Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Better Eyes

 The older I get, the more I understand that life is really all about seeing. 

When someone comments on one of my floral drawings, I'm usually quick to point out the my skill level is not actually extraordinary. I just look really hard at where the curves and lines are on my flower, then try my best to make my lines the same... or mostly. Typically, said person still thinks that takes some skill, but to me it just seems like I have learned to see lines clearly. 

This same concept is true in painting. In order to paint a picture well, you need to be able to see well first. Variances in shadows, shades, lines, colors: it's all very important if you are trying to replicate, even in general, a landscape or portrait or anything that happens to be your subject. 

Living well is also an art, and it also takes a special kind of seeing. 

I've been considering this more during the last couple years of my foray into more and more fiction literature, especially as I have wandered into fairytales (unfortunately, only in reading, not in reality). I'm currently listening to Lilith by George MacDonald, and after also listening to Phantastes last year, I am seeing so many connections, so many truths that for some reason do not immediately hit home at first glance. It has reminded of Moses. 

We all know that Moses saw the burning bush, but there's a tiny detail I saw in the story that forever changed me. 

"Then the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire within a bush. As Moses looked, he saw that the bush was on fire but was not consumed. So Moses thought "I must go over and look at this remarkable sight. Why isn't the bush burning up?" When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called out to him from the bush, "Moses, Moses!" Exodus 3:2-4

Moses didn't just see the burning bush and then God spoke. Moses saw the bush, he wondered about it, decided to look more closely in order to understand it, and that's when God spoke. In fact, scripture reads like that is the reason why God spoke to him. I'm sure God knew Moses would wonder and then look more closely, but this is still important to see, to remember, and to know why that detail is important. 

As I continue in educating myself and my children, I keep asking a lot of questions. Some days, the questions are more like "Is this worth it?" "Am I doing more good than harm?" "Could someone else do this better?" But for the most part, the questions that keep coming to mind are "How can I use this to make a difference in their lives?" "How can I help more people see the truth?" and even "How does anyone actually see the truth?" As my mind sometimes begins to spiral from one heavy question to another, I often wonder what the point of all our education really is. I know in my head that it is to know God and make Him known, and to help all of us better see truth, beauty, and goodness, but then, how are we to use those things and what is it we really ought to do

Education, like drawing and painting, is a practice in seeing more clearly. The older I get the more convinced I am that seeing better will equal living better. Seeing God's reality more clearly will help me to sin less voluntarily, to live more freely, to love more willingly. We think if we figure out what to do, we will see how to go about it. This is backwards! We need to see first and trust that what to do will come out of that clarity.

The problem is, most of us do not see the truth being displayed around us every day. The world lies to us, people lie to us, even our minds lie to us. This is where excellent fiction can help tear down the things that keep us from seeing, and in so doing, free us to live better. 

It's easy to see error in the story of a sweet 11 year old boy making a devilish mistake or a grown bachelor wasting his life wondering away in a library instead of actually living. We are told his inner motives, witness the fallout, and hopefully also see the forgiveness and redemption on the other side. We don't often get to see the pieces so clearly in our own lives, and it's generally far too painful to have someone else point them out directly. But when we are immersed in a story that can stay on the pages, it somehow bleeds into us in a safe way, a private way, so we can walk through our challenges without fear and then come out with a deeper understanding of how our lives are impacting the world around us. It gives us a way out of ourselves so that the way we see ourselves is closer to the reality others see. It's not the same as introspection, or obsession with self-knowledge, but like looking into a mirror where we see some of the ugly reality but also a way out. 

Ultimately, that way out is always Jesus, and the path is also almost always through a pattern of surrender and sacrifice. Here is where stories give us the courage to believe what we see! When you read the best of fiction, namely fairytales, you also see how this difficult path our ordinary hero takes is always for his good. He always comes out better, more beloved, more content, and more at peace. We see his outcome and it gives us the courage to trust the outcome Christ has for us, the outcome Christ has freely given us through His death and resurrection. We know that our death will not be the tragedy we sometimes envision, and that our surrender is sure to breed good fruit. 

I am finally understanding in my heart what C.S. Lewis meant when he explained "But someday you will be old enough to start reading fairytales again." 

A good fairytale is really just truth that is sweet, small, and beautiful enough for us to devour without realizing the goodness it will give our souls. It is just one way that God can give us eyes to see and ears to hear. So, by all means, still make reading your bible a first priority, but then, wander into a fairytale and embrace the new vision it will give you of God, of the world, and your place in it. 

* This post does contain affiliate links and I certainly appreciate the extra few cents it may reward me ;)

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

The Dauntless Act of Writing

I think most people who have any inclination toward writing something of historical value, wonder what it takes to become a great writer. I write this not because I am one, but because I can commiserate with the desire and for many long years have been thinking about it, yearning for it, wishing for it, and have not really done much about it. I do desire for that to change, and I hope something stronger than my ambition can get me there. 

So what does it take?

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

For one, it is more about being than doing. Yes, a huge part of being an excellent writer is that you do, in fact, write excellently. However, you must also write about excellent things, which means you must have excellent thoughts, excellent ideas, know how to use excellent words, make excellent mental connections, and generally, have an excellent sense of humor. You must BE excellent in many ways, inside and out. 

How does one become excellent then? I cannot answer this apart from knowing Christ. In my own life and on my own path, I become a grouchy, isolated, selfish little hermit, or on the opposite end, I become boastful, overly-talkative, and want only to show myself off. All of my true excellence comes from Christ, and to try and set you on a path other than that would be doing us both a disservice. He is what makes me good, able to do good, able to become good. And besides all that, He is the one who prompts me to do the writing, to delve into the difficult, and to share the excellent things He illuminates. When His truth is revealed, it makes Him seen, and we can be thankful when our writing is beautiful to others, but mostly we can rest knowing it is beautiful to Him. 

So, first off, becoming excellent via the gift of Christ. 

Next up, die. 

Yes, you must die in a thousand ways every day in order to write well. Otherwise, your writing is always going to be full of your agenda. There are times when sitting down to write out something intentional and specific is called for: recipes, instructions, specific explanations or responses to questions. Much of becoming great though, is a death to my own plans, a surrender to the unseen, the unknown, the untested. Living through what I’d rather not endure or dare not volunteer for is what makes me able to write well. To tap into the ideas that live beyond myself and in another world, I must give up my ideas of what I am willing to live through and give into what He has in store. 

The actual writing itself is fairly painful and when we experience pain of any sort, it helps put pain into the right perspective and enables us to endure it better. For instance, the words never come out right the first time, I can never type as quickly as my thoughts, and it always requires a lot more time and energy than I expect. I have to surrender to my limits, my brain’s ability, and the mysterious balance of my emotional and physical limits. I have to be mostly okay with things not going my way, and this last year has revealed just how terrible I am at that. 

The process of becoming a great writer will most definitely include enduring much more unpleasantness than you expect, and in a variety of ways. One last way I am going to address here is in regards to thinking.

I get great pleasure from thinking, but my brain doesn’t know when to turn off. I am great at distracting it, for a time, but in the end, my brain will pick back up where it left off, and rather than getting through the things I’d rather not think about, I have instead only delayed them. Cue the spiraling thoughts about all the time I have wasted and cannot get back (ten years flies much faster than you’d imagine). Enter the haunting idea that maybe I am far too boring or old or tired to trade in my experience and time for some excellence in written word. I begin wondering if I have what it takes, and what will happen to my life if I don’t do this hard work right this minute and fight harder than I think I can in order to become more than what I am now. This, and 1,000 other thoughts swirl while trying to untangle a story-line, an outline, a detail that I think I hear God whispering to me. And that’s all before I put any of it into paper, or even dare to share the general concept with my spouse or a friend.

As a writer, you have to think about much more than you’d prefer, both because of much of the unpleasantness of the human condition and also the difficulty of piecing together a story. Your brain is like a muscle, and it must be stretched, exercised, and pushed harder than is comfortable in order to become stronger. If I have the inspiration to write about a situation or topic, it is likely that God will push that idea out of me through a level of thinking my lazy-self would rather not do. So, then either I don’t write it and feel the loss or depression of not having actually written anything, or I write something less than amazing and bemoan that, or I do a lot of internal and difficult work to then sit down and hash out that difficult work onto paper or my computer with no immediate gratification. It all sounds very lovely, yes?

Lastly (for now), if you want to be a writer of long-term significance, you must accept that you are not living in your own time. This will come with rejection and probably some isolation, as you may not relate with as many people around. Your work may never be popular in your day, and even if it is, that is still not a guarantee it will last. As I do not know how much we will know about the going-ons of earth after our own death but before the end of the world, you may very well go to your grave and beyond without the gratification of seeing people love, enjoy, and benefit from your work. Can you live with that kind of unfulfillment? As I mentioned before, the only recommendation I have for this is Christ. With Him, and His eternal promises, I know full-well (though often must remind myself) that my work on earth has eternal benefits and it doesn’t matter much whether I know about them before I leave this world or not. 

Much of this does not seem worth the trade-off, yes? Maybe you are wondering where the hope is in becoming a great writer? Right where it needs to be: the eternal rewards of giving my life to the Lord and to others. If our writing does not aim to be an everlasting, fruitful gift, it is out of the wrong motives. As with much work that has the best of motives, it is not always accepted well for a time and the risk of all that time and effort, of lost years, and missed events can be incredibly daunting. That's why it's even more important that our vision for the outcome is cast far, far away and placed entirely in God's hands.

I often go at writing with hopes that are mixed, and when discouraged, I go through long seasons of distraction and looking for something better, more productive, more rewarding (in the now) to do. While reading Jeremiah this month I have been struck by his dilemma. He was persecuted so often for the truth he spoke, proclaiming God’s wrath in a very direct and unpopular way. He decided to stop telling everyone what God was telling Him, and you don’t get the sense that God was forcing Him to do this or assigning it as punishment, though God clearly told Jeremiah to go and prophecy. Despite his desire to live out of the spotlight, out from under the scrutiny of others, Jeremiah cannot stop. He is restless, and it became painful for Him to keep God’s words in, a fire in his bones, ready to explode. He couldn’t help but share and he finally became willing to endure the consequences of his sharing because he trusted his fate to the Creator. He knew the reward for him would not come in this life, and that it would actually bring him suffering, unpopularity, shame, and isolation, but he still did it. 

I am no Jeremiah, but I feel a sliver or two of his internal turmoil and his external suffering. 

If we are to be writers who live beyond our lives, we must live beyond ourselves right now too, not just in the words we put to paper (or screen), but in our daily living, in our willingness to endure, beyond difficulty, beyond companionship (notice I did not say without), beyond instant gratification, and beyond this world we can see. We must go into what we can’t see and bring it back to show whoever might dare to look. 

This journey is not for those who want to be popular, rich, or live a life of ease. The writer’s journey is one of a time traveler, a cross-bearer, a willing captive. Is this what you are willing to become? If not, you may still have fun being a good writer, and your wit and skill with words may still bless and encourage others. But if you want to be great, you must become a servant to the hungry souls you aim to reach. It may reduce you to nothingness, starvation, and a soul-parched dryness you worry you may not come back from, but the rewards do await, as long as you are willing to wait to receive them on the other side.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Give Your Weaknesses a High Five

* disclaimer: this post does contain affiliate links that help to fund my efforts in supporting your homeschooling & spiritual growth *

There's a great debate about weaknesses vs. strengths. 

In college I had to read (rather, GOT to read) the book Now, Discover Your Strengths. It's all about embracing what you are naturally good at and focusing more on improving and using those traits instead of spending all your energy getting rid of your weaknesses. There's a lot of helpful advice in that! Sure, you've got to make sure your weaknesses are not wiping out your strengths, but spending priceless time and energy trying to become that much better on a skill that you will likely never be great at is just not wise.

However, it's different with Jesus (as are most things, right?). 

It's not that we can't work to improve in our areas of strength, or that we shouldn't spend some effort making sure our weaknesses aren't drowning us. It's that in Jesus, our weaknesses can be like magic.

Well, not a magic for us to harness ourselves, but they are an avenue Jesus uses to make Himself so glorious

Before I go into that, one more thing about our strengths. When we rely on them, we are going to eventually encounter some level of disappointment. After all, we are human and we have limits! If we boast in what we are skilled in or what we can accomplish, that stuff can be wiped away in an instant, putting us to shame. Thankfully, there is one thing we can confidently boast in: knowing God

In Jeremiah 9 there is a conversation going back and forth between God and Jeremiah about the people of Israel. In it he tells Jeremiah to tell the people:

"Thus says the LORD: 'Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight declares the LORD.'" Jeremiah 9:23-24

Knowing and understanding God is what God says we can boast about; knowing what God loves and does and delights in. I'm pretty sure that turns into us loving and doing and delighting in those same things. 

So, we boast in our understanding and knowing God, and then Paul, hundreds, of years later tells us we can boast in one more thing: our weaknesses.

Photo credit: Siora Photography @siora18

Paul has gone over this ideas several times in 1 & 2 Corinthians, that is it through weakness that Christ's power is revealed. Finally in 2 Corinthians 12 he begins to tell about his personal struggle with a "thorn in the flesh," which he saw as a weakness, something he desperately wanted to be relieved of. After much pleading, God speaks to Paul telling him "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness." 

But what does that actually look like? 

Cindy Rollins posted something about this recently, and it really spoke to my heart as a homeschooling mother since my weaknesses are constantly being revealed to my children. Head over to her blog to be encouraged by her experience of Christ showing up in her weakness during a talk she was leading. 

It's so easy to be discouraged by all of our errors, weaknesses, and potential failures. We strive so hard to give our children the best of everything, and when we can't do that, we automatically assume we must not have what it takes. We fear they will miss out, that they could get something better at a "real school" with better trained teachers or more "friends" around them. But God says it is not with the better that humans provide that He shows up. It will be through your weaknesses that your kids will see Jesus more clearly and experience His provision for themselves. 

He shows up where we cannot. He makes things happen that we have NO power to make happen. He has unlimited strength, resources, and divine love to pour into their lives, but He cannot do it when we stand in the way trying to make it happen in and of ourselves. When we become more okay with our weaknesses being on display, the Holy Spirit steps in to cover that gap and then other people get to see it happen. 

This is what will change the hearts of your children and the people who influence. Seeing the work of God in their daily lives is life-changing and it is not something you can force, but the more you embrace your weaknesses, the more you are okay with failing and going to God for help, the more the Holy Spirit can show up. The more beautiful you make Jesus look

I hope this reminder helps you to find comfort in all the ways you feel like you are not measuring up. God doesn't want you to focus on measuring up. No, this doesn't dismiss working and preparing and does your best, it just means He wants your hearts set on Him and His ability. Know Him, seek to understand Him, and pray to love what He loves. When you are pursuing this, God will meet your needs and importantly, He will become undeniably visible to your children. What a blessing our weakness can be! Let's celebrate that. Not just exulting in our failure, but being excited that when we are weak, He is seen as strong

Let's share together: comment with a time that God's strength showed up in your weakness. We can all help bless each other with the reminders of His love and power!

Saturday, March 20, 2021

What is it About Knowledge?

 There are a couple quotes or ideas about knowledge that have been bumbling about in my brain lately and I thought putting my ideas about them here on the blog might make for some interesting reading.

I've often heard people claim "People who know better, do better" but I'm fairly certain society has proved this wrong over and over again. For instance, we all know that drinking during pregnancy is dangerous, and unhealthy for a baby. Does that stop people? Often, but not always. There's also plenty of evidence to show that regularly watching TV or any type of screen before the age of 2 has negative effects on children. Does that stop us? No! Did it stop me? I'm sorry to say, no. 

Why is this? Why does knowing what is right, or better, or best, not equate to doing better? I'm not a psychologist of any sort, and I probably don't have enough experience to rightly explain all of it, but I am a thinker from birth, perhaps an over-analyzer, so I do believe my thoughts can lead to some insights that might help all of us turn our knowing into something more than just facts tumbling around in our brains.

There are endless examples of things we know are good for us that we just don't do: eating more fruits and vegetables, getting more exercise, watching less TV, laughing more, drinking less alcohol, sleeping more, spending less money, and the list goes on. We have such an abundance of knowledge about things that are good or bad for us, but so little willingness to take action. 

Photo Credit: Yogesh Pedamkar

Mark and I often talk about the idea of an internal switch. At different points in time, we both felt like a switch was flipped in our brains that finally helped us take the initiative to lose weight. Mark lost over 30 pounds and I lost 20 pounds, each in within four months. Mark says that part of it had to do with his shirts not fitting right, and my reasons might have stemmed from a bit of envy (just being honest here) and being encouraged my other friends' results. But why did those things finally flip the switch for us? Why don't those things work for everyone, at all times, about all things?

You have likely heard the quote "Knowledge is power" but in the bible, Jesus says that if we abide in Him and become His disciples, we will know the truth, and it will set us free (John 8:31-32). What is the difference between knowledge and truth? What is the difference between power and freedom?

In case you thought I had answers to all these questions, I don't. I do want to explore them more, and I hope you do too, but what I genuinely want to understand is what is it that flips that switch? What is it that takes our knowledge and turns it into action? 

I think a lot of this has to do with belief. Knowing something is not the same as truly believing it, or rather believing ON it, and true belief in and on something will lead to action. I don't think you can really believe something is true without taking action upon it, whether that mean you oppose that truth or stand behind it. In the bible, James says something similar about faith and works: "For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead." (James 2:26) 

This is where we have to get a tiny bit philosophical in order to make some of these information make applicable sense to us, because this now needs to become a discussion on thinking, values, priorities, and truth. 

Sure, maybe I believe that TV is not good for my one year old, but I don't believe it's bad enough to make me want to change. It's easier to let them watch here and there, and in that way I am valuing my convenience more than the well-being of my child. I haven't looked at the studies in depth, and maybe it's more damaging than I realize, but during that phase of my life, I felt like the pros (me getting a little more peace and therefore being a nicer mom) would outweigh the cons (addiction to devices, lower attention span, etc.). I didn't believe it was bad enough, or worse than my other options, and sometimes that becomes legitimate enough for us.

We do this type of negotiating and weighing the costs over and over, every day, often without much thought. We believe eating a salad for lunch is not worth the effort of preparing the salad. We believe the walk during lunch is not worth the time and effort and discomfort it might create. I know I tend to believe that the work of waking up early, putting on workout clothes, getting sweaty, showering, and then finally getting ready for the day are not generally worth the benefit of a solid, early-morning workout. We think in our minds that these things are true, but we don't take the risk to step ON them and let them carry us to the destination they proclaim.

This might be where you are hoping I have a grand solution, or at least a method that has been working for me. This is also where you might be slightly disappointed. 

I'm sorry this post doesn't have a lot of answers, but hopefully it has enough food for thought to get you going. What do you believe in your head to be true but not believe with your actions? What do you think would be good for your life but not really believe deep down that it is worth the effort? What can you do to flip that switch? And more importantly, do you genuinely want to?

A couple years ago I wrote a post for The Joyful Life about reading Christian biographies. I value looking at the lives of other Christians so highly because it helps give me a more biblically accurate view of my own life. I see their dedication, struggles, triumphs, and habits and it all helps me better see what it means to actively follow Christ. I think the same type of principle applies for getting our hearts to take the knowledge we obtain and turn it into action. If we can see how our knowledge plays out in real life, it increases our faith in the value of that particular action. It increases our willingness to give up our comfort, energy, time, and effort for the reward on the other side of that knowledge. 

So now, I'm turning over this idea to you. As this idea continues to roll around in my head, I may come back and offer a few more insights, but for now, you need to let it roll around in your head too. What else can we do to turn our knowledge into belief? The Sunday school answers are pray, read your bible, ask God to help you, etc., and I really do believe those to be true. Maybe you'll find that the more you think about the things you know the be true, you just start to believe them. Maybe as you pursue them you'll find that God miraculously helps you to desire the rewards knowledge in action will lead you to. Who knows what all that knowledge will become! But I don't think I can ever go back to thinking that knowledge by itself will bring me anything worthwhile. Knowledge is only power if you use it as a key and actually walk through the door it opens.

What keys are you holding onto? What knowledge have you been waiting to use? And what are you going to do now?

Monday, February 1, 2021

Hello February!

 Well hello everyone. Can you believe that it is February already?! As you can imagine, January was a wild month for us. It challenged us to remember that God knows our futures and it reminded us that His plan is always good for us (even when it doesn't feel so good). 

Getting to the airport with our 9 checked bags, 5 carry-ons, 5 personal items, and our cat was quite an event! Thankfully, I am fairly gifted in figuring out that sort of thing, so while it took a bit of time, it was nothing unexpected or crazy. We got to our gate for the short flight to Seattle, armed with pastries and coffee, with a solid 20 minutes to spare. Surprisingly, it felt very normal to be leaving. During the weeks before, I wondered what it would be like to go, knowing that we weren't just hopping back sometime soon, but God must have just given us grace for all of that. The kids were a little sad, but not crying or acting out, so I know His grace extended to them as well. 

The second flight was SO turbulent. Not in spirit thankfully, just physically! Cole was probably the most disturbed by it, but it was a good time to just reiterate that God knows our futures and that we can trust Him. I guess everyone flying over the Rockies that day had quite a time with the turbulence. 

Picking up all our bags took a bit of time. Bucky must have meowed almost the entire time because when we picked him up, he didn't make a peep but seemed plenty awake. Poor thing! His voice was so gone that we only heard him make sounds a few times over the next couple days. His nose was a bit scratched up, but otherwise he seemed okay. He was eager to be pet and drank water right away too. But man, dealing with picking up the rental cars took FOREVER. Then, once we got to the apartment, we ran into more bumps. 

Getting into the secure building took some work - figuring out the keypad was interesting, as buttons didn't work quite right, and there was more than one J Armstrong on the list (called the other one the first time - oops)! Then, our apartment which was supposed to be unlocked for us, was locked. After hours. After a LONG day. With 3 hungry kids, one disturbed cat, and two hungry parents toting a ridiculous amount of luggage. Eventually, I was able to leave a message with the after hours emergency line and the maintenance man came within 30 min of our discovery! Phew!

Mark and two kids went to get food while Cole and I unwrapped the mattresses that had been delivered for us. We even unwrapped one of the sofas that was also delivered (early, thankfully). We made a late run to Target for two cart-loads of necessities and everyone got a decent night's sleep. 

What a day! I'm so proud of how the kids handled it all. We had been prepping them a lot over the previous couple months about moving and I'm really thankful for that. Just being able to know ahead that they would feel tired of waiting, tired of shopping, tired of being in limbo seemed to help them cope better and us parent better. The next week was full of errands and car-shopping, which we were all so OVER after just the first day, but we powered through, got our cars, got the rentals returned, and have managed to do more than survive our first couple weeks. 

It's hard to say how exactly I have seen God in all this. A lot of it has just been really practical. No major surprises, but lots of needing to get stuff done. We have what we need, and always a little more. We are all learning to deal with not having all the things we want, and that has been healthy for sure. We are making time to explore and are meeting new people. We LOVE getting to actually eat at restaurants - that first week we had to eat out SO much! But, even with only going out a couple times a week, we are thankful there are some options and that people are pleasant about it. 

You might be wondering about masks... and yes, people DO actually wear them here. Not much outside, but I am good with that. All the kids are making friends, and it has been wonderful to actually be with our new CC community each week. We are all learning, growing, and feeling like we are getting to live a semi-normal life, and I am definitely grateful for all of that. 

I won't comment much on Mark's work - it's so much to take in when you start a new job! But he is being stretched for sure, in all the best ways though. He was brain-dead and exhausted that first week, maybe a little less so on his second. He's on his third week now and eager to learn more. This weekend, I think we'll spend a little more time exploring as a family. There's so much to see nearby, I think it'll keep us busy for a long while. 

Thanks for checking in with me, and sorry that these updates will probably not be as thorough or frequent as you might be expecting. I always hope they will be, but, LIFE! Things get crazy fast ;) I am thankful for all our love and prayers, and we are thankful for this opportunity to do something new and different. Who knows what else God has lined up here in TN!

Enjoy a few pics from our adventures...

Everything out here is SO open! 

First night, getting things somewhat arranged so we could sleep and have at least ONE place to sit.

Hike at Preservation Park. Such a lovely day!

Our future house! We got to go inside once, but they are quickly adding things like cabinets, trim, doors, and more :) It's close enough for us to walk to, so every few days we go look from the outside.

Jovi is eager to use her roller-blades, and Bucky is becoming more and more relaxed here.

We've gotten snow on several days, but never enough to make a full-sized snowman.

Figuring out homeschooling in our small space, with no kitchen table (yet).

Only a few tears on Jovi's first day at CC. She participated well and made 9 friends!

I think the trip was SO traumatic for Bucky, he decided to allow us to sit next to him in return for rescuing him ;)

I'm thankful that while Asher had a little catch-up to do with his schoolwork, his science fair project is really coming together!

Hope to sit a give some other updates soon! But, no promises, it might be another few weeks :) Blessings to y'all ;)

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Grand Adventures

Well hello again! Today's blog post is brought to you by some major family updates, super exciting stuff like we have never done before, stuff we have always wanted to do and talked about maybe doing, but this time, God has lined it all up!

As you might know, we sold our house this past summer and came to live with Mark's mom & dad for a time. With all the Covid restrictions and life-events that were cancelled or put on hold, we figured it was the prefect time to sell, spend time with them, and take advantage of Mark's working from home. It’s been beneficial for all of us, but we can’t stay forever. 

After spending SO many hours looking for houses here in Oregon, we decided to branch out a bit and explore moving somewhere we had both talked about before, a place that seemed to have events and people and an energy we wanted to be a part of. So, in September Mark began a long interview process with Ramsey Solutions in Franklin, TN. A few weeks ago we both got travel there for Mark to have his final interview, to check out the area, and for me to get any of my questions answered as well. 

The day after we got back home they offered him the job! He will be their new Director of Product Engineering. We had been waiting to make this announcement public until Mark gave his notice this past week, but now it’s officially out in the open. In fact, it’s so official, we just signed on a home that will finish being built in early March! We are still figuring out housing between when we fly out in January and that date, but we have some plans in the works.

It was an interesting trip. Traveling during Covid is weird and nice - the airports were sparse and no strangers sitting next to us! The weather was dreary one day, and snowed the next. My gut was pretty unhappy as I discovered I am probably allergic to ibuprofen the day before we left. Still, despite all that, we got to attend the church we had been tuning into on YouTube (Refuge Franklin) and the pastor and his wife there (and numerous others they have connected us with) have already been super helpful. We drove through neighborhoods, looked at the houses we could, ate at some amazing restaurants (I know, so taboo), and tried to make the most of the short daylight hours.

We don’t know how to navigate getting to see people before we leave, and since I am so great at good-byes (read my sarcasm there), it feels easier just to drop off the side of the earth and pretend it's not a problem. Of course we really would like to see people and say something, but I just don't know how to navigate that with holidays and Covid.

With all of these unknowns, we would love your prayers as we try to get all packed, live for at least 10 days out of suitcases here, then who knows what exactly after that. We are also trying to figure out taking the cat, which probably means getting mom & dad Armstrong to bring him to Delta and ship him cargo after we get at least a little settled in our first temporary place (wow, it's a good thing I am good at planning these types of things out). We would consider leaving the cat with Mark''s parents if they could stand him, or giving him to a good home, but the kids are 100% against it, and I don't know who would want a cat with such an attitude, who cries at you to come pet him while he eats, and doesn't like to cuddle... answer, only us! Ha!

Anyway, we are excited for this new and big adventure, and we know that God has been preparing us for this. Of course, we’ll be posting pictures and sharing how it goes along the way. Follow me on IG @joellen.armstrong or just tag along here on the blog. I will try to keep everyone up-to-date. It's been weird for me to be so quiet, but since I couldn't share much, I just didn't know what exactly to share. It feels SO good to have it out in the open!

I am excited to see what God will do with our family there. I honestly have no clue how our life may or may not change! I'm planning on still homeschooling and am getting connected with people there, but who knows what exactly is ahead. All I know is, God is totally worthy of my trust and I look forward to walking in His best laid plans.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Waiting for It.

 Funny thing, I've been meaning to write a post about waiting, not realizing that this week would include a lot of waiting for the ENTIRE country. Waiting for counting ballots, waiting to know what the future might hold, waiting for the reaction of the general public: we are all doing a lot of waiting over events that are fairly pivotal. At least, many people think they are.

I don't want to disparage anyone who sees this presidential election as one of the most pivotal in history; it might very well be! I'm sure that whoever is elected will make a difference in our country, for better AND worse to some extent, depending on what you see as the important or what you desire for our nation. But this is not at all what I set out to write about. 

As many of you know, with how much of our daily life was disrupted by how Oregon is handling the Covid-19 pandemic, we decided to sell our home this summer. Mark was working from home full-time, all the kids' sports and activities either got cancelled or went virtual, and the housing market was great for selling. Mark's parents also were living in a home with 2 kitchens, and basically two of everything you need for two families to live together. We had lived in this home before when the boys were tiny, so we had a pretty good idea about what it would look like to move back out to McMinnville and live with them again. 

The road to selling our home was pretty uneventful. It sold above asking very quickly, with only a couple minor hiccups along the way. There was some waiting in the midst, but it all had a clear deadline, and ending point with a certain, particular reward. At first, we thought maybe we would just buy again soon after, so we were stalking Redfin and Zillow almost every hour, hoping, wishing, and dreaming. 

If you live in Oregon, you know that right now is also not the best time to buy a home. We are at an all-time low for what percentage of homes are on the market, which made the pricing great for selling our home, but not so much for buying. And being that we are fairly picky home-buyers, that has also limited our choices. So, we continue to wait, and wonder, and sometimes, when I feel really brave, I dare to dream.

But how does a person wait well when they don't know what they are waiting for? 

I dare say, it's near impossible. I've struggled to figure out what to turn my mind to, what to turn my energy to. We're living with someone who is immune-compormised, so we have been more isolated than most, and when you share a smaller living-space with three home-schooled children, that isolation can start to wear on everyone pretty quickly. We are people and we are wired for motion and movement and the company of other people, so naturally we are waiting for the opportunity to have those things to a fuller, richer, more varied degree than we do now. That wait seems like it might be farther away than most of us expected.

In all of this waiting for an unknown deadline, I have had to turn to something more definite. It's pretty funny really, because so many events lately have shown us just how little in this world is definite. Jobs, homes, safety, security: we tend to think of these as things we can obtain and hold on to, but they are as fleeting as the smoke from a match. In the current state of our world, there is almost nothing I can turn to and hope in. An end to the Covid shut-down is so far away. An end to the crazy housing market is completely unknown, or may come at the expense of a market collapse or a huge percentage of people losing their homes. There just isn't much else to hope in except for that glorious kingdom I will inherit after my death.

Maybe that sounds a bit morbid, and I want to clarify that I am not in despair or giving up on life in general. It's just that I have had to put that end-goal as my highest, most prized goal in order NOT to despair over the wide variety of things limiting all of the other pursuits I might normally look forward to. If I was hoping in the housing market, or job-security, or the success of my kids, or my own ability to be the "best mom ever," or any number of things that I am not able to ensure 100%, then my hope would be constantly thwarted. Instead, I have to hope in something so permanent and so wonderful that the circumstances of this life won't be able to crush it. 

See Hebrews 11:13-16, speaking of our forefathers of the faith:

"These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised. But they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have an opportunity to return. But they now desire a better place - a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them." 

The last few months have been proof that hoping in earthly circumstances and outcomes doesn't work. My hope has to lie beyond what I can attain here on earth. So many lives have been incredibly altered with this global pandemic, however severe or not severe it really is. We have all felt the impact to some degree and will likely continue to feel it for some time. We will all feel the impact of this election, we will all struggle with our children's choices and the circumstances that brings upon them, and we will always struggle with our own inability or failure to be the person we wish we could be. We don't have it in ourselves to bring about the life we wish we were living. 

Maybe Covid has made you see that more clearly for the first time, and maybe it has tempted you to despair. It has certainly brought me to that brink over and over again. However, in all the waiting, I am reminded about what it is I am really waiting for. It's not for the perfect home, the perfect job, the perfect endeavor, or the perfect children. It's not healthy for me to hope endlessly that all of these things will mostly turn out okay. If my hope is on these things, it will eventually fail. And the only safety net is the one promise that will never fail. The promise Jesus gave us when He conquered death. The promise that with Him, God will give us all things, things that no human, moth, or rust can destroy.

If you don't have that kind of hope in life after death, in a city that God is building that is completely untouched by sorrow, suffering, and disappointment, I urge you to consider Christ. It's the only promise in the world that no pandemic, election, or person can alter. It's the only thing that can possibly make all our waiting worth it.