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Thanks for reading about my life! Blessings, Debra
Friday, April 3, 2015
I'd just turned 29 when we moved to the Nevada desert.
Two years later we moved into an adorable 70 year-old house with Spring-Pink sponged over white on the living room walls, oak floors and I planted pink, white and lavender cosmos in our large backyard around our birdbath. And Naomi, at 11, grew up alongside them.
Finally I had my own dear old house--I'd wanted one since I was 12.
But I had too many sad afternoons in that house because I also wanted what God did not want for me. Incredibly insecure, I latched onto all sorts of jobs at church, viewing them each as 'ministry' to other people, but really, I used them to give me self-definition. To make me feel good and secure about my sad self.
Not surprisingly, each of those 'ministries' eventually rose up to claw and rip me apart. God never told me to take on those things, so Grace wasn't there to help me or defend me when I messed up. People criticized what I did and I crumbled because I'd invested all I was into those ministries--and I'd invested more than I could afford to lose. My motivation and thinking were all wrong, my foundation, cattywampus, and I stupidly expected ministry to patch-up and fill what was missing inside.
Things got bad. One day inside our little dream home I stood in my living room and did the Scarlet O'Hara bit: "As God is my witness, I will never care about people again!" I willed my heart to turn to stone. It hurt too much to have a soft heart.
Then one day at my lowest point, I stood in our little library room and thought about my future. I paused and peering ahead, all I saw was depressing, rolling grey fog. Nothing else. A lie was told me that day and believing it, I went under.
But God brought me out.
Not by way of a Poof! Miracle, but instead, by a Lesson By Lesson Miracle. It took years, but that's another blog post (or ten).
And now it would be hard for you to find a more contented, peaceful person. He cleared up my confusion about ministry and purpose and He's shown me what happens when I really do love Him best. How Life feels as it was meant to that way.
So now perhaps you'll understand why some of my posts will sound the way they do--celebratory and almost careening over the Happy Ledge. Like Pollyanna on Speed. I just can't help but spill over with joy because God truly set me free.
If you are in your own 'Nevada Years', if you have seen that depressing, rolling grey future cloud, remember--it usually appears right before the sun is about to come out and change absolutely everything.
Naomi begin her first day of kindergarten 20 years ago, but it feels only like last week to me. I remember leaving her in her new classroom, then walking quickly down the crowded hall, praying no one would stop me to chat. All I wanted was to escape to my car and cry.
But after the tears, I confess--I smiled and drove home and read and drank coffee and flittered the morning away.
Tomorrow is Naomi's 25th birthday. Each of her birthdays find me pensive and pondering. This year I wonder how can I have a daughter who is 25 when most days I, myself, feel only 30?
Those September kindergarten days pleasantly haunt me. Naomi would return, cheeks flushed from a warm classroom and play her cassette tapes, ones which told stories from books. She played one tape incessantly--a mournful-sounding song: "Little house, little house--so much to remember. Little house, little house..." I'd stand in the kitchen and think, "I will always remember this. That song, this opened window with warm pine scent wafting through the screen. Naomi Afternoons when she was 5 years old and pausing here, today."
And I have remembered, even though that was many years, lots of houses and two states ago.
Perhaps Naomi's birthdays return me to her Kindergarten days because once she started school, I began to sense she wasn't really mine to keep. Each day I had to release her, loan her to others, and well, the day would come when she would spend more time in others' homes than in ours--and I knew it.
I slowed down more. Naomi seemed to grow faster and I could almost feel Time, like sand, pouring from my fingers. I'd sit on the couch mending or writing while Naomi played on the carpet with her stuffed animals. And I'd pause, look up, and memorize her just as she was. I'd tell myself, "Memorize her now, because someday she will be grown."
I'm glad I memorized my daughter at 5, 8, 13 and beyond. My heart holds pictures no one can ever take away. They're all still here as only a mother's heart can hold them.
Happy birthday to my Little Girl All Grown Up.
"You are the light of the world." ... Matthew 5:14
My grandparents were my reminders that there are real Christians in this world. I'd visit their simple, creaking house with the red-checked table oil cloth and worn pink chenille bedspreads, and those two people were always peaceful. Calm. Perhaps that's why I love vintage stuff like jade-ite and flowered metal canisters--those things remind me of my grandparents' tranquil home.
To mention the term 'stressed-out' and my grandparents in the same sentence is ludicrous and laughable. I don't recall them ever acting stressed-out about anything.
Instead they carried peace with them everywhere. My sister, brother and I would ride upon the slippery backseat of their old white Ford while my grandparents sat in front quietly talking, no matter how many other drivers or pedestrians acted crazily around them. Never did they rush us through the Five-And-Dime or K-Mart. We took our time, ambling through aisles, my grandfather exclaiming over the cleverness of tiny new inventions.
I loved being inside my grandparents' serene world.
The amazing fact? While I walked in a serene glow with my grandparents, a stressed-out, unhappy world co-existed with ours. I'm talking right around that dreadful year of 1968. It's as though we stood inside the peaceful core, while around us spun an out-of-control outer edge. Two ways of living taking place simultaneously.
I still prefer my grandparents' way. I still walk in that peaceful core and watch people swirling all around me. The stressed-out ones without peace, Light, and joy. And when Grace nudges me, I reach out and--snatch!-- a person from that swirling stream and bring them into the calm center.
With a smile.
A warm "Hello."
A "How are you?"
A "Here, let me help you with that."
An "Oh, you can go ahead of me."
...or even with these essays. I seldom find peace or Light out in the market place, so I take them along with me to share. They are real and I want them to become real to others.
First keep the peace within yourself,
then you can also bring peace to others... Thomas A. Kempis
Grace walks into the room and now I recognize her. I rise, smiling, and step over to greet her with a relieved smile.
That wasn't always so. For years Grace was a vague, wispy somebody who came and went because I didn't understand her. I didn't know how much I needed her, nor how much I'd neglected her ever since God sent her to me.
But one day I awoke and there she stood at the end of my bed, wordlessly inviting me to rise. All day she walked beside me, helping me with every chore-- and because of her presence, the chores became sweet. Dread disappeared and anticipation took its place because of Grace's aid. We accomplished what I could never have done alone.
But Grace could be stern, also. When I'd attempt to do even good things which God had told me to release, Grace would shake her head and back away. And when I'd stubbornly persist in doing those things anyway, because I thought I "should," Grace left the room. And there I'd be without Grace's smiles or her light. Struggle returned and forcing things to work.
And finally, through the hallways of Time and Experience, I learned to recognize Grace. When she was beside me and when she wasn't. I discovered a good thing is no longer good if Grace is missing. I learned I'm all wrong without Grace's strength and ability to cushion my heart from blows.
With Grace, I can do anything. With peace and tranquility. Without her, Life is cruel.
And now when Grace walks into the room, I run to her and we leave together, smiling smiles of courage, to change this weary world.
The woman who moved into my house back in 1993 was confused. I'm surprised she knew how to put on her own shoes.
She thought the verse, "He must increase, but I must decrease," was a euphemism. So utterly symbolic as to become non-practical. You know, a la la verse.
The woman thought she could be full of herself and at the same time, full of God.
See? I told you she was confused.
She'd sit here on the couch in the sunlight and feel sorry for herself because people misunderstood her. She blamed them for their blindness. She had herself on her mind, so the hurts stayed on her mind, also. She wanted to think about God all the time, but her head was filled with her, instead. And she took up a lot of room up there.
And though Jesus lived inside her heart, He was awfully cramped down there because He had to share His room with the junk the woman refused to release. Moldy, smelly stuff like jealousy, selfish ambition, being offended, worry, and pride--there were lots of boxes marked Pride.
But one year--not one day--one year the woman on the couch finally started listening to things she'd previously ignored. She finally allowed herself to be taught that a decrease of her, inside her, meant an increase of God in her. And an increase of all He is--love and light and joy.
So ping! ping! ping! Over the next ten years she's been letting Jesus empty her heart's house. Such a slow process, but it sped up faster when she let Jesus deal with the tons of pride boxes--He tripped on those the most often so He wanted those gone first. As many as possible.
She tried to yank some boxes back, silly woman, but Jesus continued to work with her with incredible patience.
Jesus appreciates having room to move around now. Oh, there's still some junk, but the woman understands the process now. She's seen what freedom looks like--rather like a spacious room with light streaming in the windows.
When Light floods a room, it is full enough.
Where there is Light, there is no dank darkness. No confusion. It's amazing what Light can burn away.
And oh, what miracles cooperation can bring!
And now, even when dark, snowy days are playing outside her windows, there is still Light. And the woman on the couch smiles a whole lot.
I realize why it's called the empty nest, but I wish the connotation wasn't so negative. An adult child flying away is a fresh beginning for all involved. So I'd rather say I'm nearing the New Beginnings time of my life. The New Way for a New Day era.
Well, you get it.
Naomi has spent all of February packing her belongings so I've gotten used to seeing the stacks of boxes upstairs and the empty walls in both her rooms. But then yesterday I opened our linen closet down here and saw that her shelf had been cleared off--empty for the first time in 12 years(!) I stood there with my hand upon the door and in one minute felt a whole gamut of emotions. Sadness for the end of the Naomi Years era, memories of the layers of childhood-through-adulthood bobbles and beads and of watching Naomi open this cupboard hundreds of times.
But then came emotions of anticipation. Another shelf to do with as I wish! All my 1940's homemaker fancies rose in my heart and I refolded our hand towels which had been shoved in the back of the bottom shelf and lovingly, neatly, placed them on Naomi's former middle shelf. My space had been expanded and I was happy to spread out a little.
New things, new times, new ways--expanding to fill the empty places--that's how I want to view this ending/beginning time.
I've spent years preparing for this--rather like gathering things within my heart the same way we've collected things for Naomi's hope chest. Tom and I, also, have collections--hundreds of adventures with only the two of us. We've written a history with just us as a couple and we'll continue living out more adventure stories.
We will be fine because we have spent time preparing for this new phase of our live together.
It needs courage to let our children go, but we are trustees and stewards and have to hand them back to life--and to God. As the old saying puts it: "What I give I have." We have to love them and lose them. ~ Alfred Torrie
I've spent days playing in my new room upstairs. I spackled my daughter's former walls to make them look textured instead of as though they barely made it through the war in London long ago. They are plaster walls with huge holes in them because for 12 years we allowed Naomi to be as creative as she wished in her own room.
In middle school she papered her room with plastic sheets of basketball cards.
During high school and college she stapled (yes, stapled) a variety of 1960's fabrics to the walls, turning them into swirls at the ceiling. I asked her to remove the nails and staples before she moved away--now there are silver dollar-sized chunks of plaster missing--and ok--a couple places with holes the size of saucers.
But as I'm spackling over these walls, I'm not regretting one minute of Naomi's creativity. We encouraged her creativity to flourish, for we wanted to free her artist's soul as ours had rarely been allowed to fly.
So I've been tipsy in paint fumes, even though the three sun-facing windows are opened a bit and two fans blow my flushed face. I listen to the Seaver family laugh together upon my Growing Pains videos and brush over and heal these walls.
Truth is, the happiness wakes me up every hour at night asking, "Is it time to get up yet and play in your new room?"
Some people think I must certainly be whimpering or lonely these early days of my Empty Nest, but I am neither. Even with Tom working his usual 12-hour shifts I run out of hours before I run out of things to do.
Jesus, Himself, is helping this aging lady lift her paint brush with every stroke and we are having the time of our lives with the opened windows and their Spring-on-the-verge air.
And that's what Easter weekend looks like at my house. It looks different than at other homes, but I have learned that is ok.
"There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning." ... Louis L'Amour
Estate sales here back East should be advertised as Time Tunnel Trips. I tell Tom that I go to estate sales with him to tour the old houses, not really to buy anything. He sort-of understands that.
I shouldn't even go at all, for I come away from these much-loved, non-altered, early 1900's houses and it takes hours to shake the house lust from my heart. When I walk up the stairs of these old farmhouses, American Foursquares or Victorians, I'm catapulted into dreams normally reserved for nighttime. You know, the type where you wander around in a large, strange house opening doors and stepping into rooms you never realized were there.
Well, it's like that.
I barely see the knick-knacks displayed with price tags upon tables. And I pay little attention to the estate sale 'vultures' as I not-so-fondly call them, the harried, non-reverential people out to discover re-sell-able bargains. No, I wander zombie-like from floor to floor soaking up the pleasant vibes reverberating from the walls. The leftover aura from years-now-gone when housekeeping was a respected art and a happy family was all that mattered.
Through dreamy-dazed eyes I see yellow kitchens with their original glass-fronted cabinet doors (if there's an ironing board cupboard or a breakfast nook, it takes me days to recover). There's often green and red wooden-handled utensils beside the rainbow of Fiestaware and rolling pins. I think about the hands, now stilled, which used those things as I step through pocket doors and wander through the three-windowed dining room, barely scanning the dishes and embroidered linens on the covered table. No, I choose to peek into the cute little closet with the file cabinet and childrens' drawings beneath the stairs and the closet made into a library.
Sometimes there's a music room/ sewing room with a piano and a closeted sewing machine desk. I look at the old sheet music and the walls almost echo with a family singing. The sconces over the fireplace, the overstuffed chairs from the 1950's, the books in the built-in cases where they've been sitting for eons--my eyes miss none of it.
By now I'm lost in nostalgia and feeling transported, alone, though the vultures are rushing fast-motion up the stairs past me. But I creep up slowly, touching the rail which the woman of the house must have touched twelve-thousand times. At the top, there are green and sky-blue taffeta formals hanging over bedroom doors with striped hat boxes just below. The bedrooms are painted pink, robin's egg blue or are wall-papered in stripes and have fuzzy worn carpet, the largest has a little bay-window-room where there are two chintz-covered chairs beside a table spread with vintage magazines and sepia-toned photos in gold dime store frames. And vintage clothes stuffed into closets. And a sea foam green chenille bedspread upon the bed.
Usually by the time I cross the hall, I'm wondering if people will walk through my home like this when I am gone.
There are 1940's toys in the attic and piles and piles of books, games and dress-up clothes. And a baby walker, the old kind with red, blue and green far-from-hygienic wooden beads. It's in the attic where I usually wonder if anyone helping with this estate sale once played with these toys as a child or if they were the ones who used flour-and-water paste in the scrapbooks in the corner.
I usually save the basement for last, because they push me over the edge. Basements, that is. Not the vultures (though they have been known to get rough). Often the basement is tiled 1950's style and there's an old kitchenette complete with enameled stove, refrigerator and a wringer washer. And a couch from the 1960's, oil paintings, a bar and paneled walls. I imagine teen parties in the days of Buddy Holley and Elvis~~it's impossible not to see all that in my mind.
If I buy anything before my return to this decade, it's usually just a trinket, a souvenir, maybe a small black ceramic elephant. I purchase it to remind me of a walk through a house and all the lovely visions I had there. Just a little something to help me recall a family, especially a woman, who I'll never know,a woman with an unknown story, who lived out her married-life in one house, with one man. And who I am almost certain, did so happily.
Probably 90% of my life is the every day stuff. The cleaning and cooking and laundry and errands around town and endless small tasks.
Anyone else have a life like that?
When I go blog surfing and find people who hate the every day stuff it makes me sad that, really,what they're hating is 90% of the life God gave them upon this planet.
(You may want to pause and let that sink in...)
Well, I used to be there too. During the dreadful 80's (as I not-so-affectionately call them) I bought into the hype that homemaking was for drudges who had settled for living in Nowheresville. I even bought the magazines which reaffirmed that opinion.
Sometimes it take you years to buy out of lies. I know.
Anyone want to enjoy an extra 90% of your life? Start enjoying the cleaning and cooking and laundry and errands and endless small tasks.
In Sarah Ban Breathnach's book, Simple Abundance, she wrote about Nell B. Nichols, her favorite literary domestic writer from the 1920's, 30's and 40's. Nell was the Martha Stewart of her day. Here are my two favorite sentences from Sarah's book:
"Reading her columns is like being spoon-fed black cherry pudding: soothing, comforting, completely satisfying, yet a bit piquant. After an hour with Nell I always want to bob my hair, slip into a simple drop-waist cotton chemise, tie on a checked apron with a bow, and listen to Scott Joplin on the wireless as I dye unbleached muslin curtains 'to pretty up the attic windows.'"
Those sentences make me want to jump up and clean my house from basement to attic. To spin an old Big Band era album and throw open the windows and tie on an apron and get the dishes soaking in sudsy water. Suddenly, cleaning my house for my family sounds like the most delicious thing I could possibly do for them at the moment.
My main point? It matters what I read. It matters that I not fill my head with words which will only breed an ugly discontent within me, but instead,words which will encourage me to love my life.
Yes, I should read articles which will challenge me to broaden my thinking, but only within godly boundaries where there is an incredible joy of obedience.
Lying words have a tendency to hang-out near the wheel of my ship and snatch it away from me and sail me to dark, choppy seas, places I never intended to go. Places from which it's hard to find my way back home.
Out on Life's ocean, I am learning to steer clear of those.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof." ... Proverbs 18:21
Does anyone else out there still miss Karen Carpenter?
I remembered her lately because Tom bought a box of record albums at an estate sale and inside was a tan album simply titled, Carpenters. I moved my record player up to my Dream Room so I could feel 17 again in the pink light, and my oh my, Karen spins me back to those years, or rather, to the remembered-magic of being 17. And there was a magic to being a teenager--you just had to brush away all the emotional stuff to find it. Some kids never find it, but I did, and it all comes back when Karen sings:
Long ago, and oh so far away
I fell in love with you
Before the second show...
Your guitar, it sounds so sweet and clear,
But you're not really here,
It's just the radio...
And yet, the bitter-sweetness gets in the way. The sadness of Karen's life, well, I hear it all over her voice and then I remember the movie of her life and all the articles I've read since her death. Yes, the sadness gets in the way and sometimes I walk over and lift up the arm of the record player and let it rest.
And in the silence I return to being 46 and a little stiff in my joints and so far away from being 17 years old in my family's house. But happy because of who God has become to me and our history together. And because of this life He has given me like a present.
And slowly the ache goes away--all the useless wishes that Karen had had a happy life, too. I wish I could play her songs and feel pure joy. But there's always that ache in her voice and in my memories of her.
I wish I could thank her for leaving us her music and for reminding me that it doesn't matter what people say about my appearance. It matters only what God says. When He and I are in harmony, then there's a harmony to my days--not always circumstance-wise, of course, but heart-wise.
Long ago and oh so far away...
Someday I will be long ago and far away and I pray that God will bring smiles, not sadness, not a bitter-sweetness to those of you who will remember me.
One negative about keeping a blog is that I get tested on just about everything I write.
Like today. Awhile after I wrote that piece about emotions, Naomi came home to get more of her boxes to take over to her apartment. Things began well, then they collapsed into the one thing Naomi does which pushes all my buttons. She once again insinuated that I know nothing about Real Life, that somehow, somewhere, my brains fell out, that although she is half my age, she has somehow had twice my experience.
And I'd been having such a lovely morning, too. Sigh.
Well, I partly passed the Naomi Test. I didn't sink to her level and say a bunch of stuff in retaliation. I only gently said a couple things to defend myself. For me, that's big. And then I stepped back into my dream room--my peaceful place of escape at the top of the stairs, and quietly closed the door. In the old days I would have slammed it.
So far, so good. But then, as I sat back on my floor and continued sorting through my magazines in the sunlight, I cried a little. But then I remembered what I'd written this morning and how this was most likely a test to see if I really believed those words. I did. And then God was there sitting beside me--He even nudged my shoulder like a friend and said, "Come on. You're doing fine. You know she's young and still has much to learn. Cheer up."
And that reminded me of Encouragement 101. The best thing I learned in that class?
"But David encouraged and strengthened himself in the Lord" ...I Sam. 30:6
You can't always wait for a truckload of Christians to come along and peel you off the Highway of Life. Sometimes you just have to ask God to do it. You have to let Him be The Great Encourager when all your regular encouragers are out to lunch, when they've not picked up the signals--spoken or otherwise--relaying the fact that you need some kind, uplifting words.
Sometimes, in fact, God purposely scrambles those signals in hopes that we will come to Him for encouragement. In that case, it does no good to get upset with the people who failed to race to us when we needed them. Often it's God wanting us to run to the Throne, instead of the phone in times of need. (I am stealing that statement, I'll confess.)
I am so thankful for Encouragement 101. Kind, healing words from other people--really, they're wonderful! But sometimes even the best encouragers fail us, for whatever reasons.
There is only one Encourager who never, ever fails.
As a teenager, I used to anticipate special days with parties or school trips or family journeys. My mother would tell me, "If you don't count on things too much, then you won't be disappointed if they don't happen." But I rebelled against that sad belief and kept on dreaming of big days and grand times ahead.
And now at mid-life I still wake-up, throw the covers back and smile all the way to the kitchen. I make my pretend coffee in the microwave in my soft-yellow Fiestaware cup, hook my finger into the handle, then carry it carefully up the stairs and play my old Glenn Miller record, sit on the bed beside the breezy window, sip my coffee and dream.
And I thank God that this will be a wonderful day, even if just because He will match all my steps and whisper hope and love and encouragement to me every summer minute that I turn my head to listen.
I thank Him that this day will be amazing simply because He is.
Come what may, He will be here. If there is joy, He'll be here to share that joy. And if there be sorrow, He'll be here for that, too.
But I am anticipating scads and scads more joy than sorrow today!
"Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." ... Psalm 23:6
One afternoon I stood ironing Tom's shirts up in my dream room while watching The Road To Avonlea. A strange-to-others-but-not-to-me thought came to me as I swished the iron: "If Tom should die before I do, I will be thankful that I always ironed his shirts and pants. That I took the time to make sure he looks nice when he leaves the house."
Ok, that probably sounds a little weird.
But what I'm saying? I believe love considers another person's welfare, first. Ironing is not my favorite thing, but I do it so that Tom will look his best. So that he won't look like a sloppy, wrinkled Christian. (My clothes are the wrinkle-free kind. His aren't.)
I like this definition of wisdom: Wisdom is to do today what you'll be satisfied with later.
I like to think about later. I often ask myself, "Years from now will you regret that you did/did not do this deed? When you are in Heaven, will you be able to gaze back and be truly contented with what you see? Will you have lived fully and obediently?"
Sometimes, by asking those questions, I'm able to stir myself out of the old recliner and move my tend-to-be-lazy self into action. Thinking ahead has saved me from having a much longer list of regrets.
And that's a Good Thing.
First thing in the morning, the house felt like a sauna because the great outdoors was a sauna.
Second thing, the vet called at 8:30 a.m. to say that the previous day's tests came back for our (favorite) cat, Lennon. Looks like he's a diabetic. I will have to give him shots (Tom faints at the sight of needles. I am so not kidding.).
Third thing, Tom had the day off, but he wasn't feeling well. So we camped out in our room all day with the air-conditioner and tv and DVD's. I embroidered a little bit. It was too hot to do anything else.
Fourth thing, Naomi emailed me to say she'd been very sick since Sunday, had seen the doctor on Tuesday and was told she had an ear infection in each ear. We called her to see if she wanted us to bring her anything, but she said no thanks.
We all have days like that. The temptation when I do? To meditate upon what is going wrong. To play it over and over and over in my mind like a video tape you watch until the tape wears thin.
And here is the test-- will I play that tape in my head until I have it memorized? Until it overwhelms me to where I just let the sad waves wash over me, making me unable to reach out and help anyone else out there in that sea?
Or will I choose discipline? To make my mind go only where I want it to go--to things which are lovely, worthy of praise, excellent and of a good report. To just take care of what I can take care of and then trust that God and Grace will handle the rest.
There is a season for everything. Yesterday was my 'season' for acceptance, for trusting that this, too, shall pass. For keeping foremost in my mind and heart that God is still God, He is still good, and He is still in control.
And He still brings joy in the morning.
"It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." ... Hebrews 10:31
One morning while getting dressed in our bedroom to go shopping, this thought came: "No. Stay home, instead." There was just a tad of insistence about it.
Hmm. I started to argue,"But I need to buy _____", then stopped. I decided to put off shopping until the next morning.
An hour (or so) later, the kitchen phone rang and when I answered it, a woman from church spoke to me in a whispered voice. She was at work--and contemplating suicide.
God helped me talk her out of it. I hung up the phone then thought, "Oh! this is why I was supposed to stay home."
Probably a year later, Tom and I were visiting with a close friend of mine and her husband. As we drank our coffee, my friend criticized her husband a few times and the rest of us, I could tell, began feeling uncomfortable. I thought, "When ____ and I are alone, I need to tell her why dissing ones husband in public is a bad idea."
But then a thought came. "No. Wait awhile. Someday the timing will be better."
So a month passed, my friend and I chatted lots of times and I nearly forgot about the incident at her house. But then one morning while we talked in a coffee shop, she began listing her husband's negative traits and I heard, "Now," inside my head. "Speak to her now about her criticisms from a month ago."
And so I asked God to help me say things correctly and-- feeling like I was risking our friendship-- took the plunge. My friend received my words graciously, with much humility, even apologizing to me, but I said her husband needed the apology more than I did.
So that afternoon when my friend's husband arrived home from work, she sat upon their bedroom floor and apologized for all the years of criticism. And then? Her husband began to cry. He'd paid one month's rent on an apartment and had planned to leave her and their children the next day.
He changed his mind and all these years later, they're still happily together.
Some Christians believe their obedience--or disobedience--only affects themselves, not others, and that God will just get someone else to help somebody in need if they flake out.
Sometimes, yes. Many times, no ... and I feel gambling with our disobedience is never worth the risk.
"When I say to a wicked person, 'You will surely die,' and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood.
But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself." ... Ezekiel 3:18, 19
These verses explain why I don't just write 'fluffy-headed' posts here in my blog. The responsibility is too great for that. My desire is to stay in tune with God so that my words will be timely, especially for anyone who's searching ... or sinking.
I so do not enjoy being busy. These past few days I've had to run errand after errand and nearly always I'm wishing myself home where things are calm.
I can't believe how I used to be, though.
Each September when Naomi returned to school, I'd put on my 'business face' and dress-up, do my make-up then leave the house in the car. I'd shop and run errands--some real, some made-up-- trying to appear efficient and important and as busy as all my friends. I wanted everyone to know I took my homemaking seriously and that I treated it like a 9 to 5 job. I was 'just a housewife' and I was so concerned about how other people viewed me.
Good grief--it may as well have been Halloween with all that pretending in front of an 'empty auditorium'. Talk about insecure.
No wonder I was so often unhappy. I was untrue to myself, a phony. Jesus wanted to be real within me, but He can'tshine through walls of pretense. Also, it's nearly impossible to accept and love other people right where they are if I cannot first love and accept myself.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
For me, it was a case of not being able to accept that being a simple homemaker was just fine. The things I enjoyed were as valid as the things other people enjoyed. And to God I was as valid as everyone else. Just as I was.
What I needed was to let Jesus love me, imperfections included. And to stop comparing myself to others.
And now! Now I love best, the days I just get to stay home and paint walls and read and garden and embroider and wash dishes and dream.
The contentment is palpable and how good to be real before my audience of One.
I've had God drag me out of a few pity parties.
I'm always embarrassed when He comes through the door, brushes past the noisy crowd and finds me slumped over at a little table, drunk on self-pity cordial. You've tasted self-pity cordial, haven't you? It's warm and red and goes down smooth--at first. But then an hour later it makes your head throb and you feel worse, as though the best days of your life are over. And when you look around at those people who haven't yet succumbed, you hate the ones who are laughing. You think they are laughing at you.
I've had people tell me, "God takes me, accepts me, right where I am." And yes, He does.
But if He finds us at a pity party, He certainly doesn't want to leave us there. He does all He can to take our arm and pull us outside for some cold, fresh air. Then He walks us to a better place, a place where no self-pity cordial is served from the bar.
Yet only if we cooperate, let Him take our arm. Only if we leave the dark places and walk with Him to the light just up the road.
Some people wish to return to their 20's or 30's. Not me, no way.
Why return to wasting hours worrying about what was going wrong in my life? Playing it over and over on the screen of my mind. The money or relationship problems, the house-falling-apart problems, etc. And then choosing to complain, to whine, thinking about poor, unappreciated me.
Why go back to that?
No, I'll stay right here, thank-you. Here where, in learning to enjoy God, I've learned to enjoy Life. Here where, as long as I have Jesus, my days will be not just ok, but amazing--because He is.
And you won't find me attempting to sneak peaks into the future, either. When it comes to the future, Grace isn't there yet to help me understand and cope with what I may see. She's here with me today, though, and she'll be with me tomorrow. But that's all I need to know.
It doesn't matter what I have on my plate--you won't find me meditating about things which are ugly, newspaper-negative and of a bad report. Chances are, if you drop by and visit me today, you'll find I was thinking of Him when you knocked upon the door--and smiling.
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you." Philippians 4:8,9
"I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows)." ... John 10:10
The people I like best? Those who just live their lives on an even keel no matter what is happening. Although the world spins out-of-control, they still remain peaceful and humble and happy in the little things. Simple, down-home folks. You go to them feeling discouraged, but come away feeling hopeful. They can always find something positive about anything negative.
Their conversations aren't all about bills and crime and the government and bad husbands and kids-gone-wrong. Instead, they smile and work hard and putter in gardens and sit on their front porches and thank God for sunsets.
I'm not even saying that these should be your favorite people. I'm just saying they are mine. They are the people who are my examples of what abundant life looks like.
"Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are traveling the dark journey with us. Oh be swift to love, make haste to be kind." ... Henri Frederick Amiel
I mentioned to you earlier that my parents will be visiting us for the first time since we moved here in 1993. I'm surprised I've not written more often about this huge event because, for four months, it's been the utmost thing on my mind.
I've not written lots about my parents because I have one of those awkward relationships with them which so many people have.
Rather than rehash the past, I'll just tell you what I am thinking now. For these past months it's been on my mind to fix up our house so beautifully that perhaps, finally, my parents will get the message that Tom and I are all grown-up. I want them to look around at our home and our things and think, "Hmm.. it appears they've made a very good life for themselves out here in this state where we've always thought they should never have moved in the first place."
I want them to finally get it that I'm no longer 16 years old and an emotional yo-yo. (During our last visit, I couldn't believe how often my mother brought up how I felt about things at 16 and even younger. Sigh.)
If only they would see me as the 46 year-old-woman that I am. If only they could see that these 12 years living thousands of miles away, has changed my total existence.
Oh, we talk on the phone and email and we have flown out there and visited them. But this upcoming visit of their's--that will be the biggest test and it's all I can do not to feel as though they are coming to examine this life which we have created for ourselves.
But already, I see the flaws of my careful plans. I could parade before their eyes everything wonderful about my home and my town and this whole old-fashioned state, yet still, there is great potential that they will just not appreciate much of it at all. That is because, basically, we are as different in our likes and loves as the proverbial night and day.
I could make my house into the grandest 1935 Craftsman Bungalow on Earth, yet they could, very likely, point out our lack of modern touches. That we have only 1 bathroom. That I do not use my dishwasher by choice. That our kitchen doorknob falls off a lot.
So what it boils down to is this: I need to cut it out. All of this fixing and painting and rearranging with my parents in mind. I need to return to my earlier mindset of making a cozy home for Tom and me and for Naomi when she visits. This is not my parents' house. Tom and I love our home (most days) which comes in quite handy since we are the ones who have to live here. Or rather, the ones who get to live here.
And we believe moving here was the best thing we ever did.
And more--we love the people who we have become while living in this state so far away from all we knew while growing-up. We took a different turn than the one my parents wanted us to make and we discovered, around the bend, something better than we'd ever dreamed.
God had to take us to a faraway place in order to finally remake what needed to be remade within us. He's shown us how to let Him become real within us, and in turn, we're becoming more really who He created us to be.
That's what matters most and may I remember it all during our upcoming visit.
I need to take another mini-vacation weekend from my blog. Years ago I learned the difference between being faithful to a thing and being faithful to God.
They are wildly different.
If I am faithful to a thing (even a godly thing), I'll eventually neglect other areas which should be addressed and enjoyed.
But if I am faithful to God, the thing will get done the very best way because I'll be responding with His wisdom, not my own. And His wisdom makes certain that I'll miss-out on nothing of real importance and the people in my life will not feel neglected, either. His wisdom is perfect and forgets nothing, nor does it come with a lot of stress.
But that's a whole other post.
"... I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows)." ... John 10:10
Years ago, our then-church held a Sunday picnic in the park once each month of summer, beginning in May.
I remember the first picnic. Families shared tables, so as we walked along to secure a place to share, I stopped at the table of some friends: I was enchanted! They'd covered the scarred, old table with a pretty sky-blue cloth and in the center sat a glass canning jar filled with water and purple, pink and white flowers. "Oh! How pretty!," I told my friends. "What a lovely setting."
And actually, I was mesmerized. Truly inspired. I'd been on many picnics, but never had I thought to bring a pretty cloth and a vase of flowers.
On the next picnic, I carried one of the white linen tablecloths Tom had found on the curb, a white vase, flowers and something different--my favorite dishes, instead of just plain ol' paper plates. Always, I've enjoyed being creative and a little different--it's fun. And this time people stopped and commented that our table looked like a picture from a decorating magazine, like a setting for a backyard party.
The following month, the creative table ideas had spread like a good disease. Other families brought their nice things from home to share with their friends at their own picnic tables. I loved it. Our church picnics began to resemble genteel, Victorian parties. Well, kind-of-- in our own imaginations, at least. And I even scattered a few small Victorian-times photos (more curb finds) upon our table, also, for added decor and conversation starters.
But that's when I began hearing murmurs from some of the women. They stood in little groups near our table and smiling, said to each other,
"You start something like that and then everyone expects you to keep it up."
"Yeah, or top it," another woman said.
"Right. I'll just be bringing the usual paper plates and cups. Count on it..."
And then a bit later one woman (who never liked me much) stood in the food line very near our table and asked, "So, Debra... Does the food taste better on your real china dishes?"
The people around us got quiet. Heads jerked my way, eyes stared. I sat down my stainless steel fork, smiled my most beguiling smile and then looked up at the woman and said, "Why yes, Tricia! I believe it does."
Women giggled. Tricia looked a little confused, started to say something, then moved along the line.
Oh, I want to enjoy my life! May I create and dream good things with the gifts God has given me. And inspire others, never becoming so jaded, so bored, so average-seeking that I walk only the easy paths and never smile from my eyes.
Jesus died to give me more than that and may I always search for the 'more,' even at something like a simple church picnic. Even during a normal day at home alone-- for it all matters.
What a distressing contrast there is between the radiant intelligence of the child and the feeble mentality of the average adult.
I took a walk this cool morning along our streets which are tree-lined and old-house-lined, also.
I was enjoying the shade and the quiet and thanking God for it all when whack! A leaf swooped down and brushed my cheek.
It was sudden. It was sweet. It took me by surprise and stung a tiny bit and was, for a second, overwhelming.
I thought, "I've been kissed by a leaf."
Then I thought, "Or maybe I was kissed by God."
When you spend every day with God, you see Him in odd places and gasp! Then you stand there and look around at all the people who are just passing Him by, people with unopened eyes. And you want them to see Him, also.
Tom and I had breakfast this morning on our sunny front porch. I put on my apron and made waffles in the old iron and then we took the waffles outside, along with the newspapers from Sunday and Monday. We sat at the table in companionable, peaceful bird-chirping quiet amongst all these pre-WWII houses, many with front porches of their own.
But we broke the silence at times and shared articles of interest with each other from the pages before us and then we'd return to our reading and our munching.
We especially enjoyed the article about the couple who'd been married 74 years... The 100-year-old wife is immaculately dressed by 6 a.m. each morning, with lipstick and pearls, even. LOVE THAT!
Some people say you have to work at having a good marriage. Hmm... I guess you can look at it that way. But to me, that sounds rather like,"You must eat spinach if you want to stay healthy." Or, "You must visit the dentist regularly in order to have good teeth." And well, when Tom and I do things or go places, our times together do not taste like spinach nor do they feel like going to the dentist. They do not feel like work, either.
Instead, it feels like cozy fun. It feels like what I said at one point during our meal this morning in my best broadcaster's voice: "Ahh... La Casa (our last name). The very best in patio dining."
This may sound odd, but I enjoy our 26-year-old marriage. We're having too much fun to work at it.
More than twenty years ago our pastor's wife told us this story. Her sons' high school principal lived just down the street from her. For two weeks, off and on throughout the day, she felt a burden in her heart for the principal's wife. So she prayed for her, yet that didn't seem to be enough. Still the burden persisted.
Eventually, she felt as though she should walk down to the principal's home and speak to his wife. One day she knew she could postpone it no longer, so she walked down the street to the principal's house. She was a nervous wreck-- she had no idea what she would say when she got there. She knocked on the door and the principal's wife opened it and just stood there. She was not known for being friendly--there was no smile upon her face.
My pastor's wife said, "I'm not quite sure why I'm here. I've been praying for you, and well, God told me, I thought, well, Maybe you needed a friend?"
The principal's wife burst into tears. She'd been desperately lonely and had been praying for a friend to be sent to her.
I want to be able to read God and to read people, too. I don't wish to reach the end of my life only to be horrified that I was consumed by me, me, me. That everywhere I went, it was as though I walked down city streets and stared in big plate glass windows in order to watch only myself walk along.
May the song in my head not be, "What About Me?". May all my Me's not drown out the You's.
Instead, I want to go through this life with my eyes and ears wide open and have the courage to do something about what I see.
"Alone time is something I truly relish as my years start to gather up an impressive total! I think we get more comfortable in our own skin, with who we are, IF we've allowed the Holy Spirit to do His job ..."
Last week, while watching coverage of Hurricane Katrina, I heard a reporter say, "Hard times make people stronger."
Huh! Not always.
Years ago I went through some hard times emotionally--times in which I thought the way some church people treated me was the problem, when in reality, the problems came because I refused to die to self. Well, refused might be a strong word, for at that time, I didn't know how to die to self or even why I should.
Instead, I kept trying to make my Self stronger on the inside. Whenever those 'mean ol' church people' picked on me, I would harden my heart so that next time, their words wouldn't pierce me as deeply. I built walls around my heart to shield myself from hurt so that I'd be able to treat those people the right, godly way and not be cited for treating them as harshly as they'd treated me. (There's logic in there somewhere.) I believed appearing to be blameless was the answer.
But it wasn't. Basically, instead of becoming better, I became bitter.
And always, that is the choice for each of us in hard times. We either let them mold us into more humble, vulnerable and compassionate people who have learned to lean more heavily upon God's strength (and not our own), or we choose a lesser, curvy road. Trust me, I spent years on that wild road and it only kept me dizzy and stumbling further away from the dependency upon God. At the end of that curvy road where Self's ways lead, there is no comfort from God, no strength, no power, no joy, no peace.
There is only Self. Foolish, thinks-it-knows-everything-but-actually-knows-nothing Self. And in lands where Self led me, there was only loneliness and much pain.
Just by looking around we can see that hard times do not necessarily make people stronger or better. I have watched many people during the last four decades of my life become sick from bitterness, unforgiveness and a need to control everyone. They scare me now, and yet, they teach me, too. They teach me what not to do and how not to be.
Bitter or better? Always, the choice is mine.
It's enchanting to sit on our front porch in the evenings while the sun goes down. I wish you could sit out there with me so you can see what I mean. Well, in a way, you are out there, too. I was there just now listening to the echo of my neighbors' voices while thinking about the things I could tell you here.
I just wish my neighbors could see you because they probably feel sorry for me sitting alone on our wicker loveseat. I'm out there on our porch a lot by myself.
I hope my neighbors don't feel sorry for me because I feel like the most blessed woman on earth, especially while out on that very porch. I was thinking tonight that never before had I lived in the same house in my life for more than two-and-a-half years and yet now, in this wonderful house, I've lived 12 years. I went from being 34 to 46 and maybe you already know this, but those are usually some amazing, life-changing years.
My attitude has gone through a complete overhaul while living in this house. I used to sit on our porch and feel sorry for myself because Tom works so much and I am so often alone. But now? This will sound odd, but I cannot get enough of being alone. I love how I feel so creative while I'm by myself and it's all I can do not to pick up a paint brush and start painting something, anything. Or I'll wash or organize something while I have the radio blaring classical or big band era music.
I used to be led by moods and my emotions and that was one big rocky ride. Like, Yo-Yo Land. But over these years of living in this house, God taught me to be led by Him, how He feels about things and how He wants me to react to whatever may be happening. He's still teaching me, of course, and I'm learning to enjoy the lessons. That, in itself, is a miracle.
And it's amazing--He's so with me out on that front porch that almost do I see Him sitting across from me in the big white wicker chair.
I wish my neighbors could see Him there with me, also.
Life is what you make it. And so is your house.
"Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands..." ... I Thessalonians 4:11
Tom walked through this house before I did (being in New York before Naomi and me) and then bought it. He sent me a video beforehand, and although this house wasn't quite what I'd craved, I told him to go ahead and buy it if he thought it was the right thing to do.
Well, after I arrived in New York with Naomi and first saw this house, I was a little disappointed. It had looked bigger on the video and no room had anything resembling Victorian ambiance. During our first years here, I tried decorating it in Victorian style, but always, the heavy Craftsman window and door trim overwhelmed the lace and trinkets, creating what felt like a tense, Craftsman vs. Victorian war.
It's very uncomfortable living in the middle of a war.
So years later, I decided to submit to the Craftsman tones of this house. I let go of my old Victorian junk, er, lace and doo-dads, and began studying the whole early 1900's Craftsman movement and discovered it was meant to be a reprieve from all the Victorian cluttered years.
Then Tom and I haunted the scratch-and-dent room of our local furniture store and bought Craftsman furniture for a fraction of its original price (at full price, it's ridiculous.). We felt blessed to find such super deals.
And you know? Harmony and a new peace arose between our furnishings and all that window and door Craftsman trim. The more I submitted to this being a Craftsman Bungalow and not a Queen Anne Victorian, the more peaceful each room felt.
And amazingly, I came to prefer the straight lines and uncluttered look of the Craftsman style over the curves and fluff of Victoriana. Our home is now a place of repose and rest because we gave it the furnishings it was created to have.
But only because I submitted to the truth: that some things you cannot change, so you must change yourself, your way of viewing things, instead.
But that became a good thing. It challenged me to create my own dream house out of something less. And that has made all the difference.
While a high school junior, my family lived in a church parsonage which had belonged to the former pastor's family. And while their oldest daughter (with my same name, even) was a junior, she'd taken a high school home decorating class and her 'final' had been to completely redecorate the upstairs' bathroom. She did a beautiful job--we all thought so. She'd painted it lavender with lime green and white accents. Her decorating teacher drove to the parsonage to grade her on her work on the bathroom and the daughter received an A.
Well, this whole house of mine has been like one long home-decorating class project.
I have painted and repainted every room. I've studied decor books and the pictures from many magazines over these years and I've discovered what I do like and what I don't. What goes together and what does not. A style of my own was forged and I've come to love these rooms I've created so much that, in our next house, I'm planning to recreate them detail-by-detail, paint color-by-paint color. That's how much I love what I've done here by trial and error until finally hitting upon 'just right.'
I'm thankful my dream house wasn't just handed to me. I'm glad I had to study and sweat for it and pull it from my own dreams inside my head and heart. I've learned so much more this way and I have a decorating courage I could have gained no other way.
Work, study, sweating by one's own brow--good, lasting things, all.
"He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will abide under the shadow of the Almighty." ... Psalm 91:1
Back in the good old days when Tom and I had cable tv, I used to watch a certain travel show.
I enjoyed the colorful, interesting countries and the hilarious host. And yet in nearly every country he seemed to seek out each place's history of black magic, voodoo, or witchcraft.
And although I usually avoid such things because of the Bible's admonitions, I'd watch a couple minutes of those recreated black magic parts, hoping the coverage of it would be short. I hesitated to turn the channel and perhaps miss what came next.
Besides, the black magic stuff made up just a tiny part of each hour. I wouldn't pay real close attention. I'd close my eyes. Thus, I argued with God.
Yet after awhile I began having nightmares twice a week instead of just twice (or so) a year. This continued for three weeks before I finally realized that, oh dear! I was reaping from disobeying that still, small voice (and Bible verses) which had warned me to let go of that program.
So not being overly-fond of nightmares (or of disobeying God), I stopped watching that show and surprise, surprise--the nightmares ceased immediately.
I hoped God would replace that travel program with another one like it, minus the black magic stuff, of course, but for two years no other show appeared. I thought that odd because usually when God asks me to give up something, He hands me something better--soonish. Or, okay, sometimes He decides teaching patience and trust is the higher lesson.
Then one day, poof! Our local PBS station began airing Rick Steves' travel shows. I was hooked! Rick visited wonderful places, mostly in Europe, and he didn't go running to voodoo shops or villages.
This one example has reminded me that God does always replace what we've given up for Him with something better. But not always immediately. And sometimes we can miss that better thing because our self-pity and negativity blinds us to believing for it.
Now I often watch Rick's travel shows before I fall asleep at night. And if you could look inside my head upon my pillow you'd not see a single nightmare.
God is good.