Hello dear friends!
I'm finally turning my good intentions of sending an email update into a reality! The fullness of life that makes for great stories to share also makes for busy days and sleepy nights, and it's hard to slow down to take time to share it all. I count it a privilege to do so this morning though.
Last time we touched base we were looking forward to hosting weekly pot luck cookouts on our block for the month of July. It was something we tried for the first time last year, and already as the weather warmed up, neighbors were asking if we would be doing it again. Every Tuesday night in July we enjoyed good company, food of the grill, gallons and gallons of lemonade and an assortment of foods that our neighbors brought to share.
I used to joke that there was a chronic disease in our neighborhood called "Can I get that?" From the smallest kids to grown adults, handouts have been so readily available that entitlement has choked out gratitude and generosity in the attitudes of many people. Shifting from having "outreach cookouts" to having "potlucks" has been a lovely way to include people who are healing from the "Can I get that" disease, and newcomers to the neighborhood who would not engage in something that seemed like a hand-out. We are staring to see people from all kinds of backgrounds come together and share what they have to offer. Sometimes they offer challenges and an opportunity to serve, sometimes they offer a favor or a helping hand. All in all, we are really enjoying the sense of community and peace that is developing on our block. (Also, as a note, Frank is THE MAN! All of my July babies decided that Tuesday was a good day to be born, so more than once, Frank had to setup, run & clean up from the potlucks on his own with all three kids! Go Frank!)
Since the July pot luck cookouts went so well, we planned for month of fall crock pot meals together, which we called "Souptober." It's really so nice to just have a default evening of the week when anyone and everyone is welcome -- to invite Selah's school friends, families from the little C's preschool, friends who we are always struggling to make plans to get together with. We had great turnouts, delicious soups and breads, and got to spend time with neighbors who previously were too timid to respond to our dinner invitations.
Since our last Souptober Tuesday of the month was the week of Halloween, we were sure to include our necessary tradition of eating donuts off a string, and digging through gooey guts (brightly colored cooked & oily spaghetti noodles) to search for ping-pong eyeballs. Facebook regularly shows me "memories" from previous years -- and last week is brought up a picture from 4 years ago when didn't yet own the lot, but were starting to use it for activities for the kids. It was our first time doing "gooey guts" (mostly because I thought that it was too wet and cold to bob for apples, and it seemed like a good alternative). At that time, we had black plastic spread out all over the bumpy ground to try to choke out the mass of weeds.
What a change and improvement to the space merely 4 years later. We feel so blessed and overwhelmed when we think about God providing that space for us, and how beautiful it has become. Real estate development has been CRAZY around our neighborhood. Sometimes we can't even drive onto our block because there are so many vehicles from construction projects on vacant lots blocking the roads. Several times a month, at least every week, we get either mailings or phone calls with offers to purchase our house or lot. (The lot ones are always addressed to Elizabeth Varaso and Jiii Francis ... a pretty hilarious butchering of Francis J Varaso III!)
At the time that we purchased the lot, it was a miracle. Now, realizing how badly people want land and homes in our neighborhood for financial gain, it's stunning to us that God set this land and home aside for us. Please thank and praise God with us that he has given us this home and land to use for the purpose of building what moth and rust cannot destroy!
We continue to enjoy the promise of God that "in a sun-scorched land, you will be like a well-watered garden." There is a worship song that many of you may be familiar with --- (The Desert Song - click here)
We have certainly been though the desert in in many ways over the past years --- in painful times encountering hurt and need that we can't help our change, in marriage struggles, in lean financial seasons, sleepless nights with sick babies, in days consumed with anxiety that made me feel physically ill, in battling doubts about God's goodness and power.
In almost every sphere, life is more stable, peaceful and full than it has ever been. God has rescued, strengthened, healed and matured each one of us Varasos in ways that has made us a family that He can use, a family that we enjoy being!
There were MANY moments in past years that were NOT enjoyable. So right now we are savoring God's goodness and asking that He help us to be good stewards of the resources he has built in us. The ending phrase of the this song is very much where we are right now --- "And this is our prayer in the harvest, when favor and providence flow. I know I'm filled to be emptied again. The seed I've received I will sow."
Please pray that we stay vigilant, generous, humble and spurred on by a Godly-discontent so that we have spiritual eyes to see what God wants to do around us, and how we can be bold and join Him.
I think one of the words for this season of ministry is "availability." In the past, having wide margins in life was a necessity, because inevitably something was going to create chaos that we would have to deal with. As our kids grow and life naturally becomes a little less volatile, we are finding that the time and space that is left is a gift that we have to give to the people around us.
What we unfortunately don't have much of is travel time. We really used to enjoy long road trips to spend face to face time with all of you out there who support and care for us. With an academic schedule, and Frank's Sunday responsibilities at our church, travels out of town are few and far between. If you are one of those folks who we used to see more often, please know that we are so grateful for those times, and it saddens us that we can't see you just as often. Please know that you all are so very dear to our hearts, and that we value you and your support of us so very much.
We did get a really quick last minute trip to Ohio in in September, and hope to take a great tour of the South in June of 2016. As always, if you want to wander this way, we would love to figure out a way to host you!
Please enjoy the flashback pictures of Halloween 2011 below (first 3 pictures) and compare the beauty of the space that we enjoy now in the form of a video (click the link) of our now THREE YEAR OLD big girl. We were so busy enjoying ourselves during the Souptober Tuesdays that we didn't really take pictures. Except for when the kids were eating donuts on from a string, because you ALWAYS take pictures of that.
We are so thankful for each and every one of you, and pray that you are encouraged to see how your care for us has helped to build the Kingdom of God on Fletcher street.
With love and grace,
Frank, Elizabeth, Selah, Callum & Clementine