Finding Me

I found a little bit of myself today.

I’d been planting a small garden in our yard. Not “officially summer” and already 97 degrees! Into the soil that I’d mounded high went large rocks and flowers from Lowe’s. And the big chunks of beautiful granite, quartz and other natural pieces of earth we found scattered around our yard when we moved in. So I incorporated them into the “design”. Actually, I kept adding stuff with little rhyme or reason. I stuck a “birdbath” in the center — a terra-cotta saucer atop a plant cage. The birds love it!

The only considerations were: flowers had to be shade loving and deer resistant. I’ve since learned that deer-resistant is a bit of a misnomer since our deer neighbors are not that predictable. We are living in their “home” after all. I keep hoping they’ll get lost before they traipse through our yard in the wee hours!

That familiar sense of “me” happened when I tossed two old colorful flowered pillows on the cute white wooden swing.

I found the swing at a popular resale store in Columbia. Tom built a frame for it and hung it in our yard. After the pillows landed, my eyes darted to a little yellowish pot that I’d picked up on trash day—I added it to the scene.

Most of my life I’ve had to pinch pennies so it’s kind of natural for me to use what I have instead of going out and buying something new. It’s fulfilling for me. I think my penny pinching ways are partly from our frugal parents and partly a necessity I learned when I was a single Mom and didn’t have two nickels to rub together.

Anyway, something clicked today. For one of the first times since moving here I remembered how I love to stage and decorate by using what’s at hand. And, of course, I enjoy shopping for home stuff when I need something, too! I don’t dumpster dive only. LOL

I’ve had a lot of sad moments in the last year-and-a-half. If I’m honest, a lot of sad days. Never ever did I want to leave our home of 30 plus years; that my husband mostly built with his own hands. I expected to live out all our days there. Here’s a link to the back story! Moving

But God had other plans as He sometimes does. We Christians may seem a peculiar brood in a lot of ways. We live by faith.

 The path we walk is charted by faith, not by what we see with our eyes. 2 Corinthians 5:7

We don’t make our life choices according to what we naturally desire at the moment. We inquire of God and act on the way we believe He’s leading.

A few years ago, my husband, Tom, was in the market for a new job. After months of praying together for God’s plan to unfold, it happened. He was invited to interview for a position in a hospital in Columbia, SC.  God knew we’d much prefer to stay in Wilmington, (I told Him often enough!). But after the interview, Tom received a job offer so swiftly that it made our heads spin! We came to know and firmly believe that moving to Columbia was what God had in mind for us.

So here we are in South Carolina. Tom has a job he absolutely loves! I’m still adjusting to the house, yard, neighborhood and people. Still missing our niche in Wilmington. I constantly remind myself that we’re here for purposes we may not fully know. Come to think of it, that’s also true of life in general!

What I mean when I say that I found myself is this: I’ve gotten out of the habits I was so deeply invested in. Having family over for Sunday dinners. Getting together with girlfriends and neighbors. Having friends to dinner or hosting parties for all the occasions. Serving folks in my Staging and Organizing business.

I realized when I tossed those pillows on the swing that the way I’m wired hasn’t curled up and died. My gifts for gathering people and warming up our home so people will feel loved and welcomed. This is who I am. I just haven’t known how to be that person in a different place.

Even when it’s difficult I’m determined to be intentional about fulfilling the roles God’s designed for me. Even here. Tonight our neighbors are joining us on the porch for watermelon and conversation.

I hope I can encourage a sister by my journey. We all have stories; each one unique. Mine may presently seem simple compared to those of deep suffering. But, for now, this is my story and my struggle, simple as it may be.

Have you experienced loss or change that’s caused you to misplace yourself? I’ve been surprised to find that it’s hard to replicate myself in a new community. People have been most kind; but it’s not easy to make friends with people who are rich in life-long relationships.

Let’s encourage each other to keep our eyes on the Prize! If we’re breathing, Jesus isn’t finished with us. Let’s be faithful to the life He’s designed for us wherever we find ourselves today!

 

 

All The Married Ladies

 

 

“Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing…

 

Whatever people say, the state called ‘being in love’ usually does not last. If the old fairy-tale ending ‘They lived happily ever after” is taken to mean ‘They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married,” then it says what probably never was nor ever would be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love.

Love in this second sense — love as distinct from ‘being in love’ — is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be ‘in love’ with someone else. Being in love first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. it is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.” C. S. LEWIS

Why do we get married? Isn’t it because we desperately want to be with the other personbecause we can’t live without him? What happens when the feelings change?

Have you ever been in a dimly lit restaurant and you notice that couple. A woman and man each bent over their phones, the glow of the screen casting a soft light on their faces as they scroll through images. You say to yourself, “Yep they’re married!” Or conversely, you spot a couple playfully touching, chatting easily and demonstrably,  and in your head you think, “Definitely NOT married!”

What’s wrong with this picture?

If that’s what the marriage relationship looks like in public, what about your behavior towards each other at home? Not the Instagram shots; but the real life you share behind closed doors. I don’t know about you, but I want a long happy vibrant fun marriage. I want people to wonder if we’re married when they see us. Sometimes when we’re walking, holding hands and laughing, I imagine folks looking at us and saying, “Look at that cute old couple; they must have found each other on Silver Singles.

This week I read about a 100 year old woman who’s shared 82 years of marriage with her husband who is 103. When asked their secret she offered, “Just be nice to each other.”

Wow, how simple but profound! What is your “nice barometer” registering? What people are you typically nicest to? Which ones garner your complaints and your bad attitude?

I think it’s pretty common for us all to let our guard down among those who make us feel safe. And what a good thing to have safe people in our lives!

But, I’ve noticed over the years, that it’s not expedient for me to share every feeling or gripe with my dear husband, especially if he’s the focus of my wrath.

Honestly, it’s pretty embarrassing to think that I had to log a lot of married years before I figured this all out. I once thought I needed to tell him everything! I learned to start asking myself, “Is this offense important enough for me to even mention?” It’s helpful to think of intentions. Overwhelmingly, I can attest that Tom has good intentions toward me. Maybe there was a slight oversight in judgement or he was in a hurry and didn’t make the same decision I would have made. I imagine that most spouses aren’t intentionally malicious.

And that brings up another important point! Who creates the standards for what’s right and wrong in the thousands of tiny choices we make daily in our married life together. I now realize (finally) that I thought I was the expert on all standards! Subconsciously I assumed I was always right.

I heard a podcast the other day when the woman being interviewed said this: “I thought our becoming one meant that my husband and I would become like me!” I laughed because that’s precisely what I thought without even realizing it!

Where is improvement needed in your marriage? Are you able to take the virtual log out of your own eye (Matthew 7:3) so you can see the sawdust in your husband’s eye? I know it’s obvious here that I’m preaching to myself. Why does another’s irritant come into such clear view when my bigger offenses go unnoticed (by me)?

Is your marriage worth fighting for? We fight for and sacrifice for our friends and our children.
We champion the causes of needy groups of people we don’t even know. We may even virtually get in peoples’ faces on Facebook and argue for specific causes. Do we ever put up our dukes and fight for our marriages?

We throw elaborate parties to celebrate our friends. How can we celebrate our number one person? Marriage is about choosing the ONE. There is only space for ONE top priority.

Have we thoughtfully paused long enough to put our phones down; to listen with a smile? Are we willing to set aside whatever matter has our immediate attention and cheerfully greet hubby each day?

Do we spontaneously offer a loving touch or words of appreciation? Do we “speak” to him in his love language even if we’re not naturally fluent?

If I’m honest, I’ve oftentimes acted more kindly to strangers than I have my husband. All along it’s my husband; my number one person, that deserves my utmost care and attention.

Long ago I learned that I’m completely lost and inadequate without Jesus. As a Christ-follower I depend on Him for every single thing in my life. When Jesus left the earth, He sent His Holy Spirit— the Helper— in order for us to know how to live. He reminds us of Truth and guides us. Just like in all the other areas, we need Him in this marriage venture. I’m convinced, with Him, marriage can be the most glorious companionship on earth.

 

Scars

My husband, Tom, has an ugly scar on his leg. Sometimes he jokes about it, teasing about how “attractive” his legs are. The scar is no joke to me. I think it’s beautiful. A recurring reminder of God’s continued faithfulness. I can instantly go back in my mind to the day he acquired the scar. It was summer; I’d just gotten home after watching John and Katherine in swim lessons at the Southside Pool. Right after arriving, I got the call. “Your husband was run over by a forklift–he may live, but he’ll probably lose his legs”. Adrenaline instantly rushed through me—taking over my fears. I quickly called my dear in-laws; father-in-law, Dub, was over in no time.
I got to New Hanover Hospital at just the time the ambulance arrived from the paper mill in Riegelwood, NC; transporting that precious person who is my whole life. I soon learned that Tom had been walking around outside, overseeing a project when a huge industrial forklift struck him from behind running over him and crushing his legs.
I waited several hours to see him. All the while making calls to friends and family; updating them and asking for prayer. It’s hard to picture a time with no cell phones. I remember sitting in a guest room, waiting my turn to use the phone provided there.
I surprised myself at how composed I was and how my “introverted self” greeted people I knew and paper mill employees that I didn’t know. Again, thank you God for your design; for adrenaline!
The story that could have been a life altering tragedy couldn’t have turned out better. I cannot tell you how incredibly thankful I was. My heart was literally overflowing with joy over my husband’s life being spared. All the other problems seemed so small in comparison.
Scars; the interesting thing about them is that they’re not all as visible as Tom’s scar from that accident of over 20 years ago.
I have a few scars on my body, like the time a snow ski hit my leg, but most of my scars are hidden from sight. Healed scars are like stones of remembrance. The experiences the scars represent have changed me for the better. In every case, they are experiences I’d never ask for and ones I’d never wish on anyone. But, nevertheless, they’re a huge part of life. Even a necessary part.
I have a scar from experiencing one of a mama’s worst fears; having a severely handicapped child. First there were the shocks of one diagnosis after another. Then, for nearly every season of her entire life there have been challenges. One of the keys in getting through is taking one step at a time. The long span of difficulties and unanswered questions in toto would be completely overwhelming.
Another scar came from the loss of my first husband. I felt like a widow; but I also had to acknowledge that I wasn’t wanted. I loved that man and was completely committed to him for life. But other choices; bad choices, were made. Ones that left me, my son and baby in utero out of the picture. There were so many difficult years. It took me a long time to heal from constant hurt. But at the same time there is a part of me now that doesn’t want to completely forget how I felt going through such pain. I want to remember enough to weep with others who are in similar scenarios. Those kinds of afflictions can really change us for the better if we let them. God was so near and real. I look back and know He used the deepest pain to help me surrender more fully to Him and His Ways. We experience comfort from the Holy Spirit, and in turn share that very same comfort with others who are hurting.
Even now, in March 2019, I’m spending time with a young woman experiencing very much the same marriage breach that I did. I would never have the empathy to listen and encourage if I hadn’t walked through it myself. I can’t fix it for her, as much as I’d like. But I can cry and pray and assure her that God will see her through and will do much more than she can now imagine.
I wonder how Jacob felt when he wrestled with the heavenly being in Genesis 32. I often loosely compare myself. I’ve fought for a blessing from the Lord and for a righteous life and been left with a limp. I wonder if Jacob was glad for his limp; was it a significant milestone in his life?
Several years back I was chatting with a dear friend who also endured a painful divorce. She made the comment, “Don’t you just hate that we have that (divorce) as part of our history? I paused and thought a moment and then replied, “I don’t really hate it that much now; it’s become my limp, of sorts.” It’s a continual reminder of my journey pursuing God and finding Him always faithful.
How about you? Have you found a positive side to your difficult experiences? Are you even a little grateful for the hard stuff because of positive character being produced?
“You see, the short-lived pains of this life are creating for us an eternal glory that does not compare to anything we know here.” 2 Corinthians 4:17

Heal Thyself!

“Physician, heal yourself!” Luke 4:23

Have you ever been going along spiritually, humbly and holily, just minding your own business, when a voice inside says, “Teacher, teach yourself!”  or, in other words, “Practice what you preach.”? Ouch!

I had just finished a conversation with my daughter, Katherine, when I heard that sentiment.

I’m fortunate to have a daughter who speaks into my life like a close friend. She probably knows me best, next to her father. 🙂 I’d made a comment and she gently corrected me. She was referring to a very humble and holy point I’d made; valuable spiritual insight and wisdom concerning a friend. Honestly, my point had truth; it wasn’t devoid of wisdom. But it’s not my job to point out other people’s potential mistakes. Right after she made her comment, Katherine arrived at the site for her photo shoot. And we abruptly ended our chat.

The phone went quiet and I instantly heard that still small voice telling me in so many words, “You were speaking under the guise of “helping and teaching” but really you wanted to appear better than the other character in the story. You wanted to make sure your daughter knows you’re the #1 spiritually mature woman in her life.

How did I reply? “Yes, Lord! Thank you so much!” “This stuff really DOES work!” I can rejoice over His correction because I know He loves me. Not only was I glad; I also laughed. It’s good to have a sense of humor and see the irony. I’m nothing if not a life-long student. I know there will never come a day when I finish learning and graduate from “God School”.

I recently had the privilege of speaking at a couple of women’s events. I’m still slowly shaking my head as to why those people trusted me. Actually, they trusted God.

Anyway, among the points I made was this one, more or less: Jesus left the Holy Spirit to His disciples as a compensation for His departure. The good news for us is that we Christ followers have that same Holy Spirit living in us; the same power who raised Jesus from the dead! The Holy Spirit, among comforting, teaching and all the other benefits, also convicts us of sin and enables us to live victoriously!

So there I was; finding out again how Christ- following works! HE IS IN ME. He showed me my heart. It goes a lot deeper than my lovely sounding words. He not only showed me my heart, but He’s already giving me ideas as to how I can alter my thoughts, pray and act redemptively towards someone I love whom I don’t always agree with.

Remember that young shepherd boy, David? The prophet, Samuel was sent by God to Bethlehem, to a man named Jesse. Samuel’s task was to find and anoint one of Jesse’s sons to be the future king. Samuel observed the “tall, dark, handsome” sons, thinking that one of those must be the chosen one. But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

Finally, the youngest son, David came in from tending the sheep. Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.” 1 Samuel 16:12

After all, what matters most is what’s in our hearts. That’s what God sees; not our outer shell. God looks on the heart.

Old

SNOW IN WILMINGTON!

AGE DOESN’T MATTER UNLESS YOU’RE CHEESE.

I’m in favor of the first amendment; free speech and all. But what’s to be done with a word that is both ambiguous and possibly hurtful? I’m thinking of the word old; at least when used to describe humans. At times the word  plagues me and other times it puzzles. I mean, first of all, what does it mean? Advanced in years? My-two-year-old granddaughter is more advanced in years than her almost one-year-old brother.

I’m confused about this. At what juncture does a human become old? I hear forty-year-olds talking about being old. They can’t do this and that anymore because they’re so old. I’ve also read about people who, at eighty-nine, are skydiving or graduating from college. So you can see why I’m perplexed. My  girlfriend who is my age recently said she feels like we’re  young! Her ninety-year-old cousin, who is still practicing law, recently met with her eighty-something-year-old father to assist in the filing of his taxes.

Lest you think I’ve fallen prey to early dementia or I’m in complete denial, I’ll confess that some things do change as the years pass. The fat that assists in keeping wrinkles inconspicuous, for example. The youthful plumpness at one time found on the forehead and bridge of the nose, has now gone way south. Apparently that helpful fat shows up in the waist section where belts were once worn. The dark thick eyebrows have diminished and been replaced by white rowdy wiry hairs of a different variety. Those eyebrow hairs also show up (“Surprise”) in other fun areas. The skin can grow some pretty interesting markings that can thankfully be mostly hidden from view. And yes, there may possibly be a few aches or pains that call attention to themselves.

But, I suggest that most of the changes taking place as we add more candles on the cake are exterior things that have nothing to do with who we truly are.

I may look different on the outside; and our grandchild may wonder one day, while she looks at pictures, “Who’s that girl in the bridal gown with Pop?” But, here’s the thing: I’m still the same person on the inside!  In fact, I feel younger and freer and more full of gratitude than I did in my twenties and thirties. I suspect I’m not alone in this feeling.

So here’s an idea: Let’s toss old aside and find an alternate adjective. What about Vintage? Seasoned? Or better yet, Classic? Experienced? Wise?

I’d rather not be categorized as old until I’m ready. And maybe that will never happen.

“The measure of life after all, 

is not its duration, but its donation.” 

Corrie Ten Boom

I Married a Stranger

I Married a Stranger

Sometimes I feel a little bit jealous when someone says, “I married my best friend!” or when I find out they were high school sweethearts.

I married a stranger!  There were only a handful of dates during the six months we were acquainted before the wedding. We met on a blind date and virtually dated on the old landline. After all, we lived over 800 miles apart. I knew he was truly serious when he paid the hefty Bell South bill each month! The day after our first date, Tom walked up to my friend Dolly, thinking it was me. We were sometimes confused as sisters. Another time when I picked him up at the airport he didn’t recognize me! I’d gotten a complimentary perm the night before from my overzealous (novice) friends.

We barely knew each other at our wedding; it’s true. I can still picture myself in a scene from our honeymoon. As we took a walk in a hilly area of Saint Martin, I had a surreal and scary feeling—thinking to myself, “What have we done?!”

After thirty-three years of marriage, we still don’t know everything about each other, but we’ve built a marvelous life together and written a history that’s even better than one of being ” high school sweethearts”.

We have a little joke between us that has to do with me being full of surprises, and Tom seems to think it’s fun to keep getting to know different versions of me. I assure him that he’ll never have me completely figured out. Especially since I can’t even figure myself out most of the time.

I didn’t know him that well, but here are some things that were true:

  • I wanted a husband and desperately prayed for years that God would bring me one. As best I could, I surrendered my life to Him. I believed that my wishes were valid and that He wouldn’t give me, figuratively, a stone when I asked for bread. (Matthew 7:9)
  • In a man, I wanted: someone who’d love my two children as his own, one who’d be always faithful to God and to me, a person who’d provide financially for us, and who had broad shoulders (because he’d need them and I liked broad shoulders!)  God gave me everything I asked and more!
  • He was a man of character and integrity. I’d watched him around work peers, church folks and friends who had utmost respect for him. I’d met his parents and was impressed by the mutual kindness and interest they showed each other.  They acted like friends who really liked each other.

Things I didn’t know when we married:

  • He called a package of peanut butter and crackers “nabs” and erroneously said “Cut the light on”, rather than the correctly stated, “Turn the light on.”
  • I didn’t know that he’d never owned a pair of  jeans and that his mother only bought him blue shirts. “His color”. That he called his black belt his blue belt and he wore it with blue shirts and pants as opposed to the brown belt. That he was a born engineer and came equipped with everything but the pocket protector!
  • That one day I’d find myself delivering our baby and I’d watch as tears of awe and gratitude streamed down his face. That we’d borrow a huge dinosaur of a video camera and he’d film many hours of  labor, only to be abruptly halted by a dead battery seconds before baby came!
  • That another time, about ten years into marriage, I’d take a call from the paper mill where he worked. “Tom just got run over by a fork lift! He’s alive but will probably lose his legs.” That I’d live on adrenalin the next few days–and I’d be more grateful than I knew possible when he was very much alive. There’d be recovery time, but he most certainly did not lose his legs!
  • I didn’t know there would be unimaginable heartaches and pain many times over, and that we’d lean on  and comfort each other; ultimately relying on our faith in God.
  • That God would call us into situations and places that we didn’t ask for or expect, yet we’d confess our trust in Him, and say, “Yes” to His direction.
  • That somewhere around the twenty-fifth year I would begin to tangibly love him more deeply. I’d become a tiny bit less selfish and I’d nearly feel pain myself when he was in pain or hurting emotionally. That I could care so deeply for another human really moved me. I wondered if this is what “becoming one” meant.
  • That today we’d say to each other that we’re more in love and enjoy each other more than on our honeymoon.

The whole notion of becoming one—who could have come up with such an idea other than the One who designed us. Who would ever think that such unrestrained, raw specimens like us humans could really love another person? That we’d actually serve, prefer and deeply care for them.

We’ve blended. We’ve acquired a private language; taken on family colloquialisms, anticipate each others’ answers and feel a bit lost when not together.

Glancing back over thirty- three years, I’m really grateful for that blind date AND that stranger!

A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.

Mignon McLaughlin

Life Was Easier When I Knew Everything

Life Was Easier When I Knew Everything

“Faith must be tested, because it can be turned into a personal possession only through conflict. … Faith is unutterable trust in God, trust which never dreams that He will not stand by us.”

Oswald Chambers

 

Recently my husband speculated about a lifelong friend; wondering why this person’s life had taken the turn it had. He pondered why certain things haven’t happened the way we expected them to; good things we’d hoped for him. Tom turned to me to ask what I thought. I almost surprised myself when I said, “We can’t figure out why things didn’t turn out differently for him. There are so many variables–life is uncertain.”

Lately, I’ve experienced visceral pain for friends who are in hard situations. Desperately praying;  I carry them close to my heart. I remind them of my thoughts; what else can I do?

I used to know everything, or at least thought I did. Of course, I would never have said that; but when I look back I realize I behaved as if I had all the answers. I guess I thought most outcomes could be determined simply by choices; that things would work out if we behaved and worked hard, or something like that. Choices and actions are important. Then, there is that Ever Present Looming Universe Over Which I Have No Control.

I had a lot to learn in the compassion and humility departments.

Years ago, I probably would’ve had answers as to why our friend hasn’t achieved the things we expected. I’d have known what he should have done in order to be successful.

Before I had children, I’d hear screaming mamas and kids while grocery shopping. I’d roll my eyes in judgement. I could tell that mama what to do to make her kids behave. A parenting expert without children! That’s what I was.

I had suggestions when a friend suffered from depression. I truly cared for her, but I didn’t understand her inability to stay in a good mood. She needed to get involved with other people and get her mind off herself. I wanted her to snap out of it.

Somewhere along the way, the teacher called Life came into play. Bad things happened to me. My marriage partner for life decided to leave. The baby I was carrying when he left would have serious disabilities.

When my daughter was three, I dragged her with me several hours to a revival where a well known speaker would be leading the services. Apparently he was known for faith healing. The only thing needed from me was an ability to really believe she’d be healed. And believe I did! In my mind, I could see her normally engaging with people around her. But, sadly, the miracle I wanted never happened. And it hasn’t happened to this day, many years later.

My daughter wasn’t healed and I was painfully disappointed. Then, other troubles came upon my family. I won’t bore you with all the details but there were some very hard seasons.

As I look back now these many years later, I have a very different perspective than I did when I knew it all. I see all of the troubles and heartaches I’ve experienced, as a gift of sorts. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t wish that “gift” on other people, and I don’t want to re-do those experiences. But they have begun to mold me into what I wanted from the very beginning. Christlikeness. I’ve seen the process over and over in other people. I honestly wonder if Christians ever change and grow without the trials that beat up against us. I tend to think they are a necessary part of life.

These days, I say, “I don’t know” all the time. Why did I ever need to have answers for everyone? Frankly, it was probably fear. If I could figure out how to create positive outcomes then I’d be able to avoid my own pain, which seemed like a good idea. I’m a chicken when it comes to pain.

I’m closer to God and trust in His miraculous power more than ever. The way He’s blessed my life and answered so many desires–especially my Tom– has humbled me.  I pray each day for impossible things to happen in the lives of people I care about, and some people I don’t even know. I continually pray for a miracle for my daughter, Dawn.

I try my best to focus on Him and allow His Presence to overshadow the bad things that happen in this earthly life. Horrible things like young people dying and parents of small children taking their own lives.

I’m a more grateful person now. I’m looking for beauty in the moments; things I overlooked or minimized for so long.

I typically see folks now through a lens of compassion. Especially the ones I would have thought weird or scary in earlier decades. They’re the ones who I imagine have suffered the most. And they are still standing on their own two feet. Certain kinds of heroes.

I know far less than I used to know, but I’ve relinquished my life (a little) more freely to the One Who Knows Everything. And He is Wholly Good.

Better a Neighbor Nearby

“Better a neighbor nearby than a relative far away.” 

It’s been nearly a year now since Shari invited all the neighbor ladies over for a party at her home. A party to say goodbye to me. I wasn’t the only one in tears that night. Honestly I was crying a lot last year. I didn’t want to move from our home or our neighborhood. But we knew God was pointing us in the direction of South Carolina, after a job offer had been made.

Twenty-six years earlier, Shari had greeted me with these words as I walked past her house, “I want to have a baby shower for you!” At that time as well, I was touched and honored. True to our neighborhood, the ladies came to Shari’s en masse, arms loaded with pink curly beribboned packages. As we sat around the cozy family room, little one-week-old Katherine was passed from mama to mama with all the oohs and aahs you might imagine. Shari had even crocheted a pink blanket for our baby girl.

Shari was the neighbor I really wanted to get to know over thirty years ago. We were busy women; she with three kids and me with eventually four. We’d hurriedly greet each other; she while entering her back door and me as I ran in and out of my front door. She always seemed to have her life together—she was continually planting something or painting something or engaged in a myriad of activities. I wasn’t sure if she needed or wanted another friend. Even that long ago, the neighborhood friendships were pretty well established and I didn’t know how we’d fit in.

There was no texting going on in the late eighties. One day I picked up the telephone from its base on the wall and called Shari to see if I could borrow some sugar. First of all, I needed some for the cookies I was baking. Secondly, it was a great opportunity to break the ice with my neighbor.

A cup of sugar here and there, neighborhood gatherings, chatting in the yard between houses, laughing together, sharing broken hearts and enduring long illnesses and deaths of neighbors who’d become like family. Those were the bricks gradually and carefully laid one atop another over a long span of time—forming a structure called friendship. After Shari became single and our kids were all grown, I’d occasionally ask her to share a meal or I’d walk over with a plate of left-overs. We’d take walks together and meet at restaurants for a late lunch after her pre-school teaching was over for the day. We’d go to movies and events; and she’s the one I’d call first when I needed a ride to the airport or the mechanic. I’d smile really big when I opened the front door to find a couple stalks of broccoli, some tiny just-dug red potatoes and long skinny green onions. I always looked forward to that little garden coming to life —I’d never seen someone have such success in a small plot of ground as Shari did.

A friendship doesn’t happen overnight. First someone has to make a move. Then come conversations with an emphasis on listening; hopefully many conversations; then you’ll become involved in each other’s lives. Finally, if everything goes well, the relationship will become meaningful and encouraging to both parties. The best friendships don’t need a lot of emotion to begin; just someone to take the first step. That step may eventually lead to an important relationship that you can’t imagine not having experienced.

You may say, “That’s all very well, but you don’t know my next door neighbor!” True; but just consider what your next step might be.

God tells me to first love Him and secondly love my neighbor as myself. Sometimes we just need to ask ourselves, “If I were that person next door in the same situation, how would I want to be treated?”

“Therefore, you should treat people in the same way you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets.” 

Now, I’m preaching to myself as I’m again connecting with new neighbors. Beginning is the hardest for me. With God’s help, I’m choosing to say yes to opportunities even when it’s uncomfortable.

Maybe today you’ll look at your neighbors through a different lens; they aren’t there by mistake.

“We make our friends, we make our enemies, but God makes our next door neighbor!”

G. K. Chesterton

 

 

Expectations

Pray, and let God worry.

Martin Luther

 

On my morning walk I was praying like it was my job— serious praying that befits this season. Friends with serious health diagnoses, a sweet friend fighting for her life after a horrific accident and a couple manuevering a very painful breach in their marriage—we love them all so much and we’re crying out for answers. It seems almost too heavy a burden sometimes.

Not only are there urgent needs; there are those perpetual prayers that I’ve voiced for years, sometimes becoming weary and bored with my own words. I pray rotely— like songs or idioms that stick in your head. They never completely leave my consciousness.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever see the answers to those long-term prayers. The measure of my hope seems to be commensurate with the amount of time an item has been on my list. Those old tired prayers can become repetitous, almost numbing.

On my best days I stir myself to visualize glorious outcomes. I watch for the answers, peeking through the cracks of my awareness much like when I’m expecting arriving friends—walking to the door; looking through the window to see if they’ve arrived.

I believe for the answer but I know that it may not come in the way I want. There is that faith element in our companionship with God that we can’t get away from. It takes believing without seeing to even know Him. Faith motivates us to keep after it (prayer) when we don’t see results. When we think God is deaf or busy doing something else. I have to pray in agreement with what I believe He would pray and then trust that I’ll see it come to pass. He is Love. Also, He is Sovereign and He keeps some things in a secret place that I’m not privy to.

What if God answers some prayers after I’m gone? What if He answers differently from what I imagined? What if an amazing response finds its way into the life of someone in conjunction with my prayers?

AM I ABLE TO LET GO AND REALIZE THE FUTURE BELONGS TO HIM?

Years ago as I was thinking along these lines, I found myself encouraged by a beautiful young woman named Ruth. There is true beauty in one whose heart is so pure and selfless.

We find Ruth living in Moab in 1140 BC. At that time a Jewish family relocated from Bethlehem-Judah to Moab to escape a serious famine. One of the family’s sons married Ruth. Sadly, after only a few years, the father and two sons died, leaving only the mom, Naomi, and her two daughters-in-law to fend for themselves. One daughter-in-law, Orpah, decided to remain in her homeland, but Ruth insisted on staying with Naomi and returning to Bethlehem. Naomi urged Ruth to leave her, but Ruth was emphatic, even though the future looked very bleak.

” Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.”  Ruth

Ruth’s story is interwoven with God’s Sovereignty; His overall Purpose in history was sure to be accomplished. In Ruth’s determination to support her mother-in-law, she played an important role in continuing the lineage that would bring the Messiah to our world. As she set out to earn a living, Ruth found favor with a prosperous leading man of the city. He allowed to her to glean barley in the fields after the workers left. The man, Boaz, kindly asked the workers to leave extra grain for her to collect. Ruth quickly created a livelihood for herself and her mother-in-law. She also caught the eye of Boaz. Naomi had explained that he was a relative of hers and one of the men whose responsibility it was to care for widows in their family. In what is a true love story in itself, Boaz married Ruth and relieved she and Naomi from their fear of the future. Ruth would go on to have a son, Obed, making Naomi a happy grandma and carrying on the family line.

That’s all exciting enough, but here’s the real clincher. RUTH WAS A DISTANT GREAT-GRANDMOTHER OF JESUS CHRIST THE MESSIAH! And…she didn’t even know. Ruth made selfless choices apparently with no thought of herself.  She chose what what she perceived to be God’s will in real life decisions. And just look how prominent a role she plays in history!

Ruth has given me much hope.  Our pleadings DO HAVE RESULTS, even though we may never see them. We have to walk in faith, praying and making the best decisions we know to make and then LEAVE THE RESULTS TO OUR FATHER. As earthlings, we see only part of the big picture. We might be flabbergasted if we knew how profoundly our choices and prayers affect the future.

 

Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.

Corrie ten Boom

 

 

Oh to be Alone

A few months ago, while waiting in a long line, I found myself listening to a conversation in a public place. There was mild irritation between a husband and wife who were disagreeing over a minor issue concerning a child. A mom, who wasn’t acquainted with the couple, commented to the wife that she was so glad she no longer had to endure arguing. She and her husband were divorced and she was happy to make decisions for her child alone, without friction. In my mind a lightbulb instantly went off and I knew this was something to ponder. Oh to be alone.

In the last six months I’ve had many thoughts about togetherness and aloneness and their results. My husband and I lived weekdays apart for about one and a half years. He’d taken a job in another state and I stayed home to take care of necessary things, such as our daughter’s wedding and helping out with our first grandchild. I was surprised and a bit concerned to find how relatively easily we adapted to living alone week after week. Sure, we’d look forward to our times together. But in between we learned to adjust quite well to an independent self-serving routine. Even sleeping alone had it’s advantages. Let’s just say that for me, it was a much quieter, restful sleep. Acclimating again to the sound of snoring wasn’t easy.

Soon after I moved to Columbia, my husband and I drove to Lowe’s to purchase a clothes dryer. We were turning into the parking lot and I rolled my eyes at the unorthodox, roundabout way he maneuvered into the spot. I said to him, tongue-in-cheek, “Tom, if you would just do everything exactly like I do things, and you’d say things exactly like I say them, you’d never bug me and we’d get along perfectly.” We laughed, and I acknowledged to myself that this was my Achilles’ heel in a nutshell. Selfishness. There is in all of us a natural impulse to do things our own way. We’re aware of these tendencies in all human relationships, but none more than marriage.

Occasionally married couples live apart for a season because of  jobs or when a spouse is deployed. Understandable. Just recently I was chatting with a girlfriend about a mutual friend. The husband and wife were living separately while the husband was employed in a different city. My girlfriend said, “You know, I can really see how that could be easier”. I thought, ” Of course!”  It’s easier to be alone—you have only yourself to consider.

Sometimes I wonder why people want to get married in the first place.  I mostly wanted a man to love me and make me happy. I was a follower of Christ and I’d read Scripture and books about marriage. I knew a lot, I thought. But what part of my plan would make his life better? Do we go into that very important relationship thinking, “Now I get to really serve another person up close. I finally get to wash someone elses’ dirty underwear and clean up the messes someone leaves in the kitchen.” I may even occasionally need to hold my tongue or change the way I squeeze the tube or load the dishwasher! What’s needed in a particular moment might be affirmation and a loving touch, even if I don’t feel like it.

Some people live alone in different geographical areas due to work or other responsibilities. Others live alone even while under the same roof. I worry about them all. I truly believe that a marriage’s default is separation. None of us really need to work at focusing on ourselves; we have to work to keep our marriage covenant the priority. I’m afraid couples don’t know how easily they can lose what was once the Most Important Thing. Marriage isn’t an organism that magically keeps two people together. It’s an organism that requires its parts to work in a coordinated fashion to keep it going.

While nothing has revealed to me my self-focus and self-preservation like marriage, absolutely nothing has brought me more purpose and joy. Our marriage hasn’t been perfect in every way, but it has gotten better and better over the years as we have gotten better at surrendering to Jesus and putting each other first.  The covenant of unending and unmerited love for another person. The adapting to the other in a way to actually change the person I am, and grow the person that he is. It’s just one of the most beautiful, meaningful arrangements divinely appointed to humans.

When asked his secret of love, being married fifty-four years to the same
person, he said, “Ruth and I are happily incompatible.”
Billy Graham