The Pink Ceiling Fan

As you know, this summer has been a challenging one. A long lesson in faith, I guess. A lesson I feel sure that I failed in many ways. I have been so discouraged and have done a whole lot of praying and asking God to take my teeny tiny mustard seed faith and grow it.

A couple things we have learned and are learning are that God is with us, even in the dark places, where it is easy to feel His silence. And that it is SO very important to keep your eyes fixed on things above and not on earthly things. I did a lot of confessing this past weekend about where my eyes were fixed. I had to get to a place of finding my peace in my Lord and Savior and not in prayers answered or unanswered. It is a daily battle, for sure!

This past Monday, we woke up thinking, “Oh my goodness, we have 7 days left to find a place to live.” I began my Monday with (reluctant) renewed vigor in my search and had several disappointments that day. On Tuesday, I gathered my waning strength and tackled the search again. Waning because sometimes it’s hard to keep going after numerous disappointments in a row. Like 2 years worth. I felt very depleted and weary but somehow God gave me the strength to get through another day.

I made an appointment Wednesday to look at a condo. I went prepared with all the information I needed to fill out an application immediately, having learned my lesson from our lost house a few weeks ago. I felt sick to my stomach as we pulled up (my gma came with E and I) because the pressure felt so big.  Five days left and no other prospects to fit our family. My grandma asked if she could pray for me and she prayed specifically that I would have such peace if it was a good place.

I took a deep breath and walked inside hand-in-hand with Eliana and as soon as I walked in and started looking around, peace settled over me and I knew I found a place we could live.

And so, today, after 2 months of searching, we signed a lease to our “new” home for the next year. Praise the Lord! What a weight off. It is a condo with 3 good-sized bedrooms, 2 1/2 bathrooms and even a small garage! We’ve never even had such a thing:) There is green grass out back for the kids to play and even a cute wooden playground a couple houses away for all the neighborhood kids to play on. The landlords are sweet and our children are absolutely ecstatic to finally have a place of our own! Orange door and all:) And the icing on the cake? The darling pink ceiling fan in the room where Eliana will sleep. We all walked in, spotted it, and knew that it was a oh-so-small but special way for God to say, “I’m here with you.”

We have the weekend to start moving stuff over but will probably do our bigger furniture on Monday, when (hopefully) we find some help. My poor, poor piano is desperate for air!!

A few other blessings for the day: registration for the boys’ new school was very easy and they start on Tuesday. It is hard to switch them again after just a week and a half of school but I think knowing we will be settling down will help them transition more easily. Please pray for a smooth transition for them, new friends and great teachers!

And to top off the day, Ben got a small raise today and was told they are going to start grooming him for a higher position in the company. Wow!

So the lesson I want to remember in all of this is that God does hear and care and even the smallest things are important to Him. Like making a little girl feel special with her very own pink ceiling fan….

Which makes her mama feel loved, too.

Closing summer and making plans.

 Our boys survived their first week at a brand-new school! This week didn’t look anything like we originally thought it would, a couple months ago. I told the boys we would probably be settled in our new place long before school started and have time to scope out the area and meet some kids at the parks, etc.

Instead, we chewed our fingernails to bits (figuratively speaking, of course!), waiting and waiting for the answer to prayer that was sure to come before school started…..only to have the answer not be the one we hoped for. I am SO proud of my boys for doing as well as they did this week. They did a whole lot better than their mama, that’s for sure.

The 2nd and 3rd days of school went a lot smoother than the first (the drop-off was frustratingly chaotic) and the boys had some really good things to say. Samuel even got rewarded for good listening at school on a behavior chart all the classes have. He felt really good about that!

My grandma has been hauling us all over town for the past month since Ben started his jobs. The kiddos are in a tight squeeze in the back of her little Taurus, which makes for many repeated reminders that we are in a small space together and need to keep our voices DOWN. But they are happy kiddos, even if ornery:)

Last Saturday, we got to spend some much-needed time with Grandma and the boys cousins! We had a very full day, starting with brunch! We ate, then played at a cute park, went to Target, had frozen yogurt and ended up at the river to throw rocks:)

4 boys and one little princess:) (one boy is missing from the picture!)

That’s Eliana carrying her brother’s pirate sword around. She’s pretty ferocious, isn’t she?!

They had so much fun it was hard to tear them away!! We had such a nice day:)

On Tuesday, my trio and I decided to have one last little hurrah before the busy school season started. We headed over to the pool and were one of the first to arrive! It was a pretty low-crowd kind of day, for which we were very thankful.

The boys had SUCH a good time and actually spent time swimming (finally!) and did not want to leave. I feel like they finally got the hang of swimming and relaxing at the pool, only to have the season end!

Buddies:) (Well, okay, let’s be honest here. This came after some screaming on Eliana’s part and a refusal to scoot over on Z’s part. But finally the law won and peace was made.)

Chillin’ in his own chair:) He has begged to go back to the pool every day this week!

And something fun! Guess whose book is out?! That’s right. Check out that name at the top!

And it’s a doozy, too, coming in at 508 pages. Yes, sirree Bob, that’s a whole lotta work that went into that book. 4 years to be exact….Oh, well, 5 if you count the painful process of editing!

Don’t be asking for a copy anytime soon, though. A) You probably won’t understand very much of it:) and B) It costs a whopping $160 a book. Wow.

Ben likes to say that it also doubles as a fly-swatter, a cure for insomnia or a great window-holder upper. His joking aside, I am super proud of him! He accomplished what few people can with his studies and even though we can’t exactly see how God will use his knowledge and giftings, we are trusting that someday we will!
And as for other updates, Eliana got into preschool! It’s been very difficult to sign up for anything at all since our whole life has been up in the air but we found a place for her 2 days a week and she is SOOO excited! She was bringing her book bag to her brothers’ school open house and wanting to put her supplies inside their desks (break my heart!) so we kept assuring her we would find something soon! This just fell into place a few days ago, very easily. And as I am needing to count all of my blessings right now, however big and small, I am very thankful for this! She starts in just over a week.

Also, we are trying to learn not to be stressed out by deadlines because we are learning that our timelines and God’s are apparently not the same. Boo. We only have until September 1st here before we absolutely have to leave. The only way we could get a really brief extension would be if we could tell them a specific date we were moving into a new place. The board has been gracious enough to allow us to stay here all summer but the time has come for us to move on.

Not that we haven’t been trying. I admit, I have been incredibly discouraged and frustrated this week by all of the dead-ends and bizarre experiences we have had with trying to find a place to live. We have never ever had trouble like this. Some days I really want to give up and move to England. Please pray, of course, that this would be the week God would open up something for us, but most of all, for me to fix my eyes on Him and not on things that I think would make things easier. Like, I don’t know…..having a place to live and being able to settle and make plans. Things like that. I’m having a hard time letting that go and keeping my eyes upwards and I really need some prayer for grace.

After all, drawing close to our Father, in the midst of trials and pain, shows us that nothing here on earth can really ever satisfy us or give us true peace. I need to learn where my true source of Peace is and draw from it (Him), instead of assuming I’ll feel peace once my prayers are answered. Tough lesson to learn.

And I think I’d rather learn my lesson asap instead of feeling the way I have this past week or two….

Beauty In The Midst.

“Do you trust Me?” Is the question God asked me this morning. And I am ashamed to say that my answer is, “Yes. No. Sometimes?” I know He can do amazing things, I just struggle to believe that He will anymore…because He hasn’t for awhile. Make sense?

I realized on Sunday that for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been mad. Mad at God. Sometimes I think we don’t even know that we are. We’re mad at the situation. We’re mad at people around us for not understanding enough or trying to understand too much or just for being near enough to get burned by our emotions. We’re mad at what was and what isn’t and what we didn’t get. We’re mad because there’s nothing, nothing we can do to change it!

But on Sunday morning, as we drove to church, Ben was sharing something he had been reading and he said something about people being angry with God when things are out of their control and it was like an arrow flew through the dewy morning and pierced my crusted heart. Mad…

And so, the ice that had been ever so slowly been encasing my wounded heart, cracked a little. And then with the first words of the sermon that morning, “I lift my eyes up to the mountains. Where does my help come from?” the tears began to fall from my eyes. The ice began to melt.

We’re climbing up a steep mountain right now. And our eyes are fixed on the supposed “prize” at the top but we’re missing out on what is around us as we struggle to find the next hold for our hands, the next rocky indent for our feet. We miss the tiny yellow flower blooming in the middle of lifeless rock. The gentle sound of flowing water down the mountain creek. The pretty bird singing it’s happy tune in the nearby tree. And we say, “Where ARE You, God?!” all the while missing the small glimpses He gives of Himself to sustain us.

“My help comes from the Lord. Maker of heaven and earth.” Cannot He who made the heavens, which we cannot even fathom, and the earth with it’s vibrant colors and abundant life, help us?

“He will not let your foot slip. He who watches over you will not slumber.” My heart has believed that My Father has been slumbering and has forgotten us. Slumbering while we cry out for mercy and just a small taste of His goodness.

He spoke to me that morning, wiped my tears that fell without restraint down my cheeks, and said, “Wait on Me. Hope in Me. I am not slumbering while You call upon My name. I hear You. I see You. I love you.”

My tears fell at His feet and He wiped them with the hem of His robes. He lifted some of the burden from my shoulders and gave me some of His strength to keep hoping and trusting. And while we’re waiting, we can keep loving those around us and looking for ways to Honor Him and bless Him. I pray my words of complaint will turn to words of blessing and hope. That my tears of sadness and frustration will turn to tears of hope and joy. And that our story will be one of hoping in the midst of pain and beauty that comes from ashes.

The Ugly Place of Discouragement.

Today we are feeling really discouraged, hence my ugly post. We have spent the last two days actively looking for a place to live and we have discovered two things about Ohio that we didn’t know. a) places to live are way overpriced, often comparable to Chicago or even MORE unless they are rundown and creepy and then the price is amazing and b) you are expected to make 3 times the rent amount in income to qualify.

What in the world are we doing here? How are we in this place where nothing makes sense? Why did we think it was a good idea to pack up our life and every earthly possession and uproot our kids to move a few states away? We are in this bizarre waiting/hanging on period where God doesn’t make sense. Why is it so easy for some people and we have to live like nomads with no home and no great income and no prospects for some amazing job that will get us a place to live in the first place? What is God trying to teach us???

I am just feeling so very frustrated. We only have 2 more weeks of approved time to spend at my grandparents before they have to request special permission for us to stay on longer. And who wants to have a family of 5 staying with them for a month anyways? Seriously.

We felt like God was asking us to let it all go and walk away for awhile. It’s too crazy that every single job didn’t pan out this year and every single door was slammed shut in our faces. He has demanded everything from us. We have nothing left to depend on. Nothing left to make our god in His place. Where is He right now?

We are looking down and there is no trampoline to break our fall. No miracles to pull out of our hat. No long-lost rich great-uncle to pass away and leave us a million dollars in his will. No rent-free home waiting empty for our family and my piano that is even now getting damaged in the storage unit that leaks from the rain.

We are waking up each morning choosing to trust that He has not left us and that He will provide for our family. But that’s not easy some days! We are in a place of choosing to be thankful that we can have food to eat today and that we do have a roof over our heads for another 2 weeks and that we are all healthy and together. I know that in these uncertain trials in our lives we have a choice: We can walk away from God, choosing to believe He has abandoned us and doesn’t care about our hurts and needs or we can choose to trust He loves us and that His plan is ultimately better for us, even if it doesn’t make much sense in the right now.

We would definitely appreciate prayers, that we can keep our eyes fixed on what is truly important: becoming more like Jesus and trusting that all the other things will be given to us in time. How can these trials do anything but strengthen us and make us more dependent on Him?

It Matters.

As you know, it has been a tough year for us with struggles and disappointments and a lot of unknowns. We have spent a lot of time on our knees praying (literally sometimes), there have been many tears and dark days and faint glimmers of hope. Lots of love and prayers and support from the people we love the most.

We have finally come to a really difficult and painful decision in these past few days. We are moving back to Ohio. For now. There can be no promises about our future. We have no idea what we will be doing there or where we will be living, at the moment anyways, but we do know that despite the sadness that accompanies this decision, we will be surrounded by family who love us. And that, we are so thankful for.

We left home almost 11 years ago, moving away from everything familiar to embark on this crazy adventure called graduate school. We really and truly believed that this was where God was leading us and that He was going to use it in a big way, and while the steps shifted and changed along the journey, our faith and belief in our vision didn’t waver. First the Master’s in Indiana and then onward to Chicago for the illustrious P.h.D. We had absolutely no idea what it would entail or ask of us. We were clueless to the demands and sacrifices it would bleed out of us. We didn’t know, as most people don’t, how it would change us and shape us.

If we are honest, both of us would probably tell you at the moment that if we could go back again, we aren’t sure we would do this again. The cost has been high. We have to believe, though, that the original desire to pursue this in honor of God matters. We have to believe that He can make beauty from ashes. We have to believe that He can take the scraps of the mess that is us and mold it into something useful, worthy or beautiful, even if scarred.

We aren’t going to Ohio with the “dream job.” That notion shattered somewhere along the way these past 3 years, the final blow being Scotland. We aren’t sure what these past 10+ years meant or how God will use them. We are just hanging on to the hope that we matter to Him. That it matters.

It being dreams, desires, hopes, disappointments, loss, fear, struggles. All of it.

We have a mere 5 1/2 weeks left here, in the place we have called home for almost 9 years. We have memories to pack up, belongings to weed through, friends to say good-bye to, a Chicago bucket list to cross off, school to finish up for the boys, and a huge, long, overwhelming list of things to do to prepare. To prepare for something we don’t know.

This is taking a lot of faith for us. To place this uncertainty of our future, our longings, our grief, our fledgling hopes, our deep desire to see Him make sense of all of this and placing it all in His hands. We humbly ask for your prayers for provision, for guidance, for protection over our family and for a deep peace as we take this next step.

It matters.

Budget Cut Month One Recap and prayers.

So, if you recall, I took it upon myself to do some major overhaul in the one area of our budget I could see cutting down: the grocery and household fund. We were averaging $650 to $700 a month (even though our budget for our family of five was $600) and I decided to see if I could challenge myself to cut that down to a mere (ha!) $500 a month. It sounded totally crazy but I was super excited to see if I could do it.

I am VERY happy to report….that I did it!!! I decided to try to spend $100 max per week on groceries and $100 total for the month on household supplies (toilet paper, shampoo, soap, toothpaste, etc.) Not only was I able to stay within budget for the first time in a REALLY long time but I even (ready for this??) went under budget by $48.23. Yee-haw!

Seriously, it felt so good to do this and to take a goal that felt impossible and possible all at the same time, and a little crazy, and actually accomplish it! And for the record, this is my own personal goal and has nothing whatsoever to do with anyone else’s budgets (or non-budgets!), life-style choices or what not! No bragging here, honestly.

I spent just under $100 every week and said a prayer before I went to the store each time:) I probably won’t share actual amounts with you each month, just a brief recap of if I did/did not meet budget but this month I will!

Week #1 came to $99.31. I said “under” $100 so this counts!! I realized that first week how much I impulse bought even though I would’ve sworn I had that under control! I forced myself to add up on the receipt everything that I bought outside of my grocery list and it added up to $19.31! Talk about an eye opener!

Week #2 I was much more controlled and kept my eyes averted past the goody treat aisles and spent $89.17!! I started doing lots of preparation and freezer meals at home to save time and money on future grocery bills and started seeing it paying off pretty quickly!

Week #3 was my best yet with $61.91!!

Week #4 was a total of $99.05. I spent $102.33 on the household fund for April so I took money that I saved on groceries to cover that and used a little bit to cover part of a tip for our haircuts last week, leaving us with over $33 to save!

We decided that in the event we have leftover money and go under budget, we will first use some to cover any areas where we went over (if we did) and then put the rest in some special savings funds we have going on. We have three things we are saving for currently (in no particular order!): a kitty, a few new items of furniture and a weekend away for the two of us! Slow and steady wins the race or something like that;)

The really great news was that watching the grocery budget so carefully caused Ben to really get on board with me and help keep me accountable (and him, too!) and we carefully scrutinized each penny we spent and made sure that everything bought was covered under one of our budget categories. That is something that we haven’t been so good at recently! It’s really easy to think ‘Oh yeah, we have this budget and we are sticking fairly close to it” and really you’re not. I find that a cash budget is helping me tremendously. I have a miniature accordion file that is labeled with each of my monthly categories (non-bills) that I use cash for like groceries, household, medicine, eating out, etc. I am keeping track of the meals I’ve made all month, to see what good, cheap meals are for my future rotations. A really great cookbook I got from the library that I have found several good recipes from is called, “Cheap. Fast. Good!” This book will go on my  personal amazon wish list for sure. Anyone else do that?

All in all, we saved over $250 this month!! I have struggled for so long with feeling such guilt over “failing” in this area, especially with our debt burden hanging over our heads but I feel good about my hard work this month, even if it was pretty exhausting sometimes!

I am a little nervous about the months that have closer to 5 weeks in them and hope that I can figure out a way to balance everything out and stick to this! Not bad for the first month!

Also, I would just like to ask for you prayers, once again. We have been heavily burdened with the weight of some huge decisions that we have to make fairly quickly about our future. We really need some peace and guidance. We would greatly appreciate any and all prayers during this time. Thank you!

Winter again??

 We woke up to THIS today:

Eliana was practically in tears! She said, “It was spring and now it’s winter again! I don’t want winter again!” She has been so into getting out her warmer clothes and wearing them around the house (hence her 3xs a day outfit changes!) and is NOT happy with me that I had to curb the short-sleeves and shorts for a few days and make her put on her winter coat again!

Believe me, no one in the Midwest is happy about that!

The yogurt turned out great!! Or so they tell me:) We have already gone through 1 qt and a pint of it. It is plain yogurt so we have just been mixing in a little honey or a little confectioner’s sugar (something B learned in Turkey) and a dash of vanilla. Tonight I made a strawberry chia compote that they can mix in the yogurt. I am really happy they all love it!

They feel very sad for me that I can’t eat it:) You know, gag reflex and all….
Our stick system has continued to go really well!! We had a few “bugs” to work out in the first couple of weeks. We decided to let the boys pick 2 sticks on Friday afternoons that they don’t have to do since it is more of a relaxed day and they are extra tired from a long week at school. They usually choose shower as one of them, ha!

We have random bonus days where they can earn something extra for getting all of their sticks. They will never know when those pop up! Zakkai was really struggling for awhile so we talked about some ways for him to be better at managing his time and he is doing awesome with it now! As a matter of fact, he just earned a prize tonight!!

We have to keep on them for not doing shoddy jobs on some of their chores just to get a stick. Sometimes they rush through 5 minute bedroom clean up or things like that. We want them to do a good job, even if no one is watching. Doesn’t it say in the Bible to always work like you’re doing it for God? A valuable lesson for when they are adults, too!

We have been really good about using the discipline chart, too. Admittedly, it is harder for me. I really, really hate to discourage them from doing a good job (especially Zakkai, who struggles with listening and managing time more) and I am not always good at enforcing the rules. It’s like one more detail in an already busy day. But I have been working hard to follow through on what I say and crack down on talking back or not listening, etc. Without too many warnings:)

I’m an old softy, darn it! The chart has been working well though. They are learning that they need to be respectful and won’t get away with talking back or not listening to us. And I get some help with extra chores;) I am really glad that we are doing this system and that it’s really working and helping all of us!
My nephew was released from the hospital yesterday, after 5 days and nights. My sister was exhausted from such a long and difficult week. Still praying for a full recovery for J and for the whole family to get rest and peace! Samuel has been anxious about his cousin and really sad about him being so sick. He was so relieved to hear that he got to go home. Such a sweet heart!

Well, it’s that time of night where I must get myself to bed so that it doesn’t require a screwdriver to pry my eyes open in the morning! Beauty sleep and all that…:) Good night!