“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;”
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.
“Lord, You will establish peace for us, for you have also done all our works for us.” Isaiah 26:12
The first snowfall sprinkles my world with magic. White flakes cover the dead earth and coat the barest of branches, making winter a wonderland. On dark morning walks, the moon reflects on this clean slate, creating an ethereal atmosphere. All noise is muffled by the snow, adding to the magic. Despite the briskness, I walk with more ease, with my shoulders relaxed and my countenance carefree. Even my thoughts seem less cluttered, as I breathe deeply of the cold air, and my mind opens to more possibilities. All that is dead, brown, and heavy now seems alive, beautiful, and peaceful.
Of the four concepts I will explore in my Advent blogs, I find peace the most difficult to sustain in my life. I often find myself caught up in the busyness of life, anxious about details and overwhelmed with uncertainties. The stress manifests itself not only in my body but also in my actions and responses towards others. Internally, I get knots in my neck and stomach, causing discomfort. Externally, I become snippy and demanding, creating a less than peaceful atmosphere in my home. I am not proud of this, and it is something that I am consciously trying to change.
Timothy Keller, in his online Advent devotional, asks readers to meditate on the terms to describe Christ in Isaiah 9. When talking about the Prince of Peace, he says “Prince of Shalom. Shalom is the Hebrew word that conveys absolute spiritual and physical flourishing.” This flourishing is antithetical to how I define peace as a place of inaction and lack of forward movement. How then is peace a place of growth?
Both in the Old and New Testaments, peace is synonymous with harmony. Being married to a musician, I have learned a little about harmony over the years. When a group sings in harmony, the individual different parts don’t sound so beautiful. But put together, something magical happens. It creates a fuller, richer sound that is more than the sum of its parts.
If peace is the same as harmony, the opposite would be conflict or disharmony, known musically as dissonance. This is not always unwanted, especially in a piece that is trying to convey a sense of urgency or chaos. But if you are trying to convey a sense of peace and beauty, adding the vocals of someone like me who goes off key will create an unwelcome dissonance (for more about my tone deafness, see “O Holy Night”). The one off-key person or one instrument disrupts the whole, leaving everyone slightly uncomfortable.
The Israelites anticipated the coming of the Messiah. They expected a powerful king like David, who they memorialized in their conversations and scriptures. This Messiah would restore the Hebrew people back to power. They felt validated when reading the prophecy in Isaiah 9:6, where he talked about “the mighty God” and, in the next verse, “the increase of His government”. They forgot that in these same two verses, peace is also recorded: “the prince of peace” and “of the increase of His government and peace, there will be no end.” Jesus came to bring a full and sustaining peace.
This peace is not the distorted view I have of inactivity. Instead, it is like the blanket of snow, covering a ground that seems dormant, but instead is busy beyond our purview. Snow provides the precipitation the earth needs for things to grow and to replenish our water supply. It contributes to soil fertility by trapping dissolved organic nitrogen and nitrates. Snow also protects our forests by insulating the ground and protecting roots in the bitter cold. As winter unravels, the warming temperatures and thawing snow allow for a season of miraculous growth.
There is nothing as precious as a baby sleeping. I watched in awe this past Thanksgiving as our family: parents, grandparents, and aunt and uncle, took turns holding a sleeping two-month-old. We all “oohed” and “aahed” over her sweet coos and sleepy stretches, beaming at this beautiful, precious baby girl lying peacefully in our arms.
I can only imagine the peaceful expressions of Mary and Joseph as they watched in awe while baby Jesus lay in the manger. Maybe, as they held him, counting his breaths, they remembered the past months of angelic visits, tough decisions to make, and the echo of rumors from friends and foes. But right now, all alone in a stable, they held in their arms the fulfillment of four millennia of prophecy. Their peaceful reminiscences were interrupted as a group of shepherds rushed into the stable. The shepherds, too, had a peaceful night interrupted by a host of angelic voices telling them of this baby born in this stable. How did Mary respond to this attention? The Bible records that “she kept all these things and pondered them in her heart”.
This attitude of Mary’s was peaceful, but not without action. The Bible records earlier that Mary sang a song about her savior. In Luke 1:52-53, she exclaims that he has “exalted the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things.” Even though she didn’t understand how or when, she knew that this little baby came to fulfill all the prophecies and change her world. She didn’t fret or worry, instead, she did what she knew to do. She fed him, changed his diapers, played with him, taught him the basics of living, and helped him grow. She took care of him when he was sick, worried when he was missing in the temple, and encouraged him in his first miracle. She watched as he was taken away, saw him suffer on the cross, and was filled with his spirit after his ascension. By choosing peace, she continued with life and, eventually, it led to her being whole.
Jesus declared in his first message in the temple found in Luke 18:4, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me… he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to set at liberty all those who are oppressed.” He has come so those who are broken, captive, or oppressed can experience his gift of peace. And in his peace, they will flourish and grow by experiencing healing, freedom, and liberty.
Why do I struggle with peace? Like the Hebrews looking for a savior who would rescue them from their Roman captivity, too often I decide the kind of God I want to rescue me. I have preconceived notions about how God should orchestrate my life. And when my plans don’t align with his, this creates a dissonance that is uncomfortable for me and those around me.
Just today, as I wrote this, I called my husband asking if he had received any information on a situation we desperately need resolved. With no news, I felt tension rising in my body, asking why God hadn’t performed my Christmas miracle. It seems like a minor thing for God to do. I stopped for a moment, reminded about Advent, and prayed for peace to flood my soul. Like Mary, I took a few minutes to meditate on the life of Jesus, declare his future miracles, and trust him. And with that prayer, my shoulders relaxed. I took a deep breath and continued with what I know to do. By resting in his peace, I can wholeheartedly bless others without anxiety and stress taking up mental space. I can trust that He is doing a work in my life that will flourish. And that is Shalom peace, a beautiful, harmonious melody with God leading.
“And now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in You.” Psalms 39:7
I watched my siblings open their enormous packages under the tree. They exclaimed with delight as paper, boxes, and bows flew around the room. Opening my small packages, I was confused about the obvious discrepancy. The only thing I had asked for that Christmas was a boom box, which seemed rather unrealistic at this point. I dreamed about using my paper route money to buy cassette tapes playing my favorite music in the privacy of my bedroom. I choked back the tears and expressed gratitude. One of my parents suggested I bring my gifts up to my room, and I complied, happy to escape. I opened my door and, much to my surprise, I found the very gift I longed for, a shiny boom box! Almost forty years later, I can still remember the hope, despair, and the joy that transpired that evening.
This week is the beginning of Advent, the Christian tradition of preparing themselves for the coming of Jesus. They celebrate it through calendars, daily devotions, artwork, music, lighting of candles, poetry reading, and even special ornaments. In the past, my experience with Advent was limited to the cheap cardboard calendars filled with even cheaper candy, not understanding the purpose or history. A few years ago, Terry and I incorporated this spiritual practice into our lives. Much to our surprise, it changed our perspective on Christmas and inspired feelings of expectations and wonder. In the next four weeks, I am going to focus on one Advent word each week, sharing with you how God is using that word to transform my life.
Hope is used throughout the Bible. In the book of Ruth, Naomi told her daughters-in-law to return to their families because she had no hope for the future. Job expressed his despair by saying he had no hope. In the Psalms, David lifts himself above difficult circumstances by reminding himself that he “should rest in hope” and find his hope in the salvation of the Lord. But even more than a word occasionally used in scripture, the whole Bible rests on hope, the hope of a Savior to bring reconciliation and restoration from sin.
Paul defines hope a little more clearly in Romans 8. This chapter is full of the gospel, reminding us we are not debtors, but orphans adopted into God’s family. He reminds us that suffering will happen in our lives, not as punishment, but as opportunities to show God’s glory. He then mentions hope three times in one verse. Verse 24 states, “For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?” He continues in verse 25, “But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” Hope, translated from the Greek word “elpis”, means “a joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation”. According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, it can also mean “that in which one confides or to which he flees for refuge.”
It’s easy to have confidence when the blessings of God are flowing, our health is good, and our family is whole and happy. But this is not hope, it’s actual evidence we can point towards. Hope is when everything is not going well, yet we remain joyful and confident that God is working all things out for our good. Hope is last Christmas, where I found myself in spiritual darkness parallel to the dark December days getting shorter. It had already been a tough year that seemed unending. In a few weeks, Terry lost his job, leaving us without income for six weeks. My uncle Dennis died unexpectedly, and a gift I gave was rejected. Every time I thought I couldn’t handle anything more, something else would happen. I can’t say I smiled extra brightly that season or acted hopeful. But I remember at one point my perspective shifted, turning towards the Lord, choosing to believe that light would shine again in my dark world. I was confident my uncle was with his Lord despite the hard sorrow I felt. I saw God provide miraculously for our needs despite our empty bank account. Terry eventually accepted a new position, and I worked towards accepting the rejection with grace. But none of this happened until I began hoping for light in my darkness.
For four hundred years, God was silent, with no prophecy or evidence that He was still blessing the chosen people. At the time of Jesus’ birth, the nation of Israel was under Roman rule, losing their national identity and faltering under the burden of high taxation. Despite this season of darkness, hope’s fingerprints cover the accounts of Jesus’ birth. It starts with the genealogy of Jesus found in Matthew. He records four women in this lineage: Rahab, Tamar, Ruth, and Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. When you read the Biblical accounts about these women, you find out that each of them has a broken story, filled with despair and mistreatment by society. Yet, by placing them in Jesus’ lineage, we have hope that, despite our own broken stories, we can be a part of the family of God. Hope continues in the story of Zachariah and Elizabeth who were long past childbearing age. Visited by an angel, they were promised a child who would foretell the coming of the Messiah. Hope is declared in Mary’s words, “Be it unto me according to your word,” even though she faced so much uncertainty. Hope is found in Joseph’s acceptance of Mary’s status and the rumors about her impending birth. The shepherds chase after hope to find a baby swaddled in a manger. The wise men follow hope for miles to bring gifts to an unlikely king. Hope resonates in the voices of Simeon and Anna, two older people who waited and recognized the Messiah after years of studying or serving in the temple.
Yet, hope didn’t end with the birth of Jesus. It didn’t end with Jesus’ life of ministry and miracles. It didn’t end with his death and resurrection. It didn’t end with the infilling of His spirit inside of me. Hope continues in the promise of his second coming, when we are united with him forever, where all suffering, tears, and pain ends. And the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”
My 1980s boombox is probably still decomposing in a landfill. This item that I hoped for, felt despair over, and later felt joy over while listening to music, doesn’t exist in my home. It’s a memory of a bygone era, where cassette tapes are archaic and radios with antennas are mostly obsolete. My hard Christmas is also gone, but there is no guarantee that my life will be full of ease and comfort. Death will come again, as will rejection and disappointment. But my hope is not based on the ease of my situations, it rests in my declaration of trust in the only one who is faithful. And in Jesus, I find a place of refuge despite my circumstances.
I close with the song, “After December Slips Away” by First Call. I hope you listen to this song and let the words minister to you as they do to me every Christmas. Advent is a season that ends quickly, but “no matter how many hopes come true, I know that all I have begins and ends with you”.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” James 1:17
The French peasantry looked to the extravagance of their king and queen with envy and resentment. They could barely feed their families, often making hard choices of which child would get the largest piece of carrot in an already thin soup. The peasants began to protest while begging for bread, the staple of their diet. This eventually led to the French Revolution, and the guillotine for the monarchy. Years later, the queen, Marie Antionette became immortalized with her callous response to the peasants, “Let them eat cake!” Although there is no historical record of her using these words, the euphemism has been used in any situation where someone is being oblivious to the plight of others.
Years ago, the leader of a weight loss program handed out a paper plate to each of us. She encouraged us to think about our goals and not let the holidays sabotage our efforts. We were to envision our Thanksgiving dinner and write down the foods that were most important to us, calculating to stay within our prescribed limits. She also suggested recipes to help us stay focused, such as crustless pumpkin pie. I left the meeting, taking my paper plate with me, resolved to stay in these preconceived limits. And it’s quite likely that I succeeded, that year.
But not all years have been what I deemed a success. I have vacillated between two spaces. The so-called successful years I spent time analyzing my caloric intake for Thanksgiving. Other years, I ignored calories, eating to the point I felt physical discomfort. The energy I spent analyzing my food intake was wasted by not being present with my family and friends. The amount of time I spent overeating and feeling ashamed of my discomfort also took time away from family and friends. One way or the other, I have either felt anxious about the impending holiday or felt guilty after the holiday.
I have heard a lot of interesting comments since I have lost weight. Most have been related to my appearance like, “You look great!” While I appreciate those compliments but the ones that have meant the most have not been related to my appearance. These included, “I bet you feel better” or “I am sure it is easier for you to get around.” But the compliment that stands above all others came from my sister, Cheryl. She said “Sherry, you are so much stronger than you were before.” That word “stronger” echoed in my mind, articulating the feeling that I hadn’t been able to name before.
I’ve been learning more about intuitive eating versus following diet culture. I’m just in the beginning stages of doing research and in no way have I formed any opinions. But I do know God doesn’t want me to live in this place of anxiousness and guilt. I do think it is important to be healthy, but I no longer want to define health by the numbers game. Feeling healthy should be defined by my energy levels, flexibility, and strength. God gave me a body as a blessing, to help me do the work He’s called me to do. As with all blessings from the Lord, He requires me to be a good steward.
What does it mean to be a good steward? It involves having a relationship with Jesus and allowing Him to speak into all areas of my life. Some areas include the principles of Jesus’ teachings like living in moderation, being anxious for nothing, making sure nothing becomes an idol, and seeking wisdom. I also think, “food is good gift from a good God”, as stated by Asheritah Ciuciu in her book, “Full”, is an important concept to remember. It’s also about finding the right balance, and not allowing either gluttony or deprivation, to control me.
Thursday is Thanksgiving, once again. I am going to be surrounded by family and friends, enjoying each other’s company while feasting and expressing gratefulness. This Thanksgiving, I want to reclaim the phrase that embodied callousness. Instead, my cry for Thanksgiving is, “Let them eat pie” without judgment and condemnation. “Let them eat pie” without calculating how much exercise I will need to work off the whipped cream. “Let them eat pie” with a reasonable portion that satisfies and is accompanied by laughter and good conversation. Finally, “Let them eat pie” with God’s blessings without making the pie the idol!
“It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.” Psalm 118:9
We have all seen the television ads for new drugs that will deal with any number of diseases. They typically show a video of a healthy woman or man whose lifestyle has been altered since starting this new drug. They are now playing with their grandchildren, building a deck, or dancing with their loved ones. At the end of the ad, for a solid fifteen seconds, the announcer rapidly reads off the list of disclaimers: this drug is unsuitable if you have any history of heart disease, any time in Southeast Asia, any history of high fevers, etc. The disclaimers are important, because not every drug works for every person. But as they rattle off the list, I start to lose confidence in the drug’s effectiveness.
Thanksgiving is next week, and my table will be spread with turkey and all the fixings. Preparation will start early, with some dishes being made a few days earlier. It is a challenge to get everything on the table at the same time, even if you have a double oven. Renowned chefs say it is one of the hardest meals to prepare well. After everyone is seated at the table, I find myself criticizing my food: apologizing for the turkey’s lack of flavor, or if the stuffing has too much celery. The “I’m sorry” or other similar disclaimers continue when I serve pie and coffee at the end of the meal. This habit is not just limited to the Thanksgiving table. I regularly apologize about the meals I have prepared for my family and friends.
It’s a habit that even carries itself beyond meal preparation. My daughter-in-law, Rachel, and I tripped over each other with the words “I’m sorry” when I was at her house for two weeks. Whether it was forgetting to thaw out a meal, or thinking a dish didn’t turn out right, it was a race to say, “I’m sorry.” At one point, we both recognized the absurdity of our apologies. She just had delivered a baby, and was navigating recovery, nursing, and lack of sleep. I was there to help make her life easier by cooking some meals, cleaning the house, playing with Joel, and getting baby snuggles. There was no need for apologies, and even though we declared a moratorium on “I’m sorry”, they continued.
The words “I’m sorry” are important. They signify a recognition that your actions were hurtful or disrespectful towards someone else. I should apologize when I respond harshly to my husband. I should display remorse when I treat a friend unkindly. I should ask for forgiveness when my actions were intentionally harmful. But they lose their meaning when I apologize for something that needs no apology.
Why do I feel a need to apologize to others when I am serving or providing a meal? By nature, I am not a perfectionist. I’m okay if my sheets are not folded perfectly, or if my silverware drawer is a little awry. And, although social media pressure to be a perfect hostess may play a role in my apologies, this habit was in place long before the inception of Instagram. Additionally, it’s a habit I see manifest itself more in women than men. If a man offers to help out his buddy with mowing his lawn, you will rarely hear him say, “Sorry, I didn’t get those perfect lines in your grass.” What are the roots of this obsessive need to apologize?
I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, it’s my fear of disappointing others. I apologize in advance, because I want to lower the perceived standards I believe others hold for me. It’s my need to stay in their good graces and to find approval. And this puts unhealthy pressure on my relationships with family and friends. My approval needs to be found in my relationship with God, not with others. God calls me to serve, not to have perfectly salted chicken or chili with the perfect amount of cumin. I should always do my best, but God doesn’t demand perfection.
Julia Turshen, one of my new favorite cookbook authors, wrote in “Simply Julia”, ‘“Disclaimers don’t taste good. If something didn’t turn out how you planned it, there’s no need to tell your guests what the original plan was. Just say, “dinner’s ready!” You made someone a meal! That’s a gift.”’ Those words struck me! When I am hosting and serving, I don’t need to offer any disclaimers. I am offering the gift of help and/or hospitality. My goal should not be to create a perfect meal, but to create a place where the other person feels welcomed and important!
Finally, just like hearing the disclaimers of a new wonder drug, when I am on the receiving end of a friend’s disclaimers, it makes me feel a little uncomfortable and a need to praise excessively. Food then becomes the object of the hospitality, not the company of my good friends.
This Thanksgiving, I am hoping to offer no more disclaimers, but to enjoy the company of my family and friends. I will not apologize for my turkey or make excuses for the stuffing or make a disclaimer for the pie. Instead, I will be enjoying my family and friends, extolling the goodness of God!
“You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples.” Psalms 77:14 ESV
We sat across the table from each other, both of us eating our apples, dipping his into peanut butter. Landon, my favorite five-year-old, smiled with his vivid blue eyes and thick eyelashes and said, “Sherry, do you want to know something? Sometimes I feel magical!” He continued sharing with me how he feels like he has wings that allow him to fly over his world. I texted his parents and my husband, sharing with them this delightful insight.
I spend a lot of time with children. It seems as if God always puts little people in my path. I can take the high road and claim that I am a blessing to a lot of different families, often serving by providing childcare. This may be true on some levels, but these little people help me keep my sense of wonder, delight, and curiosity.
Feeling magical is a way of viewing your circumstances in a beautiful or delightful way, removing yourself from everyday life. I think this little man’s statement is not only delightful, but full of pure wisdom. Too often, I get so caught up in my list of things to do, goals to accomplish, and places I need to be, that I forget to dream and imagine life differently. I forget my limitations are not based on external circumstances, but on ones that I place on God.
Two weeks ago, I saw one of my favorite local farmers advertise a job for another organization they partner with. I followed the link and read the description. The job fascinated me, combining all my current passions in one position. I told Terry about the position but listed reasons I shouldn’t apply for the job: no experience, no recent positions to share transferable skills, and no applicable references. All I had was a lot of passion, energy, and a lot of research. Terry encouraged me to apply for the position. I wrote an interesting cover letter and submitted it with my updated resume.
For the past year, I have been living in a place of waiting: waiting to move, to finish my book, to start a new blog, to get a job, and to become more involved in my community. So many obstacles seem to be in my way, like the reasons I listed why I shouldn’t apply for the job. I ordered in my mind how things should happen: first, I need to move, then I will get a job and then I will get involved in the community. But if I apply Landon’s magical thinking to my circumstances, maybe A doesn’t have to happen before I do C. Maybe I just need to dream big, but still put my hands to work with all the opportunities that God has given me. Maybe I need to stop treating this like a waiting period, and trust God for good things to happen in my life.
The Bible is full of men and women who placed qualifications on how God should or should not do something. Moses believed that his stuttering would hinder him as God’s spokesperson, but God still used him to lead his people out of bondage. Esther was afraid that she didn’t have enough influence with her husband, the king, but God still used her bravery to save her people from annihilation. And Martha told Jesus that if he had been there earlier, her brother would not have died. All Martha could see was the dead, stinky body of her brother laying in the tomb. But Jesus envisioned a miracle of epic proportions, thanked God, and then called Lazarus forth. For the first time, a man who laid dead in his tomb for days, had risen from the dead. This miracle spread throughout the community, arousing more curiosity about the carpenter from Nazareth.
I received a reply for the position, and although I can’t say for certain, I don’t think I am in the running for the position. But applying for this position has opened my eyes to new possibilities. I am going to volunteer with some local organizations. I am going to stop treating this like a waiting period and organize my time better to accomplish the many opportunities God has given me. I am blocking time out to finish my book, so that I can move it towards publication. Finally, I am going to trust God in some of the big things we need to happen, including moving, and declare His miracles when it happens.
Landon, I, too, sometimes feel magical. It doesn’t involve any superpowers like having wings. Instead, it is learning to trust God and His plans.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:” Ecclesiastes 3:1
Terry’s family had a secret to “holiday-worthy mashed potatoes”. Being a new cook and wanting to incorporate their family traditions into our newly married life, I followed their secret: one can of evaporated milk. I had never even heard of evaporated milk before, unsure of where to find it in the grocery store. As a novice, I opened the can, spilling the thick grayish milk all over the counter. But I continued, wanting to impress my new family. I peeled seven pounds of potatoes, diced them, and cooked them until tender. I softened butter and began mashing them, adding the canned milk until the right consistency. Salted and peppered, I served them in my grandmother’s red Pyrex bowl on the table. But while others were indulging in the feast, I plopped the glossy looking potatoes on my plate, disappointed by the gummy texture and quickly apologizing to everyone, knowing I had made better potatoes in the past.
This tradition continued for years with the same results, until one year I had a revelation: it was the canned evaporated milk that ruined the holiday potatoes. And from that point on, I decided to break with that tradition: I was making mashed potatoes my way. I started by switching the potatoes from russet to golden. I added cream cheese, along with half-and-half and butter, to add a slight acidic tone to the potatoes and give it body. The potatoes were still served in my grandmother’s Pyrex dish, but they looked light and fluffy, and tasted amazing. That was the first year I didn’t apologize for my mashed potatoes.
November begins the holiday season for our family. I usually start breaking out Christmas music in early November. We typically have our Thanksgiving feast late afternoon and put up our Christmas tree the day after. In the past, our house was full of Christmas cheer, spilling out in every room. As a family, we watched certain movies and read certain books that, for us, embodied the Christmas spirit. I baked dozens of cookies and made candy that filled platters during the holiday season. And for eight years, we ended the season with a big bang: a huge Hot Chocolate Party with homemade peppermint marshmallows!
Traditions are important, they help anchor us and create a sense of community and family. But they are not meant to be so inflexible that they lose their value. I spent years making these “traditional family mashed potatoes”, hating one of the most important dishes of the Thanksgiving meal. The crazy part of breaking this tradition, my father-in-law, the inventor of the “traditional family mashed potatoes” commented on how delicious my new mashed potatoes were.
Change is hard and, like most people, I dread the notice Apple gives me when they say my phone is due for an iOS update. I know that along with the so-called benefits of these updates, I may have to adjust to a new way of operating my phone. These changes are uncomfortable and sometimes unwanted. The word change itself seems to evoke unpleasant emotions. But, like my iOS updates, seasons change in my life, and I have an opportunity to either embrace these changes or cling to the past. I’ve explored this topic before in To Everything There is A Season,but I think it is something that bears repeating. And I also think its time to choose a different response to change.
Resilience is a buzzword I hear often in podcasts on spiritual growth and mental health. It means the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties or the ability to spring back into shape. I believe it’s the antidote to change in my life. I can choose to cling to the past or be resilient, not only embracing the changes, but creating a different reality. Elizabeth Edwards faced a lot of changes in her life including the death of her son, a presidential campaign with her husband, and, later, her husband’s infidelity while facing a terminal cancer diagnosis. She said “Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.”
This is our first holiday season as empty nesters, and I am choosing to be resilient. I am letting go of some old traditions and looking forward to creating new ones with our family. We are moving Thanksgiving to an earlier lunch and eliminating the huge brunch to accommodate schedules better. We will be celebrating our Christmas early, due to our Rhode Island family being here only at Thanksgiving. I have streamlined our Christmas décor, and we will be watching less Christmas movies. I will still bake, but am looking forward to maybe having smaller, more intimate groups of people over rather than the huge Hot Chocolate Party. And yes, I will still be making homemade peppermint marshmallows, because I love them! Finally, Terry and I are choosing to create a new Christmas Eve tradition, one with books, chocolate, and candles.
Reader, I recognize that being an empty nester and adjusting to new traditions during the holiday season may seem trivial to some. I know that some of you who read this blog may be facing the first holiday season without a loved one due to a death, or maybe you are facing a health crisis, or maybe life is just hard. I, too, have faced hard seasons. And maybe, this year, there is one tradition you need to continue with to make sense of the chaos swirling around you. But I encourage you, hard season or not, take some time to do an “iOS update” on your traditions. Do they serve you and your family well? Do they add to the chaos on your life, or do they bring joy? And if you decide to let go of some traditions, do something different to add joy to your life. And just maybe this new thing, will become a new tradition!
“I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.” Psalms 138:14
You arrived in a whirlwind, a little over a month ago, forever changing the lives of those around you. With your dark hair, chubby cheeks, and rosebud lips, you have already enchanted us. We can’t wait to see your personality unfold, your interests develop, and your heart grow towards God.
I offer this letter as a prayer for you, sweet baby Eva. Not raised as Christians, both your Nana and I came to our faith as teenagers and young adults. Already shaped by our environments, we embodied inaccurate and wounding messages about our worth. We have submitted to the Holy Spirit, allowing God to change us, but this is a process. Unfortunately, some of those messages stuck hard, shaping us as wives, mothers, and friends. They influenced how we viewed ourselves in relation to God. And through the Holy Spirit, we are still dismantling those messages.
This world has a lot to say about how a young girl should measure her worth. Some measure her worth by her appearance: how she looks and what she wears. Some measure her worth by what she accomplishes: what her grades are like or what talents she develops. Still others measure her worth by their opinions, motivating a young woman to seek the approval of others. But God doesn’t measure your worth through your appearance, accomplishments, or approval of others. These are cheap imitations that lead to an unhealthy self-image, competition, and unfulfillment!
Eva, you are precious in the sight of the Lord, because God created you in His image. You reflect the image of God, and this reflection will be as distinctive as your very fingerprints. David, in Psalms 139: 13, records that God knitted you together while still in your mother’s womb. This majestic being took the time to craft you together. In the next verse, David goes on to say that wonderful are the works of God.
Someday, you will go to see a valuable piece of art in a museum. They carefully display these pieces in rooms under supervision, temperature control, and limited lighting. Irreplaceable, they preserve these artworks for future generations to enjoy their beauty. Any necessary preservation work is done carefully with state-of-the-art materials to keep the essence of the original artist’s creation.
Eva, just like those art pieces, you are valuable to God. Your parents are responsible for raising you in a safe environment where you can display the glory of God in your life. They will also share with you the gospel and how God’s light will lead you to comfort, peace, and joy. I pray this environment, in harmony with the gospel, will help you develop into a godly woman who is confident, compassionate, and seeks collaboration. I pray you will be confident, knowing who you are in God. I pray you will be compassionate, knowing that God is more interested in what kind of person you are than in what you do. I pray you will collaborate with the body of Christ, knowing that as you work with others, you are working together for the kingdom.
I pray you will be a strong woman like those depicted in the Bible. Be a Ruth, choosing to serve the one true God despite her mother-in-law’s despair, changing her lineage forever. Be an Abigail, choosing to be a gracious hostess, soothing a future king from making a fatal mistake. Be an Esther, courageously coming before a king on behalf of her people, declaring if she perished, she perished. Be a Mary, who declared definitively, “Be it unto me, according to your word” despite facing possible rejection and death from her future husband. Most importantly, be the woman God has called you to be!
Eva, strong women surround you, including your mama, your Nana, your Aunt Maggie, and myself. I hope that, despite our woundings, you also see the different ways God’s image is reflected in us as individual women of worth. But ultimately, I pray that we always point you back to the creator, who is the ultimate source of your worth!
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matthew 6:34
The package was small and compact; I knew it was a book of some sort. Delighted, I tore open the wrapped gift, glimpsing the title, “Jane-a-Day”. It was a five-year journal prompted daily with a witty quote from one of my favorites, Jane Austen. And so, I started the journal in 2015, dropping it for most of the year, picking it up again in 2018, and then, in 2020, developing a consistent habit. Limiting myself to a few sentences about my day was hard. Sometimes I tried to spring off Austen’s quotes, quickly recognizing I am not witty. Other times, I wrote a brief prayer. Finally, a habit of writing short conclusions of my days, hopes for the future sprinkled in with major events of my life, filled my book. These events include the weddings of both my children, the births of my grandchildren, and visits from family and friends. But the events also include some hard moments, including accidents, unexpected deaths, and disappointments.
One of these events happened four years ago, marking an unwelcome anniversary of some sort in my marriage. Although this event changed us and our marriage for the better, it still isn’t the journey either of us would have chosen. I don’t want to celebrate this event, but inked words are an echo of what happened. And on that date, four years later, my shoulders scrunch up with tension as I desperately try to write something new, hoping to redeem the day.
It’s no secret: I love to read. I read across genres with old and new writers. My TBR list (for non-bibliophiles that means “to be read”) grows daily, aided by recommendations made by podcast hosts. I am often at the mercy of the library system, reserving books and waiting for whatever shows up. It might be a collage of fiction, cookbooks, or memoirs. There are few modern writers that I admire so much that I automatically purchase their new books instead of waiting for the library. This year, two of my favorite authors, Ann Voskamp and Shauna Niequist, came out with new material. I have already talked about Ann Voskamp’s Waymaker in a previous blog. Her poetic prose challenges and inspires me. No less talented, Shauna Niequist crafts words into sentences that make me pause and reflect. Her words seem to synthesize random thoughts in my head, like excellent coffee, sipped slowly to taste the undertones of citrus, blackberry, or bourbon. If you gulp the coffee, the flavors become muddled, but when I read her words slowly, clarity emerges in my life.
Shauna Niequist’s, “i guess I haven’t learned that yet”, was released in April (and, no, the lower-case “I” is not a mistake). It chronicles her last couple of years of hard moments and a major move to New York City with her family. Amid wedding planning, I put the book on my nightstand, hoping to read snippets of it in the evening. But time got away, and the book got shoved under other books, gathering dust. Recently, I rediscovered the book and began my journey of reading and underlining whole paragraphs.
On page 32, Niequist titles the chapter, Hello to Here. She tells us, “A wise friend of mine says that true spiritual maturity is nothing more and nothing less than consenting to reality. Hello to here -not what you wanted or longed for or lost, not what you hope for or imagine, Reality. This here. This now.” I took a deep breath as I read and reread her words again and again. Events in my past and future possibilities collided. And I stopped, thinking again about what she had to say, drawing some conclusions.
I need to stop pouring emotional energy into unwanted anniversaries. Mistakes I’ve made in parenting and relationships have no do-overs, only apologies and acceptance of forgiveness. I can’t change my past at all, none of it. And that is hard to swallow. But as long as I live in the past, I can’t move forward.
I also have some major uncertainties in my life for my future and the future of others I love. These uncertainties sweep over me like waves, threatening to pull me under. But the reality is they are completely beyond my control. I have pleaded with God asking him to reveal a glimpse of what the future holds, so I can rest in peace. I want to know that some things I have prioritized in my life and in others were worthwhile, yielding the outcomes I had planned. I want a sign so that what seems so difficult now is easier to process because of a hope I can see.
But God calls me to the present, not to my past or my future. Yes, I should learn from my past and prepare for my future. But I need to live in the here and now only moving forward second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. The prophet Isaiah records in chapter 43, verses 18-19, “Remember not the former things, no consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
This living in the here and now is hard! So hard!! It’s letting go of both, the narrative of the past and the control of the future. It is positioning myself before God in complete humility, recognizing I don’t have the answers or solutions. But when I choose to live in the here and now, I learn to trust God, who has all the answers. He does a new thing, something unexpected, making a way in the wilderness and a river in the dry desert. He is such a good God!! And when I trust and recognize His goodness, I can rest with a hope that I can’t see.
Recently, I spent two weeks with my grandson and my brand-new granddaughter. There are not a lot of photographs to record my stay, partially because I am a terrible photographer. But the other part is hat I choose to be present with my family, not worried about photo ops. Maybe someday I will regret not having more pictures, but right now, I am choosing to be present in the here and now, and it feels good! My journal ends in two months. The idea of a five-year-journal is good. But I am glad that I will no longer have that day remembered. Instead, I plan to continue to journal, not wanting to change the past or predict the future, choosing instead to live in the here and now!
“However, as it is written:”What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”, the things God has prepared for those who love him.”
1 Corinthians 2:9
When I was in the fifth grade, I entered Narnia for the first time when I discovered The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe on a shelf in the Sheboygan Falls Library. Taking the book home, I devoured the pages as fast as Edmund devoured his Turkish Delight. I imagined discovering a wardrobe, climbing inside, and being transported to a new land. I wanted to meet a faun and have dinner with talking beavers. I cried when Aslan died at the hand of the White Witch and rejoiced when he came back to life. I continued with the other books in the series, but they did not really capture my attention until later.
I rediscovered the land of Narnia as a new mother, when I was looking for some light reading while caring for two active toddlers. I quickly realized that what I thought was light reading was really a treasure trove of spiritual insights. I celebrated the beauty of creation reading The Magician’s Nephew. I longed for the boldness of Reepicheep, a little mouse, when defending the kingdom. I was moved to repentance when I saw Eustace, a boy who was turned into a dragon, have his pride stripped away along with his dragon skin by Aslan’s claws. I longed for heaven reading The Last Battle.
C.S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia series, is considered one of the foremost apologists of the twentieth century. He not only wrote children’s books, but also many books on Christianity, discussing, among other things, the concepts of faith, joy, and grace. He is often quoted by many modern theologians. Although his Narnia books can point someone towards God, Lewis would be the first to argue that the Bible, a rich living text, should be the ultimate source for understanding God. He had a rich understanding of the Bible and how it applied to the bigger picture, the picture of our story fitting into God’s story.
The whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is the epic story of God. In Women of the Word, Jen Wilkin says, “the Bible is telling us about the reign and rule of God. Its topography speaks of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration in every vista.” It is not just a manual on how to live as a Christian or a map pointing our way toward heaven. It is God’s story, revealing His character. His majesty and artistry are displayed through His words as He speaks creation into existence in Genesis. He bestowed a special status on humans when He created them in His own image, longing to fellowship with them. Yet, this state of perfection was marred when sin separated man from his creator. Despite this fallen state, God had a merciful plan fully revealed in the life of Jesus. Jesus redeemed man from sin by dying on the cross, bringing to us the hope of restoration through His resurrection!
This epic story, the Bible, has lots of supporting characters, such as Abraham, Moses, Rahab, Esther, Daniel, Peter, and Paul. All these characters have different stories in different settings. Some spent their lives wandering in deserts while others lived in palaces. Some were fishermen while others earned their living through prostitution. Yet, despite the vast differences in these characters and their various circumstances, God ordained these stories to be a part of His written word because they played a part in His larger story. For example, Rahab, although she was a prostitute, recognized the power of the God and chose to hide the Hebrew spies. This simple act of faith resulted in her family being rescued from the fall of Jericho. Furthermore, her reputation was restored when her name was recorded in the lineage of Jesus! She had no idea that generations later, despite her past, her DNA would play a part in the redemption of the whole world.
It is easy to get a microscopic view of our lives. We get caught up in our day to day living, not realizing that our lives are bigger than the short years we live on earth. Our story, with God’s hand, plays a part in not just the lives of those immediately around us, but in generations to come, as well. Like Rahab, we have an epic part to play in God’s story.
Although I am in the process of writing a book about my own epic story, my story starts with my Uncle Dennis, as a young man searching for God in 1975. Dennis, my mom’s older brother, had his hunger stirred for God by a friend’s testimony. He attended a church service in a different city from where he lived and immediately saw his need to be baptized. He left that service, having given his heart to God and with a desire to know God more. He started reading the Bible, found a local church to attend, and has served God ever since.
Although Dennis has an extensive knowledge of the Bible, he never felt called to preach. He has never been a Sunday School teacher. He does not write a blog or make Facebook posts expounding on his faith. Yet, in his quiet faithful way, he has impacted many lives, including mine and, as a result, the lives of my children and my grandchild. First, as a little girl, I can remember my uncle being the first man to compliment me on my appearance. As a five-year-old, I would twirl around in my strawberry peasant dress, soaking in his compliments, grinning from ear to ear when he called me “strawberry shortcake.” These simple words acted as antidote to the insults I heard at home, giving me hope that I was something more. He was also the person who introduced me to God by bringing me to Sunday School as a child. For a short season, those few hours every Sunday morning provided me with peace from the swirling chaos at home. Later, after I stopped attending regularly, he continued to pray for me, sometimes prompted by dreams God had given to him. I believe these prayers provided a hedge of protection around me and my family. Finally, my Uncle Dennis and Aunt Brenda, despite being in the middle of one of their darkest moments, reached out to me when my brokenness came to light. They embodied the love of Christ by setting aside their own pain and reaching out to a shattered teenager, giving her hope when she felt hopeless. This simple act was the beginning of my restoration process!
My story was not the only story impacted by my uncle’s life. The obvious transformation of his life by Jesus gave him the boldness to invite a co-worker, Marvin, out to a revival service. Later, Marvin shared with his wife about the invitation, while their son, Wayne, who had been searching for God on his own, overheard the conversation in his room. Wayne instantly felt a stirring in his heart and, of his own volition, attended a revival service that Sunday evening. He walked into the church not knowing anyone personally, but knowing only the name of his father’s coworker, Dennis. Wayne was later instrumental in leading his whole family and others into a relationship with the Lord. In addition, Dennis and Brenda ministered to countless teenagers, mentoring them in their walks with God. Finally, Dennis provided a source of consistency and strength in the life of his wife and daughter. This quiet man would not describe his life as being epic, but his impact, like most supporting characters in the Bible, is impacting generational stories in the epic story of God!
As an adult, I understand more of the symbolism in the stories of Narnia. I get chills every time I read the last chapter of The Magician’s Nephew. The main character, a young boy named Digory, has brought darkness into the newly created world of Narnia by his sinful behavior. After partially redeeming himself for his mistake, Digory later plants a Narnian seed at his home in London. This seed grows into a magnificent tree, which is later cut down and the wood used to build a wardrobe. This same wardrobe becomes the gateway for others to enter the land of Narnia. My story and your story, just like my Uncle Dennis’ story, can become the gateway to the redemption of others by God, leading to their own story of restoration!
In The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis ends The Chronicles of Narnia series with the following paragraph:
“And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
Our stories may have different characters, settings, and conflicts. However, despite these differences, we all need to find resolutions to our own individual conflicts through the life of Jesus, taking our place in His epic story. What is amazing is that our story can continue to be written for eternity, finding complete restoration with God. With our finite minds, we cannot imagine what God has in store for us. 1 Corinthians 2:9 declares, “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human has conceived, the things God has prepared for those who love him.”
Enjoying snuggles with my new granddaughter. For the next two weeks I’m posting done oldies. I hope you enjoy!
“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.” Ephesians 3:20
Fall has arrived, arraying the trees with reds, yellows, and oranges, while fields turn golden as harvest is nearing completion. My favorite farmer’s markets are filled with pumpkins, squash, and apples. Ingredients for soups and chili fill my pantry shelves. My heart echoes the same sentiments of Anne in L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
Although I appreciate all the seasons, autumn is my absolute favorite. I have fond memories of going to Waldo Apple Orchard as a child and eating a caramel apple. I love hiking, hearing the crunch as I step joyously through the leaves. I love wearing warm, cozy clothing and sipping mulled apple cider. It stands to reason that I also love to decorate my home for fall.
My fall decorating started off very humbly. Having a limited budget, I started with a homemade leaf garland. My husband and I cut out hundreds of leaves in different fall shades of construction paper. We then misted them with water, crumpled them and let them dry. After attaching them to twine, the leaf garlands graced our home. For years, this was our only fall decoration.
Then I discovered Hobby Lobby. As I had more disposable income, slowly I started adding to my fall decorations. This included a more elaborate leaf garland, some fall signs and even a few critters. I continued to make some of my own decorations, including a thankful tree and a short acorn garland to hang above my kitchen sink. My fall décor collection now fills two large storage crates. Every year, shortly after Labor Day, my home transitions into autumn while “Punky Pumpkin” by Rosemary Clooney plays. When its all done, I sigh deeply, ready to embrace the cooler weather and my fall traditions.
For the past few years, I have attempted, unsuccessfully, to decorate my front porch. To be honest, my “porch” is not really a porch at all but just a small slab of cement in front of my door, lacking any curb appeal. In summer, I typically have a few flowerpots greeting guests as they enter my home. As the weather cools, I place a few pumpkins and mums on my front porch to create a fall ambience. For some reason, my fall ambience seems to fall flat. Being a bit spatially challenged, my pumpkins and gourds are either too small or too few and my mums are too low or wither quickly because I forget to water them.
This year, I decided to go big. Instead of grocery store mums, I went out to a local Mennonite market and purchased two large pots of bright yellow and wine-colored mums. I then went to my favorite farm stand for pumpkins. It is such a great time to be alive, where we are no longer limited to only traditional orange pumpkins! Now, they come in all shades, including white, green, gray and my favorite “warty pink”! I gathered a few pumpkins and gourds and headed home. As I started decorating the porch with my treasures, I realized something was still missing. A week later, I made a second trip, purchasing more pumpkins along with a small hay bale. As I loaded them in the car, I realized I might have gone a tad bit overboard. In jest, I sent my husband a text saying, “Remember how much you love me.” After unloading the stash and rearranging my porch, I realized I needed one more small orange pumpkin to make it complete. So, I made one more trip, grabbing the last pumpkin (or two), to complete my porch display.
When all was said and done, I somehow ended up with thirteen pumpkins and gourds on my small porch. I won’t tell you how many fake pumpkins are inside my home or you might start to think I have a problem. Now, I know the current philosophy is “less is more”. There are books written about the concept of minimalism along with new vocabulary like “Konmari Method” and “Capsule wardrobe”, encouraging us to be mindful of how much stuff we have. In fact, the opposite of minimalism is looked down upon. We have reality shows depicting the shocking lives of hoarders! Thrift, resale, and vintage stores abound, helping us to get rid of our excess “stuff”. Even restaurant menus and food labels are embracing the concept of simplicity with emphasis on fewer but better ingredients.
Even as a Christian, we are encouraged to live in moderation. Paul challenges Christians in Philippians 4:5 by saying, “Let your moderation be known unto all men.” He also says in Galatians 5:23 that temperance is one of the fruits of the spirit. Temperance is defined as self-control, and no one could argue that a hoarder is modeling that fruit of the spirit. In 1 Timothy 6:6, God also encourages us to live in contentment by linking it to godliness, concluding that we will have great gain. The scripture continues in verse seven with Paul’s words, “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” This implies that we must be careful not to attach ourselves to “stuff”. God clearly wants us to avoid materialism!
For the Christian, the contrast to materialism is living an abundant life. Jesus told a crowd of Pharisees in John 10:10, “…I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly”. Paul reiterates Jesus’ words in Ephesians 3:20, “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.” Jesus came so that we can live an abundant life. This life is not measured in possessions or status, but rather an abundance of love, peace, joy, and hope. We can show unconditional love to others, not because we are self-righteous, but because God has shown us love. We can have abundant peace in our relationships, not through the absence of conflict, but because we know that God will work it all out for our good. We can have joy overflowing in all situations, not through a lack of sadness, but joy in knowing that God has it all under control. We can have abundant hope in desperate situations, not by being eternal optimists, but because our hope is not in this world but in heaven to come.
My sweet mother-in-law had a dismal view of fall, she saw it as a season of dying. She dreaded the cold Illinois winters, and saw the changing of leaves as the first indication that winter was on its way. I always found her perspective a little sad and depressing. From my perspective, fall is the opposite of dying. It is the time to celebrate the abundance of our natural world though harvest and the plethora of colors on display. The fruit of the harvest spilling from the cornucopia, the horn of plenty, depicts the season so well! Furthermore, fall climaxes with Thanksgiving when we acknowledge all of God’s blessings at a meal with family and friends. I may have gone a little overboard with my pumpkins this year, but maybe, just maybe, it is a reminder to us all of God’s desire for us to live in abundance!