Out with the old (or rights, wrongs, and lefts)

This past year I have grown by leaps and bounds as a person.

I’m going to spend a few minutes letting you in on some of my reflections of where I began 2019 and the much different place I find myself at its end.

As a homeschooling mom, I’ve always enjoyed watching my kids grow into who they are becoming. They don’t stay the same, just like I don’t, and we were happy to see another one focusing on their future just before 2019 began.

Middle Son waited after high school until he was ready to pursue a higher education, and as he showed more interest in a particular college we encouraged it, even though the costs were projected to be higher than we thought we could afford.

My husband and I were beginning to discuss the feasibility of helping this child with college expenses like we had with the older ones. We knew this was going to be a bigger investment, so we did first what we have learned by hard experience to do: we took it to God and waited for his answer.

I was very thankful I had started meeting with a Christian mentor, another woman who helped pull me back down to earth week after week. I had written down what my biggest concerns were, what I struggled with and where I thought I needed the most help.

Even in the couple of weeks between filling out the form and our first mentoring session I forgot one of my main issues. I recorded it in a journal as “not being able to give up control”. That WAS a big issue with me, but it wasn’t what I had written down. At our 3-month review my mentor reminded me what my issue REALLY was: admitting when I do something wrong.

So I was headed into the new year actively asking God to help me see when I do something wrong so that I can correct it and make amends right away. And I was also digging in and asking him to show me why I have struggled so much with this my whole life.

Just before the end of 2018 I wanted to learn how to set better goals, so I started doing Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend, and I was finding that I didn’t really have a clue about my own personal limits, much less how to set any meaningful boundaries.

I was just beginning to get a grasp on the concept that I can’t change the past and I can’t change any other person. These are obvious, and I knew them in my head, but I hadn’t taken them into my heart.

I was learning, finally, that my responsibilities, needs, condition of my heart, health of my emotions, and God-led decision-making are the things I needed to focus on.

So, how did I do over this past year?

My husband and I, after praying and both getting a clear green light, have trusted God to provide the funds needed to help our son realize his goal of going to college at a school we all love, where he feels called to be.

And God has come through exceedingly, abundantly beyond all we asked or imagined!

He received more than half his costs in scholarships, and we were able to make both his first and second semester payments in full! God is faithful, and we are in awe at how eager he is to bless us.

As I plunged into my mentoring sessions, I often talked about my safety-seeking control issues. It has plagued me all my life, this need to keep everyone around me safe. I have done many things that secluded or separated my family and me from the world around us thinking that if I had knowledge and the ability to get in between evil and my kids I could single-handedly keep everyone safe.

I’ve spent a lot of time and prayer this year wrestling this out with God, and I’ve found that every time I set myself up as being in control, I kicked God out of his rightful place. I’ve had to give up my right to control any part of my life so that I can experience truly following God. I’m glad to say I’m controlling less, though it may take the rest of my life to get where I’d like to be!

And my other issue of admitting when I’m wrong? I figured out why I have so much trouble with that. In my mind, the people who abused me as a child were deserving of punishment. They were wrong. They did bad things.

And I never wanted to be compared to them: to hurt anyone else, be responsible for causing harm to anyone.

So I could never be wrong.

I’m a work in progress on this one. Baby Girl patiently tells me when I overstep while lecturing a sales rep over the phone, or speak abruptly to a cashier at the grocery store. Out of all my children, this youngest daughter is in tune with my moods and is helping me see when I let my frustrations get in front of my better intentions.

And now I can stop and admit I blew it.

And my world doesn’t fall apart when I do.

Working my way slowly but surely through Boundaries has been a tremendous help in all of my issues this year, many more than I’m talking about here.

I began by finding that I never learned what good boundaries were as a child. God revealed to me many truths about how my parents didn’t either. So it’s like I’ve had revelation after revelation poured over me by God about what Mom and Dad’s lives were like as kids, why they struggled to set and keep boundaries with their kids, and how I’ve carried that forward into my life.

And I’ve been able to forgive.

That’s probably the most remarkable thing that has ever happened to me, this release from the need to see justice done, no more desire to have someone else suffer for what they’ve done to me or others.

As I write this I am seeing that there’s another side to the command Jesus gives us to forgive others as we have been forgiven.

I’m finally starting to FEEL forgiven. Because I’m finally able to give forgiveness to others.

Because no matter how far I’ve come in the past year, I’m not done, there’s more left to face and dig deep into and give back over to God.

And as a new year begins, I feel like God really does have a reason why he forgave me.

Because this is just the beginning.

Celebrating the Day

Blame it on Thanksgiving being late, or having too many major home repairs, or the flu knocking everyone off their feet for a week, but Christmas has come and gone way too quickly this year.

We didn’t beat last years record of six hours to unwrap our presents. We only took four. Although today we’ll finish up with Oldest Son and his girlfriend and we may come close.

Life moves too fast. The first semester of Middle Son’s college career, the holiday season, the clock ticking until Husband has a hip replacement next month.

Where can I find time and space for Christmas?

It’s not an easy thing. The world doesn’t value slow.

Yet I find I need quiet and stillness to receive the information I’m wanting, I’m needing to know exists. Because if I can’t get out of the rush that has been this Christmas season I may totally miss it.

I’m one of those odd birds that doesn’t like Christmas music, so listening to the radio has gotten tedious and irritating. The rare surprise is a handful of songs that DO stop me in my tracks and make me think about why we celebrate Jesus’ birth every year.

One in particular, and a poem that starts running through my head in the odd moment of quiet and calm.

This year it came together for me as I sat in the packed service of the church where I attend Celebrate Recovery. On Christmas Eve.

I’m a visual person. There was a powerful light and sound show depicting the incongruity of God, in his immeasurable pervasiveness, making himself so small as to zoom in to our universe, our solar system, this earth, and become a human like me.

If you can fully grasp that, try to explain the logic of it to me, because I cannot.

In the 2000+ years since that event happened, the world has written myths and folk tales of gods and superhuman heroes that we idolize. Just look at the top-grossing movies in recent years.

Heroes in stories have had humble beginnings only to at some point step into their places as the true leaders they were meant to be.

Jesus was born in a stable, laid in a feed trough, and died on a cross meant for the worst of criminals.

It’s hard to wrap my head around this. I mean, I’ve studied the Bible and I get the need for Jesus to die for the sin of the world. What I shake my head about is the means. The actual meanness of the place he was born.

The lack of a super power making clear he was Messiah, Emmanuel, King of Kings and Lord of Lords to everyone he met.

I have to ask myself, why did God allow his son to be born like this, among farm animals?

As a girl a farmer who raised sheep would use space in our big barn during lambing season. There are smells and sounds, a density to the air made up of animal body humidity and dust, muddy floors, fresh hay and buckets of formula with long nipples attached to feed the rejected lambs, layers of straw for bedding hiding the slickness of urine and manure.

This was the stable of my youth. What was that one like?

More importantly, what purpose did this serve, for Jesus to be born in this place, in this way?

How unlike a hero story the birth of Jesus was. He didn’t swoop down and single-handedly wipe out the evil forces threatening to destroy our world.

Or did he?

Because when I read the Bible I find that the goal isn’t to save the world. It’s to save you. And me. To make us impervious to the evil in this world.

Out of the stable of our lives where we nose around like sheep for a bite of something that appeals to us, choosing to ignore the filth we allow to fall around us, seeping into the ground or drying in the warmth of the day until we’re so used to our sin we forget how badly we need to be made clean.

And yet Jesus took us on. Took on our lowest, meanest places, literally at his birth. And in a more real and eternal way than I can imagine when he offers to come and live inside me, inside my heart, in this filthy, inadequate stable he calls the temple of the Holy Spirit.

So I read the poem “Let the Stable Still Astonish” by Lesley Leyland Fields, and I hope you will read it, too.

Slowly. Word by word. Sinking in deep.

“Let the stable still astonish
Straw — dirt floor, dull eyes
Dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen;
Crumbling, crooked walls;
No bed to carry that pain
And then, the child,
Rag-wrapped, laid to cry
In a trough
Who would have chosen this?

Who would have said ‘Yes,’
‘Let the God of all the heavens
And earth
Be born here, in this place’?
Who but the same God
Who stands in the darker, fouler rooms
of our hearts
and says ‘Yes,’
‘Let the God of Heaven and Earth
be born here –
in this place.’

Let this sink in – this truth, this injustice, undeserved mercy, pure love looking straight at MY darker, fouler rooms and stepping in before I realized how much making me clean had cost him.

Even though I know Jesus conquered death, I tend to accept it as if I somehow deserve it.

So here’s the song, the one that always breaks me to tears.

As you click I pray you, too, will slow, taking a quiet moment to listen until you see it.

See the reason.

“I Celebrate The Day” by Relient K (written by Matt Thiesen)

And with this Christmas wish is missed
The point I could convey
If only I could find the words to say to let You know how much You’ve touched my life
Because here is where You’re finding me, in the exact same place as New Years Eve
And from the lack of my persistancy
We’re less than half as close as I want to be

And the first time
That You opened Your eyes did You realize that You would be my Savior
And the first breath that left Your lips
Did You know that it would change this world forever

And so this Christmas I’ll compare the things I felt in prior years
To what this midnight made so clear
That You have come to meet me here

And the first time
That You opened Your eyes did You realize that You would be my Savior
And the first breath that left Your lips
Did You know that it would change this world forever

To look back and think that
This baby would one day save me
In the hope that what You did
That You were born so I might live
To look back and think that
This baby would one day save me

And I, I celebrate the day
That You were born to die
So I could one day pray for You to save my life

All I want for Christmas

We’re less than a week away from Christmas, and I feel like I haven’t had a minute to just sit and think about it.

Yes, there have been hours spent searching for a relatively few number of items online compared to most years, but that’s been about the gifts I want to give, not the reason why I love to give them.

And if you read last year’s Christmas post I’ll give you a little spoiler: our time spent opening presents won’t be as crazy long this year, because we are skint and need to pare down on the buying.

But will we still be celebrating Christmas? And what is it that we are looking for in the boxes and wrapping paper? Whether giving or receiving, there’s an internal motivation that drives us to take time away from careers and schedules and gather with family and friends.

I cannot speak for you. I can only speak for me.

Because at its heart, Christmas is a deeply personal celebration.

As a child the cold weather always came first, the short days. Visits to Santa at some shopping center, and eventually Christmas Eve when we would open one present each: handmade pajamas from one of our grandmas.

Then all the rituals of Christmas morning. Sitting on the landing of the stairs while Mom and Dad started making coffee and prepping the turkey.

We would gradually scoot down one stair at a time, but we knew we were supposed to stop before the open railing to the living room. As we got older we took turns as to who got to go all the way down and run across the floor without looking too hard and plug in the tree lights.

And then we would crowd together on one stair and see what we could make out by the light of those big, colorful bulbs.

The tree would be set up by the front windows near the fireplace. It took a day to put it up every year. When it was new the individual branches were color coded, but over the years it took longer to see the specks of paint left on the hard wire stem ends. It often became a guessing game, stacking up like-sized pieces, hoping they would fit into the holes on the tube in the center.

We’d start at the top, poking each branch into the “trunk”, adjusting the angles as we went down to avoid large gaps that let you see through to the metal frame. There were extra rings of greenery to put on between groups of branches, and then we’d load on everything we could find in the attic boxes to fill it out.

And last would be the tinsel, my personal favorite, flung willy-nilly all over the branches and ornaments, many of which were handmade as school projects. I loved my styrofoam egg carved out to hold a tiny nativity scene with a background painted in art class.

When we were teenagers we would go get a cut tree instead of the fake one. Some years Mom and Dad would head down to North Carolina and bring back a Frasier fir tied on the top of the car.

That’s the version I’ve always preferred in my own home.

Our Christmas morning growing up would continue with Dad lighting the laid wood in the fireplace. And once they had hot mugs in hand and a crackling fire going, we took our places around the room to open presents.

I know some years were lean, some were more generous in the amount of gifts we got. Funny thing is I don’t distinguish between them in my mind. I liked getting new things, but even better I liked having Dad home all day, watching him help prepare food.

Up until just the last couple years I would have my time with Dad in my head as I made his cornbread for my dressing and chopped the onions and celery like he always did at the kitchen table. All on Christmas morning.

And I liked having people over our house. We almost never had anyone over. I felt like people saw the preacher’s family as untouchable, off limits for the normal interactions I saw them having with everyone else.

So sitting around the dining room table there would be a few true friends to our family that I loved and feared and felt honored to spend this day with every year.

We’d eat at 2, and play games and try on new clothes or try out new things, and add wood to the fire, and drink hot chocolate and eat dessert or leftovers or both.

I don’t remember the t.v. ever being turned on unless we knew for sure there was a special show we wanted to watch together, and then only in the evening. Our time was spent interacting and cooperating with each other in games, and cooking and cleaning up in groups. I’d sneak off for solitary times to avoid overload by reading a book or writing for a while.

If I had to boil those growing up days down to a few words they wouldn’t focus on things. Togetherness, relaxation, feasting, companionship.

It was a magical day, when we might complain about the tasks we were asked to do, but we did it eventually because there was plenty of work to go around and the day wouldn’t be as much fun if we were waiting for chores to get done before we could play pinochle.

So as I prepare myself for our several Christmas celebrations over the next week or so, I’ll be running around trying to get my gifts bought, but I always reach a point where I look at my lists of what I’ve gotten and say that’s enough. I could always get more things, but we could also be just as happy with less.

I get to a point where I have to look inside and ask what I’m really hoping to get for Christmas. And while things are nice, I really want what I got in my childhood home of modest means and hard-working parents,

I want to gather together with people I love.

I want to not think about the constant stresses of life, and instead consciously let go of the hold they can have on me.

I want to cook and eat food that satisfies my heart and my stomach.

And I want to be with people who are on this journey of life alongside me, recharging and refreshing each other as we look ahead to the new year to come.

And I hope you can take time to celebrate in a way that leaves you better for all the hard work and planning.

Because Jesus didn’t come to make a lot of work for us once a year. He came to give us life. Abundant life.

And I’m ready to enjoy that abundance.

Dark Day Memories

I keep hemming and hawing about what to say this week, because Monday was my dark day.

Except I didn’t have the time to sit with my thoughts and let memories wash over me on that day. And the rest of the week had work and appointments and few quiet moments.

So I’m using this exercise of putting thoughts into words as my time of marking the passing of my third child. The one I was just beginning to know, and now will wait until eternity to meet.

Those of us who have been through the loss of a child by miscarriage have these dark days. They aren’t always on the ones you mark.

Day the baby died. Day I miscarried. Day we buried the child’s remains. Day the baby was due. Day he or she was conceived. Every birthday.

Sometimes they’re the day I think, “I wonder if that child would have liked…” and off I go, missing the things I just might have convinced that child to do with me. Things the others have no interest in doing.

For me it has been 22 years since I lost my baby.

I’m not over it.

It’s not something you get over. It doesn’t get better, because you always come back to a baby that died, and there is no happy in there.

The day I first felt pain I had been wrestling with an old vacuum cleaner, taking it apart and putting it back together, cleaning it out and trying to force it to have some suction. It was heavy and clunky and frustrating.

I always wondered, what if I hadn’t been messing around with the vacuum?

I was leading a Bible study in the next town over, and even though I was very crampy I headed out. People were counting on me.

And in the restroom I saw the first bleeding, the first visible, physical evidence that something was wrong.

The next day was a roller coaster. We had workmen right outside the patio doors in the addition that was being put on the back of the house.

God had told us to add on this huge room, and even though we only had two kids we started building. And within a few weeks I was pregnant.

Every morning they were working I would print off a Bible verse and stick it on the glass door so they could see it. The kids and I would usually do a walk-through at some point to see what progress had been made each day.

And on that second day of labor, I found myself out on the porch area, discussing rooflines with the contractor, smiling and chatting, all while my womb was weeping in pain and sorrow.

On the third day our daughter had a Brownie meeting, and Dad took her as I was in so much pain. So my son and I were home alone when the labor ended.

So did the pain. Immediately.

And I knew right away I had lost the baby.

This labor was honestly my worst. It was longer than any of the five others I’ve had. It hurt with great intensity for most of the time. I tried not to let it show, I didn’t want to worry the kids. I have a really high pain tolerance, which was a good thing as I attempted to act normally.

But three days of pain, and no baby at the end is…

why I have a dark day.

A curious thing happens after you lose a baby. If you tell anyone. You find that you are not alone. Women I had known for many years shared that they, too, had miscarried. But they never told until they saw my open grief.

I must have the universal friendly face, because strangers are drawn to talk to me in grocery store lines and waiting rooms, and even complete strangers opened up to me about their own losses.

In this journey when I felt lonely for my child, I found I was not ever the only one this had happened to.

There’s something comforting about that – knowing at least one other person you can call and say, “Hey, can I talk about my baby for a while?”

And in the past 22 years I’ve been privileged to be that listening ear many times.

Every story is different. Every ending is the same. And every mom remembers.

With my five kids, there are countless memories. Sometimes I have to really think through a story to be sure I’ve assigned the right children their part in the drama, but I could sit and talk for hours about funny things each of my kids has done, or what they’re up to now, or tell you some of their milestones.

I also know things about my kids that I’ll never tell anyone, because the thought of special times with them, sweet words they’ve spoken, the look of love in their eyes, those are the things you keep safe in your heart. Ready to be pulled out when you need a smile or a reassurance of love.

And when there are no pictures of a face, no funny escapades, no muscle memory of how they feel in your arms, where do you harvest the memories?

I’ve never pictured what this child might look like. I’ve never dreamed him or her. But they were part me, part their dad, and sometimes I choose to think through what their unique self might be.

In the not knowing there is a freedom to imagine endless possibilities, as different as one day is from another, new choices every time I think of Isaac Fred.

But the thought that gives me the most comfort is that my child is safe in the arms of God, he sits on Jesus’ lap, and maybe they say to him, the way you smile reminds me of your mom.

Measuring Success

Last Thanksgiving Day I started blogging.

I wasn’t sure I’d make it this far at all. I wasn’t sure how often I wanted to post, how long I wanted my posts to be, what subjects I’d explore.

I wanted to always have a few pieces written ahead, so I could spend some time honing them before they went live.

And mostly I wanted to get into the habit of writing regularly, proving to myself that the books I feel I have in me could become a reality, that I have the stamina to work steadily at this thing that is not a chore, that I have loved since before I could read or write.

This thing I was made to do.

So I want to offer my sincere thanks to every person who has read any of my blog posts.

I’m not sure I can tell you how encouraging it is just to be read!

I started writing as soon as I could as a child. The other day I came across what my mom always said was one of my first masterpieces at about 3: a toilet lid cover on which I printed my formal name – Rebecca – with my mom’s lipstick. It never did wash out.

At about four years old I could spend hours going through school textbooks bigger kids gave me to “read” and circle every word I knew. Mostly “a”, “an”, “and”, and “the”. I recited a book to my first-grade class that my teacher thought I was reading, but I had memorized it from hearing it so much.

And by third grade I was finally published. My teacher mimeographed my story, “Sally and Her Horse”, and passed the beautiful purple pages out to the whole third grade! Thank you, Mrs. Brinker, for launching my career at the age of eight. My first book is going to be dedicated to you.

Has the blog been a success?

I feel like that’s a question some people may ask. I’m not a person who is driven by winning. I’m very competitive, but I love the doing of a thing while racing others or trying to produce the best thing I can for the excitement of the doing. I’m not focused around being the winner.

So success for me isn’t defined by how many people follow or read regularly. It’s more about, did I put forth my best effort? Did I dig deep and try to get to the heart of whatever I’m writing about? Did I say it in a way that entertained or enlightened or provoked thought in someone else?

Those aren’t things I can quantify. I can’t count the “Aha!” moments or the healing tears someone else was finally able to cry. I will probably never know if any of you have felt led to lift your face and cry out to God because something I wrote stirred a longing for more inside you.

But if I could, those would be the statistics that would bring me the most satisfaction. Because my goal is to help others not be afraid to face their own feelings by reading about some woman facing hers.

For those of you who like data, here are some of the things that can be numbered over my first year of blogging.

I’ve posted 55 times. That’s since November 22, 2018. One a week, with a double post during one week in January 2019.

So far I have 14 categories that I parcel out my thoughts into. There could have been a lot more, but I didn’t want to get too detailed.

I have 12 followers on WordPress (my blog home) and email, 83 on Facebook, and 1 on twitter.

I know, not high numbers. I sometimes get jealous when I hear of friends who launch something online and end up with a thousand followers before they know it. But I have to ask myself if large numbers are my goal, or if touching one person a week is worth it.

Speaking of that, I don’t get many comments or likes, but that’s ok with me. I don’t “like” everything I read on social media either. You’ll never find me sending along anything that requires you to type “Amen” and like, or send on to 10 of your friends.

But responses are appreciated when they happen.

My blog has been seen by 804 visitors over the past year, and they have looked at 1,220 posts. That’s an average of 22 views per post. I like that when someone comes by to read, they will browse a little and read a second post. Or more. Please feel free to do that as much as you’d like. That’s what they are there for.

My average words per post is 1,004. I don’t know if that’s a good number, but it’s about how much I need to round out a train of thought each week. No one has ever commented that they are too long or too short. And the one double issue was because I needed to tell a whole story and didn’t want to leave anyone hanging for a week. And it couldn’t be said in 1,000 words.

Most of my readers are in the United States where I live. But I have been tickled to find that 97 times people in 16 other countries have stopped by to see what’s up. As the child of very mission-minded parents, that’s something I’m proud of, that people in other countries can read my thoughts, can see what God is doing in my life.

And looking forward, I plan to keep on writing and posting once a week.

Because I didn’t run out of stories to tell. (That was a real fear at first.)

And though I am not mainly about reaching milestones of how many views and followers and likes, I am about reaching people. So I would like to ask a little favor of you who drop in from time to time and like what you read.

Please share it with others.

I’m not going to imagine all the ways you could do that. But I’ll make a couple suggestions.

If you read a blog and really like it, feel free to repost it to your friends. I make my blogs public so that they can be spread, and you have my permission to pass them on, especially if you think someone would enjoy or benefit from them.

If you’ve ever enjoyed one, take a minute to visit the site and look through the categories and maybe catch a couple more related ones that you missed. They are there to be read, anytime.

And if I quote a scripture or a song and it speaks to you, pass that on to someone else who needs it as well.

Because our stories aren’t just ours to savor and relive in our own minds. They are to share, to connect with others that we may never meet in this life.

But we weren’t made just for this life.

Thanks for being a part of faceliftbook on my site at haasmom.blog.

I wrote it just for you.

Happy Family Day!

Two days ago marked the first anniversary of my granddaughter officially joining our family.

Of course, my oldest daughter had been caring for her since she was a newborn, but the wheels move the way they move and she was 20 months old when she became a member of the Haas clan in the last way necessary.

In the legal record.

So in celebration I don’t want to write a whole lot, I just want to let you in on the life of my granddaughter, from the beginning to the present.

Enjoy!

p.s. I am frustrated with never remembering how to find and move around pictures! So after 3 hours trying to get them in order, and not being able to find more early pics, I’ve decided to leave them random.

4 days old
With only a couple hours notice, Lexi took in Baby B as a foster.
22 months old with Aunt Martha
Brooklyn enjoys her sleepover with Martha almost every week.
Bee is about 4 months with Giggy (me)
Still one of her favorite things is to climb on my lap and cuddle.
Me with both the girls – Baby A at 21 months and Baby Bee at 18 months.
My heart was bursting with love that day! So blessed to be with them both at Baby A and Big Brother’s adoption party.
Harvest from our garden barrels. Bee is 2 y 6 m. Every week this past summer she enjoyed helping me weed and water our plants, and now she’ll be eating them!
Happy Birthday 2 year old! More toys to play with at Giggy and Papa’s.
Her hair has a lot of curl! Wild hair out of her ‘do at 22 months.
At family camp, 17 months, with Nevin, Martha and Eli.

I hope wherever you are on this day of Thanksgiving that you are able to feel thankful for the love and the people in your life, no matter what circumstances you are in. Over her life we had a lot of uncertain times, but we have been greatly blessed to go through them because they led to her adoption and being a forever part of our family.

God bless you all.

Becky

I got the music in me…

One thing I’m continually thankful for is being raised in a musical family.

Dad was a preacher who promoted Southern gospel groups. He also sang, but I couldn’t tell you what part. Mom was a piano player and sang alto.

One of my first memories is of being a baby wrapped in a blanket lying on a pew in our church, and my parents on the platform practicing with their quartet.

In my early life I spent countless evenings at similar practices and then it was my turn to step up to the microphone singing a chorus as a preschooler, joining in the choir, or being part of a youth singing group.

I wondered if my dad wanted to be a professional singer. He was so supportive of the groups he scheduled for “gospel sings” in our area. Some big name groups came through, but there were many more lesser known performers he promoted by getting people to hear them live.

Those events were always exciting for me. I was shy, but still thrilled at being allowed backstage with Dad. I soon got up the courage to talk to the bands, and became a roadie of sorts, taking on the job of dismantling and carrying out the microphone stands. It was the only equipment they would trust to a scrawny kid.

One of my fondest memories of those concerts was standing onstage during a break and singing with my family. We did it at various places, but my favorite was the high school auditorium in our home town.

I have an 8×10 of the whole gang, and looking at it takes me back to manning the ticket booth by the doors, hanging out in the practice room where the bands warmed up, the smell of the curtains as I’d stand behind them watching the bands and the audience both.

I didn’t listen closely to the music then because there were so many other things to experience. But somehow it still got down inside me, and I knew that music would always be an important part of my life.

I often wondered if Dad didn’t wish he could play an instrument. Then one day I discovered a guitar case in my parents’ closet. I pieced together that it probably belonged to my Papaw, who played guitar in the honky-tonks when he was drinking.

So I think Dad could play, but he chose not to.

And that’s a shame. Because if his dad had a talent for it, I bet he would have been a good player.

And I would have loved to hear my daddy play the guitar.

My mom was a good piano player. And I have had about eight long, full, endless, mostly boring years of piano lessons in my life.

I did not inherit her skill.

Mom learned to play shape notes. Some of you may have grandmothers who can explain that to you! Apparently each note had a shape. The lines and spaces weren’t enough of a clue. But maybe that was her secret.

Because I could never make much sense of the lines and spaces and the ovals drawn upon them. Yes, every good boy deserves fudge or whatever makes him say, “Ahh!”, but theory and I never connected.

Mom could play almost anything. And transpose in a couple minutes time to suit the voice of the singer. And sing harmony with anyone.

In our little family singing group my older sister sang lead and I got harmony. Which was fine with me, because I was fascinated with my mom’s voice and how she found the right notes.

In my piano lessons I heard words like chords and keys, and I even knew that usually the second note from the top was the alto. But without a pencil to write down the letters I could not tell you what I was supposed to sing.

There are Facebook laments about how churches should go back to hymn books so people can see what they are supposed to be singing. But I know that after eight years of studying it, and my whole life singing out of a hymn book, I was no closer to knowing what I was singing.

Mom taught me that while some people are gifted with understanding theory, others are gifted with understanding the feel of music.

Guess which one I am?

I’ve often heard it said, of piano players especially, that they play by ear. In my understanding that usually means that they can’t, or don’t want to learn, to read music.

What I have also found is that those who play by ear are driven by the music, not by the notes on the page and the written instructions of how to play it.

They play with passion and feeling, and that flows through the music.

While music played exactly as written can be quite beautiful, I’d rather hear music played from the heart, full of meaning that goes beyond notes on a page.

And so I sing by ear.

I used to labor to figure out what it meant to sing specific notes. I’ve had piano players go over and over parts, and in some settings it’s necessary to toe the line and sing exactly the way every other alto sings.

But what I love most is the way learning and singing music comes to me.

It starts with lots of listening – I always say I have to hear a song 50 times before I “get” it.

The important thing for me is to feel the music inside me, to know where it is going, to feel the excitement of where I hope it goes next, to be carried along by the story it tells me before I ever take in the words.

Once I truly have the music in me, then I can add the lyrics, trying to hear them clearly on the radio before ever seeing them on paper. And layering on the meaning, the story, the message. Whatever they need to tell me.

To find my voice, I have to let the song tell me where to go.

Singing lead is great, and I love it. But there is something so satisfying about trailing a little under, giving a base, an anchor for the melody to soar above.

Depth and power and feeling.

I’m told that what I do is hear the chords and pick one of the lower notes to sing. That could be the technical explanation, but mainly what I love is to feel the music and let it bring out a response from my heart.

The same kind of response I felt as a girl, standing in the folds of a heavy curtain, hearing the same song I bet 50 times, and knowing that it was speaking to me.

And opening my mouth, and letting the music back out.

The Perfect Leather Jacket

Over the last year I’ve been slowly working my way through a book, Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. I say slowly because I’m only halfway through it!

I got the book and the accompanying workbook out of the library and dug in deep. (I’m too cheap to buy them!) I found I had a lot to learn about boundaries, but I have felt God gently showing me a lot about myself and the way I was raised, and also about my parents.

There were some things I held against them over the years, things that became my own battle cry to “never be like my parents”, until (shock) I heard their words come out of my mouth.

I can’t explain it any other way than that God supernaturally brought understanding to my mind, helping me see the way life had molded my parents based on all I know about their childhoods.

I’ve had a lot of light bulb moments in the past year. I’ve learned to see the reasons behind their inability to set good boundaries for me, to teach me how to set them for myself. And as I remember the way my world was as I grew up, I’ve had a lot of questions answered by diving into this book.

I’ve also rejoiced when answering questions showing the good sides of my parents. Though it’s necessary to examine the negative, the book really does balance it with applauding the good things I’ve learned and the people who have helped me.

This week I’ve journaled about how my parents taught me to make good decisions, and to learn the value of delayed gratification.

And it all comes down to the perfect leather jacket.

I was about 17 years old, working my first job, driving a car a family friend had donated to the preacher’s kids (my older sister and myself). It was made the year I was born.

I have to clarify. This was my first job working for a business that gave me a weekly paycheck.

Because one thing my parents excelled at was living within their means. Which meant that they didn’t splurge on lots of extras for us four kids.

I never really thought about it until I was grown and married, but we were probably poor. The thing is, it never felt that way. We had a home and food and clothes and love, and I never lacked for anything I truly needed.

And there’s the secret.

Of course when I was little I didn’t know the difference between a want and a need. But that was one of the first and best lessons I ever learned. As we got older, Dad especially impressed on us that they were taking care of our needs, but our wants were up to us to supply.

He helped out by taking us strawberry picking at a friend’s patch once school was out in June, and we set up shop in the front of our big barn. He made signs painted to show our hours, what we sold, and if we were open or closed.

We kids sat out in the barn, sold the baskets of berries, restocked the table, collected the money, and cleaned up when we sold out.

This led to getting more produce already picked later in the summer: tomatoes, squash, green beans, peppers, cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe, and the season ender, corn.

In this home produce stand was where I found my love of numbers and counting, handling money, calculating and distributing the profits that were left after we repaid Dad for the produce costs.

I excelled at this. I don’t remember what my siblings loved most about the stand, but next to talking to the customers and adding up their purchases, the hands-on economics class was a thrill for me.

I would keep track of how much time each person spent working the stand. Down to the minute. And once we had paid Dad, we took 10% off the top and put that in what we called the “family fund”, which was to be used for whatever we all agreed on. Maybe a trip to Cedar Point or extras during our annual trip home to North Carolina.

The rest was divided between us kids based on how many hours had been worked and what percentage of the time was spent doing the work.

We each then tithed off our profits, and the rest we could spend on whatever we wanted! My favorite was to get tart ‘n tinies, which were miniature Sweetarts in the shape of little pellets once in a while, play a few games at Cedar Point, and save the rest.

I was probably 9 or 10 when we started working the stand, and it lasted past when I started that “real” job. It was no wonder that within a year I was asked to do the weekly inventory and cash reconciliations, once they learned how good I was at handling those details of the restaurant where I worked.

And so finally, after years of socking most of my money away in a savings account, I found myself at the local mall in a trendy clothing store, smelling the rich warmth of that brown leather jacket.

It fit me perfectly! Not too baggy across the shoulders, but with enough room to move my arms. I remember the feel of the silky lining as they slipped into it the first time I tried it on. Cool and smooth and luxurious.

As my hands warmed the leather the fragrance of it teased my senses. It was similar to the musky cologne I liked.

I had to have it.

So I did what people did in the 70’s. I put it on layaway. I put a small deposit down, and then I would need to come and pay a minimum amount every week until I paid it off.

Only then could I take it home.

That first week I described it to my family and friends. I couldn’t wait to go “visit” it the first time and make my payment, trying it on again to be sure it fit as good as I remembered.

Meanwhile life was moving on, and I was looking at going to college. And starting to figure the cost, because my parents couldn’t help much.

And I had to make one more trip. To say goodbye.

Lots of “if only’s” came to mind for several months after I got my money back. The thoughts of how I would have looked walking into school or church, the envy or congratulations from my peers.

That perfect leather jacket wasn’t the only thing I’ve wanted and not gotten. But it was the first. And the lessons it has taught me have carried me safely past potentially bad financial decisions.

Because, like I eventually had to say that last time in the store, I can still hear my Dad saying, “Is this something you really need, or is it something you only want to have?”

And those are words I don’t mind hearing come out of my own mouth.

Thanks, Dad. You taught me well.

The ever-changing view

Pieces of the puzzle came together for me last week.

But I’m having trouble seeing the big picture as I’ve been searching for those missing pieces for a year now.

It’s easy to remember when it started. It was November 9, Oldest Son’s birthday last year, and we were on a college visit with Middle Son when I woke up with what seemed like a cold.

Except I didn’t get over it.

I’ve already written a lot about this, so I won’t repeat it all. But something was different about this feeling. Mostly that I lost my senses of smell and taste, and my sinuses always seemed congested. And I was often hoarse or unable to sing.

It just came to me as I was writing this, that this whole scenario happened to me before, a long time ago. Don’t you love it when one memory triggers another?

That time it also lasted about a year, from deep winter of early 1995 to late spring of 1996. The worst part for me was losing my voice. At that time we were very involved in our church, and it was like torture to not be able to sing out, or often to even talk loud enough to be heard.

I remember at the time I felt it was God pulling me back from some pride issues I was having. It may well have been his way of reining in my ego! And when I came to face it and learned to have humility about whatever gifts and talents God had given me, my voice returned to normal.

If I had documented every time I had these same symptoms I think I would find a pattern of my “normal” being limited by things I never thought to look for.

Sometimes I’ve been diagnosed with bronchitis, even pneumonia. More often with a sinus infection. For all these years, other than my long-ago original diagnosis of asthma, health care professionals have not made much of a connection between asthma and my issues.

And not one of them ever thought to test me for allergies.

Until after my near-death experience a few weeks ago.

The Monday following my most recent attack I was with my asthma and allergy doctor. So far we had been tackling asthma issues. I had participated in a couple clinical trials, and found some medications that worked better than what I had been using.

I was able to brainstorm with my doctor for a few minutes, and he was adamant that what I had experienced was not an asthma attack, but an allergic reaction.

And he was right.

I finally remembered taking Aleve an hour before I couldn’t breathe, and as I’ve looked back over the last year I realize I had been taking a lot of Aleve, especially before my worst attacks.

Yes, some of them were asthma, but some were allergic reactions. And some of my asthma triggers are turning out to be things I’m allergic to.

Which brings me up to last week, when I finally got tested for environmental sensitivities.

The worst thing I heard was that I’m allergic to trees. All the trees. All the ones I’ve loved my whole life. My beloved birch trees, that I used to climb as a girl. The willow I loved to drape around me like a beautiful dress and dance around in it.

And the maples I dug up from in front of my parent’s house and planted in our brand new freshly married yard, with dreams of my own someday children climbing and playing in their grown-up shade.

And the pieces fell into place. Why I can’t tolerate being outside for too long. Because it’s not just trees. Add grasses and weeds.

And it isn’t because I don’t want to take a walk or run around on a ball field or explore a forest.

If you could have seen me as a child you would be amazed that I could ever be happy inside four walls.

But for years it has been increasingly harder to enjoy, and I’m really sad to see the reason. Now I have to deal with it.

I’ve been referring to this whole process like it’s a puzzle and pieces have been missing. But when I started writing this post the words to one of my favorite songs as a teenager popped into my head:

“My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue
An everlasting vision of the ever-changing view
A wondrous woven magic in bits of blue and gold
A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold” (“Tapestry”, Carole King)

That idea of my life as a tapestry has always intrigued me. I do a little needlework, and the backside of a piece often looks drastically different from the finished side. But since adolescence I’ve always been aware that at any time I may be seeing the “pretty” side of my life, or I may have emerged behind what is easily seen to get a different perspective on my situation.

I think I really want to see this as a tapestry instead of a puzzle.

And there’s more. Dust mites. All the dust mites.

I have always known I can’t stir up the dust. This is not a new thing, but I was not constantly plagued with the physical aftermath before this past year.

My way of dealing with this has been to avoid cleaning. Even as a girl I would rather deal with laundry or dishes than vacuum and dust. And as an adult I decided it was better to not kick up the dust so I wouldn’t be sneezing and blowing my nose for days.

So I’m sunk, outside or in.

When I look at this section of my tapestry, will I see God working in the background to move me into a different season of life where he has things for me to do away from the things that cause me discomfort? Or will I see only what I can’t do or be around anymore, things that used to bring me such joy?

And between the two outlooks, I think I’d rather this be about learning a lesson in obedience from God and not about the restrictions imposed by allergies.

And why can’t it be both?

Because it isn’t just funny shaped pieces that somehow fit together.

Life is so much more a moving, shifting work of art. It’s a living canvas, a cloth knit with a changing palette of elements.

And just like in the act of writing these thoughts I saw a thread that entered the scene over twenty years ago, where I am now, whatever is ahead, is no accident.

This design has a designer. And though I may not like or understand what is being woven in me over this past year, I can choose to step off.

And lift my face.

And see that it’s just a small part, a unique and necessary pattern, in a masterpiece.

Washing away the griminess

The dust hasn’t yet settled on the work, but in the middle of recent events I had some really good memories come to the surface.

The last couple of weeks have the makings of stories that will be told for years to come: when the hot water heater, water softener and clothes dryer all quit at the same time. At least we should be able to remember the year it happened!

The most important part of it was that the water heater and softener were both original to the house when we built it, and had lasted for more than 34 years.

In late March of 1985 I got engaged to a guy my dad had set me up with on a blind date. I’m not going to tell the whole story here, but it was definitely a God thing that we got together.

The important part for this story is that I had hit rock bottom, knew I was lousy at picking guys to get involved with, and asked God to show me “in so clear a way that I can’t deny it’s you picking and not me” if his will was for me to get married.

And he used my dad to show me.

Because I had not been talking to my dad about anything of substance for months. A romantic relationship had ended, I had gone through a time of depression (though no one named it back then), and I realize now I was ashamed and feeling unworthy of my dad’s love and care.

So obviously I took it out on him, put up my defenses so I didn’t have to face my feelings.

Then he suggested fixing me up with someone. And knowing my dad and the variety of people he knew, I was sure he would name someone I would just hate.

So when he said the name of a man God had been bringing to my mind for about ten years, I was unable to speak.

God had done it. Made it clear that this was his choice. He had my dad name the only guy I had any secret desire to know better.

Since my fiance was in the construction industry he had already picked a basic starter house he was planning to have built that spring anyway. Over the previous couple years he had bought land, put in a driveway, had a well dug, put in a septic system, and built a pole barn. The house was the next step.

And the wife.

We spent our date nights touring homes under construction by our builder, tweaked the design to add a family room, second bath, and a big closet, and prayed the bank would approve our plans.

Everything went through seamlessly, and on my parents’ 32nd wedding anniversary, June 6, 1985, we broke ground on the house.

And based on the estimate for construction time, we set the wedding date: September 28, 1985.

What a summer that was! We both worked at least five days a week, and spent most of those evenings cooking something simple on one of those tiny hibachi grills at the house. We took note of every change from day to day, documenting it with pictures. I hammered a nail into about every stud in the place, just so I could say I “helped” build the house.

The structure wouldn’t be huge, but it would be cozy. And of all the rooms in the house, the coziest was the laundry room.

It was small, but how much room could a washer and dryer take up? Then the furnace went in. And the water heater. In their own little alcove. Then the water softener and the big salt tank went in next to it, right in the middle of one wall.

Once the washer and dryer were in place against the other usable wall, there was almost no floor space, only enough for the door to open into the room, and a corner to lean a broom and mop.

But it was ours.

I remember the excitement when the drywall was up! Finally came the day to start painting.

So the memories returned last Saturday, after the old water heater and softener were gone, leaving holes in the room that had been occupied for 34 years. And dust that had been unreachable until last weekend.

I had a new dryer coming that morning, so I was up early scraping and scrubbing through the dirt on the floor, washing down the walls that we hadn’t seen so much of in decades.

And as clear as anything I could see my dad on those days we were painting. I think he was there every time, as he liked doing it and was always willing to pitch in when there was work to be done.

In fact, Dad was probably the hardest-working person I’ve ever known. He took on way too many projects he had no business doing – like painting the roof of our three-story farmhouse electric neon green – and pitched in to help anyone doing any kind of fix-up, no matter if he had any expertise or not.

We didn’t hire jobs done around our house. Dad tackled them all. And if he couldn’t fix it, he’d ask a neighbor who knew more to come help him get things back on track. He fixed plumbing and cars and lawn mowers. He had a boiler engineer’s license when he left the Air Force and worked in that field for many years while also preaching.

And he acted like it gave him license to fix anything he wanted to give a try. Of course he usually commandeered us kids to help, and we all knew what it was to work hard.

On those painting days I was glad for his help, but more thankful for the time we spent doing the work. I can’t remember what we said, but we talked, maybe the longest since I’d met my soon-to-be husband.

Sometimes healing comes to a relationship when I least expect it. Not because I am trying to fix things, but because the life I’ve been blessed with puts things into perspective, and suddenly whatever the issues I had with them are not as important as the person.

As I washed down the walls I was amazed that the paint was still holding, that I could still remove the grime and see the color I had picked all those years ago.

And I was full of joy that as the years have gone by I’ve also been able to let go of old hurts between my dad and I, that even though he’s been gone over 26 years, I’m finally able to face my past and let my mind focus on all the ways my dad loved me, even when I didn’t think I wanted him to.