Salty Conversation

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Colossians 4: 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. ESV

      Often, the smallest comment can go a long way in helping a friend feel less alone, more normal, and more empowered to love her hubby better.

Here are a few examples of some conversations, seasoned with Salt.

      Head in the Window

    When I was much younger, having a rough time in my love life, my Bible Study leader saw me load up my stroller after a morning class. Her car happened to be parked near me, so she came over to my open window and poked her head in (almost too far for my comfort). With a sparkle and a wink she asked, “Hey, Girl, how’s it goin’?” Glancing back at my year-apart toddlers, she added, “Hey, have you gotten any new ‘nighties’ lately?”

    What!? Did I look deprived, depressed, or debilitated!? I was not particularly happy with her point blank accosting of my love life. I felt a wee bit “buttonholed,” you could say. But I prayed on the way home, asking God why this question bothered me.

    Then I realized it wasn’t the topic. Nor that her words were inappropriate. It was that I inwardly winced at doing the work of forgiving, taking more initiative, and thus improving my marriage relationship. I was put into the position of having to take stock of my attitude. (I had been wearing those Granny Gowns quite often lately…)

    God has used the “head in the window” experience to give me more courage to say something to women, even tho’ I might not say that

     Here are a few more examples of what I mean.

     Sharp-eyed Friend

    My girlfriend came over for lunch and noticed that my bedroom was changed around, spruced up a bit. “Hey, you really fixed up your room! Nice! But what did you do with the TV?”  

    Here was my golden opportunity to reply, “Well, the TV wasn’t much help to our love life, so we took it out. Now we are more “tuned in” to each other at bedtime…”

    Big Tub

     Another time, when some friends showed us around their new home, the bathroom  “centerpiece,” a whirlpool tub, could hardly be ignored. So instead of ignoring it, I said, “Don’t you love the big tub? I hope you guys get good use out of that. Man, we’d sure use it if we had one!!”

    You’re right. She had nothing to say. Quick change of topic. “My, the mashed potatoes are so creamy!” (dinner conversation quote from “While You Were Sleeping.”) But this didn’t spoil the evening. It may have improved the evening for both couples! (Our tub may be smaller, but…)

    Restroom Conversation

    Have you ever overheard a church restroom conversation?  I once heard a woman say to another, “My folks are keeping the kids this weekend, and we’re going to (a romantic place) for his birthday.”

    “Oh, really?”

    “Yup. That’s the only birthday present he wants…. a whole lot of special alone time. And he’s going to get it.”

   The tone I picked up was celebratory and grateful. And, well, I loved overhearing it so much I decided to book a hotel for my husband’s next birthday.

    Our marriages are truly meant to change the world.

    But platitudes don’t work. Pat answers with rote phrases we’ve heard all our lives don’t work, either. People need success stories, or an approach that’s been proven in the here and now, like yesterday. Our complicated, often confusing, up and down love life could actually bless others, simply by our perspective. We are learning and leaning on Christ for help, so we have seeds to sow. Those “salty” out loud seeds may cause a friend to ask,  “How does she have such a good attitude about sex? Hmmm…does God live in even this part of everyday life? Do I really know Him? I guess I should be less selfish in this area…”

   Remember that the value of salt in Bible times wasn’t only for flavoring, but even more for preserving. We are to preserve Truth, and hinder the deterioration of marriage.

    Here’s the Salty Challenge:

1.) LEARN something to improve your own marriage in this area, and then..  

2.) ACT on what you learned.

3.) Then look for an opportunity to SAY something to a friend – appropriately – when the time seems right.

   I can’t tell you how much you girls have encouraged me by your comments!! Have you ever discreetly spoken up on behalf of great love-making in marriage? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Thirty Seconds to Laugh Out Loud…Go!

Thirty Seconds To Laugh

Sometimes I can laugh at myself. Once, in the dark aisle of the Majestic Theatre, I stumbled trying to get to my seat. Thankfully I didn’t land in someone’s lap, but the thought of it struck me as very funny. A few months ago I ungracefully sailed from someone’s foyer into their living room. And several years ago I fell backwards into a bed of cactus (written in detail here).  In these moments I couldn’t help myself. I laughed like a lunatic. Maybe a nervous tick? (no pun intended.).

But sometimes laughing is no laughing matter. It’s just plain work.

Recently, someone passed me off like the proverbial “chopped liver.”  Someone I believed cared for me. When after several days the “special person” didn’t hear me out, I felt trapped in a junior high-ish inner drama. I thought I would burst with codependent frustration.

A few days later, while walking into the grocery store, I felt embarrassed about it all. Your pity party has gone on way too long. It’s left spoiling chip dip and stinky, moldy dixie cups all over the place. It’s time to get a grip.

Time to get a grip. Not time to pretend it never happened. Not necessarily time to fix it. (Heaven knows, I’d tried that..) Not even time to confront. (I’d actually done that, too.) But time to see something else through my progressive bifocals. I hadn’t felt like laughing in days, and I hadn’t. Nothing seemed funny. The acute pain, no longer cute, now reduced to a dull ache, left behind a sadness that began to feel like– sin.

Sheepish, ashamed, I got my cart and entered the produce end of the store.

By the time I passed the flower department I knew my answer: to laugh. I must laugh in thirty seconds or fade away like the Witch of the West (or East? when doused with water). I could almost picture a pool of blue jean and orange t-shirt mush. There I’d lie, or not lie, gone, except for the clothes. The tabloids would read, “Texas Woman Melts in Produce Aisle.” Or “Agitated Texas Woman Disappears While Shopping.” How silly. Surely, agitation could never cause such an extreme reaction. Ah, but we know it can. Disney has perfected witches who get mad and swirl around and round until they swirl out of existence.

So I sort of laughed at that thought.

Then I tried to snicker a bit at the green peppers. Not even a bit funny, I realized the pretend “ha” wasn’t working. Somehow I had to sell this thing. I glanced around, made sure no bored produce man or inquisitive shopper saw me.

“Ha, Ha, Ha!” I ventured out loud.

Maybe the green peppers weren’t funny. But the apples might be.

I don’t know why the stickers grabbed me. Every single apple – a sticker?  Who did that? Probably a machine nabbed them as they tumbled all helter skelter down some padded conveyor belt. This gave me pause, but my thirty seconds still weren’t up.

Why did each one need identification? Sure, there were many varieties. Could that be the reason? And who would make sure every apple had a sticker? This struck me as a funny job. I thought of an old “I Love Lucy” chocolate conveyor belt episode. I have to find that episode.

Then the smile took over my face and I chuckled. How much more important than apples (or chocolates) are we? Does our pain have some purpose? Does someone care? Am I stickered?

Yup. And you are too. I realized that taking control of my mood had to become more important than cuddling a cold, empty latte cup. I can control my mood when I realize how little control I have over my circumstances. I can control my mood when I see my needs and desires in a more realistic perspective.

Have you perfected the Laugh on Command? I am working on it. I need to keep a rolodex of funny, yet true things about myself and the world, and how cosmically absurd this fact is: I am loved. I am loved by the One who has stickered me for a purpose. I’m created and identified for a purpose.

Hanging around happy people helps. Do you know someone you hear before you see? Our family laughs just thinking about Jarrod. We don’t even have to be around him. He doesn’t live a charmed life any more than anyone does. He just chooses to see everything in it’s funniest light. So at almost forty-nine he’s perfected the skill of controlling his mood.

You hear Jarrod before you see him. It’s the laugh.

Can you laugh, if you had to, in thirty seconds? Now, go!

First Love

 

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I remember his last name. But I will just call him Danny. We lived in South Dakota and I assume he had been around all along in the 4th and 5th grades. But we didn’t talk until 6th grade when during the first week of school he commented on my handwriting. I said I liked having nice handwriting- and he said he did too, but guys weren’t supposed to be into that sort of thing.

He noticed my handwriting! He had me. From then on my thoughts strayed to Danny. As a student first, and a girl second, my thoughts stayed on his character– his good grades and wrinkled brow when writing so neatly. But especially I noticed his books with machine-stitched cloth covers. Book covers no red-blooded boy would carry.

But did I say my thoughts “stayed” in the realm of character? That wouldn’t be completely true. As a girl, I noticed the curls around his ears, the smell of Tide as he walked by my desk, and the tightness of his chin when he spoke. All of that created a funny feeling in my stomach. But it only lasted a few seconds.

Three “Danny” events from the 6th grade stand out. First, he confessed on a walk home from school one spring day that my valentine had been the only one with a sucker in it. I guess I needed to know that.

Second, he asked if I’d stop by his house with an armload of his cloth-covered books, while he stayed after for sports. Only a block or so from the school, this caused no anxiety in me at all. He just asked me to do a small favor and I would do it. That I would meet his mother and see inside the front door did interest me some.

When I rang the doorbell, she came, all smiles. I couldn’t help my blurt. “Hi, Mrs. ‘Smith.’ I really like the book covers you made for Danny. They are nice.”

“Thank, you, Dear. I am amazed he carries them, being such a boy boy. You are a sweet girl. Thanks for bringing his books.

Oh, boy. That was cool. His house smelled clean, like him. On the way home I pondered. Would I marry Danny? Or would I marry someone handsome and charming and smart like him? Next year we would be in junior high. Would he even remember me?

The third incident happened the first week of summer vacation. He rode over on his bike and found me in the yard. “How about a bike ride?”he asked.

“Okay.”

Now you may wonder if I went inside to either ask permission or tell my mom the plan. To that I can only say, life was so different in 1961. During summer, parents saw their children at meals. In between existed a whole world of exploring and play. If a child didn’t return for the next meal, or couldn’t be found with a little help from neighbors in an hour, then concern might make its entrance. But summer independence had long been familiar territory by 6th grade. We felt safe because, except for the rare freak occurrence, we were.

To get back to Danny, little kid cartwheels, adolescent fireworks, and grownup picket-fence images jumbled around in my head. Was this a date? Was this a date!?

On the bike ride we saw parts of the town unfamiliar. In a more country area the chain came off my bike. Laying his down, he put it back on expertly and wiped his greasy hands on the grass. There it was, that jaw thing again. He seemed to clench his teeth when in thought or stress. Could he be sorry he did this?

He led, I followed. Almost no talk.

After about an hour I found myself back in my front yard. He threw up his hand and away he rode. As I got off my bike, a bit breathless from trying to keep up and riding for so long, I felt a mixture of emotions. Pride that just possibly this had been my first date, and confusion about what he might be thinking right now. What did all this mean? Had I acted stupid on our ride? (How could ten words be construed as stupid?) Had he crushed himself with remorse over his nerve to do this? Had he stirred up feelings in both of us that neither could do anything about? Or did these emotions bring us up short? Get real. This is the summer after 6th grade.

In a month, my dad brought news that we were moving to a new state. I would begin junior high in a faraway school.

Danny had just become history. Funny, I still remember his last name.

Do you recall the whole name of a special boy in your past?

Safe, summer independence for kids has been gone a long time.

When did it go?

 

Women of Strength and Dignity

      Sunlight assaulted my eyes. Man, the bed felt cold. I squinted over jumbled covers to find the clock. Yup. Late. 9:20 and a migraine. Disentangled, feet on the floor, I groaned. John probably heard my incoherent complaint in the dark and headed to work hours ago. Did he scramble his own egg, or grab the decidedly second-rate bowl of corn flakes? I didn’t care really. I had to remember this dream. Had to document this dream.

    My disoriented brain, determined to hold on to it, almost gave in to the body longing to climb back in. Good thing the bed’s cold. Zombie-like, I dressed, stumbled to the bathroom and splashed water on my face. Raking dampened fingers through a cowlicky short crop, I felt gratified. Not half bad. Why didn’t I think of this years ago?

    Should I even go into the kitchen? Yes, this will be a long morning. Lukewarm coffee sloshed a bit onto the counter. Thank heavens for microwaves. With an impatient exhale, I grabbed a cloth and swiped the dribbles. Toast, maybe? No time. Ibuprofen, yes.

    Settled at the computer just under ten minutes from splashing water, I began. Oh, that my fingers would fly for a change! Please, dear digits, let me get this dream out!

   The Setting

     At first, mostly fuzz. Then slowly, a circle of some eight or ten ladies, my age mostly, came into focus.  A low roar in the background made me think of a rainstorm outside… or loud air conditioning. The room itself then took shape – kind of an old cement block library, or church basement. Most of its walls contained wooden shelves full of plain books- where did the dust covers go? It smelled a bit musty with a hint of lemon oil and and metal.

   One middle-aged, pink-lipsticked woman spoke above the hum.

   “Ladies, welcome!” Sitting in old folding chairs (ahh, the metal smell) the women held notebooks and pens on crossed jean-clad legs. Ready to learn. But what?

    Then it dawned on me that we met regularly and that, in spite of their unfamiliar faces, I mysteriously knew each one. Lynn, a housewife with a married daughter down the street, babysat the grandchildren often. Tabby drove back and forth from Houston, caring for an aging father-in-law. Evie taught an exercise class at the gym. Louise baked wedding cakes and entered her fruit jams into the state fair. Each one had nothing in common – and everything in common. Jeans sized two to eighteen, colored tops, flip flops, and eagerness. What did they expect here?

      When Evie prayed a blessing on the night, I looked on as if from the ceiling. But now I sat with them.

     Lynn (how did I know she usually spoke last?) shared first. “I just want to thank you all for helping me with ‘the conversation.’ See, he always paid the bills, and I stayed busy with the house– signed the tax return, that’s it. I couldn’t tell you all this until now, but the first week of class we had a terrible week-long fight. ‘Why are you doing this?’ he asked. He admitted it… he wondered if I planned to leave him! Owning our own business makes the emotions roll. It’s so complicated, and the conversations are tense. But I do see light ahead….when I got home last time he wanted to hear what we talked about.

      The Class

      Lynn’s comments confused me, so I shocked myself when I began to speak, “Sally, about that homework (what homework?). I’m behind. I don’t want to fail at this. How could missing one week overwhelm me so much? I kept up pretty good until …”

    Sally gently pursed her pink lips before she broke in, “… you mean last week’s assignment to sort the entire week’s mail, locate the insurance policies, and ask your husband to get you a copy of your will? Pfff….How could that be a big deal?”

    A ripple of laughter helped calm me. (Yes, in the dream I felt shaky.)

    “Hey, Girlfriend, this isn’t a contest or a class with a grade. We are here for each other. You can catch up. Our work will definitely extend past the couple of months we have together. We’re about a change in lifestyle–never easy.”

      “Thanks, Sal,” I kept on. “But this stuff terrifies me. Your list of talking points for the meeting with our accountant requires all these other things, so I have nowhere to go but forward. I did make it to the bank last week to discuss all the bank accounts. The lady treated me great, and seemed proud of my effort.”

     Sally smiled and I felt warmth from the others. Now the dream began to flow from my fingers. As if the room, once a dull sepia, cleared into brilliant color. At that moment I knew Sally was a banker. In her job as one of the managers, she dealt with so many bereaved widows who had no idea how to process their loss. But what made everything worse? They felt in the dark, were in the dark, with the family finances. Over weeks and months, she’d compassionately walk them through things they should have been doing regularly for years.

    Oh, she knew plenty of women who always took care of the banking and insurance policies. A few female math wizards and money managers live on every street. But she saw dozens walk through her door who let the husband do it all.

    Now, she educated women whose husbands still lived. She doggedly worked to design this class to help us achieve the goal: No more “Kept Women” we would learn everything related to household finances and our estate. And we were to become involved in every area.

        Louise spoke next, clear and unemotional. “Brad is proud of me! Each week our relationship gets better. He says I’m going to college, but he doesn’t have to pay!” Then noticing some sombre pals, she added, “But I’d much rather bake cakes and go to Starbucks than do this! It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

      Sally reviewed our mandate. “God expects us to know the details of our financial situation–to live in a true partnership. And then, whether He choses to take our husbands away suddenly- or slowly in a debilitating disease- we should be able to handle money and estate details– and move ahead. Unafraid of decisions, even in our grief, we’re equipped to make them.”

   Tabby

     Now in the dream Tabby’s stifled crying turned to heaving sobs, and we all desperately wanted to go and sit with her and hold her. But the ground rules stood. As each one expressed grief or anger or fear, hugs remained relegated to the end of our two-hour sessions.

     As Tabby’s sobs slowed down a bit we all helped her breathe. In. Out. In. Out. Through the diaphragm, just as we learned in yoga. She finally spoke, “You guys… you are tough. You haven’t let me slide. And I guess that’s good. But, right now… I hate this class! I hate it! And I just can’t see me finishing it! This syllabus! I want to throw it across the room! How do I finish? Tell me! I get up in the morning, take the kids to school, and head out the door to fight Houston traffic. When I get to Dad’s room, it reeks. Just like my life reeks. I don’t know how to do it all. I want to be cared for! In those single years I couldn’t wait for that. I hated to balance my checkbook. I stunk at it. And my car insurance constantly fell between the cracks! Before Phil came along, robbing a bank crossed my mind…”

    The exhale in unison felt good. And then- the wry smile. Kept women. Cared for yet hamstrung. Crippled Christians. Full of good responsibility. Full of talent. Yet, lacking in the most important: a “couple sense” of family identity and financial legacy.

        Then I saw why I felt so compelled to remember the dream!  As I typed, I knew this class, this group, could be a reality – to give many women freedom and new hope.

      Earlier, I had woken up to painful sunlight and a terrible headache. Normal mode? Stay under the covers . But as I typed and typed and typed I remembered the beauty of the light that shone into the dull basement room. In my dream, I also remembered the pain of plugging on, the tug of remaining in the status quo. Like me, very one of those girls would rather have taken the easy route. What determination, what courage, what strength.

    The dream – chronicled at last – my neck and shoulders ached.

    But the pain in my head? Gone.

    And I wondered, what ever happened to Tabby?

.

 

Five-Point Intersection

crossroads1    The following email from a dear friend appeared in my inbox this morning. With permission I share it here, because at some point we all wake up to the uncomfortable day when our identity is, let’s say, a bit shaky. A clear past role vanishes, opening up to, well, choices which often seem fuzzy. That period doesn’t pass quickly. Some of us have been pondering the Five-Point Intersection for a long time. Here is her letter in part.

    First snow today!  So…I awaken to the challenge.  Cancel the hike that was scheduled to take the greater part of the day and…wait for it…oh yeah, that’s right.  I find myself without a plan.  Without even an idea really of what next. … plenty of the ordinary from which to choose I suppose… Here I am again, feeling like a life which once was useful…now, not so much.   Oh..I’ll pull through…persevere…do something… Like always…got to CHOOSE that joy! But it’s sad…and hard!  You know because you have lived with me long. Please pray that my mind will be renewed…..that my body will do whatever it is called here to do with sensitivity to the leading of the holy spirit.”

    If Spring were called the season of growth, Summer the season of work, Autumn might rightly be called the season of change. Do you ever feel you are inadvertently reinventing yourself? Not by choice, but by necessity?

    Kids grow up and leave empty, tidy, quiet rooms – glorious sometimes, but depressing often. (No one has to tell us that is why we raised them!)

    Skin gets thin and spotted, eyebrows mysteriously disappear. (Just because it happened to mom doesn’t mean it had to happen to me!) Regular, solid, sleep, now a thing of the past. Joints find voice and talk with a whine.

     Parents, formerly our rock, now lean, beginning to crumble.

     Grandchildren discover legos left behind- just the other day, right?- by their daddy. (My son, a daddy?….)

     Going out? Takes a rather long time these days.

     And cooking seems to makes sense only when it’s for company. No more, what’s for dinner, Honey? It’s where do we want to go tonight.

     On and on the changes.

     And what about time? A whole new world. Balance, a greater challenge than ever. We either juggle way too many activities, or find ourselves with too much time to think. We have options, yet none lasting very long. Because changes change the schedule. Changes change the mood. Changes change the priorities.

Before, life told us what to do. We did what all moms do. Then one day, the one main road of summer hard work spreads out into a five-point intersection of autumn.

     So… how are you doing with the choices this season has set before you?

Laughter– Good Medicine

Laughing at oneself is not always easy– especially when we’re in the company of others. Yet we’ve all heard it, the happiest people in the world are the ones who don’t take themselves too seriously.

This kind of laughter is actually a great discipline. So many times I haven’t laughed– like the time when disembarking from a jet, with a huge audience, I stumbled on the tarmack stairs and broke off one of my high heels. I would much rather have cried, but somehow managed to mummify my face into a straight-ahead stare as I limped into the terminal.

My sister, one of my heroes, doesn’t take herself too seriously. Several years ago, she flew from Canada and met me in another state for our niece’s wedding. That morning she had carefully slathered a fake tan lotion onto her feet and legs- so she would look all summery and fresh for this joyous event. But several hours later, just before the rehearsal dinner, she looked down to see a splotchy mess of red and brown and white. What did she do? She threw her head back and belly-laughed! Grabbing her camera and holding her legs out she said, “Look! It looks like I have some dread disease! Isn’t that hilarious? Gotta get this picture!”

I loved her for that. She could have missed out on a special night simply by succumbing to a different attitude. The memory of her splotchy legs serves as a reminder for me, that laughter is good medicine.

Today I share one of my most undignified moments, er, day, week….when the source of the medicine is still a bit of a mystery. Well, you’ll see what I mean.

I had never been to Arizona before, so my husband and I jumped at the opportunity to attend a homeschooling leadership conference in Tucson.  Given some free time close to the end, a few couples gathered to visit the famous Saguaro Desert, the only place in the world where those iconic cacti with arms grow.

It was late in the afternoon, that magical hour when the radiance of thousands of cacti blanketing the red landscape was its most breathtaking. When we parked I eagerly started to plan our photo shoot. Such amazing color! Where should we stand? I picked my way gingerly to a bed of blue and yellow blooms. Then, so the camera could capture the delicate hues close to the ground, I carefully crouched on my haunches. All set! Mmmm, hmm…

Next, I hollered.

“Come on, everybody! Here’s a great sho..t…”  Oh, predictable, foolish, and awkward moment! I fell backwards, plop down in the cacti patch. Wh-a-a-t was I thinking? This time my yelp got their attention.

As the group hurried over to help me, they found a human cactus. Several different varieties had deposited hundreds of spines into my arms and legs, but especially into my derriere. Ouch! (What HAD I been thinking?)

One of the girls, noticing my skirt sort of pinned by the spines, squealed, “Look! The spines disappear under your skirt when you move!”

One of the men shook his head and grimaced, “That must really hurt.”

As the group queried and groaned, a different reaction overtook me. Not pain, but pure unadulterated hilarity. Could it have been brought on by my husband’s quick and “serious” assessment of the situation? “Honey,” he said, “we have to take your skirt off. There’s no other way to get the biggest spines out.” Seriously? Well, fortunately for me, my undies were uh, conservative. And fortunately for all of us, someone had a blanket in the van.

There I stood, half-naked behind a patchwork quilt held up by my girlfriends, in the craziest, non-life-threatening event in my history to date. And as my husband plucked and winced, what did I do?

I laughed.

But I take no credit for this. I really couldn’t help it.

Never in my life have I laughed so hard.

Even while swallowing the occasional unintentional giggle, they all imagined me in excruciating pain! Was my laughter from shock? Half covered in spines of every size, it seemed crazy that I would react this way. And maybe I was in shock. But I don’t think so. Mentally zooming out, taking in the situation from a bird’s eye view, laughter seemed the only reasonable response.

So, peering over the blanket I yelled to the guys over yonder, “Will somebody please get this picture?” But they just stood there, frozen in shock.

Consequently, we have no record of the event. None. Though this “plucking” is cemented in the brain of each member of the group, there is absolutely no proof.

One of the men in our party, a P.A., incredulous that we didn’t drive straight to an E.R., noted that the larger spines contained tiny barbs at their tips; so when pulled out, each one brought with it a tiny piece of flesh. Could those barbs have released some powerful anesthetic into my system? For after helping me into the van, during our drive home, one of the girls said, “You must be hurting back there. How can you even sit?”

“Oh, I’m fine,” I said. “It doesn’t hurt. But please change the subject! I’ll…. just….start…. la-a-augh…ing!”

Back at the hotel our room was perfectly equipped for “surgery.” Coincidence? You decide. How many hotel bathroom counters are long enough to lie face down under powerful lights? My hubby “surgeon” guesses he tweezed out another hundred spines.

Then, surprising even myself, I hopped off the counter, got all dressed up, and we attended the final banquet of the weekend, just a little bit late. Appearing completely normal, throughout the meal I would inwardly giggle, If these people only knew…

Now returning to the issue of proof, a follow-up backside photo would have sufficed. However, in order for it to be recorded in history as me, my face would have had to appear in the picture, and I didn’t relish that idea. But it is surely understandable that for several weeks my derriere looked similar to blackened hamburger, eventually turning each hue of that glorious desert.

Finally, to make a long story longer than you can imagine, after the initial plucking on the desert, then “round two” on the hotel bathroom counter, we continued to locate and remove the tiniest spines at home—every week or so—month after month. These minuscule discoveries provided regular comic relief from whatever life had served up that day.

Actually, the last tiny spine finally worked its way to the surface, revealing its tiny tip, one entire year later.

Now, that’s pretty good medicine!

Have you ever laughed at yourself when you might have cried? I’d love to hear about it.

Beware the Dead Ends!

Dead-End-Sign1

Can you picture it? A bright Saturday morning, a car full of energetic, breakfasted grandchildren, and a hunt for yard sale signs in a maze-like neighborhood. Yup, this is standard fare for a weekend at Granna and Granddaddy’s. Newly bequeathed dollar bills clutched tightly in their fists, all glee-filled eyes stay peeled for a yard sale with toys! Everyone wants to be the first one to spot the sale.

But sometimes there are “rabbit trails”- those times we drive for a long while with no luck. Dollars soften and crumple in sweaty palms as we pass street after street with only neatly-trimmed lawns and dogs walking their owners. On this particular Saturday one of the kids spots an old familiar “Dead End” sign. Have you noticed that these are slowly being replaced with “No Outlet” signs? Well, I’m wondering if the change could have been prompted by other conversations similar to this one:

Myles (8): Granddaddy, let’s not go down this road! See that sign? It is a Dead End!

My Hubby: Hmm. I thought I smelled something…

Richard (10): Ewww….Granddaddy, that is bad.

Margaret (3): What? What did you say? I want to see that dead end!

Me: (trying to cover giggles…) Hey, you’d better stop… and don’t laugh. She won’t drop it…

Five minutes later, after several turns….

Margaret: (“sniff, sniff”) I smell something. I think it must be a dead end!

Uncontrollable laughter followed by a convoluted explanation by a silly granddaddy….

Looking back I am amazed at how many dead ends there are in life. They are so common one doesn’t even feel compelled to use quotes around the words. You’ve heard it a thousand times.

“She tried talking to him, but that was sure a dead end.”

“The litigation went on for months, but it was a dead end after all.”

“Rather than producing a solution, the surgery was just a dead end.”

Not only are these “pesky varmints” (sorry, just couldn’t help myself…) strewn throughout the journey, many of them are clearly marked. Those are the ones over which we berate ourselves, and with good reason. With 20-20 hindsight, we wonder, why so curious? Why the compulsion to actually see the dead end? Later, full of regret, but much wiser, we wish we had looked at the sign and turned around.

Here are my top five Dead Ends for your pondering today. No smell included. See if after living life up to the autumn years, you might agree.

1. The “He Will See It My Way” Dead End.

No matter how hard you try you can’t cajole others to do for you or be for you what you want them to do and be.. it is a disappointing dead end. He or she will feel controlled, resent you, and pull away, even though all you want is to draw them closer into your world and your heart. I have taken a few rabbit trails down this sad dead end, and it hurts. It hurts to find out at the end that you have to go back and accept him just as he is. Eating the humble pie is not as delicious as the dream was– the dream of getting what we want. But the new route is always interesting and much more rewarding.

2. Give Me the Good Life First Dead End.

Grabbing the good times first and worrying about the possible hard times later is a terrible dead end. You end up having to go back to square one, do what you should have done in the first place, prep before you paint, study the map, take the class, read the book. It usually takes longer the next time around. So if you are thinking about a picturesque, scenic route to get where you want to go, there are dead ends on that route, and you may have to skip the scenery the second time. One of my favorite classics is “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Over and over he tried to get to the destination an easier way……

3. The Don’t Make Me Move! Dead End.

Two forms of this dead end are: I’m young, I’m fit. I don’t have to worry about exercise. Or, I’m too old and sore to worry about it anymore. Granted, exercise is a god in our society. Don’t worship at the shrine of a rock hard body. But if you are past 50 and thinking the couch is now an earned right, you are on the road to pain. At the dead end is atrophy. Think about poor Tin Man in Oz. He stopped moving, so he couldn’t anymore. So stretch, walk, lift– enough to sweat– several times a week. “I don’t have to do it yet” is a dead end statement.

4. The Emotional Laziness Dead End.

Smiles atrophy too. I have to think to smile in my home sometimes. And that is sad. It happened very slowly, but my face doesn’t light up automatically when my husband walks in the door, not like it used to.  I think smiling goes away with age, unless you see the dead end sign, turn around, and head the other direction. I must now smile often, on purpose, especially in my kitchen with my hubby.

5. The I Can Figure This Out Myself Dead End.

This is really the worst dead end of all. For reality has certainly taught me,  I can’t always figure things out myself. I need to think, of course!  But the question is: how truthfully do I think? Where does my responsibility to do and act leave off, and getting wisdom from Above begin. This is not a silly dead end. That’s why it is the worst. I am a Christian, but I don’t realize how much wisdom I miss by not waiting, praying, and waiting some more. So it requires a lot of turning around to get back to the Source of all truth.

So there you have them. Each one smells bad, wastes time, energy, and a lot of happiness. Do you struggle with side trips down any of these stinky dead ends?

Elegant Brokenness

“I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” Habakkuk 3:19 (ESV)

 “I must file all this paperwork carefully or they will take my apartment away,” she confided.

I sometimes wondered why God brought tall, elegant “Carlita” into my life. Her silky complexion and deep green eyes had befriended me at a Bible study, and we decided to share occasional lunches together, even though living on opposite sides of the city. During our times together she described earlier days of glamour and excitement as a designer and fashion model in both America and Europe — the “high life.”

But all that changed when her children grew up to reject her, travel and leisure succumbed to depression and poor health. Finally, when a devastating divorce robbed her of home, furniture, and stability, she was forced to subsist on government housing and food stamps.

Then, eleven years ago, she found forgiveness and peace when Christ completely transformed her heart. One would think her circumstances would also change. That at least her children and health would return. No. As a matter of fact, some circumstances have gotten worse.

Next week beautiful Carlita will celebrate her 72nd birthday. Never allowing me the luxury of complaint, she chooses the excruciating discipline of praise, often through tears of heartbreak. Daily small miracles keep her going.. “Look at my life!” she says. “Never forget how blessed you are to have a family and a home!”

And I feel ashamed of my whinings.

During a heart-wrenching chat on the phone the other day, she reminded me of this Habakkuk passage. “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food……yet I will rejoice in the Lord. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.”

Yes, God sometimes removes many of life’s earthly trappings. Yet, most of us have abundantly more than we need, besides Christ. But if all goes away, He is our strength! He will provide just what we need to encourage another fellow traveler for another day. Paul possessed the amazing gift of praising God “in want.” He said, “I have learned to be content with either want or plenty…”

And God gives that gift to my friend Carlita. What a blessing to have such an example! I no longer wonder why this elegant woman is in my life.

Oh, that I would elegantly praise You, Lord!  Whether little wants are taken away, or in utter brokenness, devoid of everything this fading world has to offer, let me rest in You. Amen

My Sicky Brain

Oh My Goodness123     Just imagine. It’s the middle of the afternoon. Your hair disheveled like an asylum inmate, sitting up in bed zombie-ish, nursing a hacking cough, dreading the real world responsibilities outside your room. And the doorbell rings. You think I’m not expecting anyone… whoa, I’m not even dressed, so…..

     And then it hits you like a ton of bricks! You… you invited company over today. Actually, you are hosting a Tea Party. Right now!

This did actually happen to me. Today. But, please be kind. I am sick. Well, I have been for over a week. What happens to the brain at that tail end of sickness? Does a Boredom Fever trigger an electrical short up there, and then, in the middle of gut- scrunching coughing, cause some temporary amnesia?

What other explanation can there be for not even looking at today’s calendar?

Forget that eight or nine things have already been canceled over the past eight days. Forget that it was Mother’s Day yesterday and almost a dozen peeps descended on the house for several meals. Forget that, except for loving my grands so much, I probably should have canceled Mother’s Day.

But don’t forget a Monday Tea Party with about seven ladies!

And yet it happened. If you could have been here it would have looked and sounded a bit like this.

Me: Hmmmm…. 2:00. the day is going so fast…. haven’t eaten…maybe I should make a…

Hubby: Honey, someone is walking up to the porch. Who is that?

Me: I have no idea. You go see. I’m not even dressed.

Doorbell: Dingdong!

Me: That’s Sally. Why would she be here? AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH !!!! NOOOOOO! (Grabbing a robe) This- can’t- be -happening!!  I had my tea scheduled for today. I sent out a reminder last week! What do I do?

Hubby: Uh, I don’t know. You didn’t mention it to me. Hi, Sally! Hey, Sandi is….

Me: Sally!! (melting into a pile..) I forgot! I know I sent the reminder. I thought I’d feel normal again. I had a house full of company yesterday. (cough, cough..)I didn’t even remember today yesterday. …sheesh…

Sally: Well, you are sick….(hug, hug) I’ll text everyone. It’s not like it’s a huge party with bunches of people….You are sick, for Pete’s sake…

Hubby: Yes, Honey, you are sick.

     Okay, okay. I am sick. I sensed in that moment that we are talking “sick” on several levels. The sickness of my brain is the one I hate the worst. Will it go away with the hacking cough? Not my brain go away, but the sickness go away. One can hope…

The Pit Was Empty…

“And they… cast him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water… “ Genesis 37:24 (ESV)

    “I’m so excited! I’ve got to tell you…”

It was 1983 and my friend Teena was loading up the kids for our shared nursing home visitation day. On these carefree afternoon outings she often bubbled cheerily as we drove. But today Teena was in rare form. “Okay, when Joseph was thrown into that pit by his brothers?”

    “Yeah. So?”

    “Well, I hardly noticed it either. Until today, it hit me! Joan, the pit was empty!”

     Furrowing my brow I confessed, “I don’t get it.”

    “Come on!” she grinned. “Think what could have been in there! Watery slime, drowned animals…creepy bones, or deep mud! But the pit was dry and empty! God didn’t have to give us that detail, but He did! Maybe it was for Joseph to look back on… through all those hard years.”

    My friend’s exuberance about the pit has never left me. Now, thirty years later,  I remember driving in silence for a while, each pondering all that would come into our lives– financial losses, parenting struggles, serious health issues.

    And as in Joseph’s life, whatever difficulty, no matter how deep and dark, the pit would be empty.

Heavenly Father, Help me to trust you in circumstances that seem so pit-like. For you have prepared the way into it, as well as out of it. We praise You! Amen