Everything in it

Everything in it

We found out last night that we will have to vacate our home in six weeks.

Six weeks to find a new place to live, pack everything up, and–hardest of all–say goodbye to our life here.

I know it’s only a home, and a rental at that, but it’s our home. The beach house, while loved, was never really ours. It never held our furniture or dishes or pictures on the walls. This house…this house has been a real home for 27 months.

Country House

Our house, the day we moved in…

I won’t lie, there were a lot of mixed emotions that came with the news, and a few tears. We’ve had a lot of good times here, and some not-so-good ones. But the memories we will take with us, those cannot be left behind.

The question then becomes, where will we move to? Where will we live? Where can we take our little family of people and pets and provide for each need?

As Husband and I tried to settle our hearts and get some sleep, we read Psalm 24:

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;

for he founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters.

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?

The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol
or swear by a false god.[a]

They will receive blessing from the Lord
and vindication from God their Savior.

Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, God of Jacob.[b][c]

Lift up your heads, you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.

Who is this King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
the Lord mighty in battle.

Lift up your heads, you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.

Who is he, this King of glory?
The Lord Almighty—
he is the King of glory.

We serve a great and awesome Lord–one who holds the whole earth in His hands. Did you see that very first verse? The part about the earth being the Lord’s, AND everything in it? Every person, every house.

He will provide.

Trust

I began writing this a few weeks ago…but it was so raw and new at the time I couldn’t bring myself to dwell on it long enough to finish writing about it. It’s still difficult and hard to understand and even painful. Because I’ve never been in this place, and I never wanted to be in this place.

My whole life I have experienced an unwavering trust in God. Complete. Without fail. Not just in His sovereignty, but in His goodness. And today, I struggle with that.

When we were at the beach house in May, Ginger took a little adventure of her own. One moment we were making breakfast, the next we were frantically searching for her. We still aren’t sure how she managed to get out, or where exactly she went.

But we know that Husband and I very nearly panicked. Amid a flurry of running around calling out her name, searching desperately for any sign of her, and splitting up and driving in opposite directions around the community, I was praying fervently.

Most of my prayers were hardly more than “Lord, let us find her” and “Lord, keep her safe”.

Ginger at First Landing State Park.

Then, somewhere in my head a doubt, a question crept in. Would God keep her safe?

Trust has taken on new meaning since we lost Michael. Deeper meaning in some ways. Harder in others. Just different in so many ways.

I hardly had the wherewithal to examine where the doubt came from in the midst of my panic. Even now, with Ginger safe at home, it confuses me. It’s not that I don’t trust God anymore, I do. I fully and completely believe that He is Lord and He is righteous and holy and perfect. And nothing will change that.

But my naivete is lost. I no longer feel like I have that unwavering, unshakable trust that God will work it all out.

At moments, it becomes painfully obvious that I know that God doesn’t always “work it out.” God doesn’t always step in to our lives in the way we want. God doesn’t always keep us safe and free from pain.

Ginger escaped again last weekend. I followed her through fields of young corn and across acres of harvested wheat. We went about three miles; I was rarely more than 20 or 30 feet behind her. And I prayed–frustrated, fear-driven prayers.

I hope, over time, I will learn to restore my trust. I hope that it becomes as strong as my faith. It will never be the same–never like it was before we lost Michael–but perhaps it can be even better, stronger, truer. Perhaps trust in spite of loss is more real, more meaningful, more effective.

I was encouraged today when I read about another woman’s struggle with trust after loss. I’m not alone in this. And it’s not a failure of faith. It’s just part of the process of grief.

Disasters and hearts and things

Disasters and hearts and things

I have a career I am passionate about, working at a place that I love because of the difference it makes in the world. I don’t talk about it much in this space, mostly because after dealing with heavy issues like world hunger and chronic poverty all day, I prefer to spend my personal time focusing on and writing about some of the more beautiful things in life. But professionally, I am a writer for an international disaster relief and humanitarian aid organization.

Needless to say, for the past week since the massive tornado in Oklahoma I have been very, very busy.

Oklahoma

When a disaster happens, we kick into overdrive. There’s an air of adrenaline as we try to beat the clock churning out media so our partners know what is going on. We are the connection between our “boots on the ground” team and those who make all of our work possible, our donors. It is amazing and humbling to be used as a conduit at such times!

But there is so much heartbreak. For the first few days, we hold our breath against each new update. How bad is it? How many injured? How many lives lost? We get firsthand reports from our team on the ground and we feel the pain. Even though I mostly work furiously from inside an office these days, I have also seen it firsthand. The Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina hit–I held hands as families surveyed the wreckage that was once their home. Haiti a few short months after the 2010 earthquake–I saw devastation beyond comprehension, broken hearts beyond repair.

And as always, as the shock fades and the news media begin to drift away, we are still there, and the heartache continues.

This year, though, I feel it in a new way.

I think losing Michael has given me a window into the anguish that some of these families are facing–waking up tomorrow without their loved ones. It’s so painful, so raw.

My heart is broken for those in Moore, Oklahoma in a new way. And my prayers are ever more fervent because of it.

It is sometimes hard to imagine anything good coming of losing Michael, but perhaps there are small things. Like empathy. Like prayer. Like surrender.

Join me in praying for those in Oklahoma today. Please.

Hospitality

Hospitality

I believe my mother truly has a gift for hospitality. For offering up her house as a sacrifice of love for others. For making people feel at home. For serving sugar cubes.

Sugar cubes are probably my most vivid memory of her hospitality. I come from a tea-loving family, so every guest was offered a cup of tea, and the sugar bowl–filled to the brim with sugar cubes. I think the real reason behind the cubes was because Maryland humidity made granulated sugar clump until it was rock hard. But the people she served them to? They had no idea. They felt like queens, being offered the very best. So many people remarked on those little cubes, utterly delighted with them.

I’m an introvert, so hospitality isn’t my natural inclination (that would be something more akin to hibernation). But I learned well from my mama, and it comes in handy because I ended up marrying a professional chef. Yep, a chef. And a social one at that.

Which means that we do a lot of entertaining. We make a lot of dinners. We invite a lot of guests into our home.

Sure, I don’t do much in the way of food prep, but I know from experience that hospitality is more than just food. It is a feeling, a welcoming, an opening of heart and home.

So we try to create an environment suitable to hospitality. A lot of comfortable seating and plenty of coasters to go around. Movies that are group favorites, drinks we don’t usually indulge in, easy access to extra throws and floor pillows. It’s a lifestyle.

Beach House

When we married, Husband and I didn’t want to move into a one-bedroom apartment, we wanted a place where we could host people. We were blessed with a five-bedroom beach house that was miraculously in our budget (thanks to off-season pricing). It was large enough to host my entire family (including all those nieces and nephews) for our wedding. When we had to leave that house (it was just a winter rental after all), we prayed for another home that we could open to others, to bless others.

God provided once more, another five-bedroom house, this time in the country. We didn’t know how He would use it, but we prayed that He would. That He would use the house and us to bless others abundantly, and in turn we would be blessed.

A lot of people have come through this house over the past two years. Family, friends. Some for big events, some for little vacations. One night, two, ten. Husband’s friends, mine. One even lived with us for a while until he could find his own place. We have loved opening the extra bedrooms, setting them up with extra toiletries, bottles of water, fresh linens. We loved inviting our loved ones to make themselves at home. And we were blessed by the company, the friendships that were born and fostered.

Country House

Yet, we still didn’t really know what our Lord had in mind.

Then we were hit with tragedy. My brother-in-law, Michael passed away unexpectedly. That night, our home held six very broken people. Before long more arrived, we were soon hosting up to 13 every night. A hurricane raged around us, but we were safe and dry and at home in this house. We poured ourselves out for those we love, all of us hurting. And this house–this house brought solace. It brought comfort. This bit of hospitality blessed our most dear ones.

I will be ever grateful for this place, these walls. And I will be sad to leave them when the time comes. But I am thankful that the Lord has heard our prayers and, through us, has blessed so many.

I can only pray that our next home, wherever it may be, will hold the same potential. That we will continue to offer our home as a sacrifice of hospitality to those around us. That we will share our blessings to our utmost ability.

And now, I think I might go buy some sugar cubes.

What horses have taught me: God is in control

What horses have taught me

People sometimes relegate horses to the status of an expensive hobby,
but I want to show you through this series that the life lessons they teach are priceless.

In my very first “What horses have taught me” post, I gave a little background on how I came to own horses in the first place. But today I want to explore a significant lesson I learned in the midst of that story.

For the first time, I truly learned that God is in control–of everything. And I didn’t realize until recently what a treasure that lesson was to learn early in my life, and what influence that has had in my adult life.

After I had spent three long years scrimping and saving every penny (literally, I regularly checked the couch cushions for loose change), at 13 I had finally earned enough to fund my half of the purchase price of a horse. We were ready.

Riding Chappy

At the beginning of that summer, we began buying the local swap sheet and I circled just about every ad for a horse in our price range. My mom made the calls–one after another. Most of the time, the call was as far as it got–the horse had already sold, or needed an intermediate to advanced rider, or there was some other obvious issue.

But a few times, we actually made appointments to go see the horse, to ride it, to evaluate. We often brought along our neighbors who knew far more about horses than we did.

I remember several of the horses distinctly. Whitney was a gray standardbred, she was calm and quiet, pretty and perfect for a kid like me. We loved her. We put an offer on her. I dreamed about the day we would bring her home and make her ours. Then she was sold to someone else.

I was devastated.

My parents consoled me as they told me the bad news. God is in control, they told me. If it was the horse that He had picked out for us, she wouldn’t have sold to someone else.

We kept looking.

My horse, Chappy

Soon, I fell in love again–harder this time. His name was Mister Mighty Miracle. He was a 16h thoroughbred and absolutely beautiful. At only 6 years old, he was incredibly calm and just loafed around with me as gentle as could be. This was it. I was sure. I wanted him so much I ached for it.

But our neighbor noticed something about him, one knee was slightly larger than the other. He wasn’t limping and it didn’t appear to be swollen, most likely just a congenital defect that would have no impact on him. But we wanted a vet to do an x-ray just to be sure, as part of the usual pre-purchase exam. But the owners said no. They would not allow an x-ray.

We don’t know why they did that, but we couldn’t in good conscience spend $3,000 on a horse of questionable soundness. So we had to be the ones to say no, to walk away. I was crushed. I cried so hard that night. I didn’t want to walk away, I wanted to bring him home, to love him.

But if he had been the one for us, the owners would have let us x-ray his knee, my parents said. God is in control. He won’t allow anyone to take away the horse that is for us.

The summer wore on and our barn remained prepped but empty. It was one of the hardest lessons of my young life.

Riding Chappy

It’s funny how often that lesson comes back around. How often I think of it. Just recently Husband and I thought we may have finally found the house for us, we were ready to put in an offer. But when we arrived at our realtor’s to put together the paperwork he told us that the house had gone under contract just that afternoon.

He looked at me and asked if I was disappointed. Of course I was, but not devastated.

I told him that we came into this journey of house hunting with the perspective that God has just the right house for us, and He will not allow that house to be sold to someone else while we’re doing due diligence to research it and crunch numbers before diving in. So, it just wasn’t the house He has for us. And more than anything, we want what He has to give.

*A BIG thank you to my parents for teaching me something so crucial in such a tangible way.

**To learn about Cocoa, the horse we ended up buying that summer, read this.

Other What Horses Have Taught Me posts:
Delayed gratification
“I can do this”
Gentleness

I gotta keep praising Your name

I gotta keep praising Your name

In my reading today…

“May God give you brothers to stand with, or a wife’s hand to hold, or a sister to weep with, because we won’t make it through these things alone. We can’t stand in the way of death, but when it comes, we can stand in its face together, and celebrate life and celebrate family and celebrate having loved fiercely and expressively

…a new family makes the world better. It brings people together, creates new connections, creates bonds that we all need in daily ways, and then desperately, when death comes to our home.” – Shauna Niequist

A walk in the woods.

I went to a women’s retreat in Ellicott City, MD this past weekend. It was wonderful and convicting and compelling and thought provoking–all the things a retreat should be. Laura Story led the worship. I’ve told you about how her song Blessings has blessed me in the past few months.

Nancy Guthrie was the speaker, she is also the founder of GriefShare and has had her own share of grief…I appreciated the heart and passion she brought to the retreat, when she spoke about the little things and the big things. Amid my time spent in worship and diving into Scripture, Husband’s family was hit with yet more heartache this weekend, more pain, more questions, more grief. Sometimes it feels as though just when things can’t get any worse, they do.

Beauty

On the way home last night, I had a five hour drive to think and pray and ponder and sing. I did a lot of singing. I rediscovered a Mercy Me song that spoke to me in a new way:

Another rainy day
I can’t recall having sunshine on my face
All I feel is pain
All I wanna do is walk out of this place
But when I am stuck and I can’t move
When I don’t know what I should do
When I wonder if I’ll ever make it through

I gotta keep singing
I gotta keep praising Your name
Your the one that’s keeping my heart beating
I gotta keep singing
I gotta keep praising Your name
That’s the only way that I’ll find healing

Flowers

Singleness of Heart

Singleness of Heart

So I’m beginning to think that my “word” for the year, Singleness of Heart, isn’t so much something that I’m supposed to be doing, but rather, it is the way I respond to what comes my way.

I talked a little about disappointment last week, and mentioned that at the end of a disappointing day I hold on to hope. And I think that is my Singleness of Heart. It is holding on to Jesus no matter what comes my way, no matter how out-of-control life gets.

And trust me, life has been completely out of my control.

I have to believe that God holds every mess, every heartache, every moment in His hands. I certainly don’t have the wherewithal to unravel the tangled web of life. But I know He is sovereign over all things. So I will focus my heart on His truth, singly and solely.

Ever since I first heard Laura Story’s song Blessings, I’ve loved it. But dealing with the biggest heartache I’ve ever faced has brought me an entirely new appreciation for the courage it takes to truly believe the words…

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your word is not enough
And all the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe

‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near?
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy?
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise?

Yellow lily

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

Thoughts on disappointment

Thoughts on disappointment

It seems to be the theme of our life these days…things just aren’t going as planned.

We didn’t plan on Michael dying.

We didn’t plan on struggling so hard to find a house.

We didn’t plan on our finances being so tight.

And now we are waiting…waiting to hear about another potentially major life change. Knowing that there isn’t anything we can do to make it happen. So we wait. And wait some more. In anticipation, but withholding hope because we have been rocked by disappointment so often these days.

In fact, disappointment seems to be a daily occurrence at our home. I hate to say that. I hate to admit how hard it’s been. I’m too much of an optimist most of the time to really tell you how hard things are.

But over the course of time I have learned not to discount the importance of disappointment. In my humanness I want to shrug it off. God’s in control, I say. And He is. But that doesn’t change the fact that disappointment exists. It exists in the weight of a sinking stomach, in deflated dreams, in the ache of unmet anticipation.

Sometimes I need to acknowledge it more. Give it validity. Because if I don’t, am I really dealing with it? Or am I just pushing it down? Because I don’t want to live a life that’s just on the surface. I want to be content down to the depths of my soul, and if that’s where I’m hiding the disappointment, then I need to root it out.

I can’t always dismiss it, so instead, today, I choose to acknowledge it.

I am disappointed.

But I won’t stay there.

Because tomorrow is a new day, and as Scripture says, weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning…and my hope is in the Lord!

First Landing State Park, Virginia Beach, VA

On my mind, in my heart

On my mind, in my heart

I don’t think I’ve talked about it much here in the past few weeks, but the still-recent loss of my brother-in-law is very much on my mind and in my heart every day.

Does that ever really fade? The constant knowing…knowing he is gone, knowing we won’t see him again until we too are in heaven, knowing we must live and grow old without him in our lives. It’s a knowing that wears away at you.

First Landing State Park
Husband helped me up into this tree, but it was Michael who helped me down…he was always there like that, always willing to help.
Sure, the thought of Michael doesn’t spark tears as easily as it did a few months ago. It isn’t as much an overwhelmingly fresh wound. But it is still so very present.

Husband and I have been attending Grief Share at a local church every week. It’s hard, because even on good days focusing in on the pain and heartache makes your chest tighten and your throat swell. And on the hard days? Well, it’s just plain hard.

I struggle when I hear people say that it’s all in “God’s plan”. Because, is it really? Is death really in God’s plan? Is the brokenness of the world God’s plan? Is sin God’s plan? Because I don’t think it is.

I think God’s plan was for a perfect relationship. He created a perfect world with people whom he could talk to and walk with as companions and dear friends. Then we messed it up. We brought sin into this world. We are the ones who ushered in death and devastation. So, really? Michael’s passing is part of God’s plan? How?

Sure, He knew it would happen when we were blissfully oblivious. In fact, in some ways He even shaped those last few days of Michael’s life to help us deal with his passing. And, yes, He welcomed Michael into his arms and ushered him into the Kingdom. But I have a hard time believing it was God’s intention when He created Michael. He knew, for sure, Scripture tells us that He knows the number of our days. It also tells us that He has good works prepared for us to do even before we are born. Good works are in His plan.

But is death really in His plan?

Hosea 13:14 tells us that death is something to be overcome, to be defeated, redeemed from…

I will deliver this people from the power of the grave;
I will redeem them from death.
Where, O death, are your plagues?
Where, O grave, is your destruction?

And 1 Cor. 15:54:

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

I wrestle with all of this almost daily. I struggle to understand–to wrap my mind around something that is so unfathomable, to grasp concepts we were never created for.

More than likely, it’s the not knowing that I will have to learn to live with. Scripture tells us that we can’t understand the ways of God, and so how could I understand something like this?

Just a few weeks ago something very small changed, and brought with it both relief and regret. For a long time, when Husband called me at work, Michael’s name showed up on the caller ID, it had to do with their joint cell phone plan. Even after the plan was switched into Husband’s name after Michael’s passing, it still showed up the same on my caller ID. But then it changed. I don’t know why. Now it just says “VA cell phone” when he calls.

A part of me wanted to stop seeing the reminder of Michael every time Husband called. But another part of me now misses that little reminder, that presence. Funny how these things happen. How trivial they are, and yet meaningful.

Last weekend my MIL and I were laughing as we told the story of when Michael was house-sitting for us and we had warned him not to let the sugar gliders out when he fed them, not without one of us around. But he did it anyway, he let them both out, and they escaped him and had a grand old time scurrying about the room and hiding in the bookshelves while he desperately tried to catch them. It was good to laugh about something, to enjoy a memory. I know those times with become more and more common, and that one little moment of story-telling gives me hope.

More thoughts on curating

More thoughts on curating

A few days ago, I mentioned my new desire not just to organize or clean or DIY or decorate, but to truly curate my home, my life, my heart.

And I’ve been thinking…what does this desire extend toward? What areas of my life could be influenced by my plan to curate instead of consume? I mentioned my books and DVDs already, those are probably the most obvious. Then, of course there’s other clutter…clothes, shoes, jewelry, blankets, linens, dishes, knickknacks. It might even include personal care items, cleaning supplies and other things tucked away in closets. What about my pantry? The food I eat?

And what about my thousands of digital photographs? Music files? Files in general?

And, um, does it include less concrete items, like my education, experiences, travels, relationships? The way I spend a Saturday morning or a Monday evening?

What about my faith? Grace? Growth?

And what, exactly, should be my standard for curating? Enjoyment? Peace? Excellence? Beauty? Truth?

What about my new word for the year: “Singleness of Heart”? Is that my standard for curating?

Sunrise at the oceanfront.

It brings to mind a verse I have hanging over my desk… “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” – Phil. 4:8

Is there any part of my life that this idea would not utterly transform?