Thursday, March 28, 2013

Taking Pause

As we are 1 month out from moving, the packing is just getting under way. It is now officially Spring, and the time of renewal. I would be more excited about this if both Jon and I were not so sick. Jon has stayed home from school for a while now and I'm still attempting work with a froggy voice and tissues stuffed up my nose. No fun at all. To make it more gloomy, Spring weather has decided to take a vacation this year and allow Winter to stick around longer than it is welcome. It's become too easy to just carry on in your little rut and try to get by like this.

Thankfully, my husband was wise enough to know better, and for the sake of our mental and marital health, took us out to get some healthy dinner foods at this wonderful place called Cheffie's. We should have taken the food to go in our state... but we needed a date. We stuffed our faces with the most delicious salads and then got some ice cream. Driving home, we watched the sunset and held hands.

Photo by Justin Fox Burks via

Being cooped up and sick is not romantic, so I was particularly thankful for the little outing. Few things make me as happy a just relaxing and watching the sunset hand-in-hand with my husband. That little date allowed me to step outside my sick foggy stupor and really be thankful for the many blessings in our life.

From what I hear, it's quite dreary everywhere. Are you taking the time to pause and reflect on your blessings despite the more obvious gloom?

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Year Later

A year ago, I was apprehensively stepping off the plane and arriving in Memphis for the first time. This time last year, my husband was preparing for the MTR interviews and I was driving a borrowed car around this city finding my bearings, alone.

Jon's Selection Weekend

Jon worked his way through meetings, tours, interviews, and talks. I drained the battery on my cell phone as I depended wholly on its GPS and the Designsponge city guide I had found. I remember initially being so terribly let down by this tiny city. Memphis was at it's best: upper 70's, sunny, in full bloom, and the mosquitoes were not out yet. All that sunshine couldn't cheer me as I came to all 4 corners of the city and the end of my guide and feeling ultimately underwhelmed. I had no desire to move to this strange and very southern city. I found a coffee shop to charge my phone and faced the window instead of the room. Positioned so, I knew no one could know that the tears had begun to fall.

Jon and I reunited back at the wonderful guest home (palace) that a previously unknown older couple had offered up for us for the weekend. In all it's grandeur amidst their wildlife sanctuary yard and a pool, I felt the panic setting in. When I saw Jon, his face was also wet with tears, but for opposite reason mine were.

The guest house that we stayed in during selection weekend. So beautiful.

That weekend, MTR had been painted as this wonderful program that sought out God's mission and justice in a city plagued with a failing education system and generations of injustice and prejudice. He was more excited about teaching than ever before, and was truly feeling the Lord tug on his heart for Memphis. His tears were of joy and excitement. As much as I love seeing my husband excited, I couldn't catch my breath and had the distinct feeling of falling.

A year later, it's selection weekend again, but this time, for next year's residents. My husband is one of the ones doing the interviewing and touring. Prospective residents will be touring our apartment. The weather is cold, rainy, gloomy. It is quite different from last year in many ways. Yet the biggest contrast is my attitude. I no longer feel like this city is so miserable, lonely, and boring. It may not yet be "home", but it has come a long way in warming up to me. Jon and I have spent this past year trying to get to know this town and finding our own little niche. We have made good friends, established coffee shops and restaurants as our "go-to's" and no longer need a GPS to get around.

Jon was totally right, this program is incredible. He is graduating in May and will be teaching on his own this Fall. I definitely feel like he is better prepared because of MTR than he could be most anywhere else. Best of all, MTR actually seems to be making a huge impact on this city. They have a Gospel-centered approach to education. They believe that urban education is the single greatest social justice and civil rights issue in America today, and teachers can make a difference. I thank God for pushing us out of our comfort zones and moving us 900 miles away. I never thought I would say it, but I'm glad we moved to Memphis. I still miss Richmond dearly, but I know that God is using us both mightily here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Hearty Slap In The Face

Often you encounter challenges in life that force you to face a hard truth about yourself.  No one particularly seems to enjoy the slap-in-the-face process of being shown that you kind of suck. You have two options, you either:
1) run from it by denial, blaming others, or ignoring it
2) you are humbled by the realization and set about enacting change in your life.

This past week was one of those times for me. I was forced to realize that I am pretty insecure, vain, and just don't trust God will provide for me.

The program that husband is a part of provides housing during the residency year. It is a huge blessing to live here amongst the other residents, and made the move easier since we didn't need to find housing. Ultimately, we have decided that after this year, we would like to move to a place that is larger so that we can grow into it, and preferably a place with a larger kitchen. Jon and I began rental house hunting maybe 2 months ago. One thing we learned was that in Memphis, the market is much faster than any other place we have lived. You can really only look a month or 2 out before you want to move, rather than 6-8 months out. Being a planner, I was getting antsy, knowing I had to wait so long to look. Then our landlady for the current apartment said that it would help her out if we moved earlier than June, since since there are so many apartments to turn over before next year's residents come. Hooray!

We saw a few places, both to rent and to buy, not being crazy about any of them. Then last week, we thought we had found the perfect place and set up an appointment to view it at 4pm on Friday. Sadly, someone else thought it was perfect, too, and rented it before we could go see it. I immediately became quite upset over losing a house that I had never even seen. My initial reaction surprised me. "It sounded so nice, and the pictures made it seem like a dream! It had stained concrete floors and plantation shutters on all the windows instead of plastic mini-blinds, I really need that! We could have really impressed our family and friends with this place and be the ones with the cool house!" Wait... really? Is that what I really care about? Maybe it is just a fluke, I'll ignore that and pretend that everything is fine. We had another appointment on Friday to see another prospect, after all.

This other one was way bigger and had the most amazing kitchen of my dreams. I saw this picture and was already drooling. When we saw it, we felt that it was even better than the pictures and was a wonderful deal. We had to live there, and the landlord said it would be ready April 1.

Jon then spoke with the program director of MTR, and he asked that we not move out before May 1. We had agreed to live in community here for the residency year, but moving out May 1 would still help the landlady. April 1 was too soon. Uhoh. We set up an appointment to talk on Sunday at 5:30pm.

My heart began to race and my mind was drifting again. "Would the landlord of this new dream house let us move in a month later? I HAVE to have that house, or all would be lost! It has double ovens and a prep sink! It has so much space! I don't want to look on craigslist anymore! We could have the coolest house ever and everyone would think we are awesome and if we don't get it then nothing else will be as awesome!" Oh. Those thoughts again. Really, that's what I think? Ouch.

This process again revealed some serious sin issues. I realized that I actually thought that I had to have an impressive home that people would be jealous of, and if we didn't get it, then God surely wouldn't provide something else as nice, if at all. Those lies smacked me in the face, hard. Even though I knew in my heart that this was not true, my mind kept drifting to these lies. Every spare moment, I started to worry and become anxious about asking the landlord to move a month later.

It was then that I decided that I really needed to confront this sin. I was getting so worked up over these lies in my head. I had to arrest my brain, take it captive from itself, and redirect my thoughts. Every time I wanted to dwell on the situation, I had to say "STOP it" aloud and then pray. I had to replace the lies with Scripture and truth.

The Lord promises to provide, and commands us not to worry over and over in the Bible. Here are just a few examples. I needed to turn "where will we live, and will it be good enough?" to something more reassuring:
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” - Hebrews 13:5
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. - Jeremiah 29:11
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? - Matthew 6:26
And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4:19
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. -Proverbs 3:5
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. - Philippians 4:6
Sunday came, and finally I was able to really confront the worries as lies that rob joy, put my trust in God who has never yet failed me, and be at peace with whatever the outcome. The truth is that I don't need a nice big house in my own timing. I need God's grace. I could end up in a cardboard box and His grace would still be sufficient. Then 5:30 came and we asked the landlord if we could still have the place, given the changed date. He agreed, and I did the biggest happy dance ever. Not because I got what I wanted and was pleased to have this big cool new house, but because God is so good, and I was excited to feel free from the worries that had entrapped me.

In the end, I was glad that there was that time before receiving an answer to have to squirm and wrestle with my miserable heart. I would not have faced these things otherwise, let alone ever admit to anyone that I so badly wanted them to be impressed with my kitchen. I was too vain and too ignorant of my own issues to notice, or was just running from them.  My hope and prayer is to be able to use this big new place to really be able to bless those around us. We want to use it to feed people, grow community, host gatherings, and praise God in every way that we can. It's not about people thinking that me or my home are awesome, it's about people seeing that God is awesome.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. - James 1:17
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace. - 1 Peter 4:10

Friday, March 1, 2013

Comforts of Home

It's chilly and dreary out again, in true late winter fashion. My toes are perpetually numb and achy, lips chapped, and I am lost under layers of coats and sweaters. Yet this weekend brings a particular warmth. I was able to travel back to Richmond for the wedding of two dear friends. Jon was not able to join me on my venture eastward, but it does my heart so much good to see dear friends face to face again. There have been many hugs and greetings, taking note of new haircuts, new clothes, new children, fianc├ęs, homes, jobs. I come back to find that things have changed every time, as expected.

Still, this place feels like home. I am working from my favorite coffee shop today and it feels as if I have never left. This gives me the best opportunity to see familiar faces and stock up on our favorite roasts. Here, conversations flow at their normal pace. There's no pretense or uncertainty because friends are family. The whole thing just feels natural. I suppose that feeling is hard to shake after living in a place for most of one's life. 

Memphis is still slowly working on becoming home. It used to bother me, but now I think that it's not a bad thing that the place needs more time to grow familiar. Places can be like people. Some are easy to get to know and become fast friends at first glance, while others are slow and more reserved. They take some work and perseverance to get to know them. If you are patient and listen carefully, taking care to let it be at their own pace, they will slowly open up and it will be like you knew them all along. 

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