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!

God Doesn’t Waste Anything

God does not waste anything. While those exact words may not be found in the Bible, the concept is there. Over the last few months God has proven this in my life.

I had the usual childhood answers to “what do you want to do when you grow up?” Nurse, teacher, etc. As I grew though the answer changed – I wanted to be a missionary.  In my young adult years I knew the location – Germany or Austria.

When an opportunity was presented at our church to join a new venture, called “World Class Cities Teams” I felt the tug in my spirit. World Class Cities were defined as a city of one million or more in population. I applied and was accepted to join a team that would plant churches in Vienna, Austria. As our team formed and began to learn how to work together and raise support we encountered some obstacles. Our team fell apart and most of us never made it to Vienna. This left me with pain and discouragement wondering why I had to go through that experience.

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Photo by Adam Tumidajewicz from Pexels

Many years later the organization I worked with partnered with an urban ministry, World Impact. We taught them about disability. They taught us about urban life, where many  people with disabilities live; either by choice or default. The part of the city we were working in was known to be among the top zip codes in the state for violence, drugs, etc. Still, I would have moved there if I could have, but this community would have made Jerry’s life even harder than it is. I loved what I learned about urban life.

When our partner ministry moved out of that area, we joined forces with Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association. Yes, even the anacronym OCCCDA is a mouthful. This work was in a part of the city that was new to me. Additional lessons came my way. Urban life is as varied as suburban life. Once again, I found myself wishing I could spend more time working with OCCCDA. I joined their Board and loved every minute of working with this community.

Then God moved us to central Florida. We do live within the city limits of a medium sized city, but still very much in suburbia. Here is where I saw the threads of my life coming together in God’s weaving.

Jerry and I joined the missions team at our local church. Each missionary supported has a liaison within the church.  One of the missions in need of a church contact was a seminary in . . .  yes, Vienna, Austria! Guess who quickly volunteered to be that representative? Though this looks much different than what I had envisioned thirty-five years ago, perhaps God is allowing me to have some level of contact and ministry in Vienna after all.

Working with Luke 14 Exchange, Inc took me to a meeting held at the Dream Center in the northern part of our city, which is urban. On our first visit there we learned about scores of amazing programs the Center offers for people in that neighborhood and around the city. One area they did not have any program offerings in was the field of disability. Hmmm, seems Jerry and I may have attended this meeting for more than one reason.

Every time I am in the neighborhood of the Dream Center (just four or five miles from our home) I see people moving around in wheelchairs or scooters and using canes. We are still exploring with the Dream Center what God has for us together. So far it has meant I’ve had an opportunity to reapply some of the urban living training I received in the past. It means that last night was the first of hopefully many opportunities where I and some church friends helped distribute food bags to the community. And it means I am developing a new friendship with C, a woman who lives with her own disability, and has a young son with autism. In a few short weeks she has taught me so much about trusting in God, vulnerability and living by faith.

I don’t know where else God will take these opportunities in the future, but I am

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Photo by Sergio Gonzalez on Unsplash

encouraged to see God unfold blessings from times in my past, even some difficult periods. I wonder what the final tapestry will look like?

And this much I know to be true, if He has done that for me, He will do it for you! What experiences do you wonder why or how God will use?

Loving Well

Recently, in one of “those talks” I told my husband that there were several ways in which I didn’t feel like he was loving me well. I felt I was valued higher as his co-worker in ministry and caregiver than as his wife. He took my feedback well. Over the next few days I affirmed him trying to put more focus on me, his wife.

Funny thing is, though I noticed his efforts, my feelings of being cherished as his wife did not change. I began praying that God would show my husband how to love me in a way I could experience it.

You may be able to imagine what came next. As I prayed that prayer God nudged me to pray that I would love my husband in ways that assured him of my honor, respect and love. Then God prompted me to do some introspection.

After evaluating myself, I asked to talk with Jerry again. This time I shared that perhaps this whole experience had nothing to do with how he loves me. The problem was me. I was the one putting more energy into being the co-worker and caregiver I thought he needed. Interacting with  him as my husband came in third. I apologized and began to focus on ways to spend more time and energy in our personal relationship.

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Photo by Anastasiya Lobanovskaya from Pexels

It would have been easier to assume and lay the blame on him. But only easier in the short run; ultimately that ease would morph into tension. Owning up to my part doesn’t mean my feelings change right away, or that our relationship has no bumps. It does mean that when I am feeling underappreciated, or under-loved, it’s time to take inventory of how I am giving love.

Generally I support the idea “it’s not about me.” But sometimes I must step back and make it about me just long enough to do a better job at loving my husband and those around me.

Marriage, such a joy and such a work in progress . . .

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Photo by Simon Matzinger from Pexels

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.

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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.

Those Glorious Differences

“I had a bad day today.” Those were the words my husband spoke after returning home from work.

Wanting to be supportive, I asked, “Do you want to talk about it?”

“I just did,” he replied.

And truly, that was all he needed to say. I, on the other hand, wanted to know what happened hour by hour, resulting in the overall sense of a bad day. Thankfully, God had already been teaching me the differences in our personalities and make up so that I was able to give him some space, rather than increase his frustration.

I marvel at the intentional differences in God’s creation of men and women.  Not just physically, but how we each process, our use of language, what we store as memories, how we each approach tasks, or problem solve, just to name a few.

Sometimes my marveling takes the form of, what were you thinking God ? and other times it is more along the lines of, grateful for our different perspectives on this matter.

On the days when I rail against the way my husband does or doesn’t function, I try to remember that I am taking issue with the Creator who said his creation of man and woman is very good. Jerry and I imagine God saying, “this will be fun to watch!” and then enjoying a belly laugh as he watches us grow into one.

I think God is on to something. I’ve tried the arguing, the questioning, and the objections. Those options get me more frustrated. The snickering at and embracing of our differences results in less stress, more enjoyment and a quicker acceptance on my part. We may still need to talk the situation through, but it is easier to do so after the tension is released.

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Image by Elisa Riva from Pixabay

Try it the next time you and your husband or wife encounter one of those classic male/female differences. I’d love to hear how it works for you.

Still Driving Mr Jerry

In the fall of 2017 I put up a post entitled Driving Mr Jerry. Almost two years to the day, we just our van back after a week in the shop, and Jerry is now in week two using his old chair, while wait for repair on his typical chair. I needed to be reminded of the truths in the original post. Since I did, I thought you may too. May you be blessed and encouraged by this throwback Marriage Monday.

This is week three of Jerry using his back up wheelchair while waiting on a new right motor for his regular chair. That means he is unable to drive his van.

If you live with disability in your family you know that this is not all that unusual, these things happen. Paperwork drags on and on, calls don’t get returned, repairs can take weeks, if not months. Most of us would win a Gold Medal if waiting or insurance hassles were Olympic sports.

Yesterday Jerry had scheduled service for the lift on his van. There was no sense in him going along for the ride. I rearranged my schedule and took the van to the appointed service, about 45 minutes away from home. The shop is fantastic and provides a nice waiting area. I packed enough work to keep me busy for three years.

322615_3126101352345_993835468_oPrior to the van appointment I met with someone who has a child with a disability. My friend commented about how weary she is. She went on to say one way she keeps going is to realize what a privilege it is to serve Jesus by serving her child. She asked if that was the same among spouses?  As I thought about it she went on to describe how my trip to take the van for service was serving Jesus.

My life goal has been to love and serve God by loving and serving others. Given that, my friend’s comment should have been no surprise to me, but it was. I love Jerry, which means that (most days) it is a pleasure and joy to assist him. But I had somehow forgotten that by serving him I am also serving my Lord.

That reminder put a new spin on my day. When I got home that evening after running other errands,  the unexpected visitors we had, the unplanned need Jerry asked me to help with were no big deal. Getting to love and serve others while remembering that by doing so I am loving and serving God changed my perspective.

Instead of fretting about not getting a Marriage Monday post up until Tuesday, I chose to invest in and love my spouse and the others God brought to me that day. I hope you’ll forgive my delay.

Knowing that sometimes people who have a disability feel they become burdensome to their family or close friends I made a commitment to God and myself early in our marriage. I would choose to show joy when asked to assist (even being woken from a sound sleep in the middle of the night), and to always complete the task by saying “I love you” and sharing a kiss. I have missed that mark a few times, but it is still the goal for which I aim.

push for helpWhat about you?  What is it that helps you readjust your focus when you are worn and weary?  Do you have a strategy you use to keep your relationships healthy in the unpredictable dailyness of disability?