Silver Valentine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boots and Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bacon and Eggs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Satisfied and Moving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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