Sometimes “All The Words” are Important

When our oldest went to college for the first time, she called me nearly every day. I was not mad about it. I was thankful for hearing her voice so I could really know how she was doing (text messages aren’t so reliable).

No matter how busy I was or what I was in the middle of, I tried to separate myself from it and be fully present on the phone so I could really listen to her. It wasn’t always easy, but it was always worth it. It helped me stay connected to her and it allowed me to still “mom” even though she was far out of reach.

It didn’t take too many of these phone calls to realize that it was important to not only listen and be present during the conversation, but in the “goodbye” as well. A quick “Ok, bye” was not enough. I learned quickly how important it was to her to take my time when we said goodbye.

Don’t leave things unsaid.

Say, “I love you.”

“It’s nice to hear your voice.”

“I hope you have a great night.”

“I can’t wait to see you again.”

“I’m praying for you.”

“I’m here if you need me.”

 

 

Sometimes No Words are Needed

Good and lovely life-giving words. I adore them.  I love words that are well put together in a book, a message, a lyric…even certain ad campaigns make my heart soar. And I am always excited when they flow well enough into something I feel I can share here.

Sometimes, though, no words are necessary. Sometimes, everything that needs to be said can be said with a glance.

For the last several years, I have purchased a piece of handmade pottery at the Pottery Exhibit at the NC State Fair. There are several makers’ booths and just one checkout register, so the shop’s code is on the price tag of each item to make sure the correct artisan gets credit for a sale. As I waited to pay for this year’s addition to my collection, I met the eyes of a woman who was sitting with the group working the register. There was a sweet “knowing” look in her eyes (recognition? amusement?) and I wondered if we knew one another somehow. The first sales helper removed the ticket from the dish, passed the dish to the person who was wrapping and bagging the items, and handed the price tag to the woman at the register. As she recorded the price ticket, the cashier’s face lit up and she said, “You got one of my mom’s pieces!” She turned to the woman whose eyes had met mine moments earlier. “Mom, did she get one of your honeybees?” “No, she got the turquoise dish.”

Ah, so that was it. She was excited that out of the entire tent, where the work of hundreds of artists was displayed, I appreciated and had chosen one of her creations. That is what I’d seen in her eyes. It was quiet delight in knowing.  She wasn’t going to say anything – she didn’t need conversation about it. Knowing was enough for her.

I have experienced other “no words necessary” glances recently.

I see you.

I appreciate you.

I’ve been praying for you for a long time.

Thank you.

All is well.

Sometimes words don’t need to be said out loud for our hearts to hear them.

 

 

 

No Pressure: What I want most for my children.

As moms (and dads), don’t we all want a “good life” for our kids? I believe most parents have their children’s best interests in mind. I also believe that it is easy to get tripped up and focus on achievements that the world tells us will lead to a happy, “successful” life. It can be tempting to value grades, talent, earning potential, and popularity over things that are less measurable (and actually more important yet somehow less celebrated by our culture), like character, the ability to deal with disappointment, and wisdom in choosing friends.

An important question to ask is, “What makes a good life?”

We live in a time when children and young adults are stressed, anxious and depressed like never before. I don’t claim to know how to fix everything that is wrong. I acknowledge that I have made plenty of parenting missteps along the way. But for the sake of any parent out there who is struggling with how to encourage the young people in his/her life, I submit this list of the things I want most for my daughter, son and daughter-in-law (and the other young people in my life):

A rich and satisfying life – the kind that Jesus brings. (John 10:10)

Confidence that God is with them always.

True, life-long love. (Grace-filled, passionate, fun.)

Friends who love them well.

Adventure – whatever that means for each of them.

Hearty, soul-refreshing laughter.

More easy days than difficult days.
And on the difficult days, a strong and vibrant Hope.

Endeavors (whether paid or volunteer) in line with their
giftings and mission (work that doesn’t feel like work).

Peaceful sleep, healthy bodies.

What is the secret to helping our children find these things? It is complex, but not complicated.

  1. Prayer – God loves your child(ren) even more than you do. Through prayer, he can help all our hearts align with his.
  2. Unconditional love – Let’s encourage our children in all that they are doing, without putting unnecessary pressure on outcomes. Let’s be sure they feel our love when things are going great and especially when they aren’t. At the end of the day, they need to know that our love is sure. This helps them with what they are carrying today, and it helps them know what to look for in friends and someday, spouses.
  3. Seek the “Good Life” ourselves – There is no greater gift we can give our children (and other young people we love) than the model of strong faith, healthy relationships and valuing what really matters.

We can do this – Let’s take the pressure off. 

 

 

 

On Embracing: Our Kids’ Milestones

It’s the season of graduations of all kinds, weddings and preparing for what’s next. It’s also a good time to reflect on an important truth:

As parents, our job is to work ourselves out of our job.

Over the course of 18 to 25-ish years (if there are no extenuating circumstances), we go from being 100% responsible for everything that has to do with our children to being (dare I say it?) obsolete.  Okay, now that I’ve said it, I am wishing I’d chosen a different word. (Consultants, maybe?)

Shortly after I became a mom for the first time, I pushed Elizabeth’s stroller across the threshold of a local “big-box” store. I was overwhelmed by how many things I could see just from the door – different household items, groceries, clothing. I thought “how am I going to teach her everything she needs to know about all this stuff?” But becoming a fully-functioning adult does not happen in one day – it happens bit-by-bit, over time. That means that, even though we often feel the urge to cling and hold ever-tighter, sometimes – most times, the best thing we can do for our children is to ease up and let go – so they can make the most of the bit-by-bit.

We would never stop a child from learning to walk or talk or lose teeth…why would we deny them any other stage?  Clearly, we may resist some of the milestones that happen when they’re older (driving, dating, going out with friends, leaving for college) because the result is we have less time with them, but if we are honest, it is also because of fear of the unknown, and the relinquishing of control. These are the times we find out if we really trust God with our kids… or not. 

There are definitely some losses we experience with our children’s increasing independence and young adulthood.  It’s healthy to acknowledge this. But when our kids reflect on their milestones, don’t we want them to remember that we were celebrating with them and cheering them on? Each milestone brings more opportunity to trust them, and to trust God, for that matter. In this way, their growing is part of our growing, too.

If you still have many years to go with kids at home, pay attention and soak it all up. If you’re sending someone off to college this fall, have a great summer, feel all of the feelings – and find fun ways to celebrate, even as the tears fall. And no matter what your kids’ ages, remember to invest in your first “baby’ – your marriage. It may not be easy, but I promise – it is worth it. Once your kids have “milestoned” their way out of the house, you will be so glad you did.

The Boy in Blue, Part 2

“Suits. Blue Suits.”

It’s something we say in our family that makes us chuckle because of a misunderstanding from a few years back that isn’t worth explaining any further. But it’s funny to us, and I can’t seem to bring myself to edit it out now that I’ve typed it.

Just over a week ago, our son donned the handsomest blue suit I’ve seen and married the girl of his dreams.  It was a perfect day. We are so thankful. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over the overwhelmed sense of gratitude I felt all wedding-weekend-long and I’m certain I can’t find the words to do it justice just yet, but it reminded me of something I wrote a few years ago…

How cool that the “Boy in Blue” has shown up again?

 

 

Cheating Death – On Being Happily Married.

Recently, I’ve been near death more than usual. By “near” death, I don’t mean that I have nearly died – rather, that I’ve been in funeral homes and attended memorial services more often than I’d like and I’ve been reflecting on death – and life.

Any Moonstruck fans out there?

Rose: I just want you to know that no matter what you do, you’re gonna die, just like everybody else.
Cosmo Castorini: Thank you, Rose.
Rose: You’re welcome.

Physical death is inevitable. No matter how well we take care of our bodies, no matter how much plastic surgery we pay for or face cream we slather on, it is happening. Even if we always play it safe (which I usually do), the only thing we can do is delay it by a little bit.

Still, I resolve to cheat death.
Not in the physical sense, of course, but I believe there are some deaths we can escape – such as the death of a dream, and the one closest to my heart: Death of a Marriage.  We’ve all seen it. Some of us have experienced it first-hand, even though we weren’t expecting it or wanting it. I have walked with friends through that dark valley and I believe it is one of the most emotionally painful things there is.

If this has happened to you, I am so sorry. These words are not meant
to cause more pain for you. I pray that your hope will remain strong and
that you will emerge from the valley a stronger person, ready for the
life and love that is ahead. (I’ve seen that, too, praise God!)

I am writing to remind and encourage those with healthy marriages and to offer hope to those with marriages that are in a tough spot. If your relationship still has a pulse, I hope you’ll try to revive it. I’ve seen God work miracles in marriages. I’ve also seen, as I’m sure you have, times when there was just no chance for bringing it back to health. Not because God wasn’t showing up, but because someone  (or both someones) didn’t have the will to keep going.

Here are 6 strategies for cheating death in our marriages:

1: Be Full of  Gratitude

Thank God for your spouse. I remember, when Rob and I were dating, I was filled with awe that someone so wonderful cared for me and wanted to be with me. After we were married for a hot minute, I lost my feeling of wonder and gratitude at being loved – it seemed like I felt I deserved it. But if I want to cheat death, I’ve got to remember that my husband is a gift from God. The way he is right now.

Thank your spouse for anything you can think of to thank him or her for. Making the bed. Taking the trash out. Getting the kids to bed. Getting the kids up. Making the sandwich. Cleaning up after dinner. Picking up the pizza. Doing the Christmas shopping or wrapping. Paying the bills. Reminding you that the milk is gone.You get the idea. All these tasks and to-dos are just part of being married and running a household, right? True, we are adults, and adults “do the things.” It is also true that every little thing can be seen as a gift. We all know how awful it feels to be taken for granted. I’m not saying that we should get a gold medal or a standing ovation for making dinner or raking leaves, but gratitude is always appropriate and worth the time.

2. Love Extravagantly.

This isn’t about monetary expense; there are opportunities every single day to show love in a way that “costs” me something. Whether that means big things like putting our wants on hold for the moment to help a spouse’s dream come true or planning something extraordinary that will surprise and delight, or small things, like making a late-night run to the grocery store so that the busy morning will go better, being the first one to say “I’m sorry,” or getting off the couch when you’re comfy to get the TV snacks so your spouse can stay warm and cozy. (Thanks for all the coffee and ice cream, Rob!)

3. Choose Happy

Most of the time, I am taking myself too seriously. (Anyone else?) I have found that there is nothing like laughter to break tension, and that a positive outlook makes even a bleak day brighter. Choosing to stay positive and hopeful takes the burden off any given moment. A year or a decade can handle big goals and expectations, but it is unwise to put too much pressure on each moment. So loosen up just a bit. Laugh it off. Find the bright side. Choose to believe that a good outcome is possible.

4. Protect and Defend

Always, always, always. Choose your spouse over all others, even when he or she is  imperfect, grumpy or flat out wrong. Especially then. There will be plenty of people working against, fighting against your marriage and your spouse. We have to be intentional to protect our relationship.  Imagine that your marriage is a helpless infant – be as gentle and nurturing in caring for it as you are warrior-like in defending it.

5. Keep the Marriage Bed Holy, and Keep the Marriage Bed Healthy. 

It’s not enough to just “not be unfaithful.” Lasting love requires faithful intimacy. Intimacy is not just a symptom of health in a marriage, it is also a builder of health in a marriage – a bonding factor, an energizer.  If an illness or tragedy has made “some things” impossible, work to find something that is possible, and be faithful in that.

6. Ask for (and Receive) Help When You Need Help.

Anyone who has been married more than a minute (okay, maybe 2 weeks) knows this isn’t easy. If you see a couple that makes it look easy, it is either because they  are good actors or because they are doing the hard work of making their marriage happy. Find a couple that is really doing things right and ask for some pointers. Talk to a counselor, your pastor, or another spiritual leader you trust. Consider this: therapy isn’t cheap, but the cost of divorce, financially and emotionally, is much higher.  An athlete doesn’t expect a broken bone to heal itself properly and certainly wouldn’t just switch sports and hope the problem goes away.

God can help you do all this.

As I write this, I am praying for the marriages (present and future) of you who might read this. I believe with my whole heart that God is for our marriages. I also believe that he is the source of the power we need for this cheating of death. I’ll leave you with a good Word about what it can look like to trust him…

… we didn’t think we were going to make it.
We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us.
As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened.
Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it,
we were forced to trust God totally—
not a bad idea since he’s the God who raises the dead!
And he did it, rescued us from certain doom. 
And he’ll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing.
2 Corinthians 1:9-10ish (The Message)

 

 

 

A Summer Memory: Running in the Fog

Cape Cod is one of my favorite places to run. (Actually, it’s my favorite place to do a lot of things.) In North Truro, where Rob and I met, there is a beautiful (and beautifully flat) spot to run along Route 6A. It is heavily populated with beachfront homes, hotels and rental cottages. My favorite are Day’s Cottages, a string of tiny saltboxes shaped like the green houses in Monopoly – each named for a flower – Daisy, Rose, Violet, Larkspur… The road is just one lane in either direction, but since there are plenty of driveways to dart into when the cars go past, it always feels safe, even in the height of summer.

Cape Cod Bay is just on the other side of the cottages and houses, so there are sneak peaks of the beach and refreshing blue water in the gaps between the buildings and glimpses of yesterday’s beach towels, flapping in the wind. The beauty of it all makes the run so easy.

Except when the fog is thick. Then there are no water views or “possibilities beyond” in the gaps. I see more of the cottages themselves as I’m forced to look at what is closest to me. Like when a person loses one sense and the others grow stronger. I see the roof lines, the color of the siding and trim. I’m more apt to notice things in disrepair. It’s not as beautiful, but it is interesting to focus my eyes and attention on something I am normally too distracted to see.

Isn’t it like that with life, too? In times of uncertainty, we are forced to focus on what we know, and we come face-to-face with that which is in disrepair right around us. It makes the world seem smaller, but not for long, because periods of uncertainty or trial are often followed by growth as we exercise muscles of trust, courage, faith.

The world seems to contract just before it expands.

Returning to what we know – the truth, the nest, our family and closest friends, is a necessary part of the process of spreading our wings.

1 Corinthians 13:12
We don’t yet see things clearly.
We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist.
But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright!
We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us,
knowing him directly just as he knows us!