Keep Your Cool

A large part of the post-Christmas stress had come from focusing on the responsibility of living in a property so large that it came with three separate electric accounts.

The septic adventure the previous fall had been expertly navigated by a trusted friend in the business and had given us many reasons to be grateful. The unexpected expenditure, well over 10K, however, in the midst of us still figuring how best to manage life on the property, got our minds off the One Who provides onto the plethora of provision needs.

Operating five heater/air-conditioner units in the main house didn’t lighten the load. We knew one of them was due for replacement. As warmer weather approached, we were already beginning to sweat. And not because of warmer temperatures.

One of the best uses for the blog, however, is the reminder of where our focus needs to be.

The more needs, the more chances for God to provide.

Stories of God’s provision abound, along with entertaining insights into human nature

For the new air-conditioner unit, we had the usual variety of companies give quotes. One service company mistakenly filled our existing unit with enough freon to keep it cool until the estimated replacement date, graciously absorbing the cost since we had not requested the refill. A connection with one of the service men led to a side job and welcome income for my entertainment business. The air conditioner job was ultimately completed by another trusted friend in the business, who was able to fit us in his schedule weeks before other local companies (backed up from unseasonably warm weather), just in time for a week of VRBO renters from one of the local sports park teams, whose stay paid for the unit installation.

Just as Peter started to sink in the stormy waves when he took his eyes off Jesus, I’d started to sink when I let the blinders of our small problems keep me from looking to the Provider.

God’s provision, just like the barn paint at the start of the house adventure, was always just enough, just in time.

He will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is stayed on Him. The lesson sinks in a little more with each step of the adventure.

 

 

 

 

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Wasting Time on Fish

The post-Christmas-Open-House-days still call up a small cold, dark shadow in my mind.

Prolonged months of checklists and tight neck muscles proceeded the event itself and delivered in their wake five weeks of flu and a cold pit of fear over hitherto-unknown financial responsibilities and stressors.

An unaccustomed weight of sadness made getting up in the morning, functioning through the day, and hiding tears from little eyes quick to catch them and ask, “Why are you crying, Mommy?” about all I could put on my checklist for those post-Christmas months.

The Christmas event itself, by God’s grace, had gone well and blessed us with new connections, warm memories, and useful income. The process, however, had some lessons hidden in it that would take some time and decompression to surface.

The main lesson hit me one day as I sat in the castle window reading Luke 5, where Jesus calls His first disciples. Jesus, in Peter’s boat, having just finished preaching to a large crowd, tells Peter to take his boat out into deeper water to catch some fish. Peter, though they had just worked all night without catching anything, obeys. The obedience and trust result in a catch of fish so big it begins to sink both Peter’s boat and his partners’. They drag the fish and boats up to shore, convinced Jesus is who He claims to be, leave the catch of fish behind and follow Jesus to become fishers of men.

That part of the story has always nagged at little at my mind.

How could they just leave the fish? Wouldn’t it be responsible to clean them up and sell them first? Did the fish go to waste? Does anyone go back and get them? The main purpose of the fish was to show Jesus was who He claimed to be, but couldn’t they be put to some practical use as well?

The nag hardly had time to warm up before the silent megaphone of God’s voice interrupted:

You’ve been wasting your time on the fish. 

My thoughts froze in their tracks.

How tragic would it have been for Peter, James, and John to wave Jesus aside: “Not now, Jesus. I don’t have time.  I need to take care of these fish.”

Maybe abundant, bill-paying fish rotting on the shore were there specifically to show how much MORE important the alternative was. Following Jesus can’t take second place to anything.

Not even trying to take care of an unheard of blessing straight from Him.

The scenario sounded familiar.

The lesson would come back again later, even more deeply and specifically, but that day of reading Luke in the castle window was the glimmer of a new path of thought. A glimmer of light in place of darkness, of warmth in place of the chill of the previous months.

Leaving the disciples’ fish behind, for the first time, seemed to make sense, to have a purpose. I could now read the story without the little nag. But, oh, so much more important, I could get up and follow the Giver of All Gifts, knowing the purpose of the pile of fish I left behind was in His hands. He’d not only take care of the fish for me, He knew the purpose for their existence as well.

All I had to do was follow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peace on Earth

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Despite the seeming train-wreck of our business plans for Castle Hill Haven, plans for the Grand Opening, “Christmas at Castle Hill Haven,” steamed full speed forward…mainly due to the fact that tickets had already been sold.

Event venue plans had been pulverized (or Divinely checked, depending on perspective) by county regulations. Residential building codes for the barn—to include heating and cooling and separate men’s/women’s handicapped accessible bathrooms—along with similar adjustments in the main house would have to be met before official event venue status could be requested. Adjustments we were uninterested in pursuing.

Thankfully, our open house event, “Christmas at Castle Hill Haven,” was permissible even in our non-event-venue status.

So, our “Grand Opening” plans barreled ahead, with us hanging on and hoping the “grand” part would hold true, even if the “opening” part was now rather moot.

Activity whirled for several months. It chugged to a sudden pause one grey-skied December morning.

Inside the main house, a violin strained Christmas carols in the loft above chatting tea guests; Santa twinkled at kids in the Gingerbread Cottage; and the Christmas Boutique, hay ride, and decorated barn were busy.

I stood outside on the porch in silence and watched snowflakes drift past the wrought-iron castle window.

Our logo symbol, worked into the castle window design, a sign of God’s grace from the beginning, sat silent behind the snow. Unmoved. Steady through the months of activity.

The Peace of Christmas descended.

Not deserved or earned, but granted to minds clouded by darkness and hearts living in shadow.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2.

The Christmas Grand Opening was a success. Not earned nor counted in dollars and cents, but captured in the smiles of those who attended and the hearts of those who planned, a celebration of the Light that dawned at Christmas, the Light that lights our path today, and the Light that would lead us down the unknown path before us.

It was a Grand Opening after all.

 

 

 

 

The Clear Voice

Towering branches edged the dark, star-studded bowl that capped our back field. Withered grass and barren trees littered the field.

The cold moon shimmered on my quivering breath, painting the only moving part of the scene. Tears froze on my cheeks.

As I looked up, the crowded emptiness of the past months, between God’s faithfulness in the fog and the reminder that I had forgotten to remember God’s power, whirled through my mind.

The checklists of the time had been ever-present, scrawled in the pages of an unused school planner:

Research websites. Create website. Take pictures. Format pictures. Make hair appointment to hide growing grey…(I am not a web designer). Cancel hair appointment…too expensive. Create online sales for Christmas Grand Opening. Troubleshoot ticket site, fix bugs, edit categories. Edit categories again. Contact company. Troubleshoot. Re-book hair appointment. Monitor sales, field event inquiry calls. Brainstorm seating for Christmas Tea. Find or re-purpose tables and chairs. Procure linens. Plan menu. Cook food. Hire bakers. Cancel hair appointment. Finish barn renovation. Build fire pit. Build barn tables. Find barn seating. Find volunteers. Recruit live musicians. Check Christmas Boutique inventory. Arrange inventory. Find a Santa Clause. Decorate barn. Decorate 21 trees. Decorate Santa’s cottage. Decorate Christmas Boutique. Buy a wig? Create event schedules. Create to-do check-lists. Create volunteer schedules. Create baking schedule, seating charts, and service routine. Register LLC. Transfer online sales tax account to new LLC. Purchase advertising. Schedule advertising. Rebook hair appointment. Pay Chamber of Commerce membership. Plan for Chamber induction luncheon. Plan ribbon cutting details. Confirm plans with Planning and Zoning.

Wait a minute.

Planning and Zoning?

A cold squeeze had settled on my chest during the drive home the day I re-added this to my to-do list. I had originally communicated with Planning and Zoning about possible bed and breakfast plans. Since we had instead opted to do occasional house rentals on VRBO.com (which are not regulated by local government entities), we mentally checked Planning and Zoning off our of list. They had remained so through the birth of the event venue ground-work process.

When I had reached home, I called P&Z. The secretary, closing the office for the day, gave some generic information that weakened my vague hope that this would be a small hiccup in the process.

But I could not find out until I called back the next day.

Early the next morning, turning on my iPad to pull up my audio Bible for an exercise session, I heard the faint ding of the Verse of the Day popping onto my screen:

“I am the Lord, your Redeemer, who teaches you what is best for you and leads you in the way you should go.”

The quiet megaphone of God’s voice.

Unmistakable.

Peace settled.

But a conviction of sealed doom landed before it, coating the pit of my stomach before the peace surrounded it.

The domino effect of that day’s Planning and Zoning calls eventually crashed in our winter-frozen back field that night as, over the task of lugging twisted limbs felled to make room for our new septic system, David and I realized a large chunk of the last year’s work was evaporating with our ragged breath.

And the business plans we’d developed along with them.

Our lugging task and tears past, I stared at the moon. Where did we go from here? Though we had not purchased the house to make it a business venture, it had seemed to make so much sense.

But God’s voice doesn’t always make sense…or cents for that matter.

The still voice blotted out the “what if’s” pounding my head.

“I am the Lord, your Redeemer, who teaches you what is best for you and leads you in the way you should go.”

I took a deep breath.

The Teacher was still speaking.

The lesson was not yet fully learned, but before long, the withered grass and barren trees would be full again.

The Teacher would not fail.

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 (see previous entry). Theoretically, though, the temptation for various 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.

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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.

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 practical lab class that was soon to follow.

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. (Incidentally, the financial returns for this somewhat-inauspicious category can, at times, be surprising. The robust resale market supports all levels of repurchasing.)

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 couch 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 striped red to a washed-out pink, evident even in the dim basement light.

Limitless bargaining power.

“Is the arm faded,” I asked casually, “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 reason for the fading. And the price. 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 concluded.

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

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 with damaged goods. 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. The summer night visions were winning.

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. Spelled the letters to make sure.

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 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 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.