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

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Reading Between the Lines

For months now, I've eyed that quiet shelf in my office closet, the third one down, with a lifetime of journals and prayer notebooks arranged in order by date. Over the years I've moved them from place to place as we've repurposed and rearranged, but not once did I crack one open to read the chronicles within.  

If you've followed my journey, you're familiar with my occasional yet repeated references to simplifying and downsizing. I've spent the last four years wading through a lifetime of accumulated "stuff," highly motivated by my desire to spare my children the weight of it all.

It's one thing to toss 1984 homeschool catalogs, donate dozens of VHS documentaries, and find teachers and students who gladly receive Latin and Spanish curriculum. It's quite another to decide what to do with decades of handwritten stories. Stories about family, events, celebrations, school days, worries, fears, regrets, life lessons, and well . . . whatever else happened to come to mind on any given day. Memories recorded in black and white . . . someday to be remembered in living color.

On my birthday last September, I decided it was my job to take care of these volumes in one way or another. In March, I finally mustered up the courage to begin. Page after written page, I read. Sometimes I found myself smiling . . . like the time one of the girls danced around the living room singing, "I can read! I can read!" Or when said daughter couldn't decide on which socks to wear to make her "shoes feel good." Or the day she got her head stuck in a chair at school. Another of them dressed up like Polly Pepper, and at Thanksgiving, a native American, complete with fringe and papoose.

I found the record of when we paid off our house and the season we harvested 49 quarts of strawberries and canned umpteen quarts of tomatoes and pickles. I noted the day when Patches the Guinea pig died and how Daddy helped bury him in the garden under a stone painted yellow. I leafed through the celebratory stories of birthdays and end-of-the-school-year-parties, prayers and baptisms, swimming lessons and family outings.

But lest you think our lives were mostly idyllic, my eyes also traveled over pages of weary fatigue, frustration, busyness, uncertainty, and desperate prayers for wisdom and guidance. I scribbled, "God, where are you? I'm trying so hard. Why does it seem I will never be enough? Please take care of my girls." Tears sprang to my eyes as I laid the book down. 

Can you relate?

I happened to mention my bittersweet experience to a friend who parroted back to me what she and I had talked about in times past. "What is true?" she reminded me. "Read your journals as an act of worship as you recall God's work in your life. Let go of the pages that are no longer beneficial." 

An act of worship. Letting go of the If Onlys leaves room for us to read the grace of God between the lines. His unfailing presence. His steadfast love. His promise of redemption. He brought us through those days . . . the learning days . . . the growing days . . . all for His glory. 

It's been good for me to review my life through my own pen. Humbling, really. Words have a way of representing a more accurate picture than memory. All these years later, I find myself worshipping God with a sweeter appreciation for His faithfulness . . . and for His readiness to listen to the broken, hopeful prayers of a mother's heart. 

Behold, I am doing a new thing . . . 
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
Isaiah 43:19

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Four Questions to Ask Your Kids . . . and Yourself

When's the last time you "happened" to hear or read something not directed toward people in your season of life but nonetheless that grabbed your attention?

I turned in to Focus on the Family this past week while driving home and happened to catch an interview with Dr. Kathy Koch (Ph.D. in Reading and Educational Psychology) centered around her book, Start with the Heart: How to Motivate Your Kids to Be Compassionate, Responsible, and Brave (Even When You're Not Around).

Although my 24-hour-a-day parenting days are behind me, I found the discussion intriguing. She talked about (among other topics) the five basic needs of children, the four roles of parents, and the difference between rewards/punishment and consequences. But what I took away were four questions to ask children in order to understand them better . . .  perhaps every year on their birthdays or at the beginning of a school year. Asking questions requires active listening, follow-up questions, and healthy discussion.

And these four questions are just as good for parents/adults to ask themselves and perhaps talk over with a significant other. 

Here they are:
1. What do I want to BE in my life (can include character qualities, professions)?
2. What do I want to DO in my life?
3. What do I want to HAVE in my life?
4. What/Who do I want to HELP (causes, interests)?

It's good to take a few minutes now and then to prayerfully evaluate where we are and where we would like to be in, say, six months, a year, five years. Not that God can't change our plans (Proverbs 16:9), yet goals propel us forward. For me, if I don't have a list, I get nowhere!

C.S. Lewis once said, "You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream." I have a little dreaming to do this week.

So what do you want to BE, to DO, to HAVE, and who do you want to HELP? 

Here are the links to the programs from Focus on the Family:

Photos from bing.com/images/free to use

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Time to Move On?

"Whatever God has called you to go through in His providence, there is always hope."
"It's okay to be marked by the past but not okay to be controlled by it."
"If the past has a grip on you, is it time to move on?"

The pastor had my attention. Seemed to me I'd overcome many fears from the past. Or at least, with God's help, found the courage to do what needed to be done in spite of my demons. Like drive over 600 miles to Indiana to take my daughter to college and then drive home alone.

Our car after the crash in 2003
I'm not sure a person ever quite gets over the panic, the stress, and the trepidation that follows trauma. Nearly sixteen years after breaking my neck in a turnpike pile-up,* I'm relatively calm about driving in good conditions (well, most days), but the fear of fog, slippery roads, heavy rain, and snow still ties me up in knots. I have friends who choose not to drive (or ride) on the freeway at all. I understand. I know firsthand what can happen.

I can manage the necessary visits to see my family (trips to see my daughters and the grandboys and even to visit my late husband's family), but to plan an outing (i.e. road trip) that isn't really necessary still makes me a little nervous--even in good weather. It almost seems irresponsible to me. And that's where the speaker's comments challenged my thinking.

Just a few weeks ago, I booked a bus trip to see the Philadelphia Flower Show with my dad. A big step for me. The next day though, I again found myself wringing my hands with regret. What if something happens? My daughters need me, especially the youngest. I don't have to do this. The risk suddenly loomed large in my mind. Too large.

Perhaps my what ifs reveal fear and lack of trust. And, I might add, a desire for a little control. Yet God has been gentle and patient with me and, little by little, has been teaching me to walk according to His truth in an area that has been challenging. I'm meditating more on God's sovereign, yet gracious, control in all things . . . and the truth of Jesus' words in Matthew 6:27: "And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?" God will lovingly complete the good work He began in my children's lives when I'm here and when I'm not (Philippians 1:6). I want to make responsible decisions, yes . . . yet step by tiny step, I'm gradually experiencing more freedom in "moving on" and letting go of stubborn, even unreasonable, fear.

What about you? No matter what your past looks like, I trust these three thoughts will bring you closer to a God whose promises never expire and whose presence always brings hope.
"If the past has a grip on you, is it time to move on?"
"It's okay to be marked by the past but not okay to be controlled by it."
"Whatever God has called you to go through in His providence, there is always hope."

To read the story. Click HERE.
Last two photos: bing.com/images/free to use

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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