Aunt Wilma had her wedding reception in the church basement, so please explain the current state of weddings to me.

We attended a lovely anniversary party this weekend. Eric’s uncle and aunt have been married for fifty years so their sons and daughters-in-law threw them a bash to celebrate. One of the granddaughters had lovingly pieced together over four hundred old family photos to make a scrolling slide show, which I happily plopped down to watch when my small talk skills grew lame.

I was enjoying the retro photos (bouffants! poofy dresses!) when all of a sudden I noticed a few odd things in the reception pictures. Things like heating ducts and a concrete wall. I turned to my father-in-law. “Did they have the reception in the church basement?” I asked in a tone that was meant to sound curious but probably came out astonished.

They did. They did indeed. Heating ducts and tiny windows and concrete walls and all. They somehow managed to greet guests, nibble cake, and open gifts below ground level. And from those humble beginnings they moved forward to build a life together. They had good careers, invested in their community, raised their sons, and traveled the world.

What the heck has happened to wedding standards, good people of the world? Cake and punch in a church basement just isn’t done any more. It was good enough for our parents’ generation, but not for us.

I ventured this thought to my father-in-law, and he (ever the teller of truth) shrugged and said, “Eh. It could have been nicer.” I laughed out loud, because he was probably right. There’s probably a happy medium between the basement and needing to rent a lesser French estate and flying 200 people across the Atlantic, which is probably what our daughter will want when she gets married.

I did some in-depth research, and by in-depth I mean that I quizzed our moms. Eric’s parents were married in their church and then had the reception right there, but not in the basement. They also served only cake and punch. Cheryl reports that by the time she got married (in 1973) that tradition was falling out of favor and more couples were having larger meals at their receptions.

Later that same year my parents were married in a Catholic church, had the reception at a little hall, then moved the party to my grandmother’s home where she and the Polish Aunties had prepared a traditional Polish feast. Also, my father’s Ford Pinto was loaded to the gills with booze he’d brought from across the state. The merry making was quite, quite merry, I’ve been told.

tumblr_ngdv78zwo91tb32yzo1_1280

Yes, exactly. That looks exactly like my parents in 73. Picture it loaded with booze and you have the idea. (Photo courtesy of long70s.tumblr.com)

Contrast that with this week, when my sister’s getting married. She and her fiancé quickly determined that wedding costs are out of control, especially if you want to have something nice for guests. Who knows if it’s even legal to drive a Pinto loaded with hooch across county lines any more, what with their tendency to explode at any moment (plus I think most of the Pintos have actually exploded and it’s hard to find them anymore), but I do know the places Beth wanted to have the wedding wouldn’t have allowed such a thing.

Grown up guests expect a nice meal and a nice bar, and those things do not come cheaply. If Beth walks down the aisle and guests are directed to the basement where streamers hang from the heating ducts, eyebrows would lift.

Because Gary and Wilma were in full party mode this weekend, greeting their guests and politely feeding each other bites of cake, I didn’t have a chance to ask them about their wedding. But I can venture this guess– the wedding was exactly what they could afford. They didn’t borrow money for it like so many couples do today. Cake and punch in the church basement was what they and their families could afford, so they joyfully celebrated with what they had.

I think that celebration might be pretty much perfect.

Could we follow their lead? Is it possible for us to change the tone of modern expectations?

The wedding is just one day, the beginning of a life together. Could we as couples, but also as family and guests, help lower the standards to a more reasonable tone? A lot of the current standards are just plain dumb (Pinterest, I’m blaming you), but so many of the brides and grooms don’t want to disappoint their guests.

Maybe it’s time to give them more reasonable options. Maybe it’s time to tell them the church on the corner has a lovely basement and the concrete is quite cool in the summer. Maybe it’s time to suggest a potluck dinner or take out from the Lebanese place across from the gas station.

I just want to celebrate with them, knowing the fun isn’t going to put them or their parents in debt for ten years.

Thoughts? I’d love to hear them.

 

Finding contentment in renting

On Sunday we helped a young family from our small group move into their new townhouse. While we moved boxes from their old apartment to their new, larger home, I thought deep thoughts.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. I thought a lot about ice cream because the day was hot and I was really sweaty. But I did think a few deep things before the sweat shorted out my brain cells.

I stood in their apartment-sized kitchen and looked around with fresh eyes. I’ve spent the last few years thinking about simple living and minimalism, so I pretended we were moving into that very apartment. It was a very exciting mental exercise, and I think I could have found a spot for almost everything we need in the kitchen. Easy? No. Possible? Yes.

Considering that I spent the first years of my marriage desperate for a real house with a real kitchen, this means I’m either mentally unstable or I’m actually learning something from all the simple living blogs I read.

While we can’t discount my probable mental instability, we can at least agree that it’s fun to look back at life and think about all the things we could have done differently. I wonder what would have happened if we’d chosen to move into a larger rental like our friends just did. They considered buying a house, but realized it’s not a good time for their family to be making long-term housing solutions. So they found an affordable option with a yard and a washer and dryer, and decided to be content with renting for the near future.

I’m proud of them. When we were their age I thought we had no other option but to buy a home. I think we could have saved ourselves a lot of hassle over the years if I’d been content to rent a while longer.

But try telling that to a hysterical mother of a five-month-old who has to drag her laundry to the laundromat every week. Between the laundry and hauling the groceries up the stairs, I wanted a house and I wanted it RIGHT THEN. So we bought one. And we catapulted ourselves into taxes and repairs and the world’s ugliest bathroom, coupled with the world’s dumbest floorplan. Also, the house had the world’s most dangerous stairs.

Renting a while longer probably wouldn’t have been that terrible, is all I’m saying. We certainly could have solved the laundry problem without catapulting us into an ugly bathroom problem. I wish I would have at least looked at other options and calmed my nutty self down.

I’m sure there would have been other problems if we’d rented longer, because no choice in life is ever perfect. We would have been throwing money down the tubes in rent, but guess what– after we bought our house the market plummeted, so we just threw our money down a mortgage tube, instead. So even that huge point has been wiped out by the cold, hard truth of our experience.

I’ve learned a lot of things through the cold, hard reality. And that’s why it’s so fun to watch our young friends make their own decisions. I encourage them with this thought– it’s all sort of a giant crapshoot, really. You’re always benefiting somehow, and losing out somehow. Everyone gets to decide what benefits and sacrifices mean the most to them, and go from there. The best decisions can be wiped out in an instant from circumstances beyond your control.

So if you’re living in a tiny apartment, be thankful for the good parts. If you’re living in your starter house, be thankful for that. And if you’re almost forty and have already made a lot of your big life choices, watch your younger friends and offer a few words of encouragement when you can. That time of life is so hard, and every choice feels so important, and they need an old person to tell them it’s all going to be okay.

Because it is,  you know. It’s all going to be okay.

Why I’ve let go of my dreams for a tiny house

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you’ll be acquainted with my love of tiny houses. I can’t explain it, I understand it’s totally unreasonable, and yet I love them anyway.

But sometime this last winter I finally let go of that dream because:

  1. Eric and the kids thought I was insane.
  2. The reality of a composting toilet for four people finally sank in.
  3. A private bedroom is good for married couples, and sharing a tiny house with teenagers makes that nearly impossible.

I finally acknowledged the tiny house wasn’t going to work, but then I just moved my sights slightly higher– three small bedrooms and a real bathroom. I just needed to find one close enough to the kids’ school.

My friends rightly pointed out that we’d moved out of a 900 square foot house a few years ago. I was going crazy in that place– what on earth would make me want to go back to another cramped house?

I understand my desire to downsize makes no sense. We truly did move out of a small house three years ago, and I couldn’t wait to escape that place. The day we moved out was an endless Happy Dance.

I couldn’t quite explain it, even to myself. I busied myself with some projects in our new home, and that squelched the desire for a time. But then, burning somewhere deep (possibly next to my spleen) was the constant and burning desire to downsize. I wanted less house and more available money. I wanted to be able to give wildly and generously, and to travel far and wide.

This is the closest explanation I can find– you know how some couples decide they’re done having children after their second baby? They give away the baby clothes, sell the crib, and get some surgical intervention. And then, beyond all reason, five years later they find themselves ready for a new baby. They get the vasectomy reversed or start filling out adoption paperwork.

It’s a desire deep inside that drives them, with no logic involved. They remember the sleepless nights and how difficult two year olds are! They haven’t lost their minds, but something deeper compels them.

And that’s how it was with me and downsizing. I hear the stories of people in Haiti and India. I realize many people are living in huts with metal roofs while monsoons rage in 100 degree heat. How can I continue living with two bathrooms and central air? Am I supposed to go on landscaping my yard in this planned community while a missionary school in India can barely afford to pay their teachers?

I finally asked Eric and the kids to pray about it with me. They weren’t totally on board, so I could see how this was possibly a new version of the tiny house ordeal. I was quite sure that after some prayer at least Eric would come around, because of course God was on my side. This desire fit in with the biblical ideals of sharing with those in need, so God and I held the holy cards.

I even had real life stories to back it up. My friend Amelia Rhodes did the same thing last year– sold a comfortable family home because of a simple desire to downsize. (You can read their story here.) And I recently read Amber C. Haines’ book Wild in the Hollow, and her family downsized into an apartment (with four little boys!) so they could be closer to their church community.

I’m not the only crazy one, is all I’m saying.

After three weeks of praying, the answer hit me hard and clear one morning. No. The answer isn’t moving to a smaller house. The answer is to stay right here, even with central air and two bathrooms.

I don’t understand why, exactly. I think it probably has something to do with being the aroma of Christ right here in this very neighborhood, where the children zip circles on their bikes and the families walk their children in strollers. It might have something to do with being involved in the schools, full of kids who need love and Christ. It could be that we’re called to be salt and light to this community, full of scrappy, independent (occasionally cranky) citizens.

I told Eric this a few days ago, and this was his response. “I feel like we prayed and felt led to be here. I don’t feel like that’s changed.” And the man is right. We didn’t land here without a lot of prayer.

It’s pretty clear that God plants his children all over the world. Some of us get the planned communities and central air and others of us get the monsoons and the huts. I don’t understand why. I don’t know why God doesn’t concentrate us, like an army, in the areas that need the most help. But he doesn’t ask me to have all the answers; I only need to be faithful in my own place and calling. I need to give as generously as we’re able right here, even with the larger mortgage and tax bill.

We can still be faithful right here. Although I have started negotiations for a tiny house in the backyard, because wouldn’t that be adorable?! It could be the Poopsie Hut! The Mom Cave! I could paint the walls sky blue and hide from children and writing deadlines.

I wouldn’t even need a composting toilet. Perfect.

 

 

God is going to do whatever he wants, and I’m prepared to work with that.

I feel like God’s preparing me to one day write a book titled God Is Going To Do Whatever He Wants, and I Am Prepared to Work With That.

Catchy, no?

It would totally fit with my tradition of book titles that are impossible to type quickly.

(This is why I have editors. They reel me in before I get too weird.) ((But blogs don’t have editors so I can write whatever I want.))


ANYWAY. WE HAVE BIG NEWS, so let’s get to it. I’ve been offered a new contract to write another book! Kregel Publications has accepted my proposed book for stressed out Christian women. If you’re a subscriber to my email list, you already know all this. (This is one of the perks of being on the email list– you get the exciting news first! Click here if you’d like to join.)

But back to my title at the beginning of this post– truly, God is going to do whatever he wants. And I have decided that I’m prepared to work with whatever he brings my way. I did not expect this book proposal to have life after this long wait. I had laid it to rest and tried to figure out what to do with the rest of my life.

Meanwhile, God was waiting for… I don’t know what. I have no idea. I know it’s been a long and gritty season of quiet, but that’s only what I can see from here. I have no idea what has been going on above and beyond this earthly spot.

I do know this. I had given up on writing as I knew it, but I hadn’t given up on God. I knew he may have changed directions or stilled my work, but I that didn’t mean he had abandoned me. After I cried a little (okay, a lot) about failing him, I waited for whatever new thing he had planned.

And you know what? It turns out he planned a new version of the old thing. The writing wasn’t dead at all, it was just taking its time.

And you, my friend who may be waiting for your own new thing– I’m praying for you today. I’m praying for the job news, or the baby news, or the letter from the school of your choice. Of course I’m praying that you’re on exactly the right track and ready to move with God, but I’m also praying that his plan will bring you peace, even if the outcome isn’t one you would prefer.

I started Plug My Ears with this passage from Isaiah 55:8-9, and I think it fits today beautifully:

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”

Amen, amen, amen.

A Prayer for the Stress

Dear Father.

I don’t even know where to begin. It’s all attacking me, dear Lord.

Hear me as I pray, O Lord.
Be merciful and answer me!
My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” (Psalm 26:7-8, NLT)

So here I am, to talk with you. But first I need to gather my wits and my thoughts. Are you sure you even want me like this? Maybe I should get my life together first and then come find you.

I’m sure you’d like me better if I wasn’t such a dramatic mess at the moment. If my laundry was folded and my career was on track and my kids knew how to write a proper thank you note. Maybe then I’d be more presentable.

But then I read,

Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act. (Psalm 37:7)

And I remember that maybe it’s not about me getting my stuff together first. Maybe it’s about being still.

Maybe it’s about your presence.

Maybe it’s absolutely about waiting patiently for you to act. Not me.

You’ve led your people for thousands of years– through deserts, across the sea, and around the world. Why do I forget and assume you can’t take care of my life?

Be my rock of safety, where I can always hide. (Psalm 71:3)
Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him. Remember the wonders he has performed, his miracles, and the rulings he has given. (Psalm 105:4-5)

I don’t know how to handle the current messes in my life, Lord. Not my parenting, my marriage, my finances, nor my career– nothing is truly under my control.

And that bothers me more than it should.

My lack of control bothers me like a thousand fire ants climbing up my pajamas while I try to sleep.

I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy.
Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath! (Psalm 116:1-2)

I know I’m a control freak, Father, and I know that causes about 97% of my stress. But please bend down to listen to me anyway.

Help me remember that the stress only lessens when my mind is in the right place. When my attitude is completely focused on trusting you and being thankful for your presence, I can breathe again.

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal Rock. (Isaiah 26:3-4)

Remind me of those who have gone before, who accomplished great things because they were focused on one thing–your glory. May you glorify yourself through my life.

Lord, you will grant us peace; all we have accomplished is really from you. (Isaiah 26:12)

May you give me a proper perspective about all this stuff swirling around in my head. None of it is permanent. You are permanent. You are eternal.

And I am forever grateful for you,

Amen

 

 

 

The audacity of a 1973 Thunderbird

Yesterday I was waiting at a stop sign when a huge, enormous, gigantic classic car roared past me up the hill. It was shiny and sassy and loud. Audaciously so.

Original photo courtesy of boldride.com. (because I didn’t have the presence of mind to whip out my phone and take a photo of our original example.) ((plus he was going really fast.))

My van regularly registers 4 miles per gallon on that same hill, so I can only imagine what that 1970s beast was getting– .0005 miles per gallon, perhaps? A number so low that oil sheiks are getting heart palpitations from the joy of it?

From the grin on the driver’s face, he didn’t care. He was wildly in love with his sassy, huge car. The vanity plate on the back read MITEALNG, which I take to mean Mighty Long, and I hope to heavens that’s a reference to the car itself or we’ve just stepped into very uncomfortable territory on this blog post.

Ahem. Let us continue. Back to the vehicle, shall we?

I’ve been married to a gearhead for enough years to recognize a classic car from the 70s when I see one, but I couldn’t pinpoint the model. So when Eric got home I said, “What’s the biggest car from the 70s you can think of?”

He calculated for a nanosecond and said, “Ford Thunderbird.” I Googled Thunderbird and KABOOM. I think it’s exactly the car. Long enough to barely fit into our living room, wide enough to need two parking spaces (if I’m the person doing the parking).

I’ve been reading Brazen by Leanna Tankersley, where she encourages readers to brazenly be who God has made them to be. To take the time to connect with their God-given, God-honoring desires and to then boldly be those individuals.

Audaciously so. Like a 1973 Thunderbird.

Some of us are trying our best to be sleek little compact cars with efficient, tidy engines when really we were designed to be giant, sassy broads (or gents). We’ve traded our big personalities in for quietness, meekness, and a slow, gentle march to our deaths. We’ve traded our gifts and joys for responsibility and social acceptability.

I’ve recently gotten to know the sweetest woman. She’s in her sixties and really one of the most gentle, kind creatures to grace earth. I love her. She stands as tall as my 5th grader and weighs about 82 pounds. A stiff wind could snatch her away before anyone could catch her. She apologizes for interrupting, never gives unsolicited advice, and serves with a smile. She’s wonderful.

Except sometimes I want to bring her in, sit her down, and feed her about six or twenty cupcakes. I want to say to her, “Go ahead. Speak your mind. Yell a little, if you need to. Because you deserve a place on earth, too. You get to take up room here like everyone else.”

And maybe even in those circumstances she’d be exactly the same person. Maybe her audacious personality takes the form of a tiny woman who listens and serves with joy. That’s great too.

The older I get, the more I’m convinced that being exactly who we’re designed to be is what brings God glory. When we go out into the world to be car lovers or cat lovers or quiet book readers, and bring the love of Christ along with us, then we’re going to be able to reach the world. We have enough people trying to be something admirable, but not being themselves. I don’t think that helps anyone, frankly.

I think the world is looking for real people who serve a real God. Imperfectly, but audaciously.

So, you. You out there on the interweb– go and be audaciously you today. Whether that means you’re as huge and loud as a Thunderbird or quiet and zippy as a Fiat 500, go do it.

Amen.

Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand, that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. (I Corinthians 12:14-18, NLT)

 

Of grace, and minivans, and marriage

We had a bone of contention in our marriage for about a decade.

I wanted a minivan and I wanted one with all my heart and soul and mind.

My husband felt like a minivan would be the stamp of death upon his heart and soul and mind.

And so it went for years and years.

Two years ago I started a new job and said, “I’m getting a van, good sir.” My good sir saw the fire in my eyes and the actual money from my paycheck and finally gave in. Also, it helped that our car at the time was a pitiful wreck, full of melted crayons and smashed goldfish crackers and a transmission that was about to die.

We found the perfect van for our family and budget and I gloried in it for two years. I put the seats down and hauled home furniture. I put the seats up and hauled around people. We took it on vacation and stuffed it full of all manner of junk.

grace minivan marriage

But after some time, I had more trouble than I cared to admit. I was afraid to back it out of the garage because the dang van is a bit too wide and I knew I was running the real risk of ripping off a mirror. One day, while carefully monitoring the mirror, I got too close to the lawn mower and ran that over instead.

It’s almost fine. Barely crushed at all.

We will not discuss how I now park waaaaay far out in the store parking lots, simply because I’m not skilled enough to fit it into narrow spaces next to other cars.

And lately I find myself alone in a huge, room sized vehicle. The kids are in school and are far too old for car seats and strollers and all the other things that make minivans delightful. I mean, I guess I could have a few more kids and then fill the minivan back up, but I don’t think that’s the real solution I’m looking for, here.

And so, I looked my husband in the eye and said, “It’s time to sell this thing.”

To his everlasting credit, he didn’t laugh at me. He didn’t smirk, or giggle, or even say I told you so.

He did, however, immediately pull up the car listings on the internet and start looking for a new vehicle.

This whole example feels a little silly, but it’s a beautiful thing to offer grace to a spouse. To give in and let her have the thing she’s wanted for a long time, no matter how much you hate it.

To humbly admit to him that the thing you wanted for so long isn’t as glorious as you thought it would be.

To not mock her when she says she’s actually like to drive the ancient Corolla instead of the roomy van.

To not say a single word about the wobbly wheel on the crushed lawnmower, even.

Grace, minivans, marriage.

Amen.