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

Better a Neighbor Nearby

“Better a neighbor nearby than a relative far away.” 

It’s been nearly a year now since Shari invited all the neighbor ladies over for a party at her home. A party to say goodbye to me. I wasn’t the only one in tears that night. Honestly I was crying a lot last year. I didn’t want to move from our home or our neighborhood. But we knew God was pointing us in the direction of South Carolina, after a job offer had been made.

Twenty-six years earlier, Shari had greeted me with these words as I walked past her house, “I want to have a baby shower for you!” At that time as well, I was touched and honored. True to our neighborhood, the ladies came to Shari’s en masse, arms loaded with pink curly beribboned packages. As we sat around the cozy family room, little one-week-old Katherine was passed from mama to mama with all the oohs and aahs you might imagine. Shari had even crocheted a pink blanket for our baby girl.

Shari was the neighbor I really wanted to get to know over thirty years ago. We were busy women; she with three kids and me with eventually four. We’d hurriedly greet each other; she while entering her back door and me as I ran in and out of my front door. She always seemed to have her life together—she was continually planting something or painting something or engaged in a myriad of activities. I wasn’t sure if she needed or wanted another friend. Even that long ago, the neighborhood friendships were pretty well established and I didn’t know how we’d fit in.

There was no texting going on in the late eighties. One day I picked up the telephone from its base on the wall and called Shari to see if I could borrow some sugar. First of all, I needed some for the cookies I was baking. Secondly, it was a great opportunity to break the ice with my neighbor.

A cup of sugar here and there, neighborhood gatherings, chatting in the yard between houses, laughing together, sharing broken hearts and enduring long illnesses and deaths of neighbors who’d become like family. Those were the bricks gradually and carefully laid one atop another over a long span of time—forming a structure called friendship. After Shari became single and our kids were all grown, I’d occasionally ask her to share a meal or I’d walk over with a plate of left-overs. We’d take walks together and meet at restaurants for a late lunch after her pre-school teaching was over for the day. We’d go to movies and events; and she’s the one I’d call first when I needed a ride to the airport or the mechanic. I’d smile really big when I opened the front door to find a couple stalks of broccoli, some tiny just-dug red potatoes and long skinny green onions. I always looked forward to that little garden coming to life —I’d never seen someone have such success in a small plot of ground as Shari did.

A friendship doesn’t happen overnight. First someone has to make a move. Then come conversations with an emphasis on listening; hopefully many conversations; then you’ll become involved in each other’s lives. Finally, if everything goes well, the relationship will become meaningful and encouraging to both parties. The best friendships don’t need a lot of emotion to begin; just someone to take the first step. That step may eventually lead to an important relationship that you can’t imagine not having experienced.

You may say, “That’s all very well, but you don’t know my next door neighbor!” True; but just consider what your next step might be.

God tells me to first love Him and secondly love my neighbor as myself. Sometimes we just need to ask ourselves, “If I were that person next door in the same situation, how would I want to be treated?”

“Therefore, you should treat people in the same way you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets.” 

Now, I’m preaching to myself as I’m again connecting with new neighbors. Beginning is the hardest for me. With God’s help, I’m choosing to say yes to opportunities even when it’s uncomfortable.

Maybe today you’ll look at your neighbors through a different lens; they aren’t there by mistake.

“We make our friends, we make our enemies, but God makes our next door neighbor!”

G. K. Chesterton

 

 

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

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Back in the Saddle

Back in the Saddle

In our new neighborhood we have a lovely walking path that I’ve referred to as “hilly” and “good for the legs”.

Last week I took out an instrument of torture on the lovely path— the instrument I formerly referred to as my bike.

The lovely hilly path was today, Mount Mitchell, NC, as far as my heart and legs were concerned. Any pretense of fitness on my part vanished in thin mountain air.

My legs fatigued oh so quickly. How long had it been since I’d been in the saddle? Apparently quite a bit longer than I’d remembered!

As I huffed and puffed up the mountain  incline, in second gear, I was comforted by three thoughts.

  1. I know how to gear down and ride very slowly.
  2. I know how to walk the bike.
  3. If all else fails, I have my phone for a 911 call.

Then, I started to realize how my maiden bike ride parallels my current life story.

I’ve been permitted to gear my life down as I am gradually adjusting to our move and big life transitions. To be less busy and move at a slower pace. To focus on deep and important things; investing time in relationships with people and God. I may appear to be covering less ground, as a lower gear indicates, but, sometimes the progress is deep and unseen by others. Considering what I’ve acquired from this time, I have no regrets.

Even at a slower pace consistency creates momentum. “Slow and steady wins the race”.  One walk and conversation with my new neighbor. One letter written. One invitation for lunch to a single woman I’m getting to know. Baby steps count. Momentum becomes progress. Progress encourages me to keep going. Eventually my confidence is strengthened. I know I’ll fulfill my purpose if I keep going in the right direction. There will be habits and character created that will be with me for the long term. As I avoid obsessing over results, the results will happen.

I identify with Oswald Chambers’ take on purpose:

 “We have no right to judge where we should be put, or to have preconceived notions as to what God is fitting us for. God engineers everything; wherever He puts us our one great aim is to pour out a whole-hearted devotion to Him in that particular work.”  “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might”. Ecclesiastes 9:10

I can call for help when I need it! We lived in our home in Wilmington for so many years; longer than any other place. It has been very hard for me to adjust to not being there. When I think of going home I still think of that house. There will always be a map in my heart that leads to that special place.

Sometimes I need to share my feelings, however awkward I may feel, with another person. I’ve been encouraged countless times by loved ones who’ll listen and empathize. Life is never meant to be navigated alone! We need each other. I’m adapting to our new home in Columbia and I have joy and anticipation—knowing it’s God’s plan for us to be here. I couldn’t have done it without the support of people who care.

My husband says after about ten more bike rides, I’ll laugh at how difficult my ride was. I’m not looking forward to checking those off my list! I wonder, will I also laugh one day at how difficult the move was for me? We shall see! His point rings true.

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” – Confucius

 

 

 

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. 

 

 

More House Sap

50’s kitchen

“Our house was not unsentient matter — it had a heart and a soul, and eyes to see with…. We never came home from an absence that its face did not light up and speak out its eloquent welcome — and we could not enter it unmoved.”

Mark Twain

Thinking back over my life I realize I was never one to get attached to a house. That is until now.

Virtually my entire  childhood happened under the same roof. My parents brought me home to our little ranch when I was about one year old.

Growing up I didn’t know how deprived I was! We had one tiny bathroom and each room in the house was also quite small. The house was my home; my normal and it met all of my needs. Things like houses were different in the sixties.

As I entered adolescence, and my sister and I became more interested in peers, daddy took it upon himself to “close in the carport” and create a den. We’d have a place to gather friends. He’d work nights and weekends to get the project done; in his own time and own way. Looking back now, I can see why friends wondered if it was a house trailer.

At the time I thought we were moving up; adding a fancy den with indoor/outdoor carpet to our home. After the add-on our house was a whopping 1700 square feet! Huge.

I left that home to enter college and eventually marriage. I had fond memories of my home, but the future was where my heart was coaxing me.

Then, there was the little house that ultimately became a sad place for me due to an unwanted divorce. I loved that house and the way I creatively made it a home. It was the cutest 980 square feet you’d ever find. (Smile) But the pain from that era was all too close to the surface and I moved on.

Next came a long string of rental houses in another state. These included a mobile home. I was working full-time to support my little family. Over the years while I was at work, my friends moved me multiple times. (That reminds me; I need to remember to thank them for that!) I was in survival mode those years and guess I didn’t fully realize how much was done for me.

I came home from work on the day the mobile home became my home. Barbara walked me to the bedroom window and pointed to a small retention pond—a low spot that collected  rain water, in the woodsy area. She pulled back the small curtain and said, “I put a chair here by the window so you can look at the water!” Her whole heart was encouraging mine.

All those rental houses were pretty easy to say goodbye to. Although there was that nice upscale house that had a swimming pool and just happened to sell right after I arranged furniture and hung pictures on all the walls. That one was a little hard to leave.

But now we are planning a move from the house we’ve raised our family in for 28 years.

I can’t look at the stairs without seeing Christmas garlands and decorations. In my mind’s eye I still see the kids sliding down on sleeping bags and other paraphernalia.

The dining room table speaks of celebration to me.

I love to open the front door into our foyer— it gives me that sweet happy anticipation upon entering.

I recall Tom and John side by side, building our deck. John had his own pile of scrap wood that he’d add nails to with his child-sized hammer.

This house…our home…it will not be forgotten. I’m convinced, even through my fears, that the feelings of sadness and sentimentality will give way to pleasant memories; just in time to create new ones in our next home.

“Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

 

Strength Training

Strength Training

Clearly no one desires difficulties in life, but I’ve heard lots of folks say that they’ve benefitted from the challenging experiences they’ve lived through. I know I have. I can look back and see how my character was honed through the trials  in my life.

Peter Marshall tells us,

“When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.” 

Growing stronger spiritually and emotionally  parallels with strengthening our bodies.

“When properly performed, strength training can provide significant functional benefits and improvement in overall health and well-being, including… improved joint function, reduced potential for injury, increased bone density, increased metabolism, increased fitness, … etc.”  Wikipedia

I keep thinking about lifting weights and doing planks. It’s a shame that my ruminating hasn’t strengthened my body one iota. I’ll develop  habits for awhile, then I get busy or bored and the routine flies out the window. That kind of exercise isn’t fun for me. It takes effort and pushes me beyond where I’m comfortable. I like my comfort.

When I was growing up I was always riding my bike or walking. I never thought of it as exercise. It was my transportation. We weren’t a particularly athletic family. I got a message from my parents that if something is hard you should quit. Don’t take risks. Stay safe. Stick with what’s easy on your body. Don’t “overdo”. Rest.

Physical strength training is crucial and I know it’s something I need to incorporate more into my life. Now, however, I’m focused on the stretching and strengthening of my faith muscles. I’d prefer lower impact training that allows me to follow my familiar routines–to find my way around in the dark when I need to. I want to grow as a person; as a Christ follower, but I don’t want the growth to be painful. Always to love more and emulate Jesus, but not to make major changes. Such as looking for a place to live amongst strangers, in a new area; while losing the secure place I’ve lived for so long.

Apparently God likes change. He seems to plunk us down in strange uncomfortable circumstances where life doesn’t flow naturally and easily. And maybe we can’t even find the toothpaste.

I think of the great heroes of our faith who gave their lives to pave the way for us. The patriarchs, the prophets, the disciples, as well as modern day leaders. Why shouldn’t I be pushed and prodded beyond comfort to attain greater depth and purpose? When did I get the idea that growth is easy?

My dear parents loved routine so much. I would roll my eyes and say to my daughter, “Please help me stay flexible and not get stuck!” Here I am, totally understanding how they felt. I’m not as rigid with daily schedules, but, inflexible about moving? Yes, same.

So that’s what has me lamenting today. The tension between comforting sameness and change which will undoubtedly bring desired growth. Prayers are often answered in ways we didn’t imagine when we prayed, “Please change me, Lord”. “Help me to be more loving— to be less selfish.”  Thus, the transitions that have unwittingly come upon me.

Today I’m thankful for the still small Voice. The One who never fails. I sense Him saying to me to take a step in the direction I know to go. I won’t “feel it” yet, but as I go it will eventually become more and more natural. Stay focused on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. Consume the Bread of Life; the Word, like my life depends on it because it does. Spend time with caring like-minded friends.

I recently heard someone say, from a cross-training perspective, when you’re exhausted you’ve used 40% of your capacity. A similar truth can surely be applied to our emotional and spiritual selves! I now know that our muscles, whether physical or otherwise, will not strengthen without going beyond the comfort zone. I still have 60% of my potential remaining!

Many men owe the grandeur of their lives to their tremendous difficulties.

Charles Spurgeon

 

 

 

 

How to be Strong

How to be Strong

I was feeling weak and vulnerable. Awake most of the night, I was anxious about house-buying decisions and transitions; then dragging around in a fog early the next morning,

When I showed up to take care of Eliza, Mary and John read my expression. Sharing with them briefly through my tears, and hearing their responses eased the pain.

I began to see some things differently in the light of day. I recalled the times I wish I’d asked for support; when I swallowed hard and acted strong and together. It wasn’t arrogance that caused me to appear unruffled and unemotional. I believed my stalwart demeanor was expected and even required. Everyone has challenges and no one wants to hear me complain about mine, I thought. I was self-conscious about my labored droning on and wasting someone’s time.

I never set out to be the strong one.

When I was a single mom of two young kids I pushed my emotions down deep inside. It was my responsibility as the care-giving parent to keep it together. I was worried that my son could be harmed by my debilitating emotional pain. I was the sole provider, working two jobs at times. I wanted to show him what I knew to be true: that God is a good Father and He would see us through.

My daughter with autism was ultra-sensitive to other’s emotions, and reflected what she perceived. I was extra vigilant when around her (and still am!) as her expressiveness could be very difficult to corral and manage.

Recalling my childhood I don’t remember ever talking about feelings. The unspoken message was to be quiet and good. We knew our parents loved us unconditionally, but it wasn’t exactly in vogue to share feelings.

Once while walking with my friend Cynthia, I casually mentioned how hard it had been staying up all hours of the night with Dawn who couldn’t get to sleep. It was an ongoing problem for years. It became routine; Tom and I would take turns staying up to keep her calm and try to coax her down to bed, sometimes not getting her to sleep until daybreak. It was horrible! Cynthia stopped abruptly and said she’d always wondered why I’d never complained about raising my special daughter. She didn’t know how I’d kept it together.

Another clue that I was holding it all inside.

I remember a pastor discussing what it’s like to have a broken heart. Without warning, I broke down in a way that I’d never done in the past and haven’t since. I hurt so deeply inside and couldn’t quit crying. Every memory demanded my attention. That very day I’d had such  difficulty managing Dawn’s behavior so I could attend church. I cried so much that morning, experiencing such pain but ended up feeling freer somehow.

When my sweet mom passed away a few years back, so many griefs from the past seemed to tag along right beside the recent grief and loss. I promptly felt the pain of an earlier divorce, of raising a cognitively disabled child who needed constant attention and raising a son without his father. As I looked back, I actually felt sorry for that girl who endured so much pain and wished it could have been different for her.

Evidence of storing the pain away.

Recently, days apart, I bumped into two acquaintances from church. In each case, when I asked, “How are you doing?” each indicated that she was doing terribly. One began to cry. I felt grateful for honest answers! I really cared. I like to pray specifically for folks. The Lord used them as examples for me. I realized that there are people with whom it’s okay to cry and talk about my distress.

I still haven’t figured all this out but I want to be better at being honest. To not stuff emotions until a meltdown occurs. But to look at things in my life and take risks to share my burdens with others. I’m glad to do that for friends and I know there are folks who’d do the same for me!

I’ve begun to see true strength in a different light. I’m strongest when I’m transparent and honest with others and allow them inside my pain. To let some light in.

Bear one anothers burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

Be happy with those who are happy and weep with those who weep. Romans 12:16