Being Social

Life is weird right now.

The last time I didn’t have a job I had three children at home with me.  They were 8, 9, and 11.  The activities of my life were ordered around their needs and desires.  A typical day would have been structured around three meals at appropriate times, outdoor activities, reading, playing, caring for the house, and personal hygiene.  I didn’t have much wiggle room.  If I wanted to do something without children, I had to do some coordinating with my husband, who was very cooperative, or arrange playdates with friends.

It’s a whole new world in 2014.

Chester doesn’t demand much.  At the moment, he is curled up at my feet under the desk where I am writing.  He’s been feed and watered.  So, now the day is mine to do as I please.  Hmmm.  Interesting.

I have shared that I have established a routine to start my days.  My husband informed me this weekend, in his counselor’s wisdom, that ‘establishing routines is one of the best things you can do during a transition’.  Thanks, dear.  Most days include Bible study, blogging, exercise, reading, my favorite Netflix show, and some socializing.

In order to keep track of how I am doing medically, I have obtained an app that tracks my diet, exercise, social interactions, rest, and symptoms.  Each day I record all the data and the app charts my ‘self-management’ and the ‘arthritis impact’.  It’s actually quite fascinating.  The app has confirmed that I am doing some of the right things to minimize my symptoms, but reminded me that I could be doing more.

One of the most striking realizations from this app is that social interactions are very important to my well-being.  Who knew?  I realized that diet, exercise, rest, and medication played a part, but hanging out with people?  Casually?

For the past ten years, I have squeezed in some socializing on the fringes of my very busy teaching and parenting schedule.  In spite of my combat mode, God did bless me with some great people who met me where I was and endured the ‘current state of affairs’.  I am not sure they would recognize me at the moment.  I joke that I have gone from type AAA to a casual type B.  I used to be at school before 7:00 am, dressed and pressed,  in order to get my ducks in a row. Now it is not rare to find me still in pajamas at noon!  I may have already done my Bible study, blogged, and straightened the house, but I’m still not ready to greet the public.

But today is different!  Today I have not one, but TWO, social engagements!!!  I mean, I’m just trying to improve my health here!  This morning I am meeting a new friend to go walking.  This afternoon I am meeting a dear friend who I haven’t seen in ages!  I know, I know, I was supposed to go grocery shopping and mail a couple of packages, but, guys, it’s for my health!

In all seriousness, I feel so blessed to have this season of transition, this grace period where I have room to breathe, time to think, and freedom to socialize.  I am extra blessed that God has plunked me down in a space where I can connect with friends, new and old.  And, really, the groceries can wait.

I John 4:11

Dear friends, since God loved us,

we also ought to love one another.

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Not just for women, but about women

When did the shift happen?  When did it become ok to portray women as competitors and even enemies of one another?  Do you know what I am talking about?  The images are everywhere — magazines, television, movies, books.  The idea that I need to be better than other women — thinner, smarter, more powerful, sexier, better dressed — permeates our culture in such a way that potential allies are turned into suspects.

I believed the lie for quite a while.  Very few women passed enough tests and criteria to be allowed into my inner circle of trust.  Once in, they were placed on an extremely high pedestal from which they will surely never fall.  But getting there took a pretty special combination of traits — honesty, humor, authenticity, strength, and the resilience to let my crap bounce off of them.  Few were chosen.

Many were kept at arm’s length for whatever reason — I could fabricate a reason in a heartbeat.  I missed out on the blessing of many female friendships because of my insecurities and the belief that I needed to be suspicious of the enemy.

That belief is a lie of the one and only enemy.

Women need one another.  

I knew I needed my inner circle  — I had a best friend all through elementary school who remains so high on the pedestal that the mention of her name brings me pause. I had a partner in crime through middle and high school whose name can still bring out the mischievous teenager in me.  I bonded with a dear friend in my freshman year of college who was so steadfast that though our time together was short, she remains on the pedestal today.  My dear friend from the rest of undergrad has earned the title of aunt to my children and godmother to my baby because of the way our hearts are knit together.   These women…they had a hand in shaping me.  I didn’t suspect their loyalty.  I didn’t question their motives.  They unconditionally supported me.

But I believed they were rare and that real women didn’t act that way.  Real women wanted to judge me and outdo me.  They were suspect and not to be trusted.

I was wrong.

We all need each other.  We need encouragement.  We need eye contact.  We need to be heard and understood.  We need affirmation and acceptance.  Unconditionally.  When we don’t get it, sometimes our claws come out.  We start thinking that others are the competition. We even behave as though we are trying to outdo one another.

I have been noticing a lot of women lately.  I have been noticing they aren’t out to get me.  They are reaching out to me: inviting me to lunch, or to go on a walk, or to visit their church.  They are encouraging me: through email, text, Facebook, and in person. They are befriending me.

I am beginning to believe that most women really want to be in relationship with one another, not in competition with one another. Is it possible, that our media is (gasp) giving us an inaccurate portrayal of reality? (It’s just a question, folks, not a political statement.)

I’m going to go out on a limb here.  Instead of trusting my long held and faulty beliefs, I am going to trust God and take a few chances on some women. I think they can be trusted.  I mean, they are taking a chance on me. 

Romans 12: 10…16

…be devoted to one another in love.  Honor one another above yourselves…

live in harmony with one another…

Love that lasts

During this time of transition, my husband and I are visiting many churches — some of them because he is speaking there, others because we want to get to know the area and find a church home, and still others because we want to learn where those we are serving with are worshiping.  Today was option three.

We worshiped with one of my husband’s coworkers at an area church that is focused on outreach — they are very intentional about connecting with the community in very tangible ways. Pretty cool place.

The message today was centered on how to have love that lasts — sure, marital love, but also love between friends, between parent and child, etc.

I will take a short commercial break to let you know that my husband and I, along with a half-dozen other couples, were asked to stand in the aisles of the church and dance.  It’s not what you think…the pastor had all the married couples stand like they often do at weddings.  Then he asked those who had been married five years or more to remain standing, then those who were married ten years or more, etc.  Finally, all the couples who were married more than twenty-three years were invited into the aisles. Music was played.  The couples danced, and then were invited to sit as the years ticked on.  You know the drill.  The final couple standing had been married forty-three years! What a blessing!

The pastor then suggested three methods for planning for a ‘love that will last’.

  • Worship God
  • Work on yourself
  • Serve your spouse

Three steps.  Should be easy, right?  Read them again.  Not so easy.

However, I have to say that after twenty-four years of marriage I have to agree with his strategy.  Although we are flawed human beings who have not always put God first in our lives, we did marry with the intent of serving God together.  I believe that this foundation is the sole reason that we are still together after all these years.  It hasn’t all been a walk in the park.  There have been some (very) difficult days, weeks, months, and even years.   The grace of God coupled with our commitment from the beginning to hang in there, no matter what, has held us together.

Now, I may have started this marriage thinking that both of us were perfect and that we were perfect for each other, but I have since faced reality.  I will admit that I noticed his flaws before my own.  Shocking, I know.  But I remember quite clearly one day, in a living room with sculpted brown carpeting, when I was very upset with my husband. He had the audacity to suggest that he was not the one who would ever make me happy.  What?  Well, then, why in the world did I marry him?  Amidst my fussing and fuming, he reminded me that the only one who would truly bring me contentment would be God, since He is the only one who is not selfish or flawed.  Well, then.

It may have been about that time that I began to look in the mirror.  Small glances at first.  A lot needed to be addressed; it would take a life time.  I’m still working on it.

As far as the third area that the pastor suggested, I must say that my husband has always been better at serving me than I am him.  In fact, it began on the night that he proposed to me.  He washed my feet, yes, literally washed my feet with a basin and a towel, and then told me that he wanted to serve me for the rest of our lives.  And, so far, he has done that.  Even during the ugly times, he has put me, and the children before himself.  He has gone without to make sure that we wouldn’t have to. He has stayed up late and gotten up early to make sure that we could all sleep as much as we needed.  He has worked his tail off to provide for us.  But most importantly, he has served us by serving God first.  We haven’t all always appreciated that, but it was precisely the right thing to do.

I don’t know if I will ever be as much of a servant to him as he has been to me.  I still get distracted by protecting myself, you know, kicking butts and taking names.  But, it is getting easier all the time to take care of him, especially when I realize how well cared-for I have been.

This morning was a good reminder of how blessed we have been.  I am glad that we have this grace period to pause and take stock. We are rich to have a love that lasts.

Matthew 19:6

…what God has joined together, let no one separate.

My journey

Have you ever plotted your life journey on a map?

I’ve done it a couple of times in the classroom.  My students and I were once reading a book about a girl who had lived all over the country with her job-hopping aunt.  We plotted her life, and then I plotted mine via GoogleMaps to show them the journey.

My St. Louis, Missouri students always thought I was making up the fact that I grew up in St. Louis, Michigan and that I went to St. Louis High School.  So, I always had to prove to them that it did exist.

This morning I was reading about the travels of Paul, Silas, and Timothy.  My Bible study had me combing through Acts to plot a portion of their journey on a Biblical map.  It’s pretty incredible, actually.  Their commitment to share the Gospel had them trekking all over the countryside with no help from Expedia or Hotwire.  And, often, they were chased out of town by a violent mob, or worse, tossed in the slammer for a while.

I wouldn’t say my journey has been that dramatic. I am going to try to share a link to a map I created this morning that shows all the places I have lived in my just under fifty years*.  There are twelve points on the map representing the different towns/cities I have lived in.  Within those cities and towns I have lived in multiple houses.

The point of the Bible study was to look at how God had nudged or shoved each of us through our decisions.  How he had orchestrated my life journey. So, I got a bit introspective.  I got to thinking that any little change along the way could have reconfigured my whole life.  Have you ever thought about that?

What if my parents had not divorced, and we had moved with my dad to Indiana? How might my life be different?

What if I hadn’t transferred from Michigan State to Concordia so long ago?

What if my husband and I had not resigned our positions and moved to be closer to our son?

What if we had chosen to not go to the Seminary with three school-aged children?

What if he had not accepted this call back to Michigan?

So much would be different!  With any of those choices or so many other decisions, the trajectory would have been altered dramatically!

But, God allowed this journey.  He placed me in a loving family that has now stretched from coast to coast. He gave me lifelong friends from each location along the way.  He shaped me through my experiences as a student, a teacher, a mother, a wife. He has led us from one step through the next, all the while shielding and protecting us.

And through all the moves and transitions in my life, I (and you) have been sitting right in the palm of His hand.  It is mind-boggling. I wouldn’t change one step.

Psalm 20:24

A person’s steps are directed by the Lord…

* http://www.mapcustomizer.com/map/klrlifemap

Walking, part 2

On the heels of sharing the blessings of my aunt, uncle, and my grandparents, I read my Bible study this morning that focused on hindrances that keep us from doing what God has planned for us.

The study looked at three hindrances — others, Satan, and good old numero uno, that’s right, the person in the mirror.

If I’m going to be honest, and by now, you know I am going to be, my chief hindrance has always been … me.  Sure, I have faced human opposition.  Of course, I have experienced spiritual warfare. But really, Satan doesn’t have to spend as much time on me as he does on others, because I create my own issues.

You already know that my biggest hindrance is my belief that I am self-sufficient, battling through all obstacles, kicking butts and taking names. I prefer doing to being, and I often do so much that I don’t listen to others, let alone God.

In spite of this, God has managed to use me for ministry.  It’s usually like an out of body experience when a student or friend comes to me in the middle of my busy-ness, pours out her heart, and asks me for help or prayer.  I think to myself, “Wow, God kinda plunked that down right in front of me, didn’t He.”  He has to be very obvious to get my attention.  There are usually tears involved.  I am aware enough to notice tears. Or, a cluster of frantic teenagers saying something like, “Mrs. Rathje, you have to do something!”  Ok, ok!  You’ve got my attention.

But, in the spirit of the next chapter, I am trying to do things differently.  And, in the spirit of full-disclosure, I must remind you that God fully-orchestrated this next chapter.  He interrupted my busy-ness to bring me to this grace period.  He initiated the chain of events that led me to this Bible study.  He has provided my little house by the river.

And, you know, in the last two months (yes, I have been in Ann Arbor two months!) I have been noticing a lot more. I have been able to hear that still small voice, and have even been willing to listen to it.   I have been able to see the people around me, and notice what is happening in their lives.  I am embarrassed to say that this is a new experience.

When you are in your combat gear, moving at break-neck speed, everyone blurs together.  Yeah.

So, visiting my Uncle Louis and Aunt Margaret, remembering Grandpa and Grandma Meyer, and realizing their commitment to loving God and loving me, I am inspired to shift.  I see the blessings in fully-embracing this next chapter.  I am not sure what all God has planned, but I am willing to watch and see.  I am willing to toss the combat gear.  I am willing to walk into whatever it is that He has set before me.

Hebrews 12: 1

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,

let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely,

and let us [walk] with endurance the race that is set before us.

Since we are on the topic…

…of families and lessons..

I must mention my grandparents.  I was blessed to know my great-grandmother, Elsa Laetz,  until she died when I was twenty-four.  I knew my grandparents, the Meyers, until they went to join her when I was forty-one.  I could write for days about the lessons I learned from these three, but I think I’ll focus today on the importance of family.

I remember climbing into the car with my parents and siblings and driving literally through the woods and over the river to see my grandparents.  As we neared their home, my excitement would build.  As soon as my dad slid the car into P for park, I would leap out of the car and run to the front door to ring the bell. I can still see my petite “Little Grandma,” as we called her, open the door and smile out at me.  Often “Gramps” would be right behind her. They would hug me, gush about how I’d grown, and welcome me in.

Immediately I would be engulfed in the fabulous smells of grandma’s kitchen.  She could cook, and she always did.  She made it seem effortless to put a meal on the table for eight, or eighteen, or twenty-eight.  There was always plenty of food for everyone to feel like they had stuffed themselves.

And when I say everyone, I mean my grandparents, my great grandmother, uncles, aunts, and cousins.  Several times a year, my grandparents opened their home and had all of us over.  In the winter we were up and down the stairs, playing, laughing, and I’m sure yelling.  In the summer we were in and out of doors doing the same.  There was invariably an argument or fight among the children, and I usually ended up in tears, but there was always a firm hug and grandpa’s signature multi-move handshake before we climbed back into the car, after dark, to head home.

Now, I know that I view history with rose-colored glasses.  I realize that it wasn’t as perfect as I remember, but even when I acknowledge that there were tense moments, misunderstandings, and insecurities, I can still say that everyone in the family was always welcome at the Meyers.

And you didn’t even have to be family to join.  My grandpa was known for bringing home what I call ‘strays’.  You know, the single guy who is away from family, the church workers who are far from home, the man whose wife passed away last year. And, if you came once, you were family from that moment on.

My definition of family stems back to the example of Grandpa and Grandma Meyer, their open door policy, and their willingness to welcome strangers into the fold.

Why? Because there is nothing at all like the feeling that someone has been peering out the window, waiting for you to arrive, preparing the best foods, and arranging the house in anticipation of your arrival.  Nothing makes you feel more loved and more treasured than being embraced by that person who has been looking forward to being reunited with you.

We know that’s true when we hear these words: My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. John 14:2-3.

Now that’s what I call a family reunion.  I imagine Grandma and Grandpa greeting me at the door with smiles and hugs and I can’t wait to see them!

Uncle Louie and Aunt Margaret

I have been on a little excursion.  You may have noticed that my posts have been a bit sporadic over the past few days.  I travelled to my childhood home on Saturday and have had one great moment after the other since.

On Saturday I had dinner with my parents and my brothers.  On Sunday I worshiped with the whole family.  Sunday afternoon my niece and and saw a movie.  I’ve eaten well, slept famously, and have had many walks down memory lane.

This morning was particularly special. I drove about an hour to visit my aunt and uncle.  This is my father’s older brother and his wife, my godparents.  Uncle Louie and Aunt Margaret — precious gems.

They have been there for everything.  Everything.  My baptism. My confirmation. My birthdays. My wedding.  My grandparents’ funerals — my mother’s parents, not just my father’s.  None of this probably seems astounding, but let me tell you why it is.

I’ve mentioned before that my parents were divorced in the 1970s.  Divorce was not very common back then, particularly not among ‘church folk’.  When divorce happened, it was fairly common for the mother to get sole custody and the father to fade into the background, sending financial support and visiting occasionally.  This was way before shared custody.

At the time that my parents were divorced, my dad was relocating to take a new job several hours away.  One didn’t necessarily cause the other, but they happened around the same time.  I was in elementary school.

We stayed with my mother, as was the usual course of events.  I am thankful that we had the stability of one household and the continual involvement of the relatives on my mother’s side — outstanding grandparents, loving aunts and uncles, and cousins I still communicate with today.  But, I have been sad over the years at the loss of relationship with my dad’s family.

We saw my dad.  He provided for us financially.  But, he was several hours away. We usually stayed with him in the summer for a week or two, talked on the phone regularly, and saw him around the holidays.  Sometimes we would go with him to see my grandmother, his mother, but of his five siblings, usually the only one we visited was my Uncle Louie, and his dear wife, Aunt Margaret.

What’s remarkable is that of my dad’s five siblings, Uncle Louie and Aunt Margaret were the only ones who regularly drove an hour to come see us at my mom’s house, even if my dad wasn’t there.  They said, “Your mom is still our sister; you are still our family.”  It may not sound that remarkable now.  But, believe me, it was and still is to me.

They came to every birthday party.  Aunt Margaret wrote letters to place inside each card that she sent.  They always hugged my mother when they came and when they left. They modeled for me how to treat family, even in the midst of brokenness.

When I grew up and had a family of my own, they would then drive two hours just to drop by and say ‘hello.’  They always hugged me, my husband, and our children, and said, “I love you.” Aunt Margaret continued to write letters and share news from that side of the family, including the history that I didn’t know much about. I never doubted for a moment that I was loved and treasured by my godparents.

Recently we experienced divorce in our extended family. It was, and is, heart-wrenching to watch people we love go through this devastation, but it gave me some measure of comfort to know my role.  I had learned it through my whole life by watching Uncle Louie and Aunt Margaret.  No one has left my family or my heart. Each person involved in the divorce is, and will continue to be, a member of my family.  I love them and treasure them.  And I will do everything to demonstrate this as the days go on.

Of the many things in my life I am thankful for, Uncle Louie and Aunt Margaret are near the top of the list.  I told them that this morning and reminded them of the special lesson they taught me.

since God loved us, so also we ought to love one another

1 John 4:11

Walking

I love running.  I didn’t always.  It grows on you.

In my middle school and high school years the only thing I loved about running was when it was over.

But in college, when I was battling an eating disorder, I began to tap into the benefits of running — stress reduction, calorie burning, cardio-vascular health.   I found another benefit when I began to date my future husband.  We ran together.  On our after-school runs (we were both teachers), we would talk and laugh while letting go of the stress from the day, pounding out the miles.

Although I took a break from running while we were raising our children, I started up again when we moved to the seminary.  Again, I found it useful for exercise, stress-busting, and ultimately, bonding with my daughter and many students.  In fact, I was able to run two half-marathons and many 5k races before I had to sideline myself due to fatigue and pain.

Over the years I have connected with Scripture that uses running analogies, ‘they will run and not grow weary’ (Isaiah 40:31), ‘run that you may obtain the prize’ (I Cor. 9:24), ‘let us run with endurance the race marked out for us’ (Hebrews 12:1).  These were images I could relate to.  Running and not getting tired, running and winning a prize, running a race that had been chosen for me.

But to be honest, as you know I have to be, running was part of that soldier mentality that believed that I could do all things through me because of my strength. Yeah, that’s not really scripture.  I am aware.

Probably the knowledge that running would no longer be part of my daily routine was one of the first blows toward destroying that self-reliant attitude that could keep God on the sidelines.  That blow hit hard.  Running had become part of my identity.  I was the ‘teacher who ran’, the ‘mom who ran’, the girl whose heart rate and blood pressure were amazingly low, ‘because she ran’.

Transitioning to walking was a blow.  But ultimately it was the beginning of a slow-down that has changed my entire pace of life, of thinking, of being.

I used to rush to work, rush home, hurry to change so I could run, hurry home so I could make dinner, quickly wash the dishes, take a few minutes to straighten the house, make sure the kids had everything they needed, ‘sleep fast’, as my dad would say, and get up to do it all over again.  I was rushing so much that I didn’t really take time to feel, or process how anyone else was feeling.

I don’t rush very much any more.  I roll out of bed, stumble through my routine, work up to doing Pilates, saunter out for a walk, stop to talk to people in my path, write about my experiences, think, read, feel, rest, sleep. Rinse, repeat. Nothing happens very quickly, but plenty happens.

I have been thankful for this transition, while at the same time being a little sad about it. I mean, I was rocking the running routine.  Even if I was leaving the people that I care about in the dust.

At the moment, I’ve got nothing but time.  So, I am walking.  And this morning, in my Bible study, I was challenged by Paul, Silas, and Timothy to “walk in a manner worthy of God” I Thes. 2: 12. I was reminded that God Himself walked in the Garden of Eden, that Enoch walked with God, and Noah walked with God.  Maybe walking isn’t so bad.  I mean, I have noticed already, that I am not alone.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children, and

walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…

Ephesians 5:1-2

Time to acknowledge the blessings

It’s been two weeks since the nest has been empty. We are developing some routines.  Around the time my husband leaves for the office in the morning, I am stumbling through the morning ritual of feeding the dog, making my tea, and finding my office.  My morning is spent in Bible study, blogging, correspondence, and any ‘brain work’ I might have on my list.  Alternating days I either head to the gym for an hour or do a half hour of Pilates and then take the dog for a walk.

I may run an errand to the grocery store, the post office, the bank, or the gas station, then I almost always take a rest in the afternoon.  This rest may be watching Netflix, reading a book, or actually taking a nap.  Then, I decide what we are having for dinner, prepare it, and have a cup of tea before my husband arrives home from work.

Sometimes we take another walk before dinner. Sometimes he takes Chester on a run.  But we almost always have dinner together before we wind down for the night.

It’s really nothing to write home about.  Or to blog about. But, for me, right, now.  This is bliss.

We have had a few aberrations.  Tuesday we had a student and his wife for dinner. Wednesday I attended a board meeting over the phone, and tonight, we are hosting my husband’s office staff for snacks and drinks after the work week.

I get to do this.

The chicks?  Well, one has decorated the nursery and assembled the crib in anticipation of his firstborn. Another is settling into her house of five women on the north side of Philadelphia and getting ready to start her first week as a PE teacher. My soldier is in Louisiana doing intense training for thirty days.  And the grown-up baby is wrangling herself a job (or two) on top of being a full-time student in DC.

I’d say they are soaring.

Although I have always led a blessed life, I haven’t always had the luxury of sitting back and acknowledging my blessings like this.  I don’t know how long this luxury will be here.  So, I am going to soak up each moment.

Psalm 23:5

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.