Yes

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A few days ago I posted a picture of my hand with a pretty little sapphire engagement ring captioned with the word, ‘yes.’

Life has and continues to move on.

The pendulum has swung from one direction to the other during a time in which I considered whether or not marriage was even something I wanted to do again. After all, I still live in the aftermath of loss, occasionally shouldering the burden of grief that comes from the mending of a broken heart. No one ever said restoration, healing is easy.

But I believe that God comes when we call. In the presence of a friend, in the aroma of a fresh pot of coffee perfectly timed to greet us in the morning, in the strength that is somehow found to carry on, even when it’s just barely–God shows up. God isn’t just in the bowed heads and Bible verses. God is in the beside me, before me and under and in the invitation, right when we make it or offer the dare. Each offering, be it love, affection, or a good joke is God’s gift. These are the moments when we gain the momentum to keep going.

‘Yes’ has come to mean a lot more to me than ‘I do.’

I’m saying ‘yes’ to sharing life, ‘yes’ to the uncertainty of commitment, ‘yes’ to the risk that loving another person means. What’s different now perhaps than some twenty years ago is that ‘yes’ means I understand that God’s commitment to me is the only one I can fully count on. And that’s ok. It’s been enough so far to see me through some trying times.

The capacity we each have to heal, to get better, to recover is astounding. What strikes me now as I think about the word, ‘yes,’ is that it’s not the first ‘yes’ I’ve made about my future. The first ‘yes’ was for me: a ‘yes’ for hope, a ‘yes’ for healing, a ‘yes’ to believing that life could still be good. Saying ‘yes’ day after day after day got me here.

So I’m going to keep saying ‘yes’ to believing that something quite savory can come out of the fire. A toast to, ‘yes!’

 

Finding Center: Four Questions to Ask Yourself When the “Worst” Happens

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A few years ago, I was cruising along in life when, out of what felt like nowhere, everything changed. My perception of the life I’d lived was put into question as I faced the abrupt end to my marriage. Every plan and idea I had about the future was placed on hold as I grappled with the loss of my spouse and an an uncertain future. One of my favorite sayings is that hindsight is 20/20. I now understand and can accept things that at the time I fought against. I also can see that there was a lot I did, not always consciously, that laid the framework for healing and growth during an unexpected divorce which could have completely derailed me.

When we’re faced with traumatizing circumstances or an unexpected turn, it’s easy to react instead of respond. When we react, we often do so out of the heightened emotional state we’re in. We may say or do things we regret because we haven’t stopped to consider what our options are. Instead, I believe that our greatest strength in the midst of chaos is in the power to choose and to do so wisely. Let me add that wisdom is not always a ready resource when the worst happens. As I reflect on how I made it through that dark time in my life, much of what I  held on to was passed on to me by friends or counselors who themselves were not embroiled in my own unfolding saga. Their rootedness anchored me. Here are a few key questions that we all can ask when all may seem lost, a few of them inspired by some amazing people who walked beside me.

Who do I want to be?

In the middle of what felt like  impossible circumstances, I decided early on to see a therapist. She encouraged me to take good care of myself, saying, “your children will be well if you are well.” Whether it’s children or other important relationships, it’s true. All of them will suffer if you are not well yourself. I had to consider who I wanted to be and how I was going to handle the situation that I found myself in. At the time, I probably could not have articulated who I wanted to be, but I knew that I still wanted to enjoy life. I took my kids to the zoo, the park, the beach. In the face of deep internal agony, I still got out of bed. I cooked dinner. I went to the gym. Each and every ounce of self-care had a cumulative effect that kept me moving towards the next thing, even if it was just walking across the room. I wanted to be someone who could live well, even if my course was being dramatically altered.

I came to understand who I wanted to be by also recognizing who I wasn’t going to be. Whatever battles you choose to fight will be a withdrawal from your emotional reserves, so choose wisely. It’s important to also consider how you fight. A dear friend passed on some advice she’d been given during a difficult period in her own life. She said, “do no more harm; don’t add to your regrets; always take the high road.” The high road doesn’t always feel good. It means not necessarily getting in the last word. It means choosing grace over revenge. Taking the high road means saying and doing things that don’t keep you up at night rehashing old scenes and wishing you’d done things differently. It also means forgiving yourself when you blew it all together because, after all, choosing the high road is impossible to do perfectly.

What do I believe?

I am of the Christian variety. While there are many different tents in this camp, I am grateful to be in the it’s-ok-if-you-aren’t perfect one. I let God know I was angry. With the windows tightly rolled up, I screamed and let God have it. My marriage as I saw it had been untouchable; my expectations that I could preserve it at all cost were perhaps naïve. Even still, I was honest with God about how I felt about what was happening in my life. In the years since the hardest turns, I’ve often prayed simple, sometimes indiscernible prayers. “Set my feet on a firm path; show me the way. Help.”

Knowing what you believe, though, especially if you don’t profess a faith isn’t about finding a religion necessarily but, rather, about knowing what your internal order is. We each live by a set of values, internally held but externally lived out. What, where, how, and with whom you spend your time says a lot about what you think is important. Sometimes those things are helpful, especially during a time of hardship. If not, then it may be time to identify some values that offer a better way to deal with what you’re going through and ultimately put on the horizon a glimpse of the life you want to live in the future.

What can I control?

When I was going through my divorce, I felt like everything was being taken away. I could easily have fallen victim to my circumstances and, as I mentioned earlier, reacted from angst. Instead, I made a list of what I could control when everything else felt out of control. I could still try to make my kids laugh. I could still create beauty. I could spend time with friends. I could hold on to hope and believe there was something beautiful waiting on the other side of my painful situation.

I could control my attitude and each choice that I made. Sometimes I chose to drive 30 minutes just to play the piano in an empty chapel where my friend was a pastor. Other times I chose to make lasagna which seemed fancy when cooking for just me and two small children who would have been just as happy with hot dogs for the hundredth night in a row. Each choice was an investment in restoring my sense of empowerment, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant.

Who do I love? And who loves me back?

The trauma of my divorce left me vulnerable, foggy-headed, and facing a mountain of decisions that I was ill-prepared for. While some friends marveled at my strength, I now can say with confidence that I am still standing because of theirs. When the “worst” happens, draw close to the people who have a track record in your life; lean into them.

A friend I’ve known since the fifth grade spent hours with me on the other end of a telephone line, several states away on the first evening I was alone. Another sent a box of fruit and earrings, small tokens of love from the other side of the country. Friends cooked for me, painted with me, sipped wine with me and held me through the most difficult of days. When we’re faced with the worst and lean into the ones we love, we will know who loves us back because they are still there when the sun comes up again.

As a Man Thinketh, so He Prays

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Several months ago, I attended a breakout session at a conference  titled, “A Pastor Comes Out of the Closet.”  It was not just a gimmicky title meant to merely peak interest but, instead, the true story shared by a pastor of coming to terms with his sexuality. He spoke of how he’d expected he’d be dead by 40, so certain he was that he wouldn’t live long enough to reach the breaking point with his secret. As his life began to feel out of control, he found himself in the emergency room. What he realized was that this had not been some kind of premonition. Rather, it had become his prayer.

Some years ago, I found myself lying on a pre-op table, waiting to be wheeled into the operating room. During a final consult, the surgeon, a no-bones-about-it personality, pointed out my hands, clenched into fists, thumbs tucked in to provide me with what felt like an extra measure of protection. This was fear. He encouraged me to relax. There really was not all that much to be scared about except that thing called uncertainty. I unclenched my fists and took a few deep breaths. And it really was ok.

Both these stories remind me of the significance of posturing. What may seem like insignificant viewpoints and quietly held beliefs can hold so much more power than we willingly acknowledge. They can, in a sense, order our days, unintentional poses whereby we open ourselves up to more than we bargained. We may unknowingly be bending towards or away. Regardless, we are turning in a direction. We are praying with our thoughts, our words, our opinions, offering for ourselves and others something which we believe to be true. They can give us life, or they can take us down.

So true had become this young pastor’s expectation that his life was nearly over that his own body was beginning to suffer, telltale signs that led him to a turning point. Instead of internalizing that prayer, he began to pray another one, one which had him living again and one that kept him around to share his story and bring life to others.

What are you praying for that you might not realize? What beliefs, thoughts, or expectations are you holding on to that have become your life’s prayer? Does this posture give life and hope? Or is it slowly eating at your soul?

For as he thinks within himself, so he is. Proverbs 23:7 (NASB)

One Kernel at a Time: What I Learned About Generosity From a Basket of Corn

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In what now feels like a lifetime ago, I spent nearly a year in a dusty border town in southwestern Ethiopia. Over the course of nine months, I and my husband at the time, served as volunteers with our church at the Gambella Bethel Presbytery where we worked as teachers and helped the community of Nuer people start a couple small scale micro-enterprise projects. One blisteringly hot afternoon, I stood in the cinder block church building with a group of women discussing what kind of business venture they could start with a grant from my sending organization, LCMS World Relief. As was often the case in my life’s experience at the mere age of 25, I was amused at how, yet again, I found myself square in the middle of something that felt quite out of my depth: raising chickens. With funds in hand, the women of the community were thrilled to begin. Soon enough an impressive chicken coup was constructed, complete with a host of feathered friends in whom we all placed high hopes that there would be many eggs.

Although the year was rife with challenges, beginning with a serious car accident, my husband getting malaria, and many days spent soaking our feet in a bucket to cool ourselves from the 110 degree temperatures, it was a time that I will never forget. The leaders of the community we were serving were hard workers, proud of what they had accomplished. They had built their school from the ground up with their own hands, using resources naturally available to them: mud and sticks topped off with corrugated iron roofing. They were gracious and kind to us, generous in hospitality and friendship.

On Sunday mornings we’d be packed into that concrete building, the iron roof absorbing the heat while the service dragged on. When they passed baskets to collect an offering, I was struck by the mix of coins and corn tossed in. Whatever they had, they gave; they offered generously from their resources, even if it might appear to be just a few measly kernels of corn. What it said to me was so much more.

When I think of generosity my mind usually goes down the path of dollar signs. A friend once told me I was generous, but I had to stop and really consider what she meant because, after all, I am by no means rich. My charitable giving is boiled down to the few bucks I can spare each month and several trips to the Salvation Army where I drop off well-worn and outgrown clothes with maybe an old lamp tossed in. I think of everything I don’t have to give, instead of stopping to consider what is mine to offer: friendship, encouragement, faith,and a little hospitality thrown in there.

There are plenty of opportunities to practice generosity, if we’re paying attention. Sometimes it’s as simple as celebrating a friend’s success when a hint of jealousy creeps in. It’s reaching beyond my misfortune or limitations to acknowledge the joy, good fortune, or happiness in another. It’s saying, “good for you, way to go, you can do it,” and meaning it. It’s a fresh-baked brownie for my neighbor or making dinner for a friend. It’s all the ways I show up for others when I’d rather be taking care of myself.

What I saw in that crowded church in rural Ethiopia over fifteen years ago, were people who understood what it meant to be generous with the gifts they’d been given. At first glance, it didn’t appear like much. Yet, it was the currency of spirit that stuck with me. If all you have to give is corn, then, by all means, give it.

So I’m leaning into this example. I’m learning to give what I have, not what I want to have. When it is hope, I will give hope. When it is love, I will give love. When it is abundance, I will give from my bounty. If my pockets are empty, I can at least give from a full heart because, after all, I’m practicing gratitude in equal measure.

What gifts and strengths do you have from which you can practice generosity? Pause for a moment and give thanks for those good things. And then, by all means, give.

Celebrating Mother’s Day, Single-Mom-Style

As with most things in life, I was rarely the first kid to dawn the latest styles, relying mostly on a thrifty mom whose concern for the budget was greater than her concern for my vanity. We had many privileges, no doubt, but coolness did not factor in the order of priorities. So it was that as my friends were showing off their Cabbage Patch Dolls, both the official brand versions and the homemade sewn-together kind, I watched with envy, wondering when my day would come. Then one day, my mom who was prone to springing the occasional surprise, sent me up to my closet to look and see what she’d brought home for me. Stepping into the walk-in closet, there he was, perfectly-packaged and straight from the Cabbage Patch itself, my very first brown-skinned boy, complete with birth certificate, named Adam Vaughn. He was perfect.

Subscribing as I do to the belief that God is the author of my life, I think of this fondly now as one of those moments of divine foreshadowing. Today, I am the adoptive mom of two amazing, bright-eyed and beautiful kids from Ethiopia.

What feels like a lifetime ago, I once wondered when, if, how I would become a mom. I kept my grief to myself. Those kids, the ones you hold in your mind’s eye before you even know who you’ll have them with, the ones that share your eye color and your quirky disposition–I would never know them. They would never be. One day while watching the movie “Julie and Julia,” alone in a theater, I sobbed over a scene where Julia learns that her sister is pregnant. The childless Julia cries as she reads a letter from her sister with the news. My grief occasionally caught me by surprise; my own tears startled me. I had celebrated the pregnancies and births of several friends’ children by then and kept relatively quiet about my own disappointment at not getting pregnant myself. I’d also experienced the joy of bringing home my daughter just a year earlier. Thinking back on this, I now understand that this is what we humans do when things don’t go according to plan. We grieve.

Then, just as I was beginning to emerge from the fog of early parenthood, and that grief had all but diminished, my world fell apart. The life I’d known and the man with whom I’d created that life with were lost to me. During what was a bewildering season, my marriage dissolved in a matter of months, and I found myself alone on what was only my fourth Mother’s Day. Instead of a shiny new necklace, I wore grief around my neck that day.  My kids may well have been the only thing I got up for in the morning, but that was enough because, for one thing, I am still here.

What is left of that sadness is now mostly about me making peace with my past than any deficiency in my kids’ lives. I cannot relate to their divorced-parent reality, to having a stepmom and step-siblings or living between two homes. They, however, don’t know anything different. Their home is not broken in their eyes; it is different than what I had hoped for them. There’s less room these days for pining for what was because now is looking pretty darn good.

What I have learned is that healing is work; striving to live well and rise above my circumstances has been the best gift I could give my kids. For when my own heart is full, it overflows into creating a sense of well being for my kids too. When I am well, my kids are well. Holidays still knock me off kilter sometimes, no matter how loving my support system is. So this year, I ordered my own Mother’s Day gift, a pair of red Tom’s and a necklace set to arrive on Saturday, not for lack of love from anyone but, rather, as an act of caring for myself.

Most of my life as a parent has been as a single mom. It’s not what I expected, and it came about with great price to my dreams and expectations. But grief is being crowded out by joy, and I know this is a sign that I am letting go. Being a mom is being a mom, no matter how you come by it. Motherhood is perhaps less about being an actual “mom” and, instead, about the heart of the matter: love, unwavering love. That love has helped me heal. New dreams, new hopes, new adventures await, but my prayer for my kids will always remain: that they will know in their bones how deeply they are loved.

I love you Pooka-doo and Benjiddly. So much.

 

Taking Time to Rest: A Simple Way to Create Space for Solitude at Home, by Juliana Abraham

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When I was a child, my grandparents had a nook with a little door, in the basement, under their stairs in their house in Dewey, Arizona. Rather than use this space for storage, they turned it into a nook for their grandkids, for quiet or play. I loved and lavished this space. I could go in there and tuck myself away with a book or my thoughts and let the time pass. I’d come out whenever I wanted and then go back in whenever I wanted too. It was glorious. I can still feel the space in that little cubby and recollect the smells and the sounds of that house, nestled into the hillside.

Quiet time is an essential need for me–I have to have it. As a mother of three children, it is something that is incredibly difficult to carve out time for, yet so vital to my own care and well being. I imagine I will have to be intentional about making space for my time of solitude even after my children grow older and leave our home because it can feel difficult to justify when there are so many other things vying for our time, activities that are indeed fun and enjoyable.

The reality is that when we choose time for rest we are invariably choosing not to do other activities. So, it can feel like a loss to choose solitude because the benefits are not so visibly tangible. We don’t really see people posting pictures of themselves practicing solitude on social media; we generally see posts filled with activity and in the presence of others. And, those are very good and important things to see and to take part in too. But, solitude offers us precisely what we think we don’t have enough of – time. And, with so many demands on our time it can begin to feel as though we are not able to grab hold of the life we are living long enough to actually notice and embrace the joys and the sorrows we experience. Practicing solitude is an intentional way of pausing to really see our life as it is. In solitude, we can say thank you for what we do have while also acknowledging the uneasiness we may feel as a result of the ebb and flow of our relationships, life stages, careers and those things of value to us.

My husband and I, along with our three children, moved nearly a year ago. It was a transition that was necessary for our family and has definitely felt right over time. I had thought that our previous house, the house all of our children were born into, would be our forever home. I had envisioned grandchildren running down the halls and sipping my coffee and tea in our cheerful little sun room, that I had painted a joyful yellow, into my old age. All of the memories we had made there of important celebrations and dinners with friends and time spent with family and the community of neighbors around us made that house our home for nearly a decade. But change is sometimes the thing we need to leap into, whether we are ready or not.

In my experience, when we are feeling unsure about change, we can be pretty stubborn people and also quite demanding and particular in how we want things to be.  This makes sense because it’s kind of our go-to strategy when we are wanting to control that which we can’t always control. I jokingly tell my husband I can be an incredibly flexible and spontaneous person under the right circumstances! However, making known to others what we need and hope for is one of the kindest things we can do for ourselves and for others. When we first began talking about a potential move, my primary concern was that our children would be able to weather the changes they would face as a result of the decision my husband and I were making for our family. I was hopeful that we’d find our place in whatever new community we moved into because we were taking with us the assurance that the community we have been a part of for the past 14 years of living on the East Coast would still be there for us in the midst of change. And, this gave me courage and continues to be a source of our strength in other areas of our lives as well.

When we first looked at the house we now live in, one of the things that stood out to me was this tiny space under the stairs in our basement. Although too small for an adult to stretch out, even though I have tried, it was perfect for a little person to make believe in. Each of our kids got their own room in our new house, even though they end up snuggling together in one bed many nights. Since each of their bedrooms are different sizes, our middle daughter offered up the bigger room to her older sister so long as she could claim the little space under the stairs in the basement as her own.

Not long after we settled in I was inspired to transform the space under the basement stairs into a fun little cubby. I got to work and hung as many frames of photos or artwork as I could possibly fit into it. I decorated the space with old silk flowers, and knick-knacks that have been tucked away in boxes or hidden in cupboards for the past few years, ever since baby things and toys had taken their places. All of the things that I had considered taking to Goodwill now became re-purposed in this little sanctuary. I lined the floors of the cubby with baby blankets that are no longer being used to swaddle my babies. The only thing that I actually purchased for this specific project was a shaggy reading pillow. For a final touch, I hung Christmas tree lights around the little entrance to this beautiful cove.

When I finished, the girls loved the cubby so much that my older daughter asked me to make her one. So, I went to work clearing away another corner filled with miscellaneous decorative items that I couldn’t decide whether to keep or give away and transformed an extra little closet in her bedroom into a cubby too. The kids were excited all over again about the second little cubby that my little 2 1/2 year old, at the time, asked me to make him one too. And, how could I resist such a request? If you give a mom a cubby, she’ll make one for all of her babies! So, I turned a corner of my little guy’s closet into a cubby too and hung drawings and paintings made by the kids that I had put in clear acrylic standout frames. For a final touch, I put a handful of books into a little bin and lined part of the closet floor with his favorite stuffed animals and toys. By the end of the week, I was ready for a break!

Most of the time, these little cubbies sit vacant, but there are moments when each of the kids will retreat to their own little corner for some solitude. Our little guy has made playing in his cubby for a few minutes before bedtime part of his routine each night. More than anything, I have observed that our kids appreciate their little space to go to when they just want alone time. And, walking past them in these moments, with a stack of laundry to put away, feels very gratifying and peaceful.

The materials needed to create space for solitude are quite simple and have more to do with our time than with our possessions like pillows, decorations and strings of Christmas lights. Sitting on a rock in the woods or on the step of your front porch while watching the clouds go by will do, so long as you feel free to be. I think it’s easy to get swept up in following a prescribed set of rules and recommendations for how to best maximize anything we do in life, even something like solitude. But the real beauty in solitude is the freedom to choose what thoughts to think or feelings to feel or musings to muse. Children need that freedom in their days and we as adults need that freedom too.

It wasn’t until now, all these years later, that I discovered the creation of little nooks was something my grandmother has done from the time my father and his sisters and brothers were children. My aunts shared memories of my grandmother creating spaces in the homes of their childhood.  My aunt Anne wrote, “She [my grandmother] got the biggest kick out of decorating little corners, even [when] camping she would find something to be a table cloth and be very proud of herself for beautifying her little corner.” What a treasure my aunts have given me in helping me to connect my cubby project to an even greater family story that I am a part of and am passing on to my children.

So, however you enjoy taking time to be still, whether it’s making yourself a hot cup of tea or singing in the shower, or kicking up your heals and listening to some of your favorite songs, treat yourself to an extra few minutes of solitude! Life is so short and our days are filled with so much to do. We need our time of quiet and calm.

 I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.
                                                                                     ~ Henry David Thoreau

I’m From

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I am from sticky carpet and open windows

From air so thick, it felt like someone was sitting next to me

From tree tops and sky

And paths through the woods to my best friend’s house

 

I’m from clutter and chaos

From clanking dishes and thunderstorms

Runs through the field with grass tickling my legs

And baths to wash off the ticks

 

From hot air balloon landings

And a place where a fence became my adventure for the day

I’m from sign language, growth hormone, and chemotherapy

Shouting and laughter, family vacations and imperfection

 

I’m from a big picture window

Star studio and microphone

Sticky tac and sea shells

From ovaltine and kit kat bars

Chocolate mousse pie and fried chicken

 

I’m from midnight mass

and Our Father Who Art in heaven

Bless us, Oh Lord, with these they gifts

Which we are about to receive

 

I’m from Debbie Daniels

Good Morning Miss Mable

And puffed oven pancakes

Generosity, kindness, patience and love