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The Panhandler’s Breath

Mar

26

Posted by on Mar 26, 2017 |

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He slipped in sideways between the closing elevator doors, as if he were late to a meeting; he pressed the “5” without looking. Instead of suit and tie, though, baggy pants and faded navy hung on his tall, slim frame.

His stealth entry stiffened the hairs on the back of my neck.

I had noticed him a few seconds earlier, just after we had parted a sea of rowdy teens. He was smiling, grandfatherly, standing maybe 30 feet away where the downtown electric shuttle picks up.

I had no idea he had been watching us, studying us, predator patiently awaiting his next prey.

The four of us were sealed in a four-by-six-foot metal tomb. Tomb — that thought really muscled its way into my mind. I wondered if he had a knife in his pocket. I wanted to protect my son.

Fight or flight pumped adrenaline but there was nowhere to run.

 

A true story, the kind that reveals so much. Hope you click through to read
The Panhandler’s Breath over at incourage and
then share your own thoughts in response

(the last line still rattles me….).

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A Lavish Gift (& a Perfect Gift Idea for Valentine’s Day!)

Feb

14

Posted by on Feb 14, 2017 | 1 comment

The Essence of Love by Robin Dance - #HeartofMarriage

 

There was no way to know 35 years ago where we’d be today. Certainly not literally, but not even in a figurative sense.

12,775 days, give or take. Plenty of ups, our share of downs, and all beautiful in their time.

I believe it–that everything is beautiful in time. Beauty from ashes might be the most lovely.

The Heart of Marriage releases today. It’s a collection of essays about marriage, curated by my long-time blogging friend, Dawn Camp. I’m thrilled to be included in this collaboration; it’s personal.

Originally Dawn and her editors were going to feature an essay I wrote on our 26th anniversary, an exploration of what love is, and isn’t, maybe best summarized in one of my favorite lines from the piece:

Love usually doesn’t happen in a moment, it happens in a life.

However, ultimately Dawn’s team choose another piece I offered to them, The Essence of Love. Or at least I think that’s the title they kept–I haven’t see the book yet, so I’m not 100% sure about the title.

I cried when I read it again. It’s a glimpse of my in-laws’ story, a love story as rare as it is extraordinary. In it, my father-in-law offered an unexpected and provocative caution–

“People want to know how we’re still so in love, how we have such a good marriage,” he began. And the next thing he said was the kind of thing pulls your attention taut, “Having a good marriage doesn’t have anything to do with trying to have a good marriage.”

I hope you’re curious enough to read the rest of it; do pick up a copy of the book to read it( and so many other love-tales). I’ve heard it’s on the shelves at Barnes and Noble just in time for Valentine’s Day (and maybe your favorite local bookstore), but you can get it on sale at Amazon (affiliate link provided).

OH–a bonus! In my piece for The Heart of Marriage, it begins by referencing something else I wrote; it’s best when read together. If you’re interested, please read The Essence of Love || When Love is a Pie.

It’s coming up on two years since I wrote it, and what was true then is even more true today: Things are different now, and business isn’t as usual.

But, still, beautiful in time….

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The ministry of tears

Jun

05

Posted by on Jun 5, 2016 | 1 comment


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I have cried more in the past three weeks than I have since my mother’s death, and that was a long, long time ago. Emotions? Threadbare. Sleep? Fitful at best. And eating a real meal? Wishful thinking. Who needs a meat and three when you can have a Snickers and coffee?

I wish I were kidding on that last one.

It’s embarrassing to admit the “Why” of it, because, if I play the Comparison Game, it’s not a good enough reason to justify my fragility. I’m not facing illness or financial trouble, my children and marriage are doing well; in fact, the “Why” of it is ultimately good: We sold our house, the one we haven’t lived in full-time in almost three years.

I mistakenly thought selling was the hard part.

Packing up and purging the house my children will remember as Home — the place destined to inhabit their dreams when their minds drift back to childhood — undid me.

As my oldest son and I emptied the attic, their lives passed before me, twisting my heart into knots. I didn’t expect to feel every memory, to re-live so many moments I had taken for granted at the time.

As we emptied the attic, their lives passed before me, twisting my heart into knots. I didn’t expect to feel every memory, to re-live so many moments I had taken for granted at the time.


The first instance happened as I passed down a box of their handmade Christmas gifts to my son, and the weight of all I hadn’t accomplished punched me in the throat.
So many unfinished plans, slick roads paved with good intention. Life events, milestones, a childhood of Firsts times three. Tears were impossible to control. I could barely speak as I asked . . .

Did I get it right? Did I miss it…?” and poor Thomas, my 21-year-old, tried to answer the question he thought I was asking, “Mom…stop! You’re a great mother, we couldn’t have had it any better….” but he couldn’t possibly know what I meant. He hadn’t yet earned the right to understand; that price would be paid with a lot of life between now and then. Years. Decades.

We’ve been married almost 29 years; our babies are 23, 21 and 19. The oldest just received an amazing marriage proposal; the middle one will graduate college next May; and the youngest just finished his freshman year. The house we lived in most of their lives was big enough to hold a lot of memories, and many of those memories were now represented by things made or bought. Downsizing to a much smaller house forced decisions I didn’t want to have to make. To toss any “thing” felt personal, as if I were saying that memory didn’t matter. Suddenly everything mattered and I was paralyzed by emotion and indecision, and just about anything could trigger an emotional breakdown. 

I was grieving a certain kind of loss, and though that loss wasn’t marked by tragedy, and it wasn’t attached to relational devastation, financial ruin, or health scares, it was final. I was saying good-bye to more than just a house.

I cried a lot, and instantly felt guilty or hated myself for it, because selling our house was a good thing. But then it hit me–

Crying wasn’t weakness or pity party, it was catharsis.

Tears are an incredible pressure valve and every single one of them tells a story. Tears are a way of my body expressing itself when words are insufficient.

Please continue reading The Ministry of Tears over at incourage.me.
You’ll come away with a greater appreciation for the benefits of an ugly cry :).

 


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If these walls could speak

Jun

02

Posted by on Jun 2, 2016 | 6 comments


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A week ago we sold the house my children will always remember as home, the one they will dream about when they are the age I am now, when sleep makes them think they are young again.

We’ve packed and we’ve purged and we’ve cried – a lot – but we’ve also seen precious people who mean a lot to us, friends who’ve sat around our table through the years, and kids who’ve grown up right before our eyes. They’ve helped us put things into boxes, and loosen my grip on anything that didn’t make sense to keep. I’ve found that being a sentimentalist about e v e r y t h i n g has the potential of making me a hoarder.

Even now, just the thought of that is offensive to me – I am not a hoarder! Except the two-and-a-half filled and emptied curbside dumpsters would suggest otherwise. And the Goodwill truck locked and loaded with stuff that used to live in my house. And the things we sold on Craigslist. Not to mention all the stuff we’ve stored for our kids or later use, or given to friends who had the eyes to see the treasure in our trash.

It made my day when Abbie texted me a picture of my old copper cookie canister that had been gathering dust in my pantry (the holder of rarely used cookie cutters) sitting on her shelf alongside her wedding-new copper cookware.

We haven’t lived in that house full-time for three years – a long story that makes sense for us – so I didn’t expect…I wasn’t prepared for, the depth and breadth of emotion attached to selling it. We moved there the summer before our children began 1st, 3rd, and 5th grade; 13 years later we said our final good-byes. It is the summer before my babies’ sophomore and senior year of college, and the oldest is engaged and a year past her graduation.

If it sounds like I’m in mourning, I suppose I have been. I mean seriously – if I have trouble tossing a pair of ratty short-alls, so shredded you can barely figure out which hole to put your leg through, just because Tad gave them to me as a gift when Thomas, now 21, was born – it makes sense that selling the house we lived in during our children’s most formative years would be difficult. Shout out to Stephanie and Paige who looked at me like I had grown another head for wanting to keep those short-alls.

Still, Glory! Hallelujah! It’s sold and we’re thankful.

In addition to all the packing and purging and crying and good-byeing, we’ve been remembering.

We’ve watched our children’s lives pass before our eyes.

 

WoodyCowboy BootsBaby Blanket

Three kids makes for many a keepsake. The things they’ve made for us. Treasured school and artwork. Love notes to us. Their special lovies. Every single thing stacked in their closets and crammed in our attic meant something. Stood for something. Held precious memory.

Every time I held a thing, whether to keep or toss or give away, it was an exercise in remembering. Memories are powerful.

 

Maybe something fun or important or special, or I don’t know, something less concrete. The boys sword fighting with light sabers. Thomas reciting all the lines from his pull-toy Woody from Toy Story – “There’s a ‘nake in my boot!” The way Rachel negotiated holding the most fragile of collectibles – “I just gonna ’tiss it.” Blond, curly mop. Wide, determined eyes, pudgy hands carefully holding. She never broke anything. The way Stephen would build with his Legos. His patience and persistence played me.

It’s an interesting phenomena to me, this conjuring of emotion. And despite all the tears – barrels of them – I’m not sad. Well, not exactly; there’s a tender melancholy to this closed door. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad or I wish it didn’t have to happen. It’s a saying good bye (for good) to what was, which enables us to fully grasp what is, and what is to come. 

We’ve had three years to get used to the idea.

Still, a Band-aid pulled off slowly still stings at the end.

 

Our house sat perched at the end of a long, steep driveway, on nearly three acres of, shall we say, a challenging yard. The master bedroom was upstairs. Thirty years old, wood-sided, and roomy, its primary competition was new construction. We loved that house and took good care of her, but three years with no one in it full-time took a toll. It was still a great house, but it would take someone who looked skin deep to find all her beauty, a buyer who didn’t want a perfect and new home, but a perfect for us home. 

After a fair number of showings but no offers, I decided people needed a little help seeing a home and not just a house.

 

I’ve fully explained this imaginative tip for helping to sell a house at The Art of Simple so I won’t go into it here, but I wanted to share a few pictures of my idea since they aren’t included with my post. (Do click over and read it, it’s a good ‘un.)

Why I love this home

House Lovenotes

House scripture

House notes

 

There’s this great old song by Amy Grant that perfectly captures the power and beauty of reminiscing, of life with all its complexities, and how a house is an incredible vessel of stories and secrets and dreams. (She does a fair amount of reminiscing to begin; the song starts at the 2:12 mark.)

 

  If These Walls Could Speak
~ Amy Grant

If these old walls, if these old walls could speak
Of things that they remember well
Stories and faces dearly held

A couple in love livin’ week to week
Rooms full of laughter
If these walls could speak

If these old halls, hallowed halls could talk
These would have a tale to tell
Of sun goin’ down and dinner bell
And children playing at hide and seek from floor to rafter

If these halls could speak
They would tell you that I’m sorry
For bein’ cold and blind and weak
They would tell you that it’s only
That I have a stubborn streak
If these walls could speak

If these old fashioned window panes were eyes
I guess they would have seen it all
Each little tear and sigh and footfall
And every dream that we came to seek or followed after

If these walls could speak
They would tell you that I owe you
More than I could ever pay
Here’s someone who really loves you
Don’t ever go away
That’s what these walls would say

They would tell you that I owe you
More than I could ever pay
Here’s someone who really loves you
Don’t ever go away
That’s what these walls would say

That’s what these walls would say
That’s what these walls would say

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If God is for you, WHO is against you?

Jan

30

Posted by on Jan 30, 2016 |

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“The story of your life
is the story of the long and brutal assault on your heart
by the one who knows what you could be and fears it.”
John Eldredge, Waking the Dead: The Glory of a Heart Fully Alive

It almost seems like a dream to me, that season. I wouldn’t call it a nightmare exactly, but it was dark and desperate, and I couldn’t find my way to morning. I drifted through days marking time, barely living in the ways that matter most.

Right foot . . . left foot . . . breathe in . . . breathe out.

Perfunctory motion got me through another day.

That smile on my face was a masquerade, a lie — camouflaging the truth of my fractured heart.

I hid it well, or at least I think I did. Mostly anyway.

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.

It wasn’t difficult to hide behind my children. With three in school it was easy to volunteer myself to death. I hadn’t yet made the discovery I was an Olympic peace-keeper and people pleaser (something for which I’ll likely be in recovery ’til the end of my days), but I didn’t want to bother people with my woes. I had lived in this place only a short while and friendship roots were shallow. Plus, there were so many bigger, worser problems in the world.

Comparison is always a thief, isn’t it? 

 

Comparison can rob us of joy, yes, but sometimes she steals the dignity of our struggles. To suggest that my battle holds no significance simply because your battle has presumably greater weight is disservice to us both.

If it matters to me, it matters.
If it matters to you, it matters.

It was so long ago, but memory brings it close. Remembering even now brings shudders. But there was something I (finally) learned that changed e v e r y t h i n g.

* * *
Please click to continue reading If God is for you, WHO is against you?  It is one of the most crucial things a believer can cling to during those Holy wrestles. If not an encouragement you need to remember right now, please share this with someone who does.
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wonderstruck

Jan

03

Posted by on Jan 3, 2016 | 2 comments

Red sky at morning

 

I was sitting in my kitchen, reading and alone. In the peace of Christmas Eve’s morning, I sensed something different, a change in atmosphere. There are a lot of windows in our small house; two entire sides of it are practically all glass. Streaming – practically screaming – through all of them was an eerie rosy glow, so peculiar it lured me outside to see if someone was shining a giant rose-colored light. No one was there, of course, but the old saying whispered–

Red sky at morning, sailor take warning…

And I wondered just what the day would bring.

If I wouldn’t be enjoying a white Christmas – unseasonable temperatures breaking record highs – a pink one was just fine by me.

Matching my delight in this magical sky was anticipation for the day to get on with itself. By suppertime all my children would be gathered ’round our table, a rarity anymore. Good food is secondary; it is these moments I savor.

Right now I’m a little in the dark. It’s an odd spot for me, someone who typically lives with an expectancy of good things, God things. I’ve prayed for direction for this new year, but I’ve felt more like a wanderer.

The sky felt like an omen.

I don’t mom on a daily basis anymore, not the way I’ve done for the past two decades or so. I’m thankful for good and challenging work, because it fills time and space, but I can’t help but question its significance. What does it really matter, you know?

But then in a stroke of divine timing, I stumble across a writer new to me: Rachel Naomi Remen. I don’t know anything (yet) of her faith persuasion, but she says some pretty wise things, the kind of things I needed to hear. In her words I remember that my life has meaning and significance, to remember what I already know.

And then it occurred to me how often God uses the sky to speak to me, today, yes, but a few weeks ago, a few years ago, and problem a zillion other times I didn’t bother to record in writing.

My babies were all out at 1:30 that afternoon when the warnings began. A tornado in December? What the heck?

Red sky at morning, sailor take warning….

It was surreal when the weatherman said the rotation was heading straight to us and I seriously wondered what it would sound like if our little stick-built house splintered. I was sitting in our only interior room with no windows, a powder room off our kitchen, toilet on one side and sink on the other, phone in hand, and wondering if a bike helmet ever saved anyone’s life in a tornado (the weatherman had said to go to your safe place and put on a helmet…). It was comical, but even my husband was on edge.

Soon enough the warnings passed and that swirling mass of air never touched the ground. No damage, no death, no splintered houses this time.

We’re into this new year now and I’m still on a Wander.

But the old year ended in wonder, and with a challenge to see anew.

A perfect place to end and begin again, don’t you think?

 

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