house hunting: what we pull out of dry ground

We are still here, still looking at houses.

We go through the listings and check off their disqualifications: Too far away, too expensive, too small, too ratty. Not enough bedrooms, not enough bathrooms, no room for our dining room table, no privacy, soooper boring. Has restrictive covenants. Has an HOA. Doesn’t allow chickens, rabbits, domestic cats, wild children, sheer curtains, antique furniture, croquet sets, kayaks, kombucha, water guns, Nerf guns, real guns, or people who can shoot guns.

house hunting: what we pull out of dry ground

We’re not waiting on perfection, but it feels like it, and we use the term “perfect” very loosely. We know what we’ve prayed for, and we know what He’s said. We just haven’t found the match yet.

House hunting has become like scavenging for food in the kitchen when you’re hungry but too tired to cook: You go to the fridge, reject everything; go to the cupboard and reject everything there; then you go back to the fridge with lower standards and hope something jumps out at you with some virtue you hadn’t noticed before. Oh, peanut butter and apples. Hmm. I could maybe go for that.

And that’s sort of what we’re doing now as we look for houses. Oh, a one-acre lot that’s full of weeds and in the wrong area, but it has enough bedrooms and pretty nice flooring. Huh. I guess that might work.

But we’re also still waiting on a buyer for our house here, so we have time. We have another showing tomorrow morning, and though I won’t have time for any mercenary baking, I’ve leveraged it to get tons of extra chores out of all the older kids – vacuuming, dishes, straightening bookshelves, you name it – while I sit here and type this post, eating bonbons and sipping a martini.

(Every bit of that’s entirely accurate, except the last part. Pretty sure I don’t like martinis. And I already binged on chocolate last night, so that’s not really true either. But, you know, everything else. Gospel truth.)  

We are beyond ready to move on, be done with showings, get where we’re going, divide and conquer the bedroom situation, and unpack our books. If this showing tomorrow results in an offer, I might do cartwheels and dance the funky chicken. I may even try a martini. Though it would probably require several of the latter to facilitate the former…so I digress.

This season of transition has been long and unsettling. There are more than just physical moves afoot, and we have a lot of questions we’d like answers to. We are in a season with kids, work, and mission where we’re at a loss for what to do in certain areas and we need Him to just move some situations for us.

In a non-physical sense, we clearly know where we are supposed to go. We just have no idea how to get there.

…Command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’ – Joshua 4:3, ESV

We need Him to part the waters so we can pull stones out of a place we could never access in our own strength and ability. We’ll be happy to put them on display for the world to see once we’re safe on the other side.

He’d done it for the Israelites before – different river, different crossing. Different battle. And He’s done it for us before, too.

The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal.

And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’

For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”

– Joshua 4:19-24, ESV

Though, they weren’t really safe on the other side, and we weren’t either. The other side doesn’t mean ease and comfort. It’s just that once you’re on the other side, you’re all in – committed, no turning back, the water fills in the gap behind you and the only way to go is forward. It was true for them, and it will always be true for us.

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work…He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.

– 2 Corinthians 9:8, 10-11, ESV

They had proof that He was mighty. So do we, if we choose to recognize it when it happens, and remember it when we face the river.

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building character: a story problem about how we get where we’re going

It’s a story problem: Nine people plus four cats, divided into a three bedroom house, multiplied by enough special needs to fill a docudrama miniseries. We are so many pieces of flint bumping into each other, sparks flying everywhere.

(Or, nine plus four divided by three multiplied by X. I checked the order of operations, and there should be parentheses in there somewhere around the addition. Not that that’s any help.)

building character: a story problem about how we get where we're going

Our family’s bedroom situation is like the river crossing puzzle, when a farmer has to carry a fox, a goose, and a bag of beans across the water in a boat that can hold only two passengers, but leaving certain combinations together results in the loss of at least one party. Some kids need their own space, certain kids can share, and other kids need to be separated. Fun, right? Yep, just like a root canal.

So we need to divide and conquer the bedroom situation like there’s no tomorrow. We’ve thought so far out of the box that if I told you some of the ideas, you’d think I was crazy or desperate. And you’d be right.

Every night I am the woman beating down God’s door, praying in earnest for an answer that feels so slow in coming.

Tell Me what you want, He said.

You know what I want, I said. You told us what to look for. There’s nothing out there that fits it, and I feel too picky, materialistic, and shallow for not having found it yet. People all over the world are homeless or living in a house the size of my bedroom, and we can’t find a house on the market that fits our family. Ridiculous.

No. Tell Me what you want, like I was your builder.

Fine. I told Him all over again about our bedroom situation. I rehashed wants versus needs, and what would be ideal versus what we would settle for. And I begged Him to not move us somewhere with propane heat, ridiculous covenants, or hideous custom tile from the 1980’s.

What about layout? He asks. What about landscaping? What about the neighborhood? This is where things get overwhelming. I have some vague ideas, but I don’t trust myself to decide all those details. I don’t want to create something from scratch — I just want to see it, and I’ll know whether it’s right or not.

The details don’t have to match my Pinterest fantasies (though I dearly love my boards here, here, and oh yes, swoon, right here). I don’t mind some dings and scratches. I just don’t want a sterile, cookie cutter house…I want character. Some old beams, a weird window. A place where we can have chickens. A little more room to stretch out in. A vessel that carries all of our passengers.

I want Him to design it, though. He knows how to make the details work. If I put together everything, I’d feel regret over mistakes I found later – the laundry room should’ve been on the ground floor, not the basement; the square footage we added to one room should’ve been shifted to another. I’d blame myself for it not being perfect. Stupid, maybe, but I know me, and that’s how it would go down. That’s my order of operations.

But if it’s His design, I can foot the nitty gritty to Him and trust Him to make it all for a good purpose. He knows the quirks our family can handle.

I told Him all of this. While seven kids were asleep, some in bedrooms and some not, the shower ran hard and the water beat down and I told Him every bit of this.

knik river

And then He started talking, too.

So, Love…the kid issues, the bedroom hassles, the cramped quarters. I know it doesn’t feel perfect.

I know how the tight schedule affects the amount of time you’ve spent working toward a goal without seeing progress, and the delayed gratification that you’ve been waiting so long for. I know this river’s taking a long time to cross.

But what if you realized I designed this season for you? What if I knew those were imperfections you could handle, according to My design?

You said you just want character. What if this is how you got it?

And that’s Jesus, with the mic drop.

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the second day: when we don’t know what’s ahead

We walked the woods and I wandered to the spot where we buried someone precious a few years ago.

the second day

The piece of bark was just laying there, right over the grave. This skin torn off of a living thing, leaving it exposed, vulnerable, and in pain.

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.

I think often about this “second day” space: this time between heartbreak and victory, between the bloody cross and the empty grave, when we don’t know what’s ahead.

We hoped for something huge and desperately longed-for, but it was thrown in our face and spat on. We didn’t know what was coming.

We tried to build a fire for warmth and light, but we’re still freezing, the smoke is getting in our eyes and we can’t see anything else.

We thought those contractions meant we were close to delivery, but found out we were only dilated to one and a half centimeters.

When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.

The Kingdom is on the cusp of something amazing and huge. He is waking up His people in a way we haven’t seen in our generation, and maybe in a way He hasn’t done in many generations. This is a great time to be His people, but we have to endure the hard work of waiting.

We walk a tense line between faith and not moving ahead of God to push fruit, forcing something to work on our own. We don’t want to miss His move of certainty by stepping without Him, tired of waiting for the prophets and giving the sacrifice on our own. We don’t want to build the golden calf in our impatience for God’s answer, as the Israelites did when they squandered their loot from Egypt in making a work of their own hands to worship.

For weeks now, God has been reminding me that He restores, redeems, and refines us in our encounters with Him. And we often encounter Him in our need, in the quiet, dark place of the second day where we hurt and have no answers and are brought face to face with our need for His light, His answers, and His comfort.

In this second day space He is putting things back together for His people, as though He was working in the dark soil of our very foundation and identity, and making things right in ways they have never been before.

So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

– John 16:20-22, ESV

The second day is a day of smoldering ashes. Our woodstove is the grave of that tree. We lay on more kindling and push things around a little closer to the coals.

We shut the door. We watch.

The smoke starts spinning in there, the coals start glowing and flickering. It’s only a matter of time before you hear it – the deep whoof, the sound of ebullition — all is bright and burning.

It is the second day. We’ve been waiting for a long time and the momentum is increasing, and God is about to ignite something ferocious, contagious, and powerful for the Kingdom.

“Does bark always come off in the shape of a heart?” Cham asked.

No, I told her. Only God does that.

the year of deeper and wider

I first encountered one of my favorite books in sixth grade. I was pulled out of class for a gifted program, walked down the hall to an unfamiliar, sterile classroom, and listened to a teacher whom I did not know read The Wind in the Willows to us.

I hated it. If this was being “gifted,” I wanted no part of it.

the year of deeper and wider

Several years ago it showed up in Mattie’s curriculum. I approached it with doubt and suspicion, unsure about subjecting my kid to the same misery I’d experienced twenty years earlier.

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring cleaning his little home.

We dove in, and within the first pages I was in love. Surely it was the same book from before – but this time it was beautiful and alive and magical, so it must be that I wasn’t the same person reading it. I’d grown deeper and wider. I’ve read it all the way through three times now, not counting that first go-round that almost inoculated me from it entirely. I’m so glad it didn’t.

The kids ate lunch while I stood in the living room and read the first chapter to them. This is the first time Cham, Andrey, and Reagan have heard it and I want their memories of it to be warm and filling, sticking with them.

Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said “Bother!” and “O blow!” and also “Hang spring cleaning!” and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up above was calling him imperiously…

This is Mole, who has lived below in seclusion, discovering the world above for the first time. It’s also me, and probably you. I know what the spirit of divine discontent feels like. I, too, have flung work to the floor while yelling mostly printable expletives.

I came to this passage and stopped to look for a pencil. None were within reach, so I tore the cushion off the couch to check my stash and found five pens, a set of nail clippers, a broken animal cracker and, hallelujah, one mechanical pencil. I started marking sentences.

He thought his happiness was complete when, as he meandered aimlessly along, suddenly he stood by the edge of a full-fed river. Never in his life had he seen a river before – this sleek, sinuous, full-bodied animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with a laugh, to fling itself on fresh playmates that shook themselves free, and were caught and held again.

The story is fitting for all seasons – summer and winter, and especially those spiritual ones when you long for a river that runs deeper and wider than what you’ve been splashing in, and when you find yourself free of old barriers and able to test new waters that were out of reach not too long ago.

Testing new waters is impossible when you’re drowning in the deep end. We’ve spent a ton of time flailing and splashing there, but I’m thrilled to say that for the first time in four and a half years, it’s not where we are anymore.

Or, more accurately, it’s not that we’re no longer in the deep end, but that we’re no longer drowning in it – we come up for air sometimes, and can finally venture out into other waters a little.

Four and a half years.

By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spellbound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.

A big part of it is that one of our kids who needed his world (and therefore, our world) to be as small as possible is starting to experience victory like never before. I mentioned here a few months ago that choices are unsparing things. Sometimes we need the spirit of divine discontent to propel change, and over recent weeks his choices have been markedly and consistently different, by the grace of God.

He is experiencing the joy of a river that is deeper and wider. It’s a marvelous miracle. Most days (not all, I won’t lie) are warm and filling, and we hope it sticks.

The Kingdom is always of increase; our deep and wide is an insatiable sea.

This day was only the first of many similar ones for the emancipated Mole, each of them longer and fuller of interest as the ripening summer moved onward. He learnt to swim and to row, and entered into the joy of running water; and with his ear to the reed-stems he caught, at intervals, something of what the wind sent whispering so constantly among them.

– Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

Physically it is winter around us, but we are approaching a spiritual summer like a fast-moving train. There is running water, a full-bodied river; we are learning and growing and anticipating fullness that overflows the banks and spills into thirsty places everywhere.

I wish I could read the whole book to you, but there’s a terrific version of it on Librivox here instead. You’ll hear more about it soon, though. We’re only on chapter three.

Wind in the Willows, and Bingley

have mercy: a little girl, her future family, and how we create more happy endings

I went to fetch the laundry basket but the closet door wouldn’t open. I pushed harder against the resistance, just enough to stick my head in, and saw boxes and gift bags and wrapping paper, oh my – a packaging supply avalanche. Usually we keep that stuff stacked behind the door. The culprit was curled up in one of the boxes, purring.

have mercy: a little girl, her future family, and how we create more happy endings

While I restacked everything I found an old gift bag with the tag still on it: “To Master Finnegan, with love from Amanda.” It was from his baby shower eighteen months ago, from my dear friend who moved away in August. I cried a little, and sort of felt like a weenie for doing so.

Then we watched Little Women with the kids – which is a stupid move if you are already berating yourself for being weepy. We got to the part where Beth is sick again – you know – and Jo comes home to see her before it’s too late. She runs into their sister Meg outside the house and she sees her pregnant belly – and I cried again, thinking of my other close friend who moved away two years ago and just had a baby a thousand miles away from us. I’m not usually a crier, but some days grief lances our hurts wide open.

And then, have mercy – Jo goes inside and sees Marmee, and Beth is on the bed, deathly pale. A smart person just leaves the room at this point. But, no. I stayed there and took it.

Chamberlain sat next to me and asked why Marmee was crying. I tried three times to answer her but couldn’t get any words out. “Ask Daddy,” I finally gasped, and fled to the kitchen because doing the dishes for a family of nine is less traumatic than watching Little Women.

I don’t know what Vince told her. I stacked plates in the cabinet and watched from a safe distance. But a minute later he joined me in the kitchen, blowing his nose on a paper towel and mumbling something about the more kids we have, the wimpier he gets. I’m not really sure; I couldn’t hear him because I was blowing my nose, too.

Terrible, awful, painful story.

Is it, though? I know it has a happy ending. I was just crabby at how it stirs up pain I’d rather not deal with. Stupid feelings, making me feel stuff. Some days I hate that.

And yet…we’re going to deal with some painful stuff right now.

I had a conversation last weekend with a new friend. I know her only through the internet, only because we have adopted children from the same place, only because of God.  Her name is Karrie.

She is adopting a little girl from the same town one of our own kids is from. She and her husband have ten kids already – his, hers, and theirs, some already grown and out of the house. They were done. They were moving on to the next phase of parenthood.

Enter Ella.

ella
Ella is two years old. She lives in an orphanage. Ella has a terrible, awful, painful disease called epidermolysis bullosa, or EB. It occurs in only 20 per million births. But three of Karrie’s children have it.

I want you to be willing to fight the resistance and look in here for a minute. This is hard stuff and we need to feel something about it.

EB causes the skin and mucus membranes to blister from slight friction or pressure. Normal skin has a collagen that “glues” its layers, which keeps them from rubbing against each other independently. But without that collagen, a touch becomes a terrible wound. EB can also create internal blisters in the esophagus and bowels.

ella2

These are hard to look at. Chamberlain looked at them with me and asked if Ella was laughing in the photo with her mouth open. I told her, No, she’s probably not laughing.

ella-1Have mercy. If I could flee from the pain in these photos, I would. But I can’t, so I’ll sit here and take it, and I hope you’ll take it with me.

ella3

There’s no cure yet.

But Karrie and her husband know how to care for EB; they were prepared for such a time as this. They know how to watch for infection and adapt meals for someone with EB. Their daily routine already involves lancing blisters, bathing a child covered in sores, and the tedious wrapping of wounds – which takes two to four hours per bandaging session, three or four times a week.

They are familiar with painful realities: You can’t hug too tightly. Certain clothing seams cause blistering. Blisters on feet eventually damage nerves so severely that children can’t walk. Fingers and toes web and fuse together, and fingernails and toenails are lost completely. Bandages alone can cost $1000 per month.

People with EB live in constant pain.

They also know that EB affects life expectancy. Even under the best care, open sores pose a constant risk of infection and people with EB tend to die from skin cancer or internal issues, such as bowel obstruction.

But Ella lives in an orphanage and is not receiving the most ideal, individualized care. She needs a family to come home to before it’s too late. Our family is praying that they can expedite the process.

If you’d like to help Karrie bring Ella home, they have a YouCaring page here. Ella’s adoption costs – including the homestudy, the paperwork, the processing, the fees, the apostilles, the airfare, the notarizations, the fingerprinting, yada yada – are expected to be around $25,000.

They need donations and publicity.

We can provide that.

We can give and we can share Ella’s story.

We want people to know about Ella, about EB, and about children living a terrible, awful, painful story who need a family before it’s too late. We can’t keep these children and our hard feelings stacked behind a door anymore, out of the way, not bothering anyone. We need to be bothered so we can help create more happy endings. Ella’s story isn’t over yet.