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. 

New Sight

One thing I’ll miss—my morning view.

A funny thing happened recently. I looked in the mirror two days after my eye surgery and saw an unfamiliar face looking back at me. I studied my skin with all its splotchiness and thought, “The sedation meds must’ve had some weird effect!” I couldn’t imagine why my skin had taken on a different color and older look. On the same day I noticed a Facebook update— the emoji colors were brighter and more vivid! Many things were taking on a new appearance. When I started noticing freckles on friends’ faces where I hadn’t seen freckles before I finally realized what had really changed—my eyesight!  I’d had brand new lenses inserted in place of my cataract covered lenses. I knew my vision was poor, but not until I saw clearly did I realize how skewed it had been.

The timing of my new physical vision was not lost on me. My surgery occurred at the very time I was packing for a move from our long-time family home to start a new life in another city. I looked into the mirror, trying not to be completely saddened by my image and said, “Lord, what other more important things have I not seen clearly?”

Growth implies change. Change doesn’t come easily for me. I need to remember that since I first began to follow Christ, my primary goal has been to grow in my faith; to be fully surrendered and aligned with His plan. Did I believe my growth would happen without experiences and surroundings changing? I’ve encountered plenty of change in my life; and our home and community were great sources of comfort during the changes. Now I see that even the absence of those comforts is incentive and impetus for growth. I recently read, “No beginnings without endings. Growth brings change.”

Gratitude isn’t dependent on circumstances. While reading the New Testament I noticed that Jesus thanked God when there wasn’t enough. In Luke 9 Jesus is concerned about feeding the 5,000 men and their families who had come to hear him teach. He asks the disciples to give them something to eat. Since they could only come up with five loaves of bread and two fish they were at a loss as to how they could feed all those people! Jesus, without hesitation, has all the people sit in organized groups. Then He proceeds to thank God for what clearly was not enough! As He gave thanks for the very small amount, there was enough food for all the folks with twelve to-go baskets of left-overs! What do I have in my hand that seems like not enough? How can I thank God for the not enough and watch Him create abundance? He’s done this for me many times!

I need to keep Jesus ever present in my mind. One day while I was taking a walk I asked God to show me, practically, what keeping my eyes on Him meant. I had the idea that whenever anxious thoughts would come, I’d imagine a looming image of Jesus in my mind overshadowing those worries and causing me to think of Him instead of the anxieties. I’m very visual and I think God obliges me often when I need a specific application. His Presence and influence is vast enough to overshadow circumstances. He’s always with me.

I need God to lead my life, not my feelings. My feelings and emotions are important and valid but they are not what I need to base my decisions on. I hear him primarily through reading Scripture, and He speaks to me in my thoughts. Many times I also hear him speak through other people. One day a dear friend spoke clearly into my life during a near melt-down. I’d thought, “I can’t do this!”  She confidently spoke to me, “Number one: you CAN do this. Number two, picture yourself happily in your new home doing things you enjoy. Number three; picture how your life would be if you stayed here rather than joining your husband in his new community.” I already knew what I was supposed to do, but I needed encouragement! Her words put hope in my heart and there was no doubt Who the Source was!  After following Jesus for over 45 years I recognize when thoughts line up with His Truth.

This morning in my prayer time I felt like the Lord said, “You were made for this.” I share that with you, my friends, because I believe you also, were made for whatever the this is in your life. If you know Him you will never be alone. He will never fail to lead you in the way He has for you to go. 

 

 

Our BFFs

Our BFFs

“My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.”

Henry Ford

I’m not really sure how we ended up with such great friends. Six of our friends; three couples, come to mind. We’ve known them for so long that we can finish each other’s sentences. I sometimes think they know us better than we know ourselves. I spent time hanging out with some of them recently—it’s my favorite thing to do. I’d skip a meal or change my plans just to just to be with them, in silly times as well as the more serious. Recently we were brainstorming; I’d asked for some insight for our current conundrum. They didn’t disappoint; each brought a piece that carefully fit into my current life puzzle. I was grateful and encouraged by their insights. Being with them helped me.

I don’t know when it happened; if we were logging miles in the old minivan enroute to soccer matches, or reading the Christmas story for the hundredth time, or if Tom and I were walking down the aisle at one of their weddings.  All I know is somewhere along the way our children became our best friends.

Our children shot up like Jack’s beanstalk and we hardly noticed. I remember a photo of our younger two kids with Tom and me at a homecoming basketball game. A Facebook friend commented, “Are they really that tall or are you just short?” I’m pretty average in height, but I hadn’t realized how they’d towered over me. They just shot right up without our permission.

Who knew that this could happen? When I was changing diapers, blocking babies from the stairs, and reading Curious George I never once thought, “These kids are going to be my close friends one day. On the entire planet, they will be my favorite people to be with. It won’t even matter if we’re doing anything at all. I will cherish their very presence and personalities and their adultness.”

By rote and numb repetition at times I prayed for them to be wise. They are wise! I prayed that they would love the things God loves and they do. I deeply hoped they’d know how much they’re loved by God. Against all doubting and wondering if this parenting experiment would work, they know the Truth more deeply than we did at their age. #grateful

One Saturday morning years ago, I was cooking breakfast for a table full of ravenous  teenage boys. A thought came to my mind, “You don’t even know who you’re serving.” It reminded me that all acts of love are done without our awareness of the ultimate outcome.  Who knew the character and accomplishments that would be present in the lives of those boys? God did.

The little kids around your table—you can’t see what their future holds. One day when they’re taller and stronger than you, they may drive to your house when you’re sick and can’t take care of yourself. They may lovingly transport you to the hospital when you can’t walk in your own strength. True story! Keep on walking in courage and faith, young parents—you don’t know who you’re caring for. There’s no vocation more noble and crucial in the world!

Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a real blessing.”

Psalm 127:3 

 

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