Village People

We are Village People. And not just because pretty much every person in America and beyond knows the lyrics and could bust out the choreography to the legendary song “YMCA”.  This description of humanity in Jennie Allen’s book (“Get Out of Your Head”) has been floating around in my mind for weeks. It explains why I feel so unsettled–why I think a lot of us feel “not quite right” in our World these days–these past months. Unbelievable–almost this past year.

When the pandemic hit, were scattered from our villages. They were pillaged and plundered by Covid and in effort to stay safe, we went into hiding. Some of us didn’t mind this, at first. We were frightened and huddled in our spaces for protection. Some were lucky (at least it seemed so at first) to be quarantined with their family. Others, for a plethora of reasons, were forced to isolate even from ones they loved so everyone could remain safe. 

After months of this retreating, even those sequestered with their families started to get a little Antsy. The quality time and permission to be “home alone” together started to lose its novelty.

I regularly pray for those who have been quarantined with a critical, harmful, abusive spouse or mother or father. My heart aches for parents with children who need intense structure and instruction outside of the home and can’t get it.  Many have been forced into roles that they are not equipped for. The stress levels and daily challenges of even your average children, cooped up and home schooled by parents with full time jobs are off the charts.

I know I am not saying anything we don’t all know and have whined about for months. All of us have dozens of examples of how this time has changed their lives forever. But here is why I think it has been so heavy on us, or at least on me: I believe we were created to be Village People.

We are not meant to live in isolation. God created us for community. For all the good, bad and ugly of it, community is still what our heart beats for. Love and affection and being able to touch, caress, hug, or pat the back of another human being is something we all need.

Many of us forget how badly we need it until it happens; some renegade ignores the rules and gives us a big bear hug or god-forbid, shakes or squeezes our bare hand.

The other day I had to get my picture taken for something at work–without a mask. It took me about 10 minutes because I could not form my mouth into a smile that didn’t look forced or creepy. It disturbed me for days. I finally realized it was because my muscles had forgotten how to form a smile. I spend days with a mask on in public places with a zombie-like gaze, not speaking to or giving that little awkward smirk we give to strangers as we pass them at stores and coffee shops. I am just blank under my mask. I think I might be getting frown lines!!

Now that things seem to be opening up a little more, I hear talk about how people are going to continue working from home or offices, deciding to just shut their doors and do everything online. This makes me sick to my stomach. Why? Because we are Village People. And Village people do life in their Village–in person. Around the fire they reason things out and laugh and are physically present with one another. 

Social media and Zoom provide false intimacy. We have taken our hiding and image management to a whole different level! How many of you have done a Zoom meeting while in the bathroom or half dressed or in bed with your pretty picture frozen on the screen (I am raising my hand!). When I am on a zoom meeting my mind is half there, if I am lucky, and half on my actual surroundings. Usually I am multi-tasking during it and am not “present”. 

Sure, I have enjoyed some mornings watching church from my living room. But what about the desperate soul who needs us to be Jesus’ actual hands and feet? They are not in my living room. And since I barely know what day it is most of the time, I forget to even “go” to church at all! All this isolation and church online is making us even more self absorbed and narcissistic than we already are.  Anyone can be loving, patient, kind and compassionate when there are no real people to bump up against.

OK, I feel like I am ranting now. That is not my intention. In review, I just deleted approximately 7 explanation points from that last paragraph. Didn’t want you to feel like I was yelling at you. But I am a little desperate, pleading with you to get back to your Villages as soon as it is safe to do so. This was a detour for our world, and as soon as humanly and safely possible, please get back to real-life living and loving and embracing each other. When you can get rid of your mask, smile like you did after you first fell in love; for days and days and days for apparent reason.

Your Villages may need some mending and rebuilding and restructuring when you return. Don’t despair. Be creative and determined to restore the places you were abruptly forced to abandon. But don’t give up. Don’t believe the lie that you can do life from home from now on. 

The world needs real community. You need it and it needs you. We are Village People. 

Take back your Villages. 

Greed in disguise

I need to get out of my head. I am so self absorbed right now-worrying about what others think of me to the point of obsession. Also, and largely, beating myself up for a variety of shortcomings. I never feel like I am doing enough. I am not spiritual enough, not thin enough, not selling enough houses or writing enough blogs or investing enough time in my relationships with my kids, my spouse, my church. I can’t seem to stick to my diet for more than a week and feel like a failure. I can’t seem to say no to wine or desserts, especially if I am stressing about all the aforementioned areas. I just can’t seem to relax and enjoy myself. Like, literally enjoy “me”. The Me who I am today, not who wish I could be in the future or the Me from the past that I wish I still was.  This lack of satisfaction with what God has given me, what I have in my hand today, is making me sick. It dawned on me that it is a sneaky form of greed. So, even though this will cause me to continue down this path of negative self-analysis, I want to explore the concept for a minute so I can get to the roots of what needs to be weeded out.

As a definition, Greed is defined as an insatiable desire for more. It is most commonly used with money, possessions or food, but can be applied to anything we desire in excess. Psychology Today says the results of wanting more and more “has an unpleasant effect on our inner emotional lives.”   Another site points out that “greed eats up a person so that s/he is wasted away due to the heat of the bad traits it makes one develop such as selfishness, anger, jealousy and unhealthy competition. It sucks up every strand of happiness and results in death (www.researchgate.net).  No matter where you find greed defined, it always indicates an intense and selfish desire for more. 

So, this ravenous feeling swirling around in me to be more of what I am today, is not as innocent as what I have named it. It’s not just me having goals or dreams. Unfortunately, it’s more about, well, more. It’s about dissatisfaction and ingratitude for what God has provided for me today; about what he has done in me to make who I am today.  

Greed causes me to write a book and the day it’s published, beat myself up mentally for not being on the best sellers list. It causes me to sell the most expensive house I have ever sold and the next week whine because I can’t seem to sell anything. And giving myself the benefit of the doubt about waiting a whole week before I start the whining is pretty generous! When I lose 5 pounds I am frustrated because I really want to lose 10. 

Photo by Andrew Wilus on Pexels.com

These are the superficial examples. But it goes much deeper than the external successes/failures. I desire to be a trusting, faith-filled, positive, joyful, peace-giving, God-fearing woman. But instead of reflecting on any progress I have made in these areas, I mostly beat myself up for not being “more” of them. 

I understand that it is good to be always growing and morphing, but not at the expense of our ability to acknowledge that who we are today is exactly where we are supposed to be today and we can be grateful to God for that.

There is a difference between growth and greed. That difference is gratitude. Gratitude for where we have been and who we are and what we have this day. 

Can I tell you a secret? I feel sorry for God sometimes. If he were human like me, he would probably feel like He just can’t win. I ask, beg and plead for him to alleviate my emotional pain or remedy an issue that is preoccupying my mind and making me sick with worry. The waiting for it feels excruciatingly long. I convince myself that when and if he answers (read: clears up the situation and makes it go in my favor) I will be content. 

Then, He answers in a way that solves the problem. I am grateful for about 2 seconds, if I acknowledge His part at all, and then immediately move on to the next problem that needs my attention. There is little, if any, pause for celebration and adoration and enjoying the gift of the solution. I simply find something new to fret about or implore him to address for me.

My greedy little heart wants more. More from Him. More from others. More from life. I never seem to have enough of all of it.

Like I said earlier, I have been dressing up my greed in different outfits that look more like ambition, confidence and fervor for reaching my goals or becoming a better “Christian”. But it’s time to call it what it is and confess and surrender it to God, the only one worthy of my thirst and longing for more and more and more.

“As the deer pants for water so may my soul pants for you, Oh Lord.” Psalm 42:1

“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Psalm. 63:1

“For He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul He fills with good things.” Psalm 107:9

Go. Stay. (A note to my mom)

Well. It’s done. My parents sold their home in Illinois (an hour away from me) and are moving to California permanently. No offense to my dad, who I respect and love and will miss like crazy, but I want to take a few minutes to unpack my feelings about my mom moving 1,712 miles away from me.

The mature, God-fearing, blogger/writer in me, who desires to provide healing and perspective for people who are sad, fearful, worried, and desperate for a word of hope, has some things to say to my mom. First of all, “go”. Go and embrace it. I know you have lived in Illinois for 22 years and have sweet, loyal and hilarious friends, but they will always be in your life. 

You are the only woman I know who has never lived in any state longer than 5 years after you got married, yet still fly, on a regular basis, to Oregon, Washington and California to visit friends where you used to live. Your servant heart and love for God lead you to volunteer and join Bible studies everywhere you went, resulting in quick, lasting and solid relationships with women. You didn’t pout, at least for very long, and wait for everyone to notice the new girl. You jumped in and made fast friends wherever life dropped you. 

You still text and call and send birthday cards to each other.  Who does that? I have a terrible propensity towards “out of sight out of mind” so I am scared to death that my friends might think I have died if I move away! Even though the Illinois girls will miss you, I have no doubt you will maintain the bond you have built here.

As for me and my family, particularly Emma, we bless you and give you “permission” to go and be happy about it. I know I have given you a hard time about going, but I am grateful, as some have reminded me to be, that I have had you here for 20 plus years and now it’s time for you to share yourself with my siblings in California. They need you too, after all. Who wouldn’t need a mom like you? 

I trust God will take care of my heart and soothe the sad ache I feel when I realize I can’t just drive an hour to get a hug and watch movies until midnight. 

It’s OK, mom. I will be OK. You will be OK too.  I am happy for you and excited for what life adventures God has for you and dad as you move on from here. 

DEEP BREATHING. DEEP BREATHING. DON’T CRY. DEEP BREATHING. DEEP BREATHING. DON’T CRY. DON’T CRY DON’T CRY. 

Now, the bratty, self-centered, “strong-willed child” child in me also has a few things to say about this move to California:

“Stay!!”

Don’t you want to stay and live with me? I will make you a room! We can kayak and play pickleball and hike and shop and eat our way around town. We can organize and clean and cook because I hate doing all of those things, but you always make it more bearable and even fun when we do it together. When I have to work and show houses, you can ride with me and be my navigator. 

Who is going to get the impossible stains out of our clothes or sew on buttons or hem our pants? You can’t really expect me to be a grown up and do it myself, can you?!

And clothes shopping? Forget about it. You always find clothes for me at your second hand store and I just wear them because A, I am too lazy to shop for myself and B, I am too cheap to buy them myself. My fashion future is very bleak.

Who is Emma going to giggle with at possibly the weirdest inside jokes and observations and take her on shopping adventures?

And omygosh, who will rub my feet. My feeeeet! This is a longstanding tradition (that I know you just love) that no one else can, or is willing, to do. 

I will miss deciding on a whim to come up and spend the weekend at your house, playing cards and fitting in more activity in 24 hours that any other 2 women on the planet. 

You serve and love without thought for yourself. The time you spent with me at the hospital when I had Leukemia almost, but not quite, makes me wish we could go back. Maybe just a nice little hospital stay, minus the Leukemia part. I saw so many patients who had families that just added to the stress of having cancer. You were a bright spot to not only me, but the nurses who came in our room. And of course, they all wanted to come in our room because you and Emma had decorated it with white Christmas lights and party streamers.

Maybe that’s the best way to say it: doing life with you is like having a perpetual party. Your faith, your outlook, your twisted sense of humor, make everyday life lighter. Brighter. Better.

So, even though my refrain about you moving, which I have reiterated about a thousand times the past few months, has been, “this is stupid”, I know it’s time to buck up and shut up and let you go with a more graceful sendoff.

We have a unique and intimate momma-daughter friendship that cannot be threatened or thwarted by mere miles. You are embedded in my spirit and cherished in my heart.

So, even though you “go”,

You “stay”. 

I love you momma. 

Tips for Dodger fans from the book of James

Shhhh. I am going to have to sneak to write this because this subject has been strictly forbidden in our household. Even if you are not a baseball fan, or, more importantly, Dodger fan like my husband has been from the womb, you will no doubt feel the sting of this replay.

In the 9th inning of the 2020 World Series game 4 the Dodgers were beating the Rays 7-6 with 2 outs. Seemed like a slam-dunk (even thought that is more of a basketball-y word🙃) for the Dodgers. The batter was not one that Dodger fans were particularly concerned about. He was average and not too much of a threat. We were already celebrating in our little hearts.

What happened next caused me to awake the next morning wondering if I had dreamt the whole thing. It was like a clip from “The Bad News Bears” (Anyone remember that movie? Look it up!)  The hitter who no one was afraid of defied the odds and cracked one over the shortstops head. The right fielder fumbled the catch, wasting a couple of seconds. One runner had already scored to tie the game. And just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, it got far worse. The right fielder threw it home to the catcher who was poised, blocking the plate from the runner who was rounding 3rd. As the runner flew past 3rd, he tripped and literally fell to the ground. At that moment the ball reached the catcher who spun his glove around, causing the ball to shoot out of his glove and roll away. The runner, who thought he was done for, got a second chance. He jumped up and plowed toward home to win the game 8-6. This all happened in about 20 seconds. 

Getty Images

I was in the kitchen and heard, “You’ve got to be kidding me!!!!” Then, silence. A long, scary silence. 

We are still stunned 2 days later. How could something that seemed so right go so wrong so quickly?

I am studying the book of James (James was the brother of Jesus, in case you care) so naturally, my head went to one of the lessons I am trying to learn from his teaching. Here is the lesson from James 4:13-17: 

You are not God. It’s arrogant to think you know what will happen in the future. Make plans but hold them loosely because God’s plans for you may not match your small, human-minded plans. His are better. Always say, “if it’s God’s will I will do this or that” and then lean in to the miracles he puts in your path that would have never crossed your mind. Remember that sometimes unwanted circumstances thwart your plans, but God will not abandon you. He will walk through you in those times.

And never ever trick yourself into thinking that you know the ending. Never ever assume that the game is over until it’s over.

That goes for the good and the bad.

Just when you think it’s safe to assume you know what’s coming, you can be assured that you will be surprised — which sounds terrifying to me at first, until I realize it frees me up to live in the moment and cherish it for what it has to offer. I can trust God with the future and know he will walk me through whatever comes my way. I have had a bit of personal experience in this, in the small stuff as well as the biggies like cancer and the family disease of addiction. 

I have read the passage in James dozens of times over the years. Back in college, when my brain was sharper, I actually memorized the entire five-chapter book of James. I have decided to take this year to study and actually ask God to help me live out the principles of the very practical book — to make them a part of my daily walk, not just a script in my head. 

I mean, who better to learn from than from someone who actually grew up with Jesus in the same house! On a side note, think about that for a minute. No pressure or opportunity for resentment there! And you thought it was rough being compared to your siblings!

The book of James is where many of the 12 Steps from Recovery Groups originated. Simple and straightforward ways to live life on life’s terms. Simple, but not easy to implement, especially when our ego gets in the way. When we forget that we are not God and do not know the future. 

I have seen this principle played out in many areas of my life. The “just when you think” principle. …just when you think you will never change, get a job, find a mate, be free of addiction, rage, anxiety, depression. …just when you think your marriage is done for, your kids will never leave home or never come back. 

Just when you think God can’t be trusted and doesn’t see or hear you, he sends a sign: a new friend, a kind word, an encouraging text from an old friend, a bible verse, a rainbow, a feather or a bee (more on that later…). 

I always wondered about the last sentence of this set of verses. It doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the message: 

“So, you know the right thing that you ought to do. But if you know that and you do not do the right thing, then you have done a wrong thing.”

Huh? That seemed totally off in left field until today — no dig at that poor Dodger outfielder intended! I think James finished up with that last verse to point us back to the present and living out our walk with God.

The only opportunity we have to serve and love others is right now. So, if you know that but are too busy planning for the future or are always telling yourself that you will “do it tomorrow, next week or sometime in the future” but never actually do it (call that friend, serve the poor, share your story or your stuff, etc), you are sinning.

Which is quite an indictment when we usually think of “sinning” as the bad stuff we do. James tells us that if you know what you should do but don’t do it you are sinning. He strongly urges us to live knowing tomorrow may never come. Is your side of the street clean? Would you be ready if tomorrow doesn’t come? Feel free to make plans, but hold them loosely and make the most of today. God is God, and thank God almighty, you are not. 

Here’s a worthwhile mantra for today and maybe everyday:

Hold it all loosely

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Kayaking to serenity

I am a kayaker. Before you become overly impressed with my grand sense of adventure, I’ll remind you that I live in the middle of Illinois. It’s not like there are white water rapids to tackle or anything.  I simply go out to our local, man-made lake, drag my kayak into the water and within 10 minutes, I am floating peacefully in the water.

 I have been out at 6:00 in the morning (to avoid boats and actually make it alive to the other side of the lake instead of tooling along the shore line or quiet coves) and 9:00 at night (hovering close to the dock and being yelled at by various lake-home owners that we are going to get run over by boats. So Helpful.) . 

I bought 2 kayaks and joined a lake club 2 years ago and it is undoubtedly some of the best money I have ever spent. Two times in the last month a friend and I have loaded up our kayaks and traveled a whole hour away to join complete strangers in a Central Illinois Kayaking Club. We are both 50 (ish) years old and feeling pretty proud of our adventures. Next time, we decided we will camp in a tent the night before, but now I am just bragging. 😉

About half of the time I kayak with friends, which is why I bought 2.  I love sharing this experience with people who I care about and who I know could use an hour or two of escape.

Often, though, I go alone, which my mom and mother in law don’t like very much for safety reasons. When I send them a pic and am out by myself, I remind them that I would have to stand up and rock back and forth aggressively in order to fall out and as far as I know, there haven’t been too many hostages taken off of kayaks in Lake Springfield lately.

I go alone for fun, but I also go alone when I am stressed, sad, overwhelmed, angry, flustered, or feeling crowded. Last time I went was immediately after I had left a funeral for a young friend’s mom and in the same hour found out my brother’s house had burned down in the California fires. 

After months of quarantining and no graduations or proms and college cancelled for my daughter and life postponed and interrupted in a thousand different ways for everyone I knew, these two events made something inside me snap. 

Going back to real life just didn’t seem appropriate. So, in my dress and heels, I headed for the lake to see if I could find the serenity and focus I needed to go on with my day. My life. 

As I pushed away from the shore into the quiet cove that is like a hallway leading to rougher waters, I heard it. The subtle, soothing sound of the paddle moving through the calm waters. It’s not unlike the sound of a gentle fountain or stream or even one of those zen-like, battery operated mini waterfalls you might find in a spa or have in your home for relaxation; a gentle ripple.

Each time I put my oar in and slowly drug it from side to side, the gentle ripple generated a  “quieting” in my spirit. 

I listened carefully to this and it soothed my soul. It took me a few minutes to get to the open water. I paddled out a bit and just sat and read and cried and called my sister, who always says what I need to hear.

As I headed back to real life, it occurred to me that when I am paddling in the rough waters, the sound of my oar pulling me through the water was not the same. 

When I moved quickly and rowed with high energy and hard work, the sound was not relaxing or peaceful. 

It sounded like effort.

Immediately, the verse “Be still and know that I am God” came into my mind. This was a perfect metaphor for me to understand the necessity for stillness.

When I sit with God, slow my spirit enough to listen for his prompting, his caress, his comforting presence, I find rest in my Being. Deep in my knowing. 

When I “suck it up”, “man up” and “give it some gusto”, I often create too much static to hear that still small voice of assurance that he loves me, he sees and hears me, and he is in control of it all — that He is indeed Lord.

It’s like rowing in rough water – I get where I am going, I suppose, but it’s a lot of work and effort, minus the sense of pleasure and peace that comes from paying attention to what God is saying and doing around me.

 I am simply rowing/going too fast to really hear his voice. 

Maybe you don’t have a kayak, and for that, you have my sympathy.  I love mine so much! But I highly recommend finding a way to be alone and still with God. Maybe it’s in nature or in a boat,  but most often you will need to carve out time and space to do it without that much rigamarole (is that a real word?).

 You might need to step away from your desk or your home or your friends/coworkers/ family and sit in your car, go for a walk or lock yourself in a closet for a few minutes. You may need to do this a few times a day to stay sane.

 As you get better at turning your will and your life over to the care of God and trusting him with the outcome, you will not wean yourself off of this method of finding peace…

…you will crave it.

“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust will be your strength.” Isaiah 30:15

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” Psalm 37:7

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Underlinable

I have been reading a book that was loaned to me by a friend.

Loaned. Not given.

As a general rule, when given a book on loan, one should protect that book, keeping the pages smooth (no dog-earing the corners) and barely opening it so as not to crack the spine. One should avoid using the book to set ones’ coffee cup on so it won’t spill on the couch. One should also refrain, no matter how poignant a word, sentence or phrase of said book, from underlining or highlighting anything.

Unless one just can’t refrain one page longer and wildly lets her pen fly.

I made it all the way to page 73.

That’s when I couldn’t take it anymore and began to underline insights that I needed to hear and wanted to revisit in the future.

I don’t read much that isn’t non-fiction/self-help/inspirational because I actually hate reading.

My brain considers reading work; not something you do for enjoyment. 

I have a pretty short attention span which is why I only read about a chapter at a time ( or less, if the chapter is really long!) before I can’t focus anymore.

I also seem to forget what I read…unless-I underline it.

It helps me really “hear” what is being said through the text.

Underlined

Sometimes I get a little crazy and try to listen to an Audio book. That’s sort of a disaster. I end up only understanding about half of the book because A, my mind wanders off and B, I can’t underline anything.

This morning, as I finished up this book, I decided to go back to the beginning and re-read the first 72 pages and underline anything that I didn’t learn the first time when I was reading “pen-free”. There was some pretty good stuff in there!

That’s when I had this thought about how my life can be divided up in to days that have moments or conversations or insights that are underlined and days that are just a run-on of activities and actions that are void and without intention and laden with duty.

Next to my sitting spot on my couch I have a basket of about 20 books that I have already read, at least once. Many of them I re-read every year and am delighted when I see that something I underlined the year before has actually been a growth area for me.

Other times I am surprised to pull a nugget of truth off of a page that was just plain naked. How could I have missed this last time I read it?!

By now, I have learned that I just wasn’t ready to receive that truth yet, or I was a different person or at a different place in my life then; I didn’t need to hear it until now. I couldn’t.

I want my life to be marked up — underlined (maybe, if I get a little wild, even highlighted or starred or circled!). I don’t want to go through several “pages” of my story where there is nothing worth underlining.

When I start to read a book that doesn’t compel me to underline anything, it goes back on the shelf or to Goodwill. I have no interest in finishing them.

Living a life with underlining doesn’t mean constant adventure or entertainment or morose, reflective thinking. For me, I think it means I look for ways to do the regular stuff with intentionality and awareness that there is something bigger going on that what is right in front of me.

It means that I look around for someone to serve and listen for God’s promptings to engage in my life in a way that has purpose outside of my tasks and chores and obligations.

Each day I am writing more of the story of my life. If I re-read it, would I come across anything that would make not underlining it unbearable?

Lord, help me live a life that is underlinable.

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“Who’s Depressed?”

While going through some books at my parents a few months ago, I came across an old book. The cover has a black and white picture of a little boy sitting in a wash basin and the title of the book read, “Who’s Depressed?”. This made me laugh. We were a few weeks into COVID and I felt like God had planted this book in my path because, yes, I was raising my hand on this one. I was depressed. Our whole country was on the verge of a new type of Great Depression. More like a Deep Depression. I looked through it and discovered that it was a book written by mom’s aunt Ann (whom I have spent time with as a little girl) recounting stories of humor and hope during the Great Depression. Her uncle Ed Christensen is the main character. She described him as a “bright and shining thread” and said “whatever our circumstances, we could depend on fun and laughter whenever he appeared. Ed frequently pulled practical jokes…Similar happenings were going on all across our broad land. Each of the anecdotes emphasizes those human characteristics inherent in us which enable us to make the best of things in difficult or unusual circumstances.”

I didn’t start reading this strange little book until a few days ago. My attitude about all things COVID related has really stunk and my heart and mind are getting more cynical and edgy by the day. Who’s Depressed? Well, seems like a good time to see who else might agree with me, so I dove in.

A couple of days ago I woke up, angry as usual about all the loss and chaos and craziness in the world right now. I drug myself into the living room and started reading my usual “inspirational” books that hadn’t been living up to their name lately. I was still complaining to God in my head when I came across a story in this book called “Helping Hands”. It was a story about how H.K. Williams, my great grandfather, had picked up two hitchhikers. They soon revealed that there were 5 others in their family and they had travelled from Minnesota looking for work. They had all lost jobs and were living in a park across town in Idaho Falls. He dropped off one boy at his home and then went with the other to the park and loaded the rest of them into his truck. They worked for and lived with him and his wife for the next few months until jobs became available. Side note-my great-grandparents had 11 children of their own. A couple were away at college so she only had to feed 15 people every meal.

Ann notes: “Because of the helping hands extended by H.K. And Margaret Williams, a deserving family was enabled to get back on its feet economically and survive the worst effects of the Great Depression.

Good timing. God timing. We are all struggling but certainly not like that. It’s a different, isolating Depression. I won’t really go into that right now because my lesson is not so much about how they had it way worse than I do and I should shape the heck up!

The lesson I heard when I read this story was that one important and powerful thing I can do during this pandemic is to serve. Serving others helps them and helps me.

The first few weeks of the pandemic I gave this a shot. I went through FACEBOOK and found out who had birthdays coming up and drove a card to their house. I think it really touched those people’s hearts. Then I quit because I let self pity and resentment at the state of the world consume me.

white black and red person carrying heart illustration in brown envelope
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After I read this I made an effort to reach out to a few friends, clients and neighbors with a gift or card or encouraging text/call. am going to make a point to look around me and see if I can somehow be a “bright and shining thread” to even just one person a day. Maybe I can serve my way out of my gray, negative, helpless-hopeless-heaviness. Those attitudes are just not working for me anymore.

I don’t know a lot about my ancestors, but now I know this much. I am going to try to carry this attitude of serving with joy and kindness and resilience on to those that come after me. If you raised your hand when I asked, “Who’s Depressed?”, maybe you can join me.

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I didn’t intend to post today…

Haven’t been writing as much. I feel so much better when I do. I feel connected to God more acutely when I write.  But even though it’s hard for me to admit, because I have a tendency to devalue myself and talk not so nicely about myself (out-loud and in my head), I connect better with Heather when I am writing than any other time. It helps me remember who I am and what I believe at my core. I see more clearly that I haven’t been living out what I know to be true for me, and every so often, that I totally am and can pause to celebrate that. There is always so much pulling at me that distracts me from writing. A lot of it is really good and necessary stuff, but when I don’t make it a priority to write, my cheese starts to slip off my cracker 😜. I get a little ticky and anxious and grouchy and unsettled in my innards. I usually can’t put my finger on what is causing me to be out of alignment until I write an new blog. The feeling of relief and satisfaction that I am doing what I think God has given me to do is one of the few times I feel a sense of fulfillment and peace. I have a knowing, centered pace/peace about life.

Today, while I was working out and reviewing the dozens of tasks I had to do for work and worrying if they would pan out and stressing about the fact that there is a crack in my Kayak I have to fix and where the heck is that duct tape? and wondering if my college age kids might not be going to college this fall because of COVID…I had an epiphany. Maybe I need to write everyday to keep my sanity. Even if I don’t publish it for anyone to read (which is exactly what I intended to do with this blog, but I just can’t help myself!).

person using typewriter
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Typing is therapeutic for me. On a side note, my dad worked for IBM when I was younger so we always had a typewriter at our home. When I was a sophomore I got the chicken pox and was, well, quarantined for a week or so. I decided to teach myself how to type. I really wanted to type without looking so I would type the poems plastered all over my bulletin board on the wall I stared at while at my type writer. Because, you know, sophomore girls love their deep, romantic poetry. I also typed, “now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country” about a 700 times as suggested in some manual I read about learning how to type. Between that week of practice and my time in the hospital using my new I Pad, my fingers are like lightning! Writing with a pen is not even an option for journaling-I am way too impatient for it. My thoughts come so fast, my pen could never keep up. I really hate it, actually.

Anyway-enough of that. I don’t know what I am telling you any of this, other than it helps keep me accountable when I say things out loud and to others.

I need to write. I need to write for myself. I need to write to you occasionally because I think a few people are encouraged and feel less alone when I do and that’s enough of a reason.

So I give you permission to ask me if I am doing what I said I am going to do: write it all down, get it out, see it on paper how I have compromised or grown. Maybe you could join me. It doesn’t matter if no one else reads it. Just get your thoughts, fears, failures, joys and embarrassing stories out of your head somehow.

See, now that wasn’t so hard, Heather. I feel so much better.

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It’s not you, it’s me…

July 11th, 2020 was my 28th wedding anniversary. Our 28th wedding anniversary. By the grace of God. When we were preparing to get married we did some pre-marital counseling. I don’t remember much of it, but the biggest part I don’t remember is being told that the “worse” part of “for better or for worse” is far “worse” than you can imagine it can be at that point in your relationship. Most of our marriage was what people would define as good, but there were a few years that definitely put the “worse” part into practice. I would say that we both had ample opportunity to call it a day, call us incompatible and beyond repair. At times it felt to both of us that it might be easier to just start over with someone who really “got” us or just be on our own. Either of us could have made a good case that we were in the right and often there were people around us who even encouraged such an option. Leaving would have been understandable.

But after being separated emotionally and even physically for a period, here we are, trying to find an interesting way to celebrate this milestone during a pandemic. We settled on an afternoon at a local pool and dinner out. Occasionally, I have thought about what I would say if someone were to ask us to speak about how we made it out the other side of separation, addiction and leukemia (because, you know, the opportunities are just rolling in to do so! ) . Or, more realistically, how would I answer you if we were having coffee and the subject came up. What’s the key?

close up of wedding rings on floor
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Was it just us sticking to our guns and gritting our teeth in the name of God, ending up together but still miserable? There is nothing God honoring about that scenario. Just to be able to say “we didn’t quit” is not enough to keep us going strong as we move forward. It can be valid for a short stent, but it is not a long term solution to a solid marriage. It’s not about winning by digging our heels in to weather the storm, it’s about continuing to thrive and embrace each other as we invest in our marriage day after day. So, what would I say to someone who asked me how we reconciled and gave “us” another shot?

There is not just one answer, but I would say that the primary way we eventually found our way back to each other was by working on ourselves. This is the exact opposite strategy we had been using the rest of our marriage. We went to countless counseling sessions in order to “fix” our marriage, which was basically an attempt to fix the other person so we could be happy. If “he would just….” Or “she would just….” Then everything would be hunky dory! We created lists and assignments about how each of us would implement changes that would satisfy the needs of the other person (if you have been married for more than say, a week, you know the list of which I speak). This ended in failure and resentment every time.

When we finally each focused on ourselves, the primary goal of any recovery group, we made progress. Instead of looking to the other person to make us happy, content and whole, we took it upon ourselves to become the kind of person that could be content and happy and whole regardless of what other people did or said or how they behaved. In recovery terms, that is called “detachment with love”: Separating yourself spiritually and emotionally from other people so you can think and feel and act in ways that honor who God made you to be and what He is calling you to.

“The two shall become one” is a phrase used in many a wedding and sermon regarding a married couple. Over the years, though I believe it is true at some level, I realized that I had taken this principal to the extreme. Yes, we are one, but we are also an “I”. I am accountable before God for myself alone. I can’t blame or use my spouse as an excuse to not follow God’s lead on something. I am responsible to keep my side of the street clean even if theirs seems to be a wreck. I am the only one who can make me “OK”. That’s not my spouses job. Often we ourselves are not OK and we try with earnest manipulation to make it our spouses fault.

We also would do well to remember that being “one” does not require us to take on his/her foul mood or angst or depression or illness. I can be empathetic without allowing my day/week/life to hijacked so that we are both miserable in the end. It’s OK to be OK even when they are not OK. During our time apart, I learned I that to become “one” with someone I had to bring a whole-me to the table. He cannot complete me. To put someone in that position is to make them an idol. It puts them in the place where God alone needs to be, because while my husband is a fine husband, he makes a pretty shoddy god.

When we both got serious about focusing on our own emotional and spiritual health and becoming the type of caring, selfless, confident, serving, tender, gracious, understanding, tolerant, forgiving, encouraging, interesting, loving and whole-hearted person we could be, our marriage became, well, easy (er). Any time either of us falls out of alignment by expecting the other person to meet needs that only God or ourselves can meet, it becomes hard again. Then we evaluate and observe what we have been doing that smacks of anything that does not follow what we know to work: bringing our best self to the game. That’s something that only we can do as an individual.

It took times of struggling and learning and stretching to make it sound like a good idea to stay together. If you would have told either of us two years ago that we would be content and dare I say, happy, in our marriage, we would have had gigantic doubts and I, with dramatic flare, would have rolled my eyes and said, “we’ll see.”

But here we are. After 28 years we are giving a whole new meaning to, “It’s not you. It’s me.” I am 100% the only one with who I am “till death do us part”. I am a full time job. I owe it to myself to put the work in to become the kind of person that brings every bit of who she is to my husband and accept what he has to offer as well. If I am committed to staying, It is indeed me and me alone who who can activate the changes I want to see in my marriage. The rest is up to God.

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Today. Today. Today.

Yesterday was July 4th and it was rough for me. Didn’t expect that. Actually, expectations were probably a big part of it. Instead of embracing life on life’s terms and for what it offered at that moment, I found my mind wandering into past neighborhoods where one should really not go alone. I also spent a good amount of energy managing fear and dread about the future; how sad will it be when my two youngest kids go off to college this fall? How sad will it be if they don’t?!?! In these pandemic times, our plans our subject to change on a daily basis.

Trying to predict the future and anticipate how I will feel about it is a taxing and fruitless activity. I am tempted to do it pretty much everyday. But, as our country celebrated (or at least tried, given the strict boundaries of a nation-wide pandemic), I think the bigger emotions I have are coming from a bit of sadness, grief, and longing to celebrate the 4th like I have in the past.

For many many years, our family took a vacation that seemed to fall during the 4th. We were all together by default at places like Disneyland and Williamsburg. The kids had no options other than to hang with their parents and each other. Even though they might have preferred it another way, we all enjoyed it I think and have some good memories because of the forced family time. When we were in town, we had a couple family friends who we would cook out with and then walk to nearby firework show that was down the street from their homes. Over time, kids grew and life brought about events that changed all that.

My expectations for the 4th are based on years of celebrating with friends and family. An all day event where where we bake cakes with red white and blue sprinkles and buy t-shirts from Old Navy that match for family photos (ok-we did that once…) and sit by a pool somewhere and eventually watch and light off fireworks in some parking lot so as not to burn down the neighborhood.

But kids are older and we are in a new life stage with different (but good) friends. I am not discontent about these things, but am just missing and feeling nostalgic about some of the old times. A little like how Christmas might feel to a teenager who remembers the enthusiasm and adrenaline of the season but can’t quite embrace it again, and probably won’t until they have kids of their own. Like there’s an outline of the holiday but it’s not colored-in anymore. Its’ just a faded shape, awaiting new and vibrant life to fill it.

I have been here many times; wishing for what was and worried about what will be. It’s a disease I have that is incurable but manageable if I turn it over to God. It’s better if I do it as soon as I feel it bubbling up inside me, but unfortunately, it usually takes a couple days of rolling around in the muck before I realize what’s happening or before I am willing to loosen my grip and give it to him.

I think it’s ok to be nostalgic and even hurt a little bit for the way things used to be. “That’s perfectly normal”, is what I would tell anyone else expressing these feelings. But the past is not a safe place to live. It robs today, the present, of what could be (as does living in the future, but that’s for a different blog).

writings in a planner
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Last night, my oldest was in California and my daughter was at a pool party and my son was hanging with some good friends he has knows for years. All good things. We spent time with my parents but as time rolled around for fireworks we were on our own, heading to a friends house to “crash” her party (which had been going on for a couple days!) and watch a fireworks show that their neighbor was putting on.

Ya know what? It was nice. Nice and new. And even though I still miss some of those celebrations of the past, I know God is doing a new thing in me and my family and has provided many new friends and potential future celebrations with people we may not have even met yet. I have said it before, but since we joined a new church and recovery groups, battled Leukemia and started new jobs, our circle of friends and acquaintances that have blessed our lives has grown by 100+. I am definitely not suffering nor do I have any right to claim loneliness unless I choose to.

I love this quote by Marianne Williamson:  “The only meaning of anything in our past is that it got us here, and should be honored as such.” In other words, “Stop being a baby, Heather!”. Acknowledging the sweetness of the past is fine, but it’s not a good place to live.

God-Help me to embrace and be grateful for what is in my hand right now. Tomorrow is so uncertain, as we have seen first hand with this pandemic and how it changes our plans daily. Let my past be simply an album of memories-some tender and some terrible-that bring me to who I am and where I am today. Today. Today. Today. Amen.

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