Where is Your Focus?

Where is Your Focus?

I asked God for a word that would help me accomplish His plans for my life in 2020. The word, Focus, came to me, oddly enough, during the Total Strength class at the YMCA.

I recently became a Y member and joined the dreaded Total Strength class there. I say dreaded because I’m not a gym person and I don’t like to be uncomfortable. I enjoy walks, hikes and bike rides. Most anything other than being inside a big building with strangers who sweat, grunt and watch themselves in mirrors.

I couldn’t conjure up any valid excuses to keep from going. It takes me less than ten minutes to get there and it’s free because of….um….my particular stage in life. I knew I had to improve my health and strength, so I begrudgingly went.

The Total Strength class was going fairly well until we began the lunges. The instructor gave us emphatic directions: “Do not let your knee go beyond your toes; find a focal point in front of you. Do not look down. “Where your eyes go your body will follow.” My dilemma as a newbie: How do I insure my knee is situated correctly while simultaneously looking straight ahead?

I would glance down quickly to check the toes and knee situation and nearly tumble over. I was surprised that I found it difficult to keep my balance. I also lost balance when looking at other people. But when I kept my focus on a certain dumbbell in front of me, I was steadier on my feet.

Where your eyes go your body will follow kept coming to me in the fitness class and also at other times. I began to think of a similar concept I’d read in an article. It came from the world of auto racing. Drivers are taught that there is a natural tendency to fixate on danger while driving at a high speed. Danger, such as a concrete wall near the edge of the track. They’re trained to go against their tendency to focus on what they fear, and instead focus on where they want the car to go. Every instinct may be to look at the threat— but they must force themselves to look past it. They must train themselves to look straight ahead; not behind or to the side of them.

When we look straight ahead we are still able to notice important things in our peripheral vision. But those things are not as important as our forward vision, and don’t require our full focus.

In our daily lives if we focus on peripheral issues we may lose sight of our main goal: following Jesus. When we focus on the negatives, or even on other people’s lives, we may veer off our course with Him.

Keep your head up, your eyes straight ahead, and your focus fixed on what is in front of you. Take care you don’t stray from the straight path, the way of truth, and you will safely reach the end of your road. Do not veer off course to the right or the left; step away from evil, and leave it behind.

Proverbs 4:25-27

This verse helped me so many times when I didn’t know what to do next. I desperately try to keep my eyes focused on Jesus so I won’t be distracted by scary, seemingly impossible scenarios around me. The verse especially brought me courage during my years of single parenting two children, one of whom has autism and severe intellectual disabilities.

God doesn’t assure us a life without difficulty, but He clearly tells us in Scripture that He loves us and will always be with us, no matter what we go through. Keeping our focus on Jesus may seem a vague idea, like it once seemed to me.

Here’s what it looks like for me now:

  • The moment I wake up, about a million thoughts fill my mind— many are worrisome and fearful. I’ve trained my mind to immediately imagine a huge banner that reads: JESUS, which unfurls and covers my negative thoughts. Peace comes.
  • I grab my coffee and begin to read my Bible and devotionals. As I think about the verses, I often journal what the Holy Spirit shows me. I read aloud, which was awkward at first, but I enjoy it now because my voice drowns out the aforementioned distracting thoughts.
  • I give God praise and acknowledge that He is first place in my life.
  • In whatever commitments and activities I find myself in, I ask God to guide me as I work. As people’s names and needs come to mind, I pray for them.
  • I’m careful about where I give my attention. I read books that encourage me in my various roles and I listen to podcasts and videos that teach me. Time is limited. I don’t always need to know the latest secular scandal or political drama.
  • I keep a gratitude journal where I’ve listed nearly 2,000 gifts over several years. Reviewing that list of “gifts” is one of the most encouraging tools I’ve ever used!

My friends, let’s focus on growing closer to Jesus. Let’s keep less important issues and worries in the peripheral where they belong. As you keep Him in first place, I promise He will be faithful to you! I’ve experienced His faithfulness for 50 years!

Prayer for a New Year

 Heavenly Father,

This New Year came abruptly, like a tagalong unexpected guest to a party; eyes full of anticipation and wonder about the future. It caught me unawares. It’s wide-eyed face looked at me as if to say, “What will your offering be in this fresh New Year?” I’m slow to catch on. I find myself still wandering around in the old year working on the lessons I began there. I’m not as excited about a new year as I usually am. I want to be dazzled by the new number and the new decade but it hasn’t hit me yet.

So I come to you Lord, humbly, again offering myself completely to you. I don’t have it all together, but this is what I do know:  You are my everything. I am nothing without you. I fervently long for your will to be done in my life so that I will bring you glory in this bright and shiny New Year.

Thank you for calling me out of darkness into your marvelous light. Thank you for being my life.

Thank you for the many gifts you’ve given me.

The sunrises, sunsets, the ocean roar, glassy lakes, the sky high evergreens, close family ties, sounds of laughter, the chubby baby hands, tight hugs from loved ones, the birdsongs, eyesight, legs for walking, hands for working and my spirit that melds with  yours.

I worship you Lord! I hallow your name!

As I remember your lifelong faithfulness to me, I trust you and yield to your loving hand.

My mind is cluttered with the cacophony of words and images swirling around. I pray for clearer and sharper focus this year. I no longer want to concentrate on unimportant things. I want to focus only on things that concern me; the roles you’ve designed for me.

I’m glad for the inspiration and insight from other peoples’ stories, but, Lord, please help me to not camp out in their lives. Help me to stay in the story you’re writing for me.

You knew all the days of my life before there were any. You’re the author of my story.

I desperately want to grasp every opportunity you give me; to not miss a moment of what you’re doing in my life. Help me to sign up for the opportunities you’ve designed for me and to be savvy about the ones that are for someone else.

My desire to know you grows stronger and stronger as the years whiz by and I grow older.

 Help me to always be a learner and for your Word to be the fabric of my being.

Father, I want to be riveted to you—my face set like flint.

Help me not to fear the unknown and unseen. It’s all known by you.

Lord, help me not to worry. Nor to dread the future. You are already there.

Nothing is accomplished by worry but precious time lost.

Help me to bring my wandering thoughts into captivity; to limit their space to roam.

You’ll never leave me.

You gave me the amazing gift of your Holy Spirit to be with me through the hard unknowns. To comfort me when I’m hurting and to empower me when I’m weak. The same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead!

I love you, Lord!

Amen

 

 

 

 

Meaningful Over Perfect

Meaningful Over Perfect

My gene pool generously blessed me with an extra dose of perfectionism.

In case you think perfectionism is a positive trait, it’s not. It’s a disposition that regards anything short of perfection as unacceptable. Basically it means you’re never quite satisfied with what you create or achieve.

When Christmas season came along, my mind used to obsess over every component for the perfect holiday.

The Perfect Christmas would include a classic family photo sent to 100 of our closest contacts. We’d host our annual Christmas party, and create teacher gifts for our four children’s multiple teachers. I was determined to include Advent readings, Advent candles, neighbor gifts, friend gifts, the five big boxes of gifts mailed to loved ones far away. I’d buy multiple presents for our kids, including the many small ones for stockings.

I would speed through it all and finally sit down to enjoy our decorated fresh fir… after the holidays. I was overwhelmed with sadness when I realized I’d missed some priceless moments that were gone forever.

Honestly, the activities were meaningful, but they needed to be toned down. I needed to prioritize the truly important aspects of Christmas–to somehow move from gluttony to grace.

Life happened and settled me into my rightful place. One year we asked a neighbor to snap a picture of all six of us posed on our swing set. (Why didn’t my husband stop me?) In the pre-digital era, I imagined a perfect family photo as I waited days to actually see it. I opened the CVS envelope and my idealistic little brain was jolted. I almost tossed it in the trash. 

This photo brought me to my moment of epiphany. It showed exactly who we were at that point in time. A dutiful husband who’d complied with my wishes, me sitting on the see-saw, smiling with my eyes closed, a teenager who clearly wanted to be anywhere else, a silly little towheaded boy who wouldn’t smile, but could make the craziest faces, a compliant sweet little girl with reddish blond hair, and a daughter with autism, who was probably the best behaved. It was awful. Believe it or not, I actually sent that picture. I included my Christmas epiphany about receiving Jesus, the Perfect Gift, even in our imperfect state.

Another Christmas found us in The Middle of Nowhere, Tennessee. We’d made a difficult but important trip from coastal North Carolina to western Tennessee for precious time with a loved one. Heading home on Christmas day, we found ourselves at dusk in a very bleak area. We seemed to be the only car on the entire highway. I panicked when I realized we had nothing to eat. No restaurants were in sight, but we were happy to find an open service station. We bought peanut butter  crackers and something to drink. I became meaningfully aware of the first Christmas. What did Mary and Joseph eat for dinner? Certainly not the abundant fare we Americans enjoy. I guess it more closely resembled our humble cracker meal.

I’d thought to bring stocking gifts along for the children. As we settled into our room for the night, our kids happily tore into small presents while sitting on motel beds. I can still feel their excitement over such a small thing. It’s always been one of my favorite Christmas memories.

My heart longed more and more for meaningful rather than perfect.

As years went by, it became harder to get the family together for a picture. I learned that any card would do. Another year I decided not to send cards, and Christmas still happened. Then there was the Christmas when our downstairs furniture was in a POD because of a recent flood. Underfoot was sub-flooring. We sat on the floor with blankets. We didn’t even buy a tree. However, we robustly enjoyed our favorite tradition, The Stocking Hunt.

The Stocking Hunt began when our kids were young. My husband, Tom tied a long string to each stocking, hid the stocking, and handed the children the empty end of the string. The string would take them on a wild goose chase through the house and outside to finally come to the other end and claim their filled stocking. The younger the child the easier the hunt. Through the years, they found stockings in the fireplace, the laundry, the bathtub and even trees.

As years have passed, what has naturally evolved is the most fun of all. The stockings have been set aside and the games have progressed to serious physical and intellectual competitions. There’ve been football throws, BB gun target shoots, immersing your hand in a tub of ice, blowing a ping pong ball while crawling, quizzes with historical facts, athletic teams, musicians and so much more.

Why do I share our tradition? I want you to have a meaningful (albeit imperfect) Christmas, too. Isn’t that what you long for?

Why is perfectionism not the answer? Because it left me frustrated, exhausted, dissatisfied, and unaccomplished. And all the while I missed some truly momentous experiences.

I finally realized that Christmas is about more than the doing and buying and going. It’s now only eleven days before Christmas and my list is starkly different than my Christmas to-do list from the past. I’ve yet to bake or wrap or send cards. Years ago this situation would have freaked me out. I’ll get the necessary things done eventually. In the meantime, I’ll ponder the true Reason and look forward to being with loved ones in Wilmington. I’m so excited about starting Eliza and William on our Stocking Hunt. Also, I’ll enjoy serving opportunities that will bless the truly needy and deserving instead of just blessing the blessed. The years have taught me to have grace for myself. I may even send New Year’s cards this year!

“Christmas is a season for kindling the fire for hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.”

Washington Irving

The Miracle of the Open Door

The Miracle of the Open Door

“Most of all, love each other steadily and unselfishly, because love makes up for many faults. Show hospitality to each other without complaint. Use whatever gift you’ve received for the good of one another so that you can show yourselves to be good stewards of God’s grace in all its varieties. 1 Peter 4: 8-10

Crispy green celery sticks stuffed with crunchy peanut butter. That’s what I remember from the meal. They were delicious. I don’t recall what else we ate because, I guess, it wasn’t that important. What I DO remember is the way I felt. My close friend Barbara had again welcomed me into her home; to her table. My respite. On this particular night another friend joined us, also. I don’t remember where our kids were. Maybe they’d eaten earlier? I believe Barbara’s husband was out of town, but I’m not positive. She’d prepared the meal and put our heaping plates before us—but the sustenance I took in was far more than food.

“Share what you have with the saints, so they lack nothing; take every opportunity to open your life and your home to others.” Romans 12:13

Everyone needs a meal when the stomach is hungry. But there is so much more to the open door and table than the food we eat. I was hungry for peace. In her home, I could relax and breathe.

I brought no contributions to the table other than my familiar companions: shock, deep sadness, and fear, to name a few.

The memory of the food served has vanished. But I can still see myself sitting at that table in that kitchen, in that neighborhood in Mobile, Alabama. I don’t think I talked about my problems. But just being there, enjoying a change of scenery and watching life actually going on around me. That’s what helped. To hear, “Pass the salt”, or to talk about a new recipe or the weather was consoling. To know that everyone’s life hadn’t stopped just because I felt that mine had. Somehow I was surprised that those things helped.

Minutes before I arrived, I’d felt such heavy darkness and despair in my own little home, only five minutes from Barbara’s. Hopelessness was smothering me.

The hopelessness dimmed when I crossed the threshold into her warm home. My circumstances hadn’t changed but engaging with others took my mind off of my despair long enough to think about other things.

My husband had left days before. Or maybe it was weeks. He walked away from my young son and me. He walked right out of our door. But not before he reminded me to bring the garbage cans in because a hurricane was coming. *

I was pregnant with our second child.

It would take me years to recover from the horrendous experience that began when he left.

Thus this story of the “the open door” and its impact on my life. I credit Barbara and others for giving me a love and passion for the ministry of hospitality. I truly hope you’ve experienced serving others this way. And I hope you have received biblical hospitality. I really hope you see how valuable it is.

Hospitality can look like sitting on the sofa sharing coffee or a glass of cold water. It can be ordering pizza and eating on paper plates. You could offer hospitality in a coffee shop or on a park bench. When you have the time and inclination, you can also create a nice home-cooked dinner and serve it on your favorite plates.

THE FOOD IS NOT MOST IMPORTANT. NOR IS THE PRESENTATION. Your kindness, your willingness to give of your time to engage and listen; that’s what’s important.

What if a full laundry basket overflows on the sofa? That’s okay. Now your guests know you’re a normal person in the middle of a busy life. They may even offer to fold! I can promise you if the friends or strangers in your home are tasked with helping you out, they will feel more relaxed and welcomed. If you have it all together or seem too perfect, they’ll be less likely to invite people into their homes, especially you! Show them that they are important enough for you to hit pause on regular chores. I intentionally made a point of having people in our home during major repairs and construction. The times when the refrigerator was shoved across the room, or when we had huge holes in our sheetrock and sub-flooring was under our feet.

I’d be completely lost without God! He’s my Hope; His Holy Spirit helps and comforts me.

WE are Christ’s Body—His hands and feet. We are the ones with doors and tables and food that encourage other folks around us.

Jesus saved me. Hospitality and His Body brought me life.

We are made to be WITH, not alone. Nothing feels worse than loneliness. We need each other, especially in the tough times!

Why do I  share my story from so long ago? It’s good for me to remember. I want to keep fanning my own flame of hospitality as well as yours.

Let’s step out of our comfort zones and connect in a meaningful way with someone new. Let’s be on the lookout for someone dying to know the love and acceptance we’ve experienced.

“Share what you have with the saints, so they lack nothing; take every opportunity to open your life and your home to others.” Romans 12:13

*I hope to never dishonor others while being transparent about my life; my former spouse later regretted his actions and we were eventually on good terms.

 

 

What I’m Learning About Love

What I’m Learning About Love

Clearly, learning to truly love people is not an assignment that will ever be checked off my to-do list. It’s a lesson I’ll still be studying on my last day.

Here are my thoughts so far.

As I’m taking my early morning walk down the familiar path … I look ahead to see a woman walking towards me. Another person I’m supposed to love. “Ugh … Lord, please help me to love all these strangers!” “No worries”, He says. “You don’t have to feel love for them—you just have to act like you love them.” Oh yes, now I remember the plan:

Look into her/his face. Smile big. Say good morning in my happiest voice. If she/he starts a conversation, listen intently and make a kind reply. Repeat…

Many years ago the book The Renewed Mind, by Larry Christenson marked my life in a unique and lasting way concerning how to love people. In my loose translation, the author says we believers are to put on (wear) fruits of the Spirit. Then, by faith, God will make a permanent change in our hearts. It’s a collaborative team effort. Christenson says we build a form and God fills it. As an analogy he describes the wooden form that a carpenter builds to hold a cement foundation. After the cement is poured, it hardens. Then the temporary form isn’t needed because the concrete is permanent. The wooden frame is a picture of our role in learning to love. I don’t have the power on my own to make myself loving; but I am capable of going through the outward motions. Then God, in His infinite power, pours himself into the habits (frame) I’ve erected, creating a permanent solid foundation of love. The temporary frame (acting like I love) can be discarded. This is really a picture of our sanctification; changing to be more like Christ.

The book continues with a great analogy—it’s one I’ve recalled many times since I first read the book.

“Sarah” lives beside a very annoying woman. Similarly to me, she wonders why she can’t be patient and love her neighbor. She begins her “form” with a board called listening. It doesn’t matter that the neighbor never listens to her; she begins patiently listening to her neighbor and getting to know her. The second board Sarah adds is prayer; she begins to pray for her neighbor’s family to be blessed. Thirdly, Sarah offers to do something nice for her neighbor, even though her neighbor wouldn’t think of being nice to her! Maybe she’ll take her a small gift or offer to help with the children. The last board needed for Sarah’s foundation is kind comment. The other neighbors are just as repelled by the neighbor as Sarah is. Sarah, however, decides to drop into conversations, true and kind comments about their annoying neighbor. The nails that hold that frame together are called faith. We need faith to believe that all this stuff is possible. That it’s not a crazy futile exercise. We have to believe that as we’ve practiced loving acts, God will fill them in with His divine love.

Over my many years I have seen amazing things happen after I’ve taken the steps to act in a loving way. Many times Tom and I have hosted small groups. Sometimes I wasn’t excited about the prospective members because they looked old, boring and maybe a little difficult to be around. Only later did I realize that most of them were younger than me and not only were they not boring, we’d even grow to appreciate the ways they were different from us. Time after time Tom and I became close to people that were very randomly grouped together; we looked forward to being with them. We actually cared for them and loved them. A miracle!  Sometimes it’s fun to watch how God will bring folks together instead of trying to orchestrate a group yourself!

I’ve learned so much, also, from C.S. Lewis. He shares in a slightly different vein about LOVE. Discussing the teaching of hating a bad man’s actions but not hating the man, he says,

“It occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this my whole life—namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been any difficulty about it. In fact the very reason I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the  same way in which we hate things in ourselves; being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again.

Mere Christianity

I can’t wait to have a conversation with that man in heaven!

I’d really love to hear your adventures in learning how to love people!

Don’t Quit in the Middle

Years ago, around the time I was birthing babies #3 and #4, I quit right in the middle of a sewing project. I’d imagined how cute my gray dress would be, after perusing the gigantic pattern book and choosing the perfect one. I’d purchased the fabric and cut out the pattern per directions. Then I quit. I accomplished the easy and fun part by the impetus of my imagination, but quit right when the project became difficult. I felt terrible about my(frugal)self when I finally tossed that pretty gray fabric, already poised to be a stylish dress. My approximate expenses were $7.00, three hours and weeks of self-degradation. It was a failure; but not exactly a life-altering one.

Some quitting, however, produces dire results.

Awhile back I took a sweaty walk around “the loop” at Wrightsville Beach. I started to think of this subject of quitting. As I walked, I recalled a recent conversation with a friend who’d just retired. She said, “I wonder if I should have retired earlier; our time together is just so precious.” I looked at her, a bit shocked, replying, “Precious? I remember when your marriage was anything but precious…that season when awful things occurred and your marriage was hanging by a thread. When anger and hurt permeated your days”. I wanted to be sure she knew how profound her choice of adjectives was.

Precious: Of great value or high price. Highly esteemed or cherished.

We both teared up. We realized that it was by God’s Grace and their commitment to their vows that they now had more richness than they could’ve imagined; more than seemed feasible.

I was still dripping in 100% humidity as I continued my walk, still pondering the earlier chat with my friend. She and her husband could have quit in the middle and the fallout would have been devastating, causing ripple effects in the family and community. But they didn’t quit! I’d seen her smile and sensed her contentment—tangible fruits of righteousness.

One caveat: I understand that some marriages are not salvageable. I experienced a divorce in my early twenties, after trying everything in my power to keep it together. I then became even more passionate about the importance of fighting for marriage.

Statistics show that most couples who come to the brink of divorce and then decide rather to work on their marriages, actually become much happier in later years than they once were. Sometimes we have to navigate pain and struggles before we see the sweet fruit!

I thought of my Tom. We’re so happy and in love. But there have been many times when, behind the smiles on our faces, there was anger, hurt and resentment. Those years I wrote about earlier when we “passed like ships in the night” Marriage is So Much Trouble. When intimacy was a job to check off the to-do list. The times when I had unhealthily learned to “turtle” as Bob Goff likes to say. My natural response was pulling away—head in, tail in, arms and legs in. And I thought myself “nice” because I didn’t outwardly express anger. Then I learned that silence and withdrawing are just as negative a response.

 And if one person is vulnerable to attack, two can drive the attacker away. As the saying goes, “A rope made of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12

I’m convinced that the reason we didn’t give up and quit in the middle of our marriage was because of the Three Strand Cord. We have been able to stay true to our covenant with each other and with God because He has always been at the center, closely wrapped around us, even and especially in the hardest times. When life was anything but fun. When the dreamy days of flipping through the pages of a bridal magazine were replaced with poopy diapers, poopy bathrooms, tantrums, cleaning, an angry child, constant cooking, predawn sessions begging God for grace to survive, and finally, another 24-hour day was completed. The season I learned to take one step in the right direction and to not stop. To say one more kind word and reach out with a gentle touch when I just wanted to be held and comforted myself. Some days, weeks and even years were so hard to bear that it’s painful for me to remember now. But the gift of growing older is to see a broader clearer perspective. To see that He really was faithful and He really had a plan all along. And all the not-quitting was truly worth the sacrifices.

We got married to be together. For better or worse. Guard your heart. Guard your eyes. Put on love. One touch here. A kiss there. A kind word. Love is made up of lots of little decisions. Let’s wear LOVE like a coat. Let’s wrap our SELVES completely in it.

Since you are all set apart by God, made holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a holy way of life: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Put up with one another. Forgive. Pardon any offenses against one another, as the Lord has pardoned you, because you should act in kind. But above all these, put on love! Love is the perfect tie to bind these together. Let your hearts fall under the rule of the Anointed’s peace (the peace you were called to as one body), and be thankful. Colossians 3:12-15

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