Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Fainting hearts and fairy tales



I'm no expert, but if I could go back and tell my newly married self one thing, it would be that fairy tale marriages only exist in storybooks.

Out here in the real world, there is no such thing as pixie dust or enchanted spells or fairy godmothers. Happily ever after is more than just a magic coach ride into the proverbial sunset.

Have you noticed how fairy tales always stop cold on the wedding day? I'm sure that's intentional. There's the build-up of the initial romance and then the beautiful ceremony . . . but not all the days that follow are quite as glamorous. The days that stretch out beyond the wedding are filled with all kinds of stuff, but not always the stuff dreams are made of.

I mean, would we really want to see Prince Charming lend an unsympathetic ear to Cinderella’s tears after her long day at the office and cooking a dinner that half of those at the table only complained about? All while dealing with PMS?

Not hardly.

And who would really be interested in watching Cinderella nag at Prince Charming to fix the tub drain or help more with the kids or at the very least pick up his dirty laundry?

Not me.

That's what real life is for, am I right?

Fairy tales have a place, but their place is in a storybook with pretty pictures to be read at bedtime to little girls hoping for sweet dreams.

Fairy tales don’t belong out here.

Out here they give false hope, distort reality, and inflate expectations for those of us who are feeling rather faint of heart.







Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of room for enchantment in real life. Everyone needs a little magic now and then. But you don’t get a magic coach ride into the sunset without a few misunderstandings and disappointments along the way. Life doesn’t work that way, and neither does marriage.

Those dirty socks on the floor? That annoying habit of always running late (some people!)? Those feelings of discouragement, isolation, and frustration?

IT'S ALL PART OF THE FAIRY TALE.
  
We are the heroes/heroines of our own real-life fairy tales. When we accept the not-so-glamorous parts along with the head-in-the-clouds, starry-eyed parts, we start to recognize the true and lasting beauty of the personal stories we are creating.

When my husband and I were only a few years into this whole marriage thing, we still expected an occasional magic coach ride and plenty of proverbial sunsets. Whenever we encountered those enchanted moments, we would think our marriage was going strong; but every time we ran into a glitch (which was actually pretty often), we would begin to wonder if we had what it took to see this thing through.

It wasn't until years later - years of working together through sick kids, paying bills, dividing housework, and even an occasional bout of sheer nastiness - that we really began to realize the width and breadth of our own enchanted fairy tale. We started to demand less and appreciate more. We learned what it meant to overcome. We learned what it meant to truly love.

So we rolled up our sleeves and started working on our very own happy ending.

Because we all know happy endings are not for the faint of heart.



Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Dry and Leafless Land


My oldest daughter was born in Southern California. She learned to walk in a land wrapped in sunshine and palm trees. She passed orange groves on the way to church and swam in the ocean as often as she played at the park. She showed every visiting relative the lay of the land . . . Disneyland, that is. She camped in the mountains of Big Bear and in the wine country of Temeculah. She didn't own a coat and hardly ever wore a jacket.

So you can imagine her surprise when we moved her to Illinois in the middle of November.

We had taken her shopping for boots and mittens and coats, and we had filled her head with stories of hot cocoa and sleds and snowmen.

But we had not prepared her for the gritty realities of November.

I was not aware of this lack of preparation until one day, as we were running some errand or another, she piped up from the backseat of the car. She was staring out the window, and she spoke with a solemnity far beyond her five years.

"Mommy, why did God make a place with no leaves on the trees?"

Why, indeed?!

I was stunned. Speechless, if you will. Didn't she remember our visit to Grandma and Grandpa's the winter before when all was covered in a magical blanket of white and she and Grandpa had built her very first snowman and then Grandma had made her hot cocoa with an extra helping of mini marshmallows?

No, she didn't. All she knew was that last week she was waking up to sunny skies and orange trees and this week she was seeing nothing but dead grass and barren trees and lifeless skies. She was not aware that just a few weeks before we had arrived, the trees had been alive with bright autumn colors, and the air had been filled with the warm scent of pumpkins and apples. Nor did she realize that - all too soon - magical snow would start to fall and turn our town into a wonderland, and her dad would be outside at the crack of dawn, railing against the magical beauty covering our driveway.

But she was only five, and she did not know any of these things. She could only see what was happening around her at the time, and what was happening around her seemed like one very big mistake on God's part.

Of course, I was quick to explain to her how the seasons change every year in Illinois, and how each one brings something new and exciting for us to enjoy. I assured her God would never make a place with no leaves on the trees ever, and that we had just happened to move back right in between the beauty of fall and the glory of winter, as everything lay dormant and exposed and waiting.

She accepted my answer because she loved me and trusted me to know what I was talking about. After all, I had never been wrong before. (Not when revealing the mysteries of life to her, anyway.)

Soon after that conversation in the car, I was proven right - yet again - when she experienced her first white Christmas, and then eventually spring, and then finally summer (which is when Illinois can teach California a thing or two about the lushness of creation).

I say all of this now because as I sit here writing on my patio in mid-August, I can already feel Fall trying to sneak its way into Summer, and this conversation that's over twenty years old is coming back to me with a clarity it didn't have the first time around.

I'm reminded how life is full of seasons and change and sometimes (unwelcome) surprises, but we have a Father who assures us better things are coming, if we just hang on and trust him.

This resonates with me because I have been in a few dry and leafless lands of my own over the years, and every single time I have found myself asking, "God, why did you make a place with no leaves on the trees? Why did you bring that illness/let that relationship wither/change my circumstances? I was pretty happy with the sunshine and the palm tress, God. Did you notice me back there? Did you see me laughing and smiling in the orange groves, God? Because, to be honest, I really don't understand why you put me here in this place where I find myself caught between the brilliance of what was and the magic of what will be."

At those times, I feel dormant and exposed. Stripped bare of everything I've been clinging to. It's always a harsh and cold reality, and it never makes for a very pleasant view.

But that's when I let my Father remind me how each season brings something new and exciting, and how he would never make a place for me with no leaves on the trees ever.

Maybe for a while, but not forever.

That's the promise I can hang onto even as I'm looking at the dead grass and barren trees and lifeless skies. That helps me see things in a whole new light. It gives me a whole new perspective on the dreariness around me.

I can hang onto the memory of what was even while I'm waiting for the brilliance that will be.

As for my daughter, she eventually learned that naked trees never stay that way past April. She learned that even the brownest grass will be revived, and that summer skies can be so blue it almost hurts. She has since moved away, and now she lives surrounded by wildflowers and mountains and the sea. Her wildest dreams are being realized.

And to think she once lived in a place with no leaves on the trees.




Tuesday, July 11, 2017

From the ocean to the grass and back again



Everything that has ever happened to me has taught me one thing or another.

And that big old sea turtle in Florida is no exception.

I had never seen anything like it before. The giant Loggerhead slowly made its way out of the ocean towards the grassy area separating the beachfront from the colorful beach houses and busy two-lane road that led into town.

There were about a dozen of us lucky enough to be on the beach that night. We were all mesmerized as we watched the mama turtle moving steadily forward, totally oblivious to all the action beyond the grass. That turtle had a goal in mind, and she was determined to see it through. She was doing what she had set out to do, one laborious step at a time.

If she'd been moving any slower, I'd have thought she was one of my kids getting ready for school.

She would push herself ahead with her flippers a couple of times, then stop and look around.

Another push, another look.

And so on and so forth.

It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

Even my teenagers ignored their cell phones to watch this mystery unfold in front of them.

It was a reminder that there is a rhyme and reason to this world, that turtles do what turtles are supposed to do, that life is not as random as it sometimes seems, and that barely creeping forward is still moving forward and eventually you can look back and see how far you've come.

It took that turtle the better part of an hour to make it to the grassy area where she could safely lay her eggs. It took her a couple more hours to lay those eggs, hide them to her satisfaction, and then make the long trek back into the ocean.

But she did it.

She did not quit. She did not give up. She did not turn back.

She simply took care of her baby turtles the best she could then returned to her place in the sea, leaving a trail from the ocean to the grass and back again as evidence of her hard work and determination.

This has made me wonder what kind of trail I will leave behind. I’m a little worried mine will end up looking like a series of swirls going round and round in no discernible direction. Occasionally, there may be some loose change or a brownie crumb or a stray sock stuck in my swirls of sand, but will there be any actual evidence of real progress made?

I certainly hope so.

I hope my trail leads to a finished novel, a close-knit family, and a life of faith lived out along the way.

Am I blazing the right trail? Will I keep taking the next step – and the next, and the next, and the next – until one day I look back and see what an amazing journey I have taken?

Well, that is up to me.

But I’d sure hate to be shown up by a turtle.






Friday, May 26, 2017

To train up a child (to infinity and beyond)


To train up a child is to pour all your time, energy, and resources into a self-centered little person who takes everything you have to give and gives nothing in return. Nothing, that is, except the deepest and most satisfying joy you will ever experience. But they don’t provide that joy consciously. They aren’t intentional about it at first. Usually they enter your life like Bill Cosby described, with a cigar in their mouths and calling all the shots – and it’s your job to not let them. Their very existence brings you unspeakable fulfillment, but the daily reality of it all can be exhausting. Eventually, though, your job description changes, and then it’s time to let them call ALL their own shots, even when it’s really scary because they do NOT have a CLUE. Now that is something entirely different.

And that is where we find ourselves.

Our fourth daughter is graduating from high school soon, and we are once again faced with the task of sending a little birdie out of the nest and into the big, wide world. Some birdies have to be gently pushed out of their nest and some come crawling back when you’re looking the other way, but then there are those others who feel ready to fly long before they really are. This particular birdie is ready.

But are we?

Oh, we have ironed out our plans for celebration. We have ordered the cap and gown. We have paid the non-refundable registration fee for college. We have begun making plans for what we will do with her bedroom, once we rent that dumpster . . .

But has it been enough?

After all, we’ve only had 18 years to prepare for this moment. What started out feeling like an eternal stretch of time, something that we always talked about but that would never really happen . . . well, that something is now upon us with all the brutal force of raw reality, and it begs the question:

Have we done enough?

The answer is simple. Yes, we have. Because no matter how we much have failed or how much more we could have done, the truth is, we have done our very best and now here we are with no more time left.

It will have to be enough.

And wherever we have fallen short is exactly where God will meet us and our daughter right where we are. He will fill in the gaps, pick up the slack, and be the all-sufficiency for all our insufficiency, if we let him.


But we are taking this pretty much in stride. This is our fourth graduate, not our first, and we have learned a thing or two since our first go-round. We have learned that this transition is not the end of our relationship with our daughter. It is only the beginning of something new and better (and I don’t just mean she will be cleaning her own apartment and paying her own bills!). It is the beginning of a deep and lasting friendship rooted in love and trust that will follow us for the rest of time.

This is what we’ve been working for. From that very first day when the second blue line showed up on that pregnancy test over 18 years ago, this has always been the end goal. Not sleeping through the night, not potty-training, not passing her driver’s test, not even high school graduation. Our goal has been to train up a kind and decent person who would make her own way in the world, but who would never forget the way back home to the people that once upon a time gave up their own way to help her find hers. A person whom we could love with everything we have, and who would love us back more than we ever dared to deserve.

To infinity and beyond. <3



Wednesday, May 10, 2017

It's nothing a good bop on the head won't cure


Through a recent conversation with my dear hubbie, it was revealed to me I may or may not be addicted to stress.

What??!!?!

Wait a minute!

Isn't addicted a rather strong word??

I would prefer something along the lines of stressed, busy, on-the-go, or even overwhelmed.

Those words leave me feeling in charge. Like I am in control. Like maybe my house didn't get dusted last week and maybe someone really ought to tackle the Leaning Tower of Laundry in my bedroom, but I still (basically) have it all together.

But . . . addicted?

That feels entirely different. That feels powerless and out of control. Like I made a conscious choice somewhere along the way to let my stress level rise to the top, and now I'm not so much a piece of driftwood tossing about in life's stormy seas, but more of a barnacle clinging to the underbelly of a boat.

Ewww.

That makes me want to detach myself and float free, stormy seas and all.

So why do I keep clinging to that slimy boat???

Jesus promised my yoke would be light and my burden would be easy, but I have to admit it doesn't always feel that way.  Burdens aren't typically easy to bear. Burdens are . . . well . . . burdensome. I generally kick and buck against the yoke on my shoulders and the rocky path before me. The load is too heavy, it chafes, it causes blisters, it's uncomfortable and confining. The road ahead appears untraveled and unpleasant. Dangerous, even.

But while I'm busy stressing over my situation, causing myself more and more discomfort, he's simply waiting for me to get tired of struggling. When I finally settle down, he's standing there ready to gently lead me, bearing the brunt of the load just as he always has.

I'm tired of being a beast of burden fighting against the very yoke that waits to ease my load.

I'm done with being a barnacle clinging to the bottom of a battleship.

I want to let go, to stop fighting, to crawl out from under. I want to feel the ocean breezes on my face.

I think I'd rather be an oar. An oar in the hands of an experienced boater can cut through choppy waves with purpose and certainty. It also knows when it's time to rest and let the waves do all the work.

Little known fact: A sturdy oar can also be used to bop overly-aggressive sharks on the head, should the need arise. I was enlightened recently by a YouTube video that left me awed and inspired. I have a few nasty sharks in my own life that could use a good bop on the head . . . anxiety, worry, regret, and fear, to name a few.

Yeah, I want to be an oar in the hands of Jesus.

Seems like a pretty easy burden to me.

Monday, April 17, 2017

So I tried a little something new ...

In honor of National Haiku Poetry Day, I took part in a group writing project hosted by the Christian blogging network Faithful Bloggers.  Our efforts are compiled into a PDF book, accessible on the Faithful Bloggers site or via the link below. Check it out and leave a comment if you like what you read. Everyone did a truly wonderful job!

Faithful Bloggers Haiku Group Writing Project

Monday, April 3, 2017

All The Little Things


"That's because we're poor," my son announced last night, in response to our family's decision to switch internet providers.

What?!

Funny how our thirteen-year-old equates "saving money" with "being poor." Apparently, there have been a few deficiencies in his upbringing.

I explained that saving money is a good habit everyone should develop, especially if they are planning something big like home repairs or a vacation, but I'm not sure he was entirely convinced.

Seriously? 

I don't think my son is the only one who feels this way. I think our culture as a whole has forgotten the lost art of living simply. The comforting possibility of cooking our own dinner is often cast aside as we drive past three or four of our favorite restaurants on our way home. Waiting for movies to come out on DVD and popping our own microwave popcorn feels like the cruelest torture after being teased for months by previews of exciting movies coming soon to a "theater near you."  We seem to have forgotten that reading a good book can be just as exciting as downloading the latest and greatest movie/game/app/you-name-it.

When did we become so determined to spend, spend, spend? It seems that everything comes with a price tag these days. Want to test this theory? Next time your friends are going out for lunch, to a movie, etc., tell them you have to pass because you don't have enough spending money. They will either: (a) go into shock, (b) not believe you, or (c) think you're the next Ebenezer Scrooge.

They probably don't realize that your dog just got sick and left you with an unexpected vet bill, or that it was picture week at your kids' school, and in order to have a second 8' x 10' for Grandma, you had to buy the entire package. For each child.

Our current culture just hasn't prepared us to understand the concept of "not now."

But some of my favorite memories have happened when no money changed hands.

There was the time I invited my friend and her kids over for tuna casserole while our husbands were away, and she brought chocolate pudding dressed up with all kinds of goodies from her snack cabinet for dessert. Or the rainy afternoons curled up with my dog and a good book. Evenings spent playing games with good friends, laughing at each other and ourselves. Walking by the river, holding hands with my husband. These are the times that have refreshed me and kept me going during life's rough spots.

In our culture of stylish clothes, all-inclusive vacations, and remodeled homes, it is so easy to lose sight of all the little things that quietly add up to be the immeasurable things, which are the only things we will ever regret not spending more on when all is said and done.

I hope my son will someday become a man who will enjoy all the luxuries that hard work and honest pay can provide. But, more than that, I hope he packs his life full beyond measure with all the little things that don't cost a thing.

No matter how much money he happens to have.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Are You Cooking Tonight?

My daughter texted me last night while she was out and about with friends. She was weighing her options. She wanted to know if she should ditch her friends early to come home in time for dinner with the family.

My phone let out a cheery little ding to let me know a text had come in, and a little white word bubble appeared on my home screen.

"Are you cooking tonight?" it read.

"Are you cooking tonight?" I repeated aloud, indignantly. What a question! "What does she mean, 'Am I cooking tonight?'" I asked myself. "Of course, I'm cooking tonight! What kind of mother does she think I am?" I felt like I did that time I got pulled over for speeding and the officer asked me if I'd been drinking. Well! I never! (I had most certainly NOT been drinking, thank you very much. I was simply reaching for my GPS that had fallen on the floorboard, which would have been perfectly understandable, except the speed limit had apparently dropped by 15 mph while I was otherwise occupied.)

I reread the words in the white bubble on my phone screen.

Are you cooking tonight?

Wait a minute . . .

I sat up straighter on the couch and lowered my feet to the floor.

Am I cooking tonight?

There was a moment of indecision while a couple of my heartbeats tripped over themselves, but then I smiled and sank back on the couch with relief. All was well because I remembered. I had nothing to worry about because I had actually planned menus for the week, and even thawed ground beef before going to work, and spaghetti was already on the agenda - so, even though I was worn out from a busy day at work and was indulging in a few minutes of rest on the couch with my feet up when she texted me, I could confidently say I would, in fact, be "cooking tonight."

Now I don't blame my daughter. She was only going from past experience. History has taught her that anything from homemade beef and noodles to frozen pizza to cold cereal could be the featured special on any given night, so she'd better check in before changing any plans. So she really cannot be blamed for her (otherwise insolent) question last night. She was not privy to my inner knowledge that I was, in fact, fully prepared to cook a real meal for my family.

Let's face it, I hadn't been sure of that myself until she texted me.

But once in a while I surprise us all by being prepared and on top of things.

And to all you unbelievers out there - not only did I cook last night, we even ate our spaghetti in candlelight with Beethoven playing in the background. (While it's true the candles were only lit because our dining room light is currently out of order again, the effect was appealing nonetheless.)

I may not always cook, but when I do, I do it in style.