family, love

Goin’ Back to the Chapel of Love

What are anniversaries for if not to retell the story?

“Hey Julie,” he yelled from his balcony as I was hopping onto my bike, “Would you like to go to the Monet exhibit at the art museum today?  My friend has extra passes.”

“No thanks, I’m going to ride my bike today.” I was always riding my bike back then.

“My friend likes to ride bikes…”  His voice trailed off as I rode away.

A week or so went by:

“Hey Julie,” he yelled, as my daughter and I walked out our front door, “Would you like to go to the final day of the U.S. Open tomorrow?  My friend has invited us to his corporation’s hospitality tent.”

Thanks, but I’m going to church tomorrow.

“My friend likes church,” he said as we smiled and waved…

On it went all summer until one day I finally said, “Why don’t you invite him to something sometime.”

So he did.  The something was a dessert auction and the sometime was November. My job involved planning an annual fundraiser.   Every year my daughter would slip a flier for the event under our neighbor, Chris’s, door and every year he would attend.  Alone.  But that year he brought a friend.  Four friends actually.

He called as I was putting the finishing touches on my presentation and asked if I wanted to join him and his friends for dinner before the event.  “Can’t,”  I said, “I have to get there early.  I’m working.”

I met the hub through a serving window.  He came to introduce himself and I reached across the counter to shake his hand.  Me in the kitchen and him in the banquet hall.  As I shook his hand everything in the banquet hall faded away and I saw only him, a solitary figure with a warm smile extending a friendly hand.

Because Chris brought FOUR friends, I wasn’t sure at first which one he wanted me to meet.  But after the introduction and handshake through the window, I was pretty sure it was him. At the end of the evening I sat down at Chris’s table and chatted with all of them.  Pre-hub shone forth.  He told me about the time he road his bike down a mountain in Hawaii.  Bike rider, huh?  He must be the one.

In early December I invited Chris to a concert at my church.  He brought his warm-smiling, friendly-handshaking, biking-riding friend.  He asked me if I would like to meet them for breakfast beforehand.  I did.  We had breakfast together, went to church, then did a little Christmas shopping.  No one wanted the day to end.  I mentioned that I was about to paint my condo.  Pre-hub said, “I’ll help you paint if you help me put up my Christmas tree.”  Deal!

So hub and I became acquainted with our backs to one another – him painting one wall and me painting the opposite wall.  As we chatted I realized that we had stuff in common.  And he often would say exactly what I was thinking.  I am sufficiently in love with myself to appreciate a man who thinks like me.

“I like to cook,” he said.  “How about if you and your daughter help me put up my tree and then stay for dinner?” I LIKE TO COOK?  That racked him up some serious points.

Then the day came when the painting was done.  As he was putting on his boots to leave I thought, This is it.  It’s now or never.  Turned out to be now.  As he was heading for the door he turned and asked me out on an official date.  I told you about that date when I told you about the scarf from heaven.

We had been dating for about a month when he said, “I can’t believe no one has snatched you up.”  “I didn’t want to be snatched up,” I replied.  “Well,” he declared, “I am going to try.”   I was surprised by the smile that spread across my heart.  I didn’t think I would react that way.  But who can resist a man with a plan?

I wanted to make sure he loved the real me and not the me of his imagination.  So I asked him in an e-mail what he liked about me.

Here’s what he wrote:

When I look at you, I see:
the tender, unquestioning love of a mother;
God’s grace– a warm, compassionate, giving heart;
a heart in search of a true soul mate;
a gifted writer, speaker and leader;
a friend;
someone who likes me for being me;
an inspiration;
that little girl smile, the woman in your eyes that always gets to me;
passion;
home;
someone I want to know all about.

Okay, so he liked more than my looks, even so, I had been a single mom for 9 years.  My plan had been to delay dating and remarriage until my daughter went off to college.  But God was changing my mind about that and here I was with an eleven year old, considering marriage to someone I had only known for four months.  It was risky business.

So he quoted a Brooks & Dunn song:

“I know forever is a long, long time for a girl to put her heart on the line.  Trust is a tightrope that we all have to walk; but don’t be afraid.  I won’t let you fall.  With a little faith, mountains move.  I feel that you and me, we can’t lose.”

And then he laid it out for me:

The bottom line is….

1. Do you trust me to guard and protect our love and our relationship?
2. Do you trust me to guard and protect my family?
3. Do you think I will serve God with you?  … fix my eyes on the Lord?
4. Do you think I will provide a safe, secure and responsible home and
finances for us?
5. Do you believe that I will remain devoted to you?  to God?
6. Do you love me?
7. Do you believe that I love you?

#7 was the tricky one – hadn’t had a whole lot of experience with that one.

Even so, he bought a shiny diamond, got on his knee and made a stellar proposal.

We were married in a tiny chapel on a Friday morning.  April 6, 2001. There were 15 people in attendance – my daughter, two of my six sisters and a small assortment of co-workers and friends.  My dad had a balcony seat – watching and smiling from heaven.  My mom was on a cruise in the Seychelles.  The hub’s parents had health problems that made it too difficult for them to make the drive.  (On May 20 we had a “blessing ceremony” in his boyhood church so our entire families could celebrate with us.)

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My daughter served as an official witness. Days before the wedding she said, “Mom, you have to realize that it is going to be hard for me to share you after having your undivided attention for so long.”  I realized it.  And it all worked out. We still had plenty of mom and daughter time, and all these years later we still have our annual mother/daughter road trip.

After the tiny chapel ceremony we had a luncheon at hub’s house/by then OUR house.

Me, the Hub, the Best Man/Best Neighbor Chris

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Sneaking a kiss when no one was looking.  No one but the photographer, and now you.

The dress?  My friend bought it at an estate sale for $5.  She thought her daughter – who was my daughter’s age (11) – might be able to wear it some day.  It fit well enough and I liked it so it was a done deal.  Hub proposed at the end of March and we were married two weeks later – not a lot of time for dress shopping.  Plus I loved the whole old, new borrowed vibe of it.  AND I was way more interested in the marriage than I was in the wedding.  The pearls were a wedding gift from the hub.

It has been 14 years and I am happy to report that the hub has done a really good job of numbers 1 through 5.

As for #7?  We had dinner at one of our favorite restaurants the other night to celebrate.  I told him about the file I found with all the lovey things he had written back then.  He said, “It was all true then and it is all true now.”

And right then, with a delicious spoonful of chocolate pot de creme swirling in my mouth I realized that after 14 years of marriage I can finally answer #7 with a confident “YES!”

What has he gotten out of the deal?  Well, in his words I am “a good little cook.”  And when the nurse said he needed more fiber in his diet as he was coming out from under the colonoscopy anesthesia, I took it to heart and immediately planted two raspberry bushes.  Because raspberries have a lot of fiber.  I’m looking out for his colon and he appreciates it.

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Plus, as he says, I “tickle” him (make him laugh for those who are unfamiliar with the expression).  And I take really good care of our friends.  All in all it’s been a pretty good deal for both of us.  But I got the better deal.

(Originally posted 4/6/2015)

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life

Ripening, Gathering, Harvesting Joys

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It was a tiny bit chilly that morning as I sat on the bench of a picnic table, beside the lake, sipping coffee and watching the early sun glisten off my diamond. I had just awoken for the very first time as someone’s wife and I was surprised, sitting there with coffee in hand, husband out at the end of the dock checking his minnow trap, admiring the pairing of my engagement ring with its wedding band. I was surprised by a feeling of increased social status. Of feeling like being the Mrs. to someone’s Mr. made me a little bit more. More what, I couldn’t quite pinpoint, just felt like more.

Surprised because I had not a smidgen of a thought on any day of the 26 years leading up to that morning that I was less or lacking.

Sitting there, basking in that early morning summer sun, I was looking forward to joining the young marrieds Sunday school class and forging life-long friendships. My then-husband’s parents both grew up in the same Swedish covenant church, married and formed close friendships that lasted their entire lives – even as many of them aged and moved to the same retirement community in Florida.

That’s what I wanted: Friendships laid in our carefree newlywed years and forged as we reared our children together, served shoulder to shoulder, laughed, rejoiced and grieved together through the ups and downs of life.

I was reminded of that long ago morning this morning when I read a quote on Facebook:

Almost everyone finds their early days in a community ideal. It all seems perfect. They feel they are surrounded by saints, heroes, or at the least, most exceptional people who are everything they want to be themselves. And then comes the let-down. The greater their idealization of the community at the start, the greater the disenchantment. If people manage to get through this second period, they come to a third phase—that of realism and of true commitment. They no longer see other members of the community as saints or devils, but as people—each with a mixture of good and bad, darkness and light, each growing and each with their own hope. The community is neither heaven nor hell, but planted firmly on earth, and they are ready to walk in it, and with it. They accept the community and the other members as they are; they are confident that together they can grow towards something more beautiful.  —Jean Vanier

I longed for that journey toward something more beautiful.

And then, six years and one two-year old in, my then-husband bailed.

My Sunday school class of no-longer-newlyweds didn’t know how to respond. I tried to stick it out, but back then Baptists shot their wounded, lest anyone mar the happy illusion of happy Christian marriage.

A single friend – who discipled me when I was a new Christian – invited me to attend her church. We taught Sunday school together and my daughter was loved there.  We settled in. But when my single friend moved to Atlanta, a couple of the women pulled me aside and said that the church was geared toward families headed up by COUPLES, not single parents. I’m pretty sure they were worried I might try to steal their husbands. I wasn’t going to steal anyone’s husband. Not only would I not do that, but, as if.

My daughter had started kindergarten by then, so she and I went back to our original church, where she was attending their Christian school. Week after week I went, worshiped and left. No Sunday school, no fellowship, no community, really, just worship and go.

Over the years I’ve bounced back and forth from church to church. Sometimes because I was rejected by the community, sometimes because it didn’t have what I needed. Or what my daughter needed. Or what my new husband and I wanted or needed.

Perhaps if my first husband had stuck it out through the disillusioned second phase of our marriage, I would now be enjoying the deep, enduring, hard-won, life-long friendships I envisioned that first morning of my first marriage.

But maybe not. All these years later I am still loosely connected enough to a few of the women from that first class to know that even they, whose marriages succeeded, are no longer walking in close community together. Many of them have scattered to new church communities.

Blessed be the ties that bind…for now.

I didn’t get to “grow towards something more beautiful” with that little band of young marrieds all those years ago, but I’ve got the hub. And together we are on a journey to enjoy “the deep, hard-won truths of marriage.”

Perhaps the greatest blessing in marriage is that it lasts so long.
The years, like the varying interests of each other,
combine to buttress and enrich each other.
Out of many shared years, one life.
In a series of temporary relationships,
one misses the ripening, gathering, harvesting joys,
the deep, hard-won truths of marriage.
Richard C. Cabot

#longing

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love

Lucky in Love

I limped down the dark stairs toward the kitchen, my eyes full of sleep, a few minutes late for the beagle’s 7 am pill.

The light was on in the library as I stumbled by, the hub called me over. “Go back to bed,” he said.

“Did you give Little One her pill?”

“Yes, I did, I thought you’d want to sleep in. Go back to bed.”

But it was too late. I already smelled the coffee. “No, I’m going to stay up and drink coffee.”

Maybe catch up on a blog or two.

That was almost two hours ago and here I sit, still zombified. Thinking about going into the kitchen to make cinnamon rolls. Hearing the hub in there doing yet another load of dishes. I figure by the end of the day we’ll have all the pots scrubbed and put away, the silver and the wine glasses washed by hand, the dishes I borrowed from my mom packed up, the extra tables and chairs put back in their cupboard in the basement and the coffee urn and the food warmers back in their boxes in the cedar closet.

Three full days of cooking and set-up, one full day of dishes and tear down.

A labor of love.

And speaking of love, I love that guy in the kitchen. My foot loves him, too.

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life

Pills, Poetry & Prose

I think I have been following “A Journey With You – surviving schizophrenia” for about a year now.   I read every post that comes up on my Reader. Not because I have schizophrenia, or because I am caring for someone who has it, not because I am particularly interested in the disease. I read each post because I enjoy well-written words. I read because the author is a lot like me.

We only have a few things in common: We were both social workers when we were young. She worked in Child Protective Services – investigating reports of abuse and neglect and removing children from their homes if necessary.

I worked in Foster Care, supervising the care of the children once they were placed in foster homes, and working with their birth parents toward the goal of reuniting the family, if possible. It was rarely possible.

We are close to the same age.

We both care. She cares more, I think, because she knows more. She is teaching me.

I read her blog for the wonderful slices of her everyday life. My favorites involve her relationship with her husband.

I’ve thought a few times of buying her book, Pills, Poetry & Prose: Life with Schizophrenia (by Rebecca Chamaa). I thought I might add it to my Amazon cart when I do my Christmas shopping.  And then in late October Rebecca posted that she was giving away a copy of it. So I left my blog address in the comment section of her post and I won the drawing!

My husband brought in the mail Saturday and handed me a padded envelope, “Someone from California sent you something.”

“Oh, oh, oh, it’s the book!” I tore open the envelope and pulled it out. I opened the front cover, “Dang it, I should have asked her to sign it.”

Yesterday, before church I read the first eleven pages. When the hub and I returned home from church, I found my daughter reading it.

This morning I sat down with the book and a big mug of hot coffee. Just as the coffee was growing cold, I finished it.

And I learned that we have another thing in common – rejection by a spouse and the pain of divorce.

If I hadn’t been reading her blog, if I didn’t know that she is remarried and has such a wonderful friendship with her husband, such a strong and supportive bond with him, I would not have been able to bear the poem on page 28.

Saturday, when I let Rebecca know that the book arrived, she replied, “Ohhhhh, please let me know how you like it.”

Okay, talented, sweet, wise and wonderful woman, if you are reading this, here’s how I like it:

I only like poetry when it says a lot, with a few concise, masterfully chosen and arranged words. I only like poetry when it is not so obscure that I can’t figure out what the poet is saying.  I like your poetry, Rebecca. I love it.

And I love how you used prose to flesh out the details. I loved the glimpse into your childhood.

On page 45 you wrote, “I am a ghost that only certain people can see.”

One of the best things about your blog and your book is that you are giving shape and form to ghosts; you are stirring understanding and compassion in people like me.

Your book is your story, artfully told, and I love true stories.

I used to show clips of the movie “A Beautiful Mind” when speaking to high school students as an example of true love. I showed them the scene in which Alicia and one of John’s former co-workers were walking and talking, Alicia pushing a stroller. After talking a bit about John’s current condition and limitations, the former co-worker told Alicia that John was a lucky man (to have her). Alicia replied, almost in a whisper, that John was so unlucky (to have the disease).

I showed them the scene in which John’s psychiatrist advised Alicia to leave home for her own safety. Instead, she decided to stay. She kneeled in front of John, who was seated on the edge of their bed, and said, “I need to believe that something extraordinary is possible.”

And the final scene when John, accepting the Nobel Prize, said to Alicia, “I’m only here because of you.”

I don’t know how true to life the movie is, but “Poisonous Thoughts” on pages 52 and 53 reminded me of those scenes.

And it pinpointed why I read A Journey With You – to watch extraordinary love unfold in the big and small of your everyday life.

To watch love and commitment – in sickness and in health – play out in the lives of two ordinary, extraordinary people.

Pills, Poetry & Prose is a collection of poems and essays that tell a beautiful, poignant, hopeful, insightful, scary, honest story. And I am privileged to have read it.

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Food, life

Fluent in Food & Love

The pastor’s sermon that day outlined The 5 Languages of Love by psychologist Gary Chapman.   On the way home from church I asked my then eight-year-old daughter which love language spoke most to her.  Without hesitation she replied “Acts of Service” and “Quality Time”.  I commented that I tend to mostly give Words of Affirmation and Physical Touch because those are the languages that I speak most naturally, but I wanted to remember to speak the languages that best float her boat.

An hour later she was up a tree at the opposite end of our courtyard.  I walked over and asked her if she was ready for lunch.  She started to climb down but I stopped her and said, “Stay there, I’ll bring it to you.”  She jumped down anyway to give me a hug saying,  “You remembered, mom, Acts of Service,” and then she scrambled back to her perch.  As I was walking away she called, “Thanks, mom!” Then she yelled, “Mom, that was a Word of Affirmation, you know, saying thanks.”  I took a few more steps and she called out again, “And, mom, that hug was Physical Touch.”

I came back a few minutes later with a picnic basket.  Her face lit up as she chirped, “You made a whole picnic!  I thought you were just going to bring me a sandwich!”  She pulled out her lunch and then asked, “What’s this?”  I told her I was going to join her.  She patted a branch, smiled and said, “Have a seat.”   After a few bites she asked, “Mom, do you realize that this is Quality Time?”

Later I remembered an assignment she had when she was in kindergarten.  She was to complete the sentence “My mom loves me because…” She had written “because she makes crazy bread with cream cheese for me and plays Hands Down with me.”  I commented that Acts of Service and Quality Time were her love languages even back then.

For the rest of that afternoon and evening she gave me a big smile whenever she saw me.  Right before bed she had a big grin on her face.  I discovered why when I went in to brush my teeth.  On the bathroom mirror was a large soap heart with “Love Ya” written in it.  Life doesn’t get any better than that.

An hour ago I was outside checking on my garlic, which, I am thrilled to report, is growing taller by the day.  The hub came out and exclaimed, “It sure is a beautiful day!”  Being fluent in his love language, I immediately translated it to, “Mind if I go fishing?”

So when I said, “Why don’t you go fishing?”  His face lit up.

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He’s been working hard every weekend remodeling our second level.  He’s painted walls and ceilings, replaced moldings, installed hardwoods floors throughout, put shelves in my closet, etc.  His goal today was to get his office and our bedroom put back together.  So he will no longer have to sleep on the family room sofa and I will no longer have to sleep on the living room sofa.  The spare room can wait. He spent all morning moving our desks back into the office, setting the computer back up, etc.

“We can finish the rooms tomorrow after church,”  I said.  “It is supposed to rain tomorrow and the temperature is going to drop back into the 50’s for several days.  Go enjoy sunny and 70 while it lasts.  But first you have to have lunch.”

While he brought his fishing gear up from the basement for the first time since October, I threw fresh basil leaves, walnuts, a few sun-dried tomatoes and a two cloves of garlic into the oskar and gave them a whirl.  Then I added some parm, basil olive oil, salt and pepper and blended it to bits, which I tossed with the leftover gemelli I had in the fridge.  Plum Market had some nice parmigiano reggiano on sale last week so I bought two big hunks.  It’s been all parm all the time ever since.  Lunch prepared in ten minutes flat.

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“This is pretty good,” said the hub as he scooped the last bit from the pan onto his plate.  “It’s the best pasta you’ve ever made.”

That’s what he said last time.  And the time before that.

Wanna’ talk love to the hub?  You really only need two words: fishing and food.

Think I’ll go trim the raspberry bushes and soak up a little vitamin D myself.

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life

Gratefruit

I don’t charge a fee when I speak.  I usually receive an honorarium anyway, in appreciation, but not always.  When I am asked what an appropriate amount would be I reply, “Just send a thank you note.”

I have a drawer full of them.  The money I’ve been given has been spent.  But the notes are all still there.  They remind me of all the people I’ve met over the years – people God spoke to using my mouth.  People God loves.

I told God early on that I prefer to be paid in fruit.  Several years later, after speaking at a woman’s retreat in Virginia, I was.  Literally.  At the end of the weekend they presented me with a large basket of fruit.  Tucked among the apples and grapes was a large jar of local honey and some locally made peach preserves.

God and I smiled at one another as I received the gift.  I LOVED it!

I relayed that story to a group of women in a Bible study once.  One of the women in the group criticized me for not being grateful for the gift.  She completely missed my point.  Funny how we sometimes listen with prejudiced ears, project our stuff and our preconceived notions onto others.  Fail to ask for clarification.

I just smiled.

In a few weeks the hub and I get to celebrate with a living, breathing peach.  Joe was part of the young adult group that came to our house every other Sunday evening for dinner and Bible study.  He was a brand new believer and a sheer delight.   It was when we rented him our condo for several months that we saw fully what a fine young man he is – full of respect and integrity.  The last time we saw him was two years ago at his college graduation party.

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And now he is getting married.  On May 2 we will drive an hour to attend a couples shower.  And then in June we will head to Traverse City for his wedding.

My happy heart thanks you, Lord, for the privilege of meeting Joe when he was a babe in You.  For keeping the hub and I somewhat connected to him and allowing us to see his growth and all the fruit he will produce in his life.  For the honor of rejoicing with him as he embarks on marriage.  For the wonderful example he has seen in his parents.

We get to be witnesses to young, healthy, hearty, hopeful love.

Thank You, thank You for that.

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life

A No Diego, Slows & Astro Day

The Diego Rivera exhibit is cheaper if you go on a Friday, but it is impossible to get a parking spot anywhere near the art museum – or anywhere in the city at all – on a weekday.  Every lot, every garage is full.

So after squeezing my Escape through the torn up, road-construction-narrowed streets and failing repeatedly to find a spot, we abandoned our plan and headed to lunch.

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I had been wanting to try this place.  It did not disappoint.

A few doors down was a groovy coffee shop and you know how the daughter and I love the groovy coffee.

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It was while I was eating my half of our sea-salted, hazelnut, chocolate chip cookie and sipping my mocha that Daughter pulled out her phone and had me read this quote:

When we speak of the wife obeying the husband, we normally think of obedience in military or political terms: the husband giving orders, and the wife obeying them. But while this type of obedience may he appropriate in the army, it is ridiculous in the intimate relationship of marriage. The obedient wife does not wait for orders. Rather, she tries to discern her husband’s needs and feelings, and responds in love. When she sees her husband is weary, she encourages him to rest; when she sees him agitated, she soothes him; when he is ill, she nurses and comforts him; when he is happy and elated, she shares his joy. Yet such obedience should not be confined to the wife; the husband should be obedient in the same way. When she is weary, he should relieve her of her work; when she is sad, he should cherish her, holding her gently in his arms; when she is filled with good cheer, he should also share her good cheer. Thus a good marriage is not a matter of one partner obeying the other, but of both partners obeying each other.  – St John Chrysostom 

“Yeah, that’s pretty good,” I said, “but I think he could have just said, ‘Obedience has no place in the intimate relationship of marriage’ and left it at that.  Because good marriages don’t talk about or define mutual respect and consideration, they just naturally do it.”

But being young and not yet married, she liked that someone spelled out the fact that marriage is a two way street.  Because so often godly Christians insist that the only godly street is a one way street.

In the car on the way home she said, “Maybe I shouldn’t urge you to play it so safe in your writing.”

And then she read a quote from Anne Lamott:

“If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.”  – Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

“Right,” I said, “because the whole beauty of me is that I don’t need to be liked. I’ll still run some of my posts by you for your yawn-o-meter, but I won’t let your people-pleasing nature stifle me anymore.  Someone has to be a voice for the people who think like me, even if we are only 1% of the population.”

Solidarity INFJ sisters.  And brothers.

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