Every puzzle needs a box-top | Romania 2013

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I am sitting in the airport. The sounds of languages blending with white noise and the intermittent pulse of jets whining down the runway seep into my very tired brain. When I arrived in Philly at 8 am, after making it onto our first flight in what could easily have been a long list of flights as a stand-by passenger, I had 10 hours to wait. 10 hours which I promised myself I would dedicate to finally writing a post.  It has been 6.5 hours and I’m still fumbling for words. But that’s okay. My life has become a study in fumbling forward and at long last, I am more than at peace with that. In contrast with myself a few years ago, instead of desperately needing NOT to fail and avoiding it like a terminal disease, I look forward to each failure with, as my mother once wrote, “guts and enthusiasm”. All the same, I do not understand how so much time passes so quickly between actually sitting and writing. I do want to write. I thought I had posted. I posted, didn’t I? It appears that I have not. Sometimes there’s so much going on that when I do decide to write it down, it seems impossible that my apparently vast and unstable “everything” could fit into some fragile little words on this puny little page.  But likely, if you were my neighbor, watching from the outside, you’d find that statement odd. The day to day still looks much the same. In the morning Aaron gets up and reads in the tub. Crazy-eyed Keno  wakes up and finds his stuffed squirrel Red, which he moistens thoroughly and then gently drops on my sleeping face, tipping his big head to one side. A ginger nudge. Wake up, mama. The pups and I get the morning rolling. A trip outside, water in bowls, food for the hungry mutts. Steel wool loosens the calcium in the giant yellow pot, which gets filled with water and put onto the stove for tea. I don’t guess I have to boil water in a big pot, in this day and age. But I like to. I like my yellow pot and the steam that warms my chilly morning kitchen and the time that I have to wait for it to boil. They say a watched pot never boils. But it does. Eventually, it does. Breakfast for humans started, vitamins out. Some mornings, the ones I’m proud of, dishes get done, the bed probably gets made, laundry started, and the floor might get swept. That’s probably all that will happen toward the house, today. I hear the plug get pulled and the water drain from the tub. Get dressed, pack bag. Drive husband to work, Josh Garrels on the radio. Most mornings we talk about whatever he read or whatever sermon he listened to in the tub. Or about the plans for the week or the day. Some mornings, if it’s grey, we’re quiet and tired. We part ways. We do our generic day of work, a series of things which are inconsequential to everything except inasmuch as our actions can be dedicated to the purpose of serving and blessing the people on our teams or our clients with good work. Then of course…there are the finances, quietly socked away.

It’s a quiet life on the outside. It’s been a quiet few years. In fact, I’ve come to believe it’s been a silence designed by God anyway.  Like those 13 long, silent marches around Jericho, that last act of faith before the roar that brought down the walls between Israel and the promised land.  Silence in which to learn discipline, so we’re not just a set of flapping jaws with big plans, but no follow through. Silence to teach us humility as we drove our loud little red car around and declined to do the fun things our friends were doing, daily swallowing our pride, bitter at first, an acquired taste at any point but addictive after a while, like good coffee. A life which is seemingly silent. But trust me. It’s not. Not even close.

Behind the closed doors of our little house, inside the walls of our hearts, the work was being done. Kindling and tinder and a tiny spark, which the breath of God worked into a steady flame, adding the substance necessary for us to burn long and strong, building us with patience and care. And so that’s what I’m hoping to break the silence and talk about, finally.

Aaron and I played a lot before we got married. Lots of travel and impulse, aimless but fine. This method of wandering with no destination has it’s place, but after a while a wanderer becomes weary and desires to know that their miles mean something. Or at least, we felt that way. In 2012 we “got serious” about a few things, namely trying to figure out what he and I were made to do and then figure out how to go about doing it.

Let me just say that this process started out much more a list of what not to do and who not to be and we’ve been slowly back-ending our way out of the bad habits and getting turned around to go forward ever since. We figured out that we weren’t the most disciplined people, a trait whose latency was incredibly costly to the ultimate success of anything we undertook.  I’m sure it’s not by chance that most successful people that we read about cited discipline as a baseline for accomplishment.

From there, we knew that we wanted to do something for people. To find a way to spend the currency of our lives on others. Which, granted…can be done every day, no matter who you are or where you find yourself. But mom had a translation of the love chapter posted up by her bed, the first line of which is; “offer yourself up like a feast for others, gladly and willingly enduring for a long time”.  We realized that we desired to serve with our whole lives, in total, not in part. This was also all well and good, but a useless wish without the specifics of who, how, when, where and why.

Nonetheless, sometimes you just have to work with what you do know and go from there. Be faithful with the little that you’ve got, before you can be a steward of something big, right?

So, we knew that even if we had “the big picture”, we wouldn’t really have the freedom to do anything about it. Primarily because of debt. It really creates a series of problems. If you have more stuff than you have cash, you have the problem of owing someone for the stuff. In order to get the money to pay for the stuff you have to trade your time. At the end of the day, you’ve traded your time for money which you then handed over for the stuff you bought a few years ago which by now is a few years old and needs some repair and you have the problem of no time and no money and stuff that is getting old. I see this as sort of a vacuum, a mechanism for intake with no real output. This is certainly what we had been on the road toward, in our aimless days. 9-5, weekend, toys, wash-rinse-repeat. But somewhere along the line, it stopped making sense to us when we held that model up against a model of really, fully living for others. So our plan became; 1. Develop consistency, follow through and discipline and 2. Get rid of all debt. It seems funny to say our ache for zero was all consuming. It began to extend into everything, as little by little we experienced the joy in the simple things. We started to want smaller and less. For me a good analogy is Walmart vs. my little Pogue’s Run Co-op. When I go to Walmart, I am completely overwhelmed by all the choices. If it takes me 30 seconds to decide between A and B, but at Walmart I have to decide between A-R, well….that time adds up. Inevitably I end up with way too much of I don’t need and not enough of what I do need and now I’ve lost a big chunk of time, too. But when I go to Pogue’s Run, they have a small selection of really great things which meet my needs without the superfluous extras. I can go and see and conquer quickly and economically and come home with good things for family. This illustrates the power of less in my life, I think. Who knew zero could be so big and so wonderful or that less could leave a person so fulfilled.

Well, long, tedious story somewhat abbreviated, two Thursdays ago we paid off the last of our debt. Actually, we thought it would be a much bigger moment in time, full of emotion and giddy-ness, given everything we’ve sacrificed to get there, but the funny thing about spending years pointedly working to become a focused, disciplined person is that those habits stick. And so instead of throwing everything to the wind that day, we just…kept on, doing like we do. So for now, the least I can do is give the declarative statement of what we accomplished it’s own line in the blog.

We paid off our house. We are completely, 100% debt free.

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So, this is a wonderful thing which we are excited about. We have certainly begun to see the benefits which come from sacrifice. Don’t mistake. There were more days when we were pretty sure it might all be an exercise in futility than days when we were convinced that it would all be a worthwhile endeavor. But I guess that’s part of being emotionally neck deep in the day-to-day. We have seen God’s amazing love, his steadfast and faithful presence, we have tasted a bit of what it’s like to get out of the boat and find your footing simply because Jesus is there and our eyes are on Him. He comes through when the situation says “you ought not be able to survive this”. And, along the way…we’ve collected pieces of things that we think probably fit together somehow, toward that big picture of laying down our whole lives for others. But now having arrived at minute zero, a proverbial starting line, ready to begin the road ahead, we find that it’s like putting together a puzzle without a box top. We’re ready to see a completed example of how all these little pieces fit together. And this is what brings me back to the airport. About 2 months ago we got to meet with our wonderful friends Ryan and Andrea Crozier, who we knew through the church we attended when we lived on the West side. About 9 months ago, they moved to Romania to join the battle against human trafficking. While home on a short furlough we got to grab coffee with them and hear about the amazing things they’re doing. Over the course of conversation, we shared what little we do know about what we think we’d like to do next, but expressed our frustration at how it seems like a bunch of pieces for a puzzle with no box-top. Wouldn’t you know it, but they lit up. Turns out they’re actively involved with several organizations in Romania which include all of our little pieces. They immediately invited us to come and see these different organizations first hand. I have to take a moment to express what I saw them demonstrate that day. These two people are in the middle of pursuing what they feel THEY are designed to do. They are home for a short while, trying to fit in the many many things that come with a visit from the mission field. They are expecting their first child later this year. There is no shortage of things on their plate. But in the midst of that, they got excited for us and with selflessness and generosity offered an opportunity for us to have our big missing piece. Sometimes selflessness, in its purest form like that…it can just take your breath away. Croziers, thank you for being so big-hearted and helping us grow in our design, too!!! (More than worth mentioning, www.eliberare.com is where you can read about and even be a part of what they’re doing in Romania)

So, on the spot in Starbucks, we decided to make the trip to Romania, a mere two months ago. If you happened to read this blog, you might know that at last post, we had just gotten married, but other than a beautiful weekend in Brown County, we didn’t take an extended honeymoon. So we’re flying in to Paris and then on to Romania and then on to Ireland. Paris and Ireland (where we’ll get to do some motorcycling) will be a belated honeymoon and Romania…well…Aaron and I have owed Romania a visit for a long time and are dedicating it to discovering our box top and being a blessing if we can.

The story of how it came together for us to actually go will have to be for another post. I’m standing on the water, trying not to eye the storm, from time to time, even sitting here in Philadelphia, but I’m at 2200 words now and I think I’ll give everyone’s tired brain a break. But one last thing I’d like to mention.

Most anyone that knows me knows that Mom and K and I went to Paris in 2005. If every soul has a city on earth where it is most at home, Paris was my mother’s place. As I mentioned we’re flying in to Paris and it just so happens that, if we make it out tonight, we’ll be arriving there on May 7th, which is my mama’s birthday. And I can’t even tell you how cool I think it would be to spend my mama’s birthday in her favorite city. So, I’ll be posting here – blogs, photos…who knows what else, for this trip and if my study of discipline has done me any good, beyond. Hopefully with a cool boxtop to share, so we can have community as we put together our puzzle. I’ll get into more of the pieces in the next few days.

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Here’s more pictures!!!

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