A Love Story — for SheLoves

Theirs is a love story that not many remember these days. One of them has been gone from this plane for 10 years; the other has no memory of ever being married, despite their 63 years together. So it’s my story to tell now . . . you can start this sweet tale here and click over to SheLoves to continue it. It’s a good one for Valentine’s Day weekend, don’t you think?

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Celebrating 50 years on the island of Kauai in 1991

On paper, they were seriously mismatched. He, the brilliant, favored son of a well-educated southern family, she the hard-scrapple middle child of working class Canadians, each family migrating to the Los Angeles area before their kids were old enough to remember anyplace else.

Ben’s family was firmly ensconced in a downtown Methodist church, teaching Sunday school, singing in the choir, providing leadership in a multitude of ways. Ruth was a church orphan, whose parents dropped her at the front door each Sunday.

They came up through the youth group separately — he, four years ahead of her — but each knew of the other. She had a steady boyfriend by the time she was in high school and dated him for four years, most of their life together centered around that old brownstone church.

Ben was gifted musically and intellectually, but very reserved, even shy. Ruth was vivacious, smart, mischievous, funny and a natural leader. He stood on the sidelines of her life for a while, becoming increasingly smitten. After Ruth’s early relationship ended, they gravitated toward each other, each of them happy to discover the ways their differences were complementary.

The rest, as they say, is history. They ‘went together’ for several years, as he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UCLA; she matriculated there, but dropped out when family funds evaporated. By then, they were committed to marriage, the US had entered WWII, and her folks saw no reason for her to get a degree. She regretted it the rest of her life.

He failed to pass the physical for the draft, so began to teach in San Diego at a small military academy. In 1941, they married in a friend’s garden, honeymooned in Laguna Beach, and settled into community life at the school.

Their love for one another grew deep and sturdy, but it was never particularly easy, especially during those early years. His family didn’t really approve of her — his mother took to her bed for a full week when they announced their engagement and wore black to their wedding. Each of their families of origin had their own unique dysfunctions and patterns and, as is true for all of us, the wounds of childhood were real and lasting.

He was the ‘show-kid,’ his skill at the piano and in the classroom regularly put on display by a pushy mother. She was the caretaker, intervening at a very young age when her dad came home drunk and became verbally and even physically abusive to everyone in the family.

He kept things in, she let them out, often in a big and dramatic way. Learning to communicate, to deal with anger issues, to build their own individual self-confidence — these were issues that didn’t go away.

Hop on over to SheLoves to finish this story and to share with all of us a love story that’s important in your own life.

Out of the Ether — OneWord 2016

On January 1st, I sent out my first Tiny Letter of this new year. This is a project I have come to love and I am grateful for the friends who have subscribed to these missives, most particularly for the much smaller number who take the time to send me a response of some kind. Thank you!!

In that letter, I said that I was still waiting for my ‘word’ for this year to reveal itself to me. I was even so bold as to say I hoped it would be an easier word than the last few have been. My word for 2015 was ‘STRETCH,’ for 2014 it was ‘OBEDIENT,’ and for 2012, it was ‘WAITING.’ (Not sure what happened to 2013, but apparently, a word never materialized for that 12-month stretch!) Not one of those was easy, in any sense of that word.

After writing that letter, as I readied myself for sleep and turned out the light, I asked again for a word to appear. And lo, out of the ether of near-sleep, a word appeared. I thought I heard it as . . . slow.

Well, yes, that surely fits. 2015 was the year of Falling Down a Lot and every time I hit the ground, I thought to myself, “Woman, you have GOT to slow down!” So slow seemed right somehow.

But that sense of rightness lasted all of 30 seconds. Because coming immediately on the heels of that word was this one: ‘STEADY.

Ah, yes. I’ll take it! I said into that ether. I.will.take.it.

I’ve been chewing on that set of seven letters ever since, trying to conjure up images/ideas/connections as I reflect on the year just past and lean into the one so recently begun. Here are some of my initial thoughts and a few recent photographs to illustrate them.

 

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After the turbulence of 2015, the entire concept of steadiness comes as a welcome gift, one that I am still unpacking, one that I am confident will be multi-layered and complex. For example, have you ever watched sea stars? They are among God’s steadiest creatures, I do believe. They only move when hungry or in danger and they cling to rocks, coral, wharf poles — anything sturdy and stationary. On top of that, they’re gorgeous — brightly colored, a pleasing shape and they have this incredible ability to regrow injured limbs. Hoping to make this a year of Not Falling At All, I want to learn from these guys and cling to the sturdy stuff. And, of course, it never hurts to look as good as possible whilst clinging, right?

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Living in a beachside community provides easy access to one of the grandest of reminders that steadiness is a virtue and gift. The waves keep on comin,’ you know? Sometimes they’re slow and piddly; sometimes they’re muscular and wild. But no matter the weather, the time of day or night, the condition of the beach (or the presence of frail human bodies!), those waves are steady. They roll on, without end or interruption. I’m hoping for NO interruptions this year, at least none of the unwelcome and/or difficult kind . . . like emergency room visits or moving all my earthly belongings across town.

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Now I will admit that some human bodies are less frail than others when it comes to those waves. We spent a fair amount of time watching surfers while we were away celebrating our anniversary last month. This particular guy was not young. No, indeed, not young at all. And he managed to catch a ride with some frequency. It’s true that a surfer’s steadiness is a temporary and usually short-lived thing. But while it lasts? Oh, GLORY. Even just a few moments of glorious steadiness would be welcome, welcome.

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Now this old codger knew how to be steady! He clambered up on the edge of the Pismo Beach pier, folded his large webbed feet underneath his feathers, sat down firmly and drew his great neck and beak into the warmth and softness of his feathers. He remained watchful and alert, but he sat there, perched on a narrow plank for a good long time. When a nearby fisherman caught a small fish, he was instantly across that pier, waiting for a taste — he got one, too. Being steady does not mean being unwilling to move. Rather, I think it implies an alert readiness to change course, as needed. That’s the kind of steady I need.

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And then, of course, in any central coast California beach town, there are the bluffs, those large, yellow-to-peachy-pink rock formations that rim almost every sandy cove between Ventura and Pismo Beach. I love them — they’re craggy, uneven, vulnerable to erosion, yet somehow one of the steadiest things in our landscape. They are ever-present, providing grand vistas of the broad Pacific, reminding us that we are truly tiny creatures with short life spans. They are a regular reminder of beauty and strength, two of the many facets of ‘steady.’

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The oak trees that are ubiquitous in this part of the world remind me of the value of hanging in, hanging on, standing strong, offering shade, and withstanding both wind and drought. They are, in many ways, the epitome of steadiness to me. We don’t have oak trees in our current neighborhood, at least not very many of them. We were surrounded by them in our former home and their presence is one of the few things I miss since our move. I’m glad they’re EVERYWHERE in our town, because I enjoy being around them. I’d love for 2016 to be a year of hanging in/hanging on/standing strong, etc. Praying in that direction these days, that is for sure.

DSC05922I did a quick biblical search for the word, ‘steady,’ and got back a grand total of four. I may reference one or two of them in the year ahead, but this one, from the beautiful book of Isaiah, seemed wildly appropriate for me at this point in my life:

Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
 say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”
Isaiah 35:3-5

Yes, Lord. I am relying on you to provide both strength and steadiness as needed in the year that is unfolding before me. And I relish this picture of an inordinately long-lived rainbow as a reminder of the way in which you, O God, keep your promises to humankind. As always, 2016 will be a year in which you are the steadiness I seek, the steadiness I need.

Do you have a word for 2016? Share it in the comments — I love reading what others are living with/wrestling with/hoping for!

To Dance with One Another — SheLoves

It’s my Saturday at that great women’s magazine, SheLoves. The theme for September is ‘held,’ and this small vignette was what came to me. Sorta surprised me, to tell you the truth. It’s about dancing — how I never do it anymore but I still dream about it from time to time.

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We don’t dance in our house. And I miss it. Not that I was ever a ‘dancer’ — I can’t follow choreography of any kind to save my life. Believe me, I’ve tried. Jazzercize? Nope. I trip over my own feet trying to figure out whether that last move was to the right or to the left.

But when I was in junior high and high school, I went to school dances and I enjoyed moving around on the dance floor. I could do a few of the simpler dances of the day when the music was up-tempo, but slow dance? Now, that I could really do. Because I was a singer and enjoyed music in my home all the time, I knew how to find the beat, and I discovered I quite liked moving to that beat while being held by someone else.

There is something sweet and natural about moving slowly to music, held in the embrace of another. I can’t explain it, I just know it to be true. I didn’t date a lot, but the boys I did go out with all knew how to dance, some of them quite well. And if the lead dancer is good, the weak dancer is home free. I quite enjoyed being home free.

I met my husband, God’s greatest gift to me, when I was a first-year college student. I loved his big brown eyes, his sincerity, his sense of humor and his commitment to his family.

But he did not dance. And he was quite clear about that. Quite.

I didn’t get it. He was supremely well-coordinated, a gifted athlete. Why not at least try it?

That was a great big NO.

It took me a long to time to ferret out the reason why. He told me it was because he never learned — his family and his church frowned on it, so he was never taught how to move to music. But my parents came from a similar background, so neither of them knew a lot about dancing, either. Yet my mom wanted me to know how, so she asked our next-door neighbor to show me, to provide a few simple lessons. That small gesture made it possible for me to jump over the gigantic hurdle of adolescent self-consciousness and go out there and try it.

No one ever did that for him. And the self-consciousness ran deep, deep, deep. He cared what other people thought about him. He knew he was a good athlete and he was unwilling to take the risk of trying something new to him, something physical that he might not excel at. A 4-letter jock all through high school, the embarrassment factor was simply too big a hurdle for this good man. . .

Come on over and join the conversation at SheLoves, okay? Just click on this line.

It Flies By, I Tell You — It FLIES By!

We don’t have any little ones around these days. Our youngest granddaughter, whose name is Lillian (Lilly), started kindergarten yesterday, and I can hardly wrap my mind around that reality. She is so tall, so smart, so much fun!
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Wasn’t it just yesterday that she was this size?

IMG_0439She was just waking from her nap when I snapped this picture, during one of the earliest weeks she was with us after her mama returned to her medical practice. Twice a week for the next two and a half years she came to us — such joy! Having these last two grandchildren — and our only two girls out of eight — near enough to help with childcare has been one of life’s richest gifts during the last nine years.

But this week marks a whole series of turning points in our family circle. Dick & I are in a new-to-us, smaller home (if you want to follow along with our move and settling in process, sign up for my twice-monthly newsletter . . . and get a free eBook, while you’re at it! I send lots of pictures with each letter :-), our eldest grandson is earning his own way as a cinematographer, our second oldest begins his senior year at Pomona College, our 4th starts his senior year of high school, our 5th finishes middle school this year, our 3rd begins to scout colleges for next year’s application process, and our two gifts-in-the-midst-of-great-pain turn TEN this fall.  And, of course, that littlest one . . . well, I’ve already told you, she is no longer so little. 

And the truth is — I celebrate all this forward movement! This is the way it’s designed to be, this life of ours. We move through ages and stages, schools and jobs, relationships and self-awareness. All of these changes are good changes. But. They are changes. Visible and visceral reminders that we’re getting older, that we will not live forever, that we may very well not be around to see the youngest ones move through the transitions that the older ones are already enjoying. 

Our son texted us tonight with a picture of the brand-new, gaping hole in Lilly’s mouth. She lost her first tooth on day two of school. Yet another reminder that time stops for none of us. Try as we might, we have absolutely no control of its passing. None. No matter what the cosmetics industry might try to sell us, aging is inevitable and irreversible. Period.

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Yeah, this is a 70-year-old face, enjoying the company of my three female maternal cousins earlier this month. No one raises an eyebrow when I ask for the senior discount, far too many people offer to hold doors, help with grocery carts, and carry heavy objects. 

But here’s the thing:  I am still here. And I’m glad to be. There were a couple of moments during the year just past when I wasn’t entirely convinced that I would be around for long. Much as I hope for heaven, I am in absolutely no rush to leave earth behind. I love my life, even the rough parts of it. And as long as there are people to love and good work to do, I want to be here, loving and doing. 

Yes, time flies. Those of you younger than 30 will not believe that last sentence. I didn’t either, especially when I had three babies under three and hadn’t slept in days. But hear me when I say it again: it goes by so fast. So live your life. Be present in each moment, see if you can resist the urge to hurry it along, find something to smile about at least once each hour and say thank you without ceasing.

Because if you reach my age, you’ll know this much: ALL OF IT is gift. Pure and simple, life is a gift. If you are blessed to live in a place that is free from war and extreme poverty, even if that place (like this place) is far from perfect, then you are among all people on this planet, truly gifted. Your gender or your age or your skin color or your sexual orientation may make your life more challenging at points. And yes, we all need to become more and more aware of how we each contribute to the ever-present sins of sexism, ageism, racism and homophobia, and we need to speak up for justice, goodness, truth and righteousness wherever and whenever we can.

I do not mean to downplay anyone’s pain and suffering. God knows, I’ve endured some myself and will continue to do so. So please hear me when I say this and know that I am fully cognizant of the struggle that often defines our days. Even so, your life is a gift. To you, to those who love you, to the world where you live, work, play, study, worship, contribute. 

So make the time, set aside the time, carve out the time if you have to — but stop once in a while and just breathe. In and out. And say, ‘thank you, thank you, thank you,’ as you do so. Somehow, that simple act can make all the difference.

Time will still fly by, make no mistake about that. But you’ll see it just a little more clearly as it marches on by you. And you just might find yourself blinking back tears as the beauty of it all spins its iridescent web around your heart.

We Are What We Do — SheLoves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m over at SheLoves today, with a small story celebrating how well my parents did marriage. You can begin the piece here and then just click here to read the rest . . . .
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All my life, my parents lived out what it means to be married well. Each of them came from homes that were dysfunctional in different ways and they worked hard to create a life that made space for one another, and for each of their three children. They provided room to grow and flourish, to laugh and cry, to ask questions and to live without finding all the answers, a space in which to live out the faith that brought them together and kept them together.

They were, however, very different people. My mother was (and is, even in her increasing confusion) highly social, quick to speak, and emotionally more volatile. Dad was quiet, almost to the point of shyness, very slow to speak and he usually kept his emotions to himself So, of course, they adored each other! And they brought out the best in one another, too. Most of the time.

No marriage is perfect and theirs certainly was not. But they worked at it, with a deep sense of commitment and a daily decision to hang in there, even when things got difficult. I will be forever grateful that theirs was the home into which I was born and that theirs was the marriage I got to see up-close-and-personal during the twenty years I lived with them.

I don’t use words like ‘devotion’ very often. Something about it feels old-fashioned, maybe? But as I think back on their 63 years together, that is the word that rises to the top: they were devoted to one another. In many ways, I think they saved one another. I know my father felt that way about my mom’s vivacity, her beautiful laugh and her sharp sense of humor. And my mother was astounded by dad’s deep intelligence, his musical skills and his genuine kindness. Somehow, they filled the holes in one another’s personality and together, they built something beautiful.

My father has been gone for almost ten years now, and when she remembers that she was married, my mother misses him very much. In fact, I would say that she never quite got over his death.

The last three years of dad’s life were difficult, and as he spiraled downhill from Parkinson’s disease and chronic atherosclerosis, I watched as my mother tenderly cared for him. Yes, she was impatient at times and she was exhausted most of the time. But she completely embraced her role as caregiver, helping dad to bathe, change clothes, eat. It was both painful and beautiful to watch.

They lived about three hours away from us during those years and I drove down as often as I could to visit. Ten days before he died, my father had to be taken to the nursing facility at their retirement community and I stopped by to see him on the way home from a pastor’s conference. If there is one thing making pastoral calls helps to teach you, it is what death looks like. When I walked in that door, I knew he was not long for this earth. . .

Please join the conversation over at SheLoves today . . . 

Stepping into the Shoes — SheLoves

It’s the last Saturday of the month – so it must be my turn to offer a contribution over at SheLoves Magazine! You can start that piece right here and then follow the links over to finish it off . . .

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I’m not quite sure how I got pegged as a leader, but somehow, it happened. Not in my school or social settings, however; it happened at church, after my family moved and we began attending a church with a large youth ministry.

And I went to everything.

I loved church. I felt safe there, secure, even confident. Church attendance was always a part of our family story. Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Wednesday evenings, social events, weddings, memorial services. Yeah, we went to it all. I was an eager middle school learner with a sweet, college-aged Bible leader on those Sunday evenings. And that woman was among the first to identify leadership and teaching gifts in me.

Those gifts got put on the sideline after college, at least for a few years. We served overseas together and had our 3 kids pretty quickly. And when they were 7, 5 and 3, we shifted to a more local congregation, and it was in that place that my gifts were recognized, affirmed, identified and labeled as gifts belonging to a pastor.

A pastor? Me?

I had never seen a woman lead in worship, unless it was a visiting single missionary or the local leading layperson in youth ministry. Never.

That idea, which was in many ways the natural progression of what began when I was twelve years old, never entered my mind.  So my decision to go to seminary in my mid-forties was based on what I experienced as a call to seminary, a desire to become a better Bible teacher, a more experienced worship planner. Even while there, I honestly never thought about leading a congregation in a pastoral role.

But two of my male professors called me out on that. “We see the gifts, Diana. Why not pray and consider whether or not God might be preparing you for exactly that?”

And so a long discernment process began during the second of my four years in school. And one late afternoon in year three, while taking a long walk around my neighborhood and earnestly seeking God’s wisdom and will, 

Please click here to join me over at SheLoves . . .

Just Write: I Never Stop Being a Mama

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It’s the strongest, loudest piece of me, this mama thing. I was surprised by motherhood when it suddenly showed up. There we were, thousands of miles away from home, totally green about all but the basics of married life. 

And then she was born, and the entire world shifted on its axis. And then her sister and then her brother, and then, oh my! three littles in less than four years. And tired? Unbelievably so.

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But here they were and there I was, a mom. Not a particularly great mom, truth be told. Impatient, overbearing, insecure, torn by wondering if I should be doing something ‘more’ with my life than wiping bottoms and breaking up bickering.

But I chose to be there, at home, doing exactly that. And I have never regretted it, not even when my eldest questioned that choice when she was about twelve, wondering why I didn’t have a real job like all her friends’ moms.

The most wondrous thing is this: that as they began to grow up, they each showed signs of independence and quick intelligence and wonderful humor and insight. And I became their student, in so many rich and wonderful ways.

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My children have taught me so much. About humility, first and foremost. About laughter and anger, about love and disdain, about temperament and truth. Each one of them, wildly different from one another, beginning with that first flutter-in-the-womb. And yet so closely woven together. So close.

Yes, indeed, they were mean to one another, on occasion. I’ve learned more about their childhood meannesses since they’ve grown up! But underneath all of that there has always been a fierce loyalty and love, a deep desire for the best in one another, a willingness to come alongside in the tough times and to joyfully celebrate the great times.

I now have a grandson the same age I was when my first child was born: 23. LORD, have mercy! How is this possible? I truly don’t know how time can sprint by in a blink. I can call up elementary school orchestra concerts (on, my ears!), youth group scavenger hunts, early dating experiences, and long courtships for each of them.

And then suddenly — here we are! Three thriving families, eight grandchildren, every one making real contributions to their community, their church, their friends. 

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So I am still learning from them. Every day. And I am still mama at heart, at base, at center. One of them is facing into back surgery; a little grandgirl has a chronic disease; one has been widowed and remarried; two grandkids are searching for ultimate answers, the prayers of us all undergirding their journey. 

No matter what else I have done or will do, no matter how many people I interact with, love, preach to, partner with or direct — these ones, these children, children-in-love/law, grandchildren, along with my husband — these are the community of first commitment and most essential ministry. 

How did I get so lucky?

I haven’t done this in ages, but I so love it when I do. Joining with Heather at EO for her Just Write this week. JUST WRITE whatever comes, then join the community and see where everyone else landed. It’s fun, I promise.

My One Word: A Guest Post

Charity Craig has become a dear friend and is one of my favorite writers on the web. She has started a wonderful new series called My One Word and invited several to contribute. The whole post can be read at her site today:

My nephew, his bride, and my niece, who was her brother’s ‘best person.’

Disappointment

 

  noun \ˌdis-ə-ˈpȯint-mənt\

: the state or feeling of being disappointed

: someone or something that disappoints people : a disappointing person or thing

 

It’s been on the calendar for a year — one.full.year. And I had to miss it. My nephew got married last Saturday. A stellar occasion, according to those who were there. A two-day event in northern California, alongside the Russian River, a stone’s throw from a beautiful stand of redwood trees, a short drive from some of the most beautiful vineyards in the world. My son and his wife were there, my brother and his wife were there (of course!), but I?

I was right here.

Here at home, crying quietly and feeling deeply disappointed. Here’s why: I injured my foot about a year ago. And things got worse over the months between then and now, requiring two different kinds of surgical intervention and a long, LONG recovery period. We thought we had planned things well — we counted backwards from the wedding date the eight weeks the doctor told us recovery would take, and scheduled the surgery for that week.

He did not tell us that eight weeks was the minimum recovery time, that in real life, not a medical textbook, this recovery takes more like twelve to sixteen weeks. Though I am now able — just this week! — to do full weight-bearing, I am not yet able to walk without a boot or without a walker. And this wedding was outdoors, on rough terrain — not possible for me yet.

So, yes. I’m feeling disappointed.

And living with disappointment is a tough gig. Nobody chooses it. Yet somehow, we all experience it. Life is filled with disappointing moments and disappointing people. If we let it, disappointment can sometimes move to center stage and maybe even begin to define how we understand ourselves and how we experience life.

Please join me at Charity’s lovely space to read the rest of this reflection.

 

Offering Welcome . . . Starting with Me

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The wisdom of illness for me always seems to come with the slowing down and staying present. I don’t believe these experiences come to teach us “lessons” as if God were some great schoolmarm in the sky. But out of our radical vulnerability arises an invitation to ever greater gentleness, to tenderness to the needs of our bodies. This is inner hospitality at its most intimate.
– Christine Valters Paintner, Abbey of the Arts

I am struggling with the truth of these words in a profound way these days. “Inner hospitality” is something I say I believe. And most of the time, I truly mean it. It turns out, however, that I am a desperately slow learner, one who ‘knows’ things in her head long, LONG before I know them in my heart and in the rigors of day-to-day life.

I am impatient by nature, anxious to keep moving forward to whatever the goal of the moment may be, and I’m finding it extraordinarily difficult to be patient in the midst of this particular period of waiting. Most especially, it is difficult to be patient with me.

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We heard a sermon this morning that reminded us of our primary identity as followers of Jesus. Underneath every other label we might choose to slap on our personal lapel, this one is the truest, the dearest and the most important: I am a child of God.

I will say that I am feeling peculiarly childlike (or is it child-ish?) these days. I feel small, markedly helpless, dependent on the wisdom, strength and availability of others. 

And I do not like it at all. 

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And I find myself wondering — what does it mean to be a child? I mean, besides the relative helplessness and lack of control over the ‘big things’ in life, what does it mean? What did (does) it feel like? What can I learn from remembering/observing what a child’s life is like?

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Here are a few things that rise to the surface as I ponder. I believe these things to be true for most healthy children growing up in caring, relatively functional families, where physical and emotional needs are seen and met and safety and security are the norm. Such blessed children can often be described as:

emotionally open
accepting
unself-conscious 
curious
eager
joyful

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This is not to say they are perfect. Far from it — children are humans, too, and they can be as belligerent, obnoxious, difficult and moody as the rest of us. But, on balance, there are some truly lovely things that emerge in childhood that so often get hidden away as the maturation process sets in.

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As I spent this afternoon reflecting on the sermon and on my life at the moment, I began to search for a spirit of welcome in me, a spirit of welcome for the person I am right now, hobbled by injury and fatigue, more dependent on others than at any other point in my long life since about the age of three.

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How can I reclaim that central identity, name myself a loved child of God, and extend grace and true hospitality to the me I am right this minute?

I’ve spent my entire adult life being ‘big,’ both metaphorically and literally. It’s been important that I be seen as enough — good enough, strong enough, smart enough, acceptable enough, big enough. And I’ve worked hard to earn the respect, even the admiration, of others.

So what does it mean that right now, right this minute, I am ‘small?’ I am ‘less than?’ I am dis-abled?

In the midst of that reality, is it possible that I can reclaim and cherish, the identity of child? That I can embrace the littleness, learn to tolerate the dependency, and then move through this particular slough of despond?

Maybe I can start by studying these pictures. Scroll through them with me again, will you?

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Can I stand still in the light? Can I pay attention to the life that is happening around me? Can I rest on one foot and ready myself for the next adventure?

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Can I enjoy the transience of things, the creation of moments, just moments, of beauty and delight? Can I choose to make the ‘dishwater’ a source of interest and creativity, and leave the dirty dishes aside?

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Every day, can I go on a hunt for treasure, looking for beauty and nourishment in unexpected places? Can I resist the urge to make it a contest — with myself or anybody else! — and just look around and see what I can find?

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Can I make room for, even welcome, all the emotions that are rising to the surface at this time? The pensiveness, the worry, the hilarity, the joyful abandon, the silliness, the wonder?

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Can I re-learn how to be deliberate, to concentrate, to focus? Despite the fatigue of having to re-think every single thing I’m used to doing by rote, despite the lingering after-effects of anesthesia, despite the new demands that this season places upon both body and spirit?

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Can I give myself complete permission to take a break? To veg out, as needed, to pull away for a minute (or 30) and just rest? Not this enforced resting that is so much a part of the living of these days, but true rest — deliberate, well-chosen rest?

The very fact that I have found enough interior space to write this many words is a hopeful sign that maybe, just maybe, the answer to these queries is a quiet, but determined, ‘YES.’

As with so many things in this life, it’s a matter of waiting.

And seeing.

Shall we wait and see together?

 

Finding Home

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I was young. Really young. Married at 20, midway through my senior year at UCLA, planning a Big Trip soon after graduation. I looked forward to that trip with eager anticipation, eagerly awaiting a chance to Get Out, Get Away, Be On Our Own.

Actually, it was a bit more than a trip. It was a two-year commitment to live and work in a country far from our home in southern California, a two-year trek to a very different life, a very different place. I’ve written about it here (see the African Journey page up top to see those six posts) and I’ve mentioned it here and at other places around the web.

But I don’t think I’ve ever talked about what it was like to come home again, to find my way back to the familiar, to re-enter our larger family circles, this time as a new mom and a more thoughtful and experienced world traveler.

It was good. And it was hard.

It was good because I desperately wanted our brand new, 5-month-old daughter to know her grandparents and other extended family. It was good because we were eager to see where God would lead us next. It was good because we both come from loving, involved family systems and we had missed that. A lot.

It was hard for many of the same reasons. Going away for two years was one of the best gifts we ever gave our marriage. Both number-one children, each of us deeply infected with perfectionism and performance pressure, it was good for us to move very far away, where there were no family resources to rely on, where we would be forced to rely on one another and to make our way into a complex, new-to-us cultural venue — or two. Zambian and missionary cultures presented two very different sets of challenges. 

The first two months back found us in my parents’ small guest house — really my dad’s study in their backyard — with no bathroom and no kitchen. For two l o n g months, while we waited out the job search and began to resettle into 20th century American life. Overall, it was a good time, a rich reminder of the blessings that were ours because of the families in which we grew up.

But it’s always tough to move back in with your parents after you’ve left home, isn’t it? And my relationship with my mom has always been fraught with multiple levels of complexity. We love each other very much, but I gotta tell you, there is no one on this earth who can get under my skin like she can!

I began a lifelong battle with my weight while we lived there for those two months. All of my growing up life, my mother worried about how I looked. She had me taking diet pills in high school, sent me with cottage cheese for lunch, worried that I’d be both too tall and too heavy to get a man. 

And once we came home from Africa, beautiful new baby in tow, almost her first words to me were, “Gettin’ a little broad across the beam, aren’t you?”

And I had gained a few pounds with that baby. A few. But I look at those pictures now and I wonder — what in heck was she talking about?

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I’ve often wondered if my complicated relationship with food isn’t directly related to that kind of offhand, semi-snide comment from my mother. Mom’s fears about me took root and I responded in a strange and opposite way. I think maybe it was the only form of rebellion I could muster, because I was a very, VERY good girl while I lived in their home.

But once that baby was here — and another one less than two years later, and another one just 2.5 years after that? Well, let’s just say, something in me — both physiological and psychological — shifted, and I began piling on the pounds.

Eventually, my mom seemed to find peace with the ‘real me,’ and now, in her dementing years, she cannot stop telling me how wonderful I look, what a fine person I am, how proud she is of me.

And how jealous she is of me, too.

That last one has been a stunner for me, a slice of real-life cognitive dissonance that I haven’t yet fully internalized. We’ve been home for 45 years now — and I’m still finding my way.

Because coming home is hard to do. And finding home can take a lifetime. Emily Wierenga has written a brand-new memoir, releasing today, called, “Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look.” It’s a rich memoir, laced with poignant story-telling and honest reflection. She, too, traveled far to find out that home was right where she left it.

I encourage you to read this intriguing story, to reflect with Emily as she discovers that her parents, whom she never felt loved her very well, truly do love her, with all their hearts.

Described as a ‘travel memoir, this book is actually a beautiful story of two marriages, her own and her parents’. And the revelation that sang to me was this one: when her mom became so very ill that her father became a primary caregiver, Emily’s parents found one another in ways both new and beautiful.

Emily has said elsewhere that her parents’ changing marriage became the beautiful one that it now is because her sometimes acid-tongued mom began to submit herself to her husband’s caring leadership. But as I read it, it seemed so much more than that. I saw a couple blossoming into newness of love because they each submitted to the other, in the process discovering each other all over again.

Emily and Trenton go through a long and often difficult process of rediscovery as well. And there, too, what Emily describes is a lovely journey for each of them, as they both learn to love and submit, love and submit.

It’s a beautiful book, one I recommend to you for it’s lyrical prose and it’s heartfelt commitment to truth telling. I received an advanced reader’s copy of “Atlas Girl,” and am grateful to have read it and more than happy to review it. Reading it prompts a lot of personal reflection on the meaning of home and what it means to find home after a long season of wandering. I encourage you to read it yourself. 

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Atlas Girl is more than a book; it’s a journey in which Emily Wierenga takes you by the hand and invites you into the broken places in her life. She shares the unexpected beauty God has created in those places as he’s made her heart whole again, and how he can do the same for you. If you’ve ever been hurt or gone through a hard time, this book will give you hope and a new understanding of God’s love for you.” ~ Holley Gerth, bestselling author of You’re Already Amazing

“The best memoirs combine the storytelling elements of a novel–smart pacing, tactile details, people you care about–with the deep insights and spiritual takeaway of great nonfiction. Emily Wierenga deftly serves up that rich blend in Atlas Girl, a nonlinear, wholly moving account of her life’s journey so far. Her honesty is raw, real. Her faith is hard-won. And when it finally pours out, her love–oh, her love soars off the page and makes a nest in our hearts. Brilliant and beautiful.”~ Liz Curtis Higgs, bestselling author of Bad Girls of the Bible: And What We Can Learn from Them

“This isn’t just a book, this is a journey. Of grief and wonder, loss and gain. Emily tells a world-spanning story that this world needs in Atlas Girl!” ~ Jon AcuffNew York Times bestselling author ofStart and Stuff Christians Like

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