One Hundred Six

untitled-2I have the.best.timing.

In February of 2003, I sat across the table at a Mexican restaurant from my friend, Charles. He was about to leave for a semester in Germany, and we were enjoying a just-as-friends date before he left. We had been good friends for a while, had been on one disastrous actual date a few months prior, after which he had shared that he wanted to get to know me better. I had idiotically responded that I liked his best friend and we endured a few hellishly awkward months. Now, he was leaving for five months, so the timing seemed perfect to let him know that my heart was changing towards him and maybe I do like him like that, okay, see-you-in-five-months-bye.

It all worked out. We’re married.

But I still have a tendency to drop bombs on the guy at the worst possible times: home for lunch for 25 minutes? Let’s rehash the last 3 months and talk about our issues. A long-anticipated date day? Let’s be miserable and talk about our issues. Middle of the night and I can’t sleep? Let me wake you up and talk about our issues.

Sometimes it can’t be avoided. Sometimes, too much time has passed in between face-to-face time and we have to seize any and every opportunity or we will inevitably coast forever. We could do that; we’re stubborn people.

So this morning, as I am wont to do, approximately 7 minutes before he needed to leave for work, I asked him, “So Love, how are we doing?” Unlike usual, I didn’t have anything specific in mind. I wasn’t trying to corner him. I just wanted to hear his (brief) thoughts.

And here’s where we are: right on the edge of another huge life change. Our 4th (and final) baby is due in about 6 weeks. We feel as though we’ve literally just come up for breath after moving and settling in. Right after we moved in I was sick for a solid month. Then we faced a hard summer filled with questions and doubts concerning potential health issues with this baby. Now we are knee-deep in 5th and 2nd grades and Kindergarten and projects and doctor’s visits and deadlines and no time off work and groceries are expensive and…some of that feels almost, blissfully, normal. We can coast here. We can breathe here. Sure, we’re often exhausted, but this is an exhaustion that at least feels familiar.

What does life look like 2 months from now? What does that exhaustion look like? What does that stress look like?

I could lose sleep over questions like those. (I have. It doesn’t help.) What helps is rehearsing what I already know to be true. God is good. God is sovereign. God is not surprised. God has not forgotten me. God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass. God’s plan is good, pleasing, and perfect.

I need these reminders because I am so forgetful and life is so distracting sometimes. In his grace, God has allowed me to learn this lesson alongside my youngest son. Remember his hard days of Kindergarten drop off? We are still facing those in 2nd grade. And so, every day before I leave him, we pray. And we remember, rehearse, and remind ourselves of those same simple yet profound truths. God is good. God has not forgotten you. God is always with you. God has placed you here with this teacher, in this school, with these friends, for a reason.

And it helps. It helps him, it helps me, it helps my not-so childlike faith to grow.

My timing stinks, but his timing is always perfect.

Eighty-three

IMG_2037

My husband and I spent Friday night and all day Saturday at our church’s marriage conference. We spent time on Friday sharing with our small group the story of how we met. It’s a long story. Epic, in our minds, although maybe that’s just because we can drag it out for dramatic effect. Each couple shared their story, and one thing stood out to me: there were plenty of times for it to not work out for each of us.

Age differences, long-distances, other relationships, stupid things said- each couple had obstacles or reasons to assume it was never going to happen. I think it’s safe to assume that would have been the case for each of the 39 couples who attended the conference.

Once you’re married, however, you can start taking it all for granted- the years you were lonely and longed for companionship, the way you felt about each other at first. Or maybe you forget what life was like before your spouse. You forget that your story almost didn’t turn out this way.

We can become so used to our stories that we forget that they’re all epic. 

There are still parts of our story that make me cringe. I was so young when I met my husband, and my youth and naiveté shine in our story. But when God plans something, he makes it work. He uses a seven-and-a-half year age difference for his glory. He moves mountains, changes hearts, heals wounds, brings death to life. He does it all in big and small ways. He does it every day. He rescues. He restores. He redeems. He does it in marriage. He does it in friendships. He does it in every story and every life.

That’s why they’re all epic.

Seventy-one

DSC_0005

Ok, I’ll put you out of your misery.

The green door house isn’t ours…

yet.

I was confident that by this point, with school starting up this week, we would already be settled into our new place.  I was confident that our house would sell quickly. I was confident in John’s original timeline of finishing the green door house by the end of July. I was confident that because God has placed the same strong desire in my heart and my husband’s that everything was working out as we imagined and hoped it would. And while it all still may, it hasn’t yet; and that’s been hard.

We have spent all summer pouring ourselves into our home. We painted every inch of trim, every window sill, every wall, every cabinet face. We scrubbed floors, cleaned carpets, took a magic eraser to every rouge streak and stain. We sold a large amount of furniture, anticipating a reduction in square footage. Our house was bright and shiny and looked better than it ever had in the seven years since we’ve owned it. The vast majority of our belongings were packed away and stored in the garage. We became guests in our own home and asked our children to start living as though it already belonged to someone else.

The house was listed.

And we waited.

We’ve had some showings, we’ve dropped the price, we’ve unpacked a few necessary boxes. But we are still waiting. And though we hadn’t acknowledged it out loud until just yesterday, my husband and I were both starting to rethink it all. Maybe this wasn’t God’s plan. Maybe this isn’t God’s timing. Maybe we rushed into something hastily.

But yesterday we sat in church and heard the gospel and felt convicted to seek out opportunities to mingle with those different from us. We both left feeling like we’d heard a rejuvenating pep-talk, and a gentle reminder of the real reasons we want to move. It’s not the fanciness of the neighborhood, the newness of the house, or even the park and entertainment nearby. It’s a new lifestyle. It’s a call to serve and reach people who don’t look like us, didn’t grow up where we did, don’t eat the same food or wear the same clothes. It’s the chance to be stretched and pushed. It’s the chance for our kids (and us as well) to see that the world is a lot bigger than our four walls. It’s the chance to be even more involved in the work and mission of our church: to love God, love people, and love Oklahoma City.

As we spent a few precious hours alone together yesterday, my husband and I admitted that we’ve stopped praying diligently for the green door house. We’ve let worry, doubt, fear, stress, anger, sadness, and impatience reign in our hearts.

Yesterday God sent Team Steger a loud and clear message, and today we face the same unknown future with a bit more confidence that God knows what’s ahead for us.

Sixty-three

DSC_0002

As we pack up, throw (A LOT of) stuff out, and prepare to move, I’ve been thinking about this house that we’ve called home for over 7 years now.

I love this house. It is the first house my husband and I bought together and the place that grew our family. Three of us arrived in 2008, straight from PT school in Kansas City and 5 of us will leave in 2015. The two we’ve added to our number were born within these walls. We’ve celebrated birthdays, hosted bible studies, wedding and baby showers, a Thanksgiving dinner, a few overnight guests, and countless coffee and play dates over the years. I look around me and see a home that has really served our family well. And while it will be difficult to move, it feels right to move.

This next step feels right for our family. We have our eye on a home that isn’t ours yet, isn’t even completed yet, but that serves as a symbol of some huge changes for all of us. Not only a change in physical location, but an external sign of internal changes for both my husband and myself.

As I mentioned in my last post, my husband was changing. He was seeking out relationships in our church. He was waking up early and driving to Men’s Breakfast every other week. He was the chatty one keeping us at church long after the service had ended. He was the one sharing the most personal details during our CityGroup’s prayer time. My self-proclaimed loner of a husband was letting people in in a new way. His heart continued to be tugged and pulled towards a move closer to this community he was finding.

He was also sensitive to where I was- content to stay, content to grieve my job, content to not talk about moving anytime soon, if at all. He wasn’t pushing me to have conversations or even to listen to where he was, but I knew he was talking to anyone with ears about his own desire to move. I started to feel really…wrong about that. If his heart’s desire and his calling is to a particular city, shouldn’t I respect that and, at the very least, listen to him?

I knew he was waiting until he knew that God had my heart on the same page as his. This wasn’t a bad plan, and it even seemed like the advice of wise counsel from the marriage conference we attended last year. But as I shared with my counselor, it wasn’t what I felt was best. I told him that I wanted my husband to say to me, “This is where I feel that God is leading us. This is what I feel is best for our family. This is what we are going to do.” I wanted him to lead our family boldly and faithfully in the direction he felt called. Even if that meant I was angry with him or just plain sad for a while, that was the man I wanted to follow. I asked if I should share that with my husband, and my counselor advised me to. He said we have the tools in our bag to handle a conversation like that. So later that day, we sat down and I told him all of that.

He was surprised. This request didn’t sound like the woman he knew. His face registered the turmoil of emotions he felt- surprise, freedom, pressure, fear, excitement.

Sixty-two

DSC_0014

I made it pretty clear to my husband that I wasn’t in a place to discuss or even contemplate a move to the city, so he stopped bringing it up. In no way, however, did he stop thinking about it. He was constantly checking houses on Zillow, constantly job-hunting, constantly seeking out conversations with people at our church. He was respecting my wishes and not talking to me about it, but that resulted in me feeling left out of the majority of conversations and not sharing in his excitement. It was what I wanted and also not. (Just try being married to me for a day, folks. It’s not for the faint of heart.)

When the year began, we started hosting our weekly small group in our home. I was thankful to be serving the church in a new way, thankful to open our home each week to our friends, and thankful to feel surrounded by community in our current city. My husband felt it, too. There were families nearby who were also making the drive to church each week. We weren’t alone.

On more than one occasion, during our group prayer time, my husband shared feeling unsettled. When his business ended, he felt a strong desire to live, work, and go to church in the same community. At this point in his life, he was living in one city, working in another (about 2 hours away), and churching in a third. He was confused and frustrated by this. I knew this was his desire and his heart, but still ached at the thought of moving.

I really started to ponder my hesitations about moving.

Change is hard.
I love our home. Two of our children were born within its walls. 
I’m still hurting after quitting my job.
They don’t have SuperTarget in the city (do NOT discount this, y’all). 
My sister and other closest friends are nearby.
I don’t have to get on the highway to get the kids to school.
I hate change.
I hate change.
I want control, and the unknown reminds me that I don’t have it. 

All of those reasons are legitimate. All of those reasons are real and true and honest. I needed to share those reasons with my husband, let him hear my heart, let him speak and then actually listen- not just shut him down and say, “I’m not on the same page.” When we started having those conversations, I learned that moving to the city was no longer just a pipe-dream of his (he’s prone to those). He wasn’t looking to move into the (utterly impossible) million dollar homes that initially caught his eye and piqued his interest. He wasn’t looking to move into the city because that’s what everyone else was doing. He was slowly but surely initiating and building relationships with men in the church and longing for more and deeper friendships.

Once again, he was growing and changing into someone I barely recognized, and while these changes were good changes- he needs friends! He needs men in his life! He needs to hang out with people other than his (utterly awesome and amazing) wife! The changes left me feeling anxious and territorial and reeling at my lack of control.

Sixty-one

DSC_0001

Not to sound like an episode of Friends, but I only wanted a break. I didn’t know how long the break would be, but I really thought I only wanted a break from my job at the church. Unfortunately, under the umbrella of “Administrative Assistant” fall a lot of things that still needed to be taken care of, so for my pastor/boss to find someone to cover those things while I took a break for an indefinite amount of time wasn’t really an option. It took a series of messy conversations for he and I to determine that it wasn’t a good idea for me to continue working. There was a lot going on in my marriage and family and I had told my pastor that I was beginning to resent my job. The last thing any workplace, but especially any church, needs is an employee who resents what they are doing.

But not working for the church really threw me for a loop. I felt like I lost a part of my identity. I felt like I was disappointing people, including myself. I felt like when I initially took on my responsibilities at the church, I was signing up for life. No one made me feel that way, that was just the expectation I carried with me. I felt like working for my church earned me something in the eyes of God and without that, I was less worthy. That’s some bad theology, folks, but that was my heart. So while not working did indeed free up some mental space (more than I even anticipated), it also led me down a path of rediscovered legalism planted deep within my heart.

This stress and this change in my relationship with my pastor led to a dark few months for me. I was really struggling with this loss of role and didn’t know if I would still be wanted, accepted, and loved at my church. Again, no one was causing me to feel this way, these were just my own deep insecurities and false perceptions of who I am and where my value lies. It was around this time that my husband started talking again more seriously about moving out of our home and closer to our church.

One day it hit me that while our current city held a lot of hurt for him- this was the city that had “rejected” him and caused his business to fail- Oklahoma City represented a lot of new-found hurt for me. I was placing all of the pain of my lost identity on my church and the city at large. My husband wanted to escape. I wanted to stay where I was comfortable.

Sixty

DSC_0001

My grieving husband became a person that I didn’t recognize. While I wanted to be sensitive and to walk with him graciously and patiently, more than anything I just wanted him to be the person I knew. I wanted him to stay constant so that I was comfortable. I wanted him to be the man I married. So instead of being sensitive and gracious, I became selfish and turned inward and we both entered that all too dangerous “survival mode.”

For us, survival mode looks like this- our kids are cared for. They are fed, interacted with, loved. Their basic needs are met. Beyond that, however, we are on our own. I take care of me, he takes care of him. We talk as roommates about schedules and money and grocery lists, instead of as lovers and best friends about our hearts and our cares and our struggles. Important things are left unsaid and we just move through our days. We coast.

We had been coasting all throughout last summer when we hit the breaking point. We were in the middle of a fight when we realized, “This isn’t working anymore.” No, not our marriage- we were not at all admitting defeat. Our coping mechanisms, our coasting, our survival mode- they weren’t cutting it. In addition to that, the things we usually used to pull us out of that place were failing us. He was deeply hurting and so was I. We couldn’t seem to help each other.

So we saw a counselor. We told him where we were. We told him that we didn’t seem to be on the same page anymore. We told him that nothing seemed to be working anymore and we didn’t know what to do. We attended our first session together and then started seeing him individually each week. As we individually began exploring our pasts with him, we opened up to one another. While we were having painful conversations about the hurt of our past, and as a result we were crying and hurting and working through things, it all came as a relief compared to the awkwardness and sadness of the summer.

Our boys started third grade and Kindergarten, and that added a new level of stress to our family. Our Kindergartener had a hard time transitioning from me to his (utterly amazing, loving, gracious, kind, and patient) teacher on school days. Our boys only go to school two days a week, and I home school them the other three days. There were tears every day at drop off. Not just tears, but sobbing-and-grabbing-onto-mom’s-legs-and-having-to-be-pulled-away kind of tears. This stress, along with the stress of figuring out how to teach two different boys at two different grade levels with two different temperaments while also trying to corral their 3-year-old sister on home days led me to realize I needed to free up some mental space.

It was time to step away from my job at the church.