Merry What?

It’s December.  Thanksgiving is over and now the countdown to Christmas is ticking away.  I remember the excitement I had as a child as we removed the candy from the Snowman handing my Mother has made.  Everyday, one of us would  untie and remove  whatever sweet was attached and then count how many were left until Christmas.  Of course, I was counting the days until Santa arrived.

When I was older and on my own in Houston for the first time,  I looked forward to the Christmas holidays because I got to go “home” for a few days.  And, I was excited about the gifts I have picked out and purchased for my family with my own money.  There were Christmas parties and decorations all around. I attended my first singing Christmas tree performance.  There was so much to enjoy and  behold.

After I was first married, my husband and I had to figure out our own traditions.  We did Christmas stockings for each other.  And as we had our children, we got to watch their excitement.  My most memorable Christmas was probably when Terry played Santa at on of the local malls.  He so enjoyed visiting with the children and surprising a few of the adults when he called them by name, too.  Our children were excited by the lights and the hoopla, the Christmas programs and the fun.  They took part in searching for the perfect Santa ornament or figure to add to their Dad’s collection.  I watched as they struggled to keep the secret of what was in the package they had picked out just for me.  It was a wonderful time.

Then, death took a huge toll on my holiday excitement.  That Christmas in 2005, I picked out the perfect Santa figure, Santa kneeling at the Manger, and placed it on my husband’s grave site.  There was no headstone.  Just a metal marker and a Christmas wreath my mother had placed there.  I struggled just to make it through the holidays that year.  I wanted my kids to have moments of joy and to forget their sorrow for a bit.  We all tried so hard to just do the normal stuff.  But, there was no more normal for us.

Through the years, we struggled to find our new footing with the holidays.  We put up a tree that was as opposite from traditional as possible:  white with colored lights & purple boas instead of tinsel; orange, pink, lime green and purple ornaments with a large selection of flamingos included.  I would search out the best place to eat out and that would be our Christmas meal.  We spend time with family in Houston and also with my parents in Crowell.   We fell into a rhythm.

I still struggle with the holidays.  Emotionally, it’s still hard.  Now, thankfully, we are part of a blended family.  And while I love it, trying to blend family traditions can be daunting.  Our kids have their own families and in-laws to see over the holidays.  There are grand-parents  that would love a visit.  The sweets and goodies that are expected for holidays are different.  Gift giving is a big area of stress in any family.  How much do you spend?  What should you give? Should we just draw names to make it easier?  Do we open gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day?

Materialism can and does get in the way of so much during the holidays.  I’ve been told over and over that if I keep the reason for Christmas in focus, the other stuff won’t matter so much.  And while I agree with the reasoning, I don’t always see that it works to remove all of the stresses that come with the holidays.  I really try to focus on the gift of Jesus Christ during the Christmas season.  And I have real peace and joy about that gift.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t remove family tension or sorrow completely.  There are people all around us that need to FEEL the loving embrace that represents the Christmas season.

So, I continue to wrestle with my emotions during this holiday season.   I wrestle because I want “Peace on Earth” to be a reality, yet even our own family struggles to keep peace at times.  I struggle to make each person feel special and loved and content throughout the holidays.  I tussle  with my personal desire to be the perfect wife, mom, step-mom, daughter and grandmother and failing at it over and over.  I strive to provide a safe and inviting haven for the Holidays to anyone that would need a place.  I grapple with my inclination to shut myself off from everything and everyone until after the first of the new year.

This is a time of year that can be extremely difficult for many.  Take the time to look around and notice those around you, not just the business of the season.  Notice the widow that is without a spouse to share the joys and who wants to participate in the festivities but just doesn’t know how to do it alone.   Notice the single parent struggling to provide just the bare necessities for the family during the holidays.  Notice that single person that has no family around and sees another lonely holiday as just another day.  The first Christmas I spent as a widow, there was always a place saved at church functions for me at a table with some other widowed ladies. They were older than me, but they “got it.”  They understood and reached out to me in a way that I so desperately needed.  Now is the time to reach out and show the love of Christmas to others.

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Little Baby in the manger, I love you,
Lying there, to earth a stranger, I love you;
Wise men saw the star and answered, I love you,
Shepherds heard the angels saying, I love you.

God Provides

November 2005 was an awful time for my family. In an instant I lost my husband. My children lost their dad. I had no idea what it would be like to grow up without a dad there to give advice and encouragement. I had my dad well into my fifties. As I took on the unwanted role of single mom, I wondered how life without Terry would effect Zac and Gracie.

There were lots of offers in the beginning, “If Zac needs a male figure just call me” or “We are here to fill the void”. But, when those times arose, no one seemed to be available. It was “too awkward” or “there’s just not enough time.” But, God provides. The coaches and staff at Mayde Creek High really stepped up to the plate. I saw men just care about my kids. In time, Zac married a wonderful young woman and has a great father-in-law. He’s become a great dad himself. We’ve shed tears on all of his big days as we’ve missed his dad.

Two years ago, I remarried. It was a hard adjustment for Gracie. She had been her daddy’s little princess and had worked with him on lots of sets for children’s church and VBS. Then, it had been just “the two of us” for so long. Chris Dittert was always there to give my daughter a “daddy” hug on Fathers Day or any day she just needed it. And there were others that tried to be there, but we had developed our own rhythm. Tim was not a welcome change in her view.

As time has passed, the two of them have developed an interesting relationship. Gracie has learned to lay floors, build cabinets, run electrical wire and install windows. Although she is quick to say “we were just fine before you came along”, she has accepted and (I believe) loves her step figure in her own way. It does my mom’s heart good to see her talking and working with Tim. They share common memories of Terry as well as looking toward the future.

Both of my kids miss Terry. He was and will always be a big part of their lives. God has provided wonderful memories of the past. And he continues to provide for our family today and for the future.

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten . . .”

Joel 2:25a NIV

Marriage: Democracy, Dictatorship or Equal Partnership?

I recently posed this question on Facebook:

How do you define marriage?  Would you say marriage is:
  • A Democracy where everyone gets a vote
  • A Dictatorship where one person is responsible for decisions and directions of the relationship.
  • An Equal Partnership where EVERYTHING is shared equally
For this discussion, marriage is defined as the legally or formally recognized union of two people as partners in a personal relationship. Historically, in most cultures, married women had very few rights of their own. But for purposes of this writing, marriage refers to the general definition of marriage in the western world; specifically the U.S.

Most that commented defined marriage as all of the above.  Other common thoughts were we should marry our best friend and that marriages should emulate Jesus and the Bride of Christ.  And, I would agree with “all of the above”.

In the New Testament, the image of Christ coming for his bride is presented.  It is through these scriptures that we see the devotion of the bridegroom and the readiness of the bride.  The ideals of commitment, love and servant-hood are woven throughout the picture we are given.  It’s the perfect blending.

Unfortunately, today’s marriages are not that perfect.  I would venture that most of the couples that get married or are planning to marry in this day and age envision a 50-50 partnership.  Everything is shared:  money, household chores, care of the children, etc.   This is an almost impossible ideal to meet.  One or both of the people involved will feel that they are giving more than their 50%, whether it’s through money earned and contributed  or time spent around the home.

When the Equal Partnership doesn’t seem to providing on the equality front, democracy may come to the forefront.  Both sides begin to “campaign” for their own interests.  Both sides are able to lay all their cards on the table and come to an agreement on how responsibilities, money, time, etc. should be divided.  During rational times, this is a good method.  The flaw comes to play when there in no “majority”, no winner or agreement.  And that’s when, the marriage often moves into the Dictatorship phase.

In a dictatorship, one person is responsible for decisions that are made.   There are circumstances where a decision has to be made whether it is popular or not.  The “dictator” makes that decision and proceeds for better or worse.

In a healthy marriage, all of the things occur.   We both work.  My job keeps me away from home a majority of the day and as a result, most of the cooking and household decisions fall on my husband.  We don’t split them equally at all.  I try to do my part on the weekends.  And, he does ask for my help, too.  There is no “honey-do” list that must be completed for either of us.  When decisions arise that are not of the day-to-day variety, we do discuss them and try to come to an agreement.  There here have been times when my husband has had to make decisions that I could not or would not make.  I didn’t necessarily like it, but I knew that it was for the best and I would acquiesce to his authority at that time.  And, I’ll be honest, there are times that I have done the same thing.  So, you can say that my marriage is all of the above.

Many relationships fail because the “mix” isn’t palatable.  One person may feel they do “everything around the house”.  Or,  they don’t feel they have a say in any of the decisions made.  Maybe one person is a perfectionist and likes things done a particular way and just can’t accept any variations.  The key to getting through all of this is communication.  You have to be able to talk.  What you may perceive as laziness on your partner’s part, may actually be hopelessness because nothing will please you.  Or, it may be defensiveness: no adult wants to be treated like a child in their own home.

Customs and traditions concerning marriage in this country have morphed over the years. Cohabitation has increased by nearly 900% over the last 50 years. The focus often becomes “THE WEDDING” instead of the marriage. The average cost of a wedding is at an all time high of $31,213.  On average, researchers concluded that couples who lived together before they tied the knot saw a 33 percent higher rate of divorce than those who waited to live together until after they were married. Part of the problem was that cohabitors, studies suggested, “slid into” marriage without much consideration. Instead of making a conscious decision to share an entire life together, couples who shared a dog, a dresser, a blender, were picking marriage over the inconvenience of a break up. Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist, outlined the “cohabitation effect” in a widely circulated New York Times op-ed in 2012.

When we look at marriage as a life-long commitment to serve our partner not just as an escape from life alone, the decisions we make and the actions we take may be different.  We may have to leave behind the baggage of past family relationships.  Just because our parents did it this way, doesn’t mean that it’s the best decision for our family.   If my goal as a wife is to serve my husband to be best of my ability, to provide for his comfort, to encourage  and support him, to love and treat him as my best friend, then our marriage will survive and maybe even prosper.  But, it takes a conscious decision to be that servant.  It means that I don’t always get what I want.  It means that I may have to accomplish everything on the honey-do list instead of demanding my husband does so.  Someone else will have to take priority over me.

That’s the example that Christ gave for his bride, the Church.

“Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.
Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.
No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband.”
Ephesians 5:22-33 MSG

Faithful or Fusspot

Is there anyone in the Bible to whom you relate? Are you like Mary  of Mary & Martha and just can’t wait to sit at Jesus feet?  Or maybe you are more of a Martha, always busy and wanting everyone else to be busy too?  Are you an evangelist like Peter or Paul? What about a leader like Moses or Joshua?  There are lots of people to use as a yardstick for our Spiritual lives.  Throughout life, circumstances and/or decisions may change your view of yourself.

I often have used King David as an example.  He was “a man after God’s own heart” and he did some very questionable things.  His faithfulness was never in doubt, even when his human desires stepped in to take over the situation.  But lately, another well know name from the Bible has come to mind more and more:  Jonah.

Jonah was a Hebrew prophet that God told to go to Nineveh and preach for their repentance.  Jonah didn’t like the people of Nineveh.  He didn’t think they deserved forgiveness.  So he did what every faithful follower does when faced with a distasteful assignment:  he ran the opposite direction.  We are all familiar with the story of Jonah and the Whale.  A big storm, Jonah thrown into the sea, a whale swallows him, after 3 days Jonah is vomited onto the shore. God once again tells Jonah to go to Nineveh.  At this point, Jonah decides to follow God’s instruction.

“This time Jonah started off straight for Nineveh, obeying God’s orders to the letter.  Nineveh was a big city, very big—it took three days to walk across it.   Jonah entered the city, went one day’s walk and preached, “In forty days Nineveh will be smashed.”

The people of Nineveh listened, and trusted God. They proclaimed a citywide fast and dressed in burlap to show their repentance. Everyone did it—rich and poor, famous and obscure, leaders and followers.”  Jonah 3:3-5  MSG

Jonah was successful.  The people heard what he had to say and repented.   And God forgave the people of Nineveh.   This was a reason to celebrate!  But, not for Jonah!

Jonah was furious. He lost his temper. He yelled at God, “God! I knew it—when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! That’s why I ran off to Tarshish! I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of  forgiveness!  So, God, if you won’t kill them, kill me! I’m better off dead!”  Jonah 4:1-4  MSG

Jonah was not at all happy.  He did not like it one bit.  He fussed and complained because God had given these horrible people another chance.  He went out of the city and sat and pouted and sulked.  We never find out if Jonah reconciled himself with God’s forgiveness.

If I’m completely honest,  Jonah’s reaction is very familiar.  I know there have been times that I just wanted to tell God what to do and how to do it.  In fact, I have done just that on several occasions.  I’m pretty sure I know who should be punished and who should be forgiven.  I’m pretty sure I know how things should be done.  And I’m more that willing to fill God in on the appropriate processes, especially when it comes to my worship services at my church.

  1.  There are people who just don’t deserve forgiveness.  I have a hard time letting go of the past.  There are some people who have caused pain to my family that I do NOT like.  I’ve been very eager to point out how they did not deserve God’s forgiveness.  Fortunately, God didn’t consider whether or not I deserved His Grace.  He just forgave me.
  2. What’s wrong with the way “we’ve always done it”?  I claim that I don’t like changes.  But, I’m always ready for the next computer or cell phone or other technology that is out there.  So, why can’t I be as open about changes in the way God leads in my church or my worship?
  3. The kids aren’t being taught respect.  Just look how they dress in church. When I was a child, I had school clothes, play clothes and Sunday clothes.  I had dresses that were only worn on Sundays that were a bit fancier than my other clothes.  Through the years, the way we dress has changed for work, for school and for church.  Business casual is the norm at work.  T-Shirts and jeans are acceptable nearly every where else.  Dressing up is not the norm.  I did require my daughter to wear a “girl” top and my son to wear a collared shirt on Sunday’s.  The more relaxed clothing expectations has made it more comfortable for some to attend church.  I still object to short-shorts or work-out clothes at church, but I can only control my own reactions.
  4. I hate the music used in church worship.  It’s too old-fashioned (or modern).   Music has become one of the most divisive areas in our churches.  If you grew up with the hymns and hymnals, the new stuff is “too loud” or “too repetitive” or “not musical”.  If you didn’t grow up with hymns, then they are “old-fashioned” or “have too many word” or “don’t make sense”.  I remember the discussions that arose over changing from the Broadman Hymnal to the Baptist Hymnal and then  later to the New Baptist Hymnal.  There were too many new songs (like “He’s Everything to Me”  or  “Because He Lives”) in this newer version.  I may prefer the “old” hymns over the newer praise music. However, my preferences cannot be the most important ones.  God is in control.  He has a plan.  I need to follow His leadership instead of pouting on the sidelines.  And, I’ve learned to love some of the newer worship songs.  Especially the ones that include a taste of the “old” hymns.
  5. Real worship only occurs in the sanctuary of a church building.  Many of the  churches that are most successful at reaching the community are meeting in schools, strip-centers, etc.  The less “churchy” environment is more inviting some.  My church meets in a movie theater.  We have the most comfortable seats around!
  6. Real worship needs an organ and a piano.  I don’t like guitars & drums.  Some of my dearest memories are of the Mrs. Stapp playing the organ at church.  I’ve played piano in my several churches throughout my life.  Not every church can afford a piano and an organ.  Many churches have no one to play them anyway.  Piano lessons were a given when I was a child: everyone when through lessons and recitals.  That’s not the case any longer.  A well prepared band or even a single guitar player can greatly enhance the worship experience. God used the loaves and fishes to feel the multitude, can’t He also use a guitar to feel your spirit?

I’ve done my share of complaining and pouting.  I understand Jonah a little more that I would like to admit.  I may want to be more like David and be recognized as one after God’s own heart.  But, I know that I am so much like Jonah in wanting things done MY WAY.  Unlike Jonah, I want the end of my story to be clear: I followed God’s leading regardless of my own preferences.

What about you?  Will you known as one of the Faithful or as the Fusspot who grudgingly served God?

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The Gifts of Grief

Grief is not a “gift” one wants.  Grief is forced upon you.   It doesn’t give you a choice.  It’s presence can be over-powering and suffocating.  You move through grief , taking life’s lessons as you go.  It’s not pleasant to endure.   As I look back,  I’m grateful for many of the gifts I received along this journey.

  1.  The more you love, the greater the grief.  On days when grief seemed impossible to endure, I remembered the great love that I had experienced.  And I realized that I wouldn’t have given up a single moment of that love to lessen the grief I was feeling.
  2. Seize the moment. You never know when death will come.  We are only promised this moment.  Don’t wait to tell someone how much you love them.  Never miss a chance to give a hug or smile.  You may not get another opportunity.
  3. Show your appreciation.  It wasn’t until after my husband died that truly realized how important he was to my life on a daily basis.  He prepared paid the bills, shopped for groceries, ran errands, drove me to and from work, held my hand, and listened to me talk.  I lost so much the day he died.  I wish I had thanked him more.
  4. Recognize the gift you have.  I was as guilty as anyone of complaining about my husband’s faults: he snored; he was a dreamer; he procrastinated.  After he was gone, I would have done anything to have one more night laying awake listening to his snoring.
  5. Cherish those you love.  Stop complaining about things that won’t matter in the long run.  Be grateful for the time you have now.  It’s not a competition on who does the most around the house.  Who took out the trash last won’t matter in the long run.  Decide to say only positive things about your spouse or family members to others.  It will change the way you think about the ones you love.
  6. Never miss an opportunity to show love.  Some might think I say “I love you” too much.   But, I promised that I would never miss an opportunity to say those words again.
  7. Relationships that withstand grief will be unbreakable.  My children and I had to learn to be a family of three.  We are probably closer than we would have been had their father lived. We spent lots of time together just trying to survive.  Many people don’t understand the bond that we have.  They don’t understand the reaction my kids have when they hear friends criticizing their own parents.  Others are not prepared for the defenses that come into play when any one of our family is “attacked” verbally or otherwise.  Our interdependence was formed through our grief.  As our family has grown, the defenses have spread out to in-laws and step-family.

When it comes to loving my family and friends, treating every moment as if it may be our last is the greatest  gift I received from Grief.  I never miss a chance to let my husband know how much I love and appreciate him.  I want all of my kids to know they are precious and loved.  I hold more tightly to those that I love because I’ve learned the value of  that love.

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“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”  1 Peter 4:8 NIV

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be Still, Just be Still

be still

Being still is hard.  Sometimes, it feels impossible.  It’s especially difficult for me when anxiety is running wild.  We all have moments of anxiety.  But for some, anxiety is ever-present.  It’s often linked to depression.  And, it can be exhausting.

Have you ever had so much caffeine that you can’t seem to put a thought together and just felt jittery?  That’s what anxiety felt like to me.  Anxiety is defined as stress that’s out of proportion to the impact of the event, the inability to set aside a worry, and restlessness.  When I feel that things are getting out of my control, I can get extremely restless and fidgety.  My thoughts are not always logical.  Everything around me can feel irritating.  I have a need to “fix it” or “hide from it”.

My first husband’s death sent me into a tailspin with grief.  I didn’t know how I was going to manage.  I didn’t want to manage alone.  The fears were so strong and so deep that just deciding what to wear in the morning was almost too big of a decision.  I wanted to know where my kids were at every moment.  I had nightmares,  so I didn’t sleep much.  I spent hours just walking in circles around the living room in the middle of the night.  As the months and then years passed, I believed that I was getting over it all.  But, the reality was:  I had just gotten used to coping with the anxiety and depression.  I could put on a good face for friends, family and co-workers.  I scheduled as much into my week as I could.  I worked full-time.  I volunteered with my church.  I volunteered for activities at the school my kids attended.  I stayed as busy as I could.  My kids grew up and life slowed down.

I found comfort in concentrating on anything.  Most people would call it obsessing.  Terry and I had dreamed of replacing our wedding dishes with depression glass.  So, I set about doing just that on Ebay.  I bought platonite place settings and serving dishes.  I bought emerald-green depression glass.  I found a particular glass goblet that I liked and bought a whole set in emerald-green and red as well as matching cocktail glasses.  I collected peanut butter glasses with state flowers.  I hunted for cottage cheese bowls (I had 5 different colors.)  I bought leather purses.  My kids would joke about all of the boxes I was getting.  I collected flamingos for the yard and for the house.  When I was looking for new things to buy, I didn’t have to face my life.

When both of my children left home, I had a more difficult time filling the time.  I would cook a big elaborate meal once a week and my son would come and eat.  But, the rest of the week, I would buy take out and eat in my driveway.  On weekends when my daughter wasn’t coming home or I wasn’t going to see her, I would just stay in bed and watch TV and sleep.  The only reason I would get up was to let the dogs out.  I avoided the reality of my life as much as possible.  Things that should have been important, just weren’t any more.  I felt like my life was over and I was just waiting it out.  I prayed and studied, but nothing seemed to make a dent in the numbness that had become so normal for me.

I had convinced myself that I was “just fine.”  I had worked through all of my issues.  As Tim and I began to talk about a future together, my very tightly wound ball began to come undone.  Emotions and feelings that I had not allowed to surface for years were suddenly in full view.  It was at that time, I sought the help of a counselor.  It took a few tries to find a good fit, but it was worth it.  I could sit and talk about my fears and doubts.  I began to work on issues that had been around for way too long.  I began to feel that I was gaining control; I was becoming a whole person again.

I was no longer afraid of being alone, of being still.  I realized that I needed time alone to spend with my Bible and in prayer, writing or drawing.  I had allowed grief to become self-doubt and fear.  I stood by as the enemy had robbed me of the ability of “being still”.  I had to learn, again, what peace comes with knowing God.

Stop the busyness.  Look at what God has for you.  Listen for His leading.  Be still.

Just be still.

Too Soon

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You were smiling the last time I saw you. You took my hand and whispered “I love you!”

We had spoken of the future that evening

Dreams for our son and daughter.

We made plans for the coming weeks,

A football game, a wrestling tournament.

We had much for which thanks was due.

We had such a future about which to dream.

Life was good.

The road seemed clear before us.

And then, you were gone.

And with you All of our plans and dreams, all the laughter and the joy.

Who would take care of our children and of me?

How would I endure the “normal” of life that was now so foreign to me?

How would I learn to walk the path without you there to bring laughter and life?

Our children still needed us and I did my best to be there.

We cried. We hurt. We remembered. And, we continued to live.

The path was no longer clear.

We struggled to find our way out the blackness that comes with death.

Because you loved so completely, you taught us to cherish love and hold it fast.

Because you brought joy, we looked for joy in places never before seen.

You were gone too soon.

You left a son that became a good husband and a wonderful father.

You left a daughter that is strong and invests in the youth around her.

You left a widow that found her footing in love once again.

You left a legacy that will never be forgotten.

Terry Gene Benson

February 1, 1958 – November 2, 2015