What I am Learning That Matters to Me in Homemaking

It has taken me years to sharpen my sense of style in homemaking. Moving around has helped me to clarify what things I want and love in a house. It has also helped me to appreciate what God gives, even when it isn’t my first choice. Tonight, as I talked to my husband about a particular strong preference of mine (that is actually not a reality in the place we live now), I thought about what I have learned over the years about my likes and dislikes, not only in the layout of a house but also about the kind of space I want to create where we live.

Here are some of the things I have discovered:

1. I prefer tile floors over carpet…but I love area rugs.

2. I need big windows in my life that let in natural light and that connect me to the world outside. 

3. We love houses with run-thru-ability. Houses here tend to have rooms separate from each other. We prefer open layouts or at least well connected spaces. Our living room and dining room right now are connected through big double doors, making it easy to flow from one room to the next. 

4. Villas (or stand alone houses) provide space for the kids to run around safely; on the other hand, apartments seem to facilitate getting to know our neighbors better than villas do. I am torn between the two options. 

5. Real plants and fresh flowers are very life – giving to me. Living in the desert has made this crystal clear.

6. Over time I have discovered that these words define my taste in decor: eclectic, indie, rustic, minimalist

7. Having a dedicated guest room brings me great joy. (Please come visit! We are ready.)
8. A big dining table around which a crowd can gather thrills my soul.

9. We love a living room that is big enough to gather lots of friends.

10. Counter space in the kitchen is really not overrated.

11. A house with a green kitchen and pink  and blue bathrooms is a house with great personality. I am learning to embrace it.

12. Scents matter to me in creating a welcoming ambience.

13. I like having a space that my kids feel is their own (other than their bedroom).

14. It is important to me that our decor reflects the places we have lived in (both as singles & married) and that shape who we are becoming.

15. Mood lighting helps create a cozy inviting atmosphere. I need more lamps in my life!
If you come to my house today, you will see it is very much a work in progress and that not all these preferences are evident here. But I am slowly working towards that goal. 

Homemaking in itself is not a frivolous act. It is actually quite the opposite. The Son of Man didn’t have a place to lay his head here on earth – his willingness to be homeless so I could be home with God is incredibly humbling. But that does not mean that He doesnt care about the work of the home.

Jen P. Michel, in her book Keeping Place, does a beautiful job in showing how God is not beneath housework. It moved me to tears more than once for all the glimpses it gives into the heart of God as a humble servant, host par excellence, labouring housekeeper and generous Father.

Christ is the radiant image of the invisible God and in Him we see most clearly God’s heart and his intent to make a home for His children. Michel puts it this way,

“Jesus appears in the midday gloom of Israel, just when the people of God despair of ever being home. God – made flesh pitches his tent in their neighborhood, he tabernacles among them (John 1: 14). He declares an end to exile. He signals the beginning of a long-awaited homecoming. He travels proclaiming the good news of home. Eventually Christ is killed. He is raised up and Jesus insists on the permanence of his presence in the language of home: ‘I will not leave you as orphans… If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him…’ The story of the Bible witnesses to the happy ending called home. Our anxiety to belong, our desire to be received, our hope for intimate embrace: these are met in the homemaking God of Abraham, who speaks the yes of his promises in Jesus Christ.” 

God is a home-making God and He is re-creating me to be like Him. Once upon a time I almost despised the work of the home. But God has turned my heart. The labor of love that goes into making our house a place of welcome, a place for feasting, and a place of rest- not only for my family but for all who come visit- is becoming one of the biggest joys of my life.

What about you? I would really love to hear what matters to you in home making.

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15 Ways to Celebrate Fall When You Live Far from It

So, it is October. But we live far from apple orchards, corn mazes, fall leaves, and chilly weather.

We won’t let that keep us from enjoying fall, though! By celebrating fall here, we are also celebrating the place where God has us for now. We may not be able to jump in the leaves or wear hoodies but we can go to the beach!

I have been learning the importance of celebrating with my kids the places we call home. The more I celebrate, the more our kids celebrate as well. The more we all celebrate, the more we are aware of God’s goodness in bringing us here. It also opens our eyes to the specific beauty of this part of the world. (I am discovering the desert also glorifies God…Who knew?!)

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Another reason to celebrate fall is that it helps to root our kids in their passport culture. We don’t want them to grow up unaware of the seasons or the holidays that are important to us and part of their heritage.

Lastly, in celebrating together, we enjoy belonging to this family. God has us in a bit of a nomadic journey. Our greatest comfort in that journey is that we belong to Jesus forever. At the same time, one of the unchanging blessings we have from him for this journey is belonging to each other. Keeping traditions and making memories are two of the ways we get to savor God’s goodness to us.

Today, over lunch, we made a bucket list of things we hope to do this fall here in the Middle East. One of the exciting things about the change in weather  is that we can finally enjoy going outside. We get to do fall fun in summer weather. Wohoo!!

  1. Make and eat apple pie a la mode (a gluten – free, dairy free recipe, of course!)
  2. Write a fall song or poem
  3. Explore the Green Mubazzarah here in AA
  4. Go to the beach
  5. Watch a fall related movie
  6. Go to the pool
  7. Make pumpkin spice pancakes
  8. Early morning PSL at Starbucks
  9. Bake pumpkin choc chip muffins
  10. Go on a picnic lunch
  11. BBQ in the dessert (bonfire, maybe?)
  12. Make a thanksgiving tree
  13. Decorate Maia’s and Zoie’s bedroom with homemade leaves
  14. Buy fall-scented candles
  15. Put on PJ’s, lit up candles and read fall themed books

Would love to hear any other ideas from you!

Photo credit: Breanna Galley (Unsplash photos)

Swirly – TCK book review 

Nothing has brought more tears and sobs than counting the cost of the impact on our kids of our life overseas. My husband and I have had many conversations about this. From the day moving was merely a possibility (and our girls were just 3.5 and 1.5) till now, we regularly assess how our children are doing as they process loss and as they learn to love the life, the people, the places that are home for now.

A third culture kid (TCK) is “a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the third culture kid’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of the same background, other TCKs” (Ruth Van Reken).

One of the things that TCK’s struggle most with is feeling like they don’t belong anywhere. I know that feeling all too well. It makes me sad to think my kids experience that too. We are learning to entrust them to Jesus’ care, who chose this global nomad life for them by placing them in our family. His sovereign faithfulness over them gives us rest.

swirly book review

I was so grateful when a friend told me about Swirly by Sara Saunders. It is a book for kids that describes the TCK experience so well. It tells the story of a little girl, Lila, born in Blue country to blue parents. Her family moves to Red Country and eventually to Yellow country. With every move, she discovers she is less and less “blue” and more and more swirly – each country’s color shaping who she is becoming. Lila wrestles with not knowing where she belongs. But when she meets the swirly mom of a friend, the mom explains why she doesn’t wonder anymore where she belongs….

I won’t say exactly what she explains because I want you to get this book and read it for yourself :). But I will say that what is lovely about this book is how it sets the children’s sight on Jesus Christ, who also left his home more than one time and lived far from home. This story beautifully teaches children that who you belong to is much more comforting than where you belong.

Almost every time I read this book I well up in tears. It moves my affections deeply to remember the extent to which Christ identifies Himself with us. I love that through this book I can celebrate with my children the beauty of the Incarnation and how it affects us so personally and dearly.

As parents of TCK’s we have so much hope – not only because there is actually lot of gain and not just loss in the TCK life (that would be another post!). We have hope because Christ knows the expat life well, he sees our kids and He is their Keeper (Psalm 121).

Jesus does loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red, brown, yellow, black and white…and even swirly little ones. Glory!

 

When I Don’t Feel Like Running

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Just a few months ago, I was pregnant, exhausted and ravenous all the time. Some days I waddled faster than others; other days I could barely crawl. Running? Not so much.

When a friend suggested I speak on running with faith at a retreat for expat women in our Middle-Eastern city, my heart sank. I had not only literally not felt like running, but spiritually as well. In the last 7 years I have moved twice cross culturally. Just in the past two years, our family has lived in two different cities in the Middle East  – losing home, friends and family in multiple places. While my Father has been very good to us, and has provided in countless ways, this town doesn’t feel like home yet. Roots don’t go deep enough in any direction. Ministry is challenging and unrelenting stress is a phrase that describes our life.

There were moments when I didn’t want to face life here. I just wanted to quit and go back. Go back to a life that seemed less complicated, to lush green, to friends that know me well, to a place where memories run older than a year, to everything that is familiar, comfortable and safe.

To read the rest, visit the Velvet Ashes website, my writing home today.

 

Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

Songs of Encouragement

God has used two songs to ingrain in me what He has been teaching me these past two years.

high and lifted up

One of them is High and Lifted Up by Zac Hicks. I can’t find a youtube video for it! Such a bummer. But here are the lyrics.

High and Lifted Up 

1. In the wilderness we wander
Bitten by our sin
We cry out for resurrection
Finding none within

2. Weak and fainting from our sickness
Feeling death’s dark sting
We behold our Substitution
Jesus Christ our King 

Come, come, see Him
Come, come, see Him

High and lifted up
Our Salvation’s come
Look on Jesus
forever, forever

3. Gazing at my bleeding Savior
Lifted, crucified
There I see my plague and poison
Traded for His life 

Bridge:
Look upon Him and believe He’s redeemed us
Look upon Him and believe He will heal us
Look upon Him for His scars show He loves us
Look upon Him and live

Words & Music: Zac Hicks & Julie Anne Vargas, 2015
©2015 Unbudding Fig Music (ASCAP); Julie Anne Vargas
CCLI #7056907

Love the invitation to come see Him – This is what I want for this series.

gray havens

The other song is by a group that quickly became a favorite: The Gray HavensStole my Fame: (To Grace) by Gray Havens has been really encouraging to me.

I think my favorite verses are:

“So please throw me down
And steal my fame
Please don’t stop until
You crucify my name

Take my boast
Put it in the ground
Bury it in water
Now the water’s showin’ how”

If the Lord has done anything while living away from home is to teach me to lose the love of seeing myself as strong. It has been humbling and hard and so good for Him to crucify my name and teach me to boast in Christ. Praise God my boast is buried in the ground! What a mercy that He would set my heart afire for the only One who is worthy of my praise.

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So, come with me, sister! Will you join me these next few weeks? Let’s see Him – let’s catch glimpses of the riches of His glory that give hope to the fainting, homesick heart. Let’s look upon Him over and over and over again. He is bound to thrill our hearts.

 

Look and Live: Sights of Christ That Thrill The Expat Heart

slava-bowman-161206Photo by Slava Bowman on Unsplash

Hello friend!

Maybe the title caught your attention because you are a fellow expat. Or maybe you, like me, are on a quest to know the Risen Jesus more and more. Either way, I am so glad you are here.

I have had at least 10 different addresses in the last 15 years. 3 of those moves have been cross-cultural. God has taught me to love the places I have lived in. I enjoy new places, meeting new people, discovering new cultures. I have tasted the faithfulness of our homemaking God who has made a home for me and for my family everywhere we have lived.  He really does prepare places for His people.

At the same time, God has used every move to  peel away the dragon-like clothes I have been wearing without knowing. Even though I have known God as mine for a long time, and even while being very acquainted with Romans 3, I lived for a long time with the delusion that I wasn’t as bad as other people. I rested on what I thought was the strength of my faith. I grounded much of my confidence in who I was.

But God in His mercy has orchestrated the places of my story to slowly remove the scales off my eyes. In her book Keeping Place Jen P. Michel says:

“No place is insignificant in our stories. In fact, in paying them attention, we pay attention to the salvific movement of God. Wherever we move, we may be sure of this: God always moves toward himself.”

Well, God has definitely been doing just that. This is my 3rd year living in a country in the Middle East. Moving over here was like being a in a pressure cooker. I can’t tell you how intense God’s dealings with me were the first year and a half or two. Initially I was crushed under the realization of how dark was my heart. But when I was drowning in the sea of self-contemplation, Christ rescued me.

He did it by telling me to do the same He told the Israelites long ago when they were bitten by fiery snakes and were dying in the desert. He had Moses set up a fiery snake on a pole. The Israelites were to look on the serpent and live (Numbers 21: 9).

Jesus told Nicodemus that serpent in the desert had pointed to Him: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life (John 3: 14).” Christ was willing to become sin to save us, to save me. Bearing all my sins and transgressions, Christ took them all to the grave and buried them. He crushed the serpent and its power over me. He rose up in new life by the glory of the Father (Rom. 6: 4) and the life Jesus lives He lives to God.

Christ raised me up to new life many years ago but He keeps sustaining me in the same way He saved me then: giving me faith eyes so I can look at Him and continue to live.

Over these next few weeks I am excited to share some of the glorious sights of Christ that have been sustaining and reorienting my expat heart. There has been nothing more life-giving over these past years than to search the word and discover the riches of His strength. There is none like Him.

You may be an expat living in a country other than your own. But even if you belong in an earthly sense to the place you live, I hope these posts encourage you. If you live by faith in Christ Jesus, you are also in exile. I pray that these posts stir your affections for the One who keeps you until you make it home.

I am far from Home and I am not what I will one day be. But instead of looking at my brokenness and despairing, as long as I am homeward bound, I will look to Jesus and live.

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I joined the write31 challenge this year. I am writing every day but due to the season of life am in, can only actually post 1-2 times a week.

These are all the posts related to this writing challenge:

Two Songs

When I Don’t Feel Like Running

Swirly – A Book For TCK’s

15 Ways to Celebrate Fall When You Live Far From It

What Matters To Me in Homemaking

A Truth That Rocks My Nomad Socks Off 

A Fall Poem

Helpful Resources on Union with Christ

Who Said We Have To Grow Up?

Thoughts From The Back Row

Yesterday morning we made it to church – Wes’ first time since he was born. It was sweet to be back! At one point I had to sit in the lobby to nurse him. I couldnt hear the sermon very well. The thought came to mind, “is it worth it to come if I wont be able to participate fully in the service, nor sit through a whole sermon?” And the Spirit in me answered with a resounding YES. 

Here’s why: 

1) I heard my brothers and sisters lifting their voices with joy, and saw them gratefully raising their hands. What a testimony to God’s power who has made His light shine in our hearts (2 Co. 4: 6), and given us eyes to see the beauty of His Son. How else can I explain the delight and affection I saw on their faces as they proclaimed Jesus is King?

2) When I looked at the gathered body of Christ from Ghana, Nigeria, Philippines, India, Brazil, Cuba, Panama, United States, South Africa (I may be missing other countries), Jesus reassured me that He is indeed saving people from every tongue and tribe & nation.

3) Christ served me humbly through my pastor and friend @andrewremke, who took my baby and said, “Go, enjoy the service; I will hold him for you.”

4) The Spirit strengthened my faith when I saw the faith of my sister who in the midst of difficulty and sorrow still went to church: worshipping Jesus and adoring His goodness toward her. Through her he deepened the conviction: Jesus is worthy of all of my praise at all times (Psalm 145: 3; 34:1).

5) Through the breaking of the bread and wine, my Savior gently and powerfully spoke of His faithfulness to me – his body given for me, his blood poured out for me (Matthew 26: 26-27). He knows my faith is weak. He tangibly and tastefully reminds me: “I am for you.”

6) He is not just for me. He is for all of us gathered at the table. He gave His blood to bind me not only to Himself but to all those brothers and sisters who are also feasting on Christ.

7) I saw the heart of Christ when my sisters lovingly embraced my children, sat down with them, asked them questions and cared for their needs.

8) Our joy over our newborn son is our church’s joy. Only through Jesus can others truly rejoice with those who rejoice.

9) I attended a meeting for children’s ministry and was so encouraged: he answers prayer and has provided volunteers for children’s ministry. 

10) Christ has given my friend and sister love for His church and faith to rely on His strength to lead Children’s ministry while I am on maternity leave. Through her, Christ is providing unexpected rest.

11) Jesus is great and greatly to be praised (Psalm 48:1). We are a young church; we all come from many different backgrounds, countries, denominations. We may not all believe exactly the same doctrinally – but Christ is our treasure. He is far above every ruler and authority. His name is precious. Truly, who is like our God?

12) Jesus dwells in the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3). He Himself was there yesterday- holy and enthroned in our worship. What an awe-inspiring truth. I got to be with Christ in a way that only happens when we are gathered as his people.

My husband once challenged my reluctance to attend church, “If you knew there would be a gathering of people from the age to come, what would you give to be there?” Yesterday I tasted once again the unspeakable privilege we have to be there. The Risen Christ has created a new people whose hope is in the age that is to come. Through them He is doing the work of uniting all things to Himself (Eph. 1: 21). All my brothers and sisters live and love in ways that only make sense because of Christ’s death & resurrection. 

At church, seen realities like bread, wine, raised hands and community link hands with unseen realities of covenant, love, eternity and Resurrection life to feed our faith. What a merciful Savior we have! He knows that we forget and that we wander. So He invites us week after week to feast: to come and taste and see and hear through His Word and through His people that He is indeed good.

So friend – when people from the age to come gather to worship, Jesus their Maker & Redeemer is there. What will you give to be there?