My Favorite Things

I was recently invited to be the guest speaker at a ladies’ tea party.  The event was a community outreach, and the theme was “My Favorite Things”.  Various women in the church hosted a table then invited other women to fill the seats around that table.  Each table was decorated by the host, and guests voted for their favorite table display.  A light luncheon was served along with a variety of hot teas and a hot chocolate bar.  Music was provided by a local group and I was to speak on my favorite things.

I love the idea of this luncheon, because it is so personal for those who are invited.  Each woman is specifically asked to be there as the guest of someone with whom they already have a connection.  The planning committee was warm and gracious, and the atmosphere was relaxed and fun.

In preparation to speak, it was good for me to ponder upon my favorite things.  There is so much of life that I enjoy, but I found it beneficial for me to really meditate on those things that can be considered my favorites.  Because I was asked to keep my presentation between 20 and 30 minutes, I left a lot of things out.  Like my extended family, my pets, getting mail and Alaska.  I had to draw the line somewhere.

Here’s what I came up with:

My husband, Dave.  We celebrated 21 years this month.  He is patient, forgiving and hard-working.  Even though we had some significant trouble early in our marriage, we mostly live at peace now—especially when I resist the temptation to micro-manage him.

My kids.  As of this month, I have three teenagers in my house.  They are fun and funny (and sometimes frustrating).  It is exciting to see them grow in their giftings while learning to manage (or not) their weaknesses.  I see a lot of myself in them…and I see a lot of what I wish I’d done differently.

Our home.  We call it Country Haven, and it is my safe place in the middle of nowhere.  We have big gardens, a few animals, a young orchard, a big front porch and a warm woodstove.  At any given time, there are a dozen (at least) projects in the works, but we keep plugging away.  It is mostly a place of peace—one of the gifts Dave and I most wanted to give to our children.

Food.  I have loved baking since I was a little girl.  I learned to enjoy cooking as a necessity.  Most recently, I have come to appreciate growing and raising our own food as a means to an end.  And then there’s eating.  I have been highly genetically engineered to love to eat.  It’s a family tradition.

Managing my resources.  This may sound strange to some, but it’s true.  I kind of look at my family as my employer.  I manage our resources here at home in order to generate income for our family.  Sometimes the income generated is money for our homeschooling needs; more often the income fuels our bodies with healthy foods.  We work to live within our means, which isn’t always easy, but it sure makes life simpler.  I did not used to love this aspect of adulthood, but I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I now do.  I see it as an answer to prayer.

Naps.  I loved my kids’ naps when they were little, and I love my own power naps now.  Most people are more pleasant when well-rested; I’ve learned that my family prefers me to be pleasant.

Teaching, writing and sharing.  I have done some really dumb things in my life.  Like, seriously dumb things.  I have also done a lot of things that just didn’t work–as well as a lot of things which have.  I like sharing about all of these.  I enjoy encouraging others to focus on their own personal abundance of resources—their talents, abilities, time and money.  I believe that our culture prefers to encourage us to play the victim card, and I believe that recognizing the power of personal choice and responsibility can free a person to be who God has created them to be.  Whether it’s a class on cooking, canning, gardening, saving money, home management or parenting, I like sharing what has worked for me.

Change in seasons.  Each season holds wonder for me, and I embrace each one for what it offers.  Dave threatens to move south when he retires.  I’ll miss him.

Time with friends.  Whether it’s a cup of something hot to drink, long walks, dinner out, chit-chats, laughter, commiseration, heart-to-hearts or even the occasional hand smacks, I treasure my time with friends.  Though I prefer to do the smacking through the leading of the Holy Spirit, sometimes God uses a friend to smack my hand in regard to a particular issue.  This is not always comfortable, but it is necessary for personal growth.  I had my hand smacked over coffee with a friend a couple of weeks ago, and I wrote her a thank-you note.  I want to grow in my faith.  I want to be a better wife and mother and friend.  This is easier to do when I’m willing to take a good, hard look at what I’m doing (or not doing) and measure it against what God has said in His Word.  Sometimes, I find that I’m at peace with my choices; sometimes I find that I need to change something.  I am thankful for friends that speak the truth in love and for the maturity that allows me to weigh their words against the words of Jesus.

Though there are lots of good things in my life, things are not perfect.  I have real struggles with things like broken relationships, addictions, regrets, tight budgets, insecurities and misunderstandings.  Sometimes, I don’t feel appreciated, understood, valued or even loved.  In these times, I struggle with the temptation to focus on the yuck.  Part of me wants to lash out, part of me wants to pull in, part of me wants to somehow even the score.   Sometimes, I just want to check out of the situation altogether and quit trying.

Then I remember Jesus.

I remember the healing He brought to my marriage 18 years ago when we were one signature way from divorce and humbly re-committed our relationship to Him.

I remember the joy He has brought to my life through parenting.

I remember the cycle of abusive, angry behavior He is working on breaking with me.

I remember the times I just didn’t think that I could take one more day of the rejection, the disapproval, the regret.

I remember the times He has looked so deeply into my ugliness, seeing the utter blackness of my darkest thoughts and most hidden moments, and loved me in spite of them.

I remember the obedience of a young couple, the birth of their perfect baby, the patient determination of a carpenter’s son, the cruelty of the cross and glory of the resurrection.

Loving and being loved by Jesus are my most favorite things.

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Pork & Beans

One of the fantastic things about living with my family is that they’re funny.  Plus, I’m funny, so we laugh a lot.  The following story is from a couple of years ago, and I ran across it this morning.  I hope it makes you smile.

For years, I have offered to pack my husband’s lunch for him. He has access to a refrigerator, microwave and break room where he can eat. He has repeatedly declined my offers. He prefers to eat peanuts or potato sticks or weird random things he finds on clearance at the grocery store. He will even occasionally go to a deli and order two slices of bologna and buy a bag of hamburger buns for his lunch. Because he wastes virtually nothing, he brings the leftover buns home or goes back and orders two slices of ham the next day and the next day and so on. This money does not come out of our grocery budget, but out of his own personal “fun money”. (What is wrong with this man?!)

As I prepare supper tonight, he acknowledges (for reasons better left unshared) that he had beans for lunch. I ask him where he ate, thinking it VERY strange that he spent money at a restaurant that would serve baked beans on his lunch hour. HE ATE THEM OUT OF CAN, PEOPLE!!! He bought an el cheap-o can of pork & beans and ATE THEM COLD OUT OF A CAN FOR HIS LUNCH!!

After staring at him in slack-jawed wonder for a moment, I said, “Do you understand that this hurts my heart–that you would rather eat cold pork & beans out of a can than have me pack a lunch for you?”

My husband replied, “I’m sorry.”

I said, “I don’t think you are.”

He said, “I’m sorry that your heart hurts. (pause) But I’m not sorry I ate the cold pork & beans.”

Our ten-year-old son exploded into laughter in the background while I silently apologized to his future wife. I tried. Really I did.

 

Yesterday’s Blessings

I woke up yesterday morning beside a faithful husband who loves me and goes to work every day so that I can spend my days at home. I had a lazy, restful morning at home, then went to get a massage from a beautiful friend who has a huge heart. After being pampered on her table for more than an hour, I went straight from her shop to get a much-needed haircut from another amazing friend who accepts me in spite of my lack of style. Feeling emotionally encouraged and a little bit prettier, I came home and jumped in the shower to get rid of all of the tiny hairs stuck in massage oil on my neck. I got out to find a beautiful clematis (to replace the one that was inadvertently killed by my poison-happy hubby) sitting on my kitchen counter, left by a generous friend who saw it on sale and drove all the way out to surprise me with it.

It’s shameful that I can so often focus on the few people in my world whom I can just never please when so many relatively sane and completely wonderful people are willing to love me just as I am.

Thank You, Jesus, for giving me these people and so many others to speak Your Truth into my hungry heart. And, thank You even more for loving me even more than they do.

Money and Marriage

It is true that I did not marry for money.  However, there were days when I could have divorced over it.

I’m kind of not kidding.

Money was a hot topic in our household in those early years of marriage.  We had some serious knock-down, drag-outs over money.  For instance, there was the time in Year 2 when Dave told me that there wasn’t enough money for certain feminine essentials and that I’d have to figure out something else.  (Excuse me?!)  There was also that time in Year 6 when I held the tax refund check hostage, refusing to let him know that we had received it…for weeks.  (Not my brightest move.)

Here we are in Year 21, and I’m pretty embarrassed by the way we let money take center stage so many times in our relationship.  To be honest, the real problem was that we each wanted control over the same thing:  Cash.  Heaven knows there wasn’t enough of it to actually share that control!  I don’t know that there would have ever been enough money to share in those years.   There was too much self-centeredness—especially in me.

I remember the first time I felt like maybe Dave had my best interests at heart when it came to money.  It was after a couple of years of me practicing the gentle art of thinking before speaking.  Because I could not be trusted to speak the truth in love when I was even slightly annoyed, I was fairly quiet when certain topics arose that, historically speaking, were tense in nature.  As a result, Dave had a lot more opportunity to speak without getting verbally accosted.  I think he liked it.

Anyway, I remember him coming to me some years ago and asking if I would be in a good place to go over some financial things the following evening.  Even though our marriage was fairly solid at this time, I still felt a twinge of dread.  Fortunately, the whole thinking-before-speaking thing had pretty much taken root by then, so I agreed to the discussion.  I then determined to pray for this particular exchange…and committed myself to silence until I could be trusted to speak only the truth in love.

The next evening, I watched Dave spread his paperwork out on the surface of our dining room table and, with the kids playing in the background, he began sharing his assessment of our current financial situation.  Occasionally, he would look at me to be assured of my understanding of a certain issue or to ask my input on a particular point.  For the most part, though, he did the talking.  I just listened.  And, the more I listened, the more he shared.  Dave went on to share his financial goals of being debt-free and growing most of our own food.  He talked about how much he would like us to take a month-long vacation with the kids to the West Coast, camping at national parks along the way and seeing the redwoods and the Pacific Ocean.  He shared that he would like to eventually offer part of our home to missionaries on furlough and to maybe even some day visit the child we sponsor through a relief organization.  I enjoyed listening to his goals and dreams, and I realized how many of them centered on Christ and on our family.  Not one of them seemed self-centered to me.

I had been seeing Dave’s financial goals through the wrong set of lenses.  For years, I had seen Dave’s perspective on money as a personal vendetta against me enjoying life’s little pleasures.  With this new perspective, I realized that they were a protection for our family and a reflection of the priorities we claimed to share.

I’m ashamed of the time I lost due to my pride.  I wasted a lot of years trying to get the upper hand in a battle that my heart had no business waging.  I was like an exhausted child fighting against a loving parent who just announced that it was bedtime.  I did not have the maturity and wisdom to see what was truly best for me.

After that particular discussion with Dave, God gave me a picture of my husband’s role in our marriage.  I was standing in a thunderstorm with Dave standing over me.  His arms were outspread with a blanket as he tried to keep the rain off of me.  Standing over Dave in a similar stance was Jesus, keeping the rain off of both of us.  When I moved to look out and see what I was missing, Dave couldn’t keep me covered; I got pelted with rain drops and blasted by wind.  When I stayed under Dave’s leadership, I was doubly protected—by my husband and by Christ.  If Dave messed up, Jesus was still there as my ultimate refuge.  However, when I relaxed and trusted Dave in his leadership, he was able to keep me dry as an extension of God Almighty.  It was a beautiful picture, and I still carry it in my heart.

Here’s the other thing:  Dave is willing to take responsibility for our financial successes as well as our failures.  This is the ultimate protection for me!  Because of this, I am completely off the hook.  If we go broke, it is totally not my fault.  (Heeheehee!)

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This article was originally written for and published in HER magazine, a product of The Courier-Times, New Castle, Indiana.

Mailbox Misfortune

Somebody hit our mailbox today, splintering our post…and then kept right on driving. I know we’re a long way off the road, but it sure would’ve been nice if we’d had a heads-up so that we could make sure mail could be delivered.

I asked my husband, “Do you ever feel like you continually go out of your way to be kind and thoughtful while folks keep pooping on your head?”

He said no.

One more way in which he and I are different.

I sure am thankful for his no-drama, no-hard-feelings approach to life, though. It has most assuredly worked to my advantage.

Insurance, Wills and Rental Properties

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A couple of weeks ago, I sat down on the couch after supper in anticipation of turning off my brain while sitting snugly against my husband for the rest of the evening.

It was not to be.

While he stoked the fire and the kids washed the dishes, Dave asked, “Are you ready to talk about some things you don’t like to talk about, my love?”

I cringed.

I knew it would have to be something about money.  Usually, these talks involve mortgage rates, rental properties, tightening our belts, and so on.  Or, these discussions may involve a new idea to generate income (and more work)…or a way to spend our current income that has nothing to do with the new couch, new paint or vacation to the U.P. that I envision.

I held my breath for a few seconds, then s.l.o.w.l.y. exhaled.

Dave handed me a couple of papers.  I scrunched my eyes shut in anticipation of the horror, then timidly peeked at what was in my hand.

I couldn’t believe it.  It was worse than I’d imagined.

“Rough Plan in Case of Injury/Death 2016”.

Yeah, that’s what it was titled.

And, no, Dave wasn’t talking about my possible death.  He was talking about his own.

In spite of my relative surety that my husband will die, the topic is not one of my most comfortable.  I immediately felt a lump in my throat.

Dave patted me on the leg, smiled clear up to his eyes and asked, “Are you ready?”

For the next forty minutes, I listened to Dave walk me through our various insurance policies, mortgage debts, insurance costs and rental properties.  He also outlined a proposed budget of sorts that recommended how I could spend survivor benefits to my greatest advantage with the goal that I could still stay home to raise our children.  He made suggestions as to what properties to sell first and their approximate worth, noting the reality that one would possibly be a loss.  He estimated my monthly expenses down to the cost of buying firewood.  He knows that chainsaws scare me.  On a shoestring budget, we would be able to live debt-free in the house Dave built ten years ago.

I can do shoestring budgets.

We have also recently updated our wills and powers of attorney.  To the best of our ability, we have provided for our children in case the unthinkable happens.

Because the unthinkable happens every. single. day.

I am not sure what prompted Dave to do all of this right now.  He is a fair amount older than I am, so maybe it’s his age.  Maybe he heard something on the radio that triggered his desire to get all of this out in the open.  Maybe it was a result of all of the cancer diagnoses that we hear of so frequently.  I don’t know.  I do know that, in all of its discomfort, it was a beautiful gift to me.  One of provision, hope and preparedness.

Toward the end of our discussion that night, our oldest daughter came in and heard what her daddy was saying.  She looked directly at me, and asked, “Why is he talking about all of this stuff?”  With glassy eyes and a smile, I replied, “Because he loves us and wants us to be prepared for every situation.”

We are guaranteed nothing beyond this moment.  I am so thankful for a man who loves me enough to confront me with the ugly truths of life in a way that shows his beautiful commitment to our family.

Here’s another thing that gives me peace:  My husband knows Jesus as his Savior.  I will get to see him again some day.  There is immeasurable comfort for me in that.

As he concluded our discussion that evening, Dave pointed to the bottom of one of the pages and said something to the effect of, “And, if I die by accident, you get additional dollars, so hope that I go in an accident.”

I might have smacked him.

 

 

 

Bitter Made Bearable

I know a whole lot of people right now whose hearts are breaking. Their struggles run the gamut–disease, divorce, death of a loved one, addiction, rebellious children, infertility. Dave often tells his counseling clients that he would love to fix things, but his magic wand is broken. I feel the same way.

I’ve struggled through a few rough spots in my life–some of my own making and some just from living in a broken world. Both really, really stink. I will tell you, though, that I’ve learned that when I take responsibility for the things that are mine and leave the rest to God and everyone else, life has more peace. The words I speak, the activities I choose, the boundaries I set and the people I lean on can make a pretty significant difference in my own emotional and spiritual health. Even then, things will be hard. I’m telling you, though, every bitter road I’ve walked has been made bearable (and even beautiful!) by Jesus. Every.Single.One.

“I sought the Lord, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears…The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and He delivers them…Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.” –Psalm 34

God will not often erase your trials (especially when they’re a result of your own lousy choices), but He will give you the strength to take what comes in His peace and with courage.