Crispy Edges

My daughter looks forward to the pancakes at Cracker Barrel.  Really, she just looks forward to the edges of the pancakes; the crispy browned edges are her favorite.  But, when it comes to orange rolls or brownies, it’s the soft inner pieces that are the best.

Grief gives life crispy edges.  Edges that are delicate and break easily.  Edges that call to you at times.  I prefer to live in the warm, protected center of life.  That’s where my family is the safest and the happiest.  That is where I search for my  value and my worth.  But, there are times, that I must venture out to the edges and taste the bittersweetness that comes with memories.  Fragile memories that still have the power to break my heart.  Precious memories that fade a little with time, but still stir up so many emotions when unwrapped.

Today is a day for the edges.  Thirty years ago on this day, I became Mrs. Terry Benson.  We set out on the adventure of life together.  I see people talk about marrying their best friend and can’t help but wonder how they define friendship.  Terry was indeed my best friend.  We did  everything together.  We had one car for most of our marriage, so he drove me to work each morning and picked me up each afternoon.  He packed my lunch for me.  When the time came, he was a stay at home dad for our kids.  He never complained about me to my family.  He was only complimentary.  He didn’t call me rude names behind my back.  He was always uplifting and protective of me.  He loved my family and never criticized my relationship with them.   Even when things were rough with his own20140214-070338.jpg family, he never said unkind or mean things about them.  There were many times that we disagreed and fought.  And we always came to an agreement and forgave.  Our marriage was more important that either of us as individuals.

So for today, I venture out to the edges that are crisp and full of memories.  Today, I will savor the memories of the love of my early life, the father of my children.  I know that these memories don’t diminish the love I have now for Tim.  My past has prepared me to love him even more deeply.  The edges remind me how fragile life and love can be.  I know that I want to protect the soft center where my life and love currently exist.

Sometimes crispy edges are what we need.  And, sometimes its the soft center that we desire.  Life is made up of both.

Counterfeit Living

When I was a teenager, I was told that I should never watch soap operas.  The reason was simple:  they portrayed lives that were not realistic.  The women were always perfectly coiffed and dressed.  The men loved to talk about EVERYTHING.  Life was not that exciting or interesting.  This was reinforced when I was touring Europe with the United States Collegiate Wind Band the summer of 1978.  When the family I was staying with in Buitenpost, the Netherlands found out I was from Texas, they immediately asked how many oil wells were in my back yard.  They watched “Dallas” on television and  believed it to be the ‘real’ Texas.

 

Fast forward to today.  We still have the fantasies created by television shows.   And,  we have added reality TV & social media to shape the way we view life.  All of these work together to create an unrealistic view of what life SHOULD be and how we SHOULD be living.  As a result, there are many, many individuals living counterfeit lives.  They are busy making things appear as they “should” and avoiding the reality that is life.

social media

 

Have you talked to anyone that is of dating age recently?  Most of them talk of getting married, buying a home and starting a family.  But prevailing wisdom of today is to live together.   The reasoning is that you can be sure it will last without the “big” commitment.   But the reality is “I just don’t think it’s worth waiting until I’m married”.  I remember being asked about waiting for marriage as a 20-something.  The question was “What if the sex isn’t good?”  My response, “If I don’t have anything to compare to, how will I know the sex isn’t good?”  I was also raised to value myself  and to know that marriage is more that sex.  It’s commitment and building a life & family together.  I’m not saying that waiting is easy.  It is definitely not! And, the further down the path you go the more difficult it is to stop.  What I am saying is that anything you value is worth the wait.  You save money for a house, instead of buying a tent because “all my friends are”.

Counterfeit living is grabbing for all the advantages of life without any of the real commitment.  Counterfeit living is pretending you are married when you are just “shacking up”.  Counterfeit living is escaping into something (alcohol, drugs, shopping, games, television, etc.) to avoid facing a reality you don’t want to see.  Counterfeit living is pretending you value yourself, but willingly give yourself away for the illusion of “living the life”.

Reality can be hard.  Reality may mean walking away from something you really want in order to grow into a better person.  Reality may mean saying “No” to pleasures that you don’t want to miss, but realizing you are worth more than the momentary pleasure.  Reality may mean giving up control for just a moment and allowing others to  follow their own path.  Reality may mean manning up and facing the life you have chosen without whining or  tattling about the person you “love” so much.

When my husband and I were dating, I told him I just wanted to make him happy.  His response was “You are not responsible nor capable of making me happy.  I choose to be happy or not.  You can only provide opportunities for me to choose happiness.”  Not very romantic, but entirely true.  If I’m looking for circumstances or people to make me happy, I will never get there.  I must choose to be happy in the circumstances I am presented with at the time.  Real life doesn’t always provide opportunities for happiness.  But, when the opportunities do arise, they are marvelous.  Because,  I can  know the opportunites are real and solid and I can trust them.  I can choose to be happy.  I can choose JOY!  Counterfeit living will never provide that.  Counterfeit living will only cause questions to arise:  “Is this real?  Will this last?”

And for me, the only way to cope with reality is to turn to my faith.

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  Psalm 37:4 

“Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers,and blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD.”  Proverbs 16:20

There are many people who have successful marriages after living in premarital relationships.  And, I know many of them also live with years of guilt because they didn’t stand up for their own convictions.  They will always have that small question “Would we still be together if we had waited?  Was I worth it?”

I challenge you to look at your own life.  Are you living in the reality of life with all of its struggles and joys?  Are your walls stripped bare for all the world to see?  Or, are you living in a counterfeit reality with facades that need constant attention and repair?  Facades that provide for more stress and less happiness?  When I was able to allow the facades to fall, I found an entirely new reality.  I found a reality where I didn’t have to the strongest or the smartest or the best.  I found there is contentment in just doing the best that I can in this moment.  I still struggle and at times try to hide behind the old walls, but I’m no longer trapped and afraid to be honest.

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Would I Follow?

I am currently reading the book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.  This book is Nabeel Qureshi’s personal account of his life as he went from a devout upbringing in the Muslim faith to find that Jesus Christ was indeed his personal savior.  Throughout the book, the author talks of how simple it often was to shut down any Christian that tried to talk to him about faith in Christ.  The reason it was so simple: the  Christians had only a head knowledge of the “whys” of their own beliefs.  They could not back up the normal rhetoric that is given to prove their beliefs.

I have been struck by many parts of this book.  Most of all, I have to face that many of us cannot defend the faith we say that we have.  Nabeel studied the Bible to be able to  refute the usual comments.  It wasn’t until he met someone who was willing and able to give him facts that Nabeel began to truly “hear” the message.  On the flip side, Nabeel also had to come to terms with the fact that much of what he knew of his Muslim beliefs were based on what he had been told.  Studying the Qur’an and other documents as he defended his childhood religion was very unsettling for him.    Even though he have read the entire Qur’an by the time he was 5 years old, he didn’t know or understand much of the basics of his faith.

Nabeel Qureshi’s decision to follow Christ was not an easy choice.  It took years to get to that decision.  He had to weigh giving up EVERYTHING in order to follow the Christ of the Bible.  This decision caused immense pain for both of his parents.  In “Christianity Today”, he made this spoke about the effect his conversion had on his family:

“A few days later, the two people I loved most in this world were shattered by my betrayal. To this day my family is broken by the decision I made, and it is excruciating every time I see the cost I had to pay.
But Jesus is the God of reversal and redemption. He redeemed sinners to life by his death, and he redeemed a symbol of execution by repurposing it for salvation. He redeemed my suffering by making me rely upon him for my every moment, bending my heart toward him. It was there in my pain that I knew him intimately. He reached me through investigations, dreams, and visions, and called me to prayer in my suffering. It was there that I found Jesus. To follow him is worth giving up everything.”

I have to ask myself, “Would I do this?”  I’ve lived a pretty easy life.  Sure there have been bumps along the way, some of them very big bumps.  When my first husband died, I struggled with my faith.  I reviewed all that I said that I believed.  And, I concluded that my faith in God was correct and real.  But, I was never required to give up everything:  my family, my core beliefs, the familiar.  Would I do that?  Could I defend my beliefs to another in a logical and cohesive manner?  Would I be able to give details and truth?  I wish I could give a resounding YES, but I’m not sure.

My family and I have been watching the Leah Remini show on Scientology.  I often sit in astonishment at what people are willing to do and to give up for their beliefs in this “religion”.  While reading Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, I have a different understanding of the Scientology followers:  they too risk everything for their beliefs.  The difference?  Nabeel Qureshi’s Muslim upbringing did acknowledge parts of the Bible and recognize some of the same people as Christianity (although differently), he had a basis to build upon when confronted for Christianity.  He was willing to debate and discuss to prove his point.  Scientology doesn’t allow any questions.  There is no debate.  It’s all or nothing.  As we have listened to people who have left Scientology, it is so sad to see that most have still not found salvation in Jesus.  How do we as Christians help to fill the void?  How do we take steps in this tender and painful area of trust for people’s of any faith that are hurt and searching?  Do we really care?  Do we really want to step out?

Again, I’m not sure.  It’s more  convenient to throw a tract or book at someone than to interact with  them in any depth.  It’s emotionally safer to invite someone to church than to sit down and have coffee and talk over  and over again.  It’s easier to only communicate about God when you need something by asking  for “a little prayer for _____”  instead of getting involved with God on a daily basis with His people.  It’s less intimidating to just mind my own business and let someone else do the hands on stuff.

I’m challenged.  I’m struggling.

For you see, standing up for one’s beliefs to those in your closest circle of family and friends can be hard, especially if they don’t agree.  It takes balance to lovingly rebuke those who claim to be Christian and  do not live as such.  It takes a measured patience to be ridiculed as “old-fashioned” and “out of touch” when you have lived and may actually have a basis for this “old-fashioned” and “out of touch” advise.  The easiest road may not be the best choice and momentary laughter does not mean a lifetime of joy.

Nabeel Qureshi passed away after a year-long battle with stomach cancer on September 16, 2017 at the age of 34.   His parents were helping to care for him during his illness.  I am so fortunate to have his story from which to learn.  He has touched and continues to touch many lives with his stand for Christ.

Would you follow?

 

 

Invisible

invisible

Do you ever feel invisible?

Are there times your voice is not heard?  Is it because you do not speak up?  Or are the other voices and sounds drowning you out?

Do you ever want to be, maybe even need to be,  invisible?

When I was newly widowed, there were many times I felt invisible.  I didn’t fit into any group.  I was no longer married, but wasn’t quite single, either.  My friends were still in the married group.  I moved from “part of the group” to “third wheel” status in the blink of an eye.  I didn’t know how to be seen.  Others seemed to look through me, not ever seeing the ME that stood there.  I didn’t know how to be seen, because I didn’t know how to see myself.   I watched as others buzzed around and wondered how I could be so lonely in a such a busy group of people.  I didn’t know how speak up,  it was easier to fade away than to endure the pain of living in the world in which I no longer belonged.

One can be invisible for lots of reasons.  When another’s need to be recognized  is louder and more aggressive than your own, their need pushes all others out-of-the-way.  I feel the shutters begin to close in around me.  My opinion doesn’t matter.  My voice in not important.  Even the facts and information that I know are dismissed and discounted if they are not in agreement.  I am forced to disappear within myself to avoid further conflict.  It is often that very need to avoid conflict that pushes me further onto the sidelines.  When I am helpless to change anything, when  I’m caught on the carousel of life and there’s no way to regain control, I disappear.

There are times when I try to blend into the background.   There are other times when I need desperately to be heard,  to be seen.  But, I’m  invisible.   It’s as if I’m speaking in an unknown language or wearing the cloak of invisibility.  No one is listening.  No one sees me.  Regardless of how hard I try, I cannot break through.  I begin to believe that I’m truly invisible, that I truly do not matter.  And, that is the real problem.  I accept the invisibility.  I stop trying.  I fade away.

We need to be aware of those invisible people that surround us.  The invisible person may be that homeless person that has become a part of the background.  The invisible person may be the senior citizen that tells the same stories over and over and over again.  The invisible person may be the widow that reminds you how fragile life is.  The invisible person may be a friend or family member that refuses to see things your way causing you to rethink your own ideas or decisions. Invisible people surround us.  They work in the deli’s in our offices.  They stand on the street corners.  They are our neighbors, our friends, our family.  We need to put on our “X-ray vision” and find those invisible people.  We need to see them.  Listen to them.  We need to care.

God, investigate my life;
    get all the facts firsthand.
I’m an open book to you;
    even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
    I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say
    before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there,
    then up ahead and you’re there, too—
    your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful—
    I can’t take it all in!

 Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
    to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
    If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
    to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
    you’re already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
    At night I’m immersed in the light!”
It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
    night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.

Psalm 139 :1-12  MSG

 

 

Joy

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Beau (aka Travis) waiting for his morning belly rub.

Travis was rescued from death.  Literally.  Estimated to be about 7 months old when he was found at a construction site, Travis was so sick they didn’t think he would survive the night.  He had hookworms that had drained most of his lifeblood from him.  He had an injury to his left eye that left a cloudy ulceration.  He couldn’t lift his head.  He received transfusions for 3 days.  For weeks, he wouldn’t even open his injured eye.  He was kept in isolation since he was weak and couldn’t see very well.  He was given food and water, vitamins, eye-drops, worming medication.  He began to recover.  He willingly took his vitamins and sat very still for his eye-drops.  Given any opportunity to snuggle up to his rescuer, he did.  He craved attention.

 

I first saw his picture on the PUPS website.   I was hooked.  I talked to his caregiver and got the information she had: his estimated age, his size and temperament with other dogs, and his house training.   I found out that Travis would be neutered on Tuesday and available for adoption the following Saturday.  I was at the Petsmart that Saturday to meet  him as soon as they were setup.  And I took Travis home with me that day.

Travis is now called Beauregard (Beau for short).  It didn’t take him long to make himself at home with our other fur-babies.  His eye is healed and after a few visits with the vet, he’s up to date on all of his shots and worm free.  He has a tag with his name and my phone number on it as well as a microchip, so he cannot be lost.  He is a little ball of energy.  He rolls and plays with the other dogs.  Every morning, after his potty break outside, he comes back to my room to find me.  I can hear his tags tinkling together as he runs down the hall and comes and lays at my feet.  When I call his name, he rolls over and wiggles in anticipation of the belly rub he’s about to receive.  I pick him up and cuddle him and get my morning kisses and then he’s off to breakfast.

Beau reminds me how I should react to time with my Father.  I was saved from death by the blood of my Savior.  He has taken care of me and prepared me for life in this harsh world.  It is through God’s loving care that I have survived the grievous events in my life.  I allow the world to suck the very life out of me.  I struggle to see where I am headed. But, I don’t always go to my loving Father with excitement, anticipating His loving attention.  Many times, I’m distracted by other “things” in my life.  I don’t have time or I’m sure I can handle this one myself.  I forget to spend time with Him.

But, He comes to my rescue, time and time again.  And I remember His tenderness and His love.  My name is engraved in His book of life.  I will never be out of His sight.  I realize that it is time with my Heavenly Father that I crave.  I spend time in His word.  I pray and listen for His guidance.  And, yes, I beg, plead, cry and complain about all that is “unfair” with my life.  He’s always there to correct me when I’m wrong, to provide for my every need and to always love me.

It took a squirmy, cuddly rescued puppy to remind me that I just have to go to God.  He’s waiting with every thing I can need or imagine.

I’m thanking you, God, from a full heart,
    I’m writing the book on your wonders.
I’m whistling, laughing, and jumping for joy;
    I’m singing your song, High God. 

Psalm 9:1-2 MSG

Joy (Take 2)

I am in a second marriage.  I was widowed in 2005.  In 2015, I married my dearest friend who had been divorced for a few years.  He was also a good friend to my late husband.  We now have a blended family with five kids:  the oldest is 28 and the youngest is 18.  They’ve know each other through the years as they grew up in church together.

Marriage the 2nd time around is familiar and different all at the same time.

I married Terry in 1987.  We were in our late 20’s.  We thought we knew everything.  We did everything together, even grocery shopping.  Having lived on my own for 5 years, it took a bit of adjustment to have someone there all of the time.  But, we adjusted to life together in our little one bedroom apartment.  We learned to love together.  We learned to disagree with each other.  We learned to give up expectations and live for today.  We learned to parent together.  We grew together in our love of family and our love of God.  And then, he was gone.  I mourned the loss of my best friend, my husband, and my dreams for many years.

I’ve never understood when I hear negative comments about marriage.  I was told once after Terry died,  that I was lucky I didn’t have to put up with a man any longer.  (I definitely didn’t agree!)  I’ve listened to comments about the “poor saps” that were getting married soon and how foolish they were.  I couldn’t comprehend “out-growing” my husband and moving on to greener pastures.  How do you out-grow someone with whom you are growing daily?  Couples that lived very separate lives always mystified me.    Terry and I had our own careers.  And, we were sometimes separated due to traveling for work.  But, I talked to him every night regardless of our locations.  While I might enjoy a day or two of being able to “do my own thing”, I counted the days until we were both home together again.  And, I think he did too.   Anytime Terry and I were in the same room, people knew we were together.  He was my husband and I was his wife. I wanted every person around us to know that.  I was proud to be married to him.   Life wasn’t easy.  We struggled with finances and work options.  There were extended family issues that affected our little family.  In later years, there were health issues to consider.  But, we had committed to God and to each other to see it through until the end.  We were together!

I married Tim in 2015.  Being married in our 50’s is an experience.  We both brought our own baggage into our marriage.  We’ve endured the buying, remodeling and selling of a home,  the buying and remodeling of another home, unemployment and the resulting financial problems, legal issues, the start-up our own business, joining a new church and just learning to be married to each other.  We’ve both had to stop filtering every comment and action through our previous life experiences.  I’m still working on my own insecurities and finding my place in our life together and with our children in this new family model.

There are always challenges in blending families.  Regardless of the age of the children in a blended family there are issues.   Jealousy about who likes who better.  Protectiveness of “my mom” or “my dad”.  While we strive to build new family traditions, there is pain as the old traditions are changed or even replaced.  Each child has different expectations for family life.  There have been tears and complaints, hurt feelings and joy since our marriage.   I expect that to continue as we grow together.

I adore being married to Tim.  At the same time, there are times that I still mourn for Terry and the things I miss sharing with him: our son, Zac’s wedding, the birth of Zac’s son, Gracie’s graduation from college and the purchase of her first home,  etc.  I also walk into unknown territory as a step-mom:  Where do I fit?  How involved is too involved?

The joys far out-weigh the trials.  Maybe because I’ve endured the loss of a husband, I truly treasure my time with Tim.  My views haven’t really changed.  I still believe marriage is for a life-time.  I still believe that we are to “become one” in every way. There is no “out-growing” each other.    I still believe in unconditional love.  I believe I have been incredibly blessed to find such a deep and abiding love the 2nd time around.  I still get butterflies when I hear his voice.  I still count the days, the hours and the minutes when we are separated.  To walk into a room holding my husband’s hand, is still one of the greatest thrills for me.  I can find the happiness we all say we want, because of the joy and peace that I have in my marriage today.

I am so glad I was given a chance at joy the second time around.

Interruptions

Don’t you hate getting interrupted? Just when the plot thickens on your favorite show, the phone rings or one of the kids needs you NOW. Does it drive you crazy? It does me! I’m a confessed control freak, so interruptions are NOT something that I look upon with kindness.

My Ladies Bible Study group has just started “Jonah, A Life Interrupted” by Priscilla Shirer. From the onset of this study, we’ve been asked to look at our own interrupted lives. And we’ve all had interruptions. Maybe it was not being noticed by ‘THAT BOY’ that brought your dreams crashing down. Maybe you didn’t get into the college you had dreamed about for years. Or maybe, you did get into that college and it wasn’t what you expected. Maybe your marriage doesn’t look like you dreamed and you are frustrated and upset with the lack of communication. You just want to be “HAPPY”. Maybe your marriage is over and you never expected to live life as a single parent. Maybe death has ended dreams for yourself, your marriage or your family. Maybe you just realized that your close friend is embarrassed to be seen with you in public. All of these things are interruptions. Of course, there are the GOOD interruptions, too. Do you have any of those? The “surprise” baby that has increased your family, a new and budding friendship, a new and challenging job. Even happy events can interrupt our life, our plans. Usually, interruptions or changes to our lives are unwelcome.

Job was a man who had his life interrupted. And yet, these are the words recorded in Job 1:20-21 after he has lost everything:
At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; May the name of the Lord be praised.”

When my life is interrupted I need to stop asking God “Why?” Possibly, I would be better served to ask “Who?” Life’s interruptions may cause pain and sorrow and bring grief and tears. Things I would rather avoid. We’ve all heard it said “No pain, no gain.” So, why do I expect God to give me an easy path and increase my faith and strengthen my spiritual life. I will only grow and get stronger as I work thru the interruptions. I guess I need to change my view and instead of seeing interruptions to MY plans, I need to see opportunities for God to work in my life. I’m not there yet. I still have dreams that are dangling by a thread, plans that may never be fulfilled and lots of tears to shed. But, I’m learning to praise the name of the Lord thru the interruptions. And, I’m learning that I’m to really praise HIM, not just a perfunctory praise whispered under my breath. I need to praise Him with all my strength, to shout that praise from the top of my lungs regardless of what has brought me to my knees.