Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Postcard from the airport

It's now been 25 hours since I've slept, so if this post is incoherent, that's the reason.  Still, what better way to pass the time till check in than to write?  So, faithful reader, here's a postcard from the airport.

As an infrequent traveler, who just finished her fifth flight ever, the novelty hasn't worn off.  The last 18 hours have been an almost complete disconnect from my normal life.  It's as if, when I walked onto the plane, I temporarily shed my identity.  No one here knows anything about me.  (Interestingly, people seem to assume I'm German, until I start speaking.  Must be the Hess and Herr coming out).  It's nice, at least for a short time.  No phone calls, no driving, no one asking me for snacks.  Instead, I'm being catered to, with free coffe, apples, coffeecake, and wifi at the USO.  The lack of domestic responsibility almost cancels out the jet lag. 

I'm aware, by the way, that if I was staying home with children and reading a friend's blog, even reading a complaint  about something like jet lag would probably come across like a size 2 complaining to a size 10 about how hard it was to find clothes that fit.  It would be a little hard to empathize.  ;)  I"m still pinching myself a little that we get to have this amazing opportunity/gift. 

Clothes and fashion always interest me, so I've been observing everyone's style.  If you want to dress like a European this fall, the two must-haves appear to be scarves and boots.  Any kind of boots.  They should be worn with slim pants, tights, or leggings.  Short hair is more popular over here too, so I feel right at home.

A cup of coffee is calling my name.  That's it for now.   

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Tea and stereotypes

If I had a bucket list, a visit to England would be somewhere near the top of the list.  The bookworm in me yearns to see the home country of P.G. Wodehouse, Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Lewis, Tolkien, Sayers ... need I go on?  So, when our first British guests were due to arrive this summer, I was excited.  Sure, I knew my view of the country was somewhat out of date.  Rosamunde Pilcher is about as modern as I get.  Still, I made sure the tea kettle was clean, the tea supply was replenished, and purchased a carton of milk for the refrigerator. 

Our guests, 2 couples touring America together, pulled up in a white SUV.  The driver leaped out and strode over to shake my hand.  "Julia?  I'm Nick."  I blinked.  Instead of the button-down jacket wearing guy I'd been expecting, the man before me could have taken his place at a Grateful Dead concert.  Gray hair flowed to his shoulders, and he sported a black Hard Rock Café T shirt, baseball cap, and a pair of patchwork pants.  He managed to carry off this look with aplomb. 

By now the second man had climbed out of the car.  He looked like the missing member of ZZ Top.  Grey hair reached to his shoulder blades, and his mustache and beard were impressive.  I began to wonder if we would be hosting a Battle of the Bands in our driveway.  Their wives emerged, also clad in T-shirts and jeans, and we all began to chat, as my stereotypes fell in ruins at my feet.

All four were pleasant and easy to talk to, and we chatted a little about their trip to America.  "I think I'm finally getting the hang of your money." the one said.  "Oh yes," I remarked, trying to show off my knowledge, "The euro is different isn't it?"

"We're not as bad as that yet!" they all exclaimed.  "We still have the pound!"  Oops.  "But, you are part of the European Union, right?"  Groans all around.  "Don't get us started on politics.  We could talk your ear off."  I began to wonder if London was till the capital, or if any impression I'd had of England was true, but kept these thoughts to myself.

By this point we were in the apartment, and I showed them around.  The kitchen was the last stop, and as we walked in, one of the women looked around, then clasped her hands.  "You have a tea kettle!  Wonderful!"  Finally, the universe began to make sense again.  Apparently the English still like tea.  "Yes, and I have some milk in the fridge for you." "Marvelous!"  they all exclaimed.  "There's nothing like a cup of tea."

They were a fun bunch to host, and when they had checked out a few days later, I went over to clean up.  To my delight, they had left a bag of British made Tetley tea.  I went home and brewed a cup, and it was some of the best I'd drunk in years.  Times change, but Brits still know how to make a good cup of tea.  This is what you do:

Start with the best quality black tea you can get.

Wash your tea kettle and fill with fresh cold water.  Bring it to a boil.  Meanwhile, get out your tea, and place it in a china tea cup, or a Hard Rock Café mug.  Pour the boiling water over the tea, and let steep for a few minutes.  Add milk, lemon, or sugar as desired.  Sit down, put your feet up, and enjoy your tea.  Patchwork pants optional. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Finally, something that isn't gloomy!

The last few posts have been, um, kind of heavy, haven't they?  Surgery fears, more than we can handle, discontent ... string them all together and the picture is decidedly skewed toward the dark side.  (Yes, I know:  if I wrote more frequently this might not be an issue).  I do end up using this space as therapy, and you may feel in need of some after you read it!

There are many good things going on right now in the midst of the craziness that is summer.  The children and I have 5 weeks under our belts, 6 more to go.  Sure, there's the daily squabbles, but no one has yet threatened to run away or hide in the bathtub for the afternoon.  I have 6 fun events saved up my sleeve, one for each remaining week, which feels like money in the bank.  The guest house rental is going reasonably well - everyone seems to be enjoying themselves, and our daughter is thrilled that several visitors have had girls her age.  Oh, and airconditioners, even the window unit kind, get my vote for best top 10 inventions ever.  Nate and I get to talk almost every day, and I'm actually remembering to send notes and care packages on a semi-regular basis. 

We even have room for some long planned extras like swim lessons, an upcoming 2 days off for me (hallelujah! hallelujah! .... ) and a possible day camp.  I'm learning to let the housework go a bit, and expand my "messiness comfort zone."  Hey, the children are over getting their own breakfasts while I write this.  They're probably watching a video and eating cornflakes in the living room, but at least they're getting independent.  So many things to be thankful for!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Contentment and other impossibles

Well, I walked over to mom's computer all prepared to write a review of The Great Gatsby, Baz Luhrman version (bottom line: long, but worth your time), and made the mistake of opening facebook.
Saw a picture someone posted of their newly purchased beautiful stone historic house, with incredible landscaping. 

How honest can I be here on this blog?  How honest do I want to be?  Friends, I coveted that house.  Seriously, it was like a punch to the stomach.  I wanted it.  I was jealous of this person, who I don't even know.  Then I was angry.  Why can't I have something like this?  Or even close to this?  I'm a freaking cancer survivor for Pete's sake - don't I deserve this?  Then, the guilt.  Coveting, envying - this is sin.  Being ungrateful for what you do have, that you and your husband work hard for - this is sin.  But I still want a house like that. 

Contentment is a hard lesson to learn.  This is why I stay off Pinterest.  But you can't disengage from life, and when you live in this area, you can't avoid beautiful houses that belong to other people. 

Feelings pop up all the time - with me it's usually envy and anger.  For you it may be different.   And each time I have to play spiritual whack-a-mole:  hit them on the head with prayer and then redirect. 

Why do I share this with you?  Because writing it out helps.  Because I don't want to hide struggles, even if they paint me in a bad light.  Actually, light is usually the only thing that banishes the darkness. 

Now, in the spirit of whack-a-mole, I'm going to get off the computer. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

More Than We Can Handle

I'm sitting in Monkey Joe's, Fayetteville's overly airconditioned but well equipped bouncy house (huge bouncers for the kids, cushioned rockers, cable TV and computer access for the parents).  This will be our last visit here before Nate's deployment at the end of the month. 

There's a lot I have to learn about being a military spouse, but one thing comes up frequently:  be strong.   "You must be a strong woman" several people told me. "I could never do what you are doing."  "Army Strong." "Be strong and don't complain too much," I've told myself. "People won't understand your situation, and you don't need to hand them reasons to doubt your decisions in life."  (Painful to admit, but true).   Undergirding all this is a hazy assumption that God won't give me more than I can handle. That's Biblical, isn't it?

Well, not really.  Something didn't sit quite right with that assumption, but I didn't put a finger on it until I read a book called "God Strong"  (recommended by the only other Army wife I know:  thanks again Kristy!)  I wish I could give you the direct quote, but I didn't pack the book in my bag when we left the house.  However, her basic point is that in tough situations we often tell ourselves that God will not give us more than we can bear.  The assumption is that if we just grit our teeth hard enough, pull our bootstraps hard enough, work hard enough, we can get through things in our own strength. Wrong.

Where does this idea come from? Probably from the Bible verse that says "But God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, but will provide a way for you to bear up/escape from it"  (My paraphrase).   The  author (Sara Horn) rightly points out that this  verse is about temptation,  not necessarily every tough life issue.  When I am tempted to anger, to laziness, to gossip, to gluttony,  that's when God always provides a way out of it. 

At other times, however, God allows things in our lives that are much more than we can "handle."  If that hasn't happened to you or someone you love yet, don't worry, it will. You or someone you love will be diagnosed with cancer.  A marriage will end in anger and tears.  Chronic illness will stretch out its weary lifetime. Children will rebel. Friendships will break. Unemployment, money worries, family fights, mental illness, 9 month deployments, stress ... these will break our backs. 

Why does this happen?  Isn't Christianity supposed to be my ticket to peace, joy, and abundant life?  Yes, but it begins/continues with this truth:  We need God for everything.  There are stages in life when it's easy to push this aside. When life is going comparatively well, it's tempting to think that my own efforts and good character are what carry me through.  It's only when the rug gets pulled out from under me that I realize how weak I am. 

This is an invitation for me to let go of my human pride, and "goodness" and "strength" and to use God's unending strength instead.  "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is  made perfect in weakness."  We can do the hard things in our lives, but only because God gives us His strength.

Paradoxically, it's often easier to realize this in the big crises of life. I knew cancer was more than I could handle, and so did everybody else, and it was much easier for me to rely on God and help from others.   It humbles me to admit that the day to day parenting issues, car stuff, and house maintenance are sometimes more than I can handle also, but there it is.  The challenge is to turn to God instead of my own resources.

"When you have exhausted your store of endurance,
When your strength has failed ere the day is half done;
When you come to the end of your hoarded resources,
Your Father's full giving has only begun!"

Sunday, February 17, 2013


I like the illusion that I'm in control of my life.

Most times the regular routines prop up this myth:  get the children out the door and off to school, do laundry, housework, shop, visit a friend, go to the library, prepare meals ... vibrant, purposeful activity shapes my day and my sense of control.
As I write this, I'm convalescing from surgery.  Humanly and medically speaking, I've now done everything possible, sacrificed every last bit to ensure that breast and ovarian cancer are not in my future.  The prolonged weakness and pain took me by surprise - I'd forgotten what even a "minor" surgery does to the body.  No housework, no driving, no shopping; just me, the sofa and my thoughts.  No distractions.  No escape.

Right now even the internet is not my friend.  Google "surgical menopause" and the words "abrupt", "premature aging", "osteoporosis", "a shell", "afraid of change", and "anger" unscroll in a litany of

Issues that I believed I'd dealt with, surrendered to God, started poking their heads above ground, like resurgent weeds.  Why must I face these hard choices and their consequences?  I had followed all the rules, lived a good girl life, no smoking, no drinking, no drugs, a healthy lifestyle.  Why must I pioneer this course in our family?  I'm a terrible pioneer.  In a melodramatic moment I told Nate I felt like a punching bag - just as I'd reached equilibrium and stopped swaying after the events of four years ago, the universe reached out a casual hand and punched my life again.  What next? 

Now I am aware that the appropriate mature Christian response is not "Why me" but "why not me."  I must also confess that at times the mature Christian response is long in coming.  I'm not sure it can be hurried.  God is bigger than my anger, my questions, my fears.  Rationally,  I know God works his own purposes for His glory and our good, but emotionally I think frankly that I could do a better job running my life at the moment.  Instead of building up my soul with unpleasant and permanent choices, I'd choose to build up my soul with some unexpected blessings like a trip to Europe, a four bedroom house, children who obey me at least two thirds of the time, and a landscaped yard.

I'm only partially kidding. 

At the same time, I realize how ridiculous it is to expect that I could control my life in a positive way when I can't get through a day without losing control of my temper. 

Dear reader, this is a more honest post than I usually allow myself.  It's where I'm at on February 17, 2013.  

I cannot know Why.  I can only learn to know and trust Who.