mercy every morning || (part 2)

[the wormwood & the gall(stones) || part 1] 

I’ve never understood why some people hate making New Year’s resolutions. Even if they come to a fail, you can always try. And at least an effort toward your goal is totally worth it, right? Not trying seems like the worst kind of failure to me. Relinquishing my usual practice of claiming a huge and completely unrealistic batch of resolutions in 2016 felt like a huge sacrifice. With limited support and two small children, especially that baby who didn’t read those books about how much babies should sleep, choosing a survive-every-day plan was the right thing to do. The circumstances forced me to live in the tension of believing that raising a child is one of the most productive endeavors and that it can also feel like you’re wasting your life. Yes, the children need more of me than I thought possible and that matters, but how could I have basically no other direction for my hopes and dreams in life? Did I not want to get anything done or become My Very Best Self Ever? Honestly, it was almost embarrassing. 

If you don’t like New Years Resolutions, you’re probably shaking your head at all of this. But really, whether you have an overly optimistic series of goals or don’t resolve for anything (and I guess whether February finds you powering through or in despair over broken resolutions), the problem with New Year’s Resolutions is not that some of us think too much of January as a “fresh start.” It’s really that all of us don’t think highly enough of the mercy God makes new for every day.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day and the darkness he called Night.
And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day. – Genesis 1:3-5

Creation poetry might be my favorite part of scripture. I love the consistent whisper of hope: there was evening and then there was morning! The first day. There was evening and then there was morning! The second day. It happened again! And again! God’s specific and general self-display all confirms this: Light comes out over dark. Then day comes out over night, plants come out over dirt, order comes out over the void, all pointing to the truest poem of the resurrection, when life comes out over death. This is breathtaking, but it almost seems ironic for me: these days, mornings can be very hard. For a long, long time we lived in the tension of desires to consistently train the kids to stay in bed until a reasonable hour and not let that morning’s protester (because you KNOW they trade off like that) scream long enough to wake the other one. So when we sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” with our kids most nights, that line “early in the morning/ our song shall rise to Thee” is a little haunting. Every time, I wonder: exactly how early are we talking here? And is this just once, or many different times? Just as those little people start sleeping more consistently at night, they develop the ability to crawl out of their cribs and the morning training takes a whole new set of strategies.

Mornings can be hard for other reasons, too. It’s a gift that in sleep, you are removed from whatever hardship you’re facing. This is true of daily tasks and difficulty alike. In sleep we are all leveled the same. But then eyes open, you remember where you are, and the task of the day comes over you.
My body is dirty and my belly is empty.
My child is poking my eye and the baby is crying.
My job is waiting, where I must face my own inadequacy or pour myself out for someone else’s benefit. Also, my boss is a jerk.
My relationship is broken – either I am in the wrong or I must forgive someone, or both.
Maybe my dream is crushed, or someone I love is gone, or whatever.
In waking we must eat, shower, tend, work, reconcile, grieve. Even the very best mornings, especially with my small children who can’t do any of this themselves, require a lot of faithful making: make the coffee, make the bed, make an effort to write, make the eggs. This year’s resolutions, even when I rejoiced to make them, have a way of condemning me with my failure to produce, and I think about that in the morning these days, too. It is in these early re-rememberings that God shows he is also in the business of faithful making, with new mercies that come every morning afresh.

 

Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:23-25


Mercy is interesting, especially when you’re thinking about hardship and restarts, because I don’t know if we always talk about it rightly. I’ve heard the word used many different ways lately: “Traveling mercies.” The mercy of a quick death.  The severe mercy of loss. The mercy of a parent passing over a child’s punishment. Sometimes mercy is supposed to mean divine protection, or healing, or sovereign guidance. I always think about the older translation of Psalm 23: “Surely thy lovingkindness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” and the dictionary tells me it’s a compassionate forbearance usually shown towards an offender. Let’s be really frank here: Compassion sounds great, but it means “Suffering-with” when we would rather pretend like hard things aren’t there. And then mercy meaning that compassionate forbearance there is “towards an offender”? I don’t like the implications of that last little part very well, either. But this is God’s solution to affliction. It’s not that we can ignore it or that he will necessarily remove it. We have to call hardship what it is to know the fullness of God’s love for us, because maybe this is how we know it doesn’t interrupt His care for us. Fresh mercy for every day means that in any state of sin or sorrow, whatever hits me when my eyes open each morning, God meets me there – no holding back, no matter what. It means I have to show up to whatever difficulty comes to me or I’m going to miss what God is doing for me in it. And it means that in any state of disarray, from my bed to my brokenness, God is faithfully making these messy and hard things new. 

Advent and FOMO (advent 2015)

“He withholds no good thing…” (Psalm 84:11)

Those who read things on the internet or voraciously scour the Oxford English Dictionary, which added today’s word to their compendium in 2013, have probably come across the acronym “FOMO” long before this post. The letters stand for “Fear of Missing Out,” the official definition is “Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere,” and when you move as much as we have, it’s a very real struggle.

I really am excited for Aaron having this great job and moved to tears of joy over having these two babies on a regular basis. This is a life I have desperately wanted for a long time. It’s important to be present in all these moments, even the tough ones. I don’t want to waste it or wish it away, but we are still far from “settled” in our town or home, and feeling so not-at-home for so long is discouraging. Days with two babies are intense, and it seems like things would be so much easier back in our Minnesota neighborhood, which came complete with a built-in best friend/babysitter. (It was more than a little bit awesome.) Even knowing that this move is supposed to be so good for us, all this upheaval makes me feel like we are split in a million pieces. Christmastime makes these aches more noticeable: I want to enjoy roaring fireplaces and watch snow falling outside the windows of our parents’ homes. I want to be in my Iowa Bible Study class. I want to drink candy cane hot chocolate with my neighborhood coffee moms from Minnesota. I want to sing Christmas carols with my college friends in real life and not just interact occasionally on social media. I wish I was having this conversation in person with pretty much anyone who is reading it.

This is compounded because I also have some FOMO about Advent. Again. I’m not sure why this even merits a mention, because I feel like this every year. I have a dream of observing a month of Advent for spiritual reflection and meditation. I have the Advent devotionals, I have the Jesse Tree ornament set, I have a list of all the appropriate songs. Something inside me really craves this. We have never observed the season as fully as I would dream, but this year is it’s own version of missing out because we haven’t made plans for implementing any holiday cheer around here. No tree. No lights. No concerts. No advent wreath. No energy to get excited about presents. I suppose this is the year to scale back – the kids are too little to know we are pulling it in so far, and we’re extremely tired. I want to do all the things that make the celebrations special for us… but only badly enough to feel their absence, not enough to actually make it happen. This family desperately needs a long weekend together more than the holiday hoopla.

On the surface it seems we’re not even “doing” Advent this year, and we evangelicals could all point out that liturgical seasons are unnecessary because God didn’t include a calendar in the back of the Bible anyway. But there can be rich treasure discovered in honoring this ancient practice of remembering, in some tangible way, the wait for Jesus. Without lighting candles or keeping up with any special reading, this month when “missing out” seems to be overlaying my every thought,  the purpose of Advent -celebrating what came and is still coming in the incarnate Christ- should override what seems held back from me.

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32)

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:20)

The stories I dream of reading with the children during future Advent seasons are full of people who sojourned and wandered, often far away from those they loved, grounded in the firm conviction that God would fulfill his promise with a deliverer and a homeland. The special gift of this Advent is that no matter how much I can identify with those who mourned in lonely exile right now, I am not missing the Promise who fulfills the eternal YES in the midst of my life’s (much) lesser nos.

ordained beauty

…Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

The past two years have been… a little crazy. I think we are still coming to terms with our Minnesota stint and, while Aaron really likes his job and Thomas arrived safely, we have been managing a never-ending parade of crises ever since moving here and the paperwork burden of registering vehicles, buying a house, and having a baby the day before insurance activates is gargantuan. Despite the tough aspects of moving, we’re excited to have another house we really like with a very short commute for Aaron. (It has come in very handy when I have needed him to meet me at Urgent Care ASAP. Like I said – there have been lots of crises.) The best part of this third house is the huge backyard, which has a pond and lots of trees that just hit their autumn color peak. I think we are really going to enjoy living here.

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anne toddles around the new house, taking in the majestic views. (14 months)

There are things about Minnesota that I will really miss, but Aaron’s research position was really tough on us. If we had to move away eventually, it was good to rip off the bandaid and get it over with. Even though this new job is going really well and I’m excited about the educational options for the kids here, coming to St. Louis with the intention to stick around for good brought some hard realities to light:

Leaving Minnesota means we have to start all over on everything again. 
We don’t live close to our families in Michigan.
We’re not moving back to Iowa.

Staying put or going to a more familiar place would have been welcome adventures, and it’s a little sad to let those hopes go. Even though so much of St. Louis is like “the first day of the rest of our lives,” it’s also closing the door on other beautiful dreams, and that’s hard.

I’ve been thinking about how the colors during the fall we left Iowa seemed particularly idyllic to me, and I remember watching those leaves out of the windows during piano lessons, trying not to dwell on how badly I wished everything about our life could be different. Those vibrant trees stood in silent declaration that God ordains a lot of beauty in seasons of endings and loss. There was a lot of sadness in losing another baby and leaving so many people we loved that fall, and that pain certainly sharpens my perspective on the good things going on right now.

I never imagined how much would happen in the following two years, but it is really fabulous to look out at a new backyard full of more vibrant colors through a sliding glass door covered in prints of Max’s nose and Annie’s darling toddler hands while cuddling Thomas. There are going to be hard things here, of course, and this fall has really been a knockout in many ways, but it’s encouraging to know that this beauty has been established for the griefs and “endings” of moving, and it gives hope for the good things here, too.

Be still, my soul; Thy Jesus can repay
From his own fullness all he takes away.

— Be Still, My Soul, Catharina von Schlegel

blessed sojourning

The Lord watches over the sojourners – Psalm 146:9

Every single pregnancy I’ve experienced so far has had some milestone in the first week of August, from the first positive pregnancy test several years past to Annie’s delivery twelve months ago. Her birth and losing a baby right before that pregnancy mean both last year and the year before, I spent this date in labor. That’s about as detailed as any public birth story will get from me, but I think it’s an ironic blessing that I spend this week once again exhausted with crushed ribs, heartburn, and the constant presence of the rolls and punches of a child who seems to have some particular athletic inclinations even in the womb. I don’t know if moving makes this stage of pregnancy harder, or if it’s being pregnant that makes moving harder, but I’m not going to lie: this has been a tough week and I think it’s going to stay that way for a while. Yet my sentiments from last year still stand: There is no third trimester anywhere near as uncomfortable as the one that doesn’t happen. We’d be very surprised (and in a state of medical emergency) if the new baby were to arrive this week, so I think our big move to St. Louis will suffice for this year’s Notable Early August Event.

These feet are not as swollen as last time! Which is unbelievable, but really awesome!

These feet are not as swollen as last time! Which is unbelievable, but really awesome!

How’s moving? It’s hard, but good. Last Saturday we were in Minnesota, where Annie woke us up very early so she could get some extra springy-doorstop play in before we left. All the stuff that survived my extreme-minimalist purging had been packed into a moving container earlier in the week, so we spent the morning cleaning out the “Coon Ranch,” the house we bought at the end of 2013 before I had seen it in person, for the last time. I will not miss scrubbing the cracked ceramic tile floor in the kitchen. We said good-bye to that house, then returned a mattress to our neighbors who were also dear friends, and she said, “Even though you have to leave, I am so glad you came!” I shed a few tears and agreed with her. We drove a few hours south, and right before we fell asleep on a guest bed in Iowa, Aaron said, “I miss the Ames house more than the Coon Ranch.” Maybe nostalgia is still just a huge liar? Who knows, but I agreed with that sentiment, too. Traveling south reminded us clearly of good things in Iowa, different good things in Minnesota, and even more unknown good things to come in Missouri, (which, apparently, does NOT sound like “misery” in the local dialect!? Who knew?).

Aaron locking up the Coon Ranch for the last time...!

Aaron locking up the Coon Ranch for the last time…!

After a quick stop in Iowa, we drove to St. Louis with a poor baby girl’s carsick moans accompanying us the whole way. It was tough on her, but at last we made it! We’re staying in a furnished apartment for now, which has the marvelous bonus of an outdoor pool (saltwater, so fancy), luxury bathing facilities for humans (a sweet soaker tub) and pets (a “Dog Spa” shower room down the hall, which means Max is cleaner than he has ever been before in his life), and generally the ritziest living conditions we’ve ever had. I have stayed in a hotel fancier than this… maybe twice in my life? First-world comforts make these 700 square feet feel very tight with all of us here, so Annie sleeps in her pack-n-play in our walk-in-closet, just like she did in Minnesota, and I am certainly hoping we won’t be here long after the new baby arrives. Still, it’s great to have a nice place to land while Aaron starts his new job.
annie in toybox
And now my eyes are glazed over from looking at so. many. different. houses online, and I’m extremely impressed at what a trooper Annie has been for our real estate excursions so far. Most of these houses we’re investigating have enormous backyards (one right on a private lake!) with lots of bedrooms and space, and it’s pretty marvelous to think about enjoying one of these places long-term. (HA! WATCH US MOVE AGAIN!) This doesn’t exactly feel real! It’s easy to look back at the last two years and wonder what on earth just happened?, but this craziness has been matched with so much joy in having little Anne here with us for a whole year. I usually sing her the Doxology before naps and bedtime, but the several thousand times the familiar Psalter tune has sounded with this sweet girl in my arms this year does not seem to be enough to express the wonder and thankfulness all around.
Anne, five days old.

Annie, five days old. How has it been a year already? We love you so!

Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!

to love that well

…This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
– Sonnet 73, William Shakespeare. 

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Our soon-to-be-former backyard, with the vegetable garden from which we will not eat (much) produce.

 

We have fallen forward into a lot of big, different things this year already. And moving right now? It feels like falling so far forward that we’re swinging back around and ending up behind. Only not really, but in some ways, yes, that’s how it feels. (I have a lot of feelings right now, and I’m confused, too.) This year Aaron has been working really, really hard with very long hours, and I’ve been home with a baby and a puppy and the concern/exhaustion/nausea of a new pregnancy, and we’ve been doing a lot of work on our house, yard and garden. It’s not so much that having a job, dog, baby, or house is awful, but this has been an intense year on all fronts. While this all made selling the house a breeze, as long as all the paperwork continues to process appropriately, it’s frustrating that we sacrificed so much in working so hard and really don’t get to enjoy the fruits of these labors in a tangible sense right now.

“And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” – Deuteronomy 6:10-12

Because of that, we read this passage in church on Sunday and groaned because it seems exactly opposite of what this is like for us right now. After more rounds of brutal decluttering, since we mostly have old junky stuff from thrift stores and are paying per sq. ft. of moving trailer space, and watching our tomato plants get bigger and bigger with delicious food we won’t eat… Living with houses full of stuff we didn’t have to acquire with food we didn’t have to plant? That definitely sounds like the Promised Land. Those Israelites may have had it made.

There is grace in it, but moving is still really hard, and I am very aware of this. I have lots of packing to do when I want to just delight in the last days with Annie on her own and take lots of third-trimester naps. Preparations for moving are really taxing, and we’re determined to be significantly more minimalistic and organized than we were coming here, which requires more brain power than I want to give anything right now. Still, we’re making a point to sink in and enjoy every moment we have with what is here: a beautiful home, friends, mild summer weather, Lake Superior, a girl in the most amazing stages of interacting and action, and the wonder of anticipating a little boy coming at a time that clearly points to a greater plan than we would have made. These are gifts we can maximize by loving well even though it is all so very temporary.

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(These couches are not coming with us, which I am extremely happy about, and we decided it’s OK for Max to lay on them for the time being. He doesn’t sit on other couches so we’ll just teach him to stay off new furniture in St. Louis, but right now it’s like he can tell this is his temporary pleasure, too.)

faith and sight

“This is all so amazing, but I feel like our theme for the year is, ‘Well … didn’t see that one coming.’ Be sure to put that on the Christmas card.”
“I think this is exactly what it means to ‘walk by faith and not by sight.'”
“Easy for you to say, Abby. You can’t even see your feet when you walk right now anyway.”
–pillow talk at the Hummel house.

Sometime this spring, when we started finishing up some nice projects on our house, falling in love with friends, and generally feeling like things were really holding together in life, I mentioned here on the blog that I did not anticipate moving this year. Ha. Ha. Ha. Apparently the only thing funnier than moving to Minnesota in December is saying you are going to stick around a bit and then moving to Missouri in August right before having a baby, so that’s what we’re going to do: Move to St. Louis this August, when I’m 7-8 months pregnant. Just like our last move, this was not on the list of options I gave God for my life, but I’m really getting the impression He isn’t consulting me most of the time.

This means over the course of about 20 months we’ll have added a large fun-and-energetic dog and two babies to our family, bookended by two state-to-state moves. It means I’m unexpectedly packing up all our stuff, furiously prepping the Coon Ranch for listing and feeling very aware of how lucky we got last time with a quick sale. It means keeping the current house clean enough to pass a white-glove test and looking like a hotel with a dog and a baby as I round the corner into the 3rd trimester of another pregnancy. It means passing up time with friends here because I am busy preparing for the move, so it feels like missing them already. It means hoping we like the new doctor I picked online (backed up with good personal recommendations from real people, of course), because I don’t have time to shop around for someone to deliver the new baby. It means that I’ll be trying to set up a new home (renting at first, for sanity’s sake) with Max and these almost-irish-twin babies while Aaron starts a new job that will probably be pretty intense. He’s been working 12-13 hours a day with a commute most of the time now and the new job would have to be pretty bad to rival this year’s schedule, but he still needs the freedom to be very committed there. It means figuring out where to grocery shop and bank and go to church with a 14-month-old and a newborn. It means starting all over with friends at a very intense, needy season of life. It means moving into another house I haven’t seen beforehand.

moving boxes

This also means all Aaron’s hard, hard work over the past 7 years is rewarded with a really great job that essentially landed in his lap, one that’s even better than we would have hoped for two years ago when he was initially job hunting. It means settling somewhere we can at least think and dream about staying for good, instead of moving-with-the-intent-to-move-again like we have been doing for a while. It means we have two kids after years of wondering if it would ever, ever happen. These are good gifts – true undisguised and tangible blessings – and they come mixed with some sorrows, but they are delightful anyway. Bringing a new baby home to a new place in a new state is not what we “saw” happening for this year, but it almost feels like that’s even more reason to do it anyway.

…we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight – 2 Corinthians 5:6-7

 

 

 

Coon Ranch: the house i had not seen

coon ranch

Did you know I signed on the dotted line for this house without having seen it in person? The transition from Iowa to Minnesota was a little bit nuts, and buying a new house I had not seen seemed appropriate, given that all of life felt like such a leap of faith in this move. Would we ever have a baby? Would Aaron like his job? Would we have a doctor we liked? Would we make friends? Would we find a good church? Would we regret not waiting for something else to come together? Would I find any grocery store I liked as much as Fareway? I had no answers about the future, so it felt normal to add, “What kind of house will we have, and will I like it?” to the mix.

(After 17 months I reflect on those questions: Some answers were yes, some were no, and a few things are still up in the air.)

We looked at a bunch of houses together and fought like crazy about them (this is embarrassing but pretty normal when househunting, I think), and our schedules conflicted enough that Aaron had to shop on his own on during the last week of our house-buying window. If he didn’t find one, we would probably be renting (and therefore probably not getting a dog) for the next several years. We looked at pictures of puppies online and prayed that something would work out. He found one and told me it was boring but that boring was the best choice for us right now. I closed my eyes and signed like Ariel giving her soul to Ursula.

Ariel contract

 

And I will say, this house is perfect for what we thought we needed, and yet… we don’t really like it. This is a total first-world problem. It works, it has the details we were looking for (a guest room, a good spot for piano lessons, a fenced in yard for little Max, etc.) and was in the right price range.  I think it’s just that the “cool factor” of our old house is a hard act to follow. We have nothing that compares to the old vaulted wood ceilings, fireplace, crawlspace storage, stone patios, or wooded outdoor stairways. Instead, we are in a neighborhood full of the exact same 3-bedroom 2-bath 1960’s rambler. And not just “similar,” I mean, THE SAME. Our floor plan is identical to every other house on  our street, and the next street, and everything else around here. (A few people in the neighborhood got fancy and put an enclosed walkway between their garage and their house, but that’s about it. Why anyone thought detached garages were a good idea in Minnesota is a mystery I will ponder until the grave. It’s right up there with why there was carpet in the kitchen at the old house before we tiled it. I spilled some leftover chili on that one time and you just can’t get something like that out of carpeting, you know?) Where the old house was in meticulous shape (though out of date) when we moved in, the people who lived here before us were more of the TV-watching and only-mowing-the-lawn-once-a-summer kind of family. It’s a new challenge to take over a home from people who didn’t value their stewardship, so we’ve had to do lots of “maintenance catch up” projects, too.

The past few months have included a lot of work, and we now have a bit more to be proud of here: Lots of grass seeding and careful watering. New windows. A dishwasher – glory be to God. Beautiful floors and sharp white trim in the upstairs. Massive amounts of decluttering (what? how do we have so. much. stuff?) and reorganizing. Getting a tall filing cabinet so we can keep track of our official papery things like adults. Pulling some more of our decorating stuff out of bins and feeling a little more at home.

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this is not finished, but it is on the way! painters tape will go, fabric for new curtains are all ready to make, etc.

 

Finishing things up like this gives me the heebie-jeebies — what if it means we do have to move soon?? — but it is nice to have the hopes of enjoying the fruit of our labor here. And while I really like these floors and the new rug and all that, I have to say I’m a bigger fan of the fact that we’re too tired to watch TV in the basement and that we trip over the little toys that get strewn about, because for all the details I’m bored by, I love that this “lame” house is home for more people and more joy than we had before.

living room
Even with plenty of things I don’t love or would have done differently (um, garage-style flourescent lights in the bedroom?), our “Coon Ranch” has been a beautiful picture to me of the mysterious ways God has provided for us during a stage of life that is very sojourn-ish. While it doesn’t take up as much room in this blog (or my heart), it’s been a good place to learn and grow, and I am learning to love that very, very much.

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.

Seven months of Max

In the midst of the moving preparations last fall, we talked a lot about something we’ve been dreaming of for years: a little lab puppy. Aaron grew up with dogs and still misses the black lab, Abe, that he raised from a puppy while he was younger, and we’ve always known that we would have a string of Labrador Retrievers when we “grew up.” The original plan was to get a puppy in between our first and second children, since we wanted our kids to grow up with a dog and we might as well just make that a very intense toddler/puppy/baby season and get it over with. As I’ve mentioned before, “original plans” are kind of a joke for us at this point. The baby thing got complicated and then every time we looked at our open back yard and white carpet, we knew the Iowa house wasn’t the place for a dog. Some of our friends had a fabulous chocolate lab that we loved, and we talked about adopting one of his puppies sometime around when Aaron graduated. As it happens, they had a litter due the week after Aaron’s PhD defense and the puppies were conveniently located just north of our new hometown in the Twin Cities. It seemed like an ideal situation, so we allocated the proceeds from the sale of our chickens towards our hoped-for puppy. We looked for houses with fenced back yards, and “passed” on several fabulous options that weren’t dog-friendly. We ended up buying one in a quiet neighborhood with a doggie door already installed.

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On Veteran’s Day, we got the text message that puppies had arrived! Less than two weeks later, I handed a positive pregnancy test to Aaron and said something like, “Well, I don’t know how this happened, and if it works out, we can’t afford to get a dog anymore… but I will probably die if something happens to this one and I don’t have my puppy.” Wanting both a dog and a baby very badly, we decided that it wasn’t worth panicking about the finances after making gazillions of sacrifices for the sake of “financial responsibility” during the past five years, and that we wouldn’t regret having both together in the end. We sent in the deposit for our puppy the next day. I showed pictures of “my puppy” to all my piano students and asked for their choice between my two favorite names (“Sam” and “Scout,” neither of which was a big hit with Aaron). One little boy suggested I name him after a composer… “Just not J.S. Bach, because people would think you were pretending to be a chicken if you yelled, ‘Bach! Bach! Bach!’ out the back door.” I felt this was a very astute observation.

max on lap

After we brought the puppy to our new (and unpacked) house in Minnesota, Aaron made a few other name suggestions and we tried them all out on the pup for a few days before settling on Max, which came from three of Aaron’s favorite movies — The Grinch, The Great Race, and Get Smart. I was the one who told Aaron he was definitely a “Max,” but warned our family that if this was any indication, we would have to rely on Jewish traditions that don’t announce a baby’s name until the 8th day of it’s life. (We managed to get settled there with relative ease.) Today, this little guy is seven months old! Though our couches are looking significantly worse and I have to do tons of laundry because he drools all over us, we have loved the hilarity, play times, and strict exercise regiment he has brought to our life. (Walking twice a day during the Polar Vortex was still a better option than having a brand new house demolished by a young dog.) This year has been full of almost as many big, stressful life events as you could pack into a 12-month period for people of our age, and I’m grateful we’ve had the joy of a happy, licky, waggy, too-jumpy puppy to bring so many smiles to our faces in it all. family

We took Max on his inaugural canoe ride this weekend, which went better than expected with NO TIPPING during his impromptu dives off the side. That night we laid in bed with lots of extra pillows for my pained hip, laughing at the snores of the dog we wanted, marveling at the impending arrival of a child we have really, really, really, really, really wanted, and expressed our joy to finally live near water, which we have both missed so much. It’s not how we thought this would all come together, but it seems to be coming together just the same.

[Puppy Anecdote: Max knew it was bedtime on Monday, and crawled under our bed in hopes that we would forget to put him in his kennel overnight. Whenever this happens, he doesn’t know that his tail still sticks out from under the bed skirt. It’s pretty cute as he wags it s-l-o-w-l-y with anxious excitement, though he’s still naughty to do it. I tried to grab his haunches to pull him out, but he scooted further under the bed to the other side, where Aaron was standing. Max belly crawled along under the edge of the bed, which we watched as the bed skirt swayed, and finally stuck his tongue out far enough to lick Aaron’s toes. Then he looked surprised that we “figured out” where he was hiding. Ha!]

I would look for a smart and touching quote to include at the end of this post, but Max is simultaneously barking at the FedEx guy and drinking out of the toilet. See ya!

 

restoring souls

“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside still waters;
He restores my soul.”

For as difficult as moving and settling in a new place is, I’m starting to feel like we’re getting our systems down  Maybe just because I’ve been so frank with friends and family about some of these challenges, they are starting to seem less daunting. The life we’re building here will be different than the one in Iowa, and that’s okay. I have been seeing a new doctor and I like him. Max’s first vet appointment was yesterday. I can get to the dog park on the edge of town without using a GPS, and I even accurately navigated myself home from downtown St. Paul when my phone battery died last week. (Still no luck finding my favorite Chebe Pizza Crust. It must be out here somewhere.)

We’ve had some positive experiences with church hunting, but we had another crazy week that spurned lots of conversations about a bad sermon. We almost left 10 minutes into the service but decided to stick it out because it was so cold that we didn’t want to have to go right back to the car after we had parked so far away. The main gist of the message was that God wants you to have a full emotional tank, which you can’t have if you are stressed out, and that the 23rd Psalm gives you license to back out of anything you aren’t enjoying. You know, because God wants you to have a restored soul. I sat there thinking about what the last six months had brought us (huge family commitments all summer, losing another babydeciding to moveselling our houseclosing a business, moving to an unfamiliar town in a new state, buying a house, etc.), about some of the big things going on this month (Aaron’s commute and new job, setting up the new house, establishing a business when I don’t know anyone, no disposable income until I’m working, puppy, a little extended sickness, no friends yet, unending polar vortex, insurance/registration/licenses/paperwork, etc.), and all of unknowns in the next six months. You know what? I get a little overwhelmed just thinking about it all to write it down. But I don’t, for a minute, question that we might not be doing the right things.

And maybe the sermon came out wrong or I didn’t grasp what the guy was saying, but I think it totally missed the mark. While “stressful living” is not a competition and you shouldn’t seek it out, it is okay to be under lots of pressure. It is okay to be really stressed out. It does not necessarily mean you’re disobeying God or that you need to change something about your life. Sometimes being “stressed” happens because you are overly anxious or irresponsible… but sometimes it’s just the modern vernacular for acknowledging life is risky, which is always true even though it’s obvious at some times more than others. It hasn’t stopped feeling very risky for us in the past few months, and it will probably continue for a bit. (I took one of those online “stress tests” and determined that Aaron and I are both at a very high risk for developing all sorts of illnesses and maladies within the next year.)

“He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.”

If we’re walking in obedience, and I do think we are, then this life right now and every difficulty or blessing that comes with it is our path of righteousness. Even when so much right now feels rough and pretty scary — though I certainly wouldn’t call it valley-of-the-shadow-of-death — the solution is not using pleasure to cover up difficulty. (What does Ecclesiastes say? “‘I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.’ But behold, this also was vanity.”) Instead we have to take comfort in what God is doing, in his presence, in his rod and staff — you know, the things used to beat dumb sheep into getting where they need to go — and in the promises of our future feasting and home.

So, yes, it’s important to make sure we pursue restoration and enjoy life in the hustle right now. For us, this means we need to find good people to be friends with, we need our funny TV shows, and we need to delight in the ruckus that is Max. He won’t be a puppy forever – which is good and bad news, I tell you. We have both already had weekend trips to visit friends, and we’re looking forward to receiving visitors here soon, too. But those things don’t really solve the problem. Instead, stressful times just reveal how broken we are and how deeply we need restoration all the time. Stress has not created this need. When life is more settled, it’s easier to let everyday routines cover that up. Stress also doesn’t get to become the defining factor in our lives, even in seasons permeated by risk and difficulty.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” – Psalm 23.

Would you believe that there may actually be some green pasture-like grasses underneath all these little drops of still, frozen water outside my front door? There is goodness and mercy in all this — even if it is obscured by the fact that the snow is almost as high as the mailbox.

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