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.

Phoebe

Phoebe texted me out of the blue.

Seven years had passed since we last spoke – 1,000 miles and a lifetime between us. We drifted apart as life happened. We communicated through Christmas cards.

She wanted to catch up.

I met Phoebe at my first job out of college, in the barren wastelands of central Illinois. She was a new immigrant from Asia, and in the small red neck town I found myself in, she was the coolest one there. We would walk to house parties, taking pulls off of a flask of rum. We’d go dancing at the night club an hour away – dressed to kill – or grab drinks at the bar down the street. We’d swap boy stories, hang out, have lunch dates, and I learned a great deal about her culture and way of life back home. When we hung out with her crew, I was often the lone white girl, who was a full foot taller than everyone.

She worked second shift, I worked third shift with her then-boyfriend Alex, an American. Alex helped me learn my trade and I kept up with him for job references. When they got married, I was a bridesmaid.

We kept in touch after I moved to the coast for several years. Once the kids came along, we drifted apart. I got a phone call when she found out she was pregnant with her first. I learned of her second child on social media. I haven’t seen her since 2009 and never met her kids.

I was surprised to see her texting me after all this time, but my heart was happy. I missed Phoebe. We talked on the phone that night. She sounded good, she caught me up on all the local gossip, as she and Alex are still in the same town. We talked about the surface level things – fond memories, how “things were currently going well,” both of us still unsure of the other – I wasn’t ready to spill my heart of the past years with anxiety, infertility, and alcoholism. Maybe for another conversation. Her accent was as thick as ever, my ear no longer trained to it. It was never like that before.

We ended our conversation with her and the family possibly coming to visit in the fall.

A few days later, Phoebe texted, Can you talk thru text message?

Sure, I replied. This was bizarre, but okay.

All the pieces clicked in her next message.

I’m not in a good place. I’m leaving Alex. I can’t take it anymore. Can you help me restart my life? Maybe I can get a job by you?

What?

Long story short, Alex cheated on her several years ago and they got through it. The other woman recently waltzed back into town and Alex got a burner phone to communicate with her behind Phoebe’s back – despite his denials of contact. It was a mess that involved the cops at one point when their argument got out of hand over the situation.

I offered for her to come to my beach for a few days, get out of the situation to think clearly, and said several times to get professional help. Counseling in these situations is so important, whether they stayed together or not.

She began to price airfare and planned a long weekend visit in a few weeks.

And then I got this message:
Things are better. We talked it out and I’m leaving for a visit to Asia soon and I don’t have the money to fly to North Carolina right now. But thank you so much for listening and supporting me! I promise I will come down sometime this year!

I told her the invitation was open and that if she needed time to get away, I was here for her.

This was all several weeks ago.

I texted her today, to see how she was doing. Things had returned to normal – the other woman was gone and the harmonious matrimony continued.

I hope stays that way.

September in Review

As hypothesized at the beginning of the month, I didn’t plant my grape vines. I did, however, grow in other areas.

My husband and I had a couple over from church for dinner. Despite the main course not turning out 100%, dessert was perfect and they didn’t leave until after 10pm because we were having such great conversation. It was really good for us. Seeds of friendship were sown.

While we downsized our stuff before we moved, there were a few items that we couldn’t place in our new house. They were sent to a resale shop that benefits women of domestic violence, in hopes they could help grow someone else’s new beginning.

I began my second assignment working as a ghostwriter, and it has stretched me as a writer and challenged my abilities. We’re still working on setting the right voice with the literature, but I love helping others reach their goals from behind the scenes. My ghosting benefits many by tilling the soil for others to grow – it’s a good feeling – and I am happy to be a part of it, even though my name is not on it.

In the vein of gardening, I paid entirely too much money for a full landscape of my house, but now it looks amazing. The final frontier, also know as the backyard, is a work in progress. The many years of debris are cleared and I hope to rescue the remnants of grass and coax it into a lawn in the spring. The amount of weeds is simply astounding. But pulling each weed by hand has been a salve for my panic attacks. It’s quickly becoming a sanctuary for me. Between work and marriage, I need a place of solace, and right now it is among the weeds.

Next year, there will be grapes.

September: Grow Grapes

One of my goals this year was to grow grapes.

Muscadine grapes are indigenous to the Carolinas and I thought this would be the perfect variety to grow. They need sun, 20 feet of trellis, and a friend to pollinate. My backyard, like the rest of my landscape, is in a sad state of affairs. There is so much work to be done, grading the yard, removing weeds, and getting a plan together – I will need professional help. Because of time and money, I can’t plant this year.

I made this list of focus points for the year back in January, in our old house. Moving was still a “maybe someday” conversation. I had no idea how much of a roller coaster 2017 was going to become and how much would change in my world.

My September focus is indeed “growing grapes” – what other goals did I have for this new minimalistic life? What was I going to accomplish here that I did not/could not do in my old huge house?

Live with less stuff. Invite people over for meals. For tea. Focus on my crocheting, spend time on the deck, get out into the garden, focus on my health, my husband’s health, and those around me. Travel more. Get back to those free spirit days I had in a 1 bedroom apartment in a midwestern cornfield. Gone are the days of maintaining and cleaning a huge property: I have always been content with less stuff. It’s time to start living that.

I am going to share this contentment with those around me. I’ll always be a shy introvert – it’s who I am at my core – but perhaps it is time to blossom in being about the Lord’s work through hospitality.

Perhaps I will serve muscadine grape juice to my guests next year.

The Dovecote

It was popular in the nineteenth century to name your house, no matter if it were a cottage or an estate. I have embraced this tradition with my homes.

Our old house was aptly named The Burning Pinecone, after the fabulous firepit my husband built (many a nights were spent drinking and roasting marshmallows with friends) and the giant pinecones that fell from the towering long leaf pines. Most of our fires were fueled by the massive amount of pinecones on the half acre of land we owned. The new house is nothing like our old house. It is much smaller and less grand: it is the epitome of average. It faces the south, so less sunlight comes through our windows, but it keeps it cooler in the summer. Our yard is so tiny, in fact, the listing had the lot in square feet instead of acres. Because of all the other expenses, a firepit has not been built yet, but we have picked out its site. There will be more nights of roasting marshmallows soon.

Our new home needed a name. I didn’t want another firepit inspired moniker and so I considered what other people have named their houses for inspiration. From one of my favorite books, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, John and Meg Brooke’s house was named The Dovecote. Having no idea what a dovecote was, I looked up the meaning of it on Google and promptly went into silent laugh mode:

dovecotehaha

I thought this was a perfect description of our new property, especially after my husband and I failed to get the loveseat through the door (he and his co-worker managed to shove it through the other door with a millimeter of clearance, but not without damaging the walls in the process).

I then read the description of The Dovecote Alcott gave in the book:

And speaking of sentiment brings us very naturally to the ‘Dovecote’.

That was the name of the little brown house Mr. Brooke had prepared for Meg’s first home. Laurie had christened it, saying it was highly appropriate to the gentle lovers who ‘went on together like a pair of turtledoves, with first a bill and then a coo’. It was a tiny house, with a little garden behind and a lawn about as big as a pocket handkerchief in the front. Here Meg meant to have a fountain, shrubbery, and a profusion of lovely flowers, though just at present the fountain was represented by a weather–beaten urn, very like a dilapidated slopbowl, the shrubbery consisted of several young larches, undecided whether to live or die, and the profusion of flowers was merely hinted by regiments of sticks to show where seeds were planted. But inside, it was altogether charming, and the happy bride saw no fault from garret to cellar. To be sure, the hall was so narrow it was fortunate that they had no piano, for one never could have been got in whole, the dining room was so small that six people were a tight fit, and the kitchen stairs seemed built for the express purpose of precipitating both servants and china pell–mell into the coalbin. But once get used to these slight blemishes and nothing could be more complete, for good sense and good taste had presided over the furnishing, and the result was highly satisfactory. There were no marble–topped tables, long mirrors, or lace curtains in the little parlor, but simple furniture, plenty of books, a fine picture or two, a stand of flowers in the bay window, and, scattered all about, the pretty gifts which came from friendly hands and were the fairer for the loving messages they brought.

My hear swelled. As a writer, this was perfect! My new home reflected all the nuances of the Brooke’s home, save for the coalbin. It’s coziness (read: small quarters) and less than stellar landscaping (read: years of outright neglect) will be knit into the fabric of my life. Our front yard, which is about the size of a handkerchief, will hopefully be blooming with flowers and evergreen foundation plants this time next year. We have a wonky staircase as well, I’m sure I’ll go down it pell mell at some point.

And so, my new home is affectionately known as The Dovecote. I’m looking forward to entertaining friends and strangers over tea. When our house was blessed, the pastor likened it to the moon, reflecting the light of the Son. I hope everyone who comes through the doors of The Dovecote senses the love of the Lord in this space.

I also plan to frame this passage and display it in my new home.

Releasing the House

I don’t remember where the idea came from; I may have read about it or it came to me on its own.

Way back when we sold our first house, once we were under contract, I decided to “release the house” through prayer. Alone in the house, I walked into each room, placed a hand on each wall in the room and prayed a short prayer over each wall.

I did the same for this house. I prayed for the incoming family: for their safety, comfort, the new memories they would make there. I prayed for all of those who would walk through the doors would know the spirit of the Lord was here. I don’t know if they are Christians or not; I prayed they would find Christ if they have not and grow more deeply in Him if they were. I also thanked the Lord for the opportunity to live in and use this big house for His benefit, recounting all the people we served here. I touched on memories and prayed the house into its new owners.

I am beyond ready for this experience to be done.

Rolling On

With my self imposed spending freeze, as now I own 2 houses, I have become stricter than I ever have with money. No treats for myself, no indulgences (unless there is a gift card involved, Hello Starbucks!). I’m not drinking alcohol, not getting ice cream, not eating at restaurants. I spend money on food – sometimes I stop at the local grocery store for lunch – and gasoline outside of household expenses like electricity. Heaven help me if anything goes wrong with my old car.

This upcoming weekend our neighborhood is having a yard sale. We have many items to sell as we’re downsizing. A friend of mine who is always getting rid of things is also coming to man the yard sale with me like last year. I’ve always made a big breakfast complete with mimosas, which we sipped while people perused our wares.  My friend is pregnant and I am not drinking right now, so our mimosa breakfast is out. I thought I would make cinnamon rolls from Trader Joe’s – the best cinnamon rolls this side of a bakery. But then I talked myself down from that: I do not need to spend the money on breakfast for friends (under $10, but still). I’m on a spending freeze. They are also on a tight budget as well with the new bundle of joy arriving soon.

But as soon as I had squared all that in my mind, I felt a nudge from the Lord: maybe it was more of an eyeroll. “Make the cinnamon rolls.”

With our current house, and the new house, I strive to make it as hospitable as possible. I promised during this spending freeze that I wouldn’t become a miser, and it would not dampen my hospitable home, no matter how much I had in the bank. I may not be able to serve steak and bottles of wine to my friends, but I would do something budget friendly.

And so, “Buy cinnamon rolls at Trader Joe’s” appears on my to do list this week. It is a kind gesture and they are heavenly! I even texted my friend, “Does your daughter like cinnamon rolls?” as her pregnancy has dictated what she can eat. She responded the baby loves cinnamon rolls and is kicking with joy at the prospect of them!

That made my heart happy.

And I am so thankful I have a God, who despite entrusting me with 2 houses on faith and an hour glass of savings, told me to buy cinnamon rolls.

Like Led Zeppelin once immortalized in a song: “And I just keep on rolling along with the grace of the Lord above.”

Unless

“Show me how it ends
It’s alright.”
(So Cold by Breaking Benjamin)

In 2005 when I finally decided to get my personal life together and focus on the Lord, I was listening to a lot of alternative rock, like Breaking Benjamin. That spring, the line from that song resonated with me; I heard the line as, “Show me how it ends, it’s alright?” Who was I going to be in December? My fear was nothing will have changed and I’d be fighting the same battles. It wouldn’t be alright. Everything would be for naught.

That December I was a changed woman, and set sail for the east coast.

I find myself in the same situation this spring: we bought another house. We need to unload our current house, as now we are carrying 2 mortgages. The house has been on the market for nearly a week, with mild interest. We’ve already discussed lowering the price. We have to have allowances for carpet, probably windows.

I am freaking out. I’m having trouble eating with the anxiety attacks.

Friends who know the house assure me it will sell fast. A good friend of mine said the most comforting thing: I will be provided for. I am a faithful servant of the Lord and that will not be forgotten.

Oh, Lord, help us!

My Dad, who is an expert at doomsday scenarios, hit me with line of questioning as to why we didn’t have a contingency clause. Ever since that conversation, that large rock has returned to my stomach.

I find myself praying for less. It is such a weird concept in this world of constant needs and consumption. Lord, please take this portion, as I want to live with less stuff and more You!

To combat my brain going into overload, I’ve decided to pray the offices. It’s Catholic (sigh), but I do think it will help me reroute my thoughts/anxiety/energy. I divided the clock into quarters (0000-0300, 0300-0600, 0600-0900, 0900-1200, etc.) During these blocks of time, if I am awake, I will stop and pray. It will be for my house to sell at a reasonable price, and quickly. For my friends who are struggling with loss of a spouse, loss of dreams with spouse. Praise for a blog friend who’s years of prayer came to fruition this past weekend via a diamond solitare. Praise that I will keep going and serving where the Lord leads regardless of my real estate portfolio, debt to income ratio, and earthly needs/wants. In the meantime, I am on a spending freeze.

I need to have faith that He will provide. I just wish He could show me how it ends, I hate not knowing.

Is it going to be alright?

April: Live with Confidence

One of the perks of living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder is that you second guess EVERYTHING. Whether I am buying a house, a pair of socks, treating a patient, or making a life altering decision, my brain whispers, “Are you sure? What if you’re wrong? What if the exact opposite is true/better? How will you know? You need to think/pray/freak out more about this.” I am paralyzed by indecision and worry that my choice is wrong, either fundamentally or factually.

This month is going to require some confidence.

Heck, my entire life could use some confidence.

I’m closing on my 3rd house this month.  Yup – for those of you keeping score at home – I have owned more houses than cars (3:1). I have decisions to make about paint, decor, and where the silverware drawer is going to be in the kitchen. I have cleaning projects, landscape projects, and painting projects all lined up; most of them will be put on hold until I can unload my current property to conserve money. This is my new home, I have to own it and the decisions that come with it.

The loved one with an alcohol addiction combined with a new house that I’m 85% sure I like has been a bit more than I expected to be dealing with at this point. Nonetheless, the Lord shall provide.

I found this book about making decisions with a Christian-centric mindset, and it was like a breath of fresh air for me.  The basic principle was, “What does God think about non-moral decisions? How do I know God’s will for my life?” Mr. DeYoung proposes just to do something, much akin to throwing spaghetti against the wall to see if it will stick – the fleeces we depend on are more out of our culture than the Bible. The Bible has much to say about living, but does not specifically address major life decisions such as, should I marry this person?  Should I buy this car? Obviously, seeking the Lord in all things, but sometimes He doesn’t give a clear answer. And so we act. The Lord will provide.

What does living with confidence look like? I’m not sure yet.

I need to pray about that some more.

February in Review

February’s theme was to engage with others.

I made an effort to meet up with friends on a weekly basis, and it became very difficult.  My stress level with my new job was off the charts; my trainer was an intense Type A and I needed the alone time to calm down and recalibrate.  I also had a long text conversation with my niece, which was awesome and unexpected.

I was appointed to a church leadership position that requires – you guessed it – engaging with others.  I wouldn’t have agreed to it if it weren’t for this month’s theme.  In fact, that was the only reason I agreed to it.  This should be interesting to see how this turns out.

And so…..onto the next!