A Love Letter

November 2019

Dear Tom,

I’m having difficulty remembering my life before you. You were always here; always meant to be. To say I love you doesn’t rightfully convey. Loving you has become a selfish endeavor. To love you really says I love myself because, in you, are so many pieces of me; as in me are chunks of you. I can no longer see us separately. There’s no going back to those two people we were. We are forever and inextricably tied together, blended in such a way that if we were torn in two, the two pieces would be nearly the same.

It hasn’t always been this way for me—seeing us as one. We were strangers on our honeymoon as I described in I Married a Stranger . But there was a fiery spark between us (and still is). And our spiritual journeys clearly led us to one another; we had a knowing that we were “meant to be”.

It began as a blind date. No expectations on my part other than a free movie and meal. I was a little bummed that I didn’t get the movie. But what I got was a long conversation with a most unique person. I wasn’t sure what to make of you. We drove around the Barnett Reservoir in Jackson, Mississippi. You noticed the buildings and structures and were intent on figuring out their purposes. My introduction into the mind of an engineer. I was relieved when I didn’t see a pocket protector. You were so inquisitive and curious; still are.

Your IQ soared above mine, but I didn’t hold it against you. Maybe you’d benefit from my love for beauty and creativity?

At the restaurant, The Widow Watson, that you’ve forever called The Widow’s Watch, you drew a map of North Carolina on your napkin. I’d never been to North Carolina and I’d never been instructed by a napkin drawing. I was intrigued.

One probable discussion scared me: my children. I was afraid it would be a deal breaker. Especially the part about Dawn. But you wanted to know more. You didn’t flinch when I said, “She’s five and developmentally delayed…not verbal yet.”

When you met Ben and Dawn, you quickly got on their level and read books to them. We took them to Wendy’s in Pearl, and you fed Dawn a baked potato. Later you helped her eat ice-cream.

No one had ever responded to me in such a kind way—I was in shock.

I liked you and you liked me.

When you flew back to Wilmington, our fast and furious six month courtship began. Mostly by phone. We’d see each other only a few times before our wedding. Once when I waited for you at the airport, you almost didn’t recognize me! We’d write letters and talk on the phone every night. Since social media and texting weren’t yet the norm, we’d rely on our few shared memories to remind us of each other. Our blooming relationship was more than an image.

We drove to Arkansas with the children to visit my parents the summer right after we met. I stood at the kitchen window washing dishes; looking out on that vast green lawn; the beautiful Ozarks in the background. (I miss my parents.) You played with Dawn; giving her directions to see how she’d respond. My heart didn’t know how to process what I was watching. You were simply a rarity. More than I’d asked and hoped for. Gaining instant children, including a special needs child, didn’t deter you in the least. To you it was a bonus.

Right before our November wedding day, our friends hosted a big Thanksgiving celebration. Today we’d call it “Friendsgiving”. You stood up and declared that you were “buying the whole field to gain the treasure.” (reference- Matthew 13:44)

Six months is hardly time to really know someone. What I knew is that you were a godly man. I could trust that God brought us together. I hoped, in time, our love would grow by our faith and intention.

When I say, “Happy 34th Anniversary”, I realize that all 34 years weren’t happy. There’s not space here to list all the troubles; the stress of caring for a daughter who wouldn’t grow up as we’d hoped, the losses of loved ones, jobs, and relationships. And the private deep pain.

I confess, I’ve rolled my eyes at you when you weren’t looking. I’ve been hurt and angry when you were at work too much and home too little. I’ve hated the times you’ve left me for job responsibilities when hurricanes were coming. My insecurities were often tied to earlier devastating experiences.

I wish I could take back the times when I folded my arms, kept my distance and sulked silently. The minutes matter more to me now.

I’m sorry I’ve complained about your driving. That I told you to drive like me. For reminding you about stop signs and braking and not to drive with your knee (although I feel justified in that one).

I’m sorry when my selfishness has hurt you. When I didn’t love you completely and loved myself too much.

One day one of us will be alone without the other. I’m not willing to entertain that thought right now. I’m hoping that we’ll just fly to Jesus one day, all wrapped up together.

Oh the miracle of marriage— the miracle of our marriage. How can I ever thank God enough for His Plan? How can I ever thank you enough for taking a risk on me? To think of life without you is unbearable— it’s to think of myself not alive.

Thank you for the thousands of hours listening to me. For shedding tears with me when I couldn’t even express my pain.

For putting up with my many books and my many words.

I’ve loved watching you soften over the years, especially when I catch you crying over family dramas on television. Family means everything to us.

Thank you for loving our first two children. For helping to potty train Dawn. For staying up with her so many nights. For planting gardens with Ben and coaching his teams. For being so proud of them both. For sharing Dawn with inquisitive strangers— explaining her deficits so they wouldn’t withdraw from her. Thank you for our second pair of children; John and Katherine. For the delight of grand-parenting Eliza and William together. And our children by marriage: Adrienne, Mary and Matt—our answers to prayer!  Thank you for loving us all in actions as well as words.

I suppose the two become one theoretically at the exchanging of vows, but oh how sweet the process of truly becoming joined in a way that a lifetime of God’s faithfulness and our forging towards each other has provided.

Always,

Myra

What I’m Learning About Love

What I’m Learning About Love

Clearly, learning to truly love people is not an assignment that will ever be checked off my to-do list. It’s a lesson I’ll still be studying on my last day.

Here are my thoughts so far.

As I’m taking my early morning walk down the familiar path … I look ahead to see a woman walking towards me. Another person I’m supposed to love. “Ugh … Lord, please help me to love all these strangers!” “No worries”, He says. “You don’t have to feel love for them—you just have to act like you love them.” Oh yes, now I remember the plan:

Look into her/his face. Smile big. Say good morning in my happiest voice. If she/he starts a conversation, listen intently and make a kind reply. Repeat…

Many years ago the book The Renewed Mind, by Larry Christenson marked my life in a unique and lasting way concerning how to love people. In my loose translation, the author says we believers are to put on (wear) fruits of the Spirit. Then, by faith, God will make a permanent change in our hearts. It’s a collaborative team effort. Christenson says we build a form and God fills it. As an analogy he describes the wooden form that a carpenter builds to hold a cement foundation. After the cement is poured, it hardens. Then the temporary form isn’t needed because the concrete is permanent. The wooden frame is a picture of our role in learning to love. I don’t have the power on my own to make myself loving; but I am capable of going through the outward motions. Then God, in His infinite power, pours himself into the habits (frame) I’ve erected, creating a permanent solid foundation of love. The temporary frame (acting like I love) can be discarded. This is really a picture of our sanctification; changing to be more like Christ.

The book continues with a great analogy—it’s one I’ve recalled many times since I first read the book.

“Sarah” lives beside a very annoying woman. Similarly to me, she wonders why she can’t be patient and love her neighbor. She begins her “form” with a board called listening. It doesn’t matter that the neighbor never listens to her; she begins patiently listening to her neighbor and getting to know her. The second board Sarah adds is prayer; she begins to pray for her neighbor’s family to be blessed. Thirdly, Sarah offers to do something nice for her neighbor, even though her neighbor wouldn’t think of being nice to her! Maybe she’ll take her a small gift or offer to help with the children. The last board needed for Sarah’s foundation is kind comment. The other neighbors are just as repelled by the neighbor as Sarah is. Sarah, however, decides to drop into conversations, true and kind comments about their annoying neighbor. The nails that hold that frame together are called faith. We need faith to believe that all this stuff is possible. That it’s not a crazy futile exercise. We have to believe that as we’ve practiced loving acts, God will fill them in with His divine love.

Over my many years I have seen amazing things happen after I’ve taken the steps to act in a loving way. Many times Tom and I have hosted small groups. Sometimes I wasn’t excited about the prospective members because they looked old, boring and maybe a little difficult to be around. Only later did I realize that most of them were younger than me and not only were they not boring, we’d even grow to appreciate the ways they were different from us. Time after time Tom and I became close to people that were very randomly grouped together; we looked forward to being with them. We actually cared for them and loved them. A miracle!  Sometimes it’s fun to watch how God will bring folks together instead of trying to orchestrate a group yourself!

I’ve learned so much, also, from C.S. Lewis. He shares in a slightly different vein about LOVE. Discussing the teaching of hating a bad man’s actions but not hating the man, he says,

“It occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this my whole life—namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been any difficulty about it. In fact the very reason I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the  same way in which we hate things in ourselves; being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again.

Mere Christianity

I can’t wait to have a conversation with that man in heaven!

I’d really love to hear your adventures in learning how to love people!

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.

 

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

How to Curate Your Life

How to Curate Your Life

In the last couple of years, I’ve been very focused on making each hour and day count. You can ask my friends. When they’ve offered to pray, I’ve said, “I want to know my purpose and not waste time!” Maybe there’s something about realizing that you’re well into the second half of life, and that your days are numbered.

In my earlier years, I’d robotically accomplish the next thing. That’s the reality when you’re trying to keep four  young ones fed and happy!

Today’s different. There are so many dreams, ideas and opportunities clamoring for my attention. I’ve begun to see my life as a curation of sorts– learning to toss aside things that aren’t for me and attending to things that are.

 

curate: “to take charge of or organize.

to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation.

Eliza Jo & William

Imagine for a minute a beautiful, well curated, warmly lit art gallery such as The Smithsonian. On one wall do you find twenty renowned Renoir paintings? No, each incredible piece of art is encompassed by white space. We’re privileged to focus on one painting without distractions. The empty spaces help us to hone our focus.

Several years ago I helped a lady stage her house to sell. I remember her big smile and sweet disposition and how appreciative she was. Although she was a bit nervous about what I was doing with her belongings, she gave me full permission to shuffle things around. I quickly started removing stuff. Her home was clean and warm but crowded. Too crowded, I felt, for a positive presentation to prospective buyers. Some decorative pieces in the home needed to be culled and some curated. I was a bit uncomfortable as she watched me. “If you move that silk plant from the corner what will you put back in its place?”, she asked.

It was really difficult to imagine empty spaces —all the things had been in their assigned places for years. I tried to explain the concept of space and how it gives our eyes and minds rest and enables us to focus on a specific item. For instance, if there are multiple side tables, each one holding a large faux plant, we can be confused about what to look at and enjoy. There is also a practical benefit to having enough space in which to move around. To her credit, she allowed me to work my magic, accommodating me even while she didn’t fully understand. In the end, she agreed that her home was much more appealing, and it sold quickly.

The same kind of curation that takes place in staging a home to sell can also be helpful when arranging the homes we actually live in. The rearranging and culling can bring more comfort and peace.

Curation amounts to focus. The concept can be applied to a closet full of clothes, in which I’ve absolutely “nothing to wear”! Pare down items to the few comfortable things I love and wear daily and I’ve just curated my collection. The less we own in any category, the more we enjoy. Less doesn’t amount to deprivation, but valuing what’s important and needful.

I once moved to another state with my oldest two children. I packed everything we needed in my station wagon and headed down the highway. We stayed with a family for a few months while looking for a more permanent home.

During those months, I remember thinking that there was nothing I missed. I could actually live without all my other earthly belongings. It was a surprising lesson that never left me.

“Be yourself! Everyone else is already taken.”

When my kids were young, it was important for me to be involved in their schools. I’d say no when asked to head up a large project or to serve as an officer on a board. I’m more of a helper when it comes to big projects. I also wanted my time to be spent around students; especially my children. I ended up doing what I loved and teachers seemed to really appreciate it—I read to their classes. Years later I’d run into former students and they’d comment on the books we read together. It was so nice the way it worked out. Some folks who were gifted administrators and leaders took on the roles I didn’t, and vice versa. You do you. And I’ll do me.

As I’ve spent time in prayer honestly asking what my life’s roles and priorities are, God’s faithfully shown me. I’m committed to the roles He’s called me to focus on in these years.

“No one else can play your part.”

It’s a good feeling to realize all the things you aren’t meant to be or do. I’m not a famous singer, competitive athlete, fashion blogger, shop owner, office worker, nurse, or celebrity. Those things are white space around me. My simple curated life includes being a wife, mother/grandmother, friend, writer, mentor/encourager, a “lover of hospitality” and a stager/organizer. When I discipline myself to focus and work within my spheres, I accomplish more and have less time to obsess over what others are doing. When I spend time comparing myself to women I admire, I always come up short.

What about you, friend? Any thoughts about your life?

“Decide what kind of life you actually want.

Then say no to everything that isn’t that. 

Instagram @abbiepaulhus

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

Is Your Table Big Enough?

Is Your Table Big Enough?

Is your table big enough for folks outside your family? Is your heart large enough to offer a hand of friendship to a neighbor or a stranger?

I remember how scared I was the day before I hosted a dinner in our home for the very first time. As a new bride, I was very excited and anxious about setting a table and serving new friends— another married couple. I was a public school teacher and I worried about having time to get everything ready. I decided to prepare the meal ahead of time. I guess I was afraid I wouldn’t be ready otherwise. I wish I could remember how I arrived at my particular thinking and what food I’d served. I do remember that it wasn’t well suited to being prepared ahead. In other words, it was quite overcooked by the time we sat down to eat. Looking back, I could probably easily have whipped it together after school that day. That was back in the day when I’d sit in bed at night poring over cookbooks and imagining serving the lovely staged meals in the photos.

The meal surely wasn’t all that great, but I do remember the conversation being easy and the enduring friendship which began that night.

I recall another low point early in my culinary career. My sweet daddy went to the grocery store and bought me a chicken after he happened to see the one I’d planned to cook for dinner. It would be my first chicken and who knew they had expiration dates? If he hadn’t intervened, I may not be here today to tell my story!

My mom was wonderful in the kitchen, daily working her magic; I certainly didn’t lack an example. I likely had no interest in cooking at my parents’ home. That seems to be how kids are. Until it’s important to you, you don’t acquire the skill.

My first hosting experience came back to me recently along with the nervous feelings. It was such an odd feeling— I don’t remember having anxiety about hospitality in thirty years or more. Here was the occasion: our new neighbors were coming over for dinner! We’d barely met them and it would be my first time cooking and entertaining in our new home in Columbia.

Why show hospitality?

As Christ followers we’re connected to a large body of other people. We need each other. Hospitality is a practical way to show love to fellow Christians as well as to those who don’t have a relationship with Christ. As we sit around a table together we’re on common, level ground.  Our homes are the perfect place to reach out to people of different backgrounds and lavish them with kindness.

1 Peter 4:8-9

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.

Hebrews 13:2

Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

Romans 12:13, 15-16

When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

Suggestions:

  • Call and invite someone over for a meal before you have time to get scared.
  • Say yes if your guest asks to bring something. People like to help and it makes everyone more relaxed.
  • Offer who you are and what you have–be authentic!
  • Don’t wait until your house is ready!
  • Order pizza & salad or prepare something simple.
  • Don’t attempt a Thanksgiving meal!
  • If you do the prep, a one dish meal is best. A pot of soup or large salad with a delicious loaf of bread, for instance. Band-Aid Bread (Recipe Included)
  • Set the table ahead of time. Use what you have—light a candle and cut some flowers or greenery from your yard.
  • Remember the essentials: a smile and a listening ear.

Our recent dinner with neighbors went well. We enjoyed learning about each other and they seemed to like the meal. I even told them a bit of my story and confessed that I was nervous that night.

My first entertaining experience lit a flame in me that’s never gone out. There’s nothing I’ve enjoyed more than inviting people to share our table. A magic happens there unlike anywhere else. Is your table big enough?

“People will forget what you said, forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

– Maya Angelou

 

Hope in Room 562

I rushed to my sister’s side as soon as I could get there. Sisters of the heart, if not by birth. I told Dolly, “I must really love you to drive seven hours to see you!” She’d come close to death after a long hospital stay in her home town. (See http://tranquiliving.com/true-blue-the-splendor-of-friendship/.)  Through the help of a caring friend, who just happened to be a cardiac nurse, she was admitted into Birmingham’s UAB Extreme Heart Failure Unit. When she arrived, the doctor had little hope for her survival.

She’d been there about five days when I entered her room on a Tuesday afternoon –I sensed an atmosphere of celebration. All eyes were on the doctor standing at the foot of her bed. Seconds earlier he’d agreed to the procedure she’d hoped for—a defibrillator/pacemaker would be implanted for her heart and her very life. Hope!

Dolly—my friend of over forty years. It’s funny that when you’re young and nonchalantly making friends, you don’t think ahead to how a friendship might play out. How you’ll find yourself years later, thinking like that person or even talking like her. I realize today that I’m pretty much a compilation of all my relationships plus the Grace of God.

One thing we remembered together is how people, through the years often asked if we were sisters. My husband even confused us when he and I first met! Then, it happened again in the hospital! “Are you two sisters?” We smiled and said, “Yes”, and then told our story.

A few years ago, our son John was about to be married. I called Dolly and said,” I don’t think I can get ready without you.” She answered, “No, you can’t,  I’ll be there!” She did my makeup and hair just as she’d done for my wedding thirty years earlier. The celebration was a dream, and I never worried about how I looked!

At UAB, I was with Dolly for most of four days. I was there when the Doctor Without Hope stood again at the foot of her bed and said she was doing GREAT and would soon be released!

Rather than drudgery, as it sometimes seems during hospital visits, my time there was a pleasure. We reminisced and caught up on each others’ lives. We gathered around, held hands and prayed with her husband, Jack, and close friends. We shared together deeply and believed for what we asked. I sensed an unnatural peace wash over me. I’m using the term loosely, but I felt like I was on holy ground. Our talks and prayers were so weighty and real and heaven-focused. I could exhale and relax, knowing that everything would be alright. While praying for Dolly I kept pondering the word immortal.

im·mor·tal

i(m)ˈmôrdl
adjective: living forever; never dying or decaying.“our mortal bodies are inhabited by immortal souls”
I had a mental picture of our lives as a ceaseless journey from birth throughout eternity. You could say we live a few minutes on earth before our forever home in Heaven. As Billy Graham famously said about dying, “I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address.”
Our faith teaches us to pray, believe and not give up. Jesus spent so much of his time healing people, and he even said that his followers would do greater things than he’d done. We continue to pray for healing as Jesus did. He is Sovereign and He has the last word. We rest in Him and trust Him, knowing that we will not die, but live eternally with Him. Win-win.