CONFESSIONS OF AN OLDEST CHILD

“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out – plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” 

Jeremiah 29:11 MSG

I am the oldest of three children.  I am also the first grandchild on both sides of my family.  I am the definition of “the oldest child”. 

There are lots of perks that come with being the oldest.  Hand-me downs don’t exist when you are the first-born.  As the oldest, you get to do things first.  You get the undivided attention of your parents and grandparents when you are the only one.  But, there are some downers to being the oldest.  You are the first one that has to learn to share – everything.  You are the “learner” child:   your siblings get to do things you were never allowed to do. And even though it’s nice to be the first, it also means you will be the first to fail.

The first born has only adults with which to compare himself/herself.  Think about what an oldest/only child sees:  Everyone around can walk without holding on or falling down.  The only crawling seems to be to encourage the baby to get up.  You are being watched at every moment, so you try to please.   Communication is crucial and the praise received is worth the effort.  A first born learns early that you don’t want to disappoint the big people. 

The first born gets more attention.  This is partly because the baby stuff is so new, but also because the time is spent with just this one child.   Just look at photo albums or baby books.  The first child will have tons of pictures and a complete baby book.  Child #2 will have a few pictures and a good start on the baby book.  Any other siblings will just have to make do with a few snapshots and will be grateful if a baby book was even purchased.  The first born will benefit from more time being read to and being taught at home.  Even when siblings are added, the oldest child will continue to benefit from the time spent learning as a group. 

As soon as another sibling is added, the oldest child becomes a leader.  We know how it should be done and will not hesitate to point it out to our younger siblings.  We will be put in charge of our siblings and reminded that we are “older” and therefore “more responsible”.  Some will call this being a natural leader.  Others call it being bossy. 

First born children tend to be perfectionists, leaders, good students, and teachers.  We are often people pleasers that fear failing.  I never tried anything that I wasn’t pretty sure I would excel at.  If there was a chance that I might look silly, I did not attempt it.  I was never good at roller skating, mainly because I did not want to fall.  It hurt and people would laugh.  My younger brother was a good skater.  Granted, he was black and blue from throwing himself into the “experience.”  But, he had fun and enjoyed it.  I would rather spend my time with a good book or a logic puzzle. 

I was always at the top of my class in school.  Learning came easy to me.  I wouldn’t classify myself as an overachiever, I just did what came easily. My classmates that thought I had it made.  While others would be praised for getting a “B” on report cards, I had to get all “A’s and A+”.  Even an “A-“wasn’t good enough.  It wasn’t until I was taking college classes that I was really challenged.  I had to learn to study.  It was hard to accept that I might not be “the best” after all.  But, it was also in college classes that I found I could enjoy learning without being the best.  As a junior accounting major, I had a class under Dean of the School of Business, Dr. Lauderdale.  He promised to weed out the bookkeepers from the accountants in his class.  He was strict and had high expectations.  Our class size dropped by 50% as the semester commenced.  Before our last final, Dr. Lauderdale looked at me and said “You have a B in this class.  If you ace the final or not, you have a solid B.  Don’t come to the final.”  I have never been so excited to be told I was a B student!

I still struggle with perfectionistic tendencies.  This causes lots of anxiety in my life.   I play scenes over and over in my head of how I disappoint my friends and family.  There are days when I feel like I’m balancing on a pin cushion.  When I am out of control or over-whelmed, I protect myself with a veil of detachment.  I separate myself from those areas.  If they don’t exist, they cannot hurt me, right?  My husband helps me to see past the veil and to accept that I can only be the best that I can be.  If someone is disappointed at my best efforts, then that’s not my problem.  Hurt and disappointments are part of life.  I cannot avoid them.

I still don’t like to do anything without a road map.  I want to know EXACTLY what is coming before I step out.  But, I’ve learned that is not always possible.  But these things I know:

  • I CAN make phone calls when I must. (Many of you know how much a hate to do that!)
  • I CAN meet new people and get to know them without hyperventilating.  (I still do better in small groups.)
  • I CAN make decisions and live my life the way God leads me. (Even when others don’t agree/understand.)
  • I CAN trust that others will love me.  (Love isn’t earned, it’s given.)

I am the oldest of three children.  I am the first grandchild on both sides of my family.  And, I am a beloved child of God.

 “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.” 

Psalm 139:13-14 NLT

 “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.” 

Matthew 6:30-33 msg

What Makes You Happy?

Between my husband and I, we have 5 children between the ages of 20 and 30. Both of our boys are married. One of our daughters is newly engaged and planning her summer wedding. The other 2 girls are in their own relationships. We are surrounded with young love and wedding talk which can be very exciting. The talk of love and happiness is everywhere. Love is a wonderful thing. But, there are days when Love is just difficult. And it’s on those days that happiness seems to disappear. So, what makes it all worth it?

I married my first husband in my late twenties. We were young and in love and dumb. As the newness of newly wed life and the infatuation that accompanies it wore off, we found that love wasn’t always so sweet and happiness didn’t come easily. I didn’t particularly “love” that my husband artfully draped his clothing around our bedroom instead of putting it in the laundry hamper. He wasn’t very “happy” that I only washed what was actually IN the hamper and he had no clean socks. There were days and sometimes weeks when I wondered WHY I had decided to marry this man. We lived in a one bedroom apartment. He wanted to do EVERYTHING together. I craved my alone time. We struggled. I wasn’t miserable, but I wouldn’t describe our life as happy.

It was several years before I discovered the “secret” to true happiness. It wasn’t really that difficult either. I just had to decide to be happy in whatever situation we were in at that moment. I had to give up my expectations that anyone could make me happy. I learned that there were things that I had to sacrifice in order to build our marriage together. Instead of being irritated because I wanted to be alone, I was glad to have a husband who wanted to spend time with me and our children. I made it a point to seek out the reasons to be truly happy and content. When I decided to choose my marriage over my personal agenda, the change in our lives and our relationship was amazing. As much as I loved my husband, he would never be everything that I thought I needed. And, he was powerless to provide the happiness I sought.

When my husband died in 2005, I was confronted with such deep sadness. I didn’t think I would ever know love or happiness again in my lifetime. I was wrong. Even in the immense sadness of those years, I found moments of happiness. I became more intent on seeking out reasons to be happy and celebrate the moments. My children and I laughed at memories and tried new things. I learned that there can be great joy in the midst of deep sorrows. I once again decided that I would be happy even if I never loved another man. Some days were easier than others.

I married my second husband a little over 3 years ago. Our path to each other wasn’t easy. We both had struggles along the way. We both loved and lost. We came into this marriage with scars and (I hope) a little wiser. We know that every successful relationship requires compromises (aka personal sacrifice). He can never make me happy. He doesn’t have that power. We can offer each other experiences that bring happiness. But, ultimately, happiness is a personal decision. I love him deeply and passionately. The joy of our relationship is a blessing every day. There are still struggles. Every morning, I make the decision to choose my spouse over my self. I choose happiness whenever I see the opportunity.

My advice to the young and in love (or those wanting to be in love)? Find happiness within yourself FIRST. Then, and only then, will you be ready to tackle a lasting relationship. Infatuation will not bring lasting happiness. Identify that things that you “love” about the other person. (And don’t fall into the trap of saying he/she “Just makes me happy.”) I married my best friend. I trust him completely. We talk about everything. We have fun together. I know that he looks out for my best interests. Together, we find contentment that may not look too exciting, but it sure offers us many opportunities to decide to be happy.

“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.” Ephesians 5:22-28 msg

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


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.

action

“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

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

 

20140214-070338.jpgwedding2015
“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

An Unwelcome, Unwanted Gift

Charlie Brown was known for saying “Good grief!” when he was frustrated. There a very few of us that would consider grief “Good”. But, I’ve learned that grief is a gift.

My first months after my husband’s death were dark. I remember functioning on some level. The pain of grief was numbing. The colors weren’t there. The sun seemed to have disappeared. I felt as if I was trying to swim through mud: exhausted but getting no where. I spent hours in the darkness of night walking in circles and asking God “WHY?”

Many people would tell me I should be happy that my husband was with God. When the tears would start, they would try to make things better, to encourage me to be strong. I had read 1 Thessalonians 4:13 many times:

“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13 KJV

Unfortunately, I took this verse to mean that I should not grieve. I felt guilty for grieving. I tried to hide my pain. I struggled with my faith. Was I just not strong enough?

I was blessed to have friends that understood grief. They walked beside me. They allowed my grief to bubble over into their lives. They didn’t try to “fix”me. They just stood with me. They allowed me to learn what a gift grief can be.

Most of us try to avoid pain, to avoid grief. We don’t talk about death. Too often children aren’t exposed to the sorrow of death and funerals. We “protect” them from seeing our own grief. And they are not prepared for tragedy when it occurs.

But death is a reality. Sometimes it comes too early and the questions keep coming. I found myself pointing out people that I didn’t think deserved to be living and asking God why he took my husband and left them. I screamed and begged to have him back or to be taken to be with him.

But one day, I realized that Terry’s death was his reward. He was exactly where he wanted to be. He wasn’t missing a thing. I was grieving for what I had lost. And that was ok. I didn’t have to feel guilty or hide it. I missed my husband. My kids missed their dad and the tears were a symbol of our love for him. I had a new understanding of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14:

“And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don’t want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 MSG

When one loses a great love, grief is the result. It’s our last connection to that loved one. The grief will not always bring tears. The grief will not always be paralyzing. Grief will not remain acute. As you move through the process, it becomes chronic: enduring and sometimes recurring. You come to accept the dance with grief. It is bittersweet. A gift of love and memories.

“If you can’t say something nice. . .”

We’ve all heard that phrase:  “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  I’ve said it to my own children when they were busily calling each other names or tattling on each other.  But, I have recently realized, that this phrase has taken on a whole different meaning in my life.

My internal voice tells me that nice people never get angry, so there must be something wrong with me when I get irritated, annoyed or mad.  I avoid situations and interactions with others that have made me angry in the past.  Rather than confront the pain/anger, I’ve become very adept at “not seeing” those persons.  I’ve been told that I don’t “do guilt.”  That’s not at all true.  I’ve just learned to hide all my guilty feelings.  If I don’t see them, I don’t have to feel guilty for the way I feel.

This internal voice also tells me that nice people always agree and swallow their own differences for the sake of being nice and preventing others from being irritated, annoyed or mad.  This has been a hard lesson for me.  When I’m asked for my opinion, I usually give it.  Why would anyone ask me if they didn’t really want to know what I thought?  However, the vast majority that ask don’t really want to hear what I have to say.  They expect agreement and support from me.  I’ve been told that I didn’t know enough to have that opinion.  I’ve been told to work things out within myself and “wrap my head around” an issue (meaning come to see “the right” opinion.)  I’ve been threatened in work situations when I didn’t automatically agree.  So, I’m very careful when it comes to being open with my feelings or opinions.  It’s better to be stoic than honest.

My therapist once asked me what kind of animal I felt represented me.  My answer was a possum.  A possum is useful in getting rid of unwanted pests. A mother possum is a fierce protector of her children and carries them around with her.  But, a possum is ugly.  It slinks around in the dark.  When confronted, it plays dead.  But, I want to be a flamingo.  A flamingo is beautiful.  It spends time in the open, eating and just being beautiful. Flamingos are members of a flock, and raise their babies together.  Everyone loves the flamingo.

I recently read a devotional taken from Joyce Meyer’s book, “Battlefield of the Mind” that said:  “We should choose our thoughts carefully. We can think about what is wrong with our lives or about what is right with them. We can think about what is wrong with all the people we are in relationship with or we can see the good and meditate on that. The Bible teaches us to always believe the best. When we do that, it makes our own lives happier and more peaceful.”

I am attempting to rewrite my internal messages.  I don’t think anyone should purposely hurt or offend others.  Name calling is a childish behavior and should be avoided.  I do, however, need to be honest.  And being honest about my hurts and my feelings may not feel nice to others.   I may not do some things in order to keep the peace or because it’s the expected thing to do.   I may still avoid situations and interactions with others to avoid unnecessary confrontations.  And, I refuse to feel guilty for putting my husband and children as a priority in my life.  I will live my life to the fullest and stop worrying about the approval of others.

“I call Heaven and Earth to witness against you today: I place before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse. Choose life so that you and your children will live. And love God, your God, listening obediently to him, firmly embracing him. Oh yes, he is life itself, a long life settled on the soil that God, your God, promised to give your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

Deuteronomy 30:19-20 MSG