Preferences, Convictions, and Commitment

I knew this would happen.

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I knew I'd drop my kids off at VBS at our old church every morning last week and miss that place.  I missed it bad.  My husband and closest friends could read it all over my face.

Two years ago, we became members at a different church, the church that we still attend.  Our decision was primarily fueled by the desire to stop commuting half an hour each way every week and to become part of a church body in our home community.  This change was challenging because I loved City Pres.  Had we left because we had been hurt or upset, the transition would have been easier, or at least more clear-cut.  

When we first started coming to Providence Road, I was encouraged to hear the gospel preached so emphatically and to be welcomed immediately by kind people who genuinely love Jesus.  But I missed so many other things about our old church that I struggled to worship in our new one, and still do at times.  I miss the hymns, the responsive readings, the paper order of worship that I could hold in my hands, the communion wine and the kneelers off to the side.  I miss the austere reverence that filled the building and the beauty of the building itself with that big red door, the stained glass, and the wooden arches.  I miss the size of the body and the variety of ages found in it.  I miss those sweet people, many who we've known for twelve years, many who walked with us through the most difficult season of our life together and watched as we renewed our vows in that 100-year-old sanctuary.  

What I have had to realize is that most of the things I miss about City Pres are truly preferences and not convictions.  We are convicted that we need to be in a church in Norman where the gospel is proclaimed boldly and shown to be essential in the lives of the church members and leaders.  That's it.  When Christ stands at the head of a church, all of the minor issues can go.  There is value in finding a place and remaining committed to it, even when more comfortable places exist.  If everyone quit things as soon as they became uncomfortable, no one would ever have children, finish school, runs marathons, or remain married.  

This is not to say that I've had any easy time dying to my preferences in honor of my convictions.  But, He does help my heart.  Two years later, I can honestly say that although I still miss City Pres, I love Providence Road!  As I've slowly loosened my hold on what I want, He has shown me how the gospel can break down all sorts of barriers to give what is needed, namely God himself.  I can love and serve at this church because it is His church and my preferences are secondary to His kingdom. 

He sees me.

There isn't one area of life that our foster daughter hasn't touched. In a little over three months, she has left a mark on our bank account, on our kitchen table, all over our schedules, in our marriage, in our parenting, and on our hearts.  She has taught us a new way to live, which I sometimes appreciate but often resent.  I feel completely spent in almost every way, almost all of the time.

For the past week and a half, teachers in Oklahoma have been on strike, which means that my four-year-old has not been at Pre-K, nor has my three-year-old foster child been attending her preschool class for kids with developmental disabilities.  Consequently, I've been home all day every day with three small humans, a job which many moms gracefully undertake whether or not teachers are on strike.  I, however, have consistently felt ill-equipped, defeated, angry, stressed, and impatient as I've had these kids at home.

Last Wednesday, K started counseling with a therapist who comes to our house.  The whole thing was an absolute disaster for an abundance of reasons that I won't discuss here.  The therapist left after a day which had already included crying, feet stomping, hitting, poopy pants, whining, breaking a bench, and screaming.  Thankfully, the weather outside that day was gorgeous, so I sent the girls to the backyard, sank to the kitchen floor, and burst into tears.  The weightiness of foster care once again hit me like a ton of bricks.

We were discussing our situation in the home of some friends recently.  We were called to be foster parents, but we often wish that we weren't.  One of our friends responded simply,

he sees me

"God sees you."

Those three words have changed everything.

When I got home later that evening, I looked up the Bible passage (Genesis 16) which inspired our friend's words to me.  To paraphrase, a woman named Sarai could not have children.  So, she told her husband to sleep with her slave, Hagar, in order to continue the family line.  Afterward, Sarai became bitter toward Hagar and severely mistreated her, so much so that pregnant Hagar ran away to the desert.  Alone, empty-handed, and afraid, Hagar met "the God who sees" by a stream in the desert.  He heard her cries of misery and promised to bring forth many powerful descendants from her.

He gave her a stream in the desert.  He gives me himself, the Fountain of living water that never runs dry.

She ran away.  He pursued her.  I try to flee from this hard calling.  He finds me, calls me by name, and speaks gently with me.  

He heard her.  He hears my feeble cries for help.

He saw her.  

He sees me!  

On the days when I'm feeling hopeless and looking for an escape, he sees me.  He sees me wiping snot for the fifty billionth time today.  He sees me struggling to love people who I do not like.  He sees me in a pile of emotions on the kitchen floor.  

He sees me with compassion and grace, just as he saw his Son in the garden thousands of years ago, sweating drops of blood.  He sees the tears and sweat and catches every drop.

Son or daughter, child of the King, He sees you, too.

Fan Club Friday: Doorpost Collections

Doorpost Collections nativity advent calendar

Okay, yes, I am writing about my own business today.  

Maybe I'm not supposed to do that, but I figure that since this is my blog, I get to decide what I post.  And to be honest, I've been excited for a long time about the day when I could finally announce Doorpost Collections.

Before I tell you about the Advent Collection I've created, let me first tell you about my awesome husband.  I never thought that I could own a business with Andrew.  We are so different.  But it is precisely because we are so different that I now cannot imagine owning a business without him.  

I can make crafts, and I can write.  Oh, and I know how to be nice to people.  Those are the extent of my business skills.

I created an advent calendar and script for our own family when my oldest was an infant, and it was at Christmastime last year when the teenager living with us suggested, "MR, you could totally sell these.  I bet people would use them."  

This had truly never crossed my mind, but then I thought, "Sure, why not try?  'If you build it, they will come.  Right?'"

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Wrong.  

My dear husband is a business analyst, and he gently explained to his naive wife that this is not the way entrepreneurship works.

Have you thought about marketing?

Where to sell?

Shipping?

Packaging?

Sourcing?

Pricing?

No, no, no, no, and ... no.

So, all that stuff on Etsy and basically everything that is not the actual calendar, storage box, or script itself?  That is all my guy.  I had a dream, and he made my vision a reality.  

It also helps that I'm trying to sell a craft, and Andrew works at the ultimate craft store, Hobby Lobby.  

Anyway, enough bragging about him.  I could go on and on about how opening a business has changed our marriage for the better and made me see things in him that I never noticed before, but I should probably talk about my products.

Currently, Doorpost Collection only includes items for the Advent season, but I plan to expand the shop to include an Easter/Lent collection as well.

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The standard advent calendar includes a 16x16 inch burlap board in its natural wood color, but there is also a whitewash option.  The board comes with 25 miniature nativity objects to be placed on it from December 1-25.  These items have been sourced from a variety of retailers, and a few are handmade.  Each miniature was carefully selected to tangibly represent a part of the story of Jesus' birth in the Bible.  

Inspired by Scripture and Noel Piper's Treasuring God in Our TraditionsI created a script to be read individually or as a family during the month of December.  The script tells the story of Jesus, but it also includes other verses of Old Testament prophesies and New Testament promises.  Each day, the beginning paragraph of the script is repeated, but a new portion is also added which corresponds to the miniature being placed on the board on that specific day.

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A handpainted and numbered 25-drawer storage box for the miniatures can be purchased separately or in addition to the nativity advent calendar.  If you're a DIY kind of person, I've included the script as an option to purchase separately, as well.

If this product sounds simplistic, it is.  That's what I wanted it to be.  The Christmas season is often so full of chaos that the true Reason for our festivities is lost.  Selling these advent calendars isn't about money for me; it's about bringing Jesus back into people's homes.  It's about giving parents a tool for teaching their kids to adore the Savior.  It's about redeeming a holiday that has been distorted.  

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I'll leave you with this letter I've written.  You'll find it in your box if you order from my collection.  

You can check out Doorpost Collections on my website, InstagramFacebook or Etsy.  

 

***

Dear Friend,

I grew up in a home that did not acknowledge Christmas.  Classmates constantly questioned my religious background, wondering if I was Jewish or Jehovah’s Witness.  My response was and still is, “No, my parents are devout Christians.”  For reasons I couldn’t understand at the time, my parents chose to entirely forgo this holiday that the world has a tendency to misrepresent.

My husband, on the other hand, was raised in a family where Christmas has always been the year’s biggest celebration.  Yet, even with all of the festivities, the true meaning of advent was lost on him, as well.

Adopting our oldest child caused us to consider, for the first time, what we desired holidays to be for our own family unit.  I devoured Noel Piper’s Treasuring God in Our Traditions book in only a few days and then attempted to implement some of her wisdom into our home.  Unfortunately, the advent calendars and script which she sold when she wrote the book were no longer available.  So, I decided to make my own.

As I worked on this project, my heart changed toward Christmas and Jesus.  I had originally created the calendar to teach the story of Christ’s birth to our children through a digestible story and tangible objects, but I really ended up teaching the story to myself.  Writing the script that we would read in our home required extensive Bible research on my part, and seeing Old Testament promises fulfilled through the Messiah brought renewed joy to my spirit.  I found myself eagerly anticipating each evening during the advent season, when we would gather as a family and add another piece to the burlap board.  Seeing the wonder of the Savior through the eyes of my children sparked my own wonder, too.  For the first time in my life, Christmas had meaning.

The name, Doorpost Collections, was chosen with intention.  We, like the Israelites, are a forgetful people.  We need objects and routines which stir our affections for Christ.  My prayer is that, as you display and use Doorpost Collections in your home, you will be enabled to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

                                                                                 All glory to Jesus,
                                                                        Mary Rachel

15% of Doorpost Collections’ proceeds go directly to Peru Mission.  For more information, visit www.perumission.org.

One Thousand Gifts: The Joy Project

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"Some days I pick up a camera and it's a hammer ... the Farmer finds me with my hammer in hand, leaning over a plate of cheese grated and sitting in sunlight ... It is quite possible that the God-glory of a ring of shredded cheese may be lost on him ... Ridiculously happy over slips of cheese.  That I am, and it's wild, and, oh, I am the one who laughs.  Me!  Changed!  Surprised by joy!"

I roll my eyes, shut this absurd book, and go to sleep.  Who finds such joy in shredded cheddar?

Ann Voskamp does.  I started reading her book, One Thousand Gifts, in 2014, following the resolution of the most difficult time in our marriage.  The premise of the book is that, by naming the thousands of everyday gifts around us, we become more thankful and joyful people.  

It's a good idea, really.  But the plate of cheese scene was too much for me.  I am not a flowery or dramatic person when it comes to words.  I have this mostly-unbroken rule, though: If I start a book I will finish it.  

So I did.  I muscled my way through the remainder of One Thousand Gifts.  Although Voskamp's writing style frequently irritated me, I arrived at the last chapter of the book and got out of it what I believe she intended.  

What if I started naming my everyday gifts?  How would this change me?  Would it change me?  Would I find myself gushing over a plate of cheese by the end?

On October 11, 2014, I began naming my gifts and recording each one in my journal.  I didn't list something every day, but the first 304 were easy.  

2. Solitude

14. Legs that give me the freedom to run

34. Date nights

50. Amazon Prime

79. Health insurance

129. Pillows

180. Birds singing

210. When a favorite song comes on the radio

297. Pretty handwriting

Then I got lazy.  For whatever reason, I quit journaling as much as I once did, and the One Thousand Gifts Project was temporarily abandoned.  

Just before New Year's Day 2017, my husband and I, along with other members of our community group, chose a word that we wanted to define us in 2017.  

Mine was JOY.  The many mundane aspects of life had become monotonous to me, and I desired for something to be different.  On January 1, 2017, I picked up my pen again and resumed my "gifts list" at number 305, resolving to actually make it to 1,000 this time.

On September 16, 2017, an ordinary Saturday morning, I accomplished my goal.  

When I restarted The Joy Project in January, I knew that I would need to list an average of almost two gifts per day in order to finish before the end of the year.  Simple enough, I thought.  Some days, the gifts flowed out of my pen with little thought.

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365. When I can let my plans go and be okay

379. Walmart grocery pick-up

382. When Piper talks out loud to the TV

394. Conflict resolution

448. Speaking English

Other days, I felt as though I had already named every gift I've ever received.  

These were the moments that changed me.  

Instead of listing the gifts that were obvious (#450: Our dog), I had to start noticing.  I had to find joy in not only the ordinary, but also in the disruption of my plans and in the hardest days when giving thanks was anything but natural.   

Why is my kid asking SO. MANY. QUESTIONS?

486. Piper's curiosity

Spring allergies.  All the sneezing and itchy eyes.

544. Those beautiful white trees that stink, making me think that God has a sense of humor

Yet another kid birthday party this weekend.

556. People liking our kids enough to invite them to parties

Sister's eczema is horrendous today.

613. C's eczema giving us permission to not bathe her every night

If someone else touches me today, I might scream.

664. Having little hands that love to hold mine

I didn't get to do that thing I wanted to do this morning.

753. How motherhood has taught me to be more flexible

These are ways in which I view the world now.  

The Joy Project is no longer about writing down hundreds of gifts but about turning everything into an opportunity for praise and gratitude.

Admittedly, I never sobbed over a pile of cheese, but I began noticing the tiniest details (844: The way that eggs cook, changing from clear to yellow) and finding the good in everything from daily tasks to the most potentially upsetting situations.

Even after nearly ten consistent months of choosing joy, naming gifts still feels unnatural and sometimes awkward.  My tendency is toward anger, frustration, and annoyance.  But because of The Joy Project, I am more quickly abandoning those attitudes and adding to my gifts list instead.  

Now that I've reaching one thousand, I think I'll keep going.  Joy can be found everywhere, if we choose to open our eyes to it.  Who knows, maybe I'll make it to a million one day.

Photos by Kate Bernard

Perfectly Imperfect

Do yourself a favor and watch this video the whole way through.  That last scene, though ...

See?  The Ichabod incident had me trying to stifle tears in the middle of Starbucks because I was laughing so hard.  And, because I'm a glutton for punishment or something, I kept rewatching it.     

My husband introduced me to these PSAs a couple of weeks ago because he stays "in the know" on things like this.  I'm a student and a mom of young children, so I basically live in a cave.  

"Don't you love those foster care ads that have been coming on TV lately?" he asked after work one day.  Naturally, I hadn't seen any of the ads he was referencing, which prompted the YouTube search and uncontrollable laughter in Starbucks.

I do love them.  I especially love the hamster video because I can totally see it happening in our house.  

{Several weeks ago, we were dogsitting and potty training (our small human, not the dog) at the same time, a guaranteed recipe for disaster.  During the 30 seconds in which I was taking dinner out of the oven, Caroline pooped on the floor, and the dog ate it.  Then, because this story just keeps getting better, Sister greeted our very first AirBnB guest with, "Ellie (the dog) eat the poop."  Y'all, I can't make this stuff up.}

I guess the real reason that I love those PSAs is because of the last line:

"You don't have to be perfect to be a perfect parent." 

When we adopted our oldest and now that we are starting the foster care process, we have heard a lot of, "You guys are perfect for that!" or "Wow, y'all are such good people."

We aren't.  Not even close.  

If you think otherwise, you should come over and be a fly on the wall during the circus that we call "bedtime".

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We didn't decide to adopt and do foster care because we are awesome people, or because we are exceptional parents, or because we are SuperChristians, or because we have our junk together more than others do.  We chose to adopt because we wanted to grow our family.  We agreed to do foster care because we saw a need to be met, and we have the means to help.  We aren't perfect, but we know the One who is.

At least 87 times a day, I ask myself, God, or the nearest person in the room if we are completely crazy for wanting to add to the chaos that is currently our life.  "I don't parent two children very well at times; how can I possibly parent more?" I wonder aloud.

The truth?  There will be grace for the days as they come.  

When my girls were tiny, I thought that I could not possibly endure another sleepless night.  And then I did.  God does not give the strength needed for tomorrow, today.

I'm such a detail-oriented person that I tend to "miss the forest for the trees" on a regular basis.  I have recently come to realize that I will drown myself in the particulars of foster care if I dwell on them, so I need to take a 10,000 foot view of it all.  I could ask tons of "what if" questions and play out every scenario in my head, but at the end of the day, I try to keep coming back to this: Our journey will be hard and good, and that is the most that I need to know in this instant. 

Oh, and if you're reading this and somehow still thinking that I have a good heart aside from my little imperfections, I should tell you that this "good heart" was just pondering the many ways in which foster care will make our lives more uncomfortable.  The call of comfort, for me, is almost always more alluring than the higher callings of love and holiness.

My husband and I are two imperfect people raising two imperfect people.  But we'll be the perfect family for some imperfect child in spite of everything.