Shelter in a Storm

I knew it as I sat in a church service 1,000 miles away from home, listening to a sermon so dry it sucked the humidity out of the room.

Wilmington was getting a hurricane and we would take in people who had no place to go. This “radial hospitality” stuff Walking Tall Wilmington talks about has taken root in my head, y’all.

I got the call 2 days before the storm hit from my contact. “I have a couple who needs shelter, can you take them?” A friend vouched for their character. The window for us to evacuate had closed and we were at the mercy of Florence as well. Least we could do is offer what we had to these strangers.

Marianne and her husband Joe arrived in time for dinner with all their earthly possessions in their arms. They were my age. I treated them as I would any other house guest, except for the whole “Please take a shower and then we’ll get your laundry started” part.

And so, my husband and I have been co-habitating with a couple who otherwise lives on the streets. They don’t drink, try to stay away from the “typical homeless people,” and chain smoked. Even in my house, they moved silently from room to room. It’s a skill they need to remain undetected sleeping illegally in parks, in the lee of a building, or wherever they can find. Wilmington has laws about these things.

Joe and Marianne have kids who are living with relatives. CPS got involved through lies from another relative, according to them. They’re trying to reunite the family, but that has proven to be an uphill battle, as they lost their car several months ago. Marianne is also pregnant. She shrugged when I inquired about how the baby would be when its no longer getting nicotine after birth. This isn’t her first baby to be born with a cigarette habit. My infertile heart gulped and nodded. Nothing I said or did would change this addiction, yet my heart was so sad.

We lost power the next day during the worst of the storm. My husband managed to keep our household running with hot coffee and eggs for breakfast, courtesy of his Sterno stoves. We ate cold left over spaghetti one night and dined like kings the next with pork chops on the grill, bread, and green beans. We all got on well until the cigarettes ran out and withdrawal set in. My husband ended up running them out to several stores when the storm calmed – all which were closed because we were experiencing a hurricane – until they found one that was open. My husband smokes a few once in a blue moon and understood the need from his 12 pack years. He even lit up a couple of times with them on my deck. The smoke didn’t start to waft into the house until a few days later and it started to bother me. As long as I live, I will never understand smoking.

While my husband focused on food, I cleaned and made sure everyone had tea. We drank loads of tea. Two sugar bowls were emptied and filled: I thought I had a sweet tooth until I met them! I love my sweet tea, but they made it a supersaturated solution. We played games, walked through the neighborhood, watched YouTube videos – laughing with tears streaming down our faces – and had great dinner conversations. Most of the time we did our thing and they did theirs. We took turns praying at every meal and there were often tears in their eyes. I think they carry more burdens than I can comprehend in the short time we spent with them.

Joe and Marianne left when the storm did. We dropped them off at their requested location – so many power lines and trees down, massive flooding – driving around was like a video game. I half expected to see zombies it was so bad.

We hugged them good-bye. They have my phone number. I told them to call if they needed help. They’re sleeping rough tonight, while I am here at the house. My empath heart wants to fix it all.

And I can’t.

Please pray they can pull their lives together and for the baby to be born healthy.

The Table

“Oh, what a beautiful table!”

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People often say this as they enter my kitchen.

While it is a nice piece, it’s nothing special; it was purchased from a big box furniture store in 2010 with the intention of it staying around for awhile. The solid maple table came complete with 6 chairs to match, a soft white cloth seat gave it elegance and comfort.

My husband and I are a lot of things, but formal dining room people are not one of them. Even when we had a formal dining room, our only table graced the lesser breakfast nook. In our old house, the leaf stayed out most of the time so it was circular, unless we were expecting a big crowd. Here at the Dovecote, the leaf is a permanent fixture. Not only do we not have the room to store the leaf, but I like to keep our table ready for company. It fills the kitchen space nicely.

This table has lived life with us. We bought and sold a house around it: what began as an informational meeting with a realtor ended with signatures on the final offer. We’ve hosted a gay pastor, a rommate, high strung Midwesterners, and complete strangers – not to mention friends – over meals. It’s held game nights, feasts of epic proportions (usually when my husband was cooking), an art studio, and planning meetings.

If this table could talk, it would tell you a lot of things. It would tell you the only time my husband and I cried together was around this table over infertility.

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Those gouges? Proof I can’t do it all by myself: that leaf is heavier than it looks and when I tried to put it in myself, I scarred the table pretty hard. There is a heat stain is from my rendition of Grandma’s German Stuffing during Thanksgiving 2016. And those light scratches over the heat stain? Me, again, with fine steel wool trying to remove the heat stain. It only made it worse. It seems to have fadded over time and I’m thankful for that.

 

paint smudge

The occasional bit of paint you see is from my husband’s hobby of painting on canvas. He sometimes uses a table easel for small projects and while he uses dropclothes, a few reminders of his art remain. Nonetheless, I have a huge olive green tablecloth that graces the table for dinner parties and other formal events: it covers everything beautifully. All her scars are hidden.

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I wanted a centerpiece that was simple yet pretty. My sister surprised me with this piece a few Christmases ago. It’s meant for candles, but the votives got stuck and full of dust. The seashells offer a bit of the beach and give it longevity. It’s perfect.

The part that bothers me most are the cloth seats.

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They’re white, which means they show everything: dirt, dust, cat hair, and spills. I’ve tried to keep them white as possible to no avail. Even a steam cleaner doesnt work. The next step is to use a light bleach solution, as soon as I get around to doing that. My husband and I are hard on textiles, yet I refuse to make guests to sit on covers. They are meant to be used and used they will be. 

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This is our table. This is our life. It’s messy and we dont pretend for it to be anything other than that. Although its hard to live into when your husband says something completely stupid or unnecessary, guests worry about rings from the glass on the table (I don’t care and they eventually fade), and the smudges can’t be cleaned off no matter how hard I scrub. I will still host friends, family, and strangers, welcoming them into my home to share life together, to be that light of Christ in their lives.

And that’s all of life: feasts, cryfests, scars that won’t heal, and laughter.

My Testimony

I was born into a mixed marriage: my father was Catholic, my mother was Lutheran. When my mom married my dad in a Catholic church, she agreed to raise her children in the Catholic traditions, a decision she later regretted. I was baptized into Catholicism when I was less than a month old.

My dad took my sister and I to church every Saturday night or first thing Sunday morning – Mom only came on Christmas or Easter. It was just something we did. I did the whole First Confession bit, donned a pretty white dress for my First Communion, and had oil placed on my forehead at 8th grade Confirmation.

I spent my childhood in CCD: Continuing Catholic Development. In short, it was Sunday School on Wednesday nights for an hour. I received my first Bible in 6th grade and it was then we learned how to look up passages – not that we ever read from it. The most productive thing I did in CCD was make an angel Christmas tree ornament out of pasta noodles. I still have it. It was basically an uncontrolled free for all, except one year when our class was ran by Mr. Danforth: in addition to knowing my father, he ran the class like a drill sergeant with new recruits. No one dared to breathe too loudly, let alone act out.

Once in high school, I sort of continued to go to church with my dad, but was out of the CCD mess. In the meantime, I became friends with David. He had this enormous crush on me at one point, but we were firmly planted in the friend zone. David was a sensitive soul who battled bouts of depression – at one point I reported him to the counselor because he talked about killing himself. Nonetheless, our friendship continued. We had a mutual friend in our grade, who’s dad was a pastor of a well known Southern Baptist church in town. The fall of our sophomore year, David went to a youth retreat with the church; David came back a changed man.

In the Baptist church, there is a phrase for what David was: on fire for the Lord. I disagreed: he was engulfed and exploding! “On fire” just seemed too watered down for what David was experiencing. David had accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior and was not shy about proclaiming this fact from the rooftops. Always the introvert, I told him that it was great he found God and he gave his life to Him, but he needed to come down a few pegs and stop acting like a crazy person.

After a few weeks, David settled down in his newfound faith. While he was very eager to share with anyone who would listen, the roaring flames died down to a nice camp sized fire. “Our youth group is having a game night tonight, you should come check it out,” David said to me one day at school. “Okay,” I said.  I was curious about this new and improved lifestyle for David, who seemed to grow confidence and charisma overnight. I knew most of the kids there, as we all went to the same school. And, I had never been to a Southern Baptist church before.  How different could it be from the Catholics?

I showed up for the game night and had a lot of fun with the youth. I met Phil, an adult who was the youth leader, and he seemed like a pretty down to earth guy. Towards the end, Phil got everyone’s attention, they were going to say a quick prayer before everyone left. I thought it was weird they didn’t do the sign of the cross. He ended the prayer with one of those, “With every eye closed and head bowed, raise your hand if you’ve accepted Jesus into your heart.” Without thinking, I raised my hand. I had never heard that phrase before: Jesus in your heart? Well, I was Catholic! I was baptized, oiled, confessed, communed, all those things! Jesus in my heart? Sure! Why not? Whatever that meant.

It was in that moment something clicked. Jesus in your heart. Jesus in your heart. The phrase wouldn’t leave me alone. I finally asked David what that all meant and got a sermon for an answer. And I didn’t mind. He explained the path to salvation, confessing your sin directly to God, repenting – turning away – from that sin, and living your life for the benefit of God. Without Jesus in your heart, when you died, you would go to hell. This whole concept seemed revolutionary to me – I had never heard any of this in all the years I attended Catholic Church. Was this really true?

And so, I did what any young budding scientist would do: I researched. Next time we went to the mall, I picked up a Bible. It was a NIV and marbled blue, but it looked like a huge paperback book (David suggested the NIV flavor). I had never read the Bible before.  Of course, the Catholics followed the Bible, but how did I know that? I had no idea what was in there outside of the Christmas and Easter stories. I don’t remember what I read first — something in the New Testament, like John — but I do remember climbing into a tree that overlooked the river in town and reading parts of Isaiah. It was my first stab at a quiet time with the Lord.

The letters of Paul really stood out to me. I’d ask David questions and if he didn’t know, he’d find out and tell me. I started showing up more at the youth group on Tuesday nights, much to my mother’s chagrin. She was afraid of me becoming Baptist, which meant to her no make up, no dancing, no playing cards, long skirts, and I’d be on of those “holy rolling Bible thumpers.” I assured her I wasn’t going to be a holy roller and the pastor’s son played cards and went to school dances. My dad wasn’t too pleased either, but he didn’t seem to care one way or the other.

I finally attended a Sunday morning at this church with David and was shocked (shocked!) at how everyone talked to each other before the service. As a Catholic, when you were in church, you were silent! It was a culture shock. I knew none of the songs. No one kneeled. The shaking of hands and greeting was personal, unlike the cold “peace be with you” muttered for 10 seconds at the Catholic Church. I could take communion there, and I thought it a bit silly they used grape juice and they brought communion to you! It was beautiful. It was so different.

During this time, my parents marriage, which had been strained since the beginning of time, started to show signs of more strain. With my new church, I’m not sure if I gave my mom strength or if she was really afraid of me becoming “one of those Baptists,” so she suggested we start attending the Lutheran Church together. I was all about this Protestant stuff. I agreed. The Lutheran Church for me was a cross between the Catholics and Baptists, leaning more towards Baptists with their down to earth message, but leaning towards the Catholics with tradition. I really enjoyed the services there. It was the first time I had ever done anything remotely religious with my mom. And thus our family was divided: 2 protestants, 2 Catholics – my sister still attended Mass with my dad.

My dad said something one night about how he didn’t like me going to this Baptist church. I told him no. I was going to stick with it – it preached the message of Jesus, same as what he believed, it was just slightly different. I then said something to the degree of I don’t think I’d raise my children Catholic. He got really angry and yelled something I can’t recall. I walked away and hid in my room. I never disobeyed my dad to his face before. He got the last line, however. He banged on my bedroom door until I opened it and he screamed, “It’s your fault if your mom and I divorce. You divided this family by going to another church. This. Is. All. Your. Fault.” He stalked off, leaving me at the door, bewildered. My mom said nothing. I was 16.

I knew even then that I was not responsible for the unravelling of my parents marriage. I knew that was between them. Nonetheless, those words stung like freezing rain on naked skin. I had to get out. “I’m going for a quick run,” I said through tears as I ran out the door. I did not take a coat for the cold midwestern winter night I ran into and I didn’t care. I ran as fast and as hard as I could to the end of our street, bawling, trying to make sense of all this Jesus and family stuff in my head. One thing was clear: I wasn’t going to turn my back on Jesus. While I hadn’t given my life to him, like David did, I certainly wasn’t about to go back to what I was before with the Catholic church. I had come too far and read too much of the Bible for that. I also absolved, before God that night, with my lungs burning from the freezing air, that I would never punish my children for choosing a different religion than me. The pain was too real and too raw to inflict on someone I loved.

My dad didn’t speak to me again for almost 2 weeks. I chose Jesus over family. For a people pleaser like myself, that was huge. The Holy Spirit had begun Its work in my life.

I spent the rest of the spring and early summer continuing my research. I was attending Sunday morning services quite regularly now, also going on Sunday nights and Tuesdays for the youth group. In addition to reading the Bible, I joined a Bible study on Thursday nights. It was entitled “Experiencing God” and had a workbook with friends from the youth group. I learned so much about God’s character by using this Bible study and reading the scriptures. It was led by a strange couple at church who didn’t have children and eventually left under weird circumstances, but they provided the space for exploring my spiritual journey, and introduced me to journalling; for that I am forever grateful.

As time went on, David kept on me about accepting Christ. “I am not there yet,” I said. If I was going to make a commitment to Him, which appeared to be the biggest decision of my life, I wanted to make sure I was making the right decision for the right reasons with the right information. This did not appear to be something I could gracefully exit if it did not work for me. David warned me of a being a fence sitter, and the scripture that spurred me towards a decision was Revelation 3:16: “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth.” Yikes! I needed to make a decision. And stick with it.

My family’s yearly trip to my cousin’s cottage on the shores of Lake Huron in Michigan gave me the perfect backdrop. While I was there, I fully committed my life, heart, and everything to the Lord. No reservations, no “buts.” It felt great. I have always said there was not a “moment in time” where I came to decision like so many other people’s stories go. For me, following Jesus was like a six month download, slowly creeping toward finality.  It finished in July 1998 with no memory of the day or time.

Through this, my focus in life became Christ. No longer was I living for myself or pleasing my parents: I was living for God. It also helped my depression, as I took all of that to Him and laid it as His feet. Although I never responded to an alter call, my heart was there. Soon thereafter, I wanted to be baptized by immersion. When I spoke to the pastor about it, he said he needed my parents’ permission since I was under 18. I declined. I did not have the strength to tell them and I didn’t want to fight about the subject. And so, before I left for college – at 18 – I was dunked in the church that saved my soul.

My parents still have no idea I was baptized twice.


Last month marked 20 years of walking with the Lord. I feel like I should be more mature by now in the faith than what I am.

With all the cultural changes that occurred in this century, I no longer attend a Southern Baptist church. I have always considered myself a “non-denominational” Christian since accepting Christ. I will be forever in debt to the Southern Baptists for introducing me to sweet tea and Christ. Since moving away from the SBC several years ago, I attended a mainline Christian mega-church and found a home among Methodists. I am not Methodist: I nearly lost consciousness leafing through the Table of Contents in the Book of Discipline. I’m vaguely aware of John Wesley. The message of Christ has always trumped the semantics of denomination for me.

This disillusioned Catholic became a follower of Christ by relationships with other believers who showed love and acceptance, spurring me on towards Christ. And I still hold that truth.

No one is going to come to Christ through arguments on social media, being handed a track, or showing up to the right place in the right clothes and saying the right things. It’s difficult for me to engage others with my introverted nature, as I completely suck at apologetics and hide when everyone shakes hands at church, but I am trying. Chances are you’ll have a glass of wine on my porch with me.

Also, if you come to my church, I’m the awkward person you’ll encounter. Fair warning.

Rebeka

Rebeka and I met in the 5th grade, after my best friend at the time said she was cool and should hang out with us. I was always leery about newcomers, but my friend’s assessment was spot on: Rebeka and I hit it off instantly. She was a complete geek, wicked smart, too cool to let anything get under her skin, and had a crazy sense of fashion. In a word, she was awesome.

We both had terrible hair through middle school and in high school, we came into more of our own. Our friendship bond grew the most in high school – we did practically everything together. Rebeka hosted parties that still live on in infamy in her parents’ basement. They included great music, snack food, games of pool, a plethora of inside jokes, and an entire room painted for blacklight use. I should also mention we were straight edge: these parties were filled with Mountain Dew. Alcohol wasn’t on our radar.

Our lives would diverge on different paths, yet we stayed friends. When I became a Christian junior year, Rebeka stood as a hardline agnostic. “If that’s what you feel you need to do, then you gotta do it,” she said after I told her of my conversion. She never put limits on people or gave me grief over Christ. Rebeka cared deeply for her friends (even though she acted all cool like she didn’t) and always let people be who they really were around her. I think that’s why she’s always had people gravitate towards her: Rebeka was a safe harbor.

College is when things got interesting. She visited me at my college dorm (our colleges were a state apart) and ended up dating my boyfriend’s roommate. I’ll never forget the time I was walking to my dorm bathroom and she came strolling out. “What are you doing here?” “I’m here with M. Sorry, I forgot to tell you I was coming.” Classic Rebeka. I did manage to get her to my favorite coffee shop on campus to catch up on life.

The bottom dropped out when they broke up and it was messy. M took it extremely hard. About a month later, Rebeka called me on the phone. “Um, we have to talk about somethings,” she said slowly. “There’s kinda a big reason I left M.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. I, uh, kinda started dating my roommate. I’m gay.”

My eyebrows jumped off my forehand. Gay? Rebeka? She’s always dated guys and there was no indication of anything other than straight.

“Are we still friends?” I could hear the fear in her voice. “I’ve already told everyone else. I told you last because, well, you’re a Christian, and I thought you’d stop speaking to me.”

“Oh wow, Rebeka, no, we’re still friends and I will never stop speaking to you. This changes nothing between us.”

And so, our friendship continued on.

I gushed to her after I met my husband – she later told me she knew he was the one from my phone call. Rebeka brought her underage and possibly schizophrenic girlfriend to my wedding – her safe harbor ways often brought in the crazy ones too. Rebeka eventually settled down with a nice girl and the last time they visited me in North Carolina, I sensed their relationship was in its death keel. I was right.

And then there was Chris. “She’s really cool, you gotta keep this one,” I said to Rebeka discretely after I met her for the first time. Rebeka eventually married Chris after years of dating and I claim Chris as my sister-in-law. Rebeka often talked about moving down to my neck of the woods – she fell in love with the area like I did. After years of her saying “maybe someday,” her and Chris finally made the move a few years ago.

So, I live 1,000 miles away from home, but my best friend since 5th grade lives on the other side of town. How about that!

We always get together for Christmas morning, campfires, game nights, and true to form, she still hosts parties that live in infamy with better food (we’re talking gourmet) and we graduated from Mountain Dew to alcohol.

I haven’t heard from her in a few months. We run in different circles, yet I always try to keep up with her. Chris suffers from extreme social anxiety, so I think a lot of interaction is limited, which I totally understand.

Right now, I’m waiting to hear back from her. I’ve invited them down for some wine and cheese via voicemail. I hope she’s able to make it. Despite all the changes we’ve weathered, it’s nice to connect with someone who has known you since the beginning. We differ on many aspects of life, but the last time we hung out, we chatted for almost 3 hours straight.

Rebeka and I will be friends to the very end. No matter what.

The Parable of the Pomegranate Bush

Several years ago at the Farmer’s Market, I fell in love with a baby white pomegranate bush. He was just a little guy, barely a foot high – the quart container he came in seemed large.

Over the years, he kept getting root bound in every pot I put him in – even the giant 2ft diameter one! Once we moved to this new house, I found the perfect spot for him in the ground, anchoring the corner of my flowerbed. He’s as tall as me now.

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The Pomegranate bush, July 2018. It really got branchy this year.

I prune him every February and in late spring, he would flower. These beautiful pink flowers looked as if they were the combination of a rose and carnation. Often times, my tree would be loaded with these gorgeous blossoms in late spring, but alas, no pomegranates.

I started reading more about my fruitless situation and it was suggested that not enough bees were visiting, hence the lacking in pollination (pomegranates are self-pollinators, they don’t need a friend to make fruit). The article suggested to pollinate the blooms myself, which I did this year.

Still no pomegranates. The flowers weren’t even as plentiful this year.

A part of me wonders if he is infertile. If so, it makes little difference to me. He’d be right at home here among the rest of us without descendants. Maybe next year? I’m not holding my breath. Like my own case of infertility, I have no idea how to fix it. It’s been in different soil types – I’m not even sure what I’d give it to make it happier (fruitier?).

I got to thinking too how this translates to my walk with the Lord. How often do I flower not produce fruit? Are my intentions followed through with actions, or do I just show beautiful potential, as the flowers fade away. Oh, fruit? What about all those exquisite flowers I just made?

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Another “maybe next time” getting ready to flower. So much potential.

I think a lot about others too with this analogy: how often am I distracted by the flowers without fruit production? “Oh, he’s a flower kind of guy, fruit eventually rots anyway.” I see this in the media, the insane political culture, and occasionally in the church. This is not exactly what the Lord calls us to do.

In the meantime, I’m hoping to make more fruit in both my garden (I’m looking at you, Fig tree sapling without buds) and in my life.

Also, if you have ANY tips for a fruitful pomegranate season, I’m open to suggestion.

“You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.” (John 15:16)

A Tale of 2 Phone Calls

Lately, I keep getting woken up by the past.

Tale #1
Rrrrrttt. Rrrrrttt.

My phone was blowing up on vibrate.

Rrrrttt. Rrrrrttt.

It was 6am. No one ever calls with good news at 6am.

Rrrrttt. Rrrrttt.

I opened one eye, my brain still foggy from the dream of a machine at work that looked like it was destroyed by a tornado. I glanced at my phone. 2 missed calls and a few text messages from Phoebe. “I need to get away. I need to think. Alex is still with the girl. Can I come to your house today? Do you have plans?”

Whoa. This just got serious. “Give me a minute to wake up and I’ll call,” I texted back. Five minutes later, I’m pacing in the backyard, talking with Phoebe. She was surprisingly calm when I spoke with her, despite the fact she had caught her husband with another woman a few days earlier.

Phoebe flipped the script and left on the lam – Alex’s modus operandi. She disappeared without an explanation, en route to the airport for my house. I sent her a picture of my credit card so she could book her plane tickets without detection, promising to write me a check when she landed. A few hours later, I picked her up at the airport. Ironically, I had cleaned the entire house the day prior for no reason. “The Lord knew,” she said. This is also why I keep my guest room in a constant state of readiness. You never know who the Lord will send your way with a moment’s notice.

Phoebe looked the same, as if 12 years hadn’t slipped by, and we picked up right where we left off. We spent time at the beach, ate good food, sipped wine, and discussed her situation extensively. For 3 days I watched her oscillate between a confident Christian woman who was going to contact a divorce attorney to a puddle of sadness and despair, longing for her marriage to made whole again. I was glad to share my home with her, thankful that she was eating and sleeping – something she hadn’t done much of since the blow up.

An ending has yet to be written. But that dream though: all of us work in the same health care department, and I wonder if that shattered machine in the dream means what I think it does. So much prayer. So much.


Tale #2
The other morning I woke up to a group message from the old church I attended in college. They’re hosting a homecoming for the youth group – the whole lot of us were invited for a picnic. Everyone was replying – people I hadn’t thought about in years appeared on my phone – even Jacob and Hannah are attending. This ought to be interesting.

A private message from Ruth was there too – the reception is one week after we were suppose to go on one of our epic adventures – and we decided to table the adventure in favor of the meet-up. Over the years, we had mused about “getting the band back together” and what it would be like to do a reunion. And now, we have that chance. We’ve booked a hotel room and we are each other’s date for the “bring your family” event. She’s like a sister, so it works. My husband had a gig anyway.

I am ecstatic to be back in my college town, especially with Ruth, to walk down memory lane together, in addition to making new memories. My only concern is that John’s last post was in my college town and I could run into him, if he’s still there. We haven’t stayed in contact and I have no desire to change that status. Nonetheless, I am really looking forward to seeing everyone again and hopefully making some new friendship connections with the old church crew.


These sort of things usually come in 3’s, so I’m a bit pensive of the next way the past will pop into my present.

Come what may.

A fissure in time seems unlikely.

Right?

 

New York, New York, It’s a Heck of a Town

I started a tradition in my family: whenever my nieces/nephew turn 16, we go on a trip together in the summer. Chantel and I spent a long weekend in Virginia Beach a few years ago, and we had a blast.

Now it’s Aimee’s turn – Chantel’s younger sister.

She chose New York City. Aimee had never been to a big city before. I bought train tickets and booked a hotel room – and in a few hours, we’re off on an adventure!

My first trip to New York was a couple of years ago before Christmas. I heard about a tour bus company that would drive us there overnight and drop us off at Macy’s on 34th Street around 10am. We had the entire day to do whatever we wanted, as long as we were back on the bus at 11pm. We’d get back home around lunchtime on Sunday. It was the perfect weekend getaway.

My husband completely freaked out about me going into the city alone, so I managed to convince my best friend from high school and her wife to accompany me. My best friend also lived in New York for a summer in college, so she had a decent idea of where things were and how to get around on the subway.

When we arrived in the city, it was like a movie: as soon as we entered the Lincoln Tunnel, the bus began blasting “New York State of Mind” by Jay-Z.

I was not prepared for New York: I’ve done Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Stockholm, Paris, Berlin – but New York was an entirely new animal all together. As we walked to Central Park, I found myself homesick for London and I had no idea New York was so dirty, compared to a cleaner city like Chicago or Berlin. The constant noise and movement were not conducive to my empath ways, and I was thankful I wouldn’t be there too long.

We spent the rest of the morning at the Guggenheim and had lunch at its cafe: $130 for the three of us and no alcohol was ordered. Again, I wasn’t prepared for New York. We went down to the Battery, experienced the Seaglass Carousel, rode the Staten Island Ferry at sunset, and zipped back on the subway to Times Square. As I stepped out of the subway and into the luminous flashy and glittering bright lights, I was stunned. This was incredible. I was not expencting this.

We had dinner at an unknown midtown Italian place, as we met up with some of my friend’s city friends. Great food and a good time by all.

As we drove out of the metropolitan area, I was also taken aback by how many people were homeless. It was staggering.

I have mixed emotions about returning to New York. The adventurist in me is super excited to go exploring with someone new to city life; I’m also a bit concerned – perhaps it’s just my anxiety – about staying safe and those unexpected travel mishaps. I can’t bring mace on the train. I called the hotel to check my reservation and it was under my niece’s name.

I’m ready to get out of town and experience something different. And best of all, I think I found a fellow adventurer in my niece.

Ruth

I met Ruth when I accidentally showed up at the wrong college ministry freshman year (I ended up staying). We looked alike, too, which sometimes caused people to mistake us for sisters. We always found this hilarious.

In college we hung out a bit – the occasional coffee or swimming at the indoor pool in the university recreation center. We’d tread water in the deep end and chat.

Ruth was my polar opposite back then: in my days of too many boys and too much alcohol, she was on the straight and narrow. She would have been aghast that I would ever entertain the thought of getting drunk or was not a virgin – so I just left out those parts of my life.

Nonetheless, we found common ground, and the many memories of this college Bible group have Ruth in them and we stayed close. One night, she was discussing how after graduation she was going to live with her brother for several months who was living in Europe. I was jealous of her upcoming adventure, not to mention I had a slight crush on her gorgeous older brother. And that’s when she said it:

“You should come for a visit!” Oh my goodness, that was too good to pass up!

The three of us spent a week traveling around England with no particular plan, just wherever the trains happened to take us that morning. I loved it!

This trip cemented our status as lifelong friends, in what was supposed to be a friendship that faded away with college life. Ruth became one of my closest confidants in my adult life. The days of editing my life for her ears had long since passed. She knew everything. In time we had grown up: I cleaned up my act and Ruth realized the world was not as black and white as she thought it to be.

We kept each other in the loop about our various romantic escapades, struggles, and joys – as singles and as wives. We also shared the hardship of infertility. Our stories were night and day different, but both of our homes remained silent without children.

A few years ago, we decided to restart our adventures by meeting halfway between our homes, as we live quite a distance apart. Our adventures have spanned a near-death experience in West Virginian mountains and backpacking cities. We try to meet up at least once a year and do something fun: it’s usually outdoors, involves a glass of wine, a tourist stop, and deep conversations.

A friend like Ruth is one of those rare gems – I think of her more as a sister. Her intelligence, character, and love of God have not only inspired me but buoyed me through some really hard times, as well as contributed to the good times. I know I can call her at any time to tell her anything, and she will always be gentle and listen. She doesn’t judge, yet she’ll call a spade a spade when it needs to be said. I am so grateful for her honesty and her 24 karat persona.

I’m excited to see where the Lord is going to lead Ruth. She made the decision to leave her abusive marriage after many failed attempts to fix it. Now that she is free from that burden, I know she will blossom, like the tree by the water in Jeremiah 17:7-8.

….and I can’t wait for our next adventure!

 

A Different Kind of Card for Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is always hard for me, as a woman who can’t have children. 

Picking out a mother’s day card for my mom and mother-in-law is bad enough. I always feel uncomfortable in that card section and the sticky sweet sentiments make me gag. It’s like happy Christian pop rock to my shaded rock ‘n roll soul. It’s not me.

After watching friends have kids – and listening to their sordid stories – I realize that motherhood is not this idyllic 1950’s ad campaign concept. It’s my understanding that although there are precious moments, there are far more vomit/poop/tantrums/utter chaos/cringe worthy moments. It feels weird to gloss over all this with a flowery mother’s day card. The day is to celebrate moms, no? 

I decided to do something different a few years ago. I sent my mom and mother-in-law emails in lieu of cards, with a short blurb. The sentiment? Happy Mother’s Day and thank you. 

For my mom, I thanked her for being strong. She raised us without any extended family support, without a church family, and had no help from my father in terms of child rearing. She really went at it alone. I thanked her for all she did in those early years that I didn’t notice then.

I thanked my mother-in-law for raising such an amazing son. With his dad constantly traveling for work, she too raised her kids alone. I told her that I know my husband turned out so well because of her influence on him – his kindness, love for animals, and amazing cooking abilities.

I got replays back, both of them thanks in return. My mom said she got teary eyed. I heard from my sister-in-law that whatever it was that I wrote, really made an impression on my mother-in-law.

I challenge you to write a thank you card rather than a Mother’s Day card this year, especially if Mother’s Day is difficult for you. And if you are a mom, you know how much a simple thank you goes to such a thankless job.

Take a moment to thank them for their beautiful sacrifice and acknowledge their impact in your life.

Deborah

Deborah and I were not supposed to be friends.

She was a high school girlfriend of my then-college boyfriend and she was a nutcase. She was loud, annoying, and often came running up to my boyfriend and I in the university dining commons, greeting him with a big hug. They stayed friends, you see. I went out of my way to avoid her at all costs.

My boyfriend hosted a small gathering of friends at his house with the intent of getting drunk one night – my first foray into drinking. He and the guys left to get the goods from someone else – we were under age – and he had also invited Deborah who showed up just as they were leaving – I stayed behind.

I was stuck with her. Alone. I was livid.

I attempted guarded small talk with her only to be nice, praying the boys would be quick. As we chatted, we realized we had loads in common. When the guys came back with liquor an hour later, we were already old friends. Deborah and I were giggling and drunkenly hanging on each other as the night went on. My boyfriend just shook his head and smiled. He certainly had a taste for fun girls. I misjudged this one.

Our friendship quickly flourished into a strong bond of sisterhood as college rolled on. Our senior year we got an apartment together and painted it in the most ostentatious colors we could find, which included purple, lime green, blue, yellow, and neon pink. Her creativity and genuine personality complemented my own. Together, Deborah and I were unstoppable.

Our adventures were many: road trips that started at 11pm and ended as the sun came up, Spring Break in Florida (we ended up in St. Augustine/Disney when we realized the party in Daytona Beach was not our scene), and hosted legendary parties in our colorful apartment. 

Deborah also became my voice of reason: when the relationship with my boyfriend turned toxic, she called me out on it and assured me I would be okay when it ended. She was also a vocal opponent of my liaison with John (my friend with benefits), evident that it was not healthy long term. I leaned heavily on her in these times, perhaps more than I should have in hindsight. 

After college, she married her college sweetheart and we lived within an hour of each other. We went to concerts, saw indie films, and drank beer together. Her encouraging words urged me to re-evaluate my direction in life; she was the catalyst for refocusing myself to God and making better relationship choices. Deborah expressed dismay in my decision to leave Illinois and head into the unknown of North Carolina, but she knew I needed it. Deborah and Phoebe were the ones who locked up my apartment with me when I left for the coast.

After I moved, Deborah got pregnant and I met my husband. She morphed into a mom, while I pursued the traveling career girl route. We kept in touch sporadically, but when we met up, her conversations were limited to topics surrounding motherhood and my European adventures were all I could share, neither of us understanding the other’s experience. We had entered different worlds, and I was sad that the vibrant imaginative woman I knew was replaced with one who droned on about diaper rash.

Our communication became less and less. 

She had another baby by the time I hit my infertility phase. I never told her of my struggles. Occasionally we’ll exchange “How are you? I am great!” text messages. I haven’t seen her in years. I have no idea what she’s really like anymore, how her triumphs and failures have shaped her since our multicolored days as college students. I wish she could know me now, how I’ve changed for the better since college. Her social media feed projects a loving mother, a doting wife, and a confident executive. I know she is all of those things.

I wish I still knew the woman behind the smile.

Maybe years from now, Deborah and I will rekindle our friendship; we’ll once again reveal what’s in our hearts to each other over a drink, laughing about the good old days, caring for each other in the moment, and sharing our dreams of the future. 

I refuse to lose hope.