Taking my own advice

We recently hosted a missionary who was in town for a medical missions summit.  For almost a week, we began our day chatting over breakfast and juice, talking about about where we’ve been and where we’re going. It was such a joy to have her here and to share and listen.

Lydia has been a missionary for about thirty years. She has lived in several places including Columbia and the mountainous northern region of Pakistan.   Right now, she serves in a larger city in the middle east.

She pointed out that, as she has aged, she now has an ability to speak more openly to men –  a privilege that she did not have when she was younger.  Being an older woman in the culture, she is now  viewed as an aunt or a sister.   What she has to say is now of more value.  This gives her an advantage over younger missionaries.  She can communicate with a group of people that someone her junior cannot because it would be culturally taboo.

But she admitted, that, at times she feels tired and wonders if it’s time to leave the mission field …. and come back “home.”

As those words streamed from her mouth, I immediately encouraged her not to do so.  I said something along the lines of, “If you feel led to quit when things are going well, you might well consider it.  But, if you’re wanting to throw in the towel when you are weary and tired, don’t do it.  That’s when the enemy comes against us.” Scripture tells us to call on His name when we are tired, discouraged and weary.  It is then that God wants us to ask for his strength and stamina.

As the story is told in Exodus 17,  Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ arms and  gave him a rock to sit upon when he became tired.   God sends us people to encourage us and help us when we are tired, weary … exhausted.

In thinking about it, I don’t recall a story from the Bible where any man or woman lie on the ground exhausted where God said, ‘Yep.  That’s it.  Just quit.  Give up.” Okay, so He probably wouldn’t say it like THAT, but you know what I mean.

As I was out in the yard this morning, working for my delegated “thirty minutes to an hour a day” self-imposed quota, I began to think about my advice to Lydia.

I’m feeling quite overwhelmed with the complexity of what needs to be done with and for my house.

When I became a single mom, I chose to remain in the marital house with the children.  The one thing that counselors and mental health professionals say is most important for the children in a family that is disintegrating is that as many things as possible remain as “normal” as possible.

I love everything about our neighborhood ; neighbors and friends, pool, swim team,  sidewalks, elementary school, park(s) and location, location, location. I didn’t want to move.  But, more than that, I didn’t feel that I should move.  How could an unemployed woman who is a full time student with less than stellar credit find a four bedroom home that will accept two cats and a dog for the same or less than what I am paying for a mortgage?

I had to ask myself: Is there something  in that equation that is expendable? The dog? That we’ve had for seven years?  That was abandoned when we found her? How ’bout the cat?  Smudger was a rescue that we’ve familied for about eight.  The most recent addition? Brier? Whom the kids love more than the other two combined?  None of the children could easily room together.  Could I ask a child to move out? It just didn’t look like a good idea to change any aspect of our living arrangements.

So, that leaves me here, in a home that I absolutely adore … but that needs a great deal of work.  There is a great deal that needs to be done.  Time and skill/experience are as much of an issue as money.

And so, I thought about my advice to Lydia. And wondered … does it apply to me, as well?
Am I just weary or is God trying to tell me to walk away?

Of course, we are already at a point that we could downsize.  Glory will be moving out in less than a week.  James has offered to sleep on a couch, if we move to a smaller place.  But, that still leaves us with pets … and a deposit … and turning on utilities that require deposits …. and physical move itself …. and upheaval.  A different neighborhood would mean a new school for my youngest. It’s exhausting to think about.  Besides, I truly deeply desire to be still.  And the more it is discussed with my sweet littlest, the more chance she has to come up with one more reason to stay right where we are.

So, I take a deep breath and count windows.  I have 218 individual panes to re-glaze. And windows is just a START on all the things that need to be repaired.   Yet I know that, like the back yard, if I take it slow and steady working consistently thirty minutes to an hour a day, I can accomplish this goal.  I can remain still.  I can stay here and we can grow, learn, live and minister in our home … in this neighborhood that we love.

I just have to take my own advice.

So, May I Ask You a Question?
Have you recently found it difficult to take your OWN advice?

Makes Me Happy Monday : Wedded Bliss

In a split second
two engagements came to an end
and I watched.
I sat in breezy, windy afternoon warmth
and just a few months later, in the cool indoors of an early Saturday morn …..
on two different days
at two different times
watching beautiful friendships between boy and girl
become unions of man and woman.
Mister And Miss
to become Mr. and Mrs.

These stories of union so different from mine.
And I pray that their endings different, as well.

These girls made the choice that God make their decisions.
I made no such wise choice.
My reasons for marrying were selfish.
God had to teach me through the years
to lay down my desires
and serve Him and my husband.

You could beauty their faces,
their countenance
their eyes.

I look at her, swoon and think
“Yes. She may just be Lois Lane.”
I wrote about her here and here.
She is Sarah… the Nightingale. She calls him Richard… the Lion Hearted.
They are eclectic, intricate and amazing.

Zoe is a friend of hers. We became friends through Facebook, as I watched the exchanges between Sarah and herself.  Their friendship is deep like a river and delicious like homemade whipped cream on freshly picked  strawberries. They share a love of beautiful prose, authenticity, pomegranates and God.

Zoe has been a missionary in Honduras. She has a tapestry story of how God wove together her heart with Ron’s over the last year.  Now, together, they turn the page to a new chapter in the novel of life, as the two dramas become one.  The engagement ended and the union began barefoot, on chilly stone flooring while June’s sweltering heat waited outdoors.

My story began with selfishness (here).
God used my selfishness to teach me much.
about sacrifice. giving of yourself. the lying aside of my own desires.
But, along the way, spirits were hurt.
It is unfortunate … the pain that is wreaked by a self-seeking soul.

Amidst all the pain… though ….  I see glimmers of good…
slivers of hope ….
shimmers of richness and beauty.
God can use our messes to create splendor.

My children have asked me if I remarry.
It is easy for me to say “no” ….
at least for now.

I had a wonderful example of self-control demonstrated to me.
At a distance, I watched a beautiful story of love develop.

I know a beautiful woman worked for a man whose wife came down with cancer. Lily was dear friends with the boss and his wife.  Cancer eventually took the friend’s life and left Bill and his son.  Bill and Lily became close, but were so concerned with putting the son first that they waited until he graduated from school before they married. They waited quite some time before making this move. It seemed like many eons before they finally took that step… and I remember thinking how self-less was this sacrifice. They put the raising of this young son before their own desires.

I have a job to do. I have a ten year old to raise. In the upheaval of our lives, I want to be the cement …. the security …. the  steadfast. I want her to know that I will do what I say. I want her to know that I will be here when she needs. I really want to focus on her.  I do not want to be distracted by romance.

But, I do wonder
will there one day be a Clark? Will there be a man who comes along
and loves God and then me?
Will there be a man who loves God will all his heart, mind and strength
and loves me as Christ loves the church?
Will there be a Song of Solomon endearment?
Only God knows
and time will tell.

For now, I am giddy watching other stories…
seeing other examples of
self-disciplined, ecstatic God-seeking couples.
And so I add to my list of One Thousand Gifts
on this Makes Me Happy Monday:

181. purity of heart
182. nests
183. wedding punch
184. the Song of Solomon
185. holding hands
186. holding hearts
187. holding tongues
188. spiritual security
189. focus
190. the living Word of God to guide our lives
191. self-sacrifice
192. the first dance of a newly married couple
193. barefoot brides and grooms
194. breezes on sultry afternoons
195. tears of contentment
196. the sight, sound and feel of turning the pages of a fascinating novel
197. a pastor who gives depth to the union of two souls
198. precious bands of gold or silver given –
……. circular tangible symbols of spiritual grit and commitment … semper fidelis
199. tulle
200. that precious first union … the first kiss as man and wife

What do I say?

The night fell upon us slowly.  This particular pool only afforded us four operating swim lanes.  The seventy seven heats with as many as five or six different races in some of the many heats would keep us at this out of town event for much longer than usual.  Most pools in our division of the summer time swim league have six lanes racing swimmers from five to nineteen years old at a time.  With ominous clouds sparsely filling the overhead sky, we might even have to halt things for a little thunder warning.  It would be a long evening.

At one point, a summer-time friend (a sweet friend whom I would L.O.V.E to spend more time, but really only get to see during our pre-arranged summer swim events) asked me how I was doing.  “Really, well.  How ’bout you?”  I answered.  Knowing our conversation would be halted by an expected interruption of something like a child in need of attention or a race to watch or a job to do, I hesitated.

water splashes. screams abound. “GO!GO!GO!GO!GO!” is heard barreling from our head coach, her go-team-voice as rich and deep and wide as many-a-man there and you are made to wonder how a full-time librarian from a private, Catholic school can create such a sound.

Probing further, my friend says,  “You seem different this year.  Is everything okay? You don’t seem to be as upbeat as usual. Are you alright?”

I swallow hard ….. a  knot in my throat that almost prevents air from passing into my lungs as I stand frozen and breathe deep.

When people ask, “How are you?” and I sense they want to know more, I will most often reply, “Do you want the Sunday School answer or the real answer?” with a chuckle.  Most of my life, the two are one and the same. They are positive. They are authentic. They are real. They are heartfelt.

But, there are those days, when the answer is more than a two-liner that needs to be completed before the teacher begins the lesson. The answer is intricate. It is dense.

It takes more than an unkind word to shake me. It takes more than being cut off in traffic or a flat tire or a broken treasure or a stain on my shirt on the way to an outing. It takes a lot. It takes three or four or five things – at once time.  I have to truly feel overwhelmed with unplanned, unwanted events to have my perspective questioned or shaken.

So, I take a deep breath
and I search her eyes
for the answer to my wondering question:
what do I say?

Do I tell her ….
I have a hole in my roof that continues to leak
and I am too afraid to get up on the roof and fix it?
My dental insurance expires in seven days
and I have to have a procedure done that scares me to trembles?
My van is in the shop and has been for three weeks
and the source of it’s problem cannot be pinpointed
so I find myself a week into my summer break
(that is only three weeks long)
in a family of three adult drivers sharing one car
because James’ car is also malfunctioning at the moment?
That I began planning/making reservations
for a trip to Florida back around January
for my youngest and I
but had to cancel all reservations because of my van’s issues.
That I need food, litter, medicines, shampoo for our
dogs, cats and birds that total well over $250.00
but I cannot bring myself to give any one of these pets away
because they are part of the stability that I feel I can offer my children
in a world that feels reeling and out of control.
And it’s not that I don’t HAVE the money,
just that it’s difficult to spend that much on … fur and feathers.
That tomorrow is my oldest’s 21st birthday and
… I can’t fix “it” for him,
I can only point him to the only answer I know
… the only true Strength in all of our weakness….
that only God can be the direction and help that we all need.
Do I tell her  …. that I am exhausted?

I go with another answer.  One as true as any and all of those above.

This year, I’ve had trouble with my joints.  I’ve not been able to exercise and I find that I don’t have the energy that I do when I exercise.  Even though the days are longer, I don’t feel as good as I usually do during the summer. (I don’t mention that, honestly, I think it may have something to do with caffeine intake.  But, I cannot seem to bring myself to drop my cherished cup of morning deliciousness that gently, slowly with warmth, wakes me with the birds and the light.)

So, we chat for a moment and she goes on to ask me a handful of questions …. that make me fully aware that she does not even know that I am a single mom now.

She does not know I am divorcing.  I do not tell her.  We are running short of time.  A child or a race to watch or a job to do will step in any moment.  There is no time.  I revert back to Sunday school mode waiting for the teacher to begin the lesson.  Maybe I will tell her later ….
right now … I am just too exhausted.

Being Alone

I’ve struggled a bit this summer.  I found myself frustrated and sad that I have had to leave Joy alone for an hour or two here and there. She’s 10. I trust her to be home alone. I just don’t LIKE to leave her home alone. My program at school requires year round attendance to complete so I must attend the summer quarter..  But, praise God,  between my schedule and that of James and Glory, Joy has not been alone much at all …

…. until this past Tuesday.

Then, I had a m.a.j.o.r meltdown.

This was the first time since being a single mom that I have shed tears over being alone. Lots of women are really emotional.  I am a dramatic type, but not emotional … at least, not for a woman anyway.  I generally cry about twice a year. And nobody in the family usually knows about it.

But, Joy knew.

As I gathered my things to leave for school, I felt it coming.  By the time I went to tell her good-bye, I began to sob.  It was so hard to know I was leaving her.  I felt like I was abandoning her because she would be alone for hours and hours.

It was tough.

I had to leave for school, and so did the big kids.  Joy was going to be alone all day ….. from my exit in the morn until I returned home after school for our departure for a swim meet: a total of five hours. I don’t allow her on the computer when she’s alone. She couldn’t go to the pool because the swimmers are not allowed to swim on meet days (so they can conserve their energy). She is not allowed to use the stove or oven. She can’t answer the door. We don’t have cable (by choice), so there is no tv to watch. Upon occasion she’s alone for an hour or so  … but NOT five.

I was afraid that the silence she would experience … would remind her of her state of being alone.

Maybe it bothers me more than it bothers her. That might be a good thing. I hope that is the case.

As it headed out the door, in my sobbing stupor and in desperation, I called my friend, Lorin.  She was running errands, but would be home soon.  She was happy to allow Joy to come over and play.  Joy spent the afternoon playing Uno with one child or another. She played Wii a bit. She did prep work for the swim meet and they traveled to a nearby city for warm-ups.

My broken-homeschooling-mom’s heart was soothed. I joined her that night to help officiate the meet and cheer her on as she slid through the water.

I am due a school break of a little over two weeks, so I will be able to spend precious time with her then.  She will be attending camp next week. And she is going to go spend a week with my sweet Mom and Dad in south Georgia. She is going to a theatre camp for three weeks in July.

So, the rest of the summer is covered and I am sooooo relieved.  She will no longer be alone for large chunks of time.

And I am so grateful … that in broken-hearted-mommy-sadness,
God gave me a suggestion to call a friend
who was open to allowing Joy to visit for the day
so she wouldn’t be home alone for hours on end.
Her being alone that long might not have even bothered her …
but it bothered me.
I’m thankful that God is gracious to soothe us
when we are broken hearted
and offers a way of saving and comfort.
Now, we move on to a more-mommy-present summer
and I am thankful.