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

The Art of Life

I enjoy and appreciate art in all its forms.

I truly believe that unique art appears all around us in our day to day lives. If only we have eyes to see.

I first awakened to this idea about three years ago.

I found myself noticing our daughter-in-law, Mary’s hands and the way they moved when she changed our granddaughter, Eliza’s diaper. The routine chore looked like art to me. Her lovely slim hands gently, carefully and naturally smoothed and fastened the diaper around the precious bundle. I’d never thought of this before. It got me to thinking about other times I’ve observed such art.

I thought of my sweet mom—how I miss her and how she would have revelled in our sweet grandchildren. I remembered all the mending she did for me when she came for a visit. It was a needed contribution of time and effort. She’d hem dresses, sew on buttons, and make repairs when I couldn’t seem to find the time. I can still see those lovely aging hands (the same ones I see on myself now), gracefully, patiently using the needle, thread and that ancient thimble that she’d preach “you can’t sew without!”

I also thought of our daughter, Katherine, and how her hand so gracefully and intuitively moves along a canvas, a board or envelope with her lovely fluid hand writing. It’s a splendid gift; an art.

These things have me reminding myself to look for “art” more inclusively and more gratefully.

I love what Oswald Chambers has to say.

“At the basis of Jesus Christ’s kingdom is the unaffected loveliness of the commonplace.”

We’re wowed by the famous and beautiful! We find disparities between us and them and the wind goes out of our sails as we’re navigating in our little world. Let’s stop that. Let’s look close by and open our eyes to the art at hand.

The next time you see a young daddy snap his daughter into her pjs; his smile beaming with swelling love, just think of the gloriousness of the God-designed family.

Observe the routine flow and flair of the seasoned homemaker as she cleans her kitchen, after serving love up to her people.

What about the art of teaching? The teacher daily responds with patience and dogged determination to fight for her kids. The caring consistent voice on which her students come to depend remind them that they are valued and they are going to succeed. When relationship and trust form between student and teacher it’s awesome to behold.

A mama reading to her toddler; the gentleness with which they touch, the familiar smells, the unique sound of mama’s voice— the dialect, that’ll always be comfort and affirmation for the precious recipient.

I started to think of more ways art is evident.

The repairman who “restored” our fridge was both skillful and kind; graciously answering all of my questions with a smile.

My friend, Renee; the way she serves up tasty homemade chili in her one of a kind pottery bowls. Everything she cooks is delicious; more so because of the relaxed flair and love that go along with the experience.

I thought of Barbara and how she mentored me in the art of devotional reading and listening. I can still remember sitting in her yard, kids running all around us, while we read J.B. Phillips’ version of the New Testament. It wasn’t just a book. It was bread and life.

When I’m with my dermatologist I feel like I’m the only one that matters at that moment. She’s affirming, thorough, decisive; calm; a great listener. I don’t know how she does it with her swamped schedule. But I happen to know she treats all her patients the same way.

My long time friend Nancy’s art of listening is a treasure to me. She appears to plan conversations as appointments in her day and then employs them as life-giving ministry. I want to be a better listener for others as she’s been to me.

What if we vacuum, dust, and clean toilets with the notion that God has given us these magnificent bodies to express our worship and gratitude by offering up our everyday-ness as art?

I’m folding towels, painting furniture and writing a letter to a friend. This is my calling today–my place and my art. Join with me as we celebrate each other along the journey, spurring on the unique “artists” around us!

“Teach me to shepherd the small duties of this day with great love.”

Everymomentholy.com

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old

SNOW IN WILMINGTON!

AGE DOESN’T MATTER UNLESS YOU’RE CHEESE.

I’m in favor of the first amendment; free speech and all. But what’s to be done with a word that is both ambiguous and possibly hurtful? I’m thinking of the word old; at least when used to describe humans. At times the word  plagues me and other times it puzzles. I mean, first of all, what does it mean? Advanced in years? My-two-year-old granddaughter is more advanced in years than her almost one-year-old brother.

I’m confused about this. At what juncture does a human become old? I hear forty-year-olds talking about being old. They can’t do this and that anymore because they’re so old. I’ve also read about people who, at eighty-nine, are skydiving or graduating from college. So you can see why I’m perplexed. My  girlfriend who is my age recently said she feels like we’re  young! Her ninety-year-old cousin, who is still practicing law, recently met with her eighty-something-year-old father to assist in the filing of his taxes.

Lest you think I’ve fallen prey to early dementia or I’m in complete denial, I’ll confess that some things do change as the years pass. The fat that assists in keeping wrinkles inconspicuous, for example. The youthful plumpness at one time found on the forehead and bridge of the nose, has now gone way south. Apparently that helpful fat shows up in the waist section where belts were once worn. The dark thick eyebrows have diminished and been replaced by white rowdy wiry hairs of a different variety. Those eyebrow hairs also show up (“Surprise”) in other fun areas. The skin can grow some pretty interesting markings that can thankfully be mostly hidden from view. And yes, there may possibly be a few aches or pains that call attention to themselves.

But, I suggest that most of the changes taking place as we add more candles on the cake are exterior things that have nothing to do with who we truly are.

I may look different on the outside; and our grandchild may wonder one day, while she looks at pictures, “Who’s that girl in the bridal gown with Pop?” But, here’s the thing: I’m still the same person on the inside!  In fact, I feel younger and freer and more full of gratitude than I did in my twenties and thirties. I suspect I’m not alone in this feeling.

So here’s an idea: Let’s toss old aside and find an alternate adjective. What about Vintage? Seasoned? Or better yet, Classic? Experienced? Wise?

I’d rather not be categorized as old until I’m ready. And maybe that will never happen.

“The measure of life after all, 

is not its duration, but its donation.” 

Corrie Ten Boom

How to Curate Your Life

How to Curate Your Life

In the last couple of years, I’ve been very focused on making each hour and day count. You can ask my friends. When they’ve offered to pray, I’ve said, “I want to know my purpose and not waste time!” Maybe there’s something about realizing that you’re well into the second half of life, and that your days are numbered.

In my earlier years, I’d robotically accomplish the next thing. That’s the reality when you’re trying to keep four  young ones fed and happy!

Today’s different. There are so many dreams, ideas and opportunities clamoring for my attention. I’ve begun to see my life as a curation of sorts– learning to toss aside things that aren’t for me and attending to things that are.

 

curate: “to take charge of or organize.

to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation.

Eliza Jo & William

Imagine for a minute a beautiful, well curated, warmly lit art gallery such as The Smithsonian. On one wall do you find twenty renowned Renoir paintings? No, each incredible piece of art is encompassed by white space. We’re privileged to focus on one painting without distractions. The empty spaces help us to hone our focus.

Several years ago I helped a lady stage her house to sell. I remember her big smile and sweet disposition and how appreciative she was. Although she was a bit nervous about what I was doing with her belongings, she gave me full permission to shuffle things around. I quickly started removing stuff. Her home was clean and warm but crowded. Too crowded, I felt, for a positive presentation to prospective buyers. Some decorative pieces in the home needed to be culled and some curated. I was a bit uncomfortable as she watched me. “If you move that silk plant from the corner what will you put back in its place?”, she asked.

It was really difficult to imagine empty spaces —all the things had been in their assigned places for years. I tried to explain the concept of space and how it gives our eyes and minds rest and enables us to focus on a specific item. For instance, if there are multiple side tables, each one holding a large faux plant, we can be confused about what to look at and enjoy. There is also a practical benefit to having enough space in which to move around. To her credit, she allowed me to work my magic, accommodating me even while she didn’t fully understand. In the end, she agreed that her home was much more appealing, and it sold quickly.

The same kind of curation that takes place in staging a home to sell can also be helpful when arranging the homes we actually live in. The rearranging and culling can bring more comfort and peace.

Curation amounts to focus. The concept can be applied to a closet full of clothes, in which I’ve absolutely “nothing to wear”! Pare down items to the few comfortable things I love and wear daily and I’ve just curated my collection. The less we own in any category, the more we enjoy. Less doesn’t amount to deprivation, but valuing what’s important and needful.

I once moved to another state with my oldest two children. I packed everything we needed in my station wagon and headed down the highway. We stayed with a family for a few months while looking for a more permanent home.

During those months, I remember thinking that there was nothing I missed. I could actually live without all my other earthly belongings. It was a surprising lesson that never left me.

“Be yourself! Everyone else is already taken.”

When my kids were young, it was important for me to be involved in their schools. I’d say no when asked to head up a large project or to serve as an officer on a board. I’m more of a helper when it comes to big projects. I also wanted my time to be spent around students; especially my children. I ended up doing what I loved and teachers seemed to really appreciate it—I read to their classes. Years later I’d run into former students and they’d comment on the books we read together. It was so nice the way it worked out. Some folks who were gifted administrators and leaders took on the roles I didn’t, and vice versa. You do you. And I’ll do me.

As I’ve spent time in prayer honestly asking what my life’s roles and priorities are, God’s faithfully shown me. I’m committed to the roles He’s called me to focus on in these years.

“No one else can play your part.”

It’s a good feeling to realize all the things you aren’t meant to be or do. I’m not a famous singer, competitive athlete, fashion blogger, shop owner, office worker, nurse, or celebrity. Those things are white space around me. My simple curated life includes being a wife, mother/grandmother, friend, writer, mentor/encourager, a “lover of hospitality” and a stager/organizer. When I discipline myself to focus and work within my spheres, I accomplish more and have less time to obsess over what others are doing. When I spend time comparing myself to women I admire, I always come up short.

What about you, friend? Any thoughts about your life?

“Decide what kind of life you actually want.

Then say no to everything that isn’t that. 

Instagram @abbiepaulhus

Life Was Easier When I Knew Everything

Life Was Easier When I Knew Everything

“Faith must be tested, because it can be turned into a personal possession only through conflict. … Faith is unutterable trust in God, trust which never dreams that He will not stand by us.”

Oswald Chambers

 

Recently my husband speculated about a lifelong friend; wondering why this person’s life had taken the turn it had. He pondered why certain things haven’t happened the way we expected them to; good things we’d hoped for him. Tom turned to me to ask what I thought. I almost surprised myself when I said, “We can’t figure out why things didn’t turn out differently for him. There are so many variables–life is uncertain.”

Lately, I’ve experienced visceral pain for friends who are in hard situations. Desperately praying;  I carry them close to my heart. I remind them of my thoughts; what else can I do?

I used to know everything, or at least thought I did. Of course, I would never have said that; but when I look back I realize I behaved as if I had all the answers. I guess I thought most outcomes could be determined simply by choices; that things would work out if we behaved and worked hard, or something like that. Choices and actions are important. Then, there is that Ever Present Looming Universe Over Which I Have No Control.

I had a lot to learn in the compassion and humility departments.

Years ago, I probably would’ve had answers as to why our friend hasn’t achieved the things we expected. I’d have known what he should have done in order to be successful.

Before I had children, I’d hear screaming mamas and kids while grocery shopping. I’d roll my eyes in judgement. I could tell that mama what to do to make her kids behave. A parenting expert without children! That’s what I was.

I had suggestions when a friend suffered from depression. I truly cared for her, but I didn’t understand her inability to stay in a good mood. She needed to get involved with other people and get her mind off herself. I wanted her to snap out of it.

Somewhere along the way, the teacher called Life came into play. Bad things happened to me. My marriage partner for life decided to leave. The baby I was carrying when he left would have serious disabilities.

When my daughter was three, I dragged her with me several hours to a revival where a well known speaker would be leading the services. Apparently he was known for faith healing. The only thing needed from me was an ability to really believe she’d be healed. And believe I did! In my mind, I could see her normally engaging with people around her. But, sadly, the miracle I wanted never happened. And it hasn’t happened to this day, many years later.

My daughter wasn’t healed and I was painfully disappointed. Then, other troubles came upon my family. I won’t bore you with all the details but there were some very hard seasons.

As I look back now these many years later, I have a very different perspective than I did when I knew it all. I see all of the troubles and heartaches I’ve experienced, as a gift of sorts. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t wish that “gift” on other people, and I don’t want to re-do those experiences. But they have begun to mold me into what I wanted from the very beginning. Christlikeness. I’ve seen the process over and over in other people. I honestly wonder if Christians ever change and grow without the trials that beat up against us. I tend to think they are a necessary part of life.

These days, I say, “I don’t know” all the time. Why did I ever need to have answers for everyone? Frankly, it was probably fear. If I could figure out how to create positive outcomes then I’d be able to avoid my own pain, which seemed like a good idea. I’m a chicken when it comes to pain.

I’m closer to God and trust in His miraculous power more than ever. The way He’s blessed my life and answered so many desires–especially my Tom– has humbled me.  I pray each day for impossible things to happen in the lives of people I care about, and some people I don’t even know. I continually pray for a miracle for my daughter, Dawn.

I try my best to focus on Him and allow His Presence to overshadow the bad things that happen in this earthly life. Horrible things like young people dying and parents of small children taking their own lives.

I’m a more grateful person now. I’m looking for beauty in the moments; things I overlooked or minimized for so long.

I typically see folks now through a lens of compassion. Especially the ones I would have thought weird or scary in earlier decades. They’re the ones who I imagine have suffered the most. And they are still standing on their own two feet. Certain kinds of heroes.

I know far less than I used to know, but I’ve relinquished my life (a little) more freely to the One Who Knows Everything. And He is Wholly Good.

Better a Neighbor Nearby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

G. K. Chesterton

 

 

Expectations

Pray, and let God worry.

Martin Luther

 

On my morning walk I was praying like it was my job— serious praying that befits this season. Friends with serious health diagnoses, a sweet friend fighting for her life after a horrific accident and a couple manuevering a very painful breach in their marriage—we love them all so much and we’re crying out for answers. It seems almost too heavy a burden sometimes.

Not only are there urgent needs; there are those perpetual prayers that I’ve voiced for years, sometimes becoming weary and bored with my own words. I pray rotely— like songs or idioms that stick in your head. They never completely leave my consciousness.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever see the answers to those long-term prayers. The measure of my hope seems to be commensurate with the amount of time an item has been on my list. Those old tired prayers can become repetitous, almost numbing.

On my best days I stir myself to visualize glorious outcomes. I watch for the answers, peeking through the cracks of my awareness much like when I’m expecting arriving friends—walking to the door; looking through the window to see if they’ve arrived.

I believe for the answer but I know that it may not come in the way I want. There is that faith element in our companionship with God that we can’t get away from. It takes believing without seeing to even know Him. Faith motivates us to keep after it (prayer) when we don’t see results. When we think God is deaf or busy doing something else. I have to pray in agreement with what I believe He would pray and then trust that I’ll see it come to pass. He is Love. Also, He is Sovereign and He keeps some things in a secret place that I’m not privy to.

What if God answers some prayers after I’m gone? What if He answers differently from what I imagined? What if an amazing response finds its way into the life of someone in conjunction with my prayers?

AM I ABLE TO LET GO AND REALIZE THE FUTURE BELONGS TO HIM?

Years ago as I was thinking along these lines, I found myself encouraged by a beautiful young woman named Ruth. There is true beauty in one whose heart is so pure and selfless.

We find Ruth living in Moab in 1140 BC. At that time a Jewish family relocated from Bethlehem-Judah to Moab to escape a serious famine. One of the family’s sons married Ruth. Sadly, after only a few years, the father and two sons died, leaving only the mom, Naomi, and her two daughters-in-law to fend for themselves. One daughter-in-law, Orpah, decided to remain in her homeland, but Ruth insisted on staying with Naomi and returning to Bethlehem. Naomi urged Ruth to leave her, but Ruth was emphatic, even though the future looked very bleak.

” Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.”  Ruth

Ruth’s story is interwoven with God’s Sovereignty; His overall Purpose in history was sure to be accomplished. In Ruth’s determination to support her mother-in-law, she played an important role in continuing the lineage that would bring the Messiah to our world. As she set out to earn a living, Ruth found favor with a prosperous leading man of the city. He allowed to her to glean barley in the fields after the workers left. The man, Boaz, kindly asked the workers to leave extra grain for her to collect. Ruth quickly created a livelihood for herself and her mother-in-law. She also caught the eye of Boaz. Naomi had explained that he was a relative of hers and one of the men whose responsibility it was to care for widows in their family. In what is a true love story in itself, Boaz married Ruth and relieved she and Naomi from their fear of the future. Ruth would go on to have a son, Obed, making Naomi a happy grandma and carrying on the family line.

That’s all exciting enough, but here’s the real clincher. RUTH WAS A DISTANT GREAT-GRANDMOTHER OF JESUS CHRIST THE MESSIAH! And…she didn’t even know. Ruth made selfless choices apparently with no thought of herself.  She chose what what she perceived to be God’s will in real life decisions. And just look how prominent a role she plays in history!

Ruth has given me much hope.  Our pleadings DO HAVE RESULTS, even though we may never see them. We have to walk in faith, praying and making the best decisions we know to make and then LEAVE THE RESULTS TO OUR FATHER. As earthlings, we see only part of the big picture. We might be flabbergasted if we knew how profoundly our choices and prayers affect the future.

 

Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.

Corrie ten Boom

 

 

Oh to be Alone

A few months ago, while waiting in a long line, I found myself listening to a conversation in a public place. There was mild irritation between a husband and wife who were disagreeing over a minor issue concerning a child. A mom, who wasn’t acquainted with the couple, commented to the wife that she was so glad she no longer had to endure arguing. She and her husband were divorced and she was happy to make decisions for her child alone, without friction. In my mind a lightbulb instantly went off and I knew this was something to ponder. Oh to be alone.

In the last six months I’ve had many thoughts about togetherness and aloneness and their results. My husband and I lived weekdays apart for about one and a half years. He’d taken a job in another state and I stayed home to take care of necessary things, such as our daughter’s wedding and helping out with our first grandchild. I was surprised and a bit concerned to find how relatively easily we adapted to living alone week after week. Sure, we’d look forward to our times together. But in between we learned to adjust quite well to an independent self-serving routine. Even sleeping alone had it’s advantages. Let’s just say that for me, it was a much quieter, restful sleep. Acclimating again to the sound of snoring wasn’t easy.

Soon after I moved to Columbia, my husband and I drove to Lowe’s to purchase a clothes dryer. We were turning into the parking lot and I rolled my eyes at the unorthodox, roundabout way he maneuvered into the spot. I said to him, tongue-in-cheek, “Tom, if you would just do everything exactly like I do things, and you’d say things exactly like I say them, you’d never bug me and we’d get along perfectly.” We laughed, and I acknowledged to myself that this was my Achilles’ heel in a nutshell. Selfishness. There is in all of us a natural impulse to do things our own way. We’re aware of these tendencies in all human relationships, but none more than marriage.

Occasionally married couples live apart for a season because of  jobs or when a spouse is deployed. Understandable. Just recently I was chatting with a girlfriend about a mutual friend. The husband and wife were living separately while the husband was employed in a different city. My girlfriend said, “You know, I can really see how that could be easier”. I thought, ” Of course!”  It’s easier to be alone—you have only yourself to consider.

Sometimes I wonder why people want to get married in the first place.  I mostly wanted a man to love me and make me happy. I was a follower of Christ and I’d read Scripture and books about marriage. I knew a lot, I thought. But what part of my plan would make his life better? Do we go into that very important relationship thinking, “Now I get to really serve another person up close. I finally get to wash someone elses’ dirty underwear and clean up the messes someone leaves in the kitchen.” I may even occasionally need to hold my tongue or change the way I squeeze the tube or load the dishwasher! What’s needed in a particular moment might be affirmation and a loving touch, even if I don’t feel like it.

Some people live alone in different geographical areas due to work or other responsibilities. Others live alone even while under the same roof. I worry about them all. I truly believe that a marriage’s default is separation. None of us really need to work at focusing on ourselves; we have to work to keep our marriage covenant the priority. I’m afraid couples don’t know how easily they can lose what was once the Most Important Thing. Marriage isn’t an organism that magically keeps two people together. It’s an organism that requires its parts to work in a coordinated fashion to keep it going.

While nothing has revealed to me my self-focus and self-preservation like marriage, absolutely nothing has brought me more purpose and joy. Our marriage hasn’t been perfect in every way, but it has gotten better and better over the years as we have gotten better at surrendering to Jesus and putting each other first.  The covenant of unending and unmerited love for another person. The adapting to the other in a way to actually change the person I am, and grow the person that he is. It’s just one of the most beautiful, meaningful arrangements divinely appointed to humans.

When asked his secret of love, being married fifty-four years to the same
person, he said, “Ruth and I are happily incompatible.”
Billy Graham