(Not A) Surprise! 

I walked into the dark restaurant, trading my prescription sunglasses for my regular glasses and saw my friend waving near a large table. I didn’t understand why she was near a big table for our planned small birthday dinner for three until I got closer.  “SURPRISE!” Around the table were the dearest, loveliest gals you could ever meet and they were all there to celebrate me! I had no idea! I never saw it coming! Around that table were the girlfriends I can text, call or show up on their doorstep without notice (and have). They are in many ways my own self-chosen “small group” and the kinds of friends who have become sisters in many ways over the years. It was a carefully crafted plan, evidently, involving my high-school daughter and my husband and the ring leader of gal pals, my dearest Julie. It was executed beautifully! I was floored to be the guest of honor (and so glad I’d changed into my cute new top and sprayed a little fresh perfume)!

Surprises aren’t always wonderful, though. My youngest will enter Kindergarten this fall and I have been dreading his school physical. In my wisdom (haha), I decided it would be best to not mention the possibility, or more correctly, probability of shots. When we got there, I was pleasantly surprised that he was only due for two. He, however, was less than thrilled and just about fell apart, right there in the Star Wars exam room. It wasn’t my finest mommy moment. After promises of stickers and a trip to the toy aisle of our closest big-box store (ugh), he took his school shots like a champ and he walked out fully vaccinated from all that may come his way and sporting Daffy Duck and space band-aids. 

As adults, sometimes we suddenly find ourselves in a place we had never imagined, often with the simple ring of a phone, a quick but heavy financial blunder, news from a doctor, or something far simpler. You may be saying to yourself, “This probably isn’t a big deal to someone else, but to me, it feels huge.” Girlfriends and Mommies, the very God to whom we give praise when it feels like we are standing on a mountain in a shower of blessings is the same when we’re we feel like we are under a giant mammography machine, getting more than our girls squished. During those moments when we turn tear-filled eyes to the sky and say, “Why, Lord?” He is still good. And those moments of complete surprise which seem to turn our world, or at least our hearts upside-down do not catch Him by surprise.  The old saying goes something like “God is good ALL the time and ALL the time l, God is good.” He IS good. There is nothing about Him that could not be good and He loves us so very much. In the same way that parents sometimes must allow our children to go through something painful for their better good, imagine how much more that is so for our Heavenly Father. His love was so great that He gave the ultimate sacrifice in His son so that we could be with Him through eternity. He is not about to leave us hanging when day to day struggles, big or small land with a ker-plunk in our laps.

I kissed a few frogs before I met my prince and believe me when I say I felt every bump along that road. Many nights my mom stayed up until her eyes were crossed talking with me as I mourned the ending of what I hoped would one day be an ever-after. Was it necessary? In hindsight, it probably was. With every hurt and tear that was shed, my heart was becoming more ready for the incredible gift that was eventually my husband. At the time, it seemed senseless, but here we are, celebrating 17 years this week. I am so thankful for those moments of heartbreak, because God, creator of the whole universe met me there, held me in His loving hands and I learned to rely more in the midst of an unseen future on the mercy and grace found only in the hands of my all-knowing Father. 

Romans 8:28 says “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” If we love God, this promise is for US! Did your spirit need that reminder today? I know mine did. God is teaching me to bring Him the sacrifice of praise even in times when praise is my last thought. I know that during those low and dark times, He is loving me enough to work things for my greater good and His glory and conforming me more into the image of His son. And He is not caught by surprise.

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More Than A Candle and a Song

 Forty. I said it. I will be forty tomorrow and birthdays are hard for me. They always have been. I don’t know why that is. You would think that by this age I would have at least THAT figured out. Maybe that is part of my problem. Even after forty years on God’s green Earth, there is so much that I do not have figured out. I had an ex-boyfriend who once told me in high school that I set expectations that no one could meet, not even me. I think that by the time my birthday rolls around around each year, that kind-of bites me in the backside. It’s on my birthday that I have this distinct feeling that another year has passed and I should have accomplished more, given more, learned more been more, gotten my junk more together by now…right? Is anybody with me here? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?

I could look at a few things I didn’t do but hoped I might.

Lose 40 by 40. FAIL. (Ha!)

Take up tennis. NOT.

Finally learn to feel comfortable in open water with sea life swimming around me. NOT EVEN CLOSE.

OR

I can look at what is clearly in front of me. This week we are in my favorite place. My husband brought me here on purpose, I am certain, because he knows how hard this time of year is for me. It’s hard to be sad in your favorite place! I had coffee my husband had made for me while watching crystal blue waves undulate and the breeze blow through my sweetheart’s graying hair. I polished nails with my high school daughter and we laughed and talked about everything and nothing. I listened as my middle school son talked about schools of fish he found as he snorkeled and how they reminded him of people he knew, flocking together, scared of being revealed individually. I pretended to scream (okay, maybe some of that was real) when my five year-old teased me about a scorpion crawling about ten feet away and soaked in his perfect little gut chuckle. Now THAT’s something. I didn’t do it but I get to share in the lives of these amazing people, to guide and love them and be loved by them. And I like to think I had a little something to do with how happily they live their lives. What an incredible joy and privilege!

So, I have just decided that with God’s help it is time to stop beating myself up. We were never meant to live in defeat. That’s no fun. I do not want to fight back tears on my birthdays anymore. And…

I may never lose the 40 I had hoped. I am pretty happy with what I have lost and will keep trying. Y’all just might have to chalk it up to my being a really friendly girl when my arms just keep waving long after the wave is over.

I may never play tennis and that is okay. I will happily cheer on my tennis girlfriends but seriously! The only time these knees need to be in a little flouncy skirt is under a decent length swim skirt. (Thank you, Lands End.)

As for comfort in open water. Naaa- never gonna happen. Do you watch Shark Week and River Monsters? That’s why sitting on the boat and waving at everyone else in the open water is so much fun!

I’ll be forty tomorrow. 4-0. 40. Didn’t that used to seem so old? I think I just read something about forty being the new thirty. I like the sound of that!

Clothed, Afraid and Perfectly Okay With That

“Mommy, sometimes we show courage even when we don’t know it.”. That’s what my middle-schooler said this week when I questioned him about the topic for his essay test: quiet strength. It really threw me for a loop when he went on to explain that they were to write about someone who exhibited quiet strength and that he had learned about that from me. WHAT?!?! I almost had to stop the car. 

How would you define “quiet strength”? When I think of strong people in my world, I often think of the obvious examples, those whose strength of character and iron convictions, whose sheer grit gets them through tough times. We all have personal giants- the towering male presence whose wisdom was honored and revered by generations, the women who fought tooth and nail to come out on top of the storms that seem to have been thrown at them at every turn. Shoot, in the wake of my own personal superstars, I am not even in the ballpark when it comes to comparing strength…and I know it.

Recently, after the kids went to bed, I caught a couple of episodes of “Naked and Afraid”. If you are not familiar, it’s not nearly as salacious as it sounds. The premise for this reality show is the pairing of two complete strangers with comparable survival skills and fitness levels for three weeks in a remote outdoor location to fend for themselves with only one item from home. The kicker is, they must do it NAKED. Of course that gets most anyone’s attention, but if you watch it for any period of time, the naked part loses its luster because 1. all the pertinent parts are blurred to the camera and 2. they are filthy by about the second hour, which is approximately five minutes into the show. I am not too proud to admit, I could not stop watching. I was fascinated by the fact that ANYONE would willingly put themselves through that. I never did hear if there was a prize for making it to the end or if the winner just got the satisfaction (and diseases, lifelong injuries, PTSD?) from having completed the agonizing stay. I watched one couple catch, kill, cook, peel and eat a snake. I cringed when the cute blonde froze all night on the sands of Brazil while sand fleas bit at every (and I mean every) bit of skin they could find and even had to turn to another channel for a few minutes when the jungle pair had to walk through murky water in order to get to the all-important extraction point. Anyone who knows ANYTHING about me knows I do not do bugs, snakes or water I cannot see clearly into.  In the totally ludicrous and nightmarish scenario where I would participate in such a show, after finding some sort of leafy something for suitable covering (okay, that might take a while), I might make it an hour. Maybe two. But pretty soon I’d start worrying about night falling and the no-see-ums that were waiting to eat me up, the cavities that were most likely festering on my unbrushed teeth, the skin cancer that had certainly begun to develop on my blistering skin and sleeping next to a complete stranger. By anyone’s definition, including my own, I am a bonafide wuss, a weenie, an all-out coward. Seriously, people, if there is a great world catastrophe and you are choosing people for your survival group by their strengths, unless you count teaching a child to read, monogramming gifts, making a delicious cup of coffee and getting stains out of clothing as great life skills, I will do you no good. 

That’s not what my seventh-grader thought, though, when presented with a prompt on quiet strength. He cited the story I’d told him about my senior year of high school.  I had always been a little on the “corn-fed” side but I decide to go out with a bang and prove something to myself. Unbeknownst to everyone but my best friend, I began to work out like crazy to lose weight (with a little crash dieting in there too, but that’s just between us girls) and didn’t tell any of my band friends I was trying out for the basketball cheer squad. Having never cheered before in my life, not only did I make it, but this formerly chunky girl was a flier (the one they threw up into the air)! I used the story a couple of times to teach my kids that they they will never know what they can do until they try and to not be bound by the labels others put on them. It sounds like someone listened. 

He wrote about my short stint as a single mom when my husband was working in France for two months. My oldest two were only five and seven at the time and I will admit it was challenging. It gave me a whole new appreciation for the plight of single moms who do it all day in and day out and military wives for whom two months is only the beginning. We tried to make it fun and even got a puppy (okay- dumb move, but I was trying) to help the kids not miss Daddy so much. There was so much I did wrong during those months that for years I have wished I could have a do-over. I was just trying to hold it all together, but I had never done anything like that before. I should have been more patient, more fun, more inspiring, more of everything for them. But that is not what he remembers. Somehow, his memories are different.

For the purpose of the third point, it surprises me that my latest pursuit made the list. After teaching school for nine years, I  became a stay at home mom for six before opening a small craft business. It evolved from a hobby I loved and God has blessed it tremendously but I am by no means a businesswoman still. I am learning the ropes and often fall flat on my face while taking my three steps back to then take one step forward. I love what I do, though and am thankful for supportive family and friends. I still feel like a bumbling idiot with it so much of the time, but my boy once told me he was proud of me for trying something so different from what I really know how to do. Out of the mouths of babes, right? I know what he meant. 

There are numerous women from the Bible who could provide excellent examples of such strength, but this morning as I was attacking the glamorous task of ironing, Mary came to mind. At such a young age, the mantle placed on her shoulders was incredible. Out of all the women He’d created, the Creator of the universe had chosen her to give birth to His only Son, Savior of the world. Perfectly imperfect for the task, she relied on God and He equipped her for what she would be. The ultimate privilege. The ultimate honor. The ultimate sacrifice for any mother. And she never saw it coming. 

When we wake up every morning and ready ourselves for the day, it is easy to look in the mirror and remind ourselves of past failures, of only what we are equipped to do, of labels on us or molds we fit ourselves into. We need to remind ourselves that all of that may not be the person others see at all. Ultimately, God sees the perfect picture and all that He, in His infinite wisdom has for us to do and is faithful to give us what it will take to complete it if we place our trust in Him. Maybe that is what others are seeing glimpses of already. We are works in progress, divine construction sites. Like my son’s take on quiet strength, It is time to take a page out of someone else’s dictionary for a change. The strength needed of us in our lifetimes may never reach the level of historical or Biblical greats or even most of our own personal heroes, and that’s okay. Psalm 139:14 says “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

I do not have to compare myself with others. I was only created to be me and day by day when I rely on the true lover of my soul to make me in His image, I will be given all that is needed for that day. I just hope that doesn’t include gators or snakes…OR nakedness with bugs. Did I mention I don’t do bugs?

It’s All About A Cup

Like many of you, I am a daughter, a sister, a girlfriend, a mommy, a wife, but I’ll be honest. It is easy to feel invisible. Somehow between the kitchen, the clothes graveyard (a.k.a. the laundry room) and the carpool line, there are many days when I seem to have lost a first name. Like you, my list is always long. If it’s not a to-do, it’s a situation heavy on my heart, a list of people I need and want to catch up with and the nagging feeling that I am perpetually “behind the eight ball”, as my Daddy likes to say, with everything else, both known and the ever-elusive unknown. You know- that thing you’ve forgotten that’s oh-so-very important but you just cannot quite put your finger on? Yeah, that’s it, and I’m pretty sure I’m behind on that, too. Then there are the daily questions. Have I made Christ the center of my home, sent each kid to school fully-equipped for the day feeling loved and confident, made my husband feel appreciated, respected and desired, checked in on loved ones far away, planned a healthy dinner (ugh), kept the house up (double-ugh)? Ladies, with all that falls in our laps, it’s a wonder we even get out of bed some days! Couple all the responsibilities with the way we feel about ourselves going into them and we have a recipe for…invisibility.

It’s not for lack of support. My family has always loved and supported me. Our society tears women down and it starts when we are are girls. From “tag checks” for certain brands of clothing in middle school to Pinterest, the adult version of “How To Feel Inadequate Without Really Trying”, something has to give. I mean who needs 25 crafts made from toilet paper rolls anyway? 10 ways you’ve been doing your make-up all wrong? Workouts to tone every individual part of your body in 8 minutes or less? Girlfriends and mommies, the little and big eyes we love the most look to us for so much. How in the world can we fill their cups to face the world confidently if our own cups are bone dry? 

Once in the early days of my marriage I was going on and on about something and I was growing in frustration with the way my sweet husband wasn’t responding. He meant to be funny but what he said rang with truth. “Honey, I will never be your girlfriend.” Ouch. At the time I wanted to sucker-punch him right in the gut, but he was right. I cannot expect him to play a role he was never created to play. First and foremost, as a woman of faith I know that my life’s struggles and concerns are to go to God. The Bible clearly states in 1Peter 5:7 to “cast all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you”. And I do. I also believe He gives us people to encourage us as we travel life’s ups and downs here on Earth. My husband is incredible and he does that in many, many ways, but he IS still a man. He wants to fix things and sometimes, I need something slightly different.  Ah yes… enter the gift of girlfriends.

This week at the spur of the moment, a dear friend and I saw an opportunity to squeeze in a quick gab-session while multi-tasking at a local coffee shop/bookstore where we both found we needed to shop and we pounced on it! Over a yummy coffee we both took turns talking as fast as we could, knowing our respective lists were long and crazy schedules must soon resume. No great world crises were resolved and no earth-shattering decisions were made but by the end, we both realized our loads felt lighter. She gets me and I, her. I felt more ready to reach out with whatever was needed to those around me and like magic, I felt I had a name again! Whether it’s with a sister, mom, girlfriend or mentor, ladies, we need to build each other up and seek out and nurture relationships with others that will leave us feeling lighter, stronger and clearly visible. Let’s fill each others’ cups. Only we truly understand how much is needed of us and how desperately we WANT to pour out of ourselves for those we love while maintaining our identities. No one likes to feel tapped out. 

I want to be more of a cup-filler, even to those I don’t know. And so I’ll begin. To the mom in the minivan a few weeks ago who was driving about 20 miles per hour below the speed limit, I will admit that you annoyed me. Then I passed you and saw your two identical baby carriers and that look on your face like you hadn’t slept in ten years. DARLIN’! I do hope you are getting some sleep now and you have a girlfriend or fellow mommy who is coming over to give you some rest on a regular basis! Hang in there. It does get better. I did not have twins but I did have two somewhat close in age and remember days when I couldn’t remember if I’d put on deodorant or brushed my teeth. Thank you for the reminder. I contacted my friend who has two young ones that very day to check on her.  And to the mom who looked so very good in her teeny-tiny bikini on the beach over Spring Break, I am not going to lie. I wanted to hate you for your perfect abs and taut bottom. I did really wish you had put on more clothes, especially when I am pretty sure my middle school-aged boy noticed. But you probably worked really hard for those muscles and when I saw the fun you had playing with your kids more than anyone else on the beach, I got off my hiney and did the same. My freckle-faced boy and I played a great little paddle game and he cackled his goofy little laugh when I had to run into the freezing water for the ball. Thank you for that. Playing on my phone with my pastey white legs propped up will never get me a booty like yours anyway. 

For my cup-fillers, you know who you are. Thank you for living out 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV) 

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Well, the mountain of laundry awaits…and since the cooking fairy still has not made an appearance, what in the world am I going to make for dinner?