Simple

calm

“One day I will find the right words and they will be simple.”
Jack Kerouac

These days, they are anything but simple. They are complicated, complex, wrought with conflicting opinion and stand-taking and assertion. I am tired.

I long for calmer moments, of rainy afternoons and dark clouds gathered and thunder like the rumbling of a distant train.

Things are about to become much less quiet in my life as I start work as a TA and simultaneously begin work on my B.S. in Ed Studies full time online. This will be far from simple, but I need rest soul-deep if I have any hope of getting through the next two years.

I want the election to be over. Whatever we are going to wind up with for leadership I just want it done so (hopefully) the arguing and judgment will stop. If it doesn’t stop, then social media will not be seeing much of me. I need to focus in a positive direction.

I long for quietness, for lightness of being, for peace. I long for moments spent holding my husband’s hand or playing Little People with my grandchildren or making dinner for my big, beautiful family. I need to pull inward, to beckon my heart back home. Only then can I pour myself out the way God calls me to do as a wife, a mother, a Mimi, a teacher, a friend.

I am praying for renewal of purpose. For all of us.

Advertisements

Marriage made in Heaven

S&LWed1

Steve and I had quite a beginning to our love story that you’ll want to read more about if you haven’t already, but here we’ll pick up where that part of our story left off.

Most folks would say we started off behind the eight-ball in our marriage. It’s hard to be deeply in love and not make unwise choices during a long engagement. We were grounded in our faith, and yet we still made some of those choices. We found out in June of 1980 that we were three, and on July 13 we walked the aisle in our tiny church in East Tampa and promised to love each other forever.

On our wedding day I was green with all-day sickness and Steve had the flu. We spent our three-day honeymoon unable to sleep too near each other, him burning up with fever and me with my face in a bucket. Thankfully we missed the memo that all these things were supposed to spell our doom as a couple. We loved each other, and we figured the “in sickness” part was just arriving a little early.

I was “Sixteen and Pregnant” before it was cool enough for a reality show. Truth is there was nothing cool about being a pregnant teenager. I watched my friends fall off like flies one by one, all but a tiny few who didn’t mind being seen with me. I resigned as band captain and left my beloved music program behind to finish the few classes I needed to finish school early. It was one of the loneliest times of my life with regard to friendship, but I will never forget how our parents and church family gathered around us and loved us through those early weeks and months.

Steve has always been my best friend. Because of that friendship rooted in our love for God, everything that has happened to us in life has happened to us, not between us. I really don’t know any other way to explain our relationship, or why we don’t argue, or why we don’t struggle in ways most people do. It isn’t that we never disagree; it’s that we approach everything as a matter of how we will work through it, not whether or not we will. We made a covenant on our wedding day that the D-word wasn’t even in our vocabulary, so we’ve simply lived our life together based in that safe place.

Our Love Story

slv

On Friday, August 31, 1979 my friend Cheri and I were on our way home from the mall. At a stop-light I noticed a blue 1965 Mustang stopped next to us, and about the time I noticed the driver’s afro bopping to the Blue Oyster Cult song shrieking from his radio, he also noticed me. I blushed and grinned, and for a reason known only to the Lord, I waved. He waved back.

The light changed, and since we had to turn left at the next light we fell in behind the Mustang. After both cars made the same turn I joked to Cheri that they probably thought we were following them. She grinned and said, “Hey, we should!” So we did, through a couple of turns, until they got smart and turned into a church parking lot. Spooked, we took off as quickly as her dad’s Beetle would carry us.

We should have expected that they would come after us. They were quickly behind us, so Cheri tried to lose them in an empty Winn-Dixie parking lot. Don’t judge. We were teenagers. To this day I’m not sure what Cheri was thinking when she drove straight to the apartment where my mother and I lived alone and parked in front of our building. I asked her if she’d lost her mind, certain those creepy stalkers were going to murder us before we could escape.

I hid behind my algebra book and Cheri tried to look busy. The guys got out of their car and I remember thinking as they approached ours that I was really not fond of the idea of dying so young. I was about to scream at Cheri for rolling down her window when she pointed to the afro and said, “Hey, I know you!” Bless Jesus, we could live.

Cheri laughed and we both sighed our relief, then we got out of the car to chat with the no-longer-total-strangers. Turns out about a year before, Cheri and Steve had been briefly introduced at a Tampa Jam concert. Briefly was working for me, since it at least assured me of seeing the morning. We talked for a while and before they left Steve asked if he and his best friend Dave could hang out with us sometime, and mentioned a concert that was coming up. We said sure, thinking we’d never see them again.

We bailed on the concert, of course, but I felt a little guilty we didn’t go, so I asked them to meet us for pizza after our high school football game the following Friday night. Friday came, along with a massive rainstorm that combined with a huge loss for our team and drenched us body and spirit. Cheri was in no mood to go out at all, but I convinced her to at least come to the pizza place and hang out for a while.

When we arrived Steve naturally paired up with Cheri (I assumed since they had been introduced) and I sat with Dave. Steve and I sat across the table from each other goofing off and making silly conversation (I recognize it now as massive flirting), and as the evening wore on I felt a heart connection with the tall, skinny Italian rocker with the big hair. They took me home and I introduced them to my mother, and after they left she said, “I think Dave is terrific, but I honestly think Steve is more your type.” I hurried off to my room so she couldn’t see the pink in my cheeks.

The following week I called Steve’s house “looking for Dave”. Of course he wasn’t there, so Steve and I chatted for a little bit. He mentioned that he was going to the mall later to buy a present for a fraternity brother and asked if I wanted to come along. As casually as I could voice it, I said yes, then promptly hung up the phone and went dashing through the house to find my good jeans and the red button-down with the gold lame’ stripes.

As we arrived at the mall, Steve mentioned that “The Muppet Movie” was playing at the cinema and asked if I’d seen it. I said no, so he invited me to the movie. I was beginning to feel really comfortable with this guy, and I still marvel at how easily I fell for him since I had grown up watching my mother struggle in relationships, had seen her used and abused by men, and had fallen into a wreck of a relationship myself at the tender age of barely-fifteen and paid a high price for my misjudgment. Steve made me feel safe.

And so we come to the corniest part of our story, when Miss Piggy sees Kermit and her eyes twinkle in that love-at-first-sight way and Steve kissed me. After you stop gagging and laughing, I will tell you that it was the most perfect kiss on the planet, ever—even better than Westley and Buttercup at the end of “The Princess Bride”. It was gentle and sweet and it melted my heart into a puddle then and there.

A few weeks later as my feelings for Steve continued to grow, it hit me like a freight train that it was going to kill us both when we broke up. Everyone broke up. Broken relationship was all I’d ever known. I hadn’t uttered the word love in regard to Steve because there was still that part of me that fearfully withdrew at the thought of giving my heart to a man. It’s hard to describe the terror that overtook me when I realized I loved him. So I did the only thing I felt would save us both: I broke up with him.

I asked that he not contact me, knowing it would take nothing for my will to break. He honored my request, and I cried for the next two days straight. After a weekend of misery and a painful heaviness I can’t even describe, I finally called a friend, who called him for me and nudged him to call. I told him there was something important I wanted to tell him but it needed to be in person. He said he’d pick me up from band practice the next night.

The whole ride home after practice was quiet. Scared out of my mind, I couldn’t even make small talk. We stood outside the Mustang the way we had done many evenings before, him leaning against the driver’s door and me leaning on him with his arms around me. Every time I tried to find my voice nothing would come out. Finally he took my face in his hands and said, “I love you.” Tears came quickly as I said, “I love you, too.” I don’t think I hit four of the twenty steps up to our apartment that night. I felt I could fly.

A month later he asked my mother if he could propose to me. We would go on to joke for many years about me thinking if I hadn’t been in love with him she would have made me marry him. She gave him her own wedding rings, and on November 17, 1979, he asked me to marry him. At my choked out “Yes!” he put the engagement ring on my finger. It was my 16th birthday.

This fire

steveandmebw

I met him at the front door. He’d walked home from the bus stop and I knew he was home because I could hear him dragging the trash bin around to the side of the house. I opened the door and his smile met mine and we kissed while he closed the door behind us. One thing led to other things I can’t detail in a blog post, and we’ve blushed at each other like middle-schoolers all evening.

I’ve been asked more times than I could begin to count what keeps our passion alive through the years. I usually stick with the safe to discuss, like valuing the other above self, an ongoing sense of humor, and spending a lot of time together. It’s hard to blog about fiery passion in a marriage, at least in a family-friendly manner, but believe me when I tell you it’s a very important part of what keeps our hearts beating as one.

One way we never lose this fire is by never forgetting what love felt like in those early days. When I look at him, my heart and mind see him all the way back to the gangly boy with the afro at the stop light. I see us together way back then and then years later through changes in size and shape as our bodies morphed with age. Time can’t steal the love that has wrapped us tightly in each other’s hearts for more than three decades. It never will.

I think of him constantly. I don’t mind admitting that I start missing him the moment he leaves before the sun is up, so by the time he gets home I’m pretty close to delirious with delight. No wonder I’m grinning like a fool when he walks through the door. The fun part is that he’s doing the same, all day long. We text each other and call when we can, never losing touch for long as our day unfolds. We are always together in one way or another.

These days of getting to spend a lot of time alone are ones we cherish. We’re in no hurry to rush the next phase, but we know when the last of our young leaves the nest it still won’t be empty. It will never be empty. There will always be us, this pink-cheeked girl and her gangly boy crazy in love and kissing at the front door.

A Beautiful Life

ABLbookcoverFREE for Kindle this weekend

It’s a lot like giving birth, this book releasing thing, like holding a newborn out to the waiting world and whispering, “Please love it?” Makes me a little queasy, if I’m completely honest, and I admit moments of wondering what in the world I was thinking taking this on. But I did, and here it is, and I really do hope you love it.

I’ve been writing my whole life, and it’s no secret that I have a particular passion for using words to build into people–especially other women–and offer them courage and hope. I’ve had bits and pieces of books written and stored for a long time, but it wasn’t until Brian Williams’ book writing class that the motivation and accountability teamed up with my love for writing and resulted in a finished work.

My first book. As I consider how many women have received it since it went live yesterday, the thought of that many people holding a me-shaped piece of hope is both terrifying and exhilarating at once. Deep down I am awed by God’s grace that I get to be a part of something this lovely, this inviting of others to remember what it was like to dream.

I won a writing contest in fifth grade, and from the moment I read my story aloud and saw the wonder on my classmates’ faces, I was hooked. With a million butterflies dancing around in my tummy, I was overcome by an excitement I couldn’t word. I had a feeling that was just the beginning, and I was right. There is no feeling quite like having someone walk up to me and say, “I read your book, and I love it! Thank you for being real on the page and putting it out here for all of us.” That happened this morning, and I’m pretty sure it will never get old.

So here’s my baby, and I offer it out to you, my sweet friend. Because it’s you I pictured sitting across the table from me as I wrote. You, with your questions and your exhaustion and your wondering if you can keep going one more single minute. You can, and I’m going to be here cheering you on. You aren’t alone, and don’t you forget it. We’re in this together, and I can’t wait to meet you on the page.

My heart to yours, I wish you an ever-increasingly beautiful life.

When you’re warmly invited to dream

invited

Oh, it is a hard thing, the speaking of dreams in a world that no longer believes in happy ever after. Dreaming gets hard when our hearts know what we’re up against, that we live in a world that holds hands with sorrow like a lifelong friend.  This world is particularly hostile to the gifts we swaddle and hold close and protect, especially if we’ve gone beyond one or two.

These little ones so fresh from God still smell of Heaven but we get sideswiped off the road of grateful and the gravel flies and the swerving back can feel like whiplash as we grab the neck and wince and crumple and cry and wave the Holy Spirit on to do what He does–speak those guttural sounds that pierce God’s ear on our behalf when we’re too wrung out to form words.

The day my sonogram showed fourth boy a woman at the ball field spoke words that stung. “Oh, wow. I bet you’re disappointed.” Blinking hard, I backed away from her, practically ran to the car to sweep my sweet boy far from her dark words. I remember wanting to blanket my belly, to never let him hear or feel or believe such a terrible thought. That day I went home and named him Matthew. “Gift of Jehovah”. I never wanted him to doubt for a second that I considered him all gift from our graceful God. He is 20 now, still gift and full of grace.

Sometimes our beautiful is the world’s ugly, and that can hurt deep. But if we understand our calling we grasp that we live in a world that needs Jesus and the hard truth is that they can’t understand Him so they run far and fast from His presence. And from His gifts.

They run from our happy marriages and our big closely-knit families and our sweet relationships with our children. They run from our friendships that put the other first and let one another breathe free and always try to believe the best. They run from our dreams because they are afraid to fly.

And isn’t it our hope for them that they are freed to fly?

In a few short weeks I will release my first full-length book to Kindle, and later to print. It is an invitation to dream and believe and fully live.

A Beautiful Life – An Invitation to Truly Live is my hand held out in warm welcome. And you are invited.

A real-life fairy tale: myth or magic?

sillhouette

I believe in fairy tales. For the past 34 years I’ve been living in one.

Hear me out: I don’t go around telling people they must live a fairy tale because I do. Not everyone even wants one.

Some people want conflict–and by conflict I mean out-and-out fighting, arguing, screaming, belittling. Hatefulness. I can’t imagine why people would thrive on such things, but I understand not everyone thinks like I do and I’m willing to consider that some people might like that kind of “spice” in their marriage. I like spice. I don’t like meanness.

My husband has never said an unkind word to me. We’ve been together since I was 15 and for the longest time I wouldn’t even mention that little fact because I didn’t fancy people laughing in my face. And I have had people tell me flat out that they don’t believe me. I’ve grown to be okay with that. I no longer worry about whether or not people believe it, because I’m living it and in the end that’s what matters.

I’d like to say I’ve never spoken unkindly to him. I can say I’ve never intentionally been mean to him. I’ve been frustrated (as I’m sure he has been with me) and on occasion (especially at “that” time of the month) my tone hasn’t been as gentle. But it isn’t in my heart to hurt him.

We’ve never intentionally wounded one another. Believe it or don’t.

We don’t have to wound one another to have a spicy marriage. We decided long ago that playful imaginary fighting was much more fun and less damaging. It also fits right in with the goofball atmosphere we’ve always maintained in our family relationships–an atmosphere that still exists today among our family that has grown to include us and our five and their beloveds plus some grandloves. It’s working for us.

While I’m at it, I may as well go for broke and toss out a few more myth-busters:

  • There has never been a moment when I have wondered why I married him.
  • I have never “awakened one morning wishing we weren’t married”.
  • Our passion has never “cooled and settled into something less fiery”.
  • We have never “grown apart” or “realized we don’t really know one another”.
  • We have never had regular date nights.
  • We mutually placed our children as a high priority and it didn’t ruin our marriage.
  • We co-slept with our babies and toddlers and practiced extended breastfeeding and it didn’t quash intimacy in our relationship.
  • We were firmly attached to our children and it didn’t negatively affect our attachment to one another.
  • We practiced intuitive parenting as a team that included firmly enforced guidelines.
  • We are growing old together, completely crazy about each other, and are approaching an empty nest without fear.

When I say I’m living a fairy tale, I’m not bragging. I’m not gloating. I’m not thinking I’m better than anyone else. Who am I to deserve this? I am fully aware that I don’t, and I am more grateful than I could ever express for the grace that brought this magic into my life all those years ago and has sustained it all this time.

When I say I’m living a fairy tale, I’m not asking you to encourage me. I’m not even asking you to believe me. I’m just saying please don’t be mean.

Please stop trying to make it seem ridiculous, or less than real, or even outright wrong. I won’t ask you to live it, and I won’t tread on your choice of relationship style–even if I don’t understand it. Deal?

If I might be so bold as to ask one favor, it is this: Please don’t trade off any possible notion of living a real-life fairy tale by normalizing an erratic, conflict-ridden, it’s-all-about-me existence. Understand that fairy tale doesn’t mean perfect. It means walking through conflict with kindness and concern for the other. It means taking the blows life dishes out as one unit and facing it all together with one heart. It means loving, no matter what.

I never mean to boast. I only mean to encourage. This is a beautiful thing, and the truth is I wish everyone could know this joy.

Living a fairy tale is not trouble-free, nor is it repulsive. It is a blessing we embrace with one heart full of gratitude and hope. Before you knock it, you might want to give it a try.

You might discover a wish you never expected your heart to make.

Life through the lens of before and after

throughthelens

Recently while cleaning my studio I came across a group of photos taken several years ago while preparing for housework. I’m a sucker for before/after photos, and these particular shots must have presented quite a contrast considering the disheveled mess that leapt from each image.

I couldn’t help but muse that the “after” shots were not included in the bunch, although in my mind’s eye I recalled how clean and well-organized everything looked after all that work, how pleased I was with the end result. Interestingly, I don’t recall ever printing those images of “after”.

I couldn’t put down the photos but kept looking through one after another, recalling items shown and the memories attached to each one. I saw our now-grown-up offspring as children playing and singing and rushing from room to room silly and serious and full of life.

And it hit me that I didn’t need the after pictures to see the beauty. It was right there, staring back from piles of dirty dishes and messy bins and wrinkled clothing.

Don’t get me wrong; I loved having a clean house. But I didn’t have to look past the before to know that the after would come.

Sometimes life feels like one big before picture, messy and chaotic and overwhelming. Kids are loud and dinner is late and the batting glove got left in the pants through the wash cycle again. There’s no sugar for the sweet tea and the dog ate the VBS craft and the battery in the ten-year-old car is dead, Jim.

Gazing out from that before picture can feel pretty dismal.

But here in the after, where the kids are all grown up and the house is tidy and all is quiet save for the sound machine set to “rain”, it looks very different.

It’s pretty, and organized, and shiny. But I miss the mess.

I miss sticky fingers and waking at 5am on Christmas morning to make sure the kids didn’t wake before us. I miss the rush of ballgames and dance classes and drama team rehearsals. I miss piling us all into the old Toyota hatchback and watching little fingers poking from beneath the bathroom door.

I miss the before.

I like the after plenty, and it brings its own brand of chaos. But gazing at those photos of piles and mess and chores needing attention reminded me of how much I miss the days of before. It makes me sad for every moment I wished away, and maybe a few where I just didn’t stay present enough.

And slowly it dawns that today is tomorrow’s before. The photos I snap today will be snapped up in afters tomorrow and I will miss this, too.

And I ponder these things in my heart, all these befores happening right here and now and realize that I will want pictures of this to hold in my hands one day—pictures of this beautiful mess with all the memories these moments have created.

And I gratefully vow to stay present in the right now.

. . . . . . . . . .

 

A Write Where It Hurts column post

This girl looking back on the dads in her life

lookingbacksketch

I was 12 when the call came that Daddy was dead. I would spend the following days in a fog, only half aware of my surroundings as I went through the motions of visitation, funeral, burial, and well-wishes from family and friends. I didn’t know it then, but the full impact of the loss would take me a lifetime to realize.

One would think a girl who only had her daddy for 12 years wouldn’t have much memory of him, or at least wouldn’t have learned much from him to carry through the rest of her life. In this case, one would be wrong.

Daddy taught me more lessons in those few years than many are privileged to learn in a lifetime. Respect, kindness, and die-hard love was knit into me and nurtured by both parents from the moment I was born. My early years were a tumultuous mix of confusing events that tore my parents apart, but that didn’t keep them from loving me with everything they had and teaching me worlds about life.

Father’s Day is always a bittersweet day for me as I feel the weight of Daddy’s loss but at the same time celebrate the most amazing man I’ve ever known, my husband and the father of my children, Steve. There aren’t enough words and there isn’t nearly enough time to describe the depth of love I feel for this man, how he inspires me with every word and action every day, how he shows our sons how to “dad”. He is our family’s hero.

I also celebrate another man who has been pivotal in my life. I call Steve’s dad Papa, and I guess you could say he kind of became my dad when I was 15. He called me a “drowned rat” the first time he saw me, and then sometime shortly thereafter I became his “Little Girl” and have remained thus ever since.

Papa and I haven’t always seen eye to eye. In the beginning he scared the daylights out of me with his dry humor that I never knew quite how to take. I wound up crying much of the time, and I didn’t know then how much that must have bewildered him. Eventually I caught on, though, and started giving it right back to him, and that’s when our bond really began to grow.

Looking back over the father figures in my life, I have much for which to be grateful. And I am, beyond what these words can describe. Each of these amazing men has in his own way pointed me to the Father who makes all things new and loves beyond imagination.

I am truly blessed, and I’m thankful for every moment I’ve had with them, every lesson learned, every laugh and tear, every memory made. This is my focus on Father’s Day, this gratitude and not what could have been.

I can’t be anything but grateful when I smile over what is.

. . . . . . . . . .

 

A Write Where It Hurts column post

He quotes the Song of Solomon, and I don’t mind

WebHeartOnce again I’ve been stirred to response by another blog post. I hesitate to link to it because I don’t want this to come across as combative or a one-up. I just felt like I couldn’t not respond to the idea that the Song of Solomon isn’t an ideal to which we as wives should aspire. My comment on the post looked a bit like a blog post of its own, so in that spirit I share it here. A few details have been added since I posted it as a comment.

I think sometimes I’m just too simplistic. Meaning I don’t see the benefit of digging our heels into the scar tissue of old abuses and refusing to see past them. I was molested as a child. I was date-pressured into sex at 15 and lost my virginity in the back of a Pinto station wagon. I was 16 and pregnant before it was cool enough for a reality show.

By God’s grace I have moved on and refuse to allow myself to remain bogged down in the Roach Motel of anger and bitterness and revenge. I refuse to allow that painful past to rob me of seeing myself as beautiful to my husband, who calls me “smoking hot” all the time without offending me because I know his heart and it is for me.

Interestingly, in a conversation with my 17YO daughter about whether Song of Solomon is worthy of emulation, her response was, “I see every book of the Bible as having been put there by God for a purpose, and I don’t believe any book is one God hopes we just kind of overlook.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

If we are going to start dismissing entire books of the Bible (or even large portions of it) because it doesn’t fit with where we are in our healing process, we may as well toss out everything David said or did that can be used for our good. It’s easy to see how that could get out of hand quickly. To dismiss Solomon’s words entirely would be a great loss to us all.

Do I feel for women still deep in the healing process, who don’t see themselves as “smoking hot” (maybe can’t even imagine themselves ever feeling like that)? Absolutely. That was me, but that was then and I’m glad I didn’t stay there. I’m glad I didn’t dismiss the notion of ever reaching this place of healing where my husband can quote SoS to me and have it warm my heart (and my cheeks).

Please hear my heart–I don’t mean to offend. I simply implore anyone sharing on this topic to invite women to heal beyond that place of stagnation, that place where we can’t see ourselves blushing at being told our breasts are are like twin fawns of a gazelle. By the grace of God we CAN heal to that place where we joy in “I am my beloved’s, and he is mine”.

I believe it is God’s desire for us as wives to hold onto hope, to refuse to dig into our past as a place of permanent pain. I see His heart for us as refusing to let the Enemy steal that beauty and joy from us, from our husbands, from our marriage.

He makes all things new.