Every single day my son builds a fort. This has been going on for about 6 months now. There are days that I try to insitute a “no building” day but I still end up stumbling upon a pile of blankets, books, and couch cushions.
Everyone says “ Oh he’s being so creative, don’t worry about the mess!”. Yes, I agree. He’s fantastically creative. However, it is more than just a little mess. Books get destroyed in the process, the living room becomes unusable and once it’s time to pick up a child goes berserk because “It’s too much, wahhhhh”. Timeout. Cry. Repeat.
I am at my wit’s end. I want to be the kind of mother who doesn’t care about the state of her house, but this house is already too big and difficult to keep up with. I cannot handle the normal upkeep as well as having everything including laundry baskets, hangers, baby toys, etc. strewn about and a child who generally refuses to clean up at the end of the day.
This week has not been good. I have yelled a lot, cried a lot and generally feel like a pretty terrible mom.
“Why can’t my child behave like all of these other sweet kids?”
“Why can’t he just play with his toys?”
“Why do I keep yelling?”
“Why do I feel like I have no one cares?”
“Why is my life the worst?”
Wahhh, right? So quickly I go from loving life, knowing that I have a great family and support system to feeling like the sludge at the bottom of a garbage disposal.
Something has to change. I need to change. I need a better attitude and more grace for myself and my children if I am going to survive parenthood.
So today I came up with the idea to post the epic messes. Sometimes the only thing that can make bad things better is laughing at them and being honest about what my life looks like.
Brad is a man who hates to change his desktop wallpaper.
The same rotating architecture photos have been on it since the day he got it (windows users, you know what’s up) and I’ve grown tired of asking him when he’s going to change it.
Yesterday I picked up his laptop to check my email and noticed (cue angel singing) he had changed the background photo!
Later that evening I asked him why he changed it to this picture from the beginning of summer, a Memorial Day party on our old brown porch.
“I want to remember our house that way, I like it”, he answered. The beauty of friendship shared contrasted to the ugliness of the porch.
Our house has changed so much this summer. Dare I say it actually looks beautiful on that outside? After 4 years of living in a really ugly, broken brown house it feels refreshing to know that the outside of our house matches the feelings in our hearts towards this place.
But, like Brad said, I too like to remember that old brown house and how far it’s come. It makes me a little sad that people who visit from here on out will never know how God used our skills to redeem this corner lot and bring it back to life. At least not by looking at it.
However nice it is to remember the past and how we’ve changed, I suppose it’s best to live in the present. So my present consists of being so very content pulling up to this nice gray house with a green door. It will always be my cocoa manor, but I thoroughly enjoy the beauty a coat (or two) of paint can add.
In fact, we’re pretty sure we’re probably going to be staying here a little (or a lot) longer.
Although we feel that God has “released” us from this place and would bless us if we decide to leave, through prayer, conversations and reading we’re starting to realize that we still belong here.
Four years ago we had a dream to be good neighbors in a not so good neighborhood. To put others first, to love them and to create community with them.
So much of our lives these past four years has been focused on house renovations, learning how to raise children, and trying to once again attain our revised version of the American Dream. We’ve traded our original ideas of being poor and living with the poor for embarrassment over the state of our house and judgment of the actions of our neighbors.
I cringe when I think about the opportunities we’ve missed. The people we’ve scowled at instead of smiled and those to whom we’ve given money instead of an hour of listening.
We’ve been taking the easy way out, the less radical, more safe way. I so strongly desire inside of me to love our neighbors. To become one with them and for them to see that Jesus was poor just like them.
It’s hard to let go of my dreams of a nice country life working an acre of land. There’s no doubt there will be difficult times ahead of us despite the peace autumn has brought to our street. I get overwhelmed when I think about what we’ll face but we are taking steps to surround ourselves with support. From the beginning we had very specific ideas of community that we wanted to implement in this house but perhaps we need to care less about our visions and more about just loving people just like they are and finding community where we can.
We’re probably crazy but I want our family to know what it truly means to love others and we have not yet scratched the surface of that.
This past year we shared our Easter dinner with our neighbors and their four children. I was terrified about how our families would react to these strangers showing up to share our ham. But it was incredible and it felt right. It felt like something Jesus would have done. Just a couple of months later these same neighbors fell into a deep downward spiral and it broke my heart because I had let them into my life. Instead of moving closer to them, I pushed them away. I let my own feelings come first and I harbored anger and bitterness toward what she was doing to herself, her children and what she brought so close to our home.
They have since moved away and I still have such mixed feelings toward what happened. But when I really think back to those first months that they moved in, to the Saturday mornings that I accompanied her to the food pantry and to taco salad we ate in their kitchen, I know that these things are what make the kingdom of God here on earth. Our lives were very, very different but it didn’t really matter because right then we were together trying to make it through this hard life.
I want more of these beautiful, loving experiences. I want to dance, sing and cry with those around us. This means we are also inviting more pain into our lives however I cannot imagine what kind of safe and comfortable life we could live after seeing so much sadness and poverty right before our very eyes.
It is no joke that the devil is trying to win over neighborhoods just like ours. Ones that our full of vulnerable children and impoverished dreams. We need an army of love to conquer the evil that lurks in places like this. We need prayer warriors and people who are willing to take the time to listen and smile. We need to convince the poor that there are people who truly love them and that the love Jesus has for them surpasses everything.
We need a revolution.
If any of these words sparked a flame in your heart, please consider reading An Irresistble Revolution with me. It’s changing my heart and for that I am thankful.
*I wrote this 2 months ago, but I think I’m finally ready to share.
I have a confession to make. We’ve been thinking about moving.
It’s a topic that has slowly made it’s way into our discussions the past few months. Brad and I both felt these inklings individually and then at some point expressed them to each other.
In the beginning we talked very casually about the prospect of moving, generally only bringing it up after a beer or two.
It has become much more acceptable the past few weeks to talk about it. To talk about what the future may hold for us and where we could end up.
All of this talk is fun and frustrating wrapped up in one. It’s hard to know what the right choice is and where the Lord’s path will lead us. We certainly do not want to stray from his desires for us but we also know that sometimes God changes our lives suddenly and in big ways, especially when we least expect it.
We have been enjoying our life here this spring and summer with our gardens and our rabbits and our new desire for urban homesteading and the “simple” life, but there’s been a hidden layer of anxiety underneath it all.
Brad and I are both prone to anxiety but nearly everyday for the past few months at least one, if not both of us have experienced it. Some days it is debilitating, some days it’s just hanging out causing our stomachs to twist a little.
I suppose there’s no shortage of reasons for our anxiety. A couple of months ago a man was murdered two houses behind us, everyday we sit on our porch and witness drug deals and kids turn from children to gangsters, and I can’t even guess how many times we’ve called 911 to report gunshots in the area.
As immune as we’ve become to these things and as much as we realize they are a part of life in our neighborhood, I’ve also begun to realize how much these incidents have been affecting me this year .
I’ve told Brad so many times that I just can’t do this anymore. And I kind of don’t want to do this anymore. Our lives have been great this year, we’ve been doing so many things that we desire like gardening, hanging out with neighbors and opening up our house to community but there is still an underlying feeling of discontent and misunderstanding of the happenings here.
So, we’ve talked a lot the past few weeks about moving and how it might be coming but we’re just not sure. The Lord keeps telling me to be patient and to take things one step at a time.
Last Wednesday Brad was making dinner and I was roaming around doing stuff. Brad told Theo he could go out on the porch and pick basil with him in a few minutes but Theo disappeared to his room and Brad quickly grabbed some basil off the porch so he could keep cooking. A few minutes later I was in the dining room and heard the front door close.
I looked in the kitchen and saw that Brad hadn’t moved and I asked him if he heard the door. I then went to the front door, opened it and yelled for Theo. He peeked his head around the porch and I felt sick to my stomach.
After telling him to get inside right away and putting him in a time out for going outside by himself (he’s been told that this is unacceptable) I stood and processed what had just happened.
It probably doesn’t sound like a big deal, but to think that my baby boy was outside by himself exposed to the elements of our community was too much for me. I felt scared for what could have happened. I also realized that I don’t know if I will ever feel comfortable leaving him play outside by himself. Even at 15 I would worry about him and worry that he is hanging out with the wrong people. And then I thought about Theo in just two or three years and how he would want to play with the kids that are always running around and how I can’t imagine feeling like I could ever let him freely do that without constant supervision.
I don’t want to be a mother hen. I want Theo and Ira to feel freedom in their play and interactions with others. I want them to run free and play in the open and not have me hovering over making sure nothing bad is happening to them.
At that moment I knew it is time for us to move on. There was a peace in my heart that told me our Harvard Avenue days are coming to a close.
I feel like God has a place planned for us that is better suited to our needs and desires as a family and I’m thankful that he has been listening to our prayers and petitions the past four years.
After Theo’s three minutes were up I went to talk to him. He had been crying, though not the sobbing tantrum cries he normally exhibits, his faced showed that he truly was scared and felt remorse for what he had done. I realized he had heard the door from Brad’s basil run and wanted to join his Papa on the porch. The whole thing just broke my heart but I was thankful for his safety and the sign for a new path.
I have to keep telling myself that we are not giving up on this neighborhood and that God doesn’t “need” us to make it better, he will fill it up with his love regardless of whether or not we are here. We have been an instrument of his peace and goodwill for 4 years here and I am grateful for the lessons, trials and tribulations we have endured here. I am not even close to the same person I was 4 years ago, pregnant and unsure about moving into a boarded up dining room with my my best friend.
Well, my best friend and I have made it this far, and we’ve filled up this house with love and repairs and boys. We’ve been stretched to our limits and have expanded our patience. We’ve seen sadness and joy and have had many hopes and dreams.
So…what now? We are exploring our options and have an idea of where we’re headed but are not sure enough to talk to people other than close friends and family. Please pray for us and our patience and understanding in this transitional period.
And since there always seems to be a song defining time periods in my life, here’s this one:
Hope came in the form of a group of brothers and sisters we lovingly refer to as the Kai’s. There’s a bazillion of them (two sets of twins), their names all start with K’s and they all look very much alike.
Their life sucks. Their mom seems a little crazy and isn’t around much and they are often left roaming the streets. But you know what? They are the happiest and most vibrant children.
They are the kind of kids that knock on our back door with an empty baby wipe container full of snakes they need to show us. Kids who will sit on our porch swing and joke the afternoon away because they find peace here. A kid who told us that we are like their new mom and dad because I gave him a bottle of water one evening and because we listen.
There is no explanation for the way they’ve kept their joy amidst the chaos other than God has his hand on them. Protecting them from the violence and evil around them.
A couple of months ago they disappeared. This seemed very odd to me because they always worry about us up and leaving them and here they go and move without even knocking on our door to say goodbye.
I thought about them often, wondering how they are doing and praying for their safety.
Tonight, after a day spent in despair over the downward spiral of other neighbors, I answered a knock at the door.
Three smiling Kai’s greeted me with a “we’re back!” and hugs. Their mom’s boyfriend was put in jail so they spent two months relative hopping and living out of hotels but now they are staying with their grandma two streets over.
Tonight I just keep praising God for bringing them back. Just the sight of them playing in the street brings such a ray of hope and joy to this neighborhood and I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I opened the door tonight.
Welcome back Kai’s. You are loved and were missed.
We’re more than halfway through the year, so how is my “be at ease in 2013” goal working out for me?
Well, in a lot of ways, I’ve reduced and simplified my life and made changes that will reduce stress.
But, I’m not sure if that has helped my contentment.
I’ve been anxious and pent up recently some days seem like a struggle even though they shouldn’t. There are so many “what if’s” and “what’s next” right now that life has really been weighing me down.
With some self reflection I’m beginning to realize that no matter what our future holds, if I can’t be content, happy and joyous right here, right now, I will never he happy and content. No place, job or garden will change my feeling of discontent.
So right now, I’m praying and working on being happy. Being the true me I can be, the woman full of peace that I think is trying to get out.
I’ve come quite far in the past 7 months. We’ve eliminated junk and excess activities in my life and we’re praying about a new path that God may be leading us in. If I can just focus in on living a joy filled life and accepting God’s grace every moment of every day I might just find that secret to being content that Paul is talking about.
By this I don’t mean acting on impulses such as overeating, overdrinking and reacting in anger.
I think I mean, is it OK to take what we believe are be good things, things that line up with how we want to live our lives and just do it?
I’m never sure if we have to wait for God to give us a very clear, “you are to do this” answer in a loud booming voice or if we can take our talents and our desires and set out on a new course without being sure if it’s “correct”.
Our family is in a period of change and transition right now, which is both exciting and frustrating. We don’t know where our lives are leading us, although we do have ideas of things that we would like to do. We are beginning to see how we would like to bring our kids up and how we can use our talents to serve and give.
Can we just do these things? Can we set out on a path unknown and ask God for his blessing? Or is that completely ridiculous because if it’s not the “right” path then we are pretty much doomed to failure?
I feel like this rambling makes no sense, but I’m trying my best to explain how these thoughts have been running through my head lately.
I think that God’s desires and our desires line up when we’re in tune with his Spirit, but it’s still so hard to know the difference between our ideas and God’s ideas.
Part of living a Christ-like life is sacrificing, however are we really sacrificing if the next course of our life is something that we strongly desire? Perhaps sacrificial living is beyond what we want and what we need but a mindset that we will find joy in any and every situation.
I was watching an interview that Charlie Rose did with Bono over the weekend and one sentence struck me as important. Bono said that “Joy is an act of defiance”.
I’ve never thought of joy that way before, as a way to be defiant against the clutches of evil, but now I am considering the role that joy has in my own life.
Sometimes I think that certain situations would allow me to be more joyful than I currently am. But then I read things like Paul’s letter to the Phillipians and realize that it is key to be able to be happy and content regardless of what is around us. (“I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.” Philippians 4:11-13).
I’m not sure that necessarily means we need to always live in situations that push us to our limits. If Ecclesiastes has taught me anything, it’s that life is full of seasons. Some are good, some are bad, some are hard and some are easy.
I should stop this rambling before things get any more confusing. But please, if anyone has thoughts on this matter I would love to hear them.
Since March I’ve been noticing birds. Many birds, some beautiful some ordinary. Cardinals and sparrows singing their songs and nesting in our trees.
I’m certain we’ve had birds in our backyard in years past however I cannot remember ever seeing so many or hearing such an abundance of beautiful songs all day. I’ve mentioned it several times to Brad, and felt in my heart it must have some significance to our neighborhood.
I even began hearing an owl hooting morning and night, although it’s location eluded me. “An owl, in the city?!” I thought and smiled every time I heard him.
In the most recent weeks I’ve spent many mornings outside with Theo tending our south facing, front yard gardens. I observed a change in our streets. Different cars, less traffic and quieter nights. I wanted to believe these were good signs, but anxiety and fear of the “what if’s” still gripped me.
Last Saturday I photographed a romantic wedding of two wonderful people. I sat down in a seat at the edge of the aisle just as the minister began reading from Song of Solomon. I listened in between photographs and quickly realized these words were meant for me. Of course they were there for the bride and groom, but for some reason God intended for me to hear them at that exact moment and to know they were special. Tears welled in my eyes as I listened.
Ah, I hear my lover coming!
He is leaping over the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My lover is like a swift gazelle
or a young stag.
Look, there he is behind the wall,
looking through the window,
peering into the room.
My lover said to me,
“Rise up, my darling!
Come away with me, my fair one! Look, the winter is past,
and the rains are over and gone.
The flowers are springing up,
the season of singing birds has come,
and the cooing of turtledoves fills the air.
The fig trees are forming young fruit,
and the fragrant grapevines are blossoming.
Rise up, my darling!
Come away with me, my fair one!”
It would be impossible for me to explain how much meaning this passage has for me. There are so many things I’ve felt over the years with an appearance in this passage.
We knew the winter was important. It was a time to make way for renewal. “Look, the winter is past,”
Last summer, when I first heard Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zero’s song “All wash out” the lyrics struck me and I felt that rain was significant to the cleansing of our neighborhood. It became a song of comfort to me as we went through the long dry spell of summer. “and the rains are over and gone.”
The verse of that really moved me was “The flowers are springing up, the season of singing birds has come, and the cooing of turtledoves fills the air.”. We have singing birds! Many singing birds this year! And gardens! Our yard is finally blossoming and growing into something beautiful and useful.
As if God could get any cooler, after the wedding Brad and I were leaving home to pick up the kids and saw three deer at the edge of our neighborhood, leaping in the air and playing as dogs would. We both looked at each other with mouths slightly ajar. We live 2 miles from downtown and I’ve never seen a deer this close to our house. “My lover is like a swift gazelle or a young stag.”
This morning I began to google owls. I wanted to know what kind of owl we had living in our neighborhood and also if owls had any biblical significance. Not only could I not seem to place the call that I’ve been hearing to any one owl, the mention of owls in the Bible seem to have negative significance. With discouragement I kept looking.
Finally, at the bottom of one site I found it. The mourning dove can produce a call that is often mistaken for an owl. I listened to the youtube clip and, yes, that was the friend I’ve been hearing out our window.
I googled “mourning dove bible” and you’ll never believe what showed up first. A link to the second chapter of song of Solomon.
“and the cooing of turtledoves fills the air.”
I got goosebumps and started crying. God is here. Living and real. Evil is being defeated and goodness is rising up.