Lonely in a Crowd

Have you ever found yourself filled with loneliness while you are in a group of people? You look around at those surrounding you, but you don’t connect. You may not have anything in common with others in the room. Or, there may be underlying tensions that keep you separated. This kind of loneliness is difficult at best and isolating at worst.

As I have been thinking about the Christmas story, I began to consider the journey that Mary and Joseph undertook to get to Bethlehem. Usually it is depicted as a solitary and lonely journey: just the two of them traveling on a deserted road. But, this year it occurred to me that they were probably not all alone on that road. The entire Roman Empire was traveling to ancestral hometowns.

About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant. Luke 2: 1-5 MSG

It’s quite possible that Mary and Joseph were traveling on a very busy road. There were very likely other relatives making the same trek. But unlike other journey’s that would be made as part of a large family caravan, Mary and Joseph were very alone on this journey. The reason is clear: Mary was Joseph’s pregnant fiancee, not his wife. Her pregnancy was an opportunity for gossip and judgement and maybe some shame and scorn from family members. We don’t really know details, but Joseph’s original reaction to Mary’s news gives us some insight into how this pregnancy was perceived.

The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced. Matthew 1: 18-19 MSG

As I think about Christmas in 2018, I wonder, how many of us are surrounded by people but still feel totally isolated? There are many things that can contribute to the isolation. The normal tensions that exist within a family unit may result in a feeling of detachment. New family situations that result from death, divorce or a even new marriage may greatly influence the family temperament. A death in the family will make traditions either too precious to forget or too painful to observe. Each family member will react with different expectations or preferences. Melding or ignoring the new needs may create a strong resentment within the family. Divorce always stresses and changes the family dynamic and as a result the holiday season. When anyone within the family gets married, old traditions are stretched and strained. Now there are multiple family traditions and locations to be considered and blended. Seemingly small things like what food will be served, special church service attendance, multiple family gatherings as well the cost of gifts can become contentious. Hurt feelings and blame placing only contribute to feelings of isolation.

As I approached this 2018 holiday season, it was too easy to dread the upcoming holidays. This is just my fourth Christmas as part of a blended family that includes my husband, and our five adult children, two daughters-in-love and a precious grandson. We are still figuring out how to build our own family traditions. Trying to coordinate our blended family plans with their own extended family events can be overwhelming. I love looking for that perfect gift for each person in my family and it gets more and more difficult the older they get. And this year, I determined to enjoy this holiday time. This year, I will give full attention to my family and not be overtaken with self doubt and feelings of failure when I do not meet the expectations of others. I cannot keep everyone happy. That is a choice made by each individual.

This Year, I will focus on the celebration of the birth of my Savior.

“There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified.

The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:Glory to God in the heavenly heights,Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!     Luke 2:8-20 MSG


Where Is the Joy?

I admit it, I struggle during the holiday season.  There was at time when I loved getting ready for Thanksgiving.   Planning the perfect meal.  Visiting with family and friends. We even went to the big parade in downtown Houston.   I think I was more excited than my kids about Christmas.   I loved the excitement and the fun of the holidays.  It was a wonderful time.  There are many wonderful memories.

But grief changed all of that.  The idea of planning and cooking became a chore.  So, we started eating out.  It took a few years before I could face putting up a Christmas Tree and even then it was totally different from what had been our “norm”.  Instead of red & green, it was pink, purple and lime green.  We used feather boas instead of tinsel.  It was as far away as I could get from the memories of Christmas’ Past.  I couldn’t seem to entirely enjoy the holidays because I was haunted by what “might have been”.

Three years ago, our holidays changed once again.  We now have a blended family.  We now must consider all five of our kids and their spouses/significant others and their schedules.  They have other interests and families to consider.  It’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of fighting for time.  And the holiday events become competitions instead of joyful celebrations.  Quality family time is lost in the quest to get to every house and every meal.

Honestly, my response can be much like the toys on the Island of Misfit Toys from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”:  feeling sorry for myself and expecting to miss the fun and excitement again this year.  It’s too easy to  feel that no one cares.  It’s very convenient to focus on “ME” instead of looking at the larger picture.

I’m really trying this year.  I want to be excited about the holidays.  I don’t want family quarrels to overshadow what should be a joyful time.  I don’t need to feel like I’m placing 2nd (or 3rd or 4th) in a competition that doesn’t even exist.  I’m trying to accept that perfection should not be my goal this year.  And, I’m focusing on building special memories wherever  and whenever I am able.  It may be a quiet meal with just my husband on Thanksgiving Day or a bigger, busier meal with most of the crew over the weekend.  Both, are times to create memories.

I know there will still be tender places.  Putting up the holiday village that belonged to my late husband or unwrapping his Santa collection will be bitter-sweet.  I’ve already got a new Santa Ornament to add.   Pulling out the old ornaments from the early days of our children will unlock some emotions, both good and bad.   I’m on the lookout for a 2018 snow globe to add to the collection I began in 2015 on our first Christmas as Mr. & Mrs.  Douglas. And, I’m prepared to accept the critique of “too much purple” on the tress.

This year, the big tree will go up early (at least for me!)  I’m working on handmade angel ornaments for a smaller tree.  I’ve already planned a Holiday dinner for my co-workers and I look forward to sharing our home and hospitality.  Christmas gifts won’t be flashy, but I hope that they meet a need for the recipients.  We will be baking goodies and sharing with the neighbors (and trying not to over indulge in the sweets.)  There will be carols and hot chocolate and I  will try to be present in the moments as they occur.

This year, I will strive to give thanks for the numerous blessing in my life: my family, my job, my home, my church and so many more that I tend to take for granted.  I will try to remember that the excitement of Christmas is not about the gifts we give, but about the love that was gifted to us through the birth of Christ.  I will remember that time spent with our friends and family is precious and not waste it wishing for something different.   This year, I will accept the emotions as they arrive, deal with them and move forward.

This year, I will find the Joy in MY holiday season.

 

Twice Blessed

Today is a day of remembrance for me. Thirty-one years ago, I married my first husband, Terry Benson. The memories of that day are happy if a little bittersweet. In sixteen days, we will note the 13th anniversary of Terry’s death.

Terry and I loved each other very much. We laughed, cried, fought and loved a lot over the 18 years we had together. We watched our kids grow into teens and enjoyed their activities both together and separately. I loved him so much that I struggled with how to let him go

If you have never experienced widowhood, it’s hard to explain the emotions that go with it. There’s the obvious loss of the person. But, there is also a loss of identity. I had been part of a couple for so long and it was hard to be “just me” again. I was not longer Terry’s wife. So, I took refuge in being Zac and Gracie’s mom. I missed all of the things that I had come to take for granted. No longer would Terry drive me to work and drop me off at the front door. He was no longer there to pack my lunch. When I got really irritated at work, I couldn’t call and hear him tell me it would be okay. When the kids activities conflicted, I had to choose which one would have to go it alone or figure out how to be two places at once. When the car broke down or had a flat, I now had to deal with it. I had to figure out what bills had to be paid and when. And, I had to figure out how to sleep at night without the sound of his breathing.

I managed the life of a widow for almost 10 years. I thought I was pretty well adjusted and capable as a single adult. I had even learned to enjoy life again. And then love came knocking. Love in my fifties was a bit different that in my twenties. We both had a history and the baggage that goes with that. We had different experiences from our previous marriages and quite honestly, different expectations because of that. And, we had five children who all had an opinion.

As I admitted my love for Tim, my new husband, I had to question how I could love both men so deeply. I struggled with feeling like I was cheating on Terry. Even though he had been dead for almost a decade, my heart still ached to hear his voice. I had promised to love him until “death do us part” and I had yet to release my heart from that promise. As well as I thought I had handled my grief, there were lots of things that I had never addressed. I had buried my depression with activity. I was so accustomed to “putting on a brave face” that I almost forgot what it was to be honest about my feelings. So, ten years later, I was in counseling trying to sift through all of these emotions.

I am still amazed at how deeply I love now. Tim is very gracious and we share many sweet memories of Terry together. I am so grateful that he is not threatened by my memories. God allowed me the double blessing of loving completely not once, but twice. I will never forget the life that Terry and I shared. I will tell our grandson, Joshua Terry about his Papa Terry when he’s older. And I will continue to be grateful for both of my husbands. God has truly blessed me in so many ways

 

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“But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31

Three Years Down, More to Come

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Today, is my 3rd anniversary, the end of one year and the beginning of another in our marriage. I still have moments when I can’t believe that I am Mrs. Douglas. I get to watch him work around the house. I hear his wonderful piano playing. I spy him coaching my daughter how to install cabinets or floors or plumbing. I see him sleeping next to me and say a prayer of thankfulness for this journey in my life.

Our marriage hasn’t been smooth sailing. There have been lots of bumps along the way, some bigger than others. And we have survived. We have learned that their are friends that stick with you through thick and thin. And sadly, that there are others that are just along for the fun and disappear during stress. We’ve endured snide comments and remarks both before and after our wedding. And, through it all, I am so glad that we are together.

I’ve learned that happiness is a choice. No one person or thing will make me happy. But, our marriage has offered numerous opportunities for me to choose happiness. I’m am reminded that love can be hard. However, the benefits of loving another so completely are without measure. I know that blending two families offers immense challenges. And, I adore all five of our kids and their spouses/significant others and the effort it takes to get us all together. It’s worth it all!

As we begin the 4th year of our marriage, I am thankful for the wonderful man that is my husband. He is kind and generous. He never meets a stranger. He shelters me and treats me as if I’m made of glass. I love the compliments he gets for pulling out my chair and opening the door for me, acts of chivalry that are not often seen these days. He says what needs to be said and not just what I want to hear. He listens when I disagree or just need to talk it out. He loves me deeply and expresses that in so many ways. I am truly blessed to have him in my life.

I look forward to all the things that God will do in our lives. I KNOW that He has a plan to use both of us. I KNOW that we are loved and cherished Kids of the King. I KNOW that we will have difficulties in the days to come. And, I KNOW that I serve a God that answers prayers so I continue to pray for the miraculous and the wonderful in our lives as well as those that surround us.

His words are kisses, his kisses words. Everything about him delights me, thrills me through and through! That’s my lover, that’s my man, dear Jerusalem sisters.           

Song of Solomon 5:16 MSG

And Now I See. . .

In 2005, my husband died. It was unexpected and it was devastating to me. Many well-meaning people shared scripture that were meant to be comforting. But, at the time, I didn’t find much comfort or even any semblance of truth in many of the verses shared.

“So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten,” Joel 2:25a 

“then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you.” Deuteronomy 30:3 

“God blessed Job’s later life even more than his earlier life. He ended up with fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand teams of oxen, and one thousand donkeys.  He also had seven sons and three daughters.” Job 42:12-13 

I didn’t understand how some unknown thing in the future would ever replace what I had lost when my husband died. How could the years we lost together be restored? My husband was dead. Nothing could ever replace him in my heart. Nothing new would replace what I had lost. I couldn’t accept that any of these promises was meant for me, personally.  I was in pain. I grieved the loss of my life as I knew it and as I had dreamed that it would be.

But now, I see. I have a new marriage and with it a new extended family. My new husband is not a replacement for the one I lost. I will always grieve that death in some way. One doesn’t love completely and then forget that relationship. But, this new marriage has taught me that I can love again, that my life did not end. I have been given a chance to experience a deeply passionate love, once again.

This marriage is different from the one I began in my twenties. This marriage is founded on a long-standing friendship and maturity that I lacked 30 years ago. I can love more completely because I understand the fragility of life and relationships. I have learned to give all now, because I do not know what tomorrow holds in this life. I try not to miss a chance to say “I Love you” for I have determined to never again regret words not spoken. I cherish the quiet breaks, the silly moments, the busy times and even the heated, uncomfortable times; for they represent all the things that form a lasting and loving relationship. I vow to speak positively about my husband and to honor him in my words and actions. I am aware how important it is for my all of my children (both through birth and marriage) to have a model of stability to use as a pattern in their own lives.

This marriage of almost 3 years will never replace the 18 years of my first marriage. This marriage is new.  This marriage is a blessing of restoration and joy. I can truly say the God has blessed my later life even more than my earlier life. He has restored my joy.

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“You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn
through the sleepless nights,
Each tear entered in your ledger,
each ache written in your book.

God, you did everything you promised,
and I’m thanking you with all my heart.
You pulled me from the brink of death,
my feet from the cliff-edge of doom.
Now I stroll at leisure with God
in the sunlit fields of life.”

Psalm 56:8, 12-13 MSG

 

 

 

 

 

A Prayer for my Children

As a mom, I have felt the joy and the pain of watching my children succeed, fail, love, mourn, laugh and cry.  I gave birth to and reared G & Z.  We’ve been through so much together:  great successes in school sports and music, spiritual awakening and growth, &  the death of their father.  I’m also privileged to have  three “gift with purchase” kids (K, R & J) that came with my second marriage.  I have known these three most of their lives, so I have seen them cope with many of life’s challenges as  well.  I also have a beautiful daughter-in-love (L) as well as a handsome grandson (JT).  I’ve had the privilege of “mothering” a “daughter-in-my-heart” (KM) that I have loved as my own for many years as she dealt with growing up after the death of her mom.  And, soon, we add another to the family as K & A are wed this fall.

One of the most difficult things I’ve had to learn through the years, is I can’t control everything that happens to my kids.  The good or the bad, it’s coming regardless of what I do.  I can warn and encourage, but ultimately, the decisions are their own.  These are the things I pray for my children:

  1.  Have the courage to be yourself.  You don’t have to remake  yourself to fit someone else’s ideals and you don’t need to bully your way through life.  You are special just the way you are.  Be confident in the abilities that God has given you and use them to build relationships, both professional and personal.  You don’t need to be part of a couple to be complete.  Value your independence and develop your whole being.
  2. Be content where God has you, but prepared to move forward in His timing.  It’s hard to be patient and wait for the right relationship or the best job to open up for you.  Do your best in all things.  Never stop working and improving yourself.  But, don’t try to handle things all on your own.  Remember that God has a plan for you and it’s all in his timing.
  3. If you commit yourself to another in marriage, remember you are in this for life.  Relationships are difficult at best.  It’s easy to take short-cuts and our world excuses and often encourages the failure of marriage.  Love your partner completely.  And by that I mean, always look out for whats best for him/her.  Your own wants should come in second.  Marriage is not about control.  It’s a partnership.  Loving someone doesn’t give you the authority to order them around.  Nor does love allow you to scream and call names to get your own way.  There will be disagreements in any relationship.  Don’t allow arguments to escalate into screaming matches.  Love fully and completely without selfish manipulation.
  4. Protect the intimacy that was designed to be shared with your spouse.  Beware of society’s bad advice.  Love is NOT just about sex and desire.  Sex should not be an automatic part of dating.  Sex should remain special not common place.  Girls, learn to protect the men in your life by dressing with modesty.  Boys, look out for the women you love and don’t promise love when you just desire the physical.  Love yourself enough to protect yourself, body & soul.
  5. Build lasting relationships.  Friends are important in life.  Find and cultivate relationships that challenge you to grow and mature.  In a marriage, friendship is essential.  The fires of passion may have spurred you into marriage.  Be assured that those fires will cool.   But, as you develop your relationship in other ways, the flames of true and lasting love will be stoked and burn even more brightly.
  6. If you choose to marry, don’t settle.  Many of those “cute” characteristics that you find so endearing and attractive today, will drive you crazy later.  You may try to overlook irritants and decide you can change them later.  Please hear me:  THAT WILL NOT HAPPEN!  You do not marry someone to change them.  You adjust to and for the person you marry.  Marry the person you can’t imagine living without, not the one you think you can live with.
  7.  Be aware of everything you say and do. Learn to filter what you say so you don’t offend.   And then FORGIVE, FORGIVE, FORGIVE.   Practiving “forgive and forget” is incredibly hard.   Make forgiveness a part of your everyday life.  Don’t hesitate to ask for it or to give it.
  8. Never stop building your relationship with God.  When you are at peace with God, you will be a better friend and/or spouse.  Make the effort to spend time with other believers.   If Sunday’s are your only day to sleep late and you just CANNOT give that up, there are other opportunities to grow your faith.  Cultivate time with God.  If you would get up early to go tail-gating, there’s not excuse for not getting up for church.  Don’t fall into the habit of “saying a little prayer and crossing your fingers” to get what you want.  God is not an awesome “Santa Claus” that provides whatever you want,  He is, however, the authority on all the things that occur in our lives.  The low times are much easier to confront and navigate when we’ve included God  in the good times.

Life can be wonderful and awful.  Do your best to be the best influence on everyone you meet.  Be the brightest part of the day.

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Love: What You Do Not Want to Miss

We search for love.  We yearn for love.  Sometimes, we fear love.  In Greek, there are four types of love:

  • Agapeo: Unconditional love; the love of God in the renewed mind in manifestation
  • Storge: Love of family; Parent/child, siblings, cousins, etc. In a very close family, agape is felt as well
  • Phileo: Love between friends
  • Eros: The sense of being in love; romantic love

For me, love is everything.  I believe that the God I serve is Love.  I love my children and my family.  I have several wonderful friends for whom I care deeply.  I have been blessed with the love of two wonderful men.  So, when someone asks how I knew that I loved my husband, why is it so difficult to describe?

There are lots of sayings about love:

  • Love is a many splendor thing
  • Love means never having to say you’re sorry
  • Love is something you do
  • Love is natures way of tricking people to reproduce
  • Love means to give everything you have…and not expect anything in return
  • Immature Love is: I love you because I need you.
    Mature Love is: I need you because I love you.
  • Love is making yourself vulnerable to someone, while fully knowing that they may betray you.
  • Love is blind
  • Love is never-ending

There is truth is all of the above statements.  But still, what do we want from love?  Safety, security, companionship?  What?

These are the things about deep and abiding love that I think you just don’t want to miss!

  1. Love is a choice.  We don’t  “fall in love”, rather we it’s probably more accurate to say we “fall in like” or even “in lust”.  We’ve all experienced crushes.  Those moments of elation when you just get to be near the object of your desire.  Your heart beats a little faster.  You just can’t imagine anything better.  Sometimes, crushes lead to relationships.  But, crushes fade away.  As the vision clears, you begin to see the real person.  You can choose to really love them or you move on to the next phase.  Choosing to love someone completely is wonderful.
  2. Love is hard work.  Anything that involves more than one person requires work.  A commitment to love and honor another person is a daily thing.  It means you don’t always get want you want, so you both sacrifice.  When you truly love someone, you look for ways to make their life more complete.
  3. Love doesn’t make you happy.  You may be married to most wonderful person in the world and still be unhappy.  If you are depending on someone else to fulfill you and make you happy, you will NEVER find happiness.  While many of us find happiness in relationships, we have to choose to be happy.  Many solid marriages end in divorce because one or both of the people involved were no longer happy.  Love is working through the unhappiness while still honoring the other person.
  4. Love doesn’t “complete” you.  You are the person God made you to be.  You are not 1/2 a person.  You are full and complete.  You may find someone and become half of a couple, but that person will never complete you.
  5. Love is never-ending, and it is also ever-changing.  The love I have for my husband has deepened since we married two years ago.  My heart still races when I think about him.  But, our relationship is evolving as we have learned to live together.  We learn things about each other every day.  There are new insights, new irritants, new joys and new challenges with every day.

I guess if I had to tell another woman what to look for in love I would say:

  • Look for the man who will take care of you.  I am pretty self-sufficient.  But, I really like it when my husband opens doors and pulls out my chair for me.   (Admittedly, I’ve had to learn to wait and allow him to do so!) I enjoy the flowers that he buys at the grocery store for me.  It’s comforting when he intervenes to protect me from activities that will cause me pain (both emotionally and physically.)  He has shown me how very much he cherishes me.  I do not have to “make” him do things.
  • Find the man who is interested in a partnership.  I can be very bossy.  So can my husband.  But, in our marriage, neither of us is “the boss”.   To do lists are general things that need to be done by either of us, they are not specific to either.  There are things that I do well and there are things that are his strong suit.  We try to bring out the best in each other.
  • Focus on the man who you cannot live without, not just someone you can live with (tolerate).  Deep and passionate love with get you through many intolerable situations.  There have been many people I could “live with” that have come and gone in my life.  But, the ones that I could not imagine doing life without have been very few.
  • Consider the  man who will honor you and wait for you until after the wedding vows.  In today’s world, we’ve come to accept sex as a part of dating.  Very few people get married without having already taken a “test drive” of sorts.  There is something extremely special about being worth the wait and sealing your wedding commitment on your wedding night.
  • Pay attention to the man who helps you feel secure and safe.  Being able to speak your mind and hear his opinions without fear is important.  Knowing that you are loved unconditionally is priceless.

I cannot imagine life without my husband, Tim.  I have experienced the death of a spouse and the pain of that loss was excruciating.  I promised myself that I would never allow anyone close enough to cause that much pain ever again.  But, God had a different plan and I am so very thankful for that!

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