home :: a guest post

Katie and her German husband, Martin, split their time between life in Berlin, Germany and the Rocky Mountains in the US. In April, she launched an online shop of handmade journals and minibooks. In her own words: “I know we all have stories about ourselves, our travels, our homes; I want to help people celebrate those journeys in a fun (and affordable) way!”

I think the post office must hate me. I am constantly filling out fowarding information. Since June of 2007, my husband and I have lived on two continents, four states, and six communities. I have a whole section of my address book dedicated to all of the companies I need to contact each time we move.

The hardest question anyone could ever ask me is, “So Katie, where do you live?” Or at least that used to be the hardest question.

We just moved to the Rocky Mountains in the US for the summer after 9 months in Berlin, Germany. For a long time, I was working very hard to reach out and meet the expat community in Berlin.  I’d met some really amazing people. It was beyond inspiring to sit at an outdoor cafe, chatting over coffee with people who loved where they live. They were not Germans, and they absolutely loved living in Germany. You don’t have to be fluent in the local language to call a place home.  You don’t have to completely understand the culture around you to love it.  You just have to be open.

At the same time, I have been meeting expats who just ache to get back to where they came from. They hold on so tightly to the world where they came from – to the place where everything was comfortable.  I come home feeling drained.  Somehow, I’d love to give them passion for this fabulous place where we get to live.  It’s all about your attitude and the way you look at everyday life and the choices you get to make.  No one can alter that for you – no matter where you live or have lived.

The definition of home and feeling happy and alive there has to begin deep in your heart before it can grow anywhere else. So what is home?

If you’re not there right now, what do you suppose could change that?

Is it physically moving to a new place?  Or is it moving your heart?

I like to document the places we call home in a little minibook called {Love Where We Live}. It’s one of several journals from my online shop, Gadanke. Imagine what it would be like to look back on where you were after 10 years. What did the little corners of your house look like?  How did you spend your days in town?  What did you love about your home?  I imagine sharing this book with our kids one day.

***

I’m glad for this reminder of the true meaning of home. Katie sent me one of these little home journals as well. Here are some pages from mine:

If you would like to learn more about Katie, visit her at her blog, Making This Home. Or if you would like to learn more about her homemade journals, visit her shop, Gadanke.

the sisterhood at (in)courage

We interrupt this week of guest posts to bring you the following announcement: (in)courage is celebrating her one year anniversary! And that means giveaways for you. I have loved being a part of the community of women who read and write for (in)courage. None of us really knew exactly what we were signing up for when it started a year ago. Is it a store? A blog? A website? A devotional? A greeting card?

One year later, I’m so glad I said yes. I couldn’t have imagined the friendships and encouragement I’ve received from being a part of this community. It is one of the safest places on all of the world wide web. For the next 30 days, (in)courage will be hosting a giveaway to thank you. And today, I have a post up over there so go on over and check it out!

P.S. Stay tuned in a few hours for today’s guest poster, Katie. Two posts here in one day. What is going on!?

marriage, mess and mercy :: a guest post

Scooper lives in the Southeast with her husband of fifteen years, three children, and much laundry. Once a history professor, she’s now a stay-at-home mom, having traded in a college classroom for school around the kitchen table. She enjoys writing, photography, books, strong coffee, running at daybreak, and anyone who can make her laugh.

For months, I prayed that I wouldn’t throw up or cry as I floated down the aisle to meet him. I didn’t want mascara dripping down my face or nausea ruining my dress. I didn’t want to be a mess. I wanted to be perfect. Looking back, I probably saw God’s answer to my superficial prayers as a good sign that life would be a lovely storybook . . . just like that day.

Fifteen years later, I still have the dress and the photographs. What I don’t have is a story that matches the one I envisioned on August 12, 1995.  We spoke heartfelt vows and lit symbolic candles. The minister said, What God has joined together, let not man separate, but I hardly noticed. Love is blinding like that.

Life would surely be as pretty as we looked on that day. Marriage would be one extended date night. And when kids came along we would spend weekends strolling through the park and licking ice-cream cones and gazing into one another’s eyes as we pushed picture-perfect children back and forth on the swings.

My dreams did not include marriage being harder than I ever imagined and life bringing so much unexpected pain and stress. We enjoyed many good and happy times but as the years rolled by, problems became apparent. Parenthood brought us closer but it ushered new challenges into our marriage as well. Sleep-deprivation only intensified the crazy. We fought and made up but never actually resolved anything significant.

Despite being Christians and going to church, we stubbornly navigated through life and its unfolding drama in our own strength, a rocky marriage simply a by-product of the sludge that simmered deep down below the surface.

Of course the problem was never with me. And the more self-righteous I became, the more he withdrew. And the more he withdrew, the more expectations I issued out of desperation and control. The cycle went on like that until it became our normal.

But “dysfunctional normal” can’t last forever. For me, the uglier things became at home, the harder I worked to maintain a shiny and presentable facade. I hoped for the glittery exterior to magically seep down into the ugly deep and wash it clean. I thought life would return to pretty when this or that circumstance went away.

It didn’t.

My lonely and entitled self sought comfort in a million different lies. We should never have married. He’ll never change. I’m right. We married too young. This isn’t what I signed up for. We’re being punished for something.

The story is complicated but in February 2006 it reached a climax. We legally separated with fragile hope that it would be temporary. And though it sounds ironic, we still deeply loved each other. There was so much to fight for: children, family, the covenant of marriage. But for six months we lived apart and it was hell.

I’d spent years frantically trying to keep up appearances. Those days were over and relief flooded my whole being. We were a mess and I didn’t care if the whole world knew. Pretense is terribly exhausting. I was ready to put that precious energy into saving my marriage.

Words I’d hardly noticed 11 years prior revisited me like a forgotten but faithful friend: What God has joined together . . .

In the midst of a blurry and complicated existence, truth began to shine ever brighter; ultimately it was truth that set me free. God, in his sovereignty and goodness, brought us together. It sounds simplistic but it was all I needed to know.

Even the simplest truth holds power to root out a houseful of lies, lies that had long pursued me. In times of anger, confusion, and fear, I’d found solace in their supposed believability. The lies made me the center of the universe so that I could cast all blame on a guiltier party.

Thankfully, truth and lies cannot coexist.  A house divided cannot stand and mine had all but collapsed. God had brought us together. That simple truth inspired profound hope. Desperate and white-knuckled, I clung to it one day at a time.

Slowly we rebuilt. The miracle of restoration began to prop us back up and piece us together. Repentance and forgiveness brought freedom and put our marred union on a path toward healing. Faithful loved ones, generous neighbors, and our church came alongside us to provide love and support that still overwhelms my heart with gratitude.

It was a process. We are still in process. Daily I battle fear and doubt. All those lies taken captive? Well, some days a few of them get loose and come back to visit. Practicing truth takes just that: practice.

My faith was at times non-existent. Even now, it can be shaky. But his word says that if we are faithless, He remains faithful,  for He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). It’s backwards to me but I’ve learned that His ways are usually like that. He brings life out of death, freedom out of surrender, redemption out of brokenness, faith out of unbelief.

God knew what He was doing 15 years ago even though we didn’t. He had brought us together and by His lavish grace…

We still are.

Oh, Scooper. What a fantastic, genuine, beautiful post about real love, the messy kind that takes choice and work. I love this post and am thankful for Scooper’s willingness to share it with us today. To find out more about her, visit her blog, A La Mode. PS? Today is her 15th wedding anniversary. Go congratulate her!

blind man :: a guest post

Laura is currently hacking out a life overseas in Thailand, where her husband directs a Christian orphanage for girls. She is homeschooling their three small children, loving 44 Asian orphans, and navigating markets that sell fried grasshoppers. After ten years in church ministry, she is learning that practical obedience in a foreign country is much less romantic than the missionary novels she read as a kid. She writes of lessons learned and blunders made at her blog, Laura Parker {Life Overseas}. You can also follow her on twitter.

We each hold a kid’s hand as we navigate the Asian marketplace.  It’s a sweltering mangle of vendors with knock-off sunglasses and the smell of freshly-dead fish and the bodies of nearly-everyone within a scooter-ride’s distance from this parking-lot turned Thai-Walmart-on-steroids. And I start to feel sorry for myself. I’m frustrated at the effort it takes to just get dinner in a foreign land, and I’m annoyed by the heat and the crowds. I grumble about the smells that turn my stomach and the weight of my three-year-old strapped to my back.

And then my shoulder bumps him. Shuffling on cautious feet. Fingers doggedly striking an oddly-tuned keyboard slung around a brown neck. Tin can taped to the side of the scratched instrument.  Eyes glazed-blue, deformed, and seeing only darkness.

And compassion stirs. I scramble for coins to clink into the can, and I touch his hand so he’ll know. And I walk away wondering about what it must be like to navigate a busy marketplace, by yourself, without sight, begging for the money to buy dinner.

And, suddenly, I feel pretty small to be complaining at all.

Ever since our family of five moved to Thailand several months ago, poverty and injustice have been daily visitors. We read the histories of the girls at the orphanage my husband directs, and we are struck with the reality of childhood prostitution. We see the dirty-faced boy selling flowers on our busy street corner, and poverty stands right outside our car window. I hear first-hand accounts of abuse in neighboring countries, and I watch my husband travel into remote villages where rice is the only food in the bowl. I bump into a blind musician at a busy market, begging for pennies.

Insulated. My life six months ago was vastly different; it whispered insulation at every turn. Living a middle-class lifestyle in a quaint mountain community in Colorado, I was enjoying the American Dream. My hands were overflowing with freedoms and conveniences and privileges. I had become so naturally insulated from the less fortunate around me that subtle attitudes of entitlement and discontent quietly became the normal. I never fully realized what I had been given, and so the desire for more and better reared its head all too often.

And then I moved halfway around the world.

Gratitude. And one of the lessons I am learning in this life on Latitude 18 is that the level of my insulation directly corresponds with the depth of my gratitude. If I surround myself with the comfortable and convenient, suddenly “they” start becoming much less important than “me.” If I choose to turn away, eventually my agenda dwarfs most everything else, and suddenly, I don’t have what I need to be comfortable or satisfied. When all I’m looking at is myself in wealthy America, I start feeling like I don’t have all that much to be grateful for.

Oh, but I do.

I have the freedom to stay home with my kids, when the women around me have never dreamed of the option. I have the money to eat. Every day. My kids sleep on beds, in a house, in safety. I have an education higher than most everyone on the planet, and I belong to one of the wealthiest nations in the world. I got to choose who I married {for love, even}, and I’ve always had clean water. But mostly, I know about Jesus, and I  savor the Rescue.

But, when I insulate myself from those precious souls around me–both globally and locally–who have tasted poverty and suffering and abuse, I begin to forget how much my hands are really holding.

And I start to neglect giving thanks.

And I foster entitlement and discontent.

And I begin brush past the blind musician on my way to dinner, and

not feel anything, at all.

What are you most thankful for today? What ways can you “get closer” to those less fortunate around you?

I’m so thankful for Laura’s perspective today, because she doesn’t speak as someone who doesn’t know. She knows. And she sees. And so she testifies. Since she submitted this guest post, her words have been rolling around in my heart. I hope they roll around in yours, too.

tuesday unwrapped :: a guest post

Imoomie is living out her “happily ever after” with an incredible man and inspiring children in North Carolina. Part thinker, part goofball, her time in the garden brings peace into her often hectic life. While bouncing between serious and silly, she seeks the One who planned her days. Visit her at Imoomie.

The night…was endless and restless, an extended time of tossing, turning, curling and kicking instead of the peaceful slumber I had longed to engulf me. This state of being bleeds into my morning and does not make for a joyous start to the day. I place one heavy foot in front of the other propelling myself in the direction of the waiting coffee pot.

A night spent like this makes my dark cup of coffee even more welcoming and delicious, and pushes me from my usual one cup onto two cups of the steaming liquid. I head outdoors to tackle the yard-work while the day is still crisp and the newness is still present, pruning back the vines and growth that spring brought, pulling unwanted weeds to make room for something new. Strangely, I find fulfillment of a promise in the possibilities this new canvas holds.

Something happens within me during this time, and the fatigue that rested its head on my shoulders disappears into the day. Hope has replaced worry and although my body is weary, my soul I discover, is refreshed.

The me that heads back to the house much later is a  new me who has been replenished, who has methodically placed the pieces into the puzzle within my brain that needed to be solved. I now feel peace wrapped around me like a flowing summer wrap.

God becomes exceedingly more real to me while I garden. Even when I was young, He met me there and spoke not with audible words, but with life into my weary, dry soul at times when I needed it the most, lifting confusion and replacing my earthly emotions with a balance that proves to be much more lasting. May your path lead you this week to the peaceful place where you know for sure, He will be to meet you.

Is there a simple pleasure that restores your soul? Do you have a daily gift that needs to be remembered? The guidelines for Tuesdays Unwrapped are here. In summary, link up with the permalink to your unwrapped post, or your link will be deleted. I would also ask, as a courtesy, that you would please link back here to Chatting at the Sky by either using the button or a text link somewhere in your post. Thank you.

tuesdays unwrapped at cats

the work of writing :: a guest post

When I moved from Massachusetts to Nebraska in 2001, I found gargantuan grasshoppers and looming grain elevators. I also found God. Now I’m raising two rambunctious boys with my husband, Brad, working part-time for Nebraska public television and radio, laundering Sponge Bob briefs, and writing about faith in the everyday at Graceful. And I’m so very grateful to be here at Emily’s place today!

Fifteen years ago my husband Brad and I backpacked through part of Yellowstone National Park. I’d reluctantly agreed to this adventure, knowing that Old Faithful Inn – or any place with plumbing, for that matter – suited me better. A 25-pound pack and a two-man tent pitched on pinecone ground were not my idea of a vacation. But I agreed, largely because I was newly married and very much in the compromise stage.

We hiked through a barren landscape, charred husks of birch and pine standing like totems, the ground prickly with new-growth brush. A rampant forest fire had ravaged Yellowstone a few years prior, and the burned landscape was still stark and desolate like a moonscape.

As morning turned to noon the sun seared sharp. Pack straps burned ruts into shoulders, hair stuck to nape, boots chafed blisters, and I grew crankier with each mile, weary of the sooty landscape. As we rounded each rise I expected to glimpse our final destination, a campsite nestled beside a glinting lake in a valley below.

But it didn’t happen. Instead, at the crest of each hill I saw only another rise ahead, hope of shade and cool water crashing as one false summit gave way to the next.

“I want to be there now,” I complained mercilessly to Brad. “How much further? When are we going to see the campsite? Why are there so many hills? This is horrible!” I continued. “This isn’t what I expected at all! I’m not having fun!”

Brad was remarkably patient, especially given that instead of chortling songbirds and burbling brooks, all he heard was the relentless griping of a grumpy wife.

“We’re going to get there, honey,” he soothed. “Just try to enjoy the hike.”

I thought about that Yellowstone hike recently as I found myself bemoaning the writing process, the uphill climb toward publishing. The similarities between hiking and writing are not lost on me.

There’s the relentless grind, for starters. Writing requires discipline, which means I write when I’d rather be sipping Chardonnay on the back patio or browsing for a new purse at TJ Maxx. The process isn’t graceful as I grunt out choppy phrases that fall flat, or circle an idea round and round, unable to nail it down. Writing is work, putting one foot in front of the other – one word after the other – and staying on the trail for the long haul.

And then there’s the finish line, the final destination. I want to rush the process. I want to be there now – there being a published writer. I don’t want to face yet another mountain, another false summit – the research, the rejection, the writing and more writing, the hope followed by crashing defeat. I don’t want to hope for sparkling lake, only to find desiccated emptiness once again.

“How much further?” I whine to myself. “When am I going to get there? This isn’t what I expected at all!”

The Bible tells me a lot about time and process, planning and controlling – about how God’s timeline may be different from mine: “You don’t get to know the time. Timing is the Father’s business,” Jesus tells the disciples, when they clamor to know when the kingdom will be restored (Acts 1:7).

Honestly, this isn’t what I want to hear. I want to control the process; I want to create the timeline. Often I don’t want to heed God’s plans for me, because I fear they differ from what I might have in mind for myself.

There’s much for me to learn about what God wants with my words. Perhaps it’s not about publishing at all. Perhaps it’s about this present hike – this climbing and seeking. I admit, the pack feels heavy at times; I am weary. But God tells me he wants to lighten my load. I simply need to hand over the burden.

“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” Psalm 143:8, 10

**I know I say this with every guest post, but seriously. Visit Michelle at Graceful, because every word of hers is just that. I love her vivid descriptions, her regular-girl perspective, and her growing heart for filling the hole.