Thursday, March 31, 2011

You Know It's Spring... Or Maybe Not

You know it's spring when I post my first blog entry about The Family Garden. The weekend before last was officially the start of our gardening, but Allyson actually got a jump on us a few weeks back. One afternoon when I was cooking pintos for some home-made refried beans (yum!), she grabbed a handful of beans and ran out to the garden. She probably didn't plant them very deep, and she definitely put them too close together, and it was also a little cold, but she was so excited to be planting beans on her own.

"They might not grow, baby," I warned.

"Yes, they will," she said confidently.

Sure enough, they sprouted within a week, and they've been growing steadily ever since. On Saturday, Bill thinned them out and transplanted them from the tomato area--yes, we're trying tomatoes again even after three straight years of failure--to the bean area.

Pintos in Their New Home

It will be interesting to see what happens if some beans actually grow. Bill will just have to eat them, even though he despises beans. Actually, maybe despises is too strong a word. All the rest of us love beans, so I've continued putting beans in chili, soup, etc. (and putting pureed beans in cupcakes and muffins, just because I can!). Bill used to pick all the beans out, but lately I've caught him eating them. Either he no longer has the energy to pick them out, or he's been assimilated. But I digress.

Allyson's other plants aren't in the garden, but over by the shed next to the pool. Bill built her a little planter box for some sunflower seeds she saw at the hardware, and we planted them on Saturday.

Allyson With Sunflower Seeds and Cedar Planter Box

Waiting Endlessly to Sow the Seeds

Allyson also got to plant a few veggies, which have grown into seedlings in our window box. The labels are in her own writing.
Squash, Peppers, Green Cantaloupe, Orange Cantaloupe

Aren't the Squash Cute? Like Little Ducks, Allyson Says

Okay, I can't resist. Here's one more squash picture... They are growing so fast I think they're ready to go in the ground:

See How They Reach For the Light... That's How I Feel During Morning Quiet Time

I hope our garden thrives this year, so we can have as much fun eating our produce as we have planting it. I'll keep you posted.

Or Maybe Not...
Until this afternoon, when it hit the 70s (about 24 Celsius), I was wondering whether spring really had arrived. We've had four days of cool temperatures, cool enough to bring out our jackets and maybe even sit by the fire. I think it was in the upper 40s (about 9 Celsius) on Sunday, the day I'd planned to walk with my neighbor Kindra and her daughter Makayla.

I phoned on the way home from church and talked to Makayla, who sounded pretty grumpy. "Obviously it's too cold to walk," I began. "There's a cold mist in the air and a sharp breeze."

"Oh no, my mom said we're walking today no matter what," Makayla said, her tone even grumpier.

Uh oh, I thought. Walking together was my idea, since I'm the one training for The 3-Day Walk. I heaved a sigh. "I'll be there at 1:45," I said.

We bundled up, and it wasn't all that bad, only I really wished I had worn gloves. Bill would have laughed at me, but I wouldn't have cared. Kindra and I chatted the entire two miles to her son Jacob's soccer game, as the miles slipped away under our feet. She explained that they probably would've stayed home except for her husband's ribbing. "I knew you guys wouldn't last long," he'd said.

"Oh, no. We're going," she retorted. "We're going no matter what."

I was so glad we did. Not only did I get some great exercise and a good chat, but I also got to walk with someone new this time: Ethan!
Ethan Has an Odd Habit of Picking Up Random Sticks When We Walk
It was my first training walk with him, unless you count the one where he took off on his Rip-Stick (like a hinged skateboard) and never came back, so that I feared he might be lying in the road somewhere. 

This time he was on foot, and since he's not really a runner, he was stuck with me. We had the longest conversation since I don't know when. He was talking about some projects at school, including something about World War II. For 20 minutes straight, we talked about whether it was wrong to drop the atom bomb, and how awful the Japanese internment camps must have been, and then about other less than stellar moments in American history. I was pleased to learn that his history teacher doesn't just teach from the bland, sanitized textbooks; I didn't learn about things like the internment camps or the Trail of Tears until I was in college.

During our walk, it dawned on me that my boy not only looks like a young man, but he's starting to talk like one too! What a wonderful walk, even in the chilly drizzle that turned into fat, splatting raindrops just as we reached home. My hands and cheeks were freezing, but my heart was toasty warm.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

You Can't Measure it in Miles

I've been wanting to post an update on my 3-Day Walk progress, but I really wanted to be able to tell you how many miles I've walked. I've been walking about five times a week for just under a month, but I haven't had a chance to buy a pedometer. It really bugs me, not having an exact number to tell you, or even a ballpark figure. I walk anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours at a stretch, maybe up to 5 miles at a time.

My financial progress is easier to track: $611 out of the $2300 minimum I'll need in order to participate in the event. (I just noticed the 11, which is a number of special significance to Laura. Cool!)

So today I was thinking about how to quantify my progress, and I realized it has nothing to do with miles or money. Instead, I can measure it in joyous hours admiring the trees in bloom, with the breeze in my hair and the sun on my back. I can measure it in visits with God, whispering my prayers and then enjoying the companionable silence as we walk together.

And I can measure it in the number of acquaintances whom I've found the courage to approach in my neighborhood and at the gym, women who have agreed to walk with me on Saturday mornings in the park. I've already enjoyed two walks with my neighbor Kendra and her daughter Makayla; it's the longest time we've ever had to chat, and I think we're going to be good friends.

I've been getting up at 6:30 twice a week to walk and pray with Phyllis, the woman who knocked on my door and invited me to a prayer meeting last month. We've prayed for Laura, our families, our neighborhood, and our city.

I've had a couple easy walks with my family, much to Lola's delight. I've walked poor Allyson to the library, her preschool, and the park, until she complained about her aching legs.

I've had three long walks with my sister Amy, during which we built each other's faith as we prayed fervently for Laura, for my church, and for family members. I also had one Sunday walk--maybe too leisurely to count as a training walk, but most enjoyable--with Amy, our sister Emily, and our children.
Amy

Today, I had a lovely walk with Laura, the first we've had since I signed up for The 3-Day. The weather was glorious, and we had a good chat while Allyson raced ahead on her bike, then looped back, then conned us into walking her bike between us. I felt refreshed in spirit and in body, and I think Laura did also.

Laura and Son Samuel


I'm so excited to be taking this journey, and I can only rejoice in all the benefits I've already reaped.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

An Easy (and Free) Way to Support the Salvation Army

My blogging friend Victor is again running a special campaign to raise money for the Salvation Army. All you have to do is go to his site and leave a comment on the entry below...

Don't Miss Out On This!

...and Victor will donate £1 (about $1.61) to the Salvation Army.

While you're there, check out some of Victor's stories about the kind, gentle priest, Father Ignatius. If you like Ignatius as much as I do, you'll also want to check out Victor's novel, Visions. Click here to order Visions. (That link is only for U.S. orders. If you live in another country, you'll find other purchase links on Victor's blog.)

If you'd like, you can read my review here.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Settling Into Happily Ever After

In honor of our eighth anniversary, which was Thursday, I thought I'd share another chapter in my love story with Bill.

After our fairy tale wedding on Vancouver Island and an intimate reception with family and friends back home, we settled into domestic life almost effortlessly. Bill moved his meager stash of furniture into my house, including the giant blue chair that I absolutely despised and an antique dresser that took up residence in our closet. Other than the chair, I was pleasantly surprised at how naturally our lives meshed.

Our First House
The Blue Chair - With Matching Ottoman! (Bill's Apartment)


Unlike most of the couples in our marriage class, His Needs/Her Needs, we didn't fight over domestic chores, bill paying, or child rearing duties. (Granted, we were the only newlyweds in the class.) Without any negotiations or even any discussion, Bill took up about half of the household chores. We shared the cooking and the dishes pretty equally. He washed laundry, and I folded. I cleaned the bathrooms, and he mowed the lawn. And he gladly helped with five-year-old Ethan's homework and bedtime routines.
Ethan in First Grade Classroom


There was only one area where we weren't so compatible: he was a night owl, and I preferred to go to bed early. I was used to going to bed by 10:00 and getting a full eight hours of sleep, but he liked to stay up until almost midnight. I tried to get him to turn in earlier, but it was hard to tear his attention from the TV; he needed that time after all the chores were done to relax and unwind.

Since one of my favorite things about marriage was snuggling and talking before I dropped off to sleep--promise you won't tease Bill about that--I decided to adapt to his schedule. But then he compromised by coming to bed around 11:00 instead of midnight.

My 33rd Birthday, One Month After Wedding


[So, that's it, you ask? Where's the drama? Hey, this is me we're talking about. Of course there was drama!]

The hardest adjustment for me was reconciling my expectations with reality. Somehow I expected wild nights of passion and long walks in the park, earnest conversations in the evenings, and adoring glances and lavish compliments. In other words, I expected Bill to meet my every need and love me in the way that I thought he should.

The reality was far more... ordinary. As I mentioned, there were lots of household duties, and there was Bill's propensity for mindless television. By the time we turned in after 11:00 each night, there was little energy for conversation, let alone passion.

I was crushed. Right around PMS time, the drama arrived with a vengeance. I stewed for days, wondering why Bill didn't seem to be nearly so in love as I was. Did he love me at all?, I wondered. No, we were just roommates, I concluded. I wanted desperately to confess my hurts and fears, but I was ashamed of my insecurities. It reminded me of the painful transition when Bill had first moved to Texas, which was maddening.

After a few days, I broke. Bill had dozed off almost the moment his head hit the pillow; I knew because I could feel his muscles twitching as he held me. Meanwhile, I lay wide awake, my eyes burning with unshed tears and my chest tight with anxiety. I took a deep breath and whispered, "Are you awake?" No answer. I elbowed him gently and repeated "Are you awake?"

"Uhnnnn," he groaned.

And thus began our the first Relationship Talk of our young marriage. As you might imagine, it went downhill from there. I ended up sobbing uncontrollably while Bill helplessly patted my back, shaking his head in confusion. "I thought we were happy," he said.

"We a-are," I sobbed. "I just don't think you love me like you used to."

"Of course I love you! I moved down here and left all my family and friends to be with you. Why would you think my feelings had changed?"

"You don't... look at me the same way. You don't tell me I'm beautiful. I don't know."

"Well I don't know how I used to look at you, so how am I going to look at you that way again?"

"That's just it!" I cried. "You didn't have to think about it then."

The conversation got us nowhere, except that Bill promised to try to show more affection. But of course, he didn't--at least not that I could tell. He just kept loving me the only way he knew how. That scene repeated itself almost once a month for at least the first year. Bill was always patient, but I could see that my insecurities were wearing on him. He'd get angry with himself because he just couldn't seem to do it right, and that put a new distance between us.

I got angry with myself, too, because I couldn't stop sabotaging our happiness. The sad thing was, I knew from our marriage class exactly what was wrong. We were speaking different love languages, and his messages weren't getting through. His love language was acts of service, and mine was words of affirmation. It just wasn't natural for him to express his love in words. I understood with my head that Bill's way of loving me was making sure I never had to touch the trash, or buying me the most thoughtful gifts, yet that didn't fill the craving in my heart.

A more mature woman would have focused on addressing his love language, making sure that he felt loved. But I just kept hoping he would change, and trying to help him change by communicating exactly what I needed.

As the years passed--yes, years--I mellowed out a little. I prayed more, pouring out my heart to God in my journal. "Why can't I be happy, God? Why can't I just love Bill as he is?" Gradually, my meltdowns slowed to every two or three months, and then six months, and then once a year. I learned to fight the urge to start a Relationship Talk after 11:00 P.M., and that it was better to pray about it for a few days and ask God to give me the right words and show me the right moment.

Eight Years Later
It's been eight years, and my last meltdown was over a year ago, I think. I can't remember when, and I think that's a good sign. I still get my feelings hurt, but I'm learning to let those feelings go. Through years of Bible study and meditating on scripture, I'm beginning to fathom how precious and loved I am in God's eyes, and that makes me believe that I'm also worthy of my husband's love. But I've learned that my worth doesn't depend on Bill's love, and that he can't possibly meet all my needs.

Our marriage isn't perfect, and we still don't live that life of wild passion that I envisioned, but I think what we have is better. Different, but better. We make each other laugh almost every day. We share the same goals. We love spending time with our kids.

I'm free to be myself with Bill. Just like God, he knows everything about me, and he loves me anyway. I'm so thankful that neither of them gave up on me.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

He Gave Her Laughter

Last week I told you about Laura, my inspiration for doing the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure walk. With her permission, I'm going to tell you our story.... 

I met Laura and her son Samuel, then three years old, on April 11, 2010. Our first words were about the devastating diagnosis she'd recently received: the breast cancer that had been in remission for 20 months had metastasized to her lungs and brain. "I'm so worried for my son!" she said. 



At that moment I had no words of encouragement for her. In fact, I immediately started to cry because Allyson was the same age as Samuel, and I couldn't fathom the thought of leaving her and Ethan behind. I held her hand and prayed with her through my tears, but I just didn't know what to say. I'm sure I prayed something involving Psalm 139, and I don't know how she reacted, but I walked away feeling that I'd failed her. 

Thankfully, God had other plans for us. When I got home from church, I started to sit down to lunch, but I just couldn't eat. I couldn't think about anything but Laura. Bill had taken Allyson with him to do some work at my sister Emily's house, and Ethan was in his room playing a computer game, so I had the house to myself.

On my closet floor, I poured out all the words that I wished I'd been able to say earlier. I prayed for her healing and her comfort. I prayed every scripture I could think of relating to healing, blessings, and love. Still, I felt no relief from the burden that had settled on my shoulders. 

I laid my face on the carpet and wept. "Oh, God!" I cried out. "What can I possibly pray for her? Please, Holy Spirit, tell me what to pray. Pray through me." 

Almost immediately, I thought of laughter. "Laughter?" I repeated. "How could she possibly have laughter right now? That doesn't make sense." But I felt a certainty that laughter was exactly what I should ask for. 

"Okay, God. Please give Laura laughter. Let her be so filled with joy and peace that she can laugh in the face of her enemy. Let your joy be her strength." As I prayed, my own tears turned to laughter. I laughed out loud with joy. It was crazy! It was beautiful! 

I laughed until I was gasping for air, and then I realized that the burden had lifted. I got up off my creaky knees and walked down to the kitchen to do what I usually do after I pray for someone: I got out a card and wrote down all the verses I'd prayed for her, and what I'd felt God telling me. But when I started to write about the laughter, my pen froze over the paper. How could I write that? What right did I have to tell her she needed to laugh when I couldn't possibly understand what she was going through? Would she be offended? 
I shook my head and plowed on. I had to tell her what was in my heart. After I'd addressed and stamped the card, I hesitated again, seized by an anxiety bordering on panic. Don't send it! She'll be angry. I set the card aside. I'll pray about it, I decided.

At our home group meeting that evening, I shared my dilemma--not the details of Laura's situation, but my indecision about sending a card that could be misunderstood, that might even cause offense. Their response was unanimous. "If you feel God leading you, you have to mail it," they said. And we prayed that God would help Laura to receive the message as it was intended. 

The next morning, I handed Bill the card to mail on the way to work. That evening, I called Laura to see how she was doing, and to see if there was any way the church could help her--bringing meals, running errands, etc. I was so terrified about calling that my fingers shook when I dialed, but the conversation was actually very enjoyable. We talked for maybe 30 minutes, and I promised to arrange some meals for her family and to stay in touch. 

The next day, Tuesday 4/13/10, I received an email that changed my life:
You have no idea how you have made a difference to me.  Last night after we spoke on the phone I felt an amazing feeling of peace, and somehow I felt empowered.  I had not had a night of peace like last night.  I felt this calling from God, so much so that I actually moved out of my bedroom and into the guest bedroom, where I have on a shelf and walls various images of angels and Jesus.  I felt this was my safe place, closer to God.  I then read a comic book (from page 1 until the end) called Cancer Vixen, a gift from a co-worker who is also a breast cancer survivor.  I had not read the comic book, it had just sat on my table for weeks, because I felt too depressed and didn't feel right reading something funny.  But, last night was different.  I couldn't put the book down and read it until 2:30 this morning.  I laughed out loud like I had not done in years, and ever with a book.  Then, I woke up this morning happy, upbeat, not dragging my self to work, and for the first time in two weeks I actually got to work on time, not 1 hr late.  I had a good day today.  I came home to realize my son doesn't have school tomorrow, so we played all afternoon.  Then I got your card in the mail, and it made me weep, for I now know why I felt so much joy and had so much laughter last night.  Thank you for praying for me, and for asking God to bring me joy and laughter!  I have no doubt your prayers and sacrifices for me have moved the holy spirit within me.  There are no words to express my gratitude.  I trust in the Lord that he has a plan for me, and will pray for healing.
I fired off an ecstatic response the moment I finished reading. "I believe God is using this experience to call both of us to a closer relationship with him," I said. "I don't think I have ever prayed so fervently for anyone, but I've believed for a long time that God is calling me to intercession. This certainly inspires me to heed that call."

I wanted to call her the next day, but she phoned me first. "We attended a training seminar at work today," she said. "You'll never guess what the topic was... It was on the power of laughter!" During the seminar, they had shared a case study of how laughter improved the recovery in cancer patients. 

"I think God is making sure His message gets across!" I marveled. 

Since that time, Laura has become one of my closest friends. I've enjoyed spending time with her and her family, and getting to know her better. The more I learn about her, the more she inspires me with her courage and her strength. 

You wouldn't have time to read about all the other amazing things God has done in us and through us, so I'll just say that God has given us a very powerful connection. When she needs me, I always seem to KNOW. I'll pray for her, and then I'll send her a card or a text message, or pick up the phone. The timing is always perfect.

God has answered many of our prayers, and He's given me an assurance that she is already healed. Once, while I was praying for her, I said, "I'm going to dance with joy when Laura is healed." Immediately I heard a voice in my thoughts: Dance now! She's already healed. So I danced for joy, all alone in my closet, and then I ground her defeated cancer under my feet.

Now I'm just waiting for her body to come into alignment with that spiritual reality. In the meantime, I can't believe how much my faith has grown through hours spent on my knees--and more recently, miles of prayers while I'm walking. I'm so thankful God brought us together, and I look forward to years of fellowship between us and our families.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Canoeing With God

One balmy afternoon while Bill's family was in town, we were all sitting out on the porch soaking up some sun--all but Dad, who was snoozing on the sofa, I believe. Anyway, Allyson had brought out this microphone toy that she once won at a cakewalk. It plays classical music with an electronic, tinny sound that is only mildly annoying if she sings along.

Allyson on a Much Colder Day


While we half dozed, Allyson danced all around the patio to what Mom said was The Flight of the Bumblebee.  She sang her own words, which sometimes rhymed and went surprisingly well with the tune. After she finished her song, she gave the mic to Allum, her beloved toy puppy who was sitting in a chair at the picnic table. She propped the microphone right against his mouth.

Allum on our Last Canada Trip


"Listen to this, guys! Allum's gonna sing now," she said.

I gave her a little smile and then closed my eyes, basking in the gentle sun. "That's nice, honey," I murmured.

My eyes snapped open when the music ended and I heard a somewhat muffled, rather echoey announcement: "You can hear more songs on www.allum.com. That's W-W-W...dot-Allum-dot-com. Thank you!" Though Allyson's voice sounded oddly distant, she had the perfect enunciation of a radio announcer.

I exchanged glances with Bill's brother Trevor, who raised an eyebrow.

"Where does she learn these things?" I asked, leaning forward in my chair to get a closer look. It took me a moment to spot Allyson. Peeking out from under the canvas cover of the barbecue grill, she crouched against the back wall of the house, clutching a purple cup to her mouth. 

"You gotta clap now!" she whispered, and we all clapped almost enthusiastically. Then she launched into Allum's next number.

I should write about this on the blog, I thought, and then promptly forgot the whole thing. But it came back to me last Friday night when Allyson set up another concert for Allum in her bedroom. She set him on top of an overturned laundry basket and nestled a blanket around him, carefully balancing another one of her microphones against his mouth. The microphone was literally almost as big as he was.

She turned on Bill's new digital picture frame and cranked up one of the Billy Joel songs that Bill's sister Lisa had loaded onto it. While Bill and I looked on from Allyson's bed--well, I know I was watching, but Bill was actually reclining with only one eye open--Allum belted out, "Whatsa matter with the clothes I'm wearin? Can't you tell that they're out of style?"

"That Allum sure can sing," I said, and Allyson beamed with pride.

Toward the end of the second Billy Joel song, Allyson couldn't resist getting in on the act. She started to swing her arms, alternating them in a swimming motion. "I'm swimmin' with God," she said soberly.

Bill opened his other eye. "Swimming with God?"

"Yes. If I ask God to come swimming with me, he comes. Right, Mama?"

"I guess so, Baby."

"He's there even if we can't see him, 'cause he's with me all the time, right?"

"That's right." I nodded vigorously.

Allyson leaned forward and moved both arms in unison. "I'm canoein' with God," she said.

Bill and I both burst into laughter.

"You've got some imagination, girl!" Bill said.

And that was the end of Allum's concert. Allyson grabbed the microphone. "If you want to hear more, you can go online to www.allum.com. That's www.allum.com."
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