Thursday, April 13, 2017

the dream.

"When you realize that the story of your life could be told a thousand different ways...that you could call it a tradegy but you choose to call it an EPIC...that's when you learn what celebration is".

~Shauna Niequist       


Over the last almost fifteen years I have carried a dream in my heart. The dream has changed and evolved over the years but it was always there... sometimes in the background and other times in the forefront of my heart almost like an ache. 

When we were first married we were in full-time ministry and didn't think we would ever settle down or have a place to call home. We spent the first several years of our marriage moving, having babies, creating business and ministries and communities. In the first 10 years alone we had 8 different houses. Through the years of transition, the idea of a homestead was birthed in our hearts. It was a dream of a house in the country to call home.. a place of rest where we could raise our family. A property with a barn and a few acres where we could have a garden, a tree house, campfires and dinner parties. We also had a vision for some kind of guest home. From the beginning of our marriage, we have had people over for dinner several nights a week. It is not uncommon for Mark to bring someone home for dinner or invite someone last minute. We want our home to be an open place for hospitality and community. The vision of a guest house seemed like a natural extension of our hearts to offer rest and refreshment.

Home and the idea of creating home has always been there. Even as a young girl I rearranged the furniture in my room for fun and was always trying to create atmosphere and coziness. Over the years I have been giving ample opportunities to create home. It is something I truly love to do!   I have made houses into homes wherever we have lived and each house has taught me something different. I have learned a lot about myself and what works for our family along the way. Our journey has lead us to live in four different farmhouses which also helped to shape the dream inside of our hearts. 

Last summer the ache in my heart for home seemed especially great. It was July and we had just gotten back from vacation and I was feeling restless. The kids had soccer camp that week so I was spending my mornings driving them to and from camp. As we drove I passed this cute little cottage that I always thought had potential and thought to myself"I wonder if that house will ever come up for sale". The next day on the way to soccer camp there was a "for sale" sign in front of the cottage. I couldn't believe my eyes. Was this a sign from the Lord? I immediately called Mark and we set up a showing. The cute little cottage came with six acres, a barn and a second house all in our price range. Could this be our dream? We had vision to live in the one house and make the other one a guest home of some sort. The cottage/farmhouse was cute and had so much potential (the key word being potential) but needed so much work. Our real estate agent, Mark and I all came away feeling overwhelmed so we decided to not pursue it any further despite the crazy way it all came about. Shortly after it went off the market.

In December Mark began thinking about the cottage again and wondered about it because the for sale sign still sat in the yard six months later. "Did we miss something there?", he wondered.  That same day a friend of his mentioned that the house came back on the market. We decided to pursue it again which lead to six week journey of us trying to figure out a way to buy and renovate the property. There was so much potential but neither house was livable which meant they both needed a lot of investment. We looked into a variety of options and spent a lot of time dreaming, working through what we really wanted in a home, and applying for different financing options. As 2017 rolled around the house dream was on the forefront of my mind. At the top of my list of goals for the new year I wrote: "Buy a house".  It felt like a distant dream but I wrote it down anyways. Miracles can happen, right?

The process of the cottage was hard but good. In the end, we decided to walk away. We had fallen in love with the property but the amount of work it needed to make it work was beyond what we could afford. The process had really made us look at what core things we wanted in a property and also what we were willing to compromise on. It has also lead us to Millersville. One day on our many drives to look at this house we passed some other little farmettes with barns and I pointed out two that I thought could also make great properties. We decided though we were just going to let things rest for a while.

A week later I was not doing a great job of letting things rest. The ache in my heart for a home was so strong. I was feeling heavy and having trouble trusting the Lord and His plans for our life. That day I spent some time just driving around the country listening to the radio. As I drove I was reminded of a word someone gave me two years ago. He said that I carried home in my heart and that the Lord had put that dream inside of me and wanted to give me the desires of my heart in terms of a house. He also shared that a new part of my heart would come to life in the process. I cried as I remembered this. The song on the radio sang "Hold on for one more day" and I decided I needed to let go and trust the Lord. I was reminded that we have never found a house through my own searching anyways. All my browsing Trulia and house sites never amounted to anything. The houses we have lived in for the most part have come through connections. I decided right then and there I would let it rest.

A half hour later Mark called. Did I remember that little farmette with the red barn that I pointed out on that drive a few weeks back? Yes, yes I did....Well, it was for sale! It wasn't yet on the market but a friend of ours had heard about it and the owner was opened to showings before it went on the market. Would i like to go see it? 

I, of course, said yes. A few days later we walked through it and a day later made an offer! It was less than a mile down the road from the other cottage we had looked at. It had less acreage but here's the crazy part...two houses! It was almost the exact same price as the other property but only really needed some cosmetic work. It hit so many things that we had on our list. And the process of the other house meant we had already gotten financing and worked through a ton of things which enabled us to quickly pull the trigger.

Tomorrow we settle on the house! We are only four months into 2017 and I can cross my top goal off the list. It has been a process of letting it hit my heart that this is really happening!! The journey to get us to this day as had so many ups and downs and twists and turns.The common theme of the last couple weeks has been for me to trust the process and trust that God has good things for us.  I know in my head that He does but because in life things haven't always turned out like I thought I start to doubt. Along the way God seems to be wanting to keep reminding me that He cares about my heart and its desires and even that He has put them there. That day we drove through the country and I pointed out two properties I liked, well they both ended up being for sale and our close friends are buying the other property! Crazy right? I joke that if you want a house just have me point it out and it will probably go up for sale. But really I think it is picture of God's heart for his children. It is easy when you walk through hard things like miscarriages, job losses and house changes to start to gear up your heart for disappointment. It is a posture shift to let go of past disappointments and receive what the Father has for us. Today I am letting it hit my heart. He is a Father who gives good gifts and miracles do happen!!!

Monday, October 24, 2016

There's so much grace.

Last week I turned thirty-eight. I spent the weekend in simple but meaningful celebration...a date night with my husband, dinner with good friends and officiating a small wedding. It was a good birthday. On the way home from the wedding Mark and I got into a discussion that lead into a full blown argument. It got heated very quickly and words were flying and emotions high. I cried and cried. Partly because of the fight partly because it was my birthday and we are not supposed to fight on my birthday!  We continued to fight the whole way home and then more after that. By the time we went to bed that night we had worked it out but it felt like it put a damper on the weekend.

The next morning I woke up feeling heavy. Mark and I were on good terms but I still felt the lingering emotions from the night before. Mark, Eden and I went for a little walk after we got the kids on the bus. It was a very foggy morning as we walked down the back lane of the farm.  It was like we were inside of a cloud the air was so thick. The sun was just starting to peek through as we walked. I was crying and sharing how heavy I felt. We looked up and saw what looked like an arch in the was a rainbow in the midst of the fog. We stopped in our tracks, marveling at the beauty. Eden tugged at our arms. "Mommy, Daddy, I feel like God put the rainbow in the sky to tell us everything is going to be okay".  I began to bawl. Out of the mouth of a child, the word of the Lord. I felt His nearness in her words. He meets us in the fog and heaviness. His promise is that everything is going to be okay. He is okay with it being messy and foggy and confusing sometimes. There is so much grace.

I have had this album on repeat lately and this chorus speaks to me everytime: "There is nothing I can do that will ever make you love me more. There's nothing I could do that would ever make you love me less." This is the voice of the Father. A picture of His heart for us. I often have trouble believing deep down in my soul believing it. I think one reason I have trouble really trusting the truth of those words stems from the unrealistic expectations I put on myself and those around me. Social media and perfectionism only feeds that disproportioned view of what life should look like. There is a constant pressure I can feel to get it all right. But when I truly believe the words of that song and walk through life with that knowledge tucked in my heart, it changes everything.

Yesterday we had church as a family.  Before you get the wrong idea of us sitting around singing hymns and reading scriptures, usually our church looks more like real life as we try to share some thoughts about God while someone burps and somebody else falls off their chair at the table. We talked about how we best connect with God. What things bring us peace and life. Almost all of us mentioned nature and hiking as a way we feel close to the Father. We decided to go on hike as a family at our favorite trail. As we all got our sweatshirts and sneakers on to get ready there was a lot of fighting and chaos as we tried to get out the door. I leaned over to Mark and jokingly said "I think I actually connect with God best by myself".

I was only half kidding. I can feel at peace and rest when the house is quiet, I have a hot cup of coffee and my thoughts are alone. And God often feels close in those moments. But that is also not reality of a majority of my days. God is there in the midst of the fighting and attitudes and less than perfect conditions. He is there when we lose it and there is nothing I can ever do to make Him love me less. I also tend to feel better about myself and our lives when the house is clean and everyone is on there best behavior, using their manners and being overall cute. But what is that really saying? I am trying to re-train my eyes to see God in those less than ideal moments, to feel the Father's heart saying in the fog and thickness of life "It's okay. I AM here. There's so much grace."

As I was sitting here typing this very blog entry, I heard rustling and knocking coming from the kitchen. I left my seat at the desk and peeked around the corner to see a bird banging at the kitchen window trying to get out. It was confused and kept flying right into the glass thinking that was the means of escape. It must have flown through our broken screen door and now was trapped. With the help of Eden we were able to chase the bird back out the door into freedom. It was simple really. We just opened the door. I often can feel like that bird stuck in my mind banging around on the window trying to get free. When all I need to do is open the door to freedom and grace and I am set free. There's so much grace.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

the gift

"Time stands still best in moments that look suspiciously like ordinary life"

During these last six weeks of not feeling like myself one of the things that has been hardest for me to hold on to is perspective. It has made me realize how much I take my health and body for granted and when I can't do what I want to do that is really hard for me. Depression can set in when I only see things through my narrow perspective.

I am feeling better every week and I know the Lord is teaching me so much about myself...learning to rest, letting go of the to do list, how I handle stress, the voices I listen to and so much more.  My neck and back issues have caused me to slow down, a gift in itself when I can stop fighting long enough to receive it. Every time people have prayed over me in the last month the words have always been about "rest" so I am starting to finally get it.

Sometimes I feel like I can only rest when all the work is done but with a family of seven there is always things to do. At times even when my body is resting my mind can be listing all the things that are still left undone. It is a continuous choice to change my focus point. I can focus on the mess, the laundry undone, the dishes in the sink, the flower beds that need weeded, the garden left unplanted or I can see the child in front of me wanting to read, the view of the meadow from the porch, the children laughing together while making mischief, the blessing of family, the gift of a husband who loves me. When my heart is at peace I can see these gifts so much clearer than when my mind is frantic and the pace of life is busy.

One of our dear photographer friends asked if she could come and take real life pictures of us for her portfolio.  She came on a Sunday morning and captured our weekend ritual of making brunch together. If these pictures had audio it would be loud and messy and chaotic. But these pictures speak volumes in themselves. They remind me of what is important. They put things in perspective.

 The gift of an ordinary day.

*Photography by Laura Burkholder

Sunday, May 8, 2016

take a bow.

For a tired and weary mama a date night is like a cold drink of water in the desert or a life raft thrown to you out at sea or some other dramatic analogy. It is more than needed. It is necessary.

So when a dear friend asked if she could watch the kids for us so we could go on a date I practically shouted "YES" and instantly pulled out my phone to put a date on the calendar. 
Tuesday night we drove together into the city excited to just be alone together. We went to one of our new favorite restaurants and enjoyed catching up on our days without being in competition with five other voices. After dinner we had been given free tickets to the Fulton theater which neither one of us had been at since we were kids. 

We sat in a sea of gray hair and we were the elite few under the age of 60 which we definitely shared a few laughs about. But we enjoyed sitting close holding hands none the less.
The play was good...sad and funny. But what stuck out to me the most was how the main actress totally gave herself to the role. You could feel the emotion she projected and at the end when she took her bow you could still see the tears fresh on her face from the closing scene. She looked spent and yet still in character. It was impressive to watch.

I commented about this to Mark as we walked out of the theater. " That must be exhausting to do that day in and day yourself so fully to the role"
As I said it there was something inside of me that connected with that feeling and I felt like I could cry. 
Mark turned and looked at me "That's what you do for us every day as a mom"

Tears welled up in my eyes as he said those words. I knew it was true. Sometimes I feel like there is something wrong with me that I am tired at the end of every day but the reality is I am exhausted because I am giving myself to the role. The most important role that I will ever play. The one I have always wanted to be. 

Mother. Mom. Mommy.

I am tired because I am doing it. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Unraveling: Just Breathe

As a baby when I was frustrated or upset I would hold my breath. My mom tells the story of how she put me in the play pen so she could get some stuff done without me crawling all over the place getting into things. I apparently did not like being confined so I screamed and cried and held my breath till my face turned blue...and I passed out. I can only imagine my Mom's horror at her pig tailed one year old turning blue and going limp before her eyes.

Moses did the same thing several times as a baby and he comes by it naturally and I guess it speaks of my stubbornness and strong will. But also how when I am upset or frustrated that I will literally forget to breath. Lately there are times where I finding myself holding my breath and I don't even realize it till I go to take a deep breath and it literally feels like there is not enough air. I don't realize how much I am holding it all in.

Usually this happens before school when getting everyone out the door or at the dinner time crazy hour. It goes something like this. I am trying to make dinner or think about what the heck I am going to cook for dinner. Somebody punched somebody. An anxious thought goes through my head. Another kid is screaming. This kid needs help with their homework or wants me to sign the upteenth paper/folder/permission slip. Mark is calling from work with a question. I think to myself so and so's kids probably don't act like this. A loud cry of "MOMMMY".  And then I try to take a breath and realize I can't breath. I have been holding my breath with each thing coming at me.

I need to learn some new patterns.
I need to breathe. 

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on the religion? Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me. Watch how I do it.Learn the unforced rhythms of GRACE. I won't lay anything heavy or ill fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly"~matthew 11:28-30 the message

"A mother's labor and delivery never ends and for years she has to remember to just take a deep breath. Whole battles can be won by one breath and a prayer at a time."
~ann voskamp

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Unraveling: Reviving dry bones

"Anxiety and depression dry the bones. His love is blood reaching every part. His love awakens the dying parts, knits me back together mind, body and soul"
~ Amber Haines

I feel like I am constantly fighting back the demons of fear and worry these days. If it not fear about my own body and the weird process it seems to be going through then it is about something happening to Mark or the kids. Sometimes when the fear comes it is literally like I can't do anything else and guess what my neck starts hurting more too. It is all connected more than I realize.

I felt like the Lord asked me the other day what I was so afraid of. 

I am afraid because I really do have a beautiful life. I am afraid of both not fully enjoying it and also of losing it. Oddly enough the fear is what prevents from enjoying it. There are days and moments (like the  hair pulling, nerve scratching, dinner time crazy hour) where I want to escape my life...melt into the walls or hide in the bathroom because the noise, fighting, constant demands, and internal battles seem to be draining the very life out of me and I fear losing my mind. But that very same life I want to escape at times is the very life I am so desperately afraid to lose. So at times I teeter back and forth between the two feeling like a crazy woman.

Jesus help me.

The truth is, it is hard. This mothering thing is hard. The demands are very real. And I put way too much pressure on myself.
The truth is also this, that I am not in control of much but I can be in control of my thoughts. And worry only drains me.  Fear doesn't stop things from only stops me from enjoying the moments in front of me.

Jesus drown my fears in your perfect love. Revive these dry bones. Awaken my soul.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Unraveling: Learning to Swim

"I wanted a way of living that felt more like living and less like drowining"
~Shauna Niequist

I had been feeling like I was drowning. Like everything felt like too much and when I tried to come up for air I was more gulping mouths full of water than really breathing. Something needed to change.

After three weeks of continued neck pain I went to a chiropractor. Just going there felt like I was pushing through a lot of fear but I knew I needed help and I could literally feel something moving in and out of place. Just resting wasn't healing it. Also now I was having hip pain too. The X-rays confirmed I had a bunch of stuff going on in my neck and also my hip...degenerative discs and a compressed disc causing the pinched nerves to name a few. They suggested I come twice a week for 6 weeks to start with.

I fell apart when I got the diagnosis. I felt so weak. Frustrated. Ashamed.

At the same time I was drowning in fears. In doubt. In the weight of being a mother. In the pressures of day to day life.

I literally felt like I was being unraveled.

But then God spoke to me tenderly in church one morning that he is doing more than just realigning my bones but my heart also. I am being unraveled but it is out of love not punishment. It is a healing down to my very bones. He is healing me from the inside out.

"You unravel me with a melody
You surround me with a song
My deliverance from my enemies 
Till all my fears are calmed
I am no longer a slave to fear

I am a child of God".

~ Jonathan and Melissa Helser

And when God is unraveling you it is a good thing. It is like He is shining his healing light onto things in my heart. "Here this needs to be looked at" and "I would like to take this from you". My job is to be quiet and listen...and trust the process, something that is so hard when I want instant healing and results. I need to remember this, God wants to restore my joy to the point where life doesn't feel like it is constantly draining and every little thing is exhausting. He doesn't want me to drown but swim and get this, enjoy it.

"Promise me you will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your head above the waves that you forget, truly forget, how much you have always loved to swim."
~Tyler Knott Gregson

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Unraveling: When God has our backs

I am going to start a little series called "The Unraveling". It is about the process I am currently in. Writing my thoughts out has been part of the unraveling process and pushing publish feels a bit scary and vulnerable but my hope is these words might resonate with someone else too. And also that I may someday look back and recall to mind what the Lord has done.


I laid next to the thrashing toddler gently holding her down. I knew she was exhausted, the tears whining and fussing all morning had proven that. Yet here she was screaming and crying and fighting her nap. "Why are you fighting rest?" I wanted to ask and started to. But the words stopped short and seemed to be staring back at me.

It had been a rough week or so. I had woken up one morning with a stiff neck and pinched nerve in my shoulder. The first couple days I just tried to ignore it. I have noticed this pattern that sometimes when I am not feeling well I add more onto my plate. It is like subconsciously I am feeling out of control so I decide that cleaning out closets and organizing the pantry makes sense when my neck is killing me. It is not logical at all but it is what I do. Finally after a week of a stiff neck and discomfort I broke down and cried. Fell apart really. I recognized how much tension I was feeling inside. I wasn't sure what was cause and effect but it didn't matter. I could say I wasn't tense but if a kid touched me the wrong way or didn't respond how I wanted it was like they were reaching inside of me and pushing a nerve and I reacted. Usually with a harsh tone or impatient gesture. I needed to start to unwind.

So here I was laying with Eden wondering why she was fighting rest. All that was waiting for her on the other side was the comfort of my arms and peace for her body and mind. But she was fighting. After continued efforts and encouragement and me gently holding her down she finally fell asleep.

It was time for me to do the same. I cleared off my schedule. Started to take time to rest on the couch. Use the heating pad. Let the laundry and dishes pile up. My neck started to feel a little better. But I 
still felt knotted up inside.

I have been feeling lately like I just want things to slow down and stop, for the merry go round that is life to pause. But when my body started to scream for rest it was hard for me to pause. I didn't realize how much pressure I had been putting on myself and  a lot of the expectations I felt were internal. I am a stay at home mom and my own boss but sometimes I am just downright bossy and a slave driver not giving myself grace. I also started to see how since Eden has stopped napping I had stopped resting too and picked up the mentality that the more I got done in a day the better. When I was finally forced to stop I felt frustrated by how I couldn't do what I wanted to do. It felt like a punishment rather than a blessing of rest. I also realized how easy it was to get distracted from true rest by picking up my phone. Sometimes we need to stop fighting and rest and sometimes we need to fight for the rest.

Around this same time Mark came home from the gym and had pulled a muscle in his back. We were quite the couple with his sore back and my stiff neck taking our Motrin and snuggling with our heating pads and both struggling a bit for perspective. A friend of ours had been praying for him right after it happened and felt like God was wanting to speak something through it and the word was this:
"He has our backs"

Why do I have so much trouble believing deep down trusting this?

 He has our backs. He's got my neck. He has my life.

My heart can be at rest.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Our kids pulled out our wedding video the other night and called for me to join them as I cleaned the kitchen. I reluctantly set down my dish towel and piled on the couch to watch with them. They had pulled out the disc that contained an hour or so of footage of us getting ready and having our pictures taken. It was unedited and raw. And can I say completely uncomfortable to watch. 

I stared at the screen at the young girl before my eyes with the freckles and wrinkle free face. Her hair was pulled back in a simple bun and she wore only a little mascara. She seemed reserved and nervous. Part of me wanted to change how she looked and wanted her to be something that she wasn't yet. She seemed so innocent and child like. I looked at the groom next to her who looked so young and happy and carefree. I wanted to tell the couple what was ahead. How many twists and turns would come in the next 14 years...job changes and moves and many houses. They would experience miscarriages and babies, times of celebration and great disappointment. I wanted to tell the girl she would have someone in diapers for twelve years straight! How she would find and lose herself over and over and would learn her style and her giftings. How motherhood would be the biggest challenge and the greatest gift. I wanted to tell her how that man standing there who she had not even yet kissed would become her best friend. He was the man she rested her head on and cried with when things were rough. How some days he could make her so mad but she is so much more in love with him now than on the day she would say I do.  I wanted to share with her how his hand in hers would feel like home. I wanted to tell her that life was hard but also beautiful and that things really did get better with time. 

Watching the video the kids laughed and made fun of me and I cringed hard at myself but laughed along at the awkwardness. Sarah scoffed at my dress and puffy veil and sparkly flip flops and asked if I would change anything. I wanted to say yes and started to but I paused and thought about her question. Yes, today our wedding would look different and yes, we are very different people from those two standing before me on the screen but that was who we were then and it has shaped who we are today.

"No Sarah, I wouldn't change a thing".

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

the couch.

Thirteen years ago a newlywed couple went couch shopping for their new apartment in the city. The bought a comfy couch on sale for a great price and proceeded to get into a huge fight on where to put it in their new living room. They eventually worked it out and the couch found a spot that they could agree on and they made that apartment home.

That same couch moved with us seven more times to different homes and living rooms. City row houses and country farmhouses and a beach house in North Carolina. The couch was a constant. We brought five babies home from the hospital to this couch where I would sit for hours nursing and burping and changing diapers. I laid on this couch pleading to God to save my baby when we had our first miscarriage. I threw myself on this couch and bawled on the day I found out we were miscarrying twins. I spent many nauseous days laying on this couch. On sick days we spread blankets on its seats and it become a refuge of rest for children to get better. Couples too numerous to count have sat on this couch sharing laughter and stories and tears. Movie nights and forts and jumping antics have inhabited these cushions. Bedtime stories, afternoon naps, and winter nights cuddling with the man I love...all happened on this same couch.

The couch has held up remarkably well for all that has encompassed these thirteen years but lately it has been looking a little sad and saggy and I have found myself pining away something different. In September we bought a building with some close friends in downtown Lancaster that houses Mark's office and new co working space.We spent most of the fall working on the office and buying things to furnish the space. I think watching his office get transformed made me want to buy new furniture. I convinced myself a new leather couch was just what I wanted and would transform my living room. I found a leather couch on Craigslist that was a great price from Pottery Barn and even though it was way darker than I liked we decided to go for it. Mark drove an hour and half away to buy this couch and brought it home and...I hated it. It was way too dark, not at all the look I wanted. I have been drawn to the "boho" style with its warm earthy colors and plants on Pinterest and have been pining pictures of leather couches not taken into consideration that nothing in my house matches that look. Ugh. I cried. Over the couch that I hated. From disappointment and embarrassment that I didn't really know what I wanted. And I cried because I was now still stuck with my thirteen year old couch.

Long story short, the hated leather couch (which is actually beautiful) found its way to Mark's studio and looks amazing with its white walls and floors. The old velveteen rabbit of a sofa want back to its initial home. And you know what...I actually feel happy.

I learned what I don't want. The old couch looked much better in our home than the leather one. And I found a new love for our couch and all the faithful ways it has been there for us over the years.

Maybe a new couch is still in my near future but sometimes what you already have is better than you think. You just need a new perspective.