What plan? (Word of the Year 2014)

I choose a “Word for the Year” in addition to setting a few specific goals annually. This habit has served me well. Generally, I begin thinking about my new word for the upcoming year early in the fall. Some years are harder than others to pin down a single word, but generally I know that the word is right for my year by the time January 1st arrives.

This past year, I waffled a little bit. I am mostly pleased with how I operate within my own life. And the areas that I am most frustrated are the places that I have a small skill set. For example, I manage the money that I have today well, but I don’t know how to plan for my future. God has been SO good to provide, protect and carry me through these last years, though I have very little money in comparison to my married years. Yet, my bills are paid and I am paying down the few pre-divorce debts that remain in my life. We don’t have any “play” money to travel or eat out, but we have enough to cover our basic needs. So, I handle the money that I have with excellence.

BUT I have no idea how to prepare for my financial future.

This is common for women of divorce in many nations. Huffington quotes  of divorced Australian women “A typical woman endures a 73 percent reduction in her standard of living after a divorce.”  The Guardian reports of UK women, “The average woman’s income falls by more than a fifth and remains low for many years.”   And the Census Bureau offers many statistics for America. “Women who divorced in the past 12 months were more likely than recently divorced men to be in poverty (22 percent compared with 11 percent),” and “Children living with a parent who divorced in 2009 were more likely to be in a household below the poverty level (28 percent) compared with other children (19 percent).”

I offer these statistics to say, I know that am not alone.  Being divorced is tough. Being a divorced mom/female is even more difficult. And my financial future is just one of the uncertain areas I am struggling to navigate.

I know I need to think about the future.
So, I shared here that my chosen word for 2014 is “Plan.”
My Word of the Year “Plan” was not finance-focused. It was LIFE-focused.
Right now, my focus combines self-talk like
“Breathe. Make it through today. Find the beauty in the moment.
Do what you can and don’t fret about the rest.”
Because, truly …. this moment is all that we are have.

My calendar

I still remember the moment in March when I wondered,
“What the hell was I thinking? Choosing the word “Plan”
does not actually CREATE a plan!”
Around April, I considered completely changing my word.
I have never done that before … but … I just felt like I was holding onto an idea
that I didn’t know how to bring to fruition.
But, I really pray about my focus word so I let it remain.
I began to ask God HOW to plan. HOW do I navigate through this?
WHAT changes should I be making?

Two or three weeks ago, I was flipping through the radio station dial as I drove and happened upon The Steve Harvey Morning Show. He was giving a pep-talk about getting things done and concepts from his book, “Act like a Success ; Think like a Success.”  It was not a short monologue. He talked about doing things for yourself rather than waiting on others. He encouraged doing hard things when you’re afraid.
But, the thing that spoke with megaphone-quality to my heart
was towards the end of his  soliloquy. He said that his mantra for each day is
“Always be closing.”

I thought about the phrase all day and how well it applied to my life.
When I returned home, I googled the phrase and found this …. harsh movie clip from the movie
Glengarry Glen Ross .  (Note: language warning)

So, I know where Steve Harvey got the quote
but the revelation that I had about this phrase was very different.

I tend to have more than one creative project going at once. And I tend to struggle with finishing a project. In fact, I wrote a bit about it here when a friend pointed out that I tend to “never be finished.” I used to struggle with perfectionism. I feared finishing a project because it “might not be good enough.” If I was “not finished,” then I didn’t feel like a failure. I’m so thankful that I am past that. In practice of “I don’t care,” and letting go of trying to please others, I have laid that struggle aside. This is truly a victory.

Purely out of habit, I still have many projects that have been started
but not finished.
When I heard Steve Harvey say, “Always be closing,” I knew that
for me
that phrase meant to be focusing my attention
finishing.

So, God has shown me that, right now, my plan should be to focus on finishing projects … today … now. I don’t have to know what will happen next month or next year, I just need to work on finishing what I have started. I need to tie up loose ends that are blowing in the breeze or complete endeavors that are piled and pushed aside. These can be creative endeavors, financial goals or repair projects. The key is – don’t look for new things to do, new projects to start or new adventures to join. Focus on what is already in my heart or already begun in my world.  Always be closing/finishing.

I am so thankful for a God who doesn’t leave me. He allows situations that I can’t handle so I’ll lean on Him.  He holds my hand when I feel lost. He calms me and guides me when it is dark. And He sustains and provides along this bendy, muddy, sloped path. And He encourages me in the ways that are specific to me. And right now, I know I need to
Always Be Closing.

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Grace for Single Mothers

Glennon at Momastery posted this on her Facebook wall the other night:

“You guys, it was one of those nights. Too many kids crying and whining and flailing and fighting and just ALL MY SENSES on overload and I finally had to tap out. I just said – Craig, you gotta take one for the team tonight- and I came to hide in my closet/office. My cloffice.

And now I’m sitting here listening to the lingering carnage and thinking about you single parents who can’t tap out. Who never tap out. Who keep showing up when you’re weary or angry or lonely or all of the above. Single parenting is simply one of the most tremendous acts of sheer will and love I can imagine.

Anyway- whether you’re single parenting tonight due to deployment or divorce or death or illness or non-involvement or some other circumstance – ALL MY AWE AND LOVE AND RESPECT AND ADMIRATION . . . ALL OF IT – goes out to you tonight. #carryonwarrior

I zoned out when I got to her words,
“I just said – ‘Craig, you gotta take one for the team tonight’… ”
That’s the point where I wither and slink away in any blog post or status update.
It’s the point that I remember, “Oh. She’s on a team.”   *looks away*
So, I usually stop reading.
Most of the time, the woman is just being honest and vulnerable
about a struggle in their life …
And what I know is …
I don’t even walk in the same style shoes. anymore.
And their mentioning a helper and a safe place to hide,
reminds me of my lack of both.

It reminds me of an example I heard  years ago
of the woman in a grocery store who teasingly offers to give her badly behaving child away.
She is overheard by the barren woman who pines for a child, but doesn’t have a child.
So, the mom who is sharing her struggles in a comical way … laughing to keep from crying …
is heard by someone who would LOVE to have those struggles
because the source of her frustration  … is a child.
We interpret every situation according to our own perspective.

When you are talking to a single mom and  you’re complaining that
your grass is tall because your husband won’t cut the grass until the weekend,
or you can’t wait until your husband gets home so he can take your kids off your hands
or you’re mad because it takes your husband too long to pack the car for a trip
or you don’t like the way that he folds the towels,
she may very well be thinking, “Well, at least you have a partner. You have a team.”

In your home ….
Who makes the appointments and takes the kids to the doctor?
Who cuts the grass, weeds the flower beds and edges the sidewalk?
Who blows off the roof so it won’t rot? Or repairs the hole when a limb falls?
Who keeps track of money, pays the bills and saves for the future?
Who plans out meals, does the grocery shopping and puts away groceries?
Who prepares meals and lunches for school and then cleans up afterwards?
Who washes, dries, sorts and disperses laundry?
Who is responsible when the toilet leaks, the heater quits or ants invade, dryer quits?
Who makes sure the trash and yard waste make it to the street?
Who replaces broken windows? Repairs fallen gutters or deck? Re-glazes old windows?
Who protects you when hear someone walking on your back porch?
Who makes sure that there is firewood? Moves it from the yard to a covered spot, as needed?
Who makes sure homework is finished? And meets with teachers? And signs report cards?
Who finances this? Who is responsible for the income into your home?
Who plans your trips/vacations? Who plans the stops, figures out the cost and packs everything?
Who buys the presents at gift time? Who remembers birthdays? Who mails cards and thank yous?
Who stops the fighting/bickering? Who helps settle sibling disagreements? Is the mediator?
Who is the bad guy and makes the decisions of “No” that crush your child, but are needful?
Who vacuums floors, wipes down baseboards, dusts tables and changes sheets?
Who makes the 30-60 minute phone calls to the cable/insurance/phone when bill is incorrect?
Who changes the oil, rotates/buys the tires, makes sure there is anti-freeze in the car?
Who puts out decorations for holidays and celebrations so your home is festive?
Who keeps the records and makes sure your taxes are filed?

The single mom does all of these. She does all the jobs you do and all of the jobs your partner does.
Some jobs may be delegated to children, but she must still oversee that they get accomplished.
And she works one or more jobs to bring income into the home, as well.

And this is true for most single moms. I am surrounded by them.  They are exhausted.
They don’t want to ask for help because they’ve done it so many times. They save “asking”
for the “really big stuff”  … when they are completely out of ideas, time, resources and money.
But, a movie night, a note of encouragement, a phone call to say, “You okay?,” a Starbucks card,
advice on a house repair or the offer of some help with a home repair job would mean SO MUCH.

Your husband may do some things that you don’t like.
He may even do some things that are immoral in your eyes.
Maybe your weakness (gossip? gluttony? impatience? selfishness?)
is as unseemly in his eyes
as his weakness (pornography? bitterness? anger? dishonesty?)
in your eyes.
Maybe …. a lot more grace needs to happen.
Trust me. I’ve offered it and I’ve been extended MUCH more than I could ever deserve.
But … he’s there. He hasn’t quit. He hasn’t walked out.  He hasn’t said,
“I don’t want to be on your team any more.”
There is still hope.

I beg you, offer support to your team member. Don’t fuss about him.
And know that there are others around you
who would prefer your style shoes for walking.
But, for whatever reason, they were removed.
Encourage those around you in whatever way you can.
For we could all use a bit more grace.

( Let me add here:
For all you sweet married mamas
that answered “Me” to most of the “Who?” questions above,
I commend you.
I know it’s tough to have the appearance of being on a team
when you are isolated, alone, battling and weary …
for your marriage, your family, your self-worth
and possibly your physical, emotional and spiritual health.
I think this is prevalent in our society …
and when it happens to women in a church,
you are expected to publicly and privately
support, respect and encourage your husband …
even if he pours himself into work or some outside investment
when in fact, his first priority (after God) should be family.
I commend you and pray for your strength, stamina and joy in this season. {{hug}} )

Christmas, Messes & Prose

These are words
from a blogpost by my friend, Heather. 

“when life changes… when the structure of the life you’ve created somehow slips and cracks, and begins to hurdle towards leveling… holidays have no choice but to follow. changes have to happen, and new patterns emerge, and everyone wriggles towards the most recognizable normal that can be grasped.

i have to admit, i was a bit nervous.

this is the third house we’ve been in on the third christmas in a row, and the likelihood of being in yet another house next year is quite high. i feel dizzy with the speed of change that we’ve experienced, and like my children, i yearn for some stability, some solid ground on which to get my footing. all of the change, and difference smears together into one big blur, and i try hard to pull out some thread of familiarity that i can offer my kids to assure their hearts that we are ok.

their dad spent time with us last night and again today….

but then they return home after an evening with him and his family, and the oldest son starts wailing away at us both emotionally and physically. i’ve learned that this is his coping skill when he’s angry and hurting, and i am learning to speak honestly and firmly to him to try to allow space for his hurt and anger while also protecting the hearts and souls of the other children who often become the target of his pain. it’s a complicated dance we have here now… with me as the dj- trying to offer melodies that will bring joy and peace rather than dissonance and grief. i work hard to allow him to have space to hurt, but to recognize that we are not the enemy, and as sweet Jesus reminds us in his word- we can be angry and still not sin. we managed to bumble through this hurt and get to the other end of it where he was tucked in warmly and loved, and i pray his wounded heart would be carried by the father as he sleeps. this life of fractured family has tentacles of pain that reach far and wind hard and i beg God to please extract my children from the pain and grief and try hard to instill in them the solid knowledge that they are dearly loved.”Christmas Mantle

I love how she writes. She tells her story with honesty … and honesty becomes her. (You can read the rest of this post HERE.)  She does her best to tell it well without hurting others … but sometimes, the truth is difficult. She shares poetry as she writes … not the rhyming type with A/B rhythm …. just beautiful words to tell of tough stuff and stickiness and … sometimes gore.   Isn’t it easier to hear the difficult when written with beauty in decorated prose?

I think of Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.  She writes, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”  The first time I read those words, I sat with my jaw dropped. How true. How real. And how unlike me. I am a coward. I don’t always tell the whole truth … out of fear. I am learning to face fear because I have realized that I am often a coward. Why is it anyones job to protect someone else from their very own truth … a truth that they created with their own words and actions?

Heather? She shares deep. Wounds are gruesome. Bones protrude. Blood is spilled. Scars form. Sometimes she writes right after the catastrophe. Sometimes she waits until there is only a scar left as a reminder.

It takes time … this sifting through and working out.

Life is not easy. We must take what we are given. Some navigate the difficulties more easily. It seems to me, the people who look at their messes and talk through the tough stuff, acknowledge the pain that has been created and work through the whys are the more healthy.

And as I read stories of others struggles, I feel less alone.
I realize it’s “not just me.” This is important.

So, when we tell our own stories
of our own messes
we help others feel like less of an outsider.
We offer community to others who hurt.
We write words that offer an arm around a shoulder to offer solace
that “You are not alone.”

Thank you, Heather, for sharing. Yes, my friend, Honesty DOES become you. You are beautiful and your words encouraging. In sharing your messes, you let me know that I am not alone.  You offer friendship and support.
For this, I am deeply grateful.
Thank you for your heart-wrenching but poetic Christmas prose.

What Am I waiting for?

Oh my gosh … let me tell you another crazy fear story.
Remember this story about the roof? 
That fear of climbing on the roof hasn’t dissipated.

Early last fall, James got up on the roof and blew it off for me … because he’s awesome like that. But, he wasn’t living with me and he had to make a special trip over and I hate to bother him for dumb stuff that I should be able to do myself.

I watch my next door neighbor (who is my age) climb up on her roof and blow it off.  It has the same grade as mine and is the same height … and she’s brave and gets up on HER roof. My neighbor across the street, Miss Molly,  also blows off her roof several times a year … and she’s in her mid- 70’s!!

The next door neighbor's house

Mid-summer, I found myself …. sitting and waiting  …
powerless and pathetic … asking for help from my man/child … to please come help me blow off my roof
one.more.time.
ARGH! What a pansy.

I’m not afraid of heights. I can go over long bridges, look off a tall cliff,
walk across a rope bridge that is tethered over a raging river and climb mountains.
But, I know that the fall from the roof to the concrete would probably leave me wounded
and I have a child with a few years left at home.
If I fall, I will probably break and, in the words of Sweet Georgia Brown,
“Ain’t nobody got time for dat.”

One thing that I have learned through the years is that waiting can be good. If I wait a bit, sometimes situations remedy themselves. The bump will go away, the need will be filled, the desire will subside. I don’t run to the doctor as soon as there is an ache or run to the store and buy something when I first think I need it or a child first asks for it. I wait.

But, as the weeks passed and the valleys on my roof continued to cradle the debris from fall, I knew I had to get up on the roof. I HAD to clean out those little leaf and stick dams that kept water from freely flowing off my roof. They hold moisture and can cause damage over time.

Accumulated leaves are NOT good for your roof.

One afternoon, I found myself particularly angry with myself. I was mad that I would let fear
keep me from taking care of something that is important: my house.
What was I waiting on??? …..
… the wind to magically blow all the leaves off the roof?
…. a great storm to wash the valleys clean?
…. a yard man to come by and offer to do the job for free?
… my fear to disappear?
… my son to make time?
… some new boyfriend/husband to magically appear in shining armor on a white horse … to rescue me?
WHAT IN THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ME????? THIS IS JUST DUMB!!!

I decided … it was time!  I was going to go up there. I put my phone into my running armband. If I fell, I would be less likely to land on it if it was strapped to my bicep than if it was in the back pocket of my shorts. I wanted it with me so I could call someone if I ended up on the ground needing help.

One of my fears has always been that the ladder would slip as I flip my leg over the top to place my foot on the roof. So, I nailed a ladder stop into the deck.

I filled the blower with gas, told Glory that I was going up and …
started praying as I climbed.

My awe.some ladder stop.

I have to tell you that it was very scary up there to me.
I scooched around on my fanny
using one hand to balance myself on that scorching hot roof
and the other to hold the loud, vibrating blower.
I thought about Miss Molly across the street.
I thought about how people might drive by and laugh at me because I was SITTING on the roof
like a big fraidy-cat …
but I knew I was being brave
and I worked my way across all angles of the roof.I prayed as I worked
asking God to keep me stable.
And, yes, I mean I prayed out.loud.

 

.

God was good to offer me sticks that were right.on.the.edge of the roof
so I had to move closer to the precipice of the cliff roofline.
He was building my trust in Him.

 

My valleys were dirty.After I had been up there a while, I stood up a little bit
and did some kind-of-hunched-over walking.
I began to feel a little bit comfortable and proud of myself …
so I stood up straight
and, out.loud I said …. “I got this.”  You know how it sounds.  The phrase has a cocky little bop to it.
I’m telling you … as QUICKLY as the words left my mouth,
I had the image of some Tom & Jerry cartoon
with MY FEET being KICKED RIGHT OUT FROM UNDERNEATH ME by an imaginary fella
and me … falling down and toppling head over heals to the ground.
“No. No. No. No. No. I didn’t mean it, Lord. Thank you for your protection! Please forgive me,”
were my words as I was  i.m.m.e.d.i.a.t.e.l.y reminded
that I was only up there because God had given me the courage to try
and I was only upright because He was holding me in that position.

I finished the job … without sliding on pinestraw, tripping on a stick or rolling on a Sweet Gum ball.
And I climbed down without knocking the ladder out of place.
I put away my tools knowing
that I had called up God to help me do yet one.more.thing
that I was hoping, expecting, wishing someone else would do for me
because I was afraid.

 

My clean roof!

A few days later, my palms began to peel.
I remembered the heat of that scorching hot roof
and how I used my hands to help myself scoot around on the roof.
I knew the little bit of skin I was losing
was a Badge of Honor I got to wear
as a reminder of my courage and bravery.

Every week offers a new way to try on courage
and find another reason to be thankful that I am
divorced
and on my own. 
My scorched hand

The best part of divorce

I’m coming to the conclusion
that the very best part of divorce
is having absolutely no help.
I don’t have a long list of friends
that I chat with on the phone for hours on end,
invite over for dinner
or join at a movie theater.
On the contrary, I am quite alone.

I had a fabulously wonderful thing happen to me this summer
that left me questioning every relationship from my past, present and future.
It was fabulous ONLY in that it opened my eyes to some
deep-seated Polly-Anna-isms that had been rose-coloring my life
in what I believe is probably an unrealistic and unhealthy way.
It was painful … and surely very needful.

In honesty, it brought me to a list of unanswered questions about
what constitutes a friendship
and whittled life down to a few people who are solidly planted in my inner circle.

Of those, I spend time with only three of those friends
on a consistent basis.
All have walked a path similar to mine in some fashion
and understand my struggles, failures and victories.
None frequent my home.

So truly, in my own home, I am alone.
I don’t have anyone to back me up with my children….
to love them daily, face to face … direct, love or  encourage them
or  tell me I’m doing the right thing when I find the need to discipline.
I don’t have anyone to help me with running errands
or figuring out how to repair a fallen deck or fix things around the house.
I am on my own.

And the longer I am alone
the more I see this as a gift of divorce.

Because this gift causes me to rely
fully, completely and wholly on God.

When I’m struggling with insecurities, I’m asking God to show me the truth.
When I’m wondering how to repair some-broken-something, I’m asking God for instruction.
And when I’m pondering how to be in two places at once, I call on His cloning methods.

This morning, I found my home without hot water. It’s only been four short years since the hot water heater was replaced. At the time of replacement, I requested that the appliance have a valve for incoming AND outgoing water.  As Joy has gotten older she has followed the pattern of her older siblings. She has moved from ten minute showers ….. to twenty and thirty minute sauna experiences. So, I’ve begun to execute the “Ten Minute Hot Water Shut Off Method” to oust her from the bathroom … in the same fashion as her brother and sister received.

Last night, I turned off the water
only to later find that the valve wouldn’t return to the “open” position.
Great. Just great.

I had no other choice than to figure out how to fix it.

I tend to choose to research and buy parts FIRST,
then go home and take broken things apart
rather than taking it apart and THEN going to the store.

Hardware Store Brass Plumbing

First thing this morning, I went to the plumbing store
where I’m getting to know the guys by name.
So far, Grady has been the super helpful!

My STUCK hot water heater outake valve

I took photos to help me explain things.
I always research terminology and phrases so I don’t walk in using dumb words like
“thingy” or “knob” or “whatchamacallit.”
And because I couldn’t find size reference,
I used a seamstress tape to measure the circumference of the pipe leading into the on/off valve.
It was soft and flexible and worked better than a metal tape measure.

Yep! I measured my brass plumbing pipes with a seamstress tape.

I took the tape measure into the store with me so I could confirm the pipe size before buying.

Yep. I took the seamstress tape TO the plumbing store with me.

And I’ll be honest.
I was r.e.a.d.y for some man to make fun of me for taking in a seamstress tape for my measuring tool.
I was ready. I was going to look him in the square face and say,
“Ya know what? I don’t know what I’m doing but I’m going to figure it out! You can laugh at me if you want.
But, I’m being brave.”

…. alas … I didn’t get to use my strong retort.

But, I was ready!

I discussed the situation with the guy at the store. I decided I’d try to force the valve handle to turn before replacing it. It is solid brass and only four years old. It shouldn’t be broken. But, I bought a new one, just in case I did break it while I was man-handling it.

James came in and helped me look it over.
With a screw-driver and some extra force, it moved back to the “open” position.
*whew*  I was so thankful.

But, ya know what I thought as hot water began to flow back through the pipes
to the kitchen and bathrooms?
All I could think about was how amazing it was that I’d figured out something else …
and how God really, truly, surely will help me
with the tough stuff that I don’t understand.
I don’t have to know how everything will work out, I just have to take the beginning steps.
I don’t have to completely understand what to do next … I just need to do some.thing!
Looking for parallels in the spiritual physical world ....

And so, being alone is a blessing.
I have nowhere to turn.
I have no help.
And it’s a really good thing …
because I’m learning more and more
that God really is an ever-present help in times of trouble. Psalm 46:1

He walked out

I don’t get “personal” with men very often. I’ve mentioned that before. I’m especially extra careful with married men. But, a friend recently confided that he was struggling in his marriage.  He sent me a text with some personal words of his situation. And I said …… *crickets*

I didn’t respond. I wanted to write him back, but I take a l.o.n.g time to respond to things like this … things of great importance … topics that require tender words …. or that stir up deep emotion.  With each passing day, he slid  a little further away. And I was mute.

I wondered …. puzzled …. with indignation … did he really think I would write him back and tell him how “I understand?”  That I would be compassionate and supportive? Because I had been through a divorce? And I’d be his big cheerleader? Because I care for him? That I would encourage him to walk out on her? To leave her and all of those years of investment in each other? To walk out on his children? Really? What was he thinking?

I couldn’t find the words ….
I didn’t know how to say what I wanted to say ….
*crickets*
because I didn’t want him to leave her. I wanted him to stay and W.O.R.K for it!
Pull for her! Strive to save them! Toil and pour himself out … give his own life effort.

For weeks, I didn’t say anything. I didn’t have the words. But, I knew I would see him soon and be able to speak to him in person. So, I waited ….

His children are really big in sports. And he is there. He attends practices, games and meetings. He supports each team member, every coach and all the families involved. He eats, lives and breathes sports. When you talk to him, every conversation rolls around – with a good deal of speed – to sports and his awesome kids. I know him well enough to know that he won’t let his kids or their team members “quit.” Giving up isn’t an option. I can just imagine him, on the sideline, yelling, “You can do it! You got this, man! Give it all you got! Don’t give up! Hang in there! Keep it up! Y’all work together! You can do it! Come on!!”

The time came when he had a chance to pour forth his story… honest and desperate …. aching and real.

And then it was my turn.

We stood there, in the quiet room downstairs … me leaning up again the pool table
that I might not sway and weaken from listening or sharing my heart.

I had had enough time to think it through so that I knew exactly what I would say.

As his words slowed and his eyes dampened,
he prepared for my response.
I took a deep breath and began.
I do not remember my exact words, but I can certainly reiterate the flavor and idea of my oration.
It went like this:
” You know that I care deeply about you. You know that I want the best for you and your family. But, if you think my response is going to be compassionate and understanding, you’re mistaken … because I’m in her shoes not yours.  I’ve thought a lot about your note and the one thing that stands out in my mind is your life with sports. What I WANT to tell you is what you tell your kids … those kids out there in the field, playing the game. If they are slipping and struggling …. if they are short players and had to play longer because there were no subs …. if it is hot and they are tired because this is the third game of the weekend and it’s 104 in the sun … what would you tell them? What would you say? What would you do?”
I went on.
“I know what you would say. You would cheer …. shout …. yell for them from the sideline.
You would roar ….
– tears welling in my eyes as my voice quivered –
‘You can do it! You got this, man! Give it all you got! Don’t give up! Hang in there! Keep it up! Y’all work together! You can do it! Come on!!’ ….
and you would mean it from.the.bottom.of.your.gut.”

Later that afternoon, he was talking to someone about a game … and he was reciting some similar lines …. some “You can do it” words that he had shared with his son.  He was speaking coach-talk. I stopped and butted my way in ….
“See! That’s what I’m talking about! That’s what I want to hear!! ”
I poked my index finger deep into his firm bicep.
” You can do this! You got this! Those are the words!! That’s what I’m talking about! Don’t give up! ”
– tears welling in my eyes as my voice quivered.
He knew.
And I walked on
thankful for that opportunity …
my heart racing.

My sports analogy didn’t come up again. Later, he asked me to keep him in my prayers.

But, he wouldn’t have liked to hear my prayers. I prayed that God would make him fall apart and he wouldn’t be able to do it. I prayed he would be so physically ill it would be so difficult for him. I prayed he would literally ache. I prayed that God would restore his marriage and make it better than ever before. I prayed he would go to counseling.
Recently, he packed up and left … he felt like he just had to do it.
And, frankly, I can not understand.
(But, I’m still praying … will you join me? NOT for restoration … but renovation of his marriage, his relationship, his heart, his wife’s heart, his entire world? … from the inside out … by the spirit of our living, loving, mighty God?)

All this …
and so many other things ….
have gotten  thinking a lot about love and support lately.

I had a friend send me a sweet Facebook message recently. She wrote a short little thing about being a bad friend (she doesn’t stay in touch well) and how she reads my blog so knows what life looks like for me. She mentioned her family and some little chatty stuff and then added,
“BTW, did I mention I’m really questioning if I know what love is?”
“By the way….”
Did she really write that?
“By the way” sounds like a side-note … an after thought …
like something significant is being mentioned.
Like …..
“By the way, your shoes are untied.”
“By the way, I picked up the mail.”
“By the way, you dropped your comb.”
BUT NOT
“By the way ….. YOUR HOUSE IS BURNING DOWN!”

And I thought … do any of us? In our human capacity? Can we possibly know? And if we know God, does that make it any easier? Because, He’s God and we’re not … and in our human capacity … how can we truly understand it? Even if we have His Mighty Spirit living within us … how can we grasp this? And the Bible? Sometimes … sometimes when I read and really try to put together one verse and another … I walk away with more questions than answers.

So, here I am … with a friend who is hurting … who shares, asking for my support … and I wonder how I love him the way I should or the way he needs. “What would Jesus do?” I can continue to pray for healing … but I have prayed for that before and not received the answer I desired … the new birth, the healing, the reconciliation. Can I truly pray and believe? Because, faith is an integral ingredient in petitioning, isn’t it?

Do I just “love him where he is?”  Because that requires holding my tongue
and I’m struggling just a bit with this …
with holding my physical tongue.

So, here I sit … clinging weakly because of all the emotions that have peaked and valleyed
over the last weeks.
I’m surrounded by hurting people.
I feel as though I have nothing worthwhile to offer …
I’m struggling with how to love
because the way that I am loving seems to hurt and can’t be accepted.
And I’m wondering if I’m doing it all altogether wrong?
I have no answers.
“All the answers that I started with … turned out questions in the end.”

The Most Important Decision in Life

Every motion
says adoration.
It is mutual.
It isn’t mushy.
It is even understated.
But, I see it
hear it
and feel it.

After an afternoon of pool time, clouds rolled in so we moved to the front porch and watched the rain steadily refresh the fields, cleanse the air, rinse the horses and cool the day. They are not side by side, but they are together in our circle of rocking chairs and benches.

There is nothing that stands out
– that s.c.r.e.a.m.s I love you –
in their conversation …
in their interactions.
It is subtle.
But, it is strong and firm, rich and deep … it appears solid to me.

They have the same tattoo – he has it on his right arm (above on the right)…. she has it on her back (and mine, above on the left, is obviously the temporary, just-for-fun (pain-free, I might add)  sort of tat).

He cooks for her. Not occasionally, but daily : breakfast, lunch and dinner. He is the chef.

They are unconventional … she cuts the yard. The horses are her love so she cares for the barn, the pasture and the animals. She keeps the floors clean and washes every stitch of laundry.

But, you know when you’re around them … that they are united. They are a team.

Quite some time ago, there was jesting about me having to stand in line behind the other women that want Jeff, should something happen to Della. Della knows he is a catch … and vice-versa. I don’t remember how it all began … but it made me slightly uncomfortable. It was too personal for me. Della and Jeff find comedy in ideas that skirt appropriateness. They at not afraid to say … what others may or may not already think.

While I hold Jeff in high esteem, I’ve never thought of such a thing as something to consider … which is exactly why it came so natural as a comment from them. It was on the edge … the fray of acceptable. That’s where they live and converse – on the edge of acceptable. They push the envelope. I like it. They make me think, laugh and consider.

If you are around Jeff long enough, you’ll notice that he doesn’t maintain eye contact for long. He’s always moving. He doesn’t sit down to have long conversations. Oh, he talks and listens and converses … but he’s almost always busy doing something else – with his hands, with his mind – WHILE he’s talking.

On a visit in December, we were out at a restaurant and he confirmed
what I already knew.
He looked me square in the eye
– while looking straight through me –
and stated,
“You know, if anything were to ever happen to Della
I would never re-marry,
because I know that I could never love anyone as much as I do her.
She could never be replaced.”

And I already knew that
but it was good to hear him say it
with concrete authority.

I’ve thought so much about relationships, commitment and marriage lately …
having walked through divorce
and watching people I know and have loved
divorce, re-marry and divorce again with incredible speed.
I think about the verses that talk about marriage, remarriage, and divorce
and of me living my life alone … until death. It’s hard to accept.

Like a game of dodge ball with the enemy holding the ball
furiously slamming the ball into the group standing in the middle,
the couples inside the circle continue to diminish
as they are hit with that ball that eliminates one couple at a time.

I have told my children before
that the single most important decision that an adult will make in his/her lifetime
– aside from your acceptance or rejection of God and His Son –
is the choice of a mate.
I believe that with every ounce of my being.
I also believe that you can marry someone that you aren’t “in love” with
and remain happily, fulfillingly married
if both of you are committed to making that relationship work.
“Love” (the emotional, passionate kind that makes your knees weak) ebbs and flows.
Commitment is a decision.
And with it and through it, a friendship/union/marriage can last.

And if you pray about the decision of whom you should wed,
but you’re having sex with the person involved,
I don’t believe you can clearly hear God’s direction.

I liken it to praying that God
help you make this batch of meth without it exploding,
help you rob a liquor store without having to shoot someone,
or help you to write small enough on your wrist
that you can effectively cheat on a test without getting discovered.

I watch Della and Jeff. I think of my future and how I will live it.
I consider obedience to God, His blessings and consequences
to living out our misunderstandings, missteps and sins.

As we left Cairo last weekend, Della hugged me tight and long. As we shared our goodbye, she said something to the affect of “I hate what your life looks like.” I knew exactly what she meant. She sees the big picture and the corners and crevices … she knows my heart as much as a friend can. Sometimes, I get caught up in empty … what some others have and I spent my life striving towards. And when I shake it off, I remember that God forgives the wrongdoing, soothes the injury, and fills the empty spaces.

And I write all these things so that I might ask
Whom shall you wed?
Lay aside passion, giddy infatuation and societal standards
and consider the important.
Are the two of you compatible? Are you single minded? If you are a Christian, is he/she? Are you from denominations that are not compatible?  Do you “fight fair” or is one of you a dirty warrior? Can you disagree and still remain one? Have you let physical intimacy influence your view of your partner? Do you spend your relationship in an on again/off again mode?

Because, truly, truly
the decision of choosing a mate
is one of the most important decisions
you’ll make in your lifetime.

Choose with wisdom.

rape

the word seemed to keep circling back around to the front of my mind through my travels and my fellowship this weekend at lake lanier with my sweet friends mary ann and karen and a few of our college friends.

we think of rape as forced sexual relation. the stealing of a most precious privacy.
it is violent. it is injurious. it is tragic. it is gruesome.
scarring to the core.
one can recover, but will always bare a silent scar.

as i drove from the eastern edge of georgia
to near the capital of our beautiful state,
i was surprised by the number of forests i saw
that had been stripped bare …
uprooted …
aborted.
acre upon acre
trees disconnected from life-giving soil
and dragged away.

none of these appeared to be areas that were cleared for use of a new kind. they were too far from cities to be used for housing development or shopping/manufacturing. and most appeared to be beginning the process of filling back in with life, not being replanted with new saplings by their keepers. one can only assume that the lives of these trees were taken purely for financial gain.

these “forests” are barren scrub now … baking in the summer heat … fairly free of the life that once burrowed under shade trees, nested upon sturdy bough or even dined upon timber that had fallen naturally … turning wood back to rich, rejuvenated soil.

the word that kept coming to mind was rape.

1250–1300;  (v.) Middle English rapen  < Anglo-French raper  < Latin rapere  to seize, carry off by force, plunder; (noun) Middle English  < Anglo-French ra ( a ) p ( e ), derivative of raper

these woodlands have been seized. carried off by force. plundered.
violent. injurious. tragic. gruesome.
scarring to the core.
they may recover, but will always bare a silent scar.

upon arriving at my destination for the weekend
i listened … spoke … conversed … parlayed
around the island kitchen
while soaking in morning sun
snuggled deep into suede couch comfort
propped by the pool table
docked on the late evening deck ….
my mind continued to roll back to rape.

…. seize the private. carry off pixels by force. plunder the confidential …..

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t bring myself to lift my camera
and *snap*

I took a few photos of these friends.
But, I also took photos of the deck and the water, a tissue box and Dutch Blitz. I snapped shots of a skink, sunrise and teaspoons. But, it was too much for me to breach the tender and intrude … to disrupt the personal interaction.
photography is richly intense and personal for me. almost too much so, sometimes.

Oh! I had the best of intentions. I had set my mind to do this. I had decided I would snap all weekend. I was determined to march in there and take dozens of photos of people. I wanted each of us in many different settings.
But, I failed.

Like the lone awkward tree … bare at the base because the limbs were shadowed and cramped by the heavy, dense woodland that once surrounded it …
now barren, left standing alone, exposed ….
I couldn’t bring myself to photograph the lives
the privacy
the friendships
the interaction.

This weekend was wonderful. It was grand to talk and revisit … to boisterously belly-laugh, passionately plea, richly, specifically encourage.

This weekend was intensely personal
and wonderful …
but I don’t have many photos of my friends
to represent our pleasures.

…..

*My disclaimer: I am a lover of all things linguistic. If you have personally experienced the tragic touch of physical rape in your life, I plead that you not be injured by my analogy. I KNOW that the removal of trees or the taking of a photograph have absolutely nothing to do with the pain you have experienced. I in no way mean to belittle your agony,  nor do I mean to be disparaging. I offer sincere apologies if I have wounded.

My beautiful broken home

I love things rustic and natural.
wood. rocks. steel with rust. pottery. wrought iron. plants.
And I love our home.
I picked up this little wrought iron word  …. uhm ….. somewhere along the way.
It sat on the mantle in my autumn vignette
and it made me smile.
Home is such a warm word. 

And I love my home. It’s a beautiful place to be.  There is warmth. It is inviting. It is a retreat. Anyone is welcome here. The door is always open.

One evening while sitting around chatting with friends,
James, seated beneath the mantle,  stretched a long, lanky boy-stretch
and knocked my “home” right off the mantle.
Though made of metal, it broke.
He was deeply contrite.  And as he apologized, he laughed and said
“Now, you can say I’m the cause of our ‘broken home.'”

Rather than tossing my broken treasure, I decided to keep it and
craft it into something new.
I saw this little plaque at Hobby Lobby and was inspired
to create something with my snapped wrought iron prize.

In the last year, I’ve given a great deal of thought to
love, acceptance and beauty.
I’ve struggled off and on through the years with depression
and I’ve always been a self-hater.
You could give me a compliment,
but I couldn’t say thank you
because I probably didn’t believe you.
I might be able to believe you more quickly if you were
complimenting something I “DID”
rather than something about my physical appearance or my character.

How many people live their lives disliking themselves
because they don’t live up to someone else’s standards or likes?
And what if that other person is broken, as well?
What if they aren’t in a healthy place to judge whether something is
good or beautiful or worthy?
Maybe that person is bitter, angry or wounded
so they simply lash out at the closest person to them?
And who would the closest person be?
Naturally, someone in their family….
like a sister, brother or cousin … a child or niece or nephew or spouse.

But, wait! Aren’t we all wounded? Don’t we all have scars?
Haven’t we all experienced injury? Disappointment? Betrayal?
So, when it comes down to the bottom line:
we are all in the same “broken” boat.

And so, I gather supplies … scraps …. pieces
and I craft and create … I knit and weave a tapestry of healing
on canvas and
in our broken home.
I have an idea in mind … but don’t know what the final outcome will look like.
I want my children to know they are worthy.
I want others to walk in the door and feel the spirit of love and acceptance.
I want to encourage and refresh.
I want this broken home with wounded people
to be a place of refuge and solace
because others know that we, too, are the same.

(Note: Go here to see the finished product)