When the Church is the Church

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It’s been a bit of a fall and winter around here. We kicked things off in September when Maddie (17yo) suddenly had an onset of stroke symptoms one Sunday night, complete with no feeling on her left side, droopy left side of her face, inability to grab words in either speech or writing, and a tremendous amount of fear. We took her to the ER. THEY also thought she had stroke symptoms, which, when they start acting in a way that confirms the thing you were afraid of… I had to leave the room for a bit to have my cry away from Maddie. It turns out she didn’t have a  stroke that night, but instead had a hemiplegic migraine – something I’d never even heard of before – but will be constantly on guard for from now on. But to get to that diagnosis, she had to have two CT scans, one MRI, and a tele-consult with the stroke team from the University of Utah. We don’t question for a moment what all the doctors needed to do that night to rule out all possibility of actual stroke, but all of those things don’t come cheaply.

Fast forward another month. All the bills started coming in and we discovered that our insurance benefit didn’t cover as much as we were thinking it would, to the tune of our owing the hospital almost $5,000. At this point I felt really silly, since I ignored my friend’s advice to switch over to a plan from OneSureInsurance.co.uk. This was the same time Bozeman started the hiring process for a bunch of seasonal retail jobs. I knew it seemed crazy to take on another job, but a $5,000 bill doesn’t just pay itself, you know. In the meantime, we put in a financial appeal with the hospital and they waived 40%, so we were down to a more manageable amount of close to $3,000 between the two hospitals and various doctors and techs we had to pay.

I started sewing like crazy in a crazy attempt to tackle a portion of the bill that way. I also accepted a seasonal position at Target. And let me say this: I’m thankful for available work to help meet needs, even if it’s tough to do for a little bit.

But also let me say this: I AM tired. And I think you’d have to be blind not to notice that, though I’m always a little surprised when anyone does express concern or care for me, for us. I’m rather hard-wired to believe I don’t deserve either from anyone.

So that could be part of the reason why I cried when we got a surprise check in the mail from our church. The people in our growth group had noticed. And they helped. In a massive way. Between their check and sewing madness of 2016, we have enough to cover Maddie’s hospital bills.

And then Millie got a stress fracture. And two x-rays. And an MRI. And once again, I’m tired, but grateful the Target position is already in place to help. But then we got another surprise check in the mail from friends from our past and I’m once again humbled and undone. We haven’t even received the bills for Millie’s round of needs, but we should have enough in place to cover them right now.

The box of pillows in the photo above is representative of what we’re about to start delivering around town to those we know contributed. It’s a very small way to say, “You saved me from needing to make 181 of these, and we’re so very grateful.”

Sometimes you pray for provision and seek a job simultaneously because that’s the next logical step. And you’re grateful when you get it because it will help, even if it means a temporary sacrifice.

Sometimes you pray for provision and God surprises you with manna you never saw coming. And you pick up the portion you need for today and you say, “Thank you.”

And so here we are: humbled, grateful, and blessed.

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Change. It’s Coming.

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It’s May 22 and schools across our newsfeeds are wrapping things up. We still have two weeks left and when I learned the Bozeman schedule last year I thought I wouldn’t love that this year, but now that we’re in the middle of it, I’m totally fine with things. Ask my kids, though… *grin*

Seriously, I think they are as well. Katie and I dashed out to Cold Smoke today so she could get a jump start on making finals study guides and I wanted to do some more digital work which I can do anywhere there’s a signal, so here we are. I have the perfect cup of English Breakfast tea and I’m working my way through blog entries from August of 2007, editing, cleaning, purging. It feels good.

The one big change this summer, other than the obvious one of school letting out on June 3 and, well, we’re in Bozeman, is that I’m working outside the home and that has never been our family scenario before. We Actually had a accident in the house the same day and called our window replacement CT to help repair the damage. And while I enjoy my job and I’m grateful for it, I’m already feeling a loss over what the summer could be and what it likely won’t because I’ll be out of the picture for 30 hours/week.

That said, I think we’re all experiencing a bit of a stage-of-life adjustment. Maddie and Chloe will be giving five weeks of their summer to Eagle Lake Camp and the closer we get to that, the more second-guessing I’m starting to do. My second guessing has nothing to do with trusting the camp (I do) or trusting my kids (I do) and everything to do with me missing them this summer.

This is the way things are moving and I know it’s normal and natural and still, it’s a process that has to be adjusted to. Millie and I were taking a walk around our neighborhood pond last night and she confessed to feeling it too. She mentioned that it feels like the older two would rather spend more time away from home than in it.

To be clear, we’re still some of the tightest parents around and our girls are home quite a bit. And we are one of the last families on the planet to hold to a physical and digital curfew. But Maddie is 17 now and will be a senior in high school next year. Chloe will be 16 in August and a junior in high school next year. I get the pull to start branching out. I remember feeling it myself when I was in high school.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t feel that pull. Being stretched is painful, even if it’s necessary.

So I’m thinking ahead to the three weeks we have with all six of us home at the beginning of the summer, and the three weeks we will have with all six of us at home at the very end of the summer and I’m going to make the most of them. We may never have another summer that gives us six weeks together again.

A Written Scrapbook

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I’m experiencing a bit of a blog homecoming, if you will. Knowing that my hosting fee was due for renewal this month, but not wanting to pay it again since I haven’t been doing ANY paid blogging lately and very little personal blogging, I decided to just bring it all back over to a wordpress.com site. In the process of transferring 10+ years’ worth of content, though, I remembered why I started blogging in the first place. I have right here a written history. There are gaps, yes, but there are a lot of sweet family memories that I want to save…and add to.

So I’m doing an overhaul. It will take time to get it all cleaned up the way I want it to be, but I’m back in one spot and I think I’ve come full circle on what this space was initially intended to be for me, for my family.

As such, I’d like to introduce you to Andrew Carneige. He looks kind of jolly in the eyes, much like a certain 12yo girl who lives in my house. Today was our school’s 3rd-6th grade History Fair and it was fun to see all of the hard work of all the kids and to also hear some of the history of their friends here. We participated in other versions of school events, but not exactly like this. I’m glad Millie was able to get in on the end of it before joining the ranks next year of the upper school.

Bozeman kids go to school clear through the first week of June which is a bit of an adjustment for us, but since the weather is still generally pretty cool, I understand it. We will have three full months off and not begin again until after Labor Day in September. And we’re really looking forward to all that the next three months will bring here.

Indeed, Bozeman is a beautiful place. God has done much to redeem what was broken. I think we very well might be experiencing a time of relational jubilee. For that, I am grateful. Exceedingly.

 

A Sweet, Sad Tree

I stare at my tree. It’s not a real tree. It’s artificial. It’s not super tall. It’s not super wide. But it’s super full of memories…memories in knick-knack form hanging from a hook next to the remaining candy canes and two humble strands of lights. My tree would not win any decor awards (are there even awards for trees? probably…I actually have no idea), but I’m not going for any anyway. What it does do, though, is worth more than any awards could give. I can look at any given ornament and remember.

Years of good. Years of bad. Years of growth. Years in Oklahoma. Years in Colorado. Years in Missouri. Years in Oklahoma again. And now a year in Montana.

And soon the fullness of my tree will start to shed a little as one by one my girls start their own lives and pack away the memories of our tree that belong to them. My heart already aches at the thought of it

And so I’ll treasure this tree and it’s bursting branches for as many more years as I’m able. And I’ll thank God for the memories it holds both now and for the saplings that will form in the future.

On the Eve of my 42nd Birthday

You know those memory flashbacks that Facebook is so fond of posting, giving us the choice as to whether or not we want to remind others of what happened on that day 1 year, 2 years, or 5 years ago? So this one came up for me today: On the eve of my 40th birthday. Sometimes I’m hesitant to look at the memories of the past because…they hurt too much. And yet I don’t hide that option from my timeline. I’m trying very hard to look back and deal with, if not make sense of, the past couple of years of life. I haven’t wanted to feel the hurt there. There is a major part of me that thinks that feeling the hurt is the same thing as letting bitterness take root. And I want to be very clear – they can be co-mingled for sure, but they are not necessarily the same thing.

And I’m finding a bit of release in embracing the fact that I can still hurt over very real relational wounds without being bitter. I’m allowing myself to feel things a bit more and that means more tears, darn it, but so be it.

I was reading again in the Psalms this week and read this from Psalm 15:

O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?
    Who shall dwell on your holy hill?

He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
    and speaks truth in his heart;
who does not slander with his tongue
    and does no evil to his neighbor,
    nor takes up a reproach against his friend;

I think I understood something that day. From January through the end of May we were not allowed to speak of what happened. I really wanted to. I REALLY wanted to come June. I didn’t. But there has always been this thought inside me that one of these days I will. I’ll write out the whole thing from our perspective just so there’s a fair representation of what happened. I’ve been waiting for some untold amount of time to pass so I can finally unleash it all.

And yet. He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend…that is the one who will sojourn in the tent of the Lord, dwell in His holy hill.

I got the message that day. There are some hurts that may linger for a lifetime. There are some stories never meant to be shared. God hears and that’s enough. It has to be.

So on the eve of this 42nd birthday, while I’m storing a prepped turkey in the front seat of the car in the garage here in Bozeman, Montana, I’m remembering an evening of sweet girls making pies and taking silly photos and watching a Christmas movie and then eating one of the pies and I’m grateful for this space of our lives. We’re in a good place. Educationally, we’re in a better place. Spiritually we’re working towards the same in our hearts. And I’m thankful.

I’m thankful for parents who stayed together through the good and the horrible. I’m thankful for a 4-year period of time where I could live close enough to them to be involved in my mom’s care during her last years. I’m thankful for fourteen little ones who softened our hearts in a fresh way over and over and over. I’m thankful…for the winter here (because if I say that one enough it has to come true, right? Where’s my sweater…)

I’m thankful for the hope of selling our OKC house soon. I’m thankful for the new relationships God is building into our lives. I’m thankful for a warm house here. I’m thankful for hope, for hope is sometimes all I have.

There was once a time when hard things happened in our life and I lost my way. I’m thankful God led me through that wilderness into a place of trust again. And trust in such a way that this time, though I’ve been wandering again for a while, I have not been lost.

And, in fact, I have a pretty clear view of where I’m heading.

And I’m grateful. Tears and all.

Happy Thanksgiving

 

I Need My Stories

For a variety of reasons I’ve lost my voice this past year. I’ve alluded to it before, but I’m not the gal who will become famous for writing about sorrows when they come because when sorrows come I clam up.

And I’ve clammed up for the better part of a year.

We’re moving to Bozeman, Montana in June. We’re leaving Oklahoma in a little over a week. This chapter that held so much potential four years ago has now come to an end and we’re turning the page of a new one with no idea which direction the author intends to go with the story.

I was recently asked where I was blogging these days and I said, well, the same spot. It’s just that I haven’t been blogging. I said I hoped to find my voice again once we moved. He said he hoped so too, that people needed my stories.

I don’t know so much about that. I don’t think anyone really needs my stories except for maybe me. I need to write to process, write to ponder, write to remember.

I don’t have any regrets over letting things go here for a while. There are seasons for everything, even silence. My kids are older now and it’s not as easy to use them as illustrations because they, you know, would read about it and I respect them too much for that. I have really great kids and I’m continually amazed at how God is shaping their lives in the midst of so many things we wouldn’t have chosen to use as shaping tools. God is funny in his working of things that way. We’ve worked hard to cultivate a relationship of trust with them and I don’t plan to break that now.

When I first started keeping this blog, oh, some 12 years ago, my intent was simply to share stories and if they resonated with someone along the way it would just be a bonus. Years passed, and I got caught up in the stats game and the compensation game. I saw potential for this space beyond what I was able to procure simply from sharing stories, so I shifted. I got free stuff. I paid some bills. And I sold out my writing space.

I didn’t like who I was as an online writer at that point. If I want to share with you that I really love Target then I will do so without needing Target to send me a $50 gift card for saying so. So I’m done with that season too.

I’m actually not sure what this space will become again, if anything again. My domain expired two days ago and I called to renew it and as I was doing so, the guy I was talking to was all, “So, half-pint house…is this some kind of beer blog?” I started laughing and said, “No, but you are the first to ask me that one. I used to get more hits off of some rapper name Half-Pint and I’m sure I was a disappointment to those doing the google searching.” I went on to explain it was a literary reference with a nod in the direction of Little House on the Prairie.

*crickets*

He had no idea what I was talking about. And that’s okay. I don’t know what I’m talking about half the time either.

Our time in Oklahoma is coming to a close. As much as I hate the way it came to this and still feel pain over the situation that came about that caused this and still struggle with certain people who caused it to be so, I no longer view the past four years as a wasted space. I was given the privilege of helping my dad care for my mom during her last weeks of her fight with ALS and, as hard as that was, I’m thankful for that time. I wouldn’t have been able to do that living anywhere else but in Oklahoma. And the 14 kids we cared for during the past 2.5 years in addition to our own would not have crossed our paths ever either. And they might not ever cross our paths again, but I’m thankful for the time we did have with them and for as long as I can remember their names and visualize their tiny faces, I will pray for them. And for the people we became friends with who really are sad along with us at the way things transpired and that we have to leave, I remain thankful. For there are a lot of them. And we will miss them. And I’m glad our paths intersected during this small span of 4-years.  For our girls who made friends and are now having to leave them, it’s difficult to watch them grieve, but it’s part of the process of living. And just like we said with our foster kids, if it doesn’t hurt when they leave then we didn’t do it right, then the same is true of our relationships. If it doesn’t hurt us when we leave people in Oklahoma then we didn’t do relationships right either. And while we certainly didn’t do that perfectly, it will hurt. We will miss many.

As we enter this new season that’s what I want to convey the most to my kids – the hurt isn’t bad, and we can’t be afraid of pain. I want to live and love well both the place and the people of Montana so that one day, if we are ever called to leave that place as well (and trust me, I do NOT want to keep up this moving spree), then we can say we had no regrets. We did what we were called to, came to do, and stayed to do.

The Salvation Song by The Avett Brothers

If you take my heart
Don’t leave the smallest part
I’ve no need to live if you’re to come up gone
An as my life turns to a song
And if and when I treat you wrong
No I never want to hurt our family

And I would give up everything
No this is not just about me
And I don’t know a plainer way to say it Babe
And they may pay us off in fame
Though that is not why we came
And I know well and good that won’t heal our hearts

We came for salvation
We came for family
We came for all that’s good that’s how we’ll walk away
We came to break the bad
We came to cheer the sad
We came to leave behind the world a better way

Now if I’m walkin’ through the rain
And I hear you call my name
I will break into a run without a pause
And if your love laughs at your dreams
Well it’s not as bad as it seems
Either way one of them has got to go
And if you take of my soul
You can still leave it whole
With the pieces of you own you leave behind

We came for salvation
We came for family
We came for all that’s good that’s how we’ll walk away
We came to break the bad
We came to cheer the sad
We came to leave behind the world a better way

And I would give up everything
And if you were to come up clean
And see you shine so bright in a world of woe
And they may pay us off in fame
But that is not why we came
And if it compromises truth then we will go

We came for salvation
We came for family
We came for all that’s good that’s how we’ll walk away
We came to break the bad
We came to cheer the sad
We came to leave behind the world a better way

Kids and Social Media

To the casual observer, ours may seem a lenient social media family: Craig and I have both kept a blog of some sort since about the time Al Gore invented the Internet, and we were early adopters of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (kind of). Pinterest? Not so much, but that’s okay; one can only handle so many cyber distractions at a time.

Our kids (we have four daughters, 16, 14, 12, 11) are allowed to have Facebook accounts when they turn 13, as this is the age allowed by Facebook to have an account and we’re not proponents of teaching our kids that it is okay to lie about their age so they can be there. They also have Instagram accounts, which is kind of funny since neither of the two who have one has a phone or any kind of mobile device, so we’re all constantly logging in and out of my iPhone to see what’s what in the land of selfies and dinner selections. The girls enjoy spending time on Pinterest, but they’ve gotten a lot of fun crafts out of the deal so I’m good with that.

For each account, our girls understand that their parents have their passwords and can and will do a random check periodically, and if they’ve deleted a bunch of stuff, then they will lose access to said accounts. We’ve also guided them in lessons in avoiding narcissism and how an occasional selfie is fine, but the majority of people (tweens and teens in particular) really overdo it. We’d rather they use their accounts for observations and thoughts about the world around them and not just about them. And if we ever catch them with a Snapchat account, they will lose electricity and battery-powered everything for the next five years.

So far it hasn’t been an issue. Our girls are fairly self-aware and we’re grateful for the way they’ve embraced being sensible online. I mention this because, somehow, I’ve found myself Instagram friends with a fair amount of tween/teen girls and I am constantly wondering if their moms are following their feeds. Every post is a selfie or some quote pining over a boy they desperately wish would notice them and wondering what they can do to get his attention.

It’s the stuff of seventh grade diaries, only it’s public and it includes pictures. I get it; I was a seventh grader once. But the difference is that, once upon a time in one of my more clued-in moments, I had the great pleasure of burning every single one of my junior high diaries and all the hormonal turmoil I had penned into the pages – no harm, no foul. What these girls are posting will live on publicly indefinitely for anyone who wants to see.

Parents, we need to be paying attention. We need to be guiding better here than we’ve been doing. We need to be helping young girls who aren’t able to do this on their own yet to guard their hearts. We can’t just hope for the best and see what happens. We have to steer things a bit while they navigate these waters. That part of what it means to be a parent.

Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Let’s help our kids (and ourselves) keep this in mind as they (and we) choose what to click and post.

Missing Milestones

Dear Mom,

Truett is getting married tomorrow. Maybe you know that or maybe you don’t. I have no idea. I think you had an idea earlier this year that it was coming and it it’s here and it’s super fun, except for this void that is noticeable to me because you aren’t here. Because you would have LOVED this. And you would have been a major presence here. And I wish I could somehow communicate that your lack of presence is felt.

The world is still moving and all of us are moving right along with it and there are days we’re pretty normal, I’m pretty normal, and then all of a sudden we have something major happen, something you would have absolutely loved, and your absence screams to me.

And so I cry tonight because I still miss you. And Michelle misses you. And Dad…oh, how he misses you.

And I just needed to say that tonight.

Love, Megan

Me and Amy Grant

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We took our kids to see U2 at Busch Stadium in 2011. It was their first rock concert and we felt all kinds of IT for making sure their first concert as a killer one, never mind the fact that Millie, who was still 7 at that time, spent the majority of the evening with her hands over her ears and eventually fell asleep. None of that matters, though, because, darn it, we took her to see Bono for her first concert.

Compare this with my own first concert experience. Farrell and Farrell. People in a Box, anyone? Matching hot pink jumpsuits? We were cutting edge for mid-80’s Southern Baptists in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Not to be outdone, I also saw The Imperials, Sandy Patti, and The Bill Gaither Trio before transitioning over to some of the heavier stuff like Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant.

Oh, Amy Grant and your leopard print jacket on the Unguarded album…you got me. You sang from my heart. And I sang it back into a hairbrush and recorded it on my boom box while pretending to be a DJ for KXOJ (K-eXcited Over Jesus) on 100.9 FM in Tulsa.

And life was good…until I made a move in an unfortunate direction and burned all of my Amy Grant and Smitty tapes and records in the same barrel that took my Rainbow Bright doll and my entire collection of Pegasus figurines. Thank you, Bill Gothard.

But then I made a move back toward reasonableness and repurchased my music collection, this time on CD. And Amy sang my heart once more, and I would sing along with her while driving around in my 1990 Grand Prix with my spiral-permed hair and my Baptist-hipster floral jumpers.

And then… she got divorced and Christians all over walked away from Amy Grant. And I did too…for a season. I think my discouragement was equal parts trying to reconcile my strongly-held views on sacred Christian marriage (a full three years into my own at the time) with what seemed to me a public failure of someone I had looked up to for so long. Suddenly, what I thought to be a given for the life of committed Christians no longer was.

But I’m sorry I walked away for a while. Here’s the thing: I’ve never met Amy Grant. I’ve never had a personal conversation with her to ask her about her life. I do know she continues to write songs that speak into the center of my soul and I can listen to them, believing she has really wrestled with the hard stuff of life and come out on the other side with her faith still intact. This gives me a hope that I can’t find on Christian radio today.

And that hope continues to compel me to sing along with Amy and the new album of killer dance mixes of her songs while driving along 235 in my hipster mom-Honda and my gray cardigan sweater, processing the hard of life in the midst of the everyday everything else.

Sometimes Hope is a Dark Shade of Pink

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I gave up writing for lent. Okay, I didn’t really do that and that’s a bad joke anyway. I gave up writing this year because of the way writing takes me to places in my heart I have not wanted to go to again. Indeed, as I started this post last night, I needed to process the hard again, but while I was doing that I was also reminded of the grace again. Because like it or not, they do tend to go together much of the time.

In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis says, “We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.”

Ah, and that’s the thing. I accept truth in my head, but my heart is a much harder sell. When I look back on 2014 my immediate memories are the sad ones, and…sometimes I think I actually want to dwell there as though that’s all I’ve been given this year, just bypassing the grace altogether. I think accepting grace this year means accepting the loss too and I’m not sure I’ve been willing to do that…yet.

But now I risk it. I look back and I see the grace in this year: In a friend’s second marriage, in canoeing on the lake of the camp that should have burned to the ground two years ago, in taking my still-grieving dad bowling and seeing a momentary joy come back into his eyes, in seeing success at a job I started doing just for fun, in watching the artist in my 12yo start to blossom, in…so many other ways.

It’s there. It’s all around me. It’s that dark pink shade of hope creeping around the corner of my despair.

And I’m just now coming to terms with the understanding that I don’t have to give up one in order to embrace the other. They were meant to be experienced together.

Psalm 121:

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
 My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

 He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
 Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

 The Lord is your keeper;
    the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
 The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time forth and forevermore.