Just when the days seem too long, and life too hard, moments like this remind me that God led us here and He is good.
When we met at a party in his dorm room he made a big deal out of getting me a beer, obnoxiously and dramatically pushing people out of the way so he could get to the mini fridge. I didn’t think much of him at first with his long blond hair and jokes until the one night everyone left and we sat on a crappy futon talking for hours.
It was fall and we were at a backyard soiree near our sophomore dorm. He pulled a promise ring out of his pocket and we knew that forever was on the horizon.
We secretly looked at apartments together, knowing in Athens you need to sign a lease a year in advance. We walked into the biggest dump with wood paneling and saw a place of freedom and beginning.
Christmas day I drove to Grove City after the most incredible ice storm. He ran out to intercept me in the driveway and took me on a walk through the woods where pink roses lined the path. He got down in his knee in a clearing by the creek and asked me to marry him.
I stepped into the heat of the evening, took a deep breath and walked arm in arm with my dad toward the big old tree across the bridge. My skin started to break out in hives and I found him standing at the end of the aisle waiting for me.
A year later we drove up to an apartment on a little street on the outskirts of German Village. It was half a house with big windows, beautiful brick and dreams. College life was traded for city life.
At the neighborhood Roosters, in the corner booth near the window we toasted our Bud Selects to buying a shabby pink campervan off Ebay. The adventures that awaited us were unknown, but because we were together with God, they would be good. We left jobs, our families and the beautiful little brick house to search for the Truth.
Years of dirt crunched under our feet as flashlights shone into the dark corners. My heart pounded in a real estate office as we handed over $10,000 and they handed us the keys to a broken house. Daffodils pushed through the barren ground as we visited our first home.
I walked our newborn son, freshly born, into the living room and cried on our pink plaid couch. He took a picture of me, seeing new life amongst the old.
The summer our second son was a baby he dug an anniversary fire pit for me. The broken house started to feel like home with gardens lining the front and a family swinging on the porch.
Driving home from Zanesville when the leaves turned golden, our third newborn son in the backseat, we talked about moving into my grandparents’ house. He didn’t think much of the idea at first but I persisted in discussion.
On a rainy spring day our friends showed up to pack the moving vans. Kids were throwing up and our power was out. For the last time, we pulled out of our driveway and drove to Zanesville through tears. Our new living room felt foreign, yet so familiar.
We threw a big party for our 10th anniversary. I had been dreaming of a anniversary party in the backyard and was enthusiastic to have this new space for it. Our favorite people surrounded us, ate with us and talked about how they couldn’t believe it had already been 10 years.
On a lake in Michigan we jumped off a raft into murky warm water like kids. Little did I know I carried our first daughter in my womb.
It was mid afternoon when we collapsed onto our bed and slept, snuggling our newborn daughter. The exhaustion of the previous 31 hours was behind us and we spent two blissful hours enjoying the newness of life.
Life is better because of him.
I’ve been pondering the differences of our hardships in Zanesville and those of our life in Columbus. Both are and were difficult, full of a lot of times where we threw our hands up in despair over the situations we found ourselves in.
In Columbus, in our inner city house, we felt protected. We knew we had angels guarding our property and that for the most part, no harm would come to us. However, outside of that line all was fair game. There were murders, fires, drug deals, all within 100 feet of our house. Every time something like that happened, fear showed up. The “what if’s” raced through our mind and it took time for us to reevaluate and remember we were there because God asked us to be and that he would be faithful.
Here in Zanesville, we have our spacious place and we no longer worry about gunshots because the ones we hear belong to hunters. We don’t sit on our porch and see drug deals, or vacant and abandoned houses go up in flames across the street. We no longer hear neighbors screaming at each other at 3 am while their babies cry.
However, we seem to be dealing with a whole load of personal scrutiny and attack since landing and starting our ventures here. We can now see that it goes with the territory of having public events and spaces, but I tell you, we were not prepared for it.
Every time it has happened, it has hurt our hearts. It’s so hard to read these things (generally on social media) about us, and to not just want to scream untruth and try to make ourselves look better. But one thing we’ve learned is that if someone is willing to spout angry things about another person, they’re generally not going to listen to good reason. We pray about it, try and forgive them, and after some time things feel better.
God has shown up, in so many of these times, to completely reverse the situation. We’ve seen him change the heart and mind of the person who felt they were wronged, so much so that it’s nothing short of miraculous (Brad has a really good story that I hope I can get him to share).
I don’t know if either of these situations is more difficult than the other, they’re just different. I am pleased to no longer wake up in the middle of the night shaking because of gunshots outside our window, but it’s no easy thing to hear unkind words about your husband and to stand strong knowing that our worth is in God alone.
Through it all, God is good and has led us on some spectacular adventures. The desires of our heart have been heard and answered, and His work is always good.
Our dining room is my favorite spot in our house. A place of convergence at all times of day to both create and eat. During the evening hours of spring and fall the room fills with glorious light. The sun creates pockets of highlights and shadows that easily take your breathe away.
Today contractors are removing one of my beloved windows to make a room for my grandmother to live in. My sacred space of light is about to darken.
This whole process of deciding and planning to move my grandmother in has been one of many ups and downs.
She can no longer live at home safely but she can no longer stand to live in her assisted living room. There are days she’s ready to bust herself out of there and I can’t really blame her. Who wants to be old? Not even a 90 year old woman.
But how am I going to care for an elderly woman along with my four small children? Only by the grace of God I’m certain.
How is she going to fare living alongside our loud and chaotic household? I’m not sure. This quote from G.K. Chesterton has really been helping my perspective on the whole thing:
“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered”
This is bound to shape up as quite the adventure, and I’m looking forward to experience not only for Brad and I, but also for our children. This is a life changing experience we get to embark on. What is it like to care for someone in their last stage of life? I imagine it is humbling and sad as well as joyous and insightful.
We are taking an inconvenient risk and our house and our lives are permanently changing. I pray that there are more moments of light than darkness, and that the joy of the Lord is present in this place.
Every family in our shared life group put together family mission statements as homework this past week to share with each other.
This is something that Brad and I did a few years ago but we decided to start fresh. I thought it would be fun to share ours and to encourage other families and individuals to do the same. Making a mission statement is a fantastic way to consider the important values in our lives and refocus our time on what matters.
We started by making a list of what is important to us and Brad with his writing power but it together in a beautiful, almost poetic way.
We will seek and serve God and be witnesses of his grace and selflessly honor our community with our time, resources, and talents.
We will reduce our burden upon society and the Earth by sustaining ourselves, our neighbors and our environment.
We will live in the intentional present by embracing poverty, play, experience, and spontaneous generosity, and by resisting consumerism, security and competition, and we will not be entrapped by debt.
We will use our talents in service to the Lord as an act of worship.
If you have a mission statement please consider sharing!
Sometimes I like to look back through old writing that I didn’t post because at the time they were too raw, too close for comfort.
Sometimes when I find them now it is such a testament to the glory of God and the work he is doing in our lives (see the dung).
Since moving to Zanesville we’ve been swept up in a loving and gospel filled church community. They are plopped down in the middle of an impoverished area, right down the street from our work at The Narrows. They are bringing God’s kingdom to the streets of Zanesville, worshipping him simply and focused on living with one another in community. We are so thankful to have fallen into a group of friends who we can share our lives with.
Glory be to God. The following words were written in the fall of 2014 (mostly unedited).
5 years ago we decided that conventional church was no longer for us. I suppose we threw conventional life out the window as well when we bought a campervan, sold our stuff and traveled around the U.S. We came back 6 months later searching out an inner-city neighborhood to call home and landed on a double lot in the heart of the near east side.
Our early writings while traveling were full of reasons that the church was no good. They wasted money, didn’t really get to the heart of the gospels, etc. etc. Certainly we were 23 and had it all figured out.
But as most 23 year olds realize after a few more years of living, we did not have it figured out.
We had tried to replace church with more spontaneous community.
We tried Sunday night dinners, a time to hang out with friends and eat and if we were lucky we would sometimes touch on spiritual matters in our conversations.
We tried “broughts”, a small group with close friends where we “brought” something to each meeting. Sometimes it was a bag of chips, sometimes a spiritual thought we had while reading.
Somewhere in there we had a child and rested from trying so hard to find a place to fit in. I remember feeling so lonely, with such a desire to connect with others on a deeper basis.
As we got older we developed more stable friendships and decided to give a living room group a try again. We had a few couples who we would meet with, pray with and discuss spiritual topics with. It was great while it lasted, but schedules prevented us from furthering it.
Two years ago I journaled to pray about seeking a physical church space once again. There were several discussions over the next year between Brad and I about this possibility of going to the normal Sunday service again, and after some prayer and deliberation we both decided it was worth a try.
We attended a small contemporary church for a few months and found it comforting that there were a lot of people like us there. We felt very comfortable and it felt genuine, however there were some issues that we could not get past.
We had become accustomed to enjoying this Sunday morning ritual again so we decided to try the church that we had left many years before.
We fell back in to a routine for a few months. Enjoyed worshipping with others and feeling the presence of God. I integrated myself into a book group which I thoroughly enjoyed and felt inspired by.
But there was a Sunday afternoon, a few months later, that Brad and I both looked at each other and said the same thing. It’s fine, but it’s really just not where we’re at right now. As much as we felt like it was a good place to be, it wasn’t quite right for us.
This was a suburban church, we are an urban people. It took us 25 minutes to drive there which makes it a bit inconvenient. How many churches must we pass on the way there? Why would we reach so far out of our element to worship and build relationships?
The past few months we’ve reclaimed our Sundays as days we try to have no expectations. We do not do work and we try to not have too many planned things.
But still the desire for community nags at my soul. I am lonely with all of these thoughts sometimes.
Is there anyone else out there like us? Who desires true community and who understands what it’s like to live where we live?
Our lives are unconventional but it’s where God wants us. For years now I’ve been clinging to the hope that he will bring us into true community with others but honestly I’m getting impatient.
Am I the problem? Am I preventing true community? Am I overlooking perfectly good options because they’re not what I think is right for us?
I don’t know.
I have a hard time speaking up for what I believe in and for voicing my opinion. I am an introvert with extrovert tendencies which means I truly enjoy engaging in meaningful conversations with others. When I find people who share my passions or who make me think differently I feel truly refreshed and invigorated.
I dislike superficial conversations about how good the worship in a church is. Why in the world would that be the most important thing about finding community? Shouldn’t we spur each other on to living more selfless, light-filled lives?
Seriously, who gives a shit if there’s coffee available before a service or whether or not the children’s ministry has a really cool program?
There are people dying without the love of Jesus everyday. They are being swept up into violent lives, living in poverty with a feeling of hopelessness about their lives.
People are dying all over the world. People are dying right here in my neighborhood. People are struggling, they’re getting mixed up into the wrong things, they are hungry. They are lonely. I am lonely.
What can we do about this?
I don’t know.
Free I be.
Free I give.
Unencumbered beauty gazing
into the pinked sky.
My shoulders give way
to the beauty of the sunset.
Releasing hot air
as my breath enters steady.
A cool sense of freedom
draws me close.
I am light.
He is the light though
the darkness dwells over the land.
The rhythm of the day balances
and I rest.
Sometimes when I’m stuck doing a really mundane task like sweeping or hanging clothes out to dry I think about how my grandparents may have stood in the same spot doing the same thing.
When I look out over our hill in awe of the colors of the sunset I wonder how many nights they spent doing the same.
I’m trying my hardest to see what they saw while also seeing this space through my own eyes.
It’s a beautiful connection we have. One that helps me to remember that even though we are all at different spots on our journeys we are all essentially the same.
All of our fears, thoughts and dreams have been had before.
“We are not even the seed. We are the dung preparing the land to receive the seed.”
We knew that when we moved to this house 5 years ago that it was going to be hard. We understood nothing about the community around us other than it was broken (literally, most of the neighboring houses were vacant) and that we had a ton of work ahead of us (literally again, our house had no plumbing or electricity left).
However, I think we had (have) this fantasy in our heads that “If we build it, they will come.” Meaning that if we begin the work here, others will see the good that is happening and desire similar things (aka living nearby and taking part in our dreams).
Unfortunately this is not the Field of Dreams and at times we can still feel quite alone here. Certainly we have plenty of support from family and friends who think it’s cool that we do what we do and who help where they can, but at the end of the day we’re still alone. The damn dung.
I can’t even count the number of times Brad has tried to sell friends on buying/renting some of the houses in our neighborhood. As soon as I hear it coming out of his mouth I cringe because I can read it on their face “it’s really cool that you live here and I love visiting but no way would I ever want to live here.”
I want to embrace being the dung. To be content with quiet. The ones who pray and endure and cry and feel, well, alone. Because after 5 years this place is changing. I can see it. I can see our compost, our dung, our prayers and our vigilance turning this land into rich and beautiful soil.
Only God knows when the soil will be ready for the seed. Ready for others to come along and claim this work as their own.
Yet another burden of being quiet is not getting the recognition that you think you deserve. Perhaps you start things, pray for them, put all the dung filled hard work into them and then someone else takes it over and receives the credit. It sucks but it’s the best way. The quiet way. The way that we will not fill our egos thinking we can do this all ourselves. We can’t. Only the Lord working through us will ever accomplish the goodness we hope for on this earth.
The past couple of years at the beginning of the new year I’ve had a word to focus on for that upcoming year. 2013 was contentment and for 2014 I picked peace. When I say I picked it, I really mean it picked me. But that’s another story.
This year we got pregnant for the third time. We enjoyed a super quiet spring and summer in our neighborhood. This is a drastic improvement over years past…no burning houses, no murders or middle of the night screaming matches within a 200 yard radius of our house.
We felt at ease in our neighborhood and happy to be here. We started our community garden and it actually grew a little.
When we started trying to have this third child I felt like the name should mean peace. In my head I thought it would be a girl and we would name her Olive (ya know, olive branch, a peace symbol).
Well we had a boy and it was evident as he was born that he should be Solomon. His name is derived from “Shalom” or simply “peace”.
The months leading up to his birth didn’t feel very peaceful in our household. We felt stressed, overwhelmed and anxious. I remember several times just saying to each other it will all get better once the baby comes.
The thing is, Solomon did bring peace with him. Certainly we all still have our moments but this transition has truly been easier than expected. His brothers adore him, he adores us and we have really been coming into our own as a family. We’re deciding once again how we want to live our lives, this time considering that we are a family of five. It’s been a good time to reevaluate our priorities and make sure how we are currently living matches them.
I started thinking about 2015’s word a couple of weeks ago and just felt like it should be “enjoy”. To enjoy the contentment and peace I’ve learned. To enjoy God’s good earth. To enjoy this wonderful life I’ve been given. To just be “in joy”. I want to be joyful and happy and optimistic and unfortunately that is often not the case with me.
Enjoy comes from the French word “enjoier” which means to give joy. Isn’t that cool, if we enjoy life we actually give joy to others. Everyone wins!
“Do anything, but let it produce joy.”
– Walt Whitman