Thirteen Coffee Pots

“Let marriage be held in honor among all,” Hebrews 13:4

This past week we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary.  It seems kind of surreal to think that a quarter of a century has passed since we exchanged vows.  I look back at the 24-year-old woman who walked down the aisle with a bouquet in her hand and dreams in her heart, wishing I could tell her some things that will help her through this marriage journey.  These things may not have prevented some hard moments, but maybe they would have given her a little peace and perspective.

Our wedding day July 26, 1996!

Dear Younger Sherry,

  1. You will buy a lot of coffee pots until you learn the importance of descaling.  During our marriage, we have destroyed about thirteen coffee pots because we were ignorant about mineral build up in our favorite appliance, causing the heating element to work harder and eventually overheat.  Just like our coffee pots, it is important to regularly maintain our marriage through proper communication.  Too often, we have let minor disappointments and disagreements build up, causing us to react in anger and bitterness.  Instead, I need to be aware of my feelings, address the heart issues and talk about it in a way that is respectful to Terry’s heart.  I don’t always get it right, just like I might let two months go by before I remember to descale my coffee maker, but I am working towards this approach in communication.  By the way, we have managed to keep our current coffee pot alive for four years!
  2. You will live in three different states, six houses, and make five different churches your place of worship.  The home you create with Terry is not dependent on where you live or where you worship.  It is also not dependent on the chrome table you had in the beginning of your marriage or the modern farm table you now own.  Addresses and styles change.  What does not change is the atmosphere you intentionally build in your home that your immediate and extended family and friends experience when crossing your threshold.  This atmosphere is built by working together, being open to God’s direction, and growing as individuals and as a couple.
  3. Marriage will have some of the highest of highs and some of the lowest of lows.  You will have some mountain top experiences, where everything has a romantic filter as you waltz through meadows filled with flowers.  At the same time, your valleys may be full of rocks, cold, lonely, and difficult.  Do not define the success of your marriage based on those mountain top experiences or make permanent decisions in those desolate valleys.  Instead, your marriage success will be measured by the daily little decisions you make in ordinary living.
  4. He loves meatloaf, you do not.  You love cilantro, he says it taste like soap.  You thrive in big cities; he feels claustrophobic after a few days.  Marriage is not about the differences, and it is not even about the compromises.  It is about creating wins for everyone.  Sometimes we have meatloaf, and I focus on the mashed potatoes and peas.  I add a lot of cilantro to my pico de gallo but leave it on the side in the guacamole.  Sometimes we travel to a big city and explore, other times we find a small town with quaint shops.  This way everyone is happy!
  5. Despite your differences, you will come together on the important ideas, including our faith, raising children, home education, and your beliefs on community.  These moments will help define your marriage, strengthen your family, and add to your ministry.
  6. Finally, Terry was never intended to fulfill all your hopes, dreams, and longings.  Although he is a Godly man, he will make mistakes and fail.  Conversely, you will fail a lot and certainly cannot meet all his needs.  Those deepest desires that were not met in childhood can only be fulfilled in the arms of Jesus.  Focus less on what you bring to the marriage or what Terry brings to the marriage.  Instead, spend more time getting to know Jesus, discovering what He wants to do in you, and bring that to the marriage!

I am sure we will eventually have to replace our coffee pot again, and I am sure we will continue to have some hard conversations.  We will likely have a few more addresses, but we will continue to have an open-door policy for our family and friends.  We continue to discover differences between each other but also new ways to connect.  And most importantly, I look forward to finding my fulfillment in the Lord, as I partner with Terry for the next twenty-five years or longer!

Thrift Store Bibles

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

                A few years ago, I heard Ina Garten on a food show share a tip about chocolate.  She said that you can enhance the flavor of chocolate by adding a little instant espresso powder to your batter.  I am always looking for new ways to add coffee to my life, and this seemed the perfect marriage.   Her tip worked, and since then I have seen other recipes that include instant espresso or brewed coffee.  For all coffee haters, the cake or brownie does not end up tasting like a chocolate covered espresso bean, instead it brings out the richness and depth of the chocolate.

                Sometimes in your life, you meet a person who adds a richness and quality to your life just by their presence.  They are not loud or demanding, but instead are faithful, cheerful, and kind.  They walk into your life with a sweetness that makes you a better person.  My friend, Bertha, is that person in my life.

                Bertha came into my life a few years ago when she started attending the same church I attended.  Despite some health concerns and trials in her life, she always walks into a room with a smile on her face and a gentle word of encouragement towards other.  She also has an amazing ability to tell stories that are colorful and make you belly laugh.

                One of her most outstanding traits is her kindness towards others.  Bertha sacrificially gives, not out of her abundance, but out of her heart.  Recently, she shared a story with me that captures the essence of her character.  Bertha was at a thrift store when she found a Bible with an inscription in it written to a boy from his grandmother in 1932.  She thought the inscription might be related to someone in her family and brought it home.  When she discovered it had no connection, she held on to it and prayed about what she should do.  She decided to post the inscription on Facebook, hoping that someone would know the owner of the Bible.  Within a few days, a woman messaged Bertha and said that the Bible belonged to her late father.  He had received the Bible from his grandmother, and the daughter shared with Bertha that her dad was always kind.  After he had passed away, the Bible somehow got lost.  Bertha arranged to meet with the woman and told her she hoped that the Bible would bless her life with the words of Jesus.  Bertha later got a message from another family member who was also related to the owner.  He had lost touch with his family, and Bertha arranged a reunion!

This was the inscription in the Bible

                This is not the first Bible Bertha has returned to an owner.  She shared another story with different details but ending on the same note.  A Bible found its way back to a family member, with a new possibility of the words of God inspiring and changing more lives.  Bertha bubbled over with excitement as she shared her stories.  She then added, she is making it one of her life’s goal to look at Bibles in thrift stores, and if it has an inscription in it, she is going to attempt to return it to its owner.  This is not because she is looking for a feel-good Hallmark ending, but because she really believes the Bible has the power to transform lives!

                These stories blessed my life.  They reminded me that simple acts of kindness can impact our world!  Yes, some of us may start major nonprofits that feed the hungry or help the homeless.  But God does not ask all of us to do grandiose things.  Micah records in 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?  Bertha’s simple acts of kindness add richness to my life, encouraging me to look for opportunities to bless others.

Snails and Slugs

“So we do not lose heart …. as we look not to things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16a, 18

                Late winter, I read the delightful book, “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating” by Elisabeth Tova Bailey.  It chronicled the year of a woman who was incapacitated by a neurological disease that left her bedridden.  She writes, “There is a certain depth of illness that is piercing in it’s isolation, the only rule of existence is uncertainty, and the only movement is the passage of time.”  One of her caretakers decided to bring a little of the outside world into her room by placing a wild snail in a pot of violets on her nightstand.  As she recovered, Elisabeth observed the life of this ordinary snail.  Her writing extolled the virtues of this simple creature, including the amazing properties of its slime.  That is right, I used the word amazing and slime in the same sentence!  By the end of the book, I was half tempted to get a terrarium and create a habitat for a wild snail to live in for a year.  This often happens to me when I read books that delight me (because of reading the book, “Running with Sherman”, I have seriously considered running with goats).

                It is summer now, and I have planted a huge pot of assorted basil, dreaming of Caprese salad, pesto and margherita pizza.  To successfully grow basil, one must trim the basil plant at certain spots on the stalk to help the plant bush out.  A few weeks ago, I had my first harvest, pruning my plant carefully, anticipating even more abundant future harvests.  The following week, I noticed that my basil plant had a few leaves with holes.  I didn’t think too much of it, still having pesto dreams swirling through my head.  A few days later, I saw that my beautiful bouquet of basil was full of holes from some creature trying to destroy my harvest dreams.  After a little internet research and trails of not-so-amazing slime, I discovered that a slug, a cousin to the snail, had been gorging on my basil at night while I was sleeping.  No longer enamored with any gastropods, I quickly found a way to protect my basil and remove slime trails.

                I find this dichotomy of perspective in all areas of my life; from the enchantment I have watching the birds at my bird feeder to the clamor of noises I make to get the birds off my blackberry bushes.  I even find that with people I love, we can have different perspective on the exact same situation.  A few months ago, I was peering out over my daughter-in-law’s backyard and saw a roly-poly groundhog ambling through her yard.  I immediately grabbed Joel to not only show him the groundhog but to help him give the groundhog a deserving name like George.  Rachel immediately piped up saying, “Joel, tell Mimi we don’t name the woodchucks; they destroy our gardens.”  Even her different name, woodchuck, for this seemingly innocent furry animal seemed harsher than my groundhog that remained nameless.

                Perspective is defined as a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something.  Often, this is based on our personal history, faith, and culture.  It also shapes our responses to situations, sometimes causing us to react in fear, anger, or joy.  But no matter what our perspective is, God sees all and has a different perspective, and according to his Word it will work out for our good.  It is so easy to read scriptures and believe these principles in the abstract, but so much harder to apply them when life is hard!

                Terry’s unfortunate accident has caused some ripple effects in our life.  We’ve had to cancel some plans due to loss of vacation and finances, including our 25th anniversary trip.  I will be honest; this has been a little hard to swallow.  It was something that I had spent a lot of time planning and researching.  I am profoundly grateful for the blessings God has given us during this time, including us being able to meet all our financial obligations despite loss of income.  Yet, when I think of our upcoming anniversary, I do not see the amazing properties of slime I discovered in reading.  Instead, I see the trail of slime near my basil plant ruining my future pesto.

                I had to throw out some basil before my slug problem was completely solved.  This is a real loss, just like my anniversary plans.  There is nothing I can do to rectify this situation, except plan for next year.  But I don’t have to live with the slug invasion, and I don’t have to live in a place of loss.  I have spent the last three weeks taking daily walks with my husband, talking, and dreaming about our future.  I will have six more weeks of these daily walks.  I am choosing to look at this time as a blessing, trying to see things from God’s perspective.  It’s not always easy, but what we may see as a woodchuck, He might see as a groundhog that needs a name!

Old Hurts and Good Dirt

“And for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” Matthew 13:23 ESV

                I have a small flower bed, aka a patch of dirt, in front of my house that has been a challenge the entire nine years I have lived here.  When I first moved in, I envisioned planting lots of bright flowers to greet me when I came home.  But, year after year, I was assaulted with withered and diseased flowers, or lavender that made a mullet look good.  After researching dirt this year, I have finally succeeded in creating a beautiful space.  Although the flowers are not heirloom roses or fancy dahlias, the different shades of zinnias and petunias are brightening the entrance to my home and adding beauty to my days!

                Through this process, I have learned that not all dirt is equal.  When we first moved in, the ground in front of our house was worn out, and full of clay and rocks.  Being completely naïve about dirt, I just started planting.  Between the poor quality of the dirt and the full afternoon southern exposure, my first flowers quickly withered away.  I then decided to try my hand at lavender.  It was beautiful the first year, but I had no idea that it might need some pruning, and within a year or two, the lavender came in spotty, with dead wooden stalks spiking out haphazardly.  Finally, after six years of failure, I started to do a little research.  I found that this small space desperately needed some soil amending, so I started adding a little bit of fresh topsoil along with compost.  I also covered the soil with mulch to protect the dirt.  This work, although tedious and costing a little bit of time, energy, and money, has finally paid off!

                Recently one of my pastors, Mike Kemper, preached a message on being good dirt.  Applying the Parable of the Sower, Pastor Mike encouraged us to cultivate good dirt in our lives for God’s word to take root and transform us (click here to view the entire sermon).  I have been meditating on this message for a while.  Am I cultivating myself to not only hear the word of God but to let it transform me as well?  Do I take the time to posture myself with true humility, loosening the hardened clay of my soul, so that I can listen to what God is trying to say to me?  Do I take the time to remove the stones of bitterness, resentment, and even righteous indignation, so that God’s word can saturate me?  Yesterday, as I was writing this blog, I found out that someone I know was making some false assumptions about me and my motives.  It reopened a wound that I have been asking God to heal completely.  Unfortunately, I cannot change that person’s perspective, but I can change how it affects me.  If I choose to let this unfair judgment sit in my mind where it will fester and grow, it will eventually harden into a stone of bitterness.  This stone will take up space in my life where God could be fruitful and bless my life.  Therefore, I am choosing to handle this with grace, and again, ask God to help me forgive those who wrong me.

                Just as I added compost to my dirt, I also need to amend my own life with the beauty and richness of books, music, podcasts, and art that glorify God.  It is easy to fill your life with entertainment that numbs your soul and causes you to slowly decay.  Six years ago, I realized I was spending a lot of time entertaining myself by binge watching different television programs.  I decided to fast TV and movies for a year.  That year, I found the fast was making more space in my life to read the Bible and to hear directly from God.  In that same spirit, I have chosen to cultivate my social media feeds with people that add to the beauty of the world by glorifying God, either directly or indirectly, through their art, music, and/or words.  This helps me meditate on the goodness of the Lord instead of the problems in the world.  This is not to say that I do not pay attention to news, but I don’t let the negativity dictate my social media feed!

                Finally, I need to protect my soil by surrounding myself with a community of believers who can speak truth into my life.  Just like the mulch that added a layer of protection to my dirt, I need others in my life who will cover me with their prayers and edify my spirit.  Also, if I am unaware of a thorn growing in my life, such as a bad attitude, habit, or agreement I have made, they can bring my attention to that thorn in a spirit of love, so I can remove it before it chokes out my fruit.  But this covering of mulch will only work if I have cultivated good soil underneath.  This means, I must be in a position of humility to receive the warning or correction being given.

                Recently, I was corrected by an employee at one of my favorite greenhouses when I commented that their dirt was my favorite dirt to buy.  I was told that he prefers to call his products “good soil”.  No matter what I call it, it is up to me to cultivate it to make it good!

15-20 and Not Counting

“For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he wills with good things.” Psalms 107:9

Recently, someone asked me if I was still on my weight loss journey.  I was a little taken aback by the question, freezing for moment and unsure of how to respond.  Questions raced through my mind.  Did this person see me at my lowest and know that I keep hovering a few pounds more on the scale?  Do I say that I still hope to lose 15-20 pounds more but have been in a stand still for the last eight months?  Does the fact that I cannot give an increase in the number of pounds lost mean I am failure?  I mumbled something about staying healthy and just being at a plateau, ending the conversation with a feeling of defeat.

Our society likes winners.  We cheer for others when we see their victories, whether it is a job promotion, wedding, birth of a child, or weight loss.  These big moments are celebrated with pomp and circumstance, glitter and balloons, and blogs posted about 170 pounds of potatoes.  On the flip side, we support people during major losses: health crises, funerals, and divorces.  Where we fall short is encouraging others when they are doing the everyday ordinary hard things: raising toddlers, sticking it out through marriage difficulties, or exercising on a regular basis.  Even more disconcerting is how we view ourselves as we go through the nitty gritty of life.  We feel like failures when we lose patience with our children, respond badly to our spouse, judge our friends, or eat a pint of ice cream in one sitting.  These may be just isolated moments in our lives, but often we let these moments of negative internal messages define our self-worth.

 I had the privilege to watch my sister run two marathons.  Marathons are amazing events with runners of all different ages, sizes, and backgrounds. Unlike other athletic events, the majority of those who run are not in it to place first.  Instead, most are either trying to run their personal best or just being able to cross the finish line.  It is fascinating to hear some of their stories about how they almost gave up, usually between miles 15 and 22.  There are usually two scenarios that spur them on.  Sometimes, they hit a spot in the course where there are a lot of spectators cheering them on.  This encouragement gives them the boost they need to continue.  Other times, the runner him or herself will have a moment where a memory of something flashes in their mind, and this gives them the momentum to continue.  Whether it is external or internal encouragement, this boost helps them cross the finish line.

When relating my healthy living journey to a marathon, I want to be clear that a certain number on the scale does not equal crossing the finish line.  I have had an unhealthy relationship with food for over forty years.  In no way do I think that losing a significant amount of weight is going to solve this problem.  Rather, it might take the rest of my life of creating healthy habits and consistent pursuit of the Lord to develop a truly healthy relationship with food.

 At the same time, I want to acknowledge that I feel like I am at mile twenty and need an internal boost to continue.  I have decided to reread Full: Food, Jesus, And the Battle for Satisfaction and reexamine my relationship with food.  Readers, you are welcome to join with me and be a part of the discussion in my book club.  Click here to join.  This is an opportunity for us as a community to gain some external encouragement in finding our full satisfaction in God.  This is not just a book for those of us who struggle with food, but any area in our life that we find to be out of balance.  Once you join the Facebook group, weekly, I will be covering some of the chapters, sharing some of my thoughts, and listening to others.  I want to be clear this is not a diet plan, or how to lose twenty pounds in two months, or a list of foods you need to avoid.  Instead, it will help you uncover your current relationship with food and draw you into a deeper relationship with the Lord.

 Marathons are hard!  Often people take a lot of time to professionally train for a marathon, only to run one single race in their lifetime.  I am in this better health marathon for the rest of my life.  I need to continue to find ways to educate myself about healthy living.  I also need to be honest with myself about my food relationship.  I hope you join me as I continue this journey.