Wednesday, August 19, 2015

What's Next

Tomorrow is the day I have in some ways been dreading for 15 years, ever since my first baby was in my arms and I knew this day was coming. Tomorrow I will send my last baby to kindergarten. I have no preschoolers left. And you know what? I am okay. I'm almost happy about it. And I think I know why.

You see, last year I started transitioning my thoughts to what's next. I decided that the reason I was afraid of sending the baby to school was because I wondered if I would be starting the slow descent into obsolescence. A mother's job is to work herself out of a job, so I guess you'd say it's a planned obsolescence, but that doesn't make it feel any better. Deep down I think we all want to be needed, to matter to someone else. Mothering babies and preschoolers gives you that in spades. They need us for everything at first, then a little less, but for several years we hang the moon to them, and that's a pretty great feeling.

But God doesn't want us to stay there (lest our egos get the best of us), and so He makes motherhood a long series of changes and adjustments and letting go. They start to sleep in their own room, and then they start to go on sleepovers and fix their own lunches, and then one day they leave--eventually for good. And stay-at-home moms like me wonder what's next.

So last year my constant prayer was that God would give me a vision. I realized that God will always give us something useful to do if we just ask Him, so I started badgering Him to show me what that is. "What do you want me to do that matters? Fill my time with what you want, but please help me to see that there will be something so I can gracefully pry my hands off this mothering littles job I've been doing (and love so much)."

And God answered that prayer. So tomorrow as I send my baby to school perhaps there will be tears (not from her), but mostly there will be relief. Because I have work to do, work I love and that fits my skill set. So much work that I'm pretty sure I can't get it all done without some supernatural help. And those kid-free hours are going to come in handy for getting it done.

So if you're wondering what's next, if you find yourself at a transition point in life that's feeling overwhelming, I challenge you to ask God for a vision of what's next. Tell Him you're ready to do something important, and He'll give it to you.

"For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord
They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 
In those days when you pray, I will listen."
--Jeremiah 29:11-12

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Before and After

Today I have a before and after for you. I just love those, don't you? Am I the only one who is scouring facebook pictures to catch a glimpse of the decor in the background? I think it's so interesting to see how other people decorate and see if their style sparks any creative ideas for my own home.

I started with a pretty ordinary hand-me-down hutch. It started life as unfinished pine, then was stained and varnished and lived that way for about 25 years.

It was fine, but with my beautiful new kitchen, it looked kind of tired. A few coats of paint, some new hardware, and...
Fun, huh? The wall behind is gray, and the color on the back of the hutch is a cream color that matches my kitchen cabinets. The main part of the hutch is a neutral green that matches the different-colored cabinets in the kitchen (the ones we had to buy new). So this sort of ties the whole kitchen together, as well as giving me a place for all my inherited kitschy stuff.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Good Enough Author

If there is a back-door way of authoring a book, I have found it: Spend years and years copy editing other people's books, and then have your mom run into an old acquaintance and let them know that you are an editor who likes to write, and then do some work for them that turns into a little more and a little more, and the next thing you know they will realize that you wrote a significant portion of the book and offer to let you have the credit for your work. The whole process takes about 15 years, some providential "coincidences," and a good deal of generosity on the part of the publisher.

Nevertheless, I am now a published author.
It feels sort of like I just had a baby. Here's hoping there are more to follow in the years ahead (books, not babies).

Friday, February 13, 2015

For the Ladies on Valentine's Day

By my calculations dear hubby and I have been together for 19 Valentine's Days. Maybe it's 20--I can't quite keep track of the with the on again/off again nature of those dating years. The one I remember best is when we were still dating, and I cleaned and decorated his apartment as a surprise when he got off work. Most have gone by with little fanfare. A dinner out around Valentine's Day, perhaps ordering takeout and watching a movie. Often a card, sometimes flowers or chocolate.

Here's the thing: Valentine's Day is pretty hard for most guys. We gals have high expectations that we will feel loved and cherished on that day. But sometimes we haven't communicated what we want. Or there just isn't quite enough money left in the budget for what we really want. Or he's so stressed by work and life that writing a romantic note to us just might be asking too much. Or circumstances (young kids, finances, work trips, and the sheer exhaustion of helping our grade-school age children get to school with Valentines, boxes, and party supplies) prevent us from celebrating the way we'd like.

So here's the challenge: whatever he does, accept it as an expression of love. He bought you the brand of chocolates you don't much care for just when you decided to eat healthier? Enjoy eating one or two and appreciate that he thinks you're beautiful just the way you are. He splurged on flowers when you would have preferred something less conventional and less expensive? Accept the extravagance as if it were a love note expressing just what you wish he would say. He bought a card when what you really wanted was for him to plan the date? Appreciate how hard it is to be a man on Valentine's Day (oh, the pressure!) and enjoy the date regardless of who planned it.

You see, when someone does something for us--especially when it's our spouse--we can choose to nitpick that it's not exactly what we wanted them to do for us and feel sorry for ourselves that they don't know us well enough to read our minds. Or we can graciously accept the gesture and feel it as the kindness it was intended to be. It would be nice if love was always expressed to us in the way we can most readily receive it, but this side of heaven that is impossible. So in the meantime we will be a whole lot happier if we learn to receive love however it comes to us: a kind word. a simple date spent watching a move on the couch, Dairy Queen blizzards optional. flowers and chocolate and love notes. a cup of coffee. a full tank of gas. the day-in, day-out showing up for one another in a million little ways that could easily be overlooked, or could be interpreted as enduring love.

For the record, dear hubby did a good job of making me feel loved this Valentine's Day in spite of the fact that we won't be spending it together. He's learned a lot in those 19 years. And I'd like to think I've learned a lot about receiving love so that I can feel loved no matter how he expresses it.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Craigslist Kitchen

This is the story of a happy couple who moved from a home with a kitchen they had redone themselves--and loved--into a house with a kitchen that was a little past its prime. 1960s cabinets may be sturdy, but they do have a lifespan and they are not as space-efficient as modern-day cabinets. And Linoleum also has a lifespan. As do peach-painted-over-wallpaper-that-was-half-taken-off-leaving-rough-spots walls. In a word, the kitchen made me feel tired. So tired, in fact that this is the only picture we have of the kitchen in its original state.

But a redo was not in the budget. Still, I took my sister-in-law's advice and shopped around on Craigslist to see if I could find a pre-used kitchen that we could affordably re-purpose. A few days later I found one. For $1,900 we could get a kitchen with granite countertops and almost enough cabinets, albeit in a different layout than our kitchen, with most appliances included. Sold.

A few weeks later we had moved those heavy slabs of granite into our garage, stowed the cabinets in every possible corner of house and garage, and the kitchen looked like this. It turned out the walls needed to be completely replaced because of that old paint-over-wallpaper trick, so the project turned slightly larger than anticipated. Although it was easier to move plumbing and electrical with the walls completely gone, so there was that.
One fun aspect of the remodel was the fact that the refrigerator moved places nearly every day. It added a little excitement to my day to hunt for it each morning.
In the meantime I had a little makeshift kitchen in the back hall (what will someday be the mudroom). It was very functional, but did feel cramped after a bit.
Four months of rewiring, re-plumbing, floor installation, and granite fabrication

. . . countless trips to all the local hardware stores . . . and several thousand dollars later (all work done by my talented husband, with a little help from his handy parents . . . I just "supervised" and tried to keep our home life intact), we present to you the Craigslist kitchen.

Note the second sink. My handy hubby cut that sink hole and polished it himself! He was sure we needed one, I thought it was an unnecessary hassle to add plumbing, etc. He was right on this one, for sure. Cleanup after our Christmas dinner for 23 was a snap.

The backsplash was not originally intended to have those white tiles interspersed, but they gave us two boxes of grey tiles and one of white, and rather than drive all the way back to Bollingbrook to replace them, we just made it work. I think I actually prefer it with the white in there.
Hopefully before too long there will be cute little shelves in that space between the cabinets. When you buy a galley-style kitchen and put it in a square one, you have to get a little creative.

(Yes, Taylor family, that is the table and benches that have always lived at grandma and grandpa's house. They have been lovingly preserved in their approximate original location.)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Living within the Budget: God's Provision in the Little Things

I wrote yesterday about my project of living within the budget. This is a little story about how God shows up when you take a few steps of faith.

A few weeks ago I was grocery shopping and noticed this picture in the window of my favorite resale store:
I instantly loved it. The three little girls remind me of my three close-together girls, I love the colors, I love the frame. But it was not in the budget, and I thought it was overpriced. So I didn't buy it. But I kept thinking about it. A week later I window shopped and saw it again. Still out of my price range. I remember thinking to myself, "well, if it was half price I would buy it. But by the time they mark it down someone will have bought it, and the white tags never go on sale anyway. Oh well."

The next day I opened my email and lo and behold, I had sold a piece of jewelry. Which never happens. My etsy site is so sorely neglected that I have no idea how someone found it, let alone decided to buy something. I was delighted with my unexpected "extra" money, and I instantly thought of this little picture hanging in the window down the street. Unfortunately, my profit still didn't match the price of this painting. But after I had shipped the earrings, I had to go to the grocery store anyway, so I went to the store that was next to the resale store with this painting. And what do you know, all pictures were half price that day! Coincidence? I think not.

Sometimes God gives us these little gifts to show us that we're on the right track. To encourage us to carry on in obedience. I am so thankful, not just because I love this happy little picture hanging in my home, but even more because it is a reminder that God cares. He cared that I loved this little picture, and he cared that I stuck to my budget and didn't buy it when it was too expensive.

Here's one more look at my pretty little corner.
Don't you love it when God sends you a little surprise? Tell me YOUR story of God's provision in encouraging ways.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Snowball Effect

We're digging out from the fifth-largest snowfall in Chicagoland this week. Yesterday we woke to a winter wonderland, and it was glorious to drive to church in it. Even more glorious to discover that most of the congregation and a full quota of the choir had also braved the elements to worship together. We shared a moment of calm together, the Lord's Table, and profound reminders of God's deep love for us while we were at our worst--ungodly and weak-willed, unable to do the right thing even when we knew what it was. What a great way to spend a snow day. We enjoyed watching the Super Bowl as well--probably the first time we've had all our kids watch the whole thing with us.

January and February are often months of paralysis for me, probably the effect of not enough sun. The irony is that these are the very months I'm often trying to reassert some sort of order in my world. Out with the Christmas decorations and holiday eating habits. In with more discipline in my walk with the Lord, in my health, and in our spending habits. Out with the toys that no longer fit now that Christmas gifts are put away. In with better study and practicing habits. Out with time-wasting on the computer, in with weekly blogging--that's the goal, anyway!

This year I'm trying a new strategy: instead of working on everything at once, I'm trying to focus on one thing and see how discipline in that area leads to discipline in another. It's what Dave Ramsey calls the snowball method, where you tackle the smallest debt and the other ones naturally follow. I don't want to get overwhelmed with everything I'd like to see run better in our lives, so I'm letting myself just work on one thing with the other things coming along as I'm able.

The big area I'm working on is our finances. Now that our big move is done and life has settled down a bit, I really need to work on getting our spending habits--my spending habits--under control. It's not that I waste money, but I do not do a good job of sticking to the budget. So I'm taking baby steps toward better planning and money management. Maybe soon I can blog about extreme couponing!

In the meantime, it has been healthy to spend these dark winter months focusing on manageable steps toward success in one area instead of feeling down on myself for not being as far as I'd like to be toward ten different goals. And I think it's working. When I'm feeling pretty good about accomplishing one small thing I tend to want to take a step toward accomplishing something else as well. Today's victories were spending some time with my Bible and my gratitude journal when my attitude was heading south, not eating the leftover junk food from yesterday's Super Bowl bash, and doing pretty well with my budgeted Walgreens run (although I hope to do better next week). There are more things I wish I had gotten done, but instead of beating myself up about those things I'm going to choose to focus on the few things I did right. Tomorrow is another day, and perhaps I will have five or six victories instead of only three. Especially since school will surely be back in session and I will presumably have fewer interruptions.

How about you? Is there a goal you're working on? Have you taken some baby steps in the right direction that have helped you gain discipline in a second area as well?

Monday, January 19, 2015

When Compromise Isn't Possible

The general wisdom is that marriage is made up of a lot of little compromises. And that is true. You compromise on how to schedule your days, on who should do which chores, and which mother's banana bread recipe you will use.

But sometimes you can't compromise. You'll either spend your money this way or that way, and you can't do both. You'll either vacation in one place or another this year. The two activities you want to sign your kid up for are at the same time, so you have to pick one or the other. Some of these decisions don't matter much in the long run, and you're happy to go with the flow and give in, seeing possible benefits to the choice that wasn't your first. But what about the times when compromise isn't possible and it is clear to each of you that your way is the right way, and your partner's way will have some bad long-range consequences that you don't want to face? What then?

Of course there are no one-size-fits-all answers here. Some of these decisions are big and damaging, and I can't begin to address those. Sometimes there is a moral right or wrong, and obviously we are never called to support a morally wrong decision. Definitely call a professional to help you walk through those things.

But some of these no-compromise decisions are not that big in the long run, but they feel big to us. When I recently found myself disagreeing with a decision my husband made, I had some choices to make about how to respond. Maybe some of what I learned is generally helpful in these no-compromise situations where you don't get your way.

1) Pray. I prayed both for the ability to understand my husband's perspective and for things to turn out well for our family. Not only do our prayers cause God to act on our behalf, but they also help us be at peace. God knows what is best, and he will work things out for those who love him. Perhaps some of the things I fear will come true, and perhaps this wasn't the best decision. Even then God can redeem it. He can make this turn out for the best.

2) Have a civilized, kind, calm discussion about your concerns, but once the decision has been made, leave the decision in the past. Move forward and don't continually bring it up and gripe about it. Even if you turn out to have been right, don't repeatedly say so. This one is very hard. But the price you'll pay for harping is too high. It will damage your marriage and make moving forward in life and in your relationship much harder.

3) Continue to go through the motions. Last night was pizza night, a time-honored tradition in our marriage. I didn't want to have this "date," but we did it anyway. Marriage has its ups and downs, and on some level we need to keep acting like we're getting along even when we aren't. Because that is how we find our way back to one another. If we let the traditions and romance slip, it becomes easier and easier to not bring it back. And then a little disagreement turns into something much bigger and harder to recover from.

4) Support the decision. Here again, you have to put your feelings aside for the good of your relationship. The kids and the world need to see you as a unit, supporting one another. Speak well of your spouse. Think of and give thanks for all the things you love about him or her, and all the things you agree on. Find a proactive way to make the best of the decision you don't agree with: Organize yourself for the purchase you didn't want to make. Buy a vacation planner for the trip you aren't excited about. Help your child be excited about the activity you signed up for by going out and buying the equipment they'll need. Or help them deal with the disappointment of the decision that wasn't their first choice by planning something else fun. I did not do a good job on this yesterday, so it's time to give myself grace for my attitude and make a fresh start. No more whining.

5) Take care of yourself. If the no-compromise decision makes life harder for you in some way, give yourself grace. Plan an afternoon of pampering or a weekend away. Get together with friends for fun and moral support (but not whining!). Give yourself a treat not as a "you owe me this" kind of thing, but as a way to acknowledge that you're mourning a loss and need to be allowed to do so. If we don't take care of ourselves, we won't be able to move on and support our spouse. In that sense maybe I should've listed this one as number 2!

Your turn: What do you do when you can't come to agreement and a decision has to be made? I'd love to hear your solutions!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Pray for Nigeria

Last night I read about this tragedy in Nigeria. It's the kind of thing you can't quite get your mind around. It's the kind of thing you don't want to get your mind around. Possibly two thousand people murdered in one town. People running for their lives. Too many bodies to count. Children and parents being lost from one another in the chaos, with no guarantee that they will ever be able to find one another. Unspeakable tragedy that hits a little too close to home.

You see, Nigeria isn't just a distant place to me. These images, things I saw six short years ago, are still fresh in my mind. And I think, if a few circumstances were changed it could be me, my children, my town. Lord, have mercy.

O Lord Christ, whose death for sinners was a death of suffering, look in Thy divine compassion upon all those who, at this hour in which we pray, in prisons and in all places where there is fighting, hatred and bitterness, are enduring torment at the hands of their fellow men. All extremities of pain are known to you, Lord; may the upholding of your presence be made known to them. If they have ever heard your name, may they now remember it; if it is strange to them let them not be strangers to your courage and your peace. Lord, we know that you who know all, and love all, and have suffered all, have had each of them in your heart from all eternity; yet still we dare to pray for them, knowing that your mercy will accept our prayer and your love use it in the ways that are known to you alone.
--from A Diary of Prayer, compiled by Elizabeth Goudge

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

One Word

I'm what you might call a late adapter. Whatever the change is, or the latest craze, I finally jump on board right about as it's ending. So I've never participated in the "one word" phenomenon. But this year I've decided to take up the challenge.

My word for the year--the thing I definitely need more of--is patience. Patience with myself when I don't live up to expectations. Patience with my children's development, which seems to take place in fits and starts. Patience when my husband's plans are at a difference pace than mine. Patience with how long it takes to get back in shape when you haven't exercised in way too long. Patience with this process of figuring out where God is taking my "career" (using that term loosely).

I was struck this morning by these words: "The Lord told Joshua, 'Today I will begin to make you a great leader in the eyes of all the Israelites. They will know that I am with you, just as I was with Moses'" (Joshua 3:7). Joshua's leadership was a process of becoming. God knew that people wouldn't accept his leadership overnight, and even a striking miracle like the crossing of the Jordan was only a step in the process. It was a beginning, and God would orchestrate the middle and the end for the good of his people.

My life feels like a slow process of becoming lately. College bills are only a few years away now, job offers are not pouring in, and I can't see yet what God is up to in my life. Sometimes I wish the process could be sped up or at least that I could see that everything will work out (by which I really mean work out my way) in the end. But God doesn't work that way, so what I really need is patience. Contentment and gratitude in the waiting. Grace to take each day as it comes, accepting today's manna rather than worrying about how God might provide tomorrow.

I suspect it was a great encouragement to Joshua and the Israelites when they reached the other side of the Jordan River, entering into the promised land, and ate from the land for the first time. Scripture tells us that "No manna appeared on the day they first ate from the crops of the land, and it was never seen again. So from that time on the Israelites ate from the crops of Canaan." (Joshua 5:12). The thing the Israelites desperately needed to sustain them in the desert--daily manna--was no longer needed in the promised land.

What I needed yesterday may not be the same as what I need today. But I can trust that God knows what I need for today, and he has promised to provide it. This year I hope I can learn a bit more about waiting patiently for God's provision, being as grateful for the process and the meager beginnings as I am for the triumphs and fulfilled promises.

Do you have one word for the year? I'd love to hear what it is!