To Toss or Not to Toss…

    We are a toss it society. Unless it is extremely old, we are generally intolerant of anything no longer sparkly and new. While our grandparents saved, reused, patched, glued, and generally squeezed the life out of their stuff, whether they had to or not, their parents did have to; and after the deprivation of the Great Depression it seemed the right thing to do, just plain old common sense.

    Now, two generations later, we toss. Everything. Whatever it is, we can always get another one. So, why not toss it? Though this mentality can be tragic when it comes to relationships, it is often stupid when it comes to things. Yes, they wear out. (We don’t build them like they used to.) But mostly, our things wear out their welcome, become boring, out of style, less than perfect.

In my humble opinion, we need a new attitude.

Being a card-carrying certified Tightwad, I, however, have been know to carry my frugality too far. Food is one commodity which quickly goes “the way of all flesh.” And because of my penchant for conservation, my family keeps a keen eye on the kitchen, and what might not pass muster. Be assured, though, we do have solidarity on several basic rudimentaries.

a.) If it is a different color than when it was bought, toss it.

b.) If it is growing fur, toss it.

c.) If it stinks, toss it.

d.) If it has stared at you from the recesses of the fridge for over a week, and each time it catches your eye, there is no joy, toss it.

    However, when it’s a spice or a mix I tend to give lots of latitude, even years. And you know, sometimes it works out okay.

I recently decided to resurrect a large bag of corn muffin mix (Marie Callendar to be precise) from the farthest corner of the panty. I was preparing lots of food for a large family party– a bundt cake, seasoned baked potatoes, and salad. Getting out my largest casserole dish, I thought this might be a nice extra, a bonus. My ulterior motive was to get rid of the mix, and if it turned out, great! Otherwise, (you thought I’d say toss, didn’t you?) I wouldn’t bring it. (Maybe the cat would like it…)

So, when my extra-large pan of cornbread came out of the oven it was a nice sunny yellow, pulled slightly from the sides– and flat. About as flat as it had been when it went into the oven. Well, even though, untrue to form, I believed it was tossable, my husband, also untrue to form, suggested the kids might eat it. So into the car it went with everything else.

Once at our in-laws home, the husband looked it over, surmised it was uncooked, and popped it into the oven to bake. Then it was forgotten for at least two hours. Long after the meal, someone standing in the kitchen eating dessert noticed the oven was still on at 350 degrees. And there it was discovered, flat as ever, plus brown and hard, just getting ready to smell burnt. Thankfully I was there at the discovery to confess and then begin the demolition. I also wanted to toss the evidence.

     But as I was chopping away, almost working up a sweat, prying chunks from the pan, a friend of an in-law just happened to pass through the kitchen. Seeing me with kitchen versions of hammer and chisel, he yelled, “Stop! I want to taste that! I like hard brown cornbread! Mm..mm…..get me a ziplock. It’s going home with me.”

    Just imagine my joy! Finding a soulmate in the kitchen of an in-law! Someone who refused to call something tossable way more adamantly than me.

My family still wonders, “Will she ever learn to toss?”

Maybe not.

Girdles, Garters, and Pantyhose Bite the Dust….

Sometime during my growing up years, alleys in neighborhoods seemed to disappear.

All over the towns and cities, new dumpsters popped up in large parking lots or behind shopping centers to accommodate the burgeoning plethora of garbage our society generated.  And guess what stayed behind in the middle class alley trash cans? Girdles. Women dumped these gut-scrunching, breath-choking straight jackets for good, about the same time garter belts, with their long dangling tentacles, bit the dust. But before girdles and garter belts took a swan dive into the trash, every woman wore them.

vintage girtles

Why they virtually separated the girls from the women in much the same way a hair updo did in the 19th century. Women tugged and pulled on those things as if their entire self-esteem depended on it. And then, in practically the time it took Dorothy to click her magic shoes together, pantyhose swept the scene.

Pantyhose, welcomed during the 60’s and 70’s as the new icon of feminine loveliness, differed from their nylon predecessors only slightly. Seams had gone out in the 40’s – you know, that dark line that didn’t always stay straight on the back of your leg. And the choices were still few: size (about 3 or 4), color (about 4 or 5), and style (nude toe or reinforced). But getting a run became much more annoying! Instead of just one stocking, the whole thing (er, pair) would have to be replaced. So pantyhose were definitely more expensive at first; and, as a frugal nut, I often questioned the trade-off. For they weren’t more comfortable to wear. Not at all. With a tendency to succumb to gravity at the crotch, they were hotter by far. Nonetheless, our national love affair with these modified tights escalated on into the 80’s, when it reached a peak the likes of which a young person today could barely imagine. Whole stores sprang up in malls, dedicated completely to pantyhose in every price range.

My sister-in-law, just home from a 4-year stint on the foreign mission field, returned from a shopping trip saying, “I just wanted a simple pair of pantyhose! Tan, medium, reinforced toe. But there were aisles and aisles of them– inside eggs, in little bags, in boxes, and every color and texture imaginable!” Poor thing, in just four years, the phenomenon had soundly established itself.
But wait a minute. Soundly? Not quite. As fast as it came, the phenomenon disappeared. Heat, sliding crotches, discomfort, but mostly a brand new new love affair with casual, all gave the boot to pantyhose. Fast forward to the present. Can you even find pantyhose in the department store? Well, yes, we do have some “wild things” relegated to a corner of the sock department. Black, lacy or striped pantyhose have been making a comeback as companions to the stiletto heels. But for regular daily wear, they have been joyously banished almost as soundly as the garter and girdle. I’ll bet they even contributed to the big dumpster boom.

And I for one am glad of this change. Being a card-carrying member of the Pantyhose Rebellion of the late 90’s, I have been positioning myself in the sun just so my legs can shed that pasty white and look a tiny bit like those horrid hose. And I also relish the fact that dumpsters everywhere have a bit more room in them because of my cause. If you go to Kohl’s, and look really closely, tucked somewhere In the sock department, you can find an old memorial placque with these words engraved:

We came,
We left.

You are free.

From the Alley to the Stage…..

Thirty-five years ago, when our family lived in one of the most beautiful cities in North America, Vancouver, B.C., our home was part of a middle class neighborhood where alleys commonly created a no man’s land between back yards. Though unpaved, rutted and dusty, these passageways conjured no images of terror like their dank, rat-infested and dangerous counterparts we often see in the movies. As a matter of fact, most neighborhoods needed alleys for trash pickup and storm sewers, and to pack or unload cars.

alleylane4

The alley which ran between my back yard and my friend’s back yard was our place to play if it wasn’t too muddy. It did smell back there. After all, our garbage cans couldn’t have been more than ten feet away. But it was our own No Man’s Land. And since we weren’t in anyone’s actual yard, and with no jurisdiction, a sense of equality and freedom prevailed. My friend was not a bit older than me, but she was tougher, and it was through her I learned that some dads had beer in the refrigerator, and that when you fight with a girl, you go for the hair. Ouch.

Now, though already a staple in many a household, our family owned no TV. It would be a full year or so before my father even thought of buying one.   “Hhhm, half the time it’s just fuzz!  No decent programs on anyway,” he would say.

So we were definitely not “cutting edge.” With only a radio which played solely the news and some sports, the alley was where I learned about entertainment.

Early that year the Elvis Presley phenomenon took Canada by storm. My friend said I had to learn “You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog.” And learn I did. Let me tell you, she had it down– the shimmy, the shaky voice, and the pretend microphone. Though my parents would certainly not have approved, that dusty alley is where I discovered I was born to perform. Unwilling to give it all she did, I did put my voice out there and learned the words perfectly.  She also taught me “Tan Shoes With Pink Shoelaces.” Remember?  “…a pokadot vest, and man, oh man….” Surely you remember! The last line was,  “…a big panama with a purple hat band!” Now all I needed was a cane and a hat! Sadly, the younger men had begun to quit wearing those handsome panamas to work and town, and my dad was one of them. I had no straw hat or fine felt one. But somehow I always found a bit of a hat around the house, and a broom or mop handle made a great cane.

You know I never saw the front of my friend’s house, nor did I ever consider she had one. I was six, in the first grade, and to me her house was only a back side, a tiny yard, a fence, a gate, and an alley. We sang and danced hour after hour. Even after teaching me the Charleston it still never dawned on me I had no earthly idea what Charleston music sounded like, nor had I ever heard Elvis sing. Leaning forward with that “hands to knees crossover” move, I was ready for the stage.

And strangely enough, within the year I had my shot at it. Our public school was putting on a Christmas program, and there was a boy in my class who supposedly was a “professional” singer. How he earned the title I never knew, but we, being the class “singers” were to perform a duet, “Santa Claus is Coming To Town.” And because we were thrown together in this way, I was horrified to find out that we would be staying after school to practice. I was further horrified to discover that he stank.

It couldn’t have been greasepaint from performing, or the food his mom cooked in an ethnic kitchen. I wouldn’t have been so put off by either. This was a unique and distasteful body odor with which I had never before come in contact! And there we were, a singing team! What a conflict! On the one hand, what a thrill to perform for all the folks; on the other hand, that smell permeated every practice session.

Now although I was dressed as a regular first grader in holiday attire, he performed in the whole Elvis garb- fringed leather jacket, white pants, slicked back hair. At the time, I thought maybe he just liked Elvis, but looking back, maybe he was a six year-old Elvis impersonator. Did I care? No way! As a matter of fact, show business had greatly paled by the end of first grade. Overrated if you had asked me. The applause after the show meant that it was over. The whole experience.

elvis-presley-dancing-thesuiteworld

Who knows? Maybe I was spared some future trauma by giving up my dream. But in the early 50’s, Elvis rock n roll, Softshoe, and Charleston slipped into the alley of my childhood city life.

Vanilla Isn’t Boring Any More

Not every day, but often I try to remember things which are surprisingly different now than they used to be. How long has it been since you just thought of some little smell or comfort from decades ago, and it made you smile? Dozens of tastes and comforts are different, and remembering is a great part of aging. It exercises our minds and also makes us more grateful for the present creature comforts we enjoy. So, take a stroll with me into a few of the little memories and memorials, of youth.

What about vanilla, for example?  As a child I remember vanilla as a taste only, a yummy, yet oft-considered boring flavor for ice cream, pudding, cakes, and cookies. Just a sort of non-flavor flavor.

But it was my flavor. Always afraid of trying anything new, it was my automatic default flavor.
“I’ll take vanilla please.”

Ice cream

“But, honey, There are so many other fun ice cream flavors to try. How about raspberry?”

“No, Mom, I just want vanilla.”
Vanilla was safe.

So, who would have guessed that, no longer boring, it would grow up to become one of the most common and versatile aromas any old ten bucks can buy? Who would have thought of mixing it with a thousand flavors and aromas –fruits or flowers — and then put it in pretty much anything: candles, perfume, shampoo, room deodorizers, incense, shelf liners- to name only a few! Vanilla Something or Something Vanilla is everywhere. Why, oh why, in my youth, didn’t I buy stock in a vanilla bean plantation? For that matter, why didn’t I marry into the vanilla business? Caribbean paradise? Vanilla by the boatload? Sure missed that boat….

Oh, I have more! Check in tomorrow!

Cast Aside or Called Aside?


    When I was single and also shortly after getting married, my life was full- mostly full of ministry. I taught in a Christian school full time, had my own Sunday School class, sang in a chorale besides the pulpit choir, helped with church suppers, and attended women’s Bible studies. Between school conferences with parents and rehearsing or preparing for one of the above commitments, my new husband felt a wee bit sidelined- cast aside. He brought my calendar to me one day and said, “Something must go. Please don’t let it be me.”

Soon children began to arrive; and that is when I began, for the first of many periods in my life, to understand the feeling. Now, home all day with precious wee ones, little adult conversation, my duties centered around blowing noses, wiping bottoms, and cooking and cleaning. My hubby could always count on my presence at the end of the day, albeit somewhat frazzled. His was the life that seemed to really matter. For sure, it had to be more interesting! I remember several times standing at the door waiting for him, keys in hand, as he was arriving home. The minute he dropped his keys on the counter, I blew him a kiss and bolted out to meet a friend for a needed cup of encouragement (coffee) or quick shopping trip— not really knowing who I was any more.

Over time, things didn’t get better. By “things” I mean my keen lack of feeling involved and more generally useful. As a matter of fact my older children’s needs demanded more concentrated time than ever! I truly felt that I had been sidelined, sort of cast aside by God. Keeping a happy heart had taken on a whole new dimension of effort. Good and enjoyable outside ministries and activities had to be replaced by time alone with God. Getting to know him, finding Him real and faithful through His Word. Finding my identity as his child, and trusting Him to work out all my wonderings…

In these many years since the first time the feeling of uselessness overwhelmed me I have been gathering devotionals. Watchman Nee, Andrew Murray, Hannah Whitehall Smith, Oswald Chambers, to name a few. Through the challenges of these writers I have been drawn into the sweet private presence of God – whenever I would take the time. And looking back, those times were my sanity as well as my joy.

One of my favorite devotionals is the time-honored classic “Streams in the Desert” by Mrs. L.B. Cowman. If you haven’t added this to your bookshelf, I would recommend including it as one of your top five.  Written during the throes of caring for a dying husband, this loving wife compiled the works of dozens of authors to be an encouragement to discouraged hearts.

Have you ever felt “cast aside?” In “Streams in the Desert” John Ruskin explains that rests are as important a part of our lives as they are in music. What if every instrument played non-stop? He admonishes us this way:

“God does not write the music of our lives without a plan. Our part is to learn the tune and not be discouraged by the rests… How does a musician read the rests? He counts the break with unwavering precision and plays his next note with confidence, as if no pause were ever there.”

Called Aside———-

…..Oh, knowledge deeper grows with Him alone;
In secret oft His deeper love is shown,
And learned in many an hour of dark distress
Some rare, sweet lesson of His tenderness.

Called aside——–

O restful thought—-He doeth all things well;
O blessed sense, with Christ alone to dwell;
So in the shadow of Your cross to hide,
We thank you, Lord, to have been called aside.

So, we are not ever cast aside, even when it feels so. We are called aside for His own care and pruning and training. He has work for us, but our preparation is often alone, with just Him.

Microwave an Egg at Your Own Risk

I love eggs and always have. They are an incredibly versatile food.  As a matter of fact, though I don’t drop eggs often, there has been a time or two when I just couldn’t see it go straight from the floor to the trash can- so I scooped it up. Well, a.) the yoke didn’t break, so at least that part could be salvaged, b.) my floor had recently been washed, and c.) the egg was just going to be cooked anyway, so wouldn’t the odd germ be killed? Sounds reasonable to me. To have part of an egg to cook is better than no egg at all.

 

broken-egg-1-3

    Now you may be wondering if I am a single issue Frugal Nut or if I am Generally Tight. The answer is the latter, but that is a discussion for another day.

Yesterday, in my second week of sequestered paradise in the Colorado mountains, my attempt at salvaging an egg almost blew up my friend’s microwave. I would not only have lost the egg, but also have to buy the cabin a new appliance. Here’s what happened. As I was finishing a luscious chef salad for Hubby and me, replete with greens, meat, and other veggies, all I needed was the added protein of an egg. (Why just one? Refer to second paragraph above.) Dropping the lone thing into a pan of water, turning on the gas, I did remember that everything takes longer to cook at an elevation of 8,800 feet. I had already been experiencing that reality. But after about 8 minutes of steady boiling I was sure my egg was hard. It was not.

As I tried to peel my treasure, it jiggled and wobbled in the middle, so I carefully removed half of the shell and popped it into the microwave, setting the timer for 20 seconds. And as cooking takes longer in the mountains, where I might have started out with 10 or 12 seconds, I increased it. Yes, I knew of the alarming fussing and popping which ensues if you leave it too long. What I didn’t know, and how could anyone, was that the microwave didn’t know it was at a higher elevation. So at 12 seconds the egg exploded. Loudly. Tiny egg shards covered every square inch of the interior of the microwave. Egg carnage. My ears rang, my heart leaped up to my throat, and I feared for the vastly more valuable life of the microwave.

But there, peering up at me from the napkin, was a pathetic though recognizable yoke. Mangled and surrounded by craggy pieces of white it looked like maybe half an egg. But it was calling my name, and you know what I did next…uh, huh… I gingerly distributed it to our bowls. We each got one fourth of an egg; and I cleaned up the mess.

The microwave did survive, and our salads were scrumptious.

But there are those in my close circle of friends who have observed that just possibly I should examine the pathology of my frugality.

That just possibly some adjustment is in order, to serve the greater good. Possibly.

Ice Skating Days

vintage skating cabin

Who doesn’t just love that opening skating scene in A Charlie Brown Christmas? How many movies regale us with skaters gliding on the ice rink of Central Park? And what about that musical jewelry box with a figure skater piroetting on glass while the music plays the theme from Dr. Zhivago? Everybody remembers Charlie Brown. There are dozens of Central Park scenes in movies. And girls with that very jewelry box? Too many to count.

But I remember the real thing. Wisconsin, where in long and bitter cold winters, one of the presents all kids wanted to find under the Christmas tree was a new pair of ice skates. My sister and I wanted figure skates. They had to be white with nice blade guards, and have high tops, with a thousand hooks and holes to lace. When they come up high on the calf, your legs look so pretty.

Skates

And after Christmas, to use those precious gifts didn’t take a very long wait. As we’d finish a lunch of piping hot vegetable soup on a sunny Saturday, clouds billowing over a glistening cityscape, we’d decide, “Hey, Mom, can we go skating? Look how perfect it is out there! Sunny, cold, and not too much wind!”

“Ok, kids,” she would say. “Stay warm out there!”

Then bundling up like round, pudgy snowmen, we’d tie the laces together, throw our skates over our shoulder, and half waddle, half run down the street to the neighborhood ice rink. A short walk, chilled toes vanished when the sparkling rink, full of stumbling and streaking bodies came into view! Why oh, why did we have to go into that little oven of a warming house to get our skates on? It was hot in there, I mean really hot, like 75 degrees! So in no time flat we were laced up, crashing over the rink’s rough edges, into the bracing wind, on the glorious ice.

Whee! Around and around we’d go. It was fun to try to hold hands with a brother or sister or friend. Thick layers of gloves and mittens made a solid hold almost impossible. But we’d still try to throw each other in circles, quickly losing our grip, someone always ending up “down.” The ice smelled like a musty mixture of wood and dirt, like snow. Up again and around and around…
If you wanted to try some fancy spins and figure eights, you could head to the middle where there was always a party. Skaters laughed and taught each other new skills. When the cold began to bite, out to the outer circle we’d shoot, leaning forward to pick up speed. You could stay warm a lot longer doing that.

Of course at some point everybody gets cold. That’s when the miniature warming house with smoke pouring out a disproportionately large chimney, like the pair of arms you rebuffed earlier, stood ready to embrace you. Inside, crude wooden benches lined the walls surrounding a potbellied stove of coal or a crackling wood fire. The smell of the fire was easily trumped by the powerfully pungent smell of steaming wool. Filling every inhaled breath it made my head swimmy.  I loved it, yet every time I entered the warming house I had to brace myself against the wool’s intoxicating aroma.

Upon entering the tiny house, every skater knew he only thought he was chilled to the bone. It was a trick their minds played. The actual only cold parts were fingers and toes- and sometimes knees and noses. So this was a routine- a ritual.. Find a seat, talk very little, remove mittens, scarves, gloves, laying them beside the fire. Next, hold bright red fingers as close to the door of the stove as you possibly can. Talk little, take off your skates, and hold your feet up as close as you can get. Then put it all back on again! Amazingly this ritual often only took 10 minutes! And you’re out the door again, relishing the cold.

Throughout the years I never wondered who stoked the fires of the little house, keeping all of us continuously toasty. I never wondered where the little warming house went during the summers. Maybe I thought it magically appeared at the first week of below-zero temps. Maybe all children are so accustomed to their world “just being,” when it goes away it’s never thought of again. Or maybe many years later they remember and question how something came to be or how it disappeared. I never knew and never wondered. It just “was.”

But what I do know for sure, I was there for the real thing. No Charlie Brown cartoon or Central Park fantasy. It was winter in Wisconsin, and I was the girl in the jewelry box- on real ice, studded with diamonds, skating a Saturday away.

What about you? Do you have any outdoor winter memories from childhood?

Drifting…

Drifting Cover

      Ahh, the grandeur of the Rockies….there is nothing like it. Beyond the railing of the wide porch of our log cabin is a panoramic view that would make anyone’s jaw drop in a solitary sigh of tinyness amidst such bigness. The wind blows hard, temps hover in the minuses until well into the morning; but in the full sun of the afternoon I can sit and read and hear only the occasional car from below. The huge snowdrifts don’t melt; yet I can sit for awhile and actually feel warm. Sky so blue I wonder if I ever truly knew blue.

And we are alone, together, in all this bigness. Unlike our real world of the suburban house and busy schedules, we are secluded on a mountaintop without another human soul as far as eye can see. Only nature, huge mule deer, rabbits, and coyotes– unless we venture out for a trek to town. How did we mentally prepare for this? With anticipation? Or with trepidation? Did we know what we were doing?! Did we even do it on purpose? Aren’t we still in our right minds enough to know that we are just too old for this kind of reverie?  Surely we know that this hyper-togetherness would be only proximity-togetherness, two people each in their own world much of the time. Lonely. Quiet. Unbearable.

What about you? Does time, more than a week, alone with your mate sound good?  Or does the very thought of it bring doubt of one’s sanity? Majestic mountains, snowdrifts, and solitude– a dream? Or a disaster?

Hubby told me about a different kind of drift a long time ago, but I’ve been bumping into it on the web often recently.

You can never drift together, you only drift apart.

Apparently my curious husband in his youth had tied two boats together in some body of water, tied them perfectly side by side about three feet apart, not always an easy proposition, then cut the rope to see what they would do: drift closer or drift apart. They drifted apart every time! He also found it incredible how far those boats would drift, if left to themselves.

Staying emotionally connected is much the same. After decades of raising a family, navigating separate obligations both in and outside the home, playing separate roles, maintaining closeness is nothing short of plain out and out work. With no kids to draw you together you can be merely sharers of real estate and a daily/ weekly routine. You didn’t want to drift apart, but it seems to have just happened.

And it can actually be comfortable. Life doesn’t have to be at all hectic to drift. You can be rolling along with a routine that seems to work great for both of you, and there you are comfortably drifting apart. Then when a family crisis comes along the drift is accelerated. It takes real work, doubly hard work to pull you back together. Either way, drifting or dragged, it depends on you. What will you do? Grow apart in boredom? Or grow apart in crisis?

Well, we two have been working to counter the drift while “vacationing” in Colorado. As an already “working vacation,” Hubby planning for the coming year, remotely running the office, and helping maintain the “off the grid” property we are borrowing, our days can be busy. So easy to let one hour follow the next, each in our own world. But we decided at the outset of our two weeks alone, to be intentional about connecting with each other. As a matter of fact I challenged him to do something new, with me, every day. Or do something old “with a twist”, doing it as we’d never done it before. And he went for it!

So, here is a rundown of our days lately. Of course some of our creativity I won’t write, but the following activities were ones which might encourage you. Don’t let the drift get you. Fight it.

Day 1  First of a nice warm snap.
Feeling very bold indeed we set up blankets and sheets on the wraparound porch and  “enjoyed each other”  with the sun beating down on our heads. Breezy and cool, and sunny and hot all rolled into one. Delightful.

Day 2  A colder day with lots of reading and emails. Supper a bit late….
Fixing an easy supper we decided to eat by candlelight in the clawfoot tub. Yes, we filled the tub, so a tv tray beside us held our plates. Just a bit tricky keeping the food out of the water, but cause for a few laughs…. A propane heater kept us toasty. Actually it got so toasty, Hubby had to jump into the shower to cool off. Poor guy, we girls like the water a bit hotter.

Day 3  Again sunny and almost warm…
Donning boots, scarf, and mittens we hit the off-road where dozens of rock outcroppings sprout massive towers all around the property. Looking at the world from the top of a high boulder is amazing. Getting up there produced a few giggles. Actually, Hub was impressed with my climbing. Are you kidding? It was pure heaven huffing and puffing to keep up with my late 60’s guy. With these workouts I think he may stick around for awhile..

Day 4  Windy and cold…
Bundling up tight and riding a 4-wheeler— fast, really fast, on trails surrounding the cabin. I could say more about this but it would get a little “racy.”

Day 5  Deciding to stay in…
Okay, reading to each other from the new devotionals we picked up at thrift shops in the area wasn’t that new. As champion thrifters we also love to read to each other. But a variety of choices, by a warm fire, one after the other, is new.

Day 6  Wind blowing outside…Brrrrr…
Game after game of Boggle, Scrabble, and Dominoes (all great games for two) definitely isn’t new. Ah, but here’s the new part, and I mean new– I won! (By now, he should know the benefits of losing once in awhile…but alas, he is wired to win, no matter what other prize he may miss.)

Day 7  Warm bedroom, dusky, cloudy morning, done with sleep…
Mmm..Leisurely eating toast and drinking coffee in bed –oops, not new either. But watching the sunrise over snow-capped peaks- peaking into our window (pun intended) thinking of almost nothing better to do, well, that’s almost new.

How will you resist that pesky, persistent, plain old drift? Resist or it will get you.

 

How God Worked in My Marriage

   “Hey, Mom, don’t be long! The babies will wake up soon and we don’t know what’s for supper!” But I was already gone, tears of desperate frustration flowing. Winding down our mountain road alone was not unusual; it was just me once again at the end of myself, anger bubbling up and spilling out.
I’m not coming back until I can function normally, without yelling or crying.
Ha! I almost laughed. Of course I would wind back up the hill and fix supper as usual!
It was not the four children who were the problem, challenging as two teens and two toddlers can be. No, after 18 years of marriage I was drowning in self-pity, self-doubt, loneliness and confusion. Neither my husband nor I felt loved by the other. How had we gotten here?

The Beginning- Miss Desperation Meets Dashing Desperate

In the beginning, “desperate” could effectively describe both Walt and me. Not desperate in getting dates. It was a different kind of desperate.

Walt, the third child of four, raised in a small town in North Carolina, was a social dynamo in school. He looked just like the little boy in “It’s a Wonderful Life” whose ear was hit. He loved to hunt, spending endless hours in the woods. During high school summers he helped his dad in the family pest control business.  He married his long-time girlfriend, but there was no honeymoon;  within weeks he realized that her unplanned pregnancy embittered her so deeply she would hardly be civil to him. So, in the depths of utter rejection, he decided to pursue his love of music. He put together a band and became a professional musician. The college and nightclub scene, glamor, drugs and alcohol became his new life. Back at home the few attempts they made to heal the marriage produced two more children, but no resolution. And so Walt’s career, partly by default, mostly by design, took top billing.

Disaster struck, however, when a letter arrived that began with one word, “Greeting.” His band on the verge of fame, the army drafted Walt for a two-year stint during Viet Nam. With his career gone, a worse downhill spiral ensued. But Walt had a praying mother. It is an amazing story of redemption. In the midst of suicidal thoughts, poverty and isolation, a co-worker witnessed to him about the Lord Jesus. And the Lord saved him. At 29 he became a new man, a changed man. And “desperate” to start over.

I was born in Canada, the eldest of three. According to my Mom, Jesus became my Savior at 5 years; I don’t remember not knowing Him. My father, who worked as a youth in the Belfast shipyards, survived WWII there, sailed to Canada at 24 to become a pastor/evangelist. He married my mother, a nurse, and after I was born, moved us back to Ireland where my sister and brother were born. So after several pastorates, when I had grown into an exuberant 12 year-old, the family finally settled in Wisconsin.

School activities marked every waking hour. My Christianity did keep me out of deep trouble, but all in all I was a lot like Charlie Brown– a wee bit wishy washy. After college I landed a teaching job in far away North Carolina, precisely in the town where Walt had been raised. But  a busy life of church activities couldn’t stop the growing seeds of insecurity. In my mid-twenties I was thoroughly tired of singles apartments, “surfacy” dating, and having to scrounge for car insurance when my company dumped me for too many accidents. Thus in a sense I was also “desperate.” Desperate for the appearance of my handsome knight in shining armor. Surely he would sweep me onto his magnificent steed, ride into the romantic amber sunset, and heroically pay my car insurance!

And, voila, he arrived!  Having moved back home after two full years of university, hard work, and discipling by the Christians there, he was “substance-free” —and adamant.
“We are a perfect match,” he said. He’d fallen in love with my smile, and I with his hope for our future.  Absolutely, in my heart Caution whispered. But…We dated six months and married after a short engagement. Yes, we were Christians, but nonetheless carrying a boatload of expectations. He needed, expected, a wife who would accept and admire him, hold down a good job, cook his meals, keep house — all while he fiscally “caught up” with his peers. And he was behind, mind you. No high-maintenance chick for him. I, at 26, on the other hand, married to be cherished and cared for, to enjoy our babies on a checkered quilt under a shade tree. With Romance, lots of it!

Depression or Temper Tantrum- You Decide

In August of our first year he literally lunged out of the gate in his race to middle-class security. “Hey, Hon! I’ve bought a farm- a Christmas tree farm in Virginia!”

“Really? Today. You bought a farm.”

The following year our first child, a daughter, was born;  then a year later our son. I traveled back and forth to the farm on weekends, helped Walt keep in touch with his first three children, and taught school. My career of choice had turned to motherhood, but I was doing both! One day we came home to a flooded kitchen after having left the windows open to a major storm. My well-meaning husband found me crumpled on the floor, laughing hysterically. As soon as he picked me up, the tears came, and he knew. Exhaustion. Not Romance.

When the farm house burned down and Walt sold the farm to an investor one would think his attentions would turn fully to our own local business. Wrong. Wholesale Christmas trees, real estate investing, plus pest management. By year 7 I had quit teaching school to homeschool our two little ones. And by then our biggest struggle had clearly emerged. Managing conflict. My outgoing personality seemed to clash with his leadership, creating an atmosphere of competition. As he hated conflict, my dire need for affection would bite my tongue rather than question or disagree. If I did, the chill was palpable. He felt attacked. I was afraid he would leave me. And there it was, a doormat/dictatorship in the making. Walt, full of his own fears, acting like a dictator, was a severely wounded, sensitive man; and I, playing the role of doormat, was a very angry, needy girl, on a roller coaster of disillusionment.

Over the next few years, even with a crazy schedule of entertaining, church activities, and homeschooling, my growing unhappiness brought out piles of marriage books.  I was determined to win more affection and attention from my over-achieving, often depressed husband. But he just felt manipulated. Even with this tension, for years I had also wanted more children. Perhaps I thought this would draw us closer together. So when our second child was 9, he agreed. And, deja vu,  two “latter babies” were born- a year apart. They did bring new joy to our home and we experienced a sweet, though brief, “honeymoon” period. When our 4th and last child, a daughter, was three weeks old, I was 42, Walt fulfilled one of his dreams and moved us from the city to a beautiful spot in the Blue Ridge Mountains. So pushing Rejection and Anger temporarily to the back burner, I began my quieter rural life.

Now walking for exercise had been routine for years, and after getting settled I was anxious to tackle those challenging hills. It wasn’t long until a young mom from church, Sharon, became my new walking partner. She also filled the bill as God’s instrument for my refining. Her candid, perceptive gait paced my emotionally unstable one. The mesmerizing crunch of autumn leaves combined with massive vistas were the backdrop for the outpouring out my woes. Her perspective, however, was as crisp and clear as the dazzling blue sky. Walt was the one getting the bad rap. Lovingly she would insist, “Sandi, there is nothing wrong with your marriage — or Walt. You need a new heart. Ask God to give you a new heart. One that lets Walt be Walt.”

How dare she? She did not understand. But God had engaged my stubborn will —and the fight was on. Oh, sure I prayed,  “Lord, change me.” But I knew and God knew, the only right thing was for God to change him to meet my needs.

Over the next several years as our walks continued, God enrolled me in many new classrooms. Our construction business failed, Walt’s depression worsened, I found myself homeschooling a second pair of kids, my second set of course; and our eldest daughter got married. Then when Menopause made it’s official appearance I thought I could just hide out forever in “them thar hills”. But no, Walt’s career took a hairpin curve and we made another major family move — this time to bustling San Antonio. Yet, through all this my friend didn’t give up on me. Half a continent away, she remained resolute. God will win, one way or another. It was year 2001.

Now mean, menacing menopause was not a piece of cake. It put a spotlight on my pain, made settling into the new Texas surroundings harder. When our 2nd born son got married, I continued to wilt. Then what only happens to other folks happened. Their first baby, a boy, was born way too early, weighing in at one pound, 4 ounces. His tiny life hanging in tenuous uncertainty, I felt strangely detached. Even tho’ God did spare him, seeing my son and his incredible wife through it all, sadness lingered in my heart.

In those seemingly endless months of self-absorption I would often leave the family to close myself in my room and cry. Was this depression? Or a long, drawn out temper tantrum? The sermons I heard each week, the scripture I read pointed to selfishness and a need for repentance. But despite all of God’s patient dealing with me, I was stuck. Stuck in critical mode– critical of the way Walt lead, critical of the way he loved me. And he knew it. My  need was actually sabotaging its object. Romance was slipping away.

Now, I would like to tell you that everything changed with the news of breast cancer in 2003. That this turned me around. But if I did, I would be lying. Yes, the cancer was fairly advanced with lymph nodes involved; there was surgery, chemo, radiation, and reconstruction. But, since detachment now felt at home in my heart and in my marriage I had chosen safety over vulnerability, Walt’s deep agony couldn’t touch me. He was terrified he would lose me, but he seemed unreachable. Were we really in trouble? Should we have ever gotten married? So many questions, so much doubt. Fear gripped me. Why was I here, and why would I get well? I was really quite sick, but it was way more than physical. Then one day after a particularly difficult part of chemo, we decided to go to a Christian counselor. After listening to my litany of complaints, my anger and loneliness, he said something I thought was the coldest, most uncounselor-like thing I had ever heard.

“Sandi, stop. When these moods hit you, you must call a friend immediately, and don’t go to that place. How will you get well if you insist on your pity parties?”
I was so furious my bald head was about to explode. But I went home and called my friend in the mountains. Listening quietly she said, “Hmmmm….ditto.” Of course, I knew she’d say that.

Okay, Lord, you win. You must be all I need.

The Ongoing End

I began to get well. First, I had to deal with addiction to my favorite drug, Tears.
This took excruciating practice. I vigorously fought my moods. Some days I marked as “Turning Points,” but whether they were or not, most days showed a little progress. I asked and expected God to fill me with a new acceptance for exactly the man Walt was–trying to remember and thank Him specifically for the miracles we had witnessed in our married life. And so, reading my Bible, often aloud, I inched out of my pit. I came to see that if I was embarrassed by my past thinking I was on the right track. When I reverted back to it, I was veering off. Walt says often that when he first met Christ, “everything was opposite from before. What was up was now down, and what was good was now bad.” Getting my thinking right is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, and it is an ongoing battle. And getting physically well was God’s poetic justice. He must not have been through with me yet.

So, of course, “life” continued with setbacks. We had just started a business in Texas so had no insurance. And there were more surgeries, more business troubles, setting off more debilitating financial losses. But there were also more blessings– many beautiful grandchildren, renewed health, daily energy– all amid grateful days. Gratefulness, as a discipline, became my new friend. But mainly and miraculously, I no longer saw Walt as the problem. Our marriage was validated. Love could grow.

Accepting him with all his imperfections, joking with him, thinking up playful things to do together brought a newness. As his fears, insecurities, guilt, and depression began to lift, a new person emerged.  With a new desire to lead, warmth characterized him. Lying next to me in bed, his fitful breathing smoothed out.

How, while escaping down that mountain road so long ago, had I failed to grasp the truth? God loved me! Only by realizing God’s love could I accept Walt’s love. And he did love me. Oh, the sadness of wasted years. Years of pursuing, hiding, pursuing, hiding. But now….how much more, the glory of a pleasant today, and heading into a bright future.

As you might guess Walt likes to be at home alone together. Sometimes he’ll come over to my desk and quietly wait until I leave my computer to cuddle down beside him. Then he will look into my eyes and say, “Thank you, Honey, for not giving up on me, on us. Where would we be if you had?” Then I tell him, it was really he and the Lord who didn’t give up!

God’s work in my emotions is an on-going process. Even with an empty nest in this autumn season of our lives,  I can revert to my old thinking patterns in the twinkling of a millisecond; and I can react to Walt’s fears even quicker. However, as I keep going back to God’s truth, I have peace. He says His grace is sufficient for me and He will meet all my needs.  I choose to believe Him.

And Romance? After 36 years shouldn’t it be too late? Oh, no. Romance is and always has been a matter of daily forgiveness and diligent work —at any age. It is never too late. Then of course there’s the matter of order.  For true success  “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, then all these (other) things will be added to you.”

What about that Desperation? That is oh, so thankfully a distant memory. Did I really yell and cry in those earlier days? Yes, for a long time. And there are still witnesses out there to prove it. They do come over often with their broods — 11 grandchildren– and they don’t hold it against me. But take this memo: their babies are probably napping right now, so I wouldn’t call and ask them.

Just One Hour More

Hi, dear friends! May you have many weeks of mornings like this…..

Monday morning, sweet repose…
Alarm clock mocks a chilly nose.
You hit the button, defy the world,
“Just one hour more!” our plea’s unfurled.
Soft sheet pulled up shuts out the cold,
These early hours are love’s pure gold!

Tuesday, fog in frozen air…
Your “G’morning” brushes tousled hair.
Beyond the mist resides the day,
Responsibility is miles away.
Just one hour more in our castle called “Delight”,
Pretending boldly we still have night!

Wednesday, warm in shadows deep…
At not-quite-five we cannot sleep.
In electric darkness hearts beat fast.
Can it be twentysomething years have passed?
With laughing eyes, we seize the hours,
Alarm clock knows this time is ours!

Thursday, billowy clouds drift by.
Your arms surround me, shoulder, thigh.
“No excuse, get up!” shouts the sun.
“Work, chores- they must be done!”
But, cologne lingers from the night before,
And no one stirs beyond our door…

Your kisses whisper, “Just one hour more..”

Friday dawns all crisp and sweet.
You touch my chin as our eyes meet.
“This love is bliss,” you softly say.
“But, Hon, we must get up today.
Alarm went off an hour ago!
Okay, you win, just a minute more — or so…”

Now Saturday’s here, a breezy morning…
Your body moves to the music of snoring.
From close behind I slide up closer,
Slip a hand over muscular shoulder.
“Honey, today our time is free!
Let’s sleep ’til noon, or two, or three!”

So thus weeks, years, then decades pass.
While children, grandkids grow up fast.
Time holds no bounds on marital bliss.
The persistent few partake of this.
A thousand glories from heaven pour
Gold, spun from just one hour more.