Saturday, August 29, 2015

burned out...

If ever there were a metaphor for what life feels like right now, this burnt, ashy tub of Easy Mac in my microwave might just be it!...

It was minutes before the "welcome back" party for our college students last night.  The house was unusually clean.  We were heating up a few leftovers for a quick dinner, and for an easy, crowd-pleasing supplement to the kids' meals, I pulled out a tub of mac n cheese.

"Caroline, I need you to make this while I run upstairs for a few minutes," I said, not thinking twice about my request.  She'd made it at school a million times before.  I heard the microwave begin, and soonafter I heard the front door slam as she and Jameson rushed outside to greet our neighbors, leaving the microwave unattended.

A few minutes later, as Marc and I started downstairs, we immediately smelled smoke.  Suprisingly, no alarms had been triggered. (we'll be fixing that...) "Something's on fire!" I yelled, as we both ran through the billows of smoke throughout our downstairs trying to find the source.  It wasn't until we opened up the microwave to see that pile of clumped-together, charred Easy Mac noodles that everything made sense.  Caroline had forgot to put water in the container before she nuked it for three minutes.

Thankfully, our house didn't go up in flames.

But, nevertheless, what would this mean for our party (a cereal mixer, we were calling it) for all of the college students IN JUST A FEW MINUTES?!?!!!

We threw open all the doors and windows to let the smoke out.  (Ooooh, my type A personality was anything but calm in the moment if you can imagine.)  The smoke began getting to us, though, and it was obvious we couldn't stay inside any longer.  What were we going to do?...


Meet Taylor.  He's from Memphis, and he'll be our new RUF intern for the next two years!  Over the summer, he's worked hard to raise the financial support needed to move here and begin ministering to our college students.  Two weeks ago, he pulled into to Lynchburg and it was a great joy to help him move in and get the new school year started off RIGHT.

 The next morning at church, I started getting texts from my mom during church.

My dad had been recovering from a knee replacement surgery all week, and suddenly, things were taking a drastic turn for the worse.

They're taking Dad to the ER.  He's having trouble breathing.

It looks like Dad's [transplanted] lung has pneumonia, and it's serious.  He's going to ICU.

They're going to have to sedate him and put him on the ventilator (aka life support) because it's getting worse and he's unable to breathe on his own.

My mom was scared.  I was, too.

I hopped on the first plane I could.  
My sister flew out the next day from Chicago.

There's no way to describe seeing your father on life support with a hundred different tubes and lines running to and fro.  

I saw him this way in ICU once before, after his lung transplant two years ago.  That recovery was NO fun, but this time was worse.  And scarier.  He was so lifeless.  And though his body was right before me, he seemed so far away.

(I'll be honest, y'all.  This is very painful to type right now.  I don't want to relive the terrible days I've just experienced.)  

Making our beds in the ICU waiting room
My mom and I camped out in the waiting room of the ICU along with several other families my first night there.  I'll just say it was anything but restful.  

The days slowly passed.  We waited for any piece of new news or information the doctors could give us.  Would he make it?  Would he be okay? 

X-rays were looking worse each day.  Now they were finding blood in the lung.  The doctors weren't reassuring us in the least.  

Though it was a struggle, I decided I wasn't going to put my hope in the "numbers" or even in the doctors.  I knew who ultimately holds my Dad's life in His hands, no matter how things may appear to seem.

And to think, all this started with a routine KNEE surgery, and here we were on life support in the ICU.   Just like the burnt mac'n'cheese in my microwave, this plan was taking a drastic turn from what it was supposed to be.   

Pastor J from our former home church in Dallas 
Can I just say, though, that in the midst of our great sorrow, God provided so much comfort.  

In the midst of what appeared to be endless WAITING, God gave us evidence that He was, indeed, hard at WORK.

Our former church in Dallas sent pastors and elders to visit and pray with us.

We were given opportunity after opportunity to discuss God's faithfulness with several other families in the ICU, and some of them boldly spoke Christ's love and goodness to ME when I needed to hear it.

Hundreds of friends and loved ones across the country were praying for my dad, and for us, and I cannot tell them all "thank you" enough.

A dear, old friend came and brought me some of my favorites.

And you know, there was even something wildly comforting about the Elvis impersonator in the hospital's lobby, too.
Even as he slept on life support, my sister and I read scripture to my dad.  
We held his hand and told him Jesus was holding him.
I'd break down in tears every time I left his side. 
Day after day we waited and watched.
And then one day, the doctor told us, "He's out of the woods."
And we oh-so-cautiously rejoiced.

Bringing my dad out of sedation was quite the challenge.
We all watched and prayed as the doctors made several attempts.
Finally.  FINALLY he was breathing steadily on his own and the tube came OUT.

We were by his side as he literally came to life again.
He was confused and anxious, and obviously had no idea he'd been sleeping for 5 days.
(even a week later, he is still trying to piece together what happened)

It felt like as soon as he was awake enough to say hello, I had to say goodbye.

He had JUST made it into a chair for the first time.  (with lots of help, of course)

It was one of the hardest goodbyes of my entire life.  

It wasn't time to go.  

He still had (and has) a long, long road ahead of him.  (Please continue to pray with me for his ongoing recovery as he's now been transferred to a rehabilitation hospital.)

But I had a hubby who was making grand attempts to keep the homefront alive and functioning.  (And I'll add that our new intern, Taylor, was a HUGE help to our family that week- I am so grateful!)  It was terribly hard for this mommy to miss Caroline's Meet-the-Teacher and her first two days of school.  I needed to get back to my family.

When I flew into DC, these two little faces were BEAMING to see me.  (they absolutely loved it that Daddy let them ride the Metro to pick me up at the airport, too!)
Though it was so sweet to be reunited, I was emotionally torn between two places. 

the staff of Lynchburg RUF, Marc and Taylor
 It probably didn't help that as soon as I landed and my feet hit the ground, I was thrown back into the world of campus ministry and kid's schedules.  

Students were literally spending the night at my house for an overnight ministry team retreat.  There wasn't any time to slow down and process all that had just happened.

 This week, RUF officially begun with our first large group meeting in the prayer chapel on Liberty's campus.  It went really well, with lots of new faces.  I'm really proud of how our student ministry team is really taking on the work of reaching out so far.

hanging out after large group
But it's been a tough start to the semester, for sure.  I'm already a little burned out.  (no pun intended)

I wasn't planning on having a dad in the ICU or a small house fire before our first event at our place, much less a hundred other little things that I haven't mentioned in this post.   

But after moving everything outside to our front yard, and showing the nasty burnt mac 'n' cheese to the students, the party actually ended up being better than it would've indoors anyway!  

Isn't that so often the case in life?  What seemed like such a terrible mistake at the time ended up yielding such good gifts.  What an unending process it is to trust God's crazy plans over own own.  

God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.
God chose what is low and despised in the world, 
even things that are not, 
to bring to nothing things that are, 
so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.  
-1 Corinthians 1:27-29

Monday, August 17, 2015

handling the yuck...

You would've thought my neighbor had hung the moon when he handed a shiny balloon to each of my children last night.

And then you would've thought someone had died when shortly after, Jameson lost his grip on the balloon string and saw it soar away into the night sky.

Uncontrollable screams and tears as he crumpled onto the ground with his hands covering his eyes.

To my two year old son, in that moment, that balloon was EVERYTHING.

It was his to enjoy.
And then suddenly it wasn't.

And his world fell apart.

We can all relate to that, can't we?  Not necessarily over a lost balloon, granted.  But when we lose something or someone so dear to us, we cry HARD.

I'm sure that many folks would attempt to console my child's cries over the lost balloon with something along the lines of, "Aww, Jameson, it's okay!  Don't worry about that.  Look at this!  I've got something ELSE you'll like!"  Some would even shush him.  "Don't you cry!  It's OKAY!" (which is funny, because their hearts KNOW it's not okay.)

But when you're two, a lost balloon is DEVASTATION.  And when you're two, you don't know how else to express that except through screams and tears.  I want to give my children the WORDS for their feelings.  If they, as young as they are, can begin to decipher the complexity of emotions that well up in their hearts, they will be so much better prepared to understand themselves as adults.

And when I'm devastated, I want people who can understand and mourn alongside me.  I want people who can enter my "yuck" and acknowledge how difficult it is.  I don't want to be shamed or silenced for feeling the way I do in that moment.   I don't want a Bible verse, or a similar story about someone else, or the greatest piece advice.

Above all, I want to be heard.  I need to feel like someone has truly grasped and empathized with the yuck before I can listen to anything else they say.  Maybe that's just me.

Picking Jameson off the ground and wiping the tears from his little face, I said, "Oh baby, I know that makes you sooo sad to lose that balloon.  It IS sad."  I held him close as he cried into my shoulder.

In our house, it's okay to cry.  It's okay to be sad.  I don't want to shut down my child's cries to their mama.  I don't want to scold them for expressing sadness.

Our heavenly Father gives us permission, and even the WORDS(!!) to expressing our lament and sadness in the Psalms.  Thankfully He doesn't just pat our bottom and tell us "shh, shh, it's okay, you guys."  

Soon after he felt understood, Jameson calmed down.  (Without the promise of another balloon or another toy in his hand to distract him this time, I'll add!  ha!)

But for the next half hour, he walked around as if shell-shocked, repeatedly saying, "My bawoon fwew aWAY and it's going up to the MOON!"  It was obvious he was trying SO hard to process what had just happened.

Isn't that often how our brains work after loss?  It's like the tape is on re-play, and we're trying to make sense of that which doesn't make sense.  We weren't created for loss.  It's a heart-breaking result of the Fall.  (It was at this point I made up a silly little story about how the balloon might go give the moon a little kiss... ha ha)

But towards the end of the night, he had worked himself up all over again (probably out of sheer tiredness).  "Are you upset about your balloon again?" I asked him gently.

"Yes," his pitiful little voice whimpered.

What if, in that moment, I had chosen the route of "hush your crying"?  Isn't that often what other people so often do to us when we cry out about pain from our past?  Like we should be OVER IT ALREADY.  (Which makes me wonder... do we give people permission to express the same hurts over and over?  Or do we subtly imply that things should be "fixed" after our first discussion?)

Holding Jameson's hand, I had to come down to a two-year-old level, "That was sad that your balloon flew away, and we were sad about it, but we don't have to always stay sad.  We can be sad for a time, and then we're not sad anymore."

I saw the wheels in his head turning.  His eyes sparkled in agreement, embracing his new "freedom" not to feel sad.

Moments later, I watched a beautiful exchange.

Caroline came up to her little brother and said, "Jameson, that made ME so sad to see you lose your balloon that I want to give you MY balloon."

And her seven-year old vanilla hand oh-so-gently placed the balloon string into his little chocolate one.

My friends!  This is what Christ does for us in our sorrow and our brokenness!  He, as a perfect substitute, sees our sadness and our need, and He comes and freely gives us HIS righteousness.  What a Savior.

Jameson's hands never let go of the new balloon.  It was like his life depended on it.  He wasn't going to let that happen again.

I want to cling to Christ like my son grasped that little string.

But there's an even tighter grip involved, and that is, of course, Christ's grip upon us.

He will hold me fast,
He will hold me fast,
For my Savior loves me so,
He will hold me fast.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

GO time...

It's August now, and that can mean one thing in our family's life... it feels like the clock has suddenly struck midnight and all the glorious enjoyment of SUMMER!! is now unraveling and transforming before our eyes.

It's this time of year that reminds me why my husband has summers "off."  We're entering the "sprint" of the Fall-- THE most crazy time of year in the life of campus ministry.  With freshmen arriving next week, there is promotional "swag" to order, welcome back parties to plan, incoming freshmen to contact and meet, websites to update, a ministry team retreat to plan and organize, small groups to coordinate, sermons to write, an intern to welcome to town and pour into, recruiting to figure out, and much, much more.

Marc is working NON-stop these days (along with every RUF campus minister across the nation) and it exhausts me to watch how hard he pushes himself this time of year.  After 15 years of serving in RUF, it's like clock-work.

This is GO-time.

In the next 6-8 weeks, the window is open as students (particularly freshmen) are creating patterns in their schedule and are open to developing friendships and finding groups in which they feel they belong.  The next 6-8 weeks are crucial in college life.  We want RUF (whether through our large group, various small groups, or even one-on-ones with our students or staff) to intersect the lives of as many students as possible, and while our relational ministry will be ongoing throughout the year, the recruiting part is felt most intensely in the next weeks.

I should also add that amidst the craziness is also alot of fun on campus, too!  There's just a level of excitement in the air that's not present any other time of year.  Relationships are new and interesting.  (before they become messy and difficult later in the year, haha!  That's when deeper ministry really takes off...)  There's lots of activity and lots of flurry.  You just can't beat it.

But to switch gears from summer to SCHOOL is always a rough one for me emotionally.  (after 15 years of doing this, I should know.) Suddenly our family often has only 3 nights a week(!) completely together.   My role becomes alot more complex and difficult as I now juggle it with children and part-time jobs as a worship director and local musician, and yet I long to do more.  (though how would be an appropriate question...)  Loneliness, even in the midst of the busyness, is more pronounced for me as I'm often pouring into others without the feeling of being poured into.

I'm trying to find contentment in the mundane day-to-day while my heart yearns to do something more flashy and extraordinary.

I'm trying to find more joy in opening my messy, dysfunctional home to students this year, and give them a more honest picture of real life than the life I dream of having.

I'm trying to leave summer and embrace GO-time.

Monday, August 10, 2015

seven year old guest blogger: hilton head

Hi! This is Caroline! Today I will be writing about
 my beach trip at...HILTON HEAD!
I am very excited to write to you all. I would like to
 tell you several things about Hilton Head.

This is us going up to our villa room.
Jameson and me pushed, shoved, and SCREAMED
to push the buttons because we love to push the buttons on the elavator.
And my next one... HENNA! There was a girl
named Edie and she did my henna. I had to get it redone
because it all fell off the day I got it!
Henna is like a blackish kind of tattoo. Henna 
doesn't stay on FOREVER like a real tattoo. It comes 
off in about 3 weeks.

I really like alopecia because you can get
henna done ON YOUR HEAD!  It kinda tickles
but mostly it's cool.
Me and Mom got to escape for a short time while Jameson
was napping. We took a few pictures (probably several) and I
was in most of them. We'd like to share one with you!

And this one is Jameson crying in the timeout 
circle. Me and Jameson were digging with a shovel and Daddy said is was my turn. Jameson said no, so Daddy gave him one more chance, Jameson said no.  We made a circle and said "Stay here!" So here he is, crying in the timeout circle. 

This picture of me and Jameson in
the "twisty tree" is special. It is special because we take a picture of me and Jameson every year in the tree so we can look at it and see how much we've grown.  I absolutely LOVE the twisty tree. I climbed up to here and had to jump down
probably about 5 feet.

And the fountains....THE FOUNTAINS!
The fountains were higher than any kids fountains I had ever seen. I just loved running through the fountains, even though this isn't a picture of me doing that.

We put our feet together to stop a fountain from SPLASHing us.
Jameson loved the fountains. He was afraid at first but then got more used to it.

This is me getting ready to do a handstand-not ready to fall
on my arm which will happen in a second-BOOM! Can you
picture THAT? 

This is me on top of practicing cartwheels-and handstands.  I am having a little trouble on cartwheels-not keeping my legs straight. Thank you!

 In Hilton Head we went swimming ALOT. Jameson figured out that he didn't need help to jump in by himself. I had my weird looking goggles on and... SPLASH! KABOOSH! Into the pool we went! 

I can't wait to write to you all again! Bye!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

before and after: basement apartment...

Though it was a crazy, chaotic race to the end, Open House Day was a big success!

Several people came to look at the place, and almost all of them wanted it.  I gotta tell you, after a summer of blood, sweet, tears, and FLEAS!, it was so nice to hear all the compliments from people as they looked around.  Two girls literally screamed as they saw each room and loved it so much.  I will say, there's just nothing like it around.  Even the cool, downtown lofts seem like replications of something like this, the real thing.

After just 24 hours of listing it online, we had two strong applicants.  The tenants we chose are a young, engaged, kinda-hipster couple in school at Liberty.  They LOVE downtown, they love minimalism, they love everything artistic and urban, and they love this apartment.  I think they're going to be a perfect fit and we're so excited to provide their first place to them!

We still have some odds and ends to tie up before the guy moves in next weekend, (the gal will move in after their wedding in October) but I'm ready to show you all the official BEFORE and AFTER's of the basement apartment.  (Get. Excited!!!!)

Let's start on the outside:
BEFORE, this outside porch needed some TLC.


view from the sidewalk- that's echinacea in the front flower bed


BEFORE, the cedar tree posts seemed a little "much" to some people.

AFTER, with everything else cleaned up around them, the tree posts stand out as the perfect touch of rustic outside!
Now let's take a look inside.

BEFORE, this place was so cool with lots of exposed brick and natural woods.
It's amazing to see how a family of four made a 572 sq. ft apartment feel spacious by living very simply and beautifully.

But the brick wall was spitting dust everywhere.  The wood elements were not sealed and protected.  And there was no air conditioning to be found.

AFTER, not a whole lot has changed from what was there, (except for the wall paint color perhaps)
but everything from the brick wall to the cool, old closet door to the hardwoods on the floor
have all been cleaned, sealed, treated, and protected for years to come.

I love the diagonals the previous owner made in the built-in.
What a difference it made to seal the natural wood with a low-gloss polyurethane.  

BEFORE, this corner in the living room held the clothing storage.

AFTER, it will likely still store clothes, but now it's sporting a brand-new, energy efficient ductless heating AND air unit (remote controlled!).  In a matter of minutes of turning it on, every square inch of the apartment was COOL.  What a gift and well worth every penny for our tenants.


Energy-efficient instant water heaters behind the bathroom door


And the biggest changes inside...

The bathroom BEFORE.
And AFTER.  (I LOVE the way it turned out!)  

Now on to the kitchen...


 Without a DOUBT, everyone was ooh'ing and ahh'ing the most about the brand new washer/dryer COMBO.  The screaming girls even took pictures of it.

People kept asking, "where's the other one to stack on top of it?"

"That's it!" we'd tell them.  "That's the washer AND the dryer in one."

It may be small, but at least this place can now do laundry!


What a unique and rewarding summer project.  We loved the creativity and artistry with which the previous owner began this place, and it now feels so good to carry out and complete that vision. 

(And to think, there's now the entire main house yet to do in our future.  I'm already day-dreaming...)  

But now it's time to refocus upon the start of school and the college students returning to town.  This old house will have to wait...