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.

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.

Six Helps for the Autumn Mom With Kids at Home

In the refreshment line at a wedding recently, I saw my friend’s face from a distance, smiling her polite public smile. Attractive children of various heights stood close by. Seeming only half present, maybe she was remembering her oldest daughter’s wedding a year before. I stopped to chat. After a few minutes, I leaned in a bit. “We need to get caught up.”

“Yes, sounds great,” she said. “How about coffee next week?”

I often say, “The fifties are the best!” And I believe it with all my heart, even more since I’ve passed that decade. But I knew the stress on my friend’s face. The never-ending drives all over the county to sporting events, big meals to prepare in exhaustion, in the middle of menopause. I remembered wondering how the “prime of life” could so miserably fail to deliver. I remembered the anxiety surrounding my heavy responsibilities.

We’d both made the same decision– to continue bearing children past the forty-year milestone. Why did we do it when the most challenging job of our lives might have been done by the arrival of autumn?

The question has varied and logical answers. For one, motherhood gives most women a profound sense of purpose. The job itself can become a fulfilling identity, one of gargantuan, generational proportion. The sense of its significance can trump all thoughts of “How old will I be when this last one turns 18?”

Also, The Empty Nest (or the idea of it) seems to carry a fear of “oldness” or “doneness.” It leaves a slight sense of being set aside, of having to reinvent oneself. The sole role of grandmother, though a wonderful experience for the “older” woman, doesn’t fit me “just yet.”

And those tiny eyes, so full of adoration, intoxicate! As utterly exhausting the prospect, a baby’s perfect innocence softens the hard crust around our hearts. Infants’ care and nurture produces oxytocin in our brains, and this euphoric hormone makes us feel relevant and alive, even young! Today’s moms can design the day’s agenda, look great with makeup, exercise to boost energy, and choose clothes to make pregnancy and “infant wearing” quite sexy.

Together, Boomers and Gen Xers have pulled off the sleight-of-hand trick of the century- shaving at least decade from the stereotypes of age. Thirty became the new twenty. Forty the new thirty, and fifty the new forty. Those who chose the miracle-working fields of dermatology and plastic surgery led the charge toward the “Fountain of Youth.”

Slick sleight-of-hand? Well, our children don’t think of sixty as old as we did when we were young. They do think of it as old, just not AS old. (Hollywood certainly helped in this area! So the empty nest comes later. Way later. Many women who, at fifty, might have embarked on a new career and enjoyed grandchildren, instead find themselves up to their neck in plans for one child’s wedding as well as the promised birthday party of a seven-year-old.

Sound familiar? It does to me. My daughters came thirteen years apart. To feel young enough to make the older one proud, (who am I kidding?… to feel good) I primped more for an event. My skincare routine made what once took minutes now take almost an hour- an hour I couldn’t quite find in my day. I had to be Super everything…friend, mom, and wife, all in virtual perpetuity.

That’s what I saw in my friend. Heard in her voice. The weight of perpetuity.

Stress. And guilt. Because we often feel required to choose between the younger ones and the older ones. With only so much energy, one set would sometimes have to manage without me. How would we not feel guilty? And what does guilt do? It quickens the fade of the younger woman.

She’s standing there in the reception hall in a designer outfit. Her eyes say, “How do I hang in to see the littlest one married – or off to her own life? And isn’t that a terrible question?”

What does she want now? Or Need? (She actually told me. I was grateful for her honesty.)

In two words, More Husband. In one word, Romance.

And I can relate. It has been reported over and over again, that of the many themes of the fifties, a return of interest in romance tops the list for women. In the forties romance often takes a dive due to the raising of kids and teens, plus wide hormonal swings. Afterward, the windfall of extra time in the fifties causes couples to once again notice each other across a crowded room.

Husbands have been patiently waiting for that spark. They want quality time again, like the pre-children era, eons ago. And well they should. For we are all designed for lasting romance. Our hearts long for it, even as hormones settle down. We instinctively welcome a new dawn of enjoying all the hard work of the decades behind us. With or without kids at home, however, this takes intentionality, work.

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The following list of helps for the Autumn woman with children still at home comes from the lady who’s been there. Me. These rules of engagement helped my husband and me keep both alive and sane..

1. Take more time for yourself. With older kids to watch the little ones, get the mani-pedi. (Looking back, I wish I’d just spent the money.) Read more books. Delegate all the work around the house you possibly can. Take long baths and long walks. Go to the gym. You need it all, now more than ever.

2. Guard a once-a-week date night with a vengeance. Now you have built-in babysitters. And for goodness sake, don’t come home until all are in bed. (Getting back while the kids are up doesn’t end the date, shall we say, nicely.)

3. Make a household quiet curfew several nights a week. This will allow time for peace and quiet. All will benefit from it!  Get the young ones to bed earlier, and older ones to their rooms by nine or ten. The curfew might well extend to mornings on Saturday. (We tried to take one Saturday morning a month for hanging out alone- either in our room or out for breakfast.)

4. Make your bedroom an off-limit zone to all, unless invited. Make it a romantic haven, complete with sofa or soft chairs. Have candles and music easy to set up. Make it a place for you to recharge – alone – at any time. (A lock on the door? Yes.)

5. Reward the older kids, date the wee ones. With more responsibility teens should get some perks, as well as special outings with adults. The young ones love special dates individually. Ours “littles” felt sidelined with all the schedule demands of the older ones, as well as the needs of the married ones! (I wish I had given our “second set” more special time.)

6. Take a Weekend Getaway per quarter (3 or 4 times a year) to set aside time for romance. This means away from home. (An “in town” overnight trip qualifies.) Guard these times to recharge your romance.

    Are you raising a second set of kiddos? Don’t let your marriage suffer. If you work hard to set aside time for your husband and you, you will be recharged for the next social event. When someone with all their kids gone (like grown up gone) comes up to you, you’ll smile, knowing that in practically days, it will be you.

Five Ways Autumn Beauty Enriches the World

How Autumn Beauty Enriches The World

As I tweezed my almost invisible eyebrows the other day, I actually drew blood. Ouch! Why do I submit to magnifying mirrors? It’s only in their larger-than-life perspective those wild hairs even appear. I wondered, why does Vanity still hold me hostage?

On this day, suffering this “injury” brought back the memory of tweezing my mom’s eyebrows in her fifties and sixties. As a teen, I’d stand behind her chair with her head tilted back on my rib cage, and gingerly pluck microscopic hairs from her translucent skin. Every once in a while I’d grab a bit of flesh and her little squeal would bring me back to concentration. I would think, “Will my skin ever be this loose? This un-elastic, this wafery thin…? Yet she asks for this torture!

Smiling today, I know. Youth slips away slowly. The thick, dark hairs (which once made tweezing almost a matter of forest control) become pale by years, decades, not months. Gradually they turn in all helter skelter directions, and we continue to pluck in spite of both blindness and pain. We don’t succumb easily to any of it- the lines, the loss of muscle tone, the changing complexion. We push against it with the same stiff demeanor of those very hairs, and with all the seriousness a magnifying mirror can muster!

However, I strongly believe that beauty with aging enriches the world.

We should (and I use that word carefully) stand tall, pull back those shoulders, and go out the door knowing we own the wisdom of, well, years of experience. Not just years, decades of it. Decades of perseverance, mess-ups, successes and failures.

So today I offer my top five reasons why autumn women who keep working on beauty make the world a better place.

  1. Our Husbands Appreciate It.

Whether we dress up or wear yoga pants and a t-shirt, the amazing fact remains, husbands see us as the young girl he married… a lovely face, a wonderful body (even with ten extra pounds), a winning smile, charm and wit. What miracle keeps us looking very much the same to him over the years? No one can explain it– it remains a mystery. Now, though they appreciate us most when we’re naked, all the original qualities thrill him year after year after year…and when he’s proud of us, he’s a happier, better man.

  1.  The Young Who Fear Aging Need It.

If we work on replacing youthful color and see ourselves vibrant and alive in the mirror, our health improves overall. It’s an attitude. All the makeup and jewelry in the world can’t overcome a negative attitude, but those things help produce a positive outlook. If you never wore makeup, it’s okay. But if you decide at 50 or 60 to begin, you will likely take off a few of those last ten years, and look perkier.

Why look ten years younger? To feel ten years younger! During my trip to Canada I had the pleasure of meeting a 106 year-old lady in the nursing home. She walks with a walker, wears pearls, pink lipstick, and a stylish outfit. You can find her chatting with those who stop at the coffee shop. She’s proud of being a woman, and causes those who meet her to fear growing old a little bit less.

  1. Our Children and Grandchildren Appreciate It.

Aging parents remind children of their own mortality. They desperately need a model up close and personal. Should we shield them from our aches and pains? Not necessarily. But a smiling, warm, and positive mom or grandmother makes them proud. If we took a reasonable amount of time to be beautiful, they’d love showing us off more. They may even want to be first to run up and introduce us to their friends.

  1. Workplaces Are Transformed by It.

One of my friends worked in an extremely stressful care-giving job. A key requirement for the job was to wear make-up and keep a stylish haircut. These habits didn’t transform the employees into more productive workers, but somehow showed others they felt more up to the pressure. And thus they became more effective.

In any setting, skill, not hair, gets the job done. But beauty helps make the workplace a more pleasant place. Proverbs author Solomon says,  “…beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord will be praised.” Can she be both at the same time? Of course. One just lasts longer. Even while she fears the Lord and honors Him, her radiant appearance puts the icing on the cake. It shows she is aware of her femininity to His glory. She reflects His beauty in her own. What a way to show the world your faith!

  1. Society Sees God’s Design for Sex in It.

Nothing reflects the sexual dynamic of marriage like a couple in love. So what in the world would this have to do with beauty? A few years back, my hubby and I were touring in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado. We saw an older couple, each with white hair, zoom by in a red Chevrolet open convertible. Her scarf blowing in the wind and their smiles gave me a picture I kept in my head. “That’s us in ten years, Honey!” I said. They drove past quickly, so their actions had nothing to do with my impression. It was her beauty sitting beside him.

What does this mean? Whether with her husband or alone, shopping, working, an autumn woman’s countenance can show the world the dynamic I admired in the couple above. Of course  women who wear makeup and dress beautifully might be single. Or have no love life. But a woman who cherishes her role as her husband’s lover, (or acts as though available for that), and gives off a pleasant aroma wherever she goes, inadvertently broadcasts the purpose of marriage – to reflect the relationship between Christ and the believer, his Bride. That’s a sermon the world craves. Do you know you preach a sermon about aging?

So I’m not just talking about physical beauty. If a woman’s outward beauty becomes her highest priority, she appears shallow and both “deceitful” and “fleeting.” As John Piper reminds us, “He is most pleased when we find our desires filled in Him.”

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.

Grace, A Quiet Blessing

My bedroom door creaked open into our pitch black hall.  Mom and Dad kept it that way so they could sleep with their door slightly ajar. Tiptoeing  toward the sounds of muffled snoring, I felt the wooden trim, and stopped for a second or two, trying to decide if I really needed to do this. Three times in last few weeks! This is crazy. I am almost 11! But the orderliness and supposed serenity of our middle-class Canadian home didn’t stop the nightmares. As a matter of fact, the rude intruders had appeared often enough recently that Mom had made an appointment to see our family doctor.

Deciding to go ahead, I carefully pushed open the door. There she lay, as always, purring softly on her side of the bed. Just a whisper, “Mom, I had a bad dream,” and she would quietly lift the covers to invite my skinny, shivering frame. Slithering in like a little snake, so Dad wouldn’t suspect I had arrived, I would cuddle up beside her, my forehead to her chin. I’d lie as still as a dead person, hardly daring to breathe,  thoughts of reluctance totally banished. She had allowed me, as old as I was, into her sanctuary. And there I would stay, until the need for oxygen would force me to move.

She would hold her arms down by her side, acting as though I wasn’t there, but I knew she was aware of me. Free to go and welcome to stay, it was glorious. She smelled of the lily of the valley cologne donned earlier in the day along with her modest pink calico house dress and beige hose.  Could I even imagine Mom in pajamas? Her bedtime wear was always silk and lace and ribbon; and in the mornings a flowing champagne-length robe would drape the most stately shoulders I have ever seen.

Her name was Grace and lots of  people said she reminded them of the queen. Yes, our queen. Queen Elisabeth of England who was younger than Mom by about 6 years. Well, actually precisely 6 years, since they were both born on June 4th. But the slightly more mature face of my mother was, to me, way more beautiful. Her larger brown eyes, almost perfect teeth, radiated a smile of warmth and acceptance to all in our household. And her hair,  that short, wavy brunette hairstyle, could have been coiffed by the same stylist as the queen.  I often wondered if women in this era longed to look like the queen, so many of them wore that hairstyle.  But unlike most, my mother was also tall and thin, and graceful. She did look like the queen, only better. And I knew what her hug felt like. Those full cheeks of incredible dewy cream were so like the powder puffs she used to dust them. Even though they have caressed me, I can’t describe that softness.

And, like the queen, Mom was a woman of few words. Her busy life as a neonatal nurse, mother, and humble hostess for a pastor husband had already been difficult. She was healthy and strong; but a stoic quietness marked her spiritual journey. By 65 she would be rendered completely immobile by a debilitating muscle disease, transitioning from cane to walker, to wheel chair, to nursing home. All with a grace that reflected her name.

But that was the mysterious future- decades ahead of us. Tonight she was my rock. During that brief half hour or so, becoming hotter and hotter, I would grow cramped and sore from lying stock still beside her. So I would gingerly slip out of the covers and feel my way out the door and along the hall back to my own bed, the refreshing coolness causing me to fall instantly asleep.

Next morning, the episode wasn’t mentioned, by her anyway. I would say, “I had another nightmare, Mom.” Then she would go on doing what she was doing, making a pan of biscuits or buttering toast; and she’d purse her lips together in a half smile, the way she always did, so I would know she heard me. But her love flowed from that quiet gentleness. All day at school her warmth would comfort me. Grace. My quiet blessing.