Friday, December 30, 2016

Letting Go for the New Year

Crises, big and small, good and not-so-good, seem to be pouring in at a faster pace than usual these past couple weeks. Can you relate?

There are always a few things on my mind: faith, family, health, finances. Add to them a few extra issues: my dad’s health is unstable right now (not good), my son is home from college for a few weeks (good), my husband caught the cold-going-around (not good), Christmas and time with family (good), my intentional approach to Advent and slowing down this year (mostly good) and now New Year’s considerations (some good, some not-so-good). A former pastor of mine used to call this situation “The pileup effect.” 

I used to think of God as being a bully with these overwhelming seasons. If things are already tough, why add to them? I finally had a lightbulb moment. Perhaps I’m listening more when I’m dealing with a couple tough things. When I’m already listening, why wouldn’t God want to give me a few more situations to exercise my “letting go” muscles?

And so when even more bonus events came rolling in last week: my credit card was fraudulently used, my freezer broke, and the insurance company started to call again about a car accident from six months ago—none of these things had an impact on my stress level. I dealt with them practically and without extra emotion. Pretty cool.

My favorite event from last week was during my drive to see my counselor. I was pondering these so-called crises to determine which I would discuss during my session. A car pulled in front of me, bearing this license plate: “SURENDER.”

Thanks, God.

Here’s a practical, witty, fabulous talk on Letting Go by Jill Sheerer Murray which I know you’ll appreciate and enjoy as much as I did today. Happy New Year! And here’s to Letting Go.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Christmas Lights

My heart always skipped a beat when Mom got the plastic tub with the holiday decorations out, especially when it was almost Christmas. There seemed to be an endless supply, and when it was Easter, or Saint Patrick’s Day, or Halloween, or Christmas, or Valentine’s Day, she’d pull out the knickknacks and wall decorations and put them around the living room and front window.

But for Christmas, Dad got involved when it came to hanging the lights. (Think the movie The Christmas Story.)  The classic bulbs had to be lined up just so, to appease Dad’s (and my) preference for order. Our black wrought-iron railing would soon be brightly lit with Christmas colors and the use of many pieces of plastic tie-wrap kept the decorations intact. Of course, there’d inevitably be a light bulb needing replacement and no spare bulbs on hand. The entire light-hanging operation would be shut down until Dad returned from the hardware store.



I remember a couple things from my German grandmother’s Christmas decorations. A statue of what I thought was supposed to be “Santa” was actually the figure of St. Nicklaus, drab and slumped over, carrying a brown bag, looking more like a homeless man than Santa Claus. And who else remembers single strands of tinsel? Grandmom draped hundreds of silvery slivers, one at a time, onto her three foot tabletop tree. It weighed the tree into kneeling submission. It was dreary yet beautiful.

On the other hand, my Italian grandmother preferred decorative bling for her holiday display. The all-white Christmas tree in her bay window with its filtered spotlight mesmerized me with its changing colors, red then blue then green then gold then red again.

This year, our family decided to put only red and white lights on our little artificial green tree. More importantly, I prefer to remember the meaning of the light. A single beam from the North Star pointing to the true light in our world in the form of baby Jesus. Hope and joy personified. How beautiful. 

How do you like to light your Christmas tree?


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Roller Coaster College



The empty roller coaster slides forward and beckons me. Holding my breath, I step in and sit down to exhale. I pull down the metal bar which determines if my ride ends in life or death. I pray it locks in properly.

This ride is familiar; only two years ago, I was involved in a college search for my son. It was an adventure, more than I anticipated. I tried to prepare myself by analyzing statistics, reviewing the majors, reading the mission statements and marketing material—anything I could get my hands on. Like the contrast of a wooden versus steel coaster; each university presentation was unique, but somehow similar. We visited at least a half-dozen schools and researched another dozen online. Matching the college details with my son’s personality, talents and goals was daunting.

With God’s help, and the help of others along the way, my son is thriving.

This time, I’m hoping my daughter’s college search will be smoother. I don’t like riding roller coasters all that much.

First, I need to pull on the safety bar to make sure it won’t budge. Am I the only one who does this? Coaster adventure-seekers love to throw their hands in the air on the ride, especially during the descent. Not me, I hold on tighter. This metal bar is all that I have when I have a million questions. Will she like the school? What kind of friends will she meet? How about safety? Will she learn a lot? And what will she be doing during her free time? I need to let the bar do its thing, and I do my thing. Research. Ask questions. And pray. School size. Student to teacher ratio. Average grades for admitted students. Population mix. Majors offered. God, help.

The real questions, the questions inside my heart and mind, won’t be handled by a metal bar, though. What I need to hold on to is God’s promises. He is always with me, and is always with her, too.

Up the hill we go. Looking at a local college. Touring an out-of-state college. Reading the college glossies. Slowly, slowly, slowly we climb. So much to see and read, and yet I know the curve to the downhill descent awaits. This is the curve where I trust our joint decision will match up with God’s plans for her.

Remembering the path laid out for my son, from the professor who offered a personal consultation to advise my son, to the other parents who gave me tips and hints along the way, to the prayers, the many, many prayers, I know God was there to help guide us in this process.

Maybe I’ll throw my hands in the air on the downhill after all. Who knows, I might like it.



Friday, September 30, 2016

Stress Test

Sitting in a waiting room anticipating a nuclear stress test is stressful enough, but this? Yikes.





I knew I wanted coffee, but with the sign in place I wanted it more. Why is that? Perhaps my personal "edit" button was broken. You know, the one which helps me be a responsible adult most of the time and choose the better decisions multiple times a day. This day, I wanted to just be held, be coddled, and be given a cup of coffee. Most days, I don't take the time to think about what I want. I'm learning to slow down and recognize those inner desires. The key? The slowing down part.

When I slow down, I can sort out the rest of the messages, conflicting or not, and get to my personal truth. The truth about how I felt.

Scared. Now what do I do with it?

Part of me wanted to pull out my phone, scroll through emails or Facebook or anything to distract me from what was going on. Another part wanted to act on my idea to download the song "Radioactive" and play it loudly as I walked in for my testing. But I decided to stay, instead. Staying put gave me a chance to experience feeling scared.

I came to an interesting conclusion:
Being able to sit with myself and know I'm scared was actually less scary than trying not to be scared.

Sitting with my feeling gave me a chance to own it, know it, feel it. Fighting the feeling takes more effort, actually. Fighting the feeling would demand I figure out a way to put on some armor, perhaps a sword in the form of researching the medical information online. Or maybe a shield in the form of repeating personal positive statements like "I am healthy," "I am fine," "I will be okay." I chose to put down the weapons and discover what was left--my inner strength. This strength gives me power to embrace my feelings--even if they're the scary ones.

No one ever knows for sure if they will be okay, health-wise. We simply do our best. Sometimes it means taking the tests, sitting with the unknowns, and then drinking a cup of coffee as soon as we can.

I know I did. And I enjoyed every last drop. I even felt a little less scared by then, too.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

College Mom's Ripcord

When I walk through a door, I prefer there be a floor on the other side of the threshold.

More than thirty years ago, I stepped through a door into thin air. That time, I had a parachute strapped to my back and a reserve chute on my tummy, like a baby to whom I preferred not to give birth. I was twenty, just a little older than my son is now, more excited than scared to dive into the adventure. And I jumped.

Three weeks ago, I stepped over the same threshold as I drove away from my son's college campus for the six hour ride home. Hot tears threatened my view and I grabbed the steering wheel as if it were a lifeline, a ripcord. I continued to drive. My heart sped to the ground, frantically waiting for the whoosh of air to open a life-giving chute.

I remembered surviving this a year ago, when I dropped him off for the first time as a freshman.
I focused in on what I know. I know my son is thriving, excited, and ready to take his next steps toward adulthood. It takes every fiber of my being to trust the air and the invisibility of it all. It's the same air which saves me, though.

They say that every landing is called a crash landing. The best I can do is crash a little more gently each time. Maybe I'll have a bigger parachute next year.

Image result for istock free images parachute

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Weeding Through Changes

How is it that my miniature patch of yard containing only two hedges formed so many weeds overnight?

Image result for google images free crabgrass

Kneeling, I was armed with a hand-held rake and garden gloves. I eyed the first clump of crabgrass and figured I could take it down in one round. Grabbing tightly from the middle, I yanked. I ended up with a tiny handful of green slivers in my glove. Time for round two. I dug the garden rake just around the center of the clump and pulled, scraping bits of dirt to the top. The root's wiry white tentacles held on to the deepest recesses of the ground. After a couple more tries, the root released. Methodically, I tackled each weed in similar fashion, finally cleaning up the garden for now, at least.

Those weeds would grow again, and I knew it.

To me, those weeds represented the deepest recesses of my heart I've allowed to get locked away in an attempt to deal with changes. And now, my son is several hours away at college, and my daughter about to start senior year of high school.

As I snapped my daughter's "first day" photo, the reality snapped right back.

This was my LAST "first day" photo.

I wish my diligent recording of time could make it stand still.

Image result for google images free first day of school

This isn't about "letting go" as so many seem to advise. It's about redefining my role. I'll never stop being a mom to these two incredible humans, but these moments have forced me to stop and see things differently. My children have grown and changed, but more significantly, being a mom has changed ME. Motherhood forced me to engage my heart in ways I never knew, into the deepest chambers of life--theirs and mine. As I've used my heart in nurturing ways, I learned I could love more deeply than I ever imagined.

It's time to dig out the weeds stuck in the recesses of my heart and clean out space for a new life of my own. Honoring my inner beauty, I want to be intentional in planting new, life-giving seeds. As I pray for my children, I can learn to open my heart wider and receive God's love, too.

It's no surprise that in order to weed effectively, I need to kneel.

Have you been weeding lately, too?









Thursday, July 21, 2016

Fireworks

Every year, on the Fourth of July, the relatives on my mom’s side went to Grandmom and Grandpop’s house in northeast Philadelphia. A cozy neighborhood attracting a variety of European immigrants, Lawndale had blocks of row houses and twins with single homes mixed in. My grandparents lived in a brick two-story twin, which presided like royalty on a main corner of the neighborhood. My grandfather set up his shoe repair shop in the basement and there was a separate entrance around the corner for the customers. The smell of shoe glue and the sound of hammering reminds me of the Bazooka bubble gum my cousins and I would snag from the shelf in the back of the shop. There were only fifteen of us, including my aunts and uncles and cousins, but it felt like an army as we crowded Grandmom’s living and dining rooms to indulge in our holiday feast.

Our meal was unlike what my friends back home would be eating: hamburgers, hot dogs, corn on the cob, watermelon. You know, the usual Fourth of July food. Instead, our meal incorporated unusual favorites from my grandparents’ German heritage, including succulent bratwurst, a bowl of vinegary potato salad, red cabbage, a lone dish of pickled herring, and the dreaded German lunch meats. No, I didn’t eat the lunch meats. Just looking at them scared me. I’d learn years later that one of them, called head cheese, is a meat jelly made with the flesh from the head of a calf or pig. If that wasn’t bad enough, they’d also have “blutwurst.” Translated, it means “blood meat.” And the word tongue was involved in one of those delicacies. I felt sorry for the poor cow who wouldn’t be able to talk any more. Yuck. But there would always be orange soda, so that was a good thing. It was my grandmother’s favorite. 

I remember being 11 or 12 years old before I got a taste of personal independence when I was allowed to walk to the local park with my cousins---and no adults. We’d skip the entire way down a couple blocks to the carnival held there every year. Our coins jingled in our pockets, ready to be spent on games and treats. I never won a stuffed animal there, but it was always exciting to try. We’d eventually find the ice cream truck, and take our good old time savoring the pictures of the ice cream choices before making our decision. I always picked a chocolate ├ęclair Popsicle with the candy bar inside. It was a sweet ending to a sweet afternoon.

The grand finale would be the neighborhood fireworks display. Just past dusk, we’d suddenly hear the first boom, then a whoosh, and soon pinpricks of light exploded into starry arrays of color. We’d marvel at the showers of light for what seemed like forever. “Did you see that?” we’d say, or “That one was my favorite!” Our “oohs” and “aahs” followed each one.

I always wondered why we went to Grandmom’s on the Fourth of July when there were other holidays to choose from for our annual visit. Over the years, more and more stories were shared by my mom and aunt. With each detail, I’d fall in love all over again with the love story of my grandparents’ immigration to America despite all odds. They met in Germany but Grandpop wanted to come to the states first, so he could get established with a home and a business to provide for his anticipated family. Months passed before he sent for his true love, and Grandmom followed him, leaving all she knew, including her dying father, to join him in America.

Eventually they married, but I didn’t know until I was an adult what their anniversary date was.

It was the Fourth of July, fireworks and all.



Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Ordered Chaos

            I walked into the studio, greeted by the scents of paint and glue. Busy Bees is a colorful playground for the creative artist, and it makes me smile every time. They offer a variety of crafting options, and this time I tried something new: mosaic.

I chose a square piece of wood as the background for my creation and went to work picking out tiny chunks of tile to glue on to the wood into a pattern. After the tile pieces were glued on, I would be sent home with grout (the color of my choosing) to fill in the spaces between the tiles to finish the piece.

The assortment of colors and shapes overwhelmed me at first. It calmed me to start with a loose pattern. I glued little square mirrors in alternating sequence around the edges. Silver. Gold. Silver. Gold. My heartbeat slowed as I got into the rhythm of creating. Faced with a wall full of bins in every color of tile pieces, the design started to form in my mind. I cut a tiny square into two uneven triangles of green. Funny how going from a square to a triangle changed things. I was inspired to cut some more. Next, I cut off the corner of an odd blue piece of tile and it formed a pentagon. When I halved the clover-shaped pieces, they became figure eights.

Changing the shapes gave me a sense of control. While I allowed some pieces to remain whole, I caused others to be broken. All the colorful pieces, broken and whole, show up more clearly when surrounded by the black grout of emotion’s dark depths. 

            
             I call it “Ordered Chaos.”



            A single clear stone belongs in the middle. I may not understand the stone fully, but I recognize its characteristics. For me, the clear stone is like a steaming cup of coffee first thing in the morning. It’s the smell of the bookstore where my writers’ group meets. Sharing hugs with my daughter and long-distance phone conversations with my son. It’s when I send the words “I love you, babes” in a text to my husband. Bible and prayer time. Sharing time with friends. Each of these represent wholeness yet are pieces of the whole of me.

            What does your center stone represent?



Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Ginger Root

Why do I buy ginger and then not use it?

 
There’s something about an odd-shaped knob of ordinary ginger sitting in my refrigerator door which makes me feel like I might be a gourmet cook. Or maybe something about being a redhead attracts me to it. Ginger root, when grated or sliced fresh into a chicken or pork dish, is absolutely delicious. Once I get it home, though, I tend to avoid using it. It requires that I peel it, then cut a piece off, then grate it. There are simply too many steps. Often I’ll give in and pull out my powdered ginger jar instead. But it’s not the same.

This reminds me of the authentic root of my faith when I take time in the Bible and pray, as opposed to sprinkling a quick dose of an on-the-go prayer into my morning. The point of prayer is to be with God, right? It’s not about the recitation. God only knows He doesn’t need more noise in this world. The fresh, pure taste of connecting with God adds spice and joy to my life.

It’s worth the effort.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Ordinary Faith

It was almost Easter weekend, and I packed my overnight bag for the six-hour road trip to visit my son Alex at college. I counted down the days, no, the hours, until I would see him and hug the heck out of him, even if I had to reach up to do so. Blended with my excitement, though, was my apprehension about his faith. I knew Alex wasn’t attending a church regularly, but have continued praying that he would connect with God somehow out there in college land.  

Several weeks prior, it occurred to me I could ask Alex to attend church with me when I was visiting. It would be Easter weekend, after all, and my request would be reasonable. Right? I wanted to let God be in charge of Alex but felt I needed to give God, and Alex, a little help. Eventually, I sensed God telling me to relax. I wanted to attend the service, and decided to do so even if I’d be going to church without Alex. So, I asked Alex to find us a church service to attend and waited for his response.

Nothing.

Come on, God, I thought. I’m leaving first thing in the morning. Should I look up a service myself? I need some kind of a sign. Do you hear me, God?

I like numbers, and one way I’ve learned to notice God’s presence in the numbers. Whenever I see either of these three times on an ordinary digital clock: 1:11, 11:11, or 3:33, I think of God and His three-in-one existence, and how He really is number One above all things. Those times are a little eye-wink from God to me, reminding me of His presence.

Finally, as I checked over my bag on the night before my road trip, I received a text from Alex sending me a link to a church he found for us to attend that Sunday. Excitedly, I clicked on the link to find out more—the service location, time, and the church information.

He found a contemporary Christian service geared towards college students, held in a nearby college building. It sounded similar to the services Alex used to attend with us at home. The location was less than a mile from his dorm. It was an ordinary service and seemed perfect for our needs.

However, there was nothing ordinary about the time of the church service. I had to reread the information on the church’s website.

It was slated to start at 11:11.

Easter was extra special this year.
 
 

How about you? Can you share a time God shown up in YOUR ordinary experiences?

 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Mistress Cancer

Unwelcome, she takes energy away from our marital intimacy. She requires my husband’s time and attention. She penetrates through to his veins, taking over his body, inside and out. She has her own rules, statistics and the illusion of a plan. She flirts with unpredictability, her greatest strength, her source of passion. She calls on my husband any time of day or night. Sometimes, he ignores her. Sometimes, he can’t.

She is Cancer.
 
This mistress is a Life-changer, a Killer, and an Enemy.

It was April 1, 2011 when my husband was diagnosed. I was shocked. We thought it was something related to reflux or other gastro-whatever conditions he experienced. But tumors? They were not expected.

I went into survival mode. Learning whatever I could about what was going on. Tests, more tests, research, doctor’s appointments. Planning for treatments, impact on our family, our financials. How do you plan what you do not know?

It’s now five years later and Joe is stable under the treatment of a clinical trial. Basically, it means he is on a chemotherapy regimen which seems to be working to stabilize the cancer, which will never be gone. Never. Yes, I know miracles are possible, and yes, I’ll embrace anyone who joins me in prayer for the miracles. In the meantime, however, I live with her.

I want her gone. Can I forgive her? Can I let go?

She is cancer. She is simply a diagnosis.

I am Lisa, Joe’s Wife. Holding on to hope in this complicated life.


 

 

 

 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

For the Love of Ice Cream

The ice cream carton beckoned. Although shoved in the back right corner of my overstuffed freezer, its voice was crystal clear.

“Hey, baby. I’m in here. Go ahead, grab a spoon and get me out of this cold corner. It’s time for you to indulge.”

The cold, smooth vanilla creaminess with buttery undertones threw my taste buds into heavenly overdrive. Crunchy candy pieces of chocolate lingered long after the vanilla was gone. I wanted—no, needed—more. Just another spoonful. Only there was no way to end it. A spoonful turned into a carton. At least it was a pint, not a half-gallon, I thought.

Three days later, it was time to weigh in again. Three pounds up. Ugh. Dreaded ice cream. You give love a bad name.

It’s all about balance, they say.

But how do I balance a crashing wave? I’m supposed to fall over, sink under, swim for a while, maybe catch my breath later. My desire for sweets is one-directional. It’s always a “yes.” What’s to balance?

Eat just a little, they say.

But how can I section out a portion of joy, when by its very nature joy is all about abundance? Why consider even a little bit when I can’t figure out when I have had enough? Happiness is a dessert buffet, especially if it contains the Italian cookies I ate growing up, and of course any form of chocolate. Love has no bounds so why should my dessert have a limit?

Measure your food and count your calories, they say.

But how can I measure the moments I love? Seeing my son after a couple months of being away at college, or spending time watching a movie with my husband, or catching a cup of coffee with a girlfriend, or sharing an after-school hug with my daughter---these are all unmeasurable. When I weigh out my grilled chicken or measure a portion of cottage cheese, I believe I have some control over food, but, seriously, it’s only the healthy food I’m measuring. Who wants to measure the good stuff?

Love unbounded, like a giggling child running through a big wet puddle just to see how high the water will splash, is the best way to experience it. It’s not available in single-serving sizes. Love is an all-you-can-eat buffet of deliciousness.

But by continuing my discipline of day-to-day weighing, measuring and tracking, most of the time at least, I gain the freedom to understand how to love my own self without the ice cream. To love my body which can dance, run, climb stairs and hug a friend means to take care of it. And this means the ice cream must be kept to a single-serving size. Love can be a buffet. It costs no calories but lingers long after the experience.

Ice cream, you give love a bad name. But I love you anyway.
 


 
1 John 2:15-16
“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.”
I want to enjoy my sweets in single-serving sizes, and indulge in the sweetness of God’s love with unmeasurable abundance. I’m still learning to do this, one day at a time.