Just add this to the pot

So, do you know what simmering does?  It cooks slowly and gently so as not to damage.

Yesterday, a lot of ingredients were tossed into my brain.  I was thinking about pain and illness.  I was wondering about healing. I encountered the idea of spiritual warfare.  I read about pride, identity,  and temptation.  All of these ingredients were sitting there in my brain, and I didn’t know what to do with them.

Often, the recipe is clear — knead, bake, slice, serve. But yesterday, I had no idea what I was ‘making’.  Probably because I wasn’t intended to ‘make’ anything at all.  I felt the nudge to put the pot on simmer and walk away.

Sometimes I do this in our house.  I have a lovely crock pot that I fill with a pale chunk of pork or chicken, a couple tablespoons of slimy olive oil, some sea salt and other dry pungent spices.  I turn the dial to ‘simmer’, and I walk away.  It’s lazy cooking, yes, but’s it’s pretty effective.  Those ingredients, which look less than appetizing at the start, start to simmer, and as they do, they give off a pleasing aroma that fills my house and greets my husband when he walks into the house after a long day.

So, yesterday, as I was taking in some thoughts that were less than pleasing — pain, illness, temptation, spiritual warfare, pride, sin — instead of tossing them all into the trash, I decided to allow them to simmer for a while.  I mean, it couldn’t hurt.

While they were simmering, I went to the gym and walked on the treadmill for a half an hour or so.  Then, I submersed myself in the warm bubbling waters of the jacuzzi.  I showered, dressed, then drove to meet with two students in a neighboring town.

I drove home, ate some dinner, watched some television, crocheted, read, and went to bed.  And the ideas were still simmering.  I didn’t open the pot to stir.  I didn’t turn the heat up or down.  I just let them cook slowly and gently.

This morning, the battalion met to continue in our study of Hosea. I think I was hoping that I would be able to open the crock pot and see that all the ingredients were ‘done’ simmering.  That didn’t happen.

Instead, as they continued to simmer, I observed this sisterhood that I have been plunked down into.  I watched as they cared for one another — observing a swollen toe, praying for an ailing husband, applauding successful surgeries, and joining in to sing together.

Today’s topic was the idea that we often wander from God because we don’t truly know Him — really know His character and appreciate His love for us.  We acknowledged together that we are “prone to leave the God we love,” and learned together that this is because we know of God, but we don’t fully know Him.

Yet, in spite of our wandering ways, God continuously pursues us.  He puts obstacles in our self-destructive paths so that we will turn around and wander back toward Him.  Sometimes when we are redirected in this way, we get close enough to see His face beaming with love for usHis beloved.  And if we can get our eyes off the distracting shiny objects long enough, we can look into His eyes and see ourselves reflected there.  And that, my friends, is when we get a glimpse at our identity.  Not our estimation of ourselves in relationship to our peers, but our true identity as children loved by God.

I think I’ll let that simmer a little longer.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love;

therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”

Jeremiah 31: 3

Reunited, and it feels so good! (Revisit)

As I prepare for family reunions this week and next, I share this post, written in November 2015 and dusted off in July 2019. It celebrates family and friends, and echoes some of the thoughts from last week’s post about eternity.

One of the blessings of moving back to Michigan has been the chance to reunite with people we hadn’t seen in a long time, or at least hadn’t seen as often as we would’ve liked to for a long time. I will never get tired of locking eyes with familiarity, embracing family, or laughing with dear, dear friends.

When we lived in St. Louis, a trip to see our parents, any of our parents, took thoughtful planning, time off work, and long hours in the car. Now that we are in Michigan, we can be with parents in as little as 2, 3, or 4 hours. And often, when we visit our parents, we get to see siblings as well. In fact, we have four siblings living in Michigan, plus three nieces and five nephews and their families! Since we’ve been back, we have been able to attend holiday celebrations, birthday parties, and informal gatherings with all of them! We’ve told ‘remember when’ stories that make our parents cringe and smile, re-filled plates with family reunion fried chicken, and snapped all kinds of squished onto the couch holiday photos. After ten years in another state, these moments have an added richness — the smell of home.

We’ve also been able to reunite with friends. Proximity has allowed us the privilege of seeing some we hadn’t seen for twenty years or more! Several months ago, my husband preached at the church where we were married– we saw friends who recalled when we were dating and remembered decorating our car after our wedding. Last month, we attended my high school homecoming festivities and laughed with friends I have known most of my life as we watched a classic small town parade of decorated tractors, candy-throwing school children, and the red and black clad high school marching band. Just two weeks ago some dear old friends brought their son for a campus visit and ended up joining us for dinner. Each visit, each connection, brings me joy — the familiarity, the shared experience, the expressions of love.

You know, I don’t remember being so happy to see these people before I couldn’t see them whenever I wanted to. When I was around them every day, I’m sure that I took their presence for granted. I know that I brushed people off, moved past them in haste, and was even annoyed by them from time to time.  But after having been away for so long, every reunion — yes, every reunion — is filled with smiles, hugs, joy, and gratitude.

This past weekend, my sister, who lives in Texas, flew into Detroit. We laughed and reminisced as we drove the familiar highways to our mother’s house where our brothers joined us for a weekend of eating, laughing, and casually hanging out together. We didn’t go to any events. We had no milestone to celebrate. We just had time to sit together, poke fun at one another, and hug each other. We shared stories as we sat around the kitchen table late into the night. We loved being with one another.

When I was a little girl, my parents would tuck me in at night and say prayers with me. When our prayers were finished, they would leave me to go to sleep, but instead I would think about what would happen “if I die(d) before I wake(d)”. Little-girl-me often worried herself frantic — what if “my soul” didn’t like where it was “take(n)”? Forever is a very long time! The immensity of eternity totally terrified me, and I was often afraid to fall asleep.

Sometimes still today I think about heaven and I get a little anxious — it’s unknown territory, isn’t it? But when I consider all the connections of the past year, all the visits with family and friends, I start to picture heaven as one big reunion.

I will see my great grandmother who is likely in charge of a particular mansion. She’s got it spotlessly clean — the beds made with freshly pressed 100% cotton sheets, the smell of freshly baked cookies wafting through the hallways. I’ll see my grandfather who is very happy to be singing in four different choirs in between coffee and donut sessions with all of his friends. My grandmother will probably greet me, unassumingly, at the gates. She’ll smile her sweet smile, hug me, and ask what she can get for me. I’m pretty sure I’ll find my friend John laughing and telling colorful stories to his buddies, Twila buzzing around, cheering everyone up with her broad smile and tender heart, and dear Win, looking over her glasses at me and uttering sarcastically, “What took you so long?”

There will be so. much. hugging. And smiling. And laughing.

And then I’ll see Jesus himself.  

Although I haven’t met Him face to face, I know I will recognize Him the minute I see Him. He’ll be the one running to meet me, arms outstretched, smile wide, eyes sparkling. He will wrap me in His arms, and all my childhood (and adulthood) fears will fall away. The tears will be wiped from my eyes.

I won’t be afraid. After all of my travels, I’ll be with the ones I have loved, and I’ll finally be home.

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me. 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 14:1-3

“Trouble Talks”

I was sharing some of my troubles with a friend the other day, and when I realized what I was doing I apologized.  “I am so sorry I used our time to complain about my life.”  She replied as most of us would, “Not at all.”  But then she followed that up with, “It actually makes me feel a little better in a weird way.”  We talked more and came to the conclusion that it is comforting to know that you are not the only one who has a complicated life.

Years ago I heard a speaker at some women’s event (I’ve been to dozens over the years.) who said that for centuries women have gotten together to cook, or sew, or do laundry, or drink coffee, or go for walks.  The speaker (I wish I could remember who it was) said that regardless of time or place, these women almost always have engaged in conversation that she called “trouble talks”.  They have shared their burdens about marriage, children, work, finances, housing, etc.  In these “trouble talks” women have found support, camaraderie, connection, community.

I am a verbal processor, so this is no shock to me.  I talk through everything — with my husband, a coworker, a sister, my mother, a friend.  But I think I have been missing the communal piece of this — the banding together of women.

Somewhere along the line I got the memo that in public gatherings with other women, I needed to present myself as flawless, above reproach, intentional, skilled — perfect.  I’m certain my own insecurities fed into this lie that I believed, but it was also likely bolstered by my beliefs about being a leader, a teacher, a pastor’s wife.  And it was probably fueled by our culture that seems to promote competition among women rather than community.

But over the last six months, as I have tasted sisterhood in a new way — through my Bible study battalion, through new friendships, through regular sharing, I am learning the blessings of being vulnerable and “bearing one another’s burdens.”

A couple weeks ago, in my Wednesday Bible study, one of the women shared a concern about her adult children.  She painted a picture of the “trouble” she was experiencing.  The women around our table listened, nodded in understanding, shared the woman’s sadness, offered suggestions, and prayed.  I didn’t feel a shred of judgment in the room — just pure care.

I’m sure it’s no surprise to you that each of us in the group (each of us in any group) have our own “stuff”, our own “troubles”.  Her sharing, her vulnerability, allows another in the group to share her “troubles” in an environment that is free of judgment.

Now, of course, I am not advocating that we each run to our respective groups and share every little detail of our lives.  Many things are private, and should be.  But it is healthy to foster the creation of safe spaces where we can come alongside people we trust, share our burdens, and have our load (at least temporarily) lightened.  It’s not a sign of weakness to need others.  It’s a sign of strength to recognize the need and to ask for support.

It’s all part of the turning that is resulting from what I am learning in this next chapter. 

Galatians 6:2

Bear each other’s burdens and in this way you fulfill the law of Christ.

Inhale. Exhale.

I feel like I keep writing the same thing over and over — how I am amazed at all the friendships and connections I have in this next chapter.  Some of these connections are new — my husband’s coworkers, my Bible study battalion, and my new students.

But some of the characters that show up in this next chapter were players in earlier chapters — some a long, long time ago.

My Thursday morning walking buddy was my college suite-mate.  Back in the 1980s we shared bathroom space and late-night snacks. Today we share our journey through chronic illness, marriage, and parenting while walking laps at the mall.

Before Thanksgiving I reconnected with another friend. She was a member at the congregation we served in the 1990s, where all of our children were born.  We became close through our home Bible study group, Marriage Encounter, and the church’s worship team.  She was the director of worship; we’ll say I was support staff and cheerleader — I wrote song lyrics, prayed with the team, and led them in Bible study before practice.  Her children attended my high school Bible study on Sunday mornings.  We were friends.

Another friend from the past is actually responsible for us being here in Ann Arbor.  She is on staff here as Director of Worship Arts and alerted us to the posting for a Dean of Students.  Back in the 1980s she and I worked side by side as work study employees for this university’s Office of Development.  Computers were new and we were hired to enter thousands of donor names into a database. We also wrote thank you letters and gave campus tours.  Through that connection, I began attending her father’s congregation, ate dinners at their family table, and felt like I belonged.

These three women from my past want to join me for a Bible study.  I already have my Bible study on Wednesday mornings — you know, my batallion.  But these gals are my friends, they know parts of my story, they belong in my story.

So today a few of us met to discuss what we should study.  I was running late — the only one without a job and was late.  I sank onto a sofa with them and just breathed.  Familiarity.  Love.  Acceptance. Inhale, exhale.

We talked for over an hour without touching on Bible study.  We just swapped stories of life.  And as we were preparing to part, I think I asked, “so what do we want to study?”

It seemed like we were going to go with Ephesians when one of the others said, “You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about Acts 3:19.”  We turned to find it. “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you.” Repent.  Turn. So that times of refreshing may come. Ahhhhhh. Inhale. Exhale.

One of the others said, “It reminds me of Isaiah 30:15: In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength.”Ahhhhh.  Inhale.  Exhale.

The first woman said, “It sounds like we could all really use this.  A turning away from the way that we are going so that we can experience refreshing.”

I said, “Maybe we could just think about those verses for a little bit and see where that leads us.”

The other woman said, “Maybe we could write a devotional book for women like us who could also use some refreshing.”

Could we? Really? You would want to do that with me? We could spend the time together? We could commit to that project together?  And through it we could grow closer and we could all be changed together?

I hugged them tightly saying, “Is this real?  Are we really here together? Is God really this good?”

I pinched myself, and guys, I think it’s real. Inhale. Exhale.

Psalm 34:8

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.

faulty filtering

I am writing a different way this morning – drafting on Microsoft Word. I returned from a weekend trip to find that our Internet is not working. So, in a little bit, if it is still down, I will drag my laptop to the library to connect and post this.

Drafting on Microsoft after months of blogging directly through WordPress is like using a typewriter after having a computer. Ok, not really. Actually there is really no difference other than my perception. I am still hitting the same keys on the same laptop, but it looks different! My screen is the blank document of Word instead of the ‘live’ page of my blog. Ultimately you won’t notice any difference – I will cut and paste this onto my blog and you will read it, or not. You wouldn’t even know I was on Word right now if I didn’t tell you. But by now you know, I HAVE GOT TO TELL YOU! I have to say EVERYTHING! I don’t know why, I have a horrible time holding anything back.

As a matter of fact, last night I met some new people. First of all let me say that Friday and Saturday I drove to Cincinnati and back, attended my daughter-in-law’s baby shower, stayed up late watching Michigan State lose to Ohio State, went to church, then out to lunch, took my mother back to Lansing, and then, and then, at 7:00pm I went out with my husband to meet new people.

I never do very well holding back my opinion about anything, but when I am tired, and you know I was tired, my filter is very weak. By the grace of God, I didn’t say anything that was particularly offensive, but I have a feeling that these people got to know me better in two hours than I may have originally preferred.

You know how in polite conversation people ask you things like “So, what do you do?” “How many children do you have?” “How do you like Ann Arbor?” Then, in response, we have polite answers like “I am a teacher.” “We have four children.” “I love Ann Arbor.” These types of answers keep the conversation moving forward and don’t cause anyone to look at you like you have three eyes.

Well, I think I may have said some things that suggested I have three eyes. Don’t get me wrong; the people we met were lovely. In fact, one of them told a story that had me laughing so hard I practically stopped breathing (which is, by the way, one of my favorite things to do). But several times in conversation I noticed the others looking at me immediately after I spoke with an expression like, “Did she really just say that out loud?” Each time it happened I tried to rewind my words and replay them in my head to see why what I had said had had that effect, but for the life of me, I couldn’t do it. The conversation kept moving forward, (thankfully!), and I wasn’t able to attend to both the moving forward and the rewinding. So, I honestly don’t know what I said.

Now, my husband was sitting right next to me, so if it was really bad, he would’ve said something to me either right there, or on the way home. He didn’t. We both recalled the funny story and laughed again. So, I at least know that I wasn’t offensive in any way. Phew!

My sister-in-law teaches fourth grade. She says in her sweet fourth-grade-teacher voice, “Not everything that pops into your head has to come out of your mouth. It is good to use a filter.” Trust me, I filter. (Again, thankfully!) But I am definitely a truth-teller. Sometimes filtering and truth-telling are in opposition to one another.

I don’t lie. I can’t. I used to. A lot. All my lies are gone.

All I have left is the truth. So, filter I must. And in order to filter,I need grace.

It seems that my gracefulness is more abundant when I am well-rested. So, rest I must.

Resting too much makes me bored. Driving to baby showers and watching late-night football is fun! I like to have fun!

Having fun makes me tired. Being tired causes faulty filtering. Out comes the truth, not necessarily gracefully.

Oy vey.

The good news is that these new friends all hugged us at the end of the evening and said “nice to finally meet you!” So perhaps in my limited gracefulness, their grace was abundant. Perhaps they were able to ‘overlook a multitude of sins’ for me. I will have to remember to go and do likewise.

I Peter 4:8

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly,

Since love covers a multitude of sins.

Burden bearing

“I don’t want to bother you with my issues.”

Ever said that?

I mean, who wants to share their troubles with the people around them?  Do you really want to hear about my health issues, or my financial difficulty, or my stress at work?  I am sure you have enough problems of your own.  You don’t need me dragging you further into the gutter.

Haven’t you said these things inside your head?  Or even out loud?

Surely we’ve been taught from our childhood, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  We are supposed to smile, say nice things, and put the best construction on everything.  Right?

Yes, and…then there’s the Bible.

Galatians 6:2

Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Here’s the thing, I don’t mind carrying your burdens, but I really don’t want you carrying mine.  Right? I mean we all want to rush to the rescue when a friend is in the hospital, or lost a parent, or needs help moving, but we really don’t want to invite anyone in to help us when the basement floods, or our kids are sick, or (gasp) we can’t do everything that we used to be able to do.

But Paul, in Galatians, says, to bear one another’s burdens.  That implies reciprocity.

I think I have established through this blog that I have most of my life been pretty self-sufficient.  I can do it myself, thank you very much.  I don’t need anyone’s help.  I kick butts and take names and God help you if you get in my way.  Notice I said ‘most’ of my life.  For the past couple of years I have been learning a new way.

Last May, at the very end of our school year, as a result of medications I had been taking, I contracted ocular herpes.  Yes, herpes. In my eyes.  (My teenaged daughter who drove me to the eye doctor got a kick out of that.)  Let me just say here that it is miserable.  Other than the itching, burning, and aching of my eyes, they were extremely sensitive to light, so I could not drive for a few days.   During that time, we were having end of year faculty meetings and a faculty luncheon at a restaurant a bit of a distance from the school and from my house.  My daughter dropped me off at school in the morning, but I needed a ride to the restaurant and then from the restaurant to my eye doctor and from the eye doctor to my house, which happened to be in the opposite direction of anyone I worked with.

So, self-sufficient me decided to ask my friend, who lives with severe rheumatoid arthritis, if I could ride with her to the luncheon and then if she would drop me at my eye doctor which was not terribly far out of her way.  She said that would be fine.  I then figured out how I could take public transportation from the eye doctor to my house.  I had done this before, it was no big deal, and it allowed me to be self-sufficient.

But, after the luncheon, my friend took me to the eye doctor and insisted on staying with me and driving me home afterward.  I didn’t want to burden her.  By that time in the day, I knew that we both needed some rest and this would add an hour or more to her day, and to her driving.  But she said to me, “this is something I can do.”  And although it was admitting that I couldn’t do everything by myself, I knew at that moment that I was allowing her into my need.

After the decision to ‘allow her’ to help me, I was so thankful that she was there.  She sat and had coffee with me before my appointment time, and even helped me select the glasses that I now wear.  She drove me to my front door and then headed home.

It was a small thing, driving me home, wasn’t it?  Not really.  It was a big thing for me.  It was a symbol.  It was my admission that I need others, and in that need, I am blessed.  And, you know, I think she was blessed, too.

I know that I am blessed when others allow me into their mess, allow me to walk with them for a minute or a mile, allow me to shoulder part of the burden.  Why would I deprive someone else of joining me in mine?  Mostly because I’m a proud butt-kickin’, name-takin’ soldier.  Or, I was.  Anybody can change.

John 15:13

Greater love has no one than this; to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Exceptionally Late

There’s an exception to every rule.

If you have been following this blog you know that for several weeks I have made it my business to roll out of bed, make a cup of tea, have my Bible study, and get busy on this blog.  Up until today the only real exceptions were when I was out of town.

But, today happened.

As a result of feeling like I was run over by a truck earlier this week, I have been having difficulty sleeping.  Which means I am having difficulty waking.  This would not be a problem on any other day, but unless I am physically unable to walk, on Wednesday mornings at 9:30, I am going to be at my Bible study.  This morning I dragged myself out of bed at 7:45, moaned my way to the shower, got dressed and drove to my pre-Bible study coffee shop for the cup of delicious caffeine that would keep me engaged for the next two hours.  I am really glad I made it to Bible study. These ladies are becoming very dear to me.  I am sure they will appear again in this blog, they are teaching me so much.

After Bible study, I met a friend from our former life in Michigan for, you guessed it, lunch.  Isn’t it amazing that ten years can pass and you can hug and share as though you haven’t missed a day?  I know I have written about so many of these encounters, but I am still surprised when they happen, and I keep pinching myself to see if my life right now is real.

I wouldn’t let myself go home until I had exchanged books at the library and gone to the gym.  I wasn’t silly enough to think that I could do 30 minutes on the elliptical, 15 minutes of weightlifting, and time in the pool, but I knew that if I spent just 30 minutes in the pool, my body would thank me.  I was right.  Being in the water erases my pain and even my fatigue.  I am not sure why that works, but it is lovely.

I drove myself home, plunked myself on the couch, and have been there ever since.  After dinner with my dear husband, I will begin the decline into what I hope will be a restful night’s sleep.  The last two nights I was exhausted and was sure that sleep would come quickly, but ended up awake into the wee hours.

I am happy to report that in my exceptionally late nights, I have had the company of Jodi Picoult’s The Storyteller (which I highly recommend) and a few night-owls who play Words With Friends at all hours.  I haven’t hated being up late, it has just broken the routine.  So, here’s to adapting.  Here’s to being thankful that my schedule allows for flexibility.  And, finally, here’s to hoping for a sound sleep.

Proverbs 3:24b

When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.

Hope does not disappoint

So many thoughts in my head this morning.  It’s like I can see words swirling all around inside of my brain and the one that sticks out the most is hope. 

Now, as one who has been tossed about in the sea of depression on and off for most of life, hope is the flotation device that I cling to.  When hope gets submerged, I start to sink.

Had enough of my analogy?  Ok, I will leave it alone for a moment.

Why am I thinking about hope this morning?  I’m not entirely sure, so let’s look back over the last couple of days.  Let’s have a little Story time with Mrs. Rathje.

On Friday afternoon, my husband and I drove to my hometown in the ‘geographical center of lower Michigan’ to attend the homecoming parade and football game. We parked the car behind a shop at one end of the main drag and walked through a swarm (ok, it’s a small town, but for St. Louis, Michigan, it was a swarm) of people toward the restaurant/bar where some of my high school classmates had planned to meet.  When I was in high school, I thought I knew everybody in this town of 4,000 people, but walking through the crowd, I didn’t recognize anyone.  In fact, I told my husband that my fear was that someone would recognize me and I would not recognize them at all.  I mean, I did graduate (gasp) thirty years ago. But before I knew it, I saw a face I recognized.  I said his name, and he immediately hugged me.  I said, “I’m Kristin Rathje, I mean Kristin Kolb!”  He said, “I know who you are!”

Isn’t that something? This guy and I weren’t best friends in school.  We really didn’t even run in the same circle, but we knew each other.  We went to middle school and high school together.  We had a shared experience, and those words, “I know who you are!” were so powerful to me.

As I left his embrace and turned to enter the bar, another former classmate stepped through the door and said, “Hey, that’s who I was looking for!” He hugged me, too, introduced me to his kids, and chatted for a few moments.  Guys, I had not seen this man in thirty years and he was looking for me!

Now let’s take a little trip back in time and meet high school aged Kristin.  I was voted ‘moodiest’ for the yearbook superlatives.  No, I am not kidding.  I was on an emotional roller coaster most of my childhood and even into adulthood.  I was grasping through most of those years at hopebut it was eluding me.  I could see it bobbing in the distance, and I was reaching for it, but I just couldn’t grasp it.  So, what did I do?  I flailed about, grasping at other things, and yelled when I couldn’t reach them, or when they let me down.  I was not entirely pleasant to be around.  I was demanding, emotional, and unpredictable.

So, why, on Friday night, did I meet so many people who were willing to hug me? to smile? to welcome me?  

We were watching the parade and one of my best buddies from high school snuck up behind me like he always did in high school and tried to startle me!  Just like old times!  We hugged, he pointed out the children of school mates in the parade, and made me laugh.  Later, my best friend from high school and her best guy, also a classmate, joined us.  It was one reunion after another.  With a dozen or more of us around a table, I didn’t stop smiling for hours.

It was like their memories were clouded and they didn’t remember the bad stuff. They only remembered the good. They didn’t remember my bad days, they remembered our connection, our relationship, our shared experience.  No matter how long it had been, I belonged.

This morning I was reading my Bible study, and we were focused on I Thessalonians 4:13 where Paul says, “we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Now, I realize that Paul was talking about people who have died, ‘those who are asleep’, and that is not lost on me since my good friend, Twila, finished her fight with cancer last week.  I am grieving because she is no longer here, and because I haven’t seen her in so long, and because I didn’t get to properly tell her how much she meant to me. But, I do have hope.  I am confident that Twila was reunited with Jesus, and her parents, and all the hospice patients that she cared for.  I am confident that she walked through the swarm only to be embraced by friends she hadn’t seen in years who said, “I know who you are!”  or “That’s who I was looking for!”  They didn’t remember any human shortcoming or flaw, they just knew she belonged.

And I know that one day, after many more earthly reunions with those who I have connected with throughout my life, I too, will find my way through the crowds of heaven to be embraced by my grandparents, Twila, and Jesus.  They will say, “We’ve been waiting for you to get here.”

Thanks to my St. Louis High School classmates for giving me a taste of that this weekend.  It gave me a tangible picture of hope and reminded me of how blessed I am.

Psalm 146:5

How blessed is [s]he whose help is the God of Jacob,

whose hope is in the Lord his God.

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.

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…