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When I called her back, I had no idea how the conversation would go. Because I thought she’d called to check-in, to suggest we get together soon, spend an hour over lunch catching up on life. I was wrong.
She’d called because her life was in shambles. She’d called because she needed to talk to someone. She’d called because she was mad at God and she was looking for answers.
I could tell from the tone of her voice, from the silent tears I knew were streaming down her face, that my words could make a difference. Could affect how she thinks and acts going forward. My words? In moments like these I really do wonder if God knows what he’s doing. But my doubt is momentary; I do believe He does, even when I don’t.
I certainly don’t understand the ways in which God works. But I do sometimes feel a push in my gut, an alarm in my head if you will, stirring me to realize the need to act. So I did what I often do when faced with such a situation. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and asked God to get me through it.
And then I went for it. Let go of my worries about saying the right thing or having all the answers or knowing what I was doing. I just tried my best to help her. I tried to listen, understand, and empathize. I shared what I do when I am lost, afraid, mad. I told her I’d pray for her.
It’s been a few months now and my friend is doing well. Her troubles have not left her but she is coping. I’ve prayed for her every day. And now looking back, I really don’t even remember what I said, or if we want to get technical, what God said to her through me. I also have no idea if my words helped or hindered or made any difference. We’ve never discussed it. And really, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that in this instance I followed God’s lead.
photo courtesy of: http://lfcbrf.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/god-has-a-plan-and-god-works-his-plan-even-in-our-plans/
What does matter, is that I
*Acted when I need to act.
*Listened when someone needed me to listen.
*Prayed when my friend needed prayer.
If only I could do this every time someone in need of a loving touch from God came to me. If only we all did-what a world it could be.
“Ah, no worries,” he wrote in his text, “I’ll take care of it, it’s all good.” It was the perfect response, what I needed to hear.
Because in this instance, like most instances, I was worrying about something which was definitely not worth my worry. It is what I do, and my brother knows this.
We are born from the same parents, come from the same gene pool, and grew up in the same house yet, my brother and I are very different people. I am grateful.
My brother Kent is three years older than me. In my earliest memory, I see him, crooked grin upon his face, bangs in need of a trim. He has on a striped t-shirt, Toughskins jeans and Keds tennis shoes. He is whispering something in my ear, trying to make me laugh, and he is succeeding. We’re in a restaurant, eating fried chicken, and we’re about to get thumped on the head from our father, his quick and quiet way to discipline us when we acted up. It is one scene, one memory in my bank, but it represents the essence of our entire childhood.
My brother always added a certain element of fun to our household. He was a tease, often cutting up and making everyone laugh. Growing up, we couldn’t have been more opposite. He was outgoing, popular, played in and excelled at sports. He was fun to be around (still is) and thus people gravitated toward him. I on the other hand, was quiet and shy and while I had friends, it took me a long time to grow into myself. I often stood in the shadows of his gregarious personality.
So while I spent my time doing exactly what I was supposed to, Kent was doing exactly what he wanted to do. While I did homework and earned Girl Scout badges and kept my room clean, Kent took life for all it had to offer. He quit the Boy Scouts and got a paper route. He saved up enough money to buy a mini-bike (which he bought without consulting with my parents).
At age eleven, he cooked Thanksgiving dinner, even making Baked Alaska for dessert. When he was a teen, he brought home a puppy, giving my parents some lame story about how he’d rescued him from being used in a research study for a drug company. Nobody believed the story, but we ended up keeping Max; he was the best dog we ever had.
The thing about my brother is this: he’s always walked to the beat of his own (somewhat rebellious) drum. Growing up, if he was having fun, then our parents’ rules and curfew limits became optional. If he didn’t like his teachers, he simply wouldn’t do the homework. If you were a bully picking on an innocent kid, well then he just might have beaten you up. Half the time my parents didn’t know whether to be proud or appalled by my brother’s behavior. In the end, I believe they’ve always respected him for being true to his beliefs, no matter the consequences.
As kids we had plenty of fun, but we weren’t exactly close. In fact, I’d say like most siblings, we spent the majority of our time fighting. But no matter, I always knew if I ever got into a real jam, my brother would be there for me. And now, some forty-years later, he still is.
In our adult years we’ve had many a memorable time together. We’ve had family camp outs where he makes up campfire stories to scare our kids, we’ve gone on vacations to the beach each year (where he makes us all write down our favorite memories and then buries these notes in a jar for us to dig up the next year) and we also tailgate together before the Colts games (breakfast burritos, homemade soup, brats-the food is always fabulous!).
My brother is funny, can make anyone laugh. My kids affectionately refer to him as Crazy Uncle Kent.
But lately our time together and conversations have been more serious. It’s what happens when you lose a parent. There are decisions to be made, details to contend with, financial plans to be considered. And so in this we are a team; we bounce things off on one another, talk through issues and determine next steps. We also talk through our grief. It is a new stage in our relationship.
I love that I have my brother to walk with me through these trials. But most of all, I just love my brother for who he is; a funny, caring person who doesn’t take himself or his life too seriously.
A while back he sent me a text, he was offended that I was unable to attend a cookout he hosted. I kept explaining why we couldn’t be there. Turns out he was just teasing, trying to get a rise out of me (which he did). The other day when I called, he answered the phone by saying, “Taco Tim’s, how can I help you?” He repeatedly acts as if he cannot remember my youngest daughter’s name, calls her Karen. Last week after reading my blog, he asked if I was ever going to write about him. He’s asked this last question for about a year now.
Well brother: Yes, I am and here it is. Thanks for always being there, teaching me to lighten up and enjoy life, and for always, always making me laugh.
All you have to do is take one look around my house and you’ll see it’s true: summer has arrived.
You can tell by the pool towels draped across my patio chairs, the novels lying about my family room, and the flip-flops scattered across the floor of my entry. But despite the mess, I’m feeling a bit giddy. Because I love summer, and not just for the weather.
Nope, there’s more to this season than sunshine, lightening bugs and family reunions.
For me, summer is the season of promise. These 12 weeks hold within them what I long for all year round: possibility, hope, and best of all: fun. I love to have fun. Below are the top seven things I love about summer.
1-Fewer Commitments + More Flexibility=More Time. Like most people, I have set volunteer and social obligations. But guess what? All my commitments cease during the summer months (except for work but I have a flexible schedule). This leaves me with free pockets of time. In addition, with the kids out of school, I’m free of school meetings and activities (and helping with homework!). Free, free, free; are you getting that I like my freedom? A break from commitments for these few precious weeks, it’s a blessing.
2-Longer days=more outdoor activities.
I think I’m like a bear that hibernates. In the cold winter months all I want to do is sit by the fire and sleep or read (not that bears read). But in the summer I come alive. I’m more apt to get up early and walk the dog and get out in the evenings. In my book, longer days warmer temps and sunshine make for better living.
3-Summer Concerts, Picnics, Fairs and Festivals, oh my! What can be better than a picnic in the park? I’ll tell you: one with family and friends while listening to a free concert and watching tiny ones dance around in the green grass. Add a glass of wine and I’m even happier. Another summer favorite pastime for me is berry-picking at Spencer’s Farm. I’ll admit it: I can eat berries by the handful. Picking strawberries, blackberries and blueberries off the vine: heaven on earth and time well spent on a warm summer morning.
4-Less TV=More Time to Read. I’m not a huge TV person, but I do love the shows I love: Mad Men, Nashville, Parenthood, The Good Wife, Amazing Race and Shark Tank to name (quite) a few. But with a summer full of re-runs or less-than-appealing reality shows, I turn the TV off and indulge in my reading habit. Such a more satisfying way to spend time, I don’t know why I bother with TV at all.
5-More Time Spent with Family and Friends. There’s just something about a good old-fashioned cookout. And the grilled burgers and corn on the cob aren’t the half of it. For me it’s the laughter and lingering that I love. Whether it’s around the fire pit on cooler evenings or hanging out on the porch on the hotter ones, it’s all a good time. Life often gets in the way of connecting with the people we care about. But with a relaxed schedule and longer days, summer finds me more eager to entertain. And this always fills my bucket.
6-Travel, travel, travel! I am one of those people who enjoys getting out and seeing the world. Be it Paris or Southern Indiana, to me it’s always an adventure. So I love nothing more than going on vacation or getting away for a weekend. I find it exhilarating to explore new places. Summer is the perfect time to do so.
7-Being Spontaneous. I’ve got one kid in college, one in high school and one who will enter middle school in the fall. Because of the differences in their ages, everyone comes and goes at different times. But occasionally, in the summer, I’ll find a day when everyone is home at once. This is when I decide to blow off my to-do list and sneak away for an adventure with my girls. In the past we’ve hit Conner Prairie, biked the Monon Trail or snuck away to Brown County for the day. Somehow my soul knows this is important to do from time to time. I think it’s about choosing life over chores.
There are so many things to love about this season. Everyone has their favorite summertime rituals, what are yours?
If God had put me in charge of the great outdoors, it would not be a pretty sight. Because the truth is, I have tried and failed at growing many things.
So about two years ago I gave it up. I gave it all to Glen. Little did I know then how much I’d learn from this man.
Glen takes care of our yard. He’s not quite a landscaper, not quite a gardener. He’s just a guy who makes his living working on yards.
I spotted him in my parents’ neighborhood years back. It is not a designated senior neighborhood, but it’s a small, tight knit group of older folks who look out for one another. Everyone who lives there is over age 60, and almost all of them contract with Glen to handle their yard work.
One day, after planting and killing yet another hydrangea, I drove to my parents house, walked right up to Glen and told him I needed help with my yard for an upcoming party. And that was it: the party came and went, but two years later Glen is still mowing our grass, planting flowers and trimming our shrubs. In that time I’ve come to know this man. I’ve learned a great deal from him. Not about gardening (there’s no help for my brown thumb), but about life.
It’s amazing what we can learn from those around us. But in this social-media-saturated, never-be-bored with instant-access-to-entertainment-world we live in, lessons from the sidelines are easy to miss. So I’m glad that over the years I’ve taken time to stop and chat with Glen. Today I want to share what he’s taught me.
1-Love what you do and you’ll be happy. Glen drives a regular pick-up truck, it’s not wrapped and there is no logo on the side panel. He does not advertise, his business comes word of mouth. If I happen to be home when he’s here, he will chat with me about our yard. He’ll point out how our grass is coming along, how our holly bushes survived the winter, how the shrubs in our backyard are thriving. I think he cares more about our yard then we do. But isn’t that how it is when you love what you do? Work is not just work, it’s also pleasure.
2-Don’t waste time on meaningless activities. Recently I had to show Glen where our cable wires were buried in order for him to complete his work. It was then I learned he doesn’t own a computer. As I was saying I couldn’t live without the Internet, Glen was saying he doesn’t bother with it. WOW. This seems unheard of to me; I can’t imagine how out of touch he must be. But then I thought about what I do when I’m on my computer. Outside of work, most of my time spent there is of little value. What are we missing out on when we give our time to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram? The answer? A lot.
3-Value People, not things. I don’t know much about Glen’s personal life, but I know he values people. He works with his son and he knows all his clients by name. And I saw the sadness in his eyes when I had to tell him my mom passed away. I’ll never forget what he once said to me, “It’s the worst part of my job,” he sighed, “When I get to know people and then they pass away, or have health troubles, it’s terrible.” Something tells me Glen isn’t worried about losing a client so much as he is saddened by the loss of another human being. Putting people first, work second; it’s a good reminder for us all.
4-Take Time Off. In the spring, summer and fall, we see a lot of Glen. He’ll stop by to seed or check on plants or mow the grass. But every winter he heads south and enjoys some well-deserved time off. Time that I’m sure renews him, gets him ready for the hard work that awaits in the coming months. A recent article on ABC News states Americans work more and take less vacation than anyone in the industrialized world. The question is, why? Do we really want to put that accomplishment on our tombstone? We too need to rest.
I don’t know Glen all that well. I don’t know where he’s from or where he went to school or what his favorite sports teams are, but I do know a lot about his character. I must say it makes me wish I were more of a gardener.
The older woman looked down into the stroller and smiled, “How old is she?”
“Eight weeks,” I answered. We went on to chat about babies and sleep and 2:00 am feedings while she rang up my clothing purchase. She was so much older, wiser, had already done this thing that was so new to me. It felt good to talk to her.
She was someone who understood.
And then it happened again when I went to the grocery. The bookstore. The gym. Finally I realized; there’s something about having a child that bonds women. I thought to myself, I’m in a club now, The Motherhood Club.
Because never before had older women in department stores stopped and talked to me. They didn’t ask personal questions about my life, my family or my sleep habits. But once I got pregnant, once my belly began to reveal itself, everything changed.
Those ahead of us in the game of life like nothing better than to share. They share their experiences, their advice, their war stories. Sometimes they share too much.
And thank God. Because if I didn’t have their stories to make me realize I’m not alone in my circumstances, then I surely wouldn’t survive.
Because whatever it is I am going through, it’s the people I go through it with who help me get to the other side.
When my daughter was three months old, I went back to work. It’s hard to be a working mom. Hard to show up on time when your two-year-old throws a tantrum over pink socks. Hard to be on your game in the boardroom when you’ve been up all night.
So it was then that I bonded with other working moms. Together we commiserated about how there aren’t enough hours in the day and the guilt of missing our child’s first step, first word, first lost tooth. We also taught each other how to make dinner in a flash, make the most of the moments we had with our children and how to Let. The. House. Go.
I became a full-fledged member of the Working Mothers Club. But not for long.
Because when I had daughter number two, I quit my job and became a stay-at-home mom. This too, was an adjustment. Because while I loved being with my children, I also loved coffee breaks and satisfying work and adult conversation.
Being at home alone with little ones was sometimes lonely. So I joined a real, live mom’s club, and it literally saved me. This club was full of women who could relate to being up all night, being thrown up on, and being home all day but still getting nothing done. They had empathy, advice, and knew better than anyone how to get purple nail polish out of white carpet.
Life is about stages. About experiencing joy, difficulty and adjustment to new and different circumstances. How do I best I get through these stages? I join a club. In other words, I bond with people like me, people in the same place I’m in, people who can guide me through.
Currently I’ve joined a new club. It’s called the Grieving Club. It’s not a physical club like my mom’s club, but it is a club. Most of the members have been through what I’ve been through. They empathize. They reach out. They send me a text or a card or just call to check in.
I am grateful.
For most of my life, I have wanted to keep my struggles, my adjustments, my fears and sadness to myself. I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, don’t want to bother other people. Sometimes I just don’t want to face my feelings, don’t want to be…vulnerable.
But the older I get, the more I realize this: God did not design me to be a solitary creature. He does not want me to go through my trials alone and in fact, he reminds me that I’m never alone. He is with me always.
But it’s nice to have some physical companions too. So he gave me family, friends, and complete strangers who exhibit empathy and compassion. What a blessing.
There’s a lot I don’t understand about how God works. But I do know this: God created each of us with an empathetic heart and when we feel the pull we are meant to act.
So I guess when it’s my turn, when I’m ready, it will be my job to pay it forward in the Grieving Club. To be that person who commiserates, reaches out, calls or sends a text or card just to check in. I’m not there yet, haven’t felt the pull, but when I do, I’ll be more than ready to complete the assignment.
Here’s something you may not know about me: I am rooting for you. I root for (almost) everyone.
I want people to achieve their dreams. To overcome obstacles. To learn, grow and live a happy life. I guess you could say I’m a cheerleader at heart.
But I’m also realistic. Pragmatic. Sensible. I know the odds are not (forever) in your favor (yes, I am lame enough to make a play on this infamous Hunger Games phrase!). So while I’m hoping against hope that dreams are achieved, addictions are overcome and lotteries are won; in truth, at times, I end up…disappointed.
But then I remember; sometimes dreams really do come true. Some people overcome. Some people beat the odds. Victory happens. It inspires me.
Author William P. Young is one of those people. Perhaps you’ve never heard of him. Or, if you’re like me, perhaps you read his 2008 bestseller, The Shack. I had the opportunity to hear Young speak at Grace Community Church last week. The topic: Where’s God When.
Even if you didn’t like the book, keep reading this post. Young’s story is a fascinating one. All I can say is, wow.
First, a bit about the book. The Shack is a bit out there. The story starts with the reader finding Mack, the main character, shrouded in anger and misery over the events in his life. He is unhappy, hopeless and yet doing nothing to change. This married father of three cannot see anything good about life, he is stuck. He is angry.
Then one day he receives a letter in the mail. The letter is an invitation to come visit Papa for the weekend. Mack, who grew up in an abusive home, no longer speaks to his father. And the place he is to being asked to visit is an abandoned shack where his young daughter’s bloody clothing was found after she was abducted and killed. So the question is: who sent the letter? Who exactly is Papa?
Mack isn’t sure. The note could be from his father, could be from his daughter’s killer, or he wonders if perhaps it is from God. Out of curiosity he decides to go to the shack. Indeed, the note is from God who in this story is portrayed as an African American woman named Elousia. Over the weekend he has many conversations with Elousia. He also meets Jesus, a carpenter of course, and Sarayu, an Asian woman representing the Holy Spirit. The entire story is about Mack coming to terms with his daughter’s death and other disappoints in his life. It’s a story about finding hope, about where God is when bad things happen.
Whether you found the book gripping or as some say, heretical, here’s what I think: the story of William P. Young’s life is even more compelling than the book he wrote.
Young was born to missionaries and moved to Africa with his family as a baby. Here he grew up in the wild with an African tribe. Unbeknownst to his parents, tribe members sexually abused him regularly; it began before he turned six. In addition, his father, repeating the cycle his father had taught him, abused Young for most of his childhood.
At age six, Young was sent off to a boarding school for children of missionaries. Here he spent nine months of every year away from the only family he’d ever known. The school, which was run by missionaries, was not the safe haven one would think it to be. I am horrified to report that here again, the school children were abused regularly.
Young’s upbringing seems not to have deterred him from his faith, however it did cause a myriad of issues for him as an adult. He admits to being obsessed with pleasing people and God, of succumbing to sexually addiction, having an affair and at one point, being so broke that he had to sell his family’s home. He tried to keep his issues hidden but once the facade fell, everything in his life fell apart. In his worst moments, he thought suicide to be the best option for himself and his family. He had a plan, a place, and luckily, someone to stop him from going through with it.
Young says it took over ten years to turn his life around. Ten years. For ten years, he kept trying, kept praying, kept striving to heal his brokenness. I’m not sure I could last that long. He worked hard to tear down the walls he’d created in his life, to learn to love himself, and to become brave enough to ask others for help. Ten years it took. It wasn’t until after he’d healed that he wrote The Shack.
He wrote the story to give as a Christmas gift for his children when he couldn’t afford to buy them anything else. Having a few extra copies, he shared these with friends. Word of mouth led to increased readership. Eventually demand led to it being published. At present The Shack has sold over 15 million copies and is currently being made into a movie by Forest Whitaker.
A difficult childhood. A messy addiction-filled adult life. A broken man who was once shrouded in shame is now telling his story to the entire world. That’s what God can do. That’s what faith can do. That’s why I’ll never put away my pom-poms or give up hope. It’s worth a little disappointment here and there.