Trials of Many Kinds

Trials of Many Kinds pic

I sat quietly, taking time to look around at the familiar faces.  Week after week we gathered; the quest to get here easier for some than others.   It felt comfortable in this place.  But my comfort was clouded by a heavy heart noting I didn’t see several who would normally be among the small crowd.  It seems change seeps into every part of life, even the places you think will always stay the same.

It doesn’t matter if we like it or not.

I struggled to get to church on this Sunday morning. I was carrying a sack of worries the size of Alabama when I walked in the door.  The last thing I wanted when I woke up was to get dressed and mingle with people, but I could hear my momma’s words ring in my ears, “Get up and get yourself in church. It’s the best way to start the week; it puts things in priority and we need to be around God’s people.”

Boy, those words have turned out to be true time and again in my life.

I stood as the song leader asked us to turn in our hymnal to one my personal favorites, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”  The piano played the familiar chords and the organ swelled with each passing note, and then it was our turn to join in.  “Great is thy faithfulness, oh God my father…”   I just listened for a while as the words washed over me, I could hear young and old alike joining in the refrain.

The music felt like a balm to my frayed heart.

To my left an older lady sits faithfully every Sunday.  She has seen many of life’s storms and yet each week she shuffles in clinging tightly to her walker and finds her favorite pew.   Tears filled my eyes as I watched her raise a weathered hand when the chorus resounded, “Morning by morning new mercies I see…”

Behind me a few young ones gathered into the pew like baby chicks being herded into the coop.  Their singing was fresh and strong, full of expectancy and life as the first chorus ended, “Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.”  I had to smile at their jubilance.

I’ve entered a time in my life where the verses and choruses to most of the old hymns are more than just words to me; I have lived them and they resonate deep. They fill my thoughts with faces and places of years gone by, happy times and sad ones, basically, my story.

Many memories were playing in living color through my mind when the pastor rose to speak.  He encouraged us to turn in our Bibles to James 1:2-4.  When he began to read, I could no longer hold back the tears.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.   Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

It seemed lately wherever I turned there was turmoil—our country, loss of life, difficult relationships, my own fears and, as of late, an empty nest.

Church was exactly where I needed to be this day.

As I sat in my pew looking very attentive my mind began to wander to a conversation I’d had recently. The verses in James reminded me of it and I decided right then I needed to sort it all out in my head, because the Lord was trying to tell me something.

Well, I’ve decided to run another half marathon next year, I know, I have lost my mind! I was telling my friend about it and my reasoning for taking it on when she said, “You can do it, you’re a mom, you can endure about anything. But you want to be able to run your race and not just endure it.”  It was like a lightbulb went off in my head; there really is a difference between perseverance and endurance.   Why do I so often interchange the two terms?

I wanted to understand the difference for myself so I decided to do what any intelligent person might do, I googled them.  Let me show you the definitions I found.

Perseverance: steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.

Endurance: the fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way.

Perseverance, after further study, seems to focus on singlemindedness.  Staying focused while working hard toward a difficult goal.  Endurance involves reaching one’s limit or almost reaching it.  It doesn’t necessarily involve a goal as much as withstanding difficult circumstances that press in upon you.

One celebrates accomplishment while the other advocates survival.

So, in a nut shell, perseverance is staying focused while working through hardship to achieve your goal and endurance is withstanding hardships of real life with power that is motivated by survival.

Both terms involve difficulty and both have to do with strength; but one has purpose.

So, it turns out there really is a difference between the two and although I’ve used the words interchangeably in the past, I’m not sure I will again.

The pastor spent the next several minutes talking to us about being joyful in trials because they make us stronger, more mature.  His message was so timely for me.  I will never live a stress free, trial-less life, but I can determine to persevere through all of the difficulty with Christlikeness being the goal.

The trials will be more bearable if we see the purpose in them.

I’m nervous about running my half marathon next year.  I’ve spent the last several months strength training and I hope it shows up when I actually start to run mileage. Working out in my older years sure looks and feels a lot different than when I was young!  But, I have a single goal in mind, to run this race with strength so I can finish well.  I’m not quite sure what that will look like, but I’m going to give it my best shot.

Anybody want to volunteer to train with me?

I’ve been humming “Great is Thy Faithfulness” all day.  The words remind me as I persevere through the journey of life that God walks with me, I am not alone.  And I hope one day when I’m sitting in church in my twilight years I’ll be the one raising a weathered hand proclaiming great is thy faithfulness, because He certainly is.

Empty Nest = Emptiness

Family when kids were little

The house is quiet now, unless you count the lapping sounds of our dog trying to quench her thirst on a hot Alabama summer afternoon. I am sitting on the couch with an ice cold glass of tea next to me pondering whether or not to make the dreaded trip to Wal Mart. There is no movement in the house, just the occasional buzzing of the air conditioner switching on and off. It feels very empty these days in the wake of dropping our youngest off at college.

He’s living his dream and I’m facing my dreaded empty nest.

Empty is a word I find myself using a lot lately. I think about it, talk about it, write about it and mostly feel it. I understand why so many who pass this way struggle with the silence after having a busy home, and why they feel like their purpose, that was once so very clear, is suddenly gone; packed and dropped off with the last child who leaves. Some of you will have no idea what I’m talking about, your experience with empty nest feels like the beginning of the next exciting chapter of your life. It opens doors of opportunity to things like missed date nights, trips that have been on the back burner for years, home improvement projects and maybe even getting back in shape. I find myself wandering down the empty hall of my house staring into empty bedrooms and reminiscing how things “once were,” and wondering how it all flew by at the speed of sound.

I miss the way things used to be.

I miss the feeling of never being quite caught up and scrambling from one event to the next, making each sure each kid knew I had been there to support. Flying home to see what in the world I had in the fridge that would suffice for dinner and inevitably it would be grilled cheese again. While I was busy living those hectic times I would hear other moms laughingly complain about how they never had their act together and I would join in, teasing that “one day” we would have a moment to ourselves. As though those moments alone would be the prize at the end of a long race.

What I didn’t realize fully was how much I needed those busy days and nights to fill the empty places in my heart. Or maybe not having the chaos has caused the empty places, not quite sure which way it goes. No matter, there’s still an emptiness, sitting here on the couch, watching the dog play with her tail. I am forced to really deal with the depth and width of it.

What am I to do with myself?

Seriously, what?

I do not want to volunteer for lots of committees or join random clubs just to fill my time and put a mask over what I’m feeling in my heart. I want purpose, real purpose, the kind I used to feel each day when I rose, making sure the amazing humans the Lord gave me were properly equipped as they headed out the door. Well, mostly properly equipped on most days, I guess. Or at least they were equipped sometimes. The point being, I loved caring for them and being in their life. It brought joy and energy and I felt needed.

I don’t want to just be busy, I want to take care of business.

In these days of quiet and a bit of aimlessness I want the Lord to reveal to me what’s next. I know in the depths of my being these child rearing years are not the end for me. I also know getting from where I am now to where He wants to take me will most likely be a challenge. That just seems to be the way my Heavenly Father rolls in my life, one difficult climb after another. Each excursion leading me to a beautiful view. By the time I arrive at the destination He has for me I am usually weary and ready to be done. But, as He gives me a moment to rest, I feel myself rallying, longing to see more of what He has for me and to be more of the person he has in mind.

And so I pull myself up and put one “spiritual” foot in front of the other.

And that’s exactly where I am today. I have seen the most beautiful view of my child stepping out of our cozy nest and into a prickly world, and, so far, he’s doing it with grace. I am tired from the difficulty of letting go, but I can feel my spirit rallying and it won’t be too long until I’m up and ready move forward.

It would be so easy right now to start filling my time up with good causes and good people, but I’m praying constantly, “Is this what you want me to be doing, Lord? Is this YOUR business? Or my busyness? Help me to discern your will and direction in this desperate place of loneliness you’ve placed me in. Don’t let me fill it up with counterfeit activities that are good but not really what’s best for me. I need you to keep me focused and attentive as you lead your very tender, fragile servant into what you have next.”

As my husband and I were driving to a neighboring town recently the term “has-been’s” came up. We began to talk about what that term really meant and how inevitably at some point in your life you will feel like one.

My guy loves to watch TV shows about cars. Pretty much any type of unique old car that needs repair will grab his attention every time. He loves the story behind these old beauties as much as seeing what is to come of them. He knows many of the hosts of his favorite shows by name and loves to watch as they go through the process of finding and restoring these antique automobiles. Occasionally a car will show up and he’ll wonder out loud how the buyer will ever be able to make anything of value from the hunk of metal that has seen better years.

Without fail, by the end of the program, the vintage vehicle will be fully repurposed and ready for another season of life on the road.

It’s no longer a has-been, thanks to the tender, loving care and determination of someone who saw what most couldn’t; it had more life to live and give.

At my age and current place in life, I can relate to these old cars.

I am waiting as my creator gives me new purpose. He sees in me what only an expert eye could and he’s putting in the necessary time and effort to make the changes I need. These changes will benefit and equip me as he sets me on the path for a new season of life. My part is to be available, attentive and willing…even when it hurts.

Notice I didn’t say “if” it hurts, but “when.” No pain, no gain is a real thing.

So, remember as you’re climbing and growing in life, the pain will be worth it. Occasionally you will get a chance to rest and enjoy the breathtaking views of what God has done and is going to do. But, it won’t be for long, and then he’ll move you onward and upward to more challenges and beauty. He is the expert and knows exactly what he’s doing.

And, maybe if you’re lucky, in your journey of growth, you’ll be “restored” to a hipster sports car, the kind that sounds good and runs fast. I’d be happy for a fresh paint job and lubricated joints at this point. I believe I’ve still got plenty of miles left in me; one road, one season at a time.

Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

The Last One

Me and Travis on move in day

The sun rose on this day like any other, except it wasn’t like any other.  This day we would drop our youngest at college.  Except unlike other years, I wasn’t just losing another child to higher education, I was closing the book on a season of my life.  All of these thoughts passed through my mind as soon as I woke and we still had packing to do.   Reluctantly I climbed out of bed and crossed the room to take a shower.  My husband takes great joy in waking the rest of the house, I was too blurry-eyed and emotional to do anything but get dressed, so I left the waking up to him.

So far it seemed the day was as difficult as I’d thought it’d be.

Once we’d filled three vehicles to the brim, we struck out north with no plans of stopping until we reached our destination. May as well have said #collegeorbust on the windows. This type of thing we like to do as a whole family, so my older son, who will also attend the same university this fall and my daughter were along for the ride too.  All we needed was “granny” sitting on top of the car in a rocking chair to completely look like the Clampetts!  (Remember the “Beverly Hillbillies?”)

I cried most of the way there, promising myself I would get all of my tears out of the way so I could fully enjoy the rest of the day.

It seemed like a promise I could keep at the time.

As soon as we rolled onto campus, a lump formed in my throat that wouldn’t go away, but, I willed myself not to give into the sadness.  We wandered around campus a bit looking for a parking place all the while taking in the energy of college life.  Sometimes I think I might like working on a college campus, as a matter of fact, I offered to apply for a job on this very campus thinking I could be nearer to my boys.  I wish you could’ve seen their faces when I made this proposal to them, priceless! 

My middle and youngest children took off to get their room key and left us to start unpacking random room supplies. They were quick to return, key in hand ready to start the daunting task of setting up.  Did I mention their room is on the FOURTH floor? And did I also mention the elevator was across the dorm and their room was right next door to the stairwell?

Days like these I know the Lord has a sense of humor.

For the next hour or so, five, and eventually six adults unloaded three vehicles one painful trip up the stairs at a time.  It was about four hundred degrees, give or take, and the stairwell was even hotter.  But after about a million steps, we finally had it all in the room.  We halted our work for a quick bite to eat and then returned to start setting up a “home away from home” for my boys. 

With every box I opened and every piece of clothing I unpacked my heart broke a little more.  How could eighteen years be over already?? Seems like yesterday I was holding him, stealing kisses.  In the midst of the unpacking I tried to steal glances at him, so many times he would catch me and smile back.  I kept wondering how in the world I was supposed to be able to drive away and leave my baby child in this big unfamiliar place? And how could I walk back into my house and face the empty bedroom and the utter silence there would be without him?

How would I survive?

All the while, I unpacked.

I folded shirts and put away shoes, hung pants and made up beds.  Anything to keep my mind off the inevitable.  I then made multiple trips to Wal Mart, bought too many water bottles for the fridge and lingered until I had no more excuses to stay. 

And then it was time.

It was getting late and I could tell my college student wanted to explore the campus.  Basically, big brother wanted to show little brother around and there was no room for Mom.  I understood.  We stood by the door and took a few pictures while the lump in my throat became a boulder.  I was determined not to leave in tears.  When I finally agreed it was time to go, both the boys gave me big hugs and my youngest held on a little longer than usual.  I wanted to keep holding on and drag him to the car and take him home, but instead I forced myself to squeak out how much I loved him and how successful he was going to be on this new venture. 

Then I turned, walked down the four flights of stairs and headed to the car.

I cannot tell you the sorrow I felt.  It was like a giant wave of sadness.  I was leaving behind my baby, closing a door on a season and I wanted to turn and run far, far away from what felt like madness happening to me.  I couldn’t speak because I knew the tears would come and never stop, so as our vehicle pulled away, I stared out the window and waited until I could gain my composure.

And I needed to talk to my mom, nobody cares like your Momma. Oh how hard life can be sometimes.

I’ve had so many people tell me to be thankful, and I am.  Others remind me to be joyful and I want to.  A few tell me to count my blessings and I do.  But what I feel right now is sad, I just want to keep it real with you all.  I know brighter days are ahead, I know the Lord will see me through, but I need to be able to process all that has happened in a twenty-four hour period.

I love the movie “Inside Out.”

I loved Joy and I love being joyful, and I love the way this movie shows the importance of feeling the appropriate emotion for the circumstance we find ourselves in.  I appreciate how Joy understood before the end of the movie that Sadness had “her” place too; and how important it was to allow sadness in order for Riley to be able to return to a healthy joy.  It is appropriate to be sad at a time like this, it is a time of loss and it hurts.  I want to feel the sadness so I can grieve and eventually appreciate real joy as it seeps back into my soul.

The drive home was pretty quiet, except for the hour we stopped for dinner, comfort food at its finest.

I promised myself I would have a good cry once I got home where it wouldn’t cause a scene. What I wasn’t prepared for was the small folded white piece of paper neatly sitting on my bed when I walked into my bedroom.  There were two actually, one for me and one for my husband.  I knew immediately from the writing on the front who it was from and I busted into tears before I could even unfold it. 

Through bleary eyes I read the sweetest note from my eighteen year old man child thanking me for being his mom and for investing in him.  I read it and re-read it.  I am going to save it forever. You give so much of yourself as a parent and you don’t do it for thanks, but when thanks finally does come it’s like this wave of peace and joy all mixed together rolling in and over your worn soul.  It fills broken places and illuminates the darkness of sorrow, it is splendid. 

As you can imagine I cried myself to sleep that night, and I’ve cried off and on since.  But, each time I shed tears I’m reminded how much I’ve loved and how I would do it ALL again in a heartbeat.  These child rearing years have been the best of my life. I have given much and now I get to see all that God is going to do with the beautiful lives of my offspring. 

Another season has started as this one closes; and even though I know many good things are ahead, I’m still not quite ready to jump into it.  I’m just putting my toe in the water for now as I adjust to the temperature of this new place.  

One day at a time is my goal, that and no more unloading rooms on the fourth floor, two mantras to live by.

Saying I’m Sorry

i'm sorry

I stood in the hall with a lump in my throat, thoughts whirling in my mind.  The conversation had been going well until she said those last three words, “Don’t tell anybody.” As soon as I heard them, my stomach dropped.  I felt a little sick because I knew what she didn’t, I had already told somebody.  The thing was, I struggled with whether or not to tell her I’d already let the cat out of the bag.  I knew it would disappoint her and maybe even make her mad to know I’d already shared news that wasn’t really mine to share.

An inward battle quietly raged.

Our conversation weaved in and out of a few shallow topics before I gave in to what I knew I had to do.  Around the tightening in my throat, I squeaked out a confession that I’d already shared her news.  I could hear the disappointment in her voice as she struggled to maintain composure, I also knew what she said next could change a lot of things about our relationship.

Before she could speak, I blurted out “I’m sorry.”

In the back of my mind I wondered what the big deal was, the news was going to get out anyway.  But way down in my heart I knew I’d been overly excited about the good information and shared it with enthusiasm and without permission.  The call ended pretty quickly after my confession and I was left standing in the hallway, my phone to my ear with only silence on the other end.

The words “I’m sorry” rung in my ears and a part of me rebelled against the sound of them, or maybe it was the feel of them, I wasn’t really sure.

I wanted so badly to defend myself, wanted to say I hadn’t been warned to keep quiet until it was too late, but every time the self-protective thoughts came to mind I halted them and spoke the truth to my wounded pride.

It was not my news to share.

The inward tug of war led me to an age old question I’m pretty sure I don’t have the answer to, why is it so hard to say I’m sorry?  Why do those two words have the power to leave a bitter taste or invoke feelings of exhilaration?  In my situation, I didn’t want to be sorry, I wanted declare my innocence.  I wanted to flip my hair and walk away, never really taking any responsibility for the hurt and disappointment I’d caused.  But, I’d made a promise to myself recently to be more transparent, more willing to confess and own up to my mistakes.

More willing to be sorry.

I read a short article recently about people who struggle to say I’m sorry.  I don’t feel like I struggle with it all the time, but there are definitely days when those words do not want to slip off my tongue.  At times they get stuck in my throat and nearly strangle me to death.  In the article those who struggle to say I’m sorry frequently are called “non-apologists” and the very first reason the author gave for why there’s a struggle resonated with me.

Let me quote the author.

“Admissions of wrongdoing are incredibly threatening for non-apologists because they have trouble separating their actions from their character. If they did something bad, they must be bad people; if they were neglectful, they must be fundamentally selfish and uncaring; if they were wrong, they must be ignorant or stupid, etc. Therefore, apologies represent a major threat to their basic sense of identity and self-esteem.”  5 Reasons Why Some People Will Never Say Sorry by Dr. Guy Winch Ph.D.

I had to read that paragraph several times before I was able to really comprehend what the author was saying, and it hit home.

Sometimes when I apologize I’m afraid my apology will cause an implosion inside, as though the admission of wrong will expose what I’d thought to be true all along.  I failed so I must be a failure.  And that makes me feel vulnerable and insecure.  And many times “I’m sorry” makes us feel more vulnerable than we’re comfortable with, and stepping out of our comfort zone is not, well, comfortable, so…we don’t.

The apology, even if it’s deserved, goes unsaid.

I can’t tell you how many times this exact scenario has played out in my life.  Something else has been playing out in my life lately too.

For the past few months I’ve been working hard to develop my cardio.  I want to be able to walk a flight of stairs without huffing and puffing and needing oxygen at the top.  But, I’ve found my body hates, okay, strongly dislikes, the work involved in getting in shape.  If you are one of those people who loves to work out and finds it fun and even exhilarating, we probably won’t be best friends.  I work out because I like jelly doughnuts.

It’s that simple.

I was on a machine in the gym the other day and my muscles were screaming, “STOP IT!!”  I’m pretty sure I looked like I was about to die. I felt so very conspicuous, so obvious and maybe even a little stupid.

But, in my mind I knew the benefit if I pressed on and finished, so, reluctantly I did.  Once I had some time to recover and drank some water, the feeling of accomplishment overwhelmed me.   And I realized that feeling meant more to me than what someone might think if they happened to see me almost dying in the gym.   I may have looked and felt foolish, but knowing I had done it was worth it.

So as I stood there in the hall with the phone still to my ear and the sting of the words still on my tongue, I realized something.  I had done the right thing.  I had confessed and apologized.  I felt badly for telling news that wasn’t mine, and even though my initial instinct was to protect my fragile ego, I had pressed through the embarrassment and done the right thing.

And it felt pretty great, maybe even better than I’d felt at the gym.

You see, saying sorry doesn’t mean every negative thought you’ve had about yourself will be proven true.  It simply means you’re willing to acknowledge and own up to a bad decision or behavior.  That’s all.  You’re willing do the hard thing when it would be so much easier to not to, willing to open yourself to the painful feelings of being vulnerable when you’d rather hide.

Willing to accept responsibility when you’d really rather not.

Well, my friend did forgive me, although it may take a while for trust to be restored and I think I can live with that.   I have the peace of knowing I did the right thing and no matter how it may feel or look in this moment, I know the results are going to be worth it.

And, as if that weren’t enough, I climbed a flight of stairs the other day and I didn’t lay down and die at the top.

I’d say it’s been a pretty good week.

“Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything.” 1 Peter 4:8 The Message