Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Story from Haiti

We slipped out of the gate and quietly made our way down the street. Following Richard, our host. Two black boys walked with us. They’d been playing at Richard’s house, but I didn’t know their names.

“We’re going to your neighborhood,” Richard said to them, in his gentle Kentucky drawl. “You gonna show us your house?”

The street narrowed to an alleyway between two high walls. Then the walls ended and we stood in an open spot the size of three or four parking spaces. Below us, the neighborhood stretched out in a ravine-like area hemmed by shrubbery and walls of larger homes on either side. The area took up half the space of a football field. The roof of the boys’ house was right in front of us, even with our feet. Several sheets of metal, held in place by half-blocks thrown on top. The house measured about 8 by 12 feet.

“They have eight people in their family,” Richard said. “Living in that house. I want to build them a new house. Right on this spot.” He tapped his foot where he stood.

The “neighborhood” was filled with similar homes.

A home in the boys' neighborhood.

“This is as far we go,” Richard went on. “This is where they live. We’re intruding on their privacy if we go down and look into their homes.”

We nodded. Silent.

“Your kay?” I pointed to the house below us, trying out some of my limited Haitian Creole on one of the boys.

“Oui,” he replied.

“They speak English,” Richard said. “We’re putting them through school. They don’t want to stay here. You ask them, they’ll tell you.”

He lifted his eyes to the houses beyond the walls bordering the boys’ neighborhood. Coral-painted block walls with flowering vines climbing over them. Gated, two-story homes, with verandas.

Another home in Port-au-Prince.

“They can see a better life,” said one of my companions. “Right there.”

“They want to get out of here.” Richard nodded.

I snapped a couple photos. I didn’t want to intrude, but I wanted to remember. Our friends back home had to see this. We all turned around and walked back to Richard’s house together. We didn’t say much. But we couldn’t feel the same as we had when we left the house. In the space of a fifteen-minute afternoon stroll, everything had changed.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Ode to my Smooth-Surface Electric Range

Yesterday marked 16 years since the love of my life popped the question. I just realized this a moment ago.

I was thinking about the date because I wondered just how old our range is. It was a wedding gift from Todd’s parents, so it's nearing sixteen years in our possession. And it is moving to a new home soon.
Feeling a little out of place already.
Of all the tasks and decisions involved in renovating the kitchen, choosing a new range may have been the most exciting for me. I love to cook! I love to bake even more! I’m not sure if that’s come across on this blog very well. It’s not a food blog. While I may have blogged about food occasionally in the past, I think I’ve gotten away from that in recent years. Honestly, I haven’t exercised my baking love as much as I would have liked in recent years, either. A friend of mine was present a few weeks ago when I asked Todd what kind of cake he would like for his birthday. She noted that she buys her family’s cakes at the grocery store.

Side Note: There is no shame in that! If that is you, I applaud you for getting off the Pinterest-perfect train. Good job!

“That’s fine,” I replied. “But I really, really like to bake.”
“You do?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. “I want to bake our cakes from scratch!”
Weird. I know.

Back to the range—I thought I wanted a pro-style range for a while. We even laid out our kitchen with a 36-inch space for a larger range at first. But then we started reading reviews and yada, yada, yada . . . we eventually determined that THIS was my dream range.

I was so excited about switching to gas and we found a good deal on this range, so it was one of the earliest items we purchased for our kitchen reno. It’s been sitting in the garage for two months. Since we need to install the hood before we can use the range, and the backsplash needs to be finished before we install the hood, and the countertop needs to be installed before we can do the backsplash . . . the range will be the last thing to go in the kitchen. Sigh.

But! This has given me a chance to wish Sweet Sixteen to my good-old smooth-top electric range. I chose a smooth surface to make cleaning it easier, knowing I would detest scrubbing out drip-pans. Wasn’t I clever? In those days I thought I could streamline my cleaning and make my life easier. I didn’t realized that eventually three kids, a dog, and a husband would take over the house and cleaning would be far from streamlined and closer to futile. Ah, but it has been fairly easy to clean the stovetop. I’ve just gotten used to the burn marks. They’re part of the story.
One of my canning adventures. Who says you can't can on a smooth top?
The range has served me well, though. I start thinking about this and I get sentimental.

I remember the first dinner I made the day after we got home from our honeymoon. Saucy chicken and roasted potatoes. (I hope I made a vegetable, too. I’m sure I did.) So many meals have been cooked on that stove-top, so many birthday cakes baked in the oven.

We learned to make cheesecake together, this oven and I. Desserts so delectable my friends told me I should go into business.

“And take all the fun out of it?” I said. “Never!”

When I was pregnant with Camilla, during a flurry of intense-cleaning-sparked-by-nesting, I knocked over our knife block and nicked the porcelain edge of the stovetop. I was aghast. But thankful I hadn’t cracked the whole top. I kicked myself for months over my clumsy mistake. Now I’m rather fond of that nick. It’s part of the story, too. There’s another nick in the porcelain, and I can’t remember how that happened. Funny how things like that stop being so important.
Chocolate Chip Pancakes for Camilla's Second Birthday. note the chip in the porcelain.
But the oven . . . the oven! Pies. Banana bread. Carrot cake. Hershey’s Perfectly-Chocolate Chocolate Cake. Baker’s One-Bowl Brownies. Gluten-free versions of everything. This range fueled my culinary prowess from its humble beginnings. And now we are going to say good-bye. Sometime soon.
Pumpkin Pies baking in my dear old oven!

If we ever get the countertop and finish the backsplash.

It’s like saying good-bye to an old friend. The stove will grace the kitchen of our rental property, the house we lived in when we were first married, the place where it all began. So perhaps it’s really going back to its rightful home. Or perhaps it’s like moving the mother-in-law into the apartment over the garage.

“Thanks for all the help over the years, but you’ll be out of the way here!”

Either way, we’re getting a newer, shinier model.

I just hope it can live up to its predecessor.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

What I'm Into: April 2016

Wow! I turn my back for a second and April is over? Just like that?

What I’ve Been Doing . . . 

If we’re friends on Facebook or In Real Life, you already know that Todd and I joined a group from our church on a missions trip to Haiti from March 30-April 6. I can’t believe we’ve been back for a month already. How does something so monstrous and life-altering just recede into the past like that? I still haven’t completely processed that week in Haiti. The first few months of 2016, a lot of my anxiety centered around the fast-approaching trip to Haiti. You didn’t know that, unless I told you personally, because I don’t talk about our trips online until they’re over. (For all I know you might rob our house while we’re gone!) Anyway, I was afraid to leave the kids for a whole week. I’ve never left them for that long and for some reason I think I have the ability to protect them from every danger and evil in the world, better than anyone else.

Wait, there’s a name for the kind of person who thinks that way.
Oh yeah—control freak! Ugh.

I was also scared to die—on the plane, or in Haiti. This isn’t the way I want to live, people. But there it is. My fears were so real, I finally talked to a counselor about handling them. That helped immensely. Sometimes I convince myself I’m clairvoyant, but the truth is that many of my fears have nothing to do with my future. They stem from trauma in my past. For instance, I had a miscarriage before my pregnancy with Eva and I’ve always been afraid of losing her. Reminding myself that the reason for my fear lies in the past, not the future, helps disperse the panic. And since I don’t want to be controlled by my fears, I went on the trip anyway. Amazingly, we survived. So did the kids. Sometime I’ll write more about it. About the people we met and the stories we lived. How I’m so glad I obeyed God’s call and went with Todd because I would have really missed out if I’d given in to my fears.
Beautiful, beautiful kids! I fell in love with them!
So we came home from our missions trip and promptly began a kitchen remodel. Because my kitchen, which is bigger and better than a lot of houses in Haiti, just wasn’t good enough for me.

Even though it has running water. Hot and cold. 

I knew it would be hard to reconcile this. The timing of our trip and our remodeling project just had to coincide. I’m not going to try to defend our decision. Nobody is asking me to, anyway. All I can tell myself is that we saved for years to make this space work better for our family and I think coming home from Haiti to this project helps me keep a little perspective. Maybe it keeps me from becoming a raging perfectionist who wants the best of everything. I hope I wouldn’t become that person anyway . . . But I think having been to Haiti helps keep me in check. It reminds me to pay attention to how we can save and give even in the midst of this.

Ask me what it's like to live in the middle of this mess!
On that note, we’re attending Financial Peace University at our church right now. We’ve always agreed with and followed a lot (not all) of Dave Ramsey’s principals, but we’ve never taken the class before. And we’ve had varying degrees of persistence with his methods. Hoping to find a little more motivation now that we’re actually taking FPU. Again, though . . . the kitchen renovation. Already underway.

What I’ve Been Reading . . . 

The kids and I read The Horse and His Boy and enjoyed it immensely. We’re more than halfway through Prince Caspian now. This series is just so good! Generally speaking, classics become classics for a reason. There’s a wonderful section of this book, in which the four Pevensie children are following Aslan, but Susan is having trouble believing he is really there. Lucy can see him, but the others can’t. They have to trust and follow Lucy. Susan holds back her trust the longest and she is ashamed when she realizes he was there all along. I love Aslan’s words to Susan at this point.

. . . the deep voice said, “Susan.” Susan made no answer but the others thought she was crying. “You have listened to fears, child,” said Aslan. “Come, let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?”
“A little, Aslan,” said Susan.

He might as well be talking to me. This is exactly how I felt after coming home from Haiti. And just what I heard God saying to me.

On our trip, I read The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. I typically love historical fiction, and this book enlightened me about the anti-Chinese sentiment in the Pacific Northwest in the 1860’s. It was interesting enough that I was able to ignore the turbulence while we were flying, but I could only give it three stars. The book juxtaposes two stories—one historical, one modern-day—and I just couldn’t connect with the modern characters. Their story felt forced to me. 

After I got home, however, I came across a cheap used copy of The Fault in our Stars by John Green. I can understand some of the criticism of this novel, and I totally foresaw the “plot twist,” but I couldn’t put it down. I guess this shows that, for me, the characters make or break a book. I felt like I knew Gus and Hazel and I cried through the last few chapters. Seriously, people, why can’t I find a book with a happy ending? Are all the happy books shallow or something? I’m taking recommendations for uplifting, heartwarming, yet deep, well-written novels. Anyone?

I feel like a broken record lately, constantly complaining about how crazy busy our life is right now! I’m trying to embrace the crazy times. Being busy is good. It can mean we are embracing life and loving each other. I also realize that my mental health requires some time for quiet, reflection, and writing. I’m praying about what I can let go in order to meet that need, knowing that our family will benefit from a calmer mama. In the meantime, though, this life is good. I’m thankful for every second of it!

What I'm Into

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Terror by Night

Friendly Warning: This post contains sensitive material.

It’s a complex emotion. Fear.

We all have a relationship with it. Lately I’ve been pondering it. Wrestling with it. Analyzing it. Trying various methods of combatting it. And sometimes giving in to it.

Fear can be good. Adrenaline helps you react in threatening situations. It aids in self-protection. But the fear I struggle with now is the bad kind, the kind of anxiety that paralyzes me and keeps me awake at night. In order to fight this type of fear, I’ve been remembering God’s faithfulness throughout my life. This approach has taken me back to a time when I said, quite confidently, I had met the other side of fear.

If I think about that night, really think about it, I remember the burst of energy, the clarity that took over my mind, and the surprise I felt when I realized that the barrel of a gun was cold, not hot, as I expected it to be when I reached out to push it away.

I was fourteen years old. My little brother was nine.

We headed into the Pocono Mountains that day with our oldest brother, a wise and strong 23-year-old medical student. We stopped at a Park Office. There we discovered that Bruce Lake, the area we were planning to backpack, was not open for overnight camping. Looking at the map, Steven mentioned another place we could go, but it was a longer hike and I groaned inwardly. Perhaps I even protested. Ever the adventurer in those days, I wanted to have a fun time in the woods the easy way. We decided to go to Bruce Lake anyway. To stick to our original plan.

Steven pulled his car off the road near the trailhead and locked it up. We loaded our packs onto our backs and began hiking. We had a leisurely walk through the woods to our campsite.
My younger brother and I had been backpacking one time previously with Steven. That time our parents had tagged along. This trip seemed similar. Easy hike in. Beautiful Pennsylvania woodland. A clearing in the forest.

We arrived in plenty of time to set up camp. We cooked dinner over the fire. Then we watched as Steven suspended our bag of food in a tree. We swam in the lake as the sun dropped low in the sky.

We sat by the fire in the dark and Steven read from the Bible. Psalm 91.

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him I will trust.”
Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler
And from the perilous pestilence.
He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
And ten thousand at your right hand;
But it shall not come near you.
Only with your eyes shall you look,
And see the reward of the wicked.
Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place,
No evil shall befall you,
Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling;
For He shall give His angels charge over you,
To keep you in all your ways.
In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.
You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra,
The young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.
“Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him;
I will set him on high, because he has known My name.
He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him,
And show him My salvation.”

I don’t think I really paid attention to the scripture. I sat there, looking at the campfire and not listening. As I fell asleep in the tent, next to my brothers, worn out from sun and fresh air, I didn’t have any premonition of how I would live out the words of that Psalm before morning.

“Get out of the tent! Park Ranger!”

The voice woke us suddenly. My brother cursed. Guilt flooded my soul. We’d been caught. We shouldn’t have camped here.

Steven unzipped the tent and peered out. “Are you really a ranger?”

“Fuck no!” the man said. “Get out of the tent. Both of you!”

“There are three of us,” Steven said.

We stumbled out of the tent into the clearing, confused but wide-awake.

The man who stood in front of us was dressed in dark clothes, wearing a ski mask, and holding a long gun.

“Take your clothes off!” he ordered.

We obediently stripped to our underclothes while he rambled on, his voice rising and falling in an angry cadence. Slowly we began to understand what was going on. We weren’t supposed to be there. He was looking for a drug drop-off.

“Did you hear any low-flying planes?” he asked.

We shook our heads, watching him thrash around in the bushes, searching, turning back to yell at us every few moments. When he was satisfied that what he was looking for was not there, he came back to us.

“You!” he pointed to my little brother. “Come with me!”

He followed him to a nearby tree, where the man pulled out a pair of handcuffs, wrapped his arms around the tree and cuffed his wrists. He took Steven a few paces to the other side of the clearing and cuffed him to another tree. Then he turned to me. I followed him meekly, but my heart pounded. I knew we were going further than we needed to. We passed tree after tree as he led me into the woods, away from my brothers. Where we’d be alone.

Then he turned to me.

“No!” I screamed. “Don’t touch me!”

I ran back through the woods, back towards the clearing, stumbling over roots and stones.

A gunshot shattered the night air.

“Jesus!” I screamed. “Jesus, help me!”
I veered off the path into the thick undergrowth. Twigs grabbed at me, thorns dug into my shins. Steven yelled—telling me to run, begging God to deliver us.

I stumbled out of the woods into the path again and my assailant was upon me, standing over me with the gun.

“Do you want to die?” he yelled, pointing the gun at me. “Do you want to die?”

“No!” Though the scent of gunfire was still heavy in the air, the gunmetal was cold as I pushed the barrel down. I got up and ran over to Steven. Clung to him, as though he could shield me from the bullets, or from the rapist.

Steven couldn’t. But if you were there that night, you would have seen it for yourself. How the name of Jesus changed our kidnapper from belligerent and angry to meek and accommodating. He was different. As though we had frightened him. He still had his gun, but he no longer had the power. We had a Greater Power.

In the end he tied our hands with rope and left us. He told us we could untie ourselves when he fired his gun from a safe distance. He didn’t want us to follow him.

I wasn’t afraid when I pushed the gun away. Or, maybe I was afraid, but the adrenaline coursing through me took over.

I told my best friend afterwards, “I’d rather be shot than raped.”

I wonder about that. As a mother, I’m pretty sure the reverse would be true now. Perhaps it was the Holy Spirit guiding me, protecting me, telling me the right thing to do. I know deep in my soul God protected us. We might be dead if He hadn’t. At best, I would have been raped as a young teenager. And the aftermath would have been much worse. Maybe I would have recovered. Do we ever really recover? Or do we just learn to live with the scars?
It was bad enough as it was. When I said there is another side to fear, I was thinking of the courage to do what had to be done. The knowledge that if the worst happened, I would enter eternity and that would be good, not bad. But I think I’m forgetting the fear that began afterwards. As we walked back to Steven’s car in the dark—the longest hike I’ve ever taken. When we realized his car window was shattered, his wallet stolen, our address in the hands of the man who’d warned us not to tell the police. When we reached home and my mother greeted us with sobs that wracked her body like nothing I’d ever heard. When we went camping at a safe family campground a few weeks later and my little brother and I kept waking up in terror. The first time our parents left the two of us alone and our other big brother came home unexpectedly. We were in the process of dialing 911 when we realized who it was.

Fear settled in. But over the next few years, I somehow learned to turn it over and recognize the protection we’d been granted. To be grateful. To wonder what I’d been spared for. Surely there was a purpose I was meant to fulfill on this earth. I looked for it. And I slowly stopped being afraid. For the most part.

What helps me now is to remind myself of God’s love. He watched over me as a 14-year-old in the woods that night. He hasn’t forgotten me now. His plan is still in place. If something bad happens, He’ll help me through it or usher me to the other side. His plan will ultimately end well. He goes before me and will be with me. His words about me ring true.

She shall call upon Me, and I will answer her;
I will be with her in trouble;
I will deliver her and honor her.
With long life I will satisfy her,

And show her My salvation.”

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