Thursday, December 6, 2018

Our Ebenezer Christmas Tree

I haven't seen most of our Christmas decorations in two years. When I boxed them up the last week of December 2016, I probably wasn't thinking twice about what I assumed was the inevitable - their unboxing in December 2017. This is one of those funny questions that I get a lot from people following the flooding of our home, "Oh, your Christmas decorations! Do you have any?" The answer is yes, all of our precious ornaments were high and dry in the attic, along with our Fall decorations. I'm sure my husband would happily and personally have set a few pumpkins from my excessive Hobby Lobby pumpkin hoard downstream, but they all survived. Might I add, that I have a list of a few items of his that I too wish had made it to the curb. While I have a surviving cheap pumpkin patch, he has a t-shirt collection circa 2001 that still exists holes and all. Sometimes you have to laugh at what remains, but we are thankful that our Christmas memories have survived.

We've added at least one ornament intentionally to our tree every year. This year as I pulled out the ornaments, I was struck by how much they tell the stories of the seasons that have unfolded since we became a family. Ten ornaments. Seasons of varying length and scope. I'm reminded of the song Come Thou Fount and of the prophet Samuel and the Israelites as they faced battle after battle with the Philistines. "Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called it's name Ebenezer, for he said "Till now the Lord has helped us." - 1 Samuel 7:12.

There is the wedding cake. We put this on our tree as newlyweds bright with hope of a beautiful future and a lot of expectations. I laugh at the expectations part. Some would prove true, along with many that wouldn't and were found to not be set in reality or wisdom. The expectations of two imperfect people who didn't quite know what marriage was about yet or what the years would hold. When your marriage begins with the postponement of your wedding for two weeks because of a hurricane, you would think we would have learned a bit about expectations. In fact, we're still learning about what's important and what isn't to this day. I suppose we'll be students for life in this lesson. Thank the Lord for expectations that were not met.

After our newlywed year, the first few years' ornaments are nondescript. Picked out by two people working on their careers and learning how to become one. I can't even tell which ornaments are from which years.

Then there is the ornament from our trip to Sedona. I remember hoping I was pregnant for the umpteenth time and finding out again that our hopes were delayed.

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light

The ornament nestled between the Spider Man and Buzz Lightyear is a reminder of both loss and also of joy not yet realized. It was at this point that I thought maybe the ornaments on our tree would go on as they had in the years before, picked out by a family of two.

I had no idea we would putting this ornament on our tree the following Christmas. A family of three.

Or that the next year we would be adding this one. Surprise! A family of three became four.

The following year we would lose two beautiful women, our grandmothers. My grandmother, a few days before Christmas.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one

Last year, we didn't even continue our tradition of getting a family milestone ornament. It was four months after we flooded. We were in our rent house, our decorations in the attic of our home. I bought a few things to make the rent house cheery, put up a tree with some of our ornaments, set out the nativity scene for the kids and called it a day. We were weary of hard work and loss and so ready to be home. Thankfully, I have a friend who came over one day so Joey and I could work on the house together. She and her girls brought craft supplies to entertain our kids and to make ornaments. One survived. (Sorry, Miss Crispy, we did our best.). It's really the perfect ornament for the year. A reminder of our family being held up so many times by our village. He'll hang the ornament even when you can't.

Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise
Thou mine inheritance, now and always
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art

Here's the thing about these ornaments. Some joy, some sadness. I wouldn't trade one of them for an ornament without purpose or meaning. You never know what next year's ornament may be. It may be one of loss or one of joy or a mix of both, but it is never without purpose. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." - Romans 8:28. Our good, his glory. It is through this that we find joy and hope, no matter the ornament that's hanging on this year's tree.

We have yet to pick out 2018's ornament. I'm waiting until we come across the perfect one that explains where we have been this year. Our tree is next to our dining room table. At least three times a day, we can look at these ornaments and remember God's faithfulness. Our Ebenezer Christmas tree. Sometimes God gives us a glimpse of his purposes in the middle of the hard stuff and that is a precious gift. Maybe it's not until years later. Or we may not understand it in our lifetime. It may not be until we have a perfect mind on the other side of eternity that we will finally be able to grasp the full meaning of both the small and big things that have happened outside of Eden. The beautiful complexity too much for our finite minds to comprehend. So until then, we hang the ornament. We remember his faithfulness. We trust for our good and His glory. We wait with expectation.

High King of Heaven, my victory won
May I reach Heaven's joys, O bright Heav'n's Sun
Heart of my own heart, whate-er befall
Still be my vision, O Ruler of all

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Winner Winner Lentil Dinner

You're looking at an empty butter dish, a sad little butter dish.

We're officially weird. (Oh wait, you already thought we were strange? It's ok, we can still be friends). Our family has been through a bit of a shake up that began in August leading us to completely overhaul our diet out of necessity. No, really. We're going whole food plant based. If you're familiar with this term, you may think 'vegan' and you would be right. Except, with the nuance that all whole food plant based eaters are vegan, but not all vegans are whole food plant based eaters. That's a mouthful! After all, an Oreo is technically vegan, but not considered whole food. I'm getting ahead of myself. But see, I told you...weird.

If there is one thing that seems to raise an eyebrow, it is when people starting eating outside of the conventional box. Don't mess with the food. Especially not the bacon. We've been on and off again Paleo/Whole30/Yeast-free people for a long time. I would say before it was cool. People don't blink an eye when you use these terms anymore. It used to be "Say whaaa?" when you told them you were eating Paleo. I worked in alternative healthcare for several years on the marketing/education side of things, advocating this very lifestyle so we're pretty familiar with this way of eating. While I was a professional in this arena I also followed the plan fairly well personally. Years later when I took a new job outside of the wellness world I did allow more things to slide, but a lot stuck. Most importantly, I had an understanding of the Standard American Diet versus a whole foods diet. Once you learn something, you can't unlearn it. However, you can purposefully choose to repress it and eat Mexican food and queso (can I get an 'amen'?) for dinner every night because yum, but you're at least aware of the consequences. Don't ask me how I know this.

Now here we are again, learning new things.

But why are you doing this? I know that's what you're asking. But cheese...but meat...but bacon? I'm asking it too as I'm looking at my empty butter dish. I ask myself this question a lot and then I look at my husband and my kids. We've had a significant health scare. I'm not going to go into all the details here because it's my husband's medical history. He doesn't mind me sharing truly, but for now we can have that conversation about details in person rather than on this blog. We received several test results that were startling for his age. The options were few and not great. We were looking at medications with loads of side effects for the rest of his life and a poor prognosis even with those. While we went to doctors and figured out the best course of action, everything else has pretty much been on the back burner. There is also a certain amount of grief that comes with knowing such things.

Now, why plant based? First may I say, the Paleo/Whole 30 diet is vastly better than the Standard American Diet. It eliminates a lot of simple carbs, processed foods and dairy. In fact, when we first knew that things needed to change after receiving preliminary results back in early August, he started back on Paleo/Whole 30. But as additional test results came in and the seriousness became apparent, we began looking for something that would not only prevent more damage to the heart from occurring, but also one that could actually REVERSE some of the existing damage. Modern medicine told us that it was irreversible. A plant based diet has had some success with actually reversing the disease. We're hoping to trigger the body into beginning to heal itself.

As with so many other times in our life, God prepared us in unexpected ways for this new journey. While we were in the rent house during the Harvey Affair (I think I'm going to start calling it this as it has a certain dramatic ring to it) I just happened to come across the book The China Study by T. Colin Campbell on my library app. I was familiar with this book because back when I worked in alternative healthcare, after reading it my steak-eating boss went raw vegan. References to the China Study came up often during my time working in the wellness world. Not exactly the historical fiction that I gravitate toward, but I downloaded it. The research on the plant based diet was fascinating. After reading this book, we watched Forks Over Knives among other documentaries on Netflix and I was surprised to see so many names that I was familiar with from my days in alternative healthcare. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Rip Esselstyn, Neal Barnard...all these people I was familiar with were proponents of a plant based diet. I don't know how I missed this 15 years ago! What was most interesting to me was the diet's impact on heart disease specifically. Personally, I began to eat less meat and increased my veggie intake, but for the most part I filed it away.

Fast forward eight months and here we are. I asked the first cardiologist we visited what he thought about the plant based diet and his eyes lit up. He said it would certainly be the best plan if you could follow it and gave me a few more titles to look up including Reversing Heart Disease by Dean Ornish, Michael Greger's How Not to Die and Caldwell Esselstyn's Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. We thought, what the heck it's worth a shot.

Thus began our trek into figuring out what this whole food plant based diet is all about. It has been a learning curve for sure. We've watched loads of YouTube videos from plant based conferences, subscribed to so many podcasts and have read a ton both on and offline. I still feel like I have so much to learn!

What does 'plant based' mean? No animal products - meaning no meat, dairy or eggs. This is vegan as well. However, we are focusing on this diet for health so the goal is to make our food as nutrient dense as possible. This means lots and lots of fruits and vegetables. Nuts, seeds and some grains, but they must be whole and as close to the original form as possible. This is where the 'whole food' emphasis comes in.

I've learned more about food in the last month and a half than I ever expected. I've had to totally throw out my old ways of cooking and learn new methods. In the case of plant based folks who are eating for heart health, they typically do not use oils. No olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, etc. I've become a professional label reader and I'm also that annoying person who asks people a bunch of questions before purchasing food items. My grocery basket cracks me up every time I leave the store. I buy strange things like medjool dates, bulgur, and swiss chard along with the entire produce section. Also odd, I don't even venture into the meat or dairy sections (sigh, cheese).

Joey has been eating plant based since the day he received the offending test results. He threw away the Blue Bell and the beer that very evening. Not one cheat this whole time. If you know my barbecue and ribs lovin' husband, this is shocking. But he has truly amazed me. I am so proud of him. His friends have been great and have met him at places where he can stick to his plan. He's become a connoisseur of lentil soup. One can only laugh. When I've asked if he's sure he wants to do this, he responds that he loves spending time with me and the kids more than he loves steak. I love this guy.

We found a board certified cardiologist who is a proponent of plant based eating and Joey has been under his care for two weeks. He's a little over a week into a 28 day raw plant based detox among other therapies.  Thankfully, you have the option to get the food from the facility so the burden is not on us to figure out suddenly how to eat raw vegan for 28 days. By 'raw', I mean no cooking or real processing. Oh, and no coffee during the detox either. Where's a sad and horrified emoji when you need one? It is a tough regimen no doubt, but at the end of the 28 days he'll transition to a "regular" plant based diet. Lentil soup will be like Turkish Delight at this point. So far, he's ten pounds away from the goal weight that the first cardiologist gave him. His blood pressure is awesome and his cholesterol and triglycerides are now within the normal range. This is amazing considering where they were in August.

In the meantime, I'm testing out recipes on myself and the kids. Joey and I ate plant based last month and the kids ate maybe 70% plant based. Y'all, my kids are eating so many veggies! They try almost everything. I've had some homeruns and a few strikeouts, but I'm proud of them too for being so adventurous. We've been talking a lot about eating foods to fuel our bodies.

We're taking it week by week, result by result. In the end it will be about works for Joey. Does this mean we won't eat meat for the rest of our lives? Probably not to that extreme, but at this point it looks like it will be more of the trend for our family as we're a team. This isn't a decision based on fear, it's based on hope. It's taking a lot of stuff out, but putting a whole more of the good stuff in. I think we can get used to that. Now, what to do with all my butter paraphernalia?

Oh and before I forget please, please still invite us to dinner and parties! We'll either let you know what we can eat or we will bring our own stuff. It's not a big deal. We're not your vegan friends, we're just your friends and we still want to hang out.

Hiding in the Closet Eating Bacon (just kidding...sort of)

Friday, September 7, 2018

Faith Floats

Before you read this post, I want to acknowledge that everyone experienced Harvey in a different way. Often in hardship there are varying degrees of past and present suffering which color and shape each experience. There are the first responders and their families who sacrificed so much. There are the families who calmed little ones throughout the storm.  And then there are those that lost some. Some that lost all. Bits and pieces of these things may be parts of your experience too. This is just part of our story.

Our version of American Gothic
I read my last few posts below after not having blogged in a year and a half. Sometimes you just have to laugh...and marvel. At the time, we had finished the first round or two of simplifying our life. Drastically minimizing belongings (the word 'drastically' is so funny to me now, but at the time it was a drastic change), shoring up finances and changing our mindset and priorities to that of less for the sake of more. 

If you would have told me that within the next six months we would lose our home along with about 95% of our possessions, I could never have imagined it. Minimalist Dabblers would become by circumstance, Minimalist Extremists in a few short months. The 'me' on August 24, 2017 that went to sleep in our bed underneath my favorite fluffy duvet could have never imagined that in two weeks we would be in an unfamiliar rental house while our home dried out from holding several feet of sewage water for a week. The contents of our life and the physical memories of the past nine years rotting on the curb in wreaking, head-high heaps of garbage.

Different house. Different clothes. Different toys. Different bed. Different comforter. Different pillows.

Same husband. Same children. Same faithful God.

This is where I begin to marvel at the ways in which God prepares each us for the trials that we will face. And we will encounter them, believers or not.
As Peter affirms "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed." 1 Peter 4:12-13
Christians don't suffer less because we believe, but as believers God uses every bit of our suffering and pain for his glory and our good. Nothing is wasted. To look back and see his hand in our lives is overwhelming.

I could tell you many stories from this season. The words of an entire year have been building up and are too big. Sometimes the words are so many, that they can't make it to paper until they're processed through a bit. The story that I will share today is more about the thread that connects all the stories. It's not really about a flood or a hurricane. It's not an account or timeline of our journey.

It's about God's faithfulness. Here are a few of the pieces of faithfulness that have surfaced for us over the last year...

Almost a year and a half before the weary part of the journey began (read "the wet part"), God gave me a desire to simplify our life. I didn't know why, but I felt like our family needed to get light. By "light", I mean to shed the excess. I thought, 'Maybe we are supposed to adopt or go into ministry or move to Africa or I don't know...prepare for something drastic?' - there's that word again.

Something that we needed to be light for.

You can look back at my previous posts, but basically we got rid of a bunch of stuff and pared down. Yes, that freed us up a lot, but the bigger result of this process of "getting light" was the refocusing of our mindset to storing up treasure in heaven versus things of the earth. Do we enjoy things? Absolutely. But, it's a matter of enjoying earthly things without a white knuckled grip. Holding loosely. It was only the beginning of this lesson that I'm still learning, but I am so thankful that God began loosening my grip when he did. It's one thing to pry your own fingers away from something and quite another to have it wrenched away while holding fast. God was teaching me these things for something and it was...drastic.

In an effort to simplify overall, we had tightened our finances and made several decisions that would eventually help to ease the financial burden of what was to come. One of these decisions was to purchase flood July. It takes 30 days for a flood policy to take effect. Harvey came at the end of August. Yeah, I know.

I just thought we were saving money to pay off our house and make room for whatever was coming. and in truth we were, but I certainly never earmarked anything in our budget with 'in case of flood'. Typically when I think of Emergency Funds (i.e. Dave Ramsey), I'm thinking more like a car breaks down or an appliance goes out, not your home and belongings being under a couple of feet of sewage water. I've said it so many times, I couldn't have imagined this narrative for our family. We were like squirrels storing away nuts, yet oblivious to the coming winter.

In the wee hours of Friday morning, the night before Harvey's dimensions were really becoming apparent, my husband woke up at 3AM. I didn't know this until 5AM when I walked into the living room to find him watching the news. He told me he thought we needed to go to Louisiana. He felt it in his gut. At the time and much to my discredit, I balked. Really? We're Houstonians, we hunker down. We don't leave. Furthermore, no one was telling us to leave. Yet he felt really strongly about it. So I said ok, thinking we would avoid a few days without power with two toddlers. It couldn't hurt. We left around 7AM with four suitcases, two kids and our dog. Oh, and the kids' lovies, pillows and special blankets (thank you, Lord!). One more thing, an unflooded car! This was an unbelievable grace as rentals would be hard to get in the coming weeks. We weren't here for the incessant tornado sirens over the course of several days, seeing rising water in our home or eventually being boated out. We were spared this trauma and spent the whole time in Louisiana dry and being loved on by family. Yes, the trauma of change and loss is a lot, but we were insulated from the actual storm. And by insulated, I also mean that we gained a few pounds from two weeks of my father-in-law's cajun cooking.

On our way back to Katy

After we learned our home was certainly flooded and when we got back to Katy, God's provision really blew us away.

A family from Denham Springs, Louisiana drove with a trailer load of supplies to help our community. Their entire city had been through devastating floods the previous year. They wanted to help and happened to know our pastor and his wife, who we ended up staying with during the interim between arriving in Katy and finding a place to live. I can't tell you the blessing that they were to us during the whirlwind of the next week. They had the experience to prepare us for what was to come as part of the rebuilding process. He was a builder and had mucked out and rebuilt many homes in their community. This was invaluable. His wife and sister-in-law are so dear to me because they personally cleaned out my closet before the crew was able to get to it. There's something about people tossing your stuff without you that is deeply personal. Such a kindness.

Generous people supplied money for tools and necessities. We were able to find a rental home (we searched for apartments nearby to no avail) in the same neighborhood as some of our best friends and pastor. Also on that note, I made a new friend with three little precious kids that lived on the same street. A sweet friendship thanks to Harvey. Our church family made sure our rental house was fully outfitted with all the necessities as well as extra comforts. I was so worried about the kids' abrupt transition to the rental house lacking anything familiar, but it had a spacious backyard with a play structure (win!). The kids' rooms were respectively purple (to my daughter's happy surprise) and green. Beds and furniture were provided. Duplicates of previous owned toys were purchased for the comfort of our kids. Food was brought to us every day. Childcare was made available as mom and dad had lots of decisions to make. Remaining clothing washed for us. People helped disinfect anything that made it out of the house. Over the entire six months not one need went unmet.

The Lord even provided on the day that we were finally able to muck out our house. (maybe 7-8 days after Harvey? It's a blur.) The National Guard had closed off entry to our neighborhood for many days after the rain subsided for high water, sewage contamination and electrical concerns. Our homes sat for days in nasty water and sweltering heat. My husband and a friend were finally able to kayak into the neighborhood and get a look at our house. They brought back some of our most important salvaged possessions.

Because we left our home without a clue that it would flood, we didn't put anything up high. It's also a one-story home. How many times can I say this, we could have never imagine this would happen! I've mentioned the lovies, but a neighbor pulled bins from under our bed and put them up high before the water entered which contained treasured items such as baby blankets, Joey's A&M stuff, etc. I remember opening each bin on our pastors' porch and being overwhelmed emotionally by each item that was saved. Our Bibles, journals that I have kept since I was young, sweet baby items and a few of my husbands' sentimental family heirlooms were all included. Because we had eliminated so much stuff the previous year, we had little to go through. Picking through the pieces that remain is overwhelming. We were so grateful for the sweet things that made it out, but also the fewer the pieces, the sooner you can move on. Being light on stuff ended up being such a grace for us.

The following day we were able to get to our block with an F250 and a crew of guys from our church, my sweet friend Tara and myself. Tara and I piggybacked in from the truck. I'm not going to say this day was a blast, but it was the perfect blend of people to walk with you through it. The threat of tears turned into laughter and the humor was easy to find. I quite enjoyed asking people to wipe their feet at the door. This day should have been horrible, but it wasn't. Laughter brings such healing.

It's one thing to have physical provision, but another to be given internal provision. I'm talking peace. It's something we truly can't manufacture on our own. Were we at peace every day? Nope. There was much to be sad about and a lot of loss. The physical and emotional weariness knocked me over many days in the eight months following Harvey. If you know me you know that decisions in the Luby's line can stress me out! Making large-scale to itty bitty decisions on the rebuilding and outfitting our home from top to bottom, totally spent me. I'm still tired!

Two mental images stick out to me.

Picture one. The first time I saw our home since we had left it several days before. We were in Louisiana glued to the TV as we watched nationally famous journalists giving reports from across our street at Creech Elementary. It was a video a friend sent me of a boat being pulled by a jet ski through our neighborhood while the passenger was videoing the devastation. I caught the smallest glimpse of our house as they passed by, the boat making ripples in the water by our house as it passed by. Surreal. The home that Joey and I came home to as newlyweds nine years ago. The home to which we introduced both our babies and grieved the loss of another. The home where I left a half-folded basket of laundry on the couch and dishes in the sink. It's a funny thing...after days of wondering, it was both devastating and comforting all at once to see our little house. I broke down, yet I watched it over and over again just to see it.

Claire's room looking into Keats' room

Our street many weeks after Harvey
Picture number two. Seeing your family's ordinary items of daily life all on the curb is shocking and quite the gut punch. Stuff we bought when we were married, kids' birthday gifts picked out with love, my beloved KitchenAid mixer, my daughter's Melissa & Doug princess dress dotted with mold, furniture piled high, black trash bags lining the street. Nine years worth of stuff and life, all there in a rotting pile on the curb. The same picture, block after block.

This was hard. Very hard. But here's the thing with this stuff. Although a lot of memories were attached to these things, they were all destined to this end eventually.
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." - Matthew 6:19-21
This verse has never been more real to me than in the last year. , I still struggle with it daily!

Getting ready to move back in
First night back home
We moved back into our almost completely rebuilt home six months later. My husband worked nearly every day during that time to get our family back home. So thankful for him and the numerous other people that helped to get our family back home. It was a sweet day.

Remembrance of loss still catches me by surprise even a year later when I'm reminded of something that no longer exists but in my memory. While in the garage I stumbled across a little jewel from the crown my daughter wore every day for two years. I keep it on the kitchen window sill. It's more than a memory. It's a touchstone serving as a reminder that God is faithful through it all. No flood insurance, he is still faithful. Boated out, he is still faithful. No lovies, he is still faithful.

"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." - Lamentations 3:22-23

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

ISO Ariel Sock - Pls Contact Dish Nazi

I haven't posted a simplifying update, because things are not simple right now. Sometimes it's just that way!

We are semi-camping in our house right now. A plumbing issue has left us without use of our washing machine, kitchen sink and guest bathroom for about a week and a half thus far. It's likely that this is going to be a costly fix. Like really costly. Bill Gates would probably close off that wing of his house to save on that kind of cash. Ok, so it's not tragic and we can swing it, but we are not happy about it. 

Although the thought of having to spend that kind of money was staggering to me, what scared me more was going through an inestimable amount of time without a kitchen sink and washing machine with two littles. You can tell that I have both a love for adventure and that my priorities are in line.

We've had different plumbing companies in and out of the house for the past week making bids and killing naps. One to three PM seems like the best time to bang on pipes in the echoing hallway between two sleeping toddlers. Sigh. Anyway, we've been doing ok with it all. I'm now personally acquainted with several of my friends' washing machines and I plan to meet a few more over the course of the week. Talk about airing your dirty laundry. I'm trying to spread out our laundry needs so as not to over burden one person (cough, Phylis). Also, if anyone finds a pink Ariel sock in Katy, Texas - it's ours.

Speaking of Ariel socks, my daughter has had to confront personal challenges of her own this week due to a slower laundry pace. Her almost daily pink polk-a-dot dress is not always clean and mom is not making a trek to someone's house just to wash said dress. The struggle is real, folks. Is it ok to use the phrase '#firstworldproblems' with your three year old? Numerous teachable moments. Ahem.

I have also become a Dish Nazi. The children are limited to a daily sippy cup and if I so much as hear the utensil drawer opening, I immediately break into a high-pitched yell. Think battle cry. There is a dish ban in effect, folks. The Dish Nazi is watching. Currently, we're washing dishes in a little tub in our bathroom and rinsing in the bathroom sink. (The toilet is in another room, people, so we're staying sanitary here. I know what you're thinking. I'm a germaphobe so believe me, I'm on the lookout. Joey thinks I should be committed for my fear of raw chicken [this is a healthy fear, fear the chicken]). 

Our friends and church family are awesome. They've invited us over for dinner, made no clean up meals for us, offered their laundry rooms and homes and are constantly praying for this issue with us. Such a blessing.

We've really been doing ok with everything, but today I reached my limit. It's the tiniest of things that can throw me sometimes. I was driving home from Bible study...this is so weird y'all...and my one year old started screaming in the back seat. Fortunately at a red light, I was able to look back. He had several giant ants crawling on his body. Claire had them on her too. I immediately pulled into a parking lot and got both kids out of the car, getting ants all over me as well. Keaton had them on his face! When I got us all dusted off I looked into both car seats and saw several of these large ants. They were fast and looked like large fire ants (They were the size of tree ants, but looked different. Any ants on my babies are treated as venomous). I have no idea how these ants got in my car. I'm wondering if one of the kids brought a stick or branch into the car with ants/eggs. This is also how we had an asp in our car not long ago too.  I am now instituting a mandatory pat down before entering to make sure wildlife is not included.

No one was bitten thankfully. I couldn't clean out the car seats without putting my one year old down and we were in a busy parking lot. Thankfully, I wasn't too far from the church and my friend came to our rescue by watching the kids while I searched for and killed the ants. Poor Keats was traumatized and refused to get back in his car seat without a serious wailing fight (I don't blame him) so we ended up eating lunch at Target until the fear passed away and I could get him back in a car seat. Poor little guy is still suffering a little Ant PTSD on our second outing today. 

Getting into my car I stepped on a blob of sticky red gum and smeared it everywhere. The gum did it. I didn't lose it with tears, but I was mentally done. I put my head on the steering wheel and said God, I just need something to be easy!

Thankfully, his grace is always sufficient and perfect in my weakness. God reminded me of what I had just witnessed that morning. How quickly I forgot. A woman who is a refugee from a Middle Eastern country joined our Bible study today. She shared with us how she fled from her country because of intense religious persecution. Thinking about this reminded me of another woman of faith in our group who escaped becoming a child bride in her home country by the grace of God. And here I am, wallowing in my tiny issues of comfort. All because of gum on my shoe.

Laura Story's Blessings came on the radio:

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity

We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while You hear each spoken need
Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things

'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless night
Are what it takes to know You're near?

What if trials of this life
Are your mercies in disguise?
We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear

We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love

As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
And all the while You hear each desperate plea
And long that we have faith to believe

Thankfully, God's response to my cries - even those that are so small- isn't "#firstworldproblems, deal with it". Sometimes I'm not too far off from a little girl who stomps her foot because she can't wear her favorite dress each day. He gently reminds me of those who are going through so much for his name and yet, he doesn't dismiss my somewhat trivial concerns. In fact, he welcomes them and invites me to lay them at his feet. He is sweet to give perspective when we can't seem to see past our own self.

I wish I could say the day was all roses after I snapped to, but I have had to purposefully fight for perspective all day. Come what may - from gum on both shoes to Godzilla Ants in hair, my prayer is that my perspective becomes His. Come what may. And long that we have faith to believe.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

How We Started Minimizing in a Nutshell

Yup, those are all empty hangers. I couldn't even get them all in the frame. I'm a closet clothes hanger hoarder. Say that five times fast. Makes our moleskine addiction seem tame.

Alright, so the latest update regarding our minimalism experiment. Today I'm taking another five garbage bags and two boxes to our local charity. These are items we cleared this week and my husband tackled his closet. I've sold a handful of items as well. I shared this post on Facebook last week and received several text messages as well as had many conversations on the topic because of it. Apparently, I'm not the only one who feels overwhelmed by stuff and craves simplicity.

A couple of people asked for tips and let me be the first to say, I'm new at this! I can only tell you our experience thus far. Also, I think this process will look different for everyone as well as their reason for why they are pursuing less.

Here's what I'm hoping to get out of it:

  • Less time tending to our stuff. Such as cleaning, repairing, picking up stuff, researching, cleaning, organizing and oh yeah, picking up stuff. Can I get an amen?
  • Space. Breathing room. On the walls, in the cabinets, in the closets. Most importantly, in my head. Cluttered life, cluttered mind. Or at least that's how it is with me.
  • Time to focus on the things we really want to: time with family, experiences with kids, reading, Bible study, writing, our marriage, our friends. A big one is being freed up to be available to others as well.
  • Focus on eliminating debt. Now, we are not in major debt. We have what's called "good debt" - i.e. car, mortgage. Here's the thing though, it's not true that you will always have a car note or a mortgage payment. At least it doesn't have to be, so this is both short-term and long-term financial goals. We want to be freed up to be open to opportunities for which God wants us to be financially available.
  • Change my mindset. This may be the toughest of all. I want to be more conscious of what I'm pursuing and why. For me, this is pursuing what Jesus wants for our life. Thankfully, I just need to be open and he will do the heavy lifting.

Regarding those tips...

I'll start with the first question of where to begin. That's the reason I just shared the list above. Start with your 'Why'. Think about it a while. Come up with a list of why's and share them with someone.

Read a few minimalist blogs. I like Nourishing Minimalism, Becoming Minimalist and Simplify and Pursue. There are many more that I have been reading, but these are just some of the ones with which I can relate.

[Actually, you may want to reverse the order of these first two steps simply because you might find benefits listed in minimalism posts that weren't on your radar.]

I started with one area: my closet. It was a big, yet easy one to tackle. Big as in big return. Easy, because in the past three years I have gone between four clothing sizes (had two babies during this period) and I have quit a professional job. Also, I'm now a stay-at-home mom and what I much of what I wear is on repeat. There were clothes that hadn't seen the light of day in three years. It took me several sweeps to truly clear it out. I think I am probably at 80% of my original wardrobe.

From there I was hooked and on a mission because I saw so much space and it felt so good! I gradually moved all over the house. The sentimental stuff was by far the hardest and going to have to revisit those. (more on that later) There are a few small spaces that I still haven't touched, a bin here or there. I would also come back to areas I had previously gone through to weed out even more. And then there's the garage. Whoa. It's been my holding area and it was bad before I started this process. It will be the last frontier.

Also, know that this process will most likely occur in waves. It has for me. Since this process began in October, there have been few days that have gone by that I didn't get rid of something, but I would say I've gone through my house once and now I'm on my second run through. I've become better at this, but I've finished with the low hanging fruit and moved on to "the hard stuff".

Those are my nutshell starter tips.

Remember the 'why' list I made above? So far, positives all around.

One last note. Something that I have discovered in browsing minimalist blogs and considering my own nature. Yes, we can make gods out of our things. But, I also have to be very careful not to make minimalism a god as well. I could become addicted to editing my life because I feel like something isn't right, when truly, it's that I need more. More Jesus. I could use it as a way to control my life instead of allowing God to bring me peace in the midst of chaos. I just wanted to make sure you know that - if you want to pursue peace, there's only one place you can really find it. We will never find true peace outside of Jesus Christ.

"I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." - John 10:10

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Our Life Edited

Hello, faithful readers! Oh wait, you need to be consistent in your writing to instill faithfulness? Writing two or three posts a year doesn't count? Oh well. I really want to get back to consistent writing again. We'll see how it goes. I'm not committing to it yet, but I am so excited about what we're doing as a family and I want to document it. Warning, I may be going crazy - but I think it might be a good crazy. Only time and the ability to persist will tell.

We are simplifying our life. Minimizing. Editing. Getting to the good stuff.

I started this process about three months ago when our life was in full chaotic swing. Good, but frenzied. A blogger who writes on preschool education and whom I follow regularly, took a break from her traditional topic of learning to share her journey of having enough. Enough of stuff, chaos and distraction. She began minimizing their life in every area. Pulling decorations off walls, giving away toys, clothes - all of it to get down to what their family really needed and loved. I was intrigued and felt the exact same way. My toddlers' toys were taking over the house, our closets were bursting, counters constantly cluttered. My mind was consistently distracted with the mess. Much of the day was spent just moving stuff. I have been craving simplicity.

Her post led me down a rabbit trail of minimalist lifestyle blogs. It is fascinating to see how some of these people live. Among the completely counter cultural lifestyle blogs, I came across several that were more in line with doable for our family and goals. There were a few posts that really made me think. One writer said something along the lines of "Instead of getting a bigger house, why don't you just get rid of your stuff?" Wait, what? Why hadn't I thought of this? I just re-organize and re-organize. I look for better storage systems. You do this or go bigger, right?

Let me go back.

When we found out we were expecting our second child two and a half years ago, we decided to sell our house. We needed more space as we were outgrowing our home. Or this is what we thought.

So, we sold our 1690 square foot "starter home". What I mean by sold is that we signed on the dotted line and the verified buyer signed as well, only to find out hours later that the loan didn't fund. (If God doesn't want you to move, you're not going to move.) By this time, I was seven months pregnant and we weren't willing to go further through the process. We were not feeling very Joseph and Mary, so homeless and giving birth was not an option, deciding to stay for at least a year and revisit selling later. We are so thankful God put us in this position. He knew just what we needed and it turns out that it wasn't a bigger home.

Maybe we didn't need more storage space. Maybe we needed less stuff. Could we live with less? Could we stay in our home and completely pay off our mortgage? Could we eliminate the distraction in our lives and focus on what is the most important to us - our relationship with Christ and our family? So began our experiment.

I've been working at editing our life for three months now. I'll fill you in on what that looks like hopefully in another post. So far, I have gotten rid of probably near 1000 items, this includes 80% of my wardrobe and 70%ish ('ish' is so helpful isn't it?) of our toys. I've taken things off the counters, walls, floors. I've sold lots of stuff and given away even more. More on that later. I've only just dipped my toe into this, but I am really liking the result. Haven't missed one thing.

The process has revealed a lot of yucky stuff about my relationship to possessions. I've discovered emotional attachments to things that don't make sense. It has forced me to deal with my "internal stuff" during the process. Like the Rich Young Ruler, I have slowly become attached to my possessions without realizing it. I've put a lot of stock in things that "thieves can break in and steal and moth and rust can destroy". This process has revealed a lot of things about my heart that need adjusting.

The first couple of edits of our home have had many other benefits as well. Things are easier to clean
The kids are playing more with their toys, yet toys aren't everywhere. I know where most things are so I'm not wasting time looking for things. I'm saving money because again, I know what we have and don't end up buying extra things by mistake. We're also being more intentional with our money and resources because we're conscious of what we're letting into our house. Our house now feels spacious for our family. After the initial big purge,  I've had more time to spend on the things that are important. That's the best one of all.

We're taking one day at a time in this experiment and not planning on becoming Tiny House people who live in a 186 square foot home without an inside toilet (what?!) or all sleep in bunk beds across from each other...yet. Just kidding. We're looking at experiences and time that we can give our kids instead of stuff. I just want to cut the distraction and focus on what's important.

Am I crazy? Maybe. I could rebound to start hoarding in few months, who knows (oh, please no!). At the very least, I've uncovered a terrible Moleskin collecting habit that definitely needed to be addressed. In seriousness, contentment is a beautiful thing and the best fruit yet is thankfulness. So far, less is more.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Confessions of a Libibliophobe

Have you ever done something for which you are completely and utterly ashamed? Every time you are reminded of the offense you get sick to your stomach? I am about to confess to you something along these lines.

I am really a book thief. I've been masquerading as a suburban wife and mother for the past several years to keep my library crimes hidden. I turned in a library book late. Before you say 'No big deal.'... like six years late. Worse? It was Corrie Ten Boom's The Hiding Place. In large print.

When my husband and I first married and moved into our new home and city, we both got library cards. I was so excited! (yes, I get excited about such things) If I remember correctly, I went back that same week and checked out a book, The Hiding Place, which in fact became the book. I never returned to the library again. (oh the shame!) I'm not exactly sure how it happened, but The Hiding Place became, well, hidden. For several years.

I wish I could say that I just uncovered it this past week, but no. (my cheeks are burning just typing this) I think I came across it during my pregnancy with Claire who is now almost two. Ouch. It was in a drawer. The guilt immediately descended on my body when I saw it. My inner dialogue went something like this: "I've got to return this book. But it's going to be a terrible ordeal and I am pregnant. But it's a library book! It's too far and I'm pregnant. But it's a library book that I stole borrowed! Remember, I'm pregnant? It's a library book...for the visually impaired. Then there is the whole public shaming in the library thing, the stocks, who knows! Pregnant people probably shouldn't return library books. I'll return it after I have the baby when things settle down (hahahahahaha! So naive.)." And no, to my knowledge I am not schizophrenic.

And I closed the drawer. Shameful.

I forgot about the book for a while until it made a brief appearance when we were getting ready to put our house on the market and baby number two was on his way. I added 'return long over due library book, save up for $5000 fine and remove speck giant log from my eye' to my long to do list. It didn't get checked off. The book went back in the drawer while we were showing the house, but I would think about it every now and then and yet it always seemed to be when the library was closed.

This was also about the time that I was uber pregnant, having a hard time getting around, chasing a one year old and preparing to move. There were no free moments, everything had a cost. Yet the book began to plague me. All I could think about was someone with very thick glasses running their finger across the books only to find it missing. For the last six years. Just call me Lady Macbeth.

I had Keaton and we decided to stay put in our house. I came across the book again. (insert shame here.) This is ridiculous. I obviously have a fear of returning an overdue book to the library. What is that even called? Libibliophobia? Worse, my neighbor across the street is a librarian and I was beginning to avoid making eye contact with her. Sin, even "little" sins weigh on you. I decided I would return the book that week.

After the kids went to bed, I headed to the library to turn myself in. No need for children to witness their mother's public shaming. I was a ball of nerves.

I half expected the Library's Most Wanted List with my mug on it to be on the bulletin board or for an alarm to sound the moment I walked through the doors.

Nothing happened. Maybe the library's bouncer was on break. Then I started getting paranoid.

Was that librarian staring at me? She's looking at the book. Does she have an ear piece? I swear she's talking into an ear piece, probably alerting the library crime squad of my presence. It's all over. Joey's going to have to bail me out of Library Jail.

Rather than have the library crime squad tackle me, I decided to go straight to the front desk. I got in line behind an elderly Indian gentleman who eased my stress considerably by surprising all of us with his inquiry as to when a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey would be available. And I thought I was going to surprise them - thank goodness for this guy!

It was my turn.

I was going to be really mature and classy about the whole thing and just tell them the truth. Before I even got to the desk, I started spilling my guts and groveling. Really, really I love books! I am a friend of the library, champion of literacy!

The guy behind the counter took the book and said "2009, huh?", turned to the seasoned librarian next to him and asked if she had received a returned book older than this one. Thankfully, she had - 1999. I asked him about the fine, prepared to write a big one. Ten dollars. Then he asked me if I wanted to renew my library card. What? You still trust me? I was expecting to have my license revoked and was mentally preparing to explain to my children why mommy couldn't take them to library story time until the year 2030.

Grace is a beautiful thing. The worse of it all was when the librarian said it was a shame that I hadn't been to the library to check out a book that whole time. Now, that was a burn. I felt like I just missed out on the last Book It sticker to earn a free personal pan pizza.

Why am I telling you all this? We all have our stuff that we hold onto because of fear. Sometimes it's silly like a library book and sometimes it's serious weighty stuff. But it's all extra weight. I just wanted to encourage you to just turn in the book. You'll feel so much better.

I'm sorry to Ms. Ten Boom, to have done such a disservice to her book and especially to those who needed the large print edition. You can add 'crimes to the visually impaired' to my list of offenses. I must also apologize to my Dad, who has visited the library weekly ever since I can remember and who has also probably never turned in a book late barring an Act of God or because he picked it up for me. And then yes, there is God, we've talked numerous times on this one.