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The Long, Dark Night

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I have had a difficult time writing for the blog lately.  Admittedly, we have had a long, hard winter and I felt burned out.  What is there to say when you cannot say anything positive?  I did not even realize that I was feeling pretty down until about a month ago.  We were offered a crazy opportunity to go out West to a 30,000 acre ranch  and manage the property.  In some ways, it felt like a dream come true, but the timing was terrible.  We have spent almost three years building this place.  To abandon it now seemed almost criminal.  What this opportunity did, though, was start the process of unthawing our hearts from the long winter and made us really reflect on what it is we are doing here, why we came here, and what we want moving forward.  It has been hard to see any of that because we have gotten so caught up in the details of finishing this place that we got a little bit lost.  When we moved here, it felt very intentional.  It felt like God was leading us here for something really amazing.  We felt driven.  Over  the last three years, we have really felt like we were lost in the wilderness, so to speak.  We felt like God was really silent, which made all of our struggle seem even more challenging.  In the last few weeks, in addition to really finding our center again, we have also been renewing our resolve to live ‘the good life’ as described by Scott and Helen Nearing.  That is how all of this started.  My husband and read their book years ago, and shared it with me when we were still in Alaska.  We became convinced that a better life consisted of a life that involved growing our own food, spending more time outdoors than in, and raising our family around God.  We wanted to utilize technology, but not be slaves to it.

As we begin to unthaw, and the dawn begins to break, we have begun to have hope and purpose again.  I have been reflecting on our journey here, and everywhere I look, I see the progression of our house, and feel such a sense of pride and accomplishment.  Tomorrow we will finish installing the hot water heater and washing machine.  The flooring is on order.  The last two doors are soon to be installed.  We are beginning to wrap up Phase One of Project Homestead.

You have realized by now, I am sure, that I like to reflect.  It helps me to see where we have been, where we are, and where we are going.  I have been reflecting as we prepare to install the washing machine, and thinking about how our lives and comforts have progressed.  I find it interesting that it is now that we are becoming burned out, instead of at any of the other points in the last three years when we have been so much less comfortable.  When we started here, in July of 2014, we were bathing with a solar shower, washing clothes in a bucket, cooking on a camp stove, and doing dishes in a portable camp sink.  We upgraded slowly, VERY slowly.  One year later, we were living in a travel trailer (relative luxury), going to the laundromat, and eating, cooking, and cleaning in the camper.  It took  one-and-a-half years to get indoor plumbing and electricity.  It took two years to get a proper kitchen.  Now, after three years, I am done with the laundromat, done with boiling water on the stove for the kids’ bathwater.

There is almost no evidence left of the way we lived, and what we suffered through to be here now.  The memories linger, however; and make me thankful- every time I take a shower, every time I make a meal, every time I grab something out of the fridge, every time I  sit and watch a movie.  I am thankful for what God has given us, and that he has made us work for every little bit of it in order to give us REAL perspective.  It is so easy to be complacent and just plod along in life – especially now with cellphones, Internet, and technology all around us.  As we come to an end of what has been, for us, a long, cold dark night, I look forward to the coming dawn and all that God has in store for us!

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Blinded by Your Presence

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I had this huge epiphany last night when I should have been sleeping. Our newest child has been putting us through the ringer at night. She is 8 months old and has been waking up every hour or two since the day that she arrived in our arms. Due to the space restrictions while building our home, her portable crib was set up in our room, right next to our bed. We felt that this was necessary due to her frequent waking, so that she did not wake the boys. As a result, we have been severely sleep deprived for months, and everything else has been much more difficult a a result of our general fatigue. Two nights ago, we made the decision to set the portable crib up downstairs and put her down there so that we could attempt to train her to soothe herself back to sleep at night without needing our assistance. The first night she nursed at 10:30pm and did not wake up again until 7:30am. I, on the other hand, woke three or four times to check on her and make sure that she was still breathing! The second night, she woke up at 3:30am and then slept until 9:00am when the rest of us came down for breakfast. It was at this 3:30am moment when I realized that my tiny little daughter has much to teach all of us about presence. In our presence, she could not sleep.

As I was walking back upstairs to bed, I was struck by this hilarious irony. How many times in this process have we been blinded or frozen by presence? Because we are immersed in this madness of building a house, we cannot see the joy in what is all around us. Because we are in the presence of our children 24 hours a day, we have difficulty enjoying them and appreciating them the way we might if we had some absence from them. And just as true as presence, is absence. Because we have felt God’s absence in our lives, we have doubted, also, his presence.

My little Sophie taught me so much in these two nights. She has taught me that just because we want something does not mean that we need it. Just because we feel something, it does not always mean that it is in our best interest. Just because something seems good or helpful, or loving, does not mean that it is what we need. Also on the flip side, just because something is absent, does not mean that it is not present. I am always present for my little girl, but being absent has proven to be better for both of us. Perhaps this is the way with God. Not to say that his absence is better, but to say that if we feel his absence, he is still always present. I pray, as I go to sleep tonight, that my children will always feel my presence even when I am absent. That my children will always feel God. That my husband and I will never doubt God’s presence in our lives even in what feels like absence. That we will be able to look back on this time and see beauty, and growth, and success, even in times that feel ugly, and full of struggle, and pain. I thank God for using this tiny moment to teach me something that feels huge. Presence and absence bringing us to the same truth.

How Low Can You Go?

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I am dating myself, but do any of you remember playing limbo on the roller skating rink?  I do!  We were out there roller skating with the lights flashing and the music playing and the announcer yelling, “How low can you go?”.  There was always a line, different for each of us, that meant the difference between rolling smoothly under the limbo stick, or falling on your butt on the rink floor.   I feel like we are in the throes of discovering where our line is and I am not sure that we are skating so smoothly these days.  We are tired of playing the limbo game and we are ready to just be skating across the rink with no more obstacles in our way.

It has been almost two years since we drove onto this property.  Everyone is tired.  We are tired of living in limbo, we are tired of having all our belongings in boxes.  We are tired of having our living room be consumed by power tools.  We are tired of coming home and not being comfortable.  I think the most difficult thing is not knowing when we will be out of this state of limbo and into the comfort of a finished home.  Today we spent most of the day moving back out to the camper.  It makes me tired and anxious to pack things up and move them yet again, even if it is only to move them thirty feet across the yard to the camper.   Tomorrow we will finish clearing out the downstairs so that we can finish the drywall, paint,  get the tongue and groove on the ceiling, and install the rest of the electrical outlets and lights.  We will get a quote for kitchen cabinets and hopefully get them installed by the end of summer.  I am apprehensive.  I do not know how much we will get done and we are both feeling really, really tired.  We need to finish enough by winter that we can stop living in limbo.  I want to unpack.  I want to have my clothes hanging in the closet.  I want to have carpet in the bedrooms.  I want to have a living room that has a couch in it instead of a band saw.  I want to cook on a real stove and use the Coleman Camp Stove for camping, not daily living.  I want to wash a load of laundry after the kids go to bed, not trudge everyone to the Laundromat and have it take all day.

I know that God will work in our lives to teach us to be humble, to be more patient, and to lose our pride, and selfishness.  I know that he wants to be the center of our lives.  I know that we also do not get any more hardship than we can handle, but I am really wondering right now how God knows where my breaking point is, because I feel like I am there.  I pray every day for strength, for stamina, for discernment, for guidance, for hope….. Some days are good, many are not.  Each time I tackle yet another challenge, it gets harder, because I am tired of playing the game!  I keep having to remind myself that we chose this path and it is our path to walk through to the finish line.   Praying and hoping that when we get to the finish, we will still feel like skating.  Joseph is my guide these days, as I think about how long he struggled before he was able to realize the true meaning of his dream and follow it to fruition, and how much loss and heartache he must have felt in the meantime.

A Single Moment

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I used to lay in bed at night after a particularly good or bad day and review the events of the day in my head- like a slideshow.  I would see pictures of things that happened as if I were watching a movie.  I would review the individual moments that made up the whole of my day and if they were bad moments, I would sometimes try to think in my head how they could have been good moments, or how the outcome could have changed.  I was thinking about that yesterday, as I was trying to survive another day at home with the three kids.  The baby screamed whenever she was awake, the two year old skipped his nap and screamed for two hours, and I was exhausted.  I had these MOMENTS during the day, that made it all seem okay.  The moment where the baby smiled at her brothers as they were cooing over her her and giving her kisses.  The moment where the boys were actually playing together instead of fighting.  The moment where my four-year-old came up and gave me an unsolicited hug for no reason.  It is the moment that perhaps defines us, or at least how we view the moment.  I have resolved to try and review these good moments each and every day and let the bad moments slip through my mind like sand through my fingers…..

There are days when the good moments are few, but it is the good moments that will make memories.  I cannot be a perfect mother.  I cannot be a perfect wife.  I cannot be a perfect ME, but God sees me and loves me where I am, not where I need to be.  If only I could be this forgiving of myself!  It is the moments that I will remember when I think about building our home.  It is the moments I will remember when I think back on the kids.  I do not want to let the bad moments define me or my memories.  What we are doing is TOUGH.  What we are doing is also AMAZING.

When I think back on the moments that have brought us to this place, this house, I see us driving away from our home in West Virginia with two trucks, two trailers, two kids, and a dog.  I see us so idealistic, pulling into our field and setting up a tent to live in with only vague ideas of how the house is going to get built.  I see the baby learning to crawl in a 10  x 20 tent.  I see our older son taking a bath in a storage bin and loving it.  I see my husband working hard every day to build this house.  I see my son running through the field shrieking because a cricket (or was it a frog?) attached itself to his Spiderman boot.  I see the MUD everywhere from the torrential rains that had to come the summer we camped in a tent.  I see my son learning from his father how to hold a hammer, how to light a fire, how to be a SURVIVOR.  I see our younger son sitting on the floor ‘carving’ with his papa.  I see the baby smiling at her brothers and completely, blissfully unaware of the unfinished drywall, the madness and mayhem of an unfinished home.  I see my husband and I up on a lift at 10:00 at night trying to put the stove pipe up by headlamp while the boys are sleeping inside- he keeps trying to move around on the lift and there is no room because I am so pregnant.  I see my older son riding his bike with no training wheels, racing down the driveway ahead of me while I walk with our younger son.  I see the boys running to the garden to pick the ripe tomatoes and bring them back to me, squished by their fat little fingers, but offered up as a wonderful delicacy.  I hear the boys giggling and playing in their bunks in the travel trailer and I want to be mad because they should be sleeping, but it reminds me of my brother and I in our bunk many years ago….  I remember playing cards with my husband by oil lamp and talking about what God wants for us.

There are so MANY things that I remember, and many of them are hard.  It is my hope that as a family, we can all look back on these years and remember the moments that brought smiles, laughter, and love and that these moments will hold more POWER than the moments that brought sadness, anger, or tears.  I never really thought about it before- how much power a moment can have, and how much power I can have if I choose to redefine the moment and make it something positive to help me get through my day.  It is interesting to look at the definition of the word MOMENT.  Websters defines it as 1. a brief period in time 2. importance 3.  a tendency to produce motion..  What a cool idea that a MOMENT can be an important period in time that has a tendency to produce motion!!   May the moments we play over an over in our minds at the end of the day be something that we choose to hold onto to help propel us forward instead of keeping us stagnant or held hostage to our fears and anxieties about what the moment COULD have been.

A Season for Love

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Last night, we were finally laying down to sleep after a two hour adventure to put together a Fire Station for the boys to have on Christmas Day.  It was after midnight and we should have gone right to sleep, but we lay awake talking about the boys, about being parents, about things that we wished for our kids.  I made the comment that if I could have any present in the whole world for Christmas, I would ask God to make me the parent that my kids need me to be.  I get angry sometimes; I yell sometimes; I get impatient; I do not always nurture their spirits but I get frustrated and say things that I shouldn’t.  As we lay in bed, talking about Christmas, I finally verbalized what I have been thinking about for a long time.  Just make me the parent that they need.  Just do that for me, God, and I do not want anything else in the whole world.

This afternoon our oldest son was jumping up and down, begging for me to go on a walk outside with him.  I didn’t want to.  We were all still in our pajamas at 4pm in the afternoon on Christmas Day.  I reluctantly put on our younger sons shoes and coat and we trudged outside for ‘an adventure’.  We walked the length of the field, down to the edge of the trees.  I walked beside my younger son, holding his hand in mine as our oldest ran ahead of us, constantly narrating out loud his interpretation of the world around us.  I was overcome with love for these boys, for this moment, for the chance to walk with them and reflect on our life, our property, our path.

So many times in the past four years, I have had people speak to me about the ‘seasons’ in life, and specifically how this was my season to be a parent.  They were referring to the fact that this is my most important job right now, and one that I need to be completely and totally devoted to.  This is my season, and like it or not, this is where God means for me to be.  I never quite grasped this idea, because I wasn’t sure that this was a season that I WANTED to be in.  Not to say that I did not want to be a parent, but I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be a parent to the exclusion of everything else in my life.  As I walked in the field, crunching through the snow, holding my sons hand, I suddenly GOT IT.  This evening, as the new baby lay sleeping downstairs in the bouncy, I took an extra 20 minutes to sing to my youngest son in the rocking chair and hold him until he fell asleep.  Then I read some extra books to the oldest, and tucked him into bed, and finally, I sat on the couch with my husband on one side of me and the sleeping baby girl on the other side, and thought about seasons.  It doesn’t matter if this is what I thought it would be.  It doesn’t matter if it is what I want to be doing every minute of every day.  What matters is that right now, for this brief moment in their lives, I am their everything, and they NEED me.  They need me to be present.  They need me to be loving.  They need me to be patient and kind and nurturing.  I have finally, after four years and three kids, figured out that there is no room in my life for selfishness.  It serves no purpose.  My kids did not ask to be here, it was a choice that we made and now it is my season to give all my love and life to them.  I cannot promise tht I will not yet get impatient with them, or angry, or say things that I shouldn’t, but I finally get my purpose, my season.  RIght here, right now, my days are meant to be spent sitting on the floor playing games, or singing songs before bed, or brushing teeth, getting clothes on wiggly bodies, and holding hands while we walk in the snow. Instead of thinking about all of the other things that I could or should be doing, I just need to be present for them and given them all of my love.  Thank you, God, for giving me the only thing that I wanted for Christmas.  Thank you for finally opening my eyes to see what a precious and important job that I have been entrusted with.    Thank you for the chance to love them- may I continue to grow and become the parent that they need, and the parent/person that YOU want me to be, instead of the person that I think I want to be.

Why Our Family Needed This

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I didn’t know if I wanted a baby girl. I knew what to do with boys. They were familiar, even in their madness and mayhem.  I felt strangely indifferent. Then I saw her. In the first hours after she was born, my husband lay sleeping beside us after a long night, and the boys were watching cartoons with the midwife. I lay awake and just stared at her tiny face, her soft lips, and silky hair. I could not stop looking at her.

Almost a week later, I have not put her down for more than a few minutes at a time. I have the bassinet next to the bed, but she hasn’t slept in it yet. She sleeps snuggled up in my arms, cuddling her soft face into my neck. I have so few moments to myself, but what time I do have, I spend in precious quietness with her.

I didn’t know how much I needed her until I held her in my arms. She brings softness and beauty and grace to a world that feels out of control. It has been a year and a half now since we left the comfort of our home to come to this land and build a homestead. In that year and a half we have lived in a tent for five months, a camper for another six months, and we are now living in a partially finished house. I am surrounded by harshness. Our reality consists of chopping wood every day for the stove, using a generator or oil lamp for light, hauling water in blue seven gallon jugs, trying to keep the house clean with two boys, my husband, and two dogs crammed into a tiny living space- it makes me weary. Concrete floors and unfinished drywall glare at me downstairs while I am attempting to make dinner on a camp stove by oil lamp. I look past the card table that serves as a dining table and see tools in the area that should be a living room. The boys are loud and rambunctious upstairs and keep wearing holes in their socks and pajamas on the unfinished wood floor. They run and scream and jump and the only quietness comes when they are sleeping.

And then, surrounded by madness, I look down and see little Sophie sleeping in the sling, completely at home against my chest. It melts my guard. It softens my weariness that this life is giving me. It lifts my burden of stress and anxiety and makes me feel quiet and soft and peaceful. At night, I rub my cheek against her hair and drift to sleep listening to her breathing. This is why God gave us a girl, and this is why he gave her to us now. We all needed her gentleness, her softness, her beauty. Even the boys seem to recognize that she is different. They whisper around her, and stroke her soft hair. They tell her that they love her and then run off to continue screaming and jumping and playing. My husband says that she is the rose among the thorns.  I thank God daily for giving her to us and pray for him to continue using this little rose to  lift up our tired and weary hearts.

In God’s Time

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Today just did not go the way I had hoped. Our plan was to go into town and get our supplies for putting in the wood stove. Tomorrow, we had a guy coming out to install the roof pieces. Instead, we didn’t find one piece that we needed, and the whole thing is put off for a couple weeks. We were grumpy most of the day. This evening, we talked about timing. Timing really is everything. The funny part is that our timing is nothing, and Gods timing is everything. God knows what we need, and I am just way too proud if I am going to pretend to know anything about what I need. We have had so many things from the start of this adventure that have been perfect examples of this. God’s timing brought family here just when we needed them. We have had money come just when we needed it. We have had people help us exactly when we needed it. Projects have not worked out and as a result, other things have been able to happen. It is so easy to be angry about not getting the wood stove in. It doesn’t change anything, though- it still isn’t going to get done. Realizing this will hopefully allow us to realize that because it isn’t going to happen, something else will. This entire project has been one crazy lesson after another. We are tired- tired of uncertainty, tired of being unsettled, tired of daily having to make decisions that we do not feel prepared for, tired of things not working out the way we hoped. We are trying to remember each and every day, though, that in the end, things work out exactly as they were meant to.

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