Sunday, January 26, 2014

Erroring on the Side of Grace

So we are getting used to a new life here.  There are many wonderful things, some okay things and some difficult things.  Such is the stuff of uprooting and committing to a nomadic life of grad school with five children in tow!  I am also learning how to homeschool which is a huge job in itself, especially because I want to do a good job!  I am also starting my own business with Rodan + Fields skincare.  Basically, the doctors who created ProActive also started another skincare line that has been taking off.  It's been all over Hollywood, The Today Show, Oprah, etc...A lot of people are really getting into it because the products actually work.  I'm just excited to get in with this company and start helping people get better skin!  I've talked with numerous moms whose children have extreme eczema to other women who just want to take care of their neverending acne.  Anyhow, trying to get that off the ground has definitely taken up some time too.  Not to mention my children, they pretty much take 98 percent of my time.  But we are adjusting and learning to thrive here in the high desert!

One thing that has really stood out to me is that we are in a different place.  You might say, "Duh!".  No but seriously, on the outside things don't look all that different.  But the longer we're here in our neighborhood, the more I understand that we are in a different place all together.  We are not living among friends anymore like we were at Monte Vista.  We are living among strangers who do not necessarily care about us or our kids.

Here is my most recent example:  There is a playground in our backyard.  Our house happens to be the closest house to it.  That's been nice.  I've been able to send the kids out to play and lots of neighbor kids go out there as well.  For the most part, our kids have gotten along swimmingly with all the other kids.  There have been a few things we've had to talk through (like today Josh asked me if God was really real because a girl on the playground had told him that He wasn't).  There have been things like that that come with other kids being raised differently than mine.

Today I was reminded though about how many opportunities I will have to show grace.  One of the biggest lessons I learned from our old church community was the absolute importance of seeking reconciliation, getting clear and asking forgiveness.  It goes a long way.  And God commands it.  Direct application to my life right now.  When we first moved here there was a little girl who I immediately knew was trouble.  Some of the stuff my boys were reporting to us after playing tipped me off that she was one I needed to watch.  They weren't always angels to her either but, like we try to practice in our family, when they did something unkind, no matter how small, they had to seek reconciliation with her even though many times, she was the instigator.  It didn't matter to me, they had to do what's right no matter what.

On one occasion this past week I went out to tell my boys they had five minutes to play.  Without knowing it, I walked into a bit of an argument between my oldest (who is seriously the sweetest so the fact that he was upset was alarming) and this girl.  He was insisting she stop calling them names and she was denying it like she had never done anything of the sort and had NO clue what he was talking about.  Super suspicious.  However, like any mom would do, I tried to help them sort it out.  And I made sure Isaac asked forgiveness for his tone and she accepted.  She of course didn't care to make things right herself.  I mentioned for everyone to show each other respect and then let them play.

After that, things got weird.  This girl started telling all the kids she couldn't play with mine because they were mean, and my boys started getting really hurt.  Everytime they would come out to play, she would run away and mention loudly how she wasn't allowed around them, etc...This was a new experience for me.  My kids normally get along with everyone.  Finally, Steve and I felt it was time to intervene.  So Steve went over to talk with the parents.  And it came out that they were highly offended that I had talked to their daughter about anything.  I should've received permission from them before speaking to her about being nice.  Really I was just generally speaking to all the kids and really tried to lean on my kids, being much harder on them and really light with her, mostly trying to just clear the air.  But it was too much for them.  I had acted inappropriately and that's why they had pulled their daughter from play with our kids.

When Steve came home and told me the root of the problem I wanted to be furious.  I did.  How incredibly insane.  Who thinks like that?  But he quickly reminded me that we don't know their story.  We had offended them and we had to do what we could to make it right.  After a few minutes of gathering my wits, we walked hand in hand over to their house and I apologized.  Not because they deserved it but because God's grace had to cover this one.  God's grace had to.  It was too insane.  Too crazy for me to understand.  But I had to get clear.  I had to seek forgiveness.  It's what God tells us to do.  Be at peace.

It was so difficult to make that walk over there.  I wanted to fight and tell God how unjust it was!  But deep down I knew.  I knew that I can never go wrong when I seek to get clear.  That's a valuable lesson I've learned over time.  Forgiveness diffuses things.  I haven't always done it right in the past.  But I know now, repentance is what God calls us to no matter how difficult and even when others are ridiculous.

I could tell that they were disarmed immediately.  I mean, how do you argue with that?  How do you keep hating when someone just comes over and says, "Wow, I am so sorry I offended you.  That wasn't my intention.  If you'd like me to come talk to you instead of speaking to your daughter about anything, then I will respect that.  Please forgive me!"  You can't argue with it.  God's grace is so powerful!  I have no idea if they will come around and let their daughter play with our kids.  Or if they'll be cordial with us or even like us at all.  But I do know, we've done our part.  And hopefully, they will see the One who is behind it all-Christ.  Because repentance is so counter-cultural.  God will use it.

I may be out of our my safe little Monte Vista bubble now here.  But I'm going to learn a lot and hopefully, those around me will experience God's grace.  I know I need it.  And so do they.

But most of all, I'm thankful for the neighborhood we had surrounding us for so long and for our church that lived in community with others in such a way that reflected this transparency.  These lessons will follow me the rest of my days.  I won't always like their application, but I will think with fondness on those who really taught me about this and I will thank God for the opportunities to grow and learn.

Erroring on the side of grace is always the way to matter what.  No matter what.    

Monday, January 20, 2014

The rest of the story...

I can't tell you how many times we've been asked since arriving here, "Why on earth would you move from California to New Mexico?"  Well, my friends, this is the reason why.  Here is our Christmas Card letter from this year detailing the ins and outs of why we picked up and moved to an unknown place at Christmastime.  The rest of the story...
Merry Christmas!  Instead of giving individual details about each of us, we're going to give a general update due to the fact that our general update is quite a big one!  No, we are not expecting another baby!  The main news round these parts is that we are moving and Steve is changing careers.  After eight and a half years of Steve teaching Calculus and Physics at Monte Vista Christian School, we are packing up mid-year (right at Christmastime to be exact) to go on a new adventure.  So as you can imagine, we have boxes everywhere, our kitchen cupboards are bare and all the toys aren't under the tree but rather packed in boxes.  

Nevertheless, amidst the chaos we are living in right now, we have our Christmas tree up and bright, and the Advent Calendar on the wall.  Both are timeless reminders to us to focus on Christ as much as we can during this season, trusting Him to provide for all our needs.

So why are we moving and where are we moving to?  Here is the story.  As you all know, Steve has been pursuing his MS in Computational Mathematics via Texas A & M's distance program.  It took 3 1/2 years of him working full-time and going to school on the side.  It was a long trek for us but good in so many ways!  We both worked very hard; Steve at his studies and me in my support of him.  God blessed our efforts and granted Steve success in his work.  He graduated in May, Magna Cum Laude.

During the last year and a half of his Masters, Steve began to feel pretty heavily pulled to switch out of teaching and into the industry.  We began preparing him to do so which consisted of him taking an extra engineering exam, lots of networking and researching various industry jobs.  Last December he even interviewed with the Navy and we thought that might be our answer!  One Friday he got the email, and the next week they were flying him out to Virginia.  But then the Sequester hit and he ended up not being hired.  Now we are thankful that God intervened.  But at the time, we were devastated.  Trying to switch careers with five little people to feed is not easy.  Everything had to make sense and work.

So we prayed.  We prayed that God would lead us and guide us.  And then we started sending out applications.  Meanwhile, Steve began his last class for his MS and commenced working on his Final Oral Examination (Oral Thesis Project) to be defended in May.  He chose to research James Maxwell's Equations of Electromagnetism because he had always been fascinated by the material.  Throughout the semester we were waiting for some sort of break.  He had excellent skills, a great new degree coming and awesome transcripts.  However, he had no practical experience.  Many of his applications were rejected.  We were networking and narrowing down what we were looking for but just needed someone to take a chance on him. 

In April we got in contact with a friend of my Dad's who is a Physicist.  Steve had a brief conversation with him and he told Steve to email his colleague who headed up a research group right in our backyard in Monterey.  When we looked up the group, we were shocked to see that their whole area of research is in electromagnetic waves which was directly related to Steve's research for his Final Oral Exam.  We quickly emailed this contact and he responded that he might have room for Steve to intern if they ended up with some funding.  But due to the Sequester, he did not think it would happen.  He promised to be in touch.

Steve graduated in May.  We threw him a huge party and he started teaching summer school.  We got in touch with the group in Monterey again but there was no change.  That's when we began thinking.  Steve needed experience for his resume.  He was already teaching summer school and then would have six weeks off.  He could go work for free.  We didn't need the money, Steve just needed experience.  So we put it out there to them and they accepted!  In fact, they had the perfect short project for him to work on that had been in need of a mathematician.

After summer school ended, Steve started going down to Monterey to work on the problem.  Every day he came back pumped.  Little by little he was learning the ins and outs of this problem and by the end of his time there, he had solved it for them.  It had not previously been solved.  But that's not the end! While he was working there, they landed a huge contract and ended up paying Steve for the whole internship!  Working with this group had also confirmed his desire to do research.  But research meant a PhD and we had just finished 3.5 arduous years of him doing his Masters.  Steve wasn't burnt on the material just on working full-time and doing school (all of us were).  At the end of his internship though, his boss encouraged him to finish his degree and told him he would help him.
And he did not disappoint!  Right as Steve was starting the new school year at Monte Vista, his summer boss started advocating for him with his colleagues.  He got in touch with a Math Professor at Colorado State University telling her about Steve and his work over the summer, and how she should be interested in him as a student.  She immediately started working on getting Steve admitted to the PhD program for Spring 2014 (it was past the deadline already).  Then she sent off his resume/transcripts to Sandia National Labs in Albuquerque.  Her contact there said they were just starting to look for some Year Round PhD interns and thought Steve would be a perfect fit.  They wanted him to start in January. 

Meanwhile, the runaway train had taken on a life of its own.  It was not a path that we had foreseen nor thought possible.  In fact, we had talked about a PhD numerous times since the Masters had gone so well, but simply thought it impossible to support our family financially during it!  But God paved the way for every single step, mounting every obstacle and leveling the road.  Steve and I stood back and watched this marvelous story unfold before our eyes and we were in awe.  Everyone was fighting for him, connecting him, helping him and advocating for him.  In early October, we found out Steve was formally admitted to Colorado State for the Spring.  A few weeks later, his advisor (the Math Professor) came out to Stanford for a conference and he met her there for the first time.  The rest is history. 

Steve's PhD will take 3.5 years.  The first eight months we will live in Albuquerque on Kirtland Air Force Base.  Steve will work for Sandia Labs and get a grip on the area he will be researching for his dissertation.  Then we will move to Colorado and we will spend a year living in residence with Steve taking classes at Colorado State.  Since his Masters program was so comprehensive, he only needs one year of coursework, as many courses count toward his PhD and Qualifying Exams.  We are thankful!  After that, we will move back to Albuquerque for Steve to continue working for Sandia National Labs and also to finish his dissertation.  Our stay in Albuquerque the second time will be at least two years.
There you have it, in case you missed it!  That's what we're doing and how we got here.  More about our move on base to come.  Base living is quite an adventure!  But we are thankful for our home and know God has put us here for this time.

Much love to you all!  

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

We Are Here!

It's been over two months since I've posted.  So sorry!  And I have tons of pictures on my camera of our adventures that won't upload to the computer for some reason so I don't have any pictures for this post!  So sorry again!  Anyhow, for the last two months I've spent every waking extra moment packing our home and prepping for our out-of-state move.  There were many unknowns all the way up until the last minute.  Seriously.  We thought we knew what was going to happen but truly, until two weeks prior, we weren't even for sure what state we were moving to.

I know this can be confusing because I never finished the story.  I got distracted with packing boxes.  I think at this point it'd be difficult to drag you all through it.  But for clarity's sake, I will post the story from our Christmas card this year for my next post.  That will get some of you up to speed.  If you care to know how we got to this point, tune in next time for an abbreviated version.

But we are here now and boy has it been quite a trip!  Imagine piling 5 little kids into a Honda Pilot ages 1-8 years old and driving all the way to New Mexico-with NO DVD player thank you very much.  They did just fine.  We looked for license plates, counted trains (36 total seen) and the kids colored and read.  Nathan had a tough time sometimes but he's a baby.  He's allowed.

We started out by just going to LA for New Year's.  That was a lot of fun.  We got to stay with our some of our best college buddies and their family.  They spoiled us with good food, great conversation and an easy in and out set-up.  We hardly had to unpack our car they had everything set-up perfectly for us there.  Leaving from there helped.  They prayed for us and reminded us they believed in us.  It was a great way to leave CA.

After realizing two days prior on our way to LA that Nathan does NOT like the car for very long at all, we decided that our all day trip to from LA to New Mexico had to be strategic.  So we planned to hit the road early.  We were on the freeway after filling up at 5:30 am.  That made a huge difference.  We were able to get to Flagstaff, AZ by lunchtime only stopping once for gas in the Mojave Desert.  Then all three littler ones fell asleep.  The older two in the back played games.  It was a quiet afternoon when we crossed the border into New Mexico.  After that, we raced the sun to Albuquerque.  We made it to the city by dinnertime.  Not bad.  Not bad at all.

One of the themes of this last week is God's faithfulness in our weakness and our need to follow His lead.  Our plan was to arrive Thursday night, stay in a hotel and then move onto Kirtland Air Force Base the next day.  However, when we were only 200 miles out of Albuquerque, I happened to check my email and the housing office had emailed that morning that they had to delay our move-in due to the carpets needing to be replaced.  They had known we were moving in for a month and they didn't figure this out yet?!  We weren't pleased at all.  Now instead of moving in we were going to be stuck in a hotel for four nights!  Who was going to pay for that?  We tried to regroup and then just had to let go.  God had this.  There were reasons for this delay.  We just couldn't see them yet.

Our leasing agent knew that they had totally inconvenienced us so she offered to put us up until our house was ready.  So the hotel was paid for.  All we had to do was wait it out...all seven of us, in a hotel room.  Ha!  But truly, we picked a good place that had two rooms, a kitchen and a free breakfast.  It was small for sure, but it would be doable for a few days.  I tried to be cheerful as I set-up camp.

My cheerfulness started to wane a bit as I heard my poor husband up in the night sick.  As the night went on, he was more and more sick.  He had a horrible headache, was sick to his stomach and just felt terrible.  We think he was altitude sick (we had just moved from sea level to 5500 feet) because none of the rest of us got the same sickness.  On the one hand, I was thankful we weren't moving the next day!  On the other hand, I knew it was me, myself and I, with the kids, in a very strange city that I had only just seen that night (we had never visited Albuquerque prior to moving)!  I had to get the kids out the next morning to do something so Steve could rest and get better.  I wanted to panic!!  Where would we go in this huge city?  However, God calmed my heart.  I made plans in the middle of the night to get groceries and some needed supplies.  No time to be intimidated.  It was go-time.

Armed with Siri and God's mercy, the kids and I went out exploring the next morning.  We found my happy place-Trader Joe's and suddenly, things felt a bit more familiar.  I began mapping out some plans in my mind about where kids would nap for the next few days, how/where we'd get our meals taken care of and basically tried to re-plan our entire upcoming weekend now that Daddy was sick and we weren't moving in.  God's strength welled up in me and I felt hope that He was there.  I knew it.  I knew that He knew and I saw right away that our move-in delay was all a part of His plan.  As I saw that, I began to relax.

Steve was sick all of Friday and a lot of Saturday.  Saturday morning he came out to the Aquarium with us for two hours or so.  We had just gotten passes from grandparents for Christmas.  After that he went back to bed.  But he was slowly getting better.  In the meantime, the kids played lots of cards, colored, we went out for errands and made some meals at the hotel.  The kids weren't sleeping well at night but, all in all, things were going as smoothly as they could under the circumstances.  God was taking care of us at every turn.

By Saturday night Steve felt better.  He had been researching some local churches in the area and we narrowed it down to two.  We picked one over the other because they encouraged families to bring their kids into service with them.  Any church that values children sitting with their parents really stands out to us so we decided to go there.  We were so glad we did!

This church immediately welcomed us.  Of course we were noticed right away.  Wherever we go with our five kids we're noticed.  This time being a spectacle came in handy!  Everyone asked us what we needed and within a short time, we had identified a few people that worked at Sandia (where Steve will be interning) and a family that lived on Kirtland Air Force base (where we are living).  One of them offered to help us with whatever we needed when we arrived on base the next day!  We were so thankful!  The delay in our move-in had allowed us to meet some people and connect with a church.  That ended up being key to our move on base.

But I'll get to that next time.  That's a story in itself.  What we had seen at this point is that despite our own plans, God would determine our steps and care for us in the best way.  We just had to trust Him.  We made it to New Mexico and we were in His hands.  He'd provide for everything else.