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.