The ministry of the lake

Every time we go to the lake Brad brings a book along as if he’s going to have some magical time where he isn’t watching the kids to read.  Sometimes I grab a book too, just to play along with this fantasy.

Even if I had a half an hour of solitude, I would probably spend it people watching.  I’m convinced the lake is full of the most interesting people in the county.  There are the moms that dip a toe in the water with their toddler, young adults horsing around in the deep end, teenagers getting in trouble, adolescents twirling off the high dive, grandmas waiting in the shade with a towel, leathery ladies frying in the sun and chain smokers at a picnic table.

It you were to encounter some of these people in public, they might be what you refer to as “sketchy”.  You may avoid eye contact on the sidewalk or lock your car doors while driving by.

Despite the diversity of the lake crowd, in my 20 some years of swimming there I have never witnessed anything worse than a slew of curse words spoken too loudly.  No fights, arguments, or illicit substances.

It turns out the diversity of the lake crowd results in unity.

There is one purpose for going to the lake and it’s to have fun.  It doesn’t matter if you like to swim, eat burgers, play putt putt or fish, the lake has it all.

In the bible Paul tell us that unity in the church is going to look a whole lot like diversity.   He says that some people will be teachers, some pastors, others prophets, evangelists or apostles and that their jobs are to equip the church until we are one unified body.

I love the lake because it’s fun and unpretentious.  Nobody expects you to be who you aren’t and it’s OK if you are still rough around the edges.

Likewise, in the Kingdom of God you are accepted, whether you’re the leathery lady or just dipping a toe in.

Jesus wants you.  His desire is for you to have fun and be yourself, stepping into your identity as a child of God.  He needs everyone, the rebellious teen, rambunctious adolescent and the waiting Grandmas, for the Kingdom to be fulfilled.

You are desired.

Meeting Maggie

There is no way to understand the desperation of an overdue pregnancy than to experience it.  It feels like labor could be any minute, or never at all.

Even now, nearly three weeks later, these feelings are hard to recall.  I am able to reflect on it fondly, as if being overdue is some sort of fun waiting period not the time of daily crying and sighing that it truly was.

One week after my due date I awoke to use the bathroom for the third time that night and noticed that there was some blood when I wiped.  I couldn’t help but be excited even though I knew birth would still be hours or days away.  A few minutes later after I had laid down I was back up washing sheets because our 4 year old had wet the bed, our bed, which he climbed into sometime during the night.

I was now fully awake in these wee hours of the morning.  I relaxed and experienced mild contractions with prayer and thanksgiving.

Eventually Brad awoke and I told him “This might be the day!”.

We breakfasted the kids and told them “This might be the day!”.

The months my belly grew I spent a lot of time reflecting on and praying about the process of birth.  I reread my precious birth stories and found two central themes: new life and anxiety.  I declared this labor was to be courageous and not full of worry.  I declared that I would trust my body and God’s timing.

We spent the day as normally as possible.  Brad finished up a few house projects, the boys played outside, and I made brownies while my belly contracted.  Disappointment creeped in after lunch when I realized I still wasn’t having much stronger contractions.  That anxiety ended up slowing my contractions even more, despite my best efforts to focus on the perfection of God’s timing.  Finally, Brad declared that we would take the kids to the park to get my mind off of what was happening (or not happening).

I sweated and contracted on the playground as the kids ran around on that sweltering afternoon.  We came home, ate dinner, made plans for the grandparents to come in the morning because we were pretty sure this baby would come in the middle of the night and the kids could just sleep through it.  A few nights prior, Ira had a dream that he woke up and I was sitting on the couch with the baby.  I was hopeful his dream would come true.

As the kids went to bed, my contractions immediately increased.  We prayed and I thanked God for this process.  I quietly continued to ask for His presence and his peace.  We watched a few shows while Brad timed contractions.  They came closer and closer, and then eventually increased in intensity.

I would ask Brad, “Do you think it’s time to call Patty yet?” and he would calmly answer, “Let’s wait another 30 minutes”.

In the past we’ve almost always arrived at the hospital or had the midwife come too early. This would contribute to my anxiety and then make my labor even slower. Brad and I had discussed that we wanted to wait until the last possible moments to bring others into this process.

Around ten it was clear that the pain was enough to get the midwife (who is an hour away) there.  I told my dear friend Sarah that it was time and she arrived about 30 minutes later.  For four births it’s just been Brad and I present, but early on in this pregnancy I really felt a pull from the Spirit to ask Sarah to be there with us.  She loves birth and she loves us.  Her presence immediately comforted me, and we chatted about the day in between contractions.

Patty arrived around eleven.  She told me that if I wanted her to check me I could, but I declined at that moment.  I wasn’t feeling too bad and I didn’t want to be discouraged if I was only dilated a few centimeters.  I asked about getting in the tub and she suggested that I try the shower.

The warm water flowing over my back was such a relief.  I moaned through the pain while Sarah prayed quietly on the other side of the curtain.  God was there.

Eventually I needed a change of pace, so I got out and walked for a minute.  I asked Patty to check me and was blown away when she told me I was probably a 7 or 8.  Never before had I gotten that far in labor with such little pain and suffering.  The contractions were intense, but I was still laughing and talking in between them.  We praised God for his hand in this delivery.

I labored on the bed for a while and decided to get back in the shower.  Patty wanted me to wait until I felt pushy before getting in the tub.  A few minutes into the shower I felt that small urge to push and transferred to the tub.

The warm water felt so good to my tired and pained body.  As I laid back Brad came alongside and we just sat there together, through the contractions and through the stillness in between.  I felt the contractions pushing the baby down, and often pushed along with them.  Patty decided to check me again and said I was nearly 10 centimeters!  She thought there was just a little bit of my cervix still in the way so she maneuvered the baby’s head around that as I pushed through another contraction or two.

Up to this point I was managing the pain and pushing surprisingly well was still amazed that I was sitting at 10 centimeters and didn’t feel absolutely miserable.

I began to feel nauseous, a sure sign that labor is nearing its end.  I truly hate throwing up, and this is one of my most dreaded parts of labor.  Surely everyone was laughing at my ridiculousness as I said with every contraction “I’m going to throooooooooww  upppp” (in a very sad voice).  Every time Sarah got the bag for me to throw up in, I pushed that feeling back down and shook my head no.  I probably would have been a lot more comfortable had I just let myself throw up…but boy I really hate vomiting.

The pain increased to the unmanageable place that I remember.  I finally hit the point of “I can’t do this” and “just pull the baby out”.  At this point in the pushing I’m always certain somebody could surely just reach in and grab that baby to help me out.

I felt overwhelmed in the tub so when Patty suggested I change positions I gladly got out.  I was planning on heading to the air mattress set up in the addition but collapsed in another contraction right before making it to the bed.  She was coming!  I didn’t expect her to pop out so quickly, but there I was in the most awkward crouch/sit on the floor, half turned burying my screams in the pillow while simultaneously motioning angrily for someone to close the door so my shrieks didn’t wake the kids.  Moments before giving birth, I was still mom’ing it.

I’m not sure how many times I pushed, maybe twice, and her head was out.  Previously my babies have all kind of popped out at once, but I had to manage her being half in and half out of the world while I waited way too long for another contraction to hit.  The pain came, I gave it my all and Margaret May slid out into her papa’s arms and into the world at one minute past two.

I sat with her on the floor for awhile as we wrapped her in towels and admired her fingers and toes.  There is no relief like the relief of having just given birth.  Everything hurts, but it’s oh so wonderful.

Everyone helped me up and to the bed so we could snuggle and I could get cleaned up. Brad and I stared in awe at this fifth miracle our bodies have produced, and I moved her to nurse.  She ate with vigor.

Eventually, with her cord still attached I birthed the placenta.  We’ve never had a baby remain attached to the placenta for that long, and it was so beautiful to see what had given her life for the months she grew in my womb.  God is so incredible to have created us and care for all our needs.

Brad took her to be measured on our dining room table.  8 pounds and 9 ounces, losing the record for heaviest Pauquette baby by only one ounce to her big brother Ira.

I got cleaned up and tucked into bed with my brand new baby girl.  Two daughters and three sons, what a dream.

We said goodbye to Sarah and Patty and slept for a few hours until Solomon Daniel made his way downstairs, in awe of a new baby sister.  He woke everyone else up, so excited to tell them I had the baby!

It was a sweet time of newness that I will never forget.


Devotion>Decency

Decency: behavior that conforms to accepted standards of morality or respectability

Devotion: great love, affection, or admiration for someone

Recently the Lord spoke to me the phrase “the decency is gone”.  As I looked up the definition of decency, I heard the Lord speaking that His standard is here and the world’s is gone.

Later that day the Lord was so good to give me another phrase: “Decency is being replaced by devotion.”  He wants me to look to Him with great love and affection because He is the only one who can show me my true, Christ given identity.

I was reminded of the story of King David, who brought the ark of the covenant back to Jerusalem after it had been in the hands of the Philistines.  David was so overwhelmed with the glory and goodness of God watching the ark enter the city that he basically danced around in his underwear with praise.  The daughter of the previous king was watching him with disdain.  Later, she confronts David saying, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would.”

Instead of being embarrassed, King David proudly responds, “I will celebrate before the Lord, I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.”  David had his eyes fixed in adoration upon the Lord and the praise that David exhibited was exactly what God wanted from him.

Let us not conform to the standards of this world, but to adore our father above all else.  Above comfort, above a good name, above decency.

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him.” John 14:15-17

The fire

The noise first alerted us to a problem.  Our old house had been renovated so often that the living room was a windowless cave.  We often found solace in the protection from dangers that lurked outside, but tonight it was a hindrance.  It was late that is when bad things happen.

Orange light filtered through the diamond window of the front door as we crowded together to look.  I gasped as tongues of fire consumed the house across the street.

That was the nice house on the street, I moaned.

When 50% of the street was vacant we learned to appreciate the houses that were nice.

Sirens wailed in the distance.  Coming for us, I thought.  Momentary pride over being amid such excitement flashed through my mind but quickly I scolded myself for craving negative attention.

A fire truck roared down our quiet street and we moved to the porch. The heat felt like we were at a huge bonfire, warming my face from 100 yards away.

The entire neighborhood was awake now.  Huddled safely in twos and threes, gazing back and forth from the fire to their neighbor they whispered.

Do you know what happened?  Isn’t that the house that was busted a month ago?  I heard they had a pretty good operation going there.

My mind flashed to that warm evening in May, pushing my toddler boy on the swing in the big Maple behind the house.  The gaggle of neighbor girls surrounded us, taking turns pushing him too hard for my comfort.

Don’t go so high, I warned.  They giggled, probably at my prudence.  These girls walked across the street alone from the age of three and I was worried that my 2 year old would fall out of a baby swing.

I enjoyed their company and the ability to feed them the love they lacked, but sometimes I wanted to be in my yard alone with my child.  Maybe someday we would have enough money and time to put a fence up, but for now their eagle eyes spotted me every time I came out the door.  Besides, isn’t that what we came for?

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a black van pull up across the street.  It seemed out of place, but most of the view was blocked by the side of our house.  As I turned my attention once again to pushing my son a loud crack rang out and in an eternal instant I realized this was a SWAT raid.

Fumbling with the buckle I grabbed my boy out of the swing while and shooed the girls home.  I probably should have walked them home, but in my own panic and worry I took care of us first.  Besides, they didn’t seem fazed, just another day in the ghetto.

Locked.  The back door was locked.

I pounded and pounded for what felt like an eternity.  Maybe it was only 3 minutes, but it was the longest three minutes of my life.  I didn’t have my phone, I didn’t have a key, and I wasn’t about to run to the front door where danger lurked.

Finally, he peeked out, realized it was me and opened the shoddy old door wide.

I walked in shrieking and trembling.  Trauma has a funny way of bringing out the rage in me.

Why didn’t you let me in?

I didn’t know you were outside, I’m so sorry.

We watched out the bedroom window that evening while the police plopped a folding table on the porch to measure and record large packages of drugs.  This was nothing newsworthy in a city the size of ours, but we surely couldn’t stop watching.

The heat brought me back to the fire, a reminder that we lived in an abnormal place.  The kind of place where people eyed you when you told them where it was.  I could never do what you do, they would say.  A pleasant way of saying you’re crazy.

Tears formed as I looked to see folks from the neighborhood, gang members, young men, old men, carrying the weight of the hose from the hydrant to the truck.  This is why we moved here, I thought.   This place is more than a statistic.

I started to see past the brokenness, the hurt and the pain.  This was a neighborhood, just like any other neighborhood, full of good and bad.  As often as I sat trembling at the bad, I more frequently thanked God for the good.

This neighborhood was alive.  People spent hours outside, knew your name, and said hi as they walked home from the bus stop.  I couldn’t help but smile when the opening of a fire hydrant on a hot day turned the whole street into a pool party.  It wasted thousands of gallons of water and was illegal, but kids splashed in the spray, the old folks sat down and dipped their toes in the dirty stream that washed by.

We were no longer frightened by the outward displays of fear and antagonization, knowing there is light in the darkness.

Time seemed irrelevant as we watched the flames lick the house.  How long did we stand there?  30 minutes, an hour?  How long does it take to extinguish a fire?  The house would smolder for days, and the neighbors would gossip for even longer.  This marked the beginning of the summer of fire, a rash of vacant houses burning hot in the night.

That summer, in the midst of the fires, I would imagine the rainy days as God’s great cleansing of the sin and evil in this place.  Maybe it was just rain, but it gave me hope to imagine more  Why not expect things to be different, for good to break through the bad, for the light to shine in the darkness?

Months later I would sit on the porch watching a girl dressed in pink ride her bike up and down the sidewalk in front of that burned out house.  A glorious reminder that God will make all things new someday.

Years later we would watch out that same upstairs window as the city demolished the house.  In one day it was gone, and in it’s place a dirt lot sat waiting, expectant.  The only way to experience newness is to demolish the old.

Foggy sadness

The day is moving along but the fog outside has intensified.  By nine it should be dissipating, driven away by the newness of the day and the sun shining bright.  But today, this second day of the year, it’s worsening.

Sadness crept into my heart in much the same way.  When things should be the most joyful, sadness can be as the fog, thick and relentless.  In some ways I welcome it, that old familiar feeling.  I allow myself to wallow in my surroundings, in the things that shouldn’t be, but are.

I want to feel entitled to my sadness.  I want to feel justification that the world is against me and that life is harder for me than those around me.

Selfishness is the root of sadness.

I needed to climb out of the hole of self-pity, but first I needed to let myself cry.  To feel the feelings that God gave me, even if they are no indication of the life He has for me or the nature of His goodness.

I spent evenings in the ambiance of the Christmas tree lamenting what doesn’t seem quite right.  Selfishness gave way to self-reflection and I could hear God calling me to more.

I remembered years past, the sewing, the painting, the embroidery that I would put my identity in for a while because I saw others doing it and knew I could too.  Then I was tired and burnt out with no time or space left for projects.  These four, almost five, children have taken up every nook and cranny of our small house.

God began highlighting how important creating is for my own, wait for the dreaded word, self-care.  But self-care isn’t selfish if it connects me with my Creator.

I thought back to the prophetic word I received last spring, the one about how I would write and that would snowball into big and beautiful things.  The word that I’ve tucked in my back pocket just waiting for God to make happen.  It turns out sometimes He’s just waiting for us to make the move.

Writing requires nothing more than a pencil and a piece of paper and certainly I have plenty of room for that.  My laptop easily slides under the couch for a few words here and there.

Writing.

Always something I’ve dabbled in for a few months and then lost interest or inspiration, God has prompted me to look past the need for “inspiration” and just put words on a page on a regular basis.  He’s pushing me out of my comfort zone.

I want to write short stories, maybe an entire novel someday.  Not today, not tomorrow, but soon enough that will feel possible.  I just need more practice.

Brad is the writer in this family, but who says there can’t be more than one?  It only makes sense to take advantage of living with the best editor I know, the one who has taught me everything I know about writing.

To top it off, I get a pretty good discount.

A new thing

About a month ago as I was laying down for bed, an image of a fire burning came into my mind.  I closed my eyes to see what God had for me.

I found myself a couple of stories up in an old building downtown.  As I looked out there appeared to be a beautiful sunset, glowing orange and red, but as I moved closer to the window, I could see that buildings were on fire.  However, instead of it being detrimental, I had the sense of this being peaceful and good.

I was moved outside on the street and noticed the fire was burning certain buildings, but instead of destroying them it was making them new again.  This was downtown revitalization, one building block at a time for the Kingdom.

Suddenly, I was back in the room where I began, and there was a line of people around the perimeter of the room (it was large and open) reaching their hands out and praying.  I looked out the window and saw people praying and walking away from the building to bring Jesus to the community.

God is raising this up.  I am certain he is placing dreams in Kingdom minded people’s heads right now of businesses they want to start and ways they can make this community better.  I don’t know if it’s a coffee shop or a guitar store, but I do know for certain that when God is in charge of these dreams He has a big plan for us and for our community.

The School of Kingdom Writers is going to draw 24 people who will live and work in Zanesville, who will wield the power of the Kingdom of God to restore brokenness and bind the brokenhearted.  They will support and encourage a thriving community, while learning about how to claim writing and media spaces for God.

I am so looking forward to what Zanesville will look like in 10, 20, 30 years.  It will be a different place, a place where God manifest presence is known.  We pray and believe that addiction will flee, sickness will be healed and hopelessness with be replaced with Jesus, our everlasting spring of Life.

 Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
Isaiah 43: 19

Business, not as usual.

Not many know this, but the first business Brad and I ever started was an online hookah retailer.  Yes, you heard me right, we sold hookahs in college.

I can’t stop laughing while writing this out because it seems so long ago and so foreign, but once upon a time this young married couple at Ohio University went into business with a friend because they thought they could get a corner on the hookah business in Athens.  Plus, we enjoyed smoking the fun fruity tobaccos.  They were somehow “better” for you because they tasted good, right?

This isn’t something you lead with when introducing yourself, or even when sharing your life, but it’s an important part of our story because it was one of the first times we decided to do life differently.  Not surprisingly, it didn’t go well and we weren’t able to quit our jobs and lived as the hookah kings of Athens, but we began to learn lessons about what it means to own a business.

A few years later after doing the “normal” job thing we both quit to travel and pursue God in greater measure.  We developed our own businesses because we knew deep down there had to be more for us than working 40 hours a week to make a corporation rich.

We built our businesses, I took pictures and Brad designed websites, and we made them work mostly on our own.  We prayed about them and when things were hard we asked God to bless them and help make ends meet.   The beautiful thing is he always did; we always had enough.  We built our businesses and God was our sidekick.

A few years passed and after many late night front porch sessions it was decided that Brad would build a new company that helped people self-publish their writing.  We were older and more in tune with the Lord.   Through prayer this direction felt right, but it was still us doing the building and the grunt work.  Again, we would come to the Lord with prayer requests when money was tight or when there was a tough situation, but this was still a business that WE made and that WE were in control of.    Despite that, He has blessed this business beyond measure and we have learned to hand over more of our lives, little by little, to the God and creator of our Universe.

God began calling Brad and I to full time ministry this past year.  We explored and prayed for what that would be, and slowly the vision came into focus.

We are to start a School for Kingdom Writers here in Zanesville.  Students will live here for two years, immersed in both a writing and Kingdom living program.

For the first time in our lives, this is all God.  There is no way this school would come to fruition by our own accord.  It’s too mighty and massive and we are not skilled in all the parts necessary for it to thrive.  Oh, not to mention the large cost it will incur, and we are a people that live committed to doing everything with zero debt.

But God has relayed to us in many prayer sessions and prophetic words via our brothers and sisters that HE is going to do this in His power, not ours.  We are merely vessels, but he has assured us to dream the big dreams that he is laying on our hearts because they will certainly come to pass.

This doesn’t mean we sit back as passive spectators in our life, but it does mean that we can choose to not participate in the worry and stress that comes with starting a non-profit.  We get the chance to trust our creator fully and without waver, knowing that even as we’ve held onto parts of our lives for our own, HE STILL PROVIDED FOR US.

This is a defining moment in our lives as we take the leap of faith from in control to His control.  We are all in, ready to look like fools for the sake of the advancement of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  His wave of great mercy and love is coming in and it will wash over everything in this land, in this community and The School of Kingdom Writers is going to be one part of how He chooses to spread His message.  To God be all the glory.

Fall leaves

When we moved here my heart filled with gratitude knowing that we had a beautiful sugar maple right outside our dining room window.   It was a deep desire of my heart to have beautiful fall leaves in our yard, and God fulfilled that unspoken dream.  I watched the leaves begin to yellow, turn to light orange and then to a robust rust before letting go and burying our yard in 3 inches of mulch.

Last year, instead of their beautiful show, the leaves simply dried up and fell off.  No colors, no excitement, just bare.

We guessed it was due to all of the construction and digging that happened around it, but it cut through my heart knowing that what that tree showed was exactly how I felt in my heart.  I was dried up, tired, ready to be done and dull.  The fact that a tree could be such an accurate reflection of our life was astounding.  I’m sure I’ll always remember the year that the tree lost its color because it was the ending of one of the hardest years of my life.

This year, our colorful tree has returned and I watch the hues change with awe and wonder.  Our bedroom glows yellow when the sun shines on it.  I can’t stop staring out the window while we eat dinner, knowing how fleeting this orange is.  I want to soak up every last moment before the cold, dull winter sets in.

The tree is turning it’s beautiful colors once again, and I think of how I too have been renewed inside.  Beauty for ashes, I know there’s a gift in there.

 

 

Creative boost

Last week I delivered a short message to our church on creativity.

This week I’ve realized how uncreative I’ve been for months.

God truly has a sense of humor, and I am thankful he can use me despite the fact that I am not qualified nor do I even feel qualified.

There have been times in my life of free flowing, ample creativity.  Everything seems like a new idea, something to start, something to try.  It’s exciting and pleasing and my brain goes a hundred miles a minute thinking about all that I want to make.  It can also be disruptive and frustrating when I don’t have all the time to create all the things I would like.

But, there have also been many times, like now, where I am a dry well.  There is nothing bubbling up inside of me, no desire to make new, no ideas rolling around in my brain all day long.  It’s a struggle to even sit and make myself write.  I haven’t picked up my camera because I don’t see anything worth taking a photo of.

I’ve been waiting this dry spell out for a long time, and it’s hit me that maybe this time I can’t just expect to feel a fresh wave of creativity without giving something of myself.  Perhaps I need to water my well.  I need to drag a hose out, huff and puff my way over and water that dusty hole until it fills again.

So, I’m writing.  I’m going to force myself to edit the 6+ month backlog of photos that are sitting on my hard drive.  I’m going to schedule walks to woods into our days and enjoy this land that we’ve been given, even if the grass needs mowed and the weeds need pulled.

Creativity is more than inspiration, it’s a lot of hard work.

It is one of the most important ways that I feel connected my Creator, which might explain the often disconnected prayer life I’ve been leading for a couple of months.  I trust the Holy Spirit to show me out of this funk, and I’m excited to see the new life that is formed.

If I want creativity I must be willing to give up something else.  My brain does not have the capacity for it all, which means that I just found my toddler walking around with an empty-ish maple syrup container.   Today, I’m giving up non-sticky floors, knowing this feeling of connection and creativity will give me the boost I need to get through the everyday cleaning that has to happen in a house of 8.

This isn’t my best writing, my house is a mess and my hair isn’t brushed, but I wrote.  I’m creating something new and that’s exciting.