Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My Filter is Rubbish and Other Shocking Epiphanies

Here is my epiphany for 2014: I am not as nice as I think I am.

In the spirit of full disclosure…I must say I was shocked and disturbed to realize that the “nice person” I think I am (that mostly just exists in my head) is not necessarily the same person you, and other people, may know.

So sad…but apparently too true.

I admit that with this pregnancy I have been sassier (to put me in the best possible light) or perhaps we should just call it what it is – uncalled for!  

To my horror…in many of my responses I seem to exhibit no filter at all (from what I’m thinking in my head to what I say out loud).  What’s worse…I don’t often realize it’s happening.

Karl will often say, “Why are you so punchy today?” 

Hmmm...it could have something to do with the highly imbalanced and volatile hormonal state I'm in at the moment.  Maybe. 

Let me give you an example. Burger King has recently come to Cape Town but you must drive a ways to get there.  We stopped a few weeks ago, and I was so excited to get a chocolate shake.  

Of course when we got there, the shake machine was broken.

I thought I handled this with great flexibility and grace.  I calmly walked over to a nearby ice cream shop and ordered a chocolate shake.  How different could it possibly be?

Ha! It was literally like drinking chocolate milk with a few ice chunks in it.  I was not feeling so flexible and full of grace now.

I asked the owner calmly…trying not to sound as annoyed as I was, “Is this normal? This seems very liquidy.”

He said flatly, “Yes…that’s how it is.  If you wanted it thicker you should have ordered the ‘Double Thicky’.”

I took a long pause…letting this unusual upgrade sink in, “Oh…I didn’t know that was an option.” 

He said nothing and the implication was clear: I am in the wrong. Double-thicky?? Who has ever heard of that? What kind of description is that?? And why would the average person presume they needed extra thickness in a normal chocolate shake?  

Can’t he see how pregnant I am?  I am in no mood for semantics.

I walked away…sipping my so-called shake and trying to convince myself it’s not that bad.

But the more I drank – the worse it got.  It most definitely WAS that bad.

Now perhaps a saner person would have re-ordered it correctly or would have just “let it go” (as they all seem to be singing these days). But not me.

I feel justified in my total and utter customer dissatisfaction.

As we are about to leave, I walk up to the counter, gently place (aka “slam”) my Non-Double-Thicky-Still-Quite-Full shake on the counter, and say (more like shout) to all who will listen, “This is THE WORST chocolate shake I have ever had in my ENTIRE LIFE.” (strong emphasis on ENTIRE LIFE).

The owner and employees don’t flinch…barely look up – totally unconcerned about my loud and unfavorable pronouncement of their product.

And with that, I walk away in a confident power-stride (OK – more like a very pregnant waddle)… not asking for my money back nor taking the shake with me.  I leave it there to emphasize the fact that I will not be finishing it….EVER IN MY LIFE.

My filter has failed me but fortunately in this case, no one seems to care. I have made a stand.  I have no regrets.  I may be acting like a crazy woman…but this is chocolate we are dealing with here, people.

Apparently this is Double-Thicky Style

Then…the other day we made a purchase at a store where they check your receipt on the way out…peeking in your bag to make sure the items match your receipt.

The checkout counter was SO CLOSE to the door, that when we got to the receipt-checker-outter-person who had just ONE job they clearly took pride in…I blew right past them. 

In my mind we both saw eye-to-eye on this procedure…knowing it was a good general practice but totally unnecessary in my case (as she had clearly watched me check out and pay for all my items and there was no way possible I could have shoved a final stash of unpaid for chocolates in my bag in the 5 seconds it took to walk to her).

I was confident she understood the purity of my integrity and fully endorsed my desire to just skip this little step.  I continued to walk quickly to the car.

Karl called me back.

In my mind I thought I gave a “helpful smile” in response as I returned, cheerfully showing her the contents of my bag and matching receipt.  She barely checked it, confirming my belief that she and I were on same page with my unquestionably character, and I was sure I must have said “thank you so much” with another bright smile as we left again.

I was convinced she felt I embraced her like this.

In the car on the way home Karl said, “Now you realize you came back in a huff and scared that poor employee so much she was too frightened to actually check your bag.  When you saw that she didn’t even check it – you let out a loud and sarcastic, “Ha!” – at the ludicrously of her calling you back for a token bag check.

Hmmmm…that isn’t QUITE how I recalled the interaction….but I am sure Karl’s observation is more accurate.  Not only do I have no filter for my responses…I have no perception of how I am affecting others.

Which brings me to my main point.

A few months ago a very good friend of mine came to me with a concern. She was so kind to share openly and lovingly that she was hurt about a negative vibe I was giving off about someone close to her.  I couldn’t believe it! This was never my intention, and I was completely unaware of how my behavior was being perceived and affecting her.

Of course I was horrified and apologetic – eager to change any hurtful behavior.

But then it occurred to me…it took a lot of courage for her to come to me and share her heart.  I began to think, “What if others feel this way?  And don’t feel like I am approachable and can share their hurt with me? How can I make this right?”

I looked back over my life and realized there had definitely been times in the past where my strong emotional reactions had been unsettlingly to others. Sometime causing lingering pain to only be uncovered years later.

So I began a journey.

I decided to go to as many friends as possible and share my heart with them one-on-one.  It went something like this…

“I am on a journey to love and honor people better.  And I just want to ask for your honesty…have I ever hurt or offended you and you didn’t know how to tell me?  Or perhaps I have some blind spots in my life that I’m not aware of?  I really value you and want to know how I can love  better.  Please tell me!”


It’s a scary question to ask…but so good to go deeper with people.

In most cases I was relieved that I had not hurt or offended ALL of my friends.  A few people said…”You’ve never offended me…but I’ve HEARD about you.  I was warned you can be difficult.”


Clearly there must have been a few times where a strong reaction in the past had made me seem disagreeable or unkind.  Perhaps not “seem” – let’s face it…I have been known to slam my Non-Double-Thicky shake on the counter pretty hard and make some loud and unfavorable pronouncements.

I am so grateful for the chance to learn how I am sometimes perceived and my flippant words can affect others.  It’s much better to know and be able to apologize – than to just have people think this (sometimes for years) without telling me how they feel.

This has taught me a great lesson… I don’t always have an accurate perception of how I am affecting others.  I want to me more self-aware, kinder, gentler.

Soooo…please.  I know this is not an ideal forum to ask this question – but if I have EVER said or done anything that hurt you…or perhaps you could help me learn something about myself and how I can be perceived…please tell me!

Especially if you are now thinking, “Should I tell her??  How do I say it?”  Please tell me!  I need you in my life.  I need your honesty.  I need your realness. We can chat about it over a Double-Thicky shake if you’re here in Cape Town…or shoot me an email and ask me to call you.

I want to have a life earmarked by grace, love and honoring others. I invite you to join me on this journey, as we go deeper together and love better.

Help me make 2015 a new year…where this verse is truly a reality in my life, “Let your gentleness be known to all.” (Philippians 4:5)...with or without the Double-Thicky Shake.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Miscarriage: A Crown of Beauty for Ashes

These are the “tell-all stories” of six women who have experienced the heart-ache of miscarriage and the roller-coaster emotions of becoming pregnant again.

You will be moved by the ashes of their broken dreams but, as you lean in to look more closely, will begin to notice the crown of beauty they unknowingly wear.

Why talk about miscarriage?

We women love to tell our birth stories…home birth or hospital delivery room, natural or caesarian, length of labor, epidural, tearing, helpfulness of nurses – we can go on and on!

But not many women know how to talk about their miscarriage.  It’s an awkward topic…full of pain, lost dreams, and grief.

At the same time, many people don’t know what to say to someone they love who has experienced a miscarriage. Is it better to say nothing than the wrong thing? How do you reach out to someone– without feeling like you are just “making it worse?”

I would love to invite you to enjoy this free e-book “Miscarriage: A Crown of Beauty for Ashes” that I have created  (as a .pdf you can click here to download).

This e-book contains…
·        Stories: Real-life, tell-all stories of 5 amazing women (plus my own) who had a miscarriage in the past and are now currently pregnant.
·         How To Help A Loved-One Who Has Miscarried
·         Miscarriage Resources

Not sure about an e-book yet?  Read some inserts from the e-book right here on this blog…

Who is this e-book for?

The truth is that we all experience promises that die, must struggle through processing our own grief and learn to embrace new hope and dreams. These stories are for everyone.

Let us encourage your heart and bolster your hope in a God that really does love us all perfectly…through the gift of ashes that transforms into beauty in our lives.

This e-book is for those who have never had a miscarriage: With as high as 1 out of every 3 women YOU know having experienced a miscarriage…this e-book becomes an invaluable tool for better understanding their pain – how they felt, the gravity of what they lost and the painful emotions involved with the journey of another pregnancy.  Learn what to say and how to help them with the healing process.

For those who have experienced a miscarriage: Whether you are still working through the grieving process or feel as if you have “moved on” – these stories and resources will help you reflect, feel as if you are not alone and bring hope that there is a God who knows your sorrows and has custom designed your life to perfectly shower you with his goodness and gifts at exactly the right time.

How relevant is this e-book?

Every statistic is a face…every number is someone you know…a co-worker, friend, sister, daughter, aunt, niece, and neighbor.

15-35% chance of a woman in the childbearing range having a miscarriage

Women under 35 years = 15% chance of miscarriage

Women between 35-45 years = 20-35% chance of miscarriage

20% (that’s 1 out of 5) recognized pregnancies will end in a miscarriage
50% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, usually before the woman knows she’s pregnant

80% of miscarriages happen before 12 weeks

In these real-life stories you will see how each of us took our own time…our own path to embrace grief & joy, death &; new life, pain & healing.

Please grab a cup of coffee, get comfy and lean in close to hear the heartbeat of these incredible mothers.

Here are some snippets from each of the contributors to our e-book…

Meet Heather

Miscarriage.  What an ugly word.  This was a word that I was certain would never have to enter my life…thinking miscarriages only happened to people who were at risk and here I am, healthy and young.  Not a chance this could happen to me!

Little did I know that ugly word was about to enter my life in a very real way.The memories of that day, Thursday, October 17th 2013 at eight weeks along, will be forever etched into my life.... 

There is a deep grieving that took place as I mourned the loss of, not only my first child, but of all of the dreams and plans I had for that little life. 

The difficult part to mourning the loss of your child, even one as young as 8 weeks, is that it can be hard for people to empathize.  In the beginning people became awkward and if you listened closely, you could hear the faint “I am sorry”.  Nobody knew exactly what to say.  Did I even know what to say back?  Words of encouragement, no matter how comforting, would not suffice. 

Meet Danielle

My husband and I were one year married when we had a surprise pregnancy.   We were a bit apprehensive at first, as we had just applied for insurance (so the birth wouldn’t be covered) and it was much sooner than we’d planned.  It didn’t take us long to get excited though!  

But at three weeks pregnant, only a week after discovering our baby’s life, I suffered a miscarriage.  It was painful, traumatic, and devastating to us both.  The LORD had already given us promises and encouragement for this little life, so how could He allow it to be taken away?

Though I miscarried naturally I was required to have a D&C to make sure nothing remained, and the recovery – emotionally and physically – was slow.  The grief was overwhelming. No one seemed to know what to say, and I felt a lot of guilt.  I have always wanted children, and knowing my first response was concern rather than instant joy made me feel I was somehow responsible...

Surrendering jealousy and bitterness was sometimes a daily practice.  I was a mother too, yet my baby and my experience seemed so easily forgotten. 

Read Danielle’s full story…

Meet Jennifer

I had my miscarriage in the fall of 2001 at 11 weeks into my pregnancy. We hadn’t yet shared the news with ANYONE, as we wanted to safely make it past the 12 week mark. My husband, the doctor and I knew about the baby. That’s it.

I miscarried the baby naturally in the common restroom in the ER waiting room as I was waiting to be seen by a doctor. One memory that sticks out was the very awkward conversation I had with the check-in nurse to state that they might want to “get my baby” from the toilet in the bathroom. UGH.

This was my first pregnancy, so what made it especially difficult is the unknown. I didn’t know FOR SURE what was happening; I didn’t want to alarm anyone, including my husband and my doctor, so the pains I began feeling went largely unrecognized by anyone but me... 

The hardest mental battle after the miscarriage was the negative, internal self-talk. I allowed negative thoughts that went something like this… “You know, that ONE thing you wanted to do in life? Be a mom? Yeah, forget about that. Obviously, you’re not capable of having a baby. You’re not good enough. Your body is damaged goods.  Dream on, girl, it’s NOT GOING TO HAPPEN for you.”

Meet Julie L

My experience with miscarriage began long before I ever had one. I always felt very deeply for people that I heard had a miscarriage. I couldn't imagine how they were feeling and how they dealt with such a confusing loss, but my heart was always very grieved and overcome for them. I guess it was God's way of gently preparing my heart to one day experience that loss.
Because we had our daughter Sarah in 2008 with a normal pregnancy and delivery, we never thought about miscarriage when we got pregnant again in 2010.

I still remember what day it was and where I was when I began bleeding. I immediately began to worry and called my doctor. I was only seven weeks along and hadn't even gone in for my initial 9 week doctor appointment.  They had me come in several times to check my hormone levels and they were in fact dropping, which is the case with miscarriage. 
I hated how cold and matter of fact the nurses were, telling me I was losing my "fetus." How could they talk about my beautiful baby that way?
I hardly made it to my car before I bawled. Friends and family surrounded us in prayer, and we pleaded with God to save our little one. However, after the miscarriage was confirmed and that there were no complications, I bled for a few days and we thought it was over.

We were heartbroken. We cried out to the Lord, questioned Him, doubted Him, got mad at Him and even wondered if there was something that we had done wrong to cause this.

Meet Deanna

I was overwhelmed by the physical sensation of passing the baby, the horror of realizing what had just happened and briefly seeing that tiny sweet baby at the bottom of my toilet.  Can you believe I’m even typing those words?!  My sweet tiny baby lying at the bottom of my toilet?!  Sigh... 

The next few months were so hard.  I had already been planning, of course, for the future and so to roll back those plans, even if they were just in my mind, was agonizing.  The loss of the future.  Oh man, that was rough. 

After the numbness wore off, I just had this PAIN inside me like I have never felt before.  It felt so deep, so profound, so overwhelming.  I was unprepared...  

There were pregnant women everywhere.  I never felt like I was mad at them, but seeing them just made me so sad for what I had lost.  My heart was so broken and so full of pain, but I didn’t have an outlet to get that sadness out.  I had to keep it together for my kids, my business, my responsibilities, etc.  I felt like I had no time to grieve. 

Meet Julie O...

Once in the ultra-sound room, the feeling of despair sank deeper and deeper into my heart. The black and white screen told the stark truth - our once happy, jumping baby seemed to be crumbled into a tiny heap in the corner of my womb. Death, after 100 well-lived years or just nine weeks in the womb, is still death – cold, harsh, definite - a loss of monumental proportion in our hearts.

Going home that night, I decided to pass the baby naturally.  For me, it seemed to be the most private, comforting path between two terrible choices.

Days passed and nothing happened. I began to wonder if I had made the right decision. Every day was a painful reminder that where I once carried life…my body now housed death.  Every step I took, every errand I ran, every meal I ate for those seven days was with my dead baby inside me.  The waiting was agony.

Thank you for taking the time to lean in close and hear the stories of these mothers!

Please download the e-book here and use this as resource to pass on to those working through the process of a miscarriage. 

Miscarriage: A Crown of Beauty for Ashes (the tell-all stories of 6 women)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Becoming a Person of Color

If you've known me for any length of time...you may have noticed my addiction to wearing black and gray.  Does this speak to a deeper issue (“issues” I should say)? Probably!  There’s certainly always tell-tale signs, isn't there?

In fact...this was such an obvious theme for me that I was caught off-guard when a few years ago at one of my baby showers, all my friends were instructed to wear black to the shower – just to show support for my dearly beloved policy in women’s apparel. 

In a rare moment I didn't show up to the shower in the total black.  The hostess was so surprised! I said, “Really? Everyone was supposed to wear black?”  She said, “Julie!  Honestly!  You ALWAYS wear black!” Somehow that fact had slipped by me.

I reasoned to myself...Black is slimming!  Black is classic!  Black should be the obvious first choice for everything! Every clear-thinking person is aware of this.

Note: As Americans we often avoid using the word “black” in any kind of reference to anything.  But here in Africa “black” is a perfectly fine descriptor – so I can say with confidence I LOVE BLACK (OK...I still feel a bit uneasy admitting this so freely). Just bear with me here.

It wasn’t just my clothes – my house was decorated in black and white. Sure I had some accent colors – but black was the constant, immovable theme.

And then last year I was in the process of shaking off some old and hurtful habits and I thought, “Is it possible to reinvent myself at this point? This life needs an overhaul!”

Don’t get me wrong – I still love black with my whole heart. But I decided then and there to become a Person of Color.

I remember last spring this pink and white dress was my first $20 purchase toward a life change – representing so much more than a change in clothing or home decoration.  

I wanted a physical reminder that even me...who hates changes and holds on to the past with white knuckles...could REALLY CHANGE and to prove it to myself I decided to incorporate COLOR everywhere I could! 

Black still creeps in there, but now (on most days), I do my laundry, paint walls, hold birthday parties and get on the floor with my girls in festive colorful dresses.  

This one may be slightly "bridesmaid" - but why not??

It’s a little “1950’s house wife” I agree...but sometimes you need a serious “Self Intervention” where you confront yourself and conclude the only thing left to do is pull a George Costanza and do the opposite of everything you have ever done – in order to get different results than you’ve always gotten.

So enjoy this photo of tour of color in my life...as I seek to embrace a little less control, a little less pursuit of my own rightness, a little more joy, a little more remembering to stay in THIS moment. 

Speaking of THIS MOMENT...I had the stark realization yesterday there isn’t “more to get to...eventually” – there isn’t more. 

I’ll say it again (mostly to myself) THERE IS NOT MORE. There is just now.  THIS is it.  THIS moment.  THIS conversation with my husband. THIS little girl wanting me to tuck her in and hold her hand. THIS prayer. THIS really is it. THIS is my life. I will embrace it for what it is right now. Not for what it could, should or would be.

This is probably too much information on the minutia of my life so please feel free to scroll to photos (I haven’t told Karl this yet)...but in the spirit of that realization – I am really going to attempt to have a 5 minute conversation with my husband every day that is just a “fun, nothing conversation.”  You know the kind you would have with a boyfriend – where there isn’t any actual point but to enjoy each other’s company (I do love a good point!)...a conversation without logistics (grocery lists, kid schedules, budget questions, or scolding’s etc.)! It’s embarrassing that this is so revolutionary to me. I tried it last night and was reminded again how easily Karl can make me laugh if I just put down my agenda for one tiny second.

My footnote for the day...a  life well lived is creating the harmony between “this must change” and “this must be embraced for what it is.”

Without further ado...

Even in creating my “garden house” – I’ve resisted the temptation to slip back into my old black habits.

Dining Room Bench (recycled wood from pallets) Note: we are thinking about selling these type of pillow covers as part of the Motherhood is Beautiful program - want to buy some??

Entry Hall/Dining Room
(table - recycled wood from pallets) 

Dining Room Hutch
(with South African Designer Fabric bunting - new product??)

Our Bedroom

Our dresser
(recycled pallet dresser)

The Jelly Bean Tree (Jensen and Emme's Room)

The Lollipop Garden (Jensen and Emme's Room)

The yellow stripes (Adi's Room)

I want to be a person of color...shaking off the every day gray and fully embracing the different hues of joy.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Karl's Eulogy to His Mom

Guest Blog Post by Karl Ostrand

Read by Karl's close friend Kevin Atkinson at Joan Ostrand's Funeral (March 1st, 2014)...

As I approached the South African customs agent in preparation to board the plane home, I was doing everything I could do to keep it together. I handed her my passport and she asked why I was going home. With tears streaming down my face, I explained that my mother had literally just passed away hours before and I was returning home for the funeral. 

At that moment she stopped and looked straight into my eyes and said son….”You are returning home to celebrate a life.” And thus, as I have learned many things from my African brothers and sisters, I know this to be true…we are here to celebrate a life!

The last family trip we took - went to Great Wolf Lodge (spring of 2014)

On behalf of my father, grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins and dear friends, I thank you for being here to do just that.

In the last week, I have heard so many amazing stories about my mother. With stories come adjectives. Loving, joyful, kind, caring, sincere, thoughtful, willing, trustworthy, steadfast, reflective, knowledgeable, helpful, generous, faithful, encouraging, brave, compassionate, affectionate, amazing….the list could go on and on.

As I’ve thought about what stands out to me about my mom, it was her love. The definition of love says… “an intense feeling of deep affection”

Mom and Karl (Christmas 2014)

It was this feeling of love for family and friends that has touched us all. She would do anything to show you her love. In the same respect, to show you her love, meant she wanted to share with you her most prized possession. And that possession was her eternal faith in Jesus Christ. It’s what motivated her in life and compels me in her death. 

If she was standing here today and I asked her, “Mom, what do you think of your funeral?  Without a doubt she would say, “I want the love and power of Jesus to be known.” Everything else would come a distant second to that request.

My dad and I were reading a journal she was keeping which demonstrates her love and faith in Jesus. As she battled the evils of cancer, she wrote these words…

I miss my mom with words I cannot express but I also rest in the peace and assurance that she is sitting at the right hand of God.

So mom, rest assured that nobody will leave your funeral without hearing about your prized possession…the love of Jesus that exists for everyone here!

I love you mom!

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13

Karl going with his mom to chemo (summer 2014)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Garden In My Heart (or not)

If you ever look at a happy photo of the Ostrands and think to yourself, “Wow they have it together...what a nice family!”

I urge you to think again (although it is possible that Karl may have it all together, and I can confirm he is really quite nice).

I am, unfortunately, sure that I may have it only “somewhat together” 9% of the time and am not actually all that nice.

So let me back up.

Around Christmas time every year we choose our “Destiny Words" (email me if you are interested in the details on how these "Destiny Words" are selected at julie@karlandjulie.com)

Essentially this is literally a word (usually a single word) we feel is from the Lord for us for the next year. It’s a “handle bar word” – something we hang on to when all else seems to be falling apart.

Last year I got the word FLOW.

I have to say...this word carried me through 2013.  There were many times that I struggled. Struggled is putting it mildly.

It was hard to leave Africa – especially my house!  We were renting it...but still...it was my first house  (we had been in apartments before that) and I really loved it. We didn’t know how long we would be back in America so we gave up the lease.

We left our ministry, our amazing community, our life.

Going back to the US was hard but good.  Better than good – it was exactly right.  We lived with Karl’s parents, and I realized I had a lot to learn from Karl’s mom.

Often times I feel stressed or rushed or overwhelmed and my words to my family come out harsh or impatient.  The other day we were rushing around trying to get the girls out the door for school, and I was ALLEGEDLY barking orders.  

Karl said, “Julie, you are actually shouting at all of us right now.  It’s not helpful.” (of course he says this very calmly and nicely – Aaaaaa!”)

Inside I thought, “How is this not helpful?  I am being loud enough for all to hear and clear enough for all to understand.”

Apparently that’s not the definition of helpful and no one appreciates a screaming, slightly hysterical mother (is there any such thing as “slightly hysterical?”).

So...living with Karl’s mother for 8 months, I was awed at how her words where never impatient or rude – despite her own difficult circumstances, exhaustion or pain levels.  She definitely does not bark orders at anyone! I really want to be more like that.  If I could just take these sharp corners off my words!  Joan was such a great example of amazing character in every day life (when no one is watching but your family who is forced to put up with you).

So back to FLOW. 

There were quite a few times I was fighting my circumstances in 2013, and I really felt to the Lord say to me, “Go with My FLOW.”  It helped me relax.  It gave me a plan of action (Lord knows I love a good plan of action).  Often times when I was on the verge of some epic meltdown, the Lord would gently bring me back to FLOW.

FLOW means “move along or out steadily and continuously in a current or stream.”

So that’s what I did. I focused on FLOW...moving in the stream of the moment and not fighting against the current of circumstances I did not prefer.

Now this year I got GARDEN.

This was exciting!  I thought...2013 was tough.  Moving back to America and living a perpetual temporary state of life, the miscarriage, the skin cancer.  Yes, Lord I am ready for my GARDEN!  Bring on the peace, flowers and sunny days! That sounds just right!

And I could picture it.  I would land in Africa, and the Lord would show us immediately the perfect house to rent in just the right location.  It would be like an oasis for my heart.  

As a woman, a house to call her own is a big deal, and I haven’t had a house since last April.  Surely God knew this was my biggest need! Surely this is what he meant by GARDEN!  Obviously he would take me straight to the GARDEN of my physical surroundings.

Kinda. It was just kinda like that.  Except more like exactly the opposite.

When we landed in Africa at the beginning of January, we had amazing friends who graciously offered to let us stay at their house for our first week.  Plenty of time I thought!  Surely God will provide a house quickly.  My GARDEN is just waiting for me!

One week turned into two...which turned into three. No house to move into. Many nights we slept with 4 of us in a bed.

Our family’s immunity was pretty low from the stress of travel, and we seemed to catch everything possible.  We had the flu (the “both ends” kind of flu), upper respiratory infection, horrible coughing, lice, worms, severe eczema.  Jensen was so sick she was talking crazy about pigs on the ceiling and just wanting a little cloud.  I was terrified her brain had spilled out a few marbles I was never going to find again.

Adi's eczema (on her cheeks, arms, legs, abdomen, etc.)

You name it...we caught it...and then much to my horror we shared it with our friends who were hosting us. My worst nightmare!  Soon my sweet friend, her husband and baby were sick as dogs.

We tried to find another place, but every temporary rental place was full.

And the houses!  The first one we toured the day after we landed.  It was perfect!  My Garden!

We had a great reference and our finances were in order – but they chose another family.  And the second house was even better!  We even signed a lease and when our agent went to have the owner sign it too, she reneged on her verbal agreement and decided to pick someone else who could pay a little more.

My heart broke into a million pieces and I inwardly screamed “Where is the GARDEN you promised me??!?”

When I asked the Lord about it, I felt He was saying, “First I want to cultivate a GARDEN in your heart, not contingent on your exterior circumstances.”

“Oh,” I thought. “Oh dear.  That’s not what I had in mind at all.  Could I have another word please?”

I’ve had various moments of utter disappointment and outright anger.

Karl said to me last night, “Do you think God owes you?”

I said, “Yes!!!”

And I had to admit I felt owed.  Owed a break from all the transition and chaos when I really feel I am asking for what seems to be so little.  Just one little house to settle my precious family.  I moved to Africa.  Wasn’t that enough?

It is SO much transition.  Unpacking and repacking and unpacking again our entire lives while we move back and forth between friends’ houses and dorm-style guest houses.

It’s hard to put into words the frustration of sleeping small children in a different place all the time while you can’t quite ever find anything.  

Most of the time I’m just wandering around digging through suitcases trying to find scotch tape or a toy or some sanity.

I gotta say. I’m ready for some pleasant exterior circumstances.

But he wants to do MORE.

So much more.  It’s the “more” that always gets me.

And then I realized...does it really count if I turn back into a nicer person once I have my house and my car and my girls schedules aren’t in chaos? Once my life is “in order?”

I read about some amazing guy in a concentration camp who was so nice to everyone and all the people loved him and how he took care of everyone and was so unselfish and blah blah blah. (His story is actually incredible...read it here)

So I kept telling myself...”Hey – this is much better than a concentration camp. Why can’t I at least be 10% nicer??  I can do that!” 

The problem is I really can’t.  I love efficiency and organization with my whole heart and my life is the exact opposite of efficient and organized.

So I can’t but I know the One in me can.  I’m choosing to embrace this Gardner who keeps pruning me. I’m not a fan – I gotta be honest.  But I SO want that GARDEN IN MY HEART.  Isn’t there another way that doesn’t involve cutting off these huge branches I have grown to love?

As I begin to accept this, today we signed a lease for a house we can move into March 1st.  There are not words for how thankful I am.

And He is showing me I need to expand the GARDEN.  The overflow of my GARDEN HEART will be building a GARDEN HOME for my girls.  I’m not sure I really know how to do this!

Now if you want me to help you start a business, or create a marketing plan, build your web site, or run your project.  Great!  I love every second of it.  But if you ask me to bake a casserole or teach my child to read I am horrified and petrified.

What I love about the community here are there are so many people who will give you words from the Lord specifically for your moment...your pain...your situation.  The words of my friends all seemed to echo the Lord's whispers to me.

One women told me this week, “Julie, your children are your priority.  Once they are 12 years old...most of your work and your influence is done.  Now is the key time with your children.”

Another friend said, “Julie...embrace your circumstances.  Don’t fight this. The Lord wants to do something new in your heart.”

Someone else said, “The Israelites were eager to thank God ONCE THEY CROSSED the Red Sea onto dry land.  But, Julie, God wants us to thank him now...on THIS side of the river.”


So thankfully the Lord does not let my terror stop his GARDEN PLANS.  He prunes and He clips and He hacks it off.  Oh how He hacks it off!

As I step into embracing this I asked the Gardener to download his GARDEN PLANS for a GARDEN HOME for my girls (since I really have no idea how to do this).

For Jensen I feel He is saying...

  •      MAMA TIME: Set aside one afternoon a week just for “Mama Jensen Time” and do something simple like bake cookies, or plant a real garden or do art. 

  •      TUCK IN: At night I tend to do the “Speed Tuck In” – which is about a 5 minute process of brushing teeth and saying prayers.  This mom is eager to get off the clock! But I feel him saying that this is the key time of day to pour into her. So when I tuck her in at night...I’m going to rub her feet with oils and take 20 minutes to chat about her day, de-brief the hard stuff and pray with her. I distinctly remember how my own mother would tuck me in every night and ask me about my day...praying me through all the hard stuff (friend problems, teacher difficulty, insecurities, etc.).

Me and mom (when I was about Jensen's age)

  •       BIBLE: Reading one small story from the “Storybook Bible” at breakfast or dinner to the family.

For Emme I feel He is saying...

  •       GOD TIME: Set aside one time a week to take her to All Nations Furnace – a time of prayer and worship.  Emme loves worship and since we would be praying that one day she would have a healing ministry – to start now with teaching her how to pray for others. 

  •       TUCK IN: During Jensen’s tuck-in, Karl wants to be with Emme and Adi listening to worship music.

Daddy and his girls

  •        BIBLE: At night while she sleeps we would like to play a full audio recording of the whole Bible (a little bit at a time).  Although Emme’s mind may not fully absorb all the concepts, we really believe these truths can sink deep into her spirit.

So this is my GARDEN PLAN.  It may take some time to move all of these areas into being every day habits...but this is what we will work toward.

For 2014 I was expecting to walk into an oasis FOR my heart...but instead He is building an oasis IN my heart.  I want to be a person not so dependent on my current circumstances to make me nice and happy and pleasant to be around.

Oh Lord! Do you your work!  And quickly for the sake of others!