Tuesday, November 29, 2011

{ Thanksgiving }

Why is it that I always neglect to take pictures on holidays? Next time, it will not happen. I promise! We're going to Idaho to spend Christmas with my family for the first time since we got married--it will be the first time Mike hasn't spent Christmas with his family. Eeeeek! I'm just a little excited! I haven't been back during the winter since 2008, so this is long overdue! It's so different, being in the country, surrounded by snow {hopefully}, woodsmoke in the air. It's so still. So.....different from Christmas in the city. I'm excited to experience it with Mike.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. *ahem* Back to Thanksgiving, which was almost a week ago. As I was saying, not many photos were taken, and all of them contain only three subjects: Mike, his sister Amaryah, and me. *ahem* Apparently we're a little narcissistic....but I'll let you judge for yourself:

Mike and Amaryah goofing off

"Get your head closer to Nikki's!"

"Good...but this time smile."

Oh yes, I married a handsome man.

"OK Amaryah, now it's YOUR turn to get your head closer to Nikki's..."

I have a lot of cute, full-length aprons, and it's become something of a tradition for me to bring my aprons for all to use when we have big family dinners. Mike is always in charge of carving the turkey on Thanksgiving, and since he was dressed up, I offered him an apron. Here's the amazing part: He took it. It must be a testament to his fondness for the vest, I think. Regardless, this moment required documentation.

I tried to be sneaky, knowing Mike would not want himself wearing an apron to be documented photographically.

Apparently not sneaky enough...

Success!! {I think you look great, babe.}

We had Thanksgiving at Mike's parents' house, the only place sort of big enough to accommodate the extended family...and it was a tight squeeze! There was so much delicious food; lots of laughter; a very efficient dishwashing brigade; and then, when you were just beginning to think that maybe you're comfortably {instead of uncomfortably} full, there was dessert. Oi vey!

We have so much to be thankful for: A home. Mike's job. Functional cars. Good health. New insurance for both of us. Family nearby. Friends, near and far. In spite of the unexpected nature of my job loss last month, we are in a really good place, in so many ways, and for that I can only say, Thank you Jesus!

Friday, November 18, 2011

{ Go East, Young Woman, Go East! }

 Before it becomes ancient history, I'd like to tell you about my road trip to Eastern Washington two weeks ago. It was my first week jobless, and I jumped at the chance to take a little more time than usual and visit my dear friend Anna, who lives 300 miles away. You can read Anna's blog here, but we've been friends since way before blogging. Like, our moms were pregnant with us together. Sometimes I call us fetal friends.

The first thing I did when I got to Anna's hometown was park in front of her house, run in and hug her, and head down the hill to meet my cousin Christy and my brother Joe for coffee. They both live nearby and this was the only time that worked out for us to see each other. {Aren't I a horrible houseguest, Ann?}

Joe, Christy and I had a great time catching up. There was a significant amount of girly talk, since Christy just got engaged, as well as a significant amount of mechanical talk, because Christy is taking some sort of let's-disassemble-and-reassemble-your-car's-engine-in-less-than-25-minutes college class that goes waaaaaaay over my head. She is clearly a very well-rounded young woman. ;-) It had been much too long since I'd last spent time with these folks, and it was so fun to chat!

I'll let you guess which is Christy and which is Joe in the photos below:

That wasn't too hard, was it?

It never feels like you get to spend enough time with friends who live far away, does it? Regardless, the time that we do have together is always so rich. I love just being able to do normal life with friends: grocery shopping, errand running, going to church and Bible study. Getting to know what their normal, everyday lives are like. Anna and I, and little Oliver, did all of those things during my time with them. Anna's husband Tim was present for a lot of it, too, but somehow I didn't get any photos of him. We cooked, we did laundry {oh did we ever do laundry...I'd like to take a moment to say that if you're ever about to shake up a bottle of oil and vinegar salad dressing, during Bible study potluck, in a complete stranger's house, in the presence of 20+ people you just met, please make sure the lid is securely attached to the bottle before shaking! Otherwise you may anoint yourself, the person standing next to you, and the kitchen with oil and vinegar salad dressing. THAT'S not awkward or anything. The silver lining is that I learned Anna's stain removal tricks and maybe she'll write a blog post about them someday.}, where was I? Oh yes, we did laundry, we watched girly movies, we ate delicious food...it was lovely.


Oliver's scrunchy faces kill me. He is such a little ham! The darlingest there ever was.

On Sunday afternoon we took a walk through a lovely neighborhood full of beautiful, stately old houses. I'm a sucker for old houses, so I thoroughly enjoyed myself!

Look at Oliver's feet go! He was happy to be out, too.

I'm so glad I was able to make this trip. In spite of missing Mike something fierce {4 1/2 days turned into a really long time, from that perspective!!}, it was a really special time spent with dear friends I don't see nearly often enough. Even the relationships where you feel like you're able to pick up right where you left off, no matter how long it's been, are worth the effort and investment of road trips and long weekends away from the comforts of home.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

{ Tension }

I place so much value on productivity.

Like, soooooo much.

I am a person who thrives in structure and stability. As my friend Misha put it: "a system to create in and a process for enjoyment." That really captures the sort of structured freedom in which I work best. One of my preconceptions about becoming a stay-at-home-wife {SAHW} was that it would be an easy transition because I was homeschooled all my life 'til college. I'm familiar with being self-motivated and getting things done on my own and making priorities and accomplishing them. This'll be a piece of cake.

And yet, a couple nights ago, I literally had a fight with myself when Mike walked in the door after work. With every fiber of my being, I suddenly wanted to show him my to-do list for the day--what I'd accomplished, what I'd crossed off, how productive I'd been. I matter. I was alive today. I did XYZ and so it's okay that I don't work outside the home, look at all the important things I did! It was an abrupt and gut-wrenching desire for his validation and approval.

Do I matter, even when there is no paycheck attached to my activities, no nod of approval from a manager, no camaraderie with coworkers? When most people won't see or know what I do on a daily basis?

This morning I read an interview with Ann Voskamp in WORLD magazine. One sentence struck a deep chord in this feels-like-I'm-flailing heart of mine:
"A mother does eternal work in hidden, quiet places."

Hidden, quiet places.
Like home.
Hidden, quiet places are okay. Normal. Mike doesn't ask me to validate my day by producing a checklist of duties accomplished. He trusts that I will figure it out. I, in turn, trust that Jesus has it figured out and that by sticking close to Him, I am exactly where He wants me to be.

This word isn't just for mothers; it's for a young woman clinging to Jesus as her Rock in a world that has changed and shifted so much these past weeks.

There is a beautiful beach with a ferry dock about 10 minutes from our home. Yesterday was unusually sunny for November here in the Pacific Northwest, so after running errands I went down to the beach with a book to enjoy the beauty. Even before I went, I felt guilty. Why should I enjoy so much beauty while Mike is working in a cubicle? Shouldn't I go home and organize the storage closet while the weather's nice? This is a waste of time, really, and I'm afraid people already think I'm wasting my life now that I don't have a job, so I should really do something productive.

Ah, there it is. Fear of man, trying to rob me of gorgeous afternoon-gift from Jesus. I didn't listen. I bundled up and sat in the sunshine and read and laughed at the funny seagulls and soaked in the goodness of the moment. Today, as I look back on my rebellion against my old slavedriver, fear of man, I think of another quote from Ann Voskamp's interview:
"I preach the gospel to the person who needs to hear it the most: me. I need the truth of God's word, and to encounter afresh the grace of Jesus Christ...I will out-loud preach the gospel to myself. My children hear me quoting Scripture back to myself, giving thanks in situations, being very intentional about focusing on the Lord."

There it is. I need to preach the gospel--to myself. In these moments of uncertainty, when fear tries to grab the reins, I need to preach the gospel to myself. I need to nestle in closer to Jesus. I need to choose to believe what I know to be Truth, not what I am afraid of {or what I am afraid is truth}.

Some days, preaching the gospel to myself may just mean an afternoon at the beach, refusing to preach fear of man and pride and identity-in-works by instead saying "yes" to beauty, joy, peace, and a few hours of doing "nothing."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

{ Promised Land }

What is your Promised Land?

The place you want to get to, no matter what? That tantalizing spot where you're sure life will be good?

My Promised Land is being a stay-at-home-wife. I have honestly never thought of this as being a problem--an idol--a false source of comfort, hope, security, and meaning {because I'm trying to find comfort, hope, security, and meaning outside of Jesus}. 'Til I reached my fantasy "Promised Land" and found it doesn't imbue my existence with meaning the way I thought it would.

I'm here: I'm a stay-at-home-wife. My job ended very unexpectedly on October 31st. I used to work for a company that had a contract for over 25 years with a local hospital. We were told, less than four weeks in advance, that the hospital chose not to renew their contract with my company. I won't go into the details, except to say that it was very abrupt and very short notice. My income isn't necessary for us to live, so we will be okay financially. I was going to start working three days a week in November anyway.

So now, twelve days into this grand stay-at-home-wife adventure, I'm knocking my head against the cold, hard wall of reality: This ain't no Promised Land. Don't get me wrong: I have an amazing, hardworking, understanding, supportive husband; a lovely home; life is good. The problem is that for years I've worshipfully looked forward to this season as my Promised Land: Flowing with milk and honey, free of a job and a pager and stress and worry. Plenty of time for homemaking and crafting and cooking and nesting and of course my health will be perfect and this season will be perfect. It will be my Promised Land. It is where I want to be, regardless of whether or not God is there. It will be completely satisfying and my life will be deeply meaningful in this season, regardless of whether or not Jesus is present, because the season is what matters. The season is my source of identity and hope and comfort and joy and meaning.

It sounds so yucky, so bloated with hollow pride, saying it that way. Yet that's what I've expected being a SAHW to be like. God, ever loving, knew that being a SAHW alone is not going to fulfill me. Only Jesus fulfills me. I am learning that, even through beautiful and unexpected gifts He's bestowed during the past two weeks:
a long trip to visit a dear friend on the other side of the state {photos coming soon!}
generous severance check from my employer, much more than we expected
sweet bonding time with Mr. Mike
a nasty stomach bug that has left me wiped out for 2+ days so far

Each day the truth is hitting a bit harder, a bit closer to my heart: Just being a SAHW isn't worth it. Isn't the culmination of my existence. Isn't the root of my fulfillment. Jesus' presence is the only source of joy, meaning, hope, and fulfillment in any season--including the stay-at-home-wife season. I've imagined that being a SAHW is the root from which all that is good in my life will flow. I see now that there is much good in this season--but the source of that good is Jesus. Jesus who was there with me when I worked full-time, Jesus who was there with me when I was a college student, Jesus who will be with me when I'm a stay-at-home-mom, Jesus who will be with me if I work outside the home in the future.

Jesus is my Promised Land.

That's God's whole point: to dwell with us! He created us for unbroken community with Him, but it was broken by Adam and Eve's sin. Jesus came to restore our community with God; but the full culmination waits for His second coming:

"Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God." ~ Revelation 21:3

This is hard and I'm still just learning it, walking the edges of it, wide-eyed and grieved at my hardheartedness and pride. I'm hungry for Jesus' presence. I'm ashamed that I so easily wrote Him out of my picture of the ideal life, assumed that what really mattered was not having a job. I was eager to exchange His presence for stuff. In His great mercy, He hasn't let me get away with that.

Please dwell with me, Jesus. Every day. Amen.