Friday, November 21, 2008

We're Really Doing it...

Today is Friday, November 21st. This afternoon we will park our cars in Big Blue's sloped driveway, climb up the front steps, put the key in the front door and walk in (paint can in hand) as the happy homeowners. We are giddy with excitement and anticipation of building a life in this home, watching our children grow, developing relationships with the neighbors, and creating memories with family and friends.

Last January I sent an introductory email to our realtor in Portland and never dreamed that God would take us on an 11 month journey that started with searching for a home and ended with some deep searching (and purging) of the soul. I also never dreamed that when God finished refining me, at least for this season, that the blessing would be so great. It's overwhelming, humbling and exciting all wrapped up in one very large package.

On Sunday our pastor walked us through some Old Testament passages about the Hebrews exodus from Egypt. We looked at how the second commandment is "you shall have no other gods before me" and how that translates to God can not be contained by an image. He is mysterious and awe-inspiring and can't be shrunk down to a 5 year plan, a T-chart, or the size of our god-sized box, and He designed it this way because He is not a God that can be manipulated. We defined an idol as anything that takes the place of God in my life and looked at how good things, even gifts from God, can become idols if we aren't careful. God allowed His penniless Hebrew slaves to plunder their owners and then within months, they used this gift from God to make an image of God to worship.

It was a wake up call for Curt and I. We know our new home is NOTHING but an extension of God's graciousness and generosity to us and that we do not deserve such an amazing gift. We don't want to screw this up or turn this home into a substitute for God. We want it to be a beacon of light, of hope and of safety for our children, our family, our neighbors and our friends.

I'm supposed to be packing right now, but instead I read the Psalm of the day. David is praising God for victory in battle and as he writes, is referring to himself as "the king." I replaced "the king" in a few verses to praise God for His victory in our lives.

Psalm 21:1-2, 6-7 "O LORD, the Stilp's rejoice in Your strength, how great is their joy in the victories You give! You have granted them the desire of their hearts and have not withheld the request of their lips. Surely You have granted them eternal blessings and made them glad with the joy of Your presence. For the Stilp's trust in the LORD; through the unfailing love of the Most High they will not be shaken."

Thank You God for being our permanence and stability, through good and bad times. May we never be shaken! We're really doing it!!!!!!!!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Happy Birthday

I celebrated my 34th birthday this week. My husband brought me flowers the night before and woke me with a kiss as he left for work. It was a gray, sunless, rainy day and it rained steadily all day long, but it was a calming and somehow enjoyable rain.

I came downstairs to find birthday cards and presents that the kids were dying for me to open. My phone started ringing and I had the joy of receiving "Happy Birthday" phone calls all day from friends and family. At the bus stop, my friend and neighbor invited me in for a cup of birthday coffee and a nice gift. I had the chance to volunteer in Grant's classroom and then headed out to pick up Alli from school.

In our house we have a rule that on your birthday, it's "anything you want" day, within reason. I decided I didn't want to make lunch, so Alli, Paige, and Oliver (their 2 year old friend) took us "out to lunch," with just a little help from Kelly and I. We pigged out on yummy comfort breakfast food and then came home for happy nappy. I took a nap, even though I wasn't tired, because it just sounded so inviting on a rainy day.

After school, we headed out to my Mom and Terry's house for a joint birthday supper for Terry and I of chicken on the grill (even though it was pouring rain), cheesy potatoes, cranberries, rolls and home-made chocolate mint angel food delight! We headed home with full bellies and content hearts, tucked the kids into bed, and shared some wine and conversation before turning in for the night. It was a great day.

At lunch, my friend Kelly asked me, "When was the last time you celebrated your birthday in Oregon?" As I thought about it, I realized that I was a senior in high school the last time I celebrated my birthday with my family in Oregon - 17 years ago! I'm so glad to be home.

Monday, November 10, 2008

God Where Are You?

Friends of ours that are more family than friend experienced great physical, emotional and financial tragedy today. Their pain froze me in my tracks and made me sick to my stomach. I wonder how they will persevere, cling to hope, or start fresh and my heart aches.

I read Psalm 10, the Psalm that coordinates to today’s date. In the first verse David is pleading, “Why O LORD, do You stand far off? Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?” I look at today’s situation and at first glance, I don’t see God at all. He definitely appears to be hiding, or at best standing far off.

David gripes for several verses about the prevalence of evil and the apparent lack of God’s presence in the world and then in verse 14 he says, “But You, O God, do see trouble and grief; You consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to You; You are the helper of the fatherless.” I begged God to reveal Himself in this scenario. Where was He? And I started to see that in spite of a horrible situation, God answered prayer and orchestrated circumstances, big and small, that preserved life and His plan.

Last week I ordered a new Chris Tomlin CD and in God’s perfect timing, it arrived today. With numb heart and hands, I pushed play and listened to a tribute to Jesus, the Messiah, who lived my pain and who loved me so deeply that He staked His life for mine. My heart softened as I worshiped to these words.

Jesus Messiah
written by Chris Tomlin and crew

He became sin, who knew no sin
That we might become His righteousness
He humbled himself and carried the cross
Love so amazing
Love so amazing

Jesus Messiah
Name above all names
Blessed Redeemer
The rescue for sinners
The ransom from Heaven
Jesus Messiah
Lord of all.
His body the bread, His blood the wine
Broken and poured out all for love
The whole earth trembled and the veil was torn
Love so amazing
Love so amazing

All our hope is in You
All our hope is in You
All the glory to You, God
The Light of the world.

Thank you Jesus for giving me access to your amazing love through the torn veil. Tonight I put my battered hope in You and ask You to hold my friends in Your broken hands and breathe life, comfort and hope into their weary souls.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

If My People

Tonight the citizens of the United States of America elected a new president - Barack Obama, the first African American to be elected as President. Stereo-types, barriers and glass ceilings came crashing down, and I am proud to live in a country where my voice can be heard and where my opinion matters, even when I don't always get my way. I am proud to be an American.

Tonight's election sent me into a deep state of reflecting and I've been pondering the implications of what we, as American citizens, just did. I think our country took a giant step forward in eradicating racism today, but I'm also worried about the morals of the candidate we chose and if his morals are a true reflection of the people of the United States. Have Americans been blinded by Barack's charisma, his clear leadership skills, by his magnetic personality, and his ideals that we failed to dig a bit deeper? And the same could be said of John McCain, a decorated soldier, prisoner of war, valiant and courageous servant of our country. What does he stand for? Where does he draw his strength?

I'm not advocating for one candidate over another because I know God is in control. But my heart breaks for the country I love as I watch it disintegrate before my eyes. Corruption at the highest levels, great wealth and great poverty, two wars, a sense of entitlement, the sanctity of life and marriage hanging in the balance, people devoid of any purpose or meaning in life, spending more than their means. We live in a country that in its infancy was based on God, whom we trust, and is now filled with empty people who are spiritually and morally bankrupt.

All day today I prayed for God's will to be done -for His people to rise up and be counted. To voice their opinion at the polls and for a willingness on God's part to continue to impart grace and mercy to our country that is so undeserving. The Holy Spirit drew me back again and again to II Chronicle 7:14, "if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

LORD God, Almighty One, God above all Gods, thank You that I am called by Your name. That I am marked as your daughter and stained by Jesus' blood. I ask and pray that You will hear my cry and forgive my sin. I ask You to help me turn from my wicked ways. Please, pour out Your forgiveness and healing on this beautiful country that I call home. Grant us mercy. Be patient. Turn us from our wicked ways and God, please heal our broken land. And, God, in spite of our brokenness, will You please bless America?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Trick or Treat

Every year, my husband Curt, attends a week long conference, normally in some exotic location, at the end of October. It often falls in, on, or around Halloween and this year was no exception. The kids and I were totally bummed that he'd miss Halloween again and I was trying to figure out how I could take four kids trick-or-treating AND stay home and pass out candy to all the cute neighborhood kids. I found myself wishing Kathy, our surrogate grandma from Illinois, could come over and then it dawned on me... My own, flesh and blood mom, now only lives 20 minutes away! Maybe she and Terry could come and help me and spend the evening together.

I called her and they had the evening open, so we planned a night full of activities. We'd trick or treat in our neighborhood, eat supper, then drive to our church, about 15 miles away, for a huge Harvest party. We were all so excited. However, the day before Halloween, our family bought a house that I was so excited to show my Mom and Terry, so we skooched everything on our agenda back so we could add "view the new house" to the agenda.

We met at Big Blue at 4:30, kids in full costume. We lolly-gagged our way through the home, oohing and ahhing at all the stuff I didn't notice the first two times I'd been through it and trying to figure out who would get the different rooms upstairs, what colors I'd paint the walls, and where we'd place furniture. Terry played hide and seek with the kids (in a big, empty house) and Katie won the award for the best hiding spot: in the bathtub!

We headed back to our house and I wanted Mom and Terry to meet a few of my friends, so before we knew it, we were trick or treating on our street. The kids didn't have any buckets and Paige was doing her best to keep a tight grasp on all her candy as it kept spilling out of her tiny fists. We stopped at our garage and I miraculously found a box marked "seasonal" within 30 seconds. Shocked at my good fortune, I torn the lid off, expecting to find plastic pumpkins with handles for the kids to use to gather their candy. Problem was, this was the EASTER box, so I dug out four Easter baskets and Mom, Terry, Grant, Katie, Alli and Paige headed out for some trick or treating while I made supper.

The plan was to scarf down our meal and then head to church, but everyone was having so much fun that our evening morphed into living in the moment. We ate mac and cheese soup and then the kids and Mom and Terry sat on the front porch passing out candy to all the kids, big and little, who were trick or treating. Our street came ALIVE. I never knew a town could have so much fun on Halloween. Neighbors pulled their fire pits into their driveways and were sitting around the campfire passing out candy, hot chocolate and even chili! The sidewalks were packed with groups of kids and grownups and everyone was laughing and having so much fun. We blew through two HUGE bags of candy from Costco, so I emptied the Easter baskets and sent the kids and grandparents out trick or treating for more candy. While they were gone, I raided their candy they had already gathered and passed it out.

Paige wouldn't let her basket out of sight. She carried it around with her everywhere and would often cast a playful, dirty look at Grandpa Terry and say, "It's my candy. Don't you eat it." Since Grandpa and Grandma were in charge and she knew she could get away with it, she started eating candy and didn't stop for two hours. She'd take a piece, bring it to Grandma and say, "Open dis please" then pop it in her mouth. When that piece was gone, she'd repeat. It was hysterical.

Finally, at 9 p.m., the time the party at church was ending and WAY past my kids' bedtime, we called it a night. Grandpa and Grandma left, the kids piled their dirty costumes on the laundry room floor, scrubbed their teeth for 5 minutes each, and fell into bed. The evening was definitely a big TREAT!

Where Do I Sign?

Last Monday my husband got a job offer for his one-day-per-week clinic job. It was a piece to a puzzle we'd been praying about for months. The compensation packet blew us away and was above and beyond anything we had imagined God would provide. We spend the day marveling in the goodness of God's generosity and soaking in His love for us.

On Tuesday, I drove past Big Blue, a home we'd been praying a lot about. It was a builder-0wned home, had never been occupied, and had been sitting finished for a year and a half. It was WAY out of our price range, but we'd walked through it anyway and fell in love with it. It had everything on our need/want/desire list plus a bunch of extra stuff we never even dreamed to put on the list. A week before Curt got the job offer, we made a super low offer on Big Blue and the builder said no. We felt peace to keep waiting, but my heart sunk when I saw that the builder was moving all the storage out of the garage and that a paint crew was busy transforming the exterior of the home from robin-egg blue to a nice, warm gray.

I panicked, called my husband, and we had a serious discussion about Big Blue that night. As we prayed, we realized that this home would be great for our family now and as the kids get older and need more independence because the entire upstairs is kid haven: a bonus room, loft, 3 bedrooms and two full bathrooms for our three daughters and one son. The main level was laid out perfect for entertaining and we envisioned house churches, football parties, Christmases and family gatherings, and plenty of space to comfortably accommodate over-night guests. We decided that we would make a move to buy this house, sooner rather than later.

The next morning, Curt hopped a plane to Savannah, Georgia, for a week-long conference, and our realtor contacted the principal broker for the builder. The following hours and days were a blur of activity. The builder wanted to know our top price point and we wanted to know their bottom line lowest. Our realtor handled negotiations with professionalism and ease and when she came back with the builder's offer, I almost fell off my chair. They had agreed to sell the home to us basically at cost and the price fell right into our budget, but the deal was only good until the end of their fiscal year, which was 3 days later! They felt we were doing each other a favor. They gave us a "screaming deal" and we took a house off their hands that God had been saving for us for a year and a half while the builder paid upkeep, taxes, and continued to add perks to attract buyers.

It was difficult for Curt and I to find time to make such a big decision so quickly, given the three hour time difference and his packed schedule, but when we finally connected, we decided to move forward with purchasing the home and we did the happy dance together over the phone! On Thursday, I signed the contract to buy Big Blue and after all the paperwork was completed and I had signed our life as we know it away, we drove over to the home. The sales rep gave me the honor of slapping the big red SOLD sticker over the "AVAILABLE" spot on the FOR SALE sign!

I wandered around this home, that was above and beyond my expectations, and felt so humbled that God chose to bless us like this. I drifted into the back yard and looked up at the only house that can look directly into our yard. A sage green home with burgundy trim, also known to our family as the Mother Ship. It was the first home I had fallen in love with in Oregon and I had shed tears in and over the home! I tried to tamper with God's timing and force His hand to make that home ours. When He said no, I threw a major temper tantrum and told God that I didn't think He was smart enough to understood my desires or the giftings He had given us, because if He did, He'd give me that home. It was an ugly moment in my life.

I turned to gaze on the home God had been saving and preparing for us for over a year, then glanced back at the Mother Ship as my eyes filled with tears of gratitude. I'm glad God chose to create a monument in my back yard, honoring His heart of patience as He drug me, kicking and screaming, into a time of stretching, training, discipline, and spiritual growth.

We'll get the keys to Big Blue on November 21st, just in time to celebrate Thanksgiving in our new home and I won't have to look far to find a laundry list of things I'm thankful for.