Christmas Cookies

“My sugar cookie tastes like peanut butter!” my hubs proclaimed as he chomped on the first tastes of the new year.

We had compiled a tin of all of our favorites Christmas cookies to enjoy on our return trip from spending the holiday in Colorado. Mom made all our favorites: sugar cookies, peanut butter marble whorls, peanut bars, lemon bars…

Christmas Cookies

Christmas Cookies

Yet, once thrown all into the same container and left to sit for a day or two, all of them tasted like peanut butter!

I tested for myself 8)

I’m always amazed at how God speaks to us; through His creation, His church, the magnificence of a sunset, the brilliance of poetry, and…Christmas cookies.

I’m amazed at how my resolution to quit cussing is quickly washed away when I spend an hour or two in a traffic jam.

I’m appalled at my nightmares and thoughts after I watch a few horror movies and listen to some “angry music.”

When I watch enough late night tv, I simply want to eat burgers and go shopping for the latest …whatever!—This world has its temptations and can permeate into us so easily…

Yet,when we throw ourselves in with the love of family, time with friends, more enjoyment, laughter, memory making, joy, kindness, hope and– peanut butter; we tend to be more hopeful, enjoyable, and filled with the fragrance of love and laughter—it permeates and emanates.

“O be careful little eyes what you see…

O be careful little ears what you hear…

O be careful little hands what you do…

O be careful little feet where you go…

O be careful little mouth what you say…”

Recently, a good friend of mine stated, “I’m done wasting my time on people who aren’t okay with who they are. I want to spend more time with people who are at ease and know who they are!”

I get it. Those people can permeate into us and make us feel … well, we can feel less, feel guilt, and not feel okay.

Yet, sometimes these people are our co-workers, our friends, our family. So…what then?

I think God asks us to be the fragrance of change. Be the fragrance of forgiveness. Be the hope of things being okay.

He asks us to be the peanut butter.

May your 2016 be filled with the fragrances of gentleness, gratitude, hope, kindness and Christmas cookies.

Smiley Miley, Rick Springfield and Letters from the Past

March 7, 2015-My lucky day!

March 7, 2015-My lucky day!

Smiley Miley, Rick Springfield and Letters from the Past—

“Dear younger me,

Where do I start?

If I could tell you everything that I have learned so far…”—Mercy Me

It is 1:00 a.m. on Saturday night. My new husband and I’ve not been up this late since our wedding night. 😉

I’ll bet you wouldn’t guess what it is we’re doing?! (Keep your mind out of the gutter.)

We are cleaning out the office.

Our work began at 7:30 a.m. that Saturday morning. We pulled every file folder, office supply, box of junk, memorabilia, photo and book out of the closet, off shelves and desks.

It was devastation.

DEVASTATION

DEVASTATION

I once read that your home environment can reflect and impact your internal environment.  So, in effect, cluttered house = cluttered brain. And with all the busy-ness in this last year (and in life in general!) my new husband and I, over the last four weekends, pick a room and dig in. (And later dig out!) We want to start our married life together uncluttered.

We–

Organize

Re-sort

PURGE

Clean…

The recycle container was filled by noon. (More evidence of my box-a holic recovery!)

AND the garbage is 80% full at this point in time.

Yet, while the rest of the nation is plummeted in this Siberian Cold Front, it’s a beautiful 75 degrees here in the valley of the sun. And we’re stuck inside, buried in clutter, old bank statements and boxes containing so many irreplaceable memories.

I sneeze from the dust– evidence of the time passed and lack of attention to these areas.

As I open and sort, I travel back in time. I find a picture of Kelly D. and me from one of those old photo booths at the Westminster mall arcade. We’re wearing our Ralph Lauren polo shirts with the collars turned up and have perfect banana curls and Farrah Fawcett-like feathered bangs. Then, I come upon the mountain of letters that Leenie and I wrote throughout our college experiences between KU to CU—easily a letter a week and 5-8 HANDWRITTEN pages each chronicling our journeys, boyfriends, struggles and victories. I guiltily look at my husband across the room working through his paperwork.  I set these aside. (And remind myself to get a locking safe!) 😉

“Dear younger me,

If I knew then what I know now

Condemnation would’ve had no power

My joy my pain would’ve never been my worth…”—Mercy Me

 I become paralyzed looking at the years the surrounding clutter represents: metal champagne flutes from my first marriage, a rock my father kept from a camping trip, letters from old boyfriends…

Holding on to the past can prohibit us from moving ahead.

“Dear younger me:

It’s not your fault

You were never meant to carry this beyond the cross…”–Mercy Me

I move those college letters to the pile to be ceremonially burned with Leenie next time we meet up.

In the very back of the closet, I come across a 4 x 5 x 3 ft box of items my mother cleaned out from my old childhood room long after I’d graduated college and moved out. I’ve never gone through it. I’m tempted to just purge it but something impels me to dig in.

Contained inside I find a treasure trove!

SMILEY MILEY!

SMILEY MILEY!

I rediscover my “ultimate roommate”—Smiley Miley, my old stuffed, grey mouse given to me at Christmas when I was six by my precious Grammy -may she rest in peace. Smiley attended college with me, was my co-camp counselor at my first lengthy stay away from Colorado, and he adorned every bed I slept in until marriage. (Notice his smile is gone!) I come across my old RECORDS-actual vinyl-Night Ranger, Prince, The Hot Ones… I delight at finding the complete ATARI set with all the cords and every one of the coolest games-Frogger, Pac Man, Qbert…AND THEN, a Relic of a more innocent time, taking me back to my first BFF, Jenny, and our first love– Rick Springfield!

Some things must be held on to.

I dig out other items of extreme value: a silver coin collection of my fathers, family photos from before he passed away. I look over at my newlywed husband.  I watched as he sorted his memorabilia. He kept the baby blanket his mother made, two boxes of photos and about half of his medals, trophies and letters. He reduced his boxes to one box.

ONE Box?!

Some things need to be purged, some items held on to will increase in their value, while other things we hold onto, their value may yet be determined. I flip through the now priceless photos of Marne’s mom before Alzheimer’s overtook her-I know these are newly valued to her and set them aside to keep for her.

Holding on to lessons and things of importance, yet not allowing the past to hold you back, to cloud and clutter your present—that is the goal.

This “sorting” requires discernment and making peace with some things.

At this point in our project, we take a break, decide to go for a run. I am engrossed in the memory lane that I have been on, I barely notice our journey, and I just follow my husband’s lead.

Along our route, he stops to pet each dog that the owners allow.  My heart is lifted by his joy and I take a moment to thank God for this person by my side.

On our last mile, my husband laughs and points out—“Funny…That sign says ‘Desert’ and points that way down the street,” He stretches both his arms out and looks around, “but it’s all around us!”

I sheepishly smile and begin soaking in what is all around me: the blooming agave, the chirping birds, and the family of quail running along the path, the puffy white clouds in the blue sky.

Returning to work, I am refreshed.

As I dig back into the “junk” of my past, I reflect on how these have impacted me and how they make me aware of areas I need to let go. I also remember the importance of salvaging and protecting the items of value –Smiley Miley, my Rick Springfield poster, a few select letters– Some things are worth holding on to, even without a dollar value associated to them.

Our project has been therapeutic—As we’ve worked together to relieve our closets, folders and space of the clutter of old, we make room for what the present  holds, to go forward into the future unhindered by old baggage, yet holding to the values and lessons and improving our vision to see what’s in front of and ahead of us.

“Dear younger me,

You are one of the redeemed

Set apart

A brand new heart

You are free indeed

Every mountain, every valley

Thru each heartache you will see

Every moment brings you closer

To who you were meant to be”—Mercy Me

When we let go of the past and allow others to help us sift through the clutter of our lives, or to bear some of the burdens our world stacks on us, it frees us, allowing us to grasp the new things God has for each of us.

Opportunities to love the person right beside you;

-To hug a neighbor in need;

-To share a smile with someone who desperately needs it;

-To encourage another who is on their last nerve;

To just be PRESENT: a witness to the magical palette of God’s beauty in a sunrise or a harvest moon on the horizon; the desert in bloom all around you.

Or, maybe even to spend a weekend with an old BFF reliving some of the past and creating some new, priceless memories…

RICKY signing that poster March 7, 2015!

RICKY signing that poster March 7, 2015!

(LIKE HAVING RICK SPRINGFIELD SIGN THAT POSTER!)

And since this room concludes our purge, the next project will be an all-nighter with my new husband–playing ATARI!

😉

Seriously, keep your mind out of the gutter.

Thou Shall Not…DRAFT?? (Lead me part 2)

Love and Marriage Engagement photo by Greenlight Photography

Love 
Engagement photo by Greenlight Photography

Being a child of divorce and seeing the havoc it wrecked on our family, I swore I wouldn’t do the whole “marriage thing” until I knew for sure…

So I waited to get married until I was 35. I was way past all those years of college, career choices, immaturity, and had a more seasoned view of life and what I wanted. I even married an “older man” to assure that I had made a choice for someone solid and grounded. I heard marriage was difficult and I had no illusions of that fact.

Yet, sometimes the best of intentions…

Hearing about something and EXPERIENCING that very thing are two totally different ways to learn.

Apparently I needed the EXPERIENCE.

That whole marriage thing is beyond hard. A beast. I had heard, but had no idea until I experienced it.

The best of intentions for my marriage ended in my very own divorce.

Sometimes life is like a box of chocolates?  No, I think life (and marriage) is more like a triathlon.

A challenging competition made for all shapes and sizes, ages and abilities. Whether it is the swim, bike or the run, we all have different parts we are better at. And, with all those transitions and outside factors, there is bound to be something that goes wrong.

You may have trained (or waited) for months, weeks, years, but no matter how hard or long you train, stuff of life happens—flat tires, falls, goggle malfunctions, a kick in the face during the swim, gears get tangled on your bike, wardrobe mishaps that end up rubbing you the wrong way, or maybe everything goes smoothly, but you just **BONK**

Let me set the stage. It’s just over a year ago. Summer blossoms and green trees surround us. I am now forty-something and seven lucky years of learning and life brings a second chance—a new opportunity for a great relationship with the very best of intentions.  We are newly engaged and enjoying the outdoor, Oregon weather at an amphitheater with some great friends, great wine, great music. I am holding hands with my fiancé and I look lovingly over at him.

“Aren’t they the cutest?”

We hear a voice behind us.

I glance back at where the voice was coming from and find two young ladies who look to be in their late 20’s. Their eyes are filled with envy and looking longingly at… (Not us!)– We follow their envious gaze toward what captured their attention. They happen to be admiring the love between our dear friends, with whom we are attending this concert.

It warms our hearts to watch these love-birds who truly are “the cutest!” Their love seems to overflow, not only to each other, as he pushes a strand of her blonde hair away from her eyes and while she stares into his eyes, but it overflows to everyone around them!
“Don’t they act like newlyweds?” I ask of the on-lookers from behind.

“Totally! They’re so cute. I never want to settle! I want that!” One of them oogles and nods again in our friend’s direction.

“They just celebrated their thirteenth anniversary. Three kids. And still so in love.” I tell them.

“Wow, so it can happen?” One of them asks.

We nod and look back our two friends, like we can somehow absorb some of the overflow.

I love to brag on these two who’ve been blessed with so much. I love to watch their love. I learn from them because I know what they’ve been through.

Life. And it hasn’t been a box of chocolates.

Thirteen (plus!) years of marriage—something is bound to happen! Ups and downs; victories, joys, concerts, family  time, transitions, malfunctions, mishaps, health scares, deaths in the family, betrayals, loss, words that can’t be taken back…

A great piece of advice my new fiancé and I received the night before we married came from some seasoned “love birds:”

My aunt and uncle (pulling from much experience) gave us this GEM that we pull out ALL THE TIME:

“At random times during the day or month, but at least once a month, say ‘I’m so glad I married you.’”

I got this when I came home after 2 weeks of my new marriage:

so glad I married you

Fast forward one year–

I’ve just returned to Arizona after a magical honeymoon and am ready for some girlfriend time!

Just two old friends meeting for lunch and I can hardly wait to see her. Her blond hair is now straight and longer, but every head turned and watched as she entered and joined me in a corner booth. We sit across from each other. Her smile hides something. Her shoulders are rigid, like they’ve been bearing something too long.  And, like old (and great) friends do, what troubles her doesn’t take long before it pours out of her heart, her eyes and her mouth.

“I’m sorry I’m unloading all of this on you.” She looks down at her hands fidgeting on the table. “I mean, here you are, just back from your honeymoon, and I’m dumping all this on you.”

“Well, the honeymoon IS over.” I laugh and wink at her, trying to lighten the tension that now radiates from her.

Her face is pinched with pain and discouragement weighs down the corners of her mouth, “Just wait until you’re married 14 years.”

She drops her hands and sighs, “It’s a cycle and we’re back in it.”

She has **BONKED**

“I get by with a little help from my friends…”—The Beatles

My new husband and I are no strangers to “the cycle.” We’ve each experienced divorce for ourselves and we don’t want to repeat it. EVER.  After reading this ground-breaking and insightful book-“LOVE & RESPECT” by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, we could finally put a name to and understand what ailed our prior relationships: “The Cycle.”

In essence the cycle is:

from "Love and Respect" by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs

from “Love and Respect” by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs

We desire to not repeat the mistakes of our past. So we read, we seek counseling, we tell each other, “I’m so glad I married you!” every week, we invite a power beyond ourselves into our marriage (God’s grace) and we try whatever we can to not get caught back up in “the cycle.” Yet, we know we can’t do this on our own. And when we are in the cycle (and it WILL happen—honestly it already did! ;)) we might just need some help to get out/off of it—

See the thing about this life is, like the triathlon, it’s a competition. You may at the start and swimming for your life, in the middle and pedaling your butt off, nearing the finish line and dragging your legs through the run, or you may be yelling your happy lungs out adding to the competition through your words of encouragement; we are all doing this together.

But this competition isn’t against who you think it is.

There is an opponent who is completely working against us. Our “competition” seeks to knock us down, keep us out of the race, hold us back from doing our best and trip us up. Our competition tells us we’re not good enough, fast enough, strong enough. Our opponent will laugh at us when we crash on the bike, will rub dirt in the road rash when we fall and will throw our missteps and down times back in our faces during the worst possible times.

The competition is NOT OUR SPOUSE, but it is the enemy to our spirit.

This enemy wants to steal good relationships and destroy them. (John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;”)

It is this enemy that seeks to keep couples IN the cycle.—Reminding us of harsh words, hurt feelings, or our own brokenness and destroy our relationships.

And if you’ve ever been in “the cycle,” you know how difficult it is to hop off.

merry-go-round from government auctions

Like the old school playgrounds where you are spinning on the old metal (and mental!)  merry-go-rounds (now considered too dangerous.) But when you’re spinning, you hold on for dear life because– if you let go, the centrifugal forces will whip you off, like a bullet from a gun, and who knows where you’ll land!

This cycle is not fun, and the journey of getting off of it is scary. The enemy tries really hard to keep you holding on (to the baggage, hurt, past, etc.), but the sooner you get off, the better!

And then there is HOPE.

When you’re in the competition of a triathlon, (and I have experienced this for myself!) nearly everyone cheers each other on! The abilities and age ranges are all staggered, so you don’t begin with who you are “competing against.” All throughout the event, from sidelines and from everyone in the event, people speak words of encouragement to one another and pull each other along.  There are husbands, wives, kids, parents and friends on the sidelines with all manner of signs and cowbells. It is awesome and inspiring to witness this.

It’s like everyone knows, “Hey, there is a lot that can go wrong out there, we need to stick together.”

“So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

And just as there are covenants and vows in marriage, there are rules and restrictions in triathlons. Some are common courtesy. Like during a pool swim, if someone taps your foot, you should allow them to pass. But breaking some rules (and vows!) will eliminate you from the competition.

For example, during the bike, a warning about DRAFTING—If you are caught “drafting” in the competition of a triathlon—you will be DISQUALIFIED. All that training, all that planning, the money spent, all for nothing if you DRAFT.

I’d heard this rule (and obeyed it), but I never totally understood it, until I experienced it.

“I look around and see my wonderful life
Almost perfect from the outside
In picture frames I see my beautiful wife
Always smiling
But on the inside, I can hear her saying…”

—Sanctus Real lyrics to “Lead Me”

I am not a leader.

I’ve mentioned before, my new husband and I are in the midst of training for our first triathlon together.

He is a leader.

He commands a classroom of “kids these days” every day. He’s coached cross country and track. He is a runner–He qualified four times for the Boston Marathon (ran it twice) and completed three FULL Iron Man triathlons. He has oodles of knowledge and experience in these areas. And, even though I love a good “underdog story” and watching a great come-back, when you are the one (me) always coming from behind, it can be discouraging.

And, as he “goes before me” during all our training, he believes it pulls me along. It’s a difficult place to be—behind. No matter how hard I try to feel I can never catch up; not good enough to be side-by-side, just about enough for me to psychologically **BONK**

So, when we went for our first bike ride together, I was not surprised when he pulled ahead of me.

Miles go by, I keep pedaling. The gap is still there. I pedal harder and get closer. The gap remains. It would be easy for me to make him my competition and my enemy as I struggle and struggle.

But then I experienced something awesome. As I was fighting to stay close to him and keep up, I realized something…It was actually way easier to ride behind him.

Again, hearing about something and EXPERIENCING that very thing are two totally different ways to learn.drafting

From Wikipedia:  Drafting…is a technique where two vehicles or other moving objects are caused to align in a close group reducing the overall effect of drag…, as in motor racing and cycling, drafting can significantly reduce the paceline‘s average energy expenditure required to maintain a certain speed and can also slightly reduce the energy expenditure of the lead vehicle or object.

So, I experienced “drafting.” And now I love DRAFTING. BUT, get caught doing this during competition and you will be OUT.

As I glided along behind him, I breathed easier, I began to enjoy myself and then I witnessed just another reason I am so glad I married him.

As we continued on our ride, God bless his little “leading heart;” I watched from behind as he would point down every so often. And I realized he was pointing out the jumping cholla in our path, a large stone, and a pile of broken glass or a pot hole to avoid.

“I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through their iron bars.” Isaiah 45:2

Drafting aside, I suddenly see more benefits of having a leader! Having someone to go before me—to watch out for us as we ride along and to point out road hazards that could very easily trip us up! It’s actually quite nice having someone to pull you along—(and, most likely, having someone to finish first so they can cheer you across the finish line!)

“I get by with a little help from my friends.”—The Beatles

And it was fourteen years ago, in a magnificent cathedral in Genesee, Colorado that I stood witness, cheering on my blonde friend as she swore her covenants to her partner.

Now, across the table from her, I see her competing against the enemy and I cheer her on from the sideline:

ME: “Remember that invisible force drew the two of you together when you first met and worked together?”

HER: “But that was a LOOOONG time ago.”

ME: “Remember the concert? That wasn’t that long ago. Remember how you felt that night, that whole trip?”

HER: “Yeah. But this last year has been tough.”

ME: “Remember when you discovered you had matching birthmarks? Figured you were soul mates?”

She laughs.
ME: “Remember how amazing he is with all the other residents at the Alzheimer’s care clinic every time you visit your mom?”

Her eyes fill up.

ME: “Remember how you felt on your wedding day in Genesee? The horse drawn carriage ride symbolically traveling across the bridge?”

Remember the vows?

“To have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.”

They wouldn’t have made us vow all those juxtapositions if they knew life wasn’t coming at us and going to hit us head on.

But we don’t have to do this on our own.

VOWS

A cord of three strands…

Ecclesiastes 4:12 “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

Seek wisdom from those who’ve gone before you.

You may be the one asked to pull someone else along. It may be your significant other. It may be another couple. It may be someone you were asked to “stand up for” or even someone who you don’t feel qualified to speak wisdom to.  But sooner or later, it will happen. We all can “get by” with a little help from our friends…

And remember that centrifugal force on the merry-go-round that threatened to rip you off? There is a much more formidable force within each of us that empowers us to let go of our grasp in that cycle. There is a stronghold of love that resides within each of us that we can cling to when we’ve exhausted our own abilities. That invisible force that drew you to your spouse in the first place– That is the love that God placed in your hearts. That is love that knows difficulty. That is love that endures, sacrifices, and can pull you along when you think you cannot go another step.

We ALWAYS have ONE with whom we can draft.

He is FOR us. He seeks to restore our relationships and to heal the brokenhearted.

And for every couple out there who is stuck in the cycle–

Let go of the merry-go-round and hold fast to the hope we have in the One who shows us how to forgive (seven times seventy); to the One who shows us how to love (unconditionally); and the One who has gone before us and leads the way for us.

And remember this, unlike the triathlon, in marriage and life—there are absolutely NO RULES against DRAFTING!

“Mister T” and the Peaches

School is back in session! Although I don’t have children, I get to reminisce and share in the excitement this year because my new husband is a teacher!

I not only love this teacher ;), but I LOVE teachers and I loved school! Looking back, even the teachers who were “mean” spent their lives making sure I learned to pay attention, to give respect, how to multi-task, and (ugh!) even how to do long division. And, (now I know) they took on this job while making “dittly squat” for an income!

Both inside and outside of the classroom, my teachers delivered lessons that still stick with me to this day.

I remain in touch with several of my junior high & high school teachers who had a profound influence on my life. This story is about one of these men; we will call him “Mister T.”

Colorado Peaches

Colorado Peaches

Colorado peaches are some of the best things on this green earth! A fresh Colorado peach is so juicy, sweet and tender, perfectly ripened by the Rocky Mountain climate and soil—they are out of this world!

My father loved peaches—only Colorado peaches, though. He loved them so much that he bought the tree and planted it in his yard so he could experience one of those beauties at his whim! Plus, as the cancer began to take over his body, his trips to the grocery store lessened.

Sadly, that tree he planted bore not a single peach.

Year after year—nada, nothing, zilch.

My father passed away March 29, 2008 and never ate a single Colorado peach from his tree.

Why?

The question that is never far away

The healing doesn’t come from being explained

Jesus please don’t let this go in vain

You’re all I have All that remains

-Mercy Me “The Hurt and the Healer”

If you’ve lost someone close to you, you know how it goes. Even though you feel your world has stopped; the world, in fact, keeps spinning. Time continues forward; people keep moving on; there is always the “TO DO” list.

As we went about the tasks of cleaning out his closets, settling accounts, paying doctor bills, we nearly missed what was happening with the tree.

Neighbors began calling.

He had one of the old voice message systems that recorded messages on a mini-tape. We heard his voice at every missed call. It was heartbreaking, like he was still here and waiting to return calls. “Just leave a message and I’ll get right back to you…”

At least four neighbors called and several family members who had been to the house; all with very similar messages –

“…Let us know if you need help. Especially with that peach tree…”

WTH?

So my sister and I went out to the yard to investigate.

What we saw stunned us into silence. With tears in our eyes, we looked up and shook our heads in disbelief.

Five years after he planted it and just two months after he passed away, that peach tree’s branches were so filled with peaches that several of the branches hung to the ground! Many had leaned over into each of the neighbors’ yards—No wonder they were calling!

 

Peaches at last!

Peaches at last!

Our silence turned to awe.

There were so many peaches that each of those neighbors and family members picked to their hearts content. We packed several baskets and took them to friends.

Abundance

Abundance

We had some ourselves and baked no fewer than 12 peach pies which we froze and enjoyed over the next two years. Those pies were absolutely heavenly! We’ve held on to one, saving it for a very special occasion…

It’s May 30, 2014 and a beautiful clear Colorado day; the day before I will to marry my “Mr. Right” in Golden, Colorado. He and I go for my favorite run to Two Ponds and then around by my Dad’s old house. As we begin our run, I always pass by one of my favorite junior high school teacher’s house. Every time we do this run I tell my fiancé— “One of these days “Mister T” will be out taking care of his yard. I can’t wait to introduce you!”

We round the corner at the exact time we see his garage door opening and guess who steps out and begins working on his fence?!?

Barely able to contain myself, I nudge my running partner, “Today’s the day.”

I continue to jog right up to my old teacher. It has been years and he has aged; I can see it in his eyes. His eyes shine with recognition and a little confusion.

“Mister T!” I say, “It is Julie…uh..Stoddard…uh.. but soon to be different.” I wink at my fiancé.

“Oh my God it is!” He says and wraps me in a big hug.

“I always remembered the Stoddard girls; that deep voice you girls have, just like your dad!”

We go through the introductions and the reason we are back in town. He is happy in sharing his congratulations and I tell him how much he meant to me as a teacher and mentor. I know he is still making a difference in young lives as he shares some of his latest endeavors. Yet, there is a sadness in him; a weariness.

“How’s your dad doing? He still up around the corner? He still doing well?” He asks.

It’s my turn to feel sad.

“He passed away just over 5 years ago.” I tell him of the death sentence he was given. I also share with him the 13 years of bonus life we had with him and the triumphs of the unconventional treatments. I hold back on sharing how tough those last months were, watching the losing battle, I don’t like to re-visit that pain.

He looks me straight in the eye, I see the sadness in him again, “I’m so sorry, Julie. He was a good man.” He looks over to my fiancé, “Not that you need to hear this right now, with your good news for tomorrow…But, my wife,” he stops and looks back at the door to his house, “Over 40 years we’ve been together…She’s in there…can’t walk; can’t take care of herself; wearing a diaper.” His shoulders sink, “I just got through prostate cancer. The next day she falls. Now she doesn’t even know who I am.”

I choke back the tears in watching my teacher struggling with this. It all just seems to flood out.

His eyes drop, then he looks up, “I used to talk to God all the time. Now I just have questions. Why? I just don’t know anymore.”

This breaks my heart. I remember those feelings; the anger, the questions, the frustration, the helplessness, the weariness, the very same struggle I see in him.

Breathe

Sometimes I feel it’s all that I can do

Pain so deep that I can hardly move

Just keep my eyes completely fixed on You

Lord take hold and pull me through

-Mercy Me “The Hurt and the Healer”

And I did just what this song said. I fixed my eyes on the Lord and laid all my questions and feelings at the foot of the cross. I handed it over to the only One who I knew could bear my questions. I trusted Him to be faithful. But the heartache is still real; cancer is still cancer; Alzheimer’s is still a thief, death still happens. I still have questions.

But I trust I will be given answers some day.

 

“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.” 1 Corinthians 13:12 (The Hope Bible)

OR, like one of my new favorite quotes from Sonny Kapoor who repeatedly says in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, “It all works out in the end. And, if it has not yet worked out, then it is not yet the end!”

 

I grab ahold of my teacher’s hand and tell him the truth, “I wish you didn’t have to go through this. I don’t know why. I don’t have any answers.”

I really don’t. I hate this. I wish I had something hopeful to share with him. I am at a loss. I tell him he isn’t alone. I end up sharing how hard it was at the end for us with our father; the deep pain of watching one you love wither away, mentally, physically; the utter weariness and exhaustion of one’s spirit to witness such a thing.

But, I also tell him how I wouldn’t have survived without the prayers of my friends, encouragement from family and others sharing their struggles & stories. I tell him that God hasn’t left him and can handle his questions and to never stop talking to Him. I tell him how I believe God draws very near to us when we are brokenhearted; how I truly felt that. I tell him we will pray for him.

We continue on our run and we do. As we go by my father’s house and the tears come.

We pray for the pain we witnessed in “Mister T.” We prayed for his wife. And then I remember all those peaches.

I begin to wonder. Maybe, this is like those peaches that showed up after my father passed away?

Dad wanted those peaches so bad.

“Mister T” wants answers so bad.

But we may not get those “peaches” in our timing.

It’s the moment when humanity

Is overcome by majesty

When grace is ushered in for good

And all our scars are understood

When mercy takes its rightful place

And all these questions fade away

I fall into your arms open wide

When The hurt and the healer collide

-Mercy Me “The Hurt and the Healer”

 

 

And, just like this “divine collision” Mercy Me so beautifully describes, it is at this very moment, “Mister T”, my dad and I will sit down and savor that last peach pie.

The moment

The moment

The Unseen

Image

UNBROKEN

I requested it; waited weeks for it to come off “HOLD” from Scottsdale’s Public Library and now, I finally had it in my hands; “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. I dove in like a ten year old at a pool party on the hottest day of the summer.

I had no idea what I was in for. The Olympics, the running, the crazy boyhood life, the spirited jokes, the military preparations, the flying, the crashing, the inhumanity, the horrors of war…

And, like a terrible car crash, I couldn’t peel my eyes from it. It was heavy. Like any great novel, you are transported there. I needed to take breaks where I could stare into my own reality and recover from the events– and I was only READING it! “Unbroken” is many things, but primarily about one man, Louis Zamperini who, along with so many others, was held as a POW by the Japanese during WWII.

Each day I awoke after a night-time reading of it and somehow I’d changed; unable to return to the daily tasks of life without my perceptions being altered.

I’m willing to bet that everyone who reads this book will take away something different from it. Depending on whether you are a WWII veteran, a Japanese student, a young American, a runner, an Olympian, a mother, a brother, an atheist, an alcoholic… your life’s experiences will determine the message. Yet, there is depth and meaning in it for all. Reading Laura Hillenbrand’s flawless, detailed tale of this amazing, passionate, heroic man’s death-defying, horrendous experience, and what he did with it, leaves you changed.

The dark night of the soul—this is a journey you take reading “Unbroken.”

The dark night of the soul; Biblical teachers write of this. I’ve heard it explained referring to King David. He experienced this darkness when he refused to repent of his sins. King David, whom the Bible refers to as “a man after God’s own heart,” had committed adultery and subsequently ordered the murder of his adulteress’s husband. He experienced this darkness when he refused to repent of his sins. This “dark night of the soul” is what’s experienced when one turns away from God. Unwilling to accept circumstances, unwilling to face one’s own sins, and in capable of doing it on your own, it’s an unfathomably deep and immeasurable darkness that suffocates the soul—it’s a place without hope.

Louis Zamperini knows about the dark night of the soul—but his hell lasted way longer than a night.

To appreciate the power of the transitional experience and the depths Louis found his soul in, you must experience the story for yourself. Yet, as I amass library fines to finish my own journey through the darkness he encountered, I remind myself that the title is: “Unbroken.”

There is survival from this dark night of the soul.

Page 175 of the hardcover is where the tumult of his life came to a pivotal juncture. Laura details an encounter Louis had at a Billy Graham revival– “What God asks of men, said Graham, is faith. His invisibility is the truest test of that faith. To know who sees him, God makes himself unseen.”

Invisible faith.

When one reads of the full on HELL that this one man endured, I can see why some might believe that there wasn’t a God looking out for these souls. And in hindsight, one can dwell in that despair or make a different choice, like Louis did when he chose to be unbroken by it and turn another direction.

It’s always a choice to search for the Unseen or to turn your face from it.

“Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” – John 20:29

 

Now that my journey through this story is concluding, if I had to sum this novel up in one word, I would say HOPE. In encountering the humiliation and depravity that Louis’s journey took him on, coupled with the intense and powerful heights of this champion’s life, it’s easy to see that hope drove him on; hope was never lost; hope was His experience.

He chose to be unbroken and he saw the Unseen.

And now, as I pass on this treasure to the next awaiting soul ready to immerse in the story, I pray, as they view every sentence and watch the events be brought to life in Laura’s words, that they too, will witness the Unseen.

What will you see?

Run 2 Remember

Run 2 Remember

“Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” John 16:20

Every so often, God’s grace touches down in our lives at the strangest of times…

This is one of those times.

Marne and Me before R2R

Marne and Me before R2R

It was 0-dark thirty, January 6, 2011 and at 20 degrees it is one of the chilliest mornings of the running season. Me and my running partner drove in the warmth of our car down nearly deserted streets to meet up with our friends at a park in Chandler, AZ to partake in a 5K (3.1 miles) race called The Run 2 Remember.

Because of their smaller distances, 5K’s are usually quite fun and festive, with people dressed in costume and loud music blaring. This particular 5K is run in honor of police officers across Arizona who’ve lost their lives. Military, fire departments and others also join in on this race and run to honor those they’ve lost in service.

It’s an emotion-filled, somber race.

Tense with the chill of the morning and the topic of the event, my thoughts turn to those whom I’ve lost and can never forget; I think of who I run for.

My friend, Marne, with whom I was meeting up with this morning, was grudgingly convinced (by me!) that moving from Colorado to Arizona was a good idea. But, with her deep attachments to family and her intense love of the Rocky Mountains, she was only staying a year; after that I was on my own.

Yet that day in 2011, the7th anniversary of the Run 2 Remember marked our 15th year in the desert.

It also marked another unforgettable day.

Having been in track and cross country, I’ve run so many different races, I’ve lost count. But Marne, a gymnast and a brand new runner, with her husband and three kids to commemorate, was running her very first 5K race.

As they go to get donuts, Marne and I begin affixing our race numbers.

She looks at me with a quivering lip.

“Don’t be nervous. You’ll do great; just run your own pace.” I assure her.

She shakes her head and looks down, “Jules, today is the 7th anniversary of when my dad died.” Her eyes well up as she looks at me, “Can you believe it’s been seven years??”

I flash back to the memories I have of her father; rosy cheeked and always smiling, with his full shock of white hair…I remember the devastation in her voice when she called to tell me of his unexpected death those seven years ago today.

Today, already feeling overcome, I simply don’t have words. I just hug her.

Arm-in-arm, we stand at the starting line. The gun goes off and hundreds of running shoes crunch across frozen desert tundra. We wind around the sidewalks and canals that make up this course. We choke up reading the t-shirts with the photos of loved ones lost in the line of duty. Gasps are heard in the midst of frosty exhales as many are also touched.

We can barely breathe as we watch the U.S. Marines, with frozen hands bravely hoisting heavy American flags, racing along honoring their friends, their family members, their brothers who served and sacrificed.

Running is a great coping method; the forward motion of it, the ease of getting into a rhythm where your mind can wander into forgotten realms. Running forces you to breathe and to push forward when you would much rather stay paralyzed in grief and stuck in a stagnant loss.

With each step, our pace accelerates. Mile by mile, we continue passing countless others lost in their very own races against memory and sorrow.

With each foot-fall advanced and breath inhaled, the light of dawn grows stronger.

Something unexplainable happened as we pushed ourselves on this cold morning. As we changed stride and began sprinting across the last few hundred yards of the race, lost in breath and motion, something else lifted us and pushed us forward…We finished exhausted, frozen and exhilarated.

This day, this anniversary for my friend will be one she will never forget.

With her three kids whopping and hollering and her husband and us tearfully cheering, she accepted her first place medal with such a shocked smile spread across her face. (And for those of us who run 5K’s, we know this is a really, really BIG DEAL!)

First Place!

“Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

Watching her accept her medal and pose for photos, my mind flashed back to the jovial and grinning image I have of her father. This day, the day her father died, but this new day, also her very first race and a first place finish. As if giving her permission to be something other than sad on this day, delivered straight from heaven was something to make her smile on this anniversary.

This was, indeed, a run to remember.