It’s not you, it’s me…

Last week was probably one of the hardest weeks we’ve had since moving to the Rez.  All the ladies of the house were homesick.  Terribly homesick for our tiny island, the ocean, the smell the salt water makes as the tide goes out, our friends and even our little house.  The family who moved into our house, precious friends of ours, posted a video of our Papa mowing the yard.  That did not only me but both of the little girls in…it was odd to see someone else looking out our big picture window, odd to see a little boy other than Little Man waving as Papa did circles around and around the yard.  It wasn’t the other little guy or the family’s fault we missed our Papa so badly, it was us.

The girls and I talked about why we were missing all those things, all those people…why it was important to talk about those feelings and get them out in the open.. We talked about how when we don’t say how we feel and tell others (who are safe to tell) what we need, it gets all jumbled up inside like a big bowl of spaghetti noodles.  Last week, I was a giant bowl of spaghetti noodles.  All the feelings were getting jumbled up in the mixture of knowing we’re here for a purpose that was set out long before we had any clue and wistfulness for a life I wasn’t quite prepared to leave behind…dreams I wasn’t ready to let go of and hearts and hands I wasn’t ready to stop holding… I have a dear friend who reminds me frequently that if I don’t fight for what I need, no one else will… so last week I had to do some fighting on my own turf…some soul searching and digging, only to realize it was no one else’s responsibility, it wasn’t “you”, it was me.

Over the course of the past three years, I’ve done a lot of work around who I was, who I am and who God intended me to be…who I am to Him and what He says about me.  Old tapes play like a broken record and often times they just have to be burned…and yet, at our weakest and lowest moments, the enemy of our souls, refurbishes those bad boys and breaks them out for another spin.  Last week was a week of old tapes.  It was a week of pulling up my bootstraps and remembering who my Father says I am and then ending the week by walking in the strength of who He has called me to be and the journey He has called me to…  It was HARD, y’all.  It was utterly exhausting.  It was a week of apologies and making amends with myself, my husband and my children.  It was a week of calling out the old and relishing in the new, in the truth, in the righteousness of my King.  It was a week of renewing my mind to see this place the way He sees it, loving others the way He does…unconditionally, without exception and expectation.  Meeting people where they are and loving them despite themselves…loving myself, and living well in the midst of this new season.

My prayer throughout last week was that my babies were learning something from the mess…that they would see that its okay not to be okay, that perfection is for Jesus and no one else, that asking forgiveness is hard but living without it is harder…I’ve spent a lot of time working to create a perfect image of what I thought this life was supposed to look like…only to realize the only thing this life is supposed to look like is the beautiful, crazy, limitless love of our Father.  Because He created us each in His image and that my friends is enough.  He created us…we are His perfect creation.  EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. Can’t produce any image much more perfect than that, can I?

“So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.” -Gen. 1:27

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Loyal

I am in a perpetual state of awe when I sit down and really think about the goodness of my King. I have felt Him in such tangible ways the past two months.  I have moved in and out of grief and joy and despair and He just continues to gently guide and remind me that His love is never-failing.  One of my favorite songs these days is Lauren Daigle’s “Loyal”.  My favorite verse talks about how He hears every time I speak and He sees everything, even the things I want to hide.  It goes on to talk about His love being loyal, more faithful than the rising sun and that I can never outrun His grace for me.  I can tell you that each step of walking in this new faith journey has been covered in all of this.  He is so loyal, friends.  He is so good.  His heart is for us, all the time, forever.  And this week has been another testament to how deeply He cares for His children.

All week, I’ve had tiny reminders that He is fully involved in what we feel are insignificant pieces of our lives.  It started with fresh eggs.  We left behind our three hens because we aren’t allowed to have them here in teacher housing.  They went to a fantastic home where they are well-loved and well fed.  Eggs are expensive and when you are feeding a family of five, they are REALLY DANG expensive.  Long story short, He provides.  We have been introduced to a lady who has LOADS of eggs and sells them for just enough to replace her feed.  WHAT?!?!?!

When we decided I’d home school the girls, I began dreaming of what it would look like to have a home school co-op here.  There aren’t any currently, and I knew I’d have to be the one to put something together.  I had dreams of teaching other women how to educate their children at home because sometimes its insanely hard for families here to get their little ones to school.  Who I am though, right?  This is the first time we’ve done this…but that still, small voice has been there, begging to be heard.  And then on Monday of this week, I had three mama’s contact me and ask if we could chat about what it’s like to home school and how they could get started. He cares so much for the deepest desires of our hearts…why wouldn’t He, He placed them there in the first place!!

We’ve been searching for months for a mini schnauzer.  When we began discussing, as a family, the potential for getting a puppy, we also discussed names.  The one the kids and I had our hearts set on was Oscar Mesa, Mesa for short.  I can not tell y’all the number of emails and phone calls J and I have made over the past months, only to be told every time, “Oh, I’m sorry, we forgot to remove our ad.” or “Oh, we just sold the last puppy about thirty minutes ago.”  To say we were beginning to slide towards being disheartened would be an understatement.  However, I kept reminding myself and the girls that our dog hadn’t found us yet.  Then, Wednesday night, I emailed a gentleman about his ONE male puppy.  He emailed me back and said we could come get him.  Great news, right?  But y’all, listen to how good my Father is…the gentleman we bought our puppy from, his name was Oscar.  He was in Mesa, AZ.  I can’t make this stuff up!!  He literally lead us to exactly the pup we were supposed to have!!  Here’s a photo of our little guy.

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On the way home from picking up Mesa, it got dark.  The kids and I were traveling alone and y’all it gets REALLY dark in the desert at night.  We were coming through Flagstaff and my low tire warning light came on in the van.  First, I had cell phone service.  That is a miracle.  Second, we were no more than 200 yards from a gas station.  Also a miracle. Third, the puppy was sleeping, Little Man was sleeping and the girls were quietly watching a movie-miracle.  I called J and he began walking me through my best options.  While on the phone with J, the gas station lights went out.  The attendant walked out and locked the door.  I had a temporary internal panic attack.  Should I also mention it was 47 degrees.  That is COLD for this southerner!  The attendant turned around and I felt like I needed to ask him for help.  I told him the situation and that I was traveling alone with the kids…who tells a perfect stranger those things?  I asked if he’d be willing to use my flashlight and help me check out my tires.  He was AMAZING.  He went back inside the station, turned the lights back on so we could see better and then went to his truck and got his pressure gauge.  He checked each of my tires and because I have a husband who is typically OCD about things, I had an air pump in the van.  He then aired up my low tire, told me to be safe and to have a good rest of the night.  Can we say Good Samaritan? He was headed home, to his wife and children he hadn’t seen all day.  He very simply could have said he wasn’t able to help but instead he told me his prayer was that someone would make the CHOICE to help his wife and kids if they were ever in the same situation.  That gentleman chose love and kindness on Thursday night and I am forever grateful.

My Father goes before me.  Of that much I am certain.  And y’all, I’m so, so glad he does. So while this season has been far from perfect, my family and I are covered in His infinite grace.  We were made specifically for this season, this calling and for this place.  Oh, I miss my little island home, some days way more than others, but I also know we are walking His path and I wouldn’t change that for the world.

Rocks and running

I have a severe case of “survivor’s guilt”.  I guess, technically, it’s not survivor’s guilt but I’m having all the feels about our chosen family in GA and what they’ve been through this weekend.  I’ve watched the videos and the photos of our beautiful island flooding…from afar.  It’s surreal to watch the place you lived, literally three months ago, be ravaged by a major storm like Hurricane Irma.  I realize it could have been so much worse.  I realize there are so many others who legitimately got the short end of the stick with this storm.  We are praying big prayers for all those affected.  I am praying big prayers for my little family, for my sweet girls who have asked repeatedly if their Nana and Papa and P are safe, if all their friends are safe, if their teachers are safe… Both girls have asked throughout the day what will happen to the playground, the pier, the beach… My answer has been the same-He makes beauty from ashes.

Sissy looked at me a little funny the first time I gave her that response.  “What’s that mean, Mommy?”.  I talked to her about something she could relate too.  She has discovered a passion for rocks since we moved here.  Not just any old rock, she studies the texture, the weight, how they feel in her hands and then makes a seemingly calculated decision before choosing said rock.  She brings them home and washes them…(she’s asking for a rock polisher for Christmas…if anyone knows where to find one appropriate for a seven year old, help a sister out…)… she always talks to me about how dirty they were before she cleaned them and how beautiful the colors are once they’ve had a “bath”.  After we talked about her rocks, she understood.  “Just because our island looks yucky and dirty right now, it doesn’t mean God will let it stay that way.”  Exactly, little one.

This conversation lead into another conversation with Mouse and Sissy about how God doesn’t let us stay ugly and dirty.  The reason He sent Jesus was to make us clean, like their rocks.  I’m loving the little lessons I’m able to draw from experiences.  It’s one of the blessings of having the privilege of homeschooling them.  We get to have REAL conversations.  There is time for them to ask ALL the questions, to give their thoughts and opinions.  If you’d asked me a month and a half ago if I ever imagined God could make beauty from the ashes that was our first week of home school…honestly, I’d have laughed in your face.  Seriously.  He’s brought us a long way.

I went running tonight in preparation for an upcoming race.  Mostly though, tonight’s run was about clearing the space in my mind that had become saturated with images from the storm, from conversations with precious family who have no clue what they are going back to or when.  While I was running I started to feel some rhythm for the first time since moving here…my legs were loose, my breathing was right and my feet were landing just so…it occurred to me on the last half mile that even the trivial things like running…yep.  He makes those beautiful too.

Over the past six weeks, I’ve watched this desert go from looking like a giant dust bowl, in my opinion…to a place of rest, of beauty and wonder.  I wrote a Facebook post several months ago about running and how I was beginning to realize that despite my best efforts, running was starting to like me.  Funny thing is, I started running because I wanted to honor my best friend.  We ran our first half marathon together in February of this year and when I think about watching her cross that finish line, I am reminded just how beautiful He can make our lives even when we feel like all we can offer are ashes.  He’s doing the same thing here, y’all.  Each time I see the faces of my precious Navajo brothers and sisters and those beautiful babies, I know that He is making beauty from ashes.  He’s mending this girl’s heart, drawing me back to Him and showing me just how beautiful He can make any circumstance.  We I just have to let Him.

 

Home

Whew…what a week and a half it’s been.  I’ve sat down to write a blog multiple times only to be distracted by something, anything that needed IMMEDIATE attention according to the tiny people who live in my house.

I haven’t known exactly how to put into words all that has happened in our neck of the woods over the past week or so.  The best way I know to explain the happenings of this heart of mine is to talk about becoming a mama times three.

After we had Sissy, I was convinced I’d never love another baby the way I loved her.  She was the greatest thing since sliced bread.  My heart and life were so full and I wanted to share every waking moment with that little blonde haired, blue eyed beauty.  Then, along came Mouse.  Man alive, that girl has been fierce since day one and as soon as I laid eyes on her, my heart exploded with more love than I could imagine.  How was that possible?  To love two people so much it hurts but in two completely different ways?  Every aspect of those two girls are completely different from one another and yet my heart could have almost burst with the love and joy I felt each time I looked at those darling girls.  And then our Little Man came along.  He was everything we never knew we needed.  At least, I didn’t know I needed him.  Each time, the enemy would creep in and have me convinced I didn’t have what it took to be a mama, again.  Selling lies about how little I could love another baby.  And, that’s just what the enemy wants…he wants us to believe his lies.  He wants us to live into what he says about us and not WHO our Father says we are.

I’ve been walking in some of those lies since we moved here.  Not living into who my Father says I am.  Not allowing myself to like it here because this isn’t “home”.  Walking in fear and believing that the task at hand is too large for my family.  And, truthfully, it is too big for us.  Its not too big for Him though.

The past week has brought some healing to this heart.  We’re finding new rhythms, making some unlikely friends and I can feel myself beginning to enjoy this pace of life.  Oh, I still have my moments of what in the world are we doing but last Sunday something clicked for me.  Just like I wasn’t sure my heart could hold anymore love for my babies, I wasn’t sure I could feel at home in a place that doesn’t look anything like “home”.  As the five of us walked in from exploring, I caught this precious picture.

In looking at it initially, you might not see anything spectacular.  Let me explain though. It was in this specific moment that He reminded me my home isn’t a place. Its not an ideal destination.  My home is with those four people in that picture.  Those three babies and that man are my home.  As long as I’m with them, I’m home.  So, regardless of where my Father calls me, I can be home because He’s helped J and I build our house from the ground up.

He’s been preparing our family for this since day one because He knew exactly the moment and time we’d be here.  The girls have started calling the Rez home…referring to our tiny island as exactly that, the island.  They have already gotten what their Mama is just now getting.  Home isn’t a house, home is a family.

I love the peace that has started to take root in my heart.  I’m loving the flow of our days as we begin to gently fall into a new rhythm with home school and J’s job.  I see the simplicity and beauty of the lives here and I’m beginning to turn towards thankfulness for the opportunity to share my life with the Navajo people.  While I still don’t understand parts and pieces of this new season, I’m home.

“Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” -John 14:23

…in its time…

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This picture was taken on our mission trip to the Rez this summer.  I remember getting this picture from Justin and having a little epiphany.  Our children will have a different childhood than most.  No better, no worse…just different.  Initially, the idea of that was very disconcerting to me.  Then, I got this picture.  Sissy loves hop scotch.  She’s loved hopscotch as long as she’s known what it was and even when she wasn’t very good at it.  Her Mama secretly loves hopscotch too. So do our Navajo friends.  More than I love the simplicity of seeing my girl playing hopscotch, I love the commonality that hopscotch symbolizes for our family.  Different is not always bad.  Different is what makes us beautiful.  

I love watching my little ones love on their friends out here.  Watching the shades of their tiny hands holding onto one another and seeing genuine love between them is often the best part of my day.  Little Man has a favorite friend out here and for posterity, I’ll call her Sweet Z.  Sweet Z is about a year older than he is…but they are around the same size.  Y’all, our sweet boy adores her.  And their little friendship is beautiful because of the simplicity in which they enjoy one another’s company.

On Tuesday evening, we went up to one of the local churches and I had my first lesson in making fry bread.  While I was busy learning how to create deliciousness to feed my family, my children were making some of the happiest memories.  Do you know what they were doing?  Playing in dirt, throwing a football, digging in a fire pit and pretending rocks were pies and having J eat them.  Simple. And, do you know what else?  They never once complained about being bored.  There was no whining, there was no in and out of the church.  There were just shrieks of joy and happiness and loads of laughter from my three favorite littles and their new friends.

Last night, we walked to the vineyard by our home.  On the way there, we stopped in the peach and pear orchard.  We got some fresh pears, peaches and the sweetest green grapes I’ve ever eaten, literally.  When we came back home with our loot, two of our new friends were waiting at our front door for the girls.  A brother and sister duo who are perfectly sandwiched between our girls and our little guy.  They ALL ran into the house and began playing.  Again, squeals of joy and laughter filled our home.

As a little girl, I wanted to be a mama.  Oh, I wanted to go to college and get a degree.  I wanted to do life but more than anything in this world my greatest dream was to be a mama.   To have my home filled with laughter and joy and little people and their friends. I have spoken about my angry conversations with God when it became evident we were moving here.  Conversations where I specifically stated that THIS was not my dream.  “What about my dreams?  Don’t they matter?”  And then, the still small voice said, “Your dream was to be a mama, remember?  You can do that anywhere.”  BOOM. Mic drop.

You see, the beauty of this very different life is it’s the exact life I asked for even as a little girl.  Friends, God wants us to have the desires of our heart.  He wants us to tell him about our dreams.  His desire only for what’s best for us.  That doesn’t mean that they always look exactly the way WE picture them.  Never in a million years did I imagine I would be raising my family in the desert.  However, I have a family.  I have little people and their sweet friends to fill my house with laughter and joy.  I have a husband whose desire is to lead his family well and to point us towards Jesus at every turn.  This isn’t going to be a perfect life but its beautiful nonetheless.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time…” Ecclesiastes 3:11

‘Tis so sweet…

When I initially began planning for our home school year, after much reading and researching, I decided that Friday’s would be our day for science, history and exploring.  What could be better for two adventurous little girls and their wide open, non-stop, ninety to nothing little brother, right?  Right.  So, after our pretty much disastrous day on Thursday, we did some review from the week early Friday morning (still starting at 7 am) and then we headed out to Bluff Fort.  It is a local landmark where the initial pioneers of this area of Utah settled.  It was AWESOME!!  We took our time, toured the entire fort, completed a scavenger hunt and lesson plan provided by the Visitor’s Center and had a picnic lunch next to the water wheel and covered wagons.  The littles loved it and so did their mama.  Then it started raining and I immediately began to stress.  I began to stress about what the remainder of  our day would look like.  I had this awesome plan for our afternoon and I was certain the rain was going to ruin those plans.  I began to worry about how Sissy and Mouse would react when I told them our plans were changing.  I began to get a sick feeling in my stomach about driving the hour back to our new home in rain.  Rain on desert roads can be trouble but that’s a completely different post. 

As I was worrying, Mouse asked me if I smelled something.  I told her no and went back to my worried conversation with myself.  She asked again, “Mommy, do you smell that?”  I stopped worrying for five seconds and did a sniff test…you know the one you do only because you are concerned that it is INDEED one of your own children who have committed the foul-smelling offense.  More often than not, its Little Man.  This was something else to worry about because then I would have to change a squirmy toddler’s diaper in the floorboard of the minivan, in the rain no less.  Instead of the foul smell I anticipated, I smelled something sweet.  It was indeed one of the sweetest scents I’ve ever smelled.  It was the smell of the rain hitting the dry desert earth.  

It has rained many times since our arrival in the Valley.  I remember learning in school about the “wet” season in a desert.  It’s the time of year when the plants are renewed because they hoard the water to survive the cold of winter and the coming spring and summer months.

I have been incredibly surprised with the amount of rain we’ve had here.  When we were driving onto the Rez for the last leg of our journey,before arriving at our new home, it began raining.  I had just received some very hard to hear news from my best friend.  I had been crying a majority of the day because I wasn’t with her.  I couldn’t understand why God needed me to be so far away while she was suffering.  My heart was breaking and I remember as the rain fell so did my tears.

Each time the rain has come in the two weeks we’ve been here, I have let the sadness and grief of leaving our tiny island and our people and MY dream wash over me. You see, a wise woman once looked me in the eye and told me, “Ashli, if you don’t feel it, if you don’t grieve it, you’ll never heal it.”.  So, I’ve wholeheartedly grieved the loss of what I thought our life would look like, of not being with my people and not being able to physically walk beside my best friend.  I’ve embraced the grief because I want to be healthy, healed and whole.

And then Friday the rain came and with it the worry of all the plans I’d made being washed down the drain…and Jesus used my little five-year old to reign me back in and pull me to His strong chest and whisper, isn’t it sweet?  Y’all, it is sweet to walk with Jesus.  That rain storm on Friday was salve to my aching soul.  The smell of the rain hitting the dry desert earth reminded me that despite the yuckiness I’ve been feeling, the healing is so sweet.  I can only imagine, as with any thing we are grieving, the pain will ebb and flow, but I can walk in the strength that He has given me to feel what I feel and lean into the beautiful life He’s put before me.

That, my friends, is a beautiful harvest, leaning into the unknown because what He has to offer is so sweet.

‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, 
Just to take Him at His Word 
Just to rest upon His promise, 
Just to know, “Thus saith the Lord!”

-Louisa Stead

Rocks and hard places

Hooray for the first day of school!!  That would normally be my first thought on the second Thursday in August….new teachers, new classrooms, possibly some new friends for my girls and getting to see friends we didn’t quite catch up with over the summer.  Today, though, today I had some bitterness in my heart.  Today, we struggled to make it through day four of home-school.  There were no first day photos of my girls in their cute little uniforms with abnormally large bows (that I may or may not force them to wear because-FIRST.DAY.) and brand new sneakers with whatever irritatingly cute or not backpack they chose for school this year.  The only tears in this house were out of frustration and irritation and “I give ups.”.  There was no coffee in peace while Little Man played quietly in his room or quiet snuggles while reading him his latest book of choice.  There were no breaks for this Mama on the first day of school and my heart was ugly today.

This week we’ve started school no later than 7 a.m. and this morning was no different as we got going at 6:50.  Sissy is an early riser and since moving out West, Little Man is too.  We start early because J is still home and he can maneuver and manage Little Man at least long enough for me to get Sissy through her math lesson for the day.  Mouse, well, she’s a different bird altogether. She has a similar attitude towards mornings as her Mama and we prefer not.  As in, we prefer not to do mornings if we just don’t have too.  So, she doesn’t.  She wakes up around 7:30 as J is walking out the door and comes in for a little snuggle before proclaiming she is both cold and hungry.  While this sounds glorious in theory, it is hard.  It makes for long mornings, especially on a day like today when Mama really just wants to call it quits.  Mouse was miserably whiney, Sissy was trying to “mother hen” her siblings and Little Man just wanted anything and everything except what was being offered.  Today, by 8 am I wanted to give up.  By 9:30, I had lost my cool with one or more of my children multiple times and had asked forgiveness of the tiny army that was gaining speed in my immediate defeat more times than I’d like to openly admit.  At 11:30, with most everything accomplished aside from those topics we chose, as a unit, to complete after quiet time, I rounded the troops and we went out to the track.  The girls rode bikes and Little Man rode in the stroller while I ran.  Hot, you ask?  Disgustingly.  But, y’all, there was peace.

Transitioning a family, no matter the size, is hard.  Transitioning to a remote location where internet is a luxury and the nearest Target is three hours away is hard.  Transitioning from a traditional education to a home-school education is hard and when you add in all the other transition on top, it becomes nearly impossible some days.  But God.

As I was running, this blog literally sprang into my spirit.  I’ve never done life the easy way.  As a child, I was notorious for choosing to learn lessons the hard way and if I’m being completely honest there’s been a lot of that in my adulthood as well.  As a professional, I ALWAYS worked with hard kids.  They are seriously my favorite kind of child with which to work.  I love all their cracks and crevices and unknowns.  I love finding the beauty deep inside their minds and hearts and getting down to the nitty gritty of who they are.  My compassion for children from hard places is almost limitless.  You give me a reason why they can’t or shouldn’t be able to do one thing or another and I can give you five reasons they should.  However, I’m finding with my own little ones, my compassion is sometimes (often) in short supply.  I admit this begrudgingly.  Three years ago I would never have admitted this little nugget to myself, much less all of you, but I’m learning there’s so much healing and beauty in the ugliness of everyday, ordinary life.  While I am teaching my littles, they are teaching me.  I’ve learned more about myself this week (not much of it good) than I ever imagined I would.  I’m walking in some unknown territory and that’s incredibly uncomfortable for me.  I don’t like the unknown and as I spoke about briefly in my first blog, I don’t like to be out of control.  This week has been a reality check for me…again.  I’m not in control and never was.  God must really get a kick out of my hamster wheel tendencies.  I do.  I’m seriously chuckling to myself as I type.  Unhealthy much?

So, anyway, while I was wallowing in my self pity about all the rocks and hard places I’m watching my family walk through as we adjust to this new way of life, my Father gently reminded me that His grace is sufficient for me.  His grace is sufficient for my husband and my children and every single one of the new faces we’ll meet and have the honor of building relationship with and loving.  Even cooler than His grace being sufficient for me, I get a daily supply of my own grace and y’all, I get to choose grace.  Not just for my kids and husband but for myself.  I get to choose grace because He chose grace all those many years ago.  I get to choose peace because He died to give it to me.

So, no, this new road isn’t going to be easy.  He never claimed a life with Him would be…I’d rather do life with Him than without Him.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:28-31