Thursday, July 13, 2017

When You Need a Friend

I had lots of friends there in that neighborhood we'd moved to when I was 3. It was the perfect place for young families. There were always kids running around, playgrounds sprinkled in and between every open area. In the summer we'd spend hours on the teeter totter or sliding down that huge hot metal slide. We had slip n slides, pools, sprinklers, and sandboxes. We ate popsicles until our tongues were an assortment of colors and we ran, and ran, and ran.

In the winter we'd put on our 3 warmest pairs of socks, stuff our huge feet in a sandwich bag for protection against wet snow, and then somehow manage to shove our feet in our boots. Then we'd trudge down to the "bowl" a park set in the middle of all the town houses that had hills on all sides making it the shape of a bowl - hence the name. We'd sled down the hill and run back up, sled down and repeat. We'd do this for hours. The snow would become slick and the sledding would get faster and faster. We'd come home rosy and happy and my mom would make us hot chocolate. 

Over the years as families moved in and out I had a plethora of friends. Kids from homeschooled families, kids who went to public school, kids who had 4 siblings, kids who had 1. I had my first best friend there, my first crush, my first nemesis, and some run-ins with bullies. It was an eclectic mix of people and a great place to learn the ropes.

One by one all the friends I'd known moved away until the only one left was Grandma Weezie - a 70 year old widow.

I had spent some time over at her house before. Her husband Ray watched Flipper during the afternoons and my parents had said that if it was ok with them I could watch it with him. After the show was over Weezie would send me home so she could watch her "soaps" (soap operas).

Ray passed away right around the time most of my friends moved. Both Weezie and I were lonely for a friend, and so somehow a friendship was formed between the two of us.

Weezie put on a good act of being the grouchy old lady next door, but really she was just honest, and wonderfully sweet.

I remember once after looking over her decorations for the millionth time eyeing a porcelain horse on a low shelf on a side table that I'd always thought was pretty. I had always loved horses and even had a little collection of my own. Well, I worked up the gumption and said, "I really like this horse. May I have it?" to which she replied, "You shouldn't ask people for their belongings. It's rude." I was ashamed (I should have been, as she was right) and abashedly stood up.

Grandma Weezie had the most interesting things in and around her house. I was ever fascinated with her magnet collection that covered the entire top portion of her refrigerator. It was comprised of magnets from every state and place you could imagine. Every time her kids would go on vacation they'd buy her a magnet to add to the already copious number of magnets she had. It was always fun to see a new one on her fridge. She didn't use them to hold any papers or receipts on her fridge, just to decorate it.

She was Catholic and had framed pictures of Jesus and Mary all over her house. Here and there was a crucifix or a rosary. She didn't speak much about it, but she was devout.

She had a chalkboard next to her back door. It wasn't big, just about the size of a normal sheet of paper. She'd let me draw pictures or write messages on it, as long as there wasn't already a picture drawn by one of her granddaughters.

Most of the time I spent at Weezie's house was spent at the small table in her kitchen. She'd sit there with a cigarette, a Styrofoam cup filled with water - to tap her ashes into, a pen, and a napkin which she would draw designs on while we talked. I don't even remember everything we talked about. The neighbors sometimes, or her family, the food she'd made the last time her family had come for dinner.

I remember her making chocolate frosting once for a cake. She'd put coffee into the frosting and let me have a taste. I remember thinking it was the best thing I'd ever tasted.

Friendship seemed so absent for me after all my friends moved away. As I look back on this time of my life I'm struck with how God provided for me. Just when all my friends had moved away, God arranged an unlikely friendship. My friendship with Grandma Weezie was desperately needed not only by me, but Weezie likely needed me as well.

On my eleventh Birthday I was surprised when my mom handed over to me a package. "It's from Grandma Weezie." she said. I opened it up and there sitting in the brown paper was the porcelain horse I had so admired. I was stunned.

Truthfully, I couldn't find the porcelain horse. Shortly after I started writing this I scoured my house and looked in all the places where I store keepsake gifts and old decorations. I turned up nothing. So, I went to eBay and searched out porcelain horses. And, there... there it was. The same horse. I purchased it in a blink. After so many moves I figured it had been lost or perhaps even donated absent-mindedly. Then, yesterday, I found it. The original. Tears started streaming down my face as I realized that I had indeed kept it - of course. The reminder of this beautiful friendship with a woman who is long since gone, but remains in my memory one of the best friends God ever sent my way.


Monday, January 30, 2017

Look Around

Lately I've been picking up my camera again. I had taken a long break. That's how it goes. Things ebb and flow. Those things you love - reading books, baking, writing in your journal, taking hikes, painting, whatever it is... they take the back seat from time to time as your life moves with the rhythm of mothering, holidays, visitors... you know, life. So, I had set my camera on a shelf and not even looked in its general direction for several months.

A couple weeks ago I picked my up camera again with fresh eyes. Hello, old friend. It's funny how sometimes those breaks are necessary. Sometimes I think of those intermissions as being bad. I feel guilty. Like, I *should* be taking pictures. I *should* be hiking. I *should* be writing more. I think because those things are a part of me, putting them away for a time feels unnatural. There legitimately is a part of me missing in a sense. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder" though, as they say. And while I'm at it here's another cliche - "You cannot be all things all the time." Allowing a break can bring you full circle and with renewed energy.

Taking photos is a balm. As I look through the lens and focus on the beauty around me it becomes increasingly difficult to feel bad about my surroundings. I can see everything that God has created and how intricately He's woven it together. What a gift. It's not creation that fills me, but more that knowledge that God loves us enough to allow us this joy.

Do what you love. When you have those moments, delve into those gifts that God has given you. You won't regret it.

Also, if you're on Instagram and you'd like to see more photos, or just be friends there, here is my instagram link.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Getting Through the Ugly

I keep wondering when the pain will fade. It's been over a year and I still miss my old life. It's a weird dichotomy, because on the one hand I can already see how this move has been good for me and for my family, and yet, I also see how it's left us fragmented and still piecing things together.

The truth is that I'm overwhelmed. Starting a new life and everything from, well, mostly scratch is a lot of work. When I came out here I thought that I could just replace all our activities with the same things - only in a different geographical location. We had cub scouts in Michigan - let's find a group in CA. We had a church plant in Michigan - let's fine one in California. And, so on and so forth. And it hasn't worked out that way. 

A lot of the activities that we're involved in here we had either no interest in being involved in back in Michigan, or really no knowledge of until we came here. Once I realized I liked our new extracurriculars, I tried to start too many new things. I'm an all or nothing kind of person and so I decided it was "all new all the time". That didn't work and honestly it left me feeling sore and bruised again.

And that's where I'm at. At regular intervals I'm feeling sore and bruised. Sad, frustrated, overwhelmed, lonely, discouraged. 

Don't get me wrong, not all my days are bad. I have a lot of good days where I am so glad that I get to see the sun more often and that I have a beautiful house, a healthy family, a kind husband, and really a beautiful life. I have nothing to complain about. Really.

So, why am I finding that I'm so all over the map with my emotions is sometimes beyond me. I find myself praying, "I just feel.... I don't know, God."

I think I'm tired. I have a lot going on right now and not a lot of the support that I used to have. That takes time to build and yeah, it's a process. We've been gone a year now and trying to maintain friendships and relationships takes work and because I'm tired I find it... well, difficult. Trying to build new relationships is also work, and I'm just tired.

I'm tired of being tired. Is that a thing? I think it must be, because that's where I am.

I haven't written in a long time because I kept writing posts about how things were getting better - and that started to feel unauthentic and there's nothing I dislike more than being fake. 

So, this is where I am. It's not really pretty, but I guess that's ok. Sometimes you have to get through the ugly before you can get to something lovely.

Friday, November 11, 2016

I Didn't Need God

My favorite author, Shauna Niequist writes in her book Cold Tangerines, "When I write, about half an hour breezes by usually, and then it all screeches to a halt like cars crashing. I get stuck, convinced it was a bad idea to even start. Start where you're stuck. That's what my (genius) therapist , who is also a writer, told me." And, as I read this I nod, because it's true. I have been stuck since mid summer. I have revisited my blog a couple times to type up a line or two, only to abandon them quickly.

I've been stuck on how this move has affected my kids and me. At first all I could see was all the hard, the ugly, the somber aspects. I'm not going to lie. There is still sadness at times. There is still frustration. There are still hard facets.

God is moving in this place, though.

"God is jealous for your love, Mel." a friend kept saying to me. At first I was really resentful. I didn't want to hear it. "Great, so He keeps yanking everything out from under me? He keeps taking away everything I love?" was all I could think. Every time I thought I was making a new friend something would happen and that friend would either move away right as we were getting to know one another, or we would join different groups causing us to not see one another as often. My friends at home started to form new groups. So many times I've found myself feeling so alone, so absolutely heartbroken.

"My life has not turned out the way I thought it would." I said with wry humor, "I'm starting to think that's true for everyone, though." This was at my weekly bible study yesterday. My remark was met with laughter... from everyone. They totally got it. Everyone there. The women who were in their late seventies, the women in their fifties, and the women in the throes of raising little people.

God doesn't work within the confines of our lists or our plans and it's SO hard to understand. In the moment, it is literally almost impossible to wrap our brains around it. He really wants us to trust Him, to rely on Him, to know that what He has for us is so much better and bigger than what we think we need.

His gifts aren't necessarily neatly wrapped. God doesn't do things the way we do. He uses the bad for good. Sometimes His gifts at first glance look messy and uninviting - but when they're opened... discovered... wow.

Michigan was so easy for me. I had everything I wanted. I didn't need God there.

Is that an awful thing to say? Maybe? Yes. But, the truth is that due to my level of comfort and the ease of my life despite the fact that I professed to love and know God I wasn't actively pursuing Him.

In small ways, baby steps our family is treading closer to God than we ever have before. That's not to say anything bad about where we were living before. But, in my loneliness, in my sadness, in the midst of this God is giving me the greatest gift. He's giving me the gift of teaching my kids scripture passages because we've joined an Awana program, watching them study the Bible because we've become apart of Community Bible Study. He's gifting me with friendships that are stretching me. He's using this discomfort to draw me close.

My life is not how I envisioned it five years ago. Not at all. But, I'm starting to realize that despite the hard days, my life being different is not a bad thing after all. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Growing Pains

I have often surmised that God is this hard-to-reach unfathomable being that I am only able to see when everything is right and beautiful. He's a master artist and he brings us glimpses of His glory in beautiful sunsets, mountains that tower large and impressive, and oceans so vast and deep that they take your breath away.

But, God isn't only found in the impressive, the beautiful, and the unfathomable. He isn't only found in the happy moments. God isn't only found when our world feels right and good. He is also found in the moments of despair. He is found in the ugly, the dark places, the tearing, the bleeding, the stretching, aching, lonely places. He is immersed in all of our difficulties. Responsible for them, no. There in the midst of them, yes.

God doesn't work the way we do.

You see, I like things to be perfect - I'll bet you do too...  I like situations to work out; I like things to sail along smoothly. I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment when I do something and it goes off without a hitch. It feels really good... easy.

Lonely isn't easy. 

Growth isn't easy. 

Hurt isn't easy.

Yet, somehow God uses these things for our good. These painful, uncomfortable, hurtful situations that we'd rather not experience, rather not face down God is there through them

I'm sure you've heard the saying, "God never gives you anything you can't handle." The thing is God never gives you anything He can't handle. You're not alone in this situation. You're not handling things by yourself. God doesn't leave us in dark places and say, "Good luck! See you later!" He sits there next to us and guides us through the hard junk.

Getting to know God in this place of uncertainty and loneliness has been one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced. When everything is ok and life is status quo it's easy to think you don't need God - that He is merely an accessory to your already full and bountiful life. Knowing God is what makes life full, though. 

"For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it."
- Matthew 16:25

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Authentic Friendship

It was the third time we'd eaten over at their house since moving. While our kids ran around together exploring, laughing, and having a great time she and her two oldest kids made a variety of food. Our husbands talked in the next room. It was impromptu. They'd invited us over for the afternoon - but it turned into a dinner invitation. I was apologetic - not wanting to overstay our welcome, but she assured me they were happy to have us. 

After dinner we got up and I went to the kitchen and started to wash the dishes and unload the dishwasher. "Oh you don't have to do that!" she said. "I want to though!" I said as I continued to wash. That's when she made a remark that struck me. "In our hometown my friends always helped me clean up - but here, nobody even offers. I don't expect people to clean up of course, but it's interesting. It's different." 

I was bewildered. Helping with the clean up was literally the least I could do after this sweet friend had so generously provided a meal and good company to us.

I'm away from my family out here. Most of the time I'm doing it all with just the help of my husband and kids. Being able to step away from my house and have dinner at another person's house was a huge blessing to me. It was a blessing - not only because of the meal, but because of the conversation, the friendship, seeing my kids run around enjoying themselves with other kids, and hearing my husband laugh and talk with a new friend. It was priceless.

I think we all like to be entertained and to do fun stuff - but life isn't only fun and recreation. It's in the work, the hard stuff where real connection is often obtained. Working together is one of the stepping stones to authentic friendship.

One of my very best friends always had her children pick up toys at the end of our play dates. She and her kids would walk around the house picking things up, putting things away, making sure that my house looked nice when they left. I always assured her that she didn't need to pick up, but the knowledge that she cared about me and my home was so heart-warming. I knew that she loved me, because of this repeated act of friendship. 

When I was moving my best friend - a mother of seven came over almost every day to help me clean and to do whatever I needed to get my house ready to sell. She folded laundry, cleaned my bathrooms, held my baby, took trash out, helped me get kids to bed - all in preparation for our upcoming move. Even though we were both heartbroken that I was leaving she pushed up her sleeves and did all the tough laborious parts of getting me ready to leave. She administered to me in my moments of tears and grief, putting her feelings on the back burner. She didn't indulge in self preservation and stay away - she got right into the thick of it and carried me to the finish line. 

The saying goes, "Treat your friends like family and your family like friends."

Family works together. When a family works as a unit it brings everyone closer in the knowledge that they are a team, they are for each other and with one another.

Friendship works in the same way. Being for your friends, with your friends, life-giving, loving, regardless of circumstance - these are the markers of true and certain friendship. 

To you, my friends, I love you, I appreciate you deeply. Thank you for being my other family. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Ugly Feeling of Jealousy

Sharing good news with people is fun. Sharing a new pregnancy, the purchase of your first home, your graduation, a new job. It's fun to celebrate! That's why we have parties. We like to share in one another's joy. I mean, it is kind of about the food too... but mostly about the shared joy!

Except when it's not.

Four years ago my son participated in a Pinewood Derby race for Scouts. In the end he got second overall out of 17 boys. My husband and I were euphoric! I honestly think I saw unicorns and fairies dancing with one another on the horizon. It was like magic, until we noticed our son was not smiling... at all. Not only was he not smiling, but he was actually... crying, pouting. Up there at the head of the crowd while accepting his ribbon for second place he was wiping tears from his eyes. 

Confusion cannot even begin to describe the reaction my husband and I had. Here we were happier and prouder than we could hope to explain to him, ready to celebrate, and yet he was devastated that he hadn't gotten first place. He was six. We had a talk about sportsmanship, he came to understand that second place was pretty awesome, he stopped being sad. End of story.

Sometimes it's difficult to tell someone good news.

After a couple years of trying to get pregnant, I met up with a friend for a play date. As we were leaving she stopped me and said, "Hey Mel, I wanted to let you know privately because I care about how this will make you feel... I'm pregnant." I was happy for her, but so sad for me. I appreciated her telling me in private so that I didn't have to find out in front of other people, but I was embarrassed that when she told me I immediately started to cry. She gave me a hug, and some encouragement. I told her I was happy for her and went home. I truly was happy for her, but I couldn't shake the pang of sadness I felt at not having what she had.

There have been many other times I've been jealous of people's good fortune. There have been many other times where I have felt that, perhaps I deserve what they have more than they do. In my innermost thoughts I have surmised that I have worked harder, done better, been more patient.

"A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot." Proverbs 14:30 

Jealousy the wildfire that sweeps over relationships and burns through bonds. It's not a garment that looks attractive on anyone. It is never pretty, but there are times you can find yourself clothed from head to toe in it.

Love, patience, kindness... cannot easily sit alongside jealousy. Where there is jealousy there is often not room for much of anything else; jealousy easily fills every gap until it comes pouring out cloaked as gossip, dissension, and malice.

There will be times when we don't get what someone else has. There will be times when we will wait, and wait, and wait some more only to find that we are still not where we thought we would be or where we want to be. Sometimes it will seem unfair - especially when others have what we want and don't appear to appreciate it.

Yet, we cannot know. We cannot know that maybe, perhaps we're being saved from something, or for something. Perhaps those who have been given what we want are also being saved from something, or for something.

I ended up going on to have 4 more babies rather quickly. I cannot know what life would have looked like for me on the other side of these 4 children. I know there are women who have prayed longer and harder than I ever have to have just one baby. Just one.

I know there are people who have only wanted their marriage to survive and have watched it disintegrate into nothingness. 

I know there are people who have just wanted a good job, a reliable car, good relationships, health. 

The feeling of jealousy doesn't sit right in the soul. It feels gross. It leads to destruction. 

Unfortunately when your sole focus is on the thing that you want - and nothing else you tend to see how everyone else has it. I have found that shifting my heart's focus to what God wants for me and not what I want for me helps give me a different perspective.

Thinking about what I have instead of what I don't have, focusing on what God has given me and His plan, the direction He is taking me - not someone else is a balm.

The thing is... You're only poor when you want what you don't have. 

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