Blindly Going

The year was 1980 and I was en route to my OB/GYN. You will think this odd, but I always looked forward to my regular appointment.

I found out I was pregnant with my second child at about the same time my husband decided to leave our marriage. It was not something I ever imagined going through and my pain was almost unbearable.

In the doctor’s pretty and quiet waiting area, I would sit in a comfortable cushy chair. I’d pile up as many magazines as I could gather on my diminishing lap, and hope the wait to see my doctor was extra long.

Back home in my little 900 square foot house my dear friend was watching my two-year-old little boy along with a set of twin boys, also two, and about three other kids, depending on the day.

I certainly had very little time for reading at home. There was no extra money to buy magazines so I perused as many as possible while I enjoyed having a babysitter. No matter what the exam entailed, the appointment was a break for me.

I’d opened a small daycare in my home to support my family. Having taught public school, including kindergarten, I was familiar with the art of childcare. My wonderful friends helped me by transferring their kids from other daycare centers and placing them in my care. It was an extremely difficult season but one where God’s grace shone bright.

All of these memories flooded into my thoughts a couple of months ago when I decided to take a walk across the Lake Murray dam in Columbia. I wasn’t really dressed for a warm four mile walk, but I happened to be in the area for a job with a client, so I couldn’t resist.

I began the walk along the concrete path and looked across the water which appeared to have no end. Instantly, the endless water triggered thoughts of that earlier time when my future was an endless scary blurry unknown —when going to the doctor was the highlight of my week. I’d been in a season of looking out over my life having no clue what was ahead; or how anything would turn out.

I would soon have my second child and I couldn’t know then that my daughter, Dawn, would have severe cognitive deficits. Her lack of appropriate development and need for constant attention would add a very difficult and complicated challenge to our little family’s life.

On my way to the doctor visit that morning so many years ago, I heard God speak clearly to me. Not audibly, but just as certain— I saw a picture in my mind. I was praying along the drive there about my life and how in the world was I going to make it!? As clearly as could be, I heard God speak that I was going to be fine because I was planted on the Rock. That I hadn’t built my life on shifting sands. These words referred to a familiar scripture (Matthew 7:24-27) and the message was simple enough.

It was just what I needed to hear that morning in order to keep going. One step at a time; one day at a time.

Earlier, when I was a teenager, I’d established continual communication with the Lord through the Holy Spirit. Diving into God’s Word had become a consistent habit in my life. In the darkest times, truth and hope became congruent and magnified during my desperate need for guidance.

Abraham traveled, by faith, to a land he did not know (Hebrews 11:8).

As a young woman with a toddler, pregnant and alone, I also saw myself going blindly into an unknown land. I continued to trust in the truths that had been spoken, and persist in the hope that I’d one day have a decent life. In case I sound emotionally “strong”, let me assure you that I felt very weak. There were so many times I felt like I couldn’t change another diaper, or survive another tantrum or comfort my daughter through the night when morning would come so quickly. That I’d never be able to enjoy a so-called normal life. But I also recognized the Holy Spirit coaxing me to keep going (without seeing).

I’m only telling you my story to encourage you, no matter what you’re going through. The great thing about living more years than some of your friends (a nice way to say “being older”) is that your retrospection is longer! I look back now with joy deep down; so grateful for my life. I couldn’t see this clearly years earlier; it’s taken me many years of closeness with Jesus to come to this place. So, don’t give up, my friends! I believe there is more good ahead for you, too. I am truly fine! And I believe you will be fine, too. In the meantime, keep pressing on and keep building a close relationship with Jesus. He’s the friend that sticks closer than a brother.

Just this morning, my long time companion, Oswald (Chambers) told me this:

“If we are going to live as disciples of Jesus, we have to remember that all noble things are difficult. The Christian life is gloriously difficult, but the difficulty of it does not make us faint and cave in, it rouses us up to overcome. Do we so appreciate the marvelous salvation of Jesus Christ that we are our utmost of His highest?”  

(July 7 entry from “My Utmost for His Highest”)

“Gloriously difficult”– sometimes he makes me laugh, but he speaks truth! Carry on, Beloved!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Me

I found a little bit of myself today.

I’d been planting a small garden in our yard. Not “officially summer” and already 97 degrees! Into the soil that I’d mounded high went large rocks and flowers from Lowe’s. And the big chunks of beautiful granite, quartz and other natural pieces of earth we found scattered around our yard when we moved in. So I incorporated them into the “design”. Actually, I kept adding stuff with little rhyme or reason. I stuck a “birdbath” in the center — a terra-cotta saucer atop a plant cage. The birds love it!

The only considerations were: flowers had to be shade loving and deer resistant. I’ve since learned that deer-resistant is a bit of a misnomer since our deer neighbors are not that predictable. We are living in their “home” after all. I keep hoping they’ll get lost before they traipse through our yard in the wee hours!

That familiar sense of “me” happened when I tossed two old colorful flowered pillows on the cute white wooden swing.

I found the swing at a popular resale store in Columbia. Tom built a frame for it and hung it in our yard. After the pillows landed, my eyes darted to a little yellowish pot that I’d picked up on trash day—I added it to the scene.

Most of my life I’ve had to pinch pennies so it’s kind of natural for me to use what I have instead of going out and buying something new. It’s fulfilling for me. I think my penny pinching ways are partly from our frugal parents and partly a necessity I learned when I was a single Mom and didn’t have two nickels to rub together.

Anyway, something clicked today. For one of the first times since moving here I remembered how I love to stage and decorate by using what’s at hand. And, of course, I enjoy shopping for home stuff when I need something, too! I don’t dumpster dive only. LOL

I’ve had a lot of sad moments in the last year-and-a-half. If I’m honest, a lot of sad days. Never ever did I want to leave our home of 30 plus years; that my husband mostly built with his own hands. I expected to live out all our days there. Here’s a link to the back story! Moving

But God had other plans as He sometimes does. We Christians may seem a peculiar brood in a lot of ways. We live by faith.

 The path we walk is charted by faith, not by what we see with our eyes. 2 Corinthians 5:7

We don’t make our life choices according to what we naturally desire at the moment. We inquire of God and act on the way we believe He’s leading.

A few years ago, my husband, Tom, was in the market for a new job. After months of praying together for God’s plan to unfold, it happened. He was invited to interview for a position in a hospital in Columbia, SC.  God knew we’d much prefer to stay in Wilmington, (I told Him often enough!). But after the interview, Tom received a job offer so swiftly that it made our heads spin! We came to know and firmly believe that moving to Columbia was what God had in mind for us.

So here we are in South Carolina. Tom has a job he absolutely loves! I’m still adjusting to the house, yard, neighborhood and people. Still missing our niche in Wilmington. I constantly remind myself that we’re here for purposes we may not fully know. Come to think of it, that’s also true of life in general!

What I mean when I say that I found myself is this: I’ve gotten out of the habits I was so deeply invested in. Having family over for Sunday dinners. Getting together with girlfriends and neighbors. Having friends to dinner or hosting parties for all the occasions. Serving folks in my Staging and Organizing business.

I realized when I tossed those pillows on the swing that the way I’m wired hasn’t curled up and died. My gifts for gathering people and warming up our home so people will feel loved and welcomed. This is who I am. I just haven’t known how to be that person in a different place.

Even when it’s difficult I’m determined to be intentional about fulfilling the roles God’s designed for me. Even here. Tonight our neighbors are joining us on the porch for watermelon and conversation.

I hope I can encourage a sister by my journey. We all have stories; each one unique. Mine may presently seem simple compared to those of deep suffering. But, for now, this is my story and my struggle, simple as it may be.

Have you experienced loss or change that’s caused you to misplace yourself? I’ve been surprised to find that it’s hard to replicate myself in a new community. People have been most kind; but it’s not easy to make friends with people who are rich in life-long relationships.

Let’s encourage each other to keep our eyes on the Prize! If we’re breathing, Jesus isn’t finished with us. Let’s be faithful to the life He’s designed for us wherever we find ourselves today!

 

 

All The Married Ladies

 

 

“Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing…

 

Whatever people say, the state called ‘being in love’ usually does not last. If the old fairy-tale ending ‘They lived happily ever after” is taken to mean ‘They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married,” then it says what probably never was nor ever would be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love.

Love in this second sense — love as distinct from ‘being in love’ — is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be ‘in love’ with someone else. Being in love first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. it is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.” C. S. LEWIS

Why do we get married? Isn’t it because we desperately want to be with the other personbecause we can’t live without him? What happens when the feelings change?

Have you ever been in a dimly lit restaurant and you notice that couple. A woman and man each bent over their phones, the glow of the screen casting a soft light on their faces as they scroll through images. You say to yourself, “Yep they’re married!” Or conversely, you spot a couple playfully touching, chatting easily and demonstrably,  and in your head you think, “Definitely NOT married!”

What’s wrong with this picture?

If that’s what the marriage relationship looks like in public, what about your behavior towards each other at home? Not the Instagram shots; but the real life you share behind closed doors. I don’t know about you, but I want a long happy vibrant fun marriage. I want people to wonder if we’re married when they see us. Sometimes when we’re walking, holding hands and laughing, I imagine folks looking at us and saying, “Look at that cute old couple; they must have found each other on Silver Singles.

This week I read about a 100 year old woman who’s shared 82 years of marriage with her husband who is 103. When asked their secret she offered, “Just be nice to each other.”

Wow, how simple but profound! What is your “nice barometer” registering? What people are you typically nicest to? Which ones garner your complaints and your bad attitude?

I think it’s pretty common for us all to let our guard down among those who make us feel safe. And what a good thing to have safe people in our lives!

But, I’ve noticed over the years, that it’s not expedient for me to share every feeling or gripe with my dear husband, especially if he’s the focus of my wrath.

Honestly, it’s pretty embarrassing to think that I had to log a lot of married years before I figured this all out. I once thought I needed to tell him everything! I learned to start asking myself, “Is this offense important enough for me to even mention?” It’s helpful to think of intentions. Overwhelmingly, I can attest that Tom has good intentions toward me. Maybe there was a slight oversight in judgement or he was in a hurry and didn’t make the same decision I would have made. I imagine that most spouses aren’t intentionally malicious.

And that brings up another important point! Who creates the standards for what’s right and wrong in the thousands of tiny choices we make daily in our married life together. I now realize (finally) that I thought I was the expert on all standards! Subconsciously I assumed I was always right.

I heard a podcast the other day when the woman being interviewed said this: “I thought our becoming one meant that my husband and I would become like me!” I laughed because that’s precisely what I thought without even realizing it!

Where is improvement needed in your marriage? Are you able to take the virtual log out of your own eye (Matthew 7:3) so you can see the sawdust in your husband’s eye? I know it’s obvious here that I’m preaching to myself. Why does another’s irritant come into such clear view when my bigger offenses go unnoticed (by me)?

Is your marriage worth fighting for? We fight for and sacrifice for our friends and our children.
We champion the causes of needy groups of people we don’t even know. We may even virtually get in peoples’ faces on Facebook and argue for specific causes. Do we ever put up our dukes and fight for our marriages?

We throw elaborate parties to celebrate our friends. How can we celebrate our number one person? Marriage is about choosing the ONE. There is only space for ONE top priority.

Have we thoughtfully paused long enough to put our phones down; to listen with a smile? Are we willing to set aside whatever matter has our immediate attention and cheerfully greet hubby each day?

Do we spontaneously offer a loving touch or words of appreciation? Do we “speak” to him in his love language even if we’re not naturally fluent?

If I’m honest, I’ve oftentimes acted more kindly to strangers than I have my husband. All along it’s my husband; my number one person, that deserves my utmost care and attention.

Long ago I learned that I’m completely lost and inadequate without Jesus. As a Christ-follower I depend on Him for every single thing in my life. When Jesus left the earth, He sent His Holy Spirit— the Helper— in order for us to know how to live. He reminds us of Truth and guides us. Just like in all the other areas, we need Him in this marriage venture. I’m convinced, with Him, marriage can be the most glorious companionship on earth.

 

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

Matters That Matter

It was a good morning! At first light my coffee brewed as I journaled and enumerated my “gifts”.

#1,491-great hike with Diane and Jim.

#1,492-Abigail’s sweet wedding

#1,494-FALL!

All mornings don’t begin like this. I hate to think how many mornings have started with my choosing to click on that little multicolored camera icon. Before I know it, 30-45 minutes have disappeared. And what have I to show for that squandered time? A really cool quote for my journal and several times feeling like I’m not as young, clever or known as I’d like to be. More often than I like to admit I’ve dragged a discouraged attitude into my fresh new day.

But today was different. With my trusty sidekick steaming in my favorite pottery mug, I wrote, prayed and read my devotions for the day as well as chapters in the Old Testament.

I walked four miles, listened to uplifting music and thought how much lighter I feel when I start the morning this way.

Walking helps me clear my head and think about the things that really matter.

There is a part of me that would like to climb up on the old soapbox and tell you what I think about all the craziness in our world today. If I did, my voice would only heighten the loud cacophony all around, in which it is hard to distinguish a true voice that matters.

Interestingly, a synonym of cacophony is the word babel. Our world today and the Tower of Babel Biblical event are not without comparison.

There are harsh angry sounds coming from hoards of people. Some of them loosely invoke Jesus’ name. They like to tell us what he stands for and what he would do. Anyone who is championing one people group and crying out murderous threats toward another does not represent Jesus Christ.

“For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” Luke 19

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3

Jesus loves the entire world — not just certain humans. His desire has always been for everyone to know Him and live with Him forever.

I worked as a nanny for several years and simultaneously became part of a wonderful family. I love them so much to this day. When I began, I quickly learned that when it came to some key values, we didn’t share the same world view. I had to discipline myself to reserve opinions on occasion, because I like to discuss things I’m passionate about.

That five year period became an opportunity to revisit my deepest core beliefs. I held them up to scrutiny; placing them on one side of the scale and those of my new family on the other side. I weeded out, best I could, acquired “truths” that weren’t really biblical. Even though I know God’s word and have followed Jesus continually for nearly 50 years, some traditions or mores can tag along with Bible Truth and become standard thought.

Over time, I came to a new excitement about my beliefs and how beautifully they have played out in my life. It’s hard to put these things into words.

I’ve heard that a person whose task it is to identify counterfeit bills, learns by intensely studying authentic dollar bills. In the same way, we study God’s Word so we’ll recognize the counterfeit thoughts when they come along.

Looking back, I realize that I made an intentional choice to read and meditate on Scripture. Most often it was out of a desperate need to know Him. A realization of my deep need to be enveloped by Him.

In some seasons, I set the alarm to wake before the kids. When I was single mom, my study time was usually during the kids’ sleep time. It always takes effort and creativity to accomplish what’s important.

My hope is that it will be important enough for you to take a look at your schedule and carve out the time. EAT HIS WORD daily, before the interruptions and noises begin. As Christ followers, we need it more than food. Let it find its home in the depths of who you are.

“Live in Christ Jesus the Lord in the same way you received Him. Be rooted and built up in him, be established in faith, and overflow with thanksgiving just as you were taught. See to it that nobody enslaves you with philosophy and foolish deception, which conform to human traditions and the way the world thinks and acts rather than Christ.”  Colossians 2

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).