What makes a house a home…

Dear Lauren and Lydia,

Today I’ve got home on my mind. Ultimately for me that means another time and another place than here and now, but today I’m actually thinking about all of the homes I’ve lived in since marrying your dad.

Our married life started in married housing at Huntington College (now a University!). Neither of us had jobs, he was going to school fulltime and we were living on love…and student loans. Thankfully, I found a job quite quickly and things worked out. It was a nice apartment. Possibly the most storage space I’ve ever had in a kitchen! Two bedroom. I remember cleaning that little apartment with great love as we made our first home.

It wasn’t long before we moved on to Berne, IN when your dad and I took co-jobs at a Mennonite church. He did the youth, I did the music. We moved into another apartment but this time it was more like a house and it was on a pond. The house had apartments on each end too so we had neighbors. We had to burn our trash at that home and I once almost set the woods on fire in the process…but otherwise it was quite a nice quiet place to live. Sometimes too quiet, you’re dad was still going to school and we only had one car so often I was in the house all day long with no one around. I remember cross stitching a ton in that house probably simply because I got bored. You can only clean your house so many times in a day :).

Because I got bored and probably a little covetous…we moved shortly there after to a house on a lake in Geneva, IN. We painted that entire house. The landlord bought the paint and we did all the labor with a few friends help. Honestly, that landlord got a great deal out of us, because before the summer season even rolled around for us to enjoy the lake, we were fired from our first ministry position and headed home to Michigan to try and sort out what to do next. Yes…our very first ministry position was a bust. Honestly, It was probably good for us. Heart breaking, gut wrenching…but sobering and humbling too. Our need for grace and love became desperate. A good place to start probably…I can say that now that I’m many years down the road. That house was large. Too large for us but we enjoyed having the teens over. We heated our house with wood heat that year. Talk about work. It’s amazing how much wood you can go through. We had electric heat but we rarely if ever used it because it was so expensive. I do have fond memories of that house, but we weren’t even there a year.

Then we moved to the small one bedroom apartment attached to my parent’s house. The one Grandma and Grandpa live in now. We put most of our stuff in storage in the pole barn at the Jackson’s and lived on little. We paid a tiny bit of rent to my parents but not much. It was meant to be short term, but we actually stayed there for a few years. Thankfully…it was just the two of us so it worked. Looking back, I realize that was a good time for me to spend with my parents near by. And your aunt Sue was still home. Looking back at all of these places I wish we had just embraced and been content more but there is something in a young couple that sees what others have and thinks it’s necessary.

After what seemed like a long time…the church we were at in Clio bought a parsonage for us. It was amazing. I mean so far above and beyond what we had ever lived in before! And we started having babies. I remember cranking you up in the swing Lauren while I mowed the yard there. That’s also where we had a tornado go right over our house and take down almost every tree in the yard and there were a ton. The trees lined both sides of the property. Thankfully…not one of them hit the house while you and I were in the basement Lauren. I’ll never forget the intensity of your dad’s voice when he came to the door after having to walk from down the street because you couldn’t even get through to our driveway due to the trees. He was terrified something had happened to us. Thankfully…we were ok. When I think about that first parsonage I think about us starting our family and how it felt like we had become full blown adults. I remember soft luxurious carpet and a different color in every room. I remember sleepless nights being up with you, Lauren and my attempts at nursing which only lasted 7 weeks. I remember taking out flower beds there because I couldn’t keep up with them and thought them a frivolous use of my time. My how things change.

We didn’t really stay there all that long. Your dad’s job changed and we moved to Durand, MI. His first time being the Senior Pastor. It was a small church. I remember the first sunday it stormed (it was the dead of winter) and I believe 12 people were in the congregation. Sobering after moving from one of the largest churches in our conference. Lydia…we moved to the parsonage there which was connected to the church parking lot and literally two days later you were born. But somehow in the week before you came I was able to have the entire house settled and unpacked. (My mom was a big help as usual!)

You two had a ball at that house and the way our driveway connected to the parking lot was perfect for learning to ride bikes and pushing around all the things you liked to push around. I remember at that house even getting your dad to go out at Christmas time and put lights on the big trees lining the driveway. It was a split level so stair to everything. And it had a dining room that had huge gaping spaces between the railing so I had to watch close that you two never feel through to the lower level. We usually had a bookcase or something there to prevent that. Lydia you had a few falls now and then down the stairs but thankfully they were short flights and you survived. That house was full of memories and life. And it was so nice to be able to just walk over to the church anytime we wanted. Not everything was bliss…but it was solidly good as I look back. Even with the ants and the floods in our basement.

After a few years there your dad realized that solo pastoring was not for him. Your dad was so relational…he worked best when he could work on a team. So…we tried to move to a different church in our conference but there were no openings. Somehow one of the bishops at that time got word and made us aware of an opening in Alton, IL. We flew down for a visit and a weekend of interviews and getting to know the church. As we flew home we were pretty confident this was where our next step was to be.

In all honesty, we generally just moved forward through open doors wherever they lead us. I realize now that might not always be the best policy or even the right way to follow God…but it worked and was all we knew to do at the time.

When we came to Alton, there was no parsonage to move into and we had a family of 4 at that point. We knew it was time for us to take on a mortgage. I came down with Grandma in advance to look for a house to purchase and we looked at several but to no avail. When it came close to the time we had to move I sent your dad down with Grandpa Jackson and pretty much told them to not come home until they found something. To their credit…they found our first purchased home in Godfrey, IL and I couldn’t have picked it any better if I had been there myself.

I loved that house. We painstakingly put a ton of effort into making it our own. I took out a wall which will be a story that follows me the rest of my life :). I painted and learned to put up wall paper borders. Your dad built me a huge garden and I started adding flower beds instead of taking them out. We spent our summer at our local water park and loved it. But after 4 years and your dad being fired from that church and I being let go from my school job it became clear it was time to make a change. It was a hard time for us, financially, emotionally, etc. But again, as I look back, I’m not sure that I would change a whole lot.

The best part of that house was the fact that our neighbors Richard and Idona became your adopted grandparents. We were 10 hours away from home. We needed help and they just fell naturally into watching the two of you. Those years were a gift and I’ll never forget the perspective Richard had. I would say to him often, “Have a good day!” and he would genuinely respond…”every day is a good day!”. I learned how to think about those kind of things and ways of looking at life differently. They were grace filled people and loved us well. The fact that I borrowed their car and got into a wreck with it totaling it and he wasn’t one iota upset about the car and even brought us dinner that night because he knew I would be stressed out will forever be a memory of the love of God in real life and real time on my soul.

We put that house up for sale not knowing what was next for us. I took a job in the inner city of St. Louis and we started looking for housing in St. Louis. Your dad and I were both working there. And…he had made the promise to me that wherever I got my next teaching job we would move there. Of course that was before I got a job in the inner city, but to your dad’s credit…he didn’t change his promise. We looked at house after house and saw some really crazy things…but our house wouldn’t sell and we were stuck. We even put in one offer on a house but it fell through. Finally, when I realized I wouldn’t be back in the inner city come hell or high water teaching, that’s when our house sold. I will always consider that my Abraham and Isaac year. I think the whole thing was just about me being willing to go anywhere and to trust that my children would be taken care of even if God led us into dark places where I had fears. In the end…we sold our house and moved into a rental house because we didn’t know where we were headed next. Your dad was out of ministry and not happy in his work…it was just a strange time of transition and unknowing for us.

Our little rental house worked though. It gave us some relief on the financial side of things and keeping things up and working was no longer our responsibility. We moved the week of my spring break that year.

By the summer…ironically enough, an opening had come up in our town, exactly where we were living…Alton and I got a music teaching job in the Alton schools. We realized once again that we should probably buy a home rather than just rent because we thought renting was putting our money down the tubes when we could be investing. I will be honest with you and tell you, I’m not convinced anymore that buying is cheaper or more wise than renting…but that was our thinking then. We had decided to find some little home that would cost us a very low amount of money. We had learned that financial freedom was of high priority and we could do with less house and be just fine. In the end we decided to just ask the guy we were renting from if he was interested in selling. He was and we saved ourself a move and just bought the rental home. I think part of that decision was based on the weariness of moving. But it worked out.

That first summer we purchased our current home we sent you two to Michigan and did major repairs, gutted the bathroom (which was layer upon layer of stuff), and redid the floors in the living room, kitchen, bathroom and hallway. By that fall…your dad was sick. We didn’t know what was going on, but he was clearly sick. I thought it was stress. Maybe ulcers. By January we knew it was cancer and just over a year after living in our current home your dad died in the living room while laying on a hospital bed.

The question became…would we move back to Michigan or would we stay? We stayed. I had a good job. We had great friends that felt like family from church and this was all you 2 had really known. So we stayed and I began the long process of making this house a home. New windows, new siding, new roof, new sewer, major landscaping, new addition of a sunroom and extra bedroom and bathroom, painting, more new flooring, on and on. This house became therapy for me. When I think about that first summer after your dad died I think of myself out in the heat putting down mulch and having my hand and feet in the dirt. I think of planting flowers and how suddenly all I wanted was a yard full of flowers and flower beds. Ironic since just a few years earlier I had been the one taking flower beds out! I think I just needed to create and see beauty.

We’ve now lived here for 8 years. This house holds many memories. We have laughed and cried in this house. It’s been a house full of girls…us 3 and our 2 cats. You’ve grown into teenagers in this house. This house is the brightest, sunniest house I’ve ever lived in with windows everywhere. And I rarely cover them up…I need the sunshine to come through…I’m no different than a flower myself I guess. This house is where we’ve become friends with the Mathenia family, a gift from God to our family. This house has been so near to my teaching jobs, allowing me to come home during the day for lunch and to be able to work out details that would’ve been complicated had I had a longer commute.

And now…we’re outgrowing it.

Last year I started a new business and since that time it’s taken over half of our living room, half of our sunroom and infringes on our small kitchen. It’s clear that it’s time to move on. I’ve started teaching music lessons which takes up one of our 3 bedrooms. You two share a bedroom, which is not a bad experience but I know how that is and how you would probably enjoy your own.

Today I’m putting in an offer on a new house. Downtown in the heart of our city. It’s a big old house. Seems like it was made just for us and just for this season of our lives. It’s the first house that I’ve actually gone and looked at and had time to dream about. It’s a house where I can see the two of you coming home as you start your own families someday. I can already picture a large table in the large kitchen area with your families all gathered. I can picture my little Something Lovely shop. I can picture my work space where I come up with all of my creations :). I can picture the side yard having a little play ground for your kids someday sitting there. I can picture walking to church and to the post office and to my favorite restaurant. I can picture riding my bike down to the bike trail and eventually being able to ride back up to the house without having to walk :). I can picture sitting in the park just across the street and watching the sunset or just sitting and looking out at the Mississippi River. I’ve always dreamed of having a view of the water from my house and now I will. I can picture meeting new neighbors and the joy of having a couple of friends we already know in my neighborhood. I see such good things ahead of us.

Girls…home has always been about the people. Don’t get me wrong…it’s not the place. But certain times and places trigger certain memories. I’m thankful for every place we’ve lived and every experience along the way. They have shaped me to be the woman I am today…and I like who I see when I look in the mirror. The hard stuff has been just as important if not more so than the easy. I am fully enjoying my present reality. And I have great hope for the future. More hope than I can even put into words. I’ve experienced the goodness of God woven throughout every day and I live in deep gratitude.

As we approaching moving and starting in a new place we will carry friendships and memories on. We won’t lose…we will only gain. We’ll add to our friendships and memories. We’ll laugh about new things and take on new house projects. We’ll make our house a home again…

I love you both and cherish the memories. I’m also very excited about the coming months and the changes on the horizon for us.

Love your momma who’s lived in 8 differently places since 1992 and theres a good chance that it’s about to be 9 :)

My heart’s cry…

Dear Lauren and Lydia,

I’m cleaning the house today…dusting, cleaning up the cat hair that never seems to leave our home for long…music blaring, repeated motion, mindless…sobbing.

Oh girls I have wanted everything to be good for you two. I’ve wanted to protect you from the evil of this world. But the evil is within and I can’t keep it from you when it’s present within me too.

I’ve wanted to have your childhoods be without scars just like any parent does and I haven’t been able to do it. It was never my job anyway, I get this…but I’m your mom, I can’t help but never want to see you hurt, never have you experience loss.

This world is a mess…it just is.

No matter how I spin my wheels. No matter how hard I work. No matter how much I talk things through and try to fix things I can’t.

Brokenness all around. Desperation…

GIrls we are desperate for a Savior. Everything within me wants to fight for air like someone is trying to suffocate me. Everything in me wants to survive like I’m in some desperate prisoner of war situation or something…and yet the only way I can survive is to let go.

Letting go does not come easy.

Letting go means you’re going to be hurt. Letting go means you’re going to have broken places. Letting go means there will be memories that aren’t good. Letting means letting go of perfection. Letting go means accepting I’m powerless. Letting go means falling…falling…falling…trusting we will be caught in the nick of time or if we aren’t that it will still be alright.

I’ve fought insecurity my whole life.

Letting go feels like the least secure choice there is.

And yet I know it’s the only path to peace.

Ironically enough the song that just came on sang “Quiet your heart…”

Once again, I am reminded my job as your parent, my mission, my goal, my purpose is to simply try and give you a place where you can always fall and land with safety. A place where you know you are loved and always will be no matter what. It won’t be a perfect place. It won’t be free from evil. I’m here…and I’m a woman in desperate need of God’s grace. But I will be here…and even when I’m not someday…I’ve poured everything I have deep and wide enough that no matter what I will still always be in your hearts.

When your dad died I suddenly understood that you were already down one parent and I decided almost unconsciously that I would parent you with as much love and as much endurance as any two parents could muster up together. That’s what I do…double down and don’t back down.

“My love is a light, driving away all your fear…” the next phrase I just heard on the song in the back ground.

Girls…I can’t fix things. I can’t make things whole. I can’t make things good.

I let go and release you and your future into the hands of God.

You are in need of a Savior. As wonderful as I think you are…he is your only hope of redemption. You need Him. You can’t live your life without Him and have any peace, any hope. You are desperate for His presence even on the days when you are oblivious to His presence…probably even more on those days.

Everything in me cries out for you and I to be redeemed and saved by God all the days of our lives.

Love your momma who once again is letting go and banking every blessed thing on this God, this Jesus, this Holy Spirit who says He will never leave or forsake. Forgive me for the failures…the moments that aren’t good, the words spoken, the imperfections. Please forgive me and somehow see those places as places to experience grace for yourself.

Look to the ONE who never fails you.

Look to the ONE who never messes up.

Look to the ONE who heals you.

Look to the ONE who is the solution for every problem.

Look to the ONE who breaks every chain…even death.

Look to the ONE who loves you more than any other.

Girls…today I want you to visualize me on my knees, barely able to get up but still pointing to THE ONE who will give you life the rest of your life…I know you look to me and I hope that my life is a direct way to see God…but if it isn’t, on days when I know it isn’t…look farther down the path and see who we really are following…HE IS YOUR ONLY HOPE. That may sound over the top…it’s not.

Love is the most powerful motivation there is.

Dear Lauren and Lydia,

When I was a child the big thing in churches was to motivate people to make a decision for Christ by making sure they knew all about hell and by creating a fear of hell. I remember distinctly watching a movie on a Sunday night shown at our church having something to do with being “left behind”. In the movie that I watched as probably a 5 or 6 year old, real people were in very real lives and then all of a sudden one of them or a couple of them were just gone and those left behind were just left behind…the lawn mower or whatever they were using at the time was just left running. I still remember the terror that movie caused in me.

To the point where as a middle schooler one night my parents unexpectedly took a walk without me knowing it and happened to leave the TV running while they were gone and I was so afraid that I had been left behind that I called my pastor, a man who I had never called before in my life, just to verify that he was still here, knowing if he was than surely I was alright too.

There can be healthy fear, I suppose, but girls, this was not healthy fear. This was pure terror of suddenly being without the people I loved and knew and the sense that it was forever was etched deeply upon my mind.

I have learned…over time, that fear while it may cause a person to have an instant reaction, does not cause that reaction to last. If I only make a decision based on fear it won’t stick.

In contrast, I find that Jesus in the gospels never seems to use fear to motivate people. He occasionally has a few harsh words for the pharisees and a few woes here and there…but fear is not the primary motivation or even close to how he draws people to Himself and therefore to God.

Instead he trusts that as people experience love through giving and receiving it they will be drawn to love.

I guess people probably lean towards fear because it causes an instant reaction and most of us aren’t nearly patient enough to love someone over time and trust that it will have much farther reaching consequences.

We see this clearly when we see Jesus on the cross. He could’ve called on His father to strike the crowd dead in an instant. He could’ve called on angels to save Him. He could’ve caused the people to quake in fear like never before…but instead he hangs on a cross and says “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Absolutely crazy. Crazy because we know so little of that kind of love and everything in us would’ve caused us to fight to survive. We know so little of laying down our lives for one another. We feel put out when we do some small act of service often or have our rights put into question.

Can you actually imagine loving people so much, people who were hateful and mean, falsely accusing you and mistreating you, that you would hang on a cross and not condemn them one time?!? I can’t. I don’t know that kind of love.

I get irritable at small things. Humbling when I think about how petty I can be.

Girls…if fear is involved be wary. If something is worth following you don’t have to be made afraid to follow it. Fear is only used to bully and conjure a response out of people to force them to think or believe or live a certain way. Instead…notice where love is present. Genuine love for others is worth following after. And when it comes to Genuine love I know of no one who has walked this earth who has modeled and lived it out better than Jesus.

That’s why I follow Jesus. That’s why I am a Christian. Not because I’m afraid of hell. But because Jesus loves me.

Love your momma loves Jesus because He first loved me.