALLY MOVING. Well, at least by the end of the month. We did find a house to buy after all! Before we even found this house I felt like God told me we would have one by the end of summer. The technical last day of summer is September 21, and that is right around the date we should close, so I think that is pretty interesting! Maybe I do hear God correctly every now and then.

So, we began the week with not only the back-to-school chaos, the kids-were-home-all-summer-and-the-house-is-a-mess chaos, but also the moving chaos. But in the midst of the packing and cleaning, and an unexpectedly urgent project that came up mid-week, I was very intentional to make sure I was spending time connecting to God in my do-things-without-interruption time period. Because if any project or person deserves my undivided time and attention, it is God. So even though I have a lot of things going on, my soul was happy and healthy despite the chaos around me.

This past weekend we had a Girl Scout campout with my daughter’s troop. I help with the leadership of her age group, so I was looking forward to being there too. They went up on Friday, but I had some other commitments and came up Saturday by lunch. After I’d been on the road 20 minutes or so, finding myself out in the countryside, I realized I had almost another hour to drive and that I could spend that time talking and listening to Jesus! Because really, how often am I in the car with out kids? Not often! But I have found solo car time to be a great time to hear Jesus and think. It’s like the shower – I don’t need to give a ton of mental energy for what I am doing, but I can’t do anything else, so I think and pray.

It was amazing to me how quickly after I switched off the radio and reached out to God, that I felt God’s presence strongly. I am kind of funny this way, but sometimes I pretend he’s actually right there. In Jewish Sabbath traditions they will sometimes set an extra place at the table that remains empty, as a reminder that we are inviting Jesus and expecting him to be Immanuel – God with us. So in my car all alone, using my divine imagination, I almost felt like I could have reached over and held Jesus’ hand. I prayed, I listened; it was really good.

I got to camp just in time for lunch, and after lunch I went back to my car to get my water bottle. I had a cup with ice from my drink on the way up, so I set the keys down on the seat, stood up outside the car to carefully pour the ice from the cup to the water bottle, screwed the bottle lid on, placed the empty cup back in the car, locked the door from the inside, and closed it. Out of habit. Because when in remote locations with no one but Girl Scouts, you really ought to lock your car. (?!?) And if you are going to lock the car, you really ought to pick the keys up from the seat before you lock and close the door. Two steps away from the car door, I realized I had missed that very important step. You also ought to bring your AAA card whenever you drive in remote locations. Forgot that part too. Of course, if I had remembered it, the card would have also BEEN IN THE LOCKED CAR. But I did have my cell phone! And no cell service. (Remote location… yeah.)

Now, in certain times when unconnected to Jesus, my inner dialogue would have been something like, well, I won’t try to say it, but you can insert your favorite negative statements and imagine I was thoroughly berating myself with words I would NEVER speak if another soul could hear me, especially my children because if they ever said those words they’d be in big trouble. However, that was NOT the dialogue in my head this time. My head was laughing. Because Jesus was in my head, and Jesus laughs in the face of mistakes. Not laughing at us. It’s a laughter that says, “oops! I guess that wasn’t in the plan! Oh well, we’ll figure that out together.” He’s unphased. Because he has faith it will all work out.

So, I went back up to the lodge, asked around to see if any of the Girl Scout skills anyone had learned was how to break into cars (it wasn’t), and found another leader who let me borrow her AAA card, and the park ranger who directed me to a landline. And after we went canoeing (because I didn’t want to miss that!!), I called AAA. I made duct tape bracelets and watched squirrels while waiting for them to reach our lovely remote location, I did push-ups for my #22pushupchallenge, and I didn’t once shame myself, think “failure,” or fear admitting my stupidity to all the other leaders and girls. The first-grade girls were great. “Well next time just don’t leave the keys inside, or roll down a window first.” Yes dear, I know that already. Thanks for trying to be helpful.

The very friendly AAA person did finally arrive and was wonderful. I found out my type of car is one of the very hardest to break into… great for most every day, bad for the day you leave your keys inside. And after a lot of trying different things and setting off the alarm twice, we finally got it open. At one point a friend said, “the devil’s just trying to get you down and you’re just laughing in his face!” And yes, yes I was. Also, I am pretty sure the AAA people were Christians. They didn’t say so, but when my friend and I started talking about prayer and Jesus, they smiled and, well, sometimes you can just tell.

The rest of the weekend was great. After we left on Sunday, just my daughter and I in the car (since I had come up late we didn’t have carpool partners), we talked and listened to fun music and sang in the car… and halfway home realized we had left something at camp. Something that was enough to go back for, so back we went. But my daughter had such an amazing attitude, and we noted all the cows and horses and sheep we passed, and kept singing songs (a mix of Disney and Christian pop and worship songs… kid priorities, you know!).

IMG_4703.JPGWhen we returned to camp we retrieved our items, stopped and ate brownies that were left from the previous night, and my daughter showed me a few of the areas she had seen before I arrived. We spoke words of life and focused on the positive. No mean self-talk, no frustration over the situation overwhelming us, just enjoying being together and connecting our hearts with Jesus, and life was good.

And yes, we made a wrong turn on the way home, and yes, for every unexpected thing there was something that we missed as we had to take time to correct the error. What did I NOT miss? The mean voice. The me-without-Jesus voice in my head. Is it the devil trying to get us? Or are there just things in life that we forget… because we are human… and that’s okay. Is it the voice of Satan lying in our heads with all the negative talk? Or are we just humans that have some unhealthy patterns of thinking that need God’s redemption? Whatever the case, I have seen unhealthy-me. Kind of a lot lately, actually, with the stress of moving, and four kids at home for summer with not enough to do and too much time to argue and fight over toys, noise, and space, and not enough me to go around. But I believe God made us limited on purpose, and that is good. We need God, and we need each other. And sometimes, we just need some quiet time to connect with Him. We need to recognize the opportunities. I wonder, how would that trip have been different if I hadn’t had a good week of connection, and a good drive up to camp, when I chose to turn off the radio and tune in to God instead? I don’t know, but I do know this:

I know me without Jesus, and I know me with Jesus. Me with Jesus showed up this weekend. That’s the me I want to see more often. Jesus, thanks for being with me. Help me remember you are there, and keep seeking you out too.

It is not that I ever “stopped” trusting God. There was no cataclysmic event that made me shake my fist and turn my back. But as with most things, the path toward maturity is a spiral: we go up, we slip back around, we go around and up again, and find there is something new about which we can to trust God. Or something new to learn about whatever area of life in which we are growing. Life is full of cycles.

My cycle of learning to trust God has had many upward spirals so far. Trusting with friendships, trusting for funds for mission trips, trusting for my school bill to be paid, trusting that the job I didn’t get wasn’t the one I was supposed to have, trusting that God had someone for me to marry, then learning to trust God in the vulnerable process of loving that person. Trusting God with my kids, with my livelihood, to take that step to start college again, to move to Oregon from the Los Angeles area, trusting God to lead ministry, and bring restoration in my church… always there is some new challenge in life in which we get to learn how to trust God.

The current cycle for me has something to do with buying a house.

A couple of years after we were married we bought a condo, which in the Los Angeles area is your main “starter home” option. Having grown up on the Oregon coast, I thought condos were only retirement or vacation homes, but no, in a metropolitan area like Los Angeles, lots of people live in condos and townhomes. However, we bought just before the real estate bubble burst, and when we moved from California, we sold our condo in a short-sale, because we owed more than $100,000 more on our place than what we were able to sell it for. That process brought me through a lot of interesting conversations with God, and I learned a lot about how differently God views finances and the economy.

I thought I’d made peace with that disappointing situation… and yet… as we have been trying now to re-enter the world of home ownership, many things are again coming to the surface. I wasted some time in self-pity and lamentation over our basically starter-home budget but bigger-home needs (we do have four kids after all!), and the injustice of it all… as if I am somehow disadvantaged compared to millions of people around the world who live in much more difficult and cramped quarters than do I. However, self-pity aside, finally we found a place we wanted to buy, and we settled on a price, and entered the jubilant world of escrow. (If you have ever been involved in buying a home you will detect my sarcastic use of “jubilant.”)

We were set to close on May 27, but about ten days before that date, as we were well on the way toward packing and had already given notice to our current landlords, it became clear that there were several rather big issues that would need to be resolved before we could go forward, and a May 27 close date would not be happening, if we did even get the house at all.

As I sat among my boxes and contemplated having nowhere to go by our May 31 final move-out date, we almost had no choice but to laugh at the situation. At least, that seemed like a better thing to do than panic.

After a few more calls and emails, our landlords were able to allow us to stay in the house indefinitely (fortunately the potential new tenant had already made other plans!), and we thankfully did not need to find a temporary living space, or rush to find something else to rent or buy. So that is good! And staying in our current home at least through the end of the school year will also be easier. Additionally, since I ended up preaching at my church for the last three weeks, I am very thankful that I wasn’t moving in the midst of that, since preaching isn’t one of my routine roles at church.

We still don’t know what will happen, and we have started looking at other possibilities in the area. Remarkably, we are actually mostly pretty calm about all of this. I am trusting that God is working things out for us. We may not yet know exactly what that means, but I know I can trust God! And when I place my trust in God, and not in the success of a particular scenario, my trust is secure.

At this point, there is basically one issue to resolve, and what happens there is completely out of our hands. Either God is going to do something amazing, and we’ll get the house …or our chapter there is over, and we move on. I think my husband and I are to the point that we’ll be okay with either scenario. If we don’t get it, I think I will be a little sad, but I have to trust that God knows something I don’t know, and sees a future I don’t yet know how to imagine. This is how it always is when I look back on my life walking with Jesus.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see” (NLT).

If I place my confidence in a particular scenario, or a particular house, there will be times that I question the validity of this verse. I can recite a mantra of confident assurance that we will get this house, and it will be amazing and meet all the hopes and expectations that drew us to try to buy it. But the fact is, though I have felt peace in everything we did in making the offer, moving to that particular neighborhood and school area, etc. etc., I never did hear an unequivocal “YOU WILL GET THIS HOUSE” from God. I know that it meets what we’ve been praying for, and I know how everything has felt about this house compared to other houses we considered. I know that what we have done has been in accordance with the things we have clearly heard God say. But I also know that sometimes God leads us down a particular path, not because what we see at the end of the road is actually our destination, but because moving in that direction will lead us to wherever he does want us to be, and which we can’t see until we get moving.

So where, then, do I place my confident assurance? When my confidence is fixed to a person, or a place, then my hope has to be as transient as people and places are. When I place my confidence in God who will give my family a place to be safe, to blossom, and to extend hospitality, then my hope is secure. I may not like renting, and it may not make the most “financial sense” right now, but God is meeting our current needs for a home. Have things so far gone according to my desires? No. But has God let me down? Absolutely not. Has God remained with me and been faithful to supply all my needs according to His great riches (Philippians 4:19)? Absolutely yes.

Two more verses have been ringing in my head these past days:

“My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth” (Psalm 121 and 124), and “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles 20).

Sometimes, the solutions to our problems seem impossible. It seems like it will be a miracle if this house works out, but it also seems like it will be a miracle for us to find a comparable house that we can afford. Maybe for you there is a physical illness that seems hopeless, or a job situation that seems to have no apparent solution. Maybe you can’t see how things in your marriage will ever work out, or how your finances or business can make the turn-around your need. And the truth is, if your faith is in the doctor/medicine/boss/spouse/bank/government to solve the problem… you may very well be disappointed. But if your faith is in God, you can trust that things will be okay. God may heal you, or God may take you home. Your spouse may change, or your spouse may leave. You may need to make some drastic changes to your own lifestyle, and you just don’t think that is possible either… If we look at our lives only by what we can see or understand at the moment, then things will often not make sense, and they will often not seem very hopeful.

Buying a house? To me, it is a pretty big thing. To God, it is a little thing. And it may be a very long time before I will be able to look back and understand why things are happening this way. In the meantime, I choose to trust that God sees what I can’t see, and knows what I don’t know, and is working on my behalf for the best possible situation that will line up with everything else that He would like to see happen in my life. And even when the best situation doesn’t happen, I know that God can also make beauty from ashes.

I pray for you, dear friend, facing illness, facing marital struggles, facing financial struggles, facing life decisions when you don’t have all the assurance or information you desire… I pray you can trust in God. God loves you.

“Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith;” and “be confident that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Hebrews 12:2 and Philippians 1:6)

Have you noticed how our culture of late seems to be increasingly interested in things that are magical? In 2001 both the first Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies came out, and it’s like ever since then, we can’t get enough of things “magical.” Even most of the books recommended for third through fifth grade readers are full of magic. (By the way, these are mainly the types of novels I read, because I read them with my son, and that’s all I have time for… But there are some pretty amazing children’s novels out there!)

Maybe I just didn’t notice it before, but I think our cultural interest in things magical and other-worldly is definitely on the rise. Why is this? I think C. S. Lewis was onto something when he wrote The Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis used stories of magic in another world to talk about spiritual truths in this world. As the body of scientific knowledge has increased, I think we as a culture still recognize that some things are unexplainable. And sometimes, it just is no fun to feel like there’s a textbook answer for everything. Science often tries to rule out things like hope and divine intervention. But somewhere in the soul, we know that hope is essential and divine intervention is real. Unexplainable and impossible things really do happen sometimes! And since we sometimes don’t like the idea of God and accountability for our actions, we invent magical stories as an outlet for the hope, dreams, and yearning for the divine that lives in our souls. Or sometimes, like Lewis and Tolkein, we write universes of magic as a way to celebrate the truly magical nature of the God we love.

My last post on this blog was rather depressing and vulnerable, and very honest about some ways I was struggling. Since that point almost two months ago, I have written a dozen or so blogs in my head that I have not had a chance to get down for anyone else to read.

The short update is, I have learned that honesty is magical. I posted, with little expectation that many people would read it, and yet people did read it, and a few even reposted it. I learned that I am not alone in the challenges I face. Knowing I could be honest, and still loved… that is also magical. Honesty and love are perhaps more magical than anything else, because these are things that draw people together. And where people live in unity, God is in our midst. And of course, I believe God has the greatest and truest magic of all.

A few things happened in the past two months since I last posted. First, as I said, I realized I was not alone, and that I was still loved in my darkness and imperfection. This truth is empowering! And as I began to see those around me who felt much the same, I began to feel brave again – not brave just for me, but brave for us! And brave enough to look at my life through a lens of hope again.

Hope says that things can be different. For me, this means research. Research for how I can make some positive changes in my life. (Sometimes I do like the textbook answer.) One thing I learned in my research is that a mild health issue I was having is sometimes related to feelings of depression. Just to know there was something wrong in my body that caused some of my emotional difficulty – and it was not that there was simply something wrong with my soul – this also brought hope. Another thing hope brings is energy. Energy to finally do something about my issue. And as I did, the depression lifted as well. Magic!

Hope and research also led me to finally find something that will allow me to do something brave. Every person’s brave looks different, but for me, it was taking a step toward finding better, consistent childcare. One of the things that has been a frustration for me since moving to Oregon is that I did not have my fabulously amazing friend who did daycare in her home. I love my kids, but I need to embrace the fact that I am the kind of mom that is better when I am not a full-time mom. For whatever reason, God has designed my soul differently, and I need to embrace that this is okay to not want to be with my kids 24/7. My own mother was a 100% stay-at-home mom for ten years, and she looks back on this as a favorite time in her life. I have many other friends who would say there is nothing they’d rather do than be a stay-at-home mom. I have had seasons as a full-time mom, but mostly I’ve had part-time work, either in an office or a work-from-home setting, or been in school part-time. I can see the lessons and other reasons in this past season of difficulty finding regular childcare, but I have sensed that it is time for a shift again. So… This fall, my two youngest kids will be the age for Pre-Kindergarten and a young preschool. I looked at many programs, but I finally found one they can attend together, 20 hours a week, in a place that fits my budget and our family values.

This is my brave: it is time to make space and time in my life for God to bring other opportunities. And though my very small income right now from ministry and writing work will pretty much all go toward childcare, there will be space for dreaming and possibility again, with less stress and feelings of limitations to pursue those things that I can’t really do with my kids. This is brave for me, one, because of the cost; two, because of the letting go of some of the time in kids’ lives; three, because I will not have excuses anymore; four, because people may criticize me and think I ought to do something else… and simply, because it is different. Different takes bravery.

There have been some other things have changed, including a new journey in learning to trust God in a different way, and I will hopefully write on that soon. For now, I wanted to say, I am okay again. And I am praying that you are okay too. I am praying that you will know what your brave is, and that you will find a circle of friends who will love you through everything, like my friends love me. Most of all, I pray you will know what God is saying and where He is leading, whatever it is you face.

As a tribute to C. S. Lewis, the power of faith in the unexplainable, and the importance of friendship, standing together through all our tough times, and being brave, here’s a little song for you. Thanks for being part of my journey. You are part of the magic in my life.