20 Years Later

Today my husband and I celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. Twenty years!? How in the world can that be?  It feels like just yesterday. And it also feels like an eternity ago.

We were so young.  One of us out of college, one still in.  We were living in different states, and all we knew was that any moment more that we had to be apart was way too many.  Poor and young, we decided it made financial sense to get married and pay one rent rather than living separately and paying two. Practicality over our financial situation outweighed the advice of all of those “wise people” telling us to wait.

And so it began.

We stood before God and a congregation full of people and made promises that neither of us truly understood. We exchanged vows that sounded nice but whose gravity it would take years to really absorb. We began a life together that I don’t believe either of us could have accurately imagined in our twenty two year old minds.

The reality of two very different worlds colliding was not always pretty. Arguments over mundane things- which way the toilet paper goes on the roll, how to properly pronounce and use words, how long to look in the check register for the lost $.05; there were plenty of things to disagree about.

But the feeling of a warm body to lie next to, the joy of coming home to someone so special, the electricity of shared laughter, the unnoticed opportunities to catch the other singing when they thought no one could hear; there was so much beauty.

In twenty years, we’ve done many things together. Lots of giant things- building a career, bringing kids into the world, watching a beloved mother (in-law) pass away, choosing to stay when we both wanted to walk, run, away. And we’ve done plenty of nothing together- endless hours snuggled up napping, binge watching series of favorite shows.

I don’t believe either of us knew back then that it would be like it is today. Something powerful happens when the butterflies of new love settle into the steady flow of more ordinary love that are replaced by the deep, choosing it every day in both the best and very very worst of it, love. When you don’t want to, but you do it anyway; that’s where the surprising love lives. And that love, that’s the love that you build twenty, thirty, forty years on. It’s the love that creates giant pockets of joy in the midst of hard times. That’s the best love of all.

In twenty years we’ve had valleys we never would have chosen. But the peaks, the peaks are far greater than any I could have dreamed. The view from twenty years is pretty extraordinary. I can’t wait to see what it looks like in twenty more.

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Busy Hands, Grateful Hands

I’ve never been so grateful for work.

When the alerts and text messages and calls starting blowing up my phone a week ago, and the horrible news of the terrible bus accident came in, I felt sick. Unsure which of my friends’ children were on the bus, uncertain of the severity of the crash, I felt dizzy and trapped in slow motion while the world turned faster. And I had no idea of what to do. There was an invisible weight upon me.

Certain something terrible was happening, hurting for those that it was happening to, I had no idea how to help. I fell to my knees and lifted my cries up to the only Help I knew. On bended knee I prayed for protection and peace and understanding. I prayed for safe travels for the families that would be driving down to collect their children, mothers, husbands. I prayed that the early reports of a fatality were wrong- maybe a station wanting to report first did so before they had all of the information.

My life kept going on that day. Kids still had games and practices. My family still needed fed. But I was walking around numb and in a daze. My mind wasn’t on the immediate. My mind was on the wreck and those families.

The only thing I was certain of was the absolute feeling of helplessness I had.  I felt this huge sense of urgency. Something needed done; people were hurting; there where hearts to mend. Surely there was something I could do. But there wasn’t.

I was not sure why, but I felt like I needed to go to the church. Maybe gathering there to pray, maybe being in His house, maybe then the feeling of helplessness would go away?  Maybe I could be useful? Maybe hugging someone would make my idol hands feel better along the way?

I prayed, I hugged, I cried, but the helplessness stayed heavy on my heart. “Lord, give me work. Help me to have something to do.”  Then I overheard someone telling a friend, “we are serving food.”  I didn’t care how that sentence ended, I just clung to “serve.”

I asked the woman that had spoken to please put me to work. I needed my hands to be busy, to be as busy as my mind. Rocked by my shock and grief, I happily cut sandwiches, iced cups and filled drinks. Like a balm on an open wound, being busy in service lifted some of the weight of the helplessness. Offering a smile and a cool drink to those hurting, many far more than me, was like therapy.

While I was there, I felt filled with the strength of the Lord. I could courageously offer a smile, bravely speak words of comfort. I have never been so grateful for work. My hands were busy, and it lifted the burden on my heart. In the midst of helplessness, I had a job and a purpose.

I can’t tell you the extent to which I cherished that opportunity or express how grateful I was.  To serve in chaos, to make some small order out of so much tragedy, it gave me relief.

It also made me realize the importance of making room for and allowing other people to serve. How many times, when someone has been hurting for me or my family, has she offered to help, and I have declined?  “No thank you, we’re fine.” When all she really wanted was a chance to have busy hands, to lift the burden on her heart. I know how grateful I was to have work during a time when I was witnessing so much grief. Who am I to take that from someone else?  Next time I hope I’ll be quicker to let someone else serve me, being reminded that they want to be part of God’s purpose.

Beauty Out of Ashes

I am a believer that we have a Creator that makes beauty out of ashes. He takes broken things and makes them new. He takes that which we deem as “beyond repair,” and He recrafts, recreates and repurposes it.

I know this to be true, as He did it with me. Once broken and covered in stains so deep they went nearly to the bone, I fell before Him begging and pleading and asking to be forgiven and remade. Ashamed and defeated and feeling worthless, I cried out. Even the creatures crawling on their bellies on the earth were higher.

Crushed nearly to dust, I came. With nothing but hope for what He might do, I came. Knowing there was no way left but through Him, I came. Clinging to His promise, I came.

“And the God of all grace, who called me to his eternal glory in Christ, after I had suffered a little while, did himself restore me and make me strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever.” 1 Peter 5:10-11

It wasn’t overnight, as restoration can take awhile. But slowly, bit by broken bit, He gathered me up. Like a master puzzle worker thoughtfully flipping over each piece, edge pieces here; corner pieces there, He worked.

What He made, the beauty He made out of the ash that was left of my life, there are no words!  Gently He lifted me, often with the hands of His people. People that would be proof of His abundance and His lavish love for me. Support from behind, love from the left and right, He brought the people that would help me see the new creature He had crafted.  A creature that was shiny and new and worthy of love.

And my scars, oh the beauty of my scars. They are proof that I am mended. Like a badge, I wear them. Like an accessory that brings attention to the place we want people to focus on, I let them show. Because how else will people come to know the handiwork of the Father?  How else will they see what beautiful things He can do with nothing but ash?

 

Unhappy Anniversary

Not all anniversaries are happy. Not all of them bring with them a feeling of celebration.  Today I experience one.

One year ago today my beloved mother-in-law left this world behind. After battling cancer for the third time, her body finally lost. And our world was changed forever.

Without a doubt, a giant void has been left. There is an empty spot in the bleachers at my kids’ sporting events. There are no cards in the mail on holidays that truly only served as “a reason for GG to spoil her grandkids day.” There are fewer cheers for me as a mother.  And there is one less person in our world to motivate, direct and compel us.

The absence is tangible, and it is painful.

But she is with us still.  In the way my daughter uses her inherited gift to create art and crafts that my husband and I can’t even imagine.  In the way my son picks clothes that she would have loved to see him in, and in the way his chest puffs as if he can hear her compliment.  She is there when my husband recounts a tale from work where his “no excuses, get the job done, there is no quit” attitude shows. She is there when I go ahead and put “one more” load of laundry in, even when I’d prefer not to. She is in every banana split blizzard with pecans that I order (she introduced me to this delight).  She is in every song that my windchime sings.  She is with us still.

So today, while it is an anniversary we’d prefer to not have, I will celebrate anyway.

I think we will make her favorite strawberry cupcakes and eat them in celebration of her life. We will celebrate that she can breathe, full deep breaths without feeling like she can’t get enough air. We will celebrate that she isn’t walking around in a broken vessel whose extremities suffered neuropathy from chemo. We will celebrate that we got to keep her long enough that she leaves a mark on each of us. We will celebrate because she was ours.

Because whether she is here or not, she is worth celebrating!!

I Am Her Flock, #servelikesarah

IMG_3378In the aftermath of our church’s tragic bus crash this week…

I didn’t know Sarah Harmening, the sweet girl that gave her life last week. And by all accounts, my life is less rich because of it. But, when given the chance to meet with her on the other side of this life, this is what I would want her to know.

Your mission trip has just begun, and I am your flock.

My family and I had been more absent than present at church the last many months. A thousand excuses, no good reasons. I had neglected carving out specific time to spend in God’s word and in waiting for His voice.

I knew the church was sending a group to Botswana, as I had imported all of the youth activities onto my phone calendar. I am embarrassed to say that, while I saw it on my calendar, I hadn’t uttered a single prayer regarding it. I guess it was too far removed from me to even truly register.

Then the crash happened.

My phone went crazy with texts and calls making sure my kids were okay. It was then that I began to realize how many people I knew on that bus, how many of my friends’ children were involved. Suddenly it all registered in a giant way, and I fell to my knees in prayer.

And then, I “met” Sarah. Through her parents willingness to publicly speak, through them sharing her journal entry and her sisters sharing her text message, I began to feel her influence.

That young lady, in a single journal entry, expressed more active, living, trusting faith than I could have at 42. Her family, in standing, only hours after losing her, and boldly proclaiming their trust in God’s plan and their certainty in Sarah’s desire to be a part of it, even if it meant death – I began to see.

Sarah wrote about 1 Peter 5 in her last journal entry. She assumed that her “little buddies in Botswana” were the flock that she was going to shepherd. I have come to realize that I am Sarah’s flock. She has been an example to me, just as God called her to.

We serve a God that makes beauty out of ashes. The loss of this child, the injuries and wreckage from this crash, they leave so much ash. But what our Creator is doing with those ashes, much of which we can’t even yet see, beautiful.

Thank you, Sarah. Thank you for saying “here I am Lord, send me.” You thought you were going on a mission trip to Botswana, but you are on a mission trip that will reach far more people than the one you had planned on. The reach of your trip has truly just begun.

May, in the days, weeks and months ahead, we all work to #servelikesarah.

Words dance circles in my head, on my tongue, on the page. Leaping and twirling and full of life, they want to be put down, expressed, sung, heard. And I love them. I love what they have to say. All of the stories they produce. All of the prayers they can lift. The way they can construct masterpieces.

Lines, like melodies, singing to me. They seek to encourage and empower and entertain. Like bubbles rising up from the bottom of the sea, they pop and leave marks on those they touch. My hope is that the mark they leave will be gentle and good.

Spilling forth, they come. More and more. May they not just be babble, but may they paint pictures of perfection to be given as gifts to others. And the reward for me is being able to paint with words. To be an artist that creates, not with paint or clay, but with syllables and stanzas. That is my joy.

The Ride of Their Lives

Once upon a time there was a stay at home mom with two small children. She loved those children with all her might. She sang to them; she read to them; she made up stories for them; she put nearly every ounce of effort she had into these little people. She loved her job, but she often felt overwhelmed and felt uncertain that she was doing it well. She got no performance reviews and no raises to indicate “job well done.” So, she just kept on keeping on, hoping and praying that God would parent these kids through her.

She chose to see each birthday as an indication of success- tangible proof that she had helped them grow and achieve another year. Another 365 days that she had kept them alive! It seemed like the only measuring stick she had. Each new milestone, each new grade, became how she chose to see her work measured.

Sometimes, the days seemed so long. Long nights, long days, too short nights, endless days. Singing and touching and laughing with them, she put one foot in front of the other. In those days, the years and milestones seemed so hard to come by. There wasn’t much opportunity to see whether or not it was going well.

But then something happened. These little people began to grow into bigger people. People with opinions and humor and hopes. And the days began to go faster. Report cards came, and so many “firsts” came, and birthdays kept coming. The days became short and full- full of activities these new people had chosen for themselves. Busy days. And these bigger people brought others with them. People that also had opinions and humor and hopes. New faces filled her house and her heart. Suddenly she realized that the “firsts” were beginning to turn into “lasts,” and she didn’t want to miss a single one. So many “lasts.”

Gulp. Crack. Break.

Her heart cracked. It broke open, both with pride for who these little people were becoming, but also with pain because they were little no more. She could see them moving from little to bigger to nearly grown. It also cracked because it needed to create more room to accommodate all of the others that were being brought into the fold. More people to sing to and laugh with and love. Those cracks made more space.

This mom, she was grateful and sad all at the same time. Walking around, pride-filled and glowing, but also raw and hurting. Delighted by her children’s lives and in disbelief that it had started going so quickly. When had those long days turned into so many fast years??

Like a merry-go-round that spins faster and faster, there is so much fun to have. But rides at that speed also take your breath.

So the mom, holding on tight with both hands, tried her best to strap herself in and keep her eyes open as the ride went faster. She wanted to make sure that she didn’t miss a single thing.

This Smirk

I seem to have a secret. At least I’m pretty sure that a stranger walking by me as I sit alone would think so. Why?  Because I realize I often have this smirk on my face. Not a full blown, teeth showing smile, but a turned up, sideways sort of grin.

It strikes me, often, that I am sitting completely alone in a room and am grinning. Sometimes it even makes me giggle, because I am certain I look as if I am up to something. As if I’m formulating some plan or have successfully executed some secret mission.

I love it!  I love that it even surprises me sometimes.

My world is not perfect. My life is not seamless. Just this very morning I went to take my daughter to school and the sick cat to the vet, only to discover that I was locked out of my car. Hardly ideal.

And yet, this goofy grin prevails.

I’m not completely sure I understand why. I think that the source is a deeply content heart. One that has truly discovered, possibly without ever believing it could, the meaning of “the joy of the Lord.” In the midst of a crazy world, with a heart that breaks for so many, and in a body that hurts more than I’d like, a smile rules my face.  It doesn’t ask me if it can take up residence there.  And I don’t decide to paint it on. It simply is.  Like it’s bubbling up from inside without a thought.  Like lungs know to seek air- it just happens.

And I COMPLETELY delight in it!  It has quickly become my favorite thing about me.

For years I’ve prayed that the light of God’s love would shine through me. I think that this smirk, this unintended expression, is a partial answer to that prayer. It’s the love in my heart pushing up through the curve in my lips. And hopefully it serves as an invitation- a request for you to join me in contentment. It’s a pretty amazing place to be.

A Purpose

I feel certain that I am discovering my purpose. When I was young, I wanted it to be grand and imagined it to be lived in a giant public extraordinary way. But in the mundane happenings of the checkout line, I heard a whisper that said my purpose was to love others and be kind, exactly where I was planted. My purpose didn’t have to be on a stage or in all caps to be important. It didn’t have to be fancy or award winning or even recognized by others. But for a long time I thought it did. Or perhaps I just wanted it to be.

I can remember pleading with God, begging Him to use me. Surely I was meant for something more than just an ordinary life. Surely my capabilities and talents should be put to better use than just the everyday duties of mother, wife, daughter, sister, neighbor and friend. On my knees, crying with desire to do His will, begging for Him to show me what He wanted. Months and years spent in ache wanting to be a tool for Him. So willing.

Or at least I thought I was willing. I was willing as long as it fit into my construct of what I thought He’d made me to achieve. So focused on the “out there, the next thing,” I couldn’t see that my purpose was right before me. It was in the ordinary moments of a quiet life. Surely that couldn’t be it- my desire was so deep and so great that surely what I was purposed for had to be equally great?! How could ordinary, simple and everyday be enough?

But it is more than enough. Because it’s what I was designed to do. I am clear that I love well. And that’s not said in pride; that’s me acknowledging the gift that God has given me. I am good at loving others. But that’s because of God’s faithfulness to me. For years I prayed that the light of God’s love would shine through me and that I would see  His light as it shines in others- even in the least likely of people. He answered that prayer.

For years I stood in the way of His will for my life. I kept tripping over my days and getting in my own way. I was so focused on what I thought I was going to see, that I wasted much time not seeing what I already had.

I’m grateful to have clarity about my job here on earth. And wherever in this life I end up, whether on a stage speaking to women about God’s love, or driving a minivan full of kids, or answering a phone at an elementary school, or writing my words down to share with others,  I am CERTAIN that I can do what I’m called to in each of those places. I’m fortunate enough to have the resource I need living inside me- a heart full of love!

You Won’t Stop Me

You there, the one with your negativity and hate mongering, the one trying to convince the world that fear will win. I just wanted to let you know that you won’t stop me. You won’t stop me from waking up today and feeling love, actively choosing to feel, give, and express love, to those that don’t look like me, think like me or talk like me. As hard as it may be, I will even choose to offer it to you.

Despite your best efforts, I will find more joy than fear in my day. I will see that we have far more in common than we have things that separate us. You, with your big loud voice and giant distractions, you won’t remove my focus from the small quiet whispers that make up most of this world. Your droning on won’t keep me from hearing the sweet song of praise. And better still, you won’t keep me from joining in the song.

Oh the beauty as our voices rise in appreciation.  The language of our souls all match, our hearts truly beat to the same rhythm.  You and your off beat amplified clapping do not change that.

I know that, just as you won’t stop me, my small positive actions in the world won’t keep you from continuing to broadcast your nastiness, and perhaps worse, may not even soften your rigid ideas. But I know something that makes me smile.

I sit here with this expression on my face because I have a knowing in my heart. I know that all it takes to see in a world full of darkness is just a small amount of light. Shining a tiny light upward in a canopy of darkness showers lots of light back down.  And light always reveals truth.

That light will draw other people- people that prefer the true beauty of light and truth over the loud density of darkness and lies. And they will gather. What once began as a tiny flicker will grow and spread and fan out and catch on, and soon you will be left with no one to hear your once loud cries of hate.

So, just know that while you dig deep into your trench of bitterness, I’ll be over here, building a bridge  over the chasm you are creating. Despite your best efforts, you won’t stop me.