Five Years Sailing These Seas

Danny Silk once said something in one of his teachings about how storms, not calm seas, are where we really learn to sail a ship. I later discovered that the idea came from an old English proverb:

“A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.” – English Proverb.

Regardless of its origins, though, the idea of embracing storms because they force us to learn to navigate deep waters encouraged me at the time (and still does), particularly because the seas of our marriage have been anything but calm.

Yesterday Derek and I celebrated five years of marriage. As I reflect on these five years of sharing home (five different homes, in fact) and life, I feel a deep sense of appreciation for the storms we have encountered (hard though they have been) because of what they have taught us about communication and forgiveness, about addressing our past wounds and walking in more wholeness, about loving unconditionally and giving vulnerably, and about trusting the Lord in every season and process.

Out of that reflection, I wrote this poem for Derek and gave it to him for our anniversary:

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Stormy Seas and Skillful Sailors

To the one who has sailed stormy seas
with me.

We embarked in a burst of champagne
and the resounding cheers of well-wishers,
glided out of safe harbor
and into roiling waters.

We felt the deck roll beneath our feet,
lost our balance,
fell flat on our faces,
our breath knocked out by the gale,
the salt of these seas on our tongues,
our first taste of open waters.
We wondered if we would ever rest
on solid ground again.

But in the churning and tossing
we learned the rhythm of these waves,
tuned our ears to every creak of this ship,
unfurled our sails to harness these tempests.
Our hands learned to grasp at solid wood
or a swinging rope
each time the ship threatened to fling us down.

And we came to trust our Captain
the One who steers this ship
and calms the seas.

Now, side by side,
we gaze boldly into the sunrise,
fiery hope spreading
rosy and golden on the horizon,
Heaven above reflected
in smooth seas below.

And we are not afraid
of the storms yet to come
for we are learning to sail this ship.

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Dreaming of Spring and Love

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This past week February arrived in a flurry of ice and snow. While I appreciated the snow days the blizzard brought, I have reached the point in winter where I start dreaming wistfully of spring and looking for ways to add some bright colors (yellow in particular) to the house.

Valentine’s Day is also coming up this week. While I understand that some people really hate Valentine’s Day, complaining that it was created by Hallmark for the sake of consumerism, or that it highlights some people’s loneliness in painful ways, or that it tries to cram romance into a single day rather than spreading it out throughout the year like good relationships should, I have always loved the idea of taking a day to intentionally celebrate those you love (including friends and family as much as significant others). Every year I try to find little ways to celebrate the day, whether with special treats in the morning or handmade cards for friends and family.

So last night, wrapped in a sweater with snow piled high outside, I made this simple, cheerful heart garland to hang above our front window.

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I began by cutting a whole stack of hearts out of old magazine pages, specifically choosing pages that featured warm yellows, oranges, and pinks, as well as bright florals. I interspersed these with hearts cut from the old hymnal I bought at the thrift store two Christmases ago, arranging them in a long line on the table to alternate the colors and patterns the way I wanted.

Then I sewed them all together, adding hearts from the stack as I went along.

It was so easy! Once the hearts were cut out, the sewing part took less than ten minutes. I foresee more sewn garlands coming up in my future…

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(P.S. It looks pretty great with my homemade curtains — which I still love)

A Heart Adjustment

Yesterday I finished an intensive three-week course at our church called the Life Training School (LTS for short). It covered basic foundational teachings about who God is, how He functions, and what it means to walk with God in every area of our lives, teachings that were both simple and incredibly profound. While it presented good information, the course was more about genuine encounter with God than it was about knowledge. We joked that perhaps it should be called the Life Transformation School instead (which is actually what I originally thought LTS stood for already – oops), after we heard testimony after testimony (around fifty of them) of how God had encountered individuals during those three weeks. Someone aptly compared the course to a three-week chiropractic session for the heart, where every time we met, God shifted something else back into alignment with His ways and character.

Some of the testimonies we heard were incredible and there’s a part of me that still struggles with comparing myself to others, comparing my testimony to theirs. The final night we met, though, as I reflected on what God had done for me during the week, I pictured myself handing God my testimony, small and handwritten, and Him saying “It is enough”. So here it is – not as funny or flashy as some, but uniquely mine and a testimony of a real God working in real ways in my life.

LTS Testimony*

I showed up at LTS, unsure of what exactly to expect. Because I knew I would be coming straight from work most evenings, I was a little afraid that I would be too tired to receive or really engage in the teachings. God met me so faithfully each time we gathered, though, even on the nights when I walked in tired or distracted by the day. I feel like the realization of His faithfulness in meeting me, even when I did little more than get myself into my seat, set the stage for some of the most significant shifts in my heart during the course.

A huge part of LTS for me was learning to embrace the simplicity of choosing God. The teachings about bitterness and about the walls we build around ourselves highlighted the impact of my choices. Although I realized how some of my choices led to years of hurt and wrong-relating, I was deeply encouraged by the realization that just as that hurt came from simple choices, I can just as simply choose forgiveness instead of bitterness. I can choose to believe what God says rather than the lies I have heard. Over and over, I can (and did, during these three weeks) choose life instead of death. Not that this will always be easy, but it is simple. It does not require me to figure it all out (I appreciated Graham’s analogy, comparing our ability to receive from God without understanding exactly how He works with our ability to eat and receive nourishment from food without understanding all the complexities of how digestions works). As someone who tends to overthink and overanalyze, this was a significant realization for me.

LTS also drew out some lies that I still believed about who God is as a Father. In particular, I realized during that first week that I still believed that God plays favorites. Of course, if you had asked me, I would have told you I believed that God loves all His children equally. As I listened to and processed the teachings about God as Father, though, I began to realize that the way I lived and the ways I interacted with certain people revealed a persistent belief that God really does like some people more and that I would always be excluded from a certain measure of His affection. During LTS, I repented of this wrong belief about who God is and chose to believe the truth that God is a good Father and that as a good Father, He loves all of His children. During my one-on-one prayer time, God affirmed His love for me and for the unique ways that He has made me. At one point, He showed me a picture of His hand pulling a rolled up sheet of yellowed sheet music from a box and spoke to me about the beauty of the song that He has is singing through my life, a song that He specifically and very carefully chose for me. That picture drove deep the reality that “God made me the way He likes me and He likes me the way He made me.” I believe that as I learn to walk more securely in that truth, it will not only affect the way I interact with God, but will also impact my marriage and other significant relationships in my life as I continue to let go of striving and other aspects of the persona I have built up to protect myself.

*This is the testimony I wrote and handed in at the end of the course.

The Homesteader of My Heart

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I remember my first glimpse of our new backyard, the way that my heart (and my feet) sunk a bit as I surveyed the gray sludge covering what we hoped to make a garden. The clay soil was packed so tight, so impenetrable to the delicate roots of new plants. Could a garden ever grow there?

Over the spring and summer and even into the fall, though, I worked with the soil. Before planting anything, I added a thin layer of compost and tilled it in. I planted seeds and seedlings, watching as their roots slowly broke through some of the clay. I mulched around all my plants with straw, sprinkled chicken manure fertilizer, and dug in more compost. Our house faithfully saved all our fruit and vegetable scraps, lugging stinking buckets of them to the compost bin and mixing them with straw and leaves. At the end of the season, I pulled out all of our old plants and tilled in the straw by hand. We drove around the neighborhood one Sunday afternoon, filling our little car with bag after bag of our neighbor’s leaves, later spreading those leaves in a thick blanket over the whole garden. In the spring, after rain and snow and time have broken them down, I’ll till those in, too, along with more compost.

It has been a process of adding and tilling. Of adding some more and tilling some more. Of waiting.

As I look over the resting winter garden (barely recognizable now under its blanket of snow), I am so aware of the slowness of this process. In just one season I saw definite improvements, a gradual loosening of the soil, better growth in the second planting than the first, but it’s just the beginning. A garden like this needs long-term commitment. It needs a gardener who will faithfully, slowly, work to amend it over the course of years, not just days or months. It needs a homesteader who is willing to claim it and say, “This is my land,” before they see any fruit.

The process of healing and growth in my heart right now feels equally slow, marked by a similar pattern of digging and adding and pulling things out by the roots. But my heart has a homesteader, the Homesteader. He lay claim to this territory long before it bore any fruit, naming it as His own while it was still tight-packed with the mud of fear and hurt and striving. He knows just what this soil needs. And He is committed to it for the long haul, for years, not just days or months. As I feel my boots sinking into the mud of this messy healing process, that reality feels so comforting to me.

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“Beautiful Things”

All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make me new, You are making me new
You make me new, You are making me new

- Gungor

What I Like

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I like color and light.
I like white walls and bright floral patterns.
I like vintage dishes and quilts.
I like worn wood and cotton fabric.
I like house plants and vases of fresh flowers.
I like front porches and window seats and neatly-organized bookshelves.
I like dangly earrings and paper crafts, branches and handmade things, quiet and words.
I like photography and stories about relationships and comfortable shoes.

I have not always known what I like, though. Growing up, I wore mostly hand-me-down clothes and ate whatever was served to me (though I discovered early on that I did not like liver or lentils). I shared a room with at least two of my sisters until I moved away to college, the look of our bedroom dictated by the number of beds and dressers we had to fit in it and the flowered wallpaper that came with the house.

Only in adulthood did I really start the process of discovering what I like…what I like to wear, what I like to eat, what I like my home space to include. Over the past two years especially, as I nested in our first apartment together after community living, I began to explore “my style”. I browsed pinterest*, read through blogs, and saved photos of spaces and things that I found beautiful. I began to give away things that I owned that I did not really like. As I explored what I liked, I experienced a beautiful unfolding of who I am and how God has uniquely created me.

When Maggie invited us into her house, then, I started dreaming up ideas for how to set up and decorate this space, how to make it beautiful and welcoming. I created a pinterest board full of ideas of furniture and color palettes I liked with the blue-green of the walls, mostly full of golden yellows, rich reds, and burnt oranges, offset by plenty of bright white and patterns. I browsed craigslist somewhat obsessively for a colorful rug, became unreasonably wrapped up in the choice of curtains, and secretly looked forward to the day when the marble table would move out of the front hallway. After years of living in spaces where these sorts of things were already decided for me, I clung tightly to my new-found ability to decide what I liked.

When Lyric moved into the house two months after we did, she brought with her lots of copper, stone, clay, velvet, stained glass, and dark wood – in many ways the opposite of the bright colors, simple textures, and whimsical patterns that I loved and had envisioned for this space. A part of me was reluctant to see those darker colors and heavy textures dispersed throughout the house. What if people thought that was my style, that I really liked those things?

But over the past couple of weeks, as we have unpacked and reorganized the house together, I have discovered that this is what I like.

I like creating a space that makes people feel welcomed and at home (which for Lyric includes making space for the things she loves, too).
I like organizing and decorating side-by-side, brainstorming together about what to do with a space.
I like wandering through the aisles of the thrift store and holding up items that we think the other would appreciate.
I like the give and take that community asks of me, the stretching it requires.
I like that loving one another can look like a stained glass candle next to a vintage bottle full of zinnias.

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*I have found pinterest pretty handy in the process discovering and articulating what I like because it allows me to organize ideas in such a visual way.

Good Soil

I realized recently that I never posted much – or anything, really – about our garden this year. Any moments this spring when I might have written about it were instead engulfed in schoolwork, weddings, moving, and traveling.

The garden was part of the initial vision and invitation for this house. When Maggie bought the house, the entire backyard was a big expanse of blacktop, the former parking lot for a business that once used the house for its offices. But Maggie, with her farmer’s heart and a desire to see land restored, saw beyond the blacktop. After she bought the house, she had the pavement broken up and removed and fill dirt trucked in. She built pathways sectioning the garden into four square plots and sectioned off a row in the back for berry bushes.

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Over scones, Maggie and I sketched out ideas for how to divide the space, listed available tools, meticulously wrote out conditions for participating in the garden, and brainstormed a list of friends who might want to garden a piece of the land this first year. She accompanied me to the Kansas City Community Gardens where I picked out an armful of seeds – spinach, lettuce, kale, beets, bush beans, black-eyed peas, zucchini, pumpkins, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, marigolds, and zinnias – and ordered sweet potato, raspberry, and blackberry plants.

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And then Maggie moved to France, leaving the garden and our plans in my hands.

Derek and I spent a chilly Saturday in late April, just weeks after our last snow storm, spreading compost, tilling the garden, and planting the earliest seeds. As my rubber boots squelched in the gray mud, sodden from the rainy spring, and the tiller stuck in the thick clay of the soil, I struggled to imagine how anything could grow in that space. Even so, when our friend Lebeka (now our newest housemate) joined us to help spread compost and plant seeds and as everyone who planned to participate in the garden stopped by during the day to work in their own plots, I felt hopeful about the garden and the relational fruit that might grow from it, even if no vegetables or flowers flourished.

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Despite the initial sense of hopefulness that sprung out of that first planting day and the literal sprouts of vegetables that followed soon after, discouragement soon burgeoned as well as I watched nearly all of what I planted struggle to grow at all in those first couple months. I learned firsthand the importance of good soil as I watched the heavy clay of the soil fall aside in solid chunks whenever I dug into it with my trowel and witnessed the pools of water that settled on the surface around the plants before drying into a solid, impenetrable crust. No matter how much I weeded, watered, and mulched, the plants struggled to thrive. They simple couldn’t. Their delicate roots couldn’t push through the heavy clay and even with the compost we mixed in before we planted (too little, we realized), the plants couldn’t access the nutrients they needed. In those conditions, they quickly began to starve. Many of the sprouts soon withered and yellowed and what remained of our spinach went to seed before it grew even two or three inches high.

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I felt tempted to give up on the garden, to wait and start fresh the next year with more compost or perhaps even with raised beds that bypassed the soil entirely. But instead I began loosening the soil around each row of plants before watering to allow the water to seep deeper down. I sprinkled nitrogen-rich chicken manure fertilizer around my kale, lettuce, and beets to provide more nutrients. I dug out the dirt around all my pepper and tomato plants and replaced it with compost from our compost pile. As I began to give the plants the air, water, and food they needed, slowly they began to revive and grow.

Now, over four months after we first planted the first seeds, I have a bowl full of fresh tomatoes on the counter and a jar of perfectly dried black-eyed peas in the pantry. I have eaten one zucchini (bugs and bacteria consumed the rest of my squashes) and stir fried green beans and gypsy peppers. We have more kale than we can eat and vases of zinnias adorn several rooms in our house. A fall crop of spinach, kale, beets, and arugula is already sprouting and just yesterday I noticed that several of our bell peppers are finally starting to blush red. I have weeded, watered, planted, and harvested in the garden alongside friends and had some hard, stretching conversations about use of the space and tools.

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The garden (and the relationships within it) are still far from perfect, but when I remember the parking lot that covered that space when Maggie first showed me the house less than nine months ago, I can see that life has undoubtedly grown out of that space, with even more restoration to come.

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“I Can Make That Myself”: Laundry Detergent

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I’m not sure how long ago I first heard about someone making their own laundry soap, but it sounded so simple — and so cheap — it just made sense to try it. When my friend Kristina posted on our photo blog that she had tried it, the idea seemed even more credible. But then school and work and moving and life in general kept me so busy that every time I reached the end of a detergent bottle, it was just easier to grab a new one from the grocery store and tell myself that maybe I would try making my own after that one.

With life settling down a bit since graduation and our move (and my success with making my own dishwasher detergent), though, I became even more determined than ever that I need to try making my own laundry soap. This week, with my last bottle of laundry detergent balanced upside down to let gravity pull down the final drops, I decided that now was the time.

In typical fashion, I researched a variety of recipes and read through pages of comments, perusing arguments about the pros and cons of each recipe, method, and ingredient until I began to second-guess the whole idea.
In the end, though, I settled on a small batch of powdered laundry soap to try it out (rather than the five-gallon bucket of liquid laundry soap). I started with this recipe, but ended up adding the rest of the bar of soap after noticing how much more soap other recipes called for in proportion to the borax and super washing soda.

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DIY Powdered Laundry Soap

2 cups Borax
2 cups Super Washing Soda
1 bar of Dr. Bronners soap (I used the citrus scent)

1. Grate the bar of soap, using the food processor (you can also do this by hand, but several reviews I read suggested that the food processor makes it finer and therefore easier to dissolve, even in cold water)

2. Add the Borax and Super Washing Soda to the food processor and process until fine.

3. Store in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Use 1/4 – 1/8 cup per load.

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I have only done laundry once since making this, but so far it seems to be working well. The clothes smell clean (though I can’t smell the citrus of the soap) and don’t seem to have any residue.

Sewing Curtains (the Easy Way)

Over the past two and a half months since we moved, I have been slowly rearranging, replacing, and adding touches to the house to make it feel more welcoming, more like home. Sewing new curtains for the living room/dining room was near the top of my list of projects when we moved in. When we agreed to move into the house, Maggie had already hired a friend to sew fabric blinds for all the windows. After she finished the upstairs blinds, though, I asked if I could sew my own curtains for the first floor to let in more light and better match my vision for the space.

After searching for curtain ideas and feeling dissatisfied with the heavy fabrics of most curtains, I stumbled across this photo on Pinterest:

Curtain Inspiration

The bright light and colorful yellow edging caught my attention and became the inspiration for making curtains. I knew I needed something that offered some privacy (more than sheer curtains), but still let in plenty of light (an essential for me in a home space).

After some searching, I found a good deal on mini pom pom fringe in bulk from this site and ordered two spools. I bought five flat twin sheets from Wal-Mart, all in plain white. I cut open the ends of the hem to allow a curtain rod to pass through and re-sewed the edge to make it neater, which ended up being the most complicated part of the project (with the last two curtains I finally realized that I could just fold over that top part and not have to rip open any seems, which was so much easier). Then I measured and hemmed the bottom so it reached just to the floor. Finally I sewed the trim along the sides (if I had more of the trim I would have added a row of the trip along the top seem as well, but I only had enough for the sides). After pinning (and re-pinning) the trip to the first several curtains, I finally discovered that it was a lot easier to sew on and actually stayed smoother when I didn’t pin it.

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The stitching on the first couple curtains turned out pretty rough as I figured out the rhythm our housemate’s sewing machine (I’m not even going to post a picture of the horrible stitching on the back of those first curtains, even after tearing it out a few times), but by the time I finished the final curtains, things became a lot smoother and straighter.

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In the end, uneven stitching and all, I felt pretty proud of how they turned out. The white and yellow brightened up the room considerably, giving it a clean, peaceful feel, and the curtains drew together the two rooms.

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“I Can Make That Myself”: Dishwasher Detergent

Several of my friends (including Kristina) have tried making their own laundry detergent. Hearing their descriptions of how cheap and easy it is has placed making my own laundry detergent on my list of things to try this summer (once I finish off the bottle of detergent I currently have).

In the meantime, though, the house we  moved into has a dishwasher (which I have come to appreciate far more than I expected). When the sink leaked, soaking the box of dishwasher detergent that we found in the cupboard when we moved in, I started to wonder whether I could make that myself as well. Some research online quickly revealed that I could.

I found one article that compared six different recipes for powdered dishwasher detergent, which I found helpful. Based on that article, I chose the following recipe:

Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

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1 cup borax
1 cup washing soda
½ cup kosher salt
5 packets unsweetened lemonade mix

Mix all ingredients and store in a tightly sealed jar. Use 1 tablespoon per load, or 2 tablespoons for extra-dirty dishes. Makes 42 loads.

Cost: 2 cents per load
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The verdict? It was super easy to make (it only took a couple minutes to measure the ingredients and mix them together) and seems to clean our dishes well so far. My own issue has been with the citric acid in the lemonade mix making it clump over time (which you can see a bit in the second photo above), which a few of the recipes I found had warned that it might. So far its still been usable, but I may look into some solutions for that with the next batch I make.

Trusted Stewards

This week our friend Maggie arrived back from France to settle into the house for the next month while she works out her visa to return to France.

In the days leading up to her return, I found myself walking through the house, sweeping, organizing, cleaning, arranging. Remembering our experience moving into the house just a few weeks ago and our sense of unwelcome (unintended though it was), I wanted Maggie to feel welcomed into her house when she returned. As I prepared for her, I realized how much I value creating a sense of welcome in a space and as I looked around the room she would use, I asked myself, “How would I feel, coming into this space?” I put fresh sheets on her bed with a bright blanket folded on the end. I dusted and swept the room, added a chair in the corner, and opened the curtains to let in sunlight. On the bedside table, I set up a welcome home note and a small vase of fresh flowers. I hoped that each of these little details would speak “Welcome” to her.

My desire for Maggie to feel welcome motivated most of these actions, but as the morning of her arrival came, I finally put my finger on another emotional pushing me to clean and organize:

Fear.
(Still such as ever-present motivator in so many ways.)

I was afraid of what she would think of the house, her house, of the way we had cared for it, of the way we chose to live here. What if it was not clean enough, organized enough? What if she didn’t like how we arranged things or the colors we chose or the way we hung things on the walls? In the months leading up to our move, Maggie had invited us in, advocated for us, and blessed us in who we are, but as stewards of her house, would we live up to her expectations and her trust? Though I had worked hard over the past few weeks to clean and organize and had carefully chosen each thing we added, would it be enough?

As I put a name to these fears and wrenched them into the light, I wondered how to steward this space well without living out of fear and striving.

I turned to the parable of the talents (found in Matthew 25:14-30) as I waited for Maggie’s arrival, re-reading it with eyes fresh from our current situation and reflecting on what it says about stewardship. I realized that by entrusting his property to the three servants, the master in the story was indicating a level of trust in each one of them already. The parable does not say anything about the master telling the servants what to do with the talents or even that he expected them to invest these talents to produce more. Instead the servants found them selves free to use their own judgment, creativity, and ideas to care for what they had been given. While the first two servants did just that, though, the third servant clearly did not feel that same freedom. Why? Because he falsely viewed the master as a hard mad, exacting and unjust. Perhaps he even resented the responsibility of caring for something that would never be his. So he simply preserved what he had been given, believing that in doing so he had fulfilled his responsibility as steward.

The ability to steward something well, then, seems to come (at least in part) from an awareness of the trust that we have been given already and the freedom we have to function out of that place of trust. Do I feel free to steward this house creatively, to invest what I have been given? My level of uncertainty about whether I measure up to Maggie’s expectations and standards suggests that my day-to-day life is still tinged with more fear than freedom.

But the invitation to step into that freedom is there. I am trusted to steward here, to care for the space, to make decisions, to use it well. Trusted to choose curtains, hang pictures, and plant flowers. More importantly, trusted to help choose who will live here alongside us. I suspect that these coming months will push me closer to the reality of that trust and the freedom that springs from it.

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