The Forest at the Edge of My Yard (or, whatever you’re asked to sacrifice will eventually be no sacrifice at all)

My past forests have been pathetic. In 2015 when we lived in Utah,  I wanted a real forest  even though we lived in a desert. I was in the middle of writing this series and it seemed wrong that I didn’t have a real Forest at the Edge of my yard.

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This was it–our “huge” forest. (And the pine tree died the next year. Typical.)

So we created one that summer in the name of xeriscaping, and I documented it in a blog. I even slashed an aspen to see how the markings the Shins left in the forests might look, and I used that tree as the teaser for Book 6.

book 6 teaser front cover

See the lovely scars of black under the W?

Only two short years later I sold that house and mourned the loss of my little forest.

I didn’t realize that God would compensate my sacrifice, and in a grand manner. Now, this is the Forest at the Edge of My Yard in Maine:

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(Morning from the back porch.)

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(Sunset on aspens slightly larger than what I had in Utah.)

This compared to what I left behind last year? There’s no comparison.

We don’t own this land, but my husband’s job allows us to live here and wander in acres of old forests. I just need a geyser somewhere to make my life complete.

I write this as a witness to you that whatever God asks you to sacrifice, it will be only temporary. We’ve left homes we’ve built, we’ve said good-bye to friends and family, we’ve given up jobs and dreams.

Then we’ve been granted new homes, additional friends, ways to see our family, better jobs, and grander dreams.

In fact, if we hadn’t sacrificed what we thought was good, we never would have been granted what was far better. 

But first we had to be willing to give up what we didn’t want to, without knowing what might come later.

That’s immensely difficult: to have enough faith in a different future to walk away from a good present; to find enough hope to believe that what comes next will be worth the current loss. But as someone who has “given up” a few houses, a couple of careers, a lot of friends (but thanks to Facebook they’re not entirely gone), and some big dreams, I have seen–time and time again–that what I’m eventually given in return was well worth the sacrifice.

No real sacrifice HORIZONTAL

In fact, all of our sacrifices have turned out not to be sacrifices at all, but instead were the means to leading us to far richer lives.

“I won’t do it!” said another man in the crowd. “I won’t leave behind everything we’ve worked so hard to build. And not just for me, but for my congregation, my family, my neighbors—I can’t just abandon all that we have.”

“Why not?” Mahrree said.

A man in the middle shouted, “Why not? Do you have any idea how hard it is to start again?”

“As a matter of fact, I do!” Mahrree told him, and nearly grinned as she realized how perfectly the Creator had prepared her for this moment. “I know exactly what it’s like to leave a home I love, to leave books that I considered my closest friends, to say good-bye to memories, possessions, the graves of all those I loved, and to have nothing more than the clothing on my back to walk to a future that I knew nothing about.”

The crowd was silent as she continued. They’d heard her story before in her class, but not told quite like this. Today, it was more than just history.

“Twenty-seven years ago I came to Salem, nervous and at times terrified as to what I would find. All I knew was that the Creator told us to go, and in faith I went. Not blindly, because every previous time I followed His plan, He was right.

“I ran through the forest in the darkest night I’ve ever seen, with hazards on either side, the army right behind me, and a lightning storm before me. But I came out of it safely and my faith stronger than ever. And then I came to Salem, which was a far greater life than I could’ve ever imagined. Now, none of that would have happened if I had said to the Creator, ‘No thanks—I think I’ll just handle the army on my own.’ I realize you’re worried, but staying here and fighting is far more terrifying than trusting in the Creator!

“Soon I’ll be making that journey again,” Mahrree’s voice threatened to quaver but she held it strong. “But I know that whatever sacrifice the Creator asks of me, He will reward me again a hundred times over.

“So what if you lose your homes? Your flocks and property which you don’t even own? Isn’t the risk of losing your souls worse? There’s a saying in the world: It doesn’t matter how you begin the race but how you end it. How tragic it’d be if you’ve spent your entire lives living as the Creator wanted you to, then now, at the very end of the race, you jump off the path and ignore all that you’ve been taught? Why fail the Plan now?”

Mahrree knew she was saying the right things. Her chest burned and she felt such energy she could have flown right off the small tower. She watched their eyes as she spoke. So many were hardened and impenetrable, but others’ eyes were softening.

“How do you know this isn’t His plan?” one man demanded. “This can’t be it—”

“How can it NOT be it?” Mahrree shouted, throwing her hands in the air. “Have all of you missed the signs? Land tremors! Deceit awakened! Famine in the world! Now the army marching upon the Creator’s chosen? THIS IS IT, PEOPLE!”

~Book 8, The Last Day, available HERE on Amazon, or HERE as a pdf. download, or HERE on Smashwords.

Book 8 FRONT COVER

Book 7 Teaser: Tell God what you want!

“Your problem is that you haven’t told God that you need a miracle. Tell him! Demand a miracle!” That was the advice my friend gave me when, seventeen years ago, we were drowning.

I was pregnant with my 6th, my husband had lost his job and the part-time job he had in the meantime wasn’t paying, and my adjunct contract wasn’t going to be renewed because of budget cuts. We were falling behind in our mortgage payments and our savings were gone. Very soon we’d be in very dire circumstances.

“Tell God exactly what you need and get that miracle!” my friend insisted.

So I prayed—earnestly and daily—telling God what I wanted: a good-paying job for my husband so that we could meet our financial obligations, and the ability to keep the house we’d built so our family could be raised in a great neighborhood.

Not much—just what all of our other friends and family had. Not a fancy car, not a dream vacation, not a huge house—just the bare necessities.

Others also prayed in our behalf—intently and constantly—until finally the miracle came: my husband got a job.

But the not-so-miraculous part was that it was 2,000 miles away from that great neighborhood and my family.

And it wasn’t going to pay enough.

And we’d have to leave our house.

But maybe, just maybe—it’d be ok?

With enormous reluctance and huge tears, we moved our family cross county, put our house up for sale, and waited for the next miracles.

But they didn’t come as I demanded. Where we’d moved was outrageously expensive, and my husband’s education-based income would never cover rent, so he found yet another job, this one a couple hundred miles away, leaving me and our six children to mooch off of his family for several months.

The sale of our house fell through—four times—and because we couldn’t get caught up on the payments during those eight months, it was going into foreclosure with letters sent to us almost daily from lawyers and banks.

I was so humiliated and depressed, alone and still drowning. Did we not have enough faith to make those miracles happen? What more was I supposed to do to get my prayers answered? What did I still lack? Why wouldn’t God give me what I needed and what our family deserved?

I began to realize something: demanding miracles from God wasn’t how it was supposed to work. God is not, as Harry Emerson Fosdick once quipped, “a cosmic bellboy for whom we can press a button and get things done.”

Maybe I wasn’t praying for the right things. Maybe I didn’t even know what those “right things” were?

So I stopped telling God what I wanted and needed, and started asking Him to help me understand. I asked Him to change my heart to be submissive, to meekly take whatever was thrown at us. I was so low anyway, I didn’t have anything else to lose. I was hopeless, in heart and spirit.

I was broken. That’s what God was waiting for.

That’s when miracles began.

Miracle #1–We found a house to rent across the street from my husband’s new job. It was condemned and would be torn down in six months, had mice and skunks (in the cellar) and roaches, but we could live there for $350/month and be a family again for a while. The fact that I was grateful for such accommodations after living apart for eight months? Miraculous. (I’ve written about this house before here.)

virginia house

And when it rained, water poured in on all the edges where the walls met the ceiling. But that was ok, because the vines growing in the house needed to be watered.

Miracle #2–We finally found a buyer for our old house, and the day before it was to be sold at auction we closed on it and were able to negotiate payments for the second mortgage, which wasn’t covered, down to a reasonable rate. We paid it off five years later.

Miracle #3–Astonishingly, the mortgage company hadn’t reported our delinquency properly, and on our credit report was only that we’d missed one monthly payment. Our credit rating fell a bit, but three months later we were in a position to buy a brand new house at $600/month.

A full year after I TOLD God what I wanted, I realized I was in a completely different situation than I’d ever imagined but . . . I liked it!

Our new life was giving us experiences that we never could have had any other way. Our kids were flourishing, our new house was adorable, my husband loved his job, and I had work as well.

And I was very glad that God did NOT listen to my demands.

A couple years ago we drove through our old neighborhood to see the dream house we had left and lost in 2000. I was so grateful that we did NOT raise our kids there. Not that there was anything wrong with the neighborhood, but I realized how limited and narrow our lives would have been had we never left, instead of the wealth of experiences God gave us instead by forcing us away.

He knew what we really wanted, rather than what we thought we should have.

The real problem, it turned out, wasn’t that I needed to demand a miracle and insist on my ways, but that I needed to ask God what His ways were for us. And His ways have always been far, far better.

     With growing despair, he sat back on his heels. It was time to send the general a message.

    “It’s the right thing to do, right, Puggah?” he whispered.

     It’s an intriguing idea, Young Pere. But is it the right idea?

     “Well, you did it! At least, you were trying to do it, then did it in another way—”

      Young Pere, think about that—I tried to do it but failed. It wasn’t meant to be. It isn’t meant to be with you, either. 

     He scoffed. “But you just said it was intriguing!”

     Yes it is. But just because it’s an intriguing idea doesn’t mean it’s the right idea. Especially when the Creator has something much better in mind. 

~Book 7, The Soldier in the Middle of the World, coming October 2017

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