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

Life Was Easier When I Knew Everything

Life Was Easier When I Knew Everything

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

Oswald Chambers

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expectations

Pray, and let God worry.

Martin Luther

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Corrie ten Boom

 

 

Reaping Where I Didn’t Sow

I stepped outside into a beautiful April morning and did a little trimming in our mini-yard. Compared to the acre we lived on earlier, this yard is on the tiny side. I stumbled into a small spot in between our house and Debbie’s. There, hidden away, was the most beautiful profuse light-blush-colored rose bush.

I was reminded again:

I’m reaping things I didn’t sow. Several times in recent weeks that truth has popped into my mind.

In John chapter four, there is discussion about followers of Jesus reaping a harvest of new believers after other people sowed Biblical truth into their lives. Maybe we’ll reap people, too! But for now, I’m looking around and acknowledging the current gifts in my life that I didn’t work for:

  • The beautiful purple Clematis that previous owners planted. I’d never had success growing it!
  • A metal arch in our new yard with a vine growing over; something I had on my want list.
  • The fragrant lush rosemary and the light green shrub that’s good for cutting and arranging.
  • Daffodils that popped up out of nowhere; fun and spontaneous.
  • A  screened porch which we’ll really enjoy! Someone who never knew us built it long ago.
  • Miles and miles of walking paths in our new community which I love. I choose routes with views of the lake since I’m a bit obsessed with water.

It takes conscious work to focus on gains rather than losses.

I moved out of state to be with my husband. He has a job which is a fantastic fit for him. After he moved, I focused on our daughter and her upcoming wedding for about a year. I also procrastinated and delayed my move as long as possible. Tom knew how difficult it was for me to leave family, friends and home so he never rushed me or insisted I leave Wilmington. He’s like that.

So often I think, “How would I survive without a relationship with God?” How awesome to have an easy flow of communication with the Father and the entire Trinity. When I don’t know the answer to a conundrum I chat with Him about it and if I really listen and truly want to know, He’ll speak. Not usually in an audible voice, but a voice inside that’s nearly as clear and certain as a human voice. That’s been my experience for the last forty plus years. When I went to Him about moving from Wilmington, He encouraged me to support my husband and celebrate him. I already kind of knew the answer, but this was a big deal and I needed extra confidence—knowing it was all part of God’s plan.

God knew, when He spoke so unmistakably, that four months after my move I’d still find it difficult to drive by our old house. That I’d still almost take the familiar path home and then have a heaviness come over me when I realized my mistake. That our granddaughter, at twenty-two months would say, “There’s Mimi’s house”, when we drove near our old street. Each time sadness breaks into my thoughts, I remember that I made the right decision. I’m so grateful for a Father who cares about all the details.

When I cut some of those beautiful roses, I tried carefully to avoid the thorns but a big one got me! I was both mad and determined. That pain wouldn’t stop me. I thought again of the parallels.

You have to press through difficulty or inconvenience to get at the reward. Pain is often the tool to spur me on.

C. S. Lewis says:

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

I’m such a wimp about pain. I hate it. But in retrospect I’m always thankful for what I learn during those hard times, and there have been quite a few of them.

I can’t imagine living several hours away from my husband. We’re having so much fun together– our marriage gets better and better.  God knows what He’s doing! I am blessed.

 

 

 

 

 

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.