Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Love That Never Ceases


Today I'm honored to be sharing a guest post over at (in)courage!


Three years ago I hit my lowest point. I was on staff at a church and in school to become a teacher. I was heading into a summer of decorating wedding cakes for several friends. I owned a cute little house and lived alone with my doggie. And I had a Savior who I had learned a lot about over the previous five years as a Christian.
It seemed like I had it all. Then depression struck in a way that changed everything.
I remember one night so clearly. Driving home from work, crying my eyes out for the first time in years. Being in so much anguish I didn’t think I’d make it. Feeling the messiness of emotions being stirred. Brokenness from long ago that I didn’t want to deal with. Desperation. Hopelessness.
I sank even lower the next two nights.
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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Just two people.


This week has been a bit of a crazy one. Parts were very much challenging. I had an awful day at the pie shop where I messed up more things than I can even keep track of. I watched one of my kids graduate eighth grade. I was an impatient jerk to my husband one day after work. I worked a lot of extra hours at my other job. We had goofy moments of laughter and sweet moments of cuddling. Just real life, man. 

Today we had a date night to make up and some discussion questions to talk through from the Marriage Workshop we attended last night at church. 

We decided on Cracker Barrel for an early lunch since we had a giftcard and an extra $20 that was given to us for our anniversary. We're doing our best to watch our finances, because newly married life is all about those bills, and more bills and saving and fixing all of the breaking things and even more bills and yeah. 

The atmosphere was loud and a little hectic at first, and we felt a little overwhelmed. After a little bit though we were able to get settled and I pulled out our marriage questions. Greg HATES answering questions, but he LOVES me so he was on board. I'm a process-as-I-talk person and he's a internalize-things-for-awhile-and-can't-form-words-about-deep-things-on-the-fly guy.  

Of course our conversation had lots of sass and silliness and some extra dramatization with a bit of sarcasm for good measure. We talked about the difficult things. But we also laughed a lot. 

Pretty soon after sitting down I noticed this sweet little old lady sitting close by. She heard me in mid-laugh and looked over and smiled. She immediately had my attention.  

She was with her husband and another older couple. I caught her glancing over at me several times. I was so drawn to her. There was something about her that I just immediately feel in love with. 

***Disclaimer*** I am NOT a creepy, stalker person. (I guess if I have to say that, then that's a bad sign.) Yes, I am a people watcherBut I don’t think that makes me a creeper. Go ahead and carry on, dear reader, with your preconceived notions... 

I watched as the server brought their food. I watched as they all bowed their heads and prayed. I noticed that her hands shook. A saw the slight tremors in her face. I watched her slowly eat her food with a bit of difficulty, but with slow, graceful determination. Her hands may have been unsteady and her pace was slow, but I was amazed at the amount of simple elegance this woman had.  

Her hair was lovely white. 

Her husband was a bit more gruff. Not in a "I am a jerk" way, just very matter-of-fact. Life had led him to be efficient and to the point. But the love between them was so apparent. He loved his wife with everything in him. I watched as he offered her some of his food. The simple act of moving a bowl for her to reach in with her fork, was so intimate. The patience, the kindness, the love. 

I told Greg that I seriously loved this woman. Everything about her. Her smile. Her joy. Her kindness. The way she radiated Jesus to me. I wanted to go and hug her, tell her I loved her and be close enough to smell her hair. (I know this is weird, but I'm totally okay with that. Feel free to refer to my not-a-stalker disclaimer above). But I didn't know how to do this and not be weird, so I didn't. 

We talked through our questions and enjoyed our food. We talked through the harder things and the more joyous ones. We finished eating and got ready to go. I decided to run to the bathroom real quick. 

When I got back to the table Greg said he did something and he was sorry. (That's a great thing to say in the midst of marriage discussions, by the way. Or at least a great way to get your wife's attention, super fast.) He wanted me to be here so we could make the decision together, but he went ahead and did it anyway because I wasn’t back yet. His voice was soft and his face serious.  

He bought their dinner. My husband anonymously talked to our server and picked up their ticket. 

There have been few times where I loved my Gregory James more. 

I almost burst into tears on the spot. 

As we walked around the little shop after paying I turned to him and told him how much that meant to me. His response, "You know why I wanted to ask you, right? That's our money. I didn't want to make a decision without you. But I saw how much joy that woman brought you. And that is so worth it." 

(remember the most of the time shy and full of anxiety in public places lady) pulled him in close and kissed him right there in the Old Country Store.  

Throughout, the rest of the day I've been thinking of that woman and her husband. I see the way she smiled as she talked to the server when he brought her a to-go container for her food. I've been thinking about the way her husband raised his fork in the air when the server asked if they wanted dessert. How it amazed me that so much subtle yet perfect dignity could be packed into such a simple motion.  

And I thought about the amount of love that I had for my husband in that moment and how it still takes my breath away. For him to be so in tune with me. For him to be so willing to sacrifice and bless the people around us. 

I told him I never want us to lose this. I want to continue to be generous to the point where it's a sacrifice. I want to raise children that see us live our lives this way. I want to live our life with less of the things that we'd like to have, so that we can love others. I don't ever want to lose the feelings that came along with being in this world and sitting next to people and loving them. 

I think maybe this is what marriage can be. Two people just living life. Two people that watch and listen and act. Two people that smile at each other and also at those around them. Two people that love so fiercely and so fully that it is evident to others 

Two people that are willing to sacrifice. When that means giving up money. When that means watching your wife struggle in old age. When that means giving up time and dreams and all of the love. Patience. Kindness. Joy. 

Just two people.

Maybe marriage can be something so beautiful that when you love someone so fully it doesn't just benefit your spouse, but it benefits the world around us.  

We did something so small. That couple did something so much more spectacular than what we did in my eyes. They showed me what love looks like when you wear it for years. Yes, I felt the sadness of the reality of broken bodies and how the world eventually tears us apart. But it also brought me the breathtaking joy of seeing a smile that has endured more than I could ever know or imagine. It showed me that love really does change us. I got a glimpse of a story that I didn't even really know. I brushed up against something great. 

Last night at the Marriage Workshop our good friends prayed for us. They've been married probably as long or longer than I've been alive. They prayed for our marriage and for God to bless us. They prayed kind words and refreshing truth. And they prayed that we would make it until old age together. They prayed for our health and our togetherness. And this is something that is so special to me. I feel the reality of our age differences. My husband is 15 years older than I am. Old age holds some hidden fears for me. 

But tonight as I sit on my deck  as the sun goes down and think though these things I feel something else. I feel redemption. I feel hope. And I have faith. Old age holds some special things. A love that has aged and matured is so remarkable. 

Two people enduring and loving and giving everything is beautiful and breathtaking and oh so all-consuming.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

An Icing Crisis, A Marital and the Tornado That Didn't Happen


So I'll go ahead and state the obvious. I've not posted anything in MONTHS. It's been a lot of months. I'd actually go look at the last time I posted and figure out how many months, but I'd prefer to not find out the specifics of my “neglect”. Anyway... life has just been busy and full and I've been learning how to offer myself plenty of kindness and grace. Thus the lack of writing. Rest is okay. Rest is good. I'm in this for the long haul, so I'm doing my best to learn how to make it for life.

Moving right along… I just finished this book The Antelope in the Living Room: The Real Story of Two People Sharing One Life by Melanie Shankle. It's a pretty funny little read on marriage. There are several stories that literally made me laugh out loud. There's one story in particular about how she gets hit by a piece of burnt toast thrown by a rat, where I seriously lost all sense of holding it together because I was in public, and I laughed so hard I had to reread several sentences. I know that sounds ridiculous but it felt so close to the hilarity of my own life, that I just couldn't even.  

Something about reading that book, made me start to really miss writing again. And then Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of this week happened, and I had every ounce of subject matter I could ask for. 

Let me put a little of my current life in perspective for you. Back in February, my little car died for good, which made us a "temporary" one car family. We live about 40-45 minutes away from our jobs. Our Monday and Tuesday work schedule works well together so carpooling is easy-peasy. My Wednesday-Friday schedule is a bit of a different story since I work at a pie shop. I have to be at work at 6:00am, which translates into a wake up time of 3:50-4:20am depending on my compulsive snooze button habit. We are out the door around 4:30am so I can drop Greg off at work first (2 hours before he has to be there) then head to my job. I get off usually around 1:00pm then have to find things to do in town before I pick him up at 4:00pm then we head home. I'm basically in bed by 7:30pm because I value sleep and Greg values a well rested Emily. 

I've slowly made my way back to meal planning after a couple of weeks of surviving on fast food. It's been nice to slowly get a bit of a flow with planning and organizing around our lives. 

Wednesday after I work I planned to bake a cake and cupcakes and take them to our small group to celebrate our friend's graduation. Thursday I would decorate them, then Friday I'd pick them up at home after work and take them to the party. I felt good about spreading everything out over several days. 

After work on Wednesday, I took a bit of the procrastination approach and relaxed for awhile before heading straight to the baking. Greg let me know he was going to head to his grandmother’s for a bit. We knew storms were headed towards us and likely to be severe, so I was a bit surprised he was leaving.

Eventually, I got up and got my cakes in the oven. About 10 minutes into the bake time the tornado sirens started going off. Storms don't always bother me, but I panicked a bit. What do I do with the cakes? I went back and forth between the kitchen and the bathroom/shelter, sirens still going off, when I just decided to go ahead and turn the oven off. I sat on my bathroom floor, stared at the no less than 50 ants that had recently taken up residence in my bathtub, and felt frustrated, because I had to get these cakes done tonight and do my best to get to bed at a decent time. However, it didn't make sense to "risk my life" to stubborn my way through baking cakes. I rode out 20 minutes while we were under the Tornado Warning.  

Finally, I decided to go ahead and resume baking. I turned the oven back on and hoped the cakes would be okay and finish cooking properly. I got the cupcakes in just in time for the sirens to go off again. I checked my phone and this time there was actually something spotted close to our town. I turned off the oven AGAIN and sat in my bathroom AGAIN and did my best to keep it together. 

Greg got home and walked in the door like nothing was going on. My always calm husband was indeed calm. I scolded him for driving home in the dangerous weather. He reassured me it was okay to keep baking so I turned the oven back on. The sirens were still going off and I was getting unnerved. Greg hugged me and let me know everything was okay. 

Then. He. Went. Outside. 

Sirens are going off. I open my front door. My husband is kicked back in chair on our porch watching the clouds ALONG WITH APPARENTLY EVERYONE ELSE ON OUR STREET. I looked up to see our neighbors holding their baby, discussing how bad the clouds looked. It was too much. I told Greg this was not okay. He was not being wise. I was upset. THE SIRENS WERE GOING OFF AND WE COULD DIE AND EVERYONE IS ACTING LIKE THIS IS THE PERFECT OPPORTUNITY TO  PARTAKE IN COMMUNITY ENTERTAINMENT.  

I stormed inside (pun not initially intended, but now I see it and will leave it, because I like it) and Greg followed me. My always patient husband apologized and let me know that it was okay and we were okay, but he was sorry. He even stood in the bathroom to "seek shelter" for a bit but it was basically just to make me happy when I panicked again. 

At some point the oven got turned back on, the cakes finished baking, they weren't ruined, we ate a very late dinner and I was asleep a couple of hours later than usual. 

Thursday morning I hit not one, BUT TWO birds in my car on the way to work. This happened minutes within each other. I stopped in the middle of the road after the second one, which happened to be an owl and I felt slightly traumatized. I mean it's not a great sign when you kill TWO LIVING ANIMALS and it's not even 6:00am. Okay, I'm not sure that I killed them both, but still. I made it to work without managing to kill anything else, although I did have a second owl sighting too close for comfort. (I told this to Greg later and he told me that the word must have gotten out in the owl community and I was in for it.) I told my boss about my drive and she said it was a good thing I didn't work in a hospital. The only thing I could kill here was maybe cookies and pie. (Everyone in my life is a comedian, which I’m more than okay with.) 

Fast forward to later that evening after work. Greg and I had leftovers for dinner, then I jumped in to cake decorating. I got the first batch of icing made, assembled the cake and got it properly iced minus the writing and edging. I decided to make my last batch of icing, color it, then throw it in the fridge and finish decorating tomorrow. It was after 8:00pm (I know I sound like an old person, but remember I HAVE TO BE UP AT 3AM) and I was tired.  

As I was mixing the icing, it started to look really weird. I was getting more and more concerned. I've made this exact same recipe literally hundreds of times. And this icing was not right. It was grainy and separating and I had no idea how to fix it. Greg was in bed already so I took my giant bowl of grainy icing and had him look at it. My husband is a bit of a cake decorator himself, and he also knows what buttercream icing was supposed to look like. And this wasn't it. 

Cue late night meltdown over grainy icing and accompanying hysterics.  

I was so upset. This was my first time taking anything to small group and therefore this was the only thing these people had to base my baking skills on. I hadn't gained enough good-tasting-food equity so that they could let this one slide. And to make matters worse I WORK AT A BAKERY SO EXPECTATIONS ARE SURELY GOING TO BE HIGH. I ranted on and on laying in bed, my hair a mess, my arms coated with layers of powdered sugar, right next to my husband with a bowl of messed up icing in my lap. This is real married life, y'all. 

Around this time I recognized the problem wasn't the icing. It was about this time that my husband piped up and mentioned that I wasn't upset about the icing, but what the icing represented.  

Guys, I keep trying to earn my way. I find my value in the things that I do. I always want to go above and beyond in everything I do, just to make sure that the scales are always tipped in my favor. That way when I mess up (and I surely do) my "good works" would be there to vouch for me. And unfortunately that's no longer the way I believe that life should be lived.  

I've tasted something greater. I've learned grace. I've learned this life isn't about me and what I do. I will never be able to save myself. I will never be able to do enough good things to win in the end. That's why I have Jesus. He paid the price. I am enough. Not by what I do, but what He's done. This is freedom. Living by "good works" is bondage. It's a risky game to play. And an exhausting one. One that always leaves me feeling beat down and not good enough. Old habits die hard. But thankfully grace doesn't leave me where I am. 

This late night realization brought me a little comfort, but my stubbornness also kicked in. I didn't want to deal with my mess right now. I just wanted to bake an amazing cake and cupcakes to celebrate my friend. Okay, fine. I wanted to prove that I can bake something awesome. But is that really so bad?  

I remembered how my cooking skills miraculous died when I started dating my husband. Feel free to read about a little example in an earlier post The "Resemblance of Chicken" Tacos. I wanted so badly to prove to Greg that I was amazing cook. And for the first time ever, everything I made wouldn’t turn out right. I burnt chicken in the crock pot for goodness sakes. And you know what? I'm so thankful. I’m thankful for that. Because it gave me the opportunity to learn how he loved me not for what I did, but for who I was. And that makes all the difference. That brought a freedom, and a confidence and assurance in our relationship. And shortly after getting married my cooking skills returned. And our continual weight gain speaks for the fact that we are eating very well. But a strong foundation was built for our marriage on love and grace. That can't be earned. 

So maybe that was what was happening here. Maybe God is protecting me. Not maybe. I know. I believe crazy things like how I love a God who cares enough about me that he would want good things for me. Like right relationships and a deeper understanding of grace. And He would want those things enough to go in the messy places with me. Even those times when I was being a brat who in the moment didn't seem like I wanted it, but in reality I really do want it so very much. 

I put the icing in the fridge and didn't chuck it out the window. It was late and I was tired. My decision making skills weren't at the top of their game. But I knew that I had to do my best with what I had. And that meant taking grainy icing cupcakes if I had to, because it was about loving the people and being present, not about my baking skills. If it was edible and made with love, it was enough.  

The next day everything turned out okay. I got off work, got everything finished, and got them successfully transported. They weren't as good as I wanted, but it was exactly what it needed to be. It wasn't perfect, but it wasn't supposed to be. The graduate was happy, and I know he felt loved, and that made me happy.  

I really think I'm slowly learning that I can't earn love. I can't earn life. I can't earn salvation. And I'm learning that this little nugget of truth brings freedom. And with that freedom it also brings joy. Joy in maroon, grainy icing that stains tongues. Joy in eating too many Reese's peanut butter cups while topping cupcakes. Joy in letting go of expectations I've placed on myself. Joy is the messy kitchen and washing dirty pans in pink dishwater from icing residue. I have to fight for this joy at times. But I'm learning this joy is worth it. 

Grace changes everything.  

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