Tuesday, September 30, 2008
It's a line from a poem I wrote in high school. I cannot remember the rest of the poem, nor even what it was about, but the words keep popping into my head this week. Wait is a frustrating word, full of hope and promise for the future, yet overshadowed with long expanses of nothingness and the possibility of an overdue disappointment. And it seems, right now, that I am waiting for so many things.
There are the small and short-lived waits - waiting for naptime, waiting for popcorn to pop, waiting for my husband to get home from work, waiting to finally have a Saturday at home to catch up on errands.
Then there are more intense forms of delayed gratification, like waiting for a phone call. Waiting for an answer. Waiting for a home of our own, or at least some idea of when it will happen and where it will be.
Our life this year has been filled with waiting, sometimes much longer than I originally anticipated. We have been waiting to find out when another baby will join our family. Waiting for a raise or a shift change at Don's work. Waiting to get involved in a church. (It's hard to be involved when you move often and spend half of your weekends visiting family in another state).
In fact, it seems like most of life is made up of waiting for something. Sometimes it's vague and long term, like waiting for retirement or the opportunity to adopt a child. Other times, it is a more acute waiting, like the wait that is currently causing a spontaneous nervous twitter in the pit of my stomach.
Right now, I am waiting on some answers from God. I am waiting for some blessings from His hand, knowing that if I ever receive them, it will only be by His grace. But one thing that need not delay is my relationship with my Saviour. I can grow in grace and knowledge with Him every day as I anticipate His return.
Instead of being consumed with earthly timetables, I pray that the Lord would find me daily waiting upon Him. May my greatest hope be found in the knowledge that He is coming back to save the world, and that I can spend eternity at His side. As I look forward to answers and events in this life, I must trust that His timing is perfect. And I must remember that sometimes the wait is the refining fire that makes me ready for the destination. May I wait patiently as I trust in the Lord my God.
I wait for you, O LORD; you will answer, O Lord my God.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
As we look to the Bible for wisdom, I find Jesus reminding us to consider the cost:
Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'
- Luke 14:28-30
But Jesus was talking about more than towers or single family suburban homes. He spoke of the cost of discipleship, a subject that has been a recurring theme for Don and me this year. We have listened to John MacArthur preach on it. We have examined our own spiritual walks: are we really willing to give up everything to follow Christ? And the Lord has impressed on our hearts the magnitude of true Christianity. Yes, we knew that salvation was more than saying a prayer or believing that the Bible is true. We were both blessed to be raised in the church, so we know all the text book answers about God and the Bible. But when we committed our lives to Christ, did we really count the cost? Consider the preceding verses in Luke 14:26-27:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
I knew, as a teenager dreaming of marriage, that wives are called to be submissive. But did I know that submission might mean giving up a dearly held dream or desire to replace it with the dreams and desires of my husband? I knew that I was called to love others. But did I consider how difficult it might be to love those who hurt me? I knew that Christian love is patient, but did I realize my patience would be tested to the limits when I fulfilled my calling to mother young children? No, I certainly did not know the specifics, but I can see how the Lord is refining me through every struggle. And as I bear the burden of my cross, I am not alone, for He is right there with me. Being Christ's disciple comes at a cost, but it is accompanied by the blessings of being considered His friend.
For the true Christian, God must be all. He demands my everything - every thought, every desire, every action must be submitted to His Will. He deserves nothing less from me. I do not want to be the foolish man with the half-built tower. My Lord has laid a firm foundation in my heart, and I trust that He will continue to build me up in Christ until I am complete.
Houses are expensive, and the price of home ownership is great. The cost of discipleship is far greater, because it cannot be paid with cash or credit. Jesus paid everything for me through His death on the cross. I owe Him nothing less than my life in return. If I am to be a true follower, He must come before houses, before children, before my husband, and before any dream that springs up in my human heart.
When I look up at the steep and winding path before me, and consider the cost of following my Shepherd, let me put my calculators and my selfish desires aside. May my heart be wholly His as I simply count it all joy.
Monday, September 22, 2008
When we thought we might be moving to Texas, where housing is more affordable, we looked at some nice three bedroom homes that were priced around $160k. Here in New England, we saw one single family home for the low low price of $160k. It turned out to be a seasonal two bedroom with no basement, no yard, and in fact, no kitchen...unless you consider shelves draped with a sheet to be cupboards, and a camper-size gas stove to be functional for feeding a family of four. And who needs counters or a dishwasher, anyway?
The same day, we saw a house for $200k that was also near a lake (in other words, likely to flood and situated in a crowded community with dirt roads and no available parking). This one was a newer home, with lovely wood floors, fancy bathroom fixtures, and cathedral ceilings. But it was a foreclosure - as many homes on the market are these days - and apparently when the occupants left, they literally took everything but the kitchen sink. If you look carefully at this picture, you can see what is left of the cupboards, but you can't tell that the counter is broken and a metal tube spouts out of the floor where a dishwasher may once have stood. Apparently there was a theme that day of kitchen-free houses. But I would like to know what on earth the homeowners did with the appliances, counters, and cupboards.
Another home in the same community, for the same price, at least had a kitchen. But the two "bedrooms" resembled walk-in closets; they fit a twin size bed and not much more. The tiny backyard featured poison ivy instead of grass, and a gravestone marked the burial site of a once beloved pet. I have been wanting a yard so that our children can play outside more freely, but digging up Fido's bones and acquiring painfully itchy rashes are not quite what I had in mind.
I have to say, I don't know how people shopped for houses before the invention of the Internet. With every property we have been interested in, Don and I could see detailed listings, look at it on Google Maps (including satellite and street view), find out what the home appraised for, and more. I am thankful for the technology that helped me to eliminate several homes without scheduling a showing, like two that were within a stone's throw of the interstate highway, and two others that had a river (prone to flooding and certainly not safe for the children) practically flowing through the backyard. Oh, and one of the riverside homes had a huge power grid on the other side. I know that we might not be able to afford our dream home right now, but we certainly are not going to spend our last penny to live between rushing water and rushing electricity. Of course, there are some things you don't find out until you visit in person, like the adorable cape that would have been almost perfect if my nearly six foot husband could walk in the basement and bedrooms without bumping his head on the ceiling.
The epitome of bad houses, and a sad picture of the housing market right now, was a once beautiful three bedroom home in a great neighborhood - within walking distance of our children's grandparents, in fact. It was set on a private lot with a big yard - a big, overgrown yard, full of oversize junk, and home to a friendly garter snake. If the torn up flooring, ripped off baseboard heaters, holes punched in the walls, and moldy ceilings weren't enough, there was a giant wasp's nest hanging off the back porch. By giant, I mean significantly larger than a basketball. Once again, this serious fixer-upper did not strike us as the ideal location to raise children. It actually reminded me a bit of the worst house we saw in Dallas, which was littered with dead cockroach bodies. I still shudder to think about that. We may complain about New England winters, but I think it is a worthwhile exchange not to have to contend with such horrifying creatures.
Lest you think our experiences are isolated, you can visit this blog for some hilarious (and sometimes scary) pictures. There have been more than a few occasions when Don and I commented on the usual, ugly, or positively useless pictures posted on real estate listings, and the Lovely Listing blog is simply a collection of such fodder. If any of my readers are thinking of selling their homes, I beg you to please hide your personal clutter before your realtor comes to take photos. And if your home has truly heinous decor, consider omitting the interior pictures, unless you want to find a familiar picture featured on the above blog someday.
On a more positive note, we recently had a much more productive house hunting trip, and even saw a few homes that seemed safe to live in, and did not need repairs equal to the purchase price. Only God knows if anything will come of it. Maybe He will give us a beautiful home with three real bedrooms, or at least two bedrooms with a respectable kitchen. Or maybe He will lead us to wait still longer. As hard as it is to wait, and to know that housing prices are quite possibly as low as they will ever be, I would take another few years in our apartment before I would wish for moldy ceilings, a poison ivy backyard, or a flooded basement. He has given us a good, safe place to live for right now. A grassy yard, a full-size kitchen, and a third bedroom would be nice to have, but they are far from essential. And I trust that Jehovah Jireh, our Provider, will supply our needs according to His perfect Will.
And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4:19 NASB
Friday, September 19, 2008
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Sunday, September 14, 2008
The rain poured down on Friday night, but Saturday morning gave way to a cloudy, humid day. True, it wasn't classic fall weather, but at least it was dry enough for traipsing through the grass with a tote bag in hand. Three year old Donny and I had been eagerly anticipating Saturday afternoon's adventure: our annual apple picking excursion. Though most holidays and traditions hold little weight in our family, Don and I have faithfully gone apple picking every fall since we started dating. The past few years have been extended family events, with grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, and uncles all trekking to the orchard in pursuit of the perfect apple...and the perfect picture.
Yes, we all enjoy picking and eating the apples (well, all save my allergic brother-in-law, who would be risking his life to eat the forbidden fruit of an ordinarily harmless orchard). But I suspect much of the appeal of apple picking with children is the wealth of photo opportunities. Something about the dusty red apples set against crisp green leaves creates the perfect backdrop for both candid and posed shots. Add some busy children to the picture, and it's not surprising that my father-in-law found inspiration to snap 117 digital photos within an hour, while I took quite a few myself.
When our half bushel bag was overflowing, we went inside to see the toy train, taste the apple donuts, and smell the delicious aromas of a New England farm store. We didn't leave empty handed; besides taking us apple picking, Mom and Dad sent us home with leftover donuts and fudge, a gallon of cider, black cherry spreadable fruit, and five pounds of raw local honey. What a sweet blessing!
At home, Don grilled dinner for everyone while I prepared an apple pie from our freshly picked produce. With the aid of my helpful new peeler corer slicer, the scent of Anyone's Apple Pie was filling our apartment by the time everyone came in from outside. And if apple picking, apple cider, and hot apple pie were not enough, we finished off the night with an appropriate game: Apples to Apples, of course!
When our family members left, I packed away the board games and grill tools, reflecting on the days' events. I polished off the last slice of pie as I contemplated the sauces, crisps, and snacks I could create with the leftover Cortlands in our crisper drawer. And I thanked God, rejoicing in another fruitful season of bountiful orchards, abundant adventures, and sweetly flourishing fellowship.
sweet pie, or cider for a more tart one)
In a large saucepan, simmer apples with 2/3 cup (reserve 1/3 cup) apple juice and cinnamon until apples are tender, about 10 minutes. In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk remaining 1/3 cup apple juice with cornstarch. Stir cornstarch and juice mixture into simmering apples. (I no longer stir the cinnamon into the cornstarch mixture because I learned, thanks to a two year old helper, that it is nearly impossible to get a tablespoon of sticky spilled cinnamon out of a carpet!) Continue to simmer until thickened. Remove from heat. Line a 9" pie plate with one crust and fill with apple mixture. Cover with top crust, seal edges, and cut steam vents. Line oven rack with foil to prevent drips on the bottom of the oven. Bake pie in a preheated oven until crust is golden brown. (The recipe I had recommends 45 minutes at 350 degrees, but my crusts don't usually brown in that time; I will try 425 degrees for 30 minutes next time). Cool, slice, and enjoy!
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
"I'm afraid not," he replied, very seriously. "I don't have any ice."
Naturally, I laughed at him and his somber predicament. This is the boy who tells me that the pitcher of water in the bathtub is bread, but now he can't even make pretend ice. I guess an imaginary ice maker will be in order for his next pretend birthday. The season for real iced tea is drawing to a close, and the cold beverage would definitely clash with the hot meal I made last night.
I was inspired by a discussion of the word "dumplings" between my husband and son. I had never eaten - or even seen - a dumpling in my life, but Don suggested that I should find out how to make them. Accordingly, I jotted "make dumplings" on my to-do list (because writing things down is the only way to ensure that I do everything). Yesterday, I dug through my favorite cookbook (otherwise known as the Internet) in search of a suitable recipe. I landed at my favorite cooking site, All Recipes. Not surprisingly, I found that most recipes were full of butter, vegetable oil, and other items that are unfriendly to my allergen-free and health-conscious diet. Finally, after reading dozens of reviews, I settled on this recipe, which I was able to adapt according to what I could eat and had on hand.
But I was tired yesterday. Even a brief rest while the boys were napping did not seem to help. As the afternoon wore on, I felt less and less motivated to start a big dinner project. Maybe I could save the dumplings for another day and just warm up something simple for one night. Still, the chicken was already defrosted, no easier dinner options presented themselves, and the rainy weather made this the perfect day to usher in autumn meals of hot comfort food. Mustering up my energy, I put on a pot of brown rice and began my venture into the world of unfamiliar cuisine.
It wasn't long before my two square feet of kitchen counter space were completely strewn with measuring cups and various pot lids. Rice was cooling on the back burner, my homemade (and dairy free) cream of chicken soup was simmering with browned chicken breast strips and carrots, and I was stirring the oil and (rice) milk in a bowl with the other dumpling ingredients. As tablespoonfuls of sticky dough plopped into the soup pot, I wondered if it would be silly to pray for the dumplings to turn out well. I hate to waste time, money, and ingredients on a dish that no one will eat, and I wanted my husband to enjoy his dinner. After all, he recently told me how he bragged to the guys at work that if he wants to try something new, his wife finds out how to make it and cook it for him! Of course, now I have to live up to my own reputation. The required twelve to fifteen minutes of boiling passed, but I still was not sure if they tasted right, having no other dumpling experience for comparison. It seemed like ages before Don came home and was finally ready to sample the new dish.
God was faithful even to my silly little prayer; apparently the dumplings turned out well, because my usually picky husband ate three helpings of the meal. Later, there were dishes to be washed, stories to be read, babies to be rocked, and goodnights to be said. Even after the kitchen was tidy and Hayden was fast asleep, Donny's loud whisper made his usual request: "Scratch my back and sing me some afraid songs." Sometimes, I rush through a song, wanting to move on to the part of the evening where I get to relax. But tonight, I lingered a little. I realized that it is a privilege to sing to my boys and tuck them in at night. It is a privilege to be the one who meets their constant needs. And it is a challenge to do so with a joyful spirit, but I am so blessed when I give of myself to my little ones.
And eventually, I did move on to my favorite part of the evening, which involved curling up in the arms of a satisfied and thankful husband. His sincere appreciation was enough to make me want to ladle gravy over his dinner plate every night and made the extra few minutes in preparation well worth the effort. Not long after, I realized that my sluggishness and fatigue were gone. In place of the lack of motivation I felt in the afternoon, there was a contented merriness. Knowing that I had blessed my husband gave me joy that could never be found in a long nap or a microwave dinner.
So what does my dumpling story have to do with iced tea? Throughout the day, it would have been easier to make excuses than to do something for someone else. I don't know how. I'm too tired. I don't feel like cooking. I can't do it that way. I could have echoed Donny's woefully serious words: I don't have any ice.
In our culture that emphasizes "me time" and looking out for our own needs first, it is easy to fall into a pattern of making excuses. My flesh wants to tell God, You want me to do that? I'm afraid not. I have nothing left to give. I don't have any. But just as Donny's lack of pretend ice was ridiculous to me, God sees through my hollow excuses. He knows that if I will just draw on His strength to get up and do what is necessary to make the iced tea, I will be able to enjoy the refreshing sweetness of blessing others.
The moral of the story: serving others (the comfort food of dumplings and gravy) refreshes me (like a glass of iced tea on a hot day). This proverb says it well:
A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. - Proverbs 11:25
Saturday, September 6, 2008
Certainly there are drawbacks to sharing a car, but the savings on auto insurance is just the beginning of the weighty benefits. Appointments must be scheduled carefully, and if I do need to go somewhere, the boys and I spend more than two hours in the car dropping Daddy off at work and picking him up in the evening. However, those long car rides afford me an opportunity to talk with my husband and see what he experiences during his daily commute - an opportunity that would never exist if I had my own car to use. I cannot decide on a whim to run to the store; I have had to relinquish self-sufficiency and instead rely on others - in this case, my husband - to help me accomplish errands I previously would have handled on my own, such as banking and Post Office trips. I cannot take the boys to the Thursday morning toddler program at the library, but we can go on Saturday mornings to pick out new books to pore over for the next four weeks. Once in a while I worry that Hayden will split his head open and I will have no way to drive him to the hospital, but I trust that God is in control. And - this is really the one thing I miss about having a car - I cannot get together regularly with a dear friend, who has young boys of her own, for playdates. But I find that because our visits are few and must be scheduled far in advance, the time we spend together is even more precious.
And it is not just time with friends that is precious. My children are growing so quickly. Do I really want to spend my days impatiently strapping them into the backseat of a car so I can rush off to some errand or extracurricular? I know that such activities can be beneficial or at least necessary, but for this season of my life, I am thankful to have no choice but to stay home. More important than even the fellowship with other Christian ladies at Bible study is fellowship with my own family and learning to be patient with my children - something I was sadly lacking when we had to rush out of the house by 8:30am. I can give the children the structure and routine that makes their days run smoothly, instead of disrupting meals and naps while we drive all over town. And I can learn to delay gratification, even the housewifely gratification of running to the store for a forgotten food item, because I simply have no way to get things immediately. In this hurried world, where life often goes speeding by before we realize it, being forced to slow down and walk has helped me to grow a bit of patience and peace.
Yes, as I sit here in the grass watching the boys blow bubbles into the breeze...or on the living room floor, eating a bowl of soup that Donny concocted for me with wooden vegetables, a toy pot, and a heap of imagination...or leisurely snapping green beans at the kitchen table because I don't have to rush to make dinner, while my "helpers" put half chewed beans into the pot...I know I am blessed. I may not have the freedom to leave home at a moment's notice, but I have freedom to savor every moment in the place I live with the people I love. Thank you, Lord, for teaching me that joy is not in driving here or there, but in fulfilling my calling to be home as I simply walk daily with You.
Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in his ways.
Friday, September 5, 2008
What appears to be misfortune can sometimes be a blessing in disguise. I found this to be true for our family after we experienced two serious car accidents. Four years ago, when I was pregnant with Donny, I was driving to my mom's birthday party one afternoon when an SUV pulled out in front of me. The inevitable collision caused the air bag to deploy, scraping open my hand, and my car was totaled. Since I (thankfully!) wasn't at fault, I was able to replace my Plymouth Neon with a Dodge Neon of the same year, and the settlement for my injuries paid off the little that I owed on the car.
A year and a half later, a similar accident totaled Don's two door Ford, a car that was relatively useless for a family hauling an oversize car seat and jogging stroller (not to mention that it was a standard, and I never learned how to drive it). With the insurance money, we paid off the remaining debt on the Ford and have been blessedly debt-free ever since. We briefly discussed the possibility of being a one car family, but I recoiled in horror at the thought. And at the time, with Don's long commute to work and my frequent prenatal checkups, it would not have been very practical. We decided to purchase an older, roomier car that would be both efficient for commuting and suitable for the whole family.
What we didn't realize was that our trusty new (to us) vehicle was apparently a victim of the recent local flooding. After nearly two years and a few repairs, the brakes went out, and because the bottom of the car was completely rusted, it would have cost nearly as much as the car was worth to repair it. Unwilling to waste money fixing a car that was likely to die soon anyway, we began to research minivans; after all, we would need a bigger vehicle whenever God blessed us with another baby, and it was a tight squeeze to fit even our family of four into the Neon. But after we test drove a few of the most promising used models, we couldn't justify spending our entire life savings on a van that made strange clicking noises whenever we used the brake. In retrospect, with this summer of skyrocketing gas prices, we have been very thankful that we did not sacrifice the Neon's better gas mileage for a bigger vehicle that we did not truly need.
And so, one sunny day last April, our children watched intently through the window as a flatbed trailer came to tow away Daddy's car. We had decided to donate the car to charity and to live with one car, at least temporarily. Don would take the Neon to work Monday through Friday. I would no longer be able to attend a weekday morning Bible Study, but the study I was participating in had just ended anyway. I would also need to reschedule my Monday morning grocery shopping trip. Don volunteered to stop at the grocery store on his way home from work, and I - having done 100% of the grocery shopping since we were first married - protested at first, but agreed to try it.
As it turns out, my husband is a very competent shopper. After the success of his first trip, he has taken over my weekly responsibility. Every Monday I email him the grocery list, and he buys exactly what I request. Yes, exactly - nothing extra, nothing forgotten. I remember one cold winter when my boys were small and bundling them up for a trek to the supermarket was an all day affair, I looked into the possibly of an online grocery delivery service, but we were concerned about the delivery charge and the possibility of getting bruised fruit, wilted veggies, and about-to-expire milk. Now I have the best of both worlds: I don't have to wrestle a toddler into his shoes and jacket and then try to keep him entertained and seated while I manuever through crowded aisles with a baby strapped to my chest. I have another free morning to spend at home, catching up on chores or just having fun with the children. And on Monday night, we herald the arrival of a certain Dodge Neon much the way others would look for a familiar delivery truck, for the boys and I know that Daddy will be coming home with bags full of our favorite foods.
For our other shopping needs, I have long since relied on the Internet. I buy toiletries, vitamins, diapers (both cloth and disposable), gifts, and even clothing online. (I get all of my disposable diapers and wipes at Diapers.com; they also have a large selection of other baby products, including several natural ones. You can enter referral code 4thelambs to receive $10 off your first order.) We have gotten to know the mail carrier and the UPS man because we are continually receiving packages. We are also blessed to live within walking distance of many places. By foot and stroller, the children and I have returned library books to the book drop, mailed packages in the big blue mailbox, bought milk at the gas station, picked up prescriptions at the pharmacy, shopped at the discount store, walked to my doctor appointments, and even attended a free class at Gymboree. If we ever wanted to eat fast food, we would have a wide selection of restaurants to choose from, and it's not too far to a bakery or a used book store. We can even drop the car off for an oil change and walk home while we wait. But even with all these interesting destinations near by, I can't say that giving up my car has sent me running out of the house. In fact, I have hardly missed having a car at all; it seems perfectly normal and wonderful to be home all of the time. Since we became a one car family, I have experienced so many blessings, but to avoid making this post excessively long, the details will have to wait for next time.
Monday, September 1, 2008
How do you define a good time? Last weekend, Don and I invited some friends over for the three F's: fun, food, and fellowship. All of our friends and family live more than an hour away, so when they forfeit a Saturday and a half tank of gas to visit us, we appreciate it. We enjoyed grilled hamburgers for dinner and homemade pie for dessert, played board games (including the updated version of Clue we received for Christmas), and engaged in conversation inspired by The Complete Book of Questions. Don and I often use the book to pass the time during long car rides, but it is also a great conversation starter for group gatherings, especially since the questions range from light and simple to deeply personal and spiritual matters.
I had to think for a few minutes when it was my turn to answer, "What is your idea of a good time?" I am probably a little unusual in the fact that I can have a good time organizing closets, but my sincere answer to the question was simply: "This." I love being a hostess, feeding people, playing games, and talking with friends and family. In preschool we called it "playing house;" in high school we called it out "hanging out." Now a grown-up combination of the two is my definition of "a good time."
The same day, I finished reading Passionate Housewives Desperate for God by Jennie Chancey and Stacy McDonald. If you have not read the book already, I highly recommend that you do so. (And if you have read it, go read it again!) Besides dispelling the myths of Christian feminism and reinforcing my beliefs that a woman's high calling is to be the keeper of her home, the book helped me develop a more detailed vision for my home. In fact, it is aptly subtitled "Fresh Vision for the Hopeful Homemaker." While I would already consider myself a pretty passionate housewife, I was inspired with thoughts of how I can use my home to reach out to and minister to others. My home is my center of ministry, and my primary job is to bless my family in my daily work. Beyond that, I can be a blessing to others by creating a welcoming environment where guests can find the embodiment of Christian love.
Then yesterday, I was blessed with an opportunity to be on the receiving end of such hospitality. As we walked into church on Sunday morning, a couple with four young boys introduced themselves to our family. When the service ended, they approached us again and invited us over for dinner! They explained that they lived quite a ways from the church, but they were having some other couples over and would love for us to join them too. Don and I debated about accepting the invitation, but we had no real reason to decline, and we concluded that the fellowship - even with people we didn't know - would be good for the whole family. As the wife jotted down directions on the back of a bulletin, I learned that they have not just four boys, but also three teenagers: seven children! "Oh, awesome!" I exclaimed, then explained, "We'd like to have a big family some day." Yet while I feel a sense of familiarity with larger families because I read about them in books, blogs, and magazines, I can't say that I have met many here in suburban New England. I was excited to see what a real "big" family looks like and discover how they live.
A few hours later, with homemade pies nestled safely in the trunk of our compact car, we crossed the border into Rhode Island for my very first time. I am a life-long New Englander, but somehow, I have never had any reason to journey to or through the tiny Ocean State. To my delight, our destination turned out to be a small farm in the woods, complete with goats, chickens, a sheep, and a pony. Inside, the old farmhouse was brimming with people and life. I was not surprised to see homeschooling books piled up in corners amidst jars of dry beans, baskets of potatoes, and spools of thread. There was nothing impressive about the house; it was crowded, the floors were stripped, and it certainly did not meet my ideal of "clean." Yet while the earthy atmosphere was in some ways completely foreign to me, it was comfortingly familiar at the same time. This was a home where real people work and play and eat and sleep and live - and for one day, I could be a part of it too.
My only regret of the afternoon was that I had not brought my camera. Kodak moments abounded as our boys fed corn husks to the goats, rode in the back of a tractor, and kept busy with the other children in the playhouse. We all ate - not in the more formal sit-down dinner style I had imagined - but with a casual buffet line and people grabbing a seat wherever they could find one. Then everyone, from toddler to adult to German Shepherd, went for a walk along the scenic bike path. We returned for dessert, tractor rides, and a bonfire in the backyard. I enjoyed talking with the other moms, while my husband, always the big kid of the party, became fast friends with the four boys we had seen that morning. By the time Don and I packed up our children and pie plates, we were already looking forward to seeing everyone again.
We arrived home late, tired, dirty, and smelling of bug spray and woodsmoke - yet incredibly refreshed. Besides the blessing of new friends and fellowship, we had been privileged to have a glimpse into a different kind of life: a life, in fact, rather like what I have imagined we might have one day. Lots of children, animals, land, friends...and love. Lots of love.
For now, our practice of hospitality will look different. But whether we have a broken refrigerator or a kitchen the size of a walk-in closet, we can invite guests to join us for food and fellowship. Whether we have wood benches on the back porch or a cheap couch that seats only two people, we can find a place to sit and talk, encouraging others with our conversation. Whether we have a gang of friendly children or just two playful toddlers, we can minister together as a family. Whether we live on a woodsy farm tucked behind the ghettos of Rhode Island or in a two bedroom apartment tucked behind a gas station and McDonald's, we are called to practice hospitality. Whatever the specifics may be, when believers open their homes to share, encourage, bless, and witness to others, the Spirit is there, and I cannot think of any activity that more accurately defines a good time.