Wordless Wednesday: autumn bridge

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©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

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Imperfection

blogIMG_1201Many years ago, I was accused. Oh, not in the criminal sense. But accused, none the less, by someone I knew.  Not of having done something wrong but of having done something right.

Too right

That person accused me of being perfect. At first, I honestly thought she was kidding, so I laughed heartily, but when she didn’t guffaw with me, I soon realized she was serious.

She pronounced her judgment based on some kind of façade that somehow defined for her who I was. She only looked on the outside picture of my life and decided I possessed a perfect home, perfect marriage, perfect children…you get the drift.

All of which made me realize she really didn’t know me. Because if she really knew me, she would know I had lots of imperfections and flaws — warts and all.

In reality, she was light-years away from being correct about her pronouncement on my life.  

To be fair, she only visited my home on a few occasions when it was spit spot clean and neat. She never saw what it looked like on a daily basis with dirty dishes in the sink, legos and tons of other junk strewn all over the family room floor, dust so thickly covering the end tables that you could write your name in it, less than sweet smelling clothing spewing forth from the hamper, and toothpaste smeared all over the bathroom sink.  

She only saw my children at church when they were warned to be on their absolute best behavior and were dressed in their Sunday best clothing.  She never got the opportunity to see them squabbling in the car back seat or screaming and throwing things at each other at home. Or trying my patience with disobedience.

She only spent time with my husband and me on social occasions or at church events. So yeah, we too were on our best behaviors then with smiles plastered on our faces, even though we probably just had an argument in the car on the way.

And she usually only saw me in a clean, neat outfit with hair and make-up done, not with straggly hair and attired in loose baggy t-shirts and sweatpants which were my stay-at-home and be comfortable look.

Her indictment on my life bothered me so much at the time that I still remember it even now, many years later.  Honestly, her claiming I was perfect astounded me. First of all because she had the nerve to say it out loud to my face and secondly because I really thought that I was, in no way, trying to put on the airs of perfection. In any part of my life.

Perfection is unachievable here on this earth.  I knew that back then and I know it now even more so.

Back when I was reproached for being ‘perfect,’ it was true that I attempted to keep my home clean and presentable and liked everything in its proper place when company was coming. It’s also true that at the time, we lived in a very nice house thanks to my husband’s hard work in his career and my thriftiness making that home attainable.

It’s true that my children were well-groomed and nicely dressed. In my world, they came first and I would do without things for myself so that they could look presentable.

It’s also true that I didn’t air the dirty laundry of difficulties married life often brought but kept those to myself.  Many aspects of our relationship my husband and I  kept private between the two of us as it should be.

We also lifted our disagreements and disappointments with each other up to our God in prayer and concentrated on working things out together instead of blabbing about them to others.

So I guess I can almost understand why someone who only looked on the outside of my life may have thought I had a perfect one, but it was and still is far from that. Nevertheless, Papa and I have lived a good life these past 40 years together.

Perfectly imperfect. That’s life. With all its bumps and twists and turns. Difficult times, gutting-wrenching times, times of happiness and joy yet times of agony and despair.

That’s life, and it surely isn’t perfection.

But I have to say I am a tad proud that we’ve made it this far, together in our imperfect life.  I don’t declare that in a boastful way but with sincere humility and gratefulness because I am not perfect.

Neither is my husband or my family. We have faults, we have imperfections, we have flaws, and sometimes we entertain ugly thoughts in our minds and hearts. Because we’re human.

And this is real life. Not perfect life.

But I’m most thankful for this imperfect life I’ve been given. It’s made me who I am, warts and all.

“I’m not perfect, but those flaws make an interesting person.” ~ Mary Frann 

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

 

An a-maze-ing weekend

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The corn maze

Forty years together in the dance of life. That’s what Papa and I recently celebrated when we marked our wedding anniversary at the beginning of this autumn-filled month.

My favorite season is fall, when deciduous trees boast of their brilliant jackets of red, gold, and orange leaves, and I was pleased that the timing was right for an autumn wedding all those years ago.

This past weekend, our grown children, their spouses, and our two sweet grandgirls were all here in Mama’s Empty Nest to help us mark the occasion of Papa’s and my anniversary.  Our home was bursting with noise, laughter, hugging, storytelling, playing with the little ones, and even cuddling with Barley, our son and daughter-in-law’s dog.

Papa cooked a big breakfast for everyone Saturday morning and then we all jaunted off to a nearby farm where there was a pumpkin patch festival.  For the littlest one, at 10 months, this was her first time in the pumpkin patch and for our 2 ½ year old, it was most exciting.

The afternoon proved to be one of those glorious sunny fall days, a trifle warm but still comfortable. After visiting the farm animals and climbing on the huge hay bale pile, we all climbed aboard a large wagon pulled by a farm tractor for a hay ride out to the pumpkin patch.

Yesterday, I posted a photo of the lovely countryside where we were. All around us were farmland, rolling hills, and trees beginning to burst forth in their autumn colors. We picked our pumpkins and posed for tons of photos to satisfy both this Mama and all of our kids’ social media platforms.

Before taking a return hay ride back to the farm, some of us headed to the corn maze – a labyrinth path cut into the cornfield.  While riding back on the hay wagon,  I sat on that somewhat uncomfortable bale of straw and just gazed at my loved ones.

All of them. In one place. With me.

Once again, I was amazed at how blessed I truly am to have such a loving family. What did I do to deserve such happiness? Nothing. I don’t really deserve it. Each one of my family members is a gift from God to me. And I continue to be thankful for my bountiful blessings.

We spent the entire afternoon at the pumpkin festival watching Little One get a happy pumpkin face painted on her cheek, playing games, cavorting in the corn pit (a large area with dried, shelled corn to play in), climbing up stacks of hay bales with her much loved uncles and over and over again slipping down the sliding ‘boards’ fashioned there.

We cheered for those of us who attempted corn shooting – a air-compression chute that shot ears of corn at bales of hay targets in the distance -and again when even Little One was brave enough to try.

We laughed at the pumpkin launching, via slingshot style devices, when the pumpkins landed in the pond rather than over the pond to hit the targets. All the while Littlest One watched and smiled and laughed, not wanting to miss anything by taking a nap.

Afterwards, we returned home and Papa and I received a thoughtful anniversary card and gift from our grown children that made me cry.

But just like those infomercials on TV, that’s not all!

We conversed over a good food with a delicious family dinner at a nearby restaurant and our youngest, our son, surprised us with some serious questions about Papa’s and my 40 years together. Inquiries like how did we know we were the ones for each other, what was our happiest moment in our marriage, and what was the hardest.

Much laughter and even some tears ensued as we answered the questions thoughtfully. I wholeheartedly agreed with Papa’s answer to “what advice can you give for us about how to make our marriage last?” 

Papa immediately replied, “Just always remember there are three of you in your marriage – God and the two of you.” I nodded and added, “And always put God first.”

For the rest of the evening, we gathered again at home and just enjoyed each other’s company.  We heard about oldest daughter and son-in-law’s recent trip to Peru and viewed some of their photos before heading to bed.

Sunday morning found us all together to worship our Lord in the same little country church where Papa and I committed ourselves to each other those 40 years ago one lovely autumn day.  All too soon, it was time for some to leave, to say our farewells once more until the next time, to send them off to their lives elsewhere with well wishes and prayers for safe travels.

And even midst the tears that I choked back while saying goodbye to them, I felt a blanket of happiness encircling me with the warmth of gratefulness and love as I recalled the maze of life I’ve traveled to get to this point.

It truly has been a-maze-ing.

“Happiness, that grand mistress of the ceremonies in the dance of life, impels us through all its mazes and meanderings, but leads none of us by the same route.”  ~ Charles Caleb Colton

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Giving my best

blogIMG_1100This may sound odd in this day and age, but I’m one of those who actually likes ironing. It’s one of those household chores my mother taught me as a young girl that I truly enjoy.

Sounds crazy, I know. Who irons now days? Just grab everything out of the dryer before wrinkles set in and off you go. Wash and wear.

But for me, there’s something calming about setting up the ironing board, – given to us as a wedding gift 40 years ago – heating up the steam iron, and pressing away.

My mother was a homemaker; that was her occupation and she did it well. She took pride in her clean and orderly home inside and out, sparkling white clothes, and freshly pressed sheets, pillowcases, and linen tea towels.

Back in the day before permanent press when clothes were washed and often dried outside on a clothesline (which is another chore I still enjoy), doing laundry took the better part of a day.

If some articles of clothing became excessively wrinkled in the washing machine, I can remember my mom sprinkling them with water, rolling them up, and storing them in a special zippered plastic bag (way before ziplock bags became a thing)  in the refrigerator until she had the time to iron them later.

Mom taught me how to properly press clothes and household linens starting with my dad’s white cotton handkerchiefs.  They were easy to iron because they were square and flat. Next came ironing pillowcases and sheets. Back then, these items were 100% cotton and most folks ironed them.

When I mastered that, Mom let me try my hand at ironing our everyday clothes and from there I progressed to pressing Dad’s white dress shirts, which he wore to work every day.

For some reason, ironing clothes just didn’t seem like a chore to me, instead it was fun. Unfortunately, I don’t consider cooking the same way so Mom’s excellent cooking and baking skills did not rub off on me.

Papa can attest to this although he tries not to hurt my feelings about cooking not being my forte. Most husbands ask their wives why they can’t cook like the husband’s mother; mine asks why I don’t cook like my own mom did. But that’s a whole other blog post.

However, I thought about all of this the other day as I was ironing because I do still enjoy this task. There’s something so satisfying for me to press out each wrinkle and fold of the item being ironed making it look almost new and untouched.

A stack of items that needed pressed to make them look their best accumulated in my laundry room.  An autumn designed table runner for my dining room table, two small table covers that I had washed and hung out to dry on the outside clothesline, and a stack of linen hand towels awaited the touch of a hot steam iron.

The hand towels came from church. We have a time-honored tradition in the way we celebrate communion. Taking our reasons for doing so from the narrative in the Bible when Jesus gathered his 12 disciples together for the Last Supper, we not only partake of the bread and cup but also have a meal together and in humility and servanthood, wash one another’s feet.

We use large terrycloth towels as aprons to dry one another’s feet and small linen hand towels to dry our own hands upon washing them at the end of the foot washing ceremony.

I volunteered to wash all of the wet towels afterwards. The towel/aprons were unwrinkled after washing and drying, so I simply folded them up and stacked them ready to return to church.

But the linen towels were just a little rumpled with some of the edges turned up.  I could have easily attempted to smooth out the slight wrinkles with my hands and just folded them also, but something made me stop and decide to iron them instead.

The title to an old hymn – Give of Your Best to the Master – popped into my thoughts and the words and melody started playing in my mind.

Give of your best to the Master;
Give Him first place in your heart;
Give Him first place in your service;
Consecrate every part.
Give, and to you will be given;
God His beloved Son gave;
Gratefully seeking to serve Him,
Give Him the best that you have.

Give of your best to the Master;
Naught else is worthy His love;
He gave Himself for your ransom,
Gave up His glory above.
Laid down His life without murmur,
You from sin’s ruin to save;
Give Him your heart’s adoration;
Give Him the best that you have.

What is my best to give to my God? It sounds crazy, but ironing those linen towels was my best. Folding them just wasn’t good enough even though they would be placed in a box with all of the other clean towels in the church storage closet and no one (unless he/she reads this blog) would know that I had ironed the ones I took home to launder. 

No, I didn’t feel the need to press them perfectly to receive recognition for doing so. I wanted to iron those pieces of cloth not for praise or glory for myself but because they represented doing God’s work and work for Him should be done to the best of my ability.

“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.”  ~ Colossians 3:23 (New Living Translation)

You see, my mother also taught me to do my best at whatever I worked at. And both my parents taught me to always present my best to our God. Not because He demands it, but because He deserves it.

He deserves my absolute best. He deserves my respect and reverence. He deserves my praise and giving Him honor and glory. 

Because giving my best truly is so little in comparison to what He’s done for me and you.

Using a hot iron to press out each wrinkle and make sharp creases in each fold, and stacking those small linen hand towels in an orderly fashion proved to be a kind of worship service that morning.

And a reminder to always do my best for my Savior. I knew I was on the right track because the next Sunday morning during worship, we sang an old hymn after our pastor’s message.

What was it? Give of Your Best to the Master.

 “Do your best and let God do the rest.” ~ Unknown

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

 

Heart to heart windows

blogIMG_1044Wouldn’t it be interesting if you could get a little glimpse of the future through a window?

Just for a moment in time maybe. Just to satisfy your curiosity. Or maybe prevent an event in your life or even prepare for an occurrence so it didn’t blindside you.

“Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window.” ~ Peter Drucker

Of course, there are no magic windows that we can peer out of or into showing us what the future holds.

Papa and I were just talking about this the other day. The day before we celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary, we were honored to attend a lovely marriage ceremony and reception. The handsome young groom is the son of one of my oldest and dearest friends, who happened to be my maid of honor in my own wedding.

There was much to celebrate, not just the wedding itself but the fact that my friend who experienced some life-threatening health issues this year was recovered from her scary ordeals and well enough to see her firstborn pledge his love and faithfulness to his beautiful bride.

The wedding took place in a town quite a distance from ours so as Papa and I were traveling along the highway, we had plenty of time to talk, reminisce, and reflect on our own big day those 40 years ago.

We witnessed the young couple’s marriage vows along with all the other families and friends in a small but picturesque old stone church. So much happiness blended in with heartfelt hugs and congratulations.

Later, as we meandered our way down country roads in this gorgeous, mountainous area of our state to the reception venue, I posed a question to my own beloved.

“When we were getting married 40 years ago,” I questioned him, “did you ever look down the road and think about where we would be in 40 years? What our life would be like?”

His reply didn’t surprise me. “Nope, never even gave it a thought.”

Me either, I confessed. And maybe that’s some of the problem with marriages. We get caught up in the excitement and romance of a relationship and the wedding itself  – the fairy tale with a happily ever after ending – without seriously considering the future and what it may bring – rough times right along with the good ones. 

Because that’s what we say to one another in those marriage vows. If you tie the knot in a church like Papa and I did, the minister performing the ceremony asks both the groom and bride if they will take the other to be your wife/husband to live together in holy matrimony.

When you answer those two little words – I do – you vow to love, comfort, honor, and keep the other in sickness and in health, forsaking all others to be faithful to her/him as long as you both shall live.

You promise to take the person who stands beside you in front of all your family, friends, and God from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until death you shall part.

It sounds so easy, but it’s not.

And most young couples probably do as Papa and I did – not stop to take a glimpse through a window of time to the days and years to come.

To those days when that elated feeling of being in romantic love begins to fade a bit.

To those days when trouble comes, as it surely does, and you have to purposely choose to love your mate, not just base your relationship on a fleeting feeling of infatuation.

To those days when you or your spouse lose jobs and you may not have all the wealth you hoped to accumulate.

To those days when you lose cherished family members and you struggle with grief.

To those days when you may be a little heavier, your hair is turning silver, or you’re losing it entirely.

To those days when one or both of you have health issues, or suffers from depression, or is incapacitated in some way.

To those days 10 years from the wedding date.

Or 25 years. Or 40.

Or 50 years from the day you said I do.

Or if God grants you long lives beyond the golden anniversary mark, when your spouse has become more than just your romantic love, but your treasured companion, your best friend, and your entire being is entwined with the one you have chosen to love for life.

Heart to heart. Soul to soul.

Looking through the window of marriage into the future to ensure a long-lasting relationship, until death do you part.

That is my wish for young wedded couples.

“There is a window from one heart to another heart.” ~ Rumi

This past week’s photo challenge theme was “windows.”

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Continuing the journey

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In a couple of days, the calendar page will turn over a new leaf and it will be October.

Autumn will be firmly ensconced as the current season and I will celebrate my favorite time of year.

But there’s yet another reason to celebrate the upcoming month. In a few days, Papa and I will mark the occasion and look back over 40 years (!) together as a married couple.

I wrote the following blog post six years ago and decided to post it again with a few changes and updates.

Take a walk with me.

Forty years ago, a young man, so nervous buckets of perspiration dripped off him, grasped the hand of a young woman, equally just as anxious because her stomach was doing somersaults, and the two of them took a walk down a church aisle.

Thus began their journey into married life, a commitment they made to one another that day four decades ago.  They’ve chosen to honor and stay faithful to that commitment through the years past and for the years to come.

Their journey together hasn’t been smooth sailing.  They’ve encountered hills to climb, valleys to stumble through, rivers to cross, even chasms to bridge.  Life is never perfect and that certainly includes married life.

Those two commenced a life with white lace and promises and then ventured west into the sunset to live happily ever after.  They made their way alone without family nearby. Then a few years later, they faced an overwhelming challenge of being apart for an entire year while the young man served his country in a foreign land during which time their first child was born.

Their trek together has taken them to different areas of the country with twists and turns here and there.  Along the way, they’ve made adjustments, had their fair share of quarrels and disagreements, experienced disappointments, uncertainty, and even fear together.  

But their love for one another endured on the journey producing great joy and building up of faith in the God they serve.

“More marriages might survive if the partners realized that sometimes the better comes after the worse.” ~ Doug Larson

They’ve been blessed with three amazing children and continue to cherish the privilege of being parents.  They’ve watched those three grow, mature and, in the blink of an eye, become adults.  And then from a different perspective, they watched their children, in adult bodies with mature minds and spirits, find mates of their own. 

This man and his wife found themselves amazed and a little dumbfounded that they arrived at this season in life so soon.  They watched with heartache as their own parents grew elderly, succumbed to illnesses and aging, and passed from this life.  

And now, with a tinge of bittersweet, they realize they have become the older generation.  However, there is still much love and joy to anticipate as their family has expanded to include two beautiful grandchildren.

The joy after all is in the journey.  And so they clasp hands once more, grateful for 40 years past and hopeful for more to come.

That couple is my husband, one who stands by my side and yet always has my back;  picks me up when I’m down;  takes care of me in sickness and in health; and loves me no matter what, and me, who tries to do the same for him.  

We are not extraordinary people, but when I tell younger folks we’re celebrating 40 years of marriage, they seem startled and even shocked that a couple could stay together so long.

And that’s what saddens me. In this throw-away society we’ve become, marriages are tossed aside like last week’s dried up hamburger and stale fries.

Commitment and vows are forgotten because (pick one): I no longer love you; you’re not the right person for me; you’re not really my soul mate after all; I’ve found someone better than you; you don’t make me happy; I’m tired of taking care of you; marriage isn’t what I expected; you make me angry; you disappoint me; and on and on. And much of the time, it’s all about a person’s selfishness and self-centeredness.

It seems to me that fewer people are willing and have the desire to work at making a long-lasting marriage anymore. And believe me, work it is. Nothing worth having is easy to attain. It takes dedication, hard work, forgiveness, and selflessness.

We know. Papa and I have been working at it for 40 years.

And God willing, we will continue the journey for many years to come.

“In every marriage more than a week old, there are grounds for divorce. The trick is to find, and continue to find, grounds for marriage.” ~ Robert Anderson

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

The layered look

BlogIMG_1083(2)Fall’s arrived – my favorite season – and here in my neck of the woods, we tend to dress in layers during the months of autumn. 

Mornings start out crisp and cool with a little shiver in the air, but often by mid-day sunshine pushes that red vertical line up the outside thermometer. So we shed that outer jacket or sweater we put on first thing in the morning. And then by evening, we don it once again.

We peel off layers of clothing easily, but I wonder, how simple is it to shed the layers of who we are? You know, so that others see our true self instead of the persona we present to the world.  You may think you know me, but can you really see beneath my layers? How do you know I’m not just hiding underneath the layers that define me?

Every one of us human beings possess layers. And some of us really embrace the layered look so you don’t see that our lives are somewhat less than perfect.

I’m speaking for myself here and since this week’s photo challenge theme is layered, I thought I’d peel off some of my layered look publicly. Don’t worry, no nudity is involved here!

First off, I have many family layers. Who I am in respect to my familial relationships.  I am the daughter of my parents, granddaughter of my grandparents, sister to my siblings, sister-in-law to my and my husband’s siblings’ spouses, cousin, aunt to nieces and nephews and great-aunt as well.  I am a wife, mother, and now grandmother myself.

My layered look reveals that family is important to me too.

Social layers also exist when you look at me.  I am a friend, a confidante, an acquaintance. I’ve been a co-worker, volunteer, soccer mom, PTA member and president, and booster club member to name a few. Doing for others is one of my layers.

Schooling provided some more layers: elementary, middle, and high school student, high school graduate, college undergraduate, college graduate, on-line learner. Education and continuing to learn are also important layers.

In the world of work, my layers include having been a part-time sales clerk, summertime factory worker, English teacher, journalist/reporter/editor, technical editor, non-profit education director, and substitute teacher. I’ve been an employee, a team leader, and even a boss, and the most recent layer I’ve added is being a semi-retired person. Those layers tell you a lot about me.

Peel back a few more layers:  church goer, church member, Sunday School teacher, youth group leader, small group Bible study leader, church board member, deacon. You may think you know everything about me now.

Yet there are still more layers – amateur photographer, writer, blogger, social media user, online group co-leader, library user, real and e-book reader. The list might go on and on.

But when you peel back all of those layers, who am I really?  You may think I’m being very transparent, yet more layers exist that I haven’t shared. At my core, what is my identity?

I find my identity in being a Christ follower, a believer, a Christian not just by title but by faith.

My guidebook for life, the Bible, tells me I am God’s handiwork:  “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10 NIV)

When I placed my identity in Christ alone, another layer was added. I’m a new creation. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV)

But what really astounds me is this. God loves me perfectly, unconditionally. He doesn’t love me because of my layered look, because of the layers I demonstrate for others to see.

His love isn’t based on my being perfect. It’s based on nothing but Himself. Who He is. The God of the universe who sent His only Son to die for my sin, in my place.

Perfect love.  Without any layers.

“Life is like an onion. You peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.” ~ Carl Sandburg

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com