Merry Christmas, then. (or, How I’m Failing Everything & It Doesn’t Even Matter.

Puke through the ceiling.  I am certain my family is alone in the category of puke through the ceiling on Christmas day.  This is what happened. . . .

“Mom!  He spilled a glass of water & it’s coming through the ceiling!” one of the kids hollered, as i’m eating my leg of lamb surrounded by extended family, Christmas music playing, a lovely day tucked in behind us.

But then i began thinking, realizing, “But. . . he didn’t have a glass of water. . . .”

oh. crap. ohhhhhhhhhhh, c.r.a.p.
(if you can see where this is going, you are getting our family drift these days.)

We had the stomach flu last week, 5 of the 6 non-infants here.  We had one man standing.  We thought we were in the clear.  We gave the grands the go-ahead to come.  We finished wrapping the gifts, we cooked the ribs & the lamb.  Then the 4th kid went down in the afternoon Christmas day, yet everything was still on schedule for a truly lovely holiday.  Quarantine the sicko, swab the doorknobs.  Until the above exchange happened in which said child threw up from the top bunk upstairs onto the floor, bypassing all containment vessels.  Which is gross enough.  But when you’re house is a fixer-upper, there’s a slim chance the vomit coming down from the rafters will literally fall through the unfinished floor into the dining room below.  During Christmas dinner.

& this, my friends, is how this season is going for us.

Also:  we took a Christmas picture weeks ago, realizing afterward the rosy pink in the 4-year-old’s cheeks was actually blood smears after he fell & slammed his mouth on the floor, cleaning it up himself by rubbing his cheeks & arms with the drip.  I missed the annual Christmas tree hunt, on the couch with mastitis & a fever.  We skipped the Christmas parade, i gave up on getting a Christmas letter out, & this blog post is days later than i intended.  & we literally forgot to get anything for the baby until late Christmas Eve (not that she needs anything, but still.  Thank you, Walgreens’.)

but, there’s this.
You see, none of my foibles matter.  i “failed” so much of what i’ve done in the past:  making Christmas cookies with the kids, buying gifts for less fortunate kids, giving to a local charity, conjuring a rousing list of beautiful Christmas activities to do with the kids to make all the memories to insure all the happiness.

What Advent looked like this year was a whole lot of sitting on the couch watching Netflix under Christmas lights holding a baby.  Bonus if we actually found a Christmas movie.

& this was the best Advent we’ve ever had.

When you have to let go of all the fancy just to keep the wheels on the cart, you realize how much of the fluff is unnecessary.  How intentions are fine, but let them go & get on with it.  How the whole season (life, actually) is about being present & tuning in to the people who matter.  No one will remember what we ate for dinner, no one will remember if we went to 1 or 7 Christmas activities.  But they will remember how we felt together, watching the snowflakes fall outside with Christmas pandora playing in the kitchen.  (& i’m pretty sure they’ll remember the Christmas when puke rained through the ceiling from on high.  if i wanted to make memories, well.  done & done.)

So, though i love paper & pen & stamps & enevelopes, this year our Christmas card is not only not sent, it’s also late.  Just like me, just like my life right now.

& though it may look like failure, it absolutely isn’t.
we’re absolutely, 100% fine.  just like always.
(notice the slight pink in the 4-year-old cheeks.)


Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without His unfolding grace.  ~2 Cor 4:16

That is the Truth i’m holding onto with both hands this season.

Merry (late) Christmas, my friends.
With all our love,
the Britzs
(Leif holding the wrapping paper down so it would stop rolling up on him.  Not sure what his end game was. . . .)

hope is hard.

after the housing crash of last week, i’ve been turning Hope over, like a rock in my palm. we’re working with a second lender, have emailed our reems of financial stats in for speculation.  & now we’re waiting.  hope, yes.  hope, no.  hope, well, how DO we hope?

the thing is, i want to hope we will be allowed to buy the small cabin.  but there’s war in me:  if i hope & then we’re denied again, doesn’t that train wreck me?  again?  isn’t it easier to keep the bar low?  to work on my contentment instead?  contentment is spiritual, right?

hope is scary, it’s uncomfortable, & i don’t like it.

& yet.

we went to church, a couple days after our damning verdict, & I SWEAR the message was for exactly me.  Bob talked about building their 18.something million dollar campus 10 years ago, how they had a hard time getting a bank to mortgage them.  then he said this & i got chills,

nothing is ever easy.  you think if it’s God’s plan it’s going to be easy.  it’s not easy.  nothing is ever easy following God.

aha!  yes, that’s it.  there is nothing easy about this.  the sheer amount of time we’ve put into thinking about what’s going on, grief.  it all feels so dark & mysterious.  like we’re writing up our dreams in a dark closet at midnight.

but then there’s all of you, climbing out of the fray to encourage us, offer us housing, even volunteer to babysit our chickens.  i cannot tell you how loved we feel.  how supported & surrounded.  i may have cried a little.

maybe Jesus gives us the gift of crisis so we can know with more than our heads how loved we are.  how we are never, ever alone.  how we are so much more alike in our differences than we thought we were.

& somehow, andy & i have wandered into a waiting place that isn’t uncomfortable.  as he showed me the four thousandth craigslist house today, he said to me, “i’m almost excited.”  i am, too, & for once, it’s not bound up in a solitary destination.  that’s kind of a relief.

so, we don’t know a thing more, except everything that truly matters:
we are loved.
we are on a right path (even if we can’t see it.)
& we will be okay.
IMG_6922thank you for helping us know that.
much love,

if you need some medicine, you can share some of mine.

if you want to give Wise Bob a listen, go here.

when all feels lost.

the phone rang, a routine call from our lender, that gentile wand-waver for the purchase of our cabin.  I handed Andy the phone, headed back up the stairs to manage children.  but then i heard his voice edge up.  i went back downstairs. Andy listened, I watched his face.  his voice edged up again, a more dangerous pitch.  I felt my skin go cold.

we weren’t buying the house anymore.

in some great fluke, our loan had been disqualified.  before Andy printed t-shirts, before he was a youth pastor the last time, he started a carpentry business.  last year, in a t-shirt lull, Andy picked up a painting job, which he got paid for.  but it was that check, deposited into the old AB Carpentry account, that disqualified us.  it was a second business, they said.  it looks like you’re first business is failing, they said, that you’ve started another.

“you’re not buying the house, anymore,” they said.  “we’re sorry.”

when you are sucker-punched in your dreams, what do you do?
do you cry like a thunderstorm, or do you head right into fix-it mode?
do you firm your stiff upper lip, or do you sidle under the banner OF COURSE THIS IS HAPPENING TO ME hoisted above you in your favorite colors?

i did all of these.  i couldn’t stop crying, thinking of what i wanted for my little ones being ripped away from us.

i began to assign meaning to it:  “maybe this is the way God has for us.  we say we trust Him, want to know what direction we’re supposed to go.  maybe this is the door-closing/window-opening thing.”
to which Andy commented on how terribly difficult it is to crawl out a window.  right.

we rolled all of this around between us.  Andy began looking for rentals on craigslist.  {you’ll remember our house is sold;  we are moving (somewhere) in 7 weeks.}  we looked at buses.  we thought about selling the chickens, or eating them.  we reorganized & edited our life goals, our hopes & dreams for the kids.

we laid everything out on the table.
& alongside all of it, we laid out our fleece, like Gideon.

we are laying everything we want, everything we hope for for these small children in our stead, all our dreams & passions & leanings.
we’re going to try other avenues,
& we’re going to ask the Lord to make happen what He has in His head.
& we’re going to wait, stepping into that frightening forest in the dark.

my friend Heather sent this to me in an email a couple days ago, a quote she’d read recently, as we were wrestling with this new news:

you can wait in worry or in rest, the choice is yours.

& then she said this, “i hope you choose rest, friend.  i know the weariness all too well.”

don’t we, though?  waiting sucks on so many levels.  we have to keep folding the laundry when we’d rather tear up the universe for answers.  we have to tuck in tiny children when we’d rather stay up weeping in self-pity or fear or depression.  all the while the worry races around on a hamster wheel in our heads.  we have to enter the possibility that our plans may not be the way we were meant to go, in all our convoluted planning.  that maybe our GPS was wonky.

& so, here we are, holding loose ends & holding on.  we have no definite answers, but we’re going to try another bank, another avenue.  we have a smidge of direction, a few drops of hope, a last hail mary to loft into the heavens.

will you wait with us?  will you say a word for us, lifting it up to the One who knows the answer to every single question before we ask it?  will you help us wait without trying to fix it?

Jesus isn’t asking for our help;  He’s only asking for our hearts.  & because of that, we know that whatever happens, we’ll be okay.

we’ll be okay.

so, this happened.

it all began with the chickens.
of course it did.

our pretty little girls had begun to free-range.  or most accurately, the fence we put up was too short, so the chickens hopped it & proceeded to roam into both neighbors’ yards.  excellent for protein, not so sustainable.  (obviously.)  slightly frantic with this new conundrum, i threw up a word for help.

around the same time, andy, who is a man for houses, began to wander craigslist for opportunity.  he does this often.  it scares me.  when he pulled up a pole barn on a hill for me one morning on zillow, reintroducing (for the gazillionith time) the topic of moving, i threw down my gauntlet.

“IF we were to move, i would need to have maples trees.  i would need apple trees.  &,” i added, throwing a hail mary, “i would want a water feature for the kids.”  i thought the last was a little over the top, but, well.  throw it high; throw it long.

the third cog in this bizarre wheel was the sermon series pastor bob started at our church.  it was on prayer, which i planned to be bored through.  i was not.  in fact, i realized how little & how vaguely i speak to Jesus.  so, given my new chicken problem, i started to ask specific questions.  i started to detail what i wanted.  i started to speak frankly.

a smidge later & late one evening, andy discovered a small cabin a few miles from our stead.  it had acres.  it had a chicken coop.  it required far less money than we are paying now.  andy almost skipped over it, but something caught in his belly, & he showed it to me anyway.  it had apple trees.  it had a stream.  don’t you tell me God isn’t into details.  i’ve got details, friends.  (we discovered the maple trees later.)

i said “yes.  that’s it.”

but this plan, though well & good, stood on the impossibility of selling our current castle.  and you know WE HAVE TRIED.  for five years we have been dancing around this fire, waving sticks in the air.  we have done our fool-darnedest to move.   & then we had come back to contentment.

on a monday night a couple weeks ago, after andy & i finished our nightly netflix episode post-kid-bedtime, he said, “should we re-list the house (on craigslist)?”

what the heck, we thought.  one more hail mary.

“yeah,” i said.  “let’s do it.”

by mid-afternoon the next day, the man who would soon sign a purchase agreement on this house called to say he was interested.  we even liked him.  he coached basketball.

so, all this to say, come january’s end, we are moving.  we signed the papers this afternoon finalizing the purchase of that wee cabin, just a few miles from here.

& my friends, let me tell you, this will be an adventure.
did i mention it was quite the fixer-upper?
did i say it was half the size of this house?
did i tell you this is our shot at a tiny house for 6?
did i mention i have no qualms about child labor?  (wink, wink.)

oh, yes.  this will be an adventure.

we don’t have to do this.

i’ve got birthday party hangover.  you know what i’m talking about:  too much sugar, more coffee than necessary (such a gray area), the full feeling of having gathered your tribe to love on your kids for a few short hours over food & drinks & good conversation.

yesterday we celebrated my middle kids’ birthdays:  thalia turned 9 last week, kieran nails down 6 on friday.  i, because i am an american parent with a bit of means, had been fretting over this day for some time.  i do this every year.  am i the only who does this?  maybe.

it goes like this:  what food should i make?  who should come?  what present(s) should we get the kids?  what should we do for a theme?  we’ve always had a theme.  will the kids that come fit in our house, now that most of the basement isn’t play space anymore?  will they be bored with smaller space & far less toys?  am i doing enough?

then i roll these thoughts around in my head for a couple months, tacking up mental sticky notes to address them, crumpling up the bad ideas & scratching out new ones as the event gets closer.

but that’s just the problem.

event?  my kids don’t need an event, they need a birthday party.  (i use the term”need” loosely.  again, the privileged “problem” of our first world.)  in this day of pinterest, putting on just a simple gathering has suddenly become a hard road to navigate.

i was talking to my dear friend beth about this on the phone last week.

“come with low expectations.  we’re just doing a party.  no theme or anything.  just simple,” i said, a little sheepishly, putting it out there to see if that was socially acceptable.

“i love parties,” she said, meaning the kind without extra extraness.  just gather us together to celebrate.  enough. done. it’s okay to drop the guilt.

of course.  i felt myself relax out of the pressure i had let build up.  that kooky pressure we put on ourselves to perform superhuman feats of extravaganza for our children’s parties, or for any reason, really.  first tooth?  have a parade.  easter?  we’ll hire the bunny.  christmas?  let’s not even go there.  i’m joking, of course, but kind of not really.

i read an article a couple weeks ago about a mom who was skipping all the birthday fanfare for her only child this year, an 8-year-old.  instead of renting the venue & buying the gifts, the party supplies, the paper goods, the food (that was acceptable for each & every food allergy or sensitivity to all her little boy’s friends), & then entertaining all 30 (what?) kids for the afternoon (hold on.  i’m tired just thinking about this. . . .), she took her son & a friend to a posh hotel with room service & cushy bathrobes instead.  to her, that was the simpler solution.

which makes me think:  we don’t have to do this.

somewhere along the path of the last decade, childhood in this culture went from ordinary to super-ramped-up, high-input, all-in-all-the-time.  if you think back to your own childhood, it was not like this.  it was simple.  maybe even a little dull & boring (God bless you.  you’ve just proven the reason for your highly innovative spirit.).  as kids, we were not catered to.  our parents didn’t make up events for us.  our birthday parties didn’t have themes.

[caveat:  if you are the mom (or dad) who enjoys big events with fanfare & have the means to do it, don’t let me steal your thunder.  carry on;  as you were.  but if you’re like me & dread feeling like you have to perform to be a good mother or spend more to make an event “memorable,” let’s just drop this issue, shall we?  we can give each other permission.]

so this year, we sloughed off a little more cultural expectation, stepped a little further out of the standard american box, & had a simple, un-themed, no-games, slightly dull (perhaps) birthday party.  we blew up balloons & hung streamers & made food & served ice cream.  we invited family & friends, the kids received gifts, & my MIL brought a pinata (which we filled with fruit juice-sweetened treats & chocolate.  & homemade, personalized buttons.  okay, a little hoopla.)

my kids felt loved & celebrated.  done.

no complaints about our smaller space or fewer toys or theme-less party or that where the kids mostly played was 37 degrees & outside.

as i snuggled my six-year-old last night at 10:30pm do you know what he said?  i asked him, “so, was it a good birthday party, kier?”

one word.  “GREAT.”

i think we’re on to something here.

: : : :

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i was standing in front of the bulk bins at the store, contemplating dry black beans versus canned.  i was having a momentary existential crisis, churned up by beans, of all things.  black beans, of course, stood in for bigger money issues, which at the moment were giving me both a headache & a stomachache.  (such a funky-looking word, eh?)  i was not winning the war for valuing true wealth. i was losing horribly, actually.

as i walked back & forth anxiously between shelf & bean bin, i had to stop & ask for a good word:  “i’m screwing this up, not getting the peace part right at all.  please help me see what my life is really about.  i can’t see straight.”

i replaced the can of black beans & walked back to the bulk section, picking up my old granny jar to fill with flour.  as i scooped light brown powder into my gallon jar, squatting on the linoleum floor, an elderly woman pushed her near-empty cart alongside me, scanning the shelves & moving slowly.  she looked a little lost.  she was so small & frail.  she looked like she needed a thousand hugs.

i suddenly wasn’t thinking about myself.

“what is that?” she asked, eyeing my jar with the 1970’s red & yellow lid.

“spelt flour,” i answered her.  “i use it instead of wheat.  some of my kids are sensitive to wheat, so we use spelt instead.”

looking over the small collection of items at the bottom of her cart, she said, “i’m not supposed to have wheat.”

“you should try spelt,” i said, enthusiastically.

she looked warily at the rows & rows of indecipherable bin tags.
“maybe i could get someone to help me. . . .” she said quietly.

i nearly cried.

“I can help you,” i said.  “i don’t mind at all.”

“oh,” she answered, slightly embarrassed that she’d need help, that this tall bald woman was her solution.  “i just had eye surgery.  i can’t really see all those numbers.”

{GOOD GRIEF.  what had i even been complaining about in my head meager minutes ago?  i may have a tight squeeze in my checkbook, BUT WHO CARES.  I CAN SEE.  & i can move any-which-way, & i don’t have to relearn how to eat at 80 years old, &. . . .}

i crouched down easily in front of the bin near the floor, suddenly feeling like an acrobat, & scooped flour until she told me to stop, just 3 or 4 shovelfuls.  what a small amount, i thought.  of course, it is:   she’s cooking & baking only for herself. {GOOD GRIEF.  i have a husband happily alive at home (at least he should be.  who knows what the kids have done in my absence.) & four lively, huggable children.  i am not alone.  not even remotely.  (not even when i want to be.)  GOOD GRIEF.}

after i tied up the plastic bag for her & wrote the bin number on the twisty-tie, with “spelt” beside it in small block letters, i handed her the flour.

“that’s so sweet of you.  thank you SO MUCH.”

& then she wheeled her cart down the aisle, while i rethought my life.

: : : :

we’re powerful, aren’t we?

i didn’t plan on being anyone’s superhero, but sometimes that’s who we are & where we are.  sometimes there are people around us that need something from us:  a smile. a kind word.  a little help.  a pat on the back.  a scoop of flour.

miniscule things that take miniscule time or effort.

we each have a power to wield, for good or otherwise, every single day.  with our spouses.  with our kids.  with our co-workers.  or with grocery store clerks or the mailman or our kid’s teacher.  with tiny old ladies at the store.

to think i nearly missed it because i was obsessing over meaningless numbers in the bean aisle.  to think i nearly missed an opportunity to put value into the world because i couldn’t see out from under my huge self.


give me clarity, or send me home.

slightly off center.

you’ll forgive me when i forget we’re not the normal ones here.  on top of that, i’ve been thinking a lot about wealth lately, reading ben hewitt‘s Saved:  How I Quit Worrying about Money and Became the Richest Guy in the World.  tantalizing, eh?

we’re long past chasing traditional wealth, andy & i.  pretty much we stared her down when andy went into youth minsitry & i into english (an english major gets you nothing but stacks upon stacks of filled notebooks.  & a really strong sense of grammatical errors.). we decided, matter-of-factly, that we’d find our wealth elsewhere.  to be clear, youth pastors don’t make heaps monetarily.

now, of course, andy works for himself in our basement.  in fact, we just converted the family room into a t-shirt room, & the t-shirt room became a maker’s space.  we were living with a fully finished basement, which felt kind of silly.  we were never down there.  now we live upstairs & work downstairs.  but i suppose that’s another post.

anyway, when you work for yourself, well.  working for yourself means sometimes you just don’t work.  & me, in charge of the brood & the castle, i add nothing monetarily to the pot.  (i just stir it. . . .)  so if there isn’t t-shirt work, the living is slim.
i’ve never questioned that this wouldn’t be bad.

going without?  how is that a good idea?
isn’t that what we’re all afraid of, at the bottom of ourselves?

turns out, yet again, i am wrong.  you, i’m sure, are used to this by now.
let me tell you how this time.

friday night is pizza night here.  but this past friday leif had been sick most of the day with a nasty cold that moved into his ears so that he complained of his mouth hurting, even.  so, he & i spent some quality time curled up with ye ‘ol phone watching old mickey mouse cartoons.  one cannot make pizza dough from under a whimpering two-year-old.  i revised dinner in my head, & my first thought was takeout, or the wal-mart equivalent.  but honestly, even if we had a spare twenty on us, i wouldn’t spend it on dinner (unless we had celebratin’ to do, like thalia’s 9th birthday tomorrow – woot!).  oh, heavens, no.  that sweet bill would head straight into debt repayment or the travel fund.  which meant i needed to rethink dinner myself, as inconvenient as that seemed, as mickey mouse courted minnie on my (cracked, shared) handheld.  an hour later, the toddler wiggled out of my lap, no longer in pain, & went off to town with daddy, leaving me & the five-year-old to make dinner:  pizza dough, as i’d intended.  & was i inconvenienced?  again, heavens, no!  i was tired, but not inconvenienced.  i spent the late afternoon with the five-year-old who stayed home & rolled out pizza crust with me, i got the laundry in from off the line (our dryer has been out of commission since christmas day.  blessing, not curse.  truth.), & i caught up with the dishes (by hand.  dishwashers, though we have one & don’t use it, make me crazy.).  i felt rejuvenated by my diy-ness, flexed my resourcefulness a bit, both of which sprang out of the kind of necessity that my grandmother would have laughed at.  making dinner inconvenient?  i think i can hear her laughing. . . .

this is only one teeny example in the giant story of us.  for some reason unknown to us, we are being pressed down into whoknowswhat financially.  & the pressing down, the going without, the do-smaller-things-than-you’d-planned revisions continue to be good.  blessings, not curses.

i don’t understand it, but obviously that’s not my job.
there is a different kind of wealth here in the lower realms.

a couple weeks ago i woke up to this tangled idea of wealth, like a cat sitting on my chest.  as i came slowly into consciousness, with a toddler pressed into my left bicep, it occurred to me, “i have FOUR children.  how rich!   i could sell them they add so much richness to my life.”  in that moment, i felt a true & abiding sense of wealth.  “here they are, all in my house, under my control, & healthy, smart, & strong.  i might have it made.”  i am really & truly wealthy, & i felt it.  that kind of wealth feels good.

so, all this to say, i have no plan to begin chasing big cars & fancy furniture.  i will never sign up for a cruise.  my life is working just fine, even when it’s skimpy.  we’ll stay here, slightly off center.  but what i do plan on is continuing to chase hard & fast, nose to the ground-like, the portions of my life where true & abiding wealth lie:  family, friends, faith, health, meaningful work.  joy, peace, love, kindness.  & i will continue to redefine wealth, tacking on hefty items like resourcefulness.  ample free time.  open calendars.  hugs in great number.

& just for kicks, i bet we could throw in all the little things, too, after we’ve totalled the big ticket items.  wealth like sun warming the table in morning’s light.  little or big arms around mama’s neck.  a heartfelt apology, given or received.  clean clothes.  favorite ratty ol’ jeans.  full tummies.  a movie loaned from the library.  none of these things are expensive, but i’m darn rich if i can lay claim to them.

aren’t i?