Hard Just Happens

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We are in a hard season. Normally I’d blog about what’s going on, about what’s hard and what’s helping but if I’m honest I just can’t do it much right now.

This song works well for this post, Hard Times, Eastmountainsouth.

I can’t let everyone in this time, I can’t talk about all the details online and I can’t even post pictures of how our house is coming along. I just can’t fling open the doors right now to show you our hard, beautiful, painful question-laden mess.

This season calls for small circles of sharing and slow, intentional healing.

It’s a season of prayer, wondering, hoping, doubting, trusting and seeing each minute as a chance to start again, believe again, try again.

But writing, writing helps.

Oh and don’t worry, no one is dying, Nickel baby is growing healthy and strong, the bills are paid, even if only just.

Some seasons in life are hard. This is true in the lives of everyone you know. Now, it might be that everyone you know is private about their hard seasons. This seems to be the case more often than not.

Some share it only in small circles because they can only trust a few with the nitty gritty of it all.

Some don’t share at all and burry it deadly deep within, shouldering it unnecessarily alone.

And then there’s over-sharing, in line at the grocery store and on social media, that’s somewhere in the mix too but it’s always hard to know where the shifty, mythical line between vulnerability and over-sharing lies.

But hard seasons, they come. They come no matter how well we plan.

And you know what? I’m finding that they come more than you’d like and that they stay longer than you’d hoped.

A friend texts and says: “Hey! How is it going?”

And you want to say something like: “Better!” but you can’t. Because it’s a lie, and you’re done with that lying game.

You want so desperately to give a good report, to chime in and reassure them that you’re fine but the truth is, you need them to know that really you’re on your ass both literally and figuratively in that moment.

The cloud cover lingers and you wake up some days wondering if you’re broken or to blame.

If only you’d read this book instead of Netflix binging, gone to that counselor, gone running more often, not eaten that, said this thing over the other one, spent less, saved more, developed that habit, gotten up earlier…

Because good people don’t have lingering hard seasons, right?

Wrong. Everyone has hard seasons. It’s not just you.

And again, hard seasons come more often than we’d like … and they stay longer.

Hard is part of the cycle of life, birth, death, joy, struggle, rest… these changes compose the stuff of our earth-treading lives.

You look around and it seems like everyone is doing better than you are, they seem to be killing it, loving it, soaking it all in and earning success that seems miles out of your reach.

Their lives are filled will achievement and glory. They are the embodiment of all those well intentioned quotes you keep meaning to hang on your wall.

It’s not you.

Yes, ultimately you’re the one who has to claw your way out.

But this will be so much easier given these two truths:

1) Hard happens to everyone and often times it lingers.
2) You can’t “good enough” to keep it from happening, no one can.

Marriage is hard, jobs are fickle, kids call for your every resource and the world is broken-beautiful.

You can’t good-enough it away.
You can’t prepare efficiently enough to prevent hard seasons from settling in.

And when they do, you can’t always to-do list them away immediately.

Hard happens.

It’s not just you.

Yes there are things to be done, piles of earth to move from here to there to get back to place of greater peace.

But that earth moves easier with a friend and that shovel is a little lighter without all the shame attached to it.

Hard happens. We’re doing hard right now. Maybe you are too. You’re not alone.

There is a time for every season, but they change.

They change.
This isn’t a forever thing. I know it feels like it today, but it isn’t. It won’t stay.

So pick up your shovel, or stare at it for another hour if you need to.

phone a friend,
say a prayer,
listen to a song,
read a poem.

What are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?
Mary Oliver, The Summer Day.

Hard happens. To me, to you.

The winds of change and the God of peace has not forgotten me, or you, or the sparrow for that matter.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

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How to learn gratitude from Epicurus while on your way to the porta-potty

Hi, I miss us. I will get into a better blogging routine. I swear. I promise. I think.

I owe you a house tour, a wrap up to the Love Showed Up Series and the ending posts for Kel and I’s story.

And thoughts, feelings, convictions on so many topics, probably spirit led and everything yet lost under a pile of laundry, pregnancy exhaustion and summer routine-less-ness.

The bad voices are trying to tell me I’m a crap blogger and my writing career may as well be done, but I’m choosing to call insane season, baby growing and keep trying.

For now hi.

Can I tell you about this cliché I am trying to hang on to? (This strikes at least me as odd because my most viral post is called 12 Grief Clichés and the Reasons they suck)

It all starts with an epiphany I had on the way to a porta-potty. If that doesn’t get catch your attention then I have no idea what will. Who has epiphanies while walking to a porta potty?… Except maybe “Wow this is going to be gross” or “Crap I forgot hand sanitizer.”

 

It was the Fourth of July and dusk had already settled all across the expanse of dark green grass in front of the high school. The lawn was crowded with blankets, lawn chairs and wagons filled with people, eager for the first official firework to be launched.

In the background a band planted on a trailer stage finished the last notes of “sweet caroline” just before starting into the slow, deliberate opening on the national anthem. The signal that the fireworks were about to start.

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Somewhere in that crowd behind me sat my family and friends, a smattering of faces in a sea of patriotism and glow sticks.

If the evening sounds Idyllic, it’s because it was, and it’s our norm for the Fourth of July.

Each year, bellies full of burgers and ice cream we head to the smaller stage of the Grandville fireworks and settle on blankets and into hoodies to enjoy the show.

And as I walked to the porta-potty two things came into sharp conflict inside me.

The warm glow of gratitude I felt for the privilege of that moment and the cloud of discontent I’d been living under. 

A Pinteresty, wooden sign cliché instantly came to mind. Turns out it’s less clicheé because it’s written by Epicurius. Greek Philosophers add a lot of clout.

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“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; But remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” ~Epiucurus, 300 B.C.

Flash back to months of house shopping, patiently waiting for “the right one”, one we could work on a make our own. Which we now have.

Flash back to hot days in Oklahoma, wishing we could live in Michigan, aching for the joy of a Northern summer.  And here we are, year two.

Flash back to evenings worrying about pregnancies, hoping for the gift of a healthy baby. Of which I have three, two wiggling like crazy on a blanket in the crowd and the other doing the same in my midsection.

Flash back to prayers of a career that would support our family. Our fridge is full, our bills are paid, we are well sustained.

Flash back to nights spent thinking that a man who would love me well would never come along. And I spend far too many evenings counting his flaws these days.

All those “hoped fors” brought into vivid reality and still I feel mainly discontent.

I wanted to drop to my knees right then and there and cling like a suction cup garfield to what was unfolding in my mind.

Why, why why is gratitude so elusive and how do I hold onto it with both hands? I’m coming to find out that my life depends on it. 

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I made my way into the porta-potty, did what I needed to do, which as a pregnant woman I seem to do every 13 minutes these days. Then emerged to discover that technology has brought us foot pump sinks for post porta potty hand washing.

Clearly a sign from the heavens that gratitude is in order.

I made my way back into the sea of people, struggling for several minutes to find our blanket among the hundreds of others.

When I found it, I hunkered down and kissed everyone appropriate for kissing, right on the cheek.

And you know what? Here’s the part where things get real.

The next morning I woke up and nothing changed. Not right away.

This epiphany would only be a game changer if I did something about it, took action to change my brain space.

Because gratitude is a habit and a practice and you have to do it intentionally at first, over the din of discontent.

Play it loudly overtop the sighs of “I hate our kitchen” or “there must be more money in the budget somewhere” or “why can’t I have her (seemingly) better-behaved kids?”

In the end I don’t want this blog post to lead you to believe that my porta-potty run in with Epicurus led me to an instantly more grateful heart.

It didn’t. But it can be another jumping off point. Another reminder that gratitude truly is the richest and best rhythm in which to live.

And so I am scribbling thanks
And I am contemplating a large piece of Epicurius art in our fireplace room.

I am looking at un-mowed grass and choosing to be thankful that it’s in Michigan and surrounding a house that is an answer to prayer.

I am thanking God for all we have and trying to stop saying things like “you know what we need?”

I am Setting reminders on my phone 4 times a day that remind me not to criticize the husband I used to hope for, but instead to build him up.

I am getting Brené Brown’s books on tape to get them into my head even if I can’t always slow down without falling asleep. We are all worthy of love and belonging. 

True gratitude will take practice, because deep down change doesn’t happen from one epiphany but from thousands of intentional changes.

Epicurus, please continue to haunt me, Spirit, please direct my thoughts, friends, please remind me of this truth when I complain about the messier gifts in my life.

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Homemade Chicken Stock: The Easy Way

A few nights back I made chicken stock at our new house for the first time. This was a much needed step because we were out in the freezer and I’ve become stubborn when it comes to buying it at the store.

I had multiple friends and readers ask for my recipe. In all honesty, this shocked and flattered me. There are bazillion tutorials on this, but I thought hey, why not take the time to add my process to the mix?

If you don’t like it find another one. Seriously, this is JUST how I DO IT. It’s a compilation of other methods over time. 

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First off, here is why I make my own.

1) The “good stuff” is expensive ranging from .75 – $1 a cup.
2) The not good stuff will say things like “chicken flavored” broth and include food dyes, which no one needs.
3) It makes our house smell amazing and I end up feeling like a mighty, resourceful pioneer warrior.
4) The flavor is amazing.
5) Ridiculous money-saver.

Also here is the difference between broth and chicken stock. Basically chicken stock is a lot more flavorful and better for you as it contains the gelatin from the bones. The longer it simmers, the better it tastes and the more it will do for your health.

Ideally you start with a chicken you roasted yourself, which is free range and all that jazz. These birds are unarguably better for you and generally $10 or more. If this is in your grocery budget, I’d do it.

It’s not in ours so generally I get a fryer from the store (a roaster will also do. Here is the difference between them) or I cheat completely and buy a rotisserie chicken from the deli. This was the instance with this particular stock, they are $5.99 at our local Meijer and for an already-cooked, versatile and relatively healthy main you can’t go wrong.

If you’re roasting yourself, this is my favorite recipe. Yes it’s Ina Garten but it’s not fancy, just use regular onions and don’t make the sauce if you don’t have the time. But totally make it if you do… you will not regret it. People WILL propose. It could get awkward. 

Okay, so however it happened you have a roast chicken. Now it eat for dinner or make chicken salad out of it. Either way you’ll have this chicken carcass leftover.

And odds are if you dig into it and give it a once over you’ll find a couple more cups of meat that you missed. And you’ll pop an obscene amount more chicken in your mouth as you pick. (I happen to be VERY good at picking a chicken due to my deli days making chicken salad. You can’t teach this, it comes with time and a willingness to get greasy)

Whatever you find, save it, put it on a salad, use it for soup because FREE CHICKEN! You’re a genius!

So now you have a picked clean carcass. I realize I’m already almost 400 words in but this part really isn’t that hard. You just need to get to carcass stage.

Now get your largest pot. I like this one and got it on a mother’s day sale for about $60 I think.

You will need the following
Chicken Carcass
Celery
Carrots
Onion
Bay Leave
Peppercorns
Salt

celery and carrots

Big chunks and no need to peel.

1) Throw in your bones and carcass.
2) Grab 2 big carrots, 2 celery stalks, a large onion (quartered) 2 Bay leaves and a handful of peppercorns and a tsp of salt. (Honestly? I eyeball ALL of this)
3) Cut your carrots and celery into big chunks, throw em in the pot along with your peppercorns, bay leaves and salt. Add some smooshed garlic cloves if you’re feeling it.
6) Put the pot in your sink and fill to the top with water.
7) Place it on the stove and bring it to a boil. Once it’s boiling, turn it down to a simmer.
8) If you see a film on top, skim it off with a wooden sppon. This is fatty grossness and you don’t need it per say. Feel free to do this several more times.
9) When the water gets low, add more.

Let it simmer until you go to bed. Then turn it off and put the whole thing in the fridge (use a pot holder. Don’t melt your fridge) because it probably has only been going for four hours or so and needs more time to become awesome.

The next morning throw it back on the stove if you have time (you can also do this the next evening) and let it go for about 4 more hours or so. If it looks gelatinous when cold this is a good thing, it means you have thick, hearty broth. You done good kid.

When you’re satisfied with flavor optimization get a huge bowl or another large pot and strain it.

Use your finest strainer, or if you’re like me, use your biggest one first and then strain it more finely as you move it into storage (I do this because I am the proud owner of a tiny, crappy, dollar store mesh strainer.)

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I strain it once to get out the big stuff and then again through a fine mesh strainer.

Now move it into storage. I use off-brand ziploc baggies and store most of it in 2 cup servings which I can use for either soup or recipes. Sometimes I do a 4 cup serving for a soup recipe, in which case I put it in a tupperware bowl with a post-it to label.

Then I make a round or two of ice cube tray chicken broth and throw them all in a big ziploc bag when they’re frozen. This way I can use just a little for those recipes that call for 1/4 cup or some such nonsense.

(With my ice cube trays 3 cubes = 1/4 cup)

Ludicrous Handiness

Ludicrous Handiness

The best part is realizing that you just took leftover bones and turned it into a TON of broth you can use for cooking. It’s not only more more nutrient dense, but it’s ridiculously cheaper.

For instance my recipe yielded 16 cups of broth. 
Chicken Carcass- Free, leftover after already eating the chicken (which yields more than one meal)
Carrots and Celery – $.30
Bay Leaves- $.30
Onion- $.50 (at the most!)
Peppercorns- $.10
Salt- Not even going to factor this in people.

So you spent maybe $1.25, IF THAT and you got 16 cups of much chicken breast that would have cost you about $15 or more in the store.

Store them flat to free and THEN you can put them wherever.

Store them flat to free and THEN you can put them wherever.

Okay, this is JUST how I make stock.

Also, I swear upon the very old table I am working on, that once you get through this once it will become easy and second nature.

It’s just this thing that is happening at your house making your house smell like maybe you are in fact the Pioneer woman herself.

Did I leave anything out? Do you have any questions? Please let me know and I will field them as best I can. I will try to take better pictures and change them up next time I make this.

Lessons from a Creepy Bagel Gawker (On Encouraging Moms)

A few weeks back Caedmon and I were out for Bagels as a break in the middle of errands.

I let him pick out his bagel and his cream cheese flavors from the case we affectionately refer to as cream cheese heaven. (Think a glass case full of huge bowls of every flavor cream cheese and you’ll see why.)

We waited at our table for our toasted and schmeared carbs to be delivered and as we did he started to whine for juice. This happens a lot, but I generally hold my ground because I want my kids to drink water. Also I hate shelling out $2.50 for a bottle of juice.

Yet, he wouldn’t drop it, he’s three, there are very few hills he won’t die on when it comes to getting his way: Underwear, hand washing, juice, who turns off the TV… these are all battle-worthy topics to him.

It went something like this:

“I want juice!”
“I’m sorry buddy, we are having water today. But I think your bagel will be here soon.”
“I don’t want it, I want a donut from Tim Hort’s… and juice!”
“Those aren’t choices right now, but a blueberry strawberry bagel is. Here it comes!”
“No, I hate bagels!” (goes to smack bagel basket…I block his shot because I know his game)

All the while I notice a middle age man across the aisle staring at us, obsessively and without apology. I try not to catch his eye after the first round because he is really making me uncomfortable with his constant gaze.

Eventually, somehow Caedmon calms down and digs into his bagel, even sipping and backwashing into his water after a few minutes.

All the while our friend across the aisle stares us down like my son stares at a Tim Horton’s donut case.

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From this past Sunday when we accidentally missed church and ended up giving our kids donuts instead of Jesus. #wetried

My creeped out levels were high when he got up to clear his table to leave (Phew!)

As he did he walked crossed the aisle to our table: “Hey. I just wanted to let you know that you’re doing a great job with him. You’re a good mom.”

My jaw dropped open. (don’t worry there was no bagel in it, I devoured that in 1:17 flat)

The whole creepy staring was an appreciation of my parenting skills? Who Knew? And what a weird way to go about it!

I thanked him profusely, felt immensely flattered and proceeded with the rest of my errands like the all star mom that I apparently am. With an extra dose of patience and understanding because of the compliment I’d been paid.

What’s up with the power of these words: “You’re a good mom.”

I hate that it takes a compliment from a real live person to make me feel more secure in my parenting, certainly I would like to be in a place where my call and my identity in God speak to that the most.

Yet, I cannot deny that every time someone has made a point to lift me up as a mom, it stands out.

I remember it, I feel it for the rest of the day and even longer.

Then last night, I saw Facebook post that brought all these compliments back to the forefront of my mind.

A friend from Oklahoma, who parents six beautiful children like a rock star, received a note on her windshield from a stranger at Target.

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Someone took the time out of their daily jam to notice her with her children, find a paper and pen, write a note and stick it under her windshield!

Whoever you are Target stranger, you are an answer to prayer.

Because how many days do we pray for strength, and how many times could we be the answers to each other’s prayers by taking the time to say: “Well done good and faithful (and obviously exhausted) mama?”

Not enough.

So yesterday I posted a Facebook challenge:

“Mom challenge: Let’s all tell three mothers that they are doing a great job this week. Bonus if it’s a stranger, double bonus if they’re having a hard day.”

What if we all complimented three mamas this week? Went our of our way to tell them that they’re great mothers?

What if we took the time to say “Hey, well done mom. It’s hard, but you are loving those little ones into beautiful people.”

What if we left notes on the windshields of dirty mini vans and cars?

What if we bought their much needed coffee at whatever drive thru is on their way to the grocery store or soccer field?

What if, when we saw a Mom struggling we intervened by holding doors and sharing looks of “I’ve been there?”

I know my world would be a more beautiful place if I answered a few more prayers with my actions.

So, are you in? If you are please let me know in the comments, or leave a comment about your encouragement in action. 

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Meeting Nickel Baby ( A gender reveal and subsequent feelings )

Hi friend, it’s been a while. Too long really.

RIght now I’m sitting in the living room while our family watches world cup, loudly, and my daughter pecks at my feet with a beanie baby rooster. This is life, crazy and often happening all at once.

My son is sleeping on the love seat after falling asleep on the way home from the pool, it’s 5:25. This is likely not a great idea but I really don’t have the energy or creativity to get him to wake up right now.

And this morning we got to see baby Penny #3 on ultrasound, which brought tears from all of the places my feelings originate from.

At first the baby wouldn’t cooperate with the ultrasound tech, position wise, so I had to take a walk around the building and chug some more water for bladder fullness.

Then slowly the tech was able to get the measurements she needed. Legs, arms, belly, fingers all accounted for.

FInally she asked us if we wanted to know the gender, we did, we do. I’m still not sure all the reasons why we always find out early, I guess my theory is that the surprise happens either way, at 20 weeks or at 40.

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Kel knew figured it out before the tech got there, We’re having a baby girl!

We told the kids the only way that seemed appropriate, over pink cream cheese bagels.

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Noelle was a lot happier about the news than Caedmon. He’s sort of bummed about not having a baby brother, which is fine. He will be excited when she arrives, right?

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Since the bagel reveal with cute cream cheese photos was a total flop we picked up some balloons, should have been an obvious first choice. Kids love balloons more than bagels. They’ll turn around one day.

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Today I am full of feelings, some of them joyful and excited and some look  more like question marks.

Can we parent three kids well in the middle of all this transition?
Can I bring up daughters who are strong and confident, who trust God in a deep sense and who believe they can do hard things?

Probably. There is healing, there is learning, there is grace.

God meets us all sorts of places, especially in the midst of fear and chaos.

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Just don’t Die: An Update, A Theme Song and a Shout Out to Survival Mode

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This is a scene from our Sunday morning breakfast counter. In case you need me to break it down for you: That’s french toast, next to a bottle of wallpaper remover and a hand held paint cup we use for cutting in.

Shall we go over a list of things that were driving me nuts at the moment I snapped this picture?

1) Those chemicals are far too close to our food, we’re all going to get cancer from this breakfast. Why ARE THEY SHARING THE SAME SPACE?
2) We try to eat grain free, in theory, lately with all the stress we just eat all the grainy gluten we can get our hands on…. topped with sugar, because I’m pregnant and the rest of my family has a child’s palate.
3) That french toast and the time to I took to take this picture made us horribly late for church, not even our church, but a church visit in which Kel was speaking.

This is life right now, it’s just normal next to chaos, both fighting to share the spotlight.

Moving has been extra hard on me, I’m very sensitive to lack of routine and chaos. When you pair this with the end of the preschool school year it means that all my organization is in a box somewhere and all of my “me time” to catch up on writing time is gone.

For years I’ve beaten myself up and told myself to go with the flow a bit more, always wondering why I couldn’t be one of those laid back people who could roll with whatever and be really and truly cool with it.

I give up, I am not one of those laid back people who can thrive in chaos, so I may as well work with what I have, with who I am.

There is no use in trying to live your own life wishing you had someone else’s skill set. It’s far more helpful to navigate your life in light of who you actually are.

And right now I am a Highly Sensitive, ENFJ in survival mode: pregnant, in the midst moving into a new house that we’re tweaking, helping plant a church in the midst of summer (meaning the kids and I are spending most every day together, leaving me precious little time and energy to tackle projects.)

This is not my optimal setup, this is not my wheelhouse. And that’s okay.

Survival Mode, I make peace with you, this is not life forever but it is life for now, things are going to be mixed up and chaotic.

I have adopted this new theme song, that has always made me smile in the midst of chaos and survival living.

Watch this video, because Seinfeld always says it better

“Just don’t die, don’t die, don’t die, don’t die
There’s a fish, there’s a rock, who cares, don’t die. 
I don’t wanna die, don’t let me die
Let’s swim and breathe and live,
cause living is good and dying, not as good.”

It’s sort of the grown up version of Finding Nemo’s “Just keep swimming.”

Things are crazy right now.
Yes I am blessed, but these circumstances are overwhelming.
And that’s okay, I am who God created me to be, navigating it as best I can.

And right now my best life looks like this:

1) We have everything we need to function, No, the house doesn’t look like I’d love it to, but freaking out will only make us all miserable so I’m going to try to avoid that.
2) Kel is already overloaded at work and overloading him at home will also only make him… and then all of us… miserable. So we go at a pace that includes rest and breaks, even though this takes longer we all come out feeling alive and far less burned out on it all. None of us are machines.
3) I prayed for this house, these children and the ability to be home with them, yes it’s hard, but these answered prayers oughtn’t be thrown away.
4) I’m pregnant and even though I am in my second trimester, my energy level isn’t where it usually would be, a perfect playroom and living room isn’t worth an unhealthy pregnancy. ‘Nuff said.

There’s more, I’m sure, but this is the gist of it.

And if all this fails (and sometimes it does) I think of my dear friend’s new daughter, a beautiful little five year in Ethiopia, who they are in the process of adopting.

She is in an orphanage with developmental delays, most of which are a result of an rough childhood.

These is truly hard, truly tough, truly overwhelming circumstances and her story never fails to bring tears to my eyes and to remind me that the color of my cabinets is meaningless in the light of what is truly important to the human heart.

Unconditional Love, acceptance and safety.

Selah and Amen.

Oh and if you would like to donate anything at all to help the O’Neal family bring their daughter home, please click here to donate.

You will likely be hearing more about this little girl in the weeks to come, please continue to pray for her and this sweet family as they prepare to welcome her home. 

Does transition overwhelm you? What have you learned about yourself in seasons such as these? 

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Why I Believe

A few month’s back I was asked by Believe.com if I would be willing to do a phone call with them about their new “I’m a believer” campaign. I looked into their site a little bit, spoke with the lovely Andrea on the phone and decided to go for it, even though it would involve me making my video-blog debut (yikes!) 

The question I had to answer in my video and in the corresponding text was this: Why do I believe in God.

I found this a hard question to answer because no matter what answer I came up with, they were all so self-centered.

I believe in God because he sustains my life in every season, no matter what… he’s the one who got me through with gentle love and endless grace.

This answer is true, but so much more about me than about God, more about my needs being met than a reflection of his infinite goodness, holiness and love.

The more I thought about my answer, the more I realized that it is and must continue to grow into a deep need and appreciation for his pools, his oceans of love and all the ways this is evident in creation, in my life, in his Word.

Is my answer the most mature answer? No, I am quite convinced that it’s fraught with human-failing and that there are others out there with meatier responses.

But we start where we are, yes?

I’d love to share the believe.com piece with you today, and the corresponding video. Bear with me, it was a raw and difficult story to tell in under two minutes… with one take.

And here is the piece at Believe.com, I encourage you to click around and check out the others who are being featured in the “I’m a believer” series.

And honestly, I encourage you to reflect on this question for yourself:

Do you believe in God? If so, why?
If you had to write about it, talk about it in less than two minutes, what would you say? Do you like your answer? 

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And when share with your friends, well that makes me pretty happy. 

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Love Showed Up: Be The Miracle

Today’s post rings true and beautiful and comes to us from the Lovely Bethany Suckrow. Enjoy!6787489939_7ed586fe31_b

I have a hard time believing in miracles. It’s not that I don’t believe in God. It’s not that I don’t believe that Jesus really performed the miracles recorded in the Gospels. It’s just that my own story is marked by the miracle that never came: my mother’s healing.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 10 years old. My memories of that time in our lives are still vivid nearly two decades later. I remember seeing her bandaged chest after her mastectomy. I remember her waist-length curtain of dark brown hair falling out in handfuls, and the way she looked the morning after she made dad shave her head. I remember walking into their bedroom to see her laying in the darkness, spent with sickness after another chemo treatment. I remember the prayers I prayed – God, please help mom feel better. God, please make her hair grow back. God, please don’t take her away. God, please. Please. 

I remember other things too, memories that I look back on with deep gratitude and love. I remember the stack of cards that came in the mail, from everyone we knew, it seemed. So many times mom would open them and a slip of paper would fall out onto the kitchen counter – a check to help us make ends’ meet. I remember the people that showed up on our doorstep, arms full of food. Some of these people were flesh-and-blood family, but most of them were our church family. We attended the same small Baptist church in my rural hometown in Michigan for my whole life, and my mother’s whole life. They are a congregation of real salt-of-the-earth people, mostly farmers and their families that have lived in the area for several generations. With the same steadfastness (some might say stubbornness) that survives Michigan winters and plows the hard ground year after year, the parishioners attend that same First Baptist Church on Cochran Road. And with that same steadfastness, they rally around one another in seasons of hardship. At the time of mom’s first diagnosis, and again five years later when she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, they were ever-present with prayer and encouragement and meals and cards and childcare.

Mom lived with metastatic breast cancer for nearly 10 years after she received the second diagnosis in 2002. Considering that her doctors gave her three years maximum prognosis, this was miraculous. Most of that time, she didn’t even look sick. It wasn’t until it spread to her soft tissue in those last three years that things started to change. As her conditioned worsened, mine did too; my faith felt toxic.  I felt like what hope I had left was dying inside of me. The community and meals and financial support were great and all, but God, wouldn’t it just be better if you healed her so that we wouldn’t need it anymore? 

I wanted total healing for my mother, but God refused to give it. I prayed for the miracle, longed for the miracle, tried to will myself into believing hard enough that if I knocked, the door would be opened. It didn’t. In the final year of mom’s life, everything felt desperate and desolate. Mom was in and out of the hospital every other week and every part of her body seemed to be failing her. At home, things were just as dire; my parents were swamped with medical debt and no one had the time or mental where-with-all to keep track of anything.

And that’s when Love showed up in a big way for us. A few friends from church and some members of our family decided to plan a spaghetti dinner and silent auction to help raise funds for my parents. Hundreds of helping hands joined the effort with donations for the meal and the auction, and on the night of the event, hundreds more showed up. Despite how physically weak she was after another stint in the hospital, Mom was able to attend. They sat her in a chair by the door to the auditorium where the dinner was being held and friend after friend came to her with hugs and words of encouragement. All in all, more than 800 people came and raised more than $14,000.

Some days, I still have a hard time believing in miracles. I can’t sugar-coat the reality that the one I spent a lifetime praying for never came. My mom died when I was 24, and every day I miss her. Every day I battle my bitterness and anger. Every day I ask God why. Every day I ask God to prove to me that Love is real. And every day, the memories fall like manna – I remember the friends that showed up with arms full of food, the cards that came in the mail, the funds tucked inside them that helped our family make ends’ meet. And I remember the night of the spaghetti dinner and silent auction as its own miracle – all those people showing up for us, all of them sharing their resources and moving one another toward compassion and generosity – it was the feeding of five thousand, it was water turned to wine, it was Love made flesh and dwelling among us.

Screen shot 2014-06-01 at 2.34.02 PM Bethany Suckrow is a writer and blogger at at www.bethanysuckrow.com, where she shares both prose and poetry on faith, grace, grief and hope. She is currently working on her first book, a memoir about losing her mother to cancer. She and her musician-husband, Matt, live in the Chicago suburbs.

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New Home Tour

Last week Wednesday we closed on a home on the NorthEast side of Grand Rapids. As I hinted at in earlier posts, it’s a little dated but overall a great fit for our growing family.

Right now we are in the midst of packing up our current rental and painting and prepping the new home for our Thursday move-in, that being said I’ve found little time for blogging or social media. So let’s make this quick, shall we?

Stress levels are high-ish as we are busy working on one thing or another from the moment we get up to the minute we crash. It’s not a sustainable level but it’s been our reality for over a week now. Hoping that we can find some peace in the chaos and laugh about the mess.

I know we can, what I mean is that i pray that we will….

So all that being said, let’s have a tour of our new home via photos from my rapidly dying iphone.

photoWelcome to the new home, a classic white two story home. I have tried to figure out what architectural style this actually is and I can’t decide, not georgian because no columns. If anyone knows, help a sister out.

Right now we have no landscaping, none. I think they tore it all out because it seems unlikely they wouldn’t have planted any in the past 50 years.

 

Let’s start in the kitchen, eh? Here we are in the kitchen / dining area looking in from the living room. It’s a lot deeper than it looks in any photo I’ve managed to take but still a great space. The downfalls currently are not only the linoleum and wallpaper, but the small oven and fact that there is no dishwasher currently.

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This is one space that we will have to save up to renovate and I will likely spend some time and money in here soon as a patch to get it looking cute, and functional. I may even get a small external dishwasher… Any thoughts or advice here?

IMG_2442Here’s another view from the kitchen sink area.

IMG_2463Now onto the living room, here’s the gorgeous fireplace with wood paneled walls, which we actually intend on keeping to get in a more cottage feel. And don’t fret those carpets, there’s a nice surprise under there. HARDWOOD FLOORS!

IMG_2437View from the front family room.

IMG_2441Front Family room, currently a mess of dated carpet and window treatments, but no worries, we have plans. The carpet will be gone soon, down to the hardwood and the wall color will change drastically.

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See? Here’s a tester I did… for fun. It’s called Teal Zeal by Olympic, which I picked up at Lowes. This will be one of our more dramatic walls in a home that will lean a little more neutral.

IMG_2445 View from the front entrance. A pretty blank slate once you get rid of the carpet and drapes.

IMG_2443Oh, right! And here is the little half bath off of the kitchen area. I don’t love the placement but with a little love it will be nice for guests and us. Better than running upstairs I suppose, even if it is currently a wall away from our oven.

IMG_2448Let’s head upstairs, shall we? Speaking of the stairs, we will eventually go to hardwood under here as well and repaint the walls a lighter gray. Also I would like to go to a wooden handrail, over painted.

There are three bedrooms and a full bath upstairs here.

And here’s the bathroom. IMG_2452I didn’t take too many pictures in here, not hard to see why. There was originally pink carpeting on the floor but we are now down the the white linoleum, flecked with sparkles.

I want to change everything in here immediately, but time and money and oh… also energy dictate otherwise.

So instead let’s move on to the master bedroom. IMG_2457

The carpet is awful, but the bones are great, check out those his and hers closets and remember that there are gorgeous hardwood floors under there as well. God bless the hardwood floors and the owners for keeping them pristinely covered by all that carpet.IMG_2455They are deeper and more generous than they look in the picture.

So let’s move on to what will be the kid’s room.

IMG_2458This room is aqua right down the to trim and air vents. And the walls are in rough shape from years of posters and adhesive taking their toll. Also, these floors have been exposed for the past while and are in the worst shape. So they will have to be refinished before I can get the kids in here. Sigh…

So for now the kids will be in the nursery next door which I completely forgot to take a picture of. Shoot. Maybe I will add it in later?

Let’s go back downstairs and outside, this is our covered porch which will actually need to be torn down over the summer for safety reasons. It’s molding and when it was built they were skimpy with the support beams. So when it’s gone it will be a concrete patio for a while, maybe we will paint it and add landscaping?

IMG_2462So that’s it for now guys, hope you enjoyed the tour and remember that there are lots of fun after pictures on their way. We are already hard at work, for better or for worse!

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We Are Five, We Are Free

My daughter Noelle turned five yesterday. My oldest baby is five.

As I removed the classic, waxy number five candle from it’s packaging, while children gathered around plates of cupcakes, it struck me hard.

She. Is. Five.

We are five. Five years of mothering and daughtering together.

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Five years of stories, kitties, curly hair and a bouncy brown eyed daughter playing upon my every imaginable emotion.

As I looked down at that candle in my palm I fought the urge to stop the party, scoop her up and never let go.

How can she be five? Telling jokes? Heading to kindergarten? Starting to make her way in the world?

Where has it all gone and for the love of mercy if I cry this much at preschool graduation, how on earth am I going to weather further milestones? I think I’ll have to bring a therapist and an oxygen mask to her high school graduation, and college? Forgetaboutit.

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This weekend has been a time of celebrations, streamers, kitty masks and cupcakes.

But it has also been one of reflection for me, of inner processing and renewed resolve.

There is something that happened inside me over the last five years, this season of raising a daughter while grieving my broken, painful relationship with my own mother.

And this weekend it all came into focus for me: I have been mothering my daughter out of fear.

Fear that she will grow to hate me, fear that I will hurt her more than help her, fear that she shares all my worst flaws and that the world will hand her more than her fair share of pain and steal her joy.

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Noelle and I are cut of the same cloth temperament-wise. We are extroverted, busy, bright and distractible. It’s more personality type than a diagnosis, more learning-style than disability, but here we are.

This shared temperament didn’t serve me well as a child, maybe it was my peers or the adults who had influence over my life, but I grew up a sad, lonely little girl.

I spent years of my life believing that although they said God didn’t make junk, that I was the exception to that rule.

I fought to fit in and generally failed, I grew up feeling rejected and small.

The past five years with Noelle have been spent worried that history would repeat itself, that she would feel rejected by the world and that our relationship would somehow be strained and broken.

That my life was somehow starting over again, through hers.

I don’t know if you project your worst fears and past issues on your children’s lives , but I do. It’s far more inward than outward, but I worry and wonder if all the worst things of my life are guaranteed to play out in theirs.

I worry, then I do everything in my power to give them a foothold for better.

Did I ever tell you why we named her Noelle? 

It’s because Christmas was a revolution, the baby in the manger came to offer a fresh start, a new thing, a rhythm of grace and love open to all.

Given the broken, painful homes we came from, we wanted something new, a fresh start, a revolution.

So we named her Noelle, the beginning of our revolution.

Yet these past five years haven’t felt too revolutionary, how could they when I’ve spent them mothering in fear?

This weekend as she bounced through the celebration of her life God showed me something new, something beautiful, something intrinsically true.

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She is Noelle, she is His creation and she is exactly who he had in mind for her to be.

She will be loved, if not by all than by many, for she embodies his joy and creativity in her approach to life.

He will sustain her through the inevitable brokenness, just as he did me.

She is my beautiful daughter and the energy we share will flow through her to bring about good works, to bring grace to pain.

I need not fear her or what we share, rather I shall join in (finally) in celebrating what I have spent too long worrying about and projecting upon.

This is my daughter, sent to me by a wise and wonderful God on purpose, with purpose for the benefit of so many.

She is holding up to her name, she is healing brokenness through God’s work in her life.

And she has started with her Mother.

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Do you project your worries on to the life of your children? How has God set you free from that?

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