holiday

The etymology of this word has it derived from holy days. But we call many days holidays, and ironically have made this word the politically correct word for many religious days– Hanukkah, Christmas, Easter, Passover, to name a few.

But isn’t the whole point of being politically correct turning everything to cardboard? Not even vanilla ice cream, just flavorless, meaningless days. So we don’t offend anyone, right?

Well, maybe, but no.

A smile can be holy. Anything that moves the heart is holy. So visiting family and friends for a (secular) celebration like Thanksgiving is for me most holy. A reunion, a communion, reconnecting on so many levels. Opportunities to laugh, express concern, to share thoughts, hearts, gifts, walks, the same space.

IMG_0742.JPG  I visited my brother this year for Thanksgiving. He honors me, though he does not maybe know it, when he asks me to accompany him to his office while he works and I read a book. Occasionally he or I share a thought or observation but the space is sacred somehow. And he and his family and I shared dinner together, and his daughter is learning to drive and she wanted me to accompany them on a drive (not harrowing!). And my sister-in-law had car trouble and allowed me to accompany her to the car shop which allowed the two of us a rare few minutes to share a sacred space and time.

I guess I am older enough and have lost enough to realize how sacred our human connections are. The accepting, sharing, forgiving, laughing, understanding, opportunities to grow more dimensions. Funny how for so long people can be so taken for granted until you listen below the surface of what you hear, and see through the lining to the heart.

IMG_0745.JPGSomehow, even if the connections don’t bond strongly there is a cord that holds everything together and more opportunities come around again.

Every encounter is a grand opportunity to give cheer, hope, encouragement. To appreciate someone for something they may not realize others do see.

Hope. It does spring eternal.

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“Hope springs eternal in the human breast; Man never is, but always to be blest. The soul, uneasy, and confin’d from home, rests and expatiates in a life to come.”

― Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

“Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”   ICorinthians 13:4-13 NIV

too strong to cry

For years after my husband and I divorced I did not cry. I might say could not but since I cry easily these days I would guess I could have but for whatever reason just didn’t.

I did not cry for my failed marriage. I did not cry for our son who would be shuttled between two states and so many dynamics of family. I did not cry for abysmal relationship mistakes made years after. I did not cry when my taskmaster Father for whom I worked in business blamed me for any and everything that went wrong, personnel, technical, anything. I now realize as a business owner he wanted me to understand what it meant to take responsibility but I was in overload in that department already.

I did cry when my mother died, 7 years after my divorce. The floodgates opened. She and I had drifted apart because I had too many tightropes to walk and could not relate to anyone. But when she died I snapped back to reality. Six years after she died my little dog of almost 16, with an enlarged heart, enlarged liver, degenerative disc disease and latent seizures had to be put to sleep.

I cried harder for my little Piper than for my mom.

As my son grew and life came back into focus my perspective became more balanced. I suppose sometimes you have to go off the deep end to see what’s right more clearly.

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At first I moved very slowly because life was newer, fresher but not strange. Having come to the end of myself I handed me off to God. I knew at once how badly I needed Him, how much I depended on Him. For breath, for wisdom, guidance, peace, grace, comfort, understanding, forgiveness, life.

And though I was still somewhat confused that purpose and vocation could be but were not necessarily one and the same thing that, too became clearer. First I was a child of God. Next a mother. Then a provider, sister, daughter, friend. And nothing is compartmentalized but can interchange.

Life, I learned, is rather fluid.

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Sometimes we find a niche and alight for however long.

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Other times, we fly.

I write this post after my son called to tell me he is in Tennessee with his father. His step-mother, a woman whom I have never got to know (why would I have) is not expected to live through today. They said that though on Thursday when she was admitted to hospital for sudden pain that has turned out to be a super-resistant infection.  And she is still here.

So I told my son I will pray for her, this woman, a virtual stranger but she is important to my son.

So she is important.

And I will pray.

And I cried. For a woman I do not know.

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“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”   –Psalm 23:4

“For He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.”    —Psalm 91:11

 

it’s cold

I think I have never been so happy to see the end of a summer.

I love summer. Lazy, humid afternoons, cicadas singing, birds preening, flowers virtually drooping with the heat. But storms. Rains. This was not a typical summer. The entire month of July had one day with no rainfall here. We received our entire annual total in that one month.

Tonight will be kissed with frost in places. Grass will sparkle with it in the dawn sunrise. Sea oats will be fringed with shiny tassels of ice crystals.

Meanwhile nobody can give a chain of custody of tens of thousands of election ballots in Florida. Final results for several states’ elections won’t be known for days.

Southern California is in process of being incinerated.

Hate groups are singling out specific individuals and are terrorizing them in their homes.

Crazy people get their hands on guns and everyone decides the only answer is to take guns from everyone, even those who respect them and do not use them for insanity.

My son has assumed a persona of someone I do not recognize. I suppose to make his girlfriend happy, I can’t imagine any other reason, not that this is a good reason. I have never felt I could not relate to him.

So my world, or what I see, hear and read about, appears to have turned into a hostile, foreign place, unrecognizable.

Maybe it is appropriate that this Veteran’s Day marks 100 years since the armistice that ended the Great War. My mother’s father was a Captain in the Army. He fought in that war. I have the strategic map he used in France, pencil markings for his company’s maneuvers in the Argonne. I have the German helmet he mailed home to his father with the address hand-written on medical tape stuck to it. I have the bayonet he would have affixed to his rifle.

I have memories of his singing the refrain lyrics to “Mademoiselle from Armentieres, Parlez-vous?” Only the refrain. Not that I would have understood any of the rest of it but my grandmother always stopped him.

We would watch twin-boom military aircraft that we’d see occasionally and called them Scotch airplanes. I have no idea why.

I loved my grandfather. I often wonder what he’d think and say if he were here now. Or my Dad. He was a straight thinker. No one ever wondered where he stood. On anything. Without these men in my life sometimes things seem confusing, distorted, horrible.

But God.

Because of God I have hope. I can cling to One who is true, real, and reliable to be who He is, to keep His promises, to be just, and to love.

Thank God.

And I thank Him for the cold.

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“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven:”  –Ecclestiastes 3:1

smart phones

This must be because they can do what we normally did ourselves– keep calendars, address books, camera, small libraries, maps, driving directions, and they can even ping to be found if misplaced.

Then you add things.

I love birds so I have an app from Audubon that gives information about all the birds, their songs, habits, areas and migration. I put a Bible app, a star chart, an app for my library and the weather.

This was why I put having one of these off for so long. Initially cell phones in my life were for emergencies. No one even knew I had one. With the disappearance of phone booths if I had car trouble how would I call anybody?

But the lure was too great. And they are pretty handy. Until they completely interfere with your life and sanity.

I first became obsessed with the health app, being a walker of my dogs and self. Now I have to keep this phone with me at all times to count each step I take.. And I found every time I pushed the steps I took this phone increased my daily average. So  now I have to keep up with the phone.

But the most recent distraction is a game my sister-in-law and niece play. This was something I was absolutely sure would not get me hooked.

I was wrong.

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It is a little game, free, called “Word Cookies”. I love words. I only had 2 years of Latin but being a reader I love learning new words. That’s all this game does. It has many levels, modeled after chef names and has levels within them named for foods. Within that there are 20 levels where you’re given a scrambled word, anywhere from 6-8 letters and you have to find all the words within this word as well as unscramble the main word.

I cannot stop playing this.

I never knew I could be so caught up in any game. Along with figuring out the words you collect coins for different tests and games. The coins can be used if you get stumped. The problem with this for me is I easily become frustrated when a simple word is hidden so well I cannot see it, so I use a coin, then berate myself for having wasted the coin for “into” or “ion”. I am not frugal here. Everywhere else in my life I am very careful.

Maybe this can be a test for me to learn better self-control by limiting the amount of time I play this game. Or patience, waiting until the word I cannot find becomes evident.

Either way I can’t let this thing run my life.

And it just added 700 more levels. At that rate I probably won’t live long enough to finish them all.

“Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend.”   –Theophrastus

where to

My father defied definition. He was a force.Whether of nature or not I am uncertain, yet he taught me so much, and nothing at all. He shared family history with my brother. He shared magic with me. Mostly tricks that he either explained, laughing, or I figured out to his delight. But something else. I wish I could put into words…

He taught me whenever anyone thinks they know it all they are dead. We never stop learning. He taught me to play chess. He showed me how to dig sand fleas for bait when surf fishing. He took me to Lincoln Center to see the magic of the Nutcracker ballet. We sat at a table with a beaten up aging boxer and his girlfriend at IMG_0088.JPGPaddy’s Clam House to eat lobster. We sang the Air Force “Wild Blue Yonder” and the Army marching song though he was with the FBI during the war because of a mountain climbing accident. But as I grew up we became contentious. We argued about just about everything. I reached an age where neither he nor anyone could teach me anything — I knew it all.

Of course, I didn’t, but our arguments were legend. When I worked for his company the shouting matches caused more than a few employees to quit and I couldn’t blame them.

We especially argued about Christians. Faith. Dad had always been a man’s man, self-made, self-sufficient. He saw Christians as weak, helpless, dependent. Almost like welfare recipients which he had complete disregard for. And emotions ran high when we had arguments about God, or Jesus or anything that was a large part of my faith. So we stopped talking.

That was not the answer. Eventually we began talking again but not about religion. Then he got older, began getting sick. Looking back I wish I’d done so much more. I wish I had read the book of Acts to him. He’d especially have admired Paul I think when he was shipwrecked. Dad loved sailing, all things maritime really and I think this might have hooked him at least a little into being interested in Christians. Especially how Paul became one. Earth-shattering if anything could be.

There are many places in the Bible where heaven is described. Ezekiel, where that contraption with flashing wheels and the being with the heads of an eagle and a lion, wings, talons… nothing I can visualize well, no matter how many times I read it. I also believe heaven is nothing like we can imagine so anyone that tries has to use the words we know which probably don’t even come close.

Dad became very sick after a fall where he broke 7 ribs and went through three or four bouts of pneumonia. My brother called me to tell me Dad’s doctor had told him we needed to be with Dad. So we flew home. Dad was in intensive care and the nurses kindly allowed us to stay with Dad all day. One morning one of his therapists came in to work on opening Dad’s lungs after breakfast. Dad had fallen asleep after eating. This was no small man. Nothing he did or said could wake Dad. He came back an hour or so later, same thing. Dad slept on. Throughout the day various people came to do things or speak with Dad, no response. Sleeping soundly.

At around 5 that afternoon Dad woke. He opened his eyes, blinking slowly and looked around the room. “Is this Heaven?” he said.

I asked him if he could tell us where he had been, what he had seen. He would begin a sentence only to stop abruptly, then begin again, stop again. I realized he’d been given a wonderful gift.

A friend of mine, a Priest, who I’d asked to visit Dad came by just after. I told him about Dad’s day, how no one and nothing would wake him, what he’d said upon waking. My friend slowly smiled. He sat with us a bit, asked a prayer then left.

Sometimes people, badly bruised and hardened by life’s knocks, twists and turns, are shown what is ahead for them. We none of us ever truly knows another’s heart.

God does.

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The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.   –Isaiah 40:8

Trust

 

Ten years ago I retired from a job in New Mexico and planned to move back east to my home state of North Carolina. All my life it had been my dream to see the Grand Canyon. I invited my son to join me.

We stayed at the North Rim. It is quieter because there is nothing there but a gas station, a Park Service lodge with several rustic guest cabins and the Canyon. The South Rim is more popular, there are shops, restaurants and more hotels.

The Lodge at North Rim has a lovely dining room, a general store, saloon and cantina. Kind of its own little village on site. And some options for excursions.

Like mule rides down into the Canyon. Sounded like fun we thought so we signed up.

It is not expensive, money-wise but you basically sign your life over to the little company that manages it. There are registration forms, waivers, last rites and funeral pre-arrangements (just kidding!) But you do sign forms saying you will not hold the park service, the company managing the rides or anyone else liable in case of injury or death.

This did not daunt us. A group of about 8, we met our mules, were assured each animal had a placement in the line where they were friendly with the mule ahead of or behind it. In my case that wasn’t quite true since my mule was determined to rest its head on the right flank of the mule ahead, who was not quite so accommodating. Sorting this out was not easy. We had been strongly cautioned before we set out on our ride not to attempt to guide the mules. At all. The narrow trail down was maybe 3-4 feet wide. The mules by nature would walk the outer edge of the trail they said. Yes, I wrote that correctly. The outer edge. With a vertical drop into the Canyon of a few miles. I am dizzy just recalling this. We were also strongly cautioned that angering our mules by attempting to guide them might cause them to relieve themselves of us, hurling us down into the Canyon.

So I let this mule rest its head on the flank of the mule ahead of me. And was very tense.

This was a half-day ride so went maybe 3/4 down into the Canyon. I realized my life depended not only on this mule’s sure-footedness but on my ability to stay calm and keep from trying to control the mule. About halfway into our ride I began to relax. This mule had done this countless times. The mule did not appear nervous or afraid (not like I was anyway). I began to trust that this mule would if not protect my life, certainly not endanger its own life, thereby not bringing harm to mine. The views were breathtaking when I permitted myself to tear my eyes from the back of my mule’s head.  We got to base where we could rest, drink some water, walk around a bit. Then half an hour later we mounted up again for the ride back up the Canyon. This went far better.

We enjoyed our lunch following the ride and subsequent shower with a great deal more appreciation for the beauty of creation. Despite some agonizing stiffness from using muscles we’d not used maybe ever we did survive. And trusted. And saw a glimpse of God’s majesty.

IMG_0604.JPGLooking south off the North Rim toward Flagstaff, AZ

Recap, going forward

Sometimes a little introspection helps before stepping ahead. I have not been hearing much in the way of resolution-making.  It seems more of a collective sigh the end of this year rather than gathering steam for plunging into the beginning of a new year.

I have heard more of One Word. Picking a word to carry into the new year. In emails, a book I recently started reading, blog posts– oddly each of these has brought up the one word concept instead of making a to-do list for the new year.

So I am going to try this. It took me a few days to decide, but my word is patience. I have none. Or very little. And to make it interesting I am making this word an acronym.

P- prayer. This is where I stop talking (rare for me), get still, find a place to be alone. I focus on breathing (ok, so maybe prayer for me is more like meditation but it works). I get focused. Obviously this is not going to work when I am sitting at a red light that turns green and no one moves. Or I am in bumper-to-bumper traffic all lanes moving 10 miles under the speed limit and I am 5 minutes late. No, that would be where I breathe deeply, force a smile on my face or start singing. A form of prayer. Maybe. Depends what I am singing.

A- Adapt. I have never been one to be aggressive or selfish. Nor have I ever demanded everything is done my way, not even when I had a business. The best way to lead a team is let each member realize their own importance and combine ideas and efforts. So adapting… I will be resilient. Like at that traffic light. Find reasons to not be impatient.

T- trust. This is probably the biggest one. I question everything, everyone. I doubt. I counter. I take opposing sides just to prove to myself the side I believe in works. So trust. I mostly will have to learn to trust myself. Have faith. Confidence. But humbly.

I- Initiative. I cannot allow inertia to win anymore. So maybe yes, it is comfortable to curl up with a great book and hide from the world. I can’t do this (not all the time anyway). If opportunities come my way I need to consider them, take advantage of some, realize which make sense, when to stop taking initiative.

E- Effort. I am lazy! I love doing things the easy way, or encouraging others to do what I could do. Put more into little and big things. Whatever committees I am on put everything into my part. Even housework. Don’t skip dusting.

N- Nurture. Not just everyone else but me, too. Take a little time to rest, recreate. Allow responses to form rather than spouting off replies impulsively. Be considerate, thoughtful. Allow myself time. And family. Be there for them even when they are not there for me.

C- Careful. I don’t mean this in a fearful way. Taking care with what I say, how I respond, feelings that burst forth before I have understood a situation. So I want to be careful of others’ feelings, careful of the words I use. Restraint. Careful of my facial expressions. And listen. Much more listening.

E- Endurance. I have to stop running away. Away from feelings, confrontation, sparring for a purpose, values, beliefs. I have to begin to stand. For what I believe,  for what is right. And sometimes that means waiting.

So this is my word for 2018. Patience. And all that I see within it. It seems an awful lot right now… my Dad always said it’s not that you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, you just don’t have enough time to chew it.

One year. I have a whole year, 365 days. I can do this.

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”  —Ephesians 6:13

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

 

 

Real

So this year’s Christmas Day is dwindling  to a close. All my rantings of a week ago that many were kind enough to “like” and others to ignore have taught me (again) a very important thing. Anxiety, worry, doubt do nothing for whatever it is that causes the worry. What it does is steal that precious moment in time, and the next, and the next, until you are shaken out of the the potential joys of that moment. And those moments are lost. And whatever foggy stupor you have allowed to cloud  that future thing that has you so worried prevents you from living the realness of those lost moments.

My son and I sat in the quiet for a very short time together this evening, his last evening of his visit here. He is propelling himself into the future portion of his holiday trip, the remaining visits they will make before returning home.  I sensed his mild unease at my stillness as I soaked in his presence which is so rare for me now.

Did he remember a book he had when he was little, I asked, “The Velveteen Rabbit”?

Yes, he replied.

Was it the horse or the bunny who asked what it was like to be real, I wondered.

The bunny, he said.

So I looked it up.

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

“I suppose you are Real?” said the Rabbit, and then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.

“The boy’s uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

So lovely, brilliant, healthy, attractive, charming child of mine, always know that you are Real. Forever. Nothing and no one can ever take it away. You are greatly loved, by One who will never leave you.

And I will try hard to remember it, too.

 

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The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams Bianco. George H. Doran Co., Publishers. 1922.

Visitors

Not like Amahl’s visitors but visitors just the same. My son and his girlfriend are coming to spend Christmas day with me as a starting point for a marathon of visiting family.

I know I should be flattered but I kind of blew it when I raised my son. I knew he was “on loan”, enough churchy friends were more than happy to remind me, many times. I was fiercely independent but unfortunately that doesn’t buy food or pay bills. So I got a job.

Several jobs, actually. One year I laughed so hard at my 1040 form because it literally fluttered with W2 forms, I’d had so many jobs. But the most important one I saw as an inconvenience.

I often hear flattering compliments when people meet my son. How handsome, how nice, pleasant, polite, interesting… and I laugh and say yes, he grew up in spite of me. There may not be another mom in existence as hard on herself as I am but honestly? I truly believe this. While my parents were alive (and we were on speaking terms) they were the ones to go to my son’s plays, pageants and parents’ days. Oh I always went to the teacher’s meetings but I missed all the fun stuff. My dad was good about taking pictures but it’s not the same.

So my son’s life growing up was not unlike mine. My mom enjoyed DAR, junior league, bridge club, garden club, book club and filled her free time with golf. My dad commuted from NC to NY Sunday nights and was gone all week. Usually once a year they took a trip out of the country and as a family we did spend a week at the beach.

Carbon copy for me, only for all their activity I substituted all those jobs.

You miss so much when you are trying to fill someone else’s shoes. I wanted very much to please my parents. Finding that this would never happen I became disillusioned, right in the middle of raising this precious child of mine. It’s amazing how sons and daughters think their moms and dads are heroes.

Until they don’t.

When my son went to college everything changed. He needed me for… nothing. He had his own car, knew what he wanted to study, even had an (only one) episode of trouble his freshman year like everyone does and got through it without me. I think there is nothing so awful for a parent to discover….. that their child no longer needs them. Maybe never did.

But there it was. Even his breakups he didn’t need me. He gets through everything without me. So when he said he wanted to come here for Christmas this year I truly did not get it. Why are they coming? To make fun? Out of a sense of obligation? Sweep me in a collective family visit dustpan? He feels guilty for some obscure reason? I honestly have no idea. The dynamic now, between him, his dad’s family (not unhostile towards me), his girlfriend (with whom I have never established a connection) is total disharmony. So I think I must be something to be checked off the list.

I even went so far as to try and make this dinner fun, texting my son to tell me what they might like for dinner. They got a pretty good laugh because he came back with complete un-festive things, off-hand, non-special ideas. So I texted back and asked about vegetables.

Nothing. No response.

I have no idea where they are even staying.

Makes me want to just scream at them: “Why are you even coming here??”

But then I’d look totally nuts. And his girlfriend is a social worker. Wouldn’t want her having me put away.

Wish me luck. No idea how this is gonna fly.

Any ideas??

Surprises out of not

My son was here last weekend for a pre-planned visit. Well I say pre-planned but his planning is generally only a week or two out from his date of travel unless he goes someplace for work. I was grateful to see him and for once there were no heated arguments or harsh words.

Nor should there be. He is in his 30s. On his own since college. We need to be able to get along. However, he has had a living-together arrangement for about 5 years now and I seem to irritate him often since this began. If I ask about what she does. If I comment on how much he eats at restaurants or on the run. If I ask about his exercising. This time was the best so far and as my dad would advise me, “it takes two to make a fight”.  So I stayed calm, did not ask questions on incendiary issues. Seemed to work out ok.

I think this is easier said than done. Dysfunction existed since before therapists made it so popular in the 80s when everyone appeared to not only have a therapist but talked profusely about it. Yet this is a catch-all word and I think diminishes that which it means to expose. The fact that even though everyone is different, even though each of us has (and is entitled to) opinions of our own, somehow hostility, anger, condemnation creep in and before long there’s an explosion, hurt feelings, blaming, misunderstandings that have become barbed wire walls near impossible to get through.

Some of this comes from historic feelings. Relationships that have “buttons” that are activated by a gesture, facial expression, or certain words. And most are imagined or inflamed by our feelings, then clung to like life preservers. Like the flip side of happy memories, these are the nightmares we often gloss over, push to the recesses of our minds or somehow justify hoping they won’t come back and haunt us.

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But they do. I remember in the early 80s when my divorce was just over. I anesthetized those feelings rather than work through them. I mired myself in work, avoiding the personas I had now become: divorced single woman and parent. I could not bring myself to face this alone, which was what I was. Rather than ask God’s help, find a good church where supportive people usually abound I stuck it out on my own and made things much worse with many many mistakes. So like Charles Dickens’ Marley I forged a few chains that I persisted in dragging around rather than try to find the key which would unlock them and free my life from them and their accompanying false guilt and self-imposed perpetuated humiliations.

I am not at all intending to say this would negate the facts: I am still today a single, divorced parent. But through these thirty-plus years, so many mistakes, tears, temper tantrums, epiphanies, set-backs, understandings, disillusionments,  clarifications and owning up to it all by taking responsibility I have survived myself, my vain, futile efforts to struggle and overcome myself on my own only to find it works better when I ask for help. Not just other people’s help. I have found through all the difficult times, hating myself for yet again another hangover, or wondering whether I could make the mortgage payment, have enough to pay household bills and buy groceries, pay for medical bills, eye doctors, vet bills and dentists, there was always enough. Never to where I became complacent, but enough to where I learned to be humble, grateful and generous when I could be. More depth of understanding and compassion because I had been there. And got out of wherever was potentially harmful or self-defeating.

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And overwhelmed that, through it all, the darkness and the joys, no matter how hard I tried to avoid Him, God was the One giving me this strength, provision, encouragement. Turning to Him did not diminish me. On the contrary, like the prodigal son I truly was welcomed, freed from self-hatred and deprecation, loved, forgiven and cleansed. Don’t get me wrong, I still stumble, sometimes even go flat on my face or my rear, but I can pick myself up, tell Him, and ask Him for forgiveness, restoration, guidance.

I will never have arrived, at least not in this life. No one ever does no matter how much we have, achieve, learn or become. Ruth Bell Graham, the wife of Rev. Billy Graham saw this on a road construction sign and had it inscribed on her gravestone:

“End of construction. Thank you for your patience.”

So however many days I am given in this life it may seem sometimes that I’m being hit with a jack-hammer, or covered in rough gravel, or bathed in hot tar, or steam-rolled to perfect smooth flatness then painted with boundary lines from trial-and-error efforts at how to be and in all this process obstructing or slowing other traffic. I will be continually learning, growing, struggling, changing, hoping, aspiring like all of us will. As long as we are living this is what we do. Sometimes I’ll be mired in darkness deep in a valley, or standing on a sun-soaked mountaintop. But I pray wherever I find myself I keep Christmas in my heart.

May God grant each of us grace and humility, peace and strength, and love to carry us through. In Jesus, Amen.

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