Sunday, July 29, 2012

time to fly

the house is swept.  the stuff is gone. the last car shipped. our suitcases loaded and  the front door locked.  it is time to leave.   as i whisk children into the car service and their seat belts, the mother in me longs for a broom.  pieces.  i feel the pieces of our leaving scattering still. scattering everywhere. rolling at our ankles in all directions like dropped marbles on sloped cement. how will i ever gather this sadness? my mother arms are not nearly enough.  and i chide myself firmly, keep it together weak woman.

hold the pieces. hold the tears. hold the children. hold the hurt. hold the hands.  

hold fast.

but somedays... this day... the holding feels too hard.

“daughter," He whispers. "my hand... hold it."

“overwhelmed one, I AM the broom. sweeping.  I AM the arms.  holding.  I AM the God.  leading. I AM the father.  loving.  I AM the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega.  I AM enough.  because...I AM.”

there is no easy leaving.  no easy departure from the only place my children have ever called home.  fourteen years--it is not a lifetime, but today it feels so.  maybe in the great scheme of things it is a mere blink of the eye, nothing more than a drop in the bucket, a tiny speck in the universe of greater mankind. maybe.  maybe, in the huge whirl of life, it is nothing more.  but this blink and drop and speck belong to us and they are heavy with heart.  these people and this place we have known well.  loved well.  been known and loved in so well.  as we leave, we carry the heaviness of this great love.

memories, moments flood.  faces, friends flood.  wash over and scatter. wet with emotion. forget the broom, Lord. what was i thinking? it is not nearly enough to sweep up the depth of this sadness, the full weight of these pieces.  not today. not this day. oldest girl with her tears in the airport, her siblings offering gum and candy and funny comments, trying to comfort. even the youngest guy with his teddy bear’s head poking out of his backpack. they tell me, “we have a plan to help emmy get through this.” they are trying.  it is hard to watch each other’s grief.

loaded and leaving and soon flying.  crossing from georgia to minnesota.   suspended between the then and now, the here and there, the this and that.  30,000 miles high holding between the old and new.  hovering in the full moment of change. seven of us.

and i want only to blink and let this day end.

shame on you woman.  you have your health.  you have your family.  you have so much to whisper grace over.  stop your whimpering and find the words of thanksgiving. toughen up girl and get a grip.  but still... weak today, wild with wondering.  full of fear.  Lord, these hands are not able to hold. i am sure of it.  but you Jesus, my Jesus, you are able.  Lord, sweep up our pieces and hold us tightly to you.  some days the woman seems strong and confident and capable.  but not today Lord.  not today.  not this day.

but even on this day, i remember.  july 29th -- two years ago on this same day, we were on another flight.  flying back from china with our bella -- bringing her home.  our sparrow girl.  “even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself. a place where she may have her young---a place near your altar, oh Lord Almighty, my King and my God.”  we chose that verse as the banner of this blog years ago.  it seemed to fit the homebringing of our baby girl when we started her adoption.  and all the while, i thought this blog was only about finding a home through adoption.  i had no idea it would continue to be about life in our home and mess in our home and sickness in our home and now, the leaving of home.  i had no idea it would be about finding a new nest for all of us. a new place for my young. another place near His altar. God gave me that verse in psalms several years ago... and how can i not trust my future to Him who knew that then, who knows this now.  i, who know nothing.  i thought the verse was only about bella and her home-coming,  and am amazed this morning to find it so fitting for our family’s home-leaving.

homecoming.  homebringing.  homeleaving.  homefinding.  another home to make.  today.  on this day.  another place near the altar of our Lord.  please Jesus, hold us close.  close to the foot of your throne.  close in the sweep of your grace. because today we must fly.

seven of us sitting here in a busy sunday afternoon airport.  bags at our feet.  hands in our laps. lumps in our throats. waiting for the airplane. all of us wondering, each in our own way, what’s next.

children trying.  a tired mother trusting.  prayers whispered by friends and family everywhere. and littlest girl reaches for my hand, holding tight.  “it’s okay mommy, it is.”   i nod my head in agreement, “yes, bella, it will be okay.” 

it is time to fly.

Friday, July 27, 2012

something to say grace over

i wasn’t sure if i was supposed to provide them lunch.   the movers have been here for several days this week and i knew to offer water bottles and sweet tea, but what about lunch?  not to mention, i was a little frustrated with the moving company.   you see, there was "a miscommunication."  i flew back from minnesota on tuesday morning in order to meet the packers at my home. i flew back with a ticket change, a wrong flight time, a delay, forgotten keys and a rental car fiasco. (long story). i flew back from leaving emily and tyler alone (well, sort of) in minnesota.   we had gone up this past weekend in order for them to take part in their pre-season sports camps. thought it sounded like a good idea to help them get their foot in the door before high school.   i left them with rick at 5:30 am tuesday morning, and i flew home a day earlier than planned, because the moving company had insisted they needed to start a day sooner.  so finally, after a lot of hullabaloo and hustle, i got home on tuesday... only to get there and discover the packers nowhere to be found.  they never showed up.  a minor miscommunication.  

not a great start to a big move, huh?  it wasn’t this team’s fault though.  they had nothing to do with the mix up. no, that was a higher up issue.  but still...when you are frustrated it is hard to remember who doesn’t deserve the angry darts of your inconvenience.  anyway, wednesday was a new day and with it came the packers/movers.  five men and a semi truck and we were off to a better start.   around lunchtime they took a break and disappeared somewhere down near the truck.  i didn’t know if they had eaten anything. i was busy and not paying attention.  and i’ll be honest, i wasn’t particularly worried about it.  i didn’t eat anything that day for lunch either.  i had walls to patch and bathrooms to scrub and items to sort. 

day two.  thursday came and somehow i was softer.  calmer.  thinking more clearly.  the second day dawned and the packers came. they were doing an excellent job. five men again, working hard all over our home.  handling our fragile and our favorites and our slightly frayed objects.  asking careful questions and labeling things clearly.  late morning i asked if i could provide lunch and they eagerly accepted.  so off to KFC the children and i went;  and home with buckets of chicken and biscuits and sweet tea we came.   the children set the kitchen table for the men, lining everything up as they have seen me do for company.  it seemed the only clear spot left in this boxed and beaten up house.  connor even brought out the leftover birthday cake from grammie’s birthday earlier in the week. we sliced it in fifths and the men sat.

i shooed the children from the room and told them to let the men eat in peace.  and as i turned to come back to the kitchen for a forgotten item, that’s when i saw them:  five giant men sitting at my kitchen table, hats off and holding hands.  one big man praying over the chicken.  saying grace at my KFC covered kitchen table, thanking God for His goodness and His faithfulness. i stopped. startled.  there was just something so beautiful about the scene.  it would be the last meal eaten at this kitchen table in this home and that seemed somehow perfect.

they’ll be back today.  any minute in fact. i scratch out these thoughts quickly this morning in the darkness of 6 am,  knowing there are many other things to do.  the house is mostly packed up.  only a few items left. today they will load everything onto the semi parked out front.  i am not sure how i will handle this all.  there is something about seeing your entire house boxed up in brown cardboard. last night i was at one of the going away parties for my kids.  each of them has had one now.  it was almost too much when i found one of sarah’s best friends sobbing on her shoulder in the dining room at the evening’s end.  just too much to watch these 12 year old girls unravel their arms from one another with tear streaked faces. these past few weeks have been dotted with these kinds of moments.  tears and hugs.  phone calls and messages.  parties and parting.  we load today (hopefully) and watch the truck leave tonight.  tomorrow we will gather with our friends for a final goodbye, our last night in georgia. sunday the seven of us fly to minnesota.

these five men at my table yesterday, saying grace over chicken and biscuits, remind me that there’s always something sweet to be found, even in the middle of the hard and the hurt.  heads bowed. hands held. slices of leftover birthday cake.  slivers of grace.  startling sweetness in the midst of mess.  

Lord, would you keep reminding this weary woman... 

one more thing...
so after that lunch i was upstairs in one of the rooms with alanzo.  he was packing, i was painting.  we were chatting nicely as we worked in the same shared space. remember that piece i wrote last december about the women’s shelter, my sister’s house?   (silver sandals).  alanzo was telling me he would be leaving early on friday night because he volunteers there every weekend.  he spends his time ministering to the homeless fridays and saturdays. every weekend.  he never misses. alanzo went on to tell me his story. he lived 40 years with every addiction possible.  on november 15, 2009 he found this program at my sister's house.  he found help and he found Jesus.  alanzo has been sober and clean and, most of all, free ever since.  

alanzo sings quietly to himself as he packs.  

slivers of grace.  
startling sweetness in the midst of mess.

Friday, July 20, 2012

you can't take it with you

okay, be honest, are you getting tired of my posts about moving?  i am certain some of you must be.  it's okay, i understand.  the truth is,  i'm a little tired of the subject material myself.  but, at the moment, it is all consuming -- consuming me physically, mentally, and especially, emotionally.  perhaps the good news is i probably won't be writing much in the next couple of least i shouldn't be. i'll have no business sitting down with my laptop open and my feet up.  we are down to the nitty gritty.  almost down to the final week. july 29th we fly to minnesota.

and this past week i have been in the middle of taking our life apart: piece by piece,  picture by picture,  item by item.  i am calling it "the great dismantling."  rooms are being slowly stripped of what has made them warm and appealing and personal...and, most of all, ours.  i feel like i am suddenly living in someone else's house.  surely all these open spaces and clean surfaces don't belong to the mcnatts! how did all of this happen? a couple of days ago,  bella was very focused on building a block tower in the family room and when she finally did look up, i saw her eyes scan the room in bewilderment.  "uh, mom... how come our house looks, um..(searching for the right word) different?"  all that was left in that room was furniture.  i had dismantled the decor right around bella and her blocks. one of sarah's best buddies, weslieanne, came over yesterday and when she walked in, i saw her startled expression.  she just gasped. "oh, your house!" she said, looking like she was about to burst into tears.  feeling teary eyed myself, i hurried to her and said, "oh honey, i know...just don't look."  

in this process of removing all the stuff, i am, however, making my husband a little mad.  he keeps telling me, "sweetheart, let the packers do don't have to move all this stuff....that's what they are supposed to do. that's what they are being paid to do."  (the packers come next tuesday). and then i smile at him and take another load of pictures and nicknacks to the dining room. (the dining room is my home decor holding spot for the moment). but you see, i have two reasons for doing what i'm doing:  A. it makes me feel better (i.e., in control).  and, B. we are moving to a furnished rental -- and though that might sound easy at first thought, it is actually complicating things just a bit.  all of our stuff isn't going to be packed up and moved to one destination. instead, we are planning to take some of our stuff (oh, let's say about 15-20%) to the rental and everything else will go into storage for the year.

it is an interesting business thinking about what a family of seven might need or want for the next 10 or 11 months of life.  interesting and exhausting.  my brain is clearly on overload as i consider item after item. would bella like this baby doll or that baby doll?  would connor like this board game or that board game?  wait!  connor doesn't even like board games.  do we want to put up these family photos or those family photos.  see what i mean?  try doing that room after room, item after item.  for the past couple of weeks i've had four piles:  throw away, give away, rental house or storage. it has been an interesting process to say the least -- especially when bella decides to rearrange my piles.  (she is now officially at preschool splash camp this week!)

when we visited the rental house in minnesota last month, i was able to get a pretty good idea of what we'd need to bring.   the house is mostly furnished. and the truth is, i could get by without hardly bringing a thing, but for those of you who know me, you know that's just not happening.  i don't want to live even 10 months in the midst of someone else's stuff, i want to put our mark on it.  make it our home -- even if it is just a rental.  yes, this requires more work and extra planning.  yes, it would be a thousand times easier to just tell the movers to pack everything off to storage.  but, strange and impractical as my plan may be, i am choosing to make things a bit more complicated now, so we can feel a little more comfortable later.   i want my kids and husband to walk around the house and see things familiar and known.  i want our family photos and special whatnots nearby.  maybe the kids don't care about changing out table lamps, dishes and doo-dads, but i do.  so, yes, this is not entirely about a mother serving her family -- some of this is about me and my issues.  i won't try to hide that fact.  i like my things.  i do.  and i'll be honest, i have even gotten a tiny bit excited about our own little chotchkies scattered around that really cool rental lake house.  the wanna-be-decorator in me has lain awake many a night already thinking about where we'll put things and how i'll rearrange things to fit our family.  come on, you know i have!

but i have to tell you, this process has sort of unearthed a not so pleasant side of me. see, my plan has been to pile all of our favorite things into the dining room - living room of our home.  all of our favorite photos and pictures and artwork and baskets and blah, blah, blah.  all of our favorite home decor things.  when i am working in there, amidst all of these treasured items, my inner julie andrews starts to hum, "these are a few of my favorite things."  over the past few days, the room has gotten more and more crowded.  like you can barely walk in there today.  it reminds me of a garage sale gone wild or a flea market on steroids.  i have tried, from the beginning, to put the most favorite things to the left and least favorite to the right, but the line has grown quite blurry and now when i walk in there, i am simply overwhelmed.  how in the world am i going to figure out what goes with us and what goes to storage for a year?  because here's the deal, i love it all.  yes, all of it.  the unpleasant, ugly truth which has been clearly revealed this week is... i love my things!  there, i've said it.  i've admitted it publicly.  uuugh.  i am not supposed to love things like i love things, but i do.  i sat in the middle of this room yesterday trying to decide between family photos and i about became unglued.  i don't want to exile any of them to the darkness of a cold storage warehouse.  not even for a year.

eons ago, when i was a high school english and theater teacher, i directed the play, "you can't take it with you."  i had the most amazing cast of students that year and with those talented kids and the message of that play, it was absolutely one of my all time favorites.  kaufman and hart's "you can't take it with you" first appeared on stage in 1936 and was immediately a huge hit.   in the story, alice sycamore and tony kirby are going to be married, but before they say "i do," they must introduce their families.  tony kirby comes from a wealthy, pretentious, buttoned up kind of family, but alice's family is anything but.  the sycamores are a collection of interesting and eccentric members who are all  busily devoted to pursuing their unique (and i do mean unique) passions, with little regard for decorum or details (and probably not decorating).  grandpa vanderhoff presides over the entire clan and has plenty of wise words scattered throughout the play.  at one point, he tells the uppity, wealth seeking mr. kirby, "maybe it'll stop you trying to be so desperate about making more money than you can ever use? you can't take it with you, mr. kirby. so what good is it? as near as i can see, the only thing you can take with you is the love of your friends."

now i am not sure how theologically sound all of grandpa vanderhoff's words are, but his "you can't take it with you" message certainly is.  in fact, it is right out of the bible. "do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal."  (matthew 16:20 ). does that mean i can't have my room full of favorite decorating items?  no. i am pretty sure it isn't about our stuff, but more about what our stuff means to us.  it is both a reminder and a warning -- the stuff is just stuff.  don't elevate it.  no one is getting packed into their coffin with cash or with their art collections.  i'm sure some have tried.  in fact, i did a little research (in my spare time) and stumbled upon lonnie holloway. in 2009, 90 year old lonnie holloway's final wish before dying was to be buried in his beloved 1973 pontiac catalina.  he was in the front seat, his most prized possessions were in the back. lonnie holloway tried to take it all with him.

i do realize i am only heading to minnesota, not to my final resting place, but the message is still worth hearing.  stuff is stuff.  in luke, Jesus tells us, "watch out! be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."  (luke 12:15).  funny that He would use such strong words, "watch out!" cautious.  funny, but appropriate, Jesus knew the power of possessions.  He knew how hard it would be for all of us to extract ourselves from the doo-dads and delights of this earth.  we all have our thing -- our things.  for some of us it's shoes ... and for some it's books... and for some it's pets... and for lonnie holloway it was a 1973 pontiac catalina.  

speaking of things you can't take with you...the moving company gave us a list of items which they won't be able to take on the truck next week.  apparently it gets a gazillion degrees inside and since it will take almost four days to travel...there are just certain items which won't make it, i.e.,  anything that could melt, explode or die from heat.   so... this morning, my brave husband and somewhat willing son, left atlanta with the pets and the plants and the chemicals and the candles and the crayons and well,  just about anything i could cram into our yukon xl.  it was officially "a scene."  seriously, this morning's loading could have easily been a reality tv show.  i kept bringing my beloved plants and flowers out and rick would just look at me.  he was trying so hard.  he was being so good.  i know he was muttering under his breath...i caught something about "crazy woman..." but he was willing.  he knows this move isn't easy for me.  he also knew that when we realized we might not be able to fit my sweet olive tree into the yukon, the tears were on their way.  he fit the sweet olive tree into the yukon.  

they are facing a 20 hour drive with a 150 lb. golden retriever and a meowing cat in the back.  they will stop tonight at a pet friendly hotel halfway.  the best part is rick went ahead and booked two rooms: one for he and tyler, and one for the pets!  hilarious.  my husband really does need his sleep, and though he loves our pets, there was no way he was sleeping with them after their close quarters all day in the car!   the animals were carefully sedated for the journey and as they pulled away from buttercup trace this morning, i had to wonder if maybe i should have gotten a prescription for my husband, as well.

while we were in the midst of our loading this morning, i had to get something out of my oldest daughter's room.  as i tiptoed into the room i found her and her two bests friends asleep on the bed.  all three 16 year old girls sleeping sideways across the queen bed.  these 3 girls who have been buddies since first grade.  oh my.  my heart began to ache. i stood there staring at them (yes, i know that is somewhat creepy)...and thought to myself, "what i really want more than anything is to cram these two girls into the car."  i'd easily leave all the chemicals and plants and even the flowers behind if i could bring emily's two best girlfriends instead.  i closed the door quietly and wiped away the beginning of tears.  

and so the menfolk left a little bit ago.  and i am now back to working in the middle of my self-imposed flea market with all of my favorite things.  not really feeling so much like i want to hum any julie andrews at the moment.  but i'll continue to putter around this shell of a house today, all the while reminding myself i really can't take it all with me.   and some of the illegal stuff we weren't able jam into the yukon will be left behind...and some of the stuff in my favorite things pile will be, instead, banned to storage for the year...and somehow, somehow, somehow this dear old house will be packed up and moved to minnesota next week...

and grandpa vanderhoff's words to mr. kirby will sink in even deeper, "you can't take it with...the only thing you can take with you is the love of your friends."  

"set your affection on THINGS ABOVE, not on the things of the earth."  ~ colossians 3:21

"for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  ~ matthew 6:21

Friday, July 13, 2012

cleaning from the inside out

as many of you know, i have been quite busy in my house the past few weeks.  especially in these last several days.  quite busy.  honestly, i don't think i've ever spent as much time indoors in one summer. but it has been necessary -- oh, so very necessary.  i'm not sure though, that i have a lot to show for it at the moment.  this occurred to me a few nights ago when a friend stopped over and remarked how normal things still looked at our house.  i mean sure there was the usual chaos of ten teenage boys spending the night and two nine year old boys in the garage chopping up minnows and salamanders from the creek.  sure the cat had thrown up earlier that day -- possibly from heat exhaustion -- and the four year old had used an entire roll of scotch tape on her "art project" -- a kitchen chair.  but, for the most part, things were normal -- or as normal as they can be in a home like ours.  paintings were still on the walls and candles were still in their holders.  dishes remained in the cupboards and family pictures sat up on the shelves.  carpets, though dirty, still continued to cover the floors and table lamps were turned on.  everything looked kind of normal -- at least from the outside.

but it was the insides of my home which had changed.  dramatically.  drastically.  if you look carefully, look deeply,  you'll find that the inner parts to our space have been cleaned up and cleared out.  there's almost not a drawer or closet which hasn't been addressed by this wild mother on her wild mission.  every single bed in our home has virtually nothing underneath it anymore (is that even possible?).  closets have been emptied of the extraneous.  cabinets have been reorganized and at least 10,000 sheets of paper have been recycled or burned.  apparently, in 22 years of marriage, we've never thrown away a single thing.  i told my friend the other night, "i think i might be an organized hoarder."  i keep things pretty tidy and neat, labeling just about everything and anything that holds still, but it is quite possible, i have saved every piece of paper which has ever come my way.  seriously, if you happened to write to me between the years of 1968 and 2012, chances are, i still have your letter.  i opened up a tin a few days ago filled with notes and letters from my childhood school and camp friends...every one of them!  i even came across a stack of letters from my 8 year old pen pal.  i am 43 years old...why do i still have these letters from a girl i never even met in person?

the children have helped with our paper bonfire!
add to my inability to part with anything sentimental, my husband's inability to part with anything financial -- receipts, tax returns, expired documents, etc... -- and we had quite the paper mill here at the mcnatt house.  a bonfire was in order.  it was our only option.  the shredder would have taken us ten years and if we would dare to leave one more bag of garbage at the curbside, i am pretty sure there might be a neighborhood revolt.  it has gotten beyond embarrassing.  the garbage situation has grown so bad lately, that i have felt the need to bake for the kind men who haul it all away each week.   one morning, a few weeks ago on trash day, we did present them with a box of donuts,  but i am beginning to think i might have to up my bribes...maybe even bake them a breakfast casserole soon.  of course, all to allay my own garbage guilt.

so, we've cleaned from the inside out.  so far, none of the surface stuff has been touched.  everything still looks like it always has.  and for the moment, this feels right.  next week i will begin to dismantle the decorating. next week i will begin to crack wide the outer shell of our beloved abode.  next week it will definitely be time.  but this week i keep telling myself, just one more day with everything still in place.  one more day.

as much as i don't want to take our life apart, i have to tell you though, the deep cleaning has been wonderful, cathartic, in fact.  if we weren't moving cross country, i am not sure i'd ever have taken the time to really consider the stuff that we've kept.  because this house has some pretty good storage, we've been able to keep it all.  there's been room for the random.   i've tried to be good about weeding out what isn't being used... at least it seems like i am always heading to goodwill with a bag or two of stuff.  but still we collect.  and it is especially hard to part with the personal -- the letters and notes and pictures and child shaped pottery.  i have sat on almost every floor of our home in these past two weeks going through boxes of our treasures -- reading notes, laughing at old letters, studying pictures, enjoying memories.  it has been delightful and it has been heartbreaking.  my already fragile self has been flooded with remembrances -- little bits and pieces of what we were and where we've come from.  and though digging deep has been hard, even a little painful at times, it has done me some good.    i mean sure, i've had some teary-eyed moments, but i can't go through this process without being a little bit thankful that i've had the time and opportunity to linger a little over our life.  reflection: that's been an unexpected gift in this moving.  a favorite doll of my daughter, the soft scrap of a baby blankie, a handprint painting, the dried bouquet from my wedding, a journal from childhood, a love letter from my daughter...all of it precious -- all of it worth looking at again.

but we all know, it can sometimes be hard when we have to look inside.  not just in our homes, but in our lives as well.  the older i get the more messy corners i find hidden within me, the more dirt i discover deep down.   there's always something buried inside needing to be addressed.  i know often i seem to spend more time on the outer shell:  clothing, hair, lipstick...that kind of thing.  i spend time worrying about that extra five pounds or that unwelcome blemish, when really what God wants is for me to keep looking inside.  certainly i've gotten better since my teen years -- let's, at least, hope so.  but, still...  i can't quite shake my eyes from the scrutiny of those outside things.  not only is it distracting, but it's also a little bit easier to stay on the surface.  it's easier to worry about the business of beauty and the busy-ness of life.   a good plan of action can attack most anything superficial,  but it takes something more to go deep --  to look inside and underneath and within.  it takes great time.  it takes great energy.  it takes great devotion.  and sometimes it takes being moved. yes, that's right, moved.  i want to be a woman who is known to care more about the insides of herself and her loved ones and her life... but i have to be honest, it is sometimes easier to cover it all up and just pretend we aren't moving.  just pretend nothing's changed.  just pretend no re-ordering is necessary.

sitting here on this rainy thursday morning, i am certain these past few weeks of cleaning from the inside out have been good for me, for my family, for our house. they have certainly been good for the bottom line of our moving bill.  without doubt, i am a little more raw and maybe even a little more vulnerable from dragging out the innards of our life,  but i am oddly confident there's been blessing found here.  and whether we are peering deep in the corners of our homes or deep in the corners of ourselves, there's something good to be gained in our daring to look.  maybe, though, we have to be willing to move a little.   maybe we'll never choose to do it on our own, but if we are willing to sacrifice the comfortable, then, maybe then, we can study the contents.   there's no one reading this who would disagree.  i know all of us would shake our heads acknowledging what really matters is on the inside. no one would argue otherwise.  and what's more, it is the inside stuff which takes the most time.  even with this move, i can already tell, it will be no big deal to strip the house of the wall hangings and empty a room of its decor.  but what has truly taken some blood, sweat and a few tears, is going deep into the recesses of what we have...of who we are. 

what happens in your life when you feel God beginning to stir? to move?  to move you?  that can be something harder.  sometimes He shakes us up.  sometimes He empties us out.  sometimes He dismantles our facade completely -- just like i am doing in my own home this month.  and as frustrating and stressful as all that can is also quite possible that a little treasure can be unearthed.  

maybe, just maybe, we occasionally need to be moved.

"for the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance,
 but the LORD looks on the heart.”  ~ 1 samuel 16:7

inside out
In my heart, in my soul
I give you control
Consume me from the inside out
Let justice and praise
Become my embrace
To love you from the inside out

Everlasting, your light will shine when all else fades
Never ending, your glory goes beyond all fame
And the cry of my heart is to bring you praise
From the inside out
Lord my soul cries out

Sunday, July 8, 2012

here in the laundry room

crying in my laundry room.  that's how i would have been found if anyone had been looking.  thankfully the house was relatively empty and the washer was running loudly.  no one looked.  no one found.  but still this crazy mama leaned on her front loader and cried her eyes out.

was it really all about shirts?  seriously jody, get a grip.  there are so many things bigger than a row of school uniforms to cause a woman to become unglued.  but today it was the assortment of colorful polos hanging from plastic.  today it was the sight of perimeter school shirts lined up ready to be boxed. i had purposefully left them until now.  but today camps had ended, the vacation was over, and the visitors were gone.  and, most of all, today was july 1st.  somehow, even on this sunday morning, i woke knowing that the moving month had arrived and there was little i could do to put off the packing any longer.  i had no argument to present, no alternative plan to offer, no distraction to deliver. it was time to get serious.  in just a few weeks we'd be moving our family from georgia to minnesota.  it was going to happen.  the inevitable had come.  july had arrived and the countdown had begun.

but there were these shirts all lined up as they have been for the past many, many years.  we've had school uniforms hanging in our laundry room for well over a decade now.  with several years of four kids at the same school wearing roughly the same sized uniforms, i had developed a system to just wash them, dry them and hang them all in one place.  the kids were plenty capable of wandering down to the laundry room each morning and making their daily selection.  there was no need to scrutinize the size of the shirt or deliberate over the correct closet...i left that task to the children.  sometimes the oldest wore things a bit too snug and sometimes the littlest guy chose a shirt too big.  but we learn to pick our battles when parenting five under one roof.   too small or too big seem to matter too little most days.  heck, if i was going to be really honest, clean or dirty doesn't always matter all that much. i want you to know it hasn't always been like that though.  there once was a day when i ironed each item and set out the appropriate uniform pieces each night.  there once was a day when i worried if bows coordinated and socks matched, but those days are long gone, in the past few years we have worked our way into some kind of school days survival mode.

and now, in this first week of july, these shirts are finally coming down.   as i began to pull them from their hangers, i found a small hole in the wall behind the shirts.  they have hung there so long, i had forgotten about that hole.  i hadn't seen it in quite some time!  but the moment had come to remove the hangers and fold the sleeves and tuck them all carefully into a box marked "pcs uniforms."  52 shirts total.  seems ridiculous now that i've counted them.  seems excessive now that i see them all piled neatly and labeled clearly in their plastic crate.

when the box was sealed and the tears had stopped, i called my oldest boy to carry it upstairs for me. "please put it in the attic storage," i said to him.  i knew i wouldn't be able to stare too long at that particular bin.   i walked back into the laundry room with its empty rack and felt the room expand dramatically in size.  thankfully, as always,  there were clean clothes coming soon out of the dryer, ready for hanging.  they would fill the space quickly.  and that's what i wanted.  fill that space.  hide that hole.  pretend it didn't exist.  i can't remember a day when those uniforms weren't hanging there, but that day had come and it was july first and this was only the beginning of a long month of emptying.   i knew from this point forward each day would be spent tackling some kind of closet or cupboard or messy corner of our life.

and that's exactly what has happened this week.  i have moved from one thing to the next.  there is no shortage of stuff to do.  somehow i think if i organize everything perfectly, then the transition will be that much smoother.  if we don't have to waste one moment at the new house in minnesota wondering where our favorite this or that is, than i will have spared us all some monumental grief.  because that's kind of what i fear.  i am a little bit afraid that i might come upon a child searching relentlessly, fruitlessly for some specific treasure which just cannot be located.  i am afraid it will be at that moment when the sadness will come and carry us all away, make us crumble, break our family momentum, attack our reslove.  is that weak?  perhaps.  is that pathetic?  maybe.  but this woman who loves to control things is feeling a bit rattled in this first week of july, in this final month of moving. even though i am absolutely certain i cannot control every item and every nuance of this upheaval, i still desperately want to.   i know at some point i will have to start dumping things into boxes and salute the contents with a "see you on the other side" kind of mentality.   i cannot possibly be tidy and on top of it all each step of the way.  just like my system with those school uniforms, i'll need to figure out a more practical approach.

a couple of weeks ago, a man from the moving company came to our house to kind of "assess" our situation.  he was very kind and easy to work with, but as we moved from room to room he kept saying, "oh the moving company is going to looooove you."  i think what he meant was we have a whole lot of stuff in our house.  the more stuff they move, the more money they make.  i assured him countless times that i was planning on getting rid of a lot.  purging. paring down.  i was certain i had time to shrink the stuff, in fact, i was looking forward to it. i was. i was. i was.  but he knew.  he has been doing this job for over 35 years (he told me).  he has met with thousands of busy housewives in his life and this man knew from experience what would become of my grand intentions.  he chuckled to himself as he counted up the pieces and inventoried our possessions.  the ching-ching sound of dollar signs could almost be heard as he scratched out notes on his clipboard.  i was a tad frustrated with him and his attitude and a bit overwhelmed with me and our house full of stuff.  where in the world did all this come from anyway? in 22 years of marriage we have acquired a lot.  we have acquired maybe too much.  i followed the moving-man and his clipboard into the next room and sighed again... more stuff.

these 52 shirts in the laundry room are only the beginning.  i know this. i know this month will be spent weeding through random items and unearthing memories and forgotten belongings.  i'll have to figure out a system.  i'll at least have to figure out how to get through the day without too many tears.  but mostly, i'll have to stop fighting for control.   this is the lesson God is teaching me right now.  He is uncurling my fingers from my things.   i may have successfully packed up the 52 uniform shirts, but i feel myself still clenching hard on the bits and pieces of our atlanta life.  it is the first week in july though, and the time has come.  open the hand, loosen my grip, and let go.

it's funny, but the month of july has been sort of significant for our family in the past few years. two summers ago, we let go of a somewhat orderly life when we headed to china and introduced an unknown child into our home. we had no idea what to expect, but we learned to trust God with our children and the shape of our family.  that was july 2010.  last year, we let go of our carefree existence when we healed from the wicked stab of cancer. once again, we had no idea what to expect, but somehow we let go and we learned to trust God with our health. that was july 2011.  this year we are letting go of people and a place.  and though it will be painful, somehow we will learn to trust God's plan and provision in this as well.  i can assure you,  we still have no idea what to expect.  but this is july 2012.  and it is here.

and just like in 2010 when we boarded that plane for china...and just like in 2011 when we worried about the cancer and the recovery...God was there in those julys.  God is here in this july.  when we are scared and uncertain and fighting for control, He is here. 

He is here uncurling this clingy woman's fingers from her things. 
He is here whispering His truth gently in her ear. 
He is here in the heat of another uncertain july.  
He is here in the midst of this move. 
He is here in my laundry room.  
He will be there in minnesota.  

He is the God of here.  He is the God of there.  He is God.  He is.

"where can I go from your Spirit?
    where can I flee from your presence?
if i go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if i make my bed in the depths, you are there.
if i rise on the wings of the dawn,
 even there your hand will guide me,
if i settle on the far side of the sea,
  your right hand will hold me fast."  ~ psalm 139:7-10

Thursday, July 5, 2012

these three

the 4th of july ... and i really wish y'all could have seen these three last night  -- three 4 year olds wildly enjoying the red, white and blue. 

pony rides and jumpy things and silly dancing --- and of course the fireworks! 

bella jumped up and down at every colorful explosion in the sky, "ooh, i love that one...i love that color... my favorite color is purple (or red or green or orange or pink)."  

at one point, maggie leaned back into meritt and said, "i've never seen this before, mama." 

and she hasn't

this was her first july 4th home. same with her sister, mary henley. bella was the veteran last night, this being her second.

before leaving for the club yesterday, i explained to bella what we were celebrating. when i told her it was a big birthday party for our country, she enthusiastically exclaimed, (you know she did) "oh, i loooooove birthday parties, mom!" i think she kind of got it. 

boy, do these girls love a birthday party. heck, they love any party. 

and for them last night was no different, but for me it was.  

for me to see them together at the birthday celebration of our country was incredibly special. the freedom we celebrate in our beloved USA is the same freedom which brought these precious little girls home. and it is the same freedom which has allowed them to be accepted into this great country. it will be the same freedom which will make sure they have opportunities and dreams and a chance ...

and most importantly, it is the same freedom which will provide the link to learn about Jesus and the perfect freedom which is found in knowing Him.

 "for freedom Christ has set us free..." ~ galatians 5:1

these are girls, who, not too many months ago, were orphans in a place with few freedoms; girls, who were each abandoned because they were born in a country which sends the message that special needs children and females aren't valued; these girls. 

but last night these girls -- these beautiful girls -- danced on green grass, ate cotton candy and oohed and aahed over the brilliant display above them.  these three girls celebrated the birthday of a wonderful country which allows them to be accepted, valued, loved and, most of all, free. there are no sparklers or sky rockets bright and big enough to compare to the brilliance of that birthday gift. 

God bless america.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

we made it

"well, we made it."  i must have thought that at least a dozen times this past week.  it began with the drive -- monday we left atlanta at 6am and drove 12 hours north to kelley's island (lake erie, ohio).  after all those hours of nonstop travel with 5 kids, 4 bikes, two SUV's and 1 kayak, we pulled off the ferry boat at 6:30 pm.  "we made it!"  i announced to the kids.  and we had.  but little did i know that was only the beginning...

no, that's not entirely correct -- i did know.  i did know that was just the beginning.  in fact, i had a pretty good idea of what the week ahead would hold.  you see, i know my extended family well.  i knew what we were walking into.  i grew up here.  not on kelley's island, but i grew up as the second born of four children.  i grew up with these three siblings and these two parents and i was fully aware of the week ahead.  we all love each other deeply and enjoy spending time together, but it does take some tricky maneuvering for us to all mesh together again.  24 family members (plus one boyfriend) sharing the week -- on an island, no less!  monday, while we were on the way,  my youngest sister, nicole, group texted us, "as we're approaching 'the island' this is starting to feel like a reality TV show."   this was after their flight from oregon to ohio was cancelled and delayed one day. she had it pegged perfectly from the very beginning though.  you don't get 24 family members together for a week without some degree of drama and a little bit of craziness.  we were arriving from all over -- oregon, georgia, ohio and new york.  another sister, jess, had just landed after spending two weeks in africa with her students.  jet lagged and travel tired, but by monday night we were all intertwined on one small island in one great lake.  i sat on the deck watching cousins of every age playing sports and games of every type and thought, "yes, we've made it."

this was the theme for the rest of the week as well.  whether we were all hiking to the beach, boarding a ferry boat, attempting to feed 14 grandchildren, roasting marshmallows or traipsing around an amusement park (cedar point) in 100 degree heat-- "we made it." every day was a little bit of an adventure, a little bit of chaos, a little bit of wonderful... in these five days we celebrated my nephew's high school graduation, my sister's twins' 4th birthday and my parents' 50th wedding anniversary.  and then all of a sudden it was over.  all of a sudden we were loading cars and driving back onto the ferry boat and heading south off this island.  

as i drove yesterday, (all 13.5 hours!) i thought a lot about our week together. it went so fast. i felt like i hadn't even had a chance to connect with everyone.  i headed back to georgia thinking of questions i had meant to ask...things i had intended to say.  in fact, at one point, i called my dad to talk with him about something i had been waiting to tell him -- but had forgotten.  that's the way it goes when you are in the middle of that kind of maelstrom -- life happening fast.  like this wild dance of aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents...all of us mixing together in some kind of family reunion mayhem.  making it through the moment.  making memories for the future. 

we had converged on this island primarily to celebrate my parents 50th wedding anniversary. talk about "we made it!"...isn't that amazing?  50 years!  now that truly is an example of making it.  in today's world where so many marriages just don't make it, i think theses big anniversaries are even more notable.  and it struck me how all of this week's chaos was a perfect representation of my parents' major milestone.  they have had 50 years together making it -- making memories. managing life.  partnering through babies and diapers and meals and bedtimes and vacations and teenagers and graduations and illnesses and celebrations and heartbreaks ... 50 years of adventure together.  as true companions they have watched their four children be born, be kids, be brave, be scared, be thrilled, be rewarded, be devastated, be sick, be married, be parents themselves.  together they have laughed, cried, struggled and triumphed. side by side, they have journeyed.

one night on the island, we took a moment to celebrate them and their golden anniversary. my dad talked for a minute and one thing he said was, "it has been easy."  (he called my mom a saint -- i have to agree, she is).  i know what he was really saying was that he felt incredibly blessed.   i couldn't help but think to myself though, "okay dad, maybe relatively easy."  because i know full well with five children of my own and almost 22 years of marriage with my man, it isn't always easy.  it just isn't. there are all kinds of wonderful blessings to being married, but we all know that it takes some work.  most of us don't just settle smoothly into 50 years without some share of tussles and trials.  even those of us that journey happily together, have our challenges, our struggles, our hard hours.  that's the way it goes whether 5 days on an island or 50 years in a marriage.  but oh, how rich the reward when we are faithful to the calling of coming together.  how beautiful the blessing when we are willing to accept the assignment and work side by side. not always easy, but worth it.  

"two are better than one, 
because they have a good return for their work.
~ ecclesiastes 4:9

the very best things in life rarely seem to be the easy things anyway.  marriage, children, family -- they all take work. sometimes hard work, but so often can bring such sweet return.  robert frost's poem, "master speed," captures the idea of working together to make it work.  "wing to wing and oar to oar..."  whether flapping wings or rowing oars or raising children or loving spouses, be assured, there's some labor involved.

Two such as you with such a master speed
Cannot be parted nor be swept away
From one another once you are agreed
That life is only life forevermore
Together wing to wing and oar to oar.
                                                        ~ robert frost

my youngest sister, (again), had some famous last words as we all drove away from the island and from each other.  her facebook status this morning capsulized our time together:   "100 degree weather, 50 years of marriage, family of 24, 3 cases of head lice, 1 dysentery, dodging Lake Erie beach bacteria warnings and family political disputes...I feel like we just came out survivors of some kind of family reunion realty TV show! Our prize: bed time in Oregon."

i laughed out loud reading that post today.  yes! that's it exactly!  i couldn't have said it any better.  we had made it.  no one was kicked off the island or out of the family.  we came together with all of our various issues and ideas and we enjoyed each other the way big families do.  not perfectly, oh no, but authentically and gratefully and perhaps a little messily.  we did have some lice and dysentery and disputes to deal with ...we did have some tears and tantrums (mostly from the toddler crowd)...we did have some challenges...because that's life, whether we're on an island or in a family or in the midst of marriage. 

this morning while i was looking through the pictures from our week together, bella came and crawled up on my lap.  she kept pointing to the different relatives in the photos identifying everyone she had come to know better this week.  "that's my cousin!" she'd say, "and that's my cousin and her and him too!"  on and on she went, making little comments about all of our family members.  and then finally, she leaned back against me and quietly said, "we have a lot of cousins mommy, we're so lucky."

and, that was it.  those were the words and the thoughts and the feelings behind it all.  "yes, bella, we are so lucky. yes we are."