Maturing

Maturing

Old age, to the unlearned, is winter; to the learned, it’s harvest time.

– Yiddish saying

I’ve come to disdain all the talk about getting old I hear from people in  their forties, fifties and sixties. It’s relative, right? We are truly getting older everyday. But must we constantly call ourselves old?

I recently chatted with a bank teller I hadn’t seen in awhile, exchanging niceties. I commented, “I’m doing well, just a bit older than last time I saw you.” Her reply has stuck with me. “Well that’s a good thing!” It is a good thing. Being older means I’m still alive!

For me, growing older happened overnight.

First there was that course black hair in the um… cleavage region that my daughter so kindly pointed out to me. I can still see her look of shock.

Then there was the time our son returned home to find us scooted up close to the TV with the volume turned up so loud we didn’t hear him come in. In our defense it was a foreign film!

The once silent knees now like to complain on steep mountain hikes.

Generic ibuprofen is purchased in the value-sized pack.

The precocious red-headed five year old, in my care, inquired about the whiskers.

Our prayers are long and laborious–and comical– multiple aching body parts have now made the list.

We are maturing. It took me by surprise. Not too long ago I was 35. Then I was 40 and all was well. But there was that day I showed up for a dermatology check up. I filled out the intake form and came to that pesky little space for age. I stopped and pondered—I’d had a birthday just that week. Was I 50??? No that can’t be right. So I did the math on scrap paper and it was actually true. I was 50. The only birthday to that point that mocked me and rang with disbelief.

When 60 rolled around I felt like everyone would look at me as an old person. They wouldn’t know that on the inside I was still young. It’s interesting how we make judgments by looking at someone’s exterior when we have no idea about their souls. I feel like an announcement is called for.  “I may look older and feebler but I am me—even more me than I was earlier!”

This is the time of life when I hold onto every positive comment. Recently a nurse taking my vitals stared at me for several moments and said, “There is no way in h*** you are 63!” I grinned for days…

There are things I love about having lived longer:

  • Comparison becomes less important. You begin to give others freedom to be themselves which frees you to be yourself.
  • It’s harder to criticize people when you’ve either walked in their shoes or know you could’ve.
  • Your life station has made a spot for you. Knowing your passions and gifts; the way you’re wired, helps you to know your calling and how you can contribute.
  • You can be more effective. There is only one you and no one has exactly the same assignment. You’re comfortable being unique; having opinions and strengths and weaknesses. They all make you who you are.

My hope is to make the most of the days and years and not be mad at God when things don’t go as I’d wished.

To cherish the moments as they come because they truly are gifts!

To invest my life in the tasks that I believe were designed just for me. Not to copy someone else’s schedule or lifestyle.

A life verse I adopted many years ago seems more applicable as the years go by.

“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”

Psalm 92: 12-15

 

 

 

A Fairy Tale Comes True

A Fairy Tale Comes True

Scoot a little closer my friends and listen to one of my favorite love stories.

Twelve years ago I had a phone call from a young woman named Barbara, inquiring about the small group we hosted in our home. The pastor of our church referred her to us since our emphasis was on marriage. She spoke through tears, sharing grave concerns over her marriage–her pain was obvious.

Barbara and her husband soon joined our group—together for a time. Sadly, Barbara eventually came alone. She fought desperately for her marriage, but they divorced in 2005. Barbara and I spent a lot of time together and began a treasured friendship. We shared meals, Bible studies, and lots of tears. We realized even though we were twenty years apart to the month, we had a lot in common. I also knew the heartbreaking devastation of divorce and the longing for a good marriage.

Barbara kept occupied with her job in the medical field and volunteering at church. As the years passed, I felt frustrated for her because I knew how badly she wanted a family. I wondered if she’d thought of online dating sites or even going to church groups for single adults. She told me that if God could create the world He could find her a husband. She said it so convincingly and confidently.

In 2012 June, a lady from Barbara’s church, attended a conference in St. Louis. While she browsed books, she noticed the guy who was manning the table. His eyes appeared unusually bright. June began a conversation with him over several days of conference and honestly shared how he’d caught her notice.

The young man, David, began to share about his life and that he was praying for a wife. She learned that he’d been divorced six years and had one child. Because his priority was his daughter, he’d decided not to date, but to trust God to bring his mate at the right time. June didn’t understand why she was drawn to him, but told David she’d ask God for an answer and let him know!

A few months after the conference, during a church service, June leaned over to Barbara and said, “You’re the one!” Suddenly she realized that David had been highlighted for Barbara! David and Barbara soon became acquainted with each other through email messages, and eventually through phone calls and photos.

Barbara had been promoted to a job that required traveling to various parts of the country each week. She typically flew to certain places on a regular basis. One day, out of the blue, her company assigned her a job in the very city where David lived. She’d never gone there. This was their chance! They met in person, formally and briefly. Soon after she was sent to the same city again, which was somewhat unusual. They enjoyed each other tremendously. A perfect match!  She got to know and love his daughter and he proposed.

They were married near the Cape Fear River. The grassy knoll was a lush bright green, having just been refreshed by a cooling summer shower. The expansive lawn was filled with so many celebrating friends and family, and not a few happy tears!

Barbara eventually quit traveling for work and she and David made their home in Florida. After several months of marriage she had started to gain a little weight. She took one pregnancy test after another, all reading negative. Disappointed and concerned, she made an appointment with a doctor. The doctor gave her news that she never thought her ears and heart would hear. She was expecting a baby! Conceiving a child had always been a desire of her heart. Another dream was fulfilled— a happy healthy Elijah was born into their world.

I flew to Florida a few months back for a wonderful visit with Barbara and her family. When we’re together we pick right back up where we left off, even years later. We celebrated all of her wonderful blessings. She and David are happier than they could ever have imagined. Their little boy is nearly two years old and adorable. To spend time with them was one of the highlights of my year.

Few things are more exciting than watching God orchestrate the lives of two people from different geographical areas and different backgrounds to bring them together in marriage. I still marvel that my North Carolina husband went all the way to Mississippi to find me!

As David says, “God has a way of putting us exactly where we need to be.” I ponder their story and I’m emboldened to let go and really trust God.

When we belong to Him, He really does work out everything for our good and His Glory. I share this not to promise specific results after waiting on God, but to say that God can be trusted in any and every circumstance.

He is able to do abundantly more than we can ask or imagine.

What if We Could Live Our Lives in Reverse?

“Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.” 

-David Bowie

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A weird idea came to me while on my morning walk. What if God birthed us into the world, not as infants but as eighty- year olds–intellectually vibrant, but including our assorted sags and wrinkles. What if we could grow into our youth equipped with the knowledge and experiences we gathered through eight decades of living? Would we raise our children and love our neighbors differently?

Perhaps we’d have come to realize that:

  • Relationships are more important than things, always.
  • Reaching out to help is preferable to judging because behind each person’s action there is a reason.
  • We can give hope to those who’ve made bad decisions and point them to healing  in Christ’s Redemption.
  • Having compassion for folks that are physically challenged—putting ourselves in their shoes— is far more desirable than laughing or making fun.
  • We should worry less! We’d have become aware of God’s faithfulness. That He has us in His Hand and although his timing and plan is often not our own, He always comes through.
  • Daily gratitude is important. We’d be thankful for each unique person or thing, even though tinged with earth. Perfection awaits in Heaven.
  • Collecting quite a variety of friends from different backgrounds, races, ages and values broadens our perspective.
  • The depth of love we have for our children and grandchildren is stunning.
  • We could be more in love with our spouse than when we married.
  • We don’t have to do everything. Our gifting and strengths will make a place for us.
  • Our life’s work is valuable because we are serving others and improving their lives.
  • Our work ethic and attitude is more crucial to employers than college degrees.
  • Our insecurities may tell us that we’ll look better when putting others down. We now know that we’re better when we champion one another.
  • Having a vision and making plans is important because time is finite. Making deliberate choices about what to give ourselves and our time to is crucial.
  • Listening is one of the best ways to show love. “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” James 1:19
  • Giving generously when an opportunity is presented is always a good idea. “And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.”  Hebrews 13:16
  • It’s important to eat real food, choose an active lifestyle and eschew fad diets. Steadiness is key to being healthy for the long haul.
  • We should show respect for others by replying to invitations and requests. We’d know how much work is involved in planning an event.
  • We don’t need to wait until our house looks like a magazine spread to have people over.
  • Being outside and enjoying our magnificent world is a gift.
  • You can always fill the holes and paint another color!
  • There is always something to smile about!

I hope my rambling thoughts have stimulated your thinking and maybe even inspired you! What would you add to my list?

 

 

 

 

 

Hurricanes and Other Storms

Hurricanes and Other Storms

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I started writing a blog post last week, but somehow I couldn’t get excited about describing emotional trauma caused by mountains of clutter in a home I’d visited. While I was writing, something happened—Hurricane Matthew. I kept imagining mothers in Haiti hovering over their babies while the winds were sweeping away their flimsy homes. My mind was scrolling through images I’d either seen or imagined.

I experienced my own angst as I heard the familiar scary howling sounds in the pitch darkness just outside my walls. I’ve lived near the coast my entire life and gone through many storms. Night is most difficult because you can’t see what’s happening right around you. I recommend Benadryl for those occasions. I was caring for my adult daughter with severe cognitive challenges and a very sweet mother-in-law who has her share of memory issues. When the lights went out I consciously spoke in soft sweet tones trying to keep my charges “happy”. I kept reminding myself how fortunate I was to live in a sturdy brick house.

Nearly a week after the storm, as the images keep coming through social media, I’ve had to fight feeling overwhelmed. I hurt so for the victims. How can I complain about inconveniences when others have suffered so much more? As I was praying for the ones hurting and also for my own heart, God reminded me that I’ve weathered my storms, and others have weathered their own. We can’t determine what storms we’ll encounter. Only our Creator knows.

“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart because I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

GOD IS SOVEREIGN.

“He is before all things and in him all things hold together.”

Colossians 1:17

What I can control is the way I respond to what comes my way. I’m not helping the Haitian people by worrying, but I can help in a small way by supporting the efforts of people who are serving. (http://samaritanspurse.org) And I can pray.

As I sorted through all of this in my mind, I recalled other storms in my life. Hurricane Frederick is the one I associate with becoming a single mom. My son was nearly two and I was pregnant with my daughter. I never planned to “single parent”, but sometimes those storms come along as well. I remember the winds whipping up as I dragged all the garbage cans, chairs and flower pots to safe storage.

I remember that my little boy, Ben, and I moved in with our friends, the Beavers. We ended up losing power for many days and the short distance between our houses was blocked; huge trees littering the streets. Neighbors brought thawed food from freezers and cooked on grills. We disinfected the water we’d saved in the bathtub by adding Clorox. We lived with our friends for more than a week. The closeness to loved ones balances the memories of painful realities in my life at the time.

A baby shower for my friend Kathy had been planned during Frederick, which of course, had to be postponed. When Renee hosted the party a few weeks later, it took on a festive hurricane theme!  Cynthia, the cake decorating genius, created a “disaster cake”. Broken Twix candy bars became strewn trees. We rearranged the art on the walls in a lopsided fashion and turned decorative pieces over as if a wind had blown right through the home. We agreed to use no lights; only candles and kerosene lamps. And……Spam was on the menu, since it was an undesired symbol of the hurricane during the aftermath. It’s amazing how creatively you can prepare Spam when you’re hungry!

Just one week ago, the house in this photo, belonging to our friend Grey, was torn in half by a large oak tree.  Amazingly, he was spared from harm— dashing from his bedroom as he heard the tree coming down. God’s love in the midst of the storm.

Writing has helped me to recall difficulties I’ve come through and most importantly, God’s faithfulness. I take comfort; knowing He will likewise be faithful to His other hurting children. I’ll keep donating drinking water to our North Carolina neighbors and help however I can. I’ll also attempt to let go of things outside of my control, which is nearly everything.

“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” 

Haruki Murakami

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving

Moving

Optimized-IMG_6952Some people like to move. I don’t understand these people. I once got to know the mom of my daughter’s friend in high school. She actually expressed her frustration in living in the same town longer than usual. Apparently two years was the length of their typical stint.

I felt like I was speaking with an alien. Or maybe I was the alien. We spoke different languages. I have to admit I have such admiration and fascination with the “movers”. Clearly I have something to learn from them. As for me, I had trouble changing the front door color the first time because someone thought it should always be blue. What a big step for me to take a risk and paint it red.

Warning…. BIG FEELINGS AHEAD!

Why would anyone want to leave their HOME? It’s my home—my porch, my windows that look out to the azaleas, the forsythia, the dogwood. Why would I want to leave? I can tell who’s walking up the stairs by the sound of footsteps and a certain creak of the floor. I love my porch swing— I love watching birds at the feeder. I LOVE my kitchen, especially since we finally replaced the pink laminate, and built the amazing green cabinet that I designed.

I love to hear family and friends come through the front door—especially the ones who just walk in. I love that every room groans with memories.

I can still visualize the tea party Katherine had when she was five. The little girls were so cute in their frilly dresses and hats.

The wonderful times around the big dining room table when when talked and laughed for hours. Our birthday dinners, Christmas parties, Easter celebrations, Sunday dinners–gathering around the table is the very best! The many showers and parties we’ve hosted to celebrate new marriages and new babies.The Bible studies and small groups that lasted for years!

I recall the soccer games in our huge backyard– the time we hired our neighbors to be officials for John’s birthday party. They were pre-teens, but looked liked real referees to eight year old boys.

The Christmas stockings were hidden every year with miles of string attached. Some years they were discovered in the pear tree,  an air vent or in the fireplace. Tom’s skills knew no bounds.

We broke ground on our house the very day we brought John home from the hospital. That was in 1988. For months and months I would drive over to the property with our three kids and watch the progress with great excitement. A few years later we brought our baby daughter Katherine to the only place she’s called home.

Today I’m struggling. I wish I weren’t such a mush when it comes to things like houses and memories. But the truth is I am. I absolutely hate the idea of moving away from this house and living in another city. But sometimes, as we journey through life, things happen unexpectedly and we are led on a course that is different from what we anticipated.

Right now it seems that my husband’s job change may require a geographical relocation in the not so distant future. So I’m processing, grieving and trying to focus on today.

I’ve repeatedly taken comfort in the words of Oswald Chambers (My Utmost; March 19).”Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the  One Who is leading.”

That One leading is the One who has always been faithful to me. So now I wait in expectation, and trust as much as I am able, knowing that all we be well.

“Many are the plans of a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”  Proverbs 19:20

The Making of a Friend

The Making of a Friend

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As an introvert, I have a tendency to “go it alone”.  Looking back I realize I trudged through lots of very hard situations  by myself. There were times I would have benefitted from just hearing a voice on the other end of the phone. I didn’t want to bother people. I figured everyone was busy with their own problems. I was wrong to think no one had time for me. Now, when I have an opportunity, I implore my younger friends to not do what I did. “Reach out to someone; ask for help”, I say.

Sometimes friendships begin in the simplest of ways. I introduced myself to Courtney as we volunteered on a community project that our church sponsored. She and her husband had just moved to town and I invited them to a small group that met in our home. A long-lasting friendship was born.

Years have passed, and today I thank this same sweet friend for bringing me “out of myself” and encouraging me. For filling up that tank that all humans have. The tank that only caring, listening, loving people can fill. She listened, she affirmed, she asked questions. We understood each other. We shared personal experiences that have taught us a lot about life; particularly about ourselves. We both laughed at our own stories- how we used to think we were always right and how it seemed like a huge eye-opener when we realized it just wasn’t so. How funny.

For a couple of hours every couple of weeks we chat on the phone, from different states, at heart-level about the deep stuff going on. How we want to please God in everything, how it’s hard to love, how we need each other.

What struck me after our conversation today is this. We are in a mentoring relationship that she initiated. She is young enough to be my daughter. I am the one who said yes to the request- to sacrifice my time to be an older wiser guide. How ironic. How funny the upside-down-ness of it all. I have a spring in my step today after our time together. I can only hope she was encouraged as well. As humans we want to be heard and affirmed. Sometimes our needs are met by giving ourselves away. Giving our time for someone else- laying our lives down. I’m really glad I decided to step out of my shell at that work project!

Emerson said, “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”

Or as the book of Proverbs puts it, “To have a friend you must show yourself friendly.”

When we say yes to help someone else, guess who often gains the most?

Juxtapositions

Juxtapositions

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Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how weird life is and the unbelievable contrasts that appear almost daily. Social media might be the best example to bear this out. Where all the latest best and worst news appears.

Several days ago, alongside close friends, I enjoyed a delightful breakfast on a pier overlooking the water at Wrightsville Beach. One of those perfect days, sunny and breezy and not too hot. At the same exact time, a well loved lady from our church lay in a hospital bed, in a coma, with little expectation for recovery. She had suddenly, unexpectedly taken ill, while fully enjoying life with her friends. The news sent shock waves through our community. Somehow it seemed wrong that I was enjoying the beautiful day with friends.

I remember many years ago when a beloved family member went missing. I clearly recall, running errands, noticing all the people scurrying around, as if nothing had happened. My heart was so distressed and I couldn’t understand how life seemed to be going on as normal.

Several months ago I was meeting with some ladies from a large local retirement community. They had asked me to consult with them as to how to utilize spaces and floor plans in some new apartments they were designing. There would be an open house in which I’d present- and more exciting were the potential contacts and business I would make.

As I was driving away from the meeting, my phone rang and it was my husband. It was raining and storming heavily and I asked if I could return his call. His tone was serious; “No, we need to talk.” As I pulled over to park, he told me that he was packing up his office after deciding to resign from the position he’d held for 13 years. It was so surreal; I couldn’t believe it was really happening. One day earlier he was a full time employee and now he was in job search mode.

Two days later one of our sons found himself out of work and it was likewise a shock. He’d help build the company and it seemed to be thriving.

Ten days after that, our younger son and wife were on their way to celebrate family birthdays when a young driver crossed 2 lanes of traffic to hit them and render their car unfit to drive.

That night after the accident we celebrated my birthday and Ben’s. I opened a gift only to find a Grandma book! It didn’t even register with me at first that this was our announcement- we were about to be grandparents for the first time! Juxtapositions.

I checked my phone after an organizing job, awhile back. There it was; a sandwich of contrasts; a sweet encouraging message from a friend, devastating news from another friend telling me that the baby they’d longed for and prayed for was not to be theirs, and then an audio of our first grandchild’s heartbeat!

I think about this a lot. How life is just crammed full of happy surprises and heartaches. The bright happy colors and dark morose ones you’d find in a hand woven tapestry. How do we clearly  see the design of the bright colors? They show up as they contrast with the dark. When do we  truly revel in a sunny, clear, sky blue day? After many rainy dark days. On the rare occasions that I’m sick, I’ve always noticed that after I recover from whatever cold or virus I happen to have had, all of a sudden I am so very grateful for good health!

JUXTAPOSITIONS. When I think about my life, I truly don’t think I would have known joy and gratitude without the pain. Heartaches, devastating life situations that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. In retrospect I know that the cumulative years of difficulty were changing my heart and my perspective. Without the ugly stuff I wouldn’t have recognized the beautiful. God is the Designer of my todays and tomorrows. The juxtapositions give me heightened awareness and keep me humble.

“Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15

“Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.”  Og Mandino

 

Message from a park bench

Message from a park bench

thumb_IMG_7489_1024I find myself in that familiar place again. Propping my leg up on the small wooden park bench, I stretch those hamstring muscles that are so much tighter than they once were. 🙂 I walk for exercise and inspiration most days of the week. Often I end up in a nearby park where this bench sits. It is a poignant sight. Attached to the back of the bench is a plaque in honor of a woman, loved by her husband, parents and children, who passed away too soon.

I remember her well. Our little boys were in a pre-school class together. She was one of those moms who always went the extra mile. She always helped with parties. She had the coolest kid stuff at her home for play dates, although we didn’t use the term “play dates” back then. Once, when our kids had advanced into elementary school, she called me inquiring about videos of the pre-school programs. There were some class events that she couldn’t come up with while cataloging videos of  her children’s school activities. I was not helpful. We didn’t even own a camera at the time. I remember feeling like I was a few rungs below this super mom. Of course she would never have intended that I feel that way. She was just a loving and involved mom for whom documenting her family’s life was crucial.

I was sad when I learned that she’d passed away a few years ago. Today as I’m walking the short loop around the park I can’t get her off my mind. I’m wondering, if she could chat with me today, what she’d say. I have a feeling that she’d tell me to quit worrying about wrinkles. She didn’t have time to develop any. To quit fretting over how I come across to others. Why not just be myself? Maybe even to embrace the signs of “maturity” because it means I’m still alive. Spending time worrying about our home, our jobs, even our family….what a waste. Living in the present moment is what I’m guessing she’d encourage me to do. Not wasting a precious minute on things I can’t control or that don’t really matter. My thoughts of her spur me on to be grateful.

I recall another friend who died young. Shortly before passing, he commented that walking across the street, the sun bearing down on him, was like a miracle. It was as if he’d come alive; he had a new awareness of the gift of just feeling and breathing and walking. So today I’m more aware of all the gifts; and I commit myself anew to live more freely and fully in the moments I have.

To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything He has given us- and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His Love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense grace from Him. Gratitude, therefore, takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by heresay but by experiences. And that is what makes all the difference.”

Thomas Merton