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My First Blog Post

Am I really

middle-aged?

“So as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;”

Colossians 1:10

Recently, my husband and I were discussing my desire to write a blog. I was trying to articulate about the audience I was hoping to reach. I kept saying things like empty-nesters, people with adult children, premenopausal women and other definitions. In Terry’s succinct manner, he said, “You mean middle-aged women.” I instantly bristled at that definition. All of these thoughts raged in my head: I’m still young, I’m not even 50 (well 3 years shy of it!), I haven’t joined the AARP yet, I have vivid memories of high school and I’m just now thinking about starting a career after being home for 21 years. Certainly, I am not middle-aged!

Then it hit me. If I double my current age, I will live to be older than my grandfather did! On the timeline of my life, I’m smack dab in the middle of it. No matter how I slice it, I am middle-aged!

Why write a blog for this audience of women in the middle of their life? Cyberspace is full of mommy blogs and millennial adulting memes. Lifestyle blogs abound, especially if you are a foodie or fixing up your home. Yet, in this weird world of social media celebrities and viral videos, there is little to offer a middle-of-life woman (sounds better than middle-aged). Especially to a 47-year-old woman who identifies herself as a Christian.

Yes, there are blogs from Lysa Terkuest, who writes powerful books that have ministered to me. And I can’t forget the soulful, poetic Ann Voskamp’s blog that I read again and again to soak in her words of wisdom. In the Apostolic Pentecostal world there are the blogs, posts and writings from the witty Rachel Colthrap who makes you laugh and brings you to conviction at the same time.

Not to disparage any of these women. In all of their writings, they are honest and transparent about their faults, shortcomings and trials, yet these women all appear to be extraordinary.

Where are the ordinary blogs, about middle-aged women dealing with tough transitions gracefully? Dealing with subjects like adjusting from parenting teens to blessing adult children. Sharing goals with others on how to live your life in healthier manners, both physically and mentally, as you age. Discussing strategies to strengthen your marriage as empty-nesters. Dealing with the nitty gritty, honest details of conquering life-long giants, such as obesity. Health concerns, life adjustments, leaving a legacy…..the list is endless!

This is my blog, my thoughts and, more importantly, my journey to making these transitions gracefully, so that I can bear fruit and increase in the knowledge of God. Please join me and feel free to share with me your thoughts as well.

One Size Does Not Fit All

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Working second shift, my mom often left dinner on low in the oven. Sometimes it was a pot roast and other times it was pan of bubbling scalloped potatoes and ham. Along with these dishes, we enjoyed our share of processed food. Hamburger-based meals with stroganoff seasoning packets were a staple in our home. Orange-tinted jar sauce coated spaghetti along with Parmesan cheese shakers, satisfying our Italian longings. And frozen individual potpies seemed fancy with their creamy gravy in flaky pie shells. I thought all cakes came from a boxed mix and made instant microwavable oatmeal for breakfast. My mom did practice her culinary skills on potato salad, cream cheese brownies, and split pea soup. But she left macaroni and cheese to the blue box experts and pizza to the flying war hero.

When I got married, my husband introduced me to old fashioned oats made on the stove. At first, I missed the sweet peaches and cream additives. But eventually, I liked the chewiness and wholesome flavor of ordinary oats that I could sweeten to my liking. This opened my world that not everything had to come prepackaged. Homemade cakes, macaroni and cheese that involved a Bechamel sauce, and pancakes from ordinary ingredients became staples in my home.

I didn’t make pancakes often for my children, but often enough that they knew it took a little time. I started out with a sour cream-based recipe, moving to a buttermilk, and eventually a whole grain pancake recipe. The kids loved pancakes, and they often requested them when they had sleepovers. Once, after flipping sixty-five small pancakes for a group of boys, their insatiable appetites were finally satisfied…temporarily.

Several years ago, Terry was craving pancakes. Wanting a quick fix, he went to the store and bought a complete boxed mix. Maggie, who also loved pancakes, was appalled! She didn’t understand how one could have pancakes without milk, oil, and eggs. She remarked “Just water!” Unashamed by her response, Terry made his pancakes, sharing a few with her. To her surprise, they tasted good. Not only did she like them, but she also preferred the convenience, and likely has a boxed mix in her cabinet, today.

This past month, I have focused on issues women deal with, including boundaries, confidence, joy, and mentoring. I want to close this month by making room at the table for all women to carry out their roles in the way that works best for their lives. This means removing judgment and trusting that God is giving women direction in their own lives.

As a woman, I often define myself by my roles in life. Like most women, I want to have a healthy marriage where Terry and I enrich each other lives. As a mother, I wanted to raise my children to live a life centered on Christ, to be lifelong learners, and to be good stewards of all that God has given them. As a Mimi, I want to impact my grandchildren by being a place where they feel loved and valued. As a woman, I want to make contributions to other people’s lives through my work and volunteering. As a member of the body of Christ, I want to use my giftings to bless my community. I don’t think my ideas are radically different from those of most women I know. Maybe some don’t share the same faith I have, but most women want to be good wives, mothers, grandmothers, employees, and citizens.

In recent years, I have noticed that shawls no longer say one size fits all. Instead, they are often tagged with “one size fits most”. This considers the different heights, shapes, and sizes of women. It feels like such a more inclusive tag, without making others feel less than. I think the idea applies to womanhood in general. It is not a one-size-fits-all model. I chose to be a stay-at-home mom, make homemade pancakes, and home educate my children all the way through high school. But, although this was best for my family, it may not be the best choice for others. I have friends and sisters who choose to be working moms. I don’t think any of them had different goals in mind for their children, they just had a different style of carrying out their goals. I have friends who bought boxed pancake mixes, this doesn’t make them less interested in their child’s nutrition. I have friends who have chosen public school for their children, and they are still actively involved in their children’s education by volunteering in their classes and being a part of the PTA.

I wish I could say that I always believed this. But, for a long time I believed my method was best. This was judgmental and hurtful to those I loved. I looked for evidence to support my beliefs and wasn’t afraid to share it, trying to elevate my choices. But this attitude doesn’t champion others or make room for others to see things differently. It doesn’t champion my friend, Liane, who feels a calling to her profession as a lawyer and uses some of her time to advocate for and represent victims of domestic abuse. It doesn’t make room for all my friends who are single mothers working to provide for their families. It doesn’t make room for my friends who are public-school teachers impacting not just her own children, but a whole classroom as well.

I have been on the other side, where my choices were judged. As a new mother, I tried breast feeding for a week. Exhausted with a crying baby, I made the difficult decision to use formula to feed my baby. I remember a friends’ comment when my son developed an ear infection a year later, “That’s right, he didn’t get the good antibodies of a breast-fed baby.” I already felt guilty about my choice, knowing all the research supported her opinion. Her comment didn’t champion my choice. It made me less than, just like my judgments on other’s educational choices made them feel less than.

In the 1990s, the seasonal wheel dictated the colors of a woman’s fashion choices. Depending on your hair color, eye color, and skin tone, you were either a winter, spring, summer or fall. My dark hair and skin tone supposedly made me a winter, and I was relegated to the jewel tones on the wheel. For years, I followed that advice, staying away from soft pinks and gray. I longed for the mint sweaters and crisp yellow shirts, feeling limited because it wouldn’t bring out the best in me. And then in the early 2000s chocolate brown became stylish. I decided to break protocol, and purchased a brown skirt, with a belted brown and copper shirt. And to my surprise, despite what the color wheel indicated, I looked and felt great!

I have the privilege to be a part of a local chapter of MOPS as a mentor, what I lovingly refer to as the older or seasoned mother at the table. All of the moms I have encountered care passionately for their spouses, children, friends and community. They often question if they are doing enough and if they are making the right decisions. Some work part time, others are going back to school, and one is even home educating. My mission is not to say what I did was the best, but to champion these women in their choices and help them feel more confident without all the guilt.

I no longer wear just jewel tones; I wear colors that make me feel confident. I may make homemade pancakes, but I also love the microwavable Indian foods I find at my local grocer. I no longer judge others for decisions that are different than mine. Instead, I look for opportunities to assure other women that their choices are valid. Women’s History Month has shown us that being women hasn’t been easy. I don’t want to make the lives of my sisters and friends any harder than they already are. I am here to support them in any way I can!

Mother/Daughter Book Club

“In everything set them an example by doing what is good.” Titus 2:7

I never knew Grandma Easley. Due to some family issues, my only interaction was attending her funeral. She had a complicated relationship with her daughter, my mother-in-law. From what I can piece together, her life was a mixture of tragedy and grit. She married an Arkansas sharecropper who spent most of their money on alcohol, leaving her to feed five children bread soaked in milk gravy. After his death, she used the life insurance to buy a freezer, and continued to support her family by share cropping, gardening, and preserving food. By all accounts, she was an incredible baker. Her flaky pie crust was filled with fruit and sumptuous custards. She also covered her banana pudding with a light meringue, elevating a southern classic to a family legend. Shooed out of the kitchen, her daughter never watched her cut the butter into the flour or cook the custard to the right consistency. Upon her death, those recipes were lost along with the techniques and tips she used.

I wish I could ask Grandma Easley some questions. Did her heart break when she buried her first daughter in the Arizona desert? Encouraging her sons to go to college, what were her dreams for her daughters? After losing her husband, how did she find the strength to create a new life for herself and her children? What were her unfulfilled dreams? I do know she was a reader and would love to know if she found healing between the pages of books. By reading about adventures, struggles, and triumphs, did she imagine a different relationship with her daughter? And the biggest question of all, is it possible that even at the end of her life, her perspective and her stories could have healed some deep hurts in my mother-in-law?

These questions will never be answered. My mother-in-law and I had lots of conversations about her relationship with her mother. As she too was dying, she wondered why her mother never taught her how to bake. She wondered why her mother never pushed her to go to college? She wished for a different relationship, one where the bond would have been full of love.

In Titus 2, the Bible stresses the importance of women mentoring other women. Older women should model godliness and good character for younger women. In years past, this mentoring would happen in the home as women were canning, sewing, or baking. Often, these women were accused of gossiping, but historical records tell a different story. A lot of women shared stories about discrimination, racism, and conflict. The women’s suffrage movement was born around kitchen tables while political messages and personal stories were woven into the design of quilts. As daughters learned what type of stitches they needed, they would also learn how to handle difficulties with grace and grit.

About fifteen years ago, I was privileged to be part of a mother/daughter book club. Seven moms and their daughters got together regularly to discuss a book we had read. We shared who we identified with in Little Women. We talked about the importance of caring for others when reading The Little Princess. We recognized in our elders the importance of humor and adventure when reading In Grandma’s Attic. Most discussions were lighthearted, but some dealt with heavy issues like loneliness, selfishness, and justice. At the time, this book club fueled my book nerdiness and fulfilled my need for community. It also created an opportunity for my daughter and I to connect during her emotionally charged tween stage. At the time, I didn’t think about the larger issues we were creating space for, or realize we were opening doors for conversations about difficult and challenging issues. I just knew the tea parties and books connected us as mothers and daughters.

In the latest musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda, Matilda Wormwood says, “What I really like is reading, It’s like a holiday in your head.” I wholeheartedly share her sentiment, but I think reading is so much more. It opens your world to new countries filled with exotic smells and tastes. It makes you think deeply about another person’s perspectives when faced with tragedy or discrimination. It sometimes challenges your worldview, putting flesh to statistics you read about. And as a Christian, it illuminates truth in some unlikely characters and stories.

At my niece’s birthday party, I met some of her friends. One nine-year-old shared with me some of her favorite books, even adding one to my TBR list. When the moms arrived at the end of the party, we chatted a little bit, and I shared that years ago I had been part of a mother/daughter book club. I shared how this was an opportunity to discuss big ideas, even though I didn’t personally set out to do that. The girls overheard, and immediately jumped on the idea, begging their moms to start one. They sauntered off, deciding on the first book as the mom’s discussed the possibility. I told my sister and the other moms that I can’t wait to hear about the books they are reading, and that, someday, I’ll attend as the honorary guest.

The month of March is designated as Women’s History month. It is a great month to read and learn about different women who, despite roadblocks, have made significant contributions to our world in areas of literature, art, science, history, sports, and politics. As a Christian we can also investigate women who have made significant contributions in spreading the gospel. But not every woman is going to be Marie Curie, Georgia O’Keefe, or Louisa May Alcott. Ordinary women can do extraordinary things simply by investing in future generations, mentoring girls and young women. It can happen by sharing stories through the pages of books and discussing our own stories in the process. It can happen at a kitchen island, baking cookies together. It can happen in a car ride on the way to school. The point is to actively engage in mentoring, choosing to develop or solidify a relationship with intentionality.

My mother-in-law was not mentored by her mother. She never learned the art of baking pie crust and no family recipes were passed down. But she made a different choice for her family’s future generations. She was intentional in her relationship with me and my daughter. She taught my daughter to sew, showed me how to make pecan fingers, and shared with me stories about her childhood and how they impacted her. I learned that though hardship may come early, life can end with a heart full of gratitude and forgiveness. I learned that even as a young teenager, the Bible was so important to her, that she spent her earnings from the chopping cotton to buy each of her siblings a Bible with their names engraved on the front. I saw a woman reach her most difficult trial in life by spending hours on her knees in prayer. Those hours turned her heart from despair to hope.

You never know how mentoring turns out; did you make an impact where you had hoped? Yesterday, I asked Maggie what she really thought of the book club, and to my joy, she felt it was magical and delightful. I agree and I will be forever grateful for that time with my daughter and our friends!

Confidence with Cake

“in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.” Ephesians 3:12

I have had an online profile long enough to find Facebook memories funny and sentimental. Often, I’ll screenshot the memory of something my children did or said and send it to them with a laughing emoji. Memories include anything from attending bluegrass festivals to sitting on the porch with a parasol reading a book. The comments can be about clowns, chocolate, or Charles Dickens. It’s a snapshot of sorts that reminds me of the life we have lived.

Recently, I posted a picture of a cake I halfheartedly decorated. The mini cake sat on a pedestal slightly lopsided. The chocolate frosting, in what could best be described as rustic, covered the cake with unwanted speckles of crumb poking through. With no filters, I captioned the photo, “A for flavor, C for decorating”. This is not the first time I have posted some of my less than stellar decorating photos. Just today, Facebook reminded me of two such posts, another cake I attempted to decorate and a metallic looking blueberry meringue I made for a pie. Again, I posted these pictures with disparaging remarks, knowing that some of my friends would chuckle.

A friend of mine is doing hard things in her life. She is raising three school-age children, working full-time, and going to school part time to earn her bachelor’s degree. She grew up in a faith-based community that didn’t encourage women to seek higher education, leaving her with little means to support herself after her marriage imploded. There is so much more I could say about this woman and the trauma she experienced in the last few years, but it is not my story to tell. Recently, she expressed some trepidation about taking a philosophy course, having no previous experience with the subject. She worried whether she was grasping the reading when she made discussion posts and if her papers would suffice. Her class finished this week and she shared with me that she earned an A+ for all her writing. She qualified her grade with the caveat, “I think my professor is an easy grader.”

These words stuck with me for a few days, just like the images of my not so beautiful cakes are forever embedded in social media. I hear a lot of my friends make similar statements. We, especially women, seem to downplay the work we do or minimize it in comparison to others. We say “It was nothing” after organizing a successful event or “I could’ve been more prepared” after giving a well-received speech. We post unflattering pictures about our lives to keep it real. We attribute our successes to the support system around us to keep us humble. And we believe that our professor was an easy grader instead of believing we worked hard to understand the material and were able to articulate it well in writing.

Later, this same friend shared that going to school has helped her feel empowered, opening her world to different points of views. She also shared that she has earned a great GPA, giving her confidence in both her intelligence and abilities. I, too, can publicly state, I am a good baker. For years, I have made Christmas cookies that other people have craved. My homemade cakes taste better than most purchased at a grocery store. Yet, both of us still fall into the habit of dismissing our intelligence and abilities.

Not all our responses in life are bad. I do think keeping things real on social media reminds viewers that not every picture is perfectly staged with smiling children, flawless homes, or perfectly frosted cakes. It reinforces the reality that life is sometimes messy. I do think it is important to acknowledge the support system that helps you to achieve your goals. I also think its important to remain humble, not boasting that you are the best at what you do. But there is room for a woman to be confident in her life and not dismiss her work and skills!

Being confident often gets confused with being prideful. Yet, the two have different starting points. Confidence roots itself in your identity with God, while pride roots itself in being self-made. Confidence is defined as the result of a right understanding of your abilities and limitations, recognizing that the ultimate source is God given. Pride is the overestimation of yourself, with a constant need for justification or feedback to support your pride. Confidence measures your sufficiency in Christ, while pride seeks to be self-sufficient. There are three indicators to keep you rooted in confidence and avoid pride: your idea of perfection, the ability to celebrate and collaborate with others, and an attitude of gratefulness.

Years ago, I planned and budgeted for what I thought was a perfect family trip, including highlights for each family member. The biggest highlight for my son and husband was seeing the Boston Pops perform the 1812 Overture on Independence Day. My perfect vacation was derailed on July 3rd when the transmission in our van died, leaving us stranded outside of Portland for hours. We had to scratch the critically acclaimed whoopie pies off my list, and with a late arrival to Boston, we were too exhausted to get up the next morning for the free concert tickets. Emily Ley says in her book Grace, Not Perfection, “Don’t sacrifice the good to chase the perfection.” My perfectly planned vacation could have been a major flop for our family. We didn’t hit all the highlights and we blew our budget with a rental. But we chose to continue the vacation and focused on creating memories. It is important to plan things well and put your best foot forward, but perfection becomes a problem when something doesn’t turn out exactly the way you planned, and your attitude in response doesn’t honor Christ.

My friend’s son produces amazing music. Caleb takes melodies from artists, including his sister Megan, and adds strings, drums, and counter melodies to give the song a fuller, richer sound. He readily shares the details of his work and invites feedback. The song, Alright by Megg Noell demonstrates the power of collaboration. In the past, I have led teams to create a successful Vacation Bible School program. I recognize that my skill set lies in creating a vision and writing out plans. I am not good at crafts, not coordinated enough for games, and not detailed enough for set design. But I am good at finding the people with talents in those areas and giving them a platform to develop their talent. Like Caleb, I am confident enough in my ability to work with others to effectively minister the gospel.

Finally, confidence always gives the glory back to God. Paul reminds us in Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” In One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp writes, “A life contemplating the blessings of Christ becomes a life acting the love of Christ.” Our confidence should point others to Christ, helping them see God actively working within us.

When I think about my friend and all the hard things she is doing, I am proud of her. She has allowed God to birth in her a desire for more than the circumstances she was handed. She is creating a new life for herself and her family, centered on God. And she earned the grade she was given, demonstrated by the hours she read, studied, and wrote. On a personal note, I need to stop posting pictures of my decorating mishaps. These cakes I made were not for any special days or food blog posts, they were for the simple enjoyment of my family. I don’t need to be the only voice for keeping it real on social media. I am confident that if I need a cake for a special occasion, I have enough people around me who can decorate it to make it beautiful!

Confetto Joy

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11

Some of my favorite little people spent the night a few weekends ago. After making homemade pizzas and playing games, the smallest explored our living room. She discovered a gold confetto (a single piece of confetti) underneath a bookshelf. I smiled as she handed it to me, a memento from my 50th birthday. She giggled gleefully when I told her she could keep it. To her, this tiny forgotten party detritus (which might be an indicator of my housekeeping skills) was a treasure, not a piece of trash where the rest of the confetti had long gone.

A few days later, my sister sent me a Ted Talk from Ingrid Fetell Lee about “Where Joy Hides and How to Find It”. She interviewed people across the world asking what brings them joy. She found that bubbles, cherry blossoms, and ice cream cones with sprinkles universally bring people joy. She compiled a list of other items and found some patterns in joy, encouraging listeners to actively seek joy.

As I listened to her, Ingrid mentioned that a single piece of confetti is a confetto. BOOM! I felt two random moments in my life, a little person finding a treasure under my bookshelf and this Ted Talk, collide for a purpose! This happens to me a lot, two seemingly random moments connecting for a greater purpose. When I find these connections, I pay attention, exploring what they could mean. I know that psychological research can explain some of these phenomena. For example, when you buy a certain type of car, like the Nissan Rogue my son-in-law just purchased, you suddenly see a lot more of that car. This doesn’t mean that there is an increase in Nissan Rogue vehicles, it just means you are more aware of them. And sometimes when I find connections, this principle applies. This random fact made an impact on me, and I am now looking for it in other places. But in this case, Lydia found the confetto before I knew that a word existed for one piece of confetti. In other words, the confetto became illuminated after the fact. And just maybe God was trying to show me something.

February was a challenging month. In south central PA, the weather vacillated between teasing warm, spring breezes and cold, wet days. We had no significant snowfall, making the brown earth more dismal. This pattern not only plays havoc on my mental state, but also my RA, making walking difficult along with my daily tasks. Some days I crawled out of bed struggling with fatigue. Hot coffee and podcasts made days manageable, while I set smaller goals rather than my normal busyness.

Reading, which typically helps me escape, didn’t help my state. Researching my memoir, I have been reading some hard books on trauma and its impact. The latest book, What My Bones Know, tells the story of Stephanie Foo and her healing from complex trauma disorder. The research she quotes from the book illuminates the strong link of my medical issues to my childhood trauma. I wrote in my last post that you are responsible for your healing, but that is concerning your thoughts and emotions. I can’t control how my physical body responded to the trauma, making me more susceptible to not only the autoimmune disorders I have but a host of other conditions, including the reason for my hysterectomy. For a few days, I processed my anger over something I couldn’t control in my childhood. I thought about all the time, money, and energy my disorders have cost me. And this processing added to my fatigue.

Looking back on the last four weeks, I was suffering from mild seasonal slump. It is not something I realized until the confetti. After sending the Ted Talk, my sister wrote a sweet message saying “You have the ability to find joy”. I replied to her with a modest thanks, not feeling particularly joyful at that moment. A week later, after an impromptu conversation with a business acquaintance, the woman told her husband in front of me that I was delightful. This time, I paid attention, realizing God was illuminating the importance of joy and delight.

In no way am I minimizing seasonal affective disorder or clinical depression. These are serious conditions that require medical treatment. As a preventive measure, next year I am purchasing sun therapy lights to help during the dark days of winter. And in no way do I think looking for joy and choosing delight can change a person’s clinical depression. Medicine, coping strategies and a large support group are only some ways to combat depression. But for me, it was more of a depression slump, and I needed confetti to remind me to choose joy.

Notice, I said confetti, not confetto. On my 50th birthday party last May, I walked in to shouts of surprise as gold confetti sprayed out in front of me. Surrounded by the people I loved with hundreds of pieces of confetti blanketing my path, I felt celebrated! I loved the confetti, gathering it up after the party and placing it in a glass bowl on my bookshelf. Later, Joel, my grandson, delightfully played with the confetti, spilling it out of the bowl, throwing it in the air, and refilling the bowl. I kept the confetti until fall when I replaced it with pinecones. Ingrid Fetell Lee, along with the patterns of color and circular objects, emphasized the importance of abundance in finding joy. She pointed out that a picture of one piece of confetto doesn’t seem to induce joy, instead it is the abundance of confetti that sparks joy.  And even though my little friend was delighted in the single confetto, I am sure her squeal of delight would have been louder if she found a jar full of confetti!

My sister was right, I can find joy. It is not some sort of superpower I have, it is something I have purposely cultivated in my life. And it’s not rose-colored glasses I wear to avoid dealing with hard things. It is influenced by the women in my life who I wrote about in Celebrating Sheroes. Throughout my life. these two women have expressed joy consistently, demonstrating it in ways that fit their personalities. But the last couple of years have been hard for both of them, potentially changing their outlook. One lost her husband of 45 years, the other lost two brothers in one year. In addition, both have had to deal with some serious medical issues that altered their lives. Yet, both are choosing joy again. My aunt Brenda met Tim, who walked with her in her grief and became her best friend. She is marrying him this month, choosing to find joy with a partner once again. My aunt Debbie will be taking a trip to Arizona, catching breathtaking views at sunrise in a hot air balloon. They are both choosing joy, not to erase the hard, but to move forward in their life, creating new memories.

February was hard. But in March I am choosing abundant joy. It has already started off with a whirlwind visit with my grandchildren and daughter-in-law. Baby snuggles and toddler squeals filled our home for a short 18 hours, but created memories that will last forever. Terry and I celebrated the 28th anniversary of the day we met by ministering together at a marriage seminar. In a week, I will be making confetti pancakes with my niece to celebrate her birthday. My flight home will land in DC while the cherry blossoms are in bloom. Terry and I hope to walk a little in the city, eating a James Beard Award-nominated chef’s chicken sandwich while taking in the sweet fragrance of the blossoms. The rest of the month I hope to find my groove again in walking, hiking, and exploring.

And I hope to make the same impact on others that my Sheroes have made on me. I, too, will face more hard moments in life, and I will have to work through grief, loss, and possible future medical issues. But I pray that I will continue to choose joy so that those behind me can see the power of finding confetti underneath the bookshelves!

Can Opener Boundary

“He makes peace in your borders; he fills you with the finest of the wheat.” Psalms 147:14

Years ago, I was introduced to garlic presses, food choppers, and baking stones through a direct sales kitchen wares company. I was even a consultant for their business for a brief stint. I credit this company with teaching me to use fresh garlic and herbs, the benefits of grating your own cheese, and the use of zest. This company launched me on my culinary journey, changing my menu planning from Midwest casseroles to fresher meals. Even today, some of my husband’s favorite recipes are ones I learned from their cookbooks.

As with all fads, I sold most of my stones and upgraded my knife skills so that when the chopper died, I didn’t need to replace it. But I still loved their magical handheld can opener. Successfully connecting cans to electric can openers without making a mess perplexed me. Manual can openers have also troubled me, leaving sharp edges that felt like the teeth of a rabid dog ready to bite me. But this can opener opened the lid from the side, leaving no sharp edges. It worked smoothly, allowing me to dump beans or tomatoes into a pot without any fear or mess. This handy kitchen tool survived almost twenty years, surpassing other kitchen tools with fancier features and higher ticket prices. If writing an obituary of this can opener, thirteen coffee pots, four toasters, three sets of cookware, and two kitchen aid mixers preceded it before its demise. Last year, this piece of cutting perfection had become dull. Finally, we had no choice but to bury it in our trash can.

I investigated replacing the can opener and was shocked at the sticker price. The item itself was a little higher than ones you would find at retail store. But after years of Amazon prime and free shipping at Target, I struggled to pay 1/3 more of the cost of the item in both taxes and shipping. So, I shopped at bargain stores, thinking that all can openers were equal. The first $10 can opener was utilitarian with no frills, and lasted only a few months with many grunts of frustration from both of us. Soon, we were trying to open a simple can of tomato paste for five minutes, before we could carefully pry open the lid. Finally, Terry insisted on replacing it. This time we went with a reputable brand, with blue silicone handles jazzing it up. With this new one, I still struggled to open cans, thinking it was my RA hands not working properly. Once again, my husband grunted with frustration and insisted on ordering one like we had in the first place. Minutes later, I clicked “Checkout”, sighing in frustration. I now was spending $40 on a can opener that I originally thought was too expensive. And in doing the math, my reluctance to spend $40 had now cost me $65.

The can opener had not yet arrived, and once again I had to use the jazzy can opener. As I painstakingly opened the lid, I thought, how often do I try to cut corners in my life, and it ends up costing me so much more in the future? How often have I decided not to pray because I had too many things on my to-do list? And then I wonder why I respond sinfully when situations arise. How often do I shortchange my rest to be more productive, and then the next day my RA flares forcing me to slow down? How often have I avoided setting boundaries in my life and ended up frustrated, hurt, and depleted in my relationships.

Shortcuts seem to be hardwired into human nature. Everybody has an opinion on what the fastest route is to a destination. Even GPS apps don’t always agree. Multi-level marketing companies continue to be successful because everybody is looking to get rich quick. People spend a lot of money on miracle drugs or supplements to help with weight loss or memory for a quick solution to health issues. And people are always looking for an easier method to do housework.

Not all shortcuts are bad. Terry and I regularly pick up groceries by ordering through an app. We find that our schedules are full and grocery pick-ups free us to have more time together doing things we enjoy. We also spend less, avoiding impulse purchases. For us, it is a valuable shortcut, making our life easier. But although this shortcut works for me in my life, for others, it might not work.They may find the substitutions that the paid shopper sometimes has to make frustrating. Or just maybe, they really enjoy grocery shopping.

On the flip-side I have seen that when I avoid doing the hard thing and use a shortcut, this shortcut ends up costing me something. The shortcut might be a temporary solution that initially works out well, just like the two cheaper can openers worked well the first time we used them. But eventually, the shortcut’s temporary fix ends up with hard to open lids, cut fingers, and frustration. And then I am left with a choice: do I find another shortcut or do the hard thing?

In the past couple of years, I realized that I have a terrible time setting healthy boundaries in my life. It was easier for me to agree to help others without really considering the cost. I managed other people’s emotions by swooping in to fix things, without taking care of myself and letting them sit with difficult situations. I played peacekeeper, without addressing my feelings often discounted by others. My hard thing, setting boundaries, cost me my peace, time, energy, and emotional well-being. And my shortcuts left me feeling inadequate, frustrated, hurt, and devalued.

How did my boundaries get so messed up? Boundaries are typically established in childhood, where they are modeled and taught by parents. These patterns may be healthy or unhealthy. As an adult, it requires self-awareness and work to change the pattern of responding to boundaries from unhealthy to healthy. But in the case of childhood sexual trauma, boundary development is almost nonexistent since your physical body, your most private parts, are being violated by a person you are supposed to trust. This leaves you with the inability to trust your gut instinct for self-preservation and changes your sense of responsibility. In my case, I felt responsible for other people’s choices and for making them feel better. Since my ability to say no was discounted during the abuse, I rarely said no later in life, fearing rejection and disappointing others around me. Finally, I rarely addressed hard issues, because it was easier to avoid, move forward, and pretend everything was okay.

Years ago, my mom gave me a stack of childhood school papers. Included was a third-grade autobiographical story about my family. In the story, I wrote about my “wonderful dad” who listened and took us on fun adventures. I could hardly believe I wrote that, knowing full well the nightmare I lived daily. Yet my eight-year-old self couldn’t reconcile that fact with my school assignment. I couldn’t talk about the flying mashed potatoes, or the broken dishes being thrown across the dinner table. I didn’t write about the sweaty socks being thrown in my face while disparaging comments were being made about my normal weight. And I certainly couldn’t describe being forced to go to the basement knowing full well what would happen down there in the dark. So, I pretended, because telling the truth was scary.

Yes, trauma distorted my ability to set healthy boundaries. And for years, I lived with messy boundaries. But like the popular meme, “Trauma is not your fault, but healing is your responsibility.”, I have a responsibility to learn to set healthy boundaries. I am not sure why I didn’t address this early in my life, but I do know that I am now in the safest place in my marriage, my relationships, and my community of believers to address this. I am digging into what I believe about myself and what is truth. I am learning to lay down other people’s responsibilities and pick up my own. I am learning that saying “No” is okay and addressing hard feelings is safe. I don’t always do it well. A lot of times, I mess up, expressing anger in a way that is not conducive to good conversations. Other times, I read into others responses without exercising curiosity. And I still find myself trying to figure out a way to help others at the expense of my own well-being. But I am slowly building healthy boundaries.

And there are no shortcuts in doing this. Like my utilitarian can opener, I could read about boundaries and map out a flowchart on how to handle situations. But this will only change my actions without getting to the healing that makes setting boundaries natural. Like my flashy can opener, I can become a boundary setter, zealous for myself, but forget to do the hard work in addressing my own sinful responses. The hardest and best response is to invest in this process. I have to invite Jesus into this process, along with some good friends who hold me accountable, and do the hard work of setting boundaries. It will cost me something: time, uncomfortable feelings, and maybe the loss of some unhealthy relationships. But ultimately, it will leave me healthy and whole, giving me room to do the things God has called me to do.

I threw away my third-grade autobiography. It has probably decomposed unlike the useless can openers still taking up space in some landfill. But I wish I had kept it. At the time, I was frustrated with my younger self for not telling the truth, for making up an imaginary life. Today, I have so much more compassion for that little girl who wanted a life of adventure and a father who listened. I can’t change my trauma, but I can create a beautiful life with adventures; I can be the one to listen well; and I can set healthy boundaries.

Silver Valentine

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:7

Last Tuesday was Valentine’s Day! Terry and I had a quiet evening at home with Frank Sinatra, and Michael Bublé serenading us in the background. I seared a ribeye steak, made twice-baked potatoes and salad with fennel and blood oranges. We finished putting together a Valentine-themed puzzle while savoring chocolate mousse. Flowers from my favorite florist and an exchange of cards helped make the evening perfect for our first Valentine’s Day as empty nesters.

Valentine’s Day is a controversial holiday, about which I hear more Scrooge-like comments than for playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving. “Why do we need a holiday to celebrate our love”, “I’d rather receive flowers on a different day than on a made-up holiday”, or “Valentine’s Day has become too commercialized” are some the comments I have heard. Even my husband believed the same way for many years. We had two very different ideas of how to celebrate this holiday, and it left both of us feeling frustrated, unseen, and not loved.

It is curious that none of these same ideas are expressed about other holidays. On Mother’s Day, I never hear anyone say, “Why should I honor my mom today? We should celebrate her every day.” I don’t hear on Veteran’s Day, “Why should a veteran get a special discount today? Shouldn’t he/she get a discount every day?” We can all agree that mothers, fathers, and veterans should be honored regularly, but there is something special about setting aside a particular day to honor someone important. But Valentine’s Day feels different for many people, resulting in polarizing responses.

I agree that “unexpected flowers on an ordinary day” has its own special delight. I also agree that in a committed marriage it is important to celebrate your love more than one day a year. But after being married for almost 27 years, I know it’s easy to get busy in the day-to-day of life and forget the unexpected flowers, the special meals, or making sure you are setting the mood with romantic music. Soon, days creep by, weeks move on, and years pass without intentionally celebrating your marriage.

Celebrating events takes up significant real estate in the Bible, indicating it is important to God. He told Moses to set aside time to honor, remember, and express thankfulness for His faithfulness, deliverance, and abundant blessings. Regardless of what the Hebrews were experiencing, they celebrated together in community. Sometimes these celebrations occurred in times of peace and abundant harvest. But these same celebrations also happened in times of war, famine, and captivity. The point was to set aside time to remember the goodness of the past, to acknowledge the situation they were in now, and to look to the future. God also used these calendar events to mark life-changing experiences that were not coincidental. Jesus’ defining moment: his death and resurrection, happened during the celebration of Passover. And the outpouring of his spirit on believers also happened during the Feast of Weeks, a time to be thankful after the grain harvest.

I recently heard about “silver or gray divorces.” These are divorces that happen after twenty or more years of marriage. What I find shocking is that in the past twenty years, the divorce rate in the United States has declined, except for the over-fifty demographic where it has doubled. In 2021, 34.9% of all Americans who got divorced in the previous year were 55 or older. That is more than twice the rate of any other group surveyed! One therapist shared potential reasons why divorce happens with older couples, including retirement adjustments, active vs. passive lifestyles, and past hurts. But the number one reason for the divorce is that the couple grew apart. They grew apart, living in the same house, eating regular meals together, and sharing the same bed. After years of being married, creating a life with each other, raising children, and eating countless meals together, these husbands and wives felt they no longer knew each other, and went their separate ways.

I understand how that happens. Five years ago, Terry and I hit a point in our marriage where, if we hadn’t been committed to our vows before God, it would have been easy to go our separate ways. We were living together as roommates with the task of launching our adult children, but not connecting on a personal level. We were busy doing life side by side but not together. And as days went by, we forgot to remember our past, acknowledge our present situation, and look to our future. Not only was Valentine’s Day not being celebrated, but I wasn’t getting unexpected flowers and Terry wasn’t getting a special steak prepared for him.

Sadly, it took a major crisis to alert us to how far off the “together” path we had strayed. Since then, we have engaged in some hard work, in a lot of ways, some internal therapy together. In retrospect, we should have done marriage therapy, and highly encourage it for others. It is still on the table for us, and it’s a shame that insurance companies don’t prioritize mental health as much as physical health. I often wonder how much of our aches and pains are the result of the mental health loads we carry. But that’s rabbit hole for a different post. Our major crisis changed our lives for the better by drawing us back to God and each other, and we didn’t join the growing statistics of “silver divorces.”

I want to set the record straight; I am in no way judging another person’s marital status. There are difficult, unsafe marriages, marked with abuse and infidelity, where separating or divorcing is the right thing to do. We also have a no-fault divorce society that most people would say has made divorce easier legally, but the process is still painful. I also know that God can redeem lives on the other side of divorce.

Looking back, I can see little steps that we both made that caused us to drift apart. Four years prior, we were intentional with our family, but forgot to be intentional as a couple. We dealt with some major hurts from the past that affected our relationship in ways we didn’t fully understand. We both faced pressures and believed that our own individual struggles were more valid than our spouse’s. And with our lack of intentionality, hurts, and selfishness, it was easy to stop celebrating holidays and anniversaries.

I wonder what would have happened if we had set aside our own feelings, and celebrated Valentine’s Day anyway. Maybe it would have been us just going through the motions and the result would have been the same. But just maybe, we would have remembered what brought us together in the first place, allowed ourselves the space to acknowledge the hard we were feeling, and taken the opportunity to dream for the future.

Last year was busy for our family. We had major family celebrations: wedding showers, a baby sprinkle, the wedding, birthdays, and the arrival of a new granddaughter. And we were also still unpacking some hard issues and didn’t prioritize time set aside just for us. Even though we are on the other side of the crisis, when looking at the list of why silver divorces happen, it is easy to see how these marriage pitfalls can still affect a marriage, even after they have been identified.

Terry and I have very different activity levels. I love to go places, experience cities, explore museums, and try new restaurants. After a long week of looking at spreadsheets, Terry enjoys relaxing at home with a cup of coffee and a good book. Our activity levels have always been different but have become more pronounced without children filling in the spaces. We both needed to acknowledge that each other’s level of activity is a valid lifestyle, and not put a judgmental spin on our differences. We also need to create a win-win situation, where both of our needs are being met. These conversations require honesty, space to self-reflect, and some sacrifice on both parts.

We came to the place where we agree to be intentional in both spaces. We split our time between going to new places and spending time together at home. But this takes effort carving out time for each other by marking dates on the calendar. God gave the Hebrews a calendar because He knew they would forget. We are mindful to plan dates for the symphony, put a puzzle together, or just go out for a good cup of coffee.

And we choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day as a day set aside for celebrating our committed love. It is no longer a day when Terry feels frustrated, and I feel disappointed. It is the day where we come together, choosing how we are going to celebrate it. Yes, there are flowers, food, and music. And yes, they are all important to us. But what is most important is us remembering our past, acknowledging today, and looking towards the future!

Boots and Hope

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is the tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12

At my son’s home in Rhode Island, the bitter wind whipped against the house, howling as it blew. The weather apps warned readers to stay inside, that even for a few minutes, any exposed skin would be in danger of frost bite. This Wisconsin-bred woman had forgotten what below freezing feels like. Wearing a thick sweater, heavy wool socks, and wrapped in a blanket, I still couldn’t get rid of the chill that permeated deep into my bones. Even the sturdy house had a hard time staying warm, with the temperature turned up in hopes of keeping everyone comfortable. I couldn’t conjure up feelings of Hygge until I got the idea of baking ginger molasses cookies. The spicy smell of ginger warmed up the house as I held my granddaughter, swaddled in her cozy blankets. Coffee, cookies, and grandchildren helped me embrace Percy Bysshe Shelley’s hopeful line of poetry, “O, wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?”

Hygge, which I have explored in a previous post, helps me get through the long, cold days of winter. It’s easy to embrace Hygge when one has plush throws, wool socks, steaming cups of coffee, and candlelight glow. But for thousands of people in our country, being warm is a distant dream as they huddle in entryways, sleep on park benches, or create makeshift tents below overpasses. For myriad reasons, these people have no place to call their own. They don’t have the option to buy a house, rent an apartment, or even stay in a hotel for a night when bitter winds and low temperatures are causing those of us with homes to struggle to stay warm.

When I was college, I did a week-long volunteer trip to the largest homeless shelter in Washington, DC. I worked in the shelter, met some residents, and passed out blankets on the cold March evenings throughout the city. Some of the homeless were veterans who never got the proper mental health care to deal with the stress of war. Some were addicts who never broke through the addiction cycle to get to the other side. Others were people who had degrees, but suffered with mental illnesses, unable to find adequate services to stabilize their health. I spent time talking with individuals, listening to their stories, and hearing of their hope constantly deferred. I don’t believe any of them ever envisioned themselves living on the streets, isolated from their families and friends. A lot of them were conscious of the hard cold fact that they could die without anyone knowing who they were.

I came home from that week inspired but not changed. Like most experiences, I moved on, and started building my own life. I was busy furnishing my own home, creating a space that was warm and cozy. I lived in relatively small communities where it was easy to avoid paying attention to homeless people. Yes, occasionally I would see them in the libraries I visited. Yes, I would see individuals and families outside of my local Target with signs asking for help. Since I didn’t have cash, I justified ignoring them. And over the course of time, I put aside, and soon forgot, the heart wrenching stories of the people I met in Washington, DC. I hardened my heart, made unfounded assumptions, and developed judgmental narratives about the people I was seeing in my own community.

In making this post, I don’t want to make myself out to be some sort of hero. I am ashamed of my lack of community involvement. I have always been an active contributor in my church community, but I have limited my involvement to activities that felt safe and comfortable. I can no longer sit on the sidelines of my community and allow others to suffer, no matter what their story is, without finding some way to help. If I am really a Christian, changed by the life and example of Jesus, I must choose to involve myself with those suffering around me. And even though I have sat on the sidelines for years, Jesus, in his infinite kindness, has gently nudged me outside of my comfort zone to actively serve my community.

This year, I am partnering with Community Cares, a local agency that helps our homeless population in Cumberland County. They are sponsoring a national event called “Coldest Night of the Year” and it takes place on February 25. It will be a two-mile walk in the evening with others in the community in the hopes of raising funds and awareness for the homeless. I am hoping to raise $100+ for my walk. If you are interested in helping, this link will lead you to a secure site to donate. Every donation counts and even just the price of a cup of coffee will help me reach my goal.

Recently, I read the account of Job in The Message Bible. Job had lost his children, his crops, and all his animals. In essence, he had lost everything and was, in many ways, similar to a homeless person. In his moments of greatest despair, his friends tried to fathom what he had done to deserve the supposed wrath of God. They also give him advice on how to get out of this situation. In Chapter 7, Job responds to his friends by saying, “Do you think I can pull myself up by my bootstraps? Why, I don’t even have any boots.” I no longer want to be one of Job’s friends. Instead, I want to help give boots to those who need them.

Bacon and Eggs

“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” Proverbs 16:3

Four years ago, I set a goal to run the Newport, Rhode Island ½ marathon by the time I turned 50. On one of our many visits there, my husband supported my dream by driving the marathon route. The route starts at Easton Beach, running up a steep incline into the quaint downtown area of Newport. It zigzags past the beautiful mansions, homes of Boston’s ultra-elite during the turn of the century. The race finishes to the soundtrack of crashing waves on Ocean Drive with majestic views of the ocean. As we drove, I envisioned running this 13.1 miles with my family cheering me on at the finish line.

I went home and downloaded an app for running whose subtitle was moving from a couch potato to a 5k run in three months. Every day, I started the app, ran for 30 seconds, then walked for three minutes. As I progressed, the length of running eventually increased and the walking decreased. After three months, I reached a point where I got stuck. After five minutes of running, my thighs burned like molten metal solidifying with the impact of every step. Thinking this was a mental block, I continued trying to push past with no success. I then thought maybe it was my form and read books and blogs about running to figure out my problem, still finding no solution. I thought maybe it was a weight issue and focused on dropping twenty more pounds. After the twenty pounds were gone, I still had the same burning sensation moving through my thighs at the five-minute mark. I even thought of hiring a running coach to see if I could get some help. I was frustrated! I saw pictures of women of different sizes running half marathons and even completing full marathon. I wasn’t endeavoring to break any records, just to complete a half marathon at some point in my life. But I just couldn’t get past the place where my thighs seemed to plant themselves in the asphalt, stopping me from achieving my goal.

With the help of my family and friends, I eventually concluded that this dream wasn’t going to happen. It wasn’t for lack of commitment: I had brought the right shoes, did a lot of research, and even signed up for a 5k. It wasn’t for lack of motivation: I worked hard to reach this milestone. It was simply because my own body, with Rheumatoid Arthritis wreaking havoc, wasn’t in the physical condition to support the rigors of running. At this point, I faced two choices: I could hang up my dreams for accomplishing some major physical milestone, or I could find a new mountain to climb.

I looked for something else to accomplish, some physically rigorous activity that would be challenging but still achievable. This was about redefining who I am in terms of physical activity. For years, I was defined by being the last chosen for teams in gym class, unable to swing on uneven parallel bars, and sitting on benches while the rest of my family went site-seeing. I felt a weight of shame that added to what was already deemed my too-large body. I want to be physically active so that I can keep up with my grandchildren and explore the world around me. I want to have energy, flexibility, and strength to be the best woman I can be, despite limits placed on my body by a disease I can’t control. And I don’t want to be defined by shame anymore. This idea of setting a goal encapsulates what I wanted and what I was leaving behind.

Six months ago, I discovered a book, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles (Harrisburg) by Matt Willen. It’s part of a series of books that can be found for locations all over the country. As I read the book, I learned about parks, nature centers, and trails near my home. I remembered how much hiking has become part of my new definition. It’s an activity I enjoy doing, both alone and with others. I love connecting with nature in all seasons, observing small things that delight me, and feeling strong and capable as I explore the forests, meadows, and creeks. I knew instantly that my new goal was to accomplish all 60 hikes withing 60 miles by the time I am 60. It’s an achievable goal, hiking 6-7 of these trails per year for the next nine years. It involves me being mindful of my body and building up the strength to accomplish some of the more strenuous trails. It’s also not a destination goal, instead focusing on the journey to achieving the goal.

This journey through the sixty hikes is something I have been pondering for the last few months when the cold has made hiking a challenge. How do I mark this for myself? How do I keep myself motivated when it would be easier to sit on the couch in any given month? How do I keep going when the goal seems insurmountable? Creating a journal seemed the answer to these questions. Words, sketches, and photographs can be a visual reminder of where I have been and where I am going. The words might be lines of poetry, quotes, or scriptures that speak to me during and after the hike. The sketches might be leaves, flowers, or moss that I encounter. And the photos might be views I see from the top of a mountain. This journal is a record of my thoughts, feelings, and experiences as I explore the world around me. It is for me to look back on and see how I grow and change throughout the next nine years.

We recently stopped at a restaurant with a popular saying on its wall, “The best way to describe the difference between involvement and commitment is bacon and eggs. The chicken is involved but the pig is committed. Which one are you?” All too often, the only way an outcome is deemed successful is to be as committed as the pig, to literally sacrifice your life in achieving this goal. Some would argue this is the only way to become great, like a concert pianist, Olympic medal winner, or master artist. All of these feats are to be admired for their discipline and commitment. But I would argue with the statement that the chicken is not committed. She recognizes she is not bacon, and instead, dutifully goes about her day, laying great eggs that complete the meal. We can all agree that bacon is great! But, unlike bacon, these eggs have the opportunity to come in different forms: poached, boiled, scrambled or fried, adding diversity to an otherwise straightforward breakfast. She is just as committed; it just looks different than being the best at only one thing!

I believe in goal setting; it helps me focus and work toward something. I love the geeky psychology behind habits and discipline that James Clear outlines in Atomic Habits. I even like setting deadlines for myself, even if I procrastinate. My approach to goal setting doesn’t work for everyone, especially when I set what seem like impossible goals. I am not a perfectionist, so when I set a goal for walking every day in a year, the fact that I missed seven days already doesn’t devastate me. Instead, it motivates me to continue walking on days when it seems hard, showing grace to myself on days when its below zero or my RA is acting up.

I choose not to view the death of my dream of running a half marathon as a failure. Instead, it helped me define my own limitations and clarify what I am truly capable of accomplishing. I may not get a medal after my last hike, but I will have nine years of experiences to look back on through a journal that chronicles my journey. And if I don’t accomplish this task due to some unforeseen reasons, I will pivot and set a new goal.

Friday, the weather looks decent in my area of the world. I plan on putting on my hiking shoes and finding a new trail to explore. And if Friday doesn’t work out, I’ll try again another day.

Satisfied and Moving

“Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” Psalm 90:14

It has been about four and a half years since I began my journey to better health. I have been transparent about this journey, sharing details about pounds I have lost, setbacks I have endured, and lessons I have learned. In “Let Them Eat Pie”, I shared my new journey into intuitive eating by focusing on strength, fitness, activity, and health. Today, I am going to share what part of a day of intuitive eating looks like for me.

This morning, I woke up a little later, giving my body the rest that it desperately needed. I have been having some problems sleeping, chalking it up to menopausal insomnia. When I have a rough night, I set my alarm a little later, showing my body some grace.

Knowing my day was going to be full, I wanted to get my morning off to a good start with something warm and cozy. I fixed some oatmeal, dotting it with maple syrup and Craisins. I no longer measure the Craisins, but sprinkle them generously into my oatmeal, letting the pops of color brighten the warm bowl.

After breakfast, I decided to take my daily walk. This year, I am shooting to walk every day. I already missed three days in January due to rheumatoid arthritis flares. But this is a minor setback, and I wake each day with the intention of walking, even if it’s only ten minutes. I struggled getting dressed, thinking about the day’s long to-do list. I reminded myself, this short walk would revive me and boost my energy. Once I stepped outside, the struggle ended, when I breathed deeply and exhaled slowly. The fresh air, bird songs, and scampering squirrels both invigorated and grounded me. Instantly, my day was more manageable. I walked briskly enjoying the pace, helping my arthritic body acclimate to movement, slowly loosening my morning stiffness.

After my walk, I went to work, prepping a pot of soup for a friend and working on a talk I am doing at a ladies meeting in Rhode Island. I was a bit hungry and decided to eat a few nuts and blueberries. Again, I poured the nuts into my bowl, eyeing what seemed like a satisfying amount, without measuring or weighing. I nibbled as I worked, feeling like everything was running smoothly, checking off my daily tasks.

Soon, it was lunch time, and I decided to use the overripe bananas in a smoothie, along with some peanut butter toast. After making my smoothie, I stopped what I was doing and sat down, listening to a book while I was eating. I soon felt full, with one third of my smoothie and a quarter of my toast uneaten. This sense of “full” is new to me, and I am becoming more aware of it when I create an environment where I am enjoying myself. If I make it a working lunch, I often find myself overeating. But when I stop to eat and focus on the conversation or book or podcast I am listening to, I find myself better able to pay closer attention to my body. The old Sherry would have either finished the food or immediately went to her food diary to erase points or calories. Today, I didn’t think anything of it. I was full, so I moved on.

The last thing I want to share is my decision on a Kit Kat bar. This had been my go-to candy bar for years prior to my weight loss journey. Previously, as I lost weight, I had judged the candy as not calorie-worthy, instead preferring dark chocolate. With intuitive eating, I am no longer taking any food off the table. Instead, I am choosing to make food decisions based on taste and satisfaction, rather than on guilt, macronutrients, or what gives me the biggest “fill” for my calories. I unwrapped the candy and took a bit of one of the four long pieces. The chocolate-coated crispy bar tasted overly sweet and no longer appealed to me. I rewrapped the rest and decided to share it with others.

Evaluating satisfaction, hunger, and food in terms of taste is a new concept for me. For years, my food choices were determined by food pyramid category, nutritional value, or calorie content. Intuitive eating is learning to eat differently, really paying attention to what my body needs and wants. Even moving every day should not be measured by how many calories I am burning or how many steps I am taking. I still struggle with this one, still looking to my phone to see if I am taking enough steps. But every day I move, I am becoming more in tune with how my body feels afterwards, along with my fluidity and energy level.

Diet culture has such a stronghold on my life, it might take years to root out some of these behaviors. I still look in my mirror and say I feel fat, when I know fat is not a feeling. When I express disparaging comments about my appearance, I stop and try to assess what I am feeling. Sometimes, I don’t feel like I measure up, or I feel defeated, or I feel uncomfortable. I am working on pausing and bringing those feelings to God and reminding myself who I am in Him. Then I remind myself my goal is not a size or a number, but to be strong, active, energetic, flexible, and capable!

Two women in my circle have recently lost a significant amount of weight. I found myself still complimenting them on their weight loss. In my reading on intuitive eating, I am learning these compliments are adding to the stigmas of body image that diet culture creates. Later, I went back to both women individually and asked how they were feeling. “Do you feel stronger? Do you have more energy?” It opened a dialogue with both sharing the changes they feel in their bodies. It is not my intention to police everyone about the importance of intuitive eating, but I can be a part of changing the focus of the conversation.

I am a work in progress. I wanted to share in real time the struggles I am having. I haven’t yet departed from my trusty scale, but I am using it less. I want to get to a place where I am comfortable with my body, not always looking at it in the mirror wishing it was different. I want to be the confident woman that God created!

Snowflakes

“To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.” Isaiah 61:3

“I smell snow”, I said, channeling my inner Lorelai Gilmore, as I await tomorrow’s possible storm. Snow always evokes a sense of wonder for me. It coats the dead brown grass with a white blanket that sparkles with the sun’s reflections. It outlines the tree branches, more starkly defining their shapes. It muffles all the noise, creating serenity with a bit of magic. Lewis Carroll asks, ‘“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up so snug, you know, with a white quilt, and perhaps it says, “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.”’ Like Carroll’s description, snow conjures a sleepiness with the hope of summer flitting through my dreams.

A few days ago, two little girls and I made paper snowflakes. As we folded the paper, cut out the intricate patterns, and decorated them, I shared with them that God made every snowflake unique. I later read to them the Caldecott Medal Award picture book, “Snowflake Bentley” by Jacqueline Briggs Martin. The book tells the story of Wilson Bentley, a young Vermont farm boy who loved snow. He later grew up wanting to document individual snowflakes through photography. After many failed attempts, he is credited with the first photographs of individual snowflakes. He also discovered, over the course of years, that no two snowflakes were alike, despite most having six branches. He believed that wind, temperature and humidity all shaped the design of each individual snowflake. He spent his whole life trying to document snow because he “found that snowflakes were masterpieces of design. No design was ever repeated. When a snowflake is melted…just that much beauty was gone without leaving any record behind.”

Wilson Bentley’s beautiful photographs of snow didn’t happen by luck. He studied his craft, learning to use a knife to cut away all the dark parts of the negative. He also recognized that his own breath could destroy the perfect snowflake he was trying to document. He was devoted to his art, telling friends he couldn’t miss a storm because “he never knew what treasures he would miss.” He also didn’t count the cost, spending almost $15,000 on his craft, while only earning about $4,000 from the sales of his book and slides. Yet, his work has endured, influencing future photographers and naturalists.

Bentley chose storms over comfort. His life ended after walking six miles in a blizzard to capture more snowflakes and later developing pneumonia. Storms were not his enemy, but rather opportunities to see something beautiful and unique. Considering how Wilson Bentley lived his life, I doubt he would have regretted that final walk.

All too often, I fail to live my life like that. Yes, a cataclysmic storm of abuse and trauma raged through my childhood. But after becoming a Christian, I believed I would face only minor storms. I planned and had contingencies protecting me and my loved ones from any major storms. I falsely concluded that if I did A and B, then C would automatically result. Yet, as carefully as I planned and as rigidly as I controlled, major storms have happened. My only options were to let the storms destroy me, or let God, through the storms, create something unique and beautiful. Ultimately, the type of change they made in me was my choice.

Isaiah prophesies about the Messiah in chapter 61, foretelling that Jesus would heal those who are oppressed. He then tells what Jesus would do with that oppression, exchanging beauty for ashes, joyous blessing for mourning, and festive praise for despair. He also talks about rebuilding, reviving, and possessing “a double portion of prosperity in your land and everlasting joy”. The chapter is full of the good news of Jesus despite storms and oppression.

Mary, a friend of mine, was diagnosed with breast cancer last October. By all accounts, she would be the first to testify that she had the best-case scenario for a positive outcome. Yet, this storm has caused her discomfort, pain, and unbelievable fatigue when going through radiation. She is in her final days of radiation, but still faces a few hard weeks of side effects along with a new medicine with its own potential side effects. Despite all the pain, Mary shows up for church and life group with a smile on her face. She and her husband, Dave, worship God with “festive praise”, trusting in God’s goodness. Neither of them would ever have chosen this journey, yet, they believe it has increased their faith and trust. The design of this intricate snowflake they are allowing God to create in the midst of this storm is a testimony to their daughters, grandchildren, and friends. They can truly tell others about the goodness of God!

But in the case of my mother-in-law, Eva Jane, who was also diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago, her outcome was not a best-case scenario. After a double mastectomy and radiation, my mother-in-law died under hospice care five years ago this February. I vividly remember my last phone call with her. I was about to let her go, thinking she was too weak to carry on, but she asked me to stay on the line. Whispering, she asked me to talk about God. I shared with her the impact her prayers had on my life and on my children. I thanked her for raising her son, my husband, to be a kind and generous man of God. I reminded her about how she had remained strong in all of this, believing in God’s faithfulness. I told her that this wasn’t goodbye but see you later. In her rasping voice, she started repeating her signature phrase that every family member can remember her speak in her distinctive tone, “Thank you, Jesus.” She, too, was a beautiful snowflake created during her storm through this simple phrase. It is reflected in those of us who loved her by leaving us with a joyous blessing instead of mourning.

I am hoping for snow tomorrow. I look forward to going outside, walking in the crunchy snow, catching a flake or two on my tongue. As I shovel our driveway, I am going to thank God for his goodness, his ability to create beauty in storms. And I am also going to thank God for both Mary and Eva Jane, and so many more, who allowed God to create beauty in their storms.