My Anniversary Wake-up Call

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        The huge steak cooking on the grill of our Central American condo smelled more amazing than any I could remember. A cheap steak, for sure, at less than five dollars a pound, and not the tenderest we’d ever had, but I cut it into tiny pieces and didn’t care. Here, exotic birds squawked all around us, strange neon orange flowers bloomed in the most brilliant of green. Even my toes sang of paradise. Yet this trip had almost not happened.

        You know that moment you’re shaken out of a deep sleep? Whether a wanted wake-up call or the shock of a sudden clap of thunder, It’s horrible. You feel disoriented. It takes time for the fog to clear, but when you get moving, you begin to feel grateful. Either you woke up in time, or you missed an appointment or disappointed someone. It’s happened to most of us.

       Before my fortieth anniversary (I wrote it out so I wouldn’t have to look at the actual number…) I’d neglected caring for both “my temple” and my husband.

                          A wake-up call was sorely needed.

      My husband’s prostate cancer and mouth issues racked our 2015. Though these health issues didn’t threaten his life (The cancer was caught early enough.), they threatened his strength, his sense of well-being – and our marriage, it seemed. Instead of empathizing with his emotional state, I fretted. I thought he should buck up and “tough out” the radiation treatments. Severe weight loss, sleepless nights, doctor visits, pain, and sadness took a heavy toll..

       In an attempt to stay distracted (Grandkids, writing groups, church stuff) I rarely worked out at the gym, and important supplements went by the wayside.

     Yet crazy wonderful, undeserved gifts came along anyway. Shortly after the diagnosis, a generous man in Walt’s men’s ministry offered us a ten-day stay in a resort in the region of the Panama Canal. Oh, wow. Grateful, knowing our milestone anniversary approached, Walt booked flights for February 2016. But as Summer turned to Fall, the idea of celebrating our Valentine’s Day vows in a foreign country filled him with dread. Real dread.

                          I thought he’d cancel the trip.

        Physical recovery finally arrived -slow and steady, inch by inch –  in late Fall. By Thanksgiving he’d begun to gain weight, put in full days of work again. But he still dreaded even the thought of the trip.

        “They don’t speak English there, you know – at all. H-how about a nice steak dinner downtown?”

         “Okay, Hon, it’s your call. We’ll stay at home.”

         Did you pick up a slight edge of anger? I felt us growing farther and farther apart. My sad “Me” song, with so many verses, by now must have sounded like a dirge.

        Then, right after the holidays passed, the trip resurrected. He decided to go for it. I wanted to be excited, yet throughout January my wrestling match with God kept excitement at bay. God was asking me to pull the big log out of my eye so I could see my recovering prince with new vision – not “me-opia.” What would it be like traveling to an exotic wonderland if the experience was just “ro-tic” – you know, romantic without the “man.” Or man-ic – a crazy heart, with a man by my side.

                         Could tropical air melt my ice?       

      In the two weeks prior to boarding the plane, however, my angst reached its limit. Once again I reached out to help with skin on. Through conversations with loving friends I decided to try a new tack. To take responsibility for having a good time.  

      When February 7, 2016 finally arrived, a cab driver greeted us holding a name sign, and ushered us out into the blast of an eighty-nine degree welcome. It seemed that all of Panama opened its arms to us. Ash Wednesday, in a few days, coincided with their version of Mardi Gras, Carnival, so the city would be all astir after dark. The driver stopped so we could get groceries, pointed out sights of the city, and finally pulled into our efficiency condo, high on a hill overlooking the Panama Canal. Breathtaking.

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      Suitcases dropped inside the door, we made sandwiches. I couldn’t wait. Like a bird dog lunges from the kennel to hunt, I switched to my summer sandals, and sprinted across the room. The problem, however, was a four-inch step-down from where I stood near the kitchen. Of course I didn’t negotiate the change in levels, and (of course) I flew through the air. With a hard land on my wrist, the room went black for a millisecond. Then I rolled onto my back. (You may have read about my indoor flying capabilities, and how quite often I succeeded in making almost poetic landings. Not this time.)

                     “Honey! I’m pretty sure I broke my wrist.”

           He had only to glance. No doubt. Bones had moved, causing my hand to be misshapen. Here we were in our first hour in a foreign land, on a Sunday evening- and no ambulances, due to Carnival. Odd, I thought, is it my turn for physical pain?

           Our property manager, Karolina, came quickly and drove us to a private hospital. Careening through streets of tenement buildings and skyscrapers, seeing normal life (oh, my, the drivers!) so far from home, it was indisputable. Through searing pain, I knew miracles had begun.. A few hours later, after x-rays and paperwork, when our English-speaking orthopedic surgeon arrived, he announced the obvious – surgery. But due to that sandwich at six, a private room and a clean bed were prepared for me.

          Still awake at midnight, many floors up, my huge window became a theatre. Miniature fireworks, real fireworks, not brainchildren of drugs, lit up the distant sky The reverie soothed me like the cracking and exploding of so many past New Year’s Eves, knowing another year lay ahead, another page turned. In low volume stereo God celebrated His sovereignty over every detail of this situation – while Walt slept on the hospital cot near me.

       Next afternoon, in the recovery room of this Third World Country, I learned that a titanium plate, placed in my wrist with screws, would hold the bones together – no cast necessary. So, arm wrapped in purple, we returned to our “vacation.”  

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     Throughout the next week, my now “well” husband saw to my every “sick” need. The irony wasn’t wasted on me. He cooked, helped me bathe, did all the tidying and dish-washing. He gave me the life of a princess, and without a single complaint. As I came out of the fog of drugs and contemplated what love does, I felt very small.

     The wake-up call of my broken wrist jolted me into the reality that:

  1. You must give a big mess time. The worst enemy of peace is fretting. I know it sounds so trite. But my wrist couldn’t heal over-night, or over a few weeks. It would be months. And my grown-up husband looked at the reality and relaxed. Ouch. Did I have to learn it because I missed it with his cancer?
  2. You can’t skip calcium and Vitamin D month after month and not put your bones at risk. Osteoporosis sneaked in the back door while I stewed over “supposed” lost dreams, and neglected my doctor’s orders.
  3. You must look for God in the details of each mess. For this most recent one:

               —-That our property manager, Karolina, spoke impeccable English and could translate in a foreign hospital the minutest details of care and x-rays and procedure. She gladly did this for a day and a half, even brought Walt breakfast and waited with him for the two and a half hour surgery!

           —–That the doctor we couldn’t choose came to us highly recommended, performed to the highest standard, and spoke perfect English.

          —–That almost no communication with our kids, work and office freed us to relish a tropical paradise. Freed us to spend quality and quantity time together – without interruptions.

          —-That the second half of the trip was made better by the difficulty of the first half. There’s a lesson right there. Our steak in paradise may have been tough. But by cutting it into tiny pieces, each piece went down perfectly, tasting grand. I ate on that steak for days after we cooked it -on top of salads, in toast with mayo, and with bacon and lettuce on a bun…

       Do you make a mess of things because of dashed expectations, because of worry that time is passing you by, because of the possibilities a trial might bring? Cut the pieces smaller.

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          And by the way, are you taking your calcium?

         My wake-up call makes me remember to take my gargantuan pill – regularly. Sometimes I cut it in half.

“With my body, I thee worship…”

So what is a physical marriage?

Let’s get back to the archaic wedding vow recently quoted by Mr. Carson on Masterpiece Theater’s “Downton Abbey.”

“…with my body I thee worship…”

 

Ever since I first heard this phrase in the husband’s vow (through the wonderful writings of Linda and Jody Dillow), it was easy to see why it no longer holds a place in modern weddings.

First, on its face it doesn’t ring right theologically. We wrinkle our brow and tip our head, “Wait.. we worship God and no one else!” Okay, I will challenge you here. I know I’ve erected idols throughout my life. Haven’t you? Different things grab our attention away from God: sports, church, children, job, music, even our problems. Any of these things could hold us in a way that might seem like worship. If we are honest, God is, for many of us, actually more of an add-on. Yet we still reserve the word “worship” as a spiritual term for singing in church or praying in a prayer service. So the implied meaning of the vow bothers us.

Also, the phrase doesn’t sound masculine. Does a real man boldly state that his body is wholly dedicated to his lover? This is scary stuff if you think about it. Exactly. What if she balked at his hunting or fishing? Or nights out with the guys? Would he be doomed to a slave-like deference? With the phrase turned a bit to mean “heart,” not “body,” he still struggles with manly autonomy.

How can we get the intended meaning?

The vow directly reflects the verses in Ephesians 5:23-28 which command the husband to love his wife “as he loves his own body and cares for it.” In the wedding vow, he accentuates the value of his body not to himself, but to her. He states the importance of what he is to do with his body from now on, and what this will mean to his ultimate identity. He will worship God with his heart, but worship his mate with his body.

The vow represents the absolute height of love. In a very specific sense, he acknowledges the meaning of the verse in Romans 12: 1 “…present your bodies a living sacrifice…” He affirms, “With all I know of love, with all I know of earthly desire, with all I know of what will please both you, my beloved, and God, I will lay down my body for you. It won’t be passive. It will be active. It will be passionate, as worship implies. It will be sacrificial. It means I forsake all others – for you – for life.”

In a similar sense the wife does the same. She is the wooed one, captured in a sense, to be the heart possession of a man. She knows that her body will be receiving his seed for daily emotional nourishment, and also to produce a family. She will carry his child as the most radical, epic, outcropping of their physical relationship. That this knowledge is somehow, on some level, intuitive for many women is a deep mystery.

For a man, however, the understanding of his part is nothing less than a miracle. To compensate for her laying down her life both physically and emotionally, he must do something profoundly equal: vow to love her fully with his body. This kind of surrender must be supremely difficult for him. It might smack of weakness. It might smack of hen-peckedness. How can he understand it, much less live it out? Yet in order to have the fullness of relationship, a truly physical oneness, a bonding, a unity of spirit, he must spend his life trying. She will be his study. He will be hers.

Sadly, many women don’t ponder the weight of what she expects of him. She just knows that she does. During dating he showed a vulnerability, a tenderness she assumed would be a permanent part of him, of them.

Doubly sad, many a man knows only what he wants, not what it rightly costs him.

He doesn’t think that the vulnerable, soft part of falling in love will give way to a whole gamut of barriers to a physical relationship: obsession with provision, anxiety about protection, need for leadership, tendency to competition, insecurity, lust, and many fears. With this old ground producing thistles and thorns for all his efforts, he seems sabotaged–

— unless he understands that her great need and his great risk are balanced out by unfathomable blessing.  When he grasps the picture, he steps into the abyss to make the marriage good – to make life good.

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The aspects of a physical relationship reflect attitudes. There’s no test or performance.  God can and will do to create the unity in which marriage thrives. I have included attitudes and actions which aren’t hindered by age, gender, or personality.

  • The physical marriage maintains interest, even delight, in every part of the other’s anatomy. This freedom isn’t only meant for sex, nor is it lightly given or received.  No other person on earth has such access.
  • This couple enjoys massaging out the knots and sore places life has dealt that day. In the everyday normal, each offers a hand, whether sore from arthritis or almost too strong from hard work, to tenderly caress out a hurt, or scratch an itch.
  • This couple takes time during the day to get oxytocin flowing by giving each other long, full-bodied hugs, and semi-passionate kisses. Regardless of the possibility of sex in the next hour, day, or weekend, they know each one needs this flow of oxytocin to face the challenges of children, teens, and job.
  • This couple gives each other space when needed, and still feels secure. But they offer themselves again when the time is right. Coming back together after a separateness is not just for sex. After a needed time alone, emotional connection, meaningful, non-sexual touch comes first. In a physical marriage, appropriate space isn’t a threat, but another means of dipping into the fresh water of attraction and longing.
  • In this couple’s sexual encounters, foreplay gets top billing. Unless, of course, simply making a baby is the main goal. Even then, foreplay is hugely important. But that’s another topic for another day. Sex is not a performance. It is a relationship. True, men’s arousal time may resemble the time it takes to get from zero to sixty in a sports car, but women (by design) need about as much time as it takes to legally get to the nearest Walmart – and park. Foreplay time is not only precious to both partners, it makes sex, well, sexy. The first verse the Bible book devoted to sexual love (Song of Solomon), says, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!” Note the plural here. Read this psalm to understand the physical marriage. It teaches that a physical (fulfilling) marriage is more than sex.

When one sexual encounter ends, foreplay for the next begins. Of course this may not be true in actual experience. (One must go to work…or do the dishes.) But it is the mindset of the couple who “gets” the phrase, “…with my body I thee worship.”

  • As important as sex is to the physical marriage, this couple offers their bodies for the simple pleasure and blessing of the other. Period. This offering is way bigger than sex. As in I Corinthians 5: 7 the couple doesn’t think of their own bodies as their own. When surgeries, hormonal shifts, childbirth, and diseases interfere with normal intercourse or even sexual fulfillment – in whatever situation the couple finds themselves – the creative power of all the senses springs into action. “You are always beautiful to me.” “I knew you came in by the smell of your aftershave.” “Your hands feel so strong…” On and on….

As masters of creativity and passion, they love purposefully, tenaciously, regardless of sexual function.

And what might be the result of all this? First of all, the couple’s own happiness. Onlookers and children gawk at the sight. But most of all, God Himself is pleased. He uses that couple to change the world through their unity of heart, soul, and body. So, what do you say? Let’s get our hearts right — and get physical!

What A Physical Marriage Isn’t

Caution: tiny spoiler ahead…

In the popular public television show, “Downton Abbey,” the middle-aged butler marries the equally aging housekeeper. Authentic to the period, he recites the exact wedding vows of English grooms in the 1920s. One phrase, spoken in almost a mumble, would have created a stir among modern romantics had they really paid attention. The words?

“…with my body I thee worship…”

 

Rather extreme, don’t you think? Besides affirming that marriage differs at its most fundamental level from any other relationship, what does it mean? Worship!? My body worship? What should, would, could such a phrase look like in day-in-day-out life, after all the initial newness and enthusiasm wears off?

We acknowledge that marriage is physical, but at the outset we wrap ourselves up in its emotional and relational aspects. Rightly so. Theologians and counselors warn that to jump the gate of common interest plus mental and even spiritual connection bodes badly for a sexual relationship in the long run. Whether attraction, friendship or admiration brings us together, romance is the glue. Romance hates to say goodnight. It wants to share everything. And that makes it also quite physical indeed.

Yet within the first few years of marriage many couples sadly find sex a bothersome part of the marriage – something we sometimes “do.” The original intent – physical, emotional and spiritual intimacy – seems lost in family duties and general life busyness.

Should we be surprised when couples choose to separate when exuberance gives way to disappointment and disillusionment? When they choose to remain, a steady drift seems the new normal. Many couples expend greater energy on an expensive getaway than on resolving conflict and enjoying each other romantically. But what do all of us want most? We want to be cherished and respected. We long for closeness, nakedness of soul and spirit, emotional security. We want our mate to work hard to make the marriage good.

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So before sharing my views on what a physical marriage looks like, I think it will help to look at what it doesn’t.

  • A physical marriage isn’t a fluttery or powerful feeling which draws us to the other. Nor is it a sort of anxiety at being apart. Remember the Mel Gibson character in “Conspiracy Theory” who said, “Love gives you wings!” If blessed to have that emotion at the wedding, most folks don’t assume it will last forever. But many girls’ hopes, buoyed by romance novels will say, “So what that it doesn’t last for others. It will for me.” Those who live long in love know not to make feelings the ultimate test of tenderness.
  • A physical marriage isn’t a lot of PDA (*public display of affection – the “get a room” kind) — or holding each other at night during sleep. Both can mean the marriage is a physical one, but both can be carried out routinely in a non-physical marriage, especially if the bedroom thermostat stays low. Getting warm can eclipse emotional closeness on cold nights.
  • A physical marriage isn’t necessarily frequent sex. When couples come together for sex they have various reasons. They may be relieving tension (it does work), or meeting their own or their partner’s need at the moment. While caring, warm sex can certainly be a door to a real physical marriage, and it is also likely the result of one, it doesn’t equal one. Since sex symbolizes something way bigger than a physical act, we often go through the “sexual motions” in search of a deeper relationship. Read on.
  • A physical marriage isn’t high-fiving or bumping around hilariously in a billiard game or water volleyball. This sporting might come naturally in a physical relationship, but as in jokes and verbal banters, it can also be part of a non-physical relationship. Why? Because of the personality of one or the other.
  • A physical marriage isn’t a regular, cordial kiss or hug. Many couples peck each other goodnight as a matter of habit when they had little or no other communication all day.
  • A physical marriage isn’t the result of (or hindered by) temperament or personality. “I am just not a ‘huggy’ or ‘kissy’ kind of person. Wasn’t raised that way…” Nor is a physical marriage the result of codependent need: “I have to touch in some way, any way, in order to feel normal or connected.”

A physical marriage, though it may encompass all the above, and often does, is different, deeper, and doesn’t require any of the above behaviors to qualify.

Look in Thursday for my take on what a physical marriage does look like.

 

 

Five Ways Vicarious Living Betrays Us


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            Winter might be the logical season when, in general tiredness or failing health, folks lumber off the playing field of life to watch from the sidelines. Some might figure “we’ve had our chance”, and now, self-benched or life-benched, see little else to do but watch.

          Yes, winter souls may have an understandable reason. But why do the young, the 24 to 54 year-old crowd, seem to be leaving the field for the locker room by the hoards? Why, in the bloom of Summer and majesty of Fall, do they see other folks’ lives as more fulfilling?

     We’ve always read. Books (C.S. Lewis) show us “we’re not alone.” True stories of real people with rich adventure have much to teach us. Life, in concise slices of reality, comes alive in the ink of good novelists. Their books not only entertain, they challenge our thinking. Yet, in a choice devoid of logic, our present culture thrives on media’s voluminous offerings of free junk food. Life gets tough, so we escape, well, because we can.

vi-car-i-ous: adjective, “experienced or felt by watching, hearing about, or reading about someone else rather than by doing something yourself.” (Google)

    Many forms and genre of media have risen past the level of simple distraction, almost to the level of addiction. Earbuds, phones, screens of every size. They can all mesmerize. We damage ourselves slowly, lazily, craving the junk food our senses have come to love. The long-term results may be up for grabs, but the short-term tragedy is simple.

            Vicarious living cheats us out of the life we could be living.

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  1.  Over-promising and under-delivering, advertisers give us vicarious everything.  

       How they keep us salivating! Even the toughest of us crack for a commercial. We laugh, we cry, we drop our jaws in fascination. Those pictures in High Definition of the dishes from Red Lobster get me every time. My DVR races through unwanted ads, but unless I look away, I find myself rewinding, just to catch what I saw in millisecond snippets of the fast forward.

      Ads have less than three seconds to move us. The mood, the glory, the glitter, the lust must grab us instantly. The “people” must make us crave what they have–believe their stuff will give us confidence, humor, beauty, sexiness, and happiness.

  1. Social Media: To be (vicariously) cool, Post and Scroll!

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    We love to scroll, scroll, scroll. I have nothing against this robber of my time. I do want to keep up with nieces and nephews far away, and I hate that’s pretty much the only way we communicate…

    Which brings me to what gets us the most. It’s the pictures and videos with people – especially people we “kinda know.” Even when the truth stares us in the face – that her life is normal, much like mine – I still get caught up in her life. The one I perceive she has. She’s somehow different, more together. I wish I could go where she goes, have the wonderful vacations she has. That family looks so happy and relaxed by that beautiful water.

    We don’t stop there. We go beyond the colorful narrative in front of us. We add our own internal narrative. We see them in our mind’s eye as financially well-off and enjoying smooth relationships with their kids and parents. They have perfectly delightful children. Even when they do something naughty, it’s funny and cute. We want to hear about it. Cleaning red lipstick off white bathroom walls seems somehow more palatable in her life.

  1. Through our Kids… we vicariously live our dreams.

       Our real kids. Everyone knows at least one Little League dad, frantic on the sidelines, fulfilling his dream to be a baseball player. But what about moms? What transports us? Do the springtime fresh cheeks of our kids bring out longings from our pasts – hopes never fulfilled, talents never explored? Surely their lives will be better than ours.

    We go to a different place through their sports events, their musical and academic accomplishments–and also through their clothes, dating drama, and beauty. We give them more stuff than we got when we were small. But what’s just as important? The documenting of it all on social media. It’s our little history, yes. And we should be proud of them when they do well. But all the attention can fill a different void in us.

  1. Vicarious confidence from movie stars and their characters who ALWAYs say the right thing…

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       They are so doggone quotable! Actually no one always knows the right thing to say. Of course, screenwriters take hours, weeks, even months to construct conflict, solution, and the happy or tragic ending. While watching an actor be someone else, we ache with their character and, in comparison, consider our pain more manageable. Their impossible situations replay later as we do dishes or sit in the car as it goes through the car wash. What will happen to so-and-so next? Watching them figure it out replaces our feelings of ineptness and loneliness, if only for a short forty minutes.

    As much as any movie or TV show, tidbits about the actor’s personal lives spellbind us. There are hundreds of reality shows, interview specials, and documentaries about media. I never really wondered before, but now that you’re telling me, I like knowing what toothpaste Angelina Jolie uses. While we’re on the subject, what does she eat for supper? What’s her favorite anything– TV shows, pets, vacation spots?

    Transfixed and transported into the lives they permit us to see, we imagine what it would be like to be them. And it must be more exciting by far than to be me.

  1. Vicarious love through movie scenes and novels increase self-doubt, tell us our love life lacks.

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       Millennials aren’t the only ones with a sweet tooth for vicarious romance. With hormones waning, we autumn women can find ourselves too tired to make a relationship work, too distracted to pause and look at our mate with fondness and admiration. So much water under the bridge, we let the relationship drift. We miss the old days of sweet romance. We begin to think it’s gone forever.

    Have men and women of all ages given up on real, live, love affairs? The kind that last for over three months? Why not give up, when living an engaged life is excruciatingly tough? And can so easily feel unsatisfying. Brief trysts are way easier, but we would never…

   The complications of my life trump the effort it takes to water and grow the seed of intimacy planted at the beginning of a relationship. Monogamy poses a problem these days. It doesn’t work on autopilot. So, as monogamy goes out of style, the pseudolife of variety and creativity splashes tiny tastes of saccharine intimacy into our lives. The sensations received through the tiny screen work just great, and without the hassle.

     So why not go for your phone? When you watch, you don’t have to shower, be well-groomed, or polite, or young, or funny, or smart, or athletic, or self-controlled. The screen doesn’t care.

   Statistics show that only 30% of marrieds in America make love once a week. It seems that once that benchmark goes out the window, passion’s spark goes out too, and many marrieds of all ages report sexual activity only once a month. A romance novel, movie, or phone fills the void, but not without a literal disconnection from the mate on several critical levels.

 
     What do you think? Do relationships seem harder to maintain than ever? Do you think Christians secretly live in the cyber world of false intimacy? If the older folks are giving up something they once knew, are young folks learning any better how to live in real relationships? What is the solution? What do you think we can do to live a real life in our own families? In the next posts I hope to present some solutions. Stay tuned…

My Clothesline and Night Visitors in the Fog

       “I think we need a clothesline.”

       “Why, Mom? We have a perfectly good clothes dryer! Do you really want to hang out the laundry?”

       “No, well, yes. What I want is to get out and enjoy our amazing view of these Blue Ridge Mountains! You guys work and play out in the yard all the time, while I’m cooking and cleaning inside. At least I could get outside to do laundry…

      “…on the nice days.”

      My child was referring to our constant fogs. When they rolled in, they robbed us of our long-range views for weeks at a time. Yet after a few years of living on our high property, we still tended to take our majestic position for granted. Knowing the green valleys, and rows of splendor lay beyond our sight, hidden for just awhile, we went about our business. When the clouds lifted and our glorious view opened up, we kept going about our business. Looking back all those years ago, I’m chagrined at how I would stand at the kitchen sink, looking down at my dishes, instead of up in expectancy and delight.

      So Hubby constructed a clothesline on the side of the house with the unobstructed panorama. Laundry basket on my hip like a pioneer woman or a 50’s television mom, I’d kill two birds with one stone – feast my eyes on the layers of blue blanketed out before me, while hanging the towel or sheet on the line.

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    The plan worked. With some bonuses.

   While hanging the laundry one day I was regaled by a front row seat to watch our cat teach her newly weaned kittens the game of Mouse or Dinner, whichever way you want to look at it. While the kittens played happily in the open furnace room near my lines, the mom headed out to the woods. In a few minutes she returned all business-like with a small gray prize in her mouth. From my position, I watched her model the game masterfully. She’d drop the mouse on the floor, then chase, maul, and toss it, letting it go over and over again. The kittens’ heads darted back and forth, poised in fascination.

    By the third mouse the kittens had the process down. Their little bellies full, the mice having fulfilled their duty, Mom’s lesson came to an end. As I sat on the grass near the clothesline and relished the vista that in some silly way felt like my own, I wished I possessed similar finesse in mothering my own little ones! But at the very least I modeled, for a while, the importance of stopping to enjoy a delicious date with a patch of green.

   The mountains doled out many such experiences, much like hot-from-the-oven cookies into stubby fingers; and like the cookies disappear, we’re tempted to wonder if some of them really happened. Sometimes the fogs seemed oppressive.

    One of the kids would say, “Hey, Dad, let’s go get a pizza! This fog is getting to me.”

    So we’d climb into the car and head down, knowing our visibility would be crystal clear in a few miles. One night after supper at our local Pizza Hut, we wound our way back up into the thick soup of it. As we maneuvered the curve of our horseshoe driveway, our hawk-eyed teen, Jessica, was the first to spot “something” standing directly in front of our van.

    “Oh my goodness, Dad, what in the world? Do you see what I see?”

     Our other teen, Josh, chimed in. “You’re kidding…is that a cow?”

     Then one of the little ones yelled, “And look! I see a goat, too!  Daddy, where did they come from? Can we keep them? Please, Daddy?”

      Puzzled, we just sat in the car and stared. That’s when my husband spotted the dog. “Look, kids, there’s a strange dog there with them.”

     A cow, a goat, and a dog.

     We waited for our visitors to make the first move. Though each faced slightly different directions, their shy, quiet, sort of are-you-friends demeanor made us think they came as a set.

   “Dad, do dogs, cows, and goats go out together at night? Could they be lost?”

   Since we’d moved here from the city, we wondered if we should think this odd. Fences break. Animals escape. But do they get lost in fog?

   When they moved a bit and let the car go through and park, we felt safe enough to talk to them and even try to touch.

    “Be careful, kids, each one of them could hurt you.”

    “Daddy, the cow let me touch him for a second!”

     The more timid goat stayed back. Though the dog also kept his distance, he seemed okay about being in our yard. My husband, a sort of dog aficionado, knew he was the ranking officer in the group, and intended to hold his ground. As he moved around the others we got the impression he protected the larger strangers, yet considered us safe.

     Brrrrr…suddenly, the cold reality of time hit us. With little ones now way past their bedtime, we looked back at the three, and went inside. In a few minutes, the cow settled down to sleep in front of our youngest son’s window. Caleb could hardly contain his joy. The goat and the dog moved away from the light of the house.

      Overnight a cold wind had blown the fog away and we woke to sunshine gift-wrapped in sparkling dew. Had they been a dream? Six souls wanted to know. While the others ate and dressed, I sneaked out ahead. Normally I would be last out the door, the City Slicker Mom. But clothes left overnight on the clothesline drew me. Shivering in my robe, I rounded the front of the house. Sure enough, they had stayed all night. Each one occupied a different piece of ground, quiet, shy, as the night before. Over the expanse, feathery wisps of clouds hung like lint below me.

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    Under the clothesline stood the dog, head high, sniffing the air. He looked out across the vast dip of the earth in front of him, now in clear view. His uncanny concentration caused me to hurry back into the house.

   “Hey, kids. Eat fast and come see what the animals do now. I think something’s up.”

   It couldn’t have been two full minutes later when the kids crept out softly, expectancy pounding in their chests. But no animal could be found. All three, gone.

    “Mom, did it really happen?” asked our Caleb. He seemed so downcast, I almost wanted to cry. But then he brightened. “Oh, it sure did, Mom. The cow left us something behind to prove it.”

     Many times after the visit, when we drove out around our paradise, one of us would comment, wondering aloud about the three visitors, if we’d ever ever see them again. Months later, sure enough, my husband spotted the dog behind a fence on the Blue Ridge Parkway, as the crow flies about four miles away. Near him we saw a goat. And behind them? Of course, a lazy herd of cows.

     Do you remember a time that fog pulled you off course and you had to find a place to rest on life’s journey? Would you know the fullness of joy without a blinding fog now and then to remind you how important sight and sunlight are?

     My clothesline brought a new appreciation of our view, and caused me to slow down a bit. I learned to appreciate our gift more – on the days we had it. What do you do to make sure you really see, when you can?  

   Time also, like fog, tries to erase our stories. Fog of memory obscures lessons learned and sunny days fully relished. We must not let it. Write yours.

   

Tragedy Down the Mountain

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The Quietness

    The slower pace and quietness of mountain life called out to our family during the 90’s. After the birth of our fourth child we purchased a home in the northwest corner of North Carolina, high enough to see into Virginia and Tennessee, and close enough to the Blue Ridge Parkway we could hike there. Yet the cities lay just an hour drive down the mountain.

Our 3,500 ft. elevation gave us resplendent Indian summers, but before the end of October, bone-cold nights and snow flurries checked in – to stay.

    By late November, Winter fell like the ax on the neck of the Thanksgiving turkey. She hunkered down with diamond-studded frost or snow, and branch-snapping winds. Often, after a solid week of fog, we’d bundle up, hop into the car, and drive “down the mountain” to Charlotte or Winston Salem just for a glimpse of the sun and the more alive smell of fall foliage.

    One such trip took us to a family reunion, making our light-sweater day especially long. Long after dark and everyone’s bedtime, we reluctantly headed home to our mountain paradise. I leaned my head back on the headrest as we accelerated against the incline, around the switchbacks – up and up into cold air. All four kids (two toddlers and two teens) snuggled under their coats and dropped off to sleep. The quietness in the car felt good.

The Event

    About five miles from the summit, my husband spotted what he thought was a deer carcass on the side of the road. A bit lighter in color than the usual deer, it almost glowed in the headlights of a car we thought may have hit it.

Two men stood over it, yet for some reason my husband decided to look closer. I stopped breathing as he made a fast u-turn back to the scene.

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    When we pulled up and got out, my throat tightened and I suddenly felt hot. I saw one of the men sort of kick at it, and in that moment I breathed a thank you to God that our two toddlers stayed asleep. For it wasn’t a deer.

    “You guys stay in the car,” my husband warned. “Try to keep the little ones asleep.”

       I grabbed coats from the older kids, and ran to cover what now was clearly a half-naked woman. She was alive, moaning incoherent, face down, but not visibly injured.

    My husband asked the men what happened.

    “Dunno… got here jis’ a minute ago. She was a-lying here, but we bin drinkin’ an’ well, we gotta go ‘fore the police come. We called 911 anyways and was jes’ fixin’ to take off when yous came.” They couldn’t get away fast enough.

    I noticed a small pile of clothes close to the car but said nothing to my husband who paced, waiting. As night deepened in utter quietness, all I knew to do was pray out loud for this woman. Her nails dug into the grass as I cradled her over the coats.

    In a few minutes the place swarmed with the swirling lights of police cars and men searching, wondering if a perpetrator might still be close. I kept my position over her, praying and consoling her.

   When the ambulance came, the EMTs replaced our coats with their blankets. Rolling her onto her back they yelled, “What is your name?”

    Her response, a loud fear-filled “Aaaaaah!” told that she’d been drinking. That fact and her car’s freshly cut tire provided a rape scenario (or conjecture) which supposedly began at a bar up the mountain. It seemed as though we’d been dropped into a CSI episode. As they prepared to lift her onto the gurney, the men EMTs asked females present to do as much of the steadying as possible. Their utmost concern for her dignity impressed me.

     As I returned to our bewildered teens in the car, I wondered… would this woman be able to tell them what had happened? Would the authorities work hard to find who’d raped her? Would I ever see her again? How will I talk to my teens about this?

The Meeting

    About three weeks later when the phone rang, I happened to pick it up first. The long silence after my hello clued me who had called.

Heart beating fast, I allowed the pause. Be patient. Give her time.

    In an almost inaudible whisper she finally spoke. “You …prayed … I remember your voice…”

    More silence. What do I say? “Are you alright?”

    “Yes, but I had to find you. I asked around. Can we meet?”

    “Yes, of course. Where? When?”

    We met at a local restaurant. The scene felt surreal. In a booth with ordinary lunch banter going on all around us, I sat before a woman in her early forties with pleasant eyes and smooth complexion, talking, or almost talking, about the most horrific thing imaginable. It seemed. As she thanked me for being there, I knew there had to be more.

   “See, my husband beats me. I just wanted a break from it all.”

     She went on to tell me about her clandestine plan to meet “another man” down the mountain. No mention of the bar, or her drink. The car started to act strange, she said. When she pulled over, a car came up behind, and a man came over to offer help. The darkness hid his face. When they walked around to look for the problem, he attacked her, dragged her down the embankment and raped her as she dug her fingernails into the hill. After he sped away, she crawled up the hill to get to her headlights. Temps in the 40’s meant hypothermia, pretty fast.

    Next thing she knew, I was praying over her.

    I met her once again a few months later. They had never found the perpetrator. She was fine, she said. “Life goes on.”

The Questions

    My mind reeled. She just wanted me to know that she knew I prayed.

     Of course I hardly knew how to talk to my teens about the event. Even after clipping the brief article from the paper I didn’t know what to say. 

     Do we think there are answers, or some better situation, down the mountain, up
the mountain, or on the other side of the mountain? Or fence? Will we reach out to
others with whom we can hardly relate? How will we do it? When it seems there’s
nothing we can do, will we simply move on in the face of tragedy? Will we pray out
loud when it seems silly to do so?

    Possibly one of the most important questions is:  How do people cope with life’s knock-downs without a real, rock-solid Home to come home to?

    I walked into our warm house on the top of the mountain that last night we met, and realized that prayer is sometimes all we can do. It was my minimum at the time and I must believe it was also my maximum. She knew I prayed.

Marriage Tips From the Book of Haggai

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We find allegory tucked throughout the Old Testament. Though every story, every event, plays out in real time, an allegorical look often brings home a new meaning. So, whenever I read the Old Testament I ask the Lord to show me what He is saying to me, particularly me, for my issues. And He answers.

In this second smallest book of the Old Testament I learned a new way of thinking about my marriage. The idea came from that convicting verse, Proverbs 14:1: “The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down.” (ESV) Continue reading Marriage Tips From the Book of Haggai

Cancer Update: Jesus is More Than Enough

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   Twenty-seven days. That’s the number of days since the final radiation treatment for my husband’s prostate cancer. He still isn’t quite ready for a nice rare steak, but that’s getting ahead of my story. It was quite a summer, not an easy one. Yet ironically, this very summer, of all summers, our pastor embarked on a series from Colossians. The theme? Jesus is Better.

     If you haven’t already, you can read here about the rough times of late 2014 and up to now. How we put off the biopsy for months and finally went ahead with it at the same unfortunate time as his massive oral surgery. We knew the mouth issues would be tough for a long while, but had no idea radiation would dwarf that ordeal. How could we know? I’d undergone radiation during my breast cancer eleven years ago, and it was more or less a piece of cake. He, on the other hand, almost immediately, suffered constant stomach upset, no appetite, and almost daily weight loss.

    With no stamina whatsoever, each day he’d manage our business as best he could, then ask to be left alone to rest. As I grieved, I questioned. Why did he resist distractions like a small outing or a walk? Sometimes we left the house. Then a few miles out, he’d turn the car around and head home.

    Each day, though, he’d drive himself the hour to the treatment center, then the hour home. Five days a week. Alone.

    Jesus is More Than Enough

    I entered church the Sunday after his first five days of treatment, and barely acknowledged the theme’s announcement. For the next several weeks, the pain I felt during church trumped my ability to concentrate. I’d sit there and wonder why. Why he only wanted food and laundry needs met. Why he wouldn’t let me comfort him – no holding each other, not even his favorite foot rubs.

    When I did register the theme, Jesus is More Than Enough, my response was hollow. Well, I’m sure that is true in the grand scheme of things. Of course that’s what God says…The screen behind the pastor glowed with the words, but weeks passed before I actually took them in.

    I felt completely abandoned.

   Then I began to dig into Colossians at home. My pastor pointed out how Paul struggled (ch. 1:29 and 2:1) to make the people see “the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” I realized that God, through Paul and our pastor, wanted me to ask the question: Is Jesus really more than enough?  Going about the day, I asked, “Is Jesus better than earthly relationships?” I knew I’d have to know, really know, the answer to that someday. But I wasn’t ready to face the question just yet. It blindsided me. I’d read Colossians over and over, and wrestle with God. I’d challenge Him. “Haven’t we already worked this out? Other times of trouble in our relationship sealed the matter, didn’t it? Jesus is enough!”

    But is He More Than Enough?

    In the moments of working alone folding laundry or walking in the neighborhood, I had to face my anger, and this persistent belief that puny me, I, knew better than God what should happen. These unrelenting needs, the friendship and love of a husband who lives in the same house, who surely has many good years left, clashed noisily with the supremacy of Christ. In my head a cacophony of voices screamed against the quiet assurance: No matter what, when all else fails, Jesus will prove to be more than enough. Whether in the resolution of Hubby’s health issues and restoration of our passion.   

        Or in the loss of both.

       To jump off that cliff of trust, find the net solid underneath, then walk in the truth became the challenge of every day. Colossians 1:23 reminded me to continue “in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel…”

        Finally, I had to say, You are not only enough, but more than enough. You know best. You know more. You love me best. You will figure all this out.

     I had to say it over and over again, with thankfulness (Col. 2:6 and 7) as I went about caring for and releasing my Hubby.  

     How often do I have to jump, Lord? Okay, You know that, too.

    So, you might wonder, where are we now, as a couple?

    After the treatments ended, he still felt horrible. Days went by. When we woke up to the usual how are you this mornings, I’d take the temperature of the room, remembering my truth. My barometer still wondered, is the glass half full? Or half empty? Is Jesus really more than enough if my husband stays emotionally gone?

    Twenty-seven days. Not long, really. Twenty-seven days since the last treatment of summer. We made it through. The laundry smells sweeter, food tastes much better. One of these days my babe may even enjoy a steak again. It’s a process. And one we don’t take for granted.

   But he did come back to me. We comfort each other now, laugh more readily. Finally. But my heart’s desire is to live in the Jesus-is-more-than-enough mode. I want it to be my default mode. I want His enoughness to infuse every minute of every day. His enoughness will get me through the next cliff I face – and hopefully I’ll jump a bit quicker into his net.

    Until the day I get to jump right into His arms. Won’t that be grand?

Molasses Makin’

Romans 15:16  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (ESV)

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     I began my teaching career with a “boat” of a car, a ‘66 Pontiac Catalina, v-8 engine. Designed for the smooth roads of civilization, she seemed to rebel against the bumper-jarring ride to Billy’s house. He’d invited me to see the fall sorghum molasses-making, and it seemed a fun outing for after school on Friday. As the bumps and potholes banged our heads against the windows, I thought surely this “boat” would soon dock in some gravel driveway in a little farming area. Surely.

      What had I gotten myself into? What was “City Girl” doing deep in the Kentucky mountains? I mean, other than a job?  In 1971 the universities pumped out way more teachers than jobs in which to place them, and the U.S. presently suffered a glut of baby boomer teachers. I really should be grateful to have snagged one – in a nice public, albeit rural, school. I guess the children were my “other than a job.” One soap-deprived angel arrived on the first day with a little hop in her step.

      “Look, Teacher! Shoes! Ah got shoes!”

       Once, when the electricity went out, my windowless classroom fell into complete darkness. I asked the children if they’d like to sing.

       “Oh, yes, Teacher! Let’s sing ‘The Old Rugged Cross.’” As the students gathered around my feet, I felt something, or someone stroking my leg.  The red-headed lad probably had never felt silky hose before, either on or off a woman’s leg.

    Though the ruddy, freckled faces of the children had won my heart, I constantly worried.

      How in the world will my $5,500 a year salary continue to support me? There’s no way possible to make it through this first year of teaching. No way. Each payday, two hundred forty-five dollars…

     Suddenly my Pontiac ran completely out of road. Now my worry took a different form. No more road? Maybe I shouldn’t have done this. Billy opened the car door and cheerfully directed me out into the woods.

      “ We wawk the rist o’the way, Teacher. The car’ll be jes’ fine.”

     Walk? With nothing but dense woods in front of us, it looked like the beginning of a hike. I could see my panty hose full of holes and runs after this. Half walking, half hobbling, I inwardly fretted. Why didn’t I change clothes and shoes? A branch flipped into my face as if to force me to pay attention. Then, a clearing.

      As my eyes adjusted to the sunlight I abruptly came back to the moment. A dozen yards in front of us, a horse, harnessed to a long bar, trudged around a muddy circle. His strained push crushed stalks of sugarcane while a bucket under the mill slowly filled with juice. I winced at the smells of mud and manure as they mingled with the woodsy aroma of the fire pit nearby. A huge vat on top of the fire held what seemed like a hundred gallons of boiling liquid. I wondered how those ragged men bent over, sweating and stirring, continuously skimming off the greenish foam. The men neither greeted us nor looked up from their work, but Billy pointed to his dad and said they’d keep at it until late into the night, when that batch would be ready to cool and jar.

    Further into the clearing we reached the house. On the outside it looked bigger than I’d expected. Wood siding, a fairly new door. Billy led me to the side entrance where the kitchen greeted us with a chill. Now, away from the fire, I felt the bite of fall. For through the kitchen blew a draft from the unfinished, cavernous house. Studs framed would-be rooms and almost no furniture graced the plywood floors. The barren kitchen housed few utensils, which make me wonder if meals were prepared at all during molasses-making. On the walls, unpainted shelves held jars, some filled, some waiting. Curtains partitioned off bedrooms.

     Then finally, the big reveal. Billy’s bed. A separate, walled room held the beginnings of a bathroom, and as he showed me he beamed with pride. The glory of the room was his bed, the white clawfoot bathtub. Here he slept, he said, away from the noise and the chilled air in the rest of the house. I stood amazed at what I saw, from the production outside to the provision inside. I saw hope. Hope thrived in Billy’s heart because he had a place to sleep – and his daddy was making molasses!

    My fretful thoughts now shamed me. I had a warm apartment in town. I slept in a nice bed. I drove where I needed to go. How could I worry about my salary?

      As my huge boat of a Catalina drove home so many years ago, I asked the Lord to make me thankful for that day, for that tour of molasses-making. I asked Him to keep me thankful for His care, and for a lasting hope that always lay right in my lap.

Dear Father, Thank you for stopping me in my complaint! You are my hope today and always!

Five Ways Your Marriage Can Change the World

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Genesis 12:3b …in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

(God to Abraham)  ESV

Many years ago our family participated in a Pro-life rally and march in downtown Charlotte. Our ten year-old daughter, boldly marching with her sign, suddenly found a microphone from the local TV station thrust in front of her face.

“What are you doing here today?”

Without hesitation, our Johnny on the Spot leaned into the mic and said, “I’m changing the world!” Later, while watching this micro-interview on the 6:00 news, I thought her answer a little over the top. My jaded attitude said, Isn’t it a bit arrogant to think my actions matter that much?

In the years since, I’ve tried to hear my daughter’s statement through her young mind. The world needs help. The world needs changing. So if not to change the world, why go up against anything big?

My daughter’s comment on TV got me thinking…

What about marriage? When God said Abraham and Sarah would change the world, did He mean just through their offspring, Isaac? If so, why did He make them wait until they were almost one hundred years old to produce that child? I believe one possible reason for the epic wait was that something big would happen along the way to Isaac.

Their marriage.

The Abraham/Sarah marriage included decades of trusting and not trusting God, of disappointing each other, of misunderstandings and near-death decisions. Bless the world? God emphasized His statement again in I Peter 3:6. Sarah serves as the model for us wives.

“…And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.”

But she had issues! Yes. Most of our biblical heroes stumbled big. As with their lapses in judgement and obedience, God still uses cracked pots to hold and distribute his message. That includes us. Sarah called her husband Lord because in the Eastern nations this title served as a model for proper respect. We wouldn’t call our husband Lord, but the respect without fear part sure challenges me! Respect without fear is no small order. It will take a lifetime to learn what that kind of respect, the world changing kind, looks like.

Your marriage, too, though imperfect, is meant to change the world. Here are five ways.

1. A good, working marriage increases the productivity and creativity of each partner. Couples who resolve conflict, avoid resentment and misunderstanding, cause energy to flow into the workplace. When times of crises and desert come, both at work and in the home, the habits of kindness and forgiveness help get them through. These relational habits spill out at work, along with new ideas and fresh ways to solve problems. The world does change when energy flows from loving relationships.

2. A good, working marriage marriage makes a peaceful home. Children thrive at school and play when Mom and Dad like each other as well as love each other. They feel secure when they see their parents apologize, hug, and kiss. This sense of well-being and security changes the atmosphere wherever those happy people are. All the other kids want to be at that house. Peace, fun, and contentment change the world.

3. A good, working marriage gets noticed out in public. Everyone loves to see couples who make eye contact and laugh together. Onlookers smile. We get the message. We wish we had that- and we think we know what “that” is. Parks, tour buses, hiking trails, museums, resort lobbies, and restaurants attract more users, at the very least, and may even be transformed, when loving couples fill the spaces with their enjoyment.

4. A good, working marriage reproduces itself. True, children from happy homes sometimes divorce. Marriage is complicated at best, miserable at worst. However, many studies show that homes where kindness and passion live produce children more likely to stay married, just by their good modeling. Don’t we all pick up relational habits from the home in which we grew up? Commitment and love are caught as much as taught.

5. A good, working marriage spreads the Gospel. God designed marriage to be a reflection of His great love. He’s the One Who drew the blueprint and planned to change the world through our marriages. Since the gospel is the greatest love story ever told, we spread it knowingly or not, as we love each other in the most intimate of relationships.

Our marriage is meant to change the world. Doesn’t knowing that put all its difficulties in a different light?  For, although it can be the most hurtful, the most demanding, and the most complicated of relationships, something really, really big must be in all the hard work.