I’ve been feeling a bit introspective the last few days. The honeymoon feeling has worn off and the still left-unpacked boxes are starting to make me feel a bit squirrel-y and a teensy frazzled. It was enough to move in. The kitchen, especially, needs more organization. While it was one of the first things to be unpacked, the cabinet space is strange and tall and narrow, and every time you open a cabinet there is a very real fear that something will come crashing down on your head.
If I was totally honest, my life feels a bit like that kitchen.
The move was an answer to a desperate prayer, a laying out of fleece, a begging for direction. Our life had begun to feel like suspension bridge spinning in a hurricane. The tension was so fraught that the tiniest thing could have sent our little cars of life flying hard into the ether. Spun up, strung tight. Trapped. Beleaguered. Stuck. These are the words that ring true to me as I consider how things felt before the new job and move became a reality.
We had struggled for ten years to form a community around us. James loved the people he worked with and what he did in his job, but the pay and benefits were locking us into continual poverty, with no chance of pay increases or advancement. It was dead end. Our housing situation felt similarly dead-ended. We were barely making ends meet in a house that, while large, couldn’t provide for our needs properly and was falling apart around our ears with a landlord that wasn’t listening. But where else were we to go? We had looked and looked for a place that would work for us within the area and would return back to our current rental with dejected mein, realizing that this was it. Our locked-in finances barely covered the basics like groceries and gas; there was no way we were ever going to be able to save enough to buy a house again. The reality of it all was very difficult to deal with. Dejection courted us in the shadows. The marriage began to show the cracks and strain of all we were trying to hold together.
Someone caught us.
We were caught up into safe refuge and harbor by steadied arms who pulled us in. Even thinking of it now, I try not to sob outright. Someone cared about us so much that he fought for us when we could not fight for ourselves, prayed over us and for us, and helped us back to our feet in ways both spiritual and practical.
It was during this time of renewal and repair that we realized that, as much as we loved the area, we needed to cast our nets farther afield. Three cities were chosen, each for different reasons, and applications were filed. The prayerful waiting began. I don’t think we were particularly hoping for one outcome over the other- more than anything, I think we both had a very real fear that nothing would return. Nearly a month and a half passed, and we both began to struggle with doubt. A week to the day after we had a particularly rough day and given it all up for lost, things began to happen rapidly. First one interview, and then another, a phone call, inquiries made. Just like that, a job. Less than twenty four hours later, and at the head of a list that included three other families, a house.
You will believe me when I say that everything fit together in ways we could not have even begun to conceive of. It practically seems made to order. The thing is? I think it was. We had to let go of everything before it could happen, surrender everything we are and wanted, to come to the end of ourselves and let it all go, release it. Here is the truth, paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in the Message: “Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing.” (Luke 6:38) The delight will overwhelm you at times like drinking from a fire-hose, and yet you couldn’t realize how very thirsty you were till someone turned the thing on.
All that said, there’s still a lot of things to unpack. There were patterns and choices that let to the virtual prison we had made for ourselves. There was a reason things felt so spun-tight. We must, must, must forge a new path here, with the Lord’s help. What that is and what the looks like, what new choices and rhythms must be made- these are the things filling my thoughts these days. I snapped this picture yesterday, of the boys untangling math problems and my knitting ball that had become hopelessly entwined…it took me most of the day that day to straighten it all out, but this is the thing that I love- it was able to be untangled. The light bulb comes on in the math lesson and we stretch forward to the next idea. I treasure the photograph because it reminds me that life moves forward, even when it all looks messy.
We’re here! Today was Daddy’s first day of work at his new job. What a whirlwind move it has been! In-town moves are eventful enough. Cross-state moves are a whole ‘nother breed, especially if you only have three weeks to make it happen. Fhew. One of the ladies from church gave them Easter buckets full of snacks and activities to do in the car. We were packed to the gills! It definitely helped. This move would not have happened without our friends and family in both states. I’m not sure which side I feel sorrier for- the group that had to play Tetris with the furniture to get it all in the truck, or the guys who had to carry box after heavy box of books to the third story in the new house. So grateful for everyone who was involved. Our new house is located in a historic neighborhood. We didn’t really know what this meant at first- the house itself almost seemed too good to be true. The other options in our price range seemed absolutely unbearable- not located in good area or too small or too far from where James worked. When we found this one and had close friends check it out, they were unanimous in their recommendation that we rent it. It’s a beautiful old duplex house built in 1918. It has plaster walls and nooks and crannies- all which have been named already by the children and friends (the Harry Potter closet, the Cinderella room). And it’s huge. The whole neighborhood brings to mind the Sound of Music set, and has the friendliness to match. It’s full of young families and older couples and so very walkable. We see all sorts of people walking by with their dogs or children. Kids ride their bikes unsupervised around the block. It’s that kind of neighborhood. We’ve already begun a new family tradition- an after dinner walk. We’ll probably add in a morning walk soon. It’s like a veritable treasure hunt. We’ve found a tiny park and a fishing pier behind the elementary school, and half a dozen houses to have fairytale imaginings about. One day we walked the opposite direction and discovered to our delight the village shops- because this neighborhood is one of those historic neighborhoods. It has a bakery and coffee shop, a few restaurants, and perhaps most importantly- a scrap booking shop. I can’t decide if that is a good thing or a very dangerous thing or a bit of both…Far and away our favoritest favorite favorite part of the neighborhood? The library that we can walk to. Yes, you read that right. For a family that up until this point had to drive thirty to forty five minutes to find a library (a family of voracious readers at that), this is almost unbelievable, pinch-yourself amazingness. It also has a lovely children’s section. Did I mention that this is only one of eighteen libraries in the area and it’s the same size as the one library in our old town? Bookworm heaven. I really try not to gush about the library but I can’t help it. What a gift! We’re still adjusting. The house is mostly unpacked save the master bedroom and office. The children and I are back in the books after a month off for moving. (And somehow third and first grader have forgotten everything they ever knew about math. Sigh.) We’ve gotten lost a few times, as is proper for any new adventure. (Apple Maps are not your friend in metro areas, just saying.) Its a huge, beautiful, wonderful transition.
It isn’t getting any easier.
I have friends that came home in flag-draped honor.
My sons and daughters have never known a life without war.
When I wake, and when I sleep,
I pray he comes home alive.
I pray for his strength.
I pray for her.
I pray for the men who walk with him.
I pray for the men who won’t ever walk again.
I pray for the men who have stood their last watch.
For the men that never came back.
I pray for peace.
I pray for our fallen.
I pray for our living.
It’s not about barbecues.
It’s not about swimming pools.
It’s not about corn on the cob.
It’s about the greatest sacrifice a man can make,
the echo of another Man who gave His life that I might live free.
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:23)
Rest in peace.
We will never forget.
I want to say this, before I forget…before it slips into mist and memory…
It wasn’t the job. It was me. And I would never call into question or judge a mother who pursues employment. That is not what is at issue for me here, at this way station in seasons.
I’ve whispered of it here and there, but we’ve faced a mighty battle with debt- particularly student loans. It was precipitated by two years of unemployment. All in all, our nightmare has lasted just about three and a half years. It began not four weeks after losing our fifth child to miscarriage. I have known the darkness, the inky black night, the shadowy whispers of pain that blind.
But He promised us that He was mighty to save. And He has. And He will. Yet- somewhere in the middle, I kept company with Sarai and Hagar, Abram and Ishmael. I lost confidence in my Lord’s will, and I thought I could fix things. And so, as Sarai sent Hagar to Abram, I sent ‘a promising email’ to my husband, a job, a work from home position. My beloved had reservations. Many. And I, in my desperation, shoved past the red flags of wisdom crying out for attention. This is not to say that some sort of employment was ahead for me, or that He had provisions waiting for us if we had trusted His timing…but I can tell you even then, we knew this job was not the wisest course of action for our family. I ignored it.
I would spend the next year and a half trying to find a balance that could not be found. I lost perspective, lost purpose- I would care for our family from dawn until dusk, and then would work from dusk near to dawn again, each precious hour of sleep and clarity slipping into the darkness, never to be retrieved. Chronic exhaustion takes its toll; depression soon became my constant handmaiden and companion.
I cannot emphasize this enough, dear friends. I don’t care what vocation you pursue, but if you sacrifice the rest our wise and gracious God has ordained for us, something is not as it should be. If it’s a constant, instead of an occasional, occurrence, check your heart-call. I have serious doubts that the Lord would call you to a task that includes such a thing. His yoke is easy. His burden is light. In Christ’s ministry, there was always a balance between rest and action. Always. If things are ridiculously hard, if you’re making decisions that are totally contrary to your heart, maybe the Lord is creating the friction to call you back to His purpose.
I speak from my life. I should have heard Him clearly when I fell so ill last year. It’s almost laughably obvious. I fell so ill quite simply because my body could not run on fumes—and yet—I would go on to work for the company for another year. A year. And I could not understand why I could not heal, why I could not get well. But I wouldn’t stop. For another year. I have paid the price. I will probably never be as healthy as I was before I began this job, unless the Lord sees fit to restore what the locusts have eaten. I will spend the rest of my life caring for my body because I nearly destroyed it in desperation.
Oh, that I were not so stubborn! The Lord needed a two by four to smack me across the back of the head, and so, late at night on a family outing to a local Christmas light show, I missed the (rather obvious) hitch point protruding from the back of my fifteen passenger van, tripped…and shattered my wrist. My right wrist, my dominant hand. I could no longer work in any capacity- I could not type. I could barely dress myself, comb my hair. And then—I finally heard Him. I submitted my resignation within days. I will always see my deformed wrist now, and think of Jacob and the angel of the Lord and Jacob’s thigh… I will bear the mark of stubbornness the rest of my days.
I beg you, dear friends, to trust in the Lord and lean on His understanding, and acknowledge Him in all your ways. Don’t ever get to the point of desperation that you feel that you must trade your heart and body. Debt is awful, but it is never worth that. It’s never worth running ahead of God. But- if you have found yourself right-tangled, as I have, know that He is might to save, and He will not forsake you. Confess, repent, and trust. The storm will still rage, perhaps even for a long time- but He will be with you.
Here I stack these stones, mark an Ebenezer. May the Lord in His grace lead me away from this place of sorrow.
I had just finished breakfast upstairs in the cafeteria at King College, and had come downstairs to check my mail. The mail person always left the radio on in the office behind the boxes, so you could hear the news or music playing all the time. This morning, I opened my box to hear an echo ricocheting that a plane had hit the World Trade Center tower. I glanced towards my boyfriend (and now husband, James) as we both ran towards the lounge, a few steps away. We watched in horror as the second plane slammed into the second tower, gritty, grainy, super-zoomed, so far away, the camera panned at an odd angle. James and I had been one of the first people in the room that day. It would eventually fill past capacity as the entire college pressed into the one little room on campus that had a tv. James and I kept getting pushed closer and closer to the big screen tv.
I had been frantically calling my father (who was at the time serving in the Navy, at work, stationed at NAS Norfolk) and not getting through. The cell phones weren’t working. When the plane slammed into the Pentagon, I ran out to the porch just off the lounge, literally gasping for air. I remember glancing across the Appalachians resplendent in their autumn finery off that porch and measuring the surreal nature of it. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing out on that porch, any more than what I was seeing on the screen.
The attitude in the room grew more and more frantic as us young-adults suddenly turned daughters-and-sons again couldn’t get ahold of anyone on the Eastern Seaboard. There were two groups: the students from NY, and the military kids. We were terrified for the girl who had walked those very streets, for her brother who was a firefighter—it would take almost 36 hours before she would hear from her family and find out that he had made it out alive, but many of his company had not. She was only 19, but in those thirty six hours, she was 91, her face drawn and aged. I’ll never forget the look in her eyes.
As a military child, I knew with the first plane we were at war. In my mind played out the procedures and steps the military was taking at that very moment, what the bases were doing, how they were shutting down to civilians…I could almost see it playing out like a slow motion movie in my head. The military kids had this immense level of both fear and conviction that could not be matched in the room. We knew everything was at risk. Once the Pentagon was hit, the question for us was whether or not this was a military attack or a civilian attack. A military attack meant that all the assets were fair game. That meant where my dad and thousands of others worked in the military/industrial complex of Hampton Roads….
It was so weird to be in that position. Calm. Explaining to others what to do. For those few terrifying hours until all the planes were grounded, we had no idea what would happen next. But us military kids–we had been trained, we knew. It was strange to realize that others were looking to us to calm their fears, soldiers of a different sort.
That whole day, all I could see, juxtaposed over all the other images that were burned into my consciousness that day—my dad, at attention, saluting. The only thing I understood on that terrible day was that we were at war- and that thousands of soldiers would answer the Piper, and walk to their deaths. For me, it wasn’t just the thousands that died that day. It was the thousands I knew would die because of it.
Just two days earlier, on Sept 9th, I had celebrated my first birthday away from my parents. I had been slightly homesick, but mostly, I was happy to be growing up, stretching long towards life. I would end up driving home that weekend just to see my parents, to see the base, to see the military gearing up, as if to reassure myself that some things had not changed. The opposite was true. Everything had changed. September 11 forever marks the day of my adulthood for me. It was that day that the veil tore away and I realized evil was walking in the world. I had a choice before me that day. I had to lift my head up to the horror before me and decide how to live.
Ten years later, I’m not sure I’ve made the right decisions. The life before me is not the life I promised to live on that fated day- but that is the horrible, weighted glory of it- I get to live. Breathe. Make mistakes.
It is strange now, to be a mother of six. My eldest, at nine years old, has never known peace. He has always lived in a world where America isn’t so safe anymore and soldiers go overseas and don’t come back. We have been at war for ten years. We have lived whole lifetimes since then. But yet- there is a part of us that lives forever on that ordinary day, September 11, 2001, gazing up at the towers, across the field at the cratered Pentagon, at the plane scarred in the eastern meadow mere feet away from an elementary school–at the television screens, our ears tuned to the radio, gazing up at a clear blue sky, this beautiful, beautiful autumn morning, in total misbelief at the visions we’ve seen.
We will never forget.