It’s February, so… Happy New Year.

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The best Christmas gift I received this past season was a sentence. On hearing that we’d bought a house in the neighborhood, a church member and friend exclaimed, “We’re so excited for us, because it means you’ll be staying a while.” It was in that moment that I knew we were home.

In 2013-14, I…
Had a second child.
Lived on two continents.
Drove halfway across the continental U.S. Twice. With two children in the backseat.
Got two jobs.
Lived in two different houses.
Bought my first home.

Any one of those things would have been life-altering. Doing them all within just over a year was, well, exciting… and busy. And exhausting. It’s not surprising that stress has taken a little toll on us all, and I needed to give myself permission to let go of a few things for a while. Like cleaning. And knowing what day of the week it is. And social networking.

Lately I feel like I’m just waking up, emerging from hibernation with a few cobwebs in the corner and an itch to spring clean. It’s time, once again, to start the next big adventure, but this one will be completely new to us: staying put. We now own a house.  Half an acre. Three trees. A whole lot of wood paneling and vintage linoleum. Believe it or not, this whole new world was terrifying to me- until I made a revealing observation: From here on out, everything we do is a step towards normal.

Each box I unpack will stay unpacked. In fact, I now have a basement full of boxes which I probably don’t need to keep. I can paint the walls whatever color I want and they will stay that way, without the permission of a committee or landlord. For years as we’ve travelled I’ve left a trail of tulips behind me, planting the bulbs in one season and not being around to see them bloom. This year I will celebrate my own darn tulips!! Our kids can make friends and grow with them- and so can we.

I’m beginning to understand the observations of Solomon in a whole new light. A time to uproot and a time to plant. A time to throw away and a time to keep. To everything there is indeed a season. (Ecclesiastes 3… sort-of) So often we dwell on the dramatic and life-changing, but there is beauty in the normal, the routine, the every-day blessings.

This year we are literally staying put because we have no more vacation time. I have a strong sense that my work is right where I’m meant to be. What do you do when you have no place to go? I guess we paint a few walls. Get our house in order. Dust off a few dreams.

Here’s to an uneventful 2015.

Thanks for patient with me lately. More tales of our un-adventures coming soon!

To buy or not to buy

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This past Sunday morning, as I sat in the worship service, it occurred to me that we don’t have a Christmas present for our youngest daughter.  Granted, it was only December 8th so that wasn’t really a problem- except that, I realized, I had no intention of buying her one.

The practical voice in my head says she doesn’t really need one.  At six months old, I know that she will be very happy to play with ribbons and bows.  She’ll pick up on the excitement of the day and sense that something is special.  She already has things to play with and things to wear, and she happily fills her days exploring (thanks to her newly-discovered skill of rolling) and giggling with her sister.
Perhaps it was the sermon which triggered the thought.  Our church is taking part in the ‘Advent Conspiracy’ this year, challenging each of us to spend as little as possible on the season in order to give as much as we can.  It’s a really inspiring project which many are taking very seriously.  So while we are making daily trips to Target for toilet brushes, or salt shakers, or the hundred-and-one little things we didn’t realize we needed until we’re standing in the middle of the kitchen trying to cook a meal, or attempting to clean the bathroom with soap but no brush— it’s been helpful to remind ourselves that it’s ok to spend as little as possible, and to make do with what we have where we possibly can.  It feels noble.  It feels good.
Except that… it didn’t feel noble, or good, when I dragged the family around three different superstores on the day after Thanksgiving.  My practical side took over, pushing me to try and fill our house for a little as possibly by finding the perfect Black Friday bargain.  I convinced myself the more we saved, the better it would be for our girls.  It was a really bad idea.  After two weeks of scouring the city for the best deals on furniture, housewares, and kids clothing, I had let myself get carried away with not spending.  Which, I realized, might possibly be just as dangerous as spending- and equally as addicting.  When my oldest daughter woke up the next morning and with a big sigh said, ‘Where are we going today, mummy?’, I realized enough is enough.
Since then we’ve been staying home (special thanks to the season’s first snowstorm [link] for the help there), and we’re making memories in our new place with whatever we have in the house.  It’s been really great.  But on Sunday morning the voices went to war.  Practically, our baby daughter doesn’t need a present.  Then again, these first six months of her life have been constant change.  We’ve taken very few few photos of her, and we’ve been pretty lax about recording her first moments- and not because she’s a typical second child.  Surely we should take this opportunity, in this season of peace and quiet and family time, to mark this special occasion with her.
So I’m on a new mission this week: a meaningful gift for the girl who giggles and smiles and goes with the flow.  I’m not going to spend much, and I’m not going to obsess about it.  But one of the biggest things I’ve learned in this last six months is that things we can let go of- people I want to hold on to.  And that’s going to take a little effort, and a little creativity.
My mission is clear.  What’s yours this Christmas?

Giving thanks

My husband and I have cooked Thanksgiving dinner together every year for the past decade.  It’s one of our favorite traditions- and sharing it with friends is something we look forward to all year.

At the moment there are exactly five cooking utensils in my kitchen drawers, and one baking tray.  So today for the first time in a long time, we didn’t cook our own Thanksgiving meal.  We were privileged to spend it with a family from church who had gathered- four generations, travelling from five different states- for their annual tradition.  It was a beautiful way to spend the day.

I found myself distinctly homesick for the families and friends that we have shared this day with in the past- and at the same time, tremendously blessed to have found a warm welcome in our new community.  For friends, past and present, we are thankful today.

Celebrating the season

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If you’re in Britain, chances are you heard something about the Great British Bake-Off Finale this week.  It was inescapable.  News reports, news feeds, talk shows and tweets were buzzing with controversy.  While most of the hype has died down as quickly as it rose up, I’m still finding myself mulling.

There was endless speculation over why Ruby, the controversial finalist, was given a place in the finale.  But I think the reason she generated such emotional response is pretty simple; Those of us looking on just couldn’t understand her.  On screen was a beautiful, clearly intelligent young woman who must have been a very talented baker- despite her lopsided cakes and runny creme patisserie.  She seemed to have everything going for her.  So why was she just plain miserable all the time?  While I’m sure the experience was very different from her side of the cameras, after weeks of viewing it became simply painful for us to watch.

This past week I’ve concluded that maybe Ruby and I have some things in common- beauty, talent, and a love for baked goods.  Just kidding.  In reality, I have a feeling I’ve been just plain painful to be around lately.  There are a lot of things about my final week here in the UK which make me sad.  I’m saying goodbye to some true friends.  I’m giving up things which are valuable to me.  And the biggest pull on my heartstrings- leaving my husband and child behind for an indefinite period of time- is bound to make anyone crumble.

These are legitimate things to be downcast about.  But there are so many things to celebrate too.  We’ve truly seen God’s grace in recent months, and we feel confident that we are on a path which He has provided for us.  We’ve enjoyed real quality time with family and friends- something we rarely had time to do in the past.  In fact, we have such an abundance of time that I get to go and spend some in my family home, introducing my newest daughter to my side of the family.  And in giving things away, we’ve been reminded of the unique joy that comes when you find yourself receiving kindness from those around who love and care about you.

These are all good things.  And when I view things from that perspective, I have no reason to have such a gloomy face.  Actually, I have everything going for me.

While the Bake-Off contestants enjoyed an on-screen garden party this week, we had our own celebration in my husband’s childhood home.  The whole family gathered to celebrate Christmas together one last time.  I realized over my traditional bacon sandwich that morning what I had a choice- I could let my feelings get the best of me and the day, or I could just get stuck in the celebration.  I chose to celebrate.  And I’ve decided to make that my aim for the final week in this chapter of my life.  Celebrate.

Are you ready?  You know I have to do it…

‘And God bless us, every one.’  Happy holidays to all.

On rainbows and matching changing mats

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Recently on a visit a friend gave me an unexpected gift. Not only was the gift itself a surprise, but its content was too. It was a changing bag. Although I’ve been a parent for three years now I have never, believe it or not, owned a changing bag.

As two people in ministry, we live on a tight budget. I don’t feel that we’ve ever been short of anything, it’s just that we don’t spend more on any one thing than we really need to. And when, early on, I discovered that calling it a changing bag meant a markup of at least £20, I decided that a big slouchy bag would do just fine. Nevertheless it surprised me how tickled I was to find myself the proud owner of a brand new, honest-to-goodness changing bag- complete with insulated bottle pocket and matching mat. And for no particular reason; my friend just wanted to do something nice. I was truly touched.

A few weeks ago on a different visit we said our farewell to Scotland- a place we’ve spent many happy times. On the drive home we were treated to a stunning display of nature; there were literally rainbows everywhere we looked. One of them, a perfect arc, had two layers of the most clear, defined colors we’d ever seen. It was breathtaking. It stayed with us for miles.

I think that Christians feel a certain affinity for rainbows. Of course we know that they are just refracted light, caused by particular weather conditions. But go on admit it- they bring a tantalizing air of mystery all their own. We remember the story of Noah and we start to wonder… What was it like? Did God really send the rainbow as a promise for all, or was that just a one off? Then we might start to speculate: is it possible that God might have a message just for me?

It struck me as I was mulling over the usual questions that I never just assume that the good things apply to me personally. When it comes to rainbows, I remind myself of the science and move on. But on that particular day, the rainbows felt personal. And a new question came to mind: is it possible that God has something good ahead for us, just because He likes to give gifts?

I have no science to back that one up- and not a lot of theology either. Just a hunch. Of course, it doesn’t take long to look around and see the good things He’s already given. Two beautiful daughters when once we thought we might never have any… a husband and friends who love me despite the stupid things I say and do… a place to call home… peace in the simple knowledge that I’m valued and loved by God… do you see the rainbows? They’re everywhere.

Has God ever given you a gift that surprised you? Do tell!