Make Us Glad

Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. Psalm 90:15, ESV

Yes, Lord. Please make us glad for that number of days and years. It’s been a long time, and gladness feels far away.

I sit on the couch in my living room, feet propped, listening to my daughter’s playlist of gaming music and the click of her mouse. She does schoolwork online. I attempt to do my own work, assembling thoughts racing around in my head. They are difficult to catch.

Bright sunlight and blue sky shine through open blinds. Anticipatory autumn sun returns today, casting long shadows, giving a warm glow to the brick house and mature trees across the street.

What can I say? I long to be glad.

Are you glad to walk the dog? I ask my girl as she walks in the room. It is that time of day according to the schedule we are trying to create.

She laughs at my choice of words. I explain that meant to say ready and am writing about gladness. I send her to find the dog so that we can walk him. We are still finding our normal together. Our daily routine.

Write something is again written in my planner, the only thing on the list of Today’s Top Three.

I am writing. Something. In the snippets of time that present I sit with words, fighting forward for gladness. It comes to me in sunshine on the other side of a window, in a sky brilliantly blue, in a dog curled on his bed, in laughter at a distracted choice of words.

I am made glad in the moments that I choose to see goodness and receive as gifts what can also feel hard. When I feel the gladness redeeming affliction, I know I am growing and growing is good.

This makes me glad.

Moments of Laughter

Not all has been sad in my world. Though the tears often eclipse the smiles, I am trying to focus on the splashes of joy that creep up and surprise me. One of those moments happened last Saturday.

It was a rare afternoon plan that came together at the last minute. Two of our daughters were at a middle school retreat, our youngest was with her cousin, and teenage son was recovering from a band all-nighter.

Steve’s planned weekend away with friends was postponed, leaving him home unexpectedly. We decided to seize the opportunity for a real date away from the house. That is an important part of the equation. This was a last-minute plan.

We decided to visit Crozet, an area Steve had traveled to for work and wanted to return to together. We would do wine tasting, get lunch, and end with coffee, keeping all of the activity together in the same location.

Another key point of this story is that it was bachelorette weekend for our soon-to-be daughter-in-law. I found this out on Labor Day from my adult daughters. They were attending the weekend festivities to be held near Charlottesville.

For this reason, I wanted to avoid wineries in that area and keep it all in Crozet. That is why we chose King Family Vineyards over Jefferson Vineyards .

Our drive over the mountain was relaxing. We marveled over getting away and actually doing something fun. Though overcast, it was not raining, and we enjoyed conversation. When we arrived at the vineyard and pulled into the parking area, Steve received a text from our oldest.

I think you would enjoy being the person behind the counter doing wine tastings for people (my paraphrased version of her words).

I would! Mom and I are at King Family Vineyards to do a wine tasting  (my paraphrased version of his response).

Immediately Steve’s phone rang with our daughter’s voice on the other end.

That is where we are right now!

Looking up past the parking area and towards the tasting room we saw her running towards us. At picnic tables on the lawn beyond, with a bountiful spread of food and several bottles of wine, were 18 women celebrating the bride-to-be.

I could not believe it. Laughter was my only response. That and profuse explanation.

I had intentionally stayed off of the bride’s social media sites to avoid creeping on the events of the weekend. I had intentionally chosen a winery that I was certain they would not choose (though if I had investigated further, I would have noticed that this one accommodates large groups, which I learned in the tasting room).

We said hi to our daughters and daughter-in-law (to be) and laughed together at the coincidence. We made it clear that we were there to do our own tasting and would not intrude on their picnic space. We made a crazy pre-wedding memory that could not have been planned.

And there was joy.

Buckets of Tears

Rain pours from the sky like the tears from my eyes. I cannot seem to stop crying. I know I just need to feel what is there without judgment, but it is difficult.

I want to distract myself so badly with something, anything. This only leaves me pacing and feeling restless.  There is too much connection too easily available when what I really need to do is connect with myself.

What I feel is the pain of grief. Deep in my heart there is an ache that begins to grow until the only thing it can do is burst out in an ugly cry.

I am not good at crying. I hold it in.

I have so much held inside that needs to be named, released, and wept over. It pours out at the most inconvenient times, like during a walk while talking on the phone with a friend. Her presence on the other end is a gift. I thought I would be leaving a message when she unexpectedly answered the call.

Exchanging pleasantries and the short version of what is going on in our worlds, I open up about hard feelings I am having in this season. She understands and is familiar with my story. She asks good questions. I begin to feel my heart again as my chest tightens and eyes fill with tears.

Where did you go? 

This question comes as I grow quiet in the wake of conversation. I want her to commiserate with me in my sadness, not share with me her eager anticipation of something I will miss. She tells me of an upcoming trip where she will spend time with mutual friends. She lists off names.

Wait, you’re the only one who won’t be there. Maybe I shouldn’t have told you that.

I feel a laugh/cry inside. Seriously??!!! I want her to tell me. I want to know and celebrate her excitement even as I grieve what I will miss. I need to feel all of the feelings, even the hard ones.

I’m glad you told me. It’s just hard not to be able to be there, even though I already knew this wasn’t my season. It feels even moreso as the time grows closer.

Our time is up, and I return home. My daughters are doing after-school screens as I disappear into my room and then into my bathroom, shutting both doors. Collapsing in my inner sanctum, tears escape is deep sobs.

A knock on the bathroom door calls me back.

Mom, are you okay?

My youngest stops screen time to check on me.

Yes. I am just really sad right now.

Okay! Just checking!

She returns to Animal Jam, and I return to grief, letting the tears fall until they finish.

Still Summer

I know it feels like fall. School is back in session. Football games have begun. Life has resumed routine. Morning drives to school find me facing a blinding low-rising sun in the eastern sky. Pumpkin Spice Lattes are back.

But it’s still summer for a little while longer.

Today I celebrated that truth by stepping off into the deep end of my daughter and son-in-law’s pool and swimming to the other side. It was my first time in the water this summer. The sensation was lovely.

My intention was to try to turn around the funk that seems to have settled around my shoulders, pressing into my heart. Surely water and sunshine would wash it away.

It was worth a try.

Several of my kids and my husband joined me. Others sat on the edge. We talked and laughed. We played games.

It was a relaxing space to regain perspective.

I wish I could say I left my troubles at the bottom of the pool with the leaves that have begun dropping, but it is not that easy. I wish I could say that I have leaned from Dewey to just live in the moment.

I am still practicing and being given plenty of opportunities to do so.

This afternoon brought laughter and connection and escape. It brought exercise and fresh air and a son-in-law who grilled hamburgers while we swam in his pool.

It brought goodness and kindness and another reminder that even when life is hard and unpredictable and wearisome, there is beauty and joy and love.

It’s still summer.

Menu Plan

I am no Heather. I realize this. She inspires me, though, and allows me to be just who I am in all of my imperfection and mess. Though I try to resist comparison, it sometimes creeps up on me. When this happens, I work to change my thought pattern to one of inspiration.

One area of struggle for me is menu planning. I have a mental block, an aversion, to it, though I have prepared hundreds of meals and fed my large family daily for years. In theory it should not be this difficult, but in practice it is another matter.

Recently I was in Heather’s kitchen and noticed her menu written on a chalkboard hanging on the kitchen wall framed by an elegant frame. There was a Scripture verse printed on it, opposite the week’s menu. My mind went to the white board in my kitchen and to the possibility of writing a menu plan in similar fashion.

I decided to take action when I arrived home, claiming the lower left corner of the board for my  plan. I listed Monday through Sunday and wrote down what I would prepare each day. At the end of each day I wiped off the day’s meal and wrote what I would fix the following week.

In essence it is a continual meal plan. A continual feast.

It has been a few weeks and the new menu plan has been serving me well. Now if I could get the grocery list under control!

For the curious, this is what my kitchen whiteboard looks like today

It’s not the most beautiful and could use a Scripture verse or two, but it’s doing its job. And my grocery list rhymes.

Free Bread

It says card declined.

The cashier looks at me inquisitively. I return his gaze. I have no idea why my bank card would be declined. I insert it again.

Still says card declined.

His face grows bored. The checkout line lengthens. I glance apologetically at those waiting, wishing I had tossed the checkbook into my purse this morning.

Ok. I’m going home to get my checkbook. Can you keep these to the side for me?

My cart waits at Customer Service. I exit Food Lion full of second thoughts about today’s grocery visit. Maybe my card knows something I do not and is trying to keep me from the constant grocery spending hemorrhage that seems to be taking over.

Daily I stop in for bananas or bread or milk. There is always something written on the marker board in the kitchen. I don’t have my usual photo of it but certainly I can remember the items.

apples, oats, both kinds of bread, butter, block of cheese

There is marked down meat, always a find. I add it to the cart with the apples. Rounding the back of the store I remember bacon and coffee cream.

What else was on that list again? We need juice for lunches.

I am glad to see that juice is on the same aisle as oats and add two boxes of Capri Sun to the cart.

Piling items on the checkout conveyor I remember butter and cheese. Hoping that the lady in front of me will move slowly, I run to the dairy aisle to grab them.

Returning with time to spare, my card is declined and I drive home for my checkbook.

Bread! That’s what I forgot. Two kinds of bread!

At Customer Service, one of my favorite cashiers collects my check, making small talk as she enters data into the register. I ask if I can leave the cart there to grab bread.

Oh! You could have gotten bread first and paid for it here.

I assure her it’s okay, hoping it will give me a chance to see what’s up with my card. I grab four loaves of bread and enter the express checkout line.

Another friendly cashier rings up my purchase. I laugh over the events of the day when she asks how I am doing.

Somehow I continue to hold the illusion that I will get my act together one of these days!

Yeah. those ducks are hard to get in a row.

Mine are quacking all over the place!

Laughter ensues as I insert my card only to have her tell me,

If you have ninety cents that’s all you need.

Looking at the screen, I see that the total is $12.90 but that I have earned $12 in rewards, making the purchase $.90. Surprised, I fish through the change in my wallet, taking out quarters and nickels to make up the difference.

For a minute my ducks all lined up and handed me free bread, and it was beautiful.

Change of Plans

I’m sorry I don’t have any quarters.

The cashier apologizes while fishing through her drawer for $.58 in coins to add to the dollar bills handed me as change for my $6.42 purchase. I quickly pass the paper money to my husband and prepare my hand for the pile of coins she is counting.

That’s okay. I actually prefer dimes.

I am speaking truth. I do. Dimes remind me that I am seen and that there is enough ~ enough money, care, resources. I watch for them and notice where they appear. On the floor of a closet I am cleaning, in the dryer, on a walk, there they are. I collect them.

We say goodnight as my husband, dog, and I exit the neighborhood Dollar General. I am grateful for its re-opening in time for the start of the school year. It is my go-to for last-minute necessities that arise. Along with the needed item, I feel care in my hand, heavy with coins.

Would you keep these coins in your pocket for me until we get home?

My husband obliges, and I pick up the pace, eager to see how many dimes I will find when we arrive.

This Sunday night is different than last when I was anticipating back to school week for my children. They headed back to school, then one returned to do school at home this year. With this change of plans came uncertainty, sitting in the tension between withdrawl from one program and application to another.

I know this  unexpected turn of events is for the best this season. That is how we do it, year by year. I am thankful for resources, space, and time. For knowing my focus.

I am thankful for an unexpected handful of change containing no quarters and four dimes reminding me again that I can trust.

All will be well.

 

Write Something

It was on my list of three fun things to do over the weekend along with take a long walk and yoga. Sitting in the corner of my room with journal open ready to write, I wondered, Is this really fun?

What is fun for me?

A voice asked me over Sunday’s lunch, What do you want to do today, Mom? and my head filled with white noise.

Close my rings.

That was a true answer. I have determined to be more diligent about closing my exercise and activity rings consistently. I do not know that I would classify not wanting to be shamed by Apple technology as fun, though.

I read a book for awhile before falling into a deep Sunday afternoon sleep full of crazy dreams. I woke to another load of works of necessity laundry to put in the wash due to sickness that entered the house on Saturday.

What is fun for me?

The question returned upon waking.

It is fun for me to be in my house with no expectations or things to manage for awhile. It is fun to have alone time. I am just not certain what to do with it.

Fun often evades me. It is elusive. I lost it in my story during a season of drastic change. It was packed it up and thrown away along with other evidence of my previous life. I said Hello to work, leaving fun far behind with the power tools and kitchen chairs.

Survival chased fun from the room. I learned to manage and contain it, to banish my need for it just because. Now I am not sure if the things on my fun checklist are fun or basic needs.

I lost my fun in work and goals and in managing other people’s. How do I find it again?

Over the weekend I was given the invitation to be reconciled to fun and was curious as to how I would receive it. In a moment of inspiration I invited daughters to walk to Kline’s for ice cream. This week’s flavor is Red Raspberry, and I had a coupon.

I have not shared my struggle with fun. They live it, though. They see. There is rare laughter and merriment as we amble down the sidewalk towards downtown.

This way mom can say she did something fun with her kids this summer before school starts back up next week.

I receive the statement in the spirit it is offered, with humor. These girls are quick-witted and fun-spirited. They are truth-seers and truth-tellers. We get our ice cream and walk home.

You look happy.

A daughter enters my room as I finish writing this post. I look up at her, surprised. She observes and names what I cannot see in myself. I am having fun as I write something.

Writing is fun for me. That is why it made the list. I determine to make more time for this fun, more time to write.

Starting now.

Changing the Narrative

Julie, Hi!

Her smiling face sits down across from me in the coffee shop. She wears a colorful print top in shades of blue tied with a loose bow at the scooped neckline. A dragonfly pendant accents the look. With all of this loveliness, it is her smile that draws me in, open and kind.

You’re hard at work!

Actually I am attempting to work, but I am not succeeding. Not yet, anyway. I am using a window of time in between band camp drop off at 7:45 and a 9:00 snack help shift to collect my thoughts. I say as much as I close notebook and planner, creating more room on the surface of the small table for two.

I’m trying to atone for all the years I couldn’t help when my older kids were in band and I was home with the littles.

I think you need to change that narrative.

Her smile remains open and kind, but her eyes pierce through to my soul. I steadily continue engagement, feeling the pain of that truth landing somewhere deep. Laughingly I agree, trying to explain how I am somewhat kidding.

No, I’ve heard you speak that way before. I think it really needs to be kinder. We do what we can. The guilt is thick there.

In two minutes she has heard my sound bite and nailed it to the point that tears come to my eyes as the conversation comes to mind. I am reminded of why I love this woman and am grateful for her presence in my life whenever our paths intersect.

She is on her way to work, waiting for coffee to brew, a treat to herself on this first day back. We have precious few minutes to connect, but they go deep and real. Quick summer updates from each of us follow until I see her tall to-go cup placed on the counter by the barista and know our time is up.

She rises to collect her order and continue moving through her day. Pushing open the coffee shop door, she turns and says, Give the band kids love from this mama.

We do what we can when we can. Today that is what I will do.

Bridal Shower Grace

Do you want to lead grace before lunch next Sunday for the shower?

Yes. I would be honored. Would love to pray a blessing over the beautiful bride-to-be and the occasion.

It took courage for me to respond to this text exchange in the affirmative. My mind began processing what I wanted to say in front of many women I did not know and several that knew me all too well.

The morning of the shower, after coffee and quiche, when the first wave of family had left to finish preparations and decorations, I sat in my room in the quiet. Pulling out Bible and prayer notebook, I looked at the day’s reading.

I Thessalonians was on the agenda. I read.

But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation.
1 Thessalonians 5:8, NLT

These words anchored me and reminded me that in my nervous insecurity, the only armor I needed was faith and love, not distance and defense. When my thoughts wandered to places of fear and inadequacy I could stand in the confidence of my salvation and allow that to be a helmet to protect my thoughts.

I journaled a prayer into my notebook which became the basis for the bridal shower grace.

I did not write the actual blessing out, and it was not recorded in real time, but these words came to my heart and were written down that morning as I pondered what to say.

Jesus,

Thank you.
You have brought us to this place, and we are grateful. Bless those who have poured into Dana, poured into this day. The overflow of love from her is a testimony to the love that fills this room.
Thank you.
Thank you that we are not left to do life alone. Thank you for Caleb and Dana’s people. Thank you that you nourish our hearts with faith and love as you nourish our bodies with food.
Bless this space, these people, this food. Thank you for those who have prepared it and who serve us today. May we be strengthened in faith, hope, and confidence to serve one another. And be with our  people not here who have enabled us to share this joy together. What a gift we have been given.
It’s all grace.

Amen