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Starry Night and Year 26

“Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.” Psalms 143:8

“If I could handwrite this in a beautiful script or paint a picture of our silhouette as we age with these words, I would. Instead, I am quoting Ann Voskamp, “There’s an old love that sees with a kind of holy double vision — that remembers a young lover in all their seeming infallibility and sees your aged lover in all their beautiful humanity.” That’s what I see in you and in us!” I wrote a few more words, hit send, and the message, bouncing off few satellite towers, reached my husband’s office. I sat pondering Ann Voskamp’s words in her latest book “Waymaker” and how they impacted my marriage. Hope flooded my soul as I recognized that we were safe in God’s loving arms.

Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh, Shutterstck

Terry and I celebrated our 26th Anniversary on Saturday. We went to the Van Gogh immersive exhibit in Washington DC with Indian food for lunch. Walking through the exhibit we learned that Van Gogh saw colors differently than the average person. Some have attributed this to a medication’s side effects, others believe it might have been a rare form of color blindness, and still others believe it was his understanding of color theory mixed with his genius creativity. Whatever the case, Van Gogh’s life was complicated with psychotic episodes, bouts of deep depression, and stays in the psychiatric ward. Despite these major setbacks, Van Gogh manage to paint some of the most vivid, masterful paintings of all time. His series of Sunflower paintings are arguably some of most recognizable art pieces in the world. The juxtaposition of the bright sunflowers in a vase with the ending of his life by suicide seems hard to understand. It is hard to hold all the brightness of the sunflowers with the darkness that was engulfing Van Gogh internally.

As he painted Starry Night, Van Gogh said, “I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.” It’s easy to look at darkness and see no color. But if you let your eyes get acclimated to the darkness, shades of dark blues, greys and greens start to stand out. The flicker of any light source illuminates shadows with depth and complexity. Darkness no longer seems scary or flat. But what is even more amazing is when you see the dark fading away, and the morning sun slowly rises, painting the sky in hues of pink, orange, red, and violet. The dark night juxtaposed against the morning sky makes everything magical and full of possibilities.

Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh, Shutterstock

All marriages hit points where the bright glow of infatuation wears off. Marriage is two imperfect people with their own pasts and woundings trying to live together and create something new. Sometimes bright colors turn into an ordinary day where you are busy working, getting the dishes done, and crawling into bed, exhausted from child rearing and daily responsibilities. Sometimes marriage hits points of darkness where you can’t grope your way through, and don’t even recognize your hand before your face. These are the times when things seem hopeless.

Four years ago, Terry and I were in a place of darkness. We were still committed to marriage, but both felt hopeless and defeated. It was a place where we allowed our own past wounds to dictate our responses towards each other and towards God. We were tired of trying to fix each other and felt even more hopeless in being able to change our own behavior. The only place we could turn to was God.  It was in the darkness that we had created where God did miracles.

The Bible records miracles during all different times of the day and night. Our God is always available. But it is interesting to note the different miracles that happen in those early morning hours. It was in the early morning hours that God delivered Moses and the Hebrews at the Red Sea. It was in the morning Jesus walked on water during the storm. It was in the early morning hours that the broken body of Jesus left an empty tomb, whole and restored to life. These moments were precipitated by what seemed like impossible situations, and then God sweeps in with parted seas, walking towards his disciples, and resurrection! He leads people towards deliverance, safety, and hope.

Shutterstock

I can look back and cherish our wedding day. Terry’s smile beaming at me as I walked down the aisle made me believe anything was possible. I can look back at the ordinary days of marriage when we were raising children with a smile, despite some mistakes we made. I can look back at the evening hours where we started to drift, where we got into a cycle of hurting each other with our words and deeds, and still smile because we had some real moments of happiness. And I can look back at the dark moments, grateful for God stepping in, healing us individually, and bringing us back together.

But right now, I feel Terry and I have entered a new morning in our marriage. We are still healing, moving towards wholeness. But right now, the morning light is illuminating a future that is full of mercy and goodness. And I see Terry’s great smile looking back at me, loving me completely in all my aged humanity, and I now know anything is possible!

Brain Fizz

“So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” Psalm 90:12

The sun was starting to rise in the sky as I popped in my Air Pods to listen to a podcast. As I was listening, I skirted around my kitchen, completing some daily tasks. I found the podcast so profound that I could hardly contain what I had learned. As Terry entered the kitchen, I took out my Air Pods and bubbled off some thoughts I had based on what I had heard in the past hour. After a few minutes of nonstop talking, I realized I had overwhelmed my slow-waking husband. I stopped and said, “I’m done.” Terry responded to a few of my thoughts, ending with “I think I’ve used up all my words for the day.”

Childhood summers in the early eighties were hot with window fans providing scant relief. Lunch menus included Wonder bread peanut butter and jelly sandwiches congealed in a gummy mush to the roof of your mouth, adding to the already sticky atmosphere. The drink of choice was often the sugary fake fruity Kool-Aid we made in a plastic red-orange Tupperware pitcher. Occasionally, my mom would splurge on assorted flavors of bottled Springtime Soda. My siblings would argue over who got the orange or the grape sodas, but I was always drawn to the cream soda. The vanilla fizzy drink was a welcome change from Kool-Aid. Drinking water in the eighties was unheard of, only when you were desperate, and the Kool-Aid canister was empty. I was the generation that grew up on MTV, jelly sandals, Scratch-n-Sniff stickers, and a growing consumption of soda. As my siblings and I entered our teens, soda quickly replaced Kool-Aid as our drink of choice.

As an adult, I no longer drink Kool-Aid and have the occasional soda in the form of ginger ale. I prefer coffee in all forms and tend to drink too much of that. I am trying to increase my water consumption and have found sparkling water a good transition. I like water, but the cucumber melon or black cherry sparkling water feels a little more exciting than plain old tap water. I love the little bit of flavor and the look of the carbonation bubbles as they dance in my glass. It somehow feels special.

In a recent podcast, I heard a woman share that her son had learned a new concept in a book. He was excited about what he had learned and said, “it made my brain fizz.” In my mind, I pictured a cartoon image of a boy with thought bubbles inside and outside his head, exploding with new ideas. The picture made such an impression on me, I thought about brain fizz for the next day.

Like the son, I, too, enjoy “ideas that make my brain fizz.” I have always loved learning, but when I started college, the concept of becoming a lifelong learner was starting to resonate with me. It led me to working in a residence hall that incorporated what was learned in a Freshman Seminar class to the living environment. It continued in my home education journey where I became curious along with my children about the natural world, history, and the arts. And as a middle-aged adult, it shows in the variety of podcasts, books, and documentaries I consume. In past week, I have learned that our bodies have brown fat, that keyhole composting is a good way to get rid of citrus scraps, and that Peru used to have sixty different varieties of potatoes. I am also currently doing research on childhood trauma and reading a poetry collection by Amanda Gorman that is opening my world to the power of chosen words.

I believe that keeping your brain active is an important part of aging well. Research has shown that, for both men and women, curiosity helps maintain the health of our central nervous system. It also increases longevity. Although diets, such as the Mediterranean diet and eating more fruits and vegetables, can aid in the ability to be more curious, I believe it’s more than a particular diet and steady consumption of kale and asparagus.

As we age, it’s common for us to get more sedentary, both physically and mentally. We are encouraged to take short walks to help us physically, but I think we can find ways to exercise our minds to increase the fizz in our brains. For me, it looks like reading a wide variety of materials including literary fiction, poetry, the natural world, history, and memoirs. It also includes me listening to different points of views, hearing the stories of others, and pondering big questions. It involves me searching scripture for both meaning and historical/cultural context. It also involves me learning new skills or crafts. I find the more I explore my world, the more I want to explore. It becomes contagious like the dancing carbonation bubbles in my fizzy water.

In preparing for this blog, I found this interesting article, “What We Need to Cultivate Our Curiosity”, on the Aging-Well Project. The article is not only adding new books to my TBR list but is also encouraging me to turn off my GPS when I explore new areas. One day this week, I plan to explore the downtown Carlisle on foot, with no agenda in mind.

Walt Disney said, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” As I age, I want to keep moving forward physically, mentally, and spiritually. I believe cultivating curiosity will keep my brain fizzing and affect all three of those areas, leading me to new places that I can’t imagine.

Chasing Fireflies

“Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4

“Their yard has more fireflies than ours, please Auntie, can we go across the street to capture some?” my nephew pleaded, holding his bug-catching basket. Between the sultry Nebraska heat and my bare feet, I could think of several reasons why this wasn’t a good idea. But he pleaded again with his huge dark brown eyes, and I said yes. We walked across the street, my bare feet not hurting as much as I expected on the hot asphalt. The neighbor’s yard sparkled with dancing lights across the manicured lawn. The lush grass enveloped my feet like a plush rug as we crept around the yard looking for fireflies.  A few minutes later, we chanced upon a one resting on some foliage. We captured it and placed it in his net. He skipped across the street, delighted to show his parents.

Fireflies, or lightning bugs, are a part of summer magic, finding their way into folk lore, photographs, paintings and even songs. A few years ago, the artist, Owl City, immortalized fireflies by penning the words to a catchy tune, “Because I’d get a thousand hugs from ten thousand lightning bugs as they tried to teach me how to dance.” That song always makes me smile with the desire to run across a meadow lit by moonlight and fireflies. These luminescent insects even capture the hearts of those of us who find ordinary houseflies disgusting. They simply are delightful!

Delight is defined as “a high degree of gratification or pleasure or joy.” It is heard when a child squeals at the sight of bunny. It is experienced when a husband and wife are dancing to Frank Sinatra, even though the wife has two left feet. It is tasted when you bite into the first sweet nectarine of the season as juice drips down your chin. It smells like newborn babies, fresh and clean like a perfect day. Delight is a feeling we can experience daily if we make consistent choices to look, embrace, or seek it. But all too often, I look towards my obstacles, embrace habits that provide false comforts, and find ways to fill emptiness that don’t delight. These choices often leave me unfulfilled and uninspired.

Right now, I face one major obstacle: we haven’t found a place to live in Carlisle. Currently, our lives are centered forty minutes north of where we live. My husband has a one-hour commute to work, and we are active in our church, which is in Carlisle. Moving to Carlisle would cut down on my husband’s commute, give us an opportunity to connect with the community in which we worship, and free up our time for ministry. In times past, I would be inpatient, maybe settle for a less desirable location, or be in a state of constant frustration. But Terry and I have decided to be still and seek God. For me, this time of being still doesn’t mean I don’t look for a place to live, but I don’t obsess over it. It also means I don’t pray for God to open doors, instead I am spending time learning more about the character of God and deepening my relationship with Him. It looks like listening to worship music as I clean house, spending time in His word, sharing with my husband my passions and dreams, and laying them before the feet of Jesus. It also looks like examining my motives, remaining humble and allowing Him to purify my heart.

Ann Voskamp , in her eloquent poetic prose, lays out the concept of the “Red Sea Road” in her latest book, Waymaker. She says, “I have no imagination for the ways of God. In my mind, there had been no island of new possibilities, no dry land of change, no way through to something other than what I’d already known.” She responds to this place of despair by saying, “Jesus knows turns you never heard of, makes roads you wouldn’t have dreamed of, makes miracles exactly where you never would have imagined.” In this crazy housing market, with rental prices creeping up, it seems like an obstacle that neither of us can see past. But we know a God who can!

Last night, Terry and I were driving the forty plus miles back to our home from an evening at church. Terry, exhausted, quickly agreed to my offer to drive home, while he sat back and relaxed. I turned on a podcast, listening to a woman talk about her passion for the people of Chinatown, New York City, where she has spent the last two years sharing their stories. Her desire was to bring to light the plight of this community and how the pandemic had shattered the livelihoods of so many people in the food industry. I thought about my passion for storytelling, my desire to listen well to others, and hear about their stories. These stories might be about their passions or where brokenness touches their lives. I want to be a safe place of refuge for those who feel marginalized in my community. I want to share with others our story and the work Jesus has done in our lives, providing people with hope. As I was thinking these thoughts, I glanced to side of the road. I saw fireflies dancing among the trees on the shoulder. I softly shared with Terry, delight in my voice, “Look, there are fireflies.”

In Psalm 37, David says, “Trust in the Lord, and do good, dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” Trusting, continuing to do good, dwelling in the home the Lord has already provided, feeding on His faithfulness, and delighting in the character and nature of God is the place where I am abiding in now. It feels secure, safe, and full of wonder. And I know that, in the future, I will be able testify how gave us the desires of our heart! Meanwhile, I will keep looking for fireflies.

Rest

“And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.” Genesis 2:2

I am sitting in my egg chair listening to the sounds of summer. The humming of the central air unit is a constant, while I hear five different birds chirping summer music in the background. Occasionally, I hear the rustling of leaves as a soft warm breeze floats by, keeping the sultry heat manageable. The buzzing of bees and flies also flits in and out as I close my eyes. I open my eyes to see a rare dragon fly whizz by, heading to another spot where she can sip sweet nectar. I look over at my blackberry bush and see a hint of red, a sign that I need to wrap the bush in a net to harvest the blackberries before the birds do.

Four weeks ago, summer sounds were replaced with buzzing chaos: hundreds of limes rolled to be juiced, fifteen heads of garlic peeled to be minced, and twenty-four blocks of cheese unwrapped to be grated. Wedding preparations were in full force while friends and family were helping me to prepare food for the wedding. The activity that was happening in my kitchen seemed mild compared to the activity swirling in my mind: did we have enough food, what about the serving dishes, had Terry polished his shoes, and what about the guacamole? This swirling was in constant motion, feeling like I had entered the land of “Heffalumps and Woozles” where psychedelic limes and avocados were chasing me.

The wedding was beautiful, and I had enough food and serving dishes. Terry was so dashing in his suit that we didn’t care about his unpolished shoes. And I did forget about the guacamole, but a new friend came to the rescue and fixed it while I remained clueless about my mistake, soaking up my daughter getting ready for her big entrance into married life.

The aftermath of the wedding was still a little chaotic, but I no longer had activity swirling in my mind. I soaked up a Sunday afternoon with friends and family that had come a long way to celebrate. I enjoyed two more weeks with my son and his family, watching my grandson play his guitar while looking for a substitute tuner. I then flew to Nebraska to spend a week with my niece and nephew, swimming, drawing, playing games, and reading countless books.

Last Monday was the start of a new week. I made an ambitious list of goals to accomplish.  But I was still wrestling with exhaustion. I fell asleep early, barely sneaking in a chapter of a book that I am loving. I managed to workout early at the gym a few days but chose to sleep in some of the days as well. I find myself in the egg chair with either a book in hand or my computer, occasionally drifting off for short naps. And now a week later, my list is less than half done.

Day 7 Rest

And, surprisingly, I am totally okay with that. I’m okay that I am spending my holiday accomplishing a few things, but mostly resting, reading, and relaxing. A few weeks ago, I wrote about activities I can do to bring some restoration in my life. But many of those activities involve “doing”: paddling in a kayak, hiking a trail, exploring a new town. Today would have been a perfect day to hike, but I honestly couldn’t scrounge up the energy to go. And that’s okay. After an intense, busy season, both physically and emotionally, I need the extra rest to refuel.

Last Christmas, Maggie found a small turquoise juicer on clearance. She thought it was cute and would help make juicing lemons and limes easier on my arthritic hands, with the bonus of being helpful with wedding prep. We ran this juicer nonstop for a few hours, juicing about eighty limes. And then it stopped. The appliance didn’t make any funny noises or smells indicating its demise. It looked as cute as ever, but no longer functioned. This little juicer was never meant to replace a commercial juicer, it was for the small home cook who occasionally need some lime juice.

In my exhausted state, I am reminded, that I am human. I am not meant to run at top speed for long stretches, crossing things off my massive to-do list. I was created in the image of God who, after a busy week of creation, chose to model a principle for His prized creation: He chose to rest. Not because God was tired, because He has boundless energy. Not because he needed to take a break, because he is all powerful. Not because he needed to escape, because He is omnipresent. Jen Wilkin says in “None Like Him”, “The God of the Bible is infinite-immeasurable, unquantifiable, uncontainable, unbound, utterly without limit. We cannot take the full measure of him no matter how hard we may try.” She continues later saying, “Our limits teach us the fear of the Lord. They are reminders that keep us from falsely believing that we can be like God.”

God modeled rest so that we would learn we are not God, and sometimes we need rest. This past week I rested. It gave me space to listen to God, to empty my head of psychedelic limes, and to remind me where my energy comes from. It comes from a God who is abundant in His gifts. And I am thankful.

Distortion to Health and Wholeness

“Behold, I will bring it health and healing: I will heal them and reveal to them the abundance of peace and truth.” Jeremiah 33:6

After recording what I ate at my daughter’s wedding shower, including the cupcake, this message popped up on my screen from the food tracking program I had just joined. “Life is hard. Go easy on yourself. Slip-ups can feel like the end of the world. They’re not. Take a breath, listen to a 5-Min Coaching session.” What was meant to be a word of encouragement frustrated me. Although it wasn’t their intention, I felt shamed for making a conscious decision to enjoy my daughter’s shower by making sensible choices. I had one cupcake, and a Panini sandwich. I was aware that this would put me over the suggested calorie intake. But an application only sees what you record, not your thought process.

Once again, I am having to address a small weight gain. The weight gain was enough to make my clothes uncomfortable and for me to notice the difference. It was a tough winter, and I found myself creeping back into old habits, using food as a comfort. I knew I needed to address it and my old methods of tracking didn’t seem to be enough. I needed another form of accountability, so I joined a weight loss program I had used before, hoping a different system would inspire me to be more faithful.

This latest program has me asking some deeper questions: what is healthy eating? and how do we change our habits to eat healthy? As I am counting according to this new program’s system, I am finding myself frustrated. It does personalize it to your lifestyle, so currently eggs, avocados, quinoa, and chickpeas are not counted. But nuts, which are a good source of protein and fat, are penalized. Just ¼ cup of sea salt assorted nuts cost me almost 1/3 of my suggested daily intake of food. I find myself “cheating” by not being as diligent according to the program’s rules. And why do I see this as cheating?

I found this picture a few years ago, and I feel that my position and expression indicate some of the trauma that I was experiencing. It is about this time that I started gaining weight, moving towards obesity.

Like most sensible weight loss programs, they use some scientific research for their program, and are trying to help you become more self-aware of what you are putting in your mouth. Over the course of the winter, I had forgotten that my beloved pistachio lattes with oat milks are a huge percentage of my suggested daily intake of food. The program is doing its job, reminding me that I need to be more conscious of what I eat. But it doesn’t answer the deeper questions.

I noticed something with my almost 2-year-old grandson. He loves to eat, and mealtimes are one of his favorite parts of the day. It is not enough for him to be sitting at the table by himself, he likes to be with his family and interact with them at the table. He also likes a variety of things: fruits, eggs, vegetables, and whole grains. But when he is done, he is done! He tells his parents “aught” which is his way of saying “all done”. He eats enough to fuel himself up and then is done with mealtime and ready to move.

Do I know when I am done? Do I eat a variety of things, and turn down things I don’t enjoy? Do I focus on the company or on my food? What has interrupted my God-given internal sense of knowing when enough is enough? And how often, when I am done with a meal, do I feel like taking a nap instead of moving? And is it possible to get back to that same place where my grandson resides?

All weight-loss programs are businesses at their core. They are businesses with the goal of helping people get to a healthier version of themselves with the additional goal of making a profit. I don’t believe they are trying to take advantage of people and I believe that the programs can help you get started on your journey to being healthy. But I don’t think any single program is the answer.

I just started reading “It Was Me All Along”, a memoir by Andie Mitchell. It is about a woman who decided to lose weight and find happiness in her twenties. I am in the early chapters but one thing she said resonated with me so far. She said, “That whenever I start to feel even one inkling of boredom, doubt, anxiety, or anger, food would soothe me.” Food has habitually covered all my emotions over the course fifty years. I may have started out with a healthy relationship with food, but my pictures from two years old and beyond mirror the distortion I had with food along with the distorted life I was living. Trying to address that distortion and have a healthy relationship with food was a journey I started four years ago. But habits are hardwired and take lots of consistent and deliberate actions to change. And sometimes I just get tired, angry, and anxious, and use pistachio lattes to soothe the difficult emotions.

And sometimes I get it right, like I did at my daughter’s shower in April, and external sources, even if it’s an automated response, shame me into thinking I did it wrong. This post has taken me since April to write. I thought maybe I would come up with a solution to share, or an epiphany of thoughts. Instead, I am still in the same place I was earlier, still trying to grapple with the answers to the questions I asked earlier.

Maybe I am not in the exact same place. I am no longer mindlessly using pistachio lattes to soothe me. I could joke and say I have switched to iced lattes since it is summer. And although that is my drink of choice right now, I am consciously choosing when to have that drink and when to set it aside. And as far as that weight loss program, at the end of July, I will cancel my contract and continue with the program that seems sensible to me.

Finally, I recently showed my niece and nephew a picture of me when I was at my heaviest, neither of them recognized me. I also don’t recognize the young girl in the photo in this post. It is so easy for me to look at the scale or clothes that don’t fit as well as they used to and become discouraged. But numbers and sizes don’t show the transformation that God has been doing in me both internally and in my journey to healthier living. What has been distorted in the past, God is making whole, where I can enjoy a cupcake without shame, eat for nourishment, and move towards freedom.

50: Back and Ahead

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 3:18

Confetti shot out as I walked through the front door, while my friends and family shouted out “Happy Birthday!!” I turned fifty with flowers in every room, and glittery streamers, disco balls, and balloons hanging all over my house. My husband, daughter, and friends planned an incredible brunch with a pancake charcuterie board, while new friends and old friends celebrated big. It was truly a magical day where I felt celebrated and loved.

Fifty years is a milestone. I see many of my former classmates celebrating it in different ways. Some have posted a countdown until retirement, others are taking big trips, and some are celebrating quietly. It’s a bit sobering to realize that I have lived half a century and probably over half my life. Looking back, it’s easy to see mistakes I have made and challenges I am still facing. At the same time, its also exciting to see what the future holds. In so many ways, I feel like I have this new lease on life, with all kinds of possibilities at my fingertips.

The past few years, I have looked back at some mistakes I have made in parenting, in my marriage, and in finances. I can’t go back and fix all the situations or change direction at the crossroads, but I can learn from those mistakes and work to do better in the future. I also have seen places where I haven’t shown as much grace as I should have in situations. This is another area where I can be intentional. In the last few years, I have been shown grace in some tough situations in my life. It has helped me to move beyond the guilt and shame, and into a place of humility and growth. I intend to show grace to others, so that they can move past their own guilt and shame.

I was too busy celebrating and we forgot to take pictures of me celebrating.

Last December, sitting at my uncle’s funeral, my sisters and I had the same realization. We were not only grieving the uncle we had lost, but we were also grieving the loss of a father we never had. Forty-eight years ago, as a two-year-old, I entered a season of trauma that lasted till I was sixteen. Although I have overcome much of the effects of the sexual abuse, I still face the impact and losses in some areas of my life. Some of that impact includes internal messages that shape how I see God, the world around me, and myself. It also shapes how I respond to others. I have been doing a lot of hard work to uncover those internal messages and rewrite the script with truth. My trauma was not my fault, but I don’t want to finish out the last quarter or more of my life still believing the scripts of that trauma.

Part of the trauma resulted in me using food to cover my shame from the abuse. I have worked hard to lose approximately 170 pounds. I feel the best I have ever in my adult life, wearing sizes I never thought were possible, and I have added years onto my life. Yet, I still have the results of carrying that amount of weight with saggy skin that clearly marks my years of obesity. I believe I could lose maybe twenty more pounds, but the rest can only be taken off by surgery to remove excess skin. Someday, I hope to have the surgery, but, for right now, I must learn to be content where I am, saggy skin and all.

It would be easy to keep looking back and focus on the what ifs. A dear person in my life, who has since passed away, stopped living her life after retirement. She enjoyed time with her family, but often spent days pondering that if she had done things differently, would her family have turned out stronger and healthier. She stopped learning, setting goals, and dreaming. I think healthy reflection is important, but I have no desire to stop learning, setting goals, and dreaming big, and these three factors will determine the future quality of my life.

For me, learning has always been important. I want to continue to explore my world not only through books and podcasts, but through having conversations with others and hearing their stories. My husband and I are looking to start a new blog in September with emphasis on interviewing small business owners and hearing the stories of where their passions come from. I also want to finish my book and maybe write more in the future. Writing can only happen through learning and reading.

As far as goals and dreams are concerned, there are places I want to travel, hikes I want to take, and experiences I want to live. I want to focus on creating memories with my ever-growing family. I want to bake a tasty sourdough bread, paint a picture of flowers, and try embroidery. I want to contribute to my faith community in ways that God is speaking to my heart. I want to work with my husband in ministering to others by creating a home that is welcoming and supportive of others in our community.

Finally, I feel the most confident I have ever felt in my life. This confidence is not rooted in my abilities, talents, or personality. There are better writers, more inspiring Mimi’s, and more driven women than I. Instead, this confidence is rooted in who I am in Christ. I believe that my God is good, is good to me, and has a plan for my life. My responsibility is to get closer to Him, hear His voice, and walk in the path He has laid out for me. I believe that He knows the desires of my heart and I am confident that, as I walk in His path, He will unfold plans that I can’t imagine.

For some, turning fifty can be depressing. For me, it feels like I am starting a new chapter in life. I can’t wait to see what the next several decades are like!

Rest, Play, and Summer

So I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.” Psalm 55:6

“Sometimes you have to be really busy in order to enjoy the relaxation of fishing” was my son’s answer to the question of what made fishing enjoyable. As a young boy, Ethan had tried fishing with his friends on a few occasions. Terry was more than willing to take his son fishing but had no love for the sport himself. Ethan never caught anything and quickly lost interest. But an overnight camping trip with his in-laws on Memorial Day changed his perspective. He enjoyed fishing and hopes to continue in the future.

The saying, “take time to stop and smell the roses”, as well as Ethan’s answer, speaks to a truth that we all deal with at times. Sometimes there are seasons of being busy where we don’t take time to relax. And then we pause for a minute during this busy season and find simple hobbies relaxing and refreshing. But all too often I find myself resorting to activities or habits that are not life-giving or restorative.

I recently received a message on my Goodreads app that I am behind schedule in my reading challenge. It was a little jarring to see that I had only read 12 books this year. This spring was jam packed with wedding preparations. By the time I got to bed, I claimed I had only enough energy to scroll a few minutes on my phone. Holding a book seemed difficult and cumbersome. Yet, some of what I was scrolling through was only raising my blood pressure, not relaxing me. I found myself getting caught up in the drama of the #churchtoo crisis. This is a legitimate issue to be concerned about and it should be addressed, but in a season where I was already exhausted, it was not bringing peace into my life. Looking back, a few pages of poetry or a chapter of a book would have been more life-giving.

The other observation I made during my busy season was that I didn’t spend enough time taking walks outside, even short ones. Spring passed by in a whirl. I hadn’t been to the park to see the trees fill out, or daffodils bloom in my neighborhood. Before I realized it, my peonies were already blooming, and weeds were popping up in my flower bed. Again, I was legitimately busy, but I am sure I could have found thirty minutes to get out for some fresh air. Maybe they wouldn’t have been the power-walks I normally take where I break a sweat, but they could have been short walks that restored.

Not everything I did during this busy season was negative. I did take some time to be with friends both on the phone and in person. I made a conscious decision to listen to my body and often chose sleep over exercise. I listened to story-telling podcasts like “The Storied Recipe” and “River Café Table 4” that inspired and encouraged me. And I chose to eat healthy food that nourished my body.

Photo credit to Shutterstock

Busy seasons are still just seasons, they should never become a way of life. But in those seasons, I need to pay attention to what is life-giving and what is not. A simple walk or reading a few pages in a book are better than scrolling on my phone. And when I make mistakes, like I did this past season, I need to be honest with myself and make some changes, so these life-draining habits do not become a way of life.

I recently listened to Annie F. Downs interview John Eldridge on her “That Sounds Fun” podcast concerning his new book “Resilient”. He discussed how summer is a good time to be purposeful in planning restorative activities. The days are longer, the weather is warmer, and life seems to slow down a bit in summer. He encouraged people to plan purposeful activities that encourage you to play and bring restoration.

My summer is just starting, and I have roughly ten weeks to take in the joys of summer. I plan on trying kayaking for the first time along with hiking some new trails. I also plan to read some great fiction, and visit some new farmer’s markets and towns in PA. I also want to take walks, soak in the sun, and experiment with new recipes using seasonal vegetables. I am going to be intentional in spending time with my husband, creating new rhythms in this season of life. And I am going to follow the advice of John Lubbock, English parliament member and philanthropists, “Rest is not idleness and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means waste of time.”

Joyful Recalls

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice.” Philippians 4:4

The end was in sight, I had one custard base left in the fridge to churn, and one more base to make. Eight gallons of vanilla bean ice cream, 2½ gallons of black raspberry ice cream, and 3½ gallons of dark chocolate peanut butter ice cream in the freezer, waiting to be transported to the wedding in less than two weeks. I was ahead of schedule, feeling accomplished, and pleased with my results.

Photo credit to Rachel Collins

A year ago, when my daughter was planning her wedding, she asked a favor. With her bright smile and a twinkle in her eyes, she asked me if I would be willing to make homemade ice cream for her wedding. I had recently been experimenting with homemade ice cream and had made a few flavors that seemed to be winners. It seemed such a simple favor and I knew how much both Maggie and Will would appreciate it. Additionally, the wedding venue had a silo with a bar, which would be the perfect place to serve the ice cream. I agreed to help Maggie break tradition, to serve ice cream instead of cake.

As my lilac bushes bloomed in early May, I started the ice cream process with two Cuisinart machines, four bowls and lots of egg yolks. It would take about seven hours to make one gallon of vanilla, which included the time to infuse the vanilla bean into the sweet milk. I would pop in my earbuds, listen to a lot of podcasts, and start making ice cream. Each gallon was a two-day process, one day to make the base, and another day to churn. I small-batched the ice cream to make sure the custard set well, and the whisking was manageable for my RA deformed hands.

The weeks flew by, and each gallon of ice cream was a labor of love. I couldn’t wait to celebrate with my daughter at the wedding of her dreams. I imagined a sunny day with a line of wedding guest outside of the silo, eating ice cream topped with whipped cream and a cherry. Each day I made ice cream, I felt like Ella from “Ella Enchanted”, surrounded by cartoon birds chirping cheerful sonnets, as I skipped around cracking eggs, measuring heavy cream, and weighing sugar. The whole process felt peaceful during a season of chaos.

With the end in sight, I decided to retire early one evening. I scrolled through Facebook and noticed that both a friend and my daughter-in-law posted information concerning a Jiff peanut butter recall and salmonella outbreak. I read the article and my heart sank, I used Jiff to make the last three gallons of ice cream. For a few moments, I pondered, “Could I pretend I didn’t see the article?”, but my conscience and concern about people’s health blared loudly in my head. I sat on the stairs and called down to Terry, asking him to check the lot numbers on the peanut butter. He looked at the numbers and looked again, the numbers fell in the range of the recall.

Exhausted, teary-eyed, and overwhelmed, I asked Terry to dump all the ice cream down the sink. I crawled into bed, pulled the covers over my head, and went to sleep. The next morning, I came downstairs to find the remnant of ice cream still melting in my sink. As I was cleaning the sink, I realized I had only one choice: choose joy.

There have been many less-than-ideal situations in my life: canceled vacations, unexpected sicknesses, and job losses just to name a few. All these situations cause additional heartache, conflict, or work in life. I can’t control them, but I can control how I respond to them. There was absolutely nothing I could have done to prevent the dumping of the ice cream; it was completely out of my hands. All I could do was control how I responded.

That day, I started the new batch of ice cream for the wedding. A few days later, my sweet daughter-in-law came and helped me finish, creating more memories. We perfected the process, and I honestly think the second batch was even better than the first!

There were a lot of things that didn’t go quite the way we planned the week of Maggie and Will’s wedding. On the morning of the wedding, another major problem erupted, maybe someday I’ll share those details. But after a rough morning of trying to come up with a new plan, I arrived at the venue to see my sweet daughter swinging on the swing with her bridesmaids. Maggie was choosing joy, and the day turned out beautifully. And, yes, there was a line of happy wedding guests at the silo waiting for ice cream.

Sunshine Sabbatical

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33

Last week, I went with Maggie to finalize the floral arrangements for her wedding. We entered the store appropriately named “Cheerful Flowers and Gifts.” Everything about the store exuded joy. The perky shop owner sparkled when she talked about ranunculus and poppies as she asked my daughter questions. The store smelled like sunshine and was filled with beautiful, curated items, like illustrated Bibles, delightful cards, and sweet-smelling lotions and candles. I was enchanted with her as she talked about how she will awaken the flowers if needed so that they are open and full as Maggie walks down the aisle. She said she will even move them into sunshine so that they are blooming their best. This is different from flowers she carries in her store. These flowers are best wrapped up with close buds so that when they drink in your water from home and face your sunshine, they unfold and create beauty in your space.

This month is a busy one for our family. Maggie just packed her belongings and has moved into her first apartment. When this blog posts, we will have thirty days until the wedding. In between those thirty days, we have two family birthdays, Mother’s Day, and a whole lot of ice cream to be made for the wedding. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple years talking about simplifying life, setting healthy boundaries, and being fully present. I have also written a lot about living a healthier lifestyle. This doesn’t just include habits related to food and exercise. It is also includes reducing stress, getting enough sleep, and making sure I am spending time with things that feed my soul, which include my daily prayer and Bible reading.

These past few weeks, I have been neglecting some of the daily disciplines that keep me healthy, whole, and full. I want to be fully present, blooming like the flowers in my daughter’s bouquet on the day of the wedding. But when I neglect those disciplines that keep me filled, I am likely to hang on to stress and end up being exhausted and wilted the day of her wedding. Therefore, I was examining things that I can take off my plate to simplify my life. I absolutely love writing my blog, it inspires and fulfills me, but it requires a lot of my time and attention. A typical blog post can take me twelve to fourteen hours to research, write, and post. So, readers, I am taking a short sabbatical for the next month. I am going to repost some old blogs and maybe even pose some questions or thoughts on my Graceful Transitions Facebook page.

My daughter’s wedding comes only once, and I have a lot of out-of-town friends and families coming to celebrate this moment with us. I want to be rested, fully present, and blooming just like the flowers in Maggie’s bouquet. I will be back the week of June 12! I hope you all have blessed May!!!

Same Message, Different Dress

“Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” Psalm 25:5

My dress for my daughter’s wedding arrived. The romantic blue floral with long sleeves and tassels at the cuffs felt perfect for my daughter’s upcoming whimsical outdoor wedding in June. I rushed upstairs to try it on, having already worked through that the sizing of the dress made me feel like a failure. This company, after taking my measurements, had me ordering a size dress that I hadn’t been in for two years. These little insignificant numbers seemed branded on the front of dress, like a scarlet letter. I rushed upstairs and as soon as I took the dress out of the package, I had a sinking feeling. The dress lay on my bed, cut in ways that seemed disproportionate and unnatural for most women. I reluctantly tried it on, unable to button it in certain areas while other areas it hung on me oddly. Moments of my wedding dress fiasco flashed through my mind, making me feel “less than” once again.

Twenty-five years ago, we decided to have a much smaller wedding than originally planned by getting married in three weeks. Although we moved up the wedding, I still got married in the church I had always planned surrounded by people who loved us. My mom threw us a small wedding reception, with the traditional cake. Although everything else seemed to be working out, finding a wedding dress had been a challenge. A dear elderly saint offered to make my wedding dress in three weeks. I was looking for a romantic style with flowy sleeves and soft lines. When we shopped for the fabric and pattern, she led me to pick out a formal dress with more ruffles than I thought would flatter me. She also picked out a fabric that she thought was dressier. Again, I acquiesced to her request. In a final fitting, two and half weeks later, the wedding dress of my dreams was a bad mixture of clown ruffles in front, a skirt that folded in like baggy shorts, and linebacker shoulder pads with too-tight sleeves. She recognized that it needed a few changes and offered to do the final alterations. I agreed, fighting back the tears, knowing deep down that no alterations would make me feel beautiful.

When I picked up the dress, I was adamant with Terry about breaking tradition and begged him to give me his honest opinion. So, we went back to my apartment, and I tried on the dress. When I came out of the bedroom, his eyes were wide and his mouth dropped open, not with pleasure, but in disbelief. He had no words, and I threw myself down on my bed crying, threatening to call off the wedding or walk down in jean skirt. After calming down, we went out to look for a replacement and found something in the second store that was close to what I had envisioned.

Yes, my final dress was pretty, and when I walked down the aisle, Terry beamed with absolute joy. Yes, everyone I loved said I looked beautiful, but years of being overweight and the wedding dress fiasco reaffirmed internal messages I felt about myself. These messages of feeling less than, clownish, and like a linebacker taking up too much space in the universe robbed me of the joy I should have felt on my wedding day. For years, when looking back on my wedding pictures I have focused on Terry’s smile, my hair and avoided my body, still feeling less than. I have put on a brave face and laughed about my wedding dress story, trying to believe the words I told others, “In the second store, I found the perfect dress.”, knowing deep inside, it always felt less than perfect.

And once again, I have an important event where I am feeling less than. I am not writing this to receive a lot of comments about how far I have come or that I am beautiful. I know the truth of what everyone is saying, and it’s the same wisdom I would offer a friend. I know I need to show myself some grace. I know that I have taken some steps to address the weight gain, which I will share in later post. And I have had a tough year, with some hard losses. I know that in times of crisis, its common to revert to old habits of coping. And at different points in the last few months, food has been a source of comfort for me, especially the pistachio lattes someone in my family has been generous to buy for me.

I have all the head knowledge and know the right things to do and speak. But it doesn’t stop the internal messages from blaring in my ears; the feeling that in my daughter’s wedding, my dress will emphasize all that I have believed is wrong with me. It will shout out my lack of grace and femininity while emphasizing the twenty pounds I have gained, the hanging skin on my arms, and the large space I believe I take up.

But this blaring voice is not the voice of God. Yes, God wants us to submit all areas of our lives to him, including how I use food as a comfort instead of relying on him. But God doesn’t look at how much space I took up when I was 361 pounds or how much space I take up 150 pounds less. He doesn’t look at the size on the dress tag, or the numbers on the scale. He doesn’t look on my outward appearance. He sees a woman who has internalized the messages of the world and allowed them to have more influence on her heart than His truth. He sees a woman who is forgetting what her wedding and her daughter’s wedding day are about.

My wedding day had nothing to do with my dress, Terry’s smile, or even the cake. It was about entering into a covenant relationship with God and my husband. When I make it about me, I lose sight of what is important. Maggie’s wedding is not about how I fit into a dress. It’s about celebrating with family and friends the covenant relationship she is entering into with Will and God.

And what is the truth? The truth is that God wants me to know that I am fully known and accepted, saggy skin and all. He desires for me to draw closer to Him, to become more confident in how He sees me. At times when I feel less than or, in some cases, too much, He wants me to know that I am just enough for Him. Yes, I need to grow and become more Christlike, not because I need to measure up to an ambiguous, ever-changing standard, but because I see His goodness and want to be more like Him.

I am waiting for dress five to arrive later this week. Both Maggie and I love the dress and feel confident that it will work. Regardless, I am reminding myself who I am in God and what Maggie’s wedding is about. It is going to be about me standing next to my husband, surrounded by family and friends who are traveling from afar, to share this moment with us, as my daughter enters a covenant relationship with God. And no matter the space I take up, God is with me, filling me with His peace and assurance that I am enough!