How I Got the Life I Really Wanted

God knows all things past, present, and future. There is no limit to His knowledge, for God knows everything completely before it even happens. (Romans 11:33).

My granddaughter and I were taking a stroll. I found myself looking for sale signs among a group of small houses. Subconsciously I was searching for a place to call home in Wilmington, assuming we’d relocate to South Carolina and return here to visit. I smiled as I thought, “Isn’t it cute to make plans and set long term goals?” To assume you’d live near your children forever, that you’d always have access to close friends, your church and all the familiar things. Then a thought came that has repeated in my head many times, “I’m so glad I’m not in control”. I’m grateful to God who whispers through His Spirit, showing me the way He has planned. He’s highlighted for me specific roles He has in mind for me and which one comes first. These are not the plans or priorities I would have if left to myself. I certainly don’t see the whole picture or understand why. I only take steps in the direction He’s leading.

I really do believe in setting goals. With hands wide open. What I mean is this: We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps. (Proverbs 16:9).

I remember a conversation I had in my twenties that was a defining moment for me. The person, who was very close to me said, “I just have to decide what I want to do with my life.” I humbly and spontaneously answered, “I’m trying to find out what God wants me to do with my life.”

Giving my life to Him and trusting Him in every uncertainty has been  good for me. I don’t mean it’s always easy. Following Him requires a death to myself. But He’s never failed me. The nights have been long at times but in the darkest of nights He gave me quiet strength when I couldn’t imagine how anything could work out for good. He eventually brought me into a spacious and lovely place that I couldn’t have concocted for myself.

I wonder where I’d be now if I hadn’t been called out of my own darkness into His light. I would, no doubt, be grasping for my own way, my own rights, my own success, my own pleasure. I might be marching amongst a throng of women, feeling unfairly treated and denied “privileges” due me. I admire strong capable women who know how to get things done. God knew, when He created woman, that she would need unique strengths for many situations, especially in bearing  and nurturing children, that were very different from the strengths of man.

However, a downside to demanding and grappling for happiness is that we are, by nature, near-sighted and can’t see the entire picture. I’m grateful to be safely in the spot God has identified for me. After  following Jesus for nearly fifty years, I’m convinced it’s the rather upside down way to really get the life I always wanted. A life of real purpose, with deep meaning and tangible transformation. A happy life, I’ve found, is not equivalent to a life without pain. A fulfilled life is one with a mixture of joy and sorrow because the difficulties make us more complete; more like Jesus. Thrown in are the most meaningful and treasured human relationships that I’d ever hope to have.

One of my favorite verses is  For in Him all things were created; things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17).

 

 

 

 

Lucky in Love

Lucky in Love

801a0656” A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.”

Thirty-one years ago this month something wonderful happened. Tom Freshwater promised to love me exclusively for a lifetime! Sometimes it still seems too good to be true. He said no to other women and yes to me. Actually he said yes to my two children and me! Instantly a family of four was born. He jokes that he married me for my money and I did so for his body. I had about $178.00 in the bank and he weighed all of 134 pounds right after a big meal.

Most of our anniversaries were low-key celebrations. Last year, however, we decided to celebrate in a bigger way. It didn’t seem like the most sensible time. We were in a rather precarious phase financially since Tom was in between jobs. I became emboldened — it was even more important to acknowledge our gratitude in these circumstances. Rather than a formal catered dinner we’d host a covered dish supper at our house, and invite our friends for a 30th Anniversary-and-Vow Renewal celebration!

A friend commented to Tom and me how lucky we were to have such a relationship. I’ve thought about that a lot and it leads me to writing this post. I guess the word luck could be used loosely to say that we found each other at the right time and we were “lucky” to have a lasting marriage. But I honestly think luck had very little to do with it.

When I scan the years in my mind, I remember things like this: there were many sleepless nights. My daughter, who was five at the time, has severe cognitive deficiencies. We spent many nights taking turns staying up with her when she wouldn’t fall asleep. Because she wasn’t able to communicate appropriately she’d cry and screech for unknown reasons. She’d  flail her arms, stomp her feet, and make all sorts of gestures in frustration. It makes me sad to even think about it. Sad for her and for what our family endured.

Another memory is of the painfully long hours Tom invested in his first job. It was quite a distance from our home, and if he wasn’t at work he was on call 24/7. His schedule was not conducive to a happy family life. We were exhausted and barely crossed paths. I often felt that we needed to get reacquainted all over again. It was hard to know what roles we played in the family at times. I often felt numb.

There was the serious accident in his first place of employment. I received a call from the company, “Your husband has been run over by a fork lift; he’s alive, but he’ll probably lose his legs.” I am not kidding. The co-worker who called meant no harm, and tried to be helpful by informing me. It may sound odd or even stalwart on my part, but I distinctly remember that I was filled with gratitude, thinking, “If he’s alive we’ll make it!”.  After securing help for the kids, I quickly jumped in the car and raced to the hospital. The ambulance arrived at the same time, blaring its siren. I’ll fast-forward and skip a lot of emotions. He did not lose his legs and recovered after enduring great pain and rehabilitation.

Through thirty-one years there were the family deaths, the surgeries, the daughter’s seizures, the miscarriages and the temptations. There were aggressive staph infections, the unexpected bills, the home floodings and leaks requiring very long months of repairs. There were the financial and emotional burdens of traveling to assist beloved family members in need, unexpected job loss, and other extremely hard stuff of life. Golly, I’m feeling depressed thinking about it.

But the joys were woven in, intermingled as treasures! Two more children—a family of six! The kid’s unique home birthday celebrations, all the Christmas traditions, memorable trips, the laughter and rejoicing in answered prayers. Through it all there has been deliberateness. 1) The moving toward one another, in physical proximity and touch, even when you don’t feel like it. 2) The unspoken determination to never mention the D word or entertain the idea of being separated.  3)  Putting each other first, even when everything in me wants only MY way. And, 4) “I love you” spoken many times a day. “Thank you for marrying me!” is also standard fare in our conversations.

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Then and now

As I write this today, we’re in a place of stretching and trusting. Even in the difficult times we’re closer and more in love than thirty-one years ago. There’s no one I respect more than my husband. Oneness has grown continually— there is a palpable feeling of hurting and rejoicing for the other as for ourselves.

We revelled in our vow renewal, not because we were lucky and life was perfect– we celebrated because we endured and we chose and we loved. The difficulties spurred us on and grew us up and highlighted all the happy times. It’s always by God’s grace and choosing each other every day, not luck, that gets us where we need to be.

Marriage is worth it ya’ll.

What if We Could Live Our Lives in Reverse?

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

-David Bowie

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

Perhaps we’d have come to realize that:

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

When Home Staging gets Personal

When Home Staging gets Personal

What if you suddenly walked out of your home, never to return? What would your loved ones find? 50312342_l I speak often these days to baby boomer clients about all their stuff, and what in the world to do with it?  We were endowed with rare treasures from our parents and grandparents. Chosen to be  caretakers of priceless antiques. “Keep these pieces in our family,” they said. I’m constantly saying to my clients and to myself,  “Stuff is only (monetarily) worth what someone is willing to pay for it.”

I’m not speaking of the items that have special meaning to us—things we can’t live without. Like my grandmother’s rings. But how much do we have that doesn’t fit that category? We live in a different world from our ancestors. They bought a few good things and kept them forever. The generations coming after us buy lots of bargain stuff and use it up. We boomers are in the middle; having been endowed with all the valuables and having nowhere to relocate them.

This all came back to me again when I was asked to look at a home recently vacated. I stepped inside and took a look around. It seemed as if the homeowner had just left to run an errand. Clean dishes in the dishwasher, cups by the coffee maker ready to fill with a fresh brew. Drawers brimming with silverware for table setting, family photos all around, green plants that needed water, books half read– this place was full of life. A life interrupted. I learned that, sadly, there was a rather sudden diagnosis and an abrupt departure to family in another city.

You can tell a lot about a person when you’re in their home. This one was full of love. So many treasured antiques. Updated colors and decor here and there. Lots of chairs on the sun porch for lots of people. She had staged her life for living and comfort; not for selling. Did she even know what was happening in her home? I felt like I was invading her privacy; but kept reminding myself that I was there to help.

I’d been asked to come in and identify certain items that could be kept in the house for staging purposes. My single motive was to hasten the sale of her home.

This experience was poignant for me and I knew that it wasn’t just a job. It was another opportunity for me to grow in my understanding of how stuff affects our lives; my clients’ and my own.

Looking ahead to a probable move from my home, I’m challenged to think judiciously about everything. Do I really use it? Need it? Love it?  No more saying, “I might need it some day.” Would I buy the item today? Many times the answer is “No!” But there is that endowment effect. The feeling that the thing is a part of my life and I’m responsible to care for it and see that it has a good home. This process starts the moment we acquire an item. It’s hard to let go after it’s in our possession. Especially for us baby boomers. Funny how our minds work.

Hopefully we’ll all live happily into our nineties! But, life is uncertain. What can you do today, as far as your stuff goes, to prepare for the future? Would your life be lighter and more enjoyable with fewer things weighing you down? Let’s edit out even the good in order to be left with the best. If everything is important nothing is important. Preaching to myself!

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”

Hans Hofmann

How to Help Grieving Friends

How to Help Grieving Friends

6946253448_0413828369_cI’ll be attending two funerals this week. I want to be there to support their loved ones in the most difficult of times. Tom and I have each lost a parent in the last couple of years and I remember the kindnesses shown to us while our grief was fresh. I’ve learned from others how to encourage grieving ones.

When my mom passed away two years ago I was surprised how much little gestures affected me. A simple text, a voice mail, a comment on social media; all these efforts meant so much. One friend left a message that she really wanted to talk with me. Knowing her, I knew what she meant. She wanted to give me an opportunity to talk. Another just commented in a text how special my mom was. She’d known her back when we were in our early 20’s. Just a quick comment, but heartfelt. What I have learned is this- just do something. Don’t be a perfectionist. Don’t feel that you must have the right words. Don’t use some flowery super-spiritual words about how God “needed” him or feel that it’s your responsibility to offer an explanation.  Don’t feel you have to make a meal or even buy a card, although those things are great! Instead of doing nothing, just express your concern. A friend once told me that she felt comforted when I said, “I’m so sorry”, while she was in  a difficult place. Sometimes that’s about all we can do, and sometimes it’s enough.

Here are some ideas that have been meaningful to us:

  • Offering food  “I really want to bring some food over. Where should I deliver it?” Said in such a straightforward manner, it is really hard to say no, especially when it fills a legitimate need. There is nothing wrong with saying, “Let me know if I can bring food” or “Let me know if I can help”. I’ve made these statements many times myself when I didn’t know what to say or do. However, I think it takes an emotionally strong person to ask for help.  I’m now trying to boldly say what I’d like to do for the ones in need. Just picking up a few snack items and drinks from the store is immensely helpful. Even getting to the grocery store is difficult while managing grief and difficult decisions.
  • Gifts of green plants  Our friends brought us a beautiful peace lily. There is something encouraging about a thriving green plant. That plant makes me happy.
  • Sending a card  We were surprised and deeply touched by the people who sent cards. A friend from years past sent cards to us when each of our parents passed away. It was so meaningful to me that she would take the time to do that. A note is always appreciated, but even just a signed card means so much. Sometimes I think people may not remember a card in the mail, but I know we do!
  • Showing up  There is something about having someone physically be there for you. Touch is tangible comfort. The people who waited with us at the hospital and all the friends and acquaintances who attended the funeral, we will never forget. Also, it’s never too late to visit or drop in on someone. They will still be thinking about their loss, and will value you for thinking of them at any time.
  • Text messages and phone calls  The quickest and easiest forms of communications shouldn’t be discounted. The messages Tom and I received in various forms were so encouraging and meaningful.

We have such an amazing ability to encourage each other. I’ve learned that even simple actions mean a great deal at just the right time. And I’m thankful for my real life examples that have helped me to be a better friend in times of need.

Computers make me cry

Computers make me cry

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Change and growth are painful at times, but they are imperative. What hard things are you facing that make you want to give up?  What God-given Purpose looms for you? What ideas and dreams permeate your thinking and your life?

I’m pondering these very questions and determined to face and overcome my own hurdles!

A few months ago, I made some new friends. They were all younger than me and they had matching shirts. The first night hanging out went well. A nice, patient young man helped me make some big decisions.

These people are really smart and I realized there was a lot for me to learn; and they all seemed to be bilingual. I first noticed this when a tall, nice looking guy spoke to me across a counter.  Our eyes seemed to lock, or maybe it was just that my eyes became completely glazed. Anyway, he said something that sounded like, “Your ‘smpt’… blah blah blah…and your incoming mail… blah blah blah… and your outgoing server… blah blah blah is not compatible and will not interface with the new system…blah blah blah…and basically you made a big mistake creating files for your inbox…blah blah blah…”

I calmly (like a zombie) said to him, “I’m sorry;  I don’t speak that language; I’ve been trying to learn it for years, but I’m still having trouble understanding and I have no idea what you just said.”

I spent over a week with my new “friends”, visiting them every evening and regularly speaking to Jamie, James, Daniel and the whole gang on the phone every day.  I imagined that we would be celebrating Thanksgiving together at my house in a few weeks.  We were all getting so familiar with each other. It was not the way I like to make new friends. It was way too forced and stressful. My situation was unique and more difficult than most. I think they were trying to tell me that I was special.  I even told one of them- I think it was Daniel, that having me there would prove to be a very good training for them. “It’s good for you to spend time with me because there are a lot of others out there like me. “I know they were glad for my encouragement.

I came close to giving up; I almost resigned myself to writing on a yellow ledger pad and talking on the phone instead of emailing. Could I survive without a computer? I was seriously pondering this question. My parents, years earlier, had eschewed computer technology, which I didn’t get at the time. Somehow they survived. Now I was beginning to understand why. It is too hard, it’s not intuitive, and I felt like screaming.

But, instead, I started to cry because that was quieter and less disruptive to all the friends. I got away before the tears were very obvious. I made a decision. I will go forward and get whatever help I need to learn the new things and the hard things and not find myself lost and behind. It’s the way our whole world communicates, for Pete’s sake. And here I sit writing this post on my fancy new laptop. There is a ton on it that I still don’t understand or have set up properly, but there are helpers out there! I learned that from the friends in matching shirts.

Now, the geek squad and computer technology may not be your Achilles’ heel. But we all face hurdles as we move ahead in life. What steps are needed today to bring you closer to your goals and purpose? Today take one small step in the right direction. Baby steps. No one else can play your part.

“She was unstoppable, not because she did not have failures or doubts, but because she continued on despite them.”

Beau Taplin  Unstoppable