No Time to Remember

A year of checklists and provisions followed.

One of our favorite provisions was a brand-new custom stove from an H.H. Gregg going-out-of business sale. We straggled in on the last day of the sale, our current dishwasher having just bit the dust.

The faithful Jenn Air dishwasher had survived the rivalry of a flashy Fisher-Paykel, whose promising future had ended in an electrical nightmare. The Jenn Air demise had been much more sedate, no swearing involved (on either side, I might add). Theoretically, though, the temptation for various human imprecations may have arisen since the innocent machine stopped working after one of the kids ground the starter knob in the wrong direction. It simply stopped working after that. Wouldn’t even turn on.

Hence the trip to H.H. Gregg.

No dishwashers left. A couple of dryers with thrifty price tags lounged at the front of the store, but, without washing machines to match, they presented little temptation.

As David combed the sparse aisles, however, he came across a gas stove.

We had resigned to keeping the original gas stove that came with the house. We did eventually get rid of the pizza pan, complete with 2-year-old pizza crumbs, we found inside the stove upon move-in. “Waste not, want not” is our motto, so the pan was at first recycled for household use; but when we realized the finish was coming off, we gave in and threw it out. The range, however, with its greasy screen-covered vent that let in chilly air in the winter and trapped newly-baked pizza crumbs and bits of ground beef, was too expensive to replace so cavalierly. Made to unusual specifications, the now-three-out-of-four-working-burner-knob wonder was only replaceable by a custom-made option that didn’t make it into our top twenty priority expenses. After all, it still worked. And, compared to world-wide standards, it glittered with luxury (in addition to the grease).

But now, right there in the H.H. Gregg going-out-of-business-sale aisle sat a new gas stove. Made to our quirky specifications. Unclaimed.

David looked at the price tag and promptly tackled the nearest salesperson.

The receipt he brought home with the purchase told the story.

Stove picture.jgp

A $1500+ stove for $324. (I rounded down, but still a steal anyway you slice it.)

Ironically, by the way, the dishwasher we ended up buying cost more than the stove.

Even more ironically, when David plugged in the new dishwasher after installing it, the machine wouldn’t turn on.

Hmm. So had done the other machine. Yet more ironic, it turns out the breaker in the basement was tripped. The knob grinding had simply tripped the breaker. The innocent machine would have still worked with a simple clank of a switch. Most ironically of all, we had just hauled old faithful to the curb, where local scavengers had whisked it away. (We’re beginning to wonder if God has a special message for us about dishwashers, and we just haven’t quite discovered it yet.)

But, to the point, the provision of the stove trumped it all. An unlooked-for blessing of un-anticipated proportion.

Despite the year’s countless lists of provisions, however, the checklists seemed to be winning the greater amount of attention. Business ventures, property development, an LLC formation and its rabbit-like offspring managed to push even the deep breath of blog post reflection into the background.

God’s provision was clear, but His voice had become less so. I had once again entered “fix-it” mode, eager to work hard to get done what I thought was next on the list. A business grand opening, the emersion of an LLC, a membership with the local Chamber of Commerce: these were the things that got my inner gaze.

The path was from God, we believed, but the checklists had become my own.

One afternoon in recent months, as unruly thoughts clamored, I revisited the Standing Stones of the past year. The following blog entry lassoed my thoughts:

Perfect peace. Was it possible even in the middle of this swirl of human weakness and spiritual lessons? I pulled my thoughts back in. I didn’t need to try to manipulate God or the situation. I didn’t need to decide whether my dreams were from God or whether my emotions were fabricating a dream world. I needed to put my energies into gazing at the One Who already knew. 

A lesson from 2015 recycled for today. Sharp and strong as ever.

How gracious that God teaches the same lesson twice. Or thrice.

Though pundits may claim that no terms exist for the concepts in the theoretical series following the term “thrice,” in a perfect language, they would exist, for God graciously applies His lessons over and over, far past the simple “thrice.”

Shoulders relaxed and the deep sigh returned. A blessed lesson to remember again. No pizza crumbs or peeling teflon involved.

I was gratefully content for the lesson. God, in His grace, didn’t mention the lab class that would soon follow.

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No More Death

The nagging dread had been building since noon.

Athelstane, our 10-month-old Great Pyrenees, who weighed almost as much as our 13-year-old, had never wandered from home this long. Bred to roam, he’d had his fair bit of escapes, and 3,000 feet of underground fence wiring sat in its newly-delivered UPS package in our front entry to prove it.

But he’d never been gone for this long before.

After we’d realized he hadn’t been tied up after a romp down to the barn with one of the kids, we’d spread out to find him and kept an eye on the window.

Supper came and went.

Bedtime came and went.

In the morning, both my husband and I woke to the sound of water sloshing. He must be down at his water dish. We’d never connected before how much the hot water gurgling in its circuit from the outdoor furnace through the pipes in the house sounded like the lap of a dog at his dish.

The porch was empty.

The night before, my husband and our neighbor—from whose house Athelstane originated as the oldest in a litter of 11—had searched on the 4-wheeler, scouring fields and the fence line that separated their field of horses and Great Pyrenees from another neighbor, whose patch of corn field stretched directly across from our mailbox.

No luck.

Since the corn-field neighbor worked second shift, he had been unavailable to consult the night before. That morning, as I sat in the castle window overlooking the front lawn, I saw his van pull in. Throwing on my gym shoes, I took my second daughter with me and drove down the drive, across the street, and up the winding gravel lane to his house.

No sight of the dog from his report.

As we left the porch and put the van into gear, I looked across the muddy corn field, littered with hollow stalks, that stretched in sight of the neighbor’s front porch from the gravel drive to the fence line. Hot tears welled up. Again. The worst was not knowing.

“Isn’t that an animal by the fence?” I asked, squinting at the fence line.

Putting the van into park beside the gravel drive, I started through the mud to investigate. As I neared, the shape took form. It was a dog, so muddy I figured he must have been there for a week or more. Could it be one of the neighbor’s? More than one of their dogs had gone missing over the last months.

I got closer, my heart tight, not believing it could be Athelstane but not wanting to find out.

I entered the circle of muddy struggle, evident for a 5 foot radius around the dog. It couldn’t be him. The snarl-tooth face looked nothing like his. I got closer.

Then I saw the bright orange collar.

It was his.

My daughter had waited by the car. The unaccustomed sound of me wailing no doubt alerted her to the truth.

By the time she had waded over, I had wiped the caked mud off the bone-shaped tag:

ATHELSTANE.

It was impossible to argue with.

The bullet hole through his head confirmed our sinking fears. He’d been shot.

Oh, Athelstane, why didn’t you stay home? We just wanted you to come back. 

Being almost a stranger to grief, I was not as much jarred by the grisly discovery as the shock of pain. The moment seemed to hold a subconscious realization of the times I would look out the window to see if a white giant bounded up to the house, would wonder why no furry form tripped me on the way to the barn, would wake to hear the sound of a dog who would never come back lapping his water on the porch.

The blur of bringing the other two older kids over, of reporting the find to the neighbor, of David squealing into the driveway from town and of his hot tears as he drove Athelstane’s stiff form home on the 4-wheeler, of cleaning the blood and settling the dog in the freshly-dug grave, all culminated in the first clod of dirt splattered onto the black garbage bag protecting our friend.

I hadn’t realized how it would feel.

Death was the end. No going back. No arguments. No take backs.

Over the weeks that followed, the grieving process, though it took both my husband and me by surprise in its newness and its depth, was, of course, soon spent. Two new puppies, given with astounding generosity and kindness from a new litter by our Great-Pyrenes-expert neighbors, helped soften the sadness even more.

But I still remain surprised by the pain. Even from the death of a dog, a death so much less than, though sweetly unique when compared to, the loss of human life.

A new appreciation not only of the death of the cross and the grief of the disciples, but also of the sharp power of the resurrection, bloomed in my mind.

Snarl-toothed death.

The ugliest force on earth, the destroyer of joy, the snuffer of life, the penalty of sin.

It was not too strong for the resurrection.

“I came that you might have life and have it to the full.”

The Buy High, Sell Low-ers

Our adventures with the dishwasher and the propane fireplace are part of a collection of spice-of-life stories sponsored by a dedicated yard sale habit.

Another episode comes to mind, but a quick guide to basic thrift-seller categories is instructive before diving in. The categories into which sellers arrange themselves not only provide helpful background for the story but are also indispensable in any hunting and haggling.

Category One: Buy High, Sell Low

These buyers purchase expensive, high-quality items (usually new, possibly at creative discount) and, if the need to clean out the usually-predicatbly-tidy but at-times-suprisingly-messy spare closet arises, sell with the desire to “clean out” uppermost in mind. Selling price is often determined by “what seems like a good deal” to them or by the simple need to clear out quickly.

These are the sort of garage sales one makes a mental note of for next year.

In a set-your-alarm-early sort of way.

Category Two: Buy High, Sell High:

These buyers purchase expensive, high-quality items (usually new) and, if the need to pair down arises, sell with the original purchase price uppermost in mind, trying to recoup as much of the cost as possible. “Brand name items” or “NIB” listed in sale ads are often signal words for this category.

These are the garage sales one makes a mental note of for next year as well.

In a very different sort of way.

Category Three+: Buy Low, Sell ______:

These buyers search auction sites, Bookoo, and local garage sale ads or salvage for the bulk of their household, personal, and even grocery items. When the need to pass on any goods arises, they align themselves into a variety of levels which interplay with their common sense to determine their final category.

The entrepreneurial become the Buy Low, Sell High.

The unrealistic become the Buy Cheap, Sell High (“try to” often proceeding the latter). Have landed here at times myself.

The ultra-frugal become the Buy Low, Sell Low, the latter being necessitated by the fact that the item may have been bought and sold more than once by this point. (The financial returns for this somewhat-inauspicious category, incidentally, can, at times, be surprising. The robust resale market supports all levels of purchasing.)

These are the sort of sales that require close study of the merchandise and accurate analysis of the seller.

Though few sellers stay exclusively within one category, predictable patterns emerge and accurate mental notes make future garage sale mapping and online browsing more efficient.

In outfitting a home and property roughly a hundred times bigger than our previous home,  the Buy High, Sell Low-ers (BHSL for easy reference) have been my close friends.

In the summer of 2016, I had my heart set on a sleeper sofa for our new two-story play house. I had my BHSL radar fully engaged. “Wait till a good deal comes along” is our mantra, but the cousins were coming to visit and visions of sleep-outs in the playhouse, with beds in the lofts and movie nights with little ones snuggled on a pull-out weakened my resolve.

A perfect red-striped option (we had painted the playhouse walls red, determined, as was common, by what was available on the local Home Depot “oops” cart) popped up on Bookoo.com the week before the cousins arrived.

The picture looked hopeful.

The sofa, originally purchased for $750, was a year or so old and marked at an unimpressive $400.

Furniture that is factory-new and owned for a month or less can reasonably recoup a fairly good portion of the original price.

Furniture that has been actually used in a home, however, even if, as this ad claimed, the bed had only been used once or twice, cannot exact the same return and, in my experience, will sell well under half of original price.

My subconscious warning light started an intermittant blinking. This could be a BHSH.

Swayed by the hopeful photo and summer-night visions, however, I made an appointment.

My husband and I pulled up to the house. It, along with the neighborhood, fit most-assuredly into the Buy High category. The all-telling second part of the category was yet to reveal itself.

Polite, if reserved, owners met us at the door. I tried to peg which was the negotiator as they led us downstairs past expensive furniture and a classy pool table, also listed on Bookoo, the husband informed me. Must be him, I thought.

“This is a great little couch,” the husband segued as we approached the side basement bedroom where the sleeper sofa was stored. “We hardly used it at all. I don’t think the bed has ever been used. The American-made mattress is fantastic quality, and we purchased it only a year or so ago.” Clues were dropping everywhere. My hopes for a BHSL went out to wait for us in the car.

The first glance of the couch, nonetheless, was promising, . It was just what I was looking for.

A new hope surged the minute I started close-quarter examination. The whole left arm of the couch was faded from red to a washed-out pink, evident even in the dim basement light.

Limitless bargaining power.

“Is the arm faded,” I asked, “or is it just the lighting?”

“Yeah, we had the couch sitting by a window at our old house,” the husband explained. He clearly thought the explanation sufficient excuse for the fading. Incredulous, I continued down the bargaining path. My confidence in success was slightly shaken, but, really, I reasoned, who wouldn’t take this glaring feature into consideration?

I shifted pillows, looked at it from all angles.

“It is pretty noticeable,” I finally commented.

“You could put a blanket over that arm,” the wife offered helpfully.

It was then I knew. We were not on the same page.

And never would be. What does one say to that? I wondered if any sales reps at any furniture stores had ever tried that one on her. And what she had said if so.

Now we just had to decide if the summer night visions were strong enough to draw a sale, even with a less-than-ideal price.

I tired one last-ditch effort to try to make myself feel better about the price. We had already tried once unsuccessfully to see if they would come down on price. No go.

“What about $375?” I said. “Then, at least you’re getting half of your original price.” And we could maybe talk ourselves into not feeling quite so taken.

“We’d like to stick with $400,” the husband said. “Come on. It’s only $25.”

Goes both ways, buddy.

David and I exchanged glances. “I think we’ll pass,” I said. As I said to David in the car, I didn’t feel the couch warranted half price, let alone more. It fit what we were looking for, but purchases must be made on the matter of principle. We had gotten brand-new furniture on clearance for better deals.

So, safely away in the car, we rushed to the local ReStore, where I had been eyeing a slightly-less-perfect sleeper sofa with a slightly-more-reasonable price tag: $100. I had looked at it three times in the last weeks.

David was impressed. It was in good shape, maybe a bit bulky but comfortable and clean. We had ten minutes until closing time.

The only trouble came in the shape of a small green tag, the size of a resale store price tag, on the back of the couch.

Sold.

I read it twice, maybe three times.

Man! What were the chances?

At least we’d had an instructive study in human interactions…and personalities. As we sat at a red light on the way home and laughed over the “just put a blanket over it” suggestion–actually, I may have been still too floored to laugh–David commented that his only reaction to the comment had been, “That’s true; not a bad idea.”

A car turned left in front of us.

“Hey,” David interrupted, “that car was parked in the neighborhood with the sleeper sofa.”

I looked at David. I had gone to the house to see a couch. I couldn’t have picked that vehicle out of a lineup if my life depended on it. I laughed. Evidently, we’re all on our own page at times. Even with the ones who share the most pages in common with us.

When we got home, it turned out someone else had decided to join us on our page for the time being.

“If you’d like the couch, you can have it for $375,” my bookoo.com messages alerted me.

Drat! Should have tried for less!

But, no, not really; the package of provision had been perfect.

And we’ve got the couch to prove it.

Some arm covers sewn to match the pillows and curtains hide the fading and protect against little fingers sticky from movie-night popcorn.

And they’re removable so I can see the fading anytime I have a hankering to do so. A perfect reminder of the whole package of provision.

I guess the owner’s wife did have the best idea after all.

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Perfect Provision

I love to look around our new house and see God’s provision.

A two-year-old stainless steel refridgerator off bookoo.com for $300 (the faithful model with the permanetly-sitcky rubber door handles that came with the house started to leak after six months), a practically-new king mattress set from a local resale store for $200, a solid cherry four-poster bed off Craigslist for $300 (found just in time for company who arrived from Minnesota thirty minutes after the last screw was in drilled into place), king bedding that matched the Tower Suite theme from Good Will for $15 (found the day after the auction, four months before the bed itself).

The list strectches on.

But, wait, there’s an entry in red: a high-end Fisher-Paykel double-drawer dishwasher off Craigslist that shorted out on the way home because it shouldn’t have been tipped. After a month of searching, we finally found a repair company who would work on it (too far away for a house call) and trucked it up to our nearest big city for repairs.

They worked on it for over a month. After two rounds of new parts and countless hours, they finally told us it might be time to give up the fight. The machine did nothing but spit error codes. Codes like F5, F9…all too familiar to us from our short acquaintence with the machine when it was installed at home.

We might have waivered a bit in our decision to give up (who likes to cut their losses and move on?), but when we heard the final code the machine spued at the repair technition, all debate was over.

It was not a code recorded in the manual.

The repair man had never seen the code before.

It read simply: “FU.” Ahem. Evidently, the time to stop had arrived.

Did this count as God’s provision?

Another red entry: the same week, a second-hand propane fireplace from Craigslist for the studio apartment ($300) didn’t work once we hooked it up. This one, we felt justified in getting our money back, but no go. The seller said he had disclosed he was unsure if it worked. End of text. End of conversation.

That made a quick $800 loss for that month of shopping (and repairs).

Had God not provided?

Flashes of blessing shone through the stories, though. The repair company took back all the parts they had ordered and installed and charged us for only one hour of labor, out of the countless hours they had spent. The new propane stove was part of a series of events that helped us discover a potentially life-threatening gas leak. David had worked on the unit and other projects in the studio for several hours one evening, plugging and unplugging drills, etc., not knowing the adjacent wall was full of propane ready to explode. Made the loss of $300 seem a veritable treat in comparison.

God’s provision is always perfect. Even if the price is less than so.

And the carefully crafted process is usually pretty fun to watch, especially in the subculture of second-hand shopping.

But that’s a story for another day.

Faithful in the Fog

Fog.

If pressed to pick a syllable to sum up many of the next months after the long silence, that’s the one I’d pick.

Partly just ’cause it fits the title.

But partly because it’s true. The inspiration of our new home, the challenge of transition, the fear that had sprung up during the challenges and blossomed in Karin’s protracted illness evened out into a flat plain of busyness. Our to-do list crammed the pages of a daily planner and stretched over several months. Somehow, we ate through the daily squares one at a time. 

Few mountaintops, no tragedies, just life measured out in coffee spoons. 

Hindsight shows miracles, not only among the mundane, but in the mundane. An invitation to join a weekly Bible study, connections with neighbors, cars that continued to run…polka-dot duct tape and all.   

One day, I diagramed Lamentations 3:22. It’s an exercise I like to do occasionally because it  can make the meaning of a verse pop off the page in a new way.

“Through the Lord’s mercies, we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.”

The subject and verb, the core of the communication, sit securely on the diagram backbone (thankfully I could figure out how to reproduce at least that much of the diagram here):

WE ⊥ ARE NOT CONSUMED.

(Grammar nuts, take a deep breath. The adverb “not” snuck up, unbidden, to the verb line, instead of staying below on a slanted line. I allowed it to stay because leaving it out is, of course, disastrous.)

We, all of us, have multiple, compounded reasons why we could or should or would be consumed. 

But, because of God’s mercies, we are not.

The verse goes on to remember that the mercies are new every morning. Along with the next coffee spoon. Great is God’s faithfulness.

A few days after this verse jumped in my lap…or rather was put there by God…I sat one evening working at the computer. Katrina was in the kitchen frying fajita meat. David was working with a specialist on our outdoor wood-burning furnace. They were somewhere in the house, examining, in turn, the five heat exchangers that work to distribute the heat from the outdoor system or from the five propane furnaces or heat pumps as needed. It was a long job. It was dusk when he arrived and darkness had long since fallen.

Suddenly, an insistent knocking pounded through the house.

“Who’s that?” I called.

“I think it’s Daddy working somewhere,” Karin yelled from down one set of stairs.

“I think it was the door,” I called. “Go check.”

“Sure mom.”

No one there. She went back to what she’d been doing.

Knocking again.

“I really think that’s the door. Check the other front door.”

No one there, either.

“Are you sure that’s Daddy?”

Another knock sounded as we spoke.

“It is,” Karin answered with the unfounded confidence usually reserved for her older brother.  

Not two minutes went by. Another knock, this one pretty insistent. I went to check the front door myself. No one there.

Settled back in, I heard the knocking again. Funny how a knock can sound panicked.

Katrina called, “I think someone’s at the door. My hands are full of raw steak.”

Just then, Karin came gliding past my computer, having come from the other front door. “There’s a random boy at the door.”

“What? You left him standing there?” 

I ran to the other door and pushed open the storm door. 

His tearful face lit by the porch light, a little boy stood crying, his face screwed into the saddest picture of panicked agony.  

“Can you help me find my dad?” he wailed.

“Oh, honey,” I said as I stepped out to hug him, “are you lost?” It’s an awfully long walk from the road. What is he doing here? Both ran through my brain in the two seconds it took me to tell him, “Oh, sweetie, don’t worry. I can help you,” and realize that he simply must be the son of the guy working on the furnace. The headlights from a running truck in the driveway confirmed it. He had fallen asleep before arriving and woke up to a dark night, unknown house, and two imposing front doors that didn’t seem to work. 

I confirmed that he had come with his dad and then asked, “Do you want to come inside and help me find him, or would you like to wait out here?” Silly question. He took a shaky  sigh of relief, and we walked in to greet the sizzling fajitas. It took only one flight of stairs and a couple of turns to find him. The boy made a beeline for his dad and didn’t leave him for the rest of the evening, even after an invitation to play video games with the two boys in the basement. (Don’t ask me why they were playing video games when Katrina was frying fajitas…)

The next day, this verse fell in my lap:

“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “‘Abba, Father.'”

How faithful God was to teach me, to send me the sweet little boy with his panicked heart, to remind me that He is faithful, not as a remote Being of power, but as a Father. 

Every coffee-spoon day, may the Spirit, whether my face is tear-stained or serene, prompt me to say:

“Can you help me find my dad?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Long Silence

A long silence. That’s what I got after the hospital discharge.

A long silence…full of noise, midnight breathing treatments, stomach flu, and slithering fear.

God’s voice seemed conspicuously absent.

The day we came home from the hospital with Karin, the sun couldn’t have shone brighter. Our hearts sang, released from the crushing stress of the hospital panic, amazed that we got to drive home after four days with a breathing and functioning child. Even more poignantly, on Easter morning, while so many others stayed behind, spending the day looking out of windows, studying monitors, maybe knowing the one they sang to at night would never go home.

Our hearts overflowed. How could they not?

The sun shone, the van tires hummed, and we smiled.

Time passed, though, and we realized the hospital check-out and the trip home had delayed a scheduled breathing treatment.

The sun dimmed. Fear nagged as memories of the cycle of panic, so recently under control, whispered through my mind.

What if she gets worse again? What if the medicine is not enough? What if, what if, what if?

We got home safely, though, and, breathing treatment complete, had Easter dinner with our three older kids (actually dinner part 2 for them since they had already eaten at our pastor’s house…which just happens to house one of the best cooks in our church). Smiles returned and I could breathe.

The next week, our three youngest and I got the stomach flu.

Karin, still on steroids and consistent albuterol treatments, fared the worst, other side-effects flaring up to slow down the recovery of her now almost 5-week succession of illnesses. We recovered together with the wakening view of spring outside.

At least stomach flu had come with a comforting familiarity.

The tell-tale wrenching sounds every parent knows and dreads had not struck the cord of fear pulled taut from the past month. My first reaction as I cleaned up the middle-of-the-night mess in my son’s room was to shake my head and laugh…albeit, the laugh was laced with the first signs of insanity at that point.

“I can handle stomach flu,” I told my husband the next day. At least it has a predictable course and limited duration.

As Karin and then I caught the bug, though, and the recovery, medicine, and side effects continued to drag on for her, my energy lagged a bit more each day.

I sat one day in the castle window, journal in lap.

I echoed my question of the early morning in the PICU.

I knew God was wise and sovereign, but, in all this, would He be kind and loving? Could He care for me tenderly, I asked, if the worst came back? Would His “best” be too hard or frightening or strip us of our core of peace?

“I don’t want to learn with more heartache, but I do want to learn. I long to rest in your presence.

And then God spoke. Words, familiar but suddenly anything but commonplace, spoke in my spirit:

“Come to Me, you who are weary….and you will find rest for your soul” (from Matthew 11:28-29).

God’s voice.  

I had desperately tried to carve out a normal schedule, times to catch my breath, tricks to get myself feeling back to normal.

I had been dragging my weary soul, bolstering my mind and body up for normal life, trying to keep my head above water in the increasing narrow strip of normalcy where I felt I could catch a few breaths.

All the while my weary soul weighing me back down.

 Don’t strain for the air pocket of normalcy and earthly comfort. Rest for your body and mind only helps a little…Come to me. I know what you need. Only I can give rest for your soul. 

It had been silent so long. Maybe it was the silence that made God’s voice stand out so clearly, so welcome in the empty, crowded, confused whirl of survival.

Soon after this event, I watch the movie God is Not Dead 2.

The main character, in the middle of an intense trial, confides in her grandfather:

“Recently when I’ve been praying, it’s like Jesus isn’t letting me feel His presence. Usually I can almost reach out and touch Him but…but right now it’s like…it’s like He’s a million miles away.”

Her grandpa smiles back.

“Honey, you of all people should realize when you’re going through something really hard, the teacher is always quiet during the test.”

The words hit home so directly, I felt like it was my own grandpa sitting there in his p.j.’s, giving me kindly wisdom. (Having never met either of my grandfathers, it really wasn’t much of a stretch to imagine.)

Was that what we’d been through, a test? I didn’t know, but the words somehow put to rest my fear, my question from the middle of the night:

Was God really kind? Could He let the worst happen and still be kind?

He was. Somehow He could.

It was just a baby step. I might not be ready for the next scheduled growth spurt. I probably had only faint glimpses or perhaps no clue regarding the things about God which I did not understand.

But I wasn’t afraid of the question any more. Not only would God be good, He would be kind as well.

His voice that day with the journal had given my soul rest. The movie showed me God had spoken at the perfect moment with the perfect word.

His rest had put to rest my fear.

I didn’t have to see the future to know I’d need to learn the lesson again. The good thing, however, was that I would be the only shifting shadow.

The One I was trusting in would not change.

Life Springs New

The pre-dawn darkness of the city air crowded the hospital window. Patchy light glowed from misty street lamps, headlights moving on the near-empty streets below, and florescent strips reflecting from the room behind me where our daughter fought for breath.

Daylight seemed unreal, unreachable.

As I stood, I didn’t realize the sky was lightening until I could pick out forms unseen a half-hour before. Soon, the stretch of sky beyond the buildings held a streak of pink.

Dawn had arrived.

Behind me, Karin slept fitfully while David sat by her bed. I remembered the words of the early-morning doctor.

Probably the seventh doctor we had consulted with since our arrival, she had been one of the oldest ones to examine Karin.

She had stood with her bobbed hair and kind eyes and observed. She watched Karin and read her chart. She also, it seemed, observed us as well.

The doctorly advice we had received so far had been skillful and concerned, educating us and explaining treatments.

We had functioned in survival mode for the last 36 hours, and none of the doctors so far had addressed the question pummeling our minds: “Will she be OK?

This doctor leaned toward us and spoke. “We’re experts in this,” she explained calmly. She watched Karin’s labored breath. “We see children in this state as a matter of routine. We have children who end up needing to be intubated, and they still make it.”

In other words, There’s hope. We’ve been here before and had success. She somehow knew what I needed to hear.

David heard her words in a graver tone, realizing she was warning us what the next step might need to be.

The hospital staff had added a new medicine in the wee hours of that morning, however, and we were both hopeful. The name of the medicine, one of of an endless list, escaped my memory. The words prefacing the treatment, however, towered in my mind:

“We have one more thing we’re going to try.”

As I turned from the widow, the scene looked much the same as it had when David and I  had stood helpless and watched Karin be transferred to the PICU room.  Only this time, the staring eyes were shut in fluttering sleep above the heaving chest.

The monitor numbers beeped their constant vigil. The numbers simply would not improve. Or had they? It was hard to tell.

Karin woke to a finger prick by the nurses and silently watched until they finally found success on the seventh finger they tried.

Daylight streamed outside. It seemed unreal. Unreachable.

But slowly, imperceptibly, the tests and reports and examinations began to change. I didn’t realize until it hit me that the vise on my own chest had loosened a bit.

The crisis had begun to fade.

We even had visitors that day. They brought candy and coloring books, smiles to Karin’s face, and tears to my own.

Later that day, we transferred to a room on a regular floor. We had more visitors–including our other four kids bounding in with laughter and perspective–real meals, and a shower.

That night, I sat leaning against another dark hospital window and worked on the blog entry I currently had in process: “The First Fears.”

Strange to think how God knows the beginning from the end.

After another day of monitoring and oxygen weaning, Karin was released to go home. The list of medicines and treatments was daunting.

We didn’t realize at the time that the cold fear was not fully past. But on that Sunday morning, the sun shining and Karin off her oxygen and ready to go home with her new teddy bear, nothing could have darkened our smiles. After all, God only gives us trials in doses He equips us to handle.

And the thread of beauty couldn’t have been stronger that morning when life sprung new for us.

It was Easter Sunday.

God must have rejoiced right along with us. He gave Karin her life back that morning. Having received His own Son back from the dead, He knew better than we did how deep the emotion ran.

He who makes life spring new.

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Can You Trust Me Now?

Wide eyes stared above the oxygen mask. Neck muscles sucked in rapid breaths.

ICU personnel attached another IV drip as they transferred our daughter to a PICU isolation bed. Decked in masks and gowns, my husband and I stood by.

Completely helpless.

The wall clock read 11:07 p.m. The last 24 hours replayed in my brain in a tortured jumble.

We had checked on Karin the night before at that same time in her bedroom at Castle Hill Haven.

After eight days of influenza followed by another ten days of double pneumonia, she had spent that day out of breath and worn down, both of which had characterized the last week and which we assumed were normal for her state of recovery.

That afternoon, her shortness of breath had increased to a consistent pant.

“You need to get to bed, sweetie,” was our conclusion.

So, after a final breathing treatment and her nightly regiment of medicine, we put her to bed and hoped for the best.

The 11:00 p.m. scheduled check and albuterol treatment left her unable to breathe well enough to sleep.

The next two hours was a confusion of the hum of the breathing machine, phone calls to the ER and the pharmaceutical company (could we give another breathing treatment when the 11:00 treatment effects lasted only an hour?), and a conference with the pediatrician on call at our doctor’s office.

Was this pneumonia? Would a night in the ER help or make it worse? Why couldn’t she get her breath? 

“She can’t breathe!” I remembered saying to David, as if it were somehow his fault. “We have to do something!”

One moment of calmness surfaced in the choking panic as we knelt beside our bed. “We don’t know what to do. Oh Lord, give us wisdom.”

Calm descended. He would do it. He had before. He promised to continue.

Guideance came in the call to our pediatrician:

“Bring her to the ER. Check for a blue tinge to her lips and skin.” Those were not present yet. Bolstered by that fact and with something concrete to do, I could breath again myself on the 20 minute drive to the hospital.

Low oxygen levels, a clear chest x-ray, and inconclusive results from a blood sample drawn from her artery (a procedure the ER personnel said could rarely be tolerated even by adults and which Karin simply stared down at past her heaving chest), left the ER doctor unsure of the cause of distress. Not more than an hour had gone by before we were transferred to the children’s hospital in Louisville. The ninety mph ambulance drive was both the most comfortable and uncomfortable drive to Louisville I’ve had. I had no idea ambulance seats were equipped with such extensive shocks. I also had no idea how long the road would seem (even when devoured by a 90-mph vehicle) with a sick child in the back.

Whisked into the next ER, Karin was immediately given a solid ten-hour albuterol treatment (evidently, we had been safe to give that second 20-minute treatment at the house). That, combined with a magnesium shot, perked her up immediately. We enjoyed watching Cinderella in between doctor consults and a second x-ray.

We were floored when the ER doctors declared it an asthma attach.

In fact, I didn’t really believe them. I was confident her pneumonia would show back up on further x-rays, which they said it possibly could. Karin didn’t have asthma; we barely knew what it was. Either way, though, the relief was sweet.

Karin was smiling again.

Several hours later, we transferred to a room on one of the floors, the 10-hour albuterol treatment still puffing away.

About half-way through Inside Out, Karin’s smiles stopped. She began to droop, her chest to heave, her eyes to stare, her neck cavity to pull. More doctor consults. More kind eyes probing, more crossed arms and nodding heads.

Another magnesium treatment and a switch to a constant albuterol IV drip.

The chest heaved more. The cavity strained harder. The wide eyes kept their silent stare.

Constant oxygen was added. The ICU doctor was called.

Just as the nursing shift switched over for the night, the hospital staff that milled in and out, explaining facts and exchanging options with their looks and eyes, recommended that the PICU was the best place for care.

Fine by me, I felt rather than thought. Maybe they’ll find the key to stopping this.

The walk down the hall, the florescent lights and squeaking wheels, seemed so calm. Everyone was calm. I thought we were too.

Only the horrible tightness in my chest belied the idea.

But the bustle of transfer gave me hope. Surely this would work. She would improve.

The transfer was made. The clock now read midnight as we stood watching. Karin was bolstered by a constant inundation of pure oxygen, albuterol, magnesium, steroids, and expert care. Surely things would improve.

Time ticked by.

Surely she would improve.

The chest heaved more. The cavity strained harder. The wide eyes kept their silent stare.

By average hospital standards, we were in luxury. Because Karin was in isolation, we had our own room with a door to shut out other beeping monitors, haunted looks, weeping eyes. An entire ward of beds, separated only by curtains, held dozens of other pairs of eyes and hands and feet watched by families huddled nearby.

But we saw none of this until later. That night, we took turns sleeping and watching Karin fight to breathe.

Nothing changed.

5:00 a.m. came. David slept probably his first sleep of the night. I sat, staring at the ceiling, not sure what to pray.

I told God I knew He was good. I had no question. No matter what He let happen would be for good.

But a relentless fear inside of me whispered. “But is He kind? If He lets her die, is He still kind?” 

A knock at the door interrupted my closed eyes. It was the hospital chaplain. He came to pray.

I cannot remember a word of what he said, except one phrase:

“God, we know you are too wise to make mistakes.”

I knew God had spoken. It did not answer my question, but it calmed my fear. It was enough for right then. The chaplain ended his prayer in Jesus’ name and left with a kind squeeze on my shoulder.

David woke up soon after. We sat and watched. Karin slept fitfully, constantly nettled by the oxygen tube in her nose, and the IVs in her arms, and her heaving lungs.

I looked sidewards at David, catching his eyes.

“I guess we should think about the fact that she might not make it.”

David looked back at Karin. He waited a long time. “I don’t really want to,” he whispered.

Neither did I.

So I told him about what the chaplain had prayed. God was too wise to make mistakes. We held hands as our tears fell.

It was all we had for the moment.

But it was enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

He Prepares a Table Before Me

In our old house, we had what a realtor might designate an “eating area.” It was spacious enough for the seven of us plus company, and we were grateful. Approximately five of this space, however, could fit into the two rooms designated for eating in our new house.

We planned to use our dinning table in the larger tower dining room, using our formica school table previously used in the basement in what we affectionately term The Breakfast Room. Not a designer’s first choice, but we believe in waiting to see what might “turn up” at garage sales or on Bookoo.com.

You never know what you might find.

I believe this is the first time, however, that something “turned up” in Sunday School.

The news of our auction purchase had been making the rounds, and one of our friends poked me during Sunday School.

“Hey! Do you need a dining room table?”

“We do!” Even if we hadn’t, I never turn down offers like that.

“I’ve been trying to sell a table for a couple of years, but it’s too big for most…you probably remember it from our house…here, I’ve got a picture on my phone…we’d love to have it out of our storage space!” All this in one hushed, Sunday-School-is-starting breath.

A beautifully carved table surfaced in my memory. I remembered trying to keep my kids from spilling on the upholstered seats.

Then she flashed me the picture.

I didn’t have to think twice. “We’d love it!”

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A week or passed, and we found ourselves carefully packing the table onto our trailer, the same one that had rattled our other generous friend’s power washer to the barn- painting extravaganza.

“Hey, do you have room for an 9 ft. by 6 ft. picture?” My friend’s husband called to us as he toted a chair up the hill.

“We do!” I answered without thinking. General principle.

I had, actually, been pricing pictures for our living room wall. Needless to say, I’d not priced anything that big. Nor had I found anything priced remotely near what I was hoping.  

Anything would have been an improvement on what I had seen so far, but I was not prepared for the surprise that waited in their storeroom.

An original oil painting towered behind an upright mattress. As we moved the mattress, I felt like Lucy gazing at the Narnian painting in Eustace Scrubb’s spare room.

It felt like home.

“You can’t give us this!” I said.

“We can consider it a loan if it makes you feel better,” he laughed.

I hesitate to put that second bit in writing…because I never want to give it back.

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To cap off the adventure with our friends, we realized that the husband, a structural engineer, had inspected the tower addition on our new home when it was being built, shortly after he started his own business.

The one piece of paper work I had found in the file drawer was an inspection report with his signature on it. Found in the very room where now sits the dining table they used to add to our joy.

As sit to write at this same table, our new kittens play outside the window.

Having always been a dog person, I never knew how hilariously irresistible are the offspring of cats. They pounce; they stalk; they fly, paws retracted, like two samurai warriors in a freeze-action movie scene to meet mid-air and tumble to the ground.

What a commentary on God’s character that He would create kittens so. Why bother? The world could have existed without kittens being cute.

But God’s infusing the world with His creative beauty is not a task of exertion; it is simply a reflection of Who He is.

The adventure with our friends, in part, shares the same category.

God didn’t need to paint the intricate details of delight into the picture, but He did.

Every stroke speaks of His character.

Their beauty brings Him glory.

 

 

Will It Ever Sell?

You know your real estate is in trouble when you discover your house is listed on the MLS in another state.

Ever the bargain hunter, I had unwittingly settled on listing our house with a slightly cheaper “by owner” online option. They offered a flat-rate MLS listing that was worth the risk…no matter what angle you viewed it from. As it turns out, however, whether or not it was  worth the hassle is more debatable.

We had two for-sale-by-owner sales under our belts, both of them selling within days or weeks for ten thousands above where we had purchased.

We knew God had arranged both sales. We knew He would arrange this one as well. He had led us to the auction; would He not take care of this end of the process as well? We could proceed with faith.

At least, one would think so.

As soon as the auction dust settled, our shocked smiles still in place, we shifted into “let’s do this!” gear. Not a bad gear to be in, but we let the full weight of responsibility crash onto our own shoulders. We slipped right out of the let’s-see-what-God-does mode into the ol’ I’ve-got-to-get-this-done-because-there’s-a-lot-riding-on-this mode.

After a couple weeks of sore neck muscles, we slowed down enough to remember:

God was still our realtor, just as He had been before.

Not that we’re opposed to human realtors…just the 6% fee. Which returns me to the frugal listing decision. After the usual marketing procedures we’d followed before, I had a couple of questions for the new company.

My call landed me somewhere in the vicinity of Pakistan, and I knew we would be in for a long trip. “Thank you, Mrs. Ingalls, I understand your concern” only rings true so many times.

This was nothing, however, to the realization I made after three months of trickle-slow house activity:

Our house was listed on the MLS in Ohio.

The only trouble is, it’s in Kentucky.

I had vaguely wondered what “Findlay” meant on the information line on Realtor.com. Though I knew it was not the name of the listing broker, I figured it must be the name of someone in the chain of clerical work. The stronger moving/living/breathing activity flow  sufficed to keep my question just below the surface.

Until, one day, when I was surfing Craigslist (since we had no bed yet for our new bedroom). I saw some items listed in Findlay, Ohio.

I took notice. The calls I made regarding this issue are a bit of a blur, but to count my blessings, I had by this time found a CONUS representative whom I could address by phone directly.

Sure enough. Our house was listed in Ohio. I didn’t even have to ask for a refund.

Since we had also just reduced our price to what had been our rock-bottom take-home amount, the increase of house activity was breathtaking. The first call we got produced a showing and an offer within an hour.

Because of the increased activity, we felt confident in counter offering. We waited until the last minute before their offer expired so we could check out their financing details and finish some other showings in progress. Our counter offer, as usual, gave them 24 hours to respond.

At this point, our house was mortgage free, but we had borrowed money from a family member to put down on the new house, confident our first house would sell in good time and easily repay the amount. Three months ticking by, however, though it had not made our lenders nervous, had started to play tricks on our minds. What if the house never sold? Should we take this first offer at face value? It was shy of what we hoped for in transiting to our new situation, however, so we felt it wise to counter.

Since we had waited until the last second to respond to the prospective buyers, I was not surprised when the afternoon and evening went by with no call on the counter.

The next morning, however, I spent within earshot of the phone. I think I actually carried the phone in my pocket. Which is less than comfortable when you have only a land line phone.

The counter offer expired at noon. By the time 11:00 rolled around, it was doubtful I would even hear the phone with all the crazy scenarios tearing around my brain.

I leaned my head against the castle window in our new bedroom (as yet unoccupied since we hadn’t found a bed). I leaned on the very window that held the sign of God’s goodness. I looked past it at the rain pouring down the pane. The sky seemed to promise a full day of it.

I don’t want to learn this lesson, God.

I just wanted the vise on my heart to loosen.

At 11:30, I didn’t think it was possible to pass the next half hour. At 11:40, I wasn’t sure if I wanted the time to slow down so they had longer to call or speed up so I could get it over with. By 11:50, the ten minutes remaining were golden seconds in which anything could happen, but they ticked by like lead weights clanging against my mind.

No phone call.

Two of our other three showings had reported negative by now as well. The third had sent us an even lower, impossibly-low offer.

Twelve o’clock had come and gone. It didn’t seem possible such a momentous moment of time could slip by unmarked.

I called David. He was calm. We take turns being level headed. This was not my turn.

Though I knew it was not usual protocol, I called the realtor who had presented the offer. David had thought it not necessary for the transaction; but he possibly realized it was necessary for my closure on the issue and said I should go ahead.

What does one say?

“Since you didn’t call, obviously you all have decided to let the counter offer drop. I just thought I would call and grovel a little to see if we could work something out.”

Selling by owner to a prospective buyer on their own had given us a chance to chat with buyers on previous sales, with a give and take of “how can we make what works for you work for us?” I had that thought in mind when I called. I suggested we could cover the closing costs they wanted if they could raise the purchase price above what we were asking.

The realtor told me they weren’t interested. I realized later he made the call without discussing it with his clients. We also realized later, after some perspective of time and talking over the specifics with wise friends, that it was for the best.

But there sat the house, still unsold.

The general theme for the next few weeks of showings was, “Bedrooms too small. Want a more open floor plan.”

I’m a big fan of Fixer Upper, but all these reality TV shows really put a crimp in our real estate cash flow. No one wants a basic, first-time-home-owner, cozy sort of house any more.

One day, I got a text from a super friendly realtor who said he had some clients who wanted to see the house. Then they asked for a second showing. Then they sent us an offer.

It was too low. We couldn’t do it. We countered with the original offer we’d gotten on the first go-round. Since we’d regretted not taking it, we figured we’d give it another try. They couldn’t meet it. Our interactions seemed to be over.

A week later, however, the realtor called back. His clients, it seemed, loved the house.

“There are other houses on the market, though” he told me. Meaning you’d better take this second offer or they might find something else.

We decided to stick to what we had countered the first time, though.

The realtor came back again with this suggestion:

He would drop his buyer-agent fee so that amount could go toward a flat broker fee and the closing costs that the client needed. Did I mention this guy was pleasant? We have never worked with a more accommodating fellow. We’d also never had a realtor offer to waive his fee.

Having not gone this route before, we wanted the weekend to think about it. And pray. God had led before, and He would again.

Because the money amount was a few thousand below what we had said was our “need-to-bring-home” amount, I didn’t feel at peace.

Wouldn’t the God who provided us with a freshly-painted barn from $60 of paint and one warm winter weekend, give us the “perfect price” if it was meant to be?

I knew this was bad theology, though. I said as much to a couple of friends one day.

“I know that’s a lie to say God must give us our asking price if the deal is from Him. God’s way is perfect; not always easy or made-to-order.”

It was then that God spoke. My friend told the story of how they had gotten their house at a great deal. It had been a blessing.

“Maybe you are God’s way of blessing this family,” she said.

From that moment, I knew it was the right path. David had gradually gotten a sense of peace as he had prayed about the idea as well. God owned the situation. Now, He owned our hearts in it as well, and peace returned.

So, on Monday, we signed the purchase agreement.

Our house would have new owners.

The key to the situation had not been to find new owners for the house; it had been to return to the Owner of our hearts.

A month later at closing, we met the new owners. They were first-time home buyers. They had a little boy who would move into our boys’ room with the baseball ceiling fan I had looked at for years and finally found at a garage sale. They wanted more children, and they didn’t mind if the rooms they put them in didn’t have walk-in closets.

During closing, I mistakenly reported we had seven kids (we have only five), then laughed and said to David that maybe it was prophetic.

“Are you people of faith?” asked the new owner.

Yes, we were.

So were they, it ends up. Happy to continue in the spirit of a blessed home that we wanted to both leave behind and take with us to our new house.

God’s way is perfect.