Saturday, September 27, 2014

Learning to Listen

It wasn't the best way to start a friendship. Sharp words, misunderstandings, quick judgments, followed by me closing my front door and crossing her off my list.

Til she came back the next day to apologize, and we stood there and talked and listened and talked some more. Grace went back and forth between us til we were both surprised to find we might like each other after all.

Months have passed, we've chatted a few times, but this past week we finally took time to sit down and really talk.

For four and a half hours we sat on the patio, under a slip of a moon, declaring guacamole and chips dinner. And I listened.

I'm not a good listener, at least not as good as I am at talking. Just this past week I was in a restaurant and the server took our orders without pencil or pad. She made eye contact, listened to each of us and brought back our food. I told my husband I could N.E.V.E.R. do that, I'd forget.

When my new friend sat down I told her, 'please talk with your mouth full. I know you haven't had dinner but I want to hear your story.'

We started with when she was ten and her entire family was traveling down a highway on a rainy night, and her mother grabbed onto the door handle. She woke up to see her lying feet away in a ditch, gone from her forever. At sixteen, and within months of each other, she lost her father to cancer and her older brother to an aneurysm. At sixteen an orphan. I didn't speak, except to keep track of details, like the waitress did when she asked what dressing I wanted on my salad. Stay in it, listen deep, pay attention.

She told me about her loves and losses, and finally getting married, and bringing four babies home.

She told me about the lump and lymph nodes, and the mastectomy, and the chemo and shaving her head, and wearing a ball cap, and the cinderblock on my chest felt even heavier than an hour before.

She told me how it felt to find out she was going to be a grandmother too soon; her daughter was still in high school, and after that little one was born they found out another was coming, from another daughter and there still hadn't been any proposals or celebrations.

We ate guacamole and chips, and sipped wine for four and a half hours. The lights of the neighborhood disappeared all around us. We stayed, swatting at the bugs the porch light drew to us.

Somewhere around midnight huge wings swooped through the trees over us, and we heard owls, calling one to another. And then a magical moment, here they came, a pair touched down on the live oak branch hanging overhead. Barred owls with brown and white feathers and huge eyes that looked straight ahead., They sat there silent, and for a moment I wondered if her story had drawn them.

We sat there, watching the owls and listening as they called to the one already flown away to a neighbor's tree. She leaned in and whispered that she'd never seen an owl, at all, let alone so nearby. The two lifted and flew away into the night. And her story was done.

I never took a note, I had no pencil, but I know her story. I know the name of every one of her children, how old they are, how old their children are, where they are in life, where she is, what her hopes and dreams for the next five years are. I know she doesn't particularly like chocolate, visiting San Francisco is on her bucket list, she's a 15 year cancer survivor, and is learning to be happy at the weight she's at now.

It wasn't the night to take my story out. One offering on the altar was enough.

I still don't know completely what to make of that evening. I do know we all have amazing stories just waiting for someone to listen to with their hearts, rather than a pencil. Hers is still bumping around inside me, working itself out, and I am changed for having heard it.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Make Your Monday Matter....

Watch this:  It is the very best thing I have EVER, EVER, EVER seen on Facebook.

My gift to you:

Makes me want to go out and adopt a dozen myself. Or sponsor someone else so they can.

Heart-shaping stuff. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Imitation - the sincerest form of flattery

Sitting down to do my Bible study lesson this morning, I was instructed to grab a recipe by someone I admire, and share it with my morning group tomorrow. Normally I'd go to my two yellow binders. They're full of recipes by women I've been blessed to know throughout the years.

But I had one particular woman in mind, and none of her recipes are stored there.

My group is doing the latest Beth Moore study, of 1 Thessalonians. The author's point, in pulling out this little card, is to consider who I want to I.M.I.T.A.T.E.

I grew up, in large part, 'by-my-bootstraps' - whether it was learning to cook, be a wife and mother, or how to live my life. Which would explain a lot of the mishaps and mistakes along the way. I've been grateful, through the years, for what I could glean from library shelves. Writers taught me how to breastfeed a baby (natural but not necessarily easy), fold fitted sheets, make a mean meatloaf, clean house, put together a budget, and entertain. All those things women used to learn at the feet of someone else who lived nearby, but that rarely happens these days in our world.

I have been blessed a few times, with great examples I never met:

 Emilie Barnes has a fascinating life story;she's an organizing queen, and a great example of how to host a tea party;

Anne Ortlund had a profound influence on me, thirty years ago. Her book, Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman, was life-shaping. I still clean out my closet, consider what's on my nightstand and set up files after that book. Attempting what's between the pages can be overwhelming. I had to read it three times before I felt like my brain wasn't exploding.

Given the choice of anyone on this earth to spend an afternoon with, I'd pick Ruth Belle Graham. I'd love, love, love to look through her Bible. (I believe I've read somewhere that she used ONE her entire life. Imagine what's jotted in it?!) She was a spunky personality who set aside her own life agenda and followed her husband, and look what happened! I can't wait to talk to her in heaven someday.

There have also been real, oxygen-breathing women who walked alongside me - Karen loved me in my loneliest times and went to paint classes with me, Bettie is/was hilarious and can cook like nobody's business, Tris mothered me and taught me to hang wallpaper and deal with a husband working too many hours, Deone challenged me spiritually and taught me what submission was truly about, Laurie never knew I was watching her but was the perfect pastor's wife, Cathy, Robin, and Carol were my friends during the season of raising teenagers (and still are although, thank the Lord we're past that season), and Charlotte was my often barefoot, from Virginia real gem.

But if I got to go back and redo it all, and copy one person it would be Sally Clarkson. Sally who I've never met personally, but I've read all her books and followed her blog for years. She's the one I'd choose to have my daughters and daughter-in-law follow.  I suspect my oldest daughter would take one of Sally's recipes to Bible study. That thrills my heart. I so pray my daughters and daughter-in-law are better wives and mothers and women and sisters daughters and friends than I have been, and if they follow after Sally they will be.

Webster's defines 'admire' this way:  'to marvel at, esteem, regard, respect, set store by."

Sally and I share several things: we both have a Sarah as our oldest, we've both gone gray, we're both usually too busy and often feel overwhelmed by life, we're both introverts by nature and need to retreat on regular occasions, we share a heart for encouraging women / mothers; we've been married about the same length of time, and are happiest when all our (albeit grown-up) children are back in the nest, and if they're all there at the same time that's even better, at least in theory.

We are also very different: she has a large ministry, mine is to those nearest me. Her hair always looks nice (or at least in photos), she drinks tea and I prefer coffee. She loves to get outdoors and go on ridiculously long hikes, while walking the dog a mile is a stretch for me, literally. She's traveled abroad, that's still on my list. She's been a missionary, I've been on one mission trip that just about killed me. Most of her children are still not married, and she doesn't have grandchildren yet. All of mine are, have been awhile and we have eight little blessings running around.

I'm hoping grandkids will show up soon for her, so I can learn from her in that arena too.

So just for today, if you read this Sally, I want to say thank you. For all you do, for all your work, but mostly for being someone I can admire.

As an aside, recently I read a book, Extreme Grandparenting by Tim and Darcy Kimmell. After being into this grandparenting thing for thirteen years I realized I needed a new vision, and this book was life-shaping. If you have grandkids, read it. If you hope to have grandkids, read it now and save yourself some of the mistakes I've made in the past.

BTW here's a link to Sally's blueberry muffins. I thought it fitting to bake up a batch and take them to Bible study tomorrow.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Stretching hamstrings and hearts

We're lying across from each other on the treatment room floor. Her tummy shows more when she's horizontal, falling over the cute, flowerdy belly band. Mine looks slightly similar although my last tax deduction is 30+ years old. I take solace in the fact she's less than half my age, and find myself considering a belly band for seniors pitched to Shark Tank. Or I can do 1000 sit-ups every night and avoid ice cream. To quote Pooh, 'oh bother.'

It's just the two of us with a few feet of blue mat between us. The rest of the world shut out. We chat back and forth, about husbands and marriage and how do you get them to do what they should, without making them feel like they've married their mother?

She asks me, "How long have you been married?"

I tell her, 'almost 34 years. We were both married before and have been married to someone for pretty much forever.' I feel compelled to be transparent, not have her think it's always been pretty. I tell her I brought a child into the deal, and he didn't, thank the Lord. Presenting perfection blesses no one. Honesty does.

She's in her first decade of marriage, a little one at home and this next one will arrive this fall. That's long enough to see it's not easy, with a lot of life still looming ahead. She says her mother lives with them, but won't be able to help with this new, little one because she's working full time and going to school. But maybe the mother-in-law, who is 'wonderful' can lend a hand when the baby comes by cesarean. Sounds like an active house with some challenges. Like most of us.

She gets quiet for a minute, then says, "so, what's the secret? How do you make it work that long?"

I lie there, bending knees and hips and legs this way and that, stretching out muscles that have been too long stagnant, and consider. How do you make it work that long?

'Well, first you mess it up, and it fails, so the next time you realize how fragile life and marriage is, you raise the stakes to what they should be.'

She lies there, across from me, belly resting on the floor, stretching and listening.

'You realize you are a sinner married to another sinner, so it's only going to be so tidy. Keep your expectations reasonable.' (Thank you, Elizabeth Elliott for that wisdom.)

She is completely quiet, fully listening, eyes locked on mine.

'You recognize that, even when you have the promise of eternity, you still only get one shot at this life. That person sitting across from you at the breakfast table, or brushing their teeth, or snoring on the pillow a foot away, only got one shot too, and they gave it to you. You honor that. You make a decision to walk through life together, alongside each other, both being a helpmate to the other as God intended us to be. You honor that gift of giving each the other's one shot.'

She says, 'nobody today sees it that way, nobody does that. Nobody is saying that these days.'

I tell her, 'some are. Some still are.'

Trusting God that while we were stretching out muscles we were also stretching hearts and minds and visions of what can be.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Three Months Behind, Oh Bother!

It's just about September and here I am with June photos. That's three months behind. That's 25% of the year. Which is about where I am in reading through the Bible in a year too, but we won't talk about that right now. 

When we headed to Idaho we packed our passports. (Actually I have to use mine all the time now, since I trimmed my driver's license to fit my wallet and was asked, going through airport security, that 'did you know you can go to jail for that?!' Uh, no, I didn't. They seriously considered not letting me go through security for trimming 1/8" off each side. I thought it a perfectly reasonable explanation that it didn't fit my wallet. So some good hair day in the future I'll go get another one.) 

Anyhow - one of our hopes this summer was to spend some time somewhere in Canada. We chose British Columbia this year, taking a drive called The Selkirk Loop, 300 miles of gorgeousness, and only about 100 miles north of Huckleberry Haven (our Idaho townhouse.)

Bigger than life views

If I'd had a chair and something cold to drink I could have stayed here all day long.

I've always loved wild roses more than those in gardens.

Made us smile.

Prayer bench at the cabin we stayed in.

I've always had a thing for bridges. Loved this orange one.

The funky little place we stayed. 

Don on the ferry to an island in B.C.

How fun is this?

The ferry we took back and forth and back and forth again.

View from our back deck

I've never met a poppy I didn't love.

On the ferry ride. 

Big stacks of wood tell me it gets cold in the winter!

Never figured out what this was, but it sure was pretty!

And my birthday present - a blue bike with a basket. Don got one too so he could join me on rides. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Summer goodness

Somewhere along the way home, between Idaho and Texas, we bought peaches at a roadside stand. They were still a bit hard, but the lady assured us they would ripen perfectly by the time we made it to Texas, being inside that hot car for another thousand miles, and she was right. By the time we pulled into the driveway they were perfect. That perfect where the only evidence left behind is a pit that falls away and juice running down your chin. I found this recipe (go here) on Pinterest and whipped it right up. 

Buttermilk Peach Summer Cake

1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 cup plus two tablespoons sugar, separated
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk (or you can use regular milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 peaches, peeled and pitted, sliced into thin slices

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9 or 10 inch cake pan (I used a springform pan). Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and set aside. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together butter and one cup of sugar until creamy. Stir in egg, buttermilk, and vanilla until combined. Gently mix in flour mixture until just combined. Spread batter in prepared cake pan. Arrange peaches on top of cake batter, and sprinkle with remaining two tablespoons of sugar. Bake 10 minutes, then reduce temperature to 325 and bake for another 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean. Cut into wedges and serve with fresh whipped cream.

All that is wonderful and right about summer, (there's still a teensy bit left of it!) best served with vanilla ice cream. Enjoy.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

What We Did On Our Summer Vacation....

When I was a little girl, returning to school in September, this was my first assignment. Take out a sheet of paper from my Big Chief tablet and write down all about my summer adventures.

We went on O.N.E. vacation my entire growing-up-life. To Colorado, all eight of us, in a station wagon. We ate bologna sandwiches at roadsides, and slept in a big tent. I thought it a grand adventure when we gathered big rocks and wrote our name in the snow, in Estes Park, in August. Mostly we stayed home all summer, every summer, watching morning cartoons, then venturing outside to play, drinking warm water from the hose, and staying outside til supper. When talk of 'west nile virus' comes up, I tell our kids we used to chase the 'mosquito dope truck' (as we called it), swallowing in big gulps of the insecticide coming out of it! How did any brain cells survive? We swam in sand pits, had lemonade stands, caught crawdads on strings laced with raw bacon, rode bikes, and stole apples from the orchard at the back of the neighborhood. Who needed vacation?

Now I am grown, the kids are grown, the grandkids are growing at an alarming rate, so we got in the minivan and went on a three month 'vacation'. Back home all of 48 hours, after covering right at 7000 miles - here's a quick snapshot of what we did in May....

We took our skinny grandsons to the city beach, and watched them fearlessly run in and out of the freezing water. Temperature was around 60 degrees and didn't phase them in the least.

There is nothing, BTW, to not love about this photo. Grandson Grayson's wet hair plastered to his head, his big ole goggles, sand on his skinny little arms. One of my favorite photos from this summer. We're framing this one for our Idaho townhouse walls.

Don turned this old door into a king size headboard for our townhouse bedroom. I painted it Imperial red :-)  Perhaps I can find a photo of the finished project, after we unpack a bit more and find the camera...

We celebrated Mother's Day at a nearby state park, and days old Miss Hallie Grace slept through the entire celebration.  It's hard to believe she'll be 10 weeks old this week. More photos of her, with chubby cheeks, to come.

Papa, who grew up in Boulder, Colorado, shared his frisbee-throwing skills with our grandkids. They had a hard time hiding their surprise that Papa knew how to do anything remotely cool. Imagine if they could see him ride a unicycle?!  He has, on occasion, shared his yo-yo skills with the grandsons who are mightily impressed. As they should be. At 63 he can still 'walk the dog' and do 'around the world'....

Cutie patootie Sarah Grace, more beautiful by the day, is a fast-moving bundle of squishiness.

We learned this is called SUP, stand up paddle boardings. Caiden was a pro his first attempt. I love his fearless approach to all things new.

More photos of Caiden to come. After mere months of living in Idaho he's on a swim team, just finished his first kid-version triathlon, rides his bike all over the place, loving his new life in the northwest. I love that he's getting to grow up this way.

So we're home, the counters are covered with bins and baskets and piles of stuff we hauled home to Texas. There's not much in the fridge, but an ordered in pizza is keeping us going for now. I've taken a dip in our pool three times in 36 hours, and plan another swim tonight. We've come home to typical weather for August in Texas, but it's still feeling pretty darned good to be home. We're ready to start attending church, watch some preseason football, swim, cookout, eat snow cones, visit the library to restock books (I'll share soon what all I've been reading) and enjoy what is left of summer.

I'll be back soon with June and July photos of our time in the northwest later this week. I'll tell you about our trip to British Columbia (gorgeous, gorgeous!), the visitors who flew to Idaho to see us, some photos of our sweet little Idaho home, and of course our growing grandkids. In the meantime thank you for all the sweet souls who stopped by weekly to see if I'd come up for air. I'll try to do a better job of staying in touch.