Go: God’s Grace in Moving

“Oh, we’ve been here a little over a year,”  I told a new friend.
The words flew out of my mouth and shocked me. A year? It’s been more than a year since I said goodbye to all my piano kids and locked the door of that dear little house on the hill? Since visiting my favorite grocery stores and restaurants? Since I sat in church, choking back tears hearing Psalm 33, “The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord“? I can remember those details like they were yesterday. But that means everything since then has been squeezed into a year: immediately knowing we picked the right doctor, and seeing that tiny heartbeat – Annie! – on his office’s ultrasound screen; transforming this house Aaron picked out into a home; sharing a rich life with new friends here; having Annie here and starting life with her. Has it really only been a year?
go

Some people don’t ever really move, living in or near their hometown for most of their life. I never expected to be one of those people, which has been handy while Aaron’s academic career takes us on a slow tour of the midwest. It’s been a wild ride, but we started gearing up for this when we were dating and discussing the future. Aaron and I kept track of how many times we noticed God sending, calling, or taking people away from their families or homes in scriptures. The examples are numerous: Adam and Eve leaving the garden, Noah creating a new home after the flood, Abraham’s journey to the promised land, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, exiled nations, Mary and Joseph, the apostles, etc. Based on these patterns,  we determined to look first at what we thought God wanted us to do before considering what might keep us close to our families. For better or worse, the Lord seems to have taken us up on that commitment.

It was exciting to discuss this as star-crossed lovers with dreams of adventure and children and California, but real life hits like a freight train: Besides no babies and no California, we discovered that moving is often (rightly) considered one of the most stressful life experiences a person can go through. You could discuss this in clinical terms –  most of the “experts” rate it right up there with a serious illness or a divorce in the amount of stress it creates. It usually means every detail of your life changes, for better or worse. But when you go through it yourself, it isn’t clinical at all. It’s personal. It’s a transition into shocking unfamiliarity in all aspects of life, and ripping up those roots of home is a profound loss no matter how well you prepare for it.

Is it easy to look only at the hardships of moving? Yes. They are numerous. But if I have to move again (and, spoiler alert, I would not be shocked if it happens twice again in the future) I don’t want to look back on a few years with several moves as “a season of hardship.” Life is hard enough as it is. I want to be able to focus on the gifts that come with moving, because they are there, and I don’t want to miss those blessings.

Moving means sacrificing close relationships. After growing up in one place, then spending four years in college, and six years in Iowa, I know a lot of fabulous individuals. It’s  not possible to maintain the intimacy of as many friendships as I would like. But I built those friendships because I found wonderful people where I lived, which will happen again wherever I am, and I can’t imagine what a loss it would be to have missed out on knowing any of them, even though I had to trade proximity of old friends to meet the new ones. Moving also means that I am overflowing with relationships, and at 28 I already know and love more friends than some people have in a lifetime. 

Moving challenges our finances and possessions. Since we have never had any moving expenses covered – but maybe someday they will be!? – this has made significant impact on our budgets and spending in less-than-enjoyable ways. At the same time, moving has forced us into more brutal decluttering and less collecting, which cultivates a more sane life in other ways. Some people are naturally anti-junk and easily cut out extraneous material, but Aaron and I are both the sort of people that need that forced upon us. Moving has also loosed the grip on our bank accounts and our stuff.

Maybe the biggest grace in moving is understanding more firmly that nowhere on earth was ever meant to be my permanent home. Not a beautiful lighthouse on Lake Michigan, proud college halls liberally educating under magnolia trees, familiar couches jammed with siblings, small town charms in Iowa, or a neighborhood full of fast friends in Minnesota. Learning to love these temporary homes and embrace everything that comes with them is a great picture of Jesus’ sacrifice to come from eternity into time, to give himself away for people in a place he would stay only a while, and leave only through suffering. The whole Christian life reflects this in the continuing process of being oriented towards permanency in the midst of what is passing away. 2 Corinthians states this quite plainly: … the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. I think that becomes more tangible when it’s experienced in the process of moving and resettling.
Oh God, our help in ages past
Our hope for years to come
Be thou our guide while life shall last
And our eternal home.
-Isaac Watts
All of this being said, I do not anticipate moving during this calendar year – for which I am extremely grateful.

{formed & fallen} overlap

DSC05727

It is a very, very strange thing to be carrying a child who is exactly half-way gestated on the same day doctors would have said a different, older child should be completely at term. In the shocked, overwhelming beginning of this pregnancy, I felt like loving the baby we have was a way of betraying the one we had just lost. Sometimes now loving the other one seems like a betrayal of the one who -by some miracle I cannot yet wrap my mind around- grows right on schedule and has all the right body parts, frequently jabbing them into the walls of the home my own body provides. The other miscarriages were spaced far enough apart that the pregnancies would not have overlapped in any way, so this is a new sort of grieving. (I am not complaining – I think the bittersweet path that leads to a baby in your arms is far preferable to the one that just seems bitter, but it’s a little more intense.)

There was a day in July when I took three naps and developed a blister under my ring, and while I was sick of hoping for news of a baby coming… I knew it was happening. After the Wal-Mart test confirmed this, my college room-mate squealed on the phone with me even though she was in a library in Indiana, and I put a sign on the big blue chicken coop to tell Aaron he had someone even more important to take care of. We hugged and he hoped for a cute little girl like the one he had seen at lunchtime with little braids over her shoulders. I slept a lot – A LOT. I shared the anxious joy of close due-dates with someone dear who had a similar history to me and we prayed for two healthy babies to come this spring.

Just a few weeks later, I bossed my midwife’s new nurse around when the dread crept over me, demanding blood tests that proved I was right to be concerned. Arriving  home from the decisive ultrasound that showed a way-too-small baby who never even had a heartbeat, my computer was playing a song called, “God will take care of you.” To this day I have no idea how it ever got into my music library in the first place. I sat on the couch and sobbed while the friend who had squealed earlier read me Psalms over the phone.

Then I was relieved and guilty about how great it felt to not be sick anymore, and I thought making the announcement sign for the chicken coop -still folded on Aaron’s dresser as if to taunt me- was the dumbest thing I’d ever done. I sat around and it took hours to get anything accomplished. I painted my toenails. I begged Aaron for a puppy. I told him I hated our house, I didn’t want to have kids anymore, and I wanted to pretend like none of this even happened in the first place.

Summer trips were not cancelled, so I drove to Michigan alone and listened to the last Harry Potter audiobook, where Harry prepares for battle by internalizing the inscription on his parents’ graves: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” It had to be my rallying cry, too. My belly was swollen with death, and I made sure to sip wine conspicuously while giving a too-morbid toast at my sister’s wedding, praying that no one would make awkward baby comments to me because I just wasn’t ready to go there. (It felt very strange to hope I just looked chubby.) I hate that negativity seems so much stronger than truth, because the only thing I remember about finally breaking the news to friends and family was hearing that, “God just wants you to get settled after Aaron gets a job and THEN have a baby. You have too much going on to think about that right now!” That still hurts. I’m sure many people told us they loved us and they were sorry.

And while I spent the weeks after in a haze of confusing blood tests, there was so much love all around. I remember the beautiful postcard from the squealing psalm-reader, old friends who visited from afar with gourmet cheeses and Cabernet Sauvignons, and friends nearby who cleaned my closets and made me leave the house with them and brought us meals for weeks. Meals! For weeks! They made my life infinitely easier and cut our household spending that month by almost the exact amount of all the co-pays and lab fees associated with the whole debacle. I heard that song about God’s care ringing in my head every time I heated a meal, paid a bill, and wrote a thank-you note. Was I “over” it? No. Was I cared for? Yes.

Sometimes I still get really angry thinking it would have been better if I hadn’t even been pregnant, or wondering why we couldn’t have just had this baby then. Why mess with the heartache if we were going to get a healthy baby a few months later anyway? I marvel at the ironic mystery that God still said yes to some of the early prayers of anxious summer joy — two babies (healthy twins!) arrived last week for the people we shared our due date with. (I also got the puppy I asked for! hooray, hooray!) None of this makes any sense yet. It might always be like that. Sometimes not knowing is a gift, even when it doesn’t seem that way.

Today I know beyond any doubt that I was created for eternity, proved like C.S. Lewis says, by desires and love that cannot be satisfied by anything on earth. I dearly love two babies, each formed in the image of God, and the strange timing of these pregnancies does not diminish either of them. Both of their lives are worth celebrating, even if I’m not sure how to do it. And my current pregnancy with Li’l Kicker here does not remedy the real problem of any of my miscarriages. Any death happens because of the fall, and while it is very normal to especially long for a miraculous pregnancy, there is no promise that anyone will definitely have a baby, or that having a baby takes away the sting of death. A child always a gift, never a guarantee. I can’t expect this coming baby to answer these questions when I know I have never lacked the only promised child I have ever needed. The remedy for the consequences of the fall is the gospel, not having a baby.

“Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead… for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” – I Corinthians 15

“God so loved the world that He gave his one and only son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16

{Mary consoles Eve} by  Sr. Grace Remington, OCSO

{Mary consoles Eve} by Sr. Grace Remington, OCSO … (yes, I know it is Jesus who crushes the serpent)

I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul. – Psalm 31:7

 

 

reading round-up (11/08/13)

Well — life has been exciting around here lately. There is a new home for us with a very exciting story coming. There is also the tiny detail of, oh, having a Doctor around all the time now, which is relieving and exciting  after  five-and-a-half years of slaving.
For some reads to tide you over until I can think coherently enough to finish other posts  soon…

Many of my friends blog and I just can’t get over how awesome it is to read something that makes me think, “I wish I knew them!”  when I actually do know the person. Reading this post on housekeeping from my friend Bethany provided one of those moments this week.

“Whether you are home during the day or not, we are all home-makers. …Adults do chores. End of story.” 

Amen. If you need me, I’ll be Pledge-ing in my kitchen.

I had some Bad Experiences with theological debate in high school and sometimes shy away from talking about theology because I don’t feel like it’s worth stirring controversy, but I was so excited reading this post describing how the Cross is not the whole sum of the Gospel. It was like reading a secret journal entry I haven’t writen yet. (It made me think of this clip from The Office.)  Back on topic – the fact that scripture starts off with “There was evening and then there was morning,” and takes us all the way to “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” leads me to believe that God points us not just to the cross, but to a different (though very closely related) event as the crescendo of salvation and history.  The salvation story doesn’t end at the cross, and we shouldn’t talk about the gospel as though it did.  The crucifixion and Good Friday are only “good” through the lens of Easter Sunday. Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead!

You can count me a huge fan of Wendy Alsup’s blog, and I really appreciated her post about growing hard-hearted in suffering. I have often said (complained) to my husband that this a very poor season to be wrestling with fresh grief again. Not that true grief ever really goes away, but a fresh heap put on top seems excessive, and this encouragement is timely.

On that note, I loved this description of grief as an air horn.

Finishing out as we started, with talk of homemaking, preparing for a new house means digging around for some extra decor/DIY inspiration. I’ve been enjoying a few ideas from Liz Marie, Remodelaholic, and some Apartment Therapy home tours like this one with cool built-in storage (be warned – sketchy items in their “decor”).

Twins… “psych!”

miracle

Twins has been a surprising word theme for this summer and fall.

Three times in these recent months we have had friends secretly share surprise joy with us – not one, but two little babies on an ultrasound screen – with no explanation but amazement at the rare gift of an extra baby that God tends to give about once in every hundred fruitful pregnancies. Three times we have rejoiced to the best of our ability. Sometimes I’m giddy with joy, but sometimes I just try to ignore the shriek in my soul asking what maniacal mystery it is that some people get two of them at the same time?!  It got to the point that we joked everyone must be having twins. The fresh awkwardness has worn off somewhat, and we grieve that these three twin pregnancies are only resulting in five expected babies now, after all.

Very often I have contemplated Jesus’ disciple Thomas, whose name means “the twin,” the apostle who had to see, with so many unknowns for the future. We were rapidly approaching Aaron’s graduation date without any clue about what the coming year beyond graduate school would bring, and not knowing how to dream for the future. Do I have to leave all my piano students? Will it ever feel okay to dream of good things for a life that doesn’t include having the baby this spring? Is it even worth thinking about having kids anymore? I like to know things and found a great challenge in wrapping up Aaron’s season of grad school with these big questions in such limbo. 

Very often, like Thomas, I have felt that war between the twins of belief and doubt inside myself.

And then sometime this fall, we sensed our original ideas about where to live and what to do falling apart. Time for some re-dreaming. We began talking and thinking very seriously about the Twin Cities in Minnesota, where Aaron was invited to complete more research after graduating in December. This was the sort of job he hadn’t looked into, in a location we hadn’t considered before, and an income level we were not initially drawn toward before. In short, it was not on the list of options I already gave God. But as the details came to light, we thought and prayed, and before long it was clear there would be peace in no other path.

For years we have anticipated moving forward, living closer to family, getting smart phones, maybe going on trips(!!!), first-hand clothes, a big house with plenty of room for children and guests, and staying put wherever we were. Instead, we are moving to Minnesota at Christmastime, which alone indicates we must be crazy, and we are only committed for three years. This act of assumed insanity also requires selling this little house we love to get one even further away from our families and figuring out how to embrace the possibility of a temporary location again, though smart phones and a real guest room are pretty much non-negotiables for the next stage. (So plan on visiting, please. We will have room for you to stay with us and fancy gadgets to assist our sight-seeing navigation.) 

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more
See Lord at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder, at the God thou art.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he…
– St. Thomas Aquinas

This doesn’t offer a solution for everything I’m working through right now. There are still questions. I knew there would be. But for now, we’re walking (running!) bravely through the open door to a new adventure in Minnesota, and I get the impression God still hears questions there.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. – 1 Corinthians 13:12

Of course, this surprising turn of events spurs many interesting conversations at home. (Aaron is very hilarious so it doesn’t take much to induce an interesting conversation, I suppose.)
Me: “We always pray and pray, and when we finally make plans, the total opposite thing happens. What do you feel like God is trying to say to us?”
Aaron:  “He’s totally got an animated look on His face, delightedly exclaiming, ‘PSYCH!'”

Oh, my.

[image HERE]

[image HERE]

Sickie Blogging – Happy Fall!

Nothing inspires a thought such as, “Oh, I guess I could update my blog after a month to reassure people I’m not dead,” like being in bed with a nasty fall bug and a series of exhausting half-finished projects taunting me while I am home ill.

What has life been like in the past weeks? Busy. We remodeled the bathroom entirely. Our family had another wedding in Michigan, making it my fourth trip back-and-forth across the midwest this summer.

Aaron is feverishly working on his dissertation. My piano studio is keeping me so busy that I have a waiting list of students who would want to take lessons if I had a slot available. We have been working very hard for years, and these successes are marvelous gifts. In a way, this feels like we are getting that second burst of energy at the end of a race, as though the light at the end of a tunnel is blindingly bright.  We’re also doing some re-dreaming about the next phase of our life after he graduates, and discerning how to walk best with our desire for a family, our location, and our vocations. I’m pretty sure it’s not going to look like we had planned, but God has been very gracious to close and open doors in a way that takes some of the agony out of making these big decisions. A saving grace in some of these hectic days is that we have sold a significant amount of our stuff online, which streamlines some parts of life while we’re settling into a Fall that’s turning into a whole new kind of adventure.

autumn

Autumn is my favorite season, bringing the delights of soups, sweaters, candles, plaid, roasted acorn squash, hot wassail, and bonfires to accompany the witness of nature: God ordains a lot of beauty in seasons of ending and loss. I’m really thankful that is true.

to laugh or cry?

Before I share the following snippets of life in the past few weeks, I must note that while Scripture doesn’t explicitly teach that God has a sense of humor, I feel like it’s an undeniable truth.

As an expression of jealousy that the bigger chickens have successfully laid eggs for several weeks, Snowflake saw an opportunity to fly-hop herself out of the coop and decided to do a little free-ranging in the back yard. Oops. I eventually scooted the other chickens to their roost and created a Hansel-and-Gretel style trail of scratch and watermelon rinds for her to follow into the coop of her own volition. It worked. Considering that I will probably eat her someday when she has given me all the eggs her body will produce, it’s disturbing to see I am fitting into the role of the fairy-tale witch pretty well here.
downsize (8)

Though I have been mercifully spared from any additional medical catastrophes accompanying our recent miscarriage, I am obediently taking quite a bit of physician-recommended ibuprofen. I find this warning most …ironic, I suppose.
ibuprofenI found out Walgreens has been selling a generic product that makes a very, very bold claim. (I considered rubbing it all over my tummy just in case.)
downsize (7)Apparently the shower needed some ultimate healing, too, because the caulk mysteriously peeled itself up, so we were without a shower for a while until I VERY CAREFULLY cleaned it out and applied the new caulk. Then we waited even longer than label directions indicated before testing it out, just in case.0813131624In that process, I scratched my eye, which was depleted of it’s natural defense mechanism (tears) due to excessive crying jaunts,  and then ended up in severe pain with symptoms of infection that necessitated more visits to the Doctor’s office and a very expensive bottle of antibiotic drops, which made me gasp even after my insurance kicked in their share.
downsize (9)When I say this corneal abrasion caused “severe pain,” I really mean that THERE ARE NO WORDS to describe it, which is saying a lot coming from me. All is mostly well now, I’m just overly sensitive to bright lights yet and wearing sunglasses most of the time.

In every one of these little situations, I haven’t know whether to laugh or cry in response… but there has been plenty of both of those happening at our house, sometimes even at the same time. I think this is healthy. I have learned it is possible to be so overwhelmed by emotion that you are laughing and crying simultaneously, which happened when I was telling Aaron the only thing I wanted in life was to become hermits, get a dog, and hike the Grand Canyon until we died of old age, and I was suddenly struck with the inspiration to name the dog “Burro.” It is more awkward when one person is in agony, as I was during my opthalmological issues, and another unnamed individual is laughing, saying things like, “It seems you are a picture of perpetual misery.”

Other than all this, I snuck in another  summer road-trip to Michigan. Crazy? Yes, but it means I spent a weekend on the beach with some of the best girls in the world AND got to see almost everyone on both sides of our family for a few hours when we weren’t immediately setting up for a wedding, which is rare for us.beach weekendPlenty of laughter and crying happened during that trip, too, in addition to several stops at the same family-style diner for breakfast several days in a row, because that’s how we do things. This unpredictable mix of joy and sadness is all as it should be for now, I think.

too heavy

In the aftershock of bad news, I seek out solo projects. I think it’s a good system. Working in the sun and accomplishing something seems to bring mental clarity to the cloudy thinking of grief, but you can’t really avoid feelings the way aimless web browsing or watching movies allows for.  We have been touching up the exterior of the house, so it was high time I got around to painting a second coat on my garage door.

garage doorMy big confession here is that it was three years between coats of paint. We’ve been doing a lot in the meantime, and Aaron and I are both notoriously bad at getting things half-way done, so we’re trying to do a lot of “finishing” this year. The big push that got me started painting this the first time was our first miscarriage, and so I was thinking about that during the second round of painting. I was remembering the shock of a loss after falling in love with a really cute heartbeat on an ultrasound screen, about missing a little baby I would never set on my lap, about the million questions I couldn’t help asking then. At that point I was pretty sure I could get through things if I just “knew.” If I could just know I would feel better someday, and that I would be ready and able to have a baby at a certain time, even if it wasn’t as soon as I wanted, I thought I would be satisfied. Or even if I knew I would not have a baby, I could at least start making peace with that and build dreams for that life, too.

I would not have been satisfied to know that not only would there be a three year gap for touching up the paint, but it would also occur fresh off a third consecutive loss, when the doctors stop saying it’s a sad fluke and you’ll have a new baby in no time as they do at first. I did not know yet, when I was 2 years out of college, that sometimes knowledge isn’t the gift that we want it to be.

[Father] turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing. At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case from the rack over our heads, and set it on the floor.
“Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?” he said.
I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning.
“It’s too heavy,” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you.”
– Corrie Ten Boom, “The Hiding Place.”

This doesn’t mean I’m not angry and asking, or that there aren’t going to be dark days with hard questions, but I want to keep these conversations with God and my doctors in perspective. God doesn’t owe me an explanation, and it might not be one that would make me happy anyway. The doctors owe me any information they have, but they can’t always figure things out or solve them. I am glad I didn’t always know the future in past difficulty, and that same troubling ignorance may be a blessing now, too. (And maybe if I preach it loud enough to myself today, it will be easier to believe when I stop wanting to.)

Paint Disaster

Beyond these lofty thoughts, there is other frustrating news cropping up in the painting project. We have just discovered, after four years, that our house is at least three different shades of brown. It seems that there has been a lot of color-matching-of-a-color-match for paint supplies under the previous owner’s care, which looks okay until we try to repair anything. All three of these areas have been repainted, and the paint that is right for the window trim is wrong in different ways for both of the top two pictured areas. Scraping and repainting the trouble spots has become very complicated.

toenails

I don’t really think there’s an eloquent way to break bad news: We have welcomed and lost another baby. Yep. Ugh.

Today I painted my toenails in hopes of hanging on to some shred of dignity. I also took a shower, which is a big deal on days like this. I did nothing to my hair, though, which means it’s a wavy, floppy mess. I’m wearing no makeup, since it would just end up in a salty smear on my pillowcase at some point today. I’m swollen in the middle, far beyond my waist’s usual boundaries, as evidence that my body has been denying the reality of the baby’s death for a few weeks now. My stretchy shorts are a little, uh, unflatteringly stretched. I think about those verses in Psalms about being like a brute beast before the Lord on days like this. I’m glad my toenails look good.

Grief is funny, because even if I don’t think I’m overwhelmingly sad, unloading the dishwasher still seems like a task requiring significant emotional stamina. (At least I have a dishwasher, though. The hand-washing stage of the kitchen remodel was particularly difficult for our marriage.)

This side patio I’m sitting on has caught a lot of tears for a lot of babies over the years.

In my experience, the first trimester of pregnancy would be nothing to complain about if you get an actual baby out of it eventually, but when you don’t, it’s really annoying. I was so excited about coffee tasting good again that I drank two pots this morning. Now I’m agitated and shaky. It doesn’t help that I’m anxious about the possibility of needing a minor surgery during the course of this process. That’s pretty common, but letting the body proceed naturally, as has been my experience twice already, is far preferable. I don’t want to ignore the fact that this is hard work for the body, not just the heart. There is very little dignity in eating cottage cheese (protein!) out of the container and baby spinach (iron!) out of the bag for lunch like I did, but I think that’s the best fuel I can give myself. And really… if I use a plate, I’ll just end up putting it in the dishwasher and then having to put it away in the future. It’s probably best to save my strength.

No matter what difficulty comes, there are always gifts — and this is the one I’m really grateful for right now: Some girls I’ve been best friends with for eight years are visiting in a few days. These are the sort of friends who won’t care if I don’t clean the bathroom due to crying jags or impulsive crafting, and will bring fancy cheeses and wine and kleenex. It’s humbling and scary and wondrous that the cross-country road trip they scheduled before the baby existed is turning out to be a perfectly timed expression of God’s care and love, almost like it was planned that way. They will probably need to vacuum the guest room and put together the air bed upon their arrival because I can’t really see myself summoning the strength to take care of that.

But, like I said, I painted my toenails. So at least I’ve got something pulled together.

toenails

[What can you do? What do you say to someone who just had a miscarriage? I’ve written about it before, so mostly… if you want to say anything, just tell us you are sorry, that you love us, and that it’s okay with you if this is a big deal for a long time. And please remember, if you want to say something about the future or some divine purpose in this, that God does not owe me a baby or an explanation. You do not have the power to promise that I will get either one. I’m sure I’ll share more about that later when some of the shock and hormonal rush wears off, too!]