We each have a life story, penned without ink, read by the people around us. Who's writing your story?

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Empty Yet Full

Empty . . .

An apt description of the house when the last one leaves after a holiday. Can you relate? No bags stashed here and there. No toys to trip over. No sippy cups in the kitchen sink. No crowded bathroom counters and towel racks. No half-open suitcases. No scattered shoes and boots in the breezeway. No extra cars in the driveway.

And more obvious, no adult children and grandchildren gathered around, playing games, laughing, or eating around the table. All may be calm and bright, but as the emptiness echoes its stillness, I feel the loss.

At the same time, my heart is full . . . full of memories. Talking until 2 a.m. the night my college-age daughter flew in. More hours of talking, talking, talking. Shopping at Kohl's because her internship is right around the corner. Listening to her play the piano and sing. Welcoming the older girls and their families. Catching up. Cuddling a two-month-old and seeing his wide smiles for the first time. Reading stories. Singing carols by a crackling fire. Taking my oldest grandson to see The Nutcracker the day after Christmas. Enjoying a roast beef Christmas dinner, along with my dad and a friend. Playing Jenga. Sharing gifts and stories. Missing those no longer with us.

One family came on Sunday the 23rd and left the very next day due to our three-year-old's bout with vomiting and diarrhea. After a hurried gift opening, we all had tears in our eyes when they pulled away to try to get home, mommy and bucket in the back seat just in case.

Today, I said my last good-bye of the season. Our youngest drove off in her daddy's 2005 Corolla, new wiper blades in place, EZ Pass transponder and GPS attached to the windshield and, just to make me feel better, a few maps tucked in the passenger door pocket. Since 2015, I've babied this car . . . inspections, tires, maintenance . . . because I knew this day was coming, the day when she would drive it back to school in the mid-west. Barry would be proud of her (and all of them) if he were here. 

After a good cry, I got busy. Putting things in order has always been my way of coping. Does it ever get easier? 

As I mopped the bathroom floor and folded towels, I thought about what happened after Mary's encounter with Gabriel. Luke 1:39 tells us, "In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah" to visit Zachariah and Elizabeth. Although the Bible doesn't mention Mary's mother, I couldn't help but wonder how she felt when Mary said a hasty good-bye to take a 70-mile trip. Did concern for her daughter's well-being and safety occupy her thoughts? Did she wake up to pray in the dark of the night? 

Somehow this ancient un-named mother gave me courage as I said my own good-byes today. She invested years sharing biblical truth and practical knowledge, then moved out of the way to allow her daughter to follow God's leading. In the same way, I want to be supportive of all three of my daughters. I hope we've given them roots. Now it's time to give them wings (and wheels!). 

Empty? Yes, but with a heart full of thanksgiving and anticipation in a brand new year. 

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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Christmas Countdown . . .

I eyed my calendar, making a mental note of all I had to do before the 25th. Decorate the house, purchase gifts and wrap them, plan menus, attend holiday events, write our annual Christmas letter and mail out cards, pick up last minute gifts and grocery items . . . all before they come trooping through the door and the quiet turns a bit chaotic with three little grandsons, their parents, and a favorite aunt. Just thinking about it makes me smile.

Timing is important this season of the year, like planning a celebratory meal so every dish finishes cooking at the same time. We feel the strain of getting it all done just right, on time, making it special and memorable. Does anyone else feel the pressure?

Over the last few years, our family has talked a lot about simplicity. How can we keep the traditions alive that are important to us without doing everything we've always done . . . without "doing it all"?

The answer to this question varies, but we've learned to be okay with a little less baking and decorating and fewer gifts. And our time together is just as meaningful. We treasure every bit of stimulating conversation and laughter around the table that feeds a feeling of belonging.

On the other hand, no holiday is perfect. The kids cry. A new toy breaks. A part is missing, and we can't find the receipt. The roast doesn't get done in time. The empty chairs, seen and unseen, remind us of those who are no longer with us. We feel the loss . . . more so than on regular days. 

So then, there's the matter of trying to adjust our expectations . . .

 . . . and focusing on the first Christmas where a government tax bill shuffled people around the land of Israel, making it necessary for a young virgin to give birth to her firstborn son in a stable miles from home. Not ideal by any standard, yet somehow in God's perfect time according to His perfect plan.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Galatians 4:4-5).
This Christmas, I want to be purposeful and embrace those traditions that are meaningful, don't you? And to see the wrinkled newborn in the manger with fresh eyes, to hear the brilliant announcement and glorious song of the angels with the shepherds, to follow the mysterious star with the wise men, and to embrace the wonder of it all with Mary and Joseph. 

No matter how our holiday week plays out, a simple story from long ago makes all the difference. And in this wonderful story, the baby's name is Immanuel. 

God with us. 

Your thoughts?

Monday, November 26, 2018

Feeling the Let-Down

The back door swung open as I slid the key back out of the lock. I breathed in the familiar, almost  comforting, scent of the house as I crossed the threshold and took a look around. 

Home again. 

Not the home of days gone by, filled with children's jostling laughter, school project deadlines, and piano practice. Instead, in moments like these, the walls seem to speak the memories in quiet whispers, mere echoes of those busy days . . . all the more dear to me now. 

Part of me is grateful for the silence after a somewhat hectic week of playing with small grand-boys, cuddling a new-born, cooking for a crowd, savoring laughter and conversation with my daughters, son-in-law, and even some new friends, trying to sleep in a strange bed, and driving miles to and fro. Good times. Yet, a part of me grieves. As I put things away, the stillness serves as an ever-present reminder of how life has changed. Time has slipped through my fingers, as time is prone to do . . . 

And yet, I come home to more than silence, for I somehow bring my children's concerns with me. I carry their uncertainties, their fears, their everyday challenges. With intention, I recall our late-night conversations and their whispered what-ifs . . . our acknowledgment that control is an illusion and there are few guarantees and that our only hope is trust in a great big God who lovingly writes our life stories with purpose, even when it makes little sense to us now. I treasure these conversations. Both their concerns and victories matter to me.

I am their mother, after all.

Can you relate?

I've grown to appreciate the practice of Job, who brought each of his ten children before the Lord in prayer on a regular basis (Job 1:4-5). Although not a parent in the physical sense, Paul wrote about the deep concern he felt for all the churches, i.e. his spiritual children (2 Corinthians 11:28). Another first century Christ-follower, Epaphras, wrestled on behalf of the early believers in his prayers, that they would "stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God" (Colossians 4:12). 

We're not alone in our care for the circle God has entrusted to us. Yet, I find a bit of tension between concern for others and focusing on what God has given me to do. These three questions help me better sort it out: 
  • What is my role? 
  • What role do others play? 
  • What is God's role?
So, what is my role? To daily (and often) bring each one to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16), to cheer them on, to initiate as appropriate, to be available . . . to love them as only a parent can . . . and to believe in them.

As I stow my suitcase in its usual place in the attic, I find myself turning a proverbial corner, focusing on getting back to normal . . . at least for the few days before the calendar beckons me to deck the halls and my Christmas gift list pushes me out the door. I am grateful for the gift of family, of community, and of a faithful God who always plays His role perfectly - both when I'm away and when the stillness welcomes me home. 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

When Challenges Make Us Stronger

I woke up with a start. 

What was that noise? I couldn't place it, but it sounded like it was coming from the other side of my bedroom wall. With heart pounding, I glanced at the clock. Just after 1:00 a.m. The strange movement seemed loud in the dark of the night. A mouse? A rat? Or . . . I shuddered, willing logic to rein in my imagination. 

Turns out a couple of mice had been chewing on the air conditioner I have stored in the attic. Armed with traps from ACE Hardware, I was rewarded with two gray mice with long tails . . . just like the pictures. How could rodents so small make so much racket? One more chore I can add to my ever-lengthening list of "things-I've-learned-to-do-since-Barry-passed-away." He always took care of the mice.

What have you learned to do because you had to?

I've had to educate myself on home and appliance repairs, insurance, car maintenance, gardening, college matters, finances, simplifying, etc. How often have I prayed, begging God to help me figure out one more thing. I don't always get it right, but God has been faithful, often bringing helpers across my path to give me a hand. I am blessed.

Thanksgiving has a way of turning our focus to the past year to reflect on our blessings. We remember how God has seen us through the losses we never anticipated and the victories we never dreamed possible. He walks with us in the darkness and the light . . . in the dailyness of our lives.

This Thanksgiving, I want to thank God for . . .

So, what are you grateful for this Thanksgiving?
"Giving thanks always and for everything . . ." Ephesians 5:20

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Behind the Mask

"Trick or treat!" Ready or not, Halloween has arrived, the holiday where kids and adults alike dress up to pretend to be someone or something else for an evening. There's a certain delight that comes from becoming another character and sometimes hiding one's identity altogether.

Being an introvert from childhood, I never much cared for Halloween. My younger sister, more outgoing than I, took the lead. I felt a wave of relief wash over me when we finally got home, and I could be myself again.

I can't help but wonder how many of us, as adults, hide behind a mask when the calendar does NOT say October 31st. When we pretend to be someone or something we're not. When we're afraid to show who we really are . . .    

So, why do we hide behind this different-than-I-truly-am persona? Is it because we worry others won't like us? Or feel we can't measure up or aren't "perfect" enough? Or want to portray our idea of a shining picture of success?

Can we be at peace with who we are . . . with who God created us to be: "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14)? Yes, we make choices to improve our character and habits. We pray for grace to help us overcome our flaws and weaknesses. We ask for forgiveness. Yet at our core, we are made in the image of a loving God who gives us a variety of talents and gifts to bless those within our influence. We don't have to hide behind a mask. What a relief.

I can't be who my husband was. Or my mom. Or any of my writer friends. Or anyone else. I'm learning to be comfortable in my own skin. It's freeing to know that I can just be me. And aim to faithfully live out what God has given me to do today.

So this Halloween, dress up with the kids! Pretend! Wear that mask from the dusty Halloween box you haul out of the attic! But then let's be willing to lay all that aside and resolve to be our best selves . . . for the glory of God.

Photos from bing.com/images free to use

This post is from my fall newsletter since it reflects the theme of Halloween. If you are not receiving the quarterly Penned Without Ink Newsletter and would be interested, click HERE. I plan to send the next issue out after Christmas.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Asking the Right Questions . . .

How are you at asking questions?

I grew up in the "telling" generation. We were told what to think more than how to think. Not all bad. What child or teen doesn't need instruction and guidance? I'm grateful for the many "tellings" I received during my growing-up years. They have shaped me in positive ways.

Over time, however, I have also come to appreciate the wisdom of asking questions. 

My late husband, Barry, was a master at question-asking. In going through his papers after his passing, I discovered his secret.

He worked at it. 

I found lists of questions in his office, questions such as:

  • What do you mean by ___________?
  • How does __________ relate to ___________?
  • Why do you say that?
  • Can you give an example?
  • Let me see if I understand. Do you mean __________ or ___________?
He often quoted Stephen Covey: "Seek first to understand then to be understood."

At the Montrose Christian Writers Conference this past July, I picked up Paul Angone's book, 101 Questions You Need to Ask in Your Twenties (and let's be honest, your thirties too) [Moody Press]. It's a book for Millennials, and since my youngest turns 21 in a few weeks, I thought it might be a good read for her.

Before sending it off, I took a look inside. Long story short, I read the whole thing and took nearly eight pages of notes. The premise of the book is this: to be successful, learn to ask good questions. Every question in the book is thought-provoking and helpful. Here are a few that gave me pause:

  • Do your friendships help you fly or pull you down?
  • When is enough, enough?
  • Do your actions back up your ambitions?
  • Do I create more or complain more?
  • Am I going through my day mindful or mindless?
  • What am I going to regret not doing?
  • Who inspires me most?
  • Everyone leaves behind a legacy. What will mine be?
Today would have been Barry's 62nd birthday. Somehow, on this day, it seems fitting to write about the value of asking good, even great questions. I have a hunch, if he were still with us, he'd take a few notes on Angone's book himself before writing Elisabeth a fatherly note on the title page and sending it to her with love and his best wishes.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Happy Birthday to Penned Without Ink!

Today marks the second anniversary of the release of Penned Without Ink: Trusting God to Write Your Story, an inspirational memoir highlighting the story of our family's near-fatal car crash in 2003. It also shares quiet miracles layered between pain and loss and captures the essence of hope and trust in a faithful God. 

What a journey . . . both the living of it and the writing of it.

So much has happened in these two years . . . 
  • A book signing at a local coffee shop, where friends and family came to pick up a copy of the book and offer support. 
  • Learning the nuts and bolts of marketing and producing a book trailer
  • Accepting opportunities to share our story at both local and non-local events. 
  • Feeling grateful for story after story of how God, through our story, infused courage into others going through difficulties and trauma. 
  • The thrill of three book awards
  • The process of making Penned an audio book, thanks to LPC and narrator Robin Wasser.
  • The development of a leader's guide with reproducible study sheets to assist facilitators to lead group members deeper into the timeless themes of Penned
I want to thank you for your wonderful support and thank God for His grace every step of the way.

Some have asked what my next writing project will be. Maybe a devotional? We'll see. In the meantime, I'd like to increase my article-writing. I enjoy the challenge of writing an 1100-1200 word piece with one main theme. 

If you've appreciated Penned Without Ink and/or have found the leader's guide and study valuable, would you consider writing an Amazon or Goodreads review? It's a great way to invite others to read the story, and more importantly, to offer encouragement with the timeless truths of the Word of God. Thank you!

What's happened over the past two years for you?

*Photos by Julie Manwarren