CAN THIS MARRIAGE BE SAVED?

It’s June – traditionally the month for weddings. My wedding was anything but traditional. The pastor that married Jon and me said it was the first Hippie wedding he had ever performed. My wedding dress was a mini. Jon skipped the tuxedo scene and rented a Civil War suit from a costume shop. While our relatives sported more traditional wedding attire, our friends came in assorted blue jeans, t-shirts, mini-skirts and purple suede fringe. Some even wore shoes. Our wedding gifts would not be found on any bridal registries that I know of. One friend gave us a marijuana joint the size of a Cuban cigar. My gift to Jon was a carved wooden Buddha mug to keep his weed in. That alone should have raised a few warning flags of what was to come. Jon and I were married on May 30, 1970. Our marriage was in trouble before it started. We truly loved each other, but our shared love of alcohol and mood-altering drugs often resulted in conflict. For years the Ladies Home Journal has featured a column titled, “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” In the spotlight is a marriage about to go under. A husband and wife take turns presenting their side of the picture, and then the marriage counselor offers insights and suggestions. Not all the stories have a happy ending. The question, “Can this marriage be saved?” could easily have been asked of me and my husband within the first two years after we said “I do.” One payday during the first year we were married, when Jon wasn’t home by a certain time, I knew he was cashing his check at the bar near his workplace, buying rounds with his co-workers – again. It was predictable what stage of intoxication he would be in when he finally made it home. I entered our marriage as an angry Feminist. I wasn’t about to be the “good little wife” waiting for Jon to come home. I put dinner away, packed a bag, and arranged to spend the night with my college friend. She and I also shared a love for alcohol. I didn’t leave a note for Jon. As I drove away, I took smug satisfaction in knowing he would wonder where I was.  Two could play that game. (Unfortunately, there were no winners.) That was just one of many such scenarios. We often drank or used more than we planned, and said and did things we would never have said or done sober. There were times we both said, “I’ll never do that again!” And then we did “that” again. Fortunately, our story had a happy ending: our marriage was saved. Actually, we were both saved. Desperate to change the self-destructive course I was on, I asked Jesus to be my Savior on Good Friday 1972. I told Jon of my decision and that I was going to start attending church. I told him I would not be drinking or using drugs again. Although respectful of my decision, Jon said, “I am not going to church with you, and don’t ever tell me to quit drinking.” The next eight months were very difficult. I fully expected Jon to leave me. Once when I refused to go with him when he was using drugs, he gave me an ultimatum: “Make up your mind about what you want. I’m getting tired of this!” Just a couple of months later, in December 1972, Jon surprised me by announcing that he had also prayed and asked Jesus for forgiveness. That night he told his best friend about his decision; he added, “I am done with alcohol and drugs.” Sobriety was just one of the gifts God gave us when we turned our lives over to Him. God did an extreme makeover in each of our lives and in our marriage. It’s June. Love-struck couples are saying, “I do.” Considering today’s divorce rate, before long, some will be asking, “Can this marriage be saved?” Some issues may be complicated and require professional counseling, but know that God is still in the business of saving marriages. He did it for us. He can do it for you. Today’s Challenge: Are you asking “Can this marriage be saved?” Whether asked of your own situation or on behalf of loved ones, with God’s help, the answer is always, “Yes!” Think you may have a problem with alcohol? Click here to take a...

LESSONS FROM MY “OTHER” MOTHER

I learned some of life’s most important lessons from my “other” mother. Actually, Zenia was my mother-in-law. The notorious mother-in-law jokes would have never got off the ground if they were about her. As a matter of fact, if I could have a do-over and pick a mother-in-law of my choosing, I’d pick her.  I was blessed to be loved and cherished by my late husband Jon. I was doubly blessed to be loved and accepted by his parents, Art and Zenia. Knowing how some mother-in-laws can be critical, I felt fortunate that my mother-in-law thought I was the best thing that ever happened to her only child. A bookkeeper by trade, Zenia was also an accomplished seamstress. She offered to sew my wedding dress, saying, “This is my only chance to fuss over a daughter for her wedding.” She allowed me to design my dress. Our only point of contention was where the hem should land. I was a Hippie bride. I fancied my skirts at just below cheek level. After some friendly negotiation, we compromised at mid-thigh. Zenia fashioned a veil out of the vintage bead-work and Polish lace from her own wedding veil. Although Jon and I lived in his parents’ finished basement for the first year of our marriage, Zenia refrained from offering advice or interfering in our affairs (tempting as it must have been at times). Jon and I experienced turbulence in our relationship as the result of our heavy alcohol and drug abuse.  Jon’s parents were both recovering alcoholics and active in AA. They did a remarkable job of letting go, and allowing us to find our own way (Jon and I were both delivered of our alcoholism when we became Christians in 1972). Zenia’s example has helped me to refrain from offering unwanted advice or opinions to my daughter Aimee and her husband Andy in their marriage and parenting. The times I have offered an unsolicited opinion, I’ve regretted the words as soon as they came out of my mouth. Zenia taught me to respect my adult children and trust that they’ll find their way without my interference. For the record, they are doing a bang up job! When Jon and I announced in 1976 that we were moving 500 miles away, Zenia never tried to dissuade us. She sent us off tearfully, but bravely, with her blessings. Our move later meant that she would be a long-distance grandma. That, too, she did with grace. I learned from Zenia to hold on to my children loosely. Zenia lived by the principles of the AA program. The Serenity Prayer was ingrained in her: God, Grant me the serenity To accept the things I cannot change; The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference. Zenia had her share of struggles: miscarriages, a brain tumor, back surgery, and alcoholism. She was successfully treated for Bipolar Disorder. She lost her husband when he was just 62-years old. At his funeral, my husband began experiencing his first symptoms of the leukemia that would take his life less than two years later. Although she was heart-broken, I remember her saying, “I don’t like what’s happened, but I need to be about the business of accepting what I can’t change. I refuse to be a bitter woman!” A few years later, when Zenia was diagnosed with Lou Gerhig’s disease (ALS), she refused to wallow in self-pity. When she could no longer manage to live on her own, she sold her home and made arrangements to move into a nursing home. Zenia left this earth with the same grace she lived her life – choosing to focus on the positive, never complaining. I’ve had my own share of losses and struggles. Much of what I know about accepting what I cannot change, I learned from Zenia. On this Mothers Day weekend, I thank God for my dear mother Avalon, and the legacy of love she gave me. But today, on Zenia’s birthday, I thank God for my “other” mother, and for the life lessons she taught me. Today’s Challenge: What are some of life’s lessons you learned from your mother? Did you ever have an “other” mother, in-law or otherwise? If your mom is still alive, be sure to love on her and fuss over her, but not just on Mothers Day – make it a...

RENEWED!

I fed my soul today. This past year, most mornings found me at my computer, working on various writing projects. I am an early riser by nature. I enjoy my coffee and a leisurely time of prayer and reading my Bible in the still hours before daybreak. (Night owls and moms of young children: don’t hate or judge me!) After breakfast and a shower, I make my way upstairs to the computer and tackle the writing assignment of the day. In the past 16-months I wrote a retreat workshop, as well as presentations for various groups. I labored over a book proposal (which my agent is currently sending out to publishers for consideration). I posted numerous blogs on my website, and wrote guest blogs for other sites. An article I wrote last summer (“Not the Life I Signed Up For”) was just published in the May/June issue of Today’s Christian Woman’s online digizine. I posted a boat-load of Facebook Status Updates, and just last week I composed my very first Tweets! All that is to say: I’ve been focused. A woman on a mission. There are new presentations to prepare for, and other blogs to write; however, when I sat down at my keyboard this morning, I felt restless. I felt the call of the wild. I gave myself permission to step away from my computer to take time to feed my soul. A morning fog burned off to make way for a day of blue skies and sunshine…the perfect day to play hooky! We got the bulk of this year’s snowfall of 223.5-inches in what should have been spring months. Kids had snow days when they normally would have had outdoor track practice. Our local university, Michigan Tech, had to cancel its outdoor Spring Fling due to a blizzard on April 19! Spring finally arrived last weekend. With temperatures near seventy-degrees, our 4-foot base of snow made a hasty retreat. Waterfalls are spilling torrents of run-off, and rivers are now rapids. In my little hometown of Gay, MI in the Upper Peninsula, the Tobacco River runs wild this time of year. I made the 25-mile drive to the bridge over the mouth of the Tobacco. I was awed, feeling the hydro-power that flowed beneath. The roar was deafening.  I drove a mile upstream where the river has reached flood stage; its water lapped the asphalt’s edge. I shouted, “Welcome back!” to a pair of Sandhill Cranes that flew overhead.  From just 5-feet away, I stood and watched a muskrat feed on new grass shoots along the riverbank. I listened to ducks call to one another in the swollen swamp across the road. An eagle soared farther out over the water. Assorted songbirds chattered back and forth. The fragrant smell of spring was in the air. I inhaled deeply. These things feed my soul. I felt renewed in spirit as I drove home, ready to get on with the responsibilities of the day. I dropped my car off for an oil change, and met a friend for a 2-mile walk outdoors. Sunshine, exercise, and good conversation were the cherry on the ice cream sundae of this beautiful day. And now I sit at my computer, reflecting on this serendipitous day. I am a disciplined person; I can crank out the words when needed. But I am grateful that I know when I need a few hours to feed my soul. Tonight I will go to sleep with a smile on my face. I am renewed. Today’s Challenge: What feeds your soul? When was the last time you played hooky -even for an hour – and indulged in something that renews your spirit? If it’s been too long, make a plan to do it...

WHAT TO DO?

This is a re-post of a blog I wrote for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks (published 9/9/11). As Boston and our country are reeling from the latest act of terrorism on our shores, it’s important to not give in to feelings of fear, helplessness, or hopelessness. There will no doubt be fundraisers for the victims of yesterday’s attack. As we send contributions and offer up prayers, we will also send a message to those who underestimate our country: “You can’t touch this thing called freedom. We are united. We are the United States of America.” Here are some examples of small ways we can pull together as a nation to say, “We are in this together. I stand with you.” “What to do?” Like most Americans, I asked myself that question during the week after September 11, 2001. As I stared with disbelief at the images of Ground Zero on TV, my heart cried out with the need to do something, but what? What could I do that would make a difference? It was not feasible to travel to New York City to cheer on the rescue workers, but it occurred to me that there were things I could do right here at home. I thought of the story in the Bible of the woman with the alabaster jar: she broke it, and anointed Jesus with the expensive perfume it contained. Jesus commended her, “She did what she could.” (Mark 14:8). In the midst of desperate times, we may not be able to do great things, but let it be said that we did what we could. My flag flew 24 hours/day to show my support for my country. My final thoughts of the day were prayers for our president, his advisers, and our military. I asked God to bless America and keep her safe from harm. I wore a lapel pin of the stars-and-stripes. There was a sense of unity as I saw others in public, proudly wearing their colors, too. Without a word, when we looked at each others’ pins, it communicated, “We’re in this together.” I gave bags of cans and bottles to a fundraising effort done by our local high school. Our teens wanted to contribute to the NYC Victims’ Fund. I wanted to encourage their sense of compassion and patriotism, and cheer, “Way to go!” On a day off, I made a large pot of chicken soup. Carrots from my Dad’s garden seemed to add to its therapeutic value. I invited my pastor and his wife to dinner after church that Sunday. Their daughter was teaching overseas in a country near Afghanistan. I wanted to assure them of my prayers. With a bowl of homemade chicken soup, I wanted to say, “Everything will be okay.” I brought leftover soup to my 90-year old Uncle Reino. He lived alone, but managed remarkably well, in spite of having lost a leg to cancer. He was widowed the year after my husband died; a special bond was forged out of our losses. We sat in his front porch and exchanged a few words of disbelief about that week’s events. Mainly, we just sat. I shared the ministry of presence with him. A container of soup and a brief visit told him, “I’m still here. I love you.” I baked cookies to send in a care package to my daughters, Aimee and Molly, who lived downstate. On top of each box, I placed patriotic dishtowels I purchased on clearance after the Fourth of July. I intended to give them the towels the following year, but their message, “God bless America,” was needed then. The care packages were my way of saying, “I can’t be with you now, but I’m sending this hug through the mail.” Aimee and her husband, Andy were just weeks into their new careers when the whole world changed. I sent a card of congratulations celebrating their new beginning. I wanted to assure them, “Life will go on. We’ll get through this.” Molly was a senior in college, getting ready to launch out into life. To my Communications major, I conveyed this thought, “We may not know what the future holds, but we know Who holds the future. Keep the faith.” Two days after the terrorist attack, I was scheduled to present a workshop at a women’s retreat.  The retreat director asked if I would cover two keynote presentations as our speaker’s plane was grounded in California. In our closing session, I reminded the women of the famous words of Winston Churchill. During the terrible bombing of London during WW II, he urged his countrymen to conduct...

MATTERS OF THE HEART MATTER

I admit it: I love going to the movies. I love the whole package. I want to sit in the dark and be transported to another time and place for ninety minutes. It would be much cheaper to wait for films to come out on DVD, but life is too short to settle for a TV screen image of the great dramas that have captured my imagination and thrilled my heart. And please…pop the popcorn and layer the butter! I’ll count calories elsewhere. Truthfully, I would go to the movies more often if there were films I cared to see. I’ve walked out of theaters when I realized the trailers did not accurately portray the film’s disappointing or disturbing content. On the other hand, I find no shame in seeing movies that I love more than once. (However, don’t ask me how many times I’ve seen “The Help” or “The Notebook.” You don’t want to know.) Movies entertain us, but more than that – like great art or music – great movies touch us and move us in ways that go beyond the story itself. We would do well to pay attention to those stirrings deep within because they matter – they reveal the matters of our heart and our longings. Knowing our heart helps us to find true north and set our course in life. My husband could not stem the flood of tears that flowed after seeing “Field of Dreams.” The compelling story of a father/son conflict and a touching ending certainly justified misty-eyes; but the movie exposed a part of Jon’s heart he was unaware of: It tapped a pocket of pain over his relationship with his own father. Jon had his mother’s artist’s eye. He followed his heart and studied photography at the Center For Creative Studies in Detroit. My father-in-law never understood Jon’s refusal of his offer to set him up in business when a local sandwich shop went on the market. Art could have only dreamed that his immigrant father could have given him such a leg up in life. Seeing the movie shortly after the loss of his dad helped Jon give voice to the pain of those unmet expectations. Bringing them to light brought healing. Scenes from my life flashed in my mind as the credits rolled at my first viewing of “The Help.” As a child of the sixties, I wished I could ride a Greyhound bus from Michigan to Mississippi to join the marches to end segregation. I also recalled the summer of 1966. I was 16-years old and had just graduated from high school. I rode a train to the Chicago area to work as a nanny for a wealthy family. My employer took advantage of me from the day I arrived. She heaped on new responsibilities that were not a part of my agreed upon job duties. Although I couldn’t begin to compare my experience to that of the women in the movie, I know the humiliation of being looked on as the hired help and treated as “less than.” These memories of my youth poured out of me as my daughter and I rode home from the theater. I had not thought about them in years, and certainly had no reason to discuss them with my children. I also spoke of other jobs as a waitress and motel maid in my college years that gave me an understanding of and compassion for people in service positions. “The Help” was the catalyst that helped me share that part of my life and my heart with Aimee. I am grateful to my favorite writer Ken Gire for teaching me to be more attentive to the music, books, and movies that stir my soul. In his book The Reflective Life: Becoming More Spiritually Sensitive to the Everyday Moments of Life, Gire tells of his practice of “marking the trail.” He keeps a list of the books read and movies seen each year to remember where he’s been on his spiritual pilgrimage and what has touched him. I mark the trail of my spiritual journey in the covers of the prayer journals I keep. Matters of the heart matter. Movies can take us to the heart of the matter. Today’s challenge: Think of a movie that stirred something in you. Take time to reflect on what it reveals of your heart and your longings. Share it with someone you trust. Mark your trail.          ...

COURAGE TO CHANGE

In the Keweenaw Peninsula of Upper Michigan, we know what to do with the 92 inches of snow that fell in January: We’re throwing a party! Actually, Michigan Technological University (MTU) is throwing the party, but we are all invited. MTU’s annual Winter Carnival is a welcome break for the winter-weary. The detailed snow sculptures are always a highlight. We’ll enjoy a torchlight parade down the ski hill and watch with wonder as fireworks reflect on the snow.  We will all turn out to root for the home team as the MTU Huskies take on Alaska Anchorage in hockey. Our Winter Carnival Queen will be treated to a ride on the Zamboni. The infamous MTU Pep Band will have us on our feet cheering, as well as locking arms with strangers, swaying to “The Blue Skirt Waltz” (Better known as the Copper Country Anthem in these parts). There will be something for everyone: rousing competitions of broomball, skiing, ice bowling, snowshoe races, basketball, snow volleyball and human dogsled races. The festivities will culminate with a dance called – what else, but…the Snow Ball. Yes, indeed. When winter hands us 92-inches of snow in one month, we make snowballs, ice rinks, and snow sculptures. We bring on the winter games. Around here, we laugh in the face of minus 20-degrees wind chills. Since winter comes – and stays – every year, we make the best of it. It’s our version of “If life gives you lemons – make lemonade.” I’d vote for the Serenity Prayer as our official winter petition: God grant me the serenity  To accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference. November is traditionally the hardest month of the year for me. Bidding farewell to our spectacular autumn foliage and saying hello to the gray skies of winter always triggers sadness in me. That feeling is exacerbated by grief stirred by memories of significant losses I’ve experienced at that time of the year. These are things I can’t change, but I’ve learned to beat those blues back with a stick. I swing into action with a self-care plan as soon as I turn the calendar page at October’s end: I call friends and plan fun get-togethers. Though many recommend taking Vitamin C during winter months, I load up on large doses of Vitamin L (Laughter). I invite friends over for movie nights. I arrange for walking partners and coffee dates, especially on gloomy afternoons. I schedule a massage. I cozy-up my kitchen with pots of simmering soups. Before I know it, I’ve successfully weathered another November; it’s time to buy a turkey and ready the guest rooms for my family to come for Thanksgiving. In my world, the day after Thanksgiving is the beginning of the Christmas season – that most wonderful time of the year! December is a month-long celebration, complete with bright lights, my favorite music, delicious smells, and cherished traditions.  I travel to my daughter’s and delight in my grandchildren for two weeks. At that point, I’ve made it through the worst of winter, and my thoughts turn to spring. The weather isn’t our only problem. Whether we live in northern Michigan or the southern-most tip of Florida, we all have wintry seasons come and go in our lives. We get snowed by people and situations out of our control.  Just as in winter, those days are dark and long, with seemingly no end in sight. How do we make it through? With God’s help we accept what we cannot change, and find the courage to change what we can. Today’s Challenge: Has life handed you lemons lately? Are you stuck in a wintry season with little hope for spring? Ask God to help you accept what is out of your control. Look to him to provide the strength and courage you need to change the things you can. Make your own action plan for self-care…then implement it! Hang in there – spring is coming!          ...