Pushing Past the Breakers

“It really is a lot harder than it looks,” she tells me, this world traveler sister of mine. The call between Australia and North Carolina was exceptionally clear. She was telling me about her experiences of learning to surf, in small intervals between heavy study loads and school requirements… Fantastic beaches with promising waves are in abundance over there, as are the sharks and such. But she assures me, “Oh they have shark nets and coast guards on jet skis and helicopters.” What is intended to reassure me rather convinces me there is a genuine cause for concern.
But she laughs me off.

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“You spend a lot of time on your board, paddling and watching…”
She told me how you paddle out the canal, which sometimes has a strong undercurrent, and then you peel off to the side and try to catch a wave. Lots of paddling, waiting, seeing the beginning of the right wave and digging your arms deep into the water. Eyes glued on the wave as it rises higher and higher and you try to reach it before it breaks. “Paddle harder!” her friend would yell, coaching her as she dove towards the rising swell.

Sometimes it catches you too soon and you are pounded by the waves, shoved under the swirling water and battered by the surf. “It was easier when I learned to let go and stop fighting the waves. I’m actually quite calm now when I get shoved under. Eventually it will pass and I know I’ll surface again.”

When I think of surfing, I think of those snapshots of guys balanced in the emerald blue water, crouched on their board as the wave curls just above their sun bleached hair. That moment in time looks epic, timeless, exhilarating.

But now I know the back story. The sweat and sunburn. The big bruise on her calf left by the fin on her board when a wave caught her off guard.
“I’m kinda proud of it, actually,” she laughed. She has always been determined. But now she is stronger, tanned and muscled in a new way. While she won’t ever compete in a surfing competition, she has forged the deep waters of her own fear and caught the waves.

Don’t underestimate the courage it takes to face the deep when you have lost your brother to drowning. But she has, and faced it squarely. And then she pushed past in and met the waves.

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I close my eyes, and even though I’ve never ridden a wave atop a surf board, I feel it. My current season of life is a lot like surfing. Lots of paddling, digging in deep and reaching forward. Sometimes instead of sliding into the crest of a wave and getting to my feet, I spend the day getting clobbered by wave after wave. Some days I feel like I got stranded in a tide pool, going in circles on my board in stagnant water surrounded by broken coral. The sun is hot and my skin is burning. The Scotch Irish freckles pop but even that is not enough to keep my pale skin from blistering red.

I’m surrounded by four amazing and hilarious kiddos that keep me laughing and thrown to my knees in deep need. I feel guilty admitting it, but sometimes I look in the bathroom mirror and just pause. I stare deep into the eyes in the reflection and I see exhaustion. There is discouragement and fear. The shame of my failure today, of losing my patience, the devastation in seeing in my child’s eyes that I failed, again.

Mothering is hard. While the moments of snuggling with newborns are timeless, the reality of attitudes and growing pains as they near my height catches my breath. I envisioned motherhood as delightful – picnics in the yard and hours of reading books aloud on the couch with sweet smelling children clustered all around. I forgot about multiplication tables and dirty laundry and closets jammed with hidden messes.

But I reach for my Bible and my unspoken prayer, “Something practical, Lord. A clue, a tip, a step by step for tomorrow when Monday hits full force.” And I find it in sacrifice. Not where I was expecting it.

“I appeal to you mothers, by God’s mercy, that you view your bodies as a gift of sacrifice in the little moments. In the daily living, that you choose to give. To trust God. That you embrace the hardness, knowing that God sees the offering and the pain, and sees value. Live these moments in holiness, knowing that you are accepted. When you live like this, you are living out worship to your Maker.”

All the giving and doing and washing and folding becomes transformed into moments of deep and eternal meaning. The choosing a smile and calm voice in the face of an angry child or tantrum throwing toddler isn’t just the right thing, it becomes the active way I say, “Yes, God, I honor you, here in my battle. Here where I want to be angry, I choose Your attitude. I choose peace. I choose joy.”

He says, “Paddle hard! Dig deep, press in. Not for the immediate reward, and gratification of now, but knowing that your offering is a gift of worship. And whether you catch that next wave and ride it high, or get clobbered and knocked off your board, I love you. I see your sacrifice. I notice your exhaustion, and I accept you. In your failures, in your successes. Your muscles are growing. You are gaining valuable experience. Your character is exploding out there on the breakers…”

The ebb and flow of the waves are like the emotion of the moment, always moving, never the same. But God is always on the board beside me, coaching me, cheering me on. This is about my journey with Him. Your board and mine may hit different waves, we make get pommeled at different times, but we are all in this together. Today you might catch your first break, I may have to paddle a few more waves to finally get a good one. Judgement and comparison melt out here in the waves. We are all in the water together.

The Scotch Irish burn slowly gives way to a subtle tan. And I learn to paddle, not because I know I will be successful on the next one, but because my life is an offering. Each moment is an invitation to worship through my life.  Offerings and worship involve gifts that are given, not held onto. Release, and transferring ownership. This is my life, but I’m giving it away.

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Some days it is just about claiming a promise when the feelings are lost at sea. When the dishes pile high and the children’s needs even higher. “Paddle harder,” whispers in my ear. Not because he demands it, but he lures me out of my exhaustion into deeper strength and character, into His realm and out from mine.

It is out of my comfort zone that growth happens, that praise rises from the deep.

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Photo credits entirely due to the amazing Gretta at grettagraphy.com

Raising Children to Risk

I’m neck deep in 4th grade math when a small hand pats me.

“Mom, cute!” I look down and notice her vibrant and varied shoe selection.
A sleek leather mary jane on one foot and a splashy pink glittered flip flop on the other.

“Yes!” I said, “cute!” -meaning her, not necessarily the shoe selection.

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I’m learning that raising children means embracing them and their uniqueness.
My goal as their mother is not to make them fit my expectations, but to help them reach their fullest potential as the person God created them to be.
Sometimes that means choking down a fat piece of humble pie.
Sometimes that means not meeting other parents expectations when I know the back story on my child’s situation.
Sometimes it means letting my children make mistakes and face the consequences instead of hovering over their every decision to “protect” them from failure.
I’m raising them in my own needs and flaws, and attempting to extend the grace to them that I find myself needing so deeply.

I’m not raising my children to be perfect, to never fail, to always get perfect grades.
Yes, we reach for excellence in every area possible.

We’ve all seen the mom who cannot ever really let go. The one who forbids her boys to climb trees lest they fall and break an arm. The one who never lets her 3 year old use scissors cause she might cut herself.
But the reality is, experiences teach much better than rules and words.
Warn them, yes, but don’t coddle and bubblewrap them.
They need room to grow and run, and tumble at times.

My mom had to gulp so many times as my brother struggled through becoming a man, without a dad and surrounded by women.
It ended in a salty way, with his death at a very young age.
Could she have prevented him from going on that campout? Yes.
Would it have been right? No.
She did what every good mother would do, she let go and prayed her heart out.
And although his story ended so much sooner than we expected, he tasted God in those months of deep searching. His journey was a hard one, but he found God.
And even though it is hard, it is good.
Stories written by God rarely are penned the way we expect.
He sees the big picture, while we are zoomed into the here and now.

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It’s a real world out there, and our children will face hardship and failure if they live in authenticity. I want to show them that getting up when they fall demonstrates much more strength than never falling at all.

Risk is worth the risk. Failure means reaching for growth, and finding what didn’t work. Experience is a rich and valuable teacher, even when it is a salty one.

Mothering involves all of us. Letting go of reputation, expectation, perfection.
It demands everything.

But it returns ever so much more.

Become their biggest cheerleader. Laugh more, and stress less.
Be the place where they know they are always safe and accepted and loved. Not because of any grade or performance, but because you know and believe in them as a person. And because you just plain LIKE them.
Their heart is always safe with you.

These children are one of the biggest gifts we will ever experience.

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Beauty in Diversity

Tissue paper rustled as the gifts were opened. Eyes looked eagerly at the soft baby blankets and adorable baby clothes. I peered around at this group of beautiful women. Long hair, short hair, heavy make up and none at all. The gal to my left wore stylish booties and I had on my simple leather flip-flops. Skirts and skinny jeans side by side. Across the room sat a beautiful middle eastern woman, shiny gold necklace hanging below her burka and stunning dark eyes.

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We spoke slowly and added a few gestures to make sure she was able to follow the conversation. She is a brave soul to cross the ocean and jump into another world and another culture. To suddenly be the one who doesn’t understand many things.
What is a “garage sale”? What is a “sister in law”?

Back home, she had completed cosmetology school and was able to hold a respected job, here she is attending English classes every day, an outsider. Once that’s tackled, she starts over with cosmetology school, in a foreign language surrounded by pale blond haired women. And yet, we all sat around and watched as a friend opened baby gifts.
We smiled and chatted. Different and yet all the same.

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Recently a small online group started, all of us moms on a quest to live more purposefully and healthfully, to make good choices about our time, food and even tone of voice as we speak to our children. I cannot tell you how healthy this place has become. Each day we check in, and say how our day went and if we met our goals. It is also a place where we ask for prayer if our day is rotten or if we simply need some encouragement.

This morning, one girl bravely spoke up,
“…Most of you do not need to lose the weight like I do, but all coming together to better our health is so encouraging. I’ll be honest, I have about XX lbs to lose. (It’s very humbling to reveal this)… So thank you all for keeping me accountable…
Pray I will continue to be faithful and committed, if you think of it.”

Even though weight is not my issue, I have other very real and difficult issues. I typed back to her,
“While we may not all be fighting the exact same battles,
we are all fighting battles and in this together.”

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God created so much beauty in diversity, and he made all things well.
All shades of skin, widely varying body shapes and personality types.
God obviously is an artist with wide and vibrant tastes, and we all fit into his beautiful plan. But how quickly the beauty fades when we let comparison steal the unique quality God intently created.

It reaches far deeper than how much mascara you wear, or how good you look in skinny jeans. The cold fingers of judgement and comparison reach deep into our lives, and drive icy wedges between people who are intended to be arm in arm in our walk on this world. Fear and isolation takes the place of deep safety and fellowship.

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Grief and trauma often catapults us into a place of dark isolation.
The little girl who was raped by a relative goes into shock and tries to pretend everything is ok.
The newlywed who just miscarried feels like a failure and that no one knows the silent lonely loss she is facing.
The wife whose husband works long hard days with unpredictable hours serves supper cold again, and feels none of her friends know, or care.
The chilling report from the doctor locks the grandfather into a time frame he doesn’t know how to handle.
The refugee left shivering on the rocky coast after an endless night on the waters, holding her infant and all she now owns in a small bag.

This could be you, this could be me.

We ALL face battles. And while we may feel alone, we are not.
Every person you walk past in the grocery store today is a story.
They each carry words unspoken that burn deep,
and have carved the story on their soul.

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If you have walked a deep valley, and come out into the sunshine again, pause.
Look around.
Open your heart to see those still in the shadows.
Stretch out your hand and offer hope.
Courage.
Even just a deep breath and smile of acknowledgment, a word of support- these are the hands of Christ. Maybe he wants you to reach out of your comfort zone, and step into someone else’s journey.
To guide or accompany as they face their battle today.

Jesus left us here on earth to spread his love, in real and physical ways.
He suffered to assure us that we would never be alone in our suffering. In our tears, and in our joys. His promise to always be with us stands forever.

While we may not all be fighting the exact same battles,
we are all fighting battles and in this together.

Let your hand be an expression of hope today.
Let your words give life.
Let your smile assure someone they are not alone.

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Photo credits go again to grettagraphy.com and were taken over her time in the refugee camp.

Safe in our messes

It’s a dreary Saturday here, but in spite of the heavy clouds and soggy outdoors, Daniel said, “We should have cake!” So I stood at the kitchen counter, whipping up the batter as bacon and eggs sizzled on the stove. The table was being set by young helpful hands, and my mind was running in about 14 directions, until a horrible crash silenced everything.

I whirled around and saw my sweet helper holding a plastic pitcher, but surrounded with shards of glass. It took me a few seconds to figure out what the catastrophe had been. Then I saw it, the remaining rim of a mason jar, but far worse, the Chemex coffee carafe standing gaping lopsided on the countertop.
My daughter’s wide eyes were filled with horror.

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I tried not to think about the fact that we use that coffee maker daily. Instantly I was wracking my brain trying to figure out how I would make our afternoon coffee.

My words came out calmly, but halting-
“Oh no, it’s so expensive!”
There was no anger, just stunned sadness.
She slipped off to her room to cry, and I warded curious toddlers away from the glass littered kitchen floor and swept the shatters into the dustpan.

God has been teaching me to hold my tongue, to bite back words of anger.
I’m trying to speak life and love and hope into my children. I’m in a group of women who are holding each other accountable to our choices, words included.
It has been so healthy, so revealing, so vulnerable, and ever so good.
But again and again I find myself sweeping my own broken pieces into the dustpan, cleaning up another mess of mine.

But I called her back and held her.
“Honey, I’m sorry I wasn’t more gentle. Mistakes happen, and you didn’t mean to do it. I made SO many mistakes as a child. It is just part of growing up.”
Her blue eyes looked into mine and she managed a smile.
She forgives so readily.

I wish instead of mentioning the expense of replacing the Chemex, I would have dropped to my knees and assured her right off that everything was going to be okay. I wish my first impulse had be to hold her heart safe. I didn’t lash out in anger, but I did say words that chilled her little heart.

I remember when I was about her size, one day I climbed up onto my mom’s bathroom vanity and was snooping around in her makeup. My knees straddled the sink bowl and I picked up the glass jar of liquid foundation, but in my wobbly balancing act, it slipped from my fingers. The next thing I knew, there was makeup and glass shards everywhere. I looked in the mirror and vowed I would never forget this moment. Perhaps a bit dramatic, but it stuck with me. I remember the chilling horror that flooded my daughter’s veins this morning.

30120882_10213300203331607_1683868524_nMy mom was a medical student’s wife. She knew all about needing to stretch pennies, and how well I know that balancing act now. But I don’t remember her being upset at all.

I just remember the shame
I felt at my mistake.

Today, I am reminded to treasure children’s hearts more than things.
To pause and swallow salty words, and choose to pull close and hug.

I remember that I have paved the way for these children of mine, shattering things and making bigger messes than they have.

Children need grace and safety in their mistakes.
And as the years go by, nothing changes.
As an adult, I still need grace and forgiveness. I mess up big.

But I’m struck at God’s warm hand on my shoulder, as He helps me sweep up the last of the glass shards, and shows me the true lesson of a broken Chemex.

He is here, He is safe, in our shattered pieces.

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Springtime thaw

Spring is in the air, even though the weather man forgot to get out of bed this morning. It IS the first day of spring, after all, but it as gloomy and dreary as they come. I think Mr. Weatherman pulled the sheet up over his head and dove down deep to avoid the wrath of winter-bound mothers like me, who want blooms instead of fireplace warmth today.
It’s been one of those deeply confused winters here, where we wore flip flops and snow boots in the same week. We never knew for sure if it would be a coffee on the couch morning or sandwich picnic afternoon. Long branches of white blooms stood cheerily by my fireplace as another cold snap happened and their blooming buddies outside froze to death overnight.
But thankfully, my head is starting to clear, and my brain is beginning to thaw.
You know the spring melt – where all the frozen ice of the winter finally gave way to the warmth of the sun and melted in front of the daffodils?
That’s what’s starting to happen over here,
little by little, bloom by bloom.
And with the warmth comes hope.
I eye the yard, which lay dormant and tired all winter, and see the branches littering the yard with zeal. An afternoon date with the leaf blower will make a radical transformation under our massive willow oaks, who bequeath us with tons of despairingly tiny leaves. I’m eager to free the young blades of grass and watch the yard turn green and fresh.

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The closets, the garage, the kitchen pantry and bookshelves all are subjected to my determined ambition – we will deepclean and cull every corner of this home. The yard will stand in awe as the troops swarm over them with rakes and wheelbarrows and a dump truck load of mulch. And we will celebrate with short sleeves and a popsicle party.
I am a dreamer, and the last few weeks a property not too far from us has tortured me with its low price and begging potential. What some see as a tired old rental house to me is a house with great bones and potential, just needing a bit of CPR, plastic surgery and a lot of love.
But I slapped myself in the face a few days ago and closed the webpage, and turned my ambition my own unpainted trim. A sure cure for insomnia is to arm yourself with a paint brush and gallon of trim paint and work till 2 AM.
So I’m channeling my pining into focused priorities.
Trim and crown moulding will be the first box on the to-do list to check off, and then the yard once it has dried and warmed a bit (snow is in the forecast tomorrow).
Every once in a while, when I need a fresh dose of motivation, I watch an episode of “Hoarders” and then I fly off the couch and dive frenzied into the deepest darkest corners of my house, and all falls terrified under my touch.
To keep only what we need and love, and to free our home of all that burdens and clutters. Our homes are to be a place of freedom, not bondage. If my closet is full of clothes that make me groan, it’s time to cull heavily. With changing seasons, and pregnancy and nursing and then neither, it’s enough to make even the bravest catch their breath.
My goal this year is to be able to embrace.
To embrace today.
To embrace my children and be a safe place for their hearts.
To embrace the unfinished corners of our house.
To fix what I can, and be content with what I cannot.
But I’m also seeking to embrace what God has for me. Pressing into the dark corners of my heart, and letting God bring light and truth and wholeness.
To walk in truth in every moment, this is my desire.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2
We are created in His image, and He has complete freedom for each one of us.
I’m raising the windows and letting the warm air in. It’s spring time, inside and out.

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Join me on this spring journey and embracing God in His fullness,
letting Him dig deep into the cold winter of my heart and letting spring burst in bright color.
Embrace hope.

Where is God wanting to thaw your heart?
Where have you closed the closet door and pretended the clutter doesn’t exist?
PC to grettagraphy.com who is doing the same, from the other side of the globe…

‘Cause Love is Deeper than Roses

I’ll never forget the moment the processional started playing. My heart was pounding so hard I was sure you could see it through my dress. I grabbed my brother’s arm and we started up that long aisle, and to Daniel’s glittering eyes and face all radiant.

I still love going to weddings. They are such a beautiful glimpse into this mysterious thing called love.
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But when the pastor leans over the pulpit and says, “…You have no idea what real love is,” I always stiffen. It didn’t happen at our wedding, but I’ve heard it several times…

Be gentle with this young couple because they ARE in love, and they DO know what love is.
Yes, innocent and juvenile at times, but on this day when they clasp hands and commit till death do them part, they are in love.

But in reality, love grows. It deepens. As life tosses a job change, a cross-country move, an early miscarriage, they hold tighter, they wipe each other’s tears, and they don’t let go. They love more fully. It is the same love that they treasured on their wedding day, just more mature.

I thought on my wedding day that five years had been a long time.
I had admired this guy for ever so long, but I knew that marriage didn’t fit with his adventurous missionary life style.
Thankfully, God’s story overrode my career plans and his, and 12 years ago, at 22 and 23 years young, we said: “I do.” To what, we didn’t exactly know.
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No one would have dreamed that as I stepped away from Isaac to Daniel at the front of the church, that in three years, Isaac would be gone. That Daniel would be the one up at those midnight hours searching for his body.

No one could have prepared us for the bumps and knocks that happen on the mission field. The burnout, the feeling of abandonment, the disconnection from home and the creeping cynicism I’d fight on our return to States life. This certainly wasn’t the rosy picture I’d always cheerfully imagined.

But Daniel was steady.
He was safe, as I dumped my wobbling emotions and volatile grief. Just like Isaac had sat and listened to me dump out my woes years ago, holding my hand and there for me when he couldn’t “fix it,” now Daniel pulled me close as I learned to let go of my brother.
Of my dreams and expectations.
Real love isn’t perfect, but it is faithful. It is never letting go.
Real love holds on when the shoulders heave with sobs, and eyes can’t see straight.

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Daniel has always been there for me.
We have had seasons of normal life, of an 8-5 job, a regular pay roll.
And now we are surfing the waves of raising four lively little mini-me’s, that keep us both on our knees and laughing till our sides hurt. Daniel’s school and work schedule keep us both panting, drinking deeply of our morning coffee together and winking at the long study hours where I keep the little ones quiet downstairs, and he crams upstairs on our bed. We couldn’t do this forever, but it is a season, and we are okay with that.
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Sometimes being in love means being willing to do without.
To let go of expectations and embrace the uniqueness of today. To embrace the fact that our marriage won’t look like anyone else’s. Like when I took the children and joined my mom and sisters on a trip to Texas to see my grandparents, knowing that my grandfather might never see the baby if I didn’t.

But it meant two weeks of being away from Daniel, of showing him the Alamo via FaceTime and blowing kisses as the moose face on the other side of the screen.
(iPhone cameras can be brutal to us long-nosed folks).

Or like the time when Daniel went to Togo to help out at aPhoto on 10-4-15 at 9.41 AM #2 mission hospital and his life was forever changed. It’s about odd hours of phone calls with me wrapped on the couch in a blanket and him on the other side of the globe, swatting mosquitoes and telling me about the fascinating surgeries he got to see that day. Of him sprinting from the airport to see the Eiffel Tower on his layover in true Daniel style, and sending me pics saying, “Someday we will do this together.”
Sometimes true love is about being excited for the other one while I make sacrifices.

Early on in our relationship, Daniel and I had a conversation about gifts, flowers, and chocolate. We are both free spirits and feel suffocated by expectations of chocolates and roses on certain days. We laugh and thank the other one for NOT buying us stuffed teddy bears. I would much rather a bouquet of wildflowers on a random day when it was genuine, over the dutiful dozen red roses on Valentine’s Day. One year he nailed it with 750 tulip bulbs that we planted and got to enjoy for years to come instead of one bouquet on our anniversary.

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Real love is demonstrated in the nitty-gritty of life. In the filling the gas tank for me and checking the oil on my car. True love is helping me make the bed each morning, without a word. It is in the remodeling an old house for me or throwing the frisbee with the nine-year-old. Sometimes it means staying cool and calm while picking me up from a pool of blood and taking good care of me while I recover like he did two weeks ago. Love bends and stretches and grows.

When love is freely given, it is most powerful.
When it stands the test of time and holds strong in the salty moments too that love is best illuminated.

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And sometimes it means walking into the kitchen where I am washing dishes with a bouquet of red roses behind his back.
Like he did last night.

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Today is about being loved, and loving in return.
You might not be married. Days like today can feel salty and raw.
You might be in a marriage that burns painful each day.
Bouquets of roses are just a slap in the face because they represent what could be.
You might have faced severe betrayal and struggle even to want to love again. To trust. Love might feel like a lie to you.

But the truth is, today you are loved.
You are treasured.
You are delighted in.

If not by a man, by your Creator.
Stop and listen, He is whispering words of hope and joy.
Just listen.
And smile.

Today, you ARE loved.

The Fireplace that Could

When we first walked into this 100-year-old house, complete with leaky roof and sagging floors, we saw lots of work that needed to be done. But when we stepped into the big living room and saw this towering ancient brick fireplace, we swooned. It wasn’t perfect. Maybe that’s what caught my eye. I saw character.

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I saw beauty in the uneven bricks and age-old mortar.
I’ve always been a sucker for antiques, and old places restored and revived.

Here is the listing photo of our living room, before we applied any elbow grease at all, before the clutter disappeared and we ripped out the crooked shelves
(and before we stripped and stained the floors, whitewashed the walls, painted trim, etc.):

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But once we moved in, we discovered that the mortar was INDEED ancient,
and the slightest brushing up against it caused a fine shower of dust to settle to the floor. With four active children bouncing through the house,
we knew we had to figure out a way to seal it in.

Daniel sprayed it with a sealer, and while it was now all holding together quite well, the creamy mortar turned into wet looking clay.
I was mortified. Or mortorfied.

Every time I walked into the living room, I gulped. What had started out as something I loved was now a massive eyesore. This was NOT what I fell in love with.

The old yellow heart pine floors were sanded and re-stained and turned a lovely brown. The outside of the house got new siding and a roof. But this chimney had become the big bad wolf of the living room.
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To make matters worse, there were a few spots where the mortar had fallen out altogether, and invited tiny fingers to keep picking, creating larger and larger crannies. Something HAD to be done.

Then one day it DID get worse- I had a child who decided to go chimney climbing and stood on the corner brick and found it was no longer attached. Or causing it to be no longer attached. When the avalanche was over, there was a child, a chipped brick and lots of mortar power on the floor. No real harm was done, except the that someone’s pride was bruised and we had to stare at a haggle toothed mantle for months.

So I set out on Pinterest and researched every brick treatment option known to man. I didn’t want to paint it since I loved the variation in the brick. But something that would fill in the cracks and lightly cover the color while still letting some show through. I stumbled upon the German Smear idea, and yes, this was before Chip and Joanna launched it on their show.
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I watched every tutorial on Youtube about it, scoured for every blog post or article online till my confidence reached a level of launch-ability. I’ve felt frustrated that are so many projects in this house that I cannot do alone, but this was one I could.

I went to Lowes and got the bag of mortar the guy wearing the vest recommended. But when I got home, it was FAR too gray and corse for the smear I was looking for. It worked great for filling those gaping holes and reattaching the dislodged corner brick, but then I headed back to the store, a little more educated and a bit more self-dependent. Lowes workers have no idea what a decorative German smear is. So I came home with this baby.

I attacked it with a vengeance. Cleaned the dust and cobwebs off (yes, I am that mom who has spiders in her old home. Pardon me. We DO live in harmony, not like my last house with its genuine infestation of Brown Recluse spiders) and mixed it to milk shake consistently.
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It’s pretty simple. Spray the brick to get it damp, smear it on, focusing on the mortar joints, and wipe off areas of excess with your gloved hand and a damp rag. You do want gloves for this, ’cause mortar does nasty stuff to the skin. Don’t ask me how I know (and yes, I did start off with gloves, but they weren’t up for the length of the job. Ahem.)

Wipe off where you want less, and once stuff has dried, use a wire brush to remove any smear from areas where you want more brick showing through. This is where my husband showed up from long hours of study and could be my eyes from afar.  “That dark brick one level up, take a bit more off there…”

Be prepared for dust EVERYWHERE. If you can tape off the area behind plastic, you will thank yourself. If your husband is full of great ideas like mine is, he might even find an old door and create a work platform and dust catcher. Men are amazing creatures.
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All in all, the German smear was the perfect treatment for this chimney. It dramatically brightened up our living room, which oddly enough only has two narrow windows, neither of which ever get direct light, so every bit of natural light needs to be embraced.

The fireplace still isn’t complete; there are gaps between the brick and sheetrock that will soon be filled in, a mantle installed on the ledge (please drop your vote in the comments: white or aged beams?) and also the hearth will be redone.

Like the Nester says,
“It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.”

I think that is a vital perspective when living in an old house, or living with children, or living on the mission field. Perhaps it applies to all of life, unless you live in the pages of Potterybarn or reside in the folders of Pinterest. For the rest of us, it’s a constant teeter-totter between reaching for what you envision and embracing the mess of now.

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I’m glad I stepped outside of my comfort zone and launched off in this project. Every time I step into my living room now, I’m embraced with the brightness of the white, instead of the tired clay red. It was a great $18 investment.

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Do you enjoy before and after home renovations as much as I do?
I’m excited to share more with you about our 100-year-old farm house.
Like the outside which is sporting a new siding color and roof shape and lovely meandering porch, and the complete gut job and brand new kitchen still slightly in the process.

Now, please loan me your opinion and drop your vote about mantle finishes in the comments below. Bright white or rustic barn beam?

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