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

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

A Fresh Look for Some Old Chairs . . .

Last week's frigid temperatures kept me inside with a project that had been on my list since last fall. I recovered my dining room chairs. I had enough of the same fabric to recover four of the six, and since the fabric is reversible, I just turned two of the old covers over. Much better! Mission accomplished.

As I stapled away using my kitchen counter as a work bench, my mind wandered to the history of the table (with two leaves), chairs, matching china cabinet, and buffet. As the story goes, my great-grandmother purchased the entire set in 1929. Ninety years ago! At that time she was 48 years old and only enjoyed her new furniture for six years before she passed away in 1935, a year before my dad was born. After the Depression, Dad's immediate family moved in with relatives for a time where he remembers seeing the set in the middle room in the upper family flat on Edison Street in Buffalo. 

As a young girl, I remember this same furniture in the same house in the same room, arranged the same way. (Dad and I compared notes over dinner the other evening, drawing out the floor plan and furniture arrangement.) By this time, my great Aunt Anita and her brother, Uncle Freddie, lived there.

Sometime in the mid-80s, while Barry and I lived in Rochester, NY, my great aunt sold the house, and the furniture was given to me. I was thrilled. We hauled the chairs into our front enclosed porch and began the painstaking task of refurbishing the seats, by now in need of repair. Barry removed the tiny tacks and old straw "padding" and nailed thin boards onto each seat frame. 

As a young twenty-something, I had no idea how to cover chairs, so I brought one of the
frames to an old fabric warehouse in Rochester and left with foam, batting, material, and determination. Over the years I've changed the seat fabric many times. By now the chairs creak, the legs look worn, and a few of the wooden frames have grown brittle, yet I've managed to cover the seats by improvising here and there.

If my chairs could speak instead of squeak, what stories they would tell! Six generations of families have sat in them around the old table. . . telling stories over spaghetti dinners, birthday celebrations, and Saturday night suppers. Children wearing bibs have graduated from booster seats. Guests have come and gone. Shared memories keep traditions alive.

I still treasure the times when family and friends gather. Most recently, a ladies' Bible study, my writers' group, and a Moms in Prayer meeting gather around the table on a regular basis, using the same chairs my great grandparents, my grandma, my dad, my children, and grandchildren have used . . . all to the glory of God.

"One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts." Psalm 145:4

Thursday, January 24, 2019

On Hold . . .

"I'll just take care of this phone call quick and then tackle the rest of today's list," I thought as I gathered the required paper work, grabbed a pen and paper, and punched in the number. At the prompt, I entered my account number. The "voice" told me it did not match their system, and would I please call another number. Okay.

I've been on hold for an hour now, hearing the same music and messages over and over. I logged into my account online, hoping this option would lead to a better outcome, only to be told they couldn't find my account. Great. 

It's hard to vacuum when you're on hold, so I caught up on email - and then . . . Of course! I've been wanting to write a blog post . . . and here's the perfect topic. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's been on hold for . . . how long now?

Just this week, a friend and I chatted at my dining room table over steaming mugs of tea. Her young enthusiasm and passion for her work and history interests brightened my day. In the course of the conversation, she asked what I was up to. I mentioned a few quiet opportunities God has brought my way, speaking and otherwise, which are stretching me and, at the same time, bringing with them a certain anticipation and energy.

I refilled our mugs. "No big writing projects right now. I think I have enough to keep my busy for the time being."

"You can wait confidently," she enthused. "You knew you were supposed to write your book and then the Leader's Guide. God will make it just as clear to you when and what the next writing project should be."

True enough.

Since then, I've been thinking about what it means to wait, to be "on hold" with no guaranteed ending time, to feel uncertain about our next steps. Waiting with confidence looks very differently than waiting anxiously or waiting fearfully or waiting doubtfully or timidly or tentatively. Waiting expectantly has less to do with us, really, and much more to do with an infinite God, who never wastes one minute of life's delays.

We may feel like we're on hold, hearing the same ole thing and feeling unproductive . . . never easy, like when we're waiting for test results, word from a loved one, or the green light on a coveted position. Yet when the time is right, God whispers His truth. He gets to the heart of the matter. He may or may not solve life's dilemmas in the way we desire but enlarges our perspective and nudges us to trust Him with our life stories in the midst of multiple loose ends and unanswered questions.

So, let's stay on the line. When we find ourselves in trouble, the Lord is our refuge and strength (Psalm 46:1). When we feel burdened down, He invites us to confidently cast our cares on Him (1 Peter 5:7). When we're weary, He invites us to come to Him to find rest (Matthew 11:28-30). He never hangs up on us. He's worth the wait.

By the way, the girl who answered my call worked hard to bring resolution to my issues. After expressing my appreciation, I noted the length of the call: 1:46:59!

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.