A Nest in Disarray


, , , ,

31 Days Not According to PlanWhen Ben and I arrived in Baltimore, I felt as though we’d never left.

Our friends greeted us with a feast of London broil and corn salsa. Another friend who’d just returned from travels joined us. Between anticipating the birth of a first child, living in Ireland, and returning from the West Coast, we all had plenty to catch up on.

We received an impromptu invitation that night to another friend’s birthday party. She’d invited just close friends, and we were delighted to still be among them. We were so in sync with the friends at her party that they hardly even asked about our time in Portland – we caught up as though we’d seen each other regularly over the past three years.


Because of the depth of these friendships, we figured it wouldn’t be a strain to lean into them during this season of uncertainty. For the most part, it wasn’t.

But having four adults live together in a townhouse when two of them are expecting their first child and two are living in total upheaval was a bit overoptimistic.

Our friends were incredibly gracious to entertain the idea, let alone to welcome us for three months.

I’d naïvely thought because the baby was still in the womb, there wouldn’t be much transition or stress. No sleep deprivation or attachment struggles or parental anxiety.

How’s a girl to know that frequent trips to the bathroom and the discomfort of a watermelon rolling around in your stomach lead to lack of sleep? Or that painful tingling in your appendages and juggling regular doctor visits can lead to parental anxiety?

I anticipated our friend wanting to nest, but I thought that meant painting a nursery and decorating it with cute furniture.

Nesting in all senses of the word.

A friend’s adorable nursery.

Little did I know nesting could mean selling the majority of your furniture on Craigslist, reorganizing the entire house, and covering the floors with baby gifts as you deliberate which ones to return.

This all makes perfect sense to me now. But at the time, I was too disoriented and overwhelmed to understand.


I imagine the friends we lived with were experiencing something akin to the phenomenon I experience right before going on a long trip.

Whenever I leave for more than three days, I scramble to clean up messy rooms, run errands, return borrowed items, wash clothes, vacuum seal frozen food, and reply to emails. I want to have everything as orderly as possible when I return.

Of course the last few months before having a baby would be similar. Who knows when you’ll have time to complete unfinished projects again?

And that hand-me-down furniture you’ve been wanting to get rid of for years? It’s time! You’re an adult now, for crying out loud – you’re having a baby!

I’m starting to get it now, but I was clueless at the time.


I had planned to bless the friends we lived with by making meals, helping set up the nursery, shoveling snow, and helping out in other ways. But we were all so scattered and stretched that coordination was a struggle.

When Ben and I went outside to shovel snow, our friend had already finished clearing most of it. When I planned to cook dinner, we struggled to find a night we’d all be home. When we offered to help paint the nursery, our friends had it under control.

I found myself completely unable to bless these friends in return. Not wanting to be a burden, I subconsciously started trying to make myself disappear. I literally tiptoed around the house at times. In trying to be accommodating and likeable, I sometimes strained my voice without realizing it, making it high pitched and, ultimately, irritating.

Without even realizing it, I squashed myself in hopes of pleasing others.


Meanwhile, I sought to find some sort of regularity amidst the chaos and thought writing would be my steady labor. When a desk emerged from beneath piles of belongings in what would one day be the nursery, I had the perfect writing spot. That’s when I wrote the January 14th blog post.

Days later, my computer crashed. I spent an entire week on the phone with technical repair services. As soon as my computer started working again, it was time to move everything – including the desk – out of the baby’s room.

My next writing spot was the dining room table, which shared an open space with the living room area. I listened to instrumental music on my iPod to drown out the noise of television and conversation, and I cleared the table before dinner each night.

Within a week, I came home to a table covered with glasses and china from the kitchen hutch that had just been posted on Craigslist.

So I tried writing at a nearby coffee shop, which, as it turned out, had no outlets for customers. My computer battery lasts all of two minutes, so I flitted between other various coffee and tea shops, seeking a steady writing space.

A cute cafe with at least some outlets!

A cute cafe with at least some outlets!

The cost of coffee adds up though, particularly when your income is nonexistent. So coffee gradually became reserved for internet time devoted to job searching. By that time, I was so worn out I didn’t have words to capture anyways.

Hence the eight month hiatus from blogging, accompanied by a few emotional meltdowns.


Small Town America


, , , , , , , , ,

31 Days Not According to PlanDuring my time out west, I became smitten with small town America.

Plenty of small towns populate the East Coast, but I’d never experienced artistic living, communal approaches, and buying local like I did in Portland. I knew this would be one of the aspects I missed most.

My infatuation with small towns began with the Portland neighborhood we lived in, which struck me as more a town than a neighborhood.

Sellwood’s main street consists of a local grocery store, a library, a bakery, and numerous coffee shops. The street is lined with boutique stores and restaurants, including our favorite Italian bistro, Portofino.

Grand-Central-Bakery Portofino

A bright red caboose serves as a neighborhood landmark – once a bookstore, now a tea shop. And a well-maintained bike path connects the neighborhood as it goes by parks, a small fairground, and a riverfront dock, eventually leading downtown.

Sellwood's landmark caboose turned into a tea shop.

I loved wandering through the whitewashed rooms of the Homestead Supply Co, where the owner called customers by name while coaching them on how to care for chickens.

You can learn about all kinds of urban homesteading at the Portland Homestead Supply Co. in Sellwood.

Each time we walked by the Cloud Cap Games store, I jumped a little with excitement that I lived in a place with weekly community game nights.

And when I decided to try distressing furniture, I was thankful for the Goodwill outlet around the corner.

I loved living in Sellwood.


Then there was the enchanting town of Hood River an hour-and-a-half away. You could find us there every berry and apple picking season, after hiking in the Columbia River Gorge, and when East Coast (or Australian) friends visited us.

Another quaint main street drew us in every time we visited, along with food from area farms, locally made wines, and handmade goods. We took pleasure in supporting this community whenever we could.

A beautiful fall in Hood River Valley.


There’s something special about knowing and loving the community you support each time you make a purchase or deliver a service. Even if you’re not supporting people you personally know, you have the opportunity to get to know those people.

Walking and biking on quiet streets from one place to another enlivened the most basic of days. Grocery shopping became a treat when I got to walk to the local New Seasons. I somehow felt healthier and more whole running errands in such a way. Store employees became neighbors, and neighbors became friends.


You can imagine my excitement when the first day at our friends’ home in Maryland, we learned of a baker and a butcher around the corner. Not even Sellwood had a butcher!

Life doesn't get more local in Ellicott City than The Breadery. JW Treuth & Sons butcher shop is local and affordable.

Our friends showed us how to walk along a wooded path into downtown Ellicott City, a quaint town founded in 1772. Similar to Sellwood but smaller, Ellicott City’s main street boasts cafés, boutique stores, and local arts and furniture.

Trolley path trail into Ellicott City.

One of my favorite Ellicott City spots was Pure Wine Café, where I met with a friend to write while enjoying a warm red wine and THE BEST brussel sprouts side dish ever (can you believe it – delicious brussel sprouts?).

Ellicott City's quaint main street.

The first time I walked to The Breadery, the girl working there encouraged me to try samples and told me about ordering custom baskets of fresh, regional food from Friends & Farms. When she heard I was looking for work, she suggested talking to Jay, owner of the Country Corner Store two doors up the road. Apparently Jay knows everyone in the area.

If we could have bought a nearby house right then, I think we would have. But we knew better than to make firm plans at that point. We continued waiting and praying and applying for jobs.

31 Days Not According to Plan

Pondering Plans


, , ,

31 Days Not According to Plan

Here are some words to ponder while I unpack boxes. They are from people of all walks of life – some famous, some friends, some fictional, some from book titles I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve read. I’m interested to hear your responses.

There’s a plan.  If you’re willing to fight it hard enough, you can make it detour for a while, but you’re still going to end up wherever God wants you to be.

– the movie October Sky

Stop for just a second, walk outside, and look at the moon. And then take a deep breath and find peace in knowing that the One who created that moon specifically for this night also has a plan for each and every second of your day. So relax! You’re not in control, you never will be, so just sit back and enjoy the ride!

– Rachel Morgan, a friend

Life happens while you’re busy making other plans.

– John Lennon, “Beautiful Boy”

We have to stand in the complexity of all that God is working on, not just in the simple part we can see for ourselves.  We must relinquish our arrogance and presumption that we have figured out God’s plan.

– Nicole Johnson, Keeping a Princess Heart In a Not-So-Fairy-Tale World

If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.

– Woody Allen

[God] has only one will for your life, and it’s good, acceptable, and perfect. There is no backup plan…The bottom line of the backup plan is that we still love ourselves and what we want too much…As we fight to hold on to the last vestiges of our own personal desires, we devise Plan B just in case God doesn’t fulfill the desires of our hearts. But we really must get over ourselves.

– Holly Virden & Michelle McKinney Hammond, If Singleness Is a Gift, What’s the Return Policy?

You just gotta live. Stop planning your moves. Let ‘em happen. You might be surprised.

– the movie Little Black Book

Wow isn’t it amazing how when we let the Lord lead He already has a plan for us and we can just relax and enjoy the ride or sometimes just hold on while He does amazing works through us?

– a missionary friend in Sudan

The reality of naked trust is the life of a pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it His presence and His promise.

– Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin’s Path to God

When God starts to move, the best we can hope to do is go along for the ride. All man-made plans and strategies become futile and worthless, and are swept away like an umbrella in a mighty hurricane… If we truly claim to follow Jesus then we must do so without imposing any conditions or self-made plans.

– Brother Yun and Paul Hattaway, The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun (a man persecuted, imprisoned, and testifying to God’s miracle working power)

31 Days Not According to Plan

Pod Parties


, , , , , ,

31 Days Not According to PlanPortland friends gathered in the kitchen at our farewell party to hear the latest update. The past few months had been a roller coaster ride no one could keep up with. I think even these free-spirited friends living in “the city where young people go to retire” were starting to think we were a little crazy.

“So, we don’t know what we’re doing anymore,” we explained. “But we know we’re leaving in three weeks. And we have friends in Baltimore who said we could live with them for three months.”

The obvious next question:  who wants to help us pack our pod?

the pod

Countless friends have helped us move over the past decade. I am immensely thankful to each and every one of them – from college guys who helped in a frenzy without boxes to a high school friend I hadn’t seen in eight years. Thank you.

Three contributions stand out in all the moves I’ve made:

  • the enormous moving truck a friend provided for no cost
  • the work interns who barely knew me but showed up when hardly anyone else did
  • the chef-turned-Alaskan-fisherman-turned-contractor neighbor in Portland who also happened to have experience as a professional mover

Our unparalleled neighbor – the one with the professional moving experience – became one of our closest friends in Portland almost the moment he moved in. (I cannot BELIEVE I don’t have a picture of him to feature here.)

There was a point when I used a chocolate fountain to draw neighbors out because I couldn’t seem to meet them otherwise. Not this neighbor – he showed up with plates of food before I could even make him a welcome meal.

We knew we’d be fast friends when this bearded, lumberjack-of-a-man knocked on our door to ecstatically tell us his little boy had just pooped in the toilet.

Both our families hated the thought of parting.

When moving day came, our neighbor strategically positioned every item as our army of help carried it out. He balanced the weight to prevent tipping, stacked to avert shifting, and filled gaps with what became endearingly known as “chatter.”

pod tetris

I had heart palpitations trying to keep up with the assembly line of orders for what to bring next.

I planned to write down everything I learned and maybe even write a blog post to share with others. In all the shuffle though, I never did get around to it.

All I remember is that next time, when the loading finishes, I want to have cleaning supplies, plates for the post-moving pizza party, and somewhere to sleep. (Thankfully, other generous friends welcomed us into their home as last-minute guests that night.)

Ten months later…TODAY!!!…we are finally unpacking our pod!!

Drumroll!!A whole new crew of friends and yet-to-be friends will help us set up in our beautiful Connecticut home.

Experienced friends have told us it will be like Christmas as we pull out one forgotten item after another from the pod.

After months of inventorying items I really-could-use-right-now, I wasn’t convinced. But when the pod arrived yesterday, I couldn’t contain myself. I kept thinking, our whole house is packed up in that little box?!

I took pictures of it y’all – and not just for the blog. That pod should have had a big red bow around it.

It wasn’t the items inside that excited me. It was the realization that we had finally landed. That I was going to be able to set up a home. That we had neighbors to get to know again.

It felt like one of the biggest gifts ever in a package smaller than I ever would have imagined could contain it.

And thanks to our Portland neighbor, not even the loose remote control moved during transit.

Not even the fan remote shifted.

Be Still & Know


, , , , , ,

31 Days Not According to Plan

Our list of desires isn’t all that shaped our decisions. In fact, it was something brand new added to the mix. And it felt a bit like playing with fire.

When it’s been thoroughly drilled into you to let go of your agenda and submit to Christ, a list of personal desires is not what you want guiding you. But in this specific situation, the Lord seemed to have led my husband and me into a wide open space where we could determine our next steps.

I held to the list loosely. As long as God left a hazy path before us though, I would trust that moving toward fulfilling those desires was not against His will.

I continued to also turn to a collection of verses I meditate on whenever making substantial decisions. I compiled the verses in 2005 when trying to discern the Lord’s leading on whether to stay at a food bank job I loved or leave to serve in Southeast Asia for a year.

compilation of Bible verses for decision making

I prefer to read this compilation of Scriptures as though having a conversation with the Lord:

“Search me O God and know my heart…know my anxious thoughts (Ps. 139:23). O Lord, you have searched me and You know me (Ps. 139:9). You perceive my thoughts from afar (Ps. 139:2). For You formed my inmost being (Ps. 139:13)…The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me, the Lord will perfect that which concerns me; Your love, O Lord, endures forever – do not abandon the works of your hands (Ps. 138:8). He who has begun a good work in you will be faithful to complete it (Phil. 1:6). I will praise You for Your lovingkindness and Your truth and faithfulness (Ps. 138:2).

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths (Prov. 3:5-6). ‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you’ (Jer. 29:11-14). A still, small voice – a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:12).

“My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold…On God my salvation and my glory rest;…my refuge is in God. Trust in Him at all times, o people; pour out your hearts before Him; God is a refuge for us (Ps. 62:5-8). How gracious He will be when you cry for help! As soon as He hears, He will answer you…your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’ (Is. 30:19-21). If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to Him (James 1:5).

“Be still and know that I am God (Ps. 46:10). He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works (Ps. 33:15). Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:6-7). And my God shall supply all your need according to His glorious riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19).

Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you (1 Pet. 5:7). Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him and He will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him (Ps. 37:4-7). My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him…Trust in Him at all times, o people; pour out your hearts before Him; God is a refuge for us (Ps. 62:5, 8).

“Until now you have not asked for anything in My name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete (Jn. 16:24). Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness in the morning, for in You do I trust; cause me to know the way in which I should walk, for I lift up my soul to You (Ps. 143:8).

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails (Prov. 19:21). I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go. I will guide you with My eye (Ps. 32:18). Lead me in the way everlasting (Ps. 139:24). The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want (Ps. 23:1). He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake (Ps. 23:3). Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me (Ps. 23:4). My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Ps. 23:5-6).”

31 Days Not According to Plan

Making a List


, ,

31 Days Not According to PlanMy husband and I stared at each other over the thick, wood table that remained as an anchor point in our barren home.

Our plan to start a church in Baltimore had disintegrated as quickly as it had appeared. Its collapse was particularly distressing because it had seemed orchestrated by God and dropped in our laps after five years of essentially wandering in the desert.

The plan to start a church had begun with a text message from a friend. The message asked if my husband “might possibly be open” to starting a church together in Baltimore.

Perhaps the “might possibly” or being asked in a text message should have tipped us off to the final outcome. But Baltimore was the only place we could imagine living in the U.S. and the door to serving abroad (which we’d discussed since dating) had just closed.

A personal invitation to help start a cross-cultural church in inner city Baltimore seemed like a gift from God. The fact that everything had come together without any effort on our part made it seem that much more divinely orchestrated.

Even so, we didn’t jump in blindly. We asked plenty of questions over a three month period filled with Skype conversations. Our friend informed us he didn’t want to make any decisions without our involvement – not about location, structure, membership, anything.

We eventually became so convinced this was God’s leading that even when funding was withdrawn, we believed everything would work out. When we told our friend we still planned to move to Baltimore, he was shocked.

A few weeks later, he emailed to tell us he had procured a salary for himself from another church. He suddenly had 35 people ready to start the new church in a particular location.

“But what are you going to do?” he asked. “And what are you planning for your trip to Baltimore? What do you hope to accomplish during your visit?”

Trip? Visit? Our house was half packed. We’d sold most of our furniture on Craigslist. And we were being asked what the purpose of our visit was.

During a three hour follow-up conversation, our friend tried to convince us he wasn’t moving forward without us. Yet he had never mentioned us to the church now providing funding.

We understood he had probably panicked when the original funding was withdrawn. But we felt betrayed and unable to move forward with what now seemed like a very unwise plan.

After the news sank in, my husband and I regrouped at that same thick, wooden table surrounded by cardboard boxes.

We were open to where God would lead from here, but we needed a direction to point in. At a mentor’s recommendation, we wrote a list of what we want in life.

direction for life

We then let that list inform our upcoming decisions. Unless God steered us otherwise, we would move toward these desires one day being fulfilled.

Given that our house was mostly packed up, Baltimore friends had offered us a place to live, and we ultimately wanted to live near family back on the East Coast, we decided to move forward with relocating to Baltimore.

Plans Fall Apart


, , , , , , ,

31 Days Not According to PlanI woke up at 3:30 am wondering why I wasn’t farming in Europe.

That had been part of the plan six months previously.

The idea wasn’t quite as crazy as it sounds.

I’d heard of an organization years ago called World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms that matches volunteers with small farms in need of assistance. You provide the assistance, they provide room-and-board. A cheap way to travel the world and try your hand at farming.

At the time, my husband and I thought we had a job lined up for him to start a church in Baltimore. A multicultural, inner city church backed by an already established church. The start date was a year away. We figured if we’d be merely subsisting during that year anyways, we may as well do so on a farm in Europe.

The Setting Sun and the Farm

Photo courtesy of Trey Ratcliff.

As the idea morphed, people started talking to us about L’Abri – a place in Switzerland where people live in intentional community seeking honest answers to difficult life questions. I’d heard of L’Abri in college and wanted to go ever since.

We couldn’t imagine a better place to continue the digging into life questions that had begun for me in Portland, Oregon. And it sounded like my husband could take on a pastoral role of sorts within the community, which would cover our room and board.

When we discovered we’d actually have to pay thousands of dollars each month to stay at L’Abri, I started to realize just how outlandish our ideas might be. After three years of not being able to find full employment and having had numerous, more practical ideas fall through, perhaps we were a bit too eager for forward momentum.


Photo courtesy of Tahir.

We reevaluated and decided it would make sense to go to Baltimore for a couple months to discuss more church planting practicalities before making other plans. Some friends said we could live with them for a few months while we figured out logistics.


At that point, things started slowly falling apart.

Really, they’d been falling apart for years, but this was a new falling apart. We’d weathered the applying-to-two-hundred-jobs-in-a-year-and-a-half falling apart. And only months before we’d emerged from the missions-opportunity-in-Cambodia falling apart. This was a now-we-have-a-plan-and-are-going-somewhere falling apart.

Surrounded by taped up, cardboard boxes in our half-packed home, we were informed that not only had funding for the new church been withdrawn, but the friend who had invited us to start the church with him had moved forward with someone else without mentioning us.

Climbing Mount Adams couldn’t have been more daunting than the piles of boxes surrounding us when we took in the news.

No church. No job. No plan.

My Life in Boxes

Photo courtesy of Mpopp.

31 Days (Not) According to Plan


, ,

31 Days Not According to PlanIn the past year, my husband and I have lived in seven homes, moved between three states, and worked seven jobs. Despite living on an extremely tight budget, we got to spend our five year anniversary in France.

In so many ways, life has not gone according to plan.

But life has been incredibly rich.

We’ve been surrounded by meaningful relationships and blessed with work we enjoy. We’ve had opportunities to use our gifts and to trust God like never before.

We’ve found that when we’re open to life not going according to plan, space opens up to see God work wonders.

After a long hiatus from blogging, I’m eager to share stories from our journey with you. My hope is that these stories will bless and encourage you.

You’ll be able to see a link to every post when it goes live by clicking on the “(NOT) According to Plan” image in the sidebar. You can also sign up below to receive daily posts by email.

I hope you’ll join me throughout the month!

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 98 other followers

31 Days Not According to Plan

Special thanks to Emily Crawford for designing the awesome graphics for this series!


Not in Portland Anymore


, , , , , ,

We’re not in Portland anymore, Toto.

I went for a jog when it was 13° fahrenheit – and sunny!

Everyone we’ve talked with in Portland says we must be wishing we were back in the milder climate. But we’ll take sunny and below freezing any day over nine months of grey.


We put food scraps in the trash here. This makes me feel mildly guilty.

Groceries have cost us two to four times what we paid in Portland. I didn’t anticipate more than the price of nostalgia for leaving the Hood River Valley.

I suppose California has something to do with this too.

I thought I saw Mount Hood on the horizon the other day. Turns out it was a smoke cloud.


My brother and I are living in the same city for the first time since high school.

After having spent three days together in the past week, I think he may be convinced I’m not a communist after all.

Our home has shrunk to a ten-by-twelve foot room. This is fun when I want to pretend I’m back in college.

Actually, it’s generally fun because we get to live with a fantastic couple and their dog. Thankfully we don’t have to fit all five of us in the ten-by-twelve foot room.

Add a baby and two mothers-in-law and we’re out by April.

Come pastorate, come!