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

A Love Letter

November 2019

Dear Tom,

I’m having difficulty remembering my life before you. You were always here; always meant to be. To say I love you doesn’t rightfully convey. Loving you has become a selfish endeavor. To love you really says I love myself because, in you, are so many pieces of me; as in me are chunks of you. I can no longer see us separately. There’s no going back to those two people we were. We are forever and inextricably tied together, blended in such a way that if we were torn in two, the two pieces would be nearly the same.

It hasn’t always been this way for me—seeing us as one. We were strangers on our honeymoon as I described in I Married a Stranger . But there was a fiery spark between us (and still is). And our spiritual journeys clearly led us to one another; we had a knowing that we were “meant to be”.

It began as a blind date. No expectations on my part other than a free movie and meal. I was a little bummed that I didn’t get the movie. But what I got was a long conversation with a most unique person. I wasn’t sure what to make of you. We drove around the Barnett Reservoir in Jackson, Mississippi. You noticed the buildings and structures and were intent on figuring out their purposes. My introduction into the mind of an engineer. I was relieved when I didn’t see a pocket protector. You were so inquisitive and curious; still are.

Your IQ soared above mine, but I didn’t hold it against you. Maybe you’d benefit from my love for beauty and creativity?

At the restaurant, The Widow Watson, that you’ve forever called The Widow’s Watch, you drew a map of North Carolina on your napkin. I’d never been to North Carolina and I’d never been instructed by a napkin drawing. I was intrigued.

One probable discussion scared me: my children. I was afraid it would be a deal breaker. Especially the part about Dawn. But you wanted to know more. You didn’t flinch when I said, “She’s five and developmentally delayed…not verbal yet.”

When you met Ben and Dawn, you quickly got on their level and read books to them. We took them to Wendy’s in Pearl, and you fed Dawn a baked potato. Later you helped her eat ice-cream.

No one had ever responded to me in such a kind way—I was in shock.

I liked you and you liked me.

When you flew back to Wilmington, our fast and furious six month courtship began. Mostly by phone. We’d see each other only a few times before our wedding. Once when I waited for you at the airport, you almost didn’t recognize me! We’d write letters and talk on the phone every night. Since social media and texting weren’t yet the norm, we’d rely on our few shared memories to remind us of each other. Our blooming relationship was more than an image.

We drove to Arkansas with the children to visit my parents the summer right after we met. I stood at the kitchen window washing dishes; looking out on that vast green lawn; the beautiful Ozarks in the background. (I miss my parents.) You played with Dawn; giving her directions to see how she’d respond. My heart didn’t know how to process what I was watching. You were simply a rarity. More than I’d asked and hoped for. Gaining instant children, including a special needs child, didn’t deter you in the least. To you it was a bonus.

Right before our November wedding day, our friends hosted a big Thanksgiving celebration. Today we’d call it “Friendsgiving”. You stood up and declared that you were “buying the whole field to gain the treasure.” (reference- Matthew 13:44)

Six months is hardly time to really know someone. What I knew is that you were a godly man. I could trust that God brought us together. I hoped, in time, our love would grow by our faith and intention.

When I say, “Happy 34th Anniversary”, I realize that all 34 years weren’t happy. There’s not space here to list all the troubles; the stress of caring for a daughter who wouldn’t grow up as we’d hoped, the losses of loved ones, jobs, and relationships. And the private deep pain.

I confess, I’ve rolled my eyes at you when you weren’t looking. I’ve been hurt and angry when you were at work too much and home too little. I’ve hated the times you’ve left me for job responsibilities when hurricanes were coming. My insecurities were often tied to earlier devastating experiences.

I wish I could take back the times when I folded my arms, kept my distance and sulked silently. The minutes matter more to me now.

I’m sorry I’ve complained about your driving. That I told you to drive like me. For reminding you about stop signs and braking and not to drive with your knee (although I feel justified in that one).

I’m sorry when my selfishness has hurt you. When I didn’t love you completely and loved myself too much.

One day one of us will be alone without the other. I’m not willing to entertain that thought right now. I’m hoping that we’ll just fly to Jesus one day, all wrapped up together.

Oh the miracle of marriage— the miracle of our marriage. How can I ever thank God enough for His Plan? How can I ever thank you enough for taking a risk on me? To think of life without you is unbearable— it’s to think of myself not alive.

Thank you for the thousands of hours listening to me. For shedding tears with me when I couldn’t even express my pain.

For putting up with my many books and my many words.

I’ve loved watching you soften over the years, especially when I catch you crying over family dramas on television. Family means everything to us.

Thank you for loving our first two children. For helping to potty train Dawn. For staying up with her so many nights. For planting gardens with Ben and coaching his teams. For being so proud of them both. For sharing Dawn with inquisitive strangers— explaining her deficits so they wouldn’t withdraw from her. Thank you for our second pair of children; John and Katherine. For the delight of grand-parenting Eliza and William together. And our children by marriage: Adrienne, Mary and Matt—our answers to prayer!  Thank you for loving us all in actions as well as words.

I suppose the two become one theoretically at the exchanging of vows, but oh how sweet the process of truly becoming joined in a way that a lifetime of God’s faithfulness and our forging towards each other has provided.

Always,

Myra

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

Magical Friendship

Magical Friendship

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”

― A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

The acquiring of friends is one of the most magical if not miraculous experiences of my life.

A few months back I woke up feeling lonely. Now, I’m not trying to get you to feel sorry for me. Honestly and surprisingly, I don’t feel lonely often. But that day was different. I just wanted one person to hang out with. I wanted someone I could be myself with and not have to think hard before a word came out of my mouth.

I moved away from my hometown nearly two years ago. What I’ve found, and it totally makes sense to me, is that the people I’ve met in Columbia already had their own lives, schedules, activities and friends before I came. They may theoretically need to eliminate something in their lives before I can fit in. In a similar way, when I return often to Wilmington I see acquaintances and friends carrying on as if I never left. I promise I’m not clamoring for a pity party— I’m just being honest. It’s all a natural part of life.

I think God created us to endure, enjoy and learn from change. It’s such an important and inevitable part of life.

But that particular day, as I said, I felt lonely. So I did something about it. I texted my friend who I’ve mentored for a long time. You can read an earlier post about our friendship here: The Making of a Friend. I can’t really recall how long she’s been in my life. All I know right now is that when we first met she and her husband were newlyweds and now they have five children. So it’s been a while. LOL!  We met while working at a church service project. I invited she and her hubby to our small home group. The rest is history. We’ve lived far apart most of the years we’ve been friends, since her husband is in the military. She’s much younger and I think of her as a daughter. I’ve virtually walked with her through some hard places, because life… We’ve been honest and vulnerable with each other and I knew I could be transparent with her. She called me. After I asked all the questions about how she was doing, I said, “Okay I need to share some feelings with you. You don’t have to fix me; I just need to say this out loud.” It felt good just to hear myself say the words and to hear her listening. She went on to tell me about a difficult situation she and her husband had been navigating with a third party. Immediately the magic happened again. We were entering into each others’ lives and caring and responding. It helped me to get my mind off of myself; pray again for her and also feel relieved of my sad feelings.

“Right now, someone you haven’t met is out there wondering what it would be like to meet someone like you.” – Unknown

What is more fulfilling and more gladdening than a true friend? They don’t just happen overnight. They require LOTS of time. At first you work on being comfortable with each other, then, if all goes well, you feel safe enough to share your stuff; what makes you happy, sad, what motivates you and all the inside things. In a friendship it’s important to listen A LOT. As an aside, I try to be conscious of giving my friends a chance to speak because I feel like I’m apt to talk too much! I often pray the prayer that always works:

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalms 19:12-14

Friendships take intention, initiation and pursuance.

I remember another friendship that I strongly pursued many years ago. I liked this person a lot and I made an intention to stay in touch with her, no matter how busy we both were. It felt one-sided for awhile and I wondered if she liked me and if she would have time or interest to be friends. I almost cry now, twenty-seven years later, so incredibly thankful for the friend she is to me. I’ve learned so much from her. She’s the one now, more often than not, who pursues. When she calls, she will hardly give me time to ask about her life. She’s too busy wanting to hear all about mine. She’s also the friend who once told me that I have spinach in my teeth and asked if I “meant” to wear two different earrings.

When I worked hard at being her friend, I never knew the treasure our relationship would be to me all these years later!

“We need old friends to help us grow old and new friends to help us stay young.”

– Letty Cottin Pogrebin

 

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!