Grit Blogs > Transitional Traditions

The Shop-Vaccing of Our Life

Becky, Andy, Elly, Ethan, and LiamWe arrived home from church this morning and began clearing out the van. As those of you with children might understand, it takes but a few trips before your vehicle of choice is littered with innumerable crumbs, toys and random items that have found their way beneath the seats. For us, taking out the necessary items each time (diaper bag, jackets, drink cups), but leaving the rest of the crud is our typical M.O.

For one, it's just practical. Between the two of us, getting three kids out of the van along with their accompanying items and our own, one trip is just barely possible on a good day.

But two, as we are learning, leaving the rest of the "crud" for another day is indicative of more than just the family mini-van. It represents our entire lives right now.

Andy and I are working in reactive, triage mode and have been for the last...well, far can I back up? As I think about it, I don't know that we've ever been proactive in our approach to life!

I'm walking in the house with an armload of books, toys and two random bath towels, and I hear the Shop-Vac turn on in the garage. Andy has all the large items out of the van, spread across the driveway and Elly and Ethan are playing in the vacuous space in the back of the van. The kitchen is as we left it this morning; half eaten muffins and leftover scones litter the table along with empty milk glasses and a lonely French Press near the sink. Normally we clean up after every meal, but we had a late night last night, visiting family 3 hours away for an annual reunion. We pulled into the drive around 11:30 pm and pretty much shoved everyone into their respective beds before crashing ourselves.

It was nice to see family, have a day off and watch the kids run around with cousins removed. Little Liam passed though about 15 different mothering arms before the day was donem, and we all enjoyed a small town June Dairy Days parade in which Andy energized Ethan and Elly to smile and wave the hardest of all the kids on the block. On our long drive home, we forced conversation in order to keep the driver alert and on the ready.

We were talking about our lives and what God has for us. In the eight months since we left Foxwood Farm, we have found ourselves pushed to the brink in our spiritual journey and growth. When we moved, we knew without doubt that this was the place God was preparing for us. Energetic and hopeful for the future, we dove in, somewhat hesitant but mostly confident of our mandate here. In the following months, our job description morphed from market gardeners/delivery personnel to marketers/patron communications/design/catering. The people working at St. Brigid's saw what our strengths were and allowed us to play to them.

We flourished with the freedom but struggled in the execution of such broad and limitless expectations. Unbeknownst to us at the time, God was lining things up for a power punch of reality that wouldn't fully hit until mid-February.

I walk back outside to grab a bag of trash and listen to the high pitch whine of the shop-vac echoing in the garage. When we arrived home last night, we pulled in kids and nothing else. My intention this morning is to get the big stuff out from the trip, but in light of our new life goals, it becomes a complete deep cleaning of the vehicle.

In January, there was a tangible shift in the way our family interacted with the other two families that work on this farm. It was not for the positive. Without disclosing personal facts, I can say that we were beginning to feel isolated in our home across the street from the dairy and a few miles from the beef farm. The dead of winter didn't help and the arrival of a newborn increased the physical separation from us to them. During that time, Andy took on certain responsibilities within his role as Marketing Manager and unknowingly stepped outside his boundaries.

He sought to take on a leadership role and ended up violating the trust he had enjoyed with both our peers and our boss. Near the end of February, he was disciplined within an inch of our jobs and began down a path of searching and sorrow that perhaps just today has reached it's fruition. God encountered Andy in a deep and personal way, speaking to him via a live web-cast from our favorite organization, International House of Prayer in Kansas City. It was a message from a missionary pastor who was renowned for church planting, deep prayer movements and general self-less acts of service for those in need. He had been spoken to by the Lord with such a dramatic message that he had to share it live, with millions of viewers across the globe. IHOP-KC posted it live and if you care to have your faith shaken to its core, click here and give yourself about one and a half hours.

In the message, the man talked about being spoken to in a manner of ways by God, but the most important thing that Andy got out of it was that he is not worthy of God's saving grace. Yes, we've all heard it: Saved a wretch like me. This finally hit the core truth. When the African missionary told us and his audience that after all he had done for God, all he had sacrificed, all he had given for God's glory, God spoke to him very clearly, as if an actual person were speaking to the inmost consciousness of this man's mind. God told him as plain as the nose on his face, "If I were to come back for my people today, I would not take you."

This pivotal moment in this man's life became the pivotal moment in Andy's life ... and by default, mine. Andy heard that to the deepest core of himself and lay crumpled on the couch, tears pouring down his face as the reality of that statement sunk to the middle of him. He boldly asked God to show him how He sees Andy, the real Andrew, below the layers of pride and protection and even to the dark corners of his heart that Andrew himself didn't even realize were there. And God did. And it was horrifying and heartwrenching, and he felt absolutely naked in front of his Creator.

{Our beliefs are what we live by and we can only hope others might learn from what we expose about ourselves on this forum.}

In the days following that afternoon, Andrew wrote a heartfelt letter of apology to the other two families here and awaited his judgment.

In the months that followed, judgment would come. But not in the way we were anticipating ... at least not all of it.

There is an analogy that is quite appropriate: you must first plow a field in order to ready the soil for planting. If it's new ground, there are several ways it needs to be plowed before a seed can even touch the newly exposed earth. First the ground must be sliced and turned over 180˚ to kill off the weeds and grass that currently inhabit that field. Next, a more refined harrow comes through to break up the rolled clumps of upside-down sod and then a disc plow breaks up the dirt even more. After a few rounds of this further refining, the field is smooth, weedless and ready for fertile seeds.

It's not hard to imagine that if God wants to plant new seeds in someone, he must first slice and overturn our current existence. Plowing is not a gentle process. And if your entire perception of oneself is ripped up and laid bare, the procedure can be excruciatingly painful. At the time, we thought the initial encounter with himself through God's eyes was the complete plowing process, but it became clear as the weeks brought us into March, that the refining had just begun.

I return outside to the van and collect little Liam in his car seat. He's bright-eyed as usual, watching Daddy vacuum a Kellogg serving size pile of stale cereal from the seat Ethan usually inhabits. It's been about three hours since Liam last nursed and while he's not cranky, I prefer not pushing him to that point. I'll leave the unkempt kitchen a few more minutes and settle down on the couch with my tiny man. Gazing out the window, the leaves on our maple tree flutter softly in the cool breeze, causing the diffused cloudy light to peek in and out of the lush foliage. My mind's eye takes me back to the very short time ago in which the bitter winter winds whipped the skeletal maple tree limbs back and forth against a sharp blue sky. As March drew to a close, we ventured back to the Fox Valley (Oshkosh area) to see family and meet with our spiritual mentors. We needed clarity and a little re-calibration.

What we learned was heartening and discouraging all at once. Sparing some details, it came down to this: Andy was being taught how to humble himself before those in authority over him. It was a hard lesson and one that he was not taking to very well. As such, the leash at work was getting shorter, and the trust was not being regained. We came home with a sense of knowing what God wanted, and now the will to carry it out. But a mere three days later, Andy violated once again the lesson he was being taught and caused another complete shift in trust and confidence in our family's role here at the farm. Once again, we were at the near precipice of being asked to leave. It was at this point my eyes were opened to a simple fact. So simple that it had been overlooked by us for years. So finally obvious that it was controlling our very lives.

Andy had never been able to bow before those in authority over him, not fully, ever since I have known him. And he will tell you, it's been his whole life. As I traced our steps backwards, I realized that this process had not been months in the making, but years! One step back, and he couldn't work with my father at Foxwood. Two steps back and he couldn't work under his sales managers at his last corporate job. Three steps back and he couldn't work with his District Manager in Colorado Springs. Four steps back and he couldn't work in the Air Force Reserves. The pattern of his life ... and mine entwined within that ... slapped me across the face in a sudden blast of reality.

I became angry with him. I was more angry with Andrew than I had ever been and wanted nothing more than to scream at him everything I was feeling, including the loss of my family's farm. How much God still cares for those he is disciplining, though. He caused Andy to get violently ill for 24 hours in which I needed to care for him at every need and take pity on his poor body as it rid itself of the toxins within. God coincided this illness with my realization and fiery anger. I was unable to say a word to Andy that day. Everything I wanted to tell him, to vent at him, to make him feel, I had to pen up inside me and instead, care for him as a mother to her sick child. The following day he was completely well and gone for another ten hours before I'd see him again. By that time, I had collected myself and worked through my emotions enough to speak to him in a rational and loving way.

God must have known that the state of Andy's spirit would not have been able to handle my wrath and so caused him physical illness in order to protect his wounded inside. I don't take pleasure in telling you this, but I feel it is significant enough to be included. I will not forget God's act of supernatural protection of Andy from my own anger any time soon.

When Andy recovered, and we had worked out our feelings on his behavior regarding authority, we dove into our work with a renewed sense of training and worth. If God was plowing our fields like this, he must have some very important seeds to plant. As painful as the refining was, we knew it was necessary and in the end, we would be much better people for it.

April passed us by and as our three children grew, so did our workload at the farm. Being jacks of all trades can sometimes lend itself to long work days with no clear boundaries. We began clocking in every time we performed a task for St. Brigid's even though we are salaried just for our own awareness of time spent. After several weeks, it was revealed that Andy works longer than full time hours, and I work longer than part time hours. And it also began to be revealed that while I work hard, I don't work efficiently. The focus of God's plow began to be pointed directly at me, and I didn't like it.

It's easy to be the supportive wife in light of your husband's life changing revelations. It's hard to have the focus turned onto yourself. And in my pride, I fought it. I don't know why it takes hitting a low point for people to stop fighting the inevitable, even after watching someone else hit the lowest of lows and suffering every single day for it.

I hit my low point a mere week ago. Remember how we take the necessary items out of the van, but leave the build up of crud for later? Well, that had become our daily lives and everything in them. It had begun affecting my entire existence as both a mother and wife. Our house was in a complete state of disarray nearly every day. The kids would get dressed and fed each day, but everything in between was thrown together by need and reactive measures. I began stressing out over just about everything and anything. Every day was triage from the last, and we never got ahead. Between the responsibilities placed on me from the job and the bare minimum of daily housewife chores, I felt I had no time in between. I realize three children under 4 and one of them being a baby with no real schedule is cause for some chaos. But this was beyond excuse. And I was losing it.

About a week ago, I asked my mother to come for a couple days to help us redo our lack-luster landscaping in the front yard. She has a knack for that sort of thing and loves to visit the kids, so it was a natural fit. On her final day, I was beginning to stress about the lack of progress in the front yard. In reality, there had been a lot accomplished, but in my mind; far too much had yet to be done. I went on a disappointing field trip with mom while the kids napped to look for some plants to put in our shaded flower bed (disappointing because we didn't find anything to plant). I returned to find Andy playing video games and the kids freshly up from their naps. The house was in disarray as usual and the flower beds were no further progressed. I just lost it. All I could see was the mountain of work that needed to be done and my husband sitting in the cool house wasting time with a video game. We got into a heated debate while my mother wisely stepped outside to work on the flower beds.

And in our argument, we realized that we were both at fault. As part of Andy's discipline, he realized that he needed to grow up. Really, truly grow up and accept the role of adult. He admitted that he had not done that yet and determined on that day to take responsibility of himself and his role in the house. I learned that I am in a constant state of reaction and never proactive about anything in my life. The clutter building up in the physical realm was wholly indicative of the chaos in my mind and heart. It was that day that we began our 21 day habit building test.

Let me explain. Andy had heard and learned that it takes 21 days to form a good habit. (Bad habits are easier to learn than good, only three days). He wisely suggested that we take 21 days to implement several good habits into our daily life and that if we miss just one day, we start the 21 days all over. He put 21 small squares on the whiteboard hanging in our kitchen and said we can't X them out until the day is completed with all our adult responsibilities.

In that, I determined to keep a routine and schedule for my family and household. Here is what we came up with:

6-7am: Rise and get ready for the day. Make breakfast, get kids up and dressed and be prepared for 7am meal. 

7am-8am: Breakfast and clean up. Andy (or me) leaves for work by 8am. 

8am-9am: Kids get Sesame Street while I (or Andy) continues cleanup or other household chores. During this time, computer work for St. Brigid's will also be completed 

9am-10am: Craft/playtime with the kids. 

10am-11:30am: Free time for the kids, work time for the parent. 

11:30am-12pm: Prep for lunch 

12pm-1pm: Lunch time and clean up, preparation for naptimes 

1pm-?pm: Kids' naps. They vary in how each sleeps, so this is open ended. Parent works for St. Brigid's during this time or accomplishes tasks about the house that are not child-friendly 

4pm-5pm: Playtime with kids (open-ended), Andy returns home (or me) 

5pm-6pm: Dinner prep, household tasks 

6pm-7pm: Dinner and cleanup, prep for bed times 

7pm-8pm: Execute bedtime routines, including book-time, wrestle-time and teeth brushing 

8pm-9:30pm: Andy and Me time 

9:30pm: Bedtime 

Within those time-frames are other tasks that must be completed during the day for it to be called a victory in habit making. Obviously the times are loose enough that we can fudge a little, but the basic structure is there to keep me on task and help me not lose my mind. And you know what? It's totally working! And we haven't missed a day so far.

I'm done nursing Liam and Elly peeks her head in the door. "I just wanted to say Hi," she says.

"Okay," I respond.

"Hi!" she sings and disappears back outside. Before the door can slam, Ethan sneaks in and I notice he's barefoot. "I, Mommy!" he greets (His Hi's have silent H's).

"Hi, Ethan. Where are your shoes?" I inquire. He looks down, as if surprised that they are missing and points towards the now closed door. "Owside! Shoes! Owside!" he explains. I'll be embarking on a sandal hunt before I clean up the kitchen, I conclude.

But then Andy comes in the same door, small leather sandals in his grip and triumphantly claims, "You have a van again!"

Indeed, after today's sermon, I feel like I have a life again. The sermon was given by a man who lives in England, so while the dialect was deliciously engaging, the content was the final plow sword into Andrew's and my life.

He spoke about fear. And it suddenly became the final piece of the puzzle in the last four months of intense fire and learning in our spirits. There is the healthy fear: fear of the Lord and rational fear (such as your child running into traffic). Then there is irrational fear and fear based on false facts. The man gave some lecture notes in which I have copied here. (This is the abridged version.)

1. Describe your fears
What do we fear most in life?

2. Displace your fears
To displace fears, cultivate a close relationship with God.
Conquer the battleground: speaking God's word out loud
The lies we tell ourselves and believe are the most destructive.
What we say is often the deciding factor for how we will live

3. Dare your fears
Confront them with boldness

And what do I fear? I'll tell you. I fear insecurity. And I've done everything in my life to hide that fear, cover that fear and ignore that fear. In doing so, I have caused great disorder and chaos in my life, growing ever worse as the responsibilities have mounded up. I have perpetuated insecurity in my life by the very act of trying to hide it.

And now that I've described my fear, I can work actively to displace it.

Andy realized that his fear was with a specific person and the influence that person has over him. When we compared notes after the sermon, our 21 day mandate came fully in to focus.

Along with cultivating pro-active habits of a successful and stress-free family, we will be cultivating habits of deep prayer and self examination.

Lunch is being set upon the table as I encourage the kids to take their seats. It's left-over potato soup with a homemade Alfredo based broth and just the thing for this slightly cool June day. I glance at the white board in the kitchen and see that we have five squares in a row filled in along the bottom. Sixteen more days to re-organize our life and be fully prepared to take on the next stage. It feels good to have a vacuuming from time to time.

And now, I know it won't be because we let it get away from us. It will just be a part of our life's routine.

Rebekah Sell lives on a small plot of land with her husband, Andy, on which they are hoping to build a sustainable homestead. With a small business and four kids, life is always interesting as Becky and Andy live fully the idea that the journey is the reward. Find her on .