Celebrating 38

“My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.” Psalm 48:1

I was not your typical sixteen-year-old, dying to start driver’s education and itching to get behind the wheel.  For some reason, I was extremely afraid to handle a large machine that could potentially kill me and those around me.  It could be that my step-father repeatedly told me that I would be a bad driver; it could be that I wasn’t even good at bumper cars, often ending up pinned by others; or it could be that I was just afraid.  Whatever the reason, I put off getting my learner’s permit until I was eighteen.

Then I had the ill-fated accident.  If it had happened today and someone managed to catch it on their phone camera, I am sure it would have gone viral.  I was backing up my mom’s beloved aquamarine Mitsubishi in our driveway when the crash of metal assaulted my ears.  I realized that I had just backed into my uncle’s brand-new car.  Visibly shaken, I pulled the car forward as my mom ran out of the house to see what had caused the commotion.  I jumped out of the car to inspect the damage, forgetting to put the car into park.  As the car inched towards the garage, my mom yelled at me to get back into the car and hit the brake.  Panicking, I slammed my foot on any pedal within reach.  Unfortunately, it was the accelerator.  The car crashed a second time within a few minutes, this time into the closed garage door!

Fortunately, no one got hurt, but I was paranoid about driving afterwards.  A few friends offered to teach me, but I made only halfhearted attempts, afraid of having an accident again.  Despite this handicap, I attended college and moved to another state, relying on friends to “chauffeur” me.  Finally, my job required me to have a valid license, forcing me to overcome my fears.  So, a few weeks after getting married, my new husband took me out daily and patiently taught me how to drive.  Despite my trepidation, I learned to make left turns without tears, and within a few weeks, I passed my test and became a licensed driver at age twenty-four!

We all have fears that can paralyze us, keeping us from moving forward or discovering more about the world around us.  For six years, my fear of driving hindered my ability to be independent and made my world smaller.  I had no idea the sense of freedom I would feel once I held a license in my hand!

A year ago, I had to overcome another fear: the fear of failure.  The previous two years had been challenging with all sorts of transitions and new situations.  I had been praying that God would help me grow from these challenges.  After praying for a while, I felt led to share some of my challenges with others in a blog format.  I was not presuming to come to any life-altering conclusions or great spiritual insight.  Instead, I felt like God was asking me to be transparent and authentic, sharing some of the journey that I have been on.  So, I put fingers to keyboard, and started blogging!

It was scary publishing my first few posts.  Was my writing good enough?  Would anyone else read it?  How transparent should I be?  What if I failed?  I began to panic and thought about quitting.  Then I had an epiphany: if God is really in this, then I should let His Word define my success.  I found a few verses that allayed my fears and gave me a clear direction.

Psalm 45:1-2 acted as a plumb line for the direction of my blog.  Here the psalmist declares, “My heart is inditing a good matter: I speak of the things which I have made touching the king: my tongue is the pen of a ready writer. Thou art fairer than the children of men, grace is poured into thy lips: therefore God hath blessed thee for ever.”  When I found this passage, I set three guidelines for my writing.  First, like the psalmist, I need to let my words be a source of encouragement for others.  This was not a space to be venting my frustrations or ranting my views.  Instead, my words need to uplift others and give them hope.  Second, I need to “touch the king” by speaking of Jesus in every post.  Not only does Jesus need to be the center of my blog, but I want God literally directing my words.  Often, I have started with an idea of what I was trying to convey, only to start writing and see it move in a direction completely different from what I originally envisioned.  The final post turned out better than I had hoped for because the moving was appointed by the Lord.  Finally, I want the grace on my lips, or my pen in this case, to be a blessing to others.  I want my blog to minister to others and be a blessing.

The second verse that God used to help me define success was found in 1 Corinthians 3:6. Paul told the Corinthian church to be careful in trying to attribute success.  He reminded them, “I have planted, Apollos watered but God gave the increase.”  My role as a writer is sometimes to plant and sometimes to water, but the increase belongs to God.  I have had almost 1,000 views of my blog over the course of the year.  I am truly humbled and grateful that my blog has been read by others, but in the cyber world, that number would not be impressive.  Although I would like to increase my readership, the number of views doesn’t determine my success.  Success is a card in the mail letting me know that my writing has ministered to someone.  Success is a Facebook comment that my blog challenged someone.  Ultimately, this success belongs to God for He has allowed my words to bless others.

Today, I celebrate one year of “Graceful Transitions”!  Including today, I have posted thirty-eight blogs over the course of the past year.  I have covered many different topics including my health journey, loneliness, adoption, death, self-worth, and brokenness.  I have included some humorous stories, milestones in my life and even a few recipes.  I have done a book review, shared some favorite quotes and have mused about some scriptures.  At times it has been cathartic to write, and other times I felt a little nervous about sharing my failings and struggles in cyber space.  Every time I have hit the “Publish” button, I prayed that God would use my blog to speak to someone and point them back to Him!

I want to thank a few people who have been instrumental in this journey.  First, my amazingly talented daughter, Maggie, who has taken the credit-worthy photos for my blog.  Without her photography skills, my readers would have blurred images lacking creativity.  She also manages to take pictures of me without my eyes closed, which is an accomplishment in itself!  In addition, she was the first person to tell someone else that her mother was a writer.  That simple statement changed how I define myself.  Next, I want to thank my sister, Monica, who has shared most of my blogs on her Facebook page.  Because of her shares, I have gained a few additional readers which has encouraged me to keep writing.  Last, but not at all least, I want to publicly thank my incredible husband.  Not only was Terry instrumental in helping me overcome my fear of driving, he encouraged me to make the leap to writing.  Together, we decided that this season in my life was going to be devoted to writing and see where God takes me on that journey.  Furthermore, he takes the time to edit my weekly posts by not only correcting the obvious flaws, but also by giving me pointers on how to improve my writing.  He has also encouraged me to own my writing instead of timidly sharing my conclusions.  I could not have done any of this without his support and stellar editing skills!

I also want to thank you, my readers.  Some of you have faithfully read all my blogs, others have read only a few, and still others may have read only one.  Some of you I know, others I have met on social media, and some of you I have never met.  Whichever camp you fall into, thank you!  Thank you for taking the time to hear my heart!  Thank you for the comments you have shared!  Thank you for letting me be transparent with you!

I have no idea where “Graceful Transitions” is going in the future.  I have set some goals for the upcoming year. I want to continue to write posts weekly, trying to post fifty in this upcoming year.  I also want to continue to find my voice and refine my writing skills.  I also have plans for including more book reviews, potential lifestyle posts, and continued transparency about life transitions.  Along with writing my blog, I am also writing a book about restoration from childhood sexual abuse that I hope to publish by the end of 2021.  So, although I don’t know the future, I do know that, as long as God continues to give me the words, I will continue to be brave and write!

Pumpkin Spice and Giant Red Squirrels

“Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out.” Hebrews 10:24

The “pumpkin spice everything” season has arrived, invading coffee shops, bakeries and Pinterest, and indicating that summer is ending.  Soon, warmer temperatures will cool, flannels will cover up t-shirts, and boots will replace sandals.  Despite this ending, I have a bounty of summer delights filling my freezer and pantry: frozen peas, fire-roasted tomatoes, corn salsa, strawberry-honey butter, blueberry-orange syrup, mixed berry jam and homemade ketchup.  With the pop of a lid or the unzipping of a bag I can be instantly transported to the hazy days of summer with the smell of sweet strawberries, blueberries, and tomatoes.  Along with this flavorful bounty, I have spent my summer preserving memories with my loved ones.

Despite COVID-19 restrictions, I traveled a little this summer, using common sense and following social distancing guidelines, including wearing masks.  All my travel involved seeing family and friends, including a wedding, and meeting my grandson for the first time.  The pandemic forced me to prioritize my time, slow down to savor moments and create memories.  In the past, I have enjoyed my trips to major cities, hustling along with crowds to catch glimpses of memorials and famous buildings.  But this summer was not about tourist attractions, or cultural experiences, it was about relationships.

One of my visits this summer was to not-so-exotic Lincoln, Nebraska.  I am not disparaging Lincoln; it is clean city with beautiful old houses, tall oak trees, and frolicking red squirrels the size of small dogs.  Yet, it is not a major tourist destination where everybody “likes” the photos of your big summer vacation.  It doesn’t appear on most bucket lists unless you are a college football fan or attempting to hit all 50 states.  It is just your typical, flat, friendly mid-west city.  But Lincoln holds a special place in my heart and not just because it was where I discovered my love for Indian food.  Lincoln is home to my sister and brother-in-law and their two children, affectionately known as A and E.

Maggie, Auntie Cho and my niece, Emma!

My sister, Cheryl, and I both moved away from Wisconsin within a year of each other.  She moved west and I moved east.  At the time, she had the distinction of being everyone’s favorite aunt.   My children and their cousins all loved their “Auntie Cho”!  She would swoop into town and the children would surround her, listening to her sing silly songs and make funny faces with her.  She would buy them suckers with insects inside, set up petri dishes around the house to collect bacteria, and tell them funny stories.  She introduced them to skiing and ice skating.  She sent them postcards from her world travels and tried to create cultural experiences with them by introducing them to foods such as prosciutto and borscht.  She was the Pied Piper, leading them on adventures and enriching their lives.  Even my children’s friends loved her and were delighted when she showed up at birthday parties where they all clamored for her attention.

After moving to Lincoln, “Auntie Cho” got married in 2012 and soon had two children of her own.  The distance between us has been challenging because I am unable to be a part of the daily lives of my niece and nephew.  Yet, if I have any hope of a relationship with them, I need to be intentional in building and maintaining a connection with them.  Over the past year, I have been sending them homemade cards, sometimes including stickers, in the mail.  I try to FaceTime with them regularly, occasionally reading a story to them.  I even demonstrated how to make jam for my nephew, who is a miniature sous-chef and lover of all things jam!

A and E with snacks and a pile of games for our “Game Night”!

Recently, this intentionality brought me to Lincoln while my sister and her husband took the opportunity to get away for a few days alone.  I used that time to create memories with A and E by myself.  We had a blast baking cookies, taking walks, reading books, playing games, and building Lego creations.  I was introduced to Barb, the hard rock Troll, pancakes on a stick, and Guess Who.  We listened to a lot of music on Alexa, planned adventures for next summer in Pennsylvania, and told silly stories right before we went to sleep.  It was a fun-filled, few days that I hope created lasting memories.

I have learned something in the last few years: it is too easy to make excuses as to why important relationships fade.  For about two years, I made excuses as to why I didn’t try to connect more strongly with A and E: the distance was too far, they were too little, and I was too busy.  All of that is true, and, honestly, there was a time when I had a lot of personal issues that needed my full attention.  I did not have the energy to actively contribute to anyone else’s life.  But that time has passed and establishing a relationship with them why I still can is important to me.  Therefore, I am making it a point to connect with them!

The other thing that I have learned is that it does not need to take a huge amount of planning or energy to connect to people.  A short text, a simple home-made card, a phone call or just some time carved out of your day are all that is needed to make those connections.  Extravagant dinner plans with Pinterest worthy charcuterie boards are fun to create, but not necessary when entertaining friends.  Elaborate craft projects are exciting to do with little ones, but sometimes, just sitting down and coloring with them, is all that is needed.  Raking your neighbor’s leaves might be a blessing to them, but even a simple hello and asking them how they are doing can brighten their day.

Jesus was a master at connecting with people.  He met a woman at a well, asked her a few simple questions, and changed her life.  He went to the homes of people with questionable reputations, ate dinner with them, and made connections, leading them to repentance.  He was never too busy for children, instead welcoming them into his arms and taking the time to bless them.  He looked for simple opportunities to make profound connections!

A and E with me in Wisconsin for a wedding.

Even his disciples carried on his ministry by making connections.  Paul spent a lot of time in his epistles greeting different men and women with whom he had cultivated relationships.  Furthermore, he said in Hebrews 10:24, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds”.  I love how The Message Bible translates this passage with these words, “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out.”  I know that, in context, it continues to imply that we should not avoid worshiping together, but I think Paul is trying to convey a bigger principle in this passage.  Taking the time to connect with others, whether over a cup of coffee or an elaborate dinner, creates an atmosphere of love for others and encourages them to be better people.

The time my sister spent with my children was invaluable.  She could have made excuses: she was pursuing a master’s degree at the time, traveling all over the world, leading a full life.  Yet, she still took time to spend with my children which added to their lives.  I, too, could make excuses on this rainy Sunday afternoon.  I have three captivating books from the library I am looking forward to reading.  I could organize my pantry or curl up and take a nap.  Instead, I have two little cards to make and send to A and E, along with the promised paper puppets so they can perform a puppet show for their mom and dad.  These puppets are not Pinterest worthy, but hopefully they will show A and E that I love and care for them.

Empty on Bread

“Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4

I made a tough decision the other day: I quit the gym that I have been attending for almost two years.  It is a temporary decision based on a state mandate of wearing masks while working out.  I agonized over the it, desperately trying to figure out if I could make it work.  I did okay with the masks during the weight circuit but struggled with breathing during my normal cardio routine.  Ultimately, I had no choice but to quit the gym and find a different way to stay fit.  Although I felt panicky as I signed the paperwork, I heard God speak these words “Trust Me”.  I walked out of the gym, confident that I would continue my path of healthy living.

I know some may think that this weight loss journey has been all about my ability and my willpower.  For those of you who know me, I won’t deny that I have a strong will, some may say I’m a force of nature.  Yet, this healthy journey has not been about my will, my ability, or my knowledge.  If it were all about will, I would never been morbidly obese.  If it were all about my ability, I would never have struggled with exercise.  If it was all about knowledge, I have known for years the science about healthy living yet, never applied the information regularly to my life.

This healthy journey, losing 167 lbs., has been less about me and more about letting God into the process.  You see, one other time, in my mid-thirties, I lost a significant amount of weight.  That time, the journey was all about my ability.  But because I didn’t let God deal with my motives, my heart and my reasons for gaining the weight in the first place, when I hit a plateau and stopped being successful, I quickly gained all the weight back.  When my ability failed, when my will faltered, and when my knowledge did not work, I shoveled food in my mouth to avoiding dealing with problems.

                We all have default coping mechanisms for dealing with crises.  Some coping skills are healthy, but often, most of us use unhealthy coping methods.  I used food to deal with childhood abuse and it later became my default way of dealing with life, in general.  No matter what situation came up in my life: stressful parenting situations, marriage challenges, busy schedules, relationship struggles, or even just wanting to reward myself for a good job, I turned to food.  Food became the center of all major events in my life, from planning parties, hanging out with friends, holidays, and seasonal changes.  I defined my life by what I was eating!

 Not only was I stuffing my face with food, I was stuffing all my emotions with food.  More significantly, I was trying to avoid feeling empty.  When I was empty, I not only felt hunger pains, I struggled with emotions like loneliness, frustration, anger, and disappointment.  I was uncomfortable with these emotions because they made me feel exposed and vulnerable.  So, I avoided this emptiness by eating another slice of pizza, another magic cookie bar, or another of whatever else was nearby.

                Food was an easy fix to the feeling of emptiness.  Food is everywhere!  Even in the Bible there are many references to food.  For instance, the Hebrews wanted to return to slavery in Egypt because they remembered the fish, cucumbers, and melons.  David met Goliath on the battlefield because he was delivering cheese to his brothers.  Daniel and his friends turned down a diet of rich food for vegetables to please God.  Even in the book of Revelation, John sees a vision of the marriage supper of the lamb.  It is obvious that God created food for us to enjoy.  As Asheritah Cuicui says in her book, “Full: Food, Jesus and the Battle for Satisfaction”, “Food is a good gift from a good God.”

Yet, God never intended food to satisfy our emotional needs.  Asheritah Cuicui remarks in the same book, “Food cannot fix anything—God is the only one who can satisfy us because He created us to find our satisfaction in Him.”  This is illustrated early in the ministry of Jesus.  After a forty-day fast, Jesus, weak with intense hunger pains was tempted by Satan.  He, having all power, could have easily turned stones into bread.  Yet, he declared in Matthew 4:4, “It is written, Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  The word “live” is translated from the Greek word “zao”.  According to Strong’s Concordance, “zao” means “to enjoy a real life, to be active, blessed, and endless in the kingdom of God.”  God’s word helps us to lead an active, full life that is blessed, whereas a candy bar creates a longing for more and never satisfies.  God never intended for us to fill our emptiness with food.  Our emptiness can only be filled by activating His word in our life.

I have “about” twenty-five pounds more to lose.  I say “about” because I am letting my body dictate the stopping point rather than some arbitrary goal that I have in mind.  I also am not defining success based on whether I achieve that goal.  Instead, success for me is defined as learning to cope with my emotions in a healthy manner.  It is learning to find new strategies to stay fit instead of letting circumstances derail me.  It is learning to find my completeness in God instead of a cheeseburger.  It’s learning to make relationships, not food, the focus of celebrations.  Ultimately, success is not a piece of bread, but living a full, active life that is blessed by God!