Friday, June 29, 2012

Destination: Arkansas

Well-traveled as I might consider myself, I know next to nothing about Arkansas.  I’ve never seen a PBS travel show about it.  I’ve never thought, “Oh, man!  Add it to the list!  I gotta’ get to Arkansas!”  Razorbacks and Hope: that’s the extent of my Arkansas trivia.  I’m not hating on Arkansas; it has just never made it onto my radar.  At all.

So it has been with some mirth that we’ve responded to inquiries about our holiday plans this week with a chipper, “We’re going to Arkansas!”  And with even more mirth we began to pile up the incoming brochures and travel guides.  They were ordered for us by my brother, who came up with the perfect home base for our Arkansas adventure: Devil’s Den.

There is actually more to recommend Devil’s Den that you might imagine, or more than I ever imagined, anyway, especially given the name.  There’s the Ozarks, with plentiful hiking, and river activities, and even the intriguing possibility of a zip-line adventure.  There’s also a nearby Civil War battlefield to visit, and somewhere in the vicinity are some presidential relics from the Clintons.

Of course, the biggest reason to visit Arkansas this week, is Texas.  It’s a 14 hour drive from my house to my brother’s - not an impossible distance, but certainly a challenging one for our two larger families.  It has been two years since I last saw my nephews and my niece is almost a year old without my having met her.  So we agreed to meet up half way, and Arkansas was the ticket.  If the only thing I get out of visiting Devil’s Den is a three-day-long game of Skip-bo with our combined 7 offspring, I will come home with glorious memories of Magnificent Arkansas.

And that could make me become a regular.

“Say of your brothers, ‘My people,’ and of your sisters, ‘My loved one.’ Hosea 2:1

Friday, June 22, 2012

Why demolish something so sacred?

My husband jokes that if I ever become famous, they’ll have to put up more historic placards than they used for Ronald Reagan.  It seems like nearly every state has claimed a childhood home of the Gipper.  If it was me, they’d start with the hospital in Effingham, they’d mark the trailer court in Perrysburg.  There’d be East Carlisle Elementary, near Cleveland, where I attended Kindergarten in the basement.  Riverside would have to acknowledge the little ranch house on Priscilla Street, and the 1840’s brick house on Tyler Rd would become quite a landmark, because I wrote my name in the brick and the closets alike during my tenure there.  And that would be before my homeless college years, when I changed domicile from semester to semester and break to break.

The place where I spent the most time as I was growing up, however, would apparently be left off.  An old friend posted a photo this week of the demolition going on by the shores of Belleville Lake.  My high school is being scrapped, replaced by a fresh new building that, from the school district’s on-line slide show, looks very much like every other new high school being built right now, with beautiful glass atriums and state of the art everything.  It made me feel a little old, to see my high school being torn down.  I suddenly realized that it has been twenty years since I joined the choir, swam for the team, and bored the audience to laughter as the office messenger in Up the Down Staircase.  The building was outdated and lacking in many ways, even then, so surely those additional decades haven’t been kind.

For a moment, it felt like maybe I was losing something important to me.  That my next trip to the ‘Ville was going to be somehow lacking in some important connection or memory.  Like most people, I have this habit of believing that my emotions and memories dwell in the buildings where they happened.  But I haven’t been back in the BHS building since the last day I attended there.  In the last fifteen years, I’ve only even driven by once.  The relationships, lessons, life experiences, and memories that happened in that building are alive and well, living in me.  They are part of what made me who I am, and whenever I want to relive them, I have photo albums, yearbooks, and friends with whom to reminisce.  It makes no difference whether that building still stands or not.  But for a moment, looking at the photo, it mattered a lot.

We get the same misconception about faith.  We come to believe that God dwells in brick and mortar.  Oftentimes, we believe, God loves best to dwell where the seats are uncomfortable benches and the window views are obstructed by stained glass.  But it opens up a whole new kind of faith to tear down the church – at least figuratively – and let the relationship, lessons, and experiences live in you, and be lived out in you.  God doesn’t live in a building – God lives in people of faith.

My little heartache at seeing my high school torn down, reminded me again about letting go of the transient things of earth and letting the eternal dwell in me.

“But will God really dwell on earth with humans? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! 2 Chronicles 6:18

Friday, June 8, 2012

I was made for this.

I’m only a month into this “stay at home Mom” gig, but it’s by far the best job I’ve ever had.  The to-do list I was hoping to conquer by being at home is still about three years long, and growing instead of shrinking, but we came in from swimming in the EZ-set backyard pool the other day, to sit around the dining room table and eat bologna sandwiches.  Between slapping cheese and mustard on our wheat bread, we contemplated what we would do during “quiet time,” the two-hour interlude when the baby takes her nap, and read the day’s message from our paper chain (we made a chain of all the days until school starts, and wrote little messages to ourselves on each link).  My oldest suddenly breaks a grin and says, “You know what?  We would be hanging out alone in the youth room trying to keep the baby happy right now.  I’m so glad we’re here doing this instead!”

I’m sure we would still be grateful, even if I’d been home with the kids straight away from Stork’s first delivery, but having spent so many years juggling work and kids, I think we all are feeling the blessings in a much more profound way.  Life is suddenly measured in all these little moments of weed pulling and bologna sandwiches.  I’ve been able to spend hours at the library choosing books with the kids, then actually sitting down and reading with them.  This week, I was able to take them overnight to visit an aunt and uncle, and see a cousin’s first dance recital.  We’ve painted our nails, planted beans, written letters, and made crafts.  I’ve been able to go days in a row without driving thru anywhere to pick up a lunch or dinner on the run.  And that, that is probably the sweetest blessing – we haven’t had to feel like we were living “on the run.”  Instead of trying to get from one thing to the next, and fulfill our obligations quickly enough to leave a little time at the end for each other, we’ve been able to put it in “park,” and make being with each other our only obligation.  We’re contemplating cancelling swim lessons next week, just to savor more of these precious days, just being together.

Not everyone gets the privilege of staying home with their kids, and I realize not everyone would even desire it, but for me, in this moment, it is absolutely the sweetest blessing in my life.  Now forgive me if today’s confession is a little brief and not especially funny – I’ve got a job to do, after all.  The kids have been watching a movie and it’s high time I turned it off and took them outside.
I could do this job forever, but am all too aware of how brief these days will be.

Don't you see that children are God's best gift?
      the fruit of the womb his generous legacy?
   Like a warrior's fistful of arrows
      are the children of a vigorous youth.
   Oh, how blessed are you parents,
      with your quivers full of children!
   Your enemies don't stand a chance against you;
      you'll sweep them right off your doorstep. Psalm 127:3-5

Friday, June 1, 2012

I've been slain by an aluminum bullet.

Just imagine tooling down the highway, the whole family is singing On the Road Again in chorus together, and tagging along behind is that shiny aluminum bullet of Americana – an Airstream camper.  It is something we’ve dreamed of since the success of our first tent camping trip.  It was wildly successful, despite long nights of thunderstorms, foul pit toilets, and inescapable mosquito clouds that threatened to carry our babies away.   If we can have that much fun on the meager sleep and damp accommodations a vinyl tent can provide, imagine the possibilities with the relative comfort and ease afforded by a classic, beautiful camper, with its on-board facilities, functional kitchenette, and enormous shade awning.  Take a moment and dream with me…

Of all things, an Airstream turned up last week, parked along the highway with a “For Sale” sign.  After driving by for a week and averting our eyes, my husband and I both came clean the same day that we’d had our eye on that most beautiful incarnation of outdoor accommodations.  We pulled up next to it and found out that it was actually being offered at the kind of humble price we could consider.  We took my dad by, a guy with plenty of experience buying campers, and he didn’t find anything to stop us, not from the outside anyway.  We made another visit to our Landyacht when someone was actually there to let us in, and it was exactly what we expected inside – outdated, but clean and usable.  No odors, no water damage, all the windows opened and closed, the owner says all the systems operate: an incredibly functional camper for an incredibly accessible price.
This is a little bigger, but similar.

So we’ve spent the last two days mulling it over.  The first, biggest, and most absurd con: we don’t have a truck.  The camper would have to sit on our property as a children’s playhouse until our Caravan dies and warrants a new vehicle purchase (this could happen soon, but how soon is an unknown).  The other cons are less absurd, but important non-the-less.  In the last eighteen months, we have had a baby, bought a hobby farm, sold a house, traded a convertible in on a minivan, and bought a tractor – oh, and I’ve quit my job.  In the next six, we still hope to build a chicken coup, get chickens, build a lean-to, and add at least one grass-eating livestock to our family – oh, and finally get the basement boxes unpacked.  In addition to all that, we’re seriously, seriously considering a kitchen remodel.  Every time I can’t open the door of the fridge far enough, because it’s crowded up against a wall, or I have to run the dishwasher twice in one day, because the “Spacesaver” under-sink model has only half an upper rack, I’m reminded of the need to put all our spare pennies in the kitchen fund.

If we don’t buy the camper, I know, with some certainty, that the day will come when we will look at each other and say, “Man, if only we’d bought that camper.”  If we buy the camper, I know, with some certainty, that my kitchen is going to stay in its current state for another year.  Of course, that may happen anyway – we have a chicken coop to build after all.  But knowing that only makes it harder to pass on my Airstream dreams.  Self denial stinks.  Really really.

a time to search and a time to give up  Ecclesiastes 3:6