My Mountain Life (A Modern-day Psalm)

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Today is full of feelings of gratitude.  I am so grateful that God brings these days into my life often, and I just pray that I hold to them even in my inevitable valley moments.

After nearly a quarter of a decade living in the flat coastal plains of sub-tropical Texas, my dream of returning to northern climes, to seasons, to mountains and valleys, has come true.

So grateful.

Reconnecting with nature is a way that I feel God’s spirit so keenly.  At just a bit more 78A31966-92E0-4D46-AD1D-2F68089EA726than a dozen miles from 500 miles of mountain trails—to lofty peaks overlooking a lush valley, to steep trails leading to glorious woods and waterfalls—I am literally as close to heaven as I can imagine.  Over the summer I’ve hiked about 30 miles, not a lot considering what many do, but I’ve enjoyed even the toughest climbs when I am met with the glory of a 90 foot tall waterfall.

So thankful for this boundless beauty.

Hubby and I are settling nicely into our new community, each finally ensconced into volunteer jobs and a schedule of housekeeping, social times, hobby pursuits, reading, exploration, together time, and establishing ourselves at a new church.  The “raison d’etre” is beginning to gel.

Grateful for the challenges of new work, people, things.

As I begin to establish my doctors in town, I am please so far with the small-town EC2C7061-A546-4207-BD81-A23300811142friendliness.  My RA is under control, and the new rheumatologist is talking about cutting back on my meds to see if perhaps I really am in remission.  A fervent prayer to be sure. “Normal” medical tests all are coming back with good results for both hubby and me.

Grateful for health.

I’m still looking for ways to see how meld my varied interests into a way to give back to people.  Sometimes there are hints that somehow foreign travel and languages, education, yoga, and writing may all find an expression. The possibilities are limitless.

E218D5FD-A456-4334-A79C-E35C4C189D90One volunteer job involves helping a group of church ladies bake for an annual festival.  I’m lending a hand; they are teaching me how to create wonderful Greek treats.  Thousands and thousands of treats!  They guard them like Cerberus; it’s rare I actually get to sample the wares.  A good thing.

My newest volunteer gig is in a national park.  I am literally in heaven as I “commute” 97C6F3A9-561F-4462-A442-A25D95E32E2Finto the serene beauty of the mountains and watch the temperature gauge on the car drop with the altitude.  I get to learn more about the discoveries and hiking trails, so as to direct others to marvelous experiences.  I haul out my very rusty French to direct the francophones (praying they don’t get lost!). My view from the desk out the door, in my un-air-conditioned work space is spectacular.

Grateful for life and energy, gifts and talents, I am made fearfully and wonderfully by God.  Feeling blessed beyond belief!

238BFFBA-B600-481C-AD39-6504F1A14135Hubby is out of town today, and I decided to play hooky on church.  I had “church” yesterday in the mountains, and now here on my back deck.  I listened to praise and worship music as I watched the beautiful hummingbirds and cardinals and butterflies come to feed in our back yard.  I pulled out my guitar, which hasn’t seen the light of day for years, and plucked out a few tunes.  I’m on my third cup of coffee and need to decaffeinate now.

Thank you God, that I can worship you wherever! 

God has placed into my life some old friends—one a work colleague from 20 years ago, another a high school friend from 45 years ago (with whom I’ve not had contact for over 2DACE7A6-64DB-43E7-A2B2-46DFBF8CE8EE20 years).  Each is a single woman over 60, with their own challenges. Loneliness and alone-ness is a significant concern. As we talk, I am drawn to extend friendship and hospitality, and I’m grateful my husband is willing to as well.  God uses this to help me see that in all of our messy married imperfections, we are together, we have each other’s backs, we are safe.  This will not always be the case, for one of us is like to die before the other, possibly in the next decade or two.  I can’t let a day go by without being grateful for what we have.

Lord, help me to daily be grateful for the blessings you’ve given me.  Forgive me for being ungrateful.  Allow me to freely extend blessings, friendship, hospitality, and love to others.

The thunder rolls in the distance and I watch a darkening sky with awestruck wonder.  We have watched many storms brew and roll in from the safety of our sheltered back deck.  The leaves begin stirring more frantically, the trees sway drunkenly, to herald the impending storm.  God’s glory is in this storm, frightening though it may be.

God, you are in the mountains, You are in the valleys.  You in the good and bad times, the happy and sad times. 

 Blessed by the name of the Lord!

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Challenge: What’s your psalm today?  Write it out!

 

 

Posted in On Life in General | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Connections–or DISconnections

As a couple grows older together, what are the “normal” forms of connection?  Perhaps these are a few:

  • Necessary connections (the business of life);
  • Fun connections (enjoying life);
  • Spiritual connections (praying and faith; the sense of knowing each other well);
  • Intimate connections (heart, soul, body)
  • Status quo connection (when you’ve lost most of the above? Perhaps the start of “DISconnection?”)

I am not always in possession of the answers and sometimes my questions are greater.  All I know is this connection thing gets tricky, and I’m praying for answers.  There’s too much good to not find answers.

Once again we have spent an inordinate amount of time together through our recent move.  Thousands of miles in a rented UHaul or car together.  The stresses of moving.  The decisions of how to set up a new house (he has very strong opinions “for a man,” and hanging pictures can bring on some major disagreements).  Debating about new furniture purchases and budgets.  Getting used to our new (BIGGER) space and keeping it tidy and uncluttered.  Ironically, as always, we can’t stay out of each other’s way in the kitchen.

Lots of NECESSARY CONNECTIONS.  The “stay on your good behavior, keep the peace, count your blessings, but sometimes get impatient with each other” connections.

The kitchen?  There’s a back story… when we first met, through the introduction of Related imagemutual friends, I invited him and said friends over to dinner in my very small apartment.  After dinner, he insisted on washing up (one of his first positive checkmarks on my list of desirable traits in a mate).  As I helped him in my small galley kitchen, we kept bumping into each other—and it became a game, a tease, our first moments of true physical contact.  That moment seemed to inform me that he:  a) was fun  b) had good humor  c) was cooperative; d) enjoyed this teasing game of bumping into each other accidentally on purpose; and d) liked me.

Over the years, all of those traits about him remained true, however added to that list was a touch of annoyance.  Bumping into one another, aka “getting into each other’s way,” became annoying for him, and perhaps at times for me.  I often got my feathers ruffled when he’d grouse I was in his way.  I tried learning to strategize my moves in tight spaces to avoid annoying him.  At times I tried to make it the tease again by purposely standing in his way for a kiss. But often the humor was lost as I blocked his path to the toaster.

He really didn’t seem to want to “bump into each other” accidentally on purpose any more.  Of course the tease in him wants to grab me in intimate ways in semi-public settings—when it might embarrass me (more than titillate me).  There really isn’t anything sexy in this tease, it’s more of a “I enjoy your discomfort.”  I don’t always react with appreciation. There are fewer and fewer FUN CONNECTIONS.

And, so I get upset.  I lost the humor I once had to just take a moment of possible irritation and turn into a light and fun one.

I can talk (and write) a blue streak.  I can go off on tangents.  I can lose my train of thought.  And, well, I am a know-it-all.  Traveling, reading, languages, adventures—all of these makes one a bit of a know-it-all.  It’s just that you, well, know a lot. It is a joy to hear or learn something I don’t know, I always want to learn.  And it is hard to play dumb when someone is telling me something I already know, but I often fake it and just smile, try to stay humble.  Communication with and listening to me can probably be exhausting.  So too is hubby well read and traveled.  Two know-it-alls in a conversation is tough.  To this end, when hubby and I are in a conversation, it is easy for one or the other of us to usurp the conversation, perhaps to talk over each other.  I default to the ten second trick.  When he stops talking, I count to ten before adding my opinion.  Rarely do I make it to ten before he resumes talking.  Give and take isn’t a strong point.

4C7A0A9D-FF1F-4930-A250-82B4F3F3A6ABWe are entering an age where we are slowing down in many, many regards.  While we have plenty of activities to keep us fit and busy (hiking, yoga, friends, housekeeping, volunteer work, reading, hobbies, outings), we also feel no guilt in being retired and taking it easy.  The drive to pack our schedules full is no longer calling us. Impatience doesn’t have an excuse to have its way any more (as he often reminds me when I’m driving).  We often can just “be still” in each other’s presence, and be happy, and for that I need to hold onto gratitude. Having an occasional lazy day no longer is as guilt-producing.  He is a great napper (I am not).  He can lean back in a chair or recline on the couch, close his eyes, and catch a few zzzzs with no effort. The man is absolutely a wonder with how he can still hold a book and sleep.  Sometimes I marvel at (envy) the number of cat naps he manages through the day, and it’s not at all unusual to find him snoozing on the couch in the evening while trying to follow a ball game… and then walk to bed to sleep for the night.  The man has more than earned his naps, and that is a pleasure I don’t want to deny him.

Image result for couple apathyHe is a morning bird, I am a night owl.  There are few seductive moments in the evening that lead to falling asleep in each other’s arms.  He is so much of a gentleman to quietly sneak from the bed at the crack of dawn and allow me some extra snooze time. There are few naturally occurring bed connections.  We essentially “stay on our sides.”

INTIMATE CONNECTIONS and encounters are definitely on the wane, and I am as much to “blame” as he.  The sparks just aren’t always there.  The effort sometimes seems too great.

And then that sad trait of apathy sets in.  I want less time in his presence.  I want to be offImage result for broken connections doing my own thing.  This is where the warning bells go off.  Am I seeking a temporary disconnect and reset?  Or is the start of a major roll to total disconnect?

I had a disconnect opportunity last week.  I attended a 4-day training about an hour away, and got to stay at a good friend’s place.  I attended training all day, and then friend and I chilled in the evenings, doing nothing in particular.  The easy repartee of two women was a welcome change.  Conversations flow organically.  We listen to each other, we offer opinions and advice.  We empathize.  We laugh.  We reminisce (not only had we shared overseas careers, we also had many great romances that we will never forget, and the telling of these is a fun pastime). It was a low-key and enjoyable few days where I didn’t feel tense or judged, I was just myself.

Returning home, I found hubby and I fell back in the mode of diligently avoiding each other.  The STATUS QUO “connection.”  It basically says “I’m alive, you’re alive, I acknowledge your existence because I’m polite.”

Related imageOne challenge of retirement is that most of the time you just have each other to talk to.  This is why I value on-going friendships; he has fewer.  And in most cases when hubby talks, he just wants me to listen and not offer my opinions or input.  He hates when he offers information and I already have heard it or know it—it shuts him down.  Some of it is idle talk: the weather, the news.  Then there’s the repetitive stories, we all do it.  I have asked him to PLEASE tell me if I am repeating a story… I don’t want to be that older person who continually relates the same story over and over (hint, hint).  Another communication is complaining:  how the fitness instructor wasn’t friendly; someone who annoyed him at the store.  The hardest of all is his difficult mother, and their dysfunctional family issues.  The woman is growing increasingly mean in her old age, and he is the ever-devoted son who calls almost daily and allows her to complain, bitch, judge, tear down family members, and generally require everyone to join her misery—without censure.  This is the way he has decided to handle his mother, to appease. After I’ve had the “pleasure” of overhearing these phone calls (often done on speaker phone, and his appeasing), he naturally wants to vent frustration to me.  I know, I know… I should just listen, and for the most part I do.  Yet sometimes it is so difficult not to offer up “what if you told her this?” or “what if you ended the call when she goes negative?” and the look of annoyance on his face is clear.  I am not to suggest or advise, I am to listen. After being shut down several times in this manner last night, I tried an experiment.  For the rest of the evening, I just didn’t talk.  I listened.  I tried to nod, give eye contact, show active listening.  And he went on and on and on. Perhaps he’d built all this up when I was away (and had a conversational outlet in my friend).  For a moment I just retreated to the front porch to write, and he soon joined me.  There was to be no respite.

By bedtime I think he was realizing he’d not heard from me. He had just complained about being exhausted, and not looking forward to his full day of training tomorrow.  As an afterthought, as he walked off to the bedroom at 10 pm, he said “I’ll scratch your back…”

Usually that is his rapprochement, his way of saying “I’m ready to connect with you.”

I was having none of it.  I politely said “no thank you,” which gave him pause (come on, who declines a back scratch?).  I tried to normalize it and say, “you are so tired, I will take a rain check; I’m staying up longer.”  Inside I was saying, “I’m done.  I can’t go on with this fake and stilted connection, this lack of authentic conversation and communication.”

In all fairness, there are times he can be a very good listener, and I need to get focused on these times.  He’s probably just as tired with my tirades.  I need to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.

He now is off for the day, one of the first in months.  It was a delight to wake up alone, to get my coffee and sit quietly without worry of how to gauge my reactions and responses in a pleasing way for him.  No need to strategize my conversation or responses.  However there will be a price to pay… he’ll come home ready to talk.  And I am to listen.

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It makes me reflect: I like to fancy that at one point in my life I was a fun, romantic, silly, and spontaneous person.  I’ve had to increasingly shut that girl down in this marriage, to protect my feelings, and that isn’t good.  She still exists for her very good and trustworthy friends.  At moments she peeks out: her deep, spiritual, emotional side, like on our hike in the mountains the other day (I just love “my” mountains, love that we start our drive in the valley in the 80s, and find ourselves quickly in the 70s and below, enjoying stunning scenery, flowers, wildlife… at one point on the trail I spun around to him, landed a kiss on his surprised lips and breathed from my heart, “thank you so much for letting me live here…”).  He didn’t seem to quite know what to do with that passion-filled girl, so she quickly retreated, once again.

And she cries a little inside.

But she needs to be honest, and even 26 years into a marriage, you don’t stop trying to make it better, to find new ways to make it work.  Crazy how vulnerability will bite you in the butt every time.

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How I Learned to REALLY Pray…

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It’s easy to make daily prayers into a long shopping list of wants and needs. Help so-and-so.  Heal him. Travel mercies for her.  Find a husband/wife.  Give them/me a child.  “Give” me patience, humility, forgiveness…  GIVE ME…

 Well, God’s word DID say “ask and you will receive…” and “you do not have because you do not ask God.”

It also says, “Whoever belongs to God hears what God says.  The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”

We can get seduced into believing that by asking God for all these favors, that we are trusting him, and that we have faith.

I recently was blessed with the privilege of leading a women’s bible study that consisted of some young, baby Christians, who were starting life in a very tough and competitive city.  To be sure, they had some serious problems and prayer requests.  The “I” and “ME” were strong for a few.  For some, there was a definite sense of causality.  “IF I am to be a believer, THEN I need proof that God answers MY prayers.”  At times it fell on deaf ears to remind the young ladies that God ALWAYS answers prayers; it’s just that the answers can be “yes,” “no” or “wait.”  And when we keep a prayer journal, we start to see a pattern of how God answers prayer for our good.   Obviously most of us pray expecting the “yes” answer.  Anything else might cause us to question God’s love, or very existence or relevance in our lives.  It further challenged a few (just as it challenges me) that in order to “hear” and understand God’s voice, we needed to read and listen to God’s Word daily.  The further away I am from daily time in The Word, the more I’m out of touch in my prayers.

Yes, God’s Word tells us that he will give us the desires of our heart… but our hearts need to be aligned with God’s will.

If you’ve lived any space of time, you more than likely have prayed for something that later you thank God didn’t come true.  We’ve all heard the saying “Be careful what you pray for…”  I think back on some of my requests of God, and fall prostrate with thanks that God, in his sovereign knowledge, didn’t answer as I had prayed.  Anyone who has kept a journal for more than a few years should be able to look back and see this.

My once flailing marriage?  I complained prayed to God constantly.  My prayer most often was, “change him,” or “make him do xyz…”  It took me a long time to begin praying about what I needed to change or do to rescue our marriage.

Of course God wants us to bring our requests to Him.  He wants us to believe that He hears and answers prayers.  But there are few more things we are called to do in our prayers, or conversations with our Creator.

Years ago, I was given an acronym or mnemonic to help me understand HOW to pray: A-S-K.  I hope it perhaps gives you a new perspective on what prayer can be.  I, for one, need to be reminded of this often!

A – Acknowledge who God is.  Think about all the blessings, every thing God does to give and sustain life.  Acknowledge his undeserved love and forgiveness. (A few good sources: the creation story in Genesis; Psalms; God’s response to Job’s laments).

C – Confess sin.  Not one of us is without sin.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  And guess what?  God knows this about us, He’s not surprised. The entire Old Testament documents our sinful nature, and our need for a savior.  Confess how you have not glorified God in you life, in your relationships. Confess how you’ve been less than loving.

T – Thanksgiving.  This is a bit different from Acknowledging.  This involves actively thanking God for all the many general and specific blessings He’s bestowed on us, not the least of which is salvation by faith through grace, and His endless love.  Thank God for all the little things you take for granted: if you rose from bed and stood up, thank Him for that.  If you woke up and had to move to a wheelchair, thank Him.  If you are privileged enough to have electricity to power up your computer, and able to read this, thank Him.  Blessed be His name, even on the road marked with suffering, pain, through every darkness–and not just the good times.

S – Supplication.  After all the above, hopefully your mindset is off the “shopping list” of requests, and on to what God’s will for you is.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us with groans.  Ask for the Holy Spirit to guide your requests.  And no, there is no request that is too small or too big.  God can answer them all, but He has the option to say “yes,” “no,” or “wait.”

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Pride

When I’m being really good, I start my day with some devotion time.  I’m so ADD that this is often hard.  While reading scripture, or a devotional book, or trying to pray, I am Related imagethe proverbial dog cartoon (the movie “UP”) with the thought bubble “Squirrel!” or “Butterfly!” It takes major effort for me to just sit still and be.  And now that I have a lovely back deck, with a seemingly ideal cathedral of tall, green trees, the distractions of creation such as deer and beautiful birds (and squirrels!) often interfere with my focus on prayer and devotion.  Sure, it’s great to praise God for his creation, but a time for everything.

I’ve been making my way through a book by Beth Moore (Praying God’s Word: Breaking Free from Spiritual Strongholds), one of my favorite women’s writers/speakers. Beth Moore isn’t for everyone, and I’ll admit that having done several of her video-based Bible Studies her cheerful cuteness sometimes was a little overwhelming.  But I believe she is real, sincere, and listens to God’s voice as she pens her books, blogs, studies, and lessons. Even if I didn’t complete all my homework, I personally walk away from every encounter with her spiritually enriched, and with a deepened walk with the Lord.

The most recent chapter I’ve read was “Overcoming Pride.”   It hit home, and it showed me some things about myself that I perhaps had preferred not to see.

Beth starts out with saying “In some ways, Christians have to be more alert to pride than anyone.  If we don’t presently have an issue that is actively humbling us, we veer with disturbing velocity toward arrogance and self-righteousness.”

Yikes.

Someone once responded to her presentation on pride saying, “I have far too little self-esteem to have pride.”  She goes on to say that “pride is not the opposite of low self-esteem.  Pride is the opposite of low humility.  We can have a serious pride problem that masquerades as low self-esteem.  Pride is self-absorption whether we’re absorbed with how miserable we are or how wonderful we are.”

I personally think the greatest challenge that insecure people face is overcoming pride. That perhaps sounds oxymoronic—but I’m considering it a heart issue, and a faith issue.  If you were raised as I was, with one parent who was an insecure bully out to prove himself (even among children), you catch a lot of bad lessons.  Your own self-esteem takes a hit, but once you leave home you can spend the rest of your life trying to prove you’re worthwhile.  Insecure people are sometimes overachievers.  We try to compensate in so many ways: becoming learned or knowledgeable; well-traveled; indispensable servants.  We can turn blessings and achievements into shields—or are they weapons?  We try to “prove” our worth by our works, wealth, or superior knowledge.  We dare people to say we are unworthy.  Our woundedness leads to a sin of pride.  Basically, Satan uses a hurt or a weakness to justify our pride, and tempt us to view ourselves not as perfectly loved by God, but defined by our achievements.  And we completely miss (or discount) our worth in God’s eyes, and that we are to walk humbly with our God.

Pride is Satan’s specialty.  God hates pride.

Image result for prideIn my marriage, I know my sin of pride has caused a lot of pain and dissent.  It’s caused me to believe I was better, smarter, and “more” right.  It has caused me to be self-righteous, even critical at times.  I’ve been prideful about my abilities and knowledge, and not considered the value of his point of view, abilities, and knowledge.  I need to ask God to forgive me for so often considering myself better than others.  I need to beware of spiritual ambition (doing God’s work for human recognition) and continuously ask God to help me have a humble disposition.

One area I am working on:  Hubby makes a suggestion for a plan.  I possibly have (a) mentioned it, or b) already thought the same thing.  Now, I can choose my response and tone.  All too frequently my prideful response is, “I already told you that (i.e., weren’t you listening?);”  “I already thought of that;” or worse, “Isn’t that obvious? (verbalized or thought).”  Bam.  I’ve “boosted” my self-esteem, and slammed his down.  I pray for the humility to change this arrogance, and respond in love and affirmation:  “What a wonderful idea!”  “That’s a good plan!”  “I like that plan;” or “I’m so glad you thought of that, thank you!”  Who cares who got “credit” for an idea or a thought?  Can’t I be happy we think so alike?

Another notorious habit of some women is to tell their men where to park. This may Related imageseem such a small thing, but my hubby abhors this (yours probably does too).  Somewhere deep inside a prideful voice is saying “Hey, I saw a GREAT parking spot, and YOU (ineptly) missed it!”  Wait—that prideful voice really isn’t “deep inside.”  It’s apparent by my mere suggestion that my adult husband isn’t capable of finding a decent parking spot.  So what if we have to walk a few extra steps?  Good exercise! And, he is faithfully a gentleman about dropping me at the door whenever weather is inclement.

The format of Moore’s book is one of praying scriptures. Here are a few of the many that I need to hide in my heart and pray daily:

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:2

“You oppose the proud but give grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:5

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself.” Philippians 2:3

“Help me not to be the kind of person who goes into great detail about what he has seen, and whose unspiritual mind puffs her up with idle notions.”   Colossians 2:18

“Clothe myself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”  Colossians 3:12

In Your Word, You define “who is wise and understanding among us:  The one who shows it by her good life, by deeds done in the humility, that comes from wisdom.”  James 3:13

Is there an issue in your life that is actively humbling you?  Is your lack of humility causing you to veer with disturbing velocity toward arrogance and self-righteousness?

Be glad for teachable moments, and pray for humility.

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Cleaving Unto

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife and they shall be one flesh…” (Genesis 2:24)

I have thought a lot about this verse lately, in terms of a mature marriage.  And, as we mature and age, I am realizing that heart cleaving is different from physical cleaving.  There’s been a realization that he would be there tomorrow and the next day, even if the physical act of sex didn’t happen. That this loyalty wasn’t a condition of our covenant, it was an expression of our unity of faith, and one-flesh union of our hearts.

The world has tried to convince couples that marriage simply means obtaining the exclusive right to sleep with somebody.  Sure, we think of all the benefits outside the bedroom: friendship, companionship, children. Happily ever after.  But we are human, and rarely does life deliver our dreams and expectations.  There are lots of unexpected ditches and curves.

So what is really meant by the old-fashioned term “cleaving unto”?  Essentially, it’s bondedness–two people living very closely to each other through the good and the bad.  The morning breath, the farts, the disgusting habits.

a handsIn the Bible “cleave unto” also indicates a “dependent” takes refuge in a stronger one (like Israel does unto God). The man and the woman are interdependent on each other.

In the original Hebrew “cleave to” points especially at strong love or committed, unbreachable troth. And troth is essentially different from sex. It means reliability, genuineness, honesty, integrity, and fidelity.

In a christian marriage covenant, troth is promised to each other before witness, and before God.

Bottom line:  we’re making a promise for a lifetime. Only death should bring an end to it.

This is why you don’t enter into these things lightly or without maturity.

“Cleave unto”may be the deepest mystery of marriage.  If you do not cling to each other in troth, your marriage will inevitably be doomed.12745543_10153309846601512_2359950244184064653_n

It is wonderful to be in love with each other, and in the beginning love and passion practically falls into your lap like a gift. However, to remain in love means effort, sometimes a duty.  There are times you can barely stand the sight of each other.  If she asks that question one more time, you’ll go berserk.  If he leaves the toilet seat up one more time, you’ll lose your mind.  Our troth, and our “cleave to,” carry us through the inevitable low points of marriage.

How does it do that?  And, what about the “being one” or “one flesh?”

Cleaving unto already implies being one: the marriage is a permanent union.  So what about the sexual?  The playful, spontaneous, free, joyful and complete bodily surrender to somebody else and the equally joyful receiving of somebody else? The Old (Authorized) Translation refers to becoming one flesh.

Well, folks– not to get morbid here, but the reality? The flesh is temporary, it is mortal.  “The flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38)  “At the end of your life, flesh and body are spent” (Proverbs 5:11).  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  “The spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.” John 6:63.  The perishable does not inherit the imperishable (don’t even get me started on the word flesh in the bible– suffice it to say that in most cases, flesh is seen as a weakness, and far inferior to the spirit).

hard-workThe Song of Solomon of course describes this physical attraction of man and woman in the detail.  God Himself created man and woman to have sexual urges and wants mankind to enjoy this.  But sex alone does not create troth.  Rather, sex reveals, confirms, reinforces, and deepens the troth to each other.   And while sexual union in marriage is very important, it’s not the one and only union. The “sex appeal”, the physical attraction, may begin to disappear, and then the marriage still has to go on.  If there is not unity among man and wife in many more aspects, and if their unity does not grow, then the sexual bond will also lose its strength.

Unity outside the flesh extend to matters like financial (merging and sharing assets);  emotional (sharing of joys and sorrows; honesty and openness; compassion and understanding).  And let’s not forget forgiveness. There will be tensions, fights, disagreements, quarrels.  I’ve had to daily remind myself: Slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to become angry.  No one is perfect, me included.

The strength to endure the unlovely things, the hard things, is only possible with unity of img_0300faith for a couple.  The strength of God’s grace in Christ is the only thing that can carry us through seemingly insurmountable hardships and odds.

 

The mutual growth in faith has to be the highest priority in a marriage.  Remaining close to God in prayer and scripture reading will give your marriage the fuel to go the distance.

(paraphrases and excerpts from https://thebigpicture.homestead.com/files/LEAVE.html)

 

 

 

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Hang in There and Have Faith

Alright, I have been seriously Missing in Action for a while here.  Life events have intervened and writing has taken a major hit.

But I’m back, and I’m going to discipline myself to write regularly, and with purpose.  Hopefully there will be a post once a week. There is a book that is almost ready to be e-published.

So what’s been going on to cause such a hiatus?  Major life changes– and yes, that is even possible at 60.

In 1980 I moved to the DC area shortly after college to begin my career.  It was a wonderful career.  Some of it was spent overseas.  In 1992 I married SJ after a whirlwind long-distance relationship, sold my home, quit my job, and moved to his home state of Texas.  There we had a life that included a lovely home, a great church, friends, good jobs, three beautiful yet challenging kids, struggles to acclimate to a new place/climate, reinvention of my career, and lots of struggles that are detailed in earlier blogs.

For over 20 years SJ heard loud and clear how much I missed the seasons, the northeast, where I was born and raised and spent life up until my early 30s. I missed my close friends who lived up this way.  I’d wistfully talk about “someday” returning.  And to my delight, SJ made good on this.  We sold our home, downsized our belongings, said goodbye to neighbors, family, and newly launching kids, and moved to a small apartment IMG_3918near DC.  We had a blast and were the ultimate tourists.  I reconnected with some old friends and colleagues from the 80s, and yoga became a passion.  We dove into a seeker church and I became very involved in the women’s group, leading studies, and mentoring.  We planned it to be just a two-year trial “staycation,” from where we’d do reconnaissance on the “forever home.”  These past 2 years have been fabulous, a blessing, a dream come true.

Last summer during our reconnaissance travels we stumbled upon an area we liked in the northwestern corner of Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley.  We especially liked the forest of trees at the back of a particular lot, a lake beyond, and the mountains in the near distance.  Surrounding us was a more rural landscape dotted with quaint and historic small towns. By September we’d put our money down and started planning for a dream house to be built by the spring. By late April, we had moved in, and haven’t

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The Appalachian Trail

stopped loving it.  Minutes away is the entrance to Shenandoah National Park, where we’ve already started the first of many, many hikes.  It is one of my favorite places in the world, and my love for it just expands each time we’re there.  We have a list of ways we’ll volunteer, give back, and become part of this community, which has a rich history.

Around every corner is yet another pastoral delight of vivid green fields or apple orchards, stunning mountains that seem to change daily depending on the weather, and quaint old country churches. Just now as I write on my back deck, a mother deer and her beautiful speckled fawn meandered by.  It constantly takes my breath away, and this isn’t my first rodeo (I’ve been to over 40 countries and all

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“Our” back yard

50 states, seen and done a lot).  It’s “small town” and people are nice and friendly and genuinely caring.  After the formalities of purchasing and building a home, most of our transactions are on a handshake and verbal agreements; no down payments requested.  I’ve mustered enough neighbors to join an agricultural coop that will deliver us fresh produce boxes weekly (just pulled my cherry pie out of the oven made from farm-fresh cherries I patiently stemmed and pitted). Sourcing farm eggs and other grass-fed meats, anxious to move to a diet full of farm-fresh products.  Today I detoured through some apple orchards a stone’s throw away, enjoying the cool breezes of a brisk and sunny June day in the northeast (it’s clocking in 90s and 100s in Texas by now).  I love that I have to slip a jacket on some mornings.  I can’t wait to kayak down (up?) the Shenandoah and in our local lake.

 

We’re not quite in West Virginia, but this is almost heaven… Blue Ridge mountains and Shenandoah River included.

Blessed doesn’t’ even begin to describe this.  There were so many paths I started down in

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officially a Virginian!

my life that could have led to despair and destruction.  Some nearly did.  I thought my marriage was over just a short 6-7 years ago.  And sure, there is the RA, the aging body that doesn’t as nimbly skip up the steeper hiking trails and is sore for days after.  There was that time at 19 that I ran away from home and thought I wanted to marry a man considerably older than me.  What might otherwise seem a disastrous waste of a year taught me so much.  There were some truly destructive relationships in my 20s from which I wasn’t sure I’d ever escape unscathed.  But I emerged, wiser.

At the age of 60, I am in a position to consider the question of “if I could, would I do anything differently?”  And for as many gaffs and mistakes I’ve made in my life, I have to say for the most part I wouldn’t change much.  Each mistake and difficult path tested and refined me, and most importantly gave me lessons I could choose to learn, or ignore.  To one extent or another I could always acknowledge God’s hand, and trust that he had some purpose even in the worst pain.  I would have loved to have better understood how to be a more respectful and surrendered wife and recoup those desolate wilderness years; and I would have perhaps not expected a spouse to read my mind about any number of things, and especially intimacy.  I would have more often spoken in love, been angry less (quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry), forgiven more, and loved more selflessly.  A positive outlook takes effort and work, but it is well worth it.

My wish for all of you in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s?  That you live life to its fullest and don’t let people dissuade you from your dreams.  If you can dream it, you can do it.  This C9CAD3E6-33A6-4F06-AB17-635AC544EAFCdoesn’t mean you can change people, but you can change yourself.  It doesn’t mean you sit back and wait for dreams to “happen.” With whatever gifts and talents you are given, you will work hard at any labor with all your heart, as if working for the Lord (this carries a promise of reward Colossians 3:23-25).  Stay in prayer, read scripture, seek God’s guidance, hang around with people who live their faith, work hard, give back, be KIND, and just LOVE.  Try not to judge others, stay humble, and worry about your own deeds and soul (and not everyone else’s).

Above all, hang in there and have faith that God has a plan beyond your dreams.  Have faith.

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When Does Sex Leave the Building?

Am I here, already?

I had worried about this time of life—for most of my last decade of life.

For the first time in my adult life, sex holds very little appeal for me.  In the year of my 60th birthday, I find this very sad and disconcerting.  I liked “Sexual Me,” and I hate seeing her depart. I wonder if this is a final farewell, or maybe just a temporary hiatus?

(Learned that this photo was staged– they are not a real couple)

It’s a daunting realization that 60 is not “sexy” to anyone other than the one who loves you, flaws and all.  I’m committed to letting the natural grey hair take over, hoping I’ll still wear it long and it will be a classy and “good” silvery-grey hair.  I’m staying physically fit, mostly through yoga, but the knees creak more when getting into yogic squats.  I am dressing to cover more, while not afraid to accentuate what’s still good (the butt is still riding high, and yoga pants are my mainstay).  I’m still ignoring the face wrinkles and have never found a moisturizer I love, but will wear sun screen (and hats) because skin cancer is scary and decidedly not fun.

No, I’m under no illusion that 60 isn’t sexy by the world’s standards.  It can be classy and attractive and confident, and even “young for—“ but definitely not sexy.

In my 50s, I had a resurgence in sexuality which (after 20 years of a dry spell) was being met by my spouse, as we renewed our dying marriage–and I hit it with a vengeance.  I became very honest about my sexual desires and needs in our relationship, what I liked Image result for old couple jumping off dockand enjoyed, no matter how kinky it might have seemed. I wanted to know what his wants and needs were.  I wanted us both to feel loved in this bonding way.  I think I approached that era a little like someone facing a death sentence—I wanted to enjoy as much and as often as I could, before it was gone.   It was a very bonding time for us because it was the best sex we’d had in our then 20-years together.  I had never felt so close to my husband as during that time, and I am grateful for it.

Here’s the little hiccup: after a good run of 4-5 years, he dropped back to a default mode, albeit with more intentionality to regularly schedule bedroom time (and a few more tricks beyond his former norm of lasting five minutes).  I could sense his continued discomfort with the edginess I sought, the kink and play I desired.  It wasn’t his style, and I hated being the one to always orchestrate or script.  I felt badly that I was making him feel like a fraud, or worse, uncomfortable, by asking him to find his dominant side.  So, I stopped suggesting anything beyond the vanilla style he seemed comfortable with.  I gave up on trying to guide him in how I felt more intense connection and pleasure.  I tried to psyche myself into loving his style. Increasingly, my body’s response withered. We got back into a lull (I won’t say rut), but by this time I was convinced that the basic physical and one-flesh union was important, on a regular basis, to support our emotional love.  I tried to gratefully accept what he offered, and give back and then some.  It’s still ice cream (maybe fro-yo at times), even if not a banana split.

So, there is that niggling side of me that wonders if this resignation is part of my missing libido.  Alone, I can still “achieve” the endorphin rush from an orgasm, and I’m at that point now where I take it like a vitamin my body really needs.  There is no denying the benefits to the body of a feel-good hormone.

Also, we are at that stage of life where we aren’t as concerned about just being our true selves.  We aren’t trying to impress bosses, or parent kids, or show off to friends, family, and neighbors.  We don’t “act” a certain way, we just are who we are.  That driving need to “up our game” has passed.  I do have to wonder how much this complacency can go when it comes to the bedroom and pleasing one another.

Like death, is the end of sexual activity and pleasure a certainty?  Isn’t it ironic that the French call an orgasm “la petite mort” or “the little death?”

There were those who had said this would happen– that the passionate love you had for your spouse would mellow into a sweet, caring, affection-type of love that didn’t manifest Image result for cute old couple picsitself as often in intense physical pleasure. And, that you’d be ok with this.  It was always the consolation offered when you felt perhaps your sex life just wasn’t all that; someday, eventually, inalterably, your love would transcend sex. It would be more about trust, relationship, partnership, and devotion.  You would become that cute old couple holding hands and wiping dribble off his/her chin.

And quite frankly, I have very little wisdom on how to approach this.  A part of me wants to assign blame to everything else but the obvious.  I want to blame him, which is not right.  I sort of want to blame these extra pounds I’ve regained, which I know don’t look hideous but often make me feel less than attractive.  I want to blame the decay of my mortal body—which doesn’t kick up the levels of hormones, lubrication, or responsiveness it once had.

I “need” to blame because I’m angry and fearful about this loss.

What I NEED to do is take it to God in prayer.  And this is what this blog sometimes is about.  A crying out when I just don’t get the answers.

It didn’t really hit me in the face until a few weeks ago, when I realized we hadn’t had sex in a long while, and not only did I uncharacteristically not mind, I was sort of avoiding it.  Related imageOver the past several months there have been lots of legit reasons to avoid sex: a minor surgery; being ill; a fear of urinary tract infections that sometimes result from intense sex; and one day when he insisted—my belly was so off that I proposed taking care of just his needs.  There probably has never been a time in our marriage when he initiated sex more than me (he’s good with every two weeks; in deference for my previous needs, he was agreeable to once a week).  Sex doesn’t just “happen” anymore.  It has to be planned, and it requires carving out a chunk of time where we put everything else aside and bond without expectations of fly-me-to-the moon orgasms. It isn’t spontaneous or passionate.  It’s just normal.  And, I admit, it is still bonding.  To his credit, he’s suggested a lot more low-key cuddles and massages, which are nice… but yes, his end goal is sex.

I love him. I know he’s God’s chosen for me, and I know that we have been and will be through better and worse, sickness and health, ‘til death do us part.  I might need to take care of a sick him.  More likely, he might need to take care of a sick me.  We’re in this for the long haul now… not for fly-me-to-the-moon orgasms.

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I’m searching for the maturity and wisdom to graciously accept this “loss,” and to be grateful that we still have so much more than many have.  We are sticking to a covenant marriage, and we’re in this for the long haul. Sometimes you just fake it until you make it.

 

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Why I “Hate” Valentine’s DAY

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One stupid day.  A day when many are tempted to gauge how beloved they are based on worldly standards.

The history is murky.  There may have been several St. Valentine figures in the early Christian church.  There may have been an effort by the Church to Christianize a pagan fertility festival, which possibly involved the sacrifice of dogs. The middle of February has various cultish and agronomic associations as well (such as the beginning of birds’ mating season).  Written Valentines and love poems began to appear in the 1400s, but didn’t gain popularity until the mid 18th century. The first printed cards replaced handwritten notes, and were popularized in 1900s, largely due to improvements in printing technology, and cheaper postage rates. Today, an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making it the second largest card-sending holiday. Women purchase 85 percent of all valentines.  (Excerpted from History.com)

Ladies, most of us are born romantics, but some of us sit around and wait for the “perfect” Image result for ladies pamper yourselfman to fulfill our dreams.  Even many of us married ladies haven’t met “him” yet.  I love my husband, he’s a wonderful man in so many ways, but I’ve long ago let go of that “dream Valentine.”  Single ladies, don’t bemoan your singleness!  Love yourself as the awesome person God created.  Celebrate your wonderful self.  Draw that bath.  Pour that wine, or your favorite tea.  Light the candles, get that manicure. Break out the chocolate and your favorite tunes, and pamper yourself, love yourself!

I pitifully have bought into the garish commercialism of it all for most of my life.  As a child, I of course exchanged Valentines in the classroom.  I recall considering who I did and didn’t want to give a Valentine to, in a time before “everyone must be included.”  Even when I was forced to give one to each classmate, I carefully considered who would get the prettiest ones or the ugliest ones out of my box.  My grandmothers always sent Valentines cards, often with a few crisp bills inside.  I’ve always loved to give gifts, so buying chocolates for my Mom was fun—I’m sure it also had something to do with my brother and me being able to partake in that lovely Whitman’s rectangle of assorted chocolates with a map on the lid (it didn’t stop my stinky little brother from his game of biting into one, making an “ick” face, and then being allowed to try another, while Mother sacrificially took his uneaten half).  As we do each year, we bought and sent cards to our children, and Dad put some crisp twenties in (we can only hope they check their mailboxes, something millennials rarely do).  Hubby is always very diligent in having the requisite Hallmark along with some goodies—depending on the dieting trend, it might be chocolates, a meal out, wine, or other creative goodies; those that can be shared are preferred.  He was literally at the bedroom door when I awoke this morning, excited to give me my Valentine’s card and gifts—so sweet.  I usually bring my culinary skills to bear to prepare a “romantic dinner and dessert,” since I abhor the overpriced and crowded restaurant scene, not to mention the gross commercialization of “love.”

Image result for love note from godI do remember those years in my single 20-something life, facing a Valentine’s alone with not even a remote prospect for romance.  In the years when my marriage was on the rocks, each Valentine’s Day seemed like such a farce to me.  The messages of love mocked.  I was hurting, big time.  In an effort to not be mean and forgo giving a card, I’d search high and low for the least romantic or idealistic card; it otherwise just felt so fake (there are tons of “you’re a good father/provider” cards out there… as well as the humorous ones that dance around love).  Many were the times it felt like I must’ve been the only one without love.  I can only imagine that social media makes it even worse these days. I see a niece posting thoughts on being alone on Valentine’s, knowing that at 33 she (like me at that age) desperately wants the affirmation of being a couple and in love. The commercialism of Valentine’s Day can be so damaging to one’s self-love and self-worth.

And yes, there was a time when hot, physical intimacy seemed to be de rigueur on Valentine’s Day: the scented bubble bath; the sexy lingerie; the expectations for wild and passionate sex.  These days?  Perhaps it will be a cuddle, a long hug, a sweet kiss, and if we’re lucky, some low-key nookie.  Do I miss the wild and passionate sex?  A little, sometimes a lot.  But I realize now that this isn’t the factor that necessarily sustains true love.  True love actually can be a little inconvenient and a bit messy at times.  But what it does do is endure.

I look back now and think, SERIOUSLY?  Have we been so manipulated to think that love is expressed in one special day?  What about the other 364?Image result for valentines day images

I get it.  It is hard to understand how loved we are by God.  It’s not a touchy-feeling-huggy love.  It’s definitely a much more intellectual love, a love that we experience over the many joys and trials of life, and by being habitually in the Word. “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.” 1 John 4:16.   It’s about how God so loved me to give his one and only son so that I might have eternal life.  It’s about how each day is given to me as a gift, each person who matters in my life is an undeserved blessing, each moment in which I savor food or walk with the sun on my face is given to me purely by grace.  My worth isn’t in the size of the Valentine’s card I got, it is in God’s love for me.

And it’s about how I love others.

On this day, I remind us to not lose sight of the fact…

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Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime

It’s an unusual Christmas for us, full of firsts.

After 25 years, we are spending our first Christmas alone, just the two of us.  Simple.  Basic.  And that is OK.  Actually more than OK, it’s awesome.

It’s hard to remember a Christmas that didn’t involve a crowd, or stress.  The impossible dream of trying to make everyone happy. Holidays tend to be that way.  You have lots of trade-offs in your attempts to make it wonderful.  And there have been many wonderful years; the best tend to be when the kids are younger.  I also recall some stressful holidays, particularly in my growing up years.  Somewhere along the line, there was a rule made that you have to spend your Christmas with your extended family.  There needs to be lots of presents, food, and people.  If not, you are pathetic.

Ironically, without all that “stuff” I am feeling the love even more deeply.

This is the year that one daughter gets to spend it with her new husband, and that side of the family.  In the process of acquiring a husband, she also gained two more brothers and their wives.  Being young and just starting out with jobs, vacation days are scarce.  We are happy to give others the blessing of her company this year.  We are grateful she has a wonderful new family and a man she loves, a man she gets to have many firsts with.

Another daughter will spend her Christmas with her significant other, and some of his family members.  During her extended break from work, she will also get to take a fun trip.  Once again, we feel blessed she is with people who care about her and who will be blessed by her presence.

Son made a 3-day stop to see us along the way of his holiday break travels.  It was a fun time alone with him.  “Kids” in their young twenties sometimes crave a lazy and low-key time off.  He was able to have that.  He rode away on Christmas eve eve with two young work colleagues/friends who will be making a cross-country road trip together to return to their jobs.  How exciting is that?  He is with friends, he is young, and he will have adventures.  Along the way they will stop to have Christmas with family of one of the travelers.  They will have other fun stops along the way.  We’re happy for his adventure.

These are the blessings in our unusual Christmas of firsts.  We feel we raised decent kids, and they are happy and healthy.  They will bring happiness to others.  Those who realize that our kids won’t be with us this Christmas feel sorry for us.  There is a temptation to feel sorry for ourselves, as if something is wrong with this picture; but I’m not going there.  Sure, we miss our kids, but we know that Christmas 2018 will be “our turn” to enjoy them all together.

Meanwhile, we are happy with our simple Christmastime.  The small 4-foot Walmart tree adorned with my Grandmother’s ornaments; preparing small meals we enjoy that don’t require all-day cooking or endless leftovers; not baking cookies that will make us fat; walks and naps and enjoying time together.  This morning I enjoyed 75 minutes of yoga bliss.  We spent our Christmas Eve volunteering at church. And we watched old movies and ate popcorn cuddled on the couch.

There are so many blessings!  We have our health.  We have friends.  We have each other, SJ and I.  We have a good life and all our needs.  We have the knowledge that those we love are well and happy.  And we know all of this is a gift we never should stop being grateful for.

And we have the reminder of God’s love for us at this season, that a child was born to save the world.   Merry Christmas!

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