31 Days of Advent in October :: Day 1

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31 Days :: Day 31

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31 Days :: Day 29

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31 Days :: Day 27

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31 Days :: Day 24

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31 Days :: Day 3

31 Days :: Day 2

Welcome to 31 Days of Advent in October :: Day 1! (Yes, technically this is posting on September 30th, but since it’s late in the evening, we’re all just going to pretend it’s October 1st.

As I shared last week, I decided to join the 31 Days of Writing party at The Nester’s this year. It seemed fitting given that not having a blog to wear to the party last year is one of the things that inspired me to actually start my blog this year.  Practically speaking, this post will be an index page for all of my 31 Days posts, sort of a one stop shop.  So if you don’t want to receive an update every single time I post this month (that could be annoying), you could simply bookmark this page and come back when it’s convenient for you to read and then temporarily unfollow my posts.  I promise, I won’t take it personally if you choose to unfollow me this month.   But do please come back in November.  If you choose to continue receiving email updates throughout the month of October, well all I can say is THANK YOU!   You are the most amazing follower EVER!  Now onto the first post…

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Five pages into Ann Voskamp’s latest book, The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas, I was inspired to spend these 31 days of October reading selections from the book and writing out my own Advent thoughts and responses. Maybe a little heart-tuning to Advent in October will bear fruit of gratitude in December when everyone else’s attention also turns to the Babe in a manger.

As the book opens on page vii, with “Your Invitation to Unwrap the Gift”, I read words that have a familiar echo in my own heart in recent months: “…without the genealogy of Christ, the limbs of His past, the branches of His family, the love story of His heart that has been coming for you since before the beginning…” (page viii) and, “This, this is the love story that’s been coming for you since the beginning,” (page x).

The Advent season, the waiting, the coming of Christ, didn’t begin with the Immaculate Conception. It didn’t begin when an angel spoke to a young girl that she would be the earthly mother of Grace wrapped in humanity. It began before a promise to David, before a covenant with Abraham, and even before the promise and comfort in the middle of a curse in Eden.

Advent began before time when Love, in community with itself, decided to create an object for its affection. Christ, Emmanuel, God with Us was never Plan B. He was not Father God’s response to our poor decisions. He is The Plan and He always has been. Pure, unconditional Love wrapped in flesh, inserted into time and space for you and me.

“He’s been coming for us since before the beginning.”

31 Days Idea

Last year one of my favorite bloggers, The Nester, announced that for the fourth year in a row she was going to write for 31 days straight about one specific topic in the month of October.  And for the fourth year in a row she invited others to join her and link up their posts on her site, every single day for the month of October.

I really wanted to join in, but alas at the time I had no blog.  I had nothing to link up with.  I had no place to post my thoughts.  So for thirty-one days I read her series.  And I read some of the others who linked up with her.  Twelve hundred folks linked up to her blog and participated in the 31 Days series.   I know this is a bit ridiculous and probably slightly dramatic, but I felt a little like Cinderella…I was invited to the party, but I had nothing to wear so I couldn’t go.

So when I started my blog in January this year, in the back of my mind was the spark of hope that this year, 2013, would be my opportunity to join in the fun.  I finally had a dress for the ball.  I realize writing for 31 days straight about the same thing might not be anyone else’s idea of fun, but it sounds very intriguing to me.

Honestly, I am not even sure I can do it, but I would like to try.

Now, I’ve had all year to think about what topic I would write about for 31 days, but last week when the proverbial rubber met the road, I drew a complete blank.  I almost started to panic because I have looked forward to this for a year and now that it’s here I was coming up empty…until the light bulb came on and inspiration rang through me like a bell.

Allow me to elaborate…a few weeks ago Ann Voskamp’s new book came out, The Greatest Gift:  Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas.  The book is laid out in 25 daily selections meant to be read in the Advent Season (the first 25 days of December).  When I ordered my copy of the book I intended to save it for the Christmas season, but how could I wait????  It’s Ann Voskamp for goodness sake.  So I started enjoying myself a little Christmas in September last week.

That’s when it hit me that I would love to read a selection of her book each day in October and then write a response to it.  Her book includes thought-provoking, reflection questions at the end of each reading selection so if I get stuck I could use the questions as a launching place.  The only obvious problem is that there are 25 reading selections and 31 actual days in October, so I think I will just choose six selections and write two responses to them.  Again, it’s Ann Voskamp, finding multiple themes and layers to write about from one selection should not be a problem.

I am posting this on Monday this week so that I can take the rest of the week to plan and start working on this little 31 Day writing project.  There are a couple of tech-y things I need to try to figure out and honestly the tech-y stuff is not my strength.  I am excited though to debut this neat little graphic that my 13-year old helped me design (maybe I should just hire her to figure out ALL of the tech-y stuff):

31 Days of Advent in October

The other reason I am posting this on Monday is in case any of you would like to read the book along with me and then post your thoughts or responses to it in the comments each day.  If you are interested you have time to pick up a copy of the book before October 1st.  If there are no takers, that’s fine, after waiting a year to do this there’s not a lot that will squash my excitement.

More Momma Grace

In my last post I shared a little bit of my struggle in this new season. However, if you read that carefully and saw that I mentioned that one of my daughters is in college then you know this season isn’t really new. In fact, I’ve been in it for probably five years, I JUST DID NOT KNOW IT! My oldest daughter, Liv Loo, knew it, but I was completely oblivious to the fact that the game had changed and I was still trying to play it the way I always had. In other words, lay down the law and expect to be obeyed at all costs, OR ELSE!

What is new however, is that I am in a reflective, nostalgic, evaluate-my-entire life place, and well, all I can say is that I am grateful for God’s unconditional love and that His mercies are new EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. for me and every member of my family.

Over the last several years though, I did miss a lot of opportunities for relationship, particularly with my oldest daughter, who has been the one to lead the way through all of these parenting transitions. I spent an awful lot of time telling her what to do, what to think, how to dress, who to hang out with, and just generally communicating all of my thoughts and expectations, but not really letting her try on some of her own.

But as transformation has occurred, albeit slowly, I’ve tried to give her the room she needs to live life as an adult, which has honestly felt like driving on the left-hand side of the road…completely unnatural. In the grand scheme of things I don’t feel like I’ve been very good at it and it only feels like I’ve been doing it for five minutes, but I’ve decided I can’t change the past I can just trust God in every moment I move forward through and trust Him to redeem the ones I’ve left behind in the wake of fear and control.

Left side driving

And in His love and mercy He gives me beautiful glimpses, Momma grace moments) into how only He can redeem all and restore all.  A couple of weeks ago Liv Loo was sharing a conversation with me that occurred between her and a friend who is also her age, almost 20 years old – an adult (I wrote that to keep reminding ME that she is an adult…it’s really hard). Without going into too many details, they were discussing an encounter her friend had with his parents and his disappointment in their response to something he wanted to try. The long and the short of it is he felt like they were treating him like a 14-year-old instead of a man.

And then some of the most precious words I’ve ever heard (and she didn’t even know it) came out of her mouth, “They don’t treat him like you treat me, Momma. You listen to me, ask questions, make suggestions and then let me make my own decisions. They just tell him what to do and what to think.” All I could do was thank God for letting me see that He is so much bigger than my mistakes.

He truly makes all things new, even when I make a mess.

I receive that grace.  This is abundant life.  This is walking through life with my tiara on straight, not because of anything I’ve done, but because of Who He is.

Taylor Swift & Momma Grace

It’s a little hard to segue from an unintentional series on how I am only now starting to know myself and how I really don’t know what to do with my emotions, but here’s giving it a shot.

I am in a bit of a nostalgic season. Since school is back in session (O summer where have you gone????) and I now have one in college, a high school junior and an eighth grader, it has put me in a reflective frame of mind. All of this reflection has made it more and more apparent that my role as a mom is changing, it’s a new season, and it is hard for me.

I don’t mean it’s hard in the something-is-terribly-wrong-and-I-don’t-know-what-to-do way. It’s hard because I don’t do change well, in fact I don’t like it.  I REALLY liked it when my kids were little. Even though I was completely clueless back then, I at least felt like it was a good Momma day if everyone got to and from school, ate three times, wore clean clothes, bathed, brushed their teeth at least once, and squealed with laughter while rubbing their bare feet on Popey’s bald head at bed time. In other words, I was pretty much in charge of everything in their lives, including their fun.

The hard part for me is transitioning from being the hygiene-police to whatever it is I am supposed to do now. My inner Momma wants to daily insert myself in every area of their lives. It’s hard to watch them struggle and find their own way, whether it’s in relationships or work or school or just trying to understand who they are and where they fit in the world. And let’s face it, it’s really, really hard to not tell them how to drive. Every time one of them backs out of the driveway I have to take a deep breath and push back tears. It’s not that I want things to always stay the same, I just miss my little girls.

We are in that season when, even though they all technically live here and put our address down as their legal residence, for the most part they are never home. They are either at school, at work, at church or hunkered down in their respective rooms doing homework. Or hunkered down in their respective rooms avoiding homework. I have learned that if I park myself in my bedroom at the top of stairs (I work on my bed a lot and have a direct line of sight to whoever is coming up or going down) or on the corner of our big red couch then I can catch a momentary glimpse of them as they are coming or going or grabbing a snack. It’s not much, but I will take what I can get. I miss my girls.

So last week one of our daughters had the chance to go see Taylor Swift’s concert in Greensboro, NC. She had the tickets for months, but the excitement really mounted around here as her iPhone counted down the final days to the concert. The afternoon she left with a friend and her parents to go to the concert I walked with her out to their car. When she got into the car I just asked if she would text when they got there and then again when they were on the way home. What I wanted to ask was that she text me every five minutes so that I would know she was alive, but I restrained myself. You may think I am joking, but God really has done a work in me.

English: Taylor Swift performing live on Speak...

As they pulled out of the cul-de-sac I felt a twinge of regret that I had not bought a ticket and was going with them. But at that exact moment I realized I could really use a nap and there was no way I would have made it through a concert and the drive home (much to my family’s dismay I am often in my PJ’s by 7:00 pm and I am usually in the bed by 8:30 every night reading or watching TV).

A couple of hours later I got a text that they were there. I breathed deep and grateful relief. Then I got a text and photo of my daughter and her friend in their seats. Then I got a text about the first act. And then I got a text about the next act. And another text and another text. And then more texts when they got in the car to come home, written in ALL CAPS TO COMMUNICATE HER JOY AND EXCITEMENT.

My 16-year old daughter was having the best night of her life and she texted me through the whole thing. I receive that grace.

In this season of the struggles, the miscommunications, the misunderstandings, the stretching of wings, the venturing out, the trying on of new ideas and the shirking of old ones, the wrestlings of faith, and the pushing against the goad, I will gladly receive what they choose to share. I will celebrate who they are becoming. I will wait for them to reach out and embrace them when they do. I will be grateful that in all the moving forward and out they still reach back sometimes just to touch home base, just to share familiar love even just for a moment.

I receive that grace.

By the way, in all of the concert-texting-excitement my daughter made an executive decision to make me her manager. I am now tasked with making her famous and planning her world tour. I am so overwhelmed with emotion I can’t decide whether to eat ice cream, make sandwiches or send her an ugly, imaginary plant. Stay tuned for all of her concert dates and locations. But first I think I need that nap.

And Then There’s The Time I…

So this post is strictly for amusement purposes and if it makes you feel better about any of the odd or crazy things you’ve ever done in an overwhelming flood of emotion, well that’s just a bonus.

When I wrote the post last week about not being able to verbalize what I am feeling, it triggered a series very funny memories about some of the things that I have done over the years when emotions swelled and simply were not going to be ignored. Apparently, they had a mind of their own and when I couldn’t articulate them, they created their own avenue of escape and made me look like an idiot on more than one occasion.

Please know that some of these things are only funny in hindsight and I’ve altered them slightly to protect the unsuspecting witnesses to (or should I say victims of) my lack of personal awareness. But my responses are all completely accurate and true, in embarrassing detail.

Just a few years ago a very close friend called from the Emergency Room to say that paramedics had brought her dear grandfather to the hospital and he was unresponsive. I met her there and sat with her in a family consultation room where an ER doctor had let her know that her grandfather had died. I sat there as she wept along with our sweet pastor and his wife who had joined us. Thankfully the Lord sent people who did know what to say because all I could do was cry with her and keep passing her Kleenex.

So later that afternoon after leaving the hospital and getting her home, I was feeling so sad for her and feeling like I had handled the whole Emergency Room situation so inadequately, that I felt COMPELLED to do something (mental note: when I feel compelled to do something I should probably not do anything). All I could think was that in the next day or so all of her family, who are spread far and wide across the country, were going to be arriving in town and she was going to need to feed them (she’s wonderful about feeding people). So in a flash of brilliance (sarcasm), I ran to Costco and bought one of their trays of deli sandwiches that will feed tons of people, or at least 10 or 12.  I then made a stop at a convenience store and bought her a Coke Zero.  Who doesn’t need a little sugar-free caffeine to help get over a crying headache, right?

I arrived on her front porch a while later, she opened the front door, still teary-eyed, and I so wanted to say EXACTLY the right thing, but all that came out was, “I don’t do grief well, but I brought you some sandwiches.” That’s the best I can do. I really don’t remember what happened next, but we have laughed about it TONS since then (in fact we laughed about it last week) and every single time I pass the deli sandwiches at Costco I smile.

English: Costco in Moncton, New Brunswick

Then there was the first time I ever had to fire an employee. Let me say, if you’ve never had to do this, count yourself fortunate. Even if someone needs to be fired, it just doesn’t feel good being the person who actually has to do it (unless of course your issues are different than mine and you enjoy such things). I found this situation particularly stressful because the employee in question had in the past proven to be volatile and I just never knew what version of her was going to show up each day. It sort of depended on what combination anti-psychotics she was taking that week. Which meant that when my office door closed in order to give us privacy, I felt trapped and very vulnerable.

I wish I could say I communicated to her in a clear and concise manner in all of my best professionalism.  However, I have a nervous laugh that decided to make an appearance that day, and IT WOULD NOT STOP. It was awful. I nervous-laughed through the entire thing.  Just picture Anthony Bouvier on Designing Women – if you don’t know what I’m talking about, well that’s a whole other post.

I should have been the one fired that day. Sadly this seems to be a pattern for me when I feel vulnerable and unsure of someone’s reaction to me when I have to be the bearer of bad news.  It happens way more than I would like. Have I mentioned I don’t like conflict?

So this last one is just as ridiculous. Years ago when I was in college I had a friend who was a police officer and one night they called to tell me they had been involved in a shooting and the suspect had died. It wasn’t a long conversation, but I put myself in their shoes and even though my friend was totally justified in what happened it was still a gut-wrenching thing to walk through. Meting out life and death regardless of the circumstances is rough on the human frame. Once again, I had all these emotions that were desperate to escape and convey themselves to my friend.

As usual I was at a total loss as to what to say, so do you know what I did? The only logical thing a girl could do in that situation, I called a local florist and sent my friend a plant. My police officer friend shot and killed a criminal and I sent them a plant. Not just any plant, a pretty ugly plant. This was long before the internet and I was no plant expert, so when I described the situation to the florist (imagine what must have gone through her mind) she suggested a kalanchoe. In all fairness to her officer-involved-shooting-the-suspect-is-dead plant suggestion, I must have told her I was in college and had a very limited plant-sending budget.

What’s worse is that after I ordered it I kept calling it a ‘kakamelia.’ If you just Googled that then you know there is no such thing.  There are just so many layers to my humiliation.

Like I said, this was strictly for your entertainment pleasure.  And if you know me in real life, then right now you are wondering why I didn’t turn this into a whole series because there are MANY more of these events I could share.

Again, life’s too hard to walk alone and it’s definitely too hard to walk without a good laugh along the way. Even though I usually don’t have the exact right words for my friends in moments of crisis, I keep showing up and love them the best way I can. Except of course for the whole firing episode…for that I have absolutely no explanation.  Sometimes I think my role on the stage of life is to provide the comic relief.

Proverbs 17:22 (NKJV) – “A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.”

In Which I Learned Something about Myself

And there is still another layer to the riveting drama in my Winn Dixie post earlier this week. When I sat down to write that post on Monday, I had been really thinking about it and talking to the Lord about it for the better part of a week. The revelation of God’s profound demonstration of love for me in the midst of my brokenness and how he moved heaven and earth to show me that love was very overwhelming for me. While I am prone to exaggeration for comedic effect, I do mean literally that He moved heaven and earth because Popey had just been transferred back to the US after being stationed in Egypt for a while.  In fact, his poor lips were still scarred from the middle eastern sun and he had white lines around his eyes from squinting.  And we met at exactly the right time.

Anyway, as I was processing all of the emotions that welled up over the extravagance of God’s love, I wanted to share that with the man God used so wonderfully. So when he came in from work on Friday evening (now remember, I had been thinking about this A LOT and even shed a few tears) here’s how that conversation went:

Me: “Thanks for chasing me down in the Winn Dixie all those years ago.”

Him: (smile) “You’re welcome.”

Me: (my heart was full and my mind went completely blank and nothing else came out)

I was so frustrated with myself for not being able to say what I was feeling and actually have a conversation about it. And then I couldn’t even say that I was frustrated with myself.  But then we had ice cream and it was all good.  We deal with a lot of things over ice cream.  Which by the way is a tradition that started back in my Winn Dixie days.  Popey would drive home from Fort Bragg just to see me on my 15 minute break at work and we would go to the little frozen yogurt shop around the corner from my store.

Soft ice cream

Fast forward to Saturday morning. One of my daughters shared with me a particularly painful situation she is walking through and how her heart is broken (Just know there is a future post I am developing about how hard it is to watch your kids struggle and that Jesus really is enough for them too). On the inside I had a lump in my throat and a heaviness in my own heart, but when I tried to say something my mind went completely blank, AGAIN. I felt terrible for her. She poured out her heart and I went blank.

But I realized that I actually feel this way often, when my emotions well up somehow words don’t flow from my mouth.

Later on Saturday I apologized to my daughter for not being able to articulate my feelings earlier and she said, “It’s ok Mom. I get it when you write. I cry every time I read something you write, whether it’s a blog post, a text or an email. That’s how you communicate your feelings. You write them.”

Study

And that’s what I learned about myself…I am pretty good at verbally communicating thoughts, ideas, information, even instructions, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t say what I am feeling.

So to everyone in my life who has ever shared something painful, joyful, heavy or crazy and I just stared back at you like I had no idea what you meant, I would like to offer my most sincere apologies. Please know that I heard your heart, I felt your pain, I shared your joy, I was grateful for your gift, but my emotions closed off my throat and I was literally at a loss for words. Next time I will write you a note. 🙂

And if you are asking yourself, “Does she know herself at all?”  The answer is definitely no, but I know the One who does and He’s revealing it to me every day.

Amen.

Thanks for Chasing Me Down in the Winn Dixie

Have I ever told you the story of how I met my husband? For some reason this was on my mind a lot the last several days. As I mulled it over my perspective on the story changed a little bit and it became a bit sweeter to me.

Be warned, this is probably a post written more for me than anyone else, so feel free to abandon ship at any point you have something better to do…like fold laundry, make dinner or watch TV.

When I was 18 years old and just a few months from my high school graduation, I worked at a local Winn Dixie store. And when I say I worked there, well that’s sort of an understatement. I practically lived there because I begged for all the hours I could get. At one point in my retail grocery career, two store managers split my time between their individual stores so that I could work more than 40 hours per week and they wouldn’t have to pay me over time.  I know, I was dumb.

One of the perks to this job was that I had to wear a RIDICULOUS polyester, Carolina blue uniform (complete with elastic waist pants and matching top with two very utilitarian pockets to hold 20 pens at once) that had absolutely no shape. The best part was I had to wear white nursing shoes with my uniform so I looked extra professional.

winn-dixie crew 1986 pleasantfamilyshopping

(The EXACT uniforms store employees wore back then…only we weren’t this happy about it!  Thanks Pleasant Family Shopping)

I was very industrious for $3.65 per hour. I took everything very seriously. When my store manager told me to stay busy and never be caught standing around talking to my friends, well I figured he meant it. And I diligently made sure that when I wasn’t checking out customers as fast as lightening or counting down tills in the office that I picked up every piece of trash in sight, swept the floors, re-stocked unwanted grocery items, and above all else I never looked like I had nothing to do. Otherwise, he might send me home and I wouldn’t get all the hours I needed.

For reasons that are better left revealed in a MUCH longer format (say a book?), I was afraid of losing my job. And just to show you I know how crazy it sounds, let me say it clearly, I WAS AFRAID OF LOSING A JOB THAT PAID $3.65 AN HOUR (and made me wear possibly the worst uniform in history).

So, one Friday night, in walked the man I have now spent almost 27 years of my life with. And he came in specifically to meet me. He was home from Fort Bragg to spend a long Easter weekend with his family. And he had a sister, a sister who worked with me. And he came to Winn Dixie that night to meet me and to ask me out on a date.

He walked up to me at the video counter (we were a cutting edge store – we rented movies before Block Buster came along and we had the first scanners I had ever seen in a store) where I was checking in videos and he started to talk to me.  He was a real, adult, grown up man, and he was talking to me.  And I almost threw up. All I could think was, “Talk without moving your lips and keep moving your arms like you are working and maybe the manager won’t notice.” I kept trying to squeeze myself into the one square foot of space behind the cigarette/video counter that could not be seen from the one-way mirrored glass in the front office where the manager kept a close watch on all of us.

And my future husband kept talking. Sadly, I can’t remember a thing he said. I am sure he asked me about myself. I am sure he told me a lot about himself. But all I heard was the voice in the back of my head screaming , “You’re gonna get fired! And then how are you going to pay for college? And if you don’t go to college, what’s going to happen to you?”

At some point I realized there was a basket of groceries that needed to be put away so I grabbed the basket and took off around the store to put the items back. And Popey (his cleverly disguised nick name – you know how vigilant I am about protecting the innocent) took off after me. That man followed me up and down those aisles, watching me put away groceries, trying to have a conversation with me. The truth is, he didn’t just follow me, he chased me. He would not be ignored. He would not be left behind. He was going to ask me out if it took him all night.  I didn’t realize he jumped out of airplanes for a living, chasing me around a grocery store to ask me out probably didn’t seem all that intimidating.

I wish I could remember what he said. I wish I could say we had some sweet conversation, but all I know after all this time is that at some point in the pursuit he asked and I said yes, and a lot of story has unfolded since that night. We went on that first date. He left the Army a couple of months later. I went off to college a couple of months after that. We dated the whole time I was in college. We’ve had three kids, a home, long term health issues, a business/several jobs/multiple careers between us. We’ve shared a lot of joy and a lot of pain (and sometimes we’ve inflicted it  😦 ), but the point is we’ve done it together.

I’ve always looked back on that story and thought about how precious and sweet he was that night, but I beat myself up for being so broken that I almost missed the opportunity to share my life with him. But what hit me the last few days is that God loved me so much and knew how broken I was that He sent someone into my life who wasn’t going to give up on me, who wasn’t going to run away even when I ignored him, and who was willing to share life with me – the good, the bad and the ugly. He sent me someone willing to chase me down when necessary, just to love me.

God knew how lonely I was. He knew I didn’t know how to fix it. He knew that I didn’t even understand how much trouble I was really in by trying to live life in all my independence and self-sufficiency. God knew me and God sent Popey.

This life is too hard to live and figure out on our own.  Popey, thanks for chasing me down in the Winn Dixie that night (and every day since).  And Father, thanks for loving me through him.