Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Big Enough Blanket

This year, I wasn't looking forward to the Christmas season at all. In my mind Christmas was all about family traditions, and it seemed that most of those were pretty much wrecked.

What I dreaded most was decorating the tree. Part of me wanted to skip it this year, but I knew that wasn't an option. So on the weekend of Thanksgiving, Allyson and I went to Walmart with my sister Amy to pick out a $39 pre-lit tree, a pretty star, and a $2.50 tree skirt.

On the first Sunday in December, I sorted through a box of memories, about twelve years' worth of ornaments. That was hard on me, but fun for Allyson as she asked the history of each decoration. We took about half and saved the rest for Bill. And then the two of us wrestled that sparse tree together.

After dinner, just as we were about to start decorating, Ethan calmly asked if I could bring some towels. Why? Because the toilet was overflowing. I raced into the hall to find rivers of dirty water flowing across the tile to the carpet. "Jiggle the handle!" I shrieked as I flung open the linen closet and pulled out all the towels.

"I tried that but--"

"Jiggle the handle!" I repeated.

He obeyed, and the water stopped.

"I'm sorry, I--"

I tossed him a beach towel as I hit my knees with my own towel. "Just soak it all up as fast as you can."

Twenty minutes later, after I'd thrown every towel we own into the wash and mopped the bathroom floor twice, I called the kids out to the living room to decorate the tree. I had to laugh, because I felt about as Christmasy as... the Grinch.

At that point, Allyson pointed out that we had no eggnog. "We always drink eggnog when we decorate the tree," she said. (I'm clearly not the only one who's hung up on traditions.)

"I'm sorry, but Ethan drank it all and I forgot to buy more," I said.

"Can't you go to the store?" Ethan asked.

"No! I'm not going to the store!" I snapped. In a softer, more reasonable tone, I added, "It's almost Allyson's bedtime."

So I got on the Internet and found a recipe for homemade eggnog. Another 15 minutes later, I presented each kid with a frothy mug of deliciousness and cholesterol. For tradition's sake, I had a token serving even though I usually avoid both eggs and dairy.

Allyson took two swallows and said it was okay, but she was full, thank you. Ethan took one swallow and said it was gross, not at all like the kind they sell at Braum's.

"This is wayy better than that gloppy store-bought stuff," I protested.

"Nnhhh," they replied.

I couldn't possibly waste such amazing eggnog, so naturally I drank both of their servings. And now I had a bellyache to go along with all of my other aggravations.

At first, Ethan sat on the couch and watched us hang the ornaments. "That's a pretty crappy tree," he commented.

"It's a cheap tree," I agreed. "But I think it's cute. It's a Charlie Brown tree."

"What's a Charlie Brown tree?" both kids asked.

"Oh, you guys have got to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas," I replied. (Allyson and I did, on Christmas Eve.)

When Allyson asked if she could hang his ornaments, Ethan finally got off the couch. In the end, the tree looked pretty sweet, especially with the two of them beside it.

That evening, we started a new tradition, the Jesse Tree. Each of the 24 nights leading up to Christmas, we sang "O Come Emmanuel," read a story of a person in Jesus's family tree, and hung an ornament. Actually, we stopped hanging ornaments after we ran out of ornament hooks and paper clips. But we thoroughly enjoyed the singing and the stories. (To be more accurate, Ethan only tolerated the singing.) On Christmas Eve, we read the story of Jesus's birth and then sang "Silent Night."

After Allyson had gone to bed on the night we decorated the tree, I started another new tradition. Before, my favorite part of decorating the tree was admiring it afterward over a glass of wine, hand-in-hand with my sweetheart. I thought of sharing this tradition with Allyson, but school was already going to come way too early the next morning. And Ethan? Not happening.

"Oh, Lord," I prayed. "This hurts. But I know that I am not alone. Will you sit with me?"

So I poured myself a splash of wine and sat in the darkened living room in front of the tree. I thanked Jesus for coming to dwell with us. I thanked him for my family and all of our memories. I asked him for peace, and then I rested in it.

The next evening, I went to a ladies' dinner at my friend Leisa's church, along with two of our coworkers. The speaker was Kelly Minter, a Bible study author and singer. She read the story of Mary visiting her Aunt Elizabeth, who was pregnant at a very old age with John the Baptist (Luke 1). Kelly pointed out Elizabeth's words: "The Lord has done this for me." Of course, John's conception was part of God's plan to change the world for all of us, for John came to prepare the way for the Messiah. But the fact that He did it for all of us in no way detracts from the fact that He also did this wonderful thing for Elizabeth, who'd suffered decades of shame because of her barrenness.

Kelly urged us to take the Christmas story personally, to realize that God gave us Jesus because He wanted to be near each of us, individually. I pondered her words as I sang "Oh Come Let Us Adore Him," hand-in-hand with my three friends. In that moment, I thrilled to the true meaning of Christmas as never before. Oh, I'd always known it was all about Jesus, but.... (How can I explain this?) Because I rejoice in my salvation all through the year, to me Christmas had always been more about family traditions than about the Christmas story itself.

How foolish that seemed now. What did it matter if I couldn't celebrate all the same traditions in exactly the same way? Didn't I need Jesus, God-With-Us, more than ever this year? All the way home, I marveled that the Savior of the world knows my name, that He delights in spending time with me. Just then, I had an inkling that I would do far more than just survive this Christmas season.
Fran, Leisa, Me, Lisa
The lesson at Celebrate Recovery the next evening added to my Christmas joy. We reflected on grace, and what it had meant in our recovery. One lady compared grace to a coat that covered not only herself, but also her son. Another lady called it a blanket in this cold world. My tears splashed down as I realized what had been bothering me most about all of our broken traditions.

In all that I've gone through the last year and a half, I've never been bitter because I know I'm simply reaping what I sowed years ago. It's not that I'm being punished, but that I am experiencing the natural consequence of my past choices. This brings me comfort because I know that my future is being written by the better choices that I'm making now. But I have big regrets for my children, who are reaping what they did not sow. And that hurts even more now, when I cherish my own childhood Christmas memories.

In that open sharing circle, understanding dawned! If God's grace can cover my own sins, can it not also cover my children? His grace is a big enough blanket for all of us!

I basked in that truth for days, but at times my sorrow was still sharp. One night I was brushing my teeth when a wave of grief struck without warning. On the floor of my prayer closet, I asked God for signs of his love. "I need my manna, like you gave me before."

Throughout the Christmas season, God answered that prayer in beautiful ways. For example, when I cried at the thought of filling my own stocking this year, my friend Gentle informed me that she'd had a call from Santa, and I was not to worry about my stocking; he had it under control. And she also offered to come and help me wrap presents, another thing I'd been dreading.

When she arrived a few nights later to be our personal Santa's elf, what did she find on our porch but a box from Santa himself! Allyson gaped at the inscription: "To Sarah. Do not open until Christmas. From Santa."

Oh, how that mystery tormented her over the next couple of weeks (and me, by extension). Why would Santa send me a box? What was in there, and why didn't he just bring it on the sleigh? Most importantly, did the box contain goodies for herself? It was literally her first waking thought nearly every morning.

Allyson was briefly distracted by our tradition of making marshmallows and handing them out to our neighbors. This year, at her suggestion, we used tiny cookie cutters to make Christmas shapes. This worked out well because that meant we got to eat all the crazy scraps ourselves.

I'll pass on a little wisdom we learned this year: never buy treat boxes at the dollar store. Just don't. It took about 30 minutes and a ridiculous amount of Scotch tape to put together seven boxes (which should have been eight).
Allyson in the Marshmallow Sweat Shop

My next bit of manna came at a Moms in Prayer meeting one Wednesday morning. I confided that I'd been struggling, and the other moms prayed fervently over me. Victoria prayed, "We know this is not Sarah's portion. No, you came to bring peace and grace. You delight in giving good gifts, and you came to set our sister free." As they prayed, it seemed that a physical weight was lifted as I felt God's love wrapping around me, that blanket of grace.

And then there was my family's gift exchange, this past Saturday. When my 16-year-old niece Hillary set a large gift bag at my feet, I eyed her quizzically; we don't usually give gifts to the adults.

"It's a present," she said.

"For me?"

She nodded.

"From who?"

"From me."

"You're going to make me cry," I said, as my vision blurred.

She laughed. "You haven't even opened it yet."

My curiosity mounted as I waited for all the kids to open their many gifts, and then Mom and Dad, too. (It was almost as bad as Allyson's suspense over the Santa box.) At last, Hillary said it was time to open her gift.

With trembling hands, I drew out a purple canvas with a cross on it. When I read the verse, I began to sob. "I told you she would cry," my sister Emily said. And then I was laughing and crying at the same time.

Me, Emily, and the Best Christmas Gift Ever
The reason I cried so much was because, on a walk with Jesus a couple of months before, I'd asked God to help me let go of some negative thoughts that kept plaguing me. "I need a scripture that-"

The answer came before I could even complete my thought: "I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine." Since then, that verse has come to mind over and over. And I'd been searching for scripture art featuring that verse to hang over my bed. But the only thing I'd found was a black and red plaque that totally clashed with my purple decor. Frustrated and disappointed, I asked God to please help me find the perfect piece so that I could have that daily reminder that I am His.

Around the middle of November, Hillary and her sister Savannah asked about my favorite scripture. I gave them several, and I also mentioned to Hillary that I wanted Solomon 6:3 for my room.

A week or so after that, Hillary was assigned an art project at school, to paint a place that had meaning for her. She decided on the cross. (Hallelujah!!) And then she decided to give it to me, for my room. But she couldn't remember which verse I'd wanted. So she asked her Aunt Amy to find out for her. Which explains why Amy randomly texted me one morning and asked for my favorite verse. I'm sure I gave her several because it's impossible to choose just one, but thankfully Hillary was able to remember which one I wanted.

And that is how Hillary came to paint the very verse that I asked God to help me find for my room. It was her very first painting, and she chose to give it to me!

The Beautiful Artist and Her Beloved Aunt

"I think this is the best gift anyone ever gave me," I said. "I know I will treasure this for the rest of my life."

And then I smiled all the way home, and all the way through cleaning my disaster of a kitchen. I was smiling when I fell into bed at 1:00 a.m., and smiling when I woke up the next morning. And each time I think about it, I still smile. I suspect I always will.

One more story before I call it a night.... On Christmas Eve, it took so long for Allyson to fall asleep that I feared I might fall asleep myself and then Santa wouldn't come. Around 11, I started on their two stockings. With a pang of guilt because I knew how Allyson had been looking forward to opening that Santa box, I cut it open with a steak knife. Inside was the most gorgeous stocking I'd ever seen and a gift bag. I set both on the hearth without so much as a peek and left the opened box next to the fireplace.

In the morning, after announcing that Santa's cookies were gone, Allyson asked, "Why is the Santa box open?"

I pressed my lips together and feigned interest in the apple pancakes I was pouring (which she was far too excited to eat). "I guess Santa must have opened it."


"I don't know. Sometimes things just remain a mystery, Allyson."

"Oh," she said. And then exploring her stocking drove away all her questions.
Her Favorite Santa Gift

After breakfast, I opened my own gifts. They were full of treats and little treasures that made me feel so loved. But the best part was that every item was emblazoned with a scripture. That stocking and gift bag were chock full of treasure!
Stocking on Left

Oh no, I didn't just survive Christmas! Surely I will look back on this season as the most special ever. What did I ever do to deserve such love? Nothing. And that's what makes it so precious.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Santa's Workshop Event at Allyson's School

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thanksgiving Tour

It's been three months, and we still think of this as The New House, but it's definitely home. Several of you have asked me to post pictures, and I'm finally getting around to it. In honor of Thanksgiving this week, I will share some things I'm thankful for as take you on a tour through our dream house.

We'll start in the front yard. See that giant brush pile? That is one of my unexpected blessings.

My friend Gentle once told me that being newly single gives me the opportunity to learn new things. I don't remember if I said it out loud, but my initial response was that I had enough things to do already and didn't care to learn any more, thank you! But she was right. Learning new things does give me a sense of satisfaction and makes me feel more confident.

A couple of weeks back, we had a lovely Saturday, and I decided it was tree trimming day. One of my two neighbors named Steve brought over a tree trimming pole that was literally about 15 feet tall. On the end there was a curved saw and a scissor-like appendage that you could close by pulling a string.

I loved the scissor thing for the smaller branches, but it took a long time to get the hang of sawing a branch 10 feet over my head. I just couldn't keep the saw in the groove, and Steve had to take over several times, which hurt my pride. When he left, Mom came out to help me, and together we sawed down several of the crepe myrtle branches that the home inspector had said would ruin the shingles over my kitchen. As I sawed each branch, I looked up until my neck got stiff, and then I stared straight ahead while Mom guided me: "A little to the left. There, you've got it. The saw dust is coming down."

Oh the triumph of watching those big limbs fall! It was worth the blisters. But for the record, I have to admit that Steve probably cut three-fourths of the limbs in that big pile. And I'm very thankful that he was happy to help, wounded pride notwithstanding.

Okay, so come on in the front door. Here's the living room. That's my 12-year-old, perfectly serviceable couch, with two lovely new throw pillows that I found on clearance at Pier 1 after much searching and praying. They have both green to match the couch and three shades of blue which will tie into the blue walls that I will have some day. That console table under the mirror is where Fluffy used to live. I'm thankful that she's in a better place and not hurting any more.

Here is the fireplace I love, and the pretty mirror that Jackie left for me.

What I am most thankful for in my living room is memories of reading the Bible together in the evenings, sitting on the couch with Ethan on one side and Allyson on the other, trying to scratch both of their backs while simultaneously holding my page in the Bible. We're reading through Luke right now, and I think we will read the gospel of John next, which I love to read at Christmas time. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." How thrilling those verses are during the Christmas season, or any other time of the year. 

Here is my dining room. I'm thankful that we listened to my sister Amy on moving day when she insisted we really could get that buffet and table into this space. I had resigned myself to storing the buffet in the garage, but see how beautiful it looks! A perfect fit. The mirror came from my bedroom, and the antique tea set from an antique shop in Nappanee, Indiana. The lamps I found, after much searching and praying, for 40% off at Hancock Fabrics when I was looking for something entirely different. 

I've decorated the space above the cabinets with Ethan's and Allyson's art projects from school. I laminated them and put them each on a tiny easel that I found on sale at Hobby Lobby. I'm thankful for their amazing art teacher, who knows how to bring out their talents. And I'm thankful that they do have artistic talent, which they certainly did not get from me. Seeing their colorful paintings brightens my day.

I'm also thankful that we have tasty, nutritious meals on our table. I'm thankful for the amazing variety of fruits and vegetables I've been enjoying since starting my vegan diet last March. For example, last night I enjoyed butternut squash pasta sauce over brown rice noodles. Who would have dreamed you could make pasta sauce out of butternut squash? 

Here is the freshly painted guest bath, which hopefully looks a bit less garish in person. The color combination and the shapes on the shower curtain and mirror were inspired by a hotel bathroom that I saw on our summer trip to Austin. I found both the shower curtain and the mirror on clearance at two different stores, after only a little searching and praying, on the most magical shopping day ever. 

Dad painted the bathroom for me, and he did a meticulous job even with his over-80 eyes. I'm so thankful for all the hard work that Dad has done in my house, hanging pictures and weedeating and painting and wallpapering. But I'm getting ahead of myself....

What I'm most thankful for is to have Dad here with us after his battle with esophageal cancer and the horrific surgeries he endured. 

Here is my bedroom, which I plan to paint a very pale lavender. Even without the paint, it's shaping up nicely. I found the down alternative comforter after LOTS of searching and praying, when I definitely wasn't looking for it. I was grocery shopping at my favorite grocery store in the world, Aldi, when I spotted that comforter for only $25!! And the purple sheets I found when I was grocery shopping at Sam's Wholesale Club. They were less than half the price I'd seen for similar sheets at Bed Bath and Beyond. I found the throw pillows on sale for half off at Bed Bath and Beyond, and I couldn't pass them up even though I was afraid they might not match the sheets. But I was wrong. They were made for each other! 

But the best thing in the preceding picture is the portrait Allyson painted of me and herself. It was my Mother's Day Present last year. If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you'll see that it is a very fair likeness of Allyson. Did I mention how thankful I am for Allyson's art teacher ?

There is the chair I found on the side of the road. I love to sit in it at the end of the evening and talk to God about my day.

Here's the amazing desk I found at Salvation Army for just $65. I spent almost a hundred more on American Paint Company chalk paint in Dawn's Early Light plus a shiny topcoat. This was another thing I learned to do; it was my first time to paint anything, let alone furniture. What made the experience extra special was that I did this project with my mom. It was fun learning something new together. It is very imperfect, but it's supposed to be. That's the beauty of chalk painting--that, and the fact that you don't have to sand before painting.

Inside the desk are both of my computers, all my peripheral devices, lots of cubbies, and a file cabinet drawer. Plus, Dad installed a fluorescent light and a mail rack with hooks for my headsets. It's the best desk I've ever had, at home or at work!

On top of the desk, I used the plaque that Gentle made me to hide the ugly Internet router. This plaque makes me thankful for two reasons: It reminds me of Gentle's friendship and of the growth I've experienced through Celebrate Recovery. Even today I am learning to accept what I cannot change and to focus on what I can change: my attitude.

Here is one of my favorite things about my bedroom, which I discovered on the very first day I woke up in it. Every morning, sunlight streams in that crescent window, and as my squinty eyes adjust to the light, I'm greeted with the most spectacular view of golden light dappling the green leaves. In recent weeks, I've enjoyed watching the fall colors coming in. Soon the graceful branches will be bare against the gray sky.

And now for the room you've all been waiting for.... 

Allyson's Ocean-Themed Room!

Gentle made the window seat cushion. She had just enough foam left over from her children's own reading nook plus the perfect piece of plywood. So all we had to do was buy the fabric, which we got for 50% off (of course!). Allyson and her friends love to sit and read here. 

The sea shell mobile hanging to Allyson's left was a find from her Vancouver trip in the summer. The dolphin painting is a print from a painting by my sister Melody, an award-winning artist. Can you see how perfect the colors are for Allyson's room? You'd think she had painted it specifically for Allyson. 

Allyson picked out the beach umbrella online for $16. I tried to talk her out of it because I thought the print was too busy, but it's perfect! The purple ties in with the window seat and the fish painting on the other wall.

I had bought the comforter and sheets on sale at Target for $20 each, and Allyson hated them until she saw the whole room come together. We also argued over the paint colors, but we prayed about it together and were able to come to an agreement at last.

Allyson picked out the orca whale wallpaper border online, and Mom and Dad put it up one day while I was working. They did an excellent job, and every time we look at it we are reminded of their love.

Here is Allyson's amazing dresser, hand painted with love by my dear friend Jenny. The starfish drawer pulls I found on sale for 50% off at multiple Hobby Lobbies. It was worth all the running around to hear her squeals of delight when we unveiled the dresser.

Do you remember how the dresser looked before? Here, this will refresh your memory:

It was a hand-me-down from my sister Emily's daughters, who received it as a hand-me-down from my brother's daughter Mindy. I think Rick and Diane got their money's worth out of that dresser!

And remember this desk that I found on the side of the road after making two wrong turns on the way to drop Ethan off at the school one morning?

Well, here's how it looks now! And that lovely original oil painting was another Salvation Army find. When Allyson spotted it, I told her we might not be able to afford it. And then I saw the price tag: six dollars!

This is a project Allyson and Daddy made for her new room. It has pictures of all of us on the beach.

I'm so thankful for how this room turned out, and for all the help from family and friends. Allyson and I still marvel over how we managed to pick out so many things online and in so many stores, all before we found the perfect paint combination, and yet everything blends perfectly. We both know that was God. I'm so thankful that he cares about the little things that matter to us. 

Well, now you've seen most of my house. I will show you Ethan's room when we get around to decorating it. But here is the futon that we got for free from Jackie. He says it is very comfortable. 

Who's that in the picture with the futon? That's sweet Arwen, who is such a joy. Next to her is the dorm fridge that Ethan got from his dad. I'm sure he's very thankful for that. 

I hope you've enjoyed your visit. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Friday, November 1, 2013

She Went Gently Into That Good Night... But I am Still Alive

Our week started with some sorrow. Remember our cute little hamster, Fluffy? Well, she'd been ailing for the last few weeks. We first noticed a small bald patch on her side the week we were moving into the new house, around the first of September. It looked almost like she'd cut herself somehow. That bald spot and sore area grew gradually, until at last she was about a third bald. And then she started to slow down. When she ran on her wheel, her legs no longer made a blur. And when I cleaned her cage each week, she was easier and easier to catch.

A few weeks ago, I looked up the lifespan of Russian dwarf hamsters and was disappointed to learn they only live about two years. We don't know how old Fluffy was when we bought her, but we got her two years ago in February. I began to prepare the kids. "I think Fluffy's dying," I said several times.

This last Saturday when I cleaned her cage, I got teary eyed. She toddled around like an old man, and she mostly sat still in her exercise ball while I worked. But the worst part was when I put her back in the cage, where I'd laid out her favorite treats (carrots, oatmeal, and bits of torn spinach) on the upper level of her cage. She headed straight for the food, but she couldn't make it up the ramp! She kept sliding backward. I tried to give her a little boost, but then she toddled for the safety of her house.

I moved the upper level as low as it could go, and then she could make it up the gentler slope, but she was unable to pull herself through the hole at the top of the ramp. I finally moved her food bowl and water to the lower level.

"Oh, Lord," I prayed. "Please let little Fluffy pass peacefully. I don't want her to suffer. Please ease her pain."

Over the next few days, she was pretty quiet, and we had to check several times a day to make sure she was still alive. I did notice that she had managed to drag herself up that ramp after all; all of the carrot bits and spinach, and most of the oatmeal, were gone. I had to admire her tenacity. Maybe she was going to rally.

On Tuesday night, Allyson opened the cage and lifted up Fluffy's house. "She's not in here!" she exclaimed.

For a moment, I wondered if she could have escaped. I thought back to the one time several months ago that she somehow squeezed through the tiny bars of her cage and wrought havoc in my living room. I don't think I ever told you about that. One morning, I woke to odd bits of fluff all over the living room. They seemed to have come from under the couch. Suddenly a flash of fur caught my eye, and I jumped. A mouse! No, it was Fluffy. I glanced over at the cage, which was securely closed. "How did you-?" I muttered.

And then I crept over and knelt down, holding out a hesitant hand. No way I could catch her, I figured. But she sat still and let me scoop her up. I bet she'd worked up an appetite after a night of exploring and nesting under my couch.

"Could Fluffy have gotten away again?" Allyson asked.

"No, she's too weak to crawl through the bars," I answered from the kitchen. "I'll come look for her when I finish the dishes."

Indeed, the cage appeared empty. I pulled out her little igloo house, and then I spotted her curled up in the corner, her tiny form barely visible in the cedar chips. She almost looked asleep, except I could tell she was stiff.

"Fluffy died," I said softly.

Ethan and Allyson hurried over to see. "Aww," Ethan said. Allyson said nothing, just slipped an arm around my waist. A moment later I was surprised to feel her sobbing quietly. For a couple of weeks, she'd been talking about getting Fluffy's replacement, so I hadn't expected the tears. She cried for a few minutes, snuggled in my lap on the couch next to Ethan.

I prayed, thanking God for the time we had with sweet Fluffy. I thanked Him for letting her pass so that she didn't have to suffer any more, and I asked him to surround her with her favorite things up in heaven. I thanked God for always being close to the brokenhearted, and I asked him to let Allyson feel His love through my arms.

After her sobs had faded, she asked in a tiny voice, "Can we bury her tomorrow?"

"Of course," I answered, wondering how I would manage this. Burying things had always been Bill's job.

Yesterday we borrowed some gardening tools from our new friend Jenny, and Allyson dug a little hole in the soft dirt in our entryway. The timing was perfect because a neighbor had just dug out some greenery that the home inspector identified as a termite hazard, and it had rained afterward.

"Should we pray before, or after?" I asked.

"Can we pray while I dig?" she asked.

So I prayed about Fluffy returning to the dust and becoming part of God's good earth. Again, I prayed for Allyson's comfort and asked God to help us remember the good times with her. Allyson sobbed again, harder than she had the night before. I held her close, and we swayed silently.

After she'd placed the tiny toothpick cross she'd made, we each recounted our favorite memories of Fluffy. I talked about how she ran so fast that she went upside down on her wheel and fell off. Allyson talked about the fun of showing her to friends, and playing with her in the bathtub. We both laughed over the way Arwen liked to lean up against the bars, nose to nose with an oblivious Fluffy. (She had just started to make tentative swipes with her paws, and I think it was a mercy that Fluffy passed peacefully in her sleep, that she went "gentle into that good night.")

After the funeral, Allyson dried her tears and enjoyed the rest of her afternoon.

Other than losing Fluffy, we had a really good week. On Saturday, and then again on Wednesday, we made pumpkin chocolate chip cookies and handed them out to our new friends in the neighborhood. Allyson did all the measuring on the second batch, which turned out even better than the first.

I had just met one of the recipients this past Saturday. Her name is Amanda, and she was the best friend of our house's former owner, Jackie. It turns out that both of us are total hippies. Like me, she grinds her own grain and bakes bread, and she's into making her own cleaning solutions out of Dawn, vinegar, Borax, etc. The four cookies we brought her netted me a dinner invitation for next Tuesday. Reminds me of the time we got a homemade pumpkin pie after we brought our old neighbors candy canes.

Even better, we finally got to meet the people who bought our first dream house. One of our other neighbors wasn't home when we tried to drop off some cookies, so I told Allyson, "Why don't we take these cookies over to the new family?" (They'd moved in about a month after we moved into our house.)

So we traipsed right over there and knocked on the door. A pleasant young woman answered, and Allyson held out the cookies. I explained that we were handing out cookies for Halloween, and we wanted to welcome them to the neighborhood. Beaming, she invited us in even as she apologized for already being in pajamas at 5 in the afternoon. "I'm eight months pregnant," she explained, "and the first thing I do when I get home from work is get in my jammies."

"I understand," I said.

I learned that her name is Amber, and her husband's name is Dayton, and they are expecting their first child, a baby girl. They have a cute little Dachshund who loved playing with Allyson. Unlike me, Amber has a green thumb, and she said I can come over any time I want to tinker in the lush vegetable garden I fell in love with when we looked at the house.

She told us that the timing was perfect when they bought the house. They'd just paid the earnest money on another house, but she had cried as she remembered this house. It turns out that Dayton loved this house, too, so they withdrew their first offer and made another offer that same day. "There was just something about this house," she said with a smile.

"Yes, I know," I said. And then I told her the story of how we'd tried to buy it but then the deal had fallen through.

"So you're the first buyer!" she said.

I asked her about the foundation damage, and she said that they'd consulted a couple of structural engineers, who had disagreed about how bad the problem was. She and Dayton had decided to buy the house as is and deal with the foundation later. "Around here, every home is going to have a problem eventually," she said. I nodded in agreement; that was just what the foundation repair person had told me when he'd examined the house.

We both marveled at how everything had worked out. I told her how crushed I'd been, but I said I was happy now because I realized that this house was meant for their family, and my house was meant for mine. Because the house had been tied up for a few weeks with me, it was available for them when they were ready to buy. And the house meant for me had come into my price range at just the right time.

I don't know how God works out all these details, but aren't you glad that He does? And I love how he lets our paths cross with others who can bring such joy to our lives. Just a week ago I was feeling isolated here. Although my neighbors had all been quite friendly, what I really wanted was a close girlfriend on my street. Now I have four!

As you can tell, I'm in much better spirits this week. That may change tomorrow, but that's okay. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring, but today I feel very alive. And so blessed.

And now, a few pictures I must share before I call it a night....

Today at school, and tonight during trick-or-treating, Allyson became a blonde Cleopatra.

Jack O' Lanterns on Daddy's Porch
Allyson's is the Witch.

Here's my handsome boy on center snare during the halftime show at a football game a couple weeks ago:
Ethan and Jeremy
And here he is at Allyson's school yesterday, for Red Ribbon Week. Allyson was very proud, though she wouldn't admit it.
Can You Believe the Resemblance? 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Though She Stumbles

I've decided not to wash the dishes tonight because I want to share what's in my heart while it's still so beautiful. If only I can find the words... 

Through the month of September I was so happy. Moving into my dream home felt like the start of a wonderful new life. And it was wonderful. I was busy and beyond exhausted with all the moving and then the unpacking, but still I was so happy I had to pinch myself most days.

During this time, I was finished my step study for Celebrate Recovery, a 12-step program I had joined for grief support. I was feeling so good that I thought I probably didn't need CR any more, or my sponsor. I figured I'd go to my graduation and then just move on to other things. I guess I marveled a little at my own strength and how well I had weathered the storm over the last year and a half. But underneath it all was the suspicion that coming out of the storm would bring the end of the special closeness I'd shared with God through it all. "Please, God," I prayed, "I don't want to drift away. I'm so ready to be done with my trial, but I don't want to lose the intimacy I've had with you."

But then I got totally caught up in my busyness and the joy of decorating and shopping and making new friends in the neighborhood. And of course, I started to drift. I first knew there was a problem on the day I thought I lost our cat. As I shared in my last entry, losing Arwen stirred up some deep feelings of rejection and loss, and I found myself angry with God. I knew it wasn't only about a cat.

Just as it always does, the fresh pain caught me completely by surprise and totally knocked the wind out of me. Over the next three weeks, I continued to struggle with sorrow and doubts, and it felt like the gulf between me and God was widening by the day even though I continued to cry out to him, especially in the late night hours as I battled insomnia again for the first time in months.

All along, I knew the reason. It was disobedience and pride. There were things I decided to do, little things on the surface that were big things in my heart. Even though I found myself on my knees in my new prayer closet many, many nights, pouring out my heart in wrenching sobs, I couldn't give over my will to Him even though my heart wanted to. Actually, it wasn't my heart that wanted to obey; it was God's Spirit in me. My heart wanted to go my own way because I was hurting and I felt hopeless.

The enemy whispered to me that I haven't changed at all over the past years of trying to serve God, and I agreed with him. I began to struggle with my self worth just like I did before I knew I was God's Beloved. The worst thing of all was being so disappointed in myself, feeling like I was back at square one and had learned absolutely nothing in the last decade or so. I felt so stupid because of past choices that had led me to not one but two divorces, and stupid over current choices now that I ought to know better.

Okay, so by now you must be wondering where the beauty is. I'm coming to that. For one thing, as stupid as I felt, I've learned some very important things through my struggle:

  • A house can't make me happy. I'd realized it back in July, that my home is not a house. But for just a little while, I forgot that. And then a little cat stole my joy, and I realized that I was still so broken, even in my beautiful new house. 
  • Even when I am faithless and so disappointed in myself, God keeps right on loving me. I had some of the best prayer times over the last few weeks. I'd been missing my old prayer closet, but I found that God was here in the new closet too! And that made The New House feel like just home.
  • When I am weak, the God who created the heavens and the earth is strong enough to protect me. "...I will keep you safe in the palm of my hand. I spread out the heavens and laid foundations for the earth." (Isaiah 50:16b, Contemporary English Version)
  • As long as I keep turning to God, I don't have to fall back into my old negative behaviors and thought patterns. "The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand." (Psalm 37:23-24)
  • Above all, I must guard my heart, "for it is the wellspring of life." (Proverbs 4:23) Everything that I am flows from my heart, and if I allow that stream to become polluted the effects will go downstream and affect every area of my life.
  • I have not arrived! I still need a lot of healing. But I can feel that God is making something beautiful from my brokenness. It's time to work through my pain and let it go. 
Last night was the breaking point for me. I felt terrified, not safe, overwhelmed. I called my Celebrate Recovery sponsor, whom I still very much need, and she gave me some wise counsel which echoed what I'd been hearing from God that afternoon. I took her advice and turned over all of my will to God (step 3). I prayed, and He showed me what I needed to do. So this morning, first thing, I carried out an act of obedience that I believe will bring benefits beyond what I can imagine. 

That obedience cost me something, and I felt a little sad today even though I had more peace than I've felt in months. On the way to work, I asked God to please fill the emptiness in me. "Could you please show me a special sign of your love today, give me some manna to help me through my day?" 

He first answered through my friend Gentle, who had many encouraging words for me. One thing that I want to remember is her philosophy for home schooling: "Keep calm and expect the unexpected." 

I know I have to expect that things aren't going to go the way I think they will, the way I necessarily want them to. But the unexpected can bring treasures I never imagined. Isn't that exciting?!

When I got home from the office and sat down at my lovely purple desk to finish my work day, something entirely unexpected happened. Over the weeks, our little cat has slowly become more affectionate. I usually work from home, and I could see today that she had missed me. She came up and gave the little squeaky meow that I've learned means, "Pet me!" So I reached down to scratch her head and rub her belly for a few seconds. "Okay, Arwen," I said with a sigh. "I've got more work to do. I can't just sit here and pet you." 

She meowed again, clearly not satisfied. "Sorry, kitty. I've got to work," I repeated. 

After I ignored a couple more pleas, Arwen did something I was told Russian Blues rarely do. She jumped up behind me into my chair and then wrapped herself around me and settled on my lap. My mouth dropped open. "Are you sitting in my lap, kitty-kitty?" I reached down to pet her, but she jumped back down, as if she'd just realized where she was. Less than a minute later, she was back in the chair, back in my lap, back on the floor. And then she did it again, and this time she stayed. 

"Okay, you little scamp. You're not going to let me ignore you, are you?" So I gave her a proper scratch, all the while grinning at this unexpected pleasure. Warmth suffused me as I recognized this as an answer to my morning prayer, a little sign of God's love for me. It was like the time he sent me the dolphin, and the time he told the horse to give me a kiss

For the first time in many weeks, I felt a beautiful intimacy with my Shepherd, and my heart blossomed. 

At Celebrate Recovery tonight, we sang a song I've heard dozens of times on the radio without really hearing the words. My heart thrilled to this part: 
Hey now, this is my desire:
Consume me like a fire
Cause I just want something beautiful to touch me -
I know that I'm in reach
'Cause I am down on my knees
Waiting for something beautiful. (Need to Breathe, "Something Beautiful")

Yes! That is exactly what I'm waiting for. I don't know what it is, this unexpected thing, but I know that it will be beautiful. I had realized this before, that God has beautiful plans for me, that there's something amazing around the bend, but I guess I'd forgotten it. And that's why I had lost my joy recently. 

You know what's my favorite part of this story? That God would use the very cat who caused me to question His love to express His love to me. 

That naughty little wonderful cat who climbs on my furniture, stares greedily at the hamster, and tears apart the potted palm that Jackie gave me. 

Yes, that cat. Life is sweet. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Never So Glad to be Wrong

I've been so excited to share the big news I referred to in my last entry. But the story unfolded a lot differently than I expected. For example, this will give you an idea of how my day went yesterday...

Okay, let's back up a few days--no, a week. Better make it two weeks....

The Saturday before last, we got up early to attend the national Petsmart pet adoption day. I'd been told there would be over a hundred animals up for adoption, so I thought chances were good that we'd find a cat we could all love. When we arrived, they were still getting set up, and there were perhaps ten cats stacked up in cages and carriers. Allyson promptly fell in love with a cute little fluff ball that was delightfully cuddly and playful. But Ethan gave it the cold shoulder. Ever since meeting the cat who lived here before we did, he'd had his heart set on a Russian Blue. Jackie had assured us that they were the best cats, and he was very impressed with hers.

The trouble is, Russian Blues are pretty popular, and there just aren't that many up for adoption, especially kittens. He'd been combing the Internet for weeks, and we'd only found a couple, and they were already spoken for.

"But this kitty is so cute, Ethan! Don't you want to hold it?" Allyson pleaded.


On the ride home, the grumpiness was palpable. Allyson was nearly in tears. Back at the house, she let the tears flow. "Why does ETHAN get to choose the cat? Why can't I have the cat I want?"

I explained for perhaps the dozenth time that Ethan had been begging for a cat for several years longer than she had, and that he may be moving out in just a couple of years when he starts college.

"I can only afford one cat right now, sweetie." I rubbed her heaving shoulders. "Besides, I've never had a cat, and I want to see how we manage one before I take on another. I promise you can pick out the next one, in a year or two. And we can all play with this one."

She sniffled. "Well it's probably gonna be forever before we find one. I don't know why Ethan has to have a Russian Blue."

"I don't know, sweetie. Maybe he'll change his mind."

After Bill had picked Allyson up, I called Gentle and did some whining of my own. "Picking out a cat was supposed to be fun. Instead my kids are fighting, and Allyson is crying her eyes out."

Gentle listened kindly and reminded me to find the treasure in this; it was a good opportunity to show the kids how to deal with disappointment. I repeated Allyson's prediction that it would be forever before we found a cat.

"Just trust God," she said. "He knows where your cat is. And tell Ethan not to settle for any cat but the one he really wants. He'll know when he finds it. If he's meant to have a Russian Blue, you'll find one at just the right time."

I sighed. Yet another lesson in patience. I remembered how hard it had been to wait for the perfect house, and how glad I was that I hadn't settled for something I didn't really want.

Over the next couple of days, I prayed with both kids about finding our cat. I asked God to make Ethan fall in love with the perfect cat for our family, one that would bring us all joy. I asked that He would prepare us to be a blessing to that cat and help us to give it a good home. Allyson and I also prayed that God would help all those cats we'd seen at Petsmart find loving homes.

Three days later, this past Wednesday, Ethan somehow convinced me to go to Petsmart after eight on a school night to pick up a few things just in case we might find a cat that weekend. On the way to the litter boxes, Allyson and I strolled past the adoption window. My jaw dropped when I spotted a Russian Blue kitten. She wasn't as small as Ethan had wanted, but she was gorgeous! The sign on her cage said her name was Reba, and she was six months old.

We both ran to find Ethan, who was looking at rats.

He loved her! Even without holding her, he knew she was the one. "Can we get her tomorrow?" he asked.

I picked up a flyer. "Maybe. I'll call tomorrow," I promised.

After picking out a couple of scratching pads, a fluffy toy on a stick, six fuzzy mice, and a cat bed, we were in high spirits all the way to the car. And then the kids started arguing about names.

"I think I'll name her Arwen," Ethan said.

"Are-when? I've never heard of that name," Allyson said.

"Oh, from Lord of the Rings?" I asked. Ethan nodded. "Nice."

"I've never heard of that name," Allyson repeated. "I don't think I can remember it. What was it again? Ar-what?"


"How about Farty?" Allyson suggested with a snort.

"Or Gollum," I said.


"How come he gets to pick out the name?" Allyson whined.

"It's his cat," I said. "But we'll all get to play with her."

That night, I was so excited I could hardly sleep. I couldn't stop smiling. God had brought us the very cat Ethan wanted, just like Gentle said.

I made inquiries first thing Thursday morning and learned that they only do adoptions on Saturdays at Petsmart. The kids were just a wee bit let down when I broke the news to them that evening, but I was a little relieved. This gave me more time to get the cat supplies that my mom, my sister Emily, and my friend Elizabeth were donating.

On Saturday afternoon, Ethan and I set off for Petsmart. (Much to her disappointment, Allyson was unable to come along.) At the store, we met Arwen in a tiny room. She spent much of the next 20 minutes or so trying to find a place to hide, but the volunteer who helped us was able to get her to play. I thought it funny that the urge to play seemed to outweigh Arwen's fear. While we got acquainted, Annette told us what she knew of Arwen's history. The most significant thing we learned was that another family had tried to adopt her during the adoption event the weekend before. She'd been brought in later in the day, so we'd missed her. The other family took her because she looked like the Russian Blue they'd lost recently. But they had to bring her back after two days because she reminded them too much of their old cat, and they couldn't stop crying.

Annette returned her to her cage and gave me some paperwork to fill out. While I worked on it, I listened to several families admiring our cat. "Nope, she's ours," I thought. "God brought her here at just the right time so we could find her." After over an hour and a half, we left the store at last with a little cat in a cardboard box and a giant tub of kitty litter.

Following Annette's advice, we settled Arwen into a small room for the first couple of days--Ethan's. She promptly hid under Ethan's futon, but she did let us crawl under there and pet her; she even purred a bit.

The next morning, Allyson had just a few minutes to get acquainted before church. That was all it took. She was over the moon. We were all ecstatic for two solid days.

And then came yesterday morning. At 7:00, a bleary-eyed Ethan emerged from his room. "Can I sleep in a couple more hours?" he asked. "The cat kept me up all night. She was playing on my window sill. And one time when she tried to jump up there, she missed and fell in her water bowl. She spilled all the water and launched her food all over my carpet."

Two days had passed, so we figured we could let Arwen out. She'd been trying to get out anyway; we'd had to chase her down twice. So we moved the litter box and food bowls into the bathroom, and Ethan scooped Arwen into the hall. She tried to run back inside, but he shut her out.

She stared at the door for a second and then darted into the living room, behind the potted palm, under the couch, and into Allyson's room. She ran under the foot of Allyson's bed and then around and back behind the headboard. With much prodding, I managed to get Allyson ready for school, without a moment to spare. Still, I took the time to close all the bedroom doors and the laundry room door in hopes of keeping Arwen out of trouble.

"Close the door quickly," I urged as we eased out the front door. "Don't let the cat out." I closed the door firmly and pushed the lock button, and then we hurried down the sidewalk without a backward glance.

I left Allyson at the front doors just as the warning bell rang, and then I hurried back. Instead of taking my usual leisurely route through the park, I went back the way we'd come. As I approached the house, my stomach tightened at the thought of the mischief Arwen might have gotten into. Why hadn't I confined her in the bathroom?

Stepping between the storm door and the front door, I punched the code on the lock. The deadbolt whirred, and I pictured a curious kitten on the other side of the door. In one smooth motion, I cracked the door and pulled the storm door shut behind me.

Inside, all was quiet, and everything appeared to be just as I'd left it. "Are-when," I called softly. "Where are you?" If I'd expected her to come bounding to my feet like Lola used to do, I was sadly mistaken. Nothing but the silent house greeted me.

I quickly searched all the rooms that didn't have a closed door: the bathroom, the hall, the living room, and the kitchen. No cat. I laughed nervously. "Are you hiding, kitty? Where are you?"

I lay down on the floor and looked under the chairs, couch, and coffee table. No cat. I looked behind the toilet and in the bathtub. No cat. Then I noticed that the kitty door to the garage was slightly ajar. Whew! She must be in there.... Nope. Not behind the water heater. Not behind the stack of flattened moving boxes. Not underneath the extra dining room chairs. My heart thudded. Could she be... outside? No. I'd been way too careful. I would have seen her.

I threw open the bedroom doors and looked under the beds and behind the dressers. I looked inside the dryer. I looked in the pantry even though the door had been firmly shut. And then I looked everywhere I'd already looked before. And then I searched all those places again.

And then I started to cry. I sobbed out a hurt, angry prayer. "How could you let this happen, God? Haven't we been through enough? Haven't we lost enough? How am I going to tell Allyson that the cat she already loves is GONE? After just two days? And what about the $200 I just spent? Why? Why did this have to happen to us?"

To think I'd been reveling in the thought that God had brought us this cat. Why would He give us the cat Ethan wanted only to allow her to run away two days later? Surely it had been just a coincidence after all, an unfortunate mishap.

I can't even put into words how distraught I was over this cat. It wasn't that I missed her, exactly. No, it was a heart wrenching disappointment over a bitter loss, after such short-lived joy. I felt rejected by the cat, and God too. I felt the way I'd felt about the oleanders when the deal on my first dream house fell through.

I prayed some more and cried a lot more. I asked God to forgive me for blaming Him, asked Him to help me trust that there must be a purpose in this. I told Him I knew all of this grief wasn't just about a cat and asked Him to heal the hurt in my heart. And I thanked Him for understanding that I am just dust, and for loving me even though I am sometimes so faithless despite all He's done for me.

I talked to Mom on the phone, and then Gentle. They both assured me that Arwen must be hiding inside the house somewhere, that cats can hide in the strangest places. But I didn't believe them. I'd searched too thoroughly, and this is not that big of a house, and she is not that small of a kitten.

At 9:30 I woke Ethan, and he helped me search the house again. He had to agree with me that she was gone. So we walked around the neighborhood, but we knew that if she'd truly slipped outside, she was long gone. Unfortunately, Ethan had removed her collar during the night because the bell was keeping him awake. He'd meant to put it back on in the morning, but he'd forgotten.

"If anyone finds such a perfect little cat, they'll keep her," he said.

"Probably so."

After a few more hours, I sent an email to the adoption group, apologizing for losing their cat during the one-week trial and asking if they had any suggestions.

About an hour later, a lady named Michelle called and said that she and Annette were on the way. They were coming to help me search.

"Really?" I said through my tears. "That's awesome." But I felt guilty that they were wasting their gas money (a 45-minute drive each way) on a cat that was clearly not in my house. While I waited, I made the flyer that I posted at the start of this entry.

They came fortified with kitty treats, Arwen's favorite toys, and a recording of kittens mewing, which Michelle said rarely fails to bring a kitten out of hiding. They went all through the house, calling sweetly, "Reba! Here kitty, kitty! Come play with your birdy!" They looked under and behind all the furniture, just as I had done. They also opened all the dresser drawers and shone a flashlight--which I'd borrowed from the neighbors--into the crack next to the dishwasher.

After 15 minutes, Michelle admitted that she was worried. "The kitten sounds usually work. I'm starting to wonder.... Say, did you check that drawer?" She pointed to the coffee table.

"It's probably too small," Annette said.

Nevertheless, I pulled on the knob. And saw gray fur! "Oh my gosh!" I shrieked. "She's in there!" I slid the drawer out very slowly to reveal a drawer clear full of cat, books, and drink coasters. "I think she was stuck," I said. "Oh, if you hadn't come! I NEVER would have thought to look in there."

Annette pulled Arwen into her lap and held her by the scruff, crooning softly to her and petting her head and chest. "It's okay, sweetie. You're okay. You're okay."

They let me feed her some treats, and then they had me put her back in Ethan's room. "It's too soon," Michelle said. "She needs to be in a small place where she feels safe."

After they left, I rushed to Allyson's teacher's conference, so thankful that I came bringing good news--even though Allyson had never known Arwen was missing.

Afterward, I stopped at the neighbors' to return the flashlight. They celebrated with me. They'd seen me crying earlier, and now they saw me laughing. I stayed for over an hour and got to know them better. And then I went home and petted that naughty kitty.

Funny, it was less than a month ago that I relinquished Naughty Dog to Bill (she came with the house). And now I have Naughty Cat to replace her. Good thing that cat is so cute!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Labor of Love

As usual when I sit down to write, it's getting late and the kitchen is full of dirty dishes. But I've been wanting to write for weeks, and I'm about to have much bigger news to write about, so I'd better tell you all the stuff you might be wondering about now before the old news gets superseded...

We moved into our new house on Labor Day weekend and have been busy settling in ever since. Here's how the boxes looked going in:

And here's how things looked in the middle:
Stuff everywhere.... Love that fireplace!

And now it looks... great! I just haven't had time to take pictures yet. But I promise I will.

Where's the story, you ask? Of course there's a story! It all came together in my head this past Sunday, when I was painting Allyson's room with my sisters Emily and Amy. We worked hard for several hours, having fun talking and laughing at ourselves when we got paint on our hands, feet, and butts and in our hair, too. Amy and I used the rollers while Emily meticulously cut in with the brush. Meanwhile, Dad and Emily's husband Paul hung a big iron mirror, and then Paul and Mom broke down all the boxes I'd been collecting in the garage.

By the time we finished dinner (which included lentil sloppy joes, yum!), it was after 9. When I thanked everyone profusely for the tenth time, Emily replied, "I was happy to do it. It was a labor of love."

A labor of love. I grinned as I realized that phrase truly describes my move, from start to finish. So many people have demonstrated their love through their hard work:

  • It started with Gentle, who single-handedly packed just about everything I own over the course of several visits. She was happy to do it! 
  • As soon as the house was officially mine, Gentle helped me carry the first big load of boxes and helped me get started unpacking the kitchen. Oh, that kitchen! For the first time in my adult life, I have a place for absolutely everything. It's glorious. But I digress.
  • Two days after closing, my friends Jana and Tammy and Tammy's 16-year-old son Jimmy helped me move all the rest of the boxes and our clothes in the sweltering heat. It was evening, but it was still near 100 degrees (38 Celsius). These are my newest friends, yet they were happy to come at the end of a long, hot day.
  • On the moving day, Mom and Dad, my brother Rick, and my brother-in-law Paul helped with the big stuff. I had hired moving help, but there was plenty to do.

    On a side note, I have to tell a couple stories from moving day. The youngest helper seemed very inexperienced, and it was stressful to hear the other two snapping at him, "No, don't do that! No, do it this way." When we arrived at the new house, the glass storm door wouldn't stay open, so the new guy propped it open with one of my decorative wooden crosses! One of his coworkers immediately corrected him, but Paul quipped, "Hey, that's the power of the cross."

    Despite my concerns, nothing broke in the move except a screw for my bed frame. You can imagine my family's amusement when I ran next door to the neighbor man "for a screw." Speaking of the neighbors, they are so wonderful. This neighborhood is amazing. People just congregate in each other's driveways and chat. And they are very happy to help with anything I need and to let me borrow stuff. And Allyson plays with the neighborhood kids for hours at a time, riding her scooter around the cul-de-sac. We couldn't be happier.

    Anyway, back to the list...
  • Mom, Dad, and Amy worked tirelessly with me on Labor Day--doing labor, how fitting--to clean Bill's house top to bottom. It was back-breaking work that ended up giving me a stiff neck, but there were treasures in it. I learned lots of great cleaning tips from Mom, and I also learned that I rather enjoy spring cleaning, even in the summer. I particularly enjoyed vacuuming the blinds. Also, Allyson was a big help, and Grandma was so impressed with her that she gave her $5. The next day, Mom and Dad came back out and worked for several hours more with me. 
  • Mom and Dad have come out a few more times to help me hang pictures and get unpacked. Dad also installed a fluorescent light in my Salvation Army desk and put in a mail rack with hooks for my headsets. I love that desk and hope to tell you more about it soon. 
  • My friends Gentle and Elizabeth fed me and my family several times while my kitchen was packed up. Elizabeth even fed Mom and Dad, too. 
  • My own labor of love is everything to do with organizing. I've developed an (expensive) habit of buying all manner of gadgets. Like this stuff to untangle the rat's nest of cords behind my beloved desk:

  • And last on the list is sweet Jenny.... 
Back in the summer, I was praying about finding affordable furniture for Allyson, and Jenny told me to keep an eye out for garage sale finds. She assured me that she could make just about anything look beautiful. It turns out that I didn't have to buy a thing. Emily passed down a dresser that her girls had inherited from Rick's daughter Mindy. It needed a lot of work, to say the least. Allyson was not impressed.

Next, I found this desk the side of the road one morning while driving Ethan to school. I was so exhausted that I missed my turn, and then another turn. It's as if God led me right to this beauty.

Even when it looked like this, I could see the potential. I drove back for it after dropping Ethan off, and I was amazed that someone would throw away such a solid piece. This was no cheap Walmart desk. I tried to get it into the trunk of my tiny Sentra, but there was no way. I said a quick prayer and then took out the drawers, unscrewed the bottoms of the legs, and wrestled that desk into the backseat, with one end hanging out the open window. When my neighbor helped me unload it later that day, she asked me how on earth I got it in there by myself. "Divine intervention," I answered. 

As you might guess, Allyson liked this item even less than the desk And she was about as unhappy to be inheriting Ethan's old bed, which was perfectly good and only a couple of years old but very plain. I told her not to worry, just to trust God that Ms. Jenny would be able to make it all look beautiful in her ocean-themed room. And oh, did she! Allyson and I were so delighted with the finished furniture that we just about cried. Okay, I probably did cry. During bedtime prayers that night, Allyson put her thoughts into words beautifully: "Lord, I thought that stuff was all just junk. I had no idea it could all be so beautiful." 

Isn't that just like God, to take junk and make it beautiful? 

Would you like to see the furniture? Sorry, I'm not going to show it to you yet, not until we're ready to unveil Allyson's entire room. We still have the orca whale wallpaper border to hang, plus Gentle is making Allyson a cushion for her window seat. For now, I will just show you this inscription that Jenny put on the back of the dresser. We didn't discover it until we pulled the furniture out to paint the walls a week ago:

Hand-painted for Allyson - 2013

Even the winds and the waves obey Him! Matt 8:27

I cried when I saw the ocean-themed verse. I'd needed that reminder that I could rest in God's powerful hand. 

Speaking of free furniture, I have to tell you about my easy chair. As soon as I knew the house was mine, I started thinking about when I might be able to buy a chair for the sitting area in the master bedroom. "I sure would like a chair," I prayed, "but I know I can't buy everything all at once. Still, if you could help me find a good chair for a great price, I'd really appreciate it." 

A couple of days later, I decided to take a break from packing. I left Gentle with a bunch of boxes in my kitchen and drove my niece Hillary to Sonic for some drinks. (Gentle promised she didn't mind. I think it was easier for her to pack with me out of the way.) On the way back, I naturally had to drive Hillary by the new house. As we approached, I drew in my breath when I spotted a beautiful couch and two matching chairs on the side of the road. "Could they be giving those away?" I asked. "But they're so nice. Mind if I stop and look?"

"Of course not," Hillary said. 

I raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure? If Ethan were in the car, he'd be down on the floorboard right now." 

She laughed. "Go ahead." 

I walked all around the three pieces. They were covered in a neutral colored damask fabric that was clean and in very good shape. All I needed was one chair, and I hated to break up the set. But I couldn't pass this up! I debated over whether to take the more elegant wing chair or the comfy easy chair. Comfort won out. [Over the next two days, the other two pieces went. So nothing was wasted. Whew!]

With Hillary's help, I tried to cram that easy chair in my trunk, but of course it didn't even come close to fitting. (This was about two days before I found the desk.) I was afraid to leave the furniture, but it was too hot to sit there and guard it until Gentle could bring her mini van. "Think you could help me carry it to the new house?" I asked Hillary.


So we huffed and puffed in the hundred-plus temperature and carried that chair two doors down, across the street, and up the driveway, all in our flip flops. Whew! Here's Hillary hanging out at the new house before it was mine, in my classy lawn furniture:

It looks even better in my bedroom. And every time I sit in it, I think about how much God loves me.

That's the end of the official story, but I have to share a few first-day-of-school pictures before I turn in.
Our Second Grader!

Teen Beach Movie Backpack

First-Day-of-School Ice Cream with Mommy, Daddy, and Ethan

Ethan won't let me take his picture any more

One last thing. Are you wondering about that bigger news I referred to? All I'm going to say is this: It has to do with a cat. Tomorrow. More soon, I promise. 


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