In Spite of Myself Joybombs and Snarkbites from the Ledge

Friendship and Boogie Boards

 

Make new friends, but keep the old;
Those are silver, these are gold.
New-made friendships, like new wine,
Age will mellow and refine.
Friendships that have stood the test-
Time and change-are surely best;
Brow may wrinkle, hair grow gray;
Friendship never knows decay.
For ‘mid old friends, tried and true,
Once more we our youth renew.  -Author Unknown

A visit with an old friend we haven’t seen in a while is like sunshine on a rainy day…like feasting after famine…like a dip in the pool after hot, sweaty yard work. Is there anything better?

As I’m meditating on the  few days of my friend Lynette’s recent visit, I’d put it close to the top of my list of favorite things. We celebrated her new, serious love interest, her ongoing health after a tough fight with late-stage breast cancer in 2007, and the fact that our friendship has survived, even thrived, through the tough times.

When our thirty-year friendship began, we held each other’s hands through birthing babies, career moves, and church splits. We endured multiple crises together, including single parenting, new marriages that ended in abrupt divorces, and everything in between. Life stuff. Real stuff. From the ridiculous to the sublime; from shattered brokenness to optimistic hope, we supported each other.

Now comes a kinder, gentler season. A surprising and welcome season where we don’t stress if we’re five pounds heavier or can’t find the perfect outfit; or gasp in disgust at our increasingly lax muscle tone. Our conversation has graduated from job- or man-related drama to adult children and planting things, or a particular wine we’ve discovered. We’re glad to have made it this far, and thrilled to be together. What horrified us twenty years ago doesn’t  even cause a ripple nowadays, for we have become sassy, seasoned women, and carry the flag of survivorship proudly.

I thought about all of this as we were bobbing on boogie boards in the ocean, giggling our heads off. I’d talked her into wading waist-deep into the (somewhat chilly) April water temps of my beloved Hilton Head Island’s waters, and then talked her into floating on a boogie board (which is all I do with them now since one nearly broke a couple of ribs when I tried to bodysurf with it). Off we went, she tentatively clutching the board, me yelling “Woo-hoo” at the top of my lungs and rushing the waves. When she got her boogie-board-float groove down, she began to relax and enjoy. “Kerry Louise,” (her pet name for me) she yelled over the screeches of seagulls and roar of surf, “do you back into the waves or do you head in, face-first?”

I thought about that a minute. Never had I taken a single second to catalogue boogie-board-floating techniques. After a wave smacked me from behind and I went rolling, ingesting several mouthfuls of saltwater, I gasped that face-first was probably best. We giggled ourselves hoarse, and yelled and pointed repeatedly “Here comes a good one!” Every time a new wave rolled in, we gripped our boards and launched ourselves face-first into the curl of each one,  enjoying the childlikeness of it all, easing into our new, less defensive friend-roles, more chill about about who we are now, and more focused on the importance of enjoying every moment.

A longtime friendship mimics life –  the ups and downs, the offenses that threaten to derail it, the maturity that comes through pain. No matter how ruptured the connection, or how far apart we are from one another geographically, the connection is persistent and important and strong. It is not an option to give it up, and she, like me, is a fighter. We’ve fought together, grieved together, and survived.

I don’t think we’ve ever been quite that silly before. An image forms in my mind – an angry, red flag, flapping wildly in 60mph winds; then the winds calm, and the red of the flag morphs into the azure of the sea, assuring peaceful passage.

The past few days, we raced toward the peace face-first, giggling like six-year-olds.

It was wonderful.

 

 

 

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Broken Families, Weddings, and Cupcakes

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The wedding flowers were so lovely!

When families break, the fallout can be toxic, but the atmosphere does clear, eventually. I hoped we would enter a toxin-free zone last weekend when we traveled to my stepdaughter’s wedding in Austin, Texas. Even broken families coalesce around adult children’s weddings, but there is no escaping the fact that the broken bits may spew and sputter a little.

“I don’t know what to expect,” my husband said, shaking his head, as we discussed the trip and meticulously planned festivities. “Last time I went to one of these, I was not exactly, uh… welcome.”

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Rehearsal

Understandable, I’d thought, as my husband’s divorce at that time had been recent─a raw wound still─ and time had not had a chance to heal either he or his ex-wife. Or his grown, heartbroken children. I’d thought about a similar experience when I had attended a funeral for a beloved grandparent of my recent ex. The glares from his side of the family had burned a hole through my already fragile composure, and I could feel my cheeks reddening as I stumbled my way to a seat. I had no other agenda than to pay my respects to a person I’d grown to love, but sometimes people hold offenses even when they do not know the facts about the situation. This is understandable, too. Not right, exactly, but understandable.

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Wedding venue

As I write this, I am reminded of my own divided loyalties. A couple of my girlfriends’ marriages had crumbled, and according to them, the husband was to blame. But was he, really? How would I know if I hadn’t heard what he had to say? I am guilty of assigning blame based on my unwavering loyalty to my friends, and often join them in their post-divorce, adversarial verbal annihilation. I must be more careful, though, to tread lightly. Things are not always as they appear. And on a side note, it is absolutely none of my business.

My sole responsibility, I am learning, is to love. To extend honor and grace, and not assign blame. Especially when I have no idea what I am talking about.

“Let it happen organically,” I encouraged my husband. “There will be some who let the past be the past, and some who won’t.” I shrugged.

My husband was silent, his hand drifting to his chin like it always does when he is thinking. His face cleared, and he heaved out a breath. “You are right,” he said. “It will be fine.”

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My husband and his son (brother of the bride) and one of the grandsons

I enthusiastically agreed, but still… a slight tension tugged at us. My husband and I prayed over the situation and its various potential land mines. We asked our Bible study group to pray as well.

After rehearsal and tiptoeing through a somewhat cautious rehearsal dinner, we breathed a joint sigh of relief. No difficult conversations, no glaring contests, just the relaxed undercurrent of chatting guests with one thing in common: celebrate the blessed union of a couple they love.

On the day of the wedding, in eerie parallel to our trepidation, the dark clouds over Austin that had threatened to put a damper on the outdoor event cleared at the perfect time. A light breeze ruffled the leaves off huge trees in golden benediction over the whole affair, sweeping aside our petty concerns.

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Father and daughter

The bride was beautiful, the groom stunning and attentive, the ceremony inspiring. The thick, gnarled arms of a hundred-year-old mesquite tree stretched across the platform as a backdrop to the wedding party parading down the grassy aisle between rows of white chairs. My wisecracking husband managed to suspend his jokes as he walked his daughter to her groom, kissed her on the cheek, and returned to his chair in the front row where his ex-wife and I had been seated on each side of him. I felt humbled to be included beside the two people that had actually raised the bride, and especially honored that my presence was warmly accepted.

As bride and groom left amidst cries of celebration, the three of us on the front row stood shoulder to shoulder with everyone, clapping and smiling and hooting. I laughed in awe. Even broken families can pick up the pieces and move on, and at least celebrate the celebration of family.

Smiles all around, we watched months of planning satisfactorily conclude and the beaming couple  prance out of sight to get ready for phase two. Onward to the reception!

We danced like mad stompers beneath shivering rainbow lights to 70s and 80s hits, and whatever it is that thirty-somethings Emily's reception 2dance to these days─I without shoes because stupidly I wore new ones and my feet hurt, and my husband, with abandon in amazement that he remembered the rumba and swing steps from two ballroom lessons I made him take a few years back. In sudden epiphany in the middle of the dance floor, my husband and I realized that enough time had elapsed to dull the pain and chaos of divorce. We experienced a curious freedom from what anyone felt about… well, anything. Throughout the merry evening, hand clasps, hugs, and ridiculous dance moves sparked long-dead friendships back to life. We were grateful.

When bride and groom made their way to the wedding cupcake tower, smart phone photo-flashes and huge smiles surrounded them. Soon, everyone had a cupcake in their hand. It is pretty hard to hang on to lingering offenses with a cupcake in hand.

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On the return flight, I did a lot of thinking about the many difficult phases of life. We can choose to pass through them with shoulders squared, brave; or trudge through in despair, moaning. It is a choice. I believe the bravest among us choose to let go of an unruly past─its hurts and lies and detours─ casting off its weight to reach, instead, for the lightness of joy.

 

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And maybe a cupcake.

 

 

 

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Family Holidays – A Work in Progress

My adorable grandchildren

My adorable grandchildren

After weeks of planning, purchasing, and preparing, I am always a little in awe of the amount of work associated with Thanksgiving and Christmas. When one has four grown children and five grandchildren, and they all alight from different parts of the country at once, the struggle is real.

In the midst of the chaos and holiday hilarity, I don’t always embrace the joy of togetherness; rather I often distance myself by straightening, instructing, picking up after the little ones, and silently praying for self-control. It has been around eight years since I’ve had multiple kids in my house full-time, and to be honest, I really enjoy the non-kid quiet. Also the fact that I can walk into any room in my house and admire the perfect order.

I admit it, I am a recovering neatness addict; a work in progress. Each year, I make a little more progress, which according to my kids is not exactly accurate, but I know in my heart I am taking baby steps toward being more “Mary,” and less “Martha,” for you Bibliophiles out there.*

My son and his family

For instance, when a four-year old boy (or was it the six-year old? I forget) knocks over someone’s glass of wine, I can be thankful that I preventatively and wisely replaced the white carpet with tile when we moved into this house six months ago. This year, I didn’t scream in dismay at the widening purple stain and broken glass, I was genuinely concerned that the child’s bare feet might be cut by the broken glass. Cleaning up is a snap with tile floors. No harm done, plus I gave myself a little pat on the back for choosing compassion over freaking out about a stained rug.

We are all a work in progress, all pilgrims doing our best on our life-pilgrimages, and we need to cut each other some slack. This year I had two entire weeks to work on the cutting-each-other-some-slack part.

Before you judge me, gentle reader, tell me, how long has it been (fellow sixty-somethings in particular) since you had three children under the age of six , plus a newborn,  a twelve-year old and their respective parents under your downsized, 2100-square-foot roof for two weeks? I cannot with equanimity say I loved every minute. I loved ninety percent of the minutes. The chaotic, loud, messy ten percent tripped me up a little.

Deep breath. Everyone together now, repeat after me: We are all a work in progress.

Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.  Romans 12: 2 HCSB

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My daughter embracing the joy of the season…

Doesn’t the route to ecstatic, tear-filled, delight usually come with bits of turmoil hanging off its edges? For me it does. I find the turmoil, though uncomfortable, has merit. Through large or small family conflict, if  we are brave and honest in our communication with other, we win. Our relationships are stronger, our words more effective, our compassion deeper. With prayer and God’s wisdom, if we are willing to wade into the troubled waters and flail around a little, our relationships will not sink but thrive.

I am so very grateful that my kids still want to come see me, spend time with me, and suffer through my sometimes snippy comments. I am grateful they are all smart, happy (for the most part), healthy, and making a productive dent in their chosen fields. I am grateful my grandkids are loved and nurtured and adored. I am grateful the marriages have not fallen apart, and in fact, are getting stronger. I am grateful that my kids and I talk often, are interested in each other’s lives, and encourage each other to keep going. I am grateful for their deepening faith in Christ. I am grateful to hear the same  words tumbling from their mouths to their children’s ears that tumbled from my mouth to their ears when I raised them. Some of the good stuff stuck, thank God.

I would know none of this if we hadn’t been squished together for two weeks, forced to talk to each other, plan untitled (13)things, watch the little ones, fix meals together, and go to a lovely Christmas Eve service together. Messy, yes; irritating sometimes, but overall, priceless. It may be years before all of us are together again, and I am sad about that.

I sit here now, on New Year’s Day, 2016, in a quiet house. The last of the families left this morning. Already, the laundry is done, the toys are put away, the stack of odds and ends left behind is piled up, ready to mail. The TV blares from the den with its ubiquitous football-speak, and I think about having a piece of the peanut butter pie my daughter made for one of our holiday meals. Order restored, and the day isn’t even over yet.

I wonder what would have happened if my primary focus had been to enjoy?

Too late now.

 

*Luke 10: 39-42

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Marriage After Fifty: The Eighth Year

 

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I am a survivor of  divorces and child custody battles and restraining orders and you-name-it, I’ve been there. I don’t wallow in regret, or condemn myself, I was just ill-equipped when it came to romance and things went south. I learned difficult but valuable lessons, and often recite, “It takes a lot of no’s to get to a yes.” Learning what to avoid, in my opinion, is just as important as learning what to embrace. It took a long time and a lot of profound discoveries about myself, but in my fifties, I finally got to the ‘yes’.

That being said, it is amazing to me that I am just now???????????????????? learning how to be married longer than four years without some sort of crisis.  My husband and I are about to embark on our ninth year of marital bliss, have sworn to each other we are together until the end, and that’s a pretty good feeling. We are done with the drama of ‘looking for love in all the wrong places’.

So done. Yay.

But the learning curve at this point, for me, involves the petty, bizarre, intimate, details about a person that emerge after so many years. I find it  hilarious and irritating and reassuring all at the same time.  For me, familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, it breeds fertile ground for growth. Lots and lots of personal growth.

houseclean cartoonFor instance, ladies, how many of us breathe a sigh of relief when our husbands leave for a few days/weeks/months (well, maybe not months); because we do not have to go behind him and pick up dishes/reading glasses/dirty socks/boxers/etc. etc. A perfect opportunity to build patience, as I huff out my gratitude through clenched teeth for this wonderful, solid man and get exercise at the same time, bending and squatting and picking up all that stuff. See? Growth.

And driving. It was oh-so-wickedly satisfying when I heard a paragon of virtue like Joyce Meyer remark that she dislikes her husband’s driving so much (and vice-versa) that they actually take separate vehicles whenever they can. When my husband is driving my panic leaks out in spurts like this: “Do you have to take up the whole road when you turn a corner? Every. Single. Time?” or, “Stop. Stop! You are in the middle of the intersection on a yellow light! You are inviting an accident!” or, “That guy nearly sideswiped us! Don’t you use your horn? EVER? Why?” and so on.

Conversely, when I am driving, his irritation leaks out like this: “WATCH IT!” (Arms outstretched) “You are too close to the curb! Kerry!” or,kia suv “No, THIS way. This way! What are you doing?” (Head swiveling wild when I ever take a different route than he would, thereby making me mad that he doesn’t think I know how to get where we are going. Really?)

We have learned to kind of square our shoulders and brace ourselves when we drive somewhere together. Still, it is reassuring to know that if Joyce Meyer takes separate vehicles sometimes in order to avoid conflict, so can I. A fallback position should it prove necessary.

And how about closet habits? Never in my wildest imagination did I think I’d care about a closet door hanging open or pairs of male shoes neatly arranged OUTSIDE the open closet instead of inside their tidy shoe-shelves, but I do. After eight years, I really do. I have come to the conclusion this is a minor detail and will not change. I deal with it by suggesting his closet and mine be in separate rooms, which works great except when I have to clean that  room. On my good days, I put away his stuff with a sigh and gently slam the closet door and mutter my gratitude for a good marriage even if my spouse is not an OCD must-have-order person like me. Everyone needs balance in their life.

Food habits? Sigh.

man eating delightfullyMy husband – and maybe most men – are fans of messy, smelly, food, e.g. seafood that must be manipulated, torn apart or slithered out of its shell and guzzled; or wings slathered in barbeque sauce. I cannot bear to watch. Also, he is a huge fan of onions and garlic, both which send me running outside fanning my nose. Though I’ve begged him to spare my nose, he still manages to sneak in an onion or two into the fridge. And seriously, he does it when I’m not looking because he knows I will freak out. When I find the onion, the convo goes something like this:

Me: Gasp! “Did you buy an onion?’

Him: “What onion?”

Me: I can smell it, and it’s still in the plastic bag!”

Him: “I’ll use it when you’re not here.”

Me: “It’ll smell up the whole house for two days.”

Him: “I’ll never understand why you don’t like onions. You should try onions. And seafood.”

Me: (Face getting red) “I’ve told you a thousand times the smell of onions and seafood makes me nauseous. Do you want me to get sick? Just because you won’t give up onions?”

Him: ” I won’t cook them. I’ll eat them raw. You should try them.”

Me: “I. Will. Never. Like. Onions. Or seafood.”

Him: “Why not? Everyone likes onions and seafood except you. You should try them.”thO12Y5DO2

And so on. We’ve agreed to disagree. He still has to have the occasional onion, hoping I won’t notice. And I don’t, until he surreptitiously pulls out a frying pan, plops in oil and garlic, quietly dices the onion he has spirited in under his shirt, and cooks it. What, he thinks I won’t smell that? Gagging, I turn on every fan in the house, open the windows, and stomp outside. In the spirit of compromise, I am considering noseplugs.

The marital learning curve continues, and my personal goal is to get through at least one day without shrieking regarding any of the above. After all, the clashes we have about this stuff are pretty funny. Well, a few days later, they’re funny.

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Where the Heart Is – Reflections

Kitchen remodel 2After three weeks of traipsing back and forth from my kitchen-in-progress to my makeshift kitchen in the back bedroom, I am slowly regaining my sanity.

My back bedroom groaned with sacks and boxes of dishes, pots and pans, contents of junk drawers, silverware, and various odds and ends.  My husband and I lugged the kitchen table back there, and I put my  microwave and coffeemaker on it. I draped sheets over the bed and on the floor. I carved out tiny paths on each side of the bed. Each morning I extricated half & half from my refrigerator in the kitchen-in-progress, walked the length of my house to my makeshift bedroom-kitchen, added cream to my coffee and walked back again to put the cream back in the fridge. Then I would kind of stand and stare and think things like: I have to walk all the way back to the bedroom to get my coffee. Why didn’t I bring it with me? And by the way, how will I cook my morning eggs? Can you microwave eggs? I’ll just have toast. Where did I put the woman cooking 1toaster? Ohmigosh I have to walk all the way to the fridge again to get the darn jelly if I have toast. And the butter. (Sigh)

It took exactly twice as long to do everything I would normally do while my kitchen was torn apart, and five times as long if workmen (and women) were in the house.  I think a woman without a kitchen is like Lucy without Ethel. Jimmy Fallon without The Roots. Brad without Angelina. I totally lost my moorings. Add to the mix three or four strangers hammering, power sawing, and ripping apart the very heart of my home. I ended up an OCD, dazed, lost, mess for the duration.

Something womanly-primal about the loss of a kitchen. I reflected on pioneer women bending over their hearths, staring into cast-iron pots, cocking their heads, deciding whether to stir or take it off the fire; kids lying around the planked floor, playing games by candlelight in their tiny cabin.

Kitchen remodelA kitchen is the heart of the home. Always has been. And judging by the way I zealously hounded the long-suffering carpenters, electricians, and plumbers, a lot of my heart is wrapped up in it too.

For three weeks I pretended to be fascinated by  beam reinforcement and plumbing relocation in order to stalk their progress. I asked endless questions about cabinetry installation and granite counter cut-outs. In reality,  I needed reassurance that these strangers were taking very special care to return my kitchen to me unscathed and undefiled. Still, it felt a little like someone rifling through my underwear drawer.

It has surprised me, this protectiveness that has arisen over my humble kitchen. Understand that I am not an enthusiastic or creative cook, I eat food as kind of a must-do exercise, and my refrigerator is rarely overstocked. I think, for me, the kitchen represents relationships and celebrations rather than the simple preparation of food. Itwomen talking is a place secrets are shared over mugs of coffee, babies in high chairs babble and coo and learn to hold spoons, water is grabbed on the way to exercise class. The kitchen is more than food – it is a parentheses to almost everything in our lives, and feeds us in more ways than one.

Fully remodeled kitchen

Finally it is done…ahhhhh, what a relief it is.

It is now into the fifth week, and everything is done. I love rather than loathe being in there, now. I caress the smooth granite countertop, and admire the shiny glass tile backsplash. I carefully inspect the antique white (not bright white – there is a difference) cabinets for hints of smudges. I am like a proud, new mama.

Next year, bathrooms. Should be interesting. Don’t think I feel quite so poetic about bathrooms.

 

 

 

 

 

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