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

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 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?”). 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 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!