Sunday, August 20, 2017

3 Shades of Vulnerability in Marriage

Being vulnerable is rarely at the top of my list of things to do today. But, there is no path to intimacy that does not involve vulnerability. Personally, I want to be strong. I want to protect myself from embarrassing situations. I want to look good in the eyes of everyone I come in contact with. And yet not one of those things helps me in my goal to connect with others. Especially not my partner.

Tom and I have been together since we were 16 years old. We’ve spent our entire adult lives together. In our 35 years of marriage and two years of dating we’ve discovered a thing or two about each other along the way. And each discovery came with a new level of vulnerability.

Vulnerability is about intimacy. Intimacy comes with exposing our true self to the other person. Being completely known by one person and still being loved by them is a blessing.

Vulnerability is about integrity. Integrity is when our beliefs, actions, and words all match up. When we are truly honest with ourselves and with our loved ones we honor them with integrity.

Vulnerability is about initiative. Being the first to speak up or act instead of holding back in fear. Being the first to say, “I’m sorry” or “I love you” can be overwhelming but with risk comes the reward of being true to yourself and your feelings.

Not long ago we attended a wedding for a young couple.

I don’t know about you but each time I attend a wedding it takes me back to my own. I didn’t know what I was getting into. We had no idea on that day what life would have in store for us going forward.

I didn’t make a copy of what I wrote in their card but it was something about always remembering to turn toward one another and not away from one another.

Tom and I have had to learn the importance of turning toward one another even when life is difficult.

We had to seek out counsel from others for guidance through those times when we wanted to turn away from one another.

We’ve had to struggle through the times of wanting to turn against one another.

Admitting that there is an issue that demands to be faced can be hard. Counseling seems to be a four letter word in some people’s ears and hearts. Or maybe the dirty word is actually W-O-R-K. Love is not supposed to be work according to Hollywood. According to the movies or romance novels when you fall in love everything in your life is supposed to magically fall into place and your ‘happily ever after’ begins with that first kiss. Well, wouldn’t that be lovely?

The reality is that long-term love requires hard work. Long-term love is golden because it has been forged in the crucible of determination, respect, and commitment. I like seeing young love but I admire and value old love. Old love isn’t phased by moods or circumstances. It knows that like waves on the shore times of adversity are a natural part of the rhythm of life. Dissonance adds depth to music because when the tension creating chords are resolved we find peace and beauty in the song.

Turning towards one another requires us to be connected with one another. Connection means we must be willing to seek out intimacy, value integrity, and take the initiative needed to do whatever is necessary to allow your relationship to grow deeper and sweeter with time. And as you look back over the moments of your life together take time to notice the golden cord of vulnerability and treat it with care day after day and year after year.  

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Created, Chosen, and Called for a Purpose

Your thumbprint testifies that you are a one-of-a-kind human being. Have you ever celebrated your uniqueness? Or have you doubted it? Or maybe feared it? Or felt alone because of it?

Psalm 139 is one of my absolute favorite passages. Probably because it reminds me that we are wonderfully complex individuals. I get excited pondering how David was compelled to praise God in verse 14 saying, “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.” God’s workmanship is us! And we should give praise to Him for the incredible, marvelous, complex way we are designed.

Treasuring ourselves is so difficult. If you’re like me you may have been taught to be humble. To let others sing your praises.

How do you practice valuing yourself when no one seems to notice who you are? Our brains are wired for connection with others. We care more deeply about what others think than what we think at times. Belonging is one of the core desires of our soul. We long to feel wanted. To feel a part of the club.
Even in the dailiness of life we aim for alikeness, doing the exact same thing day after day, work, school, Instagram, Facebook, emails, eat, sleep, repeat. The routine of life seems daunting at times. And it’s stressful to the mind. Facebook makes us envious, Instagram makes us hungry, and email keeps us working long hours. But our Designer handcrafted us for a greater purpose. A more unique purpose. My friend and music producer, Mervin Budram MD, says that “Knowing your identity is very important, however, knowing your life purpose is equally important as it charts out the road you're to take on this journey through life.”

In fact Merv feels so strongly about our purpose in life that he wrote a song about it.

And his song got me to thinking more about my purpose so I decided I needed to spend some time meditating on the word ‘purpose.’ I believe that we will comprehend the real meaning of our role on this planet when we recognize and embrace the purpose for which we were created, chosen, and called to fulfill. We will honor God in all that we do, bring Him glory through embracing all that we are created to be, when we wholeheartedly engage in living out our purpose.

We are Created for a Purpose
When we lived in Russia I crocheted quite a bit. I’m out of practice now but while we were in a colder climate I regularly made hats, scarves, and even sweaters. Each item I created was carefully planned. I made things to go with an outfit in mind, or a special event coming up, or as a gift. Each masterpiece had an intended purpose. In Ephesians 2:10 we read that each individual is a masterpiece of God, created anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things that He has planned for us. We were created with His purpose for us in mind.

We are Chosen for a Purpose
I’ve heard many people quote the passage about us being a chosen people from 1 Peter 2:9. It goes on to say, “You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” Because of who we are in Christ we are chosen to show others the goodness of God! Our lives when lived according to His plan glorifies and praises Him. What an incredible reason to live life to fullest and use each gift He graciously crafted within us.

We are Called for a Purpose
Often a look at Romans 8:28 is about trying to make sense of the painful and chaotic things that happen in life. I first heard this passage when we were grieving the stillbirth of our first child. (And just for the record that is not a good scripture to quote for someone who has just lost a baby.)

As we try to find light in the darkness of our lives we want some good to come out of the trial we are facing. And yet, I believe the last part of the verse is what reveals the priceless treasure in the passage. “Those who love God and are called according to His purpose”...that brings my struggles into perspective. I don’t have to worry or fret, or scheme or plan, He will make sense of it all because it’s a part of my calling. Because my calling is according to His purpose He will never waste a hurt or a trial that I face. He will use it to encourage, strengthen, inspire, or embolden someone else.

Our lives are our testimony of the grace, hope, and mercy of God.

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Live life to the fullest. Live life with joy. Life your life knowing that you were born on purpose for a purpose!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Finding Beauty in the Wounds of Adversity

“Our wounds are often the openings into the best and most beautiful part of us.” ― David Richo

My wounds opened the door to writing my first song. Discovering the joy of songwriting at the age of 50 came as a shock. A pleasant shock. I’ve put some of my journal pages into song. But, not all.

Some are too raw and too ugly to turn into melody. But, some stand as a testimony to love, or a way to voice personal grief or to speak out on an issue I feel passionately about. And there are times when I think no one else can understand what I'm going through or what I've been through. In recovery circles this is called "terminal uniqueness".

It's a deadly disease to believe that our problems and situation are beyond anyone else's comprehension.

Despair that comes with believing that our problems are so great that no one else can relate to them can be fatal.

Someone has been there.

Someone has felt that.

Someone has had that experience imprinted on the t-shirt of their soul.

I'm grateful for the times when God reminds me of the wisdom of my elders. This quote is from a conversation I had with my Auntie Martha several years ago:

"A mother's heart is built for adversity."

I'm not able to speak about the heart of a father. But in my heart as a mother I have experienced this adversity being forged into me. The potential for heartache begins with a positive pregnancy test. Doctors try to pinpoint the date of conception so that they will have a better understanding of when the child will be born and assess fetal development.

Who can determine the moment that a mother is conceived?

I have come to believe that the
conception of a mother
occurs the instant she becomes aware
of the existence of her child.

For some that comes with a missed period, for some with the first symptoms of pregnancy, for others when the heartbeat is heard or flutters of life are felt within.

I remember going from shock to anxiety when I discovered my first child was on the way. I learned in that moment that it was suspected to be an ectopic pregnancy only to be told later that the pregnancy was indeed normal but it looked as if I was in the process of a miscarriage. I was sent home for bedrest and the pregnancy proceeded.  

I suffered a tormenting flood of 'what ifs' in my head. What if I'm not a good mother? What if my child has a birth defect? What if my husband loses his job? What if....?

I've learned that for every question
I have God whispers,
"Trust me."
I don't always acknowledge His whispers. Sometimes I’ve treated His voice like a bee dive-bombing near my ear. I want to swipe it away and go back to worrying. I know how to worry.

Peace on the other hand has to be learned and practiced.

As God builds the heart of a mother He places within it a cavern of love to share with each child. He gives us joy over their coos as babies, thrills when they learn to walk, tears when they fall down and run to us with scraped knees, and comfort for when they make choices that don't match up with our hopes and dreams for them.

No mother is ever fully prepared
for that first jolt of adversity.

But, each time her heart is stretched in small ways it begins to grow to the capacity needed.

Just as the womb of each woman enlarges to hold whatever size her baby is, so does the heart expand to handle whatever comes its way.

Mothers feel that expansion of the heart as keenly as a labor pain.

In fact, it feels more like a crack in the soul when reality falls short of dreams and expectations.

I wonder what Mary felt as she pondered
all of the experiences of Christ's life
as she watched him hang on the cross?

Did she look on his wounds and cry out to God with her questions?

She's a mother who reminds me that I have no control over the life altering situations that my children may have to face. God gave her only of glimpse of what her child was destined for but He didn't give her the full printout of His life.

As my oldest child inches toward 30 I have pondered many memories of what was. And as my youngest and his wife await the birth of their second child my heart expands with thoughts of what might be. The reality of now compels me to accept what is.

The stillbirths and miscarriage I’ve endured gave me a deep sense of compassion for my mother's heartache when my younger brother died. I had months of memories while she had decades to look back on.

I am challenged with the task to 'woman up' and face whatever God allows in my life so that I can grow into the person he wants me to be.

Instead of perseverating on dark thoughts I must surrender them to the light of Christ. I must let go and lean into His embrace.  All the broken bits and pieces of my life, each fragment, when placed at the feet of Christ will come together as a whole.

At the beginning of this year my desire was to bring hope and healing to the hurting. I understand that it starts with me.

I cannot offer what I do not have to give.

I cannot be strong for someone else if I am weak. I cannot offer peace to someone when I am staggering down the road of uncertainty.

I’ve found a hope this year that serves as an anchor to my soul. I’ve found the path to healing that I'm slowly treading down. I found the hurts of the past have molded and shaped my life and brought about much needed empathy and compassion.

There are still some open wounds that are slow to close. There are still a few areas of my life that are not yet ready to be offered up for public consumption. But, I’m seeing many things in a new light. I’m seeing beauty at this point in the journey. I remember when I was running the End of the World Half Marathon a few years ago. There were a few places along the route that offered up breathtaking views of the Caribbean. There were birds to see and butterflies and gorgeous homes along the way. But, it was still a 13.1 mile race. It was not a sprint.

Life is not a sprint.

And it is the beauty of God's grace that gives us marvels and wonders along the path of life. And for His grace and His ability to use our wounds to open up beautiful spaces in our lives...I am indeed grateful!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

10 Reasons to Buy a Jump Rope

Feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, and held hostage by late night food cravings, I was caught in a vicious cycle of losing a few pounds and gaining them back again. For the most part I attempt to eat healthy everyday. But when a cheat day turns into a cheat week, or a cheat month it all falls apart. A closet full of clothes and nothing looked right on me any more. Lack of motivation, work, travel, injuries, not sleeping well, heat, rain, one excuse after another for over a year led to gaining back almost half of the weight that I had worked so hard to lose.

Several months ago I went to a Sexual Health Seminar for Women over 50 put on by the National Council on Ageing. The seminar focused on several aspects of health and they gave out great gift bags filled with all sorts of treasures. One of which was a jump rope. A jump rope? At my age? I looked at it, smiled over the memories of double dutch with my cousins, and laid it aside.

I prayed for relief from the ups and downs of trying to get back into a workout routine so I could not only lose the weight but sleep better and feel better. I vowed to run more, eat right, drink more water, and get to bed at a decent hour.  I was doing well. I had stopped the weight gain but was still looking for a breakthrough to get back to where I had been.

A few weeks ago a friend sent me a workout video featuring different jump rope techniques. I watched it and laughed. But, something about it kept nagging at me. I got curious and decided to research the benefits of jumping rope. And I was shocked to discover so many reasons to stop laughing and start jumping!

I eagerly but awkwardly picked up my jump rope and tentatively got started. A week later I was again able to pray like the Psalmist, “O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you restored my health.”

I couldn’t do much at first. Just a few minutes. I gradually worked up to ten. Then I realized that I could do 50 revolutions with the jump rope followed by 10 push ups. And then I added in squats and chair dips. And a workout routine unfolded. Ten minutes turned into 15, 30, or even 40 minutes. Each day getting more creative and stronger. After the first week I was down 5 lbs and feeling better about myself than I had in a long time.

I’ve discovered a multitude of personal benefits from simply jumping rope but I’ll just share 10 of them here:

1- it blasts calories!

According to Science Daily it’s equivalent to running an 8 minute mile. Jumping rope burns 10-16 calories per minute. Because I’m a slow runner this one made a huge impression on me. It takes me 25 minutes of running to burn the same amount of calories as 20 minutes of jumping rope.

2- it helps improve balance, quickness, and coordination

One of the reasons I quit running for a few months was fear of falling. I had three falls over the past year, the last one in February and I didn’t want to go through that again. Jumping rope took away the fear of falling and allowed me to still get in a high quality workout.

3- one of the best workouts for brain health

Keeping the brain healthy and strong is definitely one of my goals. And the best workouts for the brain involve coordination, rhythm, and strategy.

4- increases bone density

Bone health decreases the risk of injury due to falling and helps maintain a healthy immune system.

5- affordable

You don’t have to join a gym or purchase any expensive equipment. All you need is a jump rope that is the right length for you!

6- convenient

The weather won’t matter and your busy schedule or travel won’t get in the way. You can take it anywhere and use it at anytime of the day.

7- improves muscle tone in legs and lower body

According to Muscle and Fitness jumping rope does more than just give calves a good workout—it also helps to tighten and tone your rear delts, abdominals, quads and hamstrings.

8- helps strengthen lung capacity

As a singer this one is vital to me. I’m always looking for ways to improve my breathing. This exercise encourages your body to use oxygen more efficiently. Resulting in your heart, lungs, and circulatory system being strengthened.

9- lower impact workout with high impact benefits!

According to WebMD if it’s done properly it is less impact on the joints than jogging. The key is to make sure that you are doing it properly by staying on your toes and using your body’s natural shock absorbers.

10- it's fun!

It's exciting to know that I can do the same exercise as an elite boxer or a child on the playground and feel challenged to do more and get encouraged by the results.

I no longer feel as if I have to get up by 6 to get outside to run before it gets too hot. If it rains I’m not held hostage inside waiting for the storm to pass. I won’t give up running altogether. I do love to be outside and I love time I spend out there praying and hearing from God. I still run 2-3x’s a week. But, I find myself looking forward to at least 15 minutes each day with the jump rope. And 2-3x’s times a week I add in body weight exercises as well.

Thanks to the National Council on Ageing in Belize and my friend Camilah, I feel better, I’m sleeping better, and my clothes fit better all because of a simple jump rope!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Can Your Toothpaste Transform Your Relationship?

Have you ever woken up, looked at the time, and immediately gotten pissed off? Did you take it out on the first person who crossed your path? Or maybe that's only happened to me?

One morning Tom and I were scheduled to be in Belize City to meet up with people coming in on a cruise ship and we absolutely had to leave the house by 9:30 that morning. Which is why I was frustrated when I saw that it was already 8:45. As the realization set in that I had missed my alarm my anger began simmering. I went from simmering to boiling as I stripped down to jump in the shower only to find gross looking water about an inch deep in the bathtub.

Seriously, God?

Does Tom know the tub is clogged? Where is he?

Wrapped in a towel, holding a plunger with one hand and my towel closed with the other, I tried to unplug the clog to no avail. It simply would not drain fast enough. I grabbed a washcloth, a bar of soap, and turned on the water in the sink and washed off. After cleaning up I got dressed as fast as I could. I made my way out to the living room to see my fully dressed husband sitting there engrossed in whatever was on his iPad. And I lost it. I went off about him not waking me up, the water in the bathtub, and us needing to leave on time. I knew what he was going to say about the pipes and humidity and that just made me even more indignant. He said what I thought he would say and of course I had to fuss some more because I needed the last word.

Stomping off to the bathroom to brush my teeth I felt like a pressure cooker releasing its steam. Grabbing the nearest tube, squeezing hard, my toothbrush was quickly covered with a gooey white substance. Shoving the toothbrush into my mouth, wondering why the paste looked as if it had melted, I silently cursed the humidity here in Belize. As soon as the brush hit my mouth heat began to form on my tongue and in my gums. It wasn’t toothpaste that I grabbed. It was muscle rub. I spit out what I could, grabbed the tube to move it to a safer spot, washed off my toothbrush, found the toothpaste, double checked that it was actually toothpaste, put it on the brush all the while continually spitting out the taste of muscle rub. It was quite a sight I’m sure.

My grandmother would call that a whooping from God. And I knew right away I deserved it.

Proverbs 13:3 reminds me that, “Those who control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin everything.”

That happened back in January during a 21 day period of fasting and seeking God’s plan for the new year. At the end of each year I pray for a word that will guide my thoughts and goals for the new year. I had been given the word Connection for 2017. As the new year dawned I was reading through the Psalms and was inspired to write a few songs. I knew that I was being called to a deeper connection with God, self, and all those I love. And yet 5 days into 2017 I blew it with my words.

I cried out to God in prayer, Lord, I don’t want to be like those who sharpen their tongues like swords and aim their bitter words like arrows. (Psalms 64:3) Help me not to let my tongue sting like a snake; with the venom of a viper dripping from my lips. (Psalms 140:3) Help me to always remember that the tongue can bring death or life and that I will reap the consequences of the negative or positive words that I use. (Proverbs 18:21)

As I write this I can laugh at myself, grateful for that humbling lesson, I realize that I have a muscular organ that needs to “relax”. The tongue is one of the most powerful muscles in the body and it is impossible to tame it on my own. My words and my attitude were critical, caustic, and careless. I had failed that morning because I neglected to connect with God, my husband, or myself. I allowed anger at myself for missing the alarm to ignite a fire that led to using an unloving tone with someone I dearly love. Fortunately, we had an hour long drive together on the way to Belize so I was able to confess my frustration and ask for forgiveness. I know that Tom does not like waking anyone up. He had set a time limit and was going to wake me at 9. He knows how quickly I can get ready and decided to wait and let me sleep. He knows how important sleep is to me due to my fibromyalgia. My muscles are always tense and sleep helps them to relax. He’s on my team and is not against me. I know that.

This year of connection has led to many lessons, large and small. I cannot connect with others through my arrogance, self-righteousness, or pride. I must take a deep breath and count the cost of my words before I speak. Making connections takes humility. Making connections takes vulnerability. Making connections also takes courage. Connecting with my husband means turning toward Tom in love rather than turning away in times of frustration. I'm still a work in progress. But, I pray that my lesson in the taming of the tongue will serve as a warning for someone else.

P.S. Don't forget to double check what's going on your toothbrush!