It’s Just a Little Toggle Switch, Big Red!

Accessible vehicles are such a blessing most of the time – until they are not! Then they become a huge stationary driveway ornament. That’s what happened at our house this week.

When we bought this van and had it modified for Jerry’s needs, the emergency brake was connected to a toggle switch on the driver’s door. Nice and handy for him to access easily. We never needed or thought about a backup plan?

Until this week.

Jerry got in the van and closed the lift. He locked in and was ready to roll. The last task before putting the vehicle in gear is to release the emergency brake. The brake is always on when the van is parked as it is necessary to operate the side doors and lift.

My cell phone rang, and Jerry asked me to come to the driveway and give him a hand. IMG_0503Neither of us could get the toggle switch to respond. We’ve had the frustration of being stuck outside the van when the lift doesn’t work. It would be even more problematic if we somehow got the brake off so he could drive, but then not be able to get it back on so he could exit the van.

After he exited and closed the lift, I tried to find a manual brake release. I came up empty. We called our mechanic, who thankfully makes house calls. We scheduled time the next day for him to check it out.

Sadly, it became clear that the issue would have to be addressed by the conversion company mechanic. After four calls we got the van scheduled for service. It will be towed to the shop one week after the brake switch died.

It seems crazy that the van works fine mechanically and the engine runs well, but it is not drivable. But without the release of the emergency brake, it’s not going anywhere. And neither is Jerry.

I’ve been asking God what lessons He has for me from this experience. I’ve come up with two.

The first is this. Life can look good on the outside. My husband and I can “clean up well” and function at church, in the community, at work, etc. and everything looks and sounds dandy. But something as seemingly small as a toggle switch can bring everything to a dead stop. I want to be more aware of the toggle switches in our relationship and deal with the small issues as they arise.

My second lesson is to ensure redundancy in any future vehicles we buy. All the other systems in the van have a backup, except for the emergency brake. That’s a problem, as we just learned. Sometimes in relationships, I’ve heard it said that if two people can do the same thing one is not needed. That’s just not true. I will celebrate those areas in which Jerry and I are similarly and equally skilled. We may do things differently, but still as effectively. It doesn’t get much better than having your spouse step in and save the day when one of your own toggle switches gets stuck.

Marriage Blanket of Grace

“Their marriage was a blanket of grace that had been so many years in the making.” Home for Christmas by Melanie Wilber.

I love that imagery. There’s something so cozy about curling up under a heavy blanket that provides warmth for the body and the soul.

I read the quote to Jerry and asked if it provoked any thoughts. He responded that grace develops over time. The longer we are married, the more grace abounds.

So true. It’s not the time alone that increases grace in our lives. It’s the way we handle the little moments that seem insignificant, the everyday occurrences, and the monumental memories or stories that grow bigger each time they are recounted.

I envision our marriage blanket of grace as a quilt top secured to a fuzzy soft velour backing. I wrap myself in the snuggly side and ponder the memories and meaning of each quilt piece.

I see a piece of the blouse I was wearing on our first face-to-face date.

There’s a fragment of his sweatshirt I wore camping one weekend. Oh, how silly I was waking him up in the middle of the night to ask if I could take it.

Satin and lace from the ring pillow made by a friend and carried by another friend at our wedding.

Fabric from the shirts I made for Jerry in our first year of marriage. And to think our friend who was years ahead of us in marriage told Jerry to enjoy them now because I’d never make another. Four years ago I made him two more, just to prove our friend wrong!

Tears fill my eyes as I see the pictures printed on muslin scattered throughout the quilt. Our first home together. Posing at the accordion statue downtown before we moved away. Minor to major league baseball games. Visits with family, cruises and beach vacations. Not only is each picture worth a thousand words, but every photo also coveys a bushel of grace.

Other pieces of the quilt came from event t-shirts we served in together.

Oh yes, that scrap is from a favorite dress that fell off the bed and got caught in wheelchair tires. I remember laying on the floor cutting it apart to free his wheels to turn.

Snippets of hospital gowns one of us donned remind me to be thankful for good health now.

A section of a guest bed sheet helps me recall the hundreds of people we have hosted in our homes.

A strip from one of Jerry’s wheelchair bags brings to mind that life is made up of day by day activities.

That corner of a kitchen towel is reminiscent of all the messes and memories we’ve made sharing meals.

There are many more pieces to remember, but not today. Instead, my focus turns to the stitching holding it all together.

Copious amounts of love, prayer and grace are in those threads to be sure. But the thin strand is strengthened by forgiveness, patience, acceptance, honesty, integrity, mercy, tears of joy and pain, growth, battling through loss, laughter, and celebrations. I wonder what we will add in this new year?

What are some pieces that comprise your marriage blanket of grace? I’d love to know.

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Grandmom Borton made a quilt for each grandchild. This was the one given to Jerry when we got married.

Enjoy Your Coleslaw!

In our newlywed years we lived across the street from a grocery store. One night while preparing dinner I realized I did not have lettuce for salad. I asked Jerry if he would mind going to the store to get some. He was amenable to the task.

Wanting to make life as easy as possible for him I told him it did not matter what type of lettuce he got, I could work with anything he selected. As I said this, I was thinking Romaine, Green or Red Leaf, Butter, Iceberg, etc.

Jerry came home pleased that he could take care of this need and smiled as he pulled a large head of green cabbage out of the bag. I am not sure what I said, but I thanked him and thought, I guess we’ll have coleslaw instead.

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Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

What I do remember is his surprise to learn his purchase was not lettuce. Apparently, he had tossed salads growing up that were made with cabbage. That was a new idea to me, but, ok.

 

Our families of origin had some significant differences. But in the things that matter (faith, love, care) they were more similar. It was always intriguing to make a visit to one of our parents homes. We often uncovered more things in our family backgrounds that we just assumed were “normal,” only to find others did not do things the same way.

I think of that little story now as we prepare for Christmas. I hear from couples how difficult it can be to spend holidays with in-laws. I am thankful this was not our experience. I would love to visit again with any of our parents, but they have all passed. If you are blessed to still have your families of origin may I make two suggestions to perhaps ease some seasonal stress?

First, remember your in-laws are the ones who raised the man or woman you love. Even if they do everything polar opposite of you, they did something right in raising the person you chose to commit your life to.

Secondly, time is too short to sweat the small stuff. When you trip over a difference in your families, celebrate it. Talk about it, maybe even laugh about it. Try not to let it ruin your trip, or negatively impact your visit. From my experience – enjoy your cabbage salad, you may even find you like it!

Give of Your Best

Have you ever had someone describe the behavior of a family member and you thought, Who are they talking about? That’s not the person I see at home? This seeming dichotomy makes sense to me. Most of us were taught to be our best when we are in public. Home needs to be a safe place. Part of being safe is letting ourselves be real.

I like letting my hair down, changing into comfy clothes, and letting go of pretenses. But there is a danger in this thinking. Putting my best foot forward in public, but not at home, means my husband gets the dregs of my day and myself. Let’s be honest, some days there is little way around that. Those are times we cling tighter to grace and mercy.

three-red-heart-balloons-704748Most days though, I have a choice. The relationship I have with my husband, next to the one I have with my God, is the dearest to me. It makes no sense to treat him in a way that communicates anything other than this.

When I am meeting with someone who has asked to talk with me, I put my phone out of sight, I focus my eyes and my heart on listening to them. If I tell them I will get back to them on something I try to make that happen in a timely manner.

When I do not interact with my husband with at least the same respect, something needs to change. Usually it is me. I may need to be more mindful of how I tune in to him. I may need to cut something out of my day to have more margin for him. I may need to put my own desires aside to focus on him. I may need to ask for a do over so I can give him the priority he deserves.

As life ramps up this month celebrating the One who was born to bring us peace, I think I’ll take a step back in my head and heart and make sure I am giving my best to the ones I love the most.

It’s Been Said . . .

Sometimes a few well phrased words can speak more than paragraphs of prose. I hope you enjoy some of my favorite marriage quotes.

A great marriage is not when the ‘perfect couple’ comes together. It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences.  Dave Meurer

My most brilliant achievement was my ability to be able to persuade my wife to marry me.  Winston Churchill

Marriage is like watching the color of leaves in the fall; ever changing and more stunningly beautiful with each passing day.  Fawn Weaver

You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.  Dr. Seuss

Any good marriage is secret territory, a necessary white space on society’s map. What others don’t know about it is what makes it yours.  Stephen King

Marriage is not just spiritual communion; it is also remembering to take out the trash.  Joyce Brothers

A good marriage is one where each partner secretly suspects they got the better deal.  Unknown
To be fully seen by somebody, then, and be loved anyhow — this is a human offering that can border on miraculous.  Elizabeth Gilbert

When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.  ‘When Harry Met Sally’

All the above quotes are sourced here.

“A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” – Ruth Bell Graham

What quote resonates the most with you? Is there one I missed that you would include in your favorte marriage quotes? Please share.

Just for fun – comment on which of the quotes above you think is the one I identif most with at this phase in my life.  I’ll fill you in next week!

We Passed the Test!

Last week we had the opportunity to put to the test one of the reasons we made the move to Florida a year ago. Most people, as they age, need some type of help or support. Those of us who live with disability in our families often need the help much earlier, and for a longer period in life. We did not want to wait to move until our post retirement years and be the needy newcomers. Our goal was to move while we still had time and energy to build friendships, be involved and give back in our community. Our hope was when the time came and we needed help it came based on our relationships.

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Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Beside being the anniversary of when we purchased our home here, this past week was also the first time since moving that we both got sick at the same time. It didn’t start out that way, but I joined Jerry in being ill just a few days after him. A perfect time for an emergency test of our community building skills.

Do you know what happened? Neighbors and friends from church brought food. Many prayed for us – even coming to our front door to pray over us and the house. People offered to run grocery store or pharmacy errands for us. Someone helped create a temporary fix for a vehicle problem until we could get it repaired.

I get it. This does not sound like a world-shattering experience or revelation. At least it should not be. This is how healthy communities function. But I’ve been in both the disability world and church world long enough to have heard the stories from families affected by disability who feel so alone, it seems no one sees or hears them, or misses them when they are absent. That is heartbreaking, but it does not have to be fatal.

push for help

Please allow me a couple observations:

1) For families affected by disability, I know we may not have the time, energy or resources we perceive others do. First, perceptions are apples and oranges comparison, so let it go. But more importantly, how are you building into your community? It is unfair to expect everyone to see us and help with our needs if we don’t also make an effort to see them. It might start with a phone call just to ask someone else how they are doing. Or a quick email or FB post following up on something in their lives. Sometimes our community doesn’t know how to help, building a relationship will open understanding. We need to be willing to embrace others before we expect them to embrace us.

2) For the community person who is not affected by disability; Families affected by disability can’t always articulate our needs or be particularly grace filled when expressing them, some days it is just too much. Please don’t let us turn you off. We need you. If our name comes to mind, offer a prayer for us, drop a plate of cookies off, send off a thinking of you email, or call as you head to the grocery store to see if we need anything.

To our community and tribe, thank you! We love you and are so grateful for your love and care for us.family colorful group

To those wishing they had a community like ours, what is one thing you can do this week to build on a relationship in your circle?

Margins in Marriage

Margins . . .

We need them in our writing or creative arts so the focus of our work can be readily seen and embraced. We know we need them in other areas of our life, so we can catch our breath and re-energize for what comes next.

Merriam Webster gives several definitions for margin. Two that hit me hard are: a) a spare amount or measure or degree allowed or given for contingencies or special situations; b) a bare minimum below which or an extreme limit beyond which something becomes impossible or is no longer desirable.

It’s a catch 22 isn’t it? Because we live with disability in our families, we need more margins because our lives are full of contingencies and special situations (definition a). But at the same time, living in a constant state of special situations makes it nearly impossible to create margins. Yet I do not want my life, my marriage or my ministry to become impossible or no longer desirable.

Several months ago I attended a Caregiver seminar where I saw a visual that slabs-931581_1280made so much sense to me. The speaker took a tile and named a task she needed to accomplish any given day, like grocery shopping. Then another tile for a doctor appointment was laid on top of grocery shopping. A tile for a stop at the dry cleaner was next. There were tiles for cleaning the house, taking the child to physical therapy, making dinner for the family, attend small group at church and on and on. Soon she had a stack of tiles so high we could no longer see her face.

Then she took those same tiles, representing the same activities, and laid them out like stepping stones in a garden path. There was now space between each tile. Our speaker commented that by allowing space between each activity she was creating margin. When the road to the dry cleaners was rerouted it did not throw off the rest of garden-54366_1280her day; she had space to accommodate this unexpected delay in travel and still keep up with the other activities.

That visual came back to me recently when I was functioning in a stacked tiles kind of day. When I encountered a glitch the stack of tiles collapsed on me. It was then that I wished I had built some space into my day.

This week Jerry and I are trying to practice this lesson in our marriage and ministry. We are attending a conference that is a little less than an hour away from home, depending on traffic. Could we commute to attend this conference? Yes we could, but likely it would result in stacking tiles. We’d get home from the day at the conference and still try to pay the bills, do laundry, and tend to a myriad of other details before getting to sleep. The next morning we would get up, pack a couple phone calls in before returning for the next day of the conference.

So we decided to get a hotel room at the conference site for the week. We even came in the day before the conference starts. As we turned in to the parking lot I began to feel guilty that we were spending money to stay so close to home. Then I remembered our margin making mission.

As we get older (this month we each hit a new decade!) we must be wiser in realizing our time, health, and energy are worth at least as much, or perhaps more, than our dollars. Decisions cannot be made on money alone. Each of those things must be balanced to produce margin.

Kicking guilt out of the way, I remembered we made the decisions we did for the purpose of producing margin in our marriage. In the past we would arrive at the site the day the conference started, and already be exhausted. Then after a day filled with interacting with people and learning sessions, I would unpack us into the room. By arriving early we had time to unpack and set up our room (the hoyer lift, the alternating pressure mattress pad, the shower chair, etc.). We walked around the conference site so we would know our way around when the sessions start. We also had time to exercise and get a decent night of sleep before entering conference mode.

I realize we may not be able to do this every time we travel. But the difference in our stress levels and interactions with one another already tell us we made a good decision. Margins are not just boring white spaces; I could get used to this.