The Best Christmas Gifts

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When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things – not the great occasions – give off the greatest glow of happiness.”
― Bob Hope

 

In 1979 I celebrated my first Christmas as a single mom. This was not a status I sought or ever dreamt I’d experience. But I had to make the best of it. In my care was a precious toddler son and a baby in my belly. I’d say that I had more time than money. But time wasn’t really that plentiful—to make ends meet I daily cared for five additional children in my tiny home. Time available still out-weighed the money, I guess. I took stock of materials I had and created gifts without spending a dime. I think I was most proud of placemats I made for my mom. I’d been given red calico fabric which I quilted and covered the edges with red bias tape. My mom loved them!  It’s hard to imagine taking the time to do that today! I had embroidery thread and cloth to stitch so I made my dad a cross-stitched framed picture of a deer. Probably not the top of his wish list, but I’m sure he appreciated my effort! I remember making lots of ornaments from fabric remnants and baking treats, probably chocolate chip cookies. Those were difficult but memorable days. It’s funny when you think about what things are most important and the gifts that are most special.

Christmas season 2015 had me harkening back to the old days. Again, I decided to make all of our presents. I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that I had a wonderful time creating with materials I had on hand.  I think I had more fun than the recipients. Maybe not a stellar year for them, but fulfilling for me!

These days I almost don’t recognize myself. In years past, on December eighteenth, I would have been scurrying around, frantically shopping for the perfect gift for everyone on my list. This year I’m embracing imperfection in all of its glory. I’m not getting everything done that I’d like to do. Grace  is what I’m giving myself. I’m savoring the moments and saying yes to things I would have avoided in earlier years, because they interrupted my progress. This year I’m counting my gifts–experiences that I wouldn’t have seen as gifts before.  Here are some personal favorites:

  • The annual Christmas Talent Show hosted by our daughter’s Group Home is my all time favorite gift. Dawn has autism and severe cognitive disabilities. Each year she wears a red shirt and refuses to wear a festive hat. Every year she holds bells in her hand because ringing them is her part in the show. Every year she carefully, systematically holds them still, so as not to ring them. We watch with raucous laughter and cheers. The Beethoven of the group plays four or five notes on the keys with one finger and spends more time taking his bow. The quartet “sings” with the biggest smiles you can imagine. Then, Santa appears!  The folks jump up from their seats to give him the biggest hug ever. As you watch their interactions,  you know Santa is real!
  • Senior project presentations by the Occupational Prep class at a local high school. I’m amazed at the knack my daughter has with these kids. I was moved to tears by their stories and the hope I have for their future! And I almost said no to her request to come! It was cold and dark, it was on Market Street, I felt out of place and I wanted to stay home. I’m so grateful that she persisted!
  • Spending time with our first grandchild. Pondering the significance and blessing of bearing children and knowing and enjoying our children’s children. What a gift.
  • Going through all of our coats and blankets and donating extras to the homeless shelter.
  • Making financial donations to people and ministries who are doing the work. They are truly the hands and feet of Jesus.
  • Enjoying the new clients I’ve met in my Tranquiliving business during the holiday season. One lady is ready for her children to join her for Christmas because of my help. Another will be hosting a party for her friends since we conquered the paper piles together! Everyone has a story and they’re all important!
  • Christmas music!
  • Gratitude for our grown sons and the way they love their wives.
  • Our daughter’s upcoming marriage to a great guy that God chose for her!
  • All the notes and cards from my husband while he’s working in another city. And for our thirty-one years.
  • Too many more “gifts” to count. Writing these stirs up my gratitude!

If you find yourself out of ideas and time, here are a few suggestions:

  • Send a note with an offer to treat a friend to lunch or coffee after the holidays.
  • Post your Christmas card on social media.
  • Mail a card or send a text affirming your appreciation and love for a friend.
  • Offer to babysit so a young couple can have a date.
  • Pick up a gift of coffee, tea, a plant or candy at Trader Joe’s.
  • Offer to help a friend wrap gifts.
  • Help a friend with post Christmas clean up.
“Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”
― Calvin Coolidge

Lucky in Love

Lucky in Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Then and now

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

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

Marriage is worth it ya’ll.

How to Have a Grateful Heart

img_5977“To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.
Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.”

-Thomas Merton

 

It’s fall ya’ll! Is there a more beautiful season? In the south we’re grateful for the slightest “chill” in the air. We don’t have the array of the mountains’ colors but we get excited about the maples and other hardwood trees that put on a show for us.

What makes November such a special month? Thanksgiving, of course! And my personal favorite, our wedding anniversary. We’ve such happy memories of being married on Thanksgiving weekend thirty-one years ago. Coming together with the extraordinary people in our lives for Friends-giving. That a single mom of two in Mississippi and an unmarried guy in North Carolina could find each other without the internet is something to celebrate. To be more specific, I was a mom of an eight-year-old boy and a five- year-old daughter with autism and severe cognitive delays. I worked two jobs for a time. I would teach pre-school in one town and then drive to a church in another town where I was Director of Daycare and Kindergarten. It was important to have food on the table every day. My life is so much happier now in comparison that I almost forget how difficult that season of life was. The miracle of finding a man who truly loved me and my children was a dream come true.

Through the years we’ve attempted to set apart November in its entirety; to give thanks for our personal blessings as well as for the great country we were born into. When the children were young we’d always read stories and  remember the first Thanksgiving celebration in 1621.

So far we’ve img_5577waited until after Thanksgiving to commence the Christmas decorating. It’s becoming more difficult! With all the commercialism around the holidays, it saddens me that the celebration of Thanksgiving has been nearly obliterated. I always think of Thanksgiving as a gift of rest and contemplation before the madness begins.

Giving thanks on a particular day is one thing; being thankful each day of the year is another. Gratitude is an intentional choice for me. I’m a thinker, feeler and analyzer, often spending too much time in my head. For me to actually be grateful it was necessary to establish a habit of writing specific items down. I’d planned to do that for years, and what finally got me on track was the book by Ann Voscamp, “One Thousand Gifts”. I began numbering each line of a  journal my friend Harriet gave me. For instance: 687. My neighbors, 688. Summer storms, 689. A perfect wife for John! 690. Fellowship and supper with girlfriends at Whole Foods, etc.  After a few years of this practice I’m up to nearly 2,000 “gifts”. There are tiny things and huge things. Whatever comes to mind. And, you cannot imagine how inspiring it is to look back and see all the wonderful things that have come about by God’s grace. I didn’t realize that my gratitude journal would become a diary of my life. I’m so glad I did it and I hope I can encourage you to also start making a list!

“You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me! I sing for joy because of what you have done. O Lord what great works you do!” Psalm 92: 4-5

 

Hurricanes and Other Storms

Hurricanes and Other Storms

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I started writing a blog post last week, but somehow I couldn’t get excited about describing emotional trauma caused by mountains of clutter in a home I’d visited. While I was writing, something happened–Hurricane Matthew. I kept imagining mothers in Haiti hovering over their babies while the winds were sweeping away their flimsy homes. My mind was scrolling through images I’d either seen or imagined.

I experienced my own angst as I heard the familiar scary howling sounds in the pitch darkness just outside my walls. I’ve lived near the coast my entire life and gone through many storms. Night is most difficult because you can’t see what’s happening right around you. I recommend Benadryl for these occasions. I was caring for an adult daughter with severe cognitive challenges and a very sweet mother-in-law who has her share of memory issues. When the lights went out I consciously spoke in soft sweet tones trying to keep my charges “happy”. I kept reminding myself how fortunate I was to live in a sturdy brick house.

Nearly a week after the storm, the images keep coming through social media, I’ve had to fight feeling overwhelmed. I hurt so for the victims. How can I complain about hurricane inconveniences when others have suffered much more in comparison? As I was praying for the ones hurting and also for my own heart, God reminded me that I’ve weathered my storms, and others have weathered their own. We can’t determine what storms we’ll encounter. Only our Creator  knows what we’ll face. “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) God is sovereign —”He is before all things and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17)  What I can control is the way I respond to what comes my way. I’m not helping the Haitian people by worrying, but I can help in a small way by supporting the efforts of people who are serving. (http://samaritanspurse.org) And I can pray.

As I sorted through all of this in my mind, I recalled other storms in my life. Hurricane Frederick is the one I associate with becoming a single mom. My little boy was nearly two and I was pregnant with my daughter. I never planned to “single parent”, but sometimes those storms come along as well. I remember the winds whipping up as I dragged all the garbage cans, chairs and flower pots to safe storage.

I remember that my little boy, Ben, and I moved in with our friends, the Beavers. We ended up losing power for many days and the short distance between our houses was blocked; huge trees littered the streets. Neighbors brought thawed food from freezers and cooked on grills. We disinfected the water we’d saved in the bathtub by adding Clorox. We lived with our friends for at least a week or so. The closeness to loved ones balances the memories of painful realities in my life at the time.

A baby shower for Kathy had been planned during the time of “Frederick”, which of course, had to be postponed. When Renee hosted the party a few weeks later, it took on a festive hurricane theme!  Cynthia, the cake decorating genius, created a disaster themed cake; broken Twix candy bars became strewn trees.  We rearranged the art on the walls in a lopsided fashion and turned decorative pieces over as if a wind had blown right through the home. We agreed to use no lights, only candles and kerosene lamps. And……Spam was on the menu! Spam became an undesired symbol of the hurricane during the aftermath.  It’s amazing how creative you can get when you’re hungry!

Just one week ago, this house, belonging to our friend Grey, was torn in half by a large oak tree.  Amazingly, he was spared from harm— dashing from his bedroom as he heard the tree coming down. God’s love in the midst of the storm. Writing has helped me to recall difficulties I’ve come through and most importantly, God’s faithfulness. I take comfort; knowing He will likewise be faithful to His other hurting children. I’ll keep donating drinking water to our North Carolina neighbors and help however I can.  And I’ll remember to let go of things outside of my control, which is nearly everything.

“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” 

Haruki Murakami

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Hospitality is a Good Idea

Why Hospitality is a Good Idea

img_7521When I was a single mom, a long time ago, my two children and I shared a home with my friend Nancy and her twins.

Next door to us lived an elderly man and his wife. The husband was so friendly, always with a huge smile. We invited them over a time or two, just to be hospitable. I remember that he would say over and over again, “My wife and I want to have you over for a visit some time, but we have to get the house cleaned up first.” We’d say, “okay”, but somehow I knew it would never happen. His outward appearance and even the exterior of their home seemed bent on perfection. I could tell that his home would never measure up to the standards he sought for guests. It saddens me when I recall my former neighbors and the folks who’d have gained much from knowing them.

It also saddens me when clients tell me they hide when they hear a neighbor knock at the door. They’re afraid they’ll be evaluated and come up short. I believe, on the other hand, that people are more comfortable in imperfect homes.

Clients have told me that they avoid “sterile” homes of relatives because they can’t relax. They’d constantly be afraid to track in or spill something. It’s a lie that neighbors have “perfectly together” homes. Unless the home is more like a museum and no real living goes on.

I’ll never forget the times I ran to my best friends’ homes, in the most difficult seasons of my life. More than once I dragged my two kids along and invaded Barbara’s family meals and celebrations when I needed the comfort of family. They welcomed us into the fold as if we were kin. My favorite memories happened in homes. We had real conversations and relationships went to deeper levels. I always felt encouraged.

Here are some tips for welcoming folks in~

If someone shows up at the door without notice:

  • Kick the clutter out of the pathway and welcome them with a smile and a glass of water.

If you have a little notice before someone arrives:

  • Have your front door/porch area neat and inviting.
  • Keep your home tidy and clean enough. No toys as tripping hazards, or piles of dirty underwear in the entrance. You can stuff clothes in the laundry or closet if you need to temporarily.
  • Place dirty dishes in dishwasher or the sink so the counters are clear.
  • Cut some greenery or flowers from your yard and stick in a jar or vase on the table, or  pick up flowers from Trader Joe’s.
  • Light a candle near the entrance.
  • Turn on lamps— use lighting for warmth.
  • Have fresh fruit in a bowl and maybe popcorn or snacks.
  • Offer something seasonal such as pumpkin spice tea. If you’re really inspired, bake something with a wonderful aroma!
  • Quickly swish the toilet and wipe counters and surfaces.
  • With a big smile, greet your people at the door.
  • Do not apologize about your house and point out all the negatives,
  • Focus on them! Let them know you’re happy to see them and you care about them.
  • If the air is chilly, offer a throw.
  • Just enjoy your time together. Do you realize how valuable a listening ear is? I am forever grateful and changed by the friends who have listened.

“Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!” Hebrews 13:2

“The ornaments of my home are the friends who frequent it.”  Emerson

How to Stage your Home When You’re Staying Put

How to Stage your Home When You’re Staying Put

IMG_8087I love helping folks stage their homes when they are selling. Staging makes an enormous difference.

I also enjoy helping clients stage to stay.  If you are living in your home— as opposed to marketing to prospective buyers— your home should tell your story.

I have been privileged to be invited into many homes since I launched my organizing/staging business thirteen years ago. I’m honored and humbled that clients would invite me into the most private —and sometimes most embarrassing— part of their lives.

 

 

Observations I’ve made when visiting homes:

  • If a house is hidden behind overgrown shrubs and trees it says, “Go away”.
  • A dirty or cluttered entrance is not welcoming.
  • Most people don’t know the best way to arrange furniture.
  • They do not have a specified purpose for each area.
  • Pictures are hung too high or incorrectly.
  • Traditional design principles are not embraced.
  • Clients are stuck with old furnishings that currently don’t work.
  • They have been talked into purchasing furniture that does not meet their needs.
  • They make an erroneous assumption that a container of some sort will make them organized.
  • They plan a costly and expansive construction project thinking  their problems will be solved.

Tips for making your home truly yours:

  • Create areas for conversation so that you can look another person in the eye when you’re chatting. Don’t line the walls with furniture.
  • Every little spot does not need to be filled. Empty space is restful for the eyes.
  • Decide what is the main purpose for each area or room. Do you play games, visit with friends, read or watch television? What furnishings are needed?
  • Think creatively when choosing pieces of furniture. Repurpose second-hand items to suit your current needs.
  • Don’t get bamboozled by impressive ads of expensive pieces that look like they’ll solve all your problems. Make shopping decisions based on your own unique needs.
  • Choose lamps that are adequate in size. I’m surprised at how few lamps I see in homes and how small they are.  I often ask, “Where do you read?” Lamps are important for warmth and ambience in addition to reading.
  • If you have a rug in your main living area, make sure it is large enough to incorporate furniture into a warm cohesive unit.
  • Locate the focal point in your room–usually the largest decorative feature— if possible set your sofa parallel to it.
  • Make sure your accessories and decorative pieces are things you love and use. Have just enough old things to weave the stories of generations together. Don’t obliterate your current life with all the old stuff.
  • Be open-minded. Furniture items eventually become a part of the wall and you may not realize that your crowding can be alleviated by simply moving out one item.
  • Before embarking on a huge reconstruction project bring in the experts! You may be able to solve  your problems by rearranging and repurposing.
  • Lastly, don’t design your home around what you think other people will like. Create an environment for you and your loved ones! When you are comfortable in your home the feeling is contagious and others will want to share it with you!

Having a beautiful home isn’t an end in itself—its purpose is to provide joy and peace in the place you live.

“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Maya Angelou

 

 

 

 

 

Why You Should Get to Know Your Neighbors

Why You Should Get to Know Your Neighbors

After residing in the same place for nearly thirty years our neighborhood feels like a big family under one roof. Carolyn’s in the office, Susan and Kathleen are in the dining room and I’m in the kitchen. The others are scattered aro52043549-senior-woman-meeting-smiling-young-family-flowers-at-the-doorund the house and sometimes we pass in the hallway. We know we’re there for each other and we’ll call if we need anything.

Pat mows for us regularly now. It’s a huge blessing because we have a large lawn.

When a pipe burst and we had no water, Shari came over and helped me carry dishes to her house to wash. We showered there for days.

Ruth used to walk through my back door to borrow something or to bring me a yummy treat. I loved that she always wanted me to see her new paint or wallpaper. It was fun to get excited about our projects. Once I was in angst about a paint color for the living room. I’ll always remember what she told me. “Don’t worry about it— it’s not a marriage!” That phrase has helped me many times when I worry over a decision.

There is one thing I learned early on about making friends with neighbors.  Asking a favor, even to borrow some sugar, can initiate a relationship.  One neighbor is now a close friend. In the early years I was struck that she always had it together.  I wanted to be friends but I didn’t know if she’d ever need me or if I could add value to her life. One day I was in the middle of a baking concoction. I desperately needed an ingredient so I knocked on her door. She gladly gave me what I needed. Looking back, I really think our friendship started then. I’ve always been glad when a neighbor needs a cup of flour or a can of tomatoes. It brings us together in a unique way,

I remember when Leigh lived across the street. I’d sent some soup over to her. She brought the bowl back full of camellias. She said her mother taught her never to send a container back empty. I liked that.

Years ago, another neighbor, Bill, lost his wife and was all alone. John was a baby so I would knock on Bill’s door and ask him to take a walk as I strolled John. He talked about our walks until the day he died. It taught me that little acts can make a big difference. Even now as I’m remembering him, I’m reminded to break out of my little world, and show interest in a neighbor.

Cookies are always a good excuse to knock on a neighbor’s door. One family brought us a bouquet of flowers to thank us for the cookies I delivered. Our daughters became good friends.

46395966-diverse-neighbors-drinking-party-yard-conceptPeople don’t tend to move from our neighborhood until they die. We sit with them as they’re passing away, when appropriate. We attend their funerals and bring food.  We go back home and try to adjust to life without that special one. We remember the times we were with them at the Christmas party or the times a knock came at the door and there was Barbe delivering Maxine’s amazing homemade dumplings. I’ll never forget all the sweet people we have known and lost. I can see them right now in my mind’s eye.

I’ve been lamenting a potential move from our home– but the real loss would be the people we’ve grown to love.

Do you know your neighbors? If not, I urge you to take a step and reach out in some small way. You will be the one who benefits most.

“If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.”

Frederick Buechner

Moving

Moving

Optimized-IMG_6952Some people like to move. I don’t understand these people. I once got to know the mom of my daughter’s friend in high school. She actually expressed her frustration in living in the same town longer than usual. Apparently two years was the length of their typical stint.

I felt like I was speaking with an alien. Or maybe I was the alien. We spoke different languages. I have to admit I have such admiration and fascination with the “movers”. Clearly I have something to learn from them. As for me, I had trouble changing the front door color the first time because someone thought it should always be blue. What a big step for me to take a risk and paint it red.

Warning…. BIG FEELINGS AHEAD!

Why would anyone want to leave their HOME? It’s my home—my porch, my windows that look out to the azaleas, the forsythia, the dogwood. Why would I want to leave? I can tell who’s walking up the stairs by the sound of footsteps and a certain creak of the floor. I love my porch swing— I love watching birds at the feeder. I LOVE my kitchen, especially since we finally replaced the pink laminate, and built the amazing green cabinet that I designed.

I love to hear family and friends come through the front door—especially the ones who just walk in. I love that every room groans with memories.

I can still visualize the tea party Katherine had when she was five. The little girls were so cute in their frilly dresses and hats.

The wonderful times around the big dining room table when when talked and laughed for hours. Our birthday dinners, Christmas parties, Easter celebrations, Sunday dinners–gathering around the table is the very best! The many showers and parties we’ve hosted to celebrate new marriages and new babies.The Bible studies and small groups that lasted for years!

I recall the soccer games in our huge backyard– the time we hired our neighbors to be officials for John’s birthday party. They were pre-teens, but looked liked real referees to eight year old boys.

The Christmas stockings were hidden every year with miles of string attached. Some years they were discovered in the pear tree,  an air vent or in the fireplace. Tom’s skills knew no bounds.

We broke ground on our house the very day we brought John home from the hospital. That was in 1988. For months and months I would drive over to the property with our three kids and watch the progress with great excitement. A few years later we brought our baby daughter Katherine to the only place she’s called home.

Today I’m struggling. I wish I weren’t such a mush when it comes to things like houses and memories. But the truth is I am. I absolutely hate the idea of moving away from this house and living in another city. But sometimes, as we journey through life, things happen unexpectedly and we are led on a course that is different from what we anticipated.

Right now it seems that my husband’s job change may require a geographical relocation in the not so distant future. So I’m processing, grieving and trying to focus on today.

I’ve repeatedly taken comfort in the words of Oswald Chambers (My Utmost; March 19).”Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the  One Who is leading.”

That One leading is the One who has always been faithful to me. So now I wait in expectation, and trust as much as I am able, knowing that all we be well.

“Many are the plans of a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”  Proverbs 19:20

How to Help Grieving Friends

How to Help Grieving Friends

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

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

Here are some ideas that have been meaningful to us:

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

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

The Making of a Friend

The Making of a Friend

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As an introvert, I have a tendency to “go it alone”.  Looking back I realize I trudged through lots of very hard situations  by myself. There were times I would have benefitted from just hearing a voice on the other end of the phone. I didn’t want to bother people. I figured everyone was busy with their own problems. I was wrong to think no one had time for me. Now, when I have an opportunity, I implore my younger friends to not do what I did. “Reach out to someone; ask for help”, I say.

Sometimes friendships begin in the simplest of ways. I introduced myself to Courtney as we volunteered on a community project that our church sponsored. She and her husband had just moved to town and I invited them to a small group that met in our home. A long-lasting friendship was born.

Years have passed, and today I thank this same sweet friend for bringing me “out of myself” and encouraging me. For filling up that tank that all humans have. The tank that only caring, listening, loving people can fill. She listened, she affirmed, she asked questions. We understood each other. We shared personal experiences that have taught us a lot about life; particularly about ourselves. We both laughed at our own stories- how we used to think we were always right and how it seemed like a huge eye-opener when we realized it just wasn’t so. How funny.

For a couple of hours every couple of weeks we chat on the phone, from different states, at heart-level about the deep stuff going on. How we want to please God in everything, how it’s hard to love, how we need each other.

What struck me after our conversation today is this. We are in a mentoring relationship that she initiated. She is young enough to be my daughter. I am the one who said yes to the request- to sacrifice my time to be an older wiser guide. How ironic. How funny the upside-down-ness of it all. I have a spring in my step today after our time together. I can only hope she was encouraged as well. As humans we want to be heard and affirmed. Sometimes our needs are met by giving ourselves away. Giving our time for someone else- laying our lives down. I’m really glad I decided to step out of my shell at that work project!

Emerson said, “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”

Or as the book of Proverbs puts it, “To have a friend you must show yourself friendly.”

When we say yes to help someone else, guess who often gains the most?