I attempted my first ever simple family film last month. It’s my first time trying my hand at it and I know it’s not technically “good,” but golly these people sure do make my heart swell with love.
this weekend as we were moving in, i told someone that i feel a little guilty about our new house.
“oh, that’s good!” she said.
she explained that she hoped it was the delicious kind of guilty that comes with getting and enjoying something that is just so good…. like a bar of expensive dark chocolate enjoyed slowly and after the kids are in bed.
and it is sort of that kind of guilty. but also it’s a bit of the other kind… the not so good kind.
i have a long-standing problem with believing that God really wants to give me good gifts. before i got married, before i had my children, and before i get almost any other sort of amazing dream-come-true kind of thing from Him, i get petrified with fear that He’ll be displeased with me if I take it, or I feel guilt for having something good when i’m so aware of others who have much less or have worse situations.
i don’t really think Papa appreciates me thinking and feeling those ways, but it’s something i tend toward. consistently. i keep thinking i’ll learn, that i’ll outgrow it.
but here, now, with this house. this amazing dream of a house (no, it wouldn’t be anyone’s dream come true… my mom wouldn’t want it)…. again it crops up. guilt.
“you shouldn’t have this house.”
“if you have extra rooms, you need to fill them with someone ASAP. preferably a poor person or an orphan.”
“you’re idolizing this house and you care about it more than your children.”
“don’t show photos of it because people will judge you for having a house like this when you’re an urban minister. ministers aren’t supposed to have nice houses.”
and so on and so forth.
well, Guilt. i don’t like you hanging around.
Papa, I want to know YOUR heart and YOUR will for giving us this house to call our home. come into this place of false guilt and bring a combination of your joyful grace and your merciful conviction.
we committed to you sight unseen. based on the word of my brother and trusted realtor and not much else. we just knew we were meant to be back in this neighborhood and you were one of the least terrible houses on the market at the time. it wasn’t exactly love at first sight. it was more like “good enough.”
but how i’ve grown to adore you! 2 weeks of nearly ceaseless labor with our friends and family and with each other: scrubbing your walls, tearing up your carpet, sanding red paint off your wood floorboards, painting nearly every surface in the colors that make us feel at home,choosing a stove and refrigerator, and repairing holes in walls and ceilings… slowly we began to see what you could be, and that you could be our home.
while blowing insulation, in your attic we discovered a box full of letters to and from a woman named Mary, dated from the early 1900s until around WWI. reading those and imagining the lives that were lived in your walls long, long before we were born added new depth to you, and made you deliciously mysterious.
it was just a day or two after we moved in when we found out that we were pregnant. i remember that moment in the early morning, coming into our bare bones new bedroom from the bathroom where i’d just taken the test, to tell Tim that we were going to have a baby. i cried. i wasn’t sure i was ready for that. but what a potent first memory to share with you!
we welcomed two wonderful women as housemates those first months. your small rooms were FULL with four adults doing our best to share our lives with one another, as well as your kitchen and bathrooms! we had sweet late night conversations and sometimes moments of irritation, but it was good.
as my belly burgeoned with our baby girl, however, i knew i needed you all to myself. just me and tim and you… and soon this baby girl. we asked the housemates to move out and then we claimed every room in you as our own, creating a nursery and an in-home office out of the spaces that they once had filled. that little nursery with the grey walls off the dining room became one of my favorite spaces in time.
my child was born in you. hazel emerged on the love seat in your living room one very hot late-spring night. and since then the story of you, dear house, has been entwined with the story of us becoming a family. we became parents under the shelter of your roof and hazel experienced about a zillion firsts in your rooms.
21 months later we would welcome another baby, this one in the sunny green upstairs bedroom on a bright spring sunday morning. what a high it was to give birth to Gus, and what a sweet, sweet space that room was to spend my post-partum recovery period.
in the guest room (or sometimes the living room) we hosted friends as much as we were able: pilgrims just passing through for a night or two from other states, family members from wisconsin for a weekend, or a friend’s baby for an afternoon nap. we welcomed our neighborhood community and our church family into your small rooms for prayer times and meetings after the children were in bed, and we had birthday parties even though your rooms always felt too cramped when filled with so many friends. but it gave us so much joy to fill you with people we loved and with prayer.
in you we have experienced the full range of emotions and so may relationship dynamics. tim and i have fought, cried, been short with one another, and also had real moments of connection and sacrificial love. we’ve counseled friends in matters pertaining to faith or relationships or career choices or discipleship, all from the comfort of the couches or while seated around the dining room table.
the table. we have always eaten at the table in the dining room. for at least 2 out of 3 meals each day. i’m glad for that. the table feels like center, feels like home.
you get such good light, little house! as a photographer, i always appreciated the amount and quality of light that came in from every side, lighting photographs perfectly, and lightening my heart with its brightness.
your yard was always neglected! we never manicured it nor planted the tree i had dreamed of planting. but you had peonies (hallelujah!) and lilies and comfry and wild mint already growing and we enjoyed them as best as we could. we put in raised garden beds and tried our hands at vegetable gardening with the help of friends and neighbors. in spite of us, things grew, and we ate the food that grew in your yard.
there is much more i could say to you, dear house. but i want to end with this: i have always loved coming home to you. thank you for giving us nearly 3 beautiful and blessed years, and for hosting us as a fledgling family. you will always, always retain a special little corner in my heart.
the rustling of leaves as wind passes through
heard through the windows on nearly every side of the house
enjoyed while sitting on the wide front porch
fruit – yet green and firm – dripping from the branches
of the apple, pear and plum trees
raspberry beginnings appearing amidst the tangled brambles
the sandbox now uncovered awaits fresh sand
and the tiny hands of my little ones to dig and mound and smooth it
sidewalk chalk scribbles along the sidewalk
where tricycles ride by
i know that buildings aren’t where the magic lies. i know that whatever joy, whatever healing, whatever love i’ve experienced here is due to the pursuit of my heavenly Father and not to some concrete characteristics of these walls, this roof, these rooms.
but, still, this house is very special to me.
when i moved to the west side in order to live and work at the boiler room, this house was where jenn and tony lived with their four kids. every week they invited me and the rest of the interns out of the holy chaos that was the boiler room house and into their dining room to share a meal, into the kitchen to do dishes and dance, then into the living room to sit and visit. they invited me in close to their family and began to show me by their doing many things about what a healthy, Christ-prioritizing family looks like and how it functions.
after living in Madison for a year, it was this house that i — overheated and emotional — came toafter my long, solitary drive home in adverse conditions. their children flung open the front door and invited me in, and jenn fed me green beans from the garden and her homemade pesto, and it tasted better to me than any meal i’d had in a very long time. it felt like coming home.
then they moved out of it, and kevin and marcy and their 4 kids moved in. and in this house they have undergone radical surrender to Jesus and have ridden the waves of joy and trial that come in its wake. when they had their 5th child (surprise!), he and hazel became friends and now every week hazel spends a morning in this house with marcy and landon, playing. when she walks by the house she reaches for it, and starts up the stairs. it has become a familiar and safe place.
and now, four and a half years after the first time i stepped into this house, we are buying it. we’ve been dreaming of doing this for months, and now the day is here. the purchase agreement is signed, the mortgage application complete, the arrangements with the smiths made, the dream solidified in peaceful joy in our hearts. so unless some insurmountable obstacle arises or Father directs us elsewhere, this house, God willing, is going to be our home. probably for quite some time.
in so many ways it feels so right. this is happening at about the same time that tim is taking over the oversight of the boiler room from tony, which means another layer of commitment to this neighborhood and this ministry. jenn and tony have moved out of the neighborhood now and also are moving into a new work (the planting of a school!), and we are moving into their first west side house as well as into the roles they previously held as the lead pastoral couple of the boiler room. so it’s symbolic in ways.
but i don’t even care about THAT so much as i do about the rich legacy of hospitality, surrender, worship, family, trust, obedience, and outreach that this house holds. it has a shalom over it, begun when jenn and tony bought, redeemed and started praying on its porch each evening, then continued when the smiths left all they had to follow jesus here and use it always to bless and envelop others in love. this house comes with a lot of GOOD baggage. you can’t put a price tag on that.
but aside from all that, there’s also more rooms (more guests! more housemates?, more children!), first floor laundry (every mother’s dream come true), a wood-burning stove (so cozy), a private fenced-in yard (for kids to safely frolic), and loads of sweet aesthetic details (lovingly chosen by jenn).
tentative closing date: mid march
moving-in date: sometime in may or june
can. not. wait.
thank you, Father, for this very good gift (i am still in a bit of disbelief that you would give it to us). we offer it back to you and ask that you would continue through us the kingdom-rich legacies it has carried up until now. fill it in the ways that will make your heart most glad and us most free. remind us that it is YOUR house, to be shared. give us the gift of your shalom over this place as we settle into it for the long haul.
for so long i was checked out. i had on glasses that made my distorted perspective still seem real.
and that’s ok. i think there’s lots and lots of grace for that season. i am even willing to bet all my money that it had/has purpose, though i can’t yet tell you what it was.
i’m recommitted now: to being here, to giving my husband to this work and to partnering with him as i am able, to raising my children here and making it home, to living on a modest salary dependent on fund-raising, to seeking Him for all that we need to keep going, to keeping our lives and hearts open to the neighbors who sometimes walk in chaos, and to the many young people who will walk in an out amongst us seeking to serve or to heal or to learn.
this city dwelling. this boiler room work. this “being the church” gig.
it’s pretty sweet.
i just forgot for a while.
thankfully, Papa is faithful to remind us of things we forget. He’s using our board of directors and the beautiful, prayer-drenched documents they’re drafting to put into words what God has called us to be and to do. He’s using a threatened financial crisis that forces us to re-evaluate. He’s using a gentle drawing of myself into His presence in 10 minute increments each day. He’s using the words of friends and the visions and prophecy of brothers and sisters. He’s even using a growing dream of house here that we believe will be our Home for the long haul, for the many children and the visiting pilgrims, and even transient students. Through all of these avenues, He’s correcting my heart posture.
i read this in anne lamott’s new book (definitely worth reading) a couple of weeks ago, and wrote it down in my journal:
for us to acknowledge that we have been set free from toxic dependency, from crippling obsession or guilt, that we have been graced with the ability to finally forgive someone, is just plain astonishing. you can’t have gotten from where you were — gripped by anxiety, tiny with fear — to come through to freedom, for God’s sake. to have been so lost that you feel abducted, to feeling found, returned, and set back onto your feet: oh my God, thankyouthankyouthankyou. thank you. thanks.
i like this because it speaks to that most awesome sort of miracle: the rearranging of a human heart that doesn’t know how to help itself. and i feel that He’s doing one of these sorts of miracles in my heart right now, tender and tentative as it may yet be.
He’s doing it regarding our life work and where we call home. He’s doing it regarding my ability to rest in this motherhood role. and He’s doing it in my marriage.
that’s my testimony today.
when i was growing up, my mom had a specialty breakfast that we all looked forward to on those relatively rare occasions when she prepared it: cheesy waffles! oh yes, my friends, fluffy white waffles with shredded cheese in them that browned and crisped. then we smothered them in butter and white sugar. oh man. they were so good.
it’s been years since i’ve had a cheesy waffle, but for reasons unexplainable, i woke up thinking about them this morning. i wondered if i could recreate them gluten-free, and perhaps sans white sugar. but i also realized that i don’t have a waffle maker, so they’d have to be pancakes.
while tim still slept, i got out of bed and googled a few cheesy pancake recipes, then using the general idea from two of them, i got to work on creating my own rendition with healthy ingredients. i also made some cooked apples in butter and maple syrup to use as a topping instead of the white sugar.
on this spring morning, we are enjoying cheesy pancakes, watching our baby girl wiggle happily in my belly, and dreaming about the plans of God unfolding in our neighborhood. amen.
we’re nearly 31 weeks pregnant now! can’t believe our amazing little baby is going to be here, outside my womb and in our home, in about 2 months. goodness!
and then, because i’m sure you want to have cheesy pancakes, too, here’s the recipe that i came up with this morning. it should be noted, however, that all measurements approximate because i didn’t actually use measuring spoons/cups. i will not be held responsible for any bad pancakes that result from following this recipe to a “t”….
Cheesy Pancakes (GF)
- 1/4 cup oat flour (or just grind some oats in the coffee grinder to make a flour)
- 1/3 cup brown rice flour
- 1/4 cup sorghum flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup plain kefir
- 2 Tbsp oil
- 2 Tbsp agave nectar
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1/3 – 1/2 cup grated cheddar or Monterey jack cheese
- 2-3 Tbsp sliced almonds
Combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl. In another larger bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ones, mixing well. Then fold in the cheese and almonds.
Drop 1/4 cup at a time onto a preheated skillet. Cook about 2 minutes on each side, until golden.
- 2 golden delicious apples, diced
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 1 tsp cinnamon
Put all ingredients in a small sauce pan and simmer until apples are softened.
Serve over pancakes.
last night tim and i went to see a little documentary on natural childbirth and midwifery called Guerilla Midwife. the film was being screened at a vintage community theatre on wealthy street. we walked in to a crowd of pregnant women and women wearing their babies, childbirth educators, doulas, and midwives. they were a crunchy crowd, and a passionate one. there was literature out about all the natural childbirth and parenting resources available in our community. we found out that following the movie there would be a panel discussion made up of labor and postpartum doulas, home and hospital midwives, a natural health practitioner, and an OB.
Guerilla Midwife follows the story of one particular woman who practices at a small clinic in Bali, offering free or reduced-cost midwifery services to families in poverty. she and her team deliver over 700 babies each year. they do it because they believe that there is a correlation between gentle birth and world peace, just as there is a correlation between violent birth and war. they believe this because we are beginning to learn from science and research that there is a delicate cocktail of birth hormones released through the process of birth and in the hour immediately following that is vital to the bonding of mothers and babies, and that when natural birth is altered or interrupted (e.g., in the case of caesarean deliveries, epidural use, induced labor, and the whisking away of babies from mothers within minutes of their births), that cocktail is disrupted, causing hurdles to mother-child bonding as well as breast-feeding. what, they wonder, are the long-term consequences of this on a society in which 30%+ of babies are being delivered in ways that routinely disrupt that vulnerable period? does it inhibit the ability of humans to love one another as well? we know that in monkeys and other mammals, when their babies are delivered under the use of epidural or via c-section, the mothers will reject their young and refuse to care for them. as humans, our higher brains and our spirits enable us to adapt to such disruptions so that even mothers who have their babies by disconnected or traumatic avenues are still able to love their babies and be wonderful mothers. but are we making it harder on ourselves than we need to?
this is just the beginning of the many issues being explored in certain circles, and by science, regarding child birth practices and birth culture in our society. it provokes me.
i want very much to deliver our baby at home, but we’ve ended up choosing the compromise of using a nurse midwife in the context of the hospital, perhaps with the addition of a doula to our support team. and tim and i are learning about Bradley childbirth methods, which focus on intervention- and drug-free labor and delivery with the husband acting as the primary coach to his wife. we feel good about this course of action. i have a conviction that is deeply important and vastly impactful to my baby and my empowerment as a woman HOW i move through the birthing process. i do not want to be numbed, nor to take shortcuts, to getting our baby out of my womb. i want to actively participate in her birth.
i realize that this sounds silly or like needless suffering to some. i know mine isn’t the only perspective.
but however we each decide to birth our babies, one thing that i think we can all agree upon is the importance of birthing our children in an atmosphere of support, safety, gentleness, and great love. a lot of times that atmosphere is hard to find in a hospital, where there is so much fussing and intervening and worrying and screaming. and for many women they don’t have the supportive village of family and friends who speak the truth over them that they were made to give birth, and that they are adequate to do that work, just as they are adequate to parent their children.
i know that so many women give birth with fear and dread, and alone (either literally or because their family and friends are emotionally absent or abusive). i know there are lots of woman in my westside family who have given birth alone and in fear and covered in hatred or anger. and it impacts families. those beginnings matter.
so as i sat listening to the film and the panel discussion, i was washed over with gratitude for the choices i DO have in how to give birth. i am so grateful to have access to midwives who work with our medicaid status. and i am even MORE grateful to know that our baby is coming into a loving and safe marriage. and not only a healthy marriage and home environment, but also into a community of people who are literally THRILLED that she’s coming. our community considers our as-yet-unborn daughter a person and a soul, and they pray for her regularly, as well as for me and tim and our birth process. they can’t wait to know her name, to hold her, to help us to care for her and to raise her. and these people who will be the welcoming committee for our daughter are loving, Spirit-filled people whom we deeply trust. she has a slew of neighbors already claiming titles of honorary aunt- or uncle-hood. what a joy it will be to share our child with this village, and to let her newness and purity be a testimony of grace to a neighborhood of broken families. knowing that this is the life and landscape that our daughter will come into puts me at ease in so many ways and boosts my confidence in our ability to parent well. and hearing the birth stories of women in my life encourages me that i can do it, too.
it’s been real cold around this house this week. the furnace stopped re-starting itself. we have to run downstairs to manually fire it up. sometimes every 20 minutes. because it’s like 12 degrees outside and the temperature inside so quickly drops. but i have friends who sleep outside on the alley-facing porch of an abandoned house, and i know it could be worse than this (being tucked under a quilt and down comforter, between flannel sheets, with a husband-heater besides).
still, i feel whiney about the darn furnace and the 50 degree air that greets us when we get out of bed each morning.
tonight there was a Love Feast and for the first time ever, and for reasons i do not know, the volunteers that were going to be bringing and serving the food to 150 friends and neighbors never came. we waited until the last minute. we prayed for God to provide. i wondered if there would be a small miracle — the sort where a stranger received a nudge from the holy spirit and comes sheepishly to the door bearing food enough to feed 150 simply because they were being obedient to the nudge, and not because they knew we were in need. we kept the kitchen doors closed so the gathering crowd wouldn’t notice that there was no activity and no food in there. and we waited some more. in the end we made an emergency call to little caesar’s and ordered 38 single-topping pizzas, paying for them with a check that, quite frankly, is likely to bounce. because our account is running low. but we did it anyway, because people needed to be fed, and because God can make provision for that pizza. yes, He can.
and so it was humble family dinner, and not a balanced meal.
but then a young man i will call A fell down in a grand mal seizure while his hysterical girlfriend shooed everyone away, shouted for someone to call 911, and generally acted hysterical. helpful friends — some with medical training — gathered round him, though she wouldn’t let anyone help, so most of us stood nearby, some half-heartedly munching on pizza, and prayed with hands extended in his direction until emergency services came. they came so fast — within 5 minutes of my hanging up the phone. but A will be okay, i know. at least okay in this sense.
this is the sort of night that leaves me feeling frazzled and a touch overwhelmed…
…and scratching my head about the many small ways (the furnace, the missing food, and the seizures are only three examples) that God seems to be stirring the pot these last couple of weeks. it’s been churning ever since we started on this journey of learning about and opening up to the ministry of the holy spirit with all its unpredictability and power. it seems like things have gotten a bit crazier. i’m sure they actually have. and i keep thinking there is some sort of faith response He is looking for in us, or some thing that He wants to open up to us here, perhaps a display of His glory. but i feel like we’re mostly sorta bumbling. praying differently as we bumble, though.
and now i need to go to bed before the temperature drops another 5 degrees.
pilgrim (n): one who undertakes a pilgrimage, literally ‘far afield’. This is traditionally a visit to a place of some religious or historic significance.
24-7 Prayer Boiler Rooms hold pilgrimage and hospitality as one of it’s six core practices. it’s one of my favorite practices (am i allowed to pick favorites?). you see, tim and i could decide next week that we want to head to Tulsa, OK, and know that there would be people there who would take us in for a while, keep us company, tell us stories of God’s faithfulness, and feed our bellies. because there is a boiler room there, and this is central to their identity, as it is to ours. Conversely, when a group from Kansas City tells us they’d like to head up this way for a visit, we’d move things around to make room for them, and pray that their time here would leave them refreshed and with renewed perspective and a sense of connection to brothers and sisters and to God. you can see why this is one of my favorite boiler room practices.
our last week has had a pilgrim theme. in four parts:
- tim’s old college pals, sara and kelley, came over from milwaukee to stay a mere 24 hours. but in those hours, we told stories about what God is doing in our cities, elicited one another’s dreams, and remembered shared experiences from the past. when they left, they said they felt refreshed and renewed in their vision, which is exactly what i would have hoped for. but the gift was mutual. because, for me, something in me came back to life as i walked with them around our neighborhood and told stories about the origins of the boiler room, the things God is teaching us here, and the friends who fill the houses on these streets. i’ve been feeling so disinterested and unaffected by life here, lacking in zeal and perspective, but as i started to tell the stories, i began to remember that this is good, that God has brought us here, and that He is moving. and then came the joy. i’m grateful to sara and kelley for giving me a chance to remember God’s story. and now i will be tracking their unfolding story of finding a place to call home in a broken milwaukee neighborhood with heightened interest.
- sarah w, who is from here, but who has been living in LA and KC for the last two years, found herself “stuck” back here in GR for a couple of month with health concerns and no clearance from the Lord to move on. she is my most transitory friend, a pilgrim in the truest sense. sometimes she doesn’t even have a place other than her car to call home, but she moves with the Spirit. i’ve learned to hold loosely to my time with her, because i understand that He could call her onward again at any time. that’s how she rolls. but for these two months, when i was freshly moved back to GR, sarah and our friend kely and i got together nearly every week. the Lord surprised us with this sweet fellowship, prayers for one another, sympathy of spirit, commonality in friendship…. and all so timely. it was like a well of living water refreshing me each time. sarah stopped by the other night, on her way out of town to KC (yup, He’s moving her onward again). and as we prayed together she thanked God for the gifts in short seasons.
- mary (not her real name), the 80-year-old polish woman who lives next door to the boiler room, who persisted in beautifying her yard with flowers when no one else in the neighborhood cared for their own, who baked us pączek by the dozens, who celebrated my marriage, who came over for dinner sometimes, who caught squirrels and made us drive them to a park to live somewhere other than her garden… this dear woman had a stroke last week. and yesterday morning she passed away. we got to visit her in the hospital last week. though she wasn’t conscious, we talked to her anyway, and laughed at memories with her, and told her that we loved her. and i believe that she heard us. the sweetest thing, though, was being able to say good-bye to her with confidence that she was going Home. she has longed for it, and she was ready. i don’t think that she was afraid. before we left her room danmike prayed over her “I myself will see him with my own eyes–I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:27)” and he added, “i’m jealous.” so though this neighborhood will be void of several bright slashes of color because mary isn’t here with us, and though my throat tightens with threatened tears as i write this, my heart is so happy that she get to see His face. at last. and her leaving reminds me that she and we have never been anything other than pilgrims here.
- trent sheppard and nathan chud came through last night for the God on Campus tour. it was tim’s relational connections with nate, and his organizational ties with Campus America that led to us initiating a tour stop here in GR. before this, they had just come from madison and lacrosse, bringing news and stories of our mutual friends in those places. the bridge street house of prayer hosted it at their Pavilion and there were students from about 5 different campuses present. beforehand, Trent and Nate and Nate’s brother Aaron joined the boiler room core team for a family dinner at the boiler room. i got to cook for us all: black bean and butternut squash soup with a green salad and warm bread (one of my favorite ways to love on pilgrims is to feed them!). and sitting around that table, laughing, telling stories, connecting, speaking kindly to one another… later tony said it was like meeting some great cousins you didn’t know you had. i never cease to be gratefully astonished at the similarity of DNA that God has put in His kids, and how much like family it really can seem when we are together in one place. the God on Campus event was great (so very good, so very much inspiring to lean into the dreams of God for students and campuses), but it was this time to just be with each other that really warmed us all, i think. we found ourselves wishing that their stay could be longer, and our conversations more enduring. but this morning they took their leave. they are pilgrims, too.
to welcome pilgrims is a rich, rich blessing that i would not forgo.
to be a pilgrim, journeying and then taking refuge in the hospitality of another, reminds us of our true nature.
we’re all headed Home.
ps: jenn wrote about mary today, too. and you should read it.