Finding Our “Bearings”

I can’t help but notice that it seems like the whole world has gone “mad” recently. I don’t mean “crazy” mad, I mean “mad” mad. I get it. There’s plenty to be upset about. But I don’t think the kind of anger I’m seeing leads to anyplace that’s good, because it seems to be turning us against each other.

I’m a peace lover. I love gentle words spoken in soothing tones over a slice of pie and a mug of hot coffee. In times like this, when there are so many issues and so many voices arguing SO LOUDLY with so much venom, I feel like a little girl – trapped while the adults fight at the dinner table. I want to cover my ears and be excused. What can I do to fix ANY of this? I am just one little girl.

But then I remember.

I am one little girl

Who knows the Great, Big God.

So I am looking to Him for the answers -for direction on what to do, and what to say. (And also what not to say.)

He says

“Love one another as I have loved you.”

“Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

“Feed My sheep.”

“Bear one another’s burdens.”

None of us (on our own) has what it takes to fix all that is wrong. But we can each do something. Let’s find our “bearings” – our ways to bear another’s burdens.

This week, Rob and I had the honor of caring for a very young child through Safe Families – a movement that offers temporary housing to children whose parents are in distress. The little guy who stayed with us has been hosted by some friends for several weeks. They needed to go out of town, so we got to keep him for a few nights. It was an easy thing to do, but what a balm to my soul to get to do it!

I’m seeing you bear burdens, too.

Your actions are speaking to my heart and overshadowing the harsh words I’ve heard and read lately. I am watching you and you are giving me hope. You are taking time to share smiles and kind words with strangers. You are showing love to children who need your help with both school lessons and life lessons. You are supplying hungry children with food to eat over the weekend. You are offering ears to listen and shoulders to cry on to people who are scared and hurting. You are preparing meals to ease the strain on families dealing with illness or grief or poverty. You are standing hand-in-hand and side-by-side with those who cannot stand on their own. You are using your strong voices to speak the words that need to be said in the places where it will do the most good.

We’ve got this, people! Let’s remember how much we love each other. Let’s remember that it is Love that has the power to overcome. Let’s stay at the table together until it is time for pie.

 

Solid Christmas

I love the holiday season. From Thanksgiving’s focus on gratitude (and the feast, how I enjoy the feast!), to Christmas with the Babe in the manger who changes everything, to the fresh start of the New Year, those 6 weeks were packed, weren’t they?

Now, as we face the wintry months when the nights are quiet and cozy,* there is plenty of time to savor holiday memories, process experiences and reflect on lessons learned.

Christmas is all about Jesus for me, but I’m not a Santa hater. One of my favorite Christmas decorations is a wooden Santa that hangs over the corner of a door. Its a treasure because of the friend who gave it to me, because it was handmade by her dad, and because it is amazingly cute. Honestly, I would like to leave it up all year.

I do, however, have a strong dislike for those inflatable Santas (and other characters – I even saw a Christmas dragon this year – what the heck?!) that populate front yards everywhere all December long. They’re not so bad at night, when they are full of air and light and “life,” but in the morning light, when they are lying in a sad puddle of polyester, I think they’re awful.

They do make a great metaphor, however, for the state of things right now. Many people think Christmas (and Life, for that matter) is about things that don’t last; putting their hope in decorations, gifts, traditions, achievements, possessions … while the Prince of Peace is right here, offering real hope and joy that endures even after the “stuff” is put back in the attic. In these postmodern days, many people don’t even know that Jesus is the Christ in Christmas. Maybe that is what was up with the Christmas Dragon?

I am thankful for Immanuel: God With Us, who makes Christmas solid and Life full. My prayer for our family and yours in 2017 is that we never stop growing in our understanding of how much He loves us.

Isaiah 6:9: For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

John 10:10: I came so they can have real and eternal life,
more and better life than they ever dreamed of.

    John 17:20-23: I do not ask for these only,
but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21
that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you,
that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe
that you have sent me.
22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them,
that they may be one even as we are one,
23 I in them and you in me,
that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know
that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

Ephesians 3:14-19: My response is to get down on my knees before the Father,
this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth.
I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength
but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you
open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet
planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in
with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love.
Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length!
Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights!
Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.

 

 

*Confession: there’s some “spin” here – I’m not a huge fan of winter. But calling it “cozy” rather than “dreary” is working for me so far this year.

“Getting” Better

I’ve been thinking about “better” recently. The word has been spoken around, to and by me in ways that have challenged and encouraged me (and nearly broken my heart, but that’s a story of its own).

“Better” is deceptively relative – do you know what I mean?

On one hand, better can be somewhere between “good” and “best” – or maybe even, “just shy of excellent.” But sometimes, all it means is “less worse” or “the only way to go was up.”

We don’t always get to decide. Sometimes, life hands us “worse and worse.” In those times, just barely holding on is the very best we can do. I’ve had seasons like that. I am praying for several friends who are right there, right now. This post is not about that.

When it comes to going after better, my hard and fast rule is to keep it personal; to compare myself only against myself. We save ourselves a lot of pain when we refuse to compare ourselves to others. This is one of most important lessons I’ve learned as a human.

There’s a song on my running playlist that my nephew introduced to me years ago – “Never Going Back to OK, by The Afters”…

I feel alive
And it hurts for a change
I’m looking back and it’s hard to believe
That I was cool with the days
that I wasted,
complacent,
and tasteless and bored
But that was yesterday

We’re never going back to OK
We’re never going back to easy
We’re never going back to the way it was
We’re never going back to OK

I haven’t got it all figured out, that’s for sure. In fact, there are areas of my life where I need to improve drastically, and areas where I have fallen hard from where I once was. If I ever master the art of being at the peak of “better-ness” across the board, I will happily share the secret.

But I do have some “betters” that I am thankful for right now.

The point of getting to “better” is to make it a new benchmark. It is good to celebrate and acknowledge progress, and then, to keep at it. The next “better” will be – well, you know.

“Good, better, best. Never let it rest.
‘Til your good is better and your better is best”
-St. Jerome

How much better to get wisdom than gold,
and good judgment than silver!
-Proverbs 16:16

 

And Then She Graduated

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She did it! Our girl graduated from UNCG with honors and has already landed a job in her field. I am amazed (but not surprised) at these accomplishments.

After spending years preparing my heart for sending her off to college, it is odd how quickly it seems to have happened and is over. (I realize we weren’t simply preparing for college, but for adulthood.) Yet when I think over the past four years, and the growth, skill and maturity she’s gained through hard work, experiences and making decisions for herself, not to mention the excellent “pouring into” she’s received from School of Education professors and mentor teachers, I can see clearly that it really did happen, and it took more than the blink of an eye.

How do I feel? So proud – so happy for her. There are tears of joy and prayers of gratitude. And while her degree and job offer are noteworthy and cause for celebration, there are more important reasons I’m proud of this woman.

I’m proud of the way she loves.

I’m proud of the way she perseveres.

I’m proud of the way she sets her sights (and wisely adjusts, when needed).

I’m proud of her confidence, and her humility.

I’m proud of the way she follows Christ.

This girl is on fire.
This girl is a firework.

 

 

Fun – On being happily married.

A few years ago, while visiting my aunt and uncle in Minnesota, I slept in my cousin Sarah’s childhood room. She is married with two children and is one of the most tenderhearted people I know. She thinks and feels and loves deeply.  She is a “long-hugger.” Even though she is many years younger than I (She was just 5 years old when Rob and I got married), I have learned important things from her – I wonder if she knows this?

On the wall outside Sarah’s room was a piece of artwork (I assumed she created it, but I might have made that up.) As I remember, it was red and had sort of a patchwork of hearts and flowers with words of “life advice” painted in squares. It caught my eye, but for all its visual appeal, the only thing I am remembering with accuracy is one phrase that I almost missed:

“Be fun to live with.”

Wow.

I don’t know about you, but that is not something that anyone ever told me was important to “Be.” Don’t get me wrong – I got a lot of good life advice and coaching on qualities that were important: “Be responsible.” Got it.  “Be on time.” Yup.  “Be reliable.” Certainly. “Be a person of principle.”  “Be a good friend.”  “Be a worker who earns her keep.” “Be your own person.” “Be good.” “Be careful.” “Be considerate.”

I have always enjoyed having fun. And sometimes (if I do say so myself) I can be fun-ny. But I’m not sure that being “fun to live with” comes naturally to me. Honestly, my bent toward details, strong sense of duty, and love for correct grammar likely make me more of the “buzz-kill” type. Of the two of us, Rob is the one who brings the fun. But in the months since reading these five little words, I have realized that this is something I can learn and practice.

Being more intentional about this in my marriage and with our family is adding joy to my life. The shift is so subtle, it may not be noticeable to anyone around me, but in moments when my nature has me programmed to respond with worry, frustration or criticism, I try to ask myself, “Is there a way to be fun in this instead?” or “Is this something I can shrug off and laugh about?” It’s not a matter of lowering my expectations of those around me, it’s a matter of raising my standards for the way I treat them.

Besides, focusing on being more fun is helping me have more fun.

Thanks, Sarah! (Even if that painting wasn’t yours.)

 

Sometimes, I suck.

“Sometimes, I suck.”

This is one of my favorite funny things our son, Nick, said when he was little. A few days earlier, our family had been chatting about candy. Rob prides himself on being disciplined enough to NOT crunch lollipops and other hard candies. He keeps a Jolly Rancher in his mouth long enough for it to become wafer-thin. I, on the other hand, crunch away at them within seconds. During this all-important family candy conversation, Elizabeth and Rob were identified as “suckers” and little Nicky and myself as “crunchers.”

It caught me off guard when, days later, our three-year-old made his “I suck” declaration.

“What do you mean, Buddy?”

“Sometimes I suck on candy. I don’t always crunch.”

Ahhh…apparently, the candy conversation had been weighing on his heart and it felt dishonest to be known solely as a cruncher.  Funny, sweet little boy.

This simple sentence has stuck with me -it makes me smile when I think of that day. But honestly, some days, I feel like the declaration applies to me – but not in the “candy sense.”

Sometimes, I suck.  Some days, I fail at stuff and feel like a loser. Some days, my attitude is awful and I am all kinds of out-of-sorts. Yesterday started off as one of those days.

Most of the time, I am well-adjusted about making mistakes and being my imperfect, awkward self. After all, I’ve been following Christ long enough to know that anything good or admirable about me is because of Him. I embrace being a fool for Christ, a clay pot. But some days, like yesterday, it seems the level of suckiness is higher or something. (Or maybe, it’s just that my tolerance for it is low?)

At any rate, it never takes too long to turn it around because I know this:

2 Corinthians 12:9

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
or, put another way, in The Message version:
..then he told me, My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friendly “Ghosts”

I don’t believe in ghosts.

But I do have faith in powerful memories, and it feels like I’ve been entertaining guests lately. I’m liking it.

There’s a section of our neighborhood where the homes have double-decker porches. Every time I run past them, I think of my grandparents’ home in Meriden, Connecticut – it had porches like that. One day, my brother and I were sitting outside on the downstairs porch off of the living room. Two white styrofoam cups came into view, being lowered from the porch above.  Inside each cup were two packs of Trident gum. Nanny and Grampy had knotted white string in holes punched in the sides of the cups and crept out onto the upstairs porch silently. It was a fun surprise and a real treat to have full packs of gum of my very own back then. But the best part of having this memory burned so vividly in my mind is how it helps me “know” my grandparents now. I love picturing them, unwinding the balls of string, stifling giggles, wondering what our reaction would be when we noticed the delivery.

My grandparents on the other side wintered in Florida ever since I can remember. The smell of the leather upholstery in the car we bought recently reminds me of one of the cars they had there. Each time I open the door to the car, especially when it has been warmed by the sun, I have a flood of memories of magical visits to Marco Island. It was always wonderful to escape the winter weather of New Jersey or Michigan (or wherever we lived at the time) and spend days being spoiled rotten and hugged ferociously. Rob and I visited Gramma in April at her Marco Island home and so many of the scents of her house were still exactly the same (Dove soap combined with the salty air from the Gulf in the guest bath, the collection of shells in jars in the garage, faint wafts of White Shoulders perfume worn on special occasions). I am quite aware how amazing it is to be my age and still have a grandparent living, and I’m thankful that I’ve been able to really get to know Gramma as the person she still is – not just in a memory.

Recently, we had our home movies converted to DVDs. We’ve enjoyed family viewing parties, the four of us, over Christmas Break. How fun to see how young we all were and how much we’ve all changed and grown in stature and wisdom.  It is surreal (sometimes uncomfortable, mostly joyous) to see the “ghosts” of our former selves looking out from the television screen. We’ve seen and heard from Rob’s beautiful sister, Leslie, and some others who were with still with us while the kids were young. Watching our adult children “meeting” their baby selves has forged some new fun memories.  Some of the little day-to-day things we’d forgotten.  Some of the scenes, however, are vivid memories that have played over and over in my mind since, like some magical things that happened during visits with Elizabeth and Nick’s own adoring grandparents. Swings hung from the rafters in the barn, the time they were allowed to paint a piece of furniture, naming new-born calves. Disney World with all the cousins, the playground by the river, working in the camp store. Our parents’ relationships with our kids have grown and stretched over the years to accommodate the complete picture of who Elizabeth and Nick are becoming, with their goals, dreams, independent spirits, and at least one tattoo so far.

Someday, who knows in how many years, I will become a grandmother. I pray that I, too, will be able to author memories that survive for years and form grooves of love, acceptance and a little bit of magic. What will they remember about me? I hope that there are memories of cookies, exploring, laughter and Jesus…lots of talk about Jesus.

Past. Present. Future. They sure blur together sometimes, don’t they?