The leaves on the hardwood tree that lives out by the ginormous pine on the point of the lot have started to turn a lovely hue of fire. I felt my heart grow sad when the first of its leaves began to fall. I was a little shocked at the sense of loss. As the entire season had been a dance of joy and longing. Of gratitude and grieving. Of making memories and missing home. But I did. I felt a sadness that the boat was about to be winterized and that our “first season” of this new life was over.
It has been an adjustment, this “lake life.” It has been full of laughter and laundry. Wonder and wakeboarding. Family and fishing. Ministry and messiness. Living and learning. Philly learned how to drive a boat. Oh my! Who gives a man two hours of training on a boat and then says, “Now go live your best life!” Apparently, people in Georgia. Our inaugural outing was to take my parents and our friends, Joan and John, over to a restaurant for dinner as a small “thank you” for their gigantean assistance in “moving in.” My mom doesn’t swim, so we secured her safely in a life jacket and she climbed in with her high heels. It took five of us, and the help of another kind boater who observed our plight, to achieve our first docking experience. Then Philly almost threw Joan off the boat when we pulled into our boat slip. But the sunset was breathtaking and the laughter refueling for all the work we had done in just over a week. I looked back at my parents, as I would be allowed to do many times throughout the months, and thanked God that He had answered the desire of my heart and was giving me time with them here at the lake.
Our first guests were our entire crew. All five kids with a couple of boyfriends, along with my mother and sister-in-law. Their arrival came only two weeks after we moved in. Which meant the sixteen and eighteen-hour days were full of unpacking boxes, figuring out how best to place items for a functioning life, and being able to watch everything my heart envisioned of fabrics and furniture and artwork and accessories take their place. All of this done while having countless subs virtually living with us, asking questions, and needing direction. When the AV guy came to sit me down, of all people, to explain to me how the light switches and the app worked, I looked up at him and his words were nothing but gobbledygook. At one point Philly came in, saw my face, smiled, and walked backwards out of the room. I officially hated him.
I finally asked the young man, right after I asked why I couldn’t just have normal light switches, “Do I need to know all of this, now?”
He said, “No, we will probably be here for the next month.”
I laughed. I was sure he was joking. He was not only not joking, he had strongly under-calculated. I was grateful I did not know that in the moment. We would become good friends. Then after encounter after encounter like that, I’d go find Joan and we’d start on another box.
Of the over two years of work and planning of this home, those moments, the moments of unpacking each box, designing bookshelves, accessorizing side tables, hanging artwork, was what I had looked most forward to, watching it all take its proper place. I believe part of that resides in the deep affirmation I still crave, to know that I actually can design, and also in the reality of how much I simply enjoy it. Walking into a room, looking at a space and envisioning how it will lay out, and then finding the perfect piece to go in the perfect spot. It is holy to me. I invited God into it, and there were moments that we all just made ourselves stop and take it in, and I could see Him all up in it. Like the Saturday morning that finally allowed me to accessorize the Great Room bookcase. My dad and I got up early and unpacked the boxes and boxes of books. A lifetime of learning and memories and gifts. Many were from my dad’s library, my uncle’s library, and one of my mentor’s libraries, as well as some a friend of Packer’s had recently given me because she wanted someone who would treasure them. Packer said she knew just the person. There were also the countless books I had consumed through the years that had shaped me, entertained me, and fed me.
They were stacked end to end, and over the course of twelve hours, with a few breaks, I went up and down the ladder placing the olive jars, the fish paintings, and some of my greatest treasures inside those now perfectly-hued shelves. Dad sat there with me the whole day, taking breaks when he needed to. I couldn’t have asked for a sweeter memory to share with him. The others would come through and give encouragement and advice on positioning. We took a few breaks for meals and somewhere around eleven, after everyone had gone to bed, I stepped down from the ladder for the last time and stood back and took it in. “Thank you, Father. Thank you… it’s beautiful.”
The other thing I longed to decorate was the kitchen. It, too, had just been this picture in my mind from the beginning. The stove wouldn’t be in for months, but they had given me a stove to get us through, and the day that sweet Rich came to hang the pot rack I cried. Then I laughed and said, “Men will cry over power tools and women will cry over pot racks. We are such odd birds.”
He laughed. Even his laugh sounded southern. Rich would be in and out of our home for over six months. Gracie would come to adore him, and we would, too. A man at his finest. We would miss him when he was no longer there because he, no joke, virtually lived with us all week for six months.
The other sweetest joy was when I finally got to hang the artwork. This is another moment that does something so sealing in my heart. When I can see this piece of art and know exactly where it should go. The Medici Ivory, with the two drops of brown, that covered our walls floor to ceiling was the perfect canvas to allow the artwork to shine. From the boat painting that Hattie and I had found for Philly on one of our morning breakfast visits to the Puffy Muffin when she was in elementary school. Puffy Muffin would display local artists’ works on their walls, and Hattie saw that one day and said, “Dad would love that.” She was right, so we surprised him for his birthday. I never dreamed how perfectly it would one day hang over the mantel in this home. Or the artist painting of a yellow sparrow I had dreamed of having one day. I thought it would go in my office, but as the Great Room came together I would discover that its perfect place was at the end of the dining room table, where the scripture on the painting reads, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:36. God has even used art to heal places in mine and Philly’s hearts that we yet again didn’t even realize needed to be healed.
However, the entire experience felt like a whirlwind. Rushed. Pressured. Overwhelming. The need to get bathrooms functioning. Beds set up and made. The kitchen ready to feed eleven people. What would have taken a month, we crammed into twelve days. Even my builder said, “I have never seen anyone get a home together as fast as y’all have. Yet, I didn’t realize until the day before everyone was to arrive, and I had no groceries and had made the hour and fifteen-minute trek to the closest Costco, that something in my heart was hurting. I spent eight hours in Augusta stocking up on all the groceries and cleaning items we needed, and any odd and end Philly had said was important. On the way back home, with room for nothing else in the car but me, I called him and as we began to talk, I began to come undone. It was probably part exhaustion, part anxiety over having the kids, but what came out was my deep sadness over having to rush getting our home settled.
“I feel like something has been stolen,” was the revelation that came out through my sobbing heaves. “It was what I was looking most forward to, and I’ve worn myself out and have hardly been able to just stop and take it in and really enjoy myself. I needed a month. We should have pushed their visit back.” (We had already pushed it back from Easter which had been the original hope.)
He offered the empathy that he has learned in moments like those. He listened. Leaned in. Loved. And on the way home I took my ache to my heavenly Father. I got no answers, but the next morning before their arrival I woke up early as I had every morning since our arrival and took in the brilliance of the sunrise. I had found the perfect spot and I chose a different attitude.
As I made the final beds, I thanked God for the bodies that would lay in them. As I cleaned the microwave, I thanked God for the people who would use it. I prayed that God would allow our home to be a home of conviction, of healing, and of rest. I fluffed the final pillows, framed our “Lake Life” requests, and took a bath before the first group arrived.
Their trip would begin six months of nineteen different groups coming in, ranging from a couple of nights to a week, along with our first Weekend Experience. God allowed us the privilege of seeing our kids in each of their rooms, of hosting families in broken and challenging seasons, of watching young people laugh and fish and have the time of their life out on the water. But we watched older people be kids, too, which brought just as much joy. We watched a seventy-year-old and a seven-year-old jump off the jumping rock! We watched the tube get the best of those who wanted Philly to “give me all you got!” As Philly would offer in return, “The boat always wins.” We watched some wakesurfing victories and some wakeboarding washouts. (Only one concussion over the whole summer, so we were grateful for that.) And the final word of the season was when our friend, Susanna, on her trip with our lady’s prayer team, when asked if she wanted to tube, said, “I want to do everything that is offered.” That became the mantra for so much and so many.
Since I was fourteen years old and had my first job waiting tables I have worked. I do not remember a time since then when I haven’t “produced.” For many years it was because I “had to.” Over the last twenty years it is because I “get to.” I have also been grateful not to take a salary from the ministry which gives me an even greater freedom of “get to.” However, it is important to me to give God my best. Often, at the end of the day, I’ll say to Him, “I hope I’ve honored you today with my work.”
So, when He invited me to take the season off from “producing” anything for the ministry, other than Monday Musings and writing this blog, I truly didn’t even know how to do that. However, what I discovered, is that being present in the lives of the people God entrusts to you is ministry. Philly and I have ministered relentlessly over these past six months. We have encountered conviction in people’s lives. We have watched little shutdown hearts start to come out into the open.We have had ministry in the early morning hours around the breakfast table, and in conversations on the dock, or when the air started to chill, down by the fire. We had ministry with our family and our friends and the children of our friends. Ministry hovered over our home and became a haven for hearts. Just like we had prayed. Just like God had said. Then, when a group would leave, we would collapse onto the sofa and not move for hours. Body tired. Heart full. Our introverted selves, often unsure of what God had called us to, yet clearly knowing He had.
These months have also allowed me the privilege of seeing Philly in an even deeper way still. I watched him host people with such a spirit of generosity and kindness and presentness that I had never encountered with him. He noticed what they enjoyed, met needs before they were known to be a need, captained our boat for as long as the passengers wanted, and did it all with this extreme tenderness that captured my heart for him in a whole new way. To see him behind the wheel of that boat with such joy probably brought me more joy than anything else God allowed me to uncover and see.
So, now we settle into a new pace. Grateful for a respite, but longing for our people. God has brought us some new friends. We’ve possibly found a church. We are getting used to the fact that only Marco’s pizza delivers, and that we are in the “country,” and the closest Walmart is almost forty minutes away, and that grocery trips are planned and not spur of the moment. Philly is mastering the grill. We found a dry cleaner and I’ve picked up pickleball. (I think that may be my new blog series – Pickleball: Fun vs. Fanatic.) My morning quiet time location has shifted as the seasons have changed. I had my first encounter with a snake and didn’t freak out. Gracie is living her best life, though she hates water of any kind, but it doesn’t matter because she loves pine straw and chewing sticks and anyone who walks through the door.
When she was a pup, I asked God to let her be a conduit of His healing in our home. That she would find the person who needed her most. I cannot tell you how we have seen this over and over again. During our first Weekend Experience after almost three years, I watched God send her to person after person who needed her at just the right time. I watched her bring laughter to people in their deepest places and watched their delight as she would cuddle them, sleep with them, or entertain them. God did exactly what I had prayed.
We do not know all that the future holds. We have decisions we are trying to make. Questions we are asking Him. Things we are considering. But all we want is to hear His voice. Know His heart. It brought us here. We have enlarged the tent. Stretched out the tent pegs. Lengthened the cords and strengthened the stakes. Now we ask Him to continue to make room for what His heart desires next. As faithful as He is, I have no doubt that He will.