Thursday, June 30, 2016

"For Better or Worse, In Sickness and in Health"...

                   Patience is not the ability to wait,
               but the ability to have a good attitude
               while waiting.
                                                 - Joyce Meyer
Statement/Question Made By Work Acquaintance(out of the blue and tone coming across as a bit sarcastic): 
"It must be a real drag (said with huge non-verbal emphasis) for you to make all of the adjustments you have made since Bert's stroke. I bet it's a real hard life-changer for you? Right? You must hate having to go through this awful thing."

My Answer: (speechless for a few seconds, finally...): "Drag?
Have to go through this? (hoping to be tactful) I appreciate your concern, I do. But what I would want you to know is that every day with my beloved Bert is a complete blessing from God for me."

Statement/question (unwilling to let this go): "But this isn't the retirement you planned. How in the world are you adjusting?"

My Answer:( trying to be patient, but wondering what is at the bottom of all of this): "Bert's stroke has been a challenge for us and an opportunity for us to get closer. Yes, some things have changed, and it has not always been easy. Yet he is the kindest, most wonderful and most grateful person I have ever known. He was that way before his stroke, and he is that way now. I cannot imagine not having him here. We are so grateful to God that Bert has had such a good recovery and that he is still alive. That's what we try to focus on every day. Bert is still here!"

Statement/Question: "No one is genuinely this sunny about something so awful, Linda. No one.

One of my growing edges in life is being patient. Okay, that's
a bit of an understatement.

Sometimes my impatience rears its ugly head and before I know it I have "had it." Usually others don't see that impatience welling up, but I can feel it growing inside my head and heart. Note to self: Perhaps my impatience is even a part of my blood pressure issues. The conversation described above, made by a supposedly well-meaning acquaintance at the college, is an example of where I almost lost it, at least internally.

Perhaps her intention was to show empathy.
Perhaps her intention was to find out information.
Perhaps her intention was to try and help.
Or perhaps her intention was to gossip and find out what was really going on beneath the surface.

As she said later on, "I find it hard to believe people when they describe their marriage as idilic." She went on to assert, "This for better or worse, in sickness and in health 'stuff' just doesn't seem realistic to me."

So... that's the crux of all of this.
It's about that for better or worse 'stuff.'

"Dear Lord, please give me patience. Please help me to not be defensive. Maybe she has never known a real "for better or for worse" couple?"

I have. I have known a "for better or worse" couple.

Dick and Martha Clark were like second parents to me. Their oldest daughter, Linny, was my best friend growing up and my dear friend to this day. Martha was diagnosed with MS in her early forties.
Both Martha and Dick were only children, and they loved each other with a mighty love, a solid love, a "for better or worse, in sickness or health" kind of love. 

As Martha got worse over time, who was always there was Dick. When she lost many of her capabilities, who was still there with a loving heart was Dick, her beloved husband. When Dick had to put Martha in a living facility because he had cancer, and could no longer take care of her medical needs, he still visited Martha all the time. He LIVED his wedding vows. He knew that if the tables had been turned, and he was the one with MS, Martha would have been there for him. She would not have loved him less. He would not have been an inconvenience.

True, their life "plan" didn't turn out quite the way they had hoped.
Yet their "new normal" was alive with such grace, gratitude, hope, love, depth and compassion that they showed others how to LIVE their wedding vows too.

No, a stroke was not in our plans. No, Bert's cancer was not in our plans either. Yet when my patience returned during this conversation (thank you God for answering my prayer), and empathy prevailed... I was able to tell this woman about Dick and Martha. I was able to tell her who Bert was to me. I was able to tell her that when my life was shattered, God brought Bert into my life to help heal my broken heart. I was able to tell her about Bert's faithfulness to me and his love for me that has been there every day. I was able to tell her that Bert is my beloved and that I love him more now, not less. I was able to tell her that if the tables were turned, and I was the one who had the stroke, Bert's love for me would never waver. 

I am as sure of that as I am sure that God loves me.

As I talked I saw tears cascade down her cheeks. She seemed 
a bit embarrassed. She owned that her intentions in talking to me may not have been all that honorable. She confessed that she wanted to put me on the spot because she just couldn't believe I was really all that people said I was. She said she felt jealous when she heard "Bert and Linda stories" at school. She confessed that she had seen Bert sitting in the front row at each conference where I talked and that I always walked over and kissed him in front of everyone.

"I want what you have," she said with small sobs coming out, her heart breaking right in front of me.

And then with God's grace, I hugged her. A deep hug. A knowing hug. She was hurt and felt lonely, even though she was married.
It was hard for her to see what marriage could be.

I reminded her, more gently this time, that God was our great Healer. We, Bert and I, had been through lots of challenges in our thirty four years together. Yet our healing came from God and our marriage was dedicated to Him. He was at the center, that's why it worked. Because He loved us so unconditionally, with all our flaws, we knew what REAL love was. We could love each other that way because He first loved us "for better or for worse."

God loves us and keeps every vow He made to us! His love endures through MS and strokes and cancer. His love and grace are more powerful than any disease could ever be.

Dick and Martha knew that, too. That "for better or worse", that "in sickness or in health" stuff...well, they knew it came from Him. 

He is our author for unconditional love.

And as I released this acquaintance from my hug, I saw someone like me. The me before knowing God, the me before having Bert love me. I knew her because she was me. And because we were transparent and honest in this conversation, our relationship at school would never be the same.

She was now my friend.

What I know for sure is that in every circumstance, some things
remain the same. They are unbendable. You can count on them! God's LOVE is like that for me. 

How grateful I am to know how much God loves me...and 
to have that "for better or worse" stuff (said smiling :)) with my beloved Bert!

May you know today that God loves you, for better or for worse."
God Bless!
Love, Linda

Monday, June 27, 2016

Finding Joy in the Small Delights...

        Joy comes to us in ordinary moments.      
          We risk missing out when we get too
           busy chasing down the extraordinary.
                                                - Brene Brown

Hurrah!! Summer is here! My last day at the college was Tuesday, June 21st. Just as children are chomping at the bit to have school out, teachers feel the exact same way.

Piles and piles of papers graded, grades calculated, graduation attended...


Yet it takes my heart and body a good long while to adjust to not getting up at 3:30 am, dashing around, grading constantly, meeting with students, meeting with faculty...

the list goes on and on. 

I absolutely love being a teacher, yet it isn't an easy job. Most summers I have been consulting or in school staying up to speed on curriculum and professional development.

This summer it is time for a real break. One where I can find joy in the small delights.

Sometimes I miss those joys because they are a blur when I am going at mock speed.

It's also a time to catch up on all the things that could wait just a little appointments, dentist appointments,

and a slew of appointments for my beloved Bert.

Yet, since I am trying to slow down and appreciate the little things, summer calls to me and all of those appointments can still wait just a little longer...  :)

The feel of that warm summer sunshine, well it just permeates my heart. 
It begs me to play outdoors, take it all in.

This hasn't been an easy year, and I feel a bit tattered and torn. Somehow those sun rays feel like God's gentle touch on all that ails me.

Time for cloud gazing...

Book reading...
Baby playin'...
Prayers a sayin'...
Dinner makin'...
Walks a takin'...

And breathing in and out. Letting go of some of the hurts that keep my eyes a bit teary these days. A sadness that has crept into my heart. 

In the evening, as I swing on our vintage swing with my beloved and watch the stars at night, each swing...back and forth...soothes my weary soul.

Before going in, last night I cut some of our mint to put into ice tea, our chives for baked potatoes and basil to go into tonight's chicken dish. Just that simple act made me smile!

God's grace and provision at our finger tips. I can smell the mint even now as my fingers glide along this key board.

God's aromatherapy. 

Yes, it's the small delights that make me smile and feel like that giddy elementary girl released from the clutches of being in school. The school doors opened and we all escaped into summer time!

May the warm summer sun caress your heart and may you feel God's abundant grace in all of the small delights in your life!

God Bless!

Love, Linda


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Lessons From My Father...

              A DAUGHTER NEEDS A DAD
                   to be the standard against which            
                                 she will judge all men.

What a profound truth... a daughter needs a Dad. A son needs a Dad, too.

I have come to realize, as I gain years and hopefully some wisdom, that Dads make all the difference. Just like Moms make all the difference.

My take, and all might not agree, is that we are hard-wired, divinely hard-wired, to need a Father. All of us. If we don't have a real Dad, a Dad who does the job Dads are supposed to do, then we have a Dad-sized hole in our hearts. We have an ache in our soul. We often feel somehow incomplete, like something big and important is missing. We often go so far as to blame ourselves.

*Why wasn't I important enough or good enough for him to     
  show up?
*Doesn't he love me? If he loved me he would be in my life.

When children are little and see other Daddies showing up they wonder...what is the matter with me? Truth be told, in my view one of the biggest problems we have, perhaps even the root of much of the violence in our culture, is that many young people are missing having a dad in their life. 

A highly functioning Dad who is ready and capable to really be a Father. A highly functioning Dad who knows what it is to be a good man and a good Dad.

This last quarter I taught a Gender Communication class, one of my favorite classes to teach. Okay, they are all really my favorites, but I love teaching this class because the life-lessons are so profound. 

Two weeks ago we had what is called a "Men's Fishbowl" in class. What happens is that we move chairs that are already in two semi-circles to form an outside circle of chairs. There is room for a circle inside where the men and I will sit on the carpet. The "fishbowl rules" say that the women who sit on the outside need to take notes on their learnings, but they are not allowed to participate until the men are finished talking. No interruptions! They have the privilege of "listening in" on a heart-to-heart talk. A kleenex box sits on the floor next to me, just in case.

When I remind the students of the "no interrupting rule," and women know they can't put in their 5 cents, all of the men grin from ear-to-ear. :)

It's important to note, in talking about this exercise and my Gender Communication class, that 2/3rds of this elective course are made up of MEN! Yes, men! Men who want to improve how they relate with women. Men who are so brave and caring that they want to do better. My tears flow because I am just so proud of each one of these men.

Some of them are already Dads.

Back to the fishbowl...I always tell them how proud of them I am, how I honor who they are and how hard they are trying to be the best men they can be. I remind them that they have wisdom to share that will change the lives of the other men and women in the classroom. I remind them that I love them and believe in them.

Yes, I tell them out loud that I LOVE them. They need to hear that. I am old enough to be their Grandma and they need to know that I believe they are lovable.

Then I ask a few questions. These questions tug at their hearts. I remind them that real men get to cry. I remind them that the real men in the amazing video commercial I showed them cry. (I'll give you the link to that later in this post.)

Here are the questions:
1) Who was your most important male role model about how to be a man? What did they teach you? What did you need from them that perhaps you didn't get?
2) If you could say anything to that most important male role model and speak from your heart, what would you tell them?
3) What kind of a "good man" do you want to be? If you are blessed and become a Father what kind of Dad do you want to be for your children?
4) What advice would you give to the women in this class about relating to and communicating with you and the other men in their lives?

As we sat on the floor together, we started on my left and looked at the man who was about to speak. He was looking at the floor. This big huge man was trying not to cry. Finally he raised his head and said..."I didn't have a Dad. My dad was in prison. I have struggled my whole life to know how to be a man." The room fell silent. You could have heard a pin drop. I put my hand on his shoulder as he told his story and told about the ache in his heart. The missing.

And story-by-story the missings came out. They hung heavily in the room. Now we got it. Now we understood.

Only one male student out go all of those men had a highly functioning Dad. One who really showed up physically and emotionally. While I couldn't see the women in the room, I could hear them crying. 

Don't get me wrong, many of those men did learn from their Dads.

Yet, they all wondered how to be a good Dad when you didn't have a good Dad yourself. One of them referred to the video we saw in class. He said he was glad the lights were off in class when we watched the video because he couldn't keep from crying when he heard their stories. Especially the stories of men without Dads.

When I reflect back on those men in that classroom exercise, my own tears flow. After all, it is Father's Day today. It is Sunday,
June 19th. My last day with those students was on Monday, June 13th. I wonder how they are all celebrating Father's day or even if they are.

Today my thoughts go back to my own Daddy and all he meant to me. Like many of the young men in that circle, my Father grew up with a father who didn't want him, a dad who didn't show up. He grew up without the guidance that men with good Fathers often received. 

Yet what I know for sure in my deepest heart-of-hearts is that no matter the problems my Dad had, he loved me. He really, really 
loved me. He taught me that I was strong and capable. He showed me how to do things that would make my life better. He told me that while being born with one partial hand was not easy, that there was nothing I couldn't do. I might have to work a little harder than most folks to do it, but I could do it if I wanted to.

He believed that. And because he believed that, I did too.

Like so many Dads, he worked so hard to provide for his family. He taught me about hard work. Like so many dads, he was the official "leader" in my family. He taught me about leadership and that I was a leader. 

Like so many Dads, he was the communicator in the family. He taught me about the gift of oral communication. Like so many Dads, he loved activity and the great outdoors. He taught me about fishing and golf and having fun. Like so many Dads, my Dad served in WWII. For three years he was gone and fighting for our freedom. My Dad taught me about the value of sacrifice.

My Dad has been gone for 21 years and I miss him. Today, as every day, memories of him come flooding back. I got my Daddy a Father's Day card, as I always do, when I got a Father's day card for my beloved husband, Bert.

My beloved Bert is a different kind of Dad than the one I had.
His heart isn't hurt the way my Dad's heart was hurt, so Bert gives so much love to all of our children and Grandchildren. Bert's love for them is unconditional and because Bert knows and loves God, 
Bert's love for our children flows more easily. Bert's love feels like God's love.

So on this Father's Day I am celebrating all of the men in my in my classes, all those dads wanting to be the best Dad they can be. I am celebrating my own Dad and the lessons I learned from my Father. I am celebrating Bert and all the Dads in my family, the young Dads loving their children. And I am celebrating my Heavenly father, my Abba, my Daddy who teaches me what real love feels like. He is a "Father to the fatherless..."

Happy Father's Day! May you know in your deepest heart-of-hearts
that you too have a Heavenly Father who loves you and is there for matter what!

God Bless!
Love, Linda

Video link: Happy Father's day- Don't miss this!!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Just Breathe...Surrendering It All to God!

                                               Inhale LOVE...
                              Exhale HATE.

I am blessed every quarter to teach a class in Conflict Management. During  our time together the students and I explore what conflict is, where it comes from, and why we have various patterns we've developed over the course of our lives in dealing with the conflicts large and small that surround us. Sometimes consume us.

My Dad's old tool box, dearly loved and beaten up, comes to the Conflict Management class with me during the last 1/3 of the quarter. 

It's precious, that old tool box. When I look closely I can see my Dad's last name, scratched by his own hand, on the cover. He touched those latches to open it. The tools inside were part of his identity, being the fix-it man for my Mom.

Just like my Daddy, I need tools to fix my broken heart from the conflicts that leave me exhausted and dry. Leave me gasping for breath like a swimmer out too deep. A swimmer whose toes are desperately searching to find the bottom of the lake that will hold her up.

I keep imagining that I can be a fix-it my own life and the lives of those I dearly love.

Truth be told, God is the only fix-it Man I trust. He can keep my head above water when I am too far from the shore. Too far away from Him. When I am carrying that tool box imagining that if I pick just the right tool, all will be well.

All will be well because God is in charge and He loves
me and shows me grace at every turn. All will be well because He is the great times and in the mess.

All will be well. No matter the conflicts, no matter the stress, all will be well.

Now back to that Conflict management class... 

The first tool I teach my students is how to do is an "Open Heart" exercise. We sit on the floor with the lights turned down to just a glimmer, put our hand over our heart and start to breathe.

Just breathe.

We inhale positivity and exhale negativity,
all the while visualizing someone or some place that gives our soul rest. We focus on gratitude, not negativity. We focus on grace and mercy and love.

And we breath, just breathe.

We inhale slowly all that we are grateful for and we slowly, very slowly, exhale all that worries us.

It's quite a sight, really. All these college students, athletes and scholars, in a dim lit room with their hands on their hearts breathing in love and exhaling fear. Breathing in peace, God's peace, and exhaling hate. There's soft meditative music in the background as we slowly inhale and exhale.

I've been doing a lot of that lately in my life at school and my life outside the classroom...inhaling and exhaling. 

It's the end of the school year and the pace seems unthinkable, the rush, rush, rush consuming. 

The grade, grade, grade exhausting.

The worry, worry, worry overwhelming.

At school I have longed for peace and rest and reflection in all of this chaos. I have longed to just breathe and open my heart. In my personal life the same patterns are evident. Things seem to be quite chaotic and stressful, or at least that is what it feels like to me.

And yet in all of this, God's gentle touch, His reminder and whisper in my ear, is very clear. 

Lean on Me.
Trust me. 
Let go and surrender. 
Stop trying to control that which you have no control over.
Let it go! 
Release the stress so you can focus on Me.

It's as if God reminds me that He is enough and His shoulders are wide enough and big enough to shoulder every burden I carry.

So today after reading His word, I will breathe in Love and exhale hate and fear. 
I will, with God's help,open my heart!
I will exhale worry.

I will let go and let God be God!
Amen and Amen!!
Have a blessed day, cherished friends!
God Bless!
Love, Linda

Friday, June 03, 2016

Our Garden...Oh My...

                                        To plant a garden 
              is to believe in tomorrow.
                               -Audrey Hepburn

We are gardeners, Bert and I. Not typical gardens mind you, but creative, soulful gardens. Bert's gardens are works of art. Plants lovingly tended to over time. Rustic Chinese temples scattered here and there. We nurture these plants and trees, feed them nutrients, and baby them to help them grow. Folks walk by our garden in the front of our home where we often sit on our bench and drink our coffee. Almost always they smile and comment. Seeing God's beauty lovingly cared for makes them feel joy, pure and simple.

So you can only imagine how in shock we are to have walked out by our side garden, just as we were about to treat ourselves to ice cream, and see our side garden ripped to shreds and seven of our trees cut down.

Yes, cut down.

Our neighbor is having some of her trees taken out and it appears that the individual doing the work took out our trees too, along  with the sprinkler system that waters our yard. It is broken into pieces.

I know that on the list of awful things that can happen that this might sound minor. Yet we are heartbroken, especially my beloved Bert.

They destroyed a garden he has spent three years putting together. While I have processed this out loud, Bert just looks so sad and is so quiet. He walks out there and looks again, shaking his head. His stomach was so upset he couldn't have ice cream. Since his stroke, his gardens have been where he has placed his love and creativity.

Could you please keep him in your prayers?

I left a letter for our neighbor with the babysitter next door.

I tried to ask, in a loving way, was this a mistake?

Praying for peace and understanding in this stressful moment.

Yet we are still knowing, no matter what, God is good all the time.

God Bless!


Update: 6/4 We spoke with our neighbors last night and they intended to do this. They assumed that the trees were theirs. We will now deal with property lines and damages. Not my favorite.  Praying for a peaceful resolution to this.

Soul Work in the Deep Waters...

              Entrance into another's soul                   is always a sacred honor. It is a gorgeous day, here in Spokane, Washing...