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


Am I Human or Just Dumb?


To err is human, to forgive divine. All people commit sins and make mistakes. God forgives them, and people are acting in a godlike (divine) way when they forgive.

“An Essay on Criticism”  by Alexander Pope

We all make mistakes in life.  Some are more painful than others.  The assumption is that we learn  from the mistakes and  do not repeat the same one.  The reality is, you can can only make a mistake once:  the 2nd time is a choice. So, if we keep making the same mistake/choice, does that mean we are just dumb?  All through life, we learn things.  Sometimes, we take the advice and teachings of those around us.  But, there are the times that we get burned testing our boundaries.

When I was a child, I was fascinated watching my mother test the heat of the iron.  She would touch her finger to her tongue and then touch the the bottom plate of the iron.  I decided that I wanted to iron my paper doll clothes.  So, I did all of the things I had observed my mother do in the past.  Except, I didn’t lightly touch the iron.  I pressed my index finger to the metal plate.  I had been told many times not to touch the iron because it would burn me.  The pain and the resulting blister (and the scorched paper doll dress) were reminders to heed the warnings. 

But, my need to prove myself didn’t stop there.  It was around the same time of my life.  We were at an Easter egg hunt at my grandparents farm in Foard City.  It was a big family get-together and there were lots of eggs to find.  My Aunt Ruth, who was just a few years older than me, stopped me and pointed out some pretty pink flowers and pointedly told me NOT to pick them.  I went on about the business of hunting eggs, but I kept thinking about those bright pink flowers.  Ruth and I often would go pick wildflowers around the farm and I wondered why she was being so selfish about those pretty flowers.  In hindsight, I don’t think I had even noticed the flowers before being told to leave them alone.  But, now, I was obsessed with them.  I decided to show my aunt that I could pick any flower I wanted and deliberately grabbed the bright pink blossoms with both hands. 

Prickly Pear Cactus

If you have ever encountered a Prickly Pear Cactus, you know about the sharp spines.  I didn’t manage to pick any of the flowers, but I did get both hands full of needles and spines.  All because I was so caught up in having my own way and not paying heed to warnings that I had received.

From the time of Adam and Eve in the garden, we have been inclined to test every rule and push every boundary.  If the speed limit is 60 mph, we drive 65 mph or more.  A sign that says “WET PAINT” is more of an invitation to touch it than a warning.  We make dumb comments for excuses when ignoring rules or warnings: 

  • “It’s just a little white lie.  It doesn’t hurt anyone”
  • Texting isn’t a problem when I drive”
  • “If I can serve my country at 18, I should be able to drink!”
  • “It’s not cheating on my spouse if I’m not happy.  I deserve to be happy”
  • “God wouldn’t have brought him/her into my life if He didn’t want us together.”
  • “As long as I go to church on Sunday, I can do anything I want.”
  • “I don’t need a church to feel close to God.  I am a spiritual person and do just fine on my own. 

And my favorite dumb comment. . .

  • “It’s just sex.  It’s not important.  It doesn’t mean anything”

I have done things in my life that were just dumb.  I would bet most people have.  I have hurt other people and I’ve had to apologize for my actions/words.  And, I’ve been wounded by people for whom I cared deeply and then I had to learn to forgive.  I’ve got a good grasp on the “err” and “dumb” actions.  The “divine” part is a little harder. 

I’m grateful that God is divine.  He is forgiving and merciful.  I try to remember that I really don’t want life to be fair, because I want the benefits of mercy in every situation.   Even so, I know there are consequences when I step over the line.  The results may not be as evident as a blistered index finger or a hand full of cactus spines, but there are penalties that have to be paid.  Whether it is a fine for a speeding ticket or the loss of the trust and respect of my loved ones, there are always consequences. 

A favorite verse from the Old Testament talks about consequences and forgiveness:

If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust swarms to eat up all of your crops, or if I send an epidemic among you,  then if my people will humble themselves and pray, and search for me, and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear them from heaven and forgive their sins and heal their land.

2 Chronicles 7:13-14 TLB

There will be payment for breaking the rules,  choosing to rebel or ignoring the guidelines and instructions you have been given in this life.  Usually, the retribution is much worse than the enjoyment of the moment of rebellion.  My prayer is that I become more divine, more God-like in my choices.  I must face my issues and follow the best path, not necessarily the one that benefits me the most.  I must forgive those that cause me pain and be willing to pray for them, even when I just HATE doing that.  I must honor my promises and my vows in all areas of my life. 

What do your choices in life say about you?  Are you just human or moving toward the divine?  How many will admit to just being dumb when it comes to making decisions?


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.

 

Marriage: Jackpot or Pothole

I recently saw an article titled “If Your Husband Does These 13 Things, You Hit the Marriage Jackpot”. As I read through the 13 items, I was quite pleased.   I DEFINITELY hit the jackpot with my husband!

  1. He encourages and inspires you.
  2. He can comfort and calm you.
  3. He still flirts with you.
  4. He works hard.
  5. He loves spending time with you.
  6. He loves and respects his mother.
  7. He complements you often.
  8. He is selfless.
  9. He says “I love you” often.
  10. You are his #1 priority (after his relationship with God.)
  11. He surprises you.
  12. You are a team.
  13. He admits when he is wrong.

As I looked at the list, I began to wonder: Does my husband believe that he also hit the jackpot, or do I tend to be more of a pothole?   A Jackpot is something we all want.  We avoid potholes.  They cause damage and expand with every contact.   I want my husband to see how deeply I treasure him.  At times, I may require more than I offer, but  I will strive to be the “jackpot” wife he deserves.

What about you? Are you a jackpot or a pothole?

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Decisions = Consequences

Decisions are an everyday part of life. And every decision results in a consequence of some kind, good or bad.  If I decide to turn off my alarm and sleep an extra 30 minutes, the consequences are rushing to get ready for my day and leaving the house a later than usual.  For every 5 minutes later that I enter the freeway, I reap an additional 10 minutes in Houston traffic.  Was that extra sleep really worth the added stress to my day and drive?  Honestly, it depends on the day.  But, usually, I regret that decision to stay in bed.  And yet, I have this conversation with myself every single morning.

We all make decisions. We decide to do the dishes tonight or wait until later.  In school, it was when (or maybe if) I would study for a test or do my homework.  Every interaction with others begs a decision:  will I be kind and respectful, distant and unattached, or pushy and rude? Sometimes a decision to NOT decide becomes your decision by forcing another to make the call.  At least that way, I have plausible deniability, right? It’s not really my responsibility, because YOU decided this one.  Why is making a decision so daunting at times?  Even when it’s a “good” decision, we seem to fear the consequences of our very actions.  Why?

Maybe this is what we fear: ME.  My “personal preference meter” isn’t a very reliable source for making decisions.  When MY happiness, MY comfort becomes more important than how it affects the ones that depend upon and trust me, the consequences may be difficult to live with on a long term basis.  Our society has become more and more focused on doing what is makes “me” happy as the optimal decision bias.  Even though reality proves that the “happiness” is fleeting and this temporary enjoyment could very likely lead to long term misery.

We’ve seen evidence of this all throughout the Bible: Eve chose to eat the apple;  Abraham had a son with Hagar;  David gave into his desire for another man’s wife with Bathsheba.  There are examples in our lives every day:  telling the “white” lie to cover-up; condoning gossip and back-biting in order to be accepted; sneaking around outside of your marriage to get some “excitement”.  We have come to believe the absolute lie that we deserve happiness.  Truthfully, no one deserves happiness.  Happiness is a daily choice, NOT a destination.  You can chase happiness, but you will not find it.  And when our decisions are based on finding happiness, the consequences will be empty and quite often painful.

So, in this carnival we call life, when we choose all the fun and exciting regardless of personal morals or conscience, consequences can be overwhelming. Much like too much time on the Tilt-a-Whirl you are left off-balance, dizzy and maybe a little ill.  When the excitement wears off and the happiness is no longer palpable, guilt moves in to fill the void.  You can’t go back and undo your actions or unsay the words.  You can only live within this moment.  Eve chose the apple and mankind would forever have sin in our lives.  The consequences of Abraham’s choice to have a son with Hagar are still being played out in our world.  In an attempt to cover up his wrong decision, David would go on to commit murder and saw his own son eventually turn against him.  But, in each case, these people continued to seek God.  They were now on a different path in life and God would use them anyway.

We’ve all heard the saying “You made your bed, now lie in it.” The consequences will be there, even after forgiveness.  We must choose to make better choices and decisions.  Decide to move forward toward God’s will and plan for your life regardless of the current situation.  Avoid getting caught up in the endless whirlwind of running toward the next “ME” moment.  Accept the consequences and work through them.  Look out for those who depend upon you and put their needs first.  Make the decision to be happy today, where you are, even if you can’t understand how that could possibly happen.  You won’t make an instant difference, but you will invest in the future.

Consequences, both good and bad are what we reap. Make your harvest one of which you are proud.

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“Well, you’ve made your bed – now lie in it; you wanted your own way – now, how do you like it?” Proverbs 1:31  MSG

The Lord God Made Them All. . .

I was September 6 when a bony, sad faced dog walked into our life. He just collapsed in our front yard. He didn’t seem dangerous, but I wasn’t sure what to do with him. I already had 3 dogs to care for on a daily basis. I lived alone and Gracie was just home for the weekend. There was nothing to be done on a Sunday afternoon, so we gave him food and water, put him in the spare crate that we had and put off making any decisions. He seemed grateful for food and water and a safe place to stay. We decided to call him, Baxter.
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Baxter was tired and sad. He wasn’t chipped. But, he had been neutered and was well behaved. He was crate trained and so very smart. After just one day, he was responding when I called him Baxter. He was so skinny, it was hard to tell what breed he might be. Sydney drove him crazy. She was Tigger to his Eeyore when I walked them each day. I posted his picture on Facebook, hoping to find a home for this sweet boy. Soon, my friend contacted me. She wanted to meet Baxter and give him a test run at their home. So, on September 12, 2009, I took Baxter and all of his accoutrements to the Gasdia’s. I kissed the top of his head and watched as he following Sonya to the backyard that would become his fur-ever home.
The next time I saw Baxter, I hardly recognized him. He had blossomed into a beautiful golden lab mix. He seemed to remember me and walked across the carpet (which was a no-no) to greet me. Through the years I was privileged to watch him enjoy a wonderful life. He got to ride in the truck and go play in the country. He was able to go on walks and runs. He was home! When Tim and I moved to Brookshire, he would come and stay with us whenever his family went out of town. At first, he was a little nervous, but he soon came to enjoy his “country” get away. He would explore the backyard and each of our little guys would greet him, some more enthusiastically as others. In the evenings, when he had taken all of the together time he could, Baxter would pick up his baby (a stuffed alligator ) and head to the master bedroom and put himself to bed. In the morning, he would greet Tim with a cold nose and two ears ready to be thoroughly scratched! We loved Baxter.baxter & puppy
We’re not sure how old Baxter was when he arrived in our lives. Two years old or less was the best guess. For a little over nine years, this gracious dog blessed the lives of all who came in contact with him. He never hesitated to rub against your leg to get an ear scratched. He was friendly, but protective. He loved his friend, Sonya. His excitement when she would walk into the room from a vacation was palpable.
We will never know what happened to Baxter before he came into our lives. But, I know the last 9 years were amazing. You could look into his eyes and see that. As Cecil Frances Alexander said in his poem:
“ All things bright and beautiful,
  All creatures great and small,
  All things wise and wonderful,
  The Lord God made them all.”
Farewell Baxter. You were a true friend and companion. You will be missed.

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