Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Girls I Don't Really Know

When I first moved to Texas from Tennessee in 2008, I felt like I had a clean slate.  A fresh start.  My last year in Tennessee was incredibly hard, dealing with divorce proceedings, an unpleasant work environment, and a real depression that had set in so subtly, I didn't even recognize it for a while.  So along with a new job and a new home in the Lone Star state, I had a plan.  I had plans to lose weight, to better myself, to recover from my divorce, to make new friends.  And so I joined Weight Watchers, went to counseling, attended two whole 13-week sessions of Divorce Care*, and I signed up with a Dallas Christian Young Adults group on  I lost weight, I began to heal, and I met Tanya, Chrystal, and Brandy.

I went to exactly one meeting with my Meetup group.  It ended up being a small group consisting of me, Xan (the organizer) and his lovely girlfriend (now wife) Jasmine.  We met for brunch in Addison, had nice conversation, but for some reason, I never went to any other scheduled meetups.  A few weeks after this meeting, I got an email from Brandy, another meetup member.  She wanted to get a few girls together for lunch, and I was invited.  After church one Sunday, I dropped off the kids that rode the church van, and I drove to Dallas to meet her at a Cafe Express.  It turned out to be just me and Brandy at that lunch.  The other girls couldn't make it, but I was so excited to see how normal she was. (I have since learned that she is better than normal, but I didn't know it then... I was just happy that she was not weird).  We scheduled another time to meet up with a few other girls, and a few short weeks later, we did.  Meeting Chrystal and Tanya was much like meeting Brandy, I kind of loved them right away.  Chrystal was a teacher, Tanya was a studying to be a teacher, and Brandy was a social worker/ counselor who wanted to switch career fields to become a teacher.  Teaching is what I do.  So it was like we were meant to be friends. And when I would talk about these girls in conversation, I would refer to them as "the girls I don't really know". And the name stuck.

A month or so passed by, and the four of us made plans to travel to Granbury, Texas to do a little Christmas shopping.  Granbury has a cute little square filled with antique shops, a few restaurants, a theater, and a coffee shop.  And around Christmas time, it is especially cute.  After a delicious lunch at the Pearl Street Station, photos with Santa and random street performers, and a little bit of shopping, we headed to Glen Rose for a Christmas version of the show The Promise.  It was freezing cold and we had not prepared for the elements.  I purchased a horribly scratchy wool blanket for only $15 and we bundled up and enjoyed the show. On our way home from the show, we shared our stories... the details behind how we got where we were in life... and we bonded.  It's amazing how sharing your story frees other people up to do the same. And so we talked and drove and ended the trip knowing each other far better than when we started.

Over the last few years, the girls I don't really know (even though I do know them now) and I have scheduled multiple lunches and dinners and celebrated birthdays and engagements.  They have attended the shows I have played, and they are always a huge encouragement. We have laughed and cried and listened to stories of breakups and life changes.  I have learned from them and I am continually impressed with their wisdom and responses to the things that life has handed them.  And it has been fun all along the way. We don't see Tanya much any more, but we keep up with her on Facebook and she is missed.

In a few weeks, the lovely Chrystal will be getting married.  We have been witness to each step of her relationship, hearing the stories and watching her and Josh take it slow, even though she broke her own rule of waiting a year before getting engaged.  I am kind of proud of her for that.  Brandy and I will be there as she walks down the aisle and says her vows.  I will sing a song as she walks down the aisle... don't worry, she has asked me to do this.  And we will look forward to the things that come next in our lives.  New relationships, new jobs, growing families. And along the way, we will pray for each other and encourage each other and meet up for coffee cards and dinners and desserts.  And those are the things that make friendships last. These girls have become a solid part of my life.  We do not talk everyday, but they are the kind of people that I could call on for anything I need.  I am blessed to know the girls I don't really know. And one day (I promise you girls) I will come up with a more appropriate name for our little group.

*Divorce Care might be one the best things I ever did for myself.  I recommend it to anyone who is going through a separation or divorce.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


We create because we were made to create, having been made in the image of God, whose first role was Creator.  He was and is a million different things, but in the beginning, he was a creator.
- Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet

I am a writer. I always say this with a little bit of hesitation, as if it might not be true. As if the real writers of the world will read this and shake their heads and say to themselves, "She doesn't even know... bless her heart" (The real writers of the world are southern in my head). But nevertheless, I do write. And so I am a writer. And I believe there is something to be said for the creation of things. Of taking a blank page or a blank canvas or a white wall and turning it into something else. It takes inspiration and time and courage. Mostly, courage, I think. Because creating something is putting a piece of yourself on paper or canvas and then saying to the world (or whatever audience you have) "Look at this!", and their approval or disapproval can be either glorious and heartbreaking, depending.  And I think that our lack of courage is what prevents us from being creators.  It prevents us from displaying this particular part of the image of our Creator.

Over my years as a teacher and a babysitter and a mother, I have witnessed many creations. Stacked blocks. Finger painted circles. Tents made from bedsheets. Mud pies. Tidied rooms. Gingerbread houses. Handprint Christmas ornaments and Thanksgiving turkeys. Pictures of houses and rainbows and birds. Glittery construction paper cards. Sweet poems. All accompanied by little eyes looking up and saying "Tada! Look what I've done!", waiting for approval. I think we all start out this way. We all start out with the confidence to create things. And somewhere along the way, this changes. We are criticized or ignored or teased. And we become fearful. We develop insecurities that our Creator didn't intend for us to have.  As adults, we look around and we see people that create more or create differently or create better than we do, and so we do not create. We do not write or sing or sew or paint or build or bake.  We distract ourselves by filling our days with mindless things so that we do not even notice what we are missing.

For the last three weekends, I have gone to shows of some of my favorite musical artists. There is nothing that will make the feel the absence of writing in my life than hearing a particularly beautiful song or reading a brilliant book. And the songs and stories I have heard have done just that. They remind me that I, too, have a story to tell... a picture to paint... a song to sing. Sometimes these things will flow, and sometimes they will be work.  Either way, they are worth the telling, the painting, the singing. They are worth the effort.

I often hear people say "I am not creative". And I suppose it depends on how you look at it.  Some people do not sew or bake their own bread or paint. They do not write or sing or sculpt. But if you build forts or make up stories or fill the long days of summer with activities that prevent your kids from violently attacking one another, I believe you are a creator. If you look at an almost empty refrigerator and/or pantry and manage to find enough ingredients to put off going to the grocery store just one more day, you are creative. Every song you have made up to help your kids to remember to buckle up, every time you have managed to get out for a run when you have a houseful of kids, every excuse for a girls night you have conjured up, every outfit you have thrown together when nothing else fits... those are all proof of creativity.  Proof that you have indeed been made with an imagination... for an escape, for problem solving, for a creative outlet.

So what are you creating? Or maybe more importantly, what are you not creating? What have you left behind? What was the thing you loved to do but you gave up?  Maybe out of fear, maybe because you feel like you don't have the time. Either way, it's time to get back to it. It's time to get back to displaying the image of our Creator God. Dust off that old writing journal. Or maybe that piano. Open a cookbook. Build a fort (even if you're a grownup and you have no kids). Find your camera (especially if you build the fort... you'll need pictures). As the very creative author Shauna Niequist so eloquently writes in her book Bittersweet, "Do the work, learn the skills, and make art, because of what the act of creation will create in you".

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

How to Stay Married (from people who have done it)

In honor of my upcoming one year wedding anniversary, I decided to write a blog honoring marriage and the commitment that it takes to make it last. So I reached out to some of my favorite women to get their take on things. These women have been successful at making their marriages work for 20+ years. These are women I appreciate and admire for lots of different reasons. But they are the success stories. They are the ones I want to learn from.  They meant it when they promised "for better or for worse". They were open to sharing their thoughts on marriage, and I am so thankful they were willing to speak from their years of experience.  And here is their advice.

1. Let your husband be your best friend and God be your guide- Martha, married 38 years 

   God needs to be the foundation of your lives together. He is the foundation. He gives us the freedom to build our house as we want, but He would like to be the center of you both. You need then to build each room of your life with love and respect. You need to decorate your rooms so that his attractions and love will always be at home.  Physical affection is good, but verbal communication is so important. You always want to know what is going on in his head and what his thoughts are. Sometimes RC and I lay in bed in the dark. I don't think he knows I am not asleep, but then he'll say: "Sweetheart, you can't sleep?". Then we lay there in the night in the dark and talk to each other about our feelings and thoughts. You then start growing into one. After years, you can look at each other and know what the other is thinking (most of the time). You have to be each other's best friend and you'll be friends till death do you part.

2. Practice the 4 A's: Accept, Adapt to, Admire, and Appreciate- Sandra (aka Mom), married 41 years   

   In the early 70's I was beginning to wonder if I had what it takes to make a marriage work. With 2 children and a husband in ministry, it was way more work than fun! I ran across a book that may never win any literary awards, but it did change the way I looked at my part in the marriage. Being married is hard work, selfish people won't survive it. God has some very clear principles in His Word about the part of a husband and a wife . We can deny, deny, deny its importance, but that denial will lead to a very miserable couple or a failed marriage. Well here we are 41 years, 6 children, and 11 grandchildren later, happily married, but marriage is still hard work. 

   When I have a day that just seems too hard, I look at me and ask what can I do differently to get better results? I try to be open to the Lord for change. I know that's the only way to be victorious at anything in this life, whether marriage or any other relationship.

3. Have a sense of humor, be silly, and have your little inside things- Kyla, married 25 years  

   Todd says the most wickedly funny things at the most unexpected moments, and it makes his cute factor go way up.  Be silly. Todd rolls his eyes every time I kiss him....You'd think that would make me mad, but it doesn't.  Have your little inside things. Every Sunday morning when we are singing the closing hymn, I reach over and straighten his wedding ring because it always gets twisted around. 

4. Say 5% of the things you want to say- Darlene, married 23 years   

   Shut up about the other 95%. I have been married for 23 years. Listen to the Holy Spirit before you speak. Typically, He answers me with two words, "Shut up!" (Of course if you want to say something positive to your spouse that's different... then by all means talk away).

5. R-E-S-P-E-C-T - Tricia, married 24 years   

   Each marriage is different, so in mine I have learned over the years that if I want to get along with my hubby, I don't nag or demand my way, although I usually do get what I want! Lol! I've been told that I am spoiled.  I also think that showing respect for your spouse's needs and wants makes him want to give back the same respect and desire to please you. When we first got married, during our first big fight, John picked up his pants and threw them at me and told me to put them on because I was trying to wear the pants in the family! It wasn't funny then, but we have laughed about it since! So needless to say, I have learned how to hold back my mouth a lot of times!

6. No opting out- Cindy, married 38 years   
   Almost 38 years and I guess I could sum it up by saying...for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part....we went into it June 14, 1974 with no thought that it wouldn't work. Opting out has never been an option. With that as the foundation, you have to make it work. Of course, it is only God that helps you both...the closer to Him... the closer to each other.  I wouldn't trade it for anything.

7. Appreciate what you have- Denise, married 29 years 
    I am currently learning a huge lesson - To appreciate what you have in your spouse, even the boring stuff. Watching my poor mum* adjusting to life on her own is just horrible. She said the other day "I even miss him not talking." None of us know how long we have our 'other half' for, so we've got to make the most of every moment.

8. Find out what your spouse's love language is, and learn to speak it - Larissa, married 20 years next month
   I think it's very normal and human nature to love people in the same way that we ourselves feel loved. The problem is, it would land on infertile ground (much like the seed and the sower) if your spouse doesn't receive love in that same way.  Over the first few years of our marriage I tried to watch and learn what things I did and other people did that made Bill feel special and valued. One of the ways I learned this was by trial and error. I did things for him (acts of service - my top love language) and although he was grateful, he didn't respond in the way I had hoped, by reciprocating. I learned that he felt loved by the words I would say, affirming long as I was genuine when I said them, and he could tell the difference.

9. Find these four things- Sherry, married 33 years
   Find a good man. That makes everything else so much easier.  Find time for each other.  Find opportunities to hold hands or say I love you in public. You may embarrass your kids, but they will survive.  Find a good example to follow. My parents were married for 50 years. My dad passed away 2 weeks after their big 50th anniversary celebration. Jerry and I have only been married 33 years but we hope to pass them up.

*sweet Denise is writing from New Zealand and recently lost her father


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