Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Eyes to See

 I haven't updated this blog in almost a year. To say a lot has changed since last February is an understatement. We moved from our lovely home and dear friends in North Carolina back to the spacious fields and dear ones who we thought we would only see rarely. Now the same friend who came to visit me down in North Carolina for a weekend is my 13 year old's algebra teacher. That's good stuff.

We bought a house sight-unseen in Indiana on some land out in the country. And while there have been bummer homeowner surprises in the mix, many days we stare out at the sunset over the fields and know that we hit the jackpot. The house is the opposite of open-concept which is ideal when you have four children who are as different as ours, and the kids spend hours outside or in the barn playing with the kittens-turned-cats that solved our mouse problem in a hurry.

This year the kids have all attended their former private school that feels more like an extended family gathering. Classes are small, teachers love hard, and Jesus is King. It's the place I first taught after I graduated from college, and it's no small joy to see each of the kids thriving there. The boys are both playing on the jr. high basketball team. We are so proud to see each of them growing and being challenged and to watch them beam when they make the shot.

We had begun attending a church that was growing us well in the fall before the pandemic When March 2020 happened, many of the church gatherings became virtual and all small groups shut down. Imagine our shock in coming back and realizing we had missed NO small group gatherings between when we left Indiana in July and when we returned in April. Not one. It was like jumping back into a dance without missing a beat. And the daughter who could barely get out of the van for Sunday worship because she was so overwhelmed by PANDAS-induced anxiety will be performing a solo in the children's Christmas program in a couple weeks. What God hath done.

David has done what he always does, hit the ground running. He's part of the IT team at Taylor University that makes life and learning work for the thousands of students and faculty there. It's a joy to see him enjoying his teammates, his work, and the university that means so much to us. We missed college students, and this year has been a special opportunity for us to reconnect with TU students.

With all four kids being at school all day, I jokingly (okay, not so jokingly) referred to this year as my Year of Jubilee. No diapers. No toddlers. No homeschooling responsibilities. No daytime occupational therapy appointments. What in the actual world?!?! In the process of dreaming how God would have me use this time, I gave myself permission to test the waters of going back to school. As a spouse to a TU employee, I can take up to 6 credit hours a semester for free. So as soon as the kids were done with our school year last May, I signed up for two consecutive classes in the fall semester (Abnormal Psychology and Introduction to Autism Spectrum Disorder, in case you were wondering) on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons. 

By far, my favorite part of these classes has been the students I get to interact with and enjoy. And going back to school...totally different as an adult. For one thing, I care. Not just about finishing the classes but about the information I'm learning. Connections abound between these classes and my day-to-day life, and I'm honored that my professor even gave me a class period to share with the class what it was like to parent a child with autism. These people have been light and hope for me as I watch this generation rising up to be the next medical practitioners, pastors, and social workers. 

On a personal level though, I haven't been well. We moved for the second time just when I was getting my feet on the ground from the first move. My body has taken a hit these last couple of years, and I knew something was wrong when I would wake up exhausted after sleeping for 11 or 12 hours. Countless nights, David would send me to bed as soon as supper was eaten because he could see me fading. Headaches and exhaustion hit at 6 p.m., and David has been the superman who cleans up dinner, takes the kids' for an evening swim, and then wrestles all the alligators into bed. "Thank you" doesn't seem like enough to say to this man who has held my hand as I try to put the pieces back together.

My counselor calls my struggle to put words together, remember names, and think in linear ways by a name that I struggle to own... trauma. The moves. The goodbyes. The battles we had with Laura for years before she found healing. My brain has rerouted many functions to the point that I operate in fight or flight a lot of the time when I absolutely have no need to. I used to. I don't anymore. I'm still waiting for my brain to learn the difference. 

When we returned to Indiana, my daughter was thrilled to return to her counselor for weekly therapy. To be honest, so was I. I was truly curious if the counselor would see the totally different child that I had told her existed under this disease. After a few sessions, the counselor recommended only coming as often as I felt like Laura needed; but the counselor strongly recommended that I start coming on a weekly basis. Laura was operating as an exceptionally bright, healthy 8 year old, but I was operating on a daily basis from parts of the brain that are usually reserved for emergencies. It was exhausting but didn't have to be permanent. 

During last summer, I struggled to see my kids as people. Instead they became beings I had to maintain. I struggled to look forward to anything in the future, certain that someone would need us to cancel. I struggled to believe in the kindness of God after I reasoned that He had orchestrated the hardest years of my life. I struggled to remember that Dave and I were people, not just machines capable of moving boxes, restraining violent children, and making food. I was numb. And when I wasn't numb, I would numb myself with social media or sleep. Thinking of all the goodbyes and hurts was hard and hurt too much. Could someone just turn off the pain and tell my heart and my mind it was safe to come out now?

I guess the reason I feel able to even write this post is that God is starting to give me eyes to see. My counselor began doing EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy with me a couple of weeks ago, taking highly emotionally charged memories and given my brain a way to disarm the memory but still remember. A local ministry took over 3 hours to pray with me, that I might see where Jesus was in the hardest moments. I know it comes as no surprise to those of you who walk with Him, but He was there. Really there. And it wasn't until now that my brain and heart could reconcile a loving God and a family that was in as much pain as we were. 

And this last one may seem silly, but it's been a total game changer. When I started doing extensive reading for my classes, I noticed that my head would hurt almost as soon as I started reading. I thought I was just trying to focus too much on the material, memorizing as I read. Then I realized that even when I was in bed, I was closing one eye to watch movies on my phone. You know where this is headed? Straight to my kids' optometrist. Yep. I've taken my children a dozen times over the last few years but never even thought that I might need to have my own eyes checked. I've never worn glasses or contacts, but the doctor immediately diagnosed that I have a dominant eye and the other eye needs a little help. When the glasses arrived last Friday, I was excited to not have headaches when I read but I wasn't prepared for them to change everything. 

Dinner came, but I didn't need to put my head in my hands and rest at the end of the meal. I felt energetic and alert. It turns out chronic pain can be pretty exhausting, and apparently it isn't normal to finish every day with a headache. These glasses have given me eyes to see the world as it is, which is beyond my natural ability at this point. I need these lenses to accurately read, type, and function; and if I take them off, everything goes a little wonky. 

I needed my eyes to see, and I had no idea how gradually I had stopped seeing life and had only seen through the haze of my pain. Hard memories must be mourned, change must be mourned, but in the process God has been gently prying my hands from my eyes and inviting me to see that He has been here all along. Life is physically hard sometimes and getting older doesn't make that easier, but there's a fix for that. It's called glasses. I'm not where I want to be, and I have a lot more work to do to unpack the last few years and lay them at the foot of the cross. To not only leave the hard memories there, but also to beg one step further. Lord, give me eyes to see You in those moments and ... in this one.

Even with glasses the words are getting blurry. It's late. I'm tired and have a cold (yes, it's been confirmed that it's not COVID :-).)  If you want pictures of my new look, you'll be happy to hear that the kids INSISTED that I wear my glasses for family pictures on Sunday. But for now, know that I'm praying this for myself and for those who read this: "Lord, give me eyes to see others and the world You made the way You do. And when I'm tempted to cover my face with my hands and hide from all the hurt, would you take my hands down and hold them in Yours and remind me that You are there?"

Blessings, friends. I'm grateful you're in my life.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Being a branch

My ears are ringing. All the time. And my mind is alive. All the time. My eyes looking over a room may seem casual, but they're not. They're evaluating each piece of property I own in that room, deciding the weight, size, and breakability of each object. I am mentally packing even when I'm not physically packing, and this all feels too familiar. Weren't we just here?

And I have a zero tolerance level for ridonkulous... What do you mean you didn't think you needed to shower after sweating all day?!? What do you mean my entire downstairs smells like dirty feet?!? What do you mean I still have to make supper after packing all afternoon?!? Okay... in all fairness, I knew I was supposed to make supper... but still. 

And my mind is filled with "what if's." What if we move back and it's not as rosy as we thought it would be? (Spoiler: we know it won't be.) What if we regret leaving behind all the incredible people who have made us their own here? (Spoiler: we will miss y'all like crazy! You are our people, and our doors are always open to you.) What if we don't love the house in Indiana as much as I think we will (and I really think we will)? What if the stupid radon detector the home inspector dropped off is actually a recording device that is permanently keeping track of the insanity in my home? Yes, I know I've gone off the deep end...

And in the midst of all of this there are SOULS in my house. Small souls that are processing a lot of the same questions I am. Well, maybe not the one about the radon detector, but... you never know. And it's ridiculous, but I am always surprised that they are feeling as many things as I am. That the weight of all that bears on me as an adult, one who knows what is going on, is just as heavy for those walking this journey of change who don't know all that's going on via email and electronically signed documents. Their heavy just finds its weight in the unknowns, the vast number of things they aren't given a front-row seat to and that they have zero choice to change. While I am bogged down by all the choices before me, they follow us, burdened by the fact that none of this is their choice. How unbelievably hard.

This is what they do know. Mommy and Daddy are stressed. There are boxes everywhere. All the friends that they have learned to love dearly will not be part of their daily lives in a few weeks. That hurts. The house they live in is being sold to strangers. Their parents are buying a house that we will move into, Lord willing, in early April. They are returning as changed people to friends who, most likely, have also changed. They are returning to a community that, due to the global pandemic, has also changed. That's a lot of change. Some pieces of the puzzle they used to call their life will not fit together anymore. And that has to be okay. 

That has to be okay. And as they process what that means for their lives, I struggle to find the space and emotional bandwidth to decipher what this move back will mean for my life. Will the kids still homeschool? Will they go back to school? What will my days look like if I am kid-free for SEVEN HOURS A DAY? That much liberty is overwhelming. What is God calling us to in this next season? How will we love our family and friends well as we re-enter the community? What will my Reader's-Digest-version explanation be for every time someone is surprised to see me in Indiana? Will they be disappointed that we returned? Will I?

I have no answers for most of these. Dwelling in the possibilities is a beautiful cycle of big, gorgeous dreams and sheer panic. Not really a stabilizing meditation. This week I've been in John 15, which is the only answer I have for the questions. The word: abide. It's really all I have the ability to do. Christ tells us in this chapter, "I am the vine. You are the branches." I have never been so glad to NOT be a vine. I'm not the source of all answers and all strength. Christ is. I'm just a branch. I'm receiving His life, His Spirit, His strength. They are flowing from Christ, who is so firmly rooted in His Father's love, to this lowly branch who feels like she has been pruned beyond all usefulness. 

And Christ continues, "Apart from me you can do nothing." Yep. Got that. Nothing. My ear-ringing meditations that dwell on possibility and catastrophe could not be further from what He has called me to in this moment. I am to abide, to stay, to remain in Christ. To stay connected to Him through His Word and prayer in the moment by moment crazy. Apart from Him, I can do...nothing. And in Him, some things never change. (Yes, I know I'm quoting Frozen 2. I quote Frozen 2 in most of my conversations, and you probably should be too. But that's another post...)

Christ is my eternal friend. His love for me does not change. My eternal salvation (like where I will spend the VAST MAJORITY of my life) is secure and unchanged. I will forever dwell in the presence of my God and Savior. I DO dwell in the presence of my God today. His grace is sufficient for me. And His power is perfected in the weakness where I find myself right now. His Word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path. And though I don't know all the curves of that path, I have enough light to do the next right thing, even when that right thing is retreating to my room or taking a nap. I can choose today to abide and to dream only the kind dreams, knowing that the pruning we're experiencing is preparing us for something good to come. 

 Abiding is my choice to listen to Christ and His truth and to refuse to let the din of this earthly life roar louder. This sounds high and holy until you realize for me it is actively forcing myself to remember that the radon monitor in the corner is JUST a radon monitor, no matter how many times that blinking red light tries to trick me into thinking otherwise. And more often than not, it's remembering that I am just a branch. That in Him, I can do all things. Apart from Him, I can do nothing. My ears are ringing and my mind is alive, but my soul abides in the God who never changes. He is the vine. And I am only a branch.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

There and Back Again

If you think we've been strangely silent here in North Carolina, don't worry. We've found so many lovely people and activities to fill our days that my time to sit and type is limited. It turns out that homeschooling four kids, being involved in a homeschool co-op, caring for a family of six, and establishing friendships with a whole new community of incredible people can make time fly!

Even at this moment, I have more than enough to do right now, which brings me to an announcement that we did not see coming... We're moving back to Indiana! What in the actual world!?!

When I've called family to let them know our next step, there are so many questions. "Wait! You've only been there six months!" "Did something go wrong?" "What happened?" "Couldn't you find community?" And all I can say is, we're not running away from anything here. North Carolina was all we imagined it would be and more.

David LOVES his job working for JAARS. He has worked with a team of kind, Jesus-loving, hard-working individuals; and they've made so much progress in the last six months toward updating systems and infrastructure. I'm so proud of him. He loves Jesus fiercely, and his dedication to excellence during his working hours at JAARS is only one of the ways that this radiates from his life.

The kids and I have found medical doctors, an incredible homeschool co-op, Farm Club (where the kids care for animals and learn about nature), and the most amazing friends a person could ask for. Most days you'll find our boys running around the woods of JAARS playing disc golf, and the girls have a brand new tree fort that David built for them in our woods. It's hard-core awesome. 

"So if everything is so good, why are you moving?" Yeah. I get it. It doesn't make sense.

Back in the fall, one of our children was really struggling to the point that David and I agreed that our life here was not sustainable for us. We weren't sure where to look for help for ourselves or for this child, but we knew something needed to change. As a mom who was home full-time with struggling children in the middle of a pandemic, I was drowning. My whole day was loving special needs children by educating them and helping them process these huge life adjustments. To say, I was exhausted would be an understatement. I fell asleep many evenings at 7 p.m. with nothing left to give.  At the same time, an IT position became available at Taylor University back in the same county we had left in Indiana. We threw a Hail Mary, and David applied for the position, and we waited to see if a move back would be a good fit for our family. 

Let just stop for a moment and make something clear. David and I love Taylor. We were newlyweds when we moved into Fairlane Apartments at Taylor University for David to finish the last two years of his undergrad degree. We brought our firstborn home to the apartments and were humbled again and again by the support the community gave us. David's classes were stretching in the best of ways, and we were sad to leave after graduation. It was a formative experience in every positive way possible. And anytime we were back on the campus (which was only 20 minutes from our home in Marion), I would always sigh and say, "I love it here." And Dave would smile and say, "I know." Taylor is home. And we knew that we would be honored to be a part of the difference the university was making in the lives of the next generation of Christ followers.

Meanwhile, we were faithful to where we had been called to be here in NC. Our children found medical doctors, one of whom actually resolved a lot of the issues we were having with the struggling child (who had an infection we hadn't even known about!). We made playdates and did school. We took long walks in the woods and hosted visitors from Indiana (You made us feel so loved!). We built a treehouse, hosted bonfires, and laughed so hard with new friends that it hurt. We asked for counsel from trusted advisors but did not share the possibility of moving back openly. That's all it was. A possibility. A remote one at that.

And then, a few days after New Year's, we got the text. Dave would be offered a position that would work for our family. And we would have the opportunity to rejoin a community that we hadn't felt ready to leave last summer. We talked. We prayed. We listened to wise counselors, and here's what we heard. Both JAARS and Taylor University are jobs that offered us opportunities to invest in the Kingdom. There are amazing, loving friends in both places. There are beautiful sights and rich educational resources in both places. We have a full, lovely life in both locations. But our families are in Indiana. 

Though our parents need nothing from us right now, the days will come when they will. Through good times and bad, we want to be able to link arms with our siblings and love on their children. It's the one thing NC doesn't have. Our families. And it tipped the scales.

Leaving here feels impossible, unthinkable. When I say we joined a homeschool co-op, let me clarify. I was allowed to learn from (and have my kids taught by) some of the most remarkable women I've ever known. They accepted us, loved us in our brokenness, and spoke truth and goodness over us without reservation. Between JAARS and co-op, I feel like we got a golden ticket to community. And our home in the woods has been dreamy. Low maintenance. Quiet. Beautiful. And neighbors who feel like family and love us so well. We hit the jackpot. We'll be leaving a piece of our heart here in North Carolina and look forward to following these families' stories with loving interest. We are cheering you on!

To the family and friends who are like family in Indiana, we are heading your way and can't wait to catch up on your stories! Our timeline is uncertain as we look for a place for our family of six to settle and would like to be as close to Taylor University as possible. If you have any leads, we'd be grateful. 

And to our friends who have become our family here in North Carolina, don't be strangers! We still have lazer-tag battles to fight here and hikes to take. We have bread to break together, and it is our conviction that we want to love you all right to the very end of our time together and beyond. You've responded to the Spirit when He's told you to text us, bring us food, invite us over, and speak truth into our lives. Thank you for so clearly reflecting His love! You have an open invitation to our home in Indiana. If you're in our neck of the woods, we would be overjoyed to see you!

In meantime, would you pray for us to have love and joy in our daily life and to trust the Father to move us as gently and kindly as He did when He brought us to these beautiful green pastures? I hate change. I hate disorder. I hate goodbyes. And the next few months promise to hold all of the above and probably a lot more. Deep breath. One day at a time. God's been good to us here, and we know He's with us every step of the way back again.