(in)RL and Planning Ahead

I must have changed clothes five times.  I loaded my youngest girl into the car for a trip to her friend’s house (where she would stay while I was out) and then I ran back inside to change again.  How many times do I have to hear that God looks at the inner me and really doesn’t care what I wear on the outside?  Clearly it hasn’t “taken” yet.  You know, I wanted to look “nice” but not like I was trying too hard.  (A nice top and denim capris.  I know you were wondering. 🙂  I mentally composed my blog post as I drove said daughter to her friend’s house (30 minutes in the opposite direction from my meetup), which is ridiculous because how could I know what I’d want to capture in words when I hadn’t even arrived yet? 

I got there 10 minutes late, carrying my chocolate chip poundcake – same offering as last year, and also had the same “stuck to the pan and had to be pieced together and then glazed to hide the flaws” problem.  I knew the hostess and one other attendee slightly from this wild rumpus called Allume that happens every year, so I wasn’t even that nervous about meeting people.  Once I walked in, I felt instantly at home. 

We had a great time sharing our stories.  We talked about our kids, our hometowns (no one there was a native), gardening, and whatever else came to mind.  We watched some of the videos, but honestly we were having so much fun talking that we finally had to turn the videos off. 

One of the highlights for me came as we worked on a craft project.  Our hostess had graciously provided each of us with a cardboard covered journal that we could decorate.  Something happened as we sat together in the floor in a circle, working on our journals.  Our hands were engaged in a creative activity and there was no pressure to look in each other’s eyes, so it was very easy to carry on conversations.  I imagine it must have been the same way in old fashioned quilting bees.  I know I’ve had the same experience when scrapbooking with friends.  And you learn a bit about other people when you witness their creative process.  Some of us were swift and sure, finished with our design in a few minutes, and others were deliberate and thoughtful, taking much longer to perfect their creations.

In addition, I loved the (in)RL videos – loved knowing that I am not the only one who feels inadequate sometimes, who wonders if reaching out is going to end in rejection, who feels like her story doesn’t really matter.  I think of all the stories I’ve heard in my lifetime and how so many of them were just the thing I needed to hear at just the right time.  I believe that every experience we have in life matters somehow – nothing is wasted.  Our God has a plan for all of it.  There IS purpose in the pain.  When I went through a divorce in my 20s, struggled with infertility, and mourned babies lost through miscarriage, those were not punishments or tests.  We live in a sinful world, and sometimes bad things happen to good people.  If telling my story can help someone out there who is walking through the same struggle, I need to be sharing it. 

I’ve already decided that next year I will host an (in)RL meetup at my home.  That’s a huge thing for me, considering that I’ll be living in a new state in just six weeks.  Who knows if I’ll even have any friends up there by next year’s (in)RL?  But I’m going to step out now and trust God for the rest.  He’s got it all under control, I just know it.

 

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Five Minute Friday: Friend

Welcome to the friendliest group of wordsmiths on the web!  On Fridays (er…Thursdays) we all join up to write for five minutes, just five, with no over-editing or over-thinking, on a single prompt we find here.  Want to join us?  There’s always room for one more!

We raised babies together.  In a time when “telephone” meant the kind that was attached to the wall with a cord between the handset and the base.  In a time before DVDs existed (I know I’m dating myself here).  When my daughter watched the same 4 episodes of “Sesame Street” over and over on a VHS tape because we couldn’t get that station on our television so my mother made a tape for her.

We took our babies to the park and let them run free while we followed them around and talked about life.  We joked about arranged marriages (but it was a joke because I was related to her husband, so…not a good idea) and we babysat for each other.  We talked on those stationary telephones for hours so we would have company while we cleaned our houses.  Shelia loved my daughter almost as much as she loved her son.  She was my first “Mom” friend and really, my first grown-up friend.

But then the time came when we moved away and I didn’t see my friend much anymore.  The calls slowed, then finally stopped.  My life circumstances changed and I made new friends, and so did she.

That may sound like a sad story, but I don’t see it that way.  I’ve had friends who have come and gone during different seasons of my life and I have friends (at least on Facebook) that I have known nearly my entire life.  One thing I have come to believe is that God gives us the friends we need when we need them the most.  Some people stay in our lives for years, and some for months, weeks, or even less.  I think He gives us friends to walk alongside us, to “do life” with us, at just the perfect times.

This is especially poignant for me because my family is moving in just a few weeks.  (A few weeks?  I’m not ready!) We are leaving behind some wonderful friends and I’m going to miss them terribly.  But I am confident that God will provide friends for us in our new place – in fact, He’s already started forming some bonds through the magic of the internet.  I know He’s got a plan, and that’s a good thing because I’ve barely started packing.

 

Choosing to Connect

I had lunch with a friend today at the local burger joint.  You know the place I mean – every town has one.  The ones where the burgers are hand-formed and the smell of the place lingers in your hair and on your clothes for hours afterwards.  Ours is called Ike’s and they serve some of the most amazing burgers you’ll find anywhere.  Add the hand cut fries and the onion rings to the mix and, as we say around here, it’s Katy bar the door! 

This particular burger joint is very popular around lunchtime and parking can get tricky.  Not only that, the building itself is quite small for the number of burger-loving folks who want to get in, so the tables are mostly all smooshed together into long 8-tops in order to seat more people.  Unless you’re coming in with a party of eight, this creates an interesting situation.  Newcomers can join a table with customers already seated there, or they sit at an empty table and later on someone comes in and sits with them.  Either way, strangers often end up side by side at the table.  There was a period in my life when that would have sent me running right back out the door.  Sit with strangers?  No thanks.  But, hello, the burgers.

I’ve always found eating together to be such an intimate experience.  It’s so vital, so necessary for human life, that eating together is a kind of reminder that we are ALL human and we ALL have certain needs.  So the first time I found myself eating lunch next to perfect strangers was a little bit of a jolt.  Now I find it somewhat exciting to see who shows up at my table.

And every time it presents me with a choice:  I can either ignore them and pretend that the other table-sitters aren’t there, or I can engage them.  Both are awkward choices, I admit.   I’m an introvert and making small talk with strangers does not come easily.  But the silence is even harder to take so I choose to jump off the ledge and start a conversation about the menu, or the weather, or the staff, or one of the historical photos on the wall.  Sometimes it goes well and the conversation lasts all the way through lunch, sometimes not so much.  And every time I choose to connect, it gets easier.  People, it seems, want to be engaged.  A friendly smile and a kind word go a long way.

By being brave enough to reach out, I’ve learned a lot of history about the area of the South where we live.  I’ve shared fries with a perfect stranger.  I’ve exchanged restaurant reviews and controversial opinions about some of the widely adored landmarks in our town. (The Beacon?  Not a fan.)  I’ve laughed myself silly over a college professor’s hilarious tales of campus life.  And my life is richer for it.  You never know who will end up at your table at Ike’s and that’s part of the attraction for me.

That may sound uncomfortable to you, not knowing who will be at your table.  But I want to tell you about a unique conference coming up that might give you a chance to step out of your comfort zone and make some new connections in a safe environment with other ladies who need community, just like you.

This weekend is the (in)RL Conference.  If you haven’t heard of it, it’s the conference that comes to you – no planes to catch or hotel rooms to book.  Local hostesses very generously open their homes for ladies to gather and experience community, and the theme this year is “We need YOUR story”.  It’s scary to sign up, scarier still to show up, but it’s so worth it.  Someone out there needs to hear YOUR story, because it’s more important than you know. And there may be stories out there that you need to hear.  There’ll be food, and fun, and the potential to develop friendships that could last the rest of your life.  But if you don’t go, you’ll never know.

Last year was my first year doing (in)RL, and I confess that even though I dragged a friend along (because it’s way easier for me than going it alone), I rang that doorbell with a trembling hand.  But on the other side of that door I found welcome and open arms and necks to hug.  There was food and conversation and talk about things we had in common and things we didn’t.  Can I encourage you to check it out?  Look at the meetup page, find a gathering in your area, and RSVP.  Then just show up.  Invite a friend, or go it alone if that’s your style, and choose to connect.  Your life will be richer for it.

Five Minute Friday: Glue

It’s that day of the week when writers all over the internet, and indeed, the world, gather together to write for five free-spirited minutes on a one-word prompt that we find over here on Lisa-Jo Baker’s blog.  Join us?  You won’t regret it.

 

 

Photo: Something you might not have known.

I’ve been broken.  Haven’t we all?  We live in an imperfect world that treats us roughly, where loved ones die, friends betray, children disappoint.  Things go wrong – sometimes very, very wrong.

But I serve a God Who is in the business of putting broken things back together.  He tenderly collects all the shards of my broken spirit and puts me back together, over and over again.

I liken God’s healing to the kintsukuroi in the picture above.  When you’ve been broken, you’ve been changed.  You’ll never be the same again, but maybe that’s a good thing.  I have scars that bear witness to the healing that has taken place.  Those scars are like gold lacquer – they are beautiful to me.  I think scars make people more interesting and they tell a story.  The glue that holds the broken pieces together makes the broken that much more precious.

 

 

Five Minute Friday: Paint

This?  This is the best community you’ll find online – the Five Minute Fridays writers.  We meet up at Lisa-Jo Baker’s blog every week and write for five wild and free minutes on the same one word prompt.  This week it’s PAINT.  Come on and join us!  You won’t regret it.

START

We mix up our own chalk paint and take it outside in muffin tins, all the colors of the rainbow.  We dip our brushes in and start drawing lines, letters, shapes, but it really doesn’t look like much.  It’s kind of watery and thin, and the concrete of the patio shows through far too much.  But we keep at it because according to the instructions, the color develops only as the water in the paint dries.

We create landscapes, hearts, our names.  Then we walk away.  And when we go back there they are.  Bright strokes of color.  Bold, colorful.  Masterpieces on concrete.

If we’d judged our art on the way we saw it first, we’d have been disappointed.  But given a chance to develop, the colors are so wildly beautiful.  How many times do we impatiently give up before we’ve given the paint a chance to dry?  Before we can truly see the art?  How often do we rely on first impressions and fail to let situations and relationships develop until we can see the full picture?  Things are not always as they seem to be as first glance.

STOP

Move: It’s a God-Thing

So my family is involved in this long, protracted move to another state.  The decision was made back in October, and the “real” move won’t happen until June.  My husband and I bought a house in Virginia (we bought a house!  Sorry, still not quite used to the idea.) at the end of February, and we made plans to rent out our house in South Carolina, choosing not to sell it for many reasons:  didn’t think we could get it show-ready, couldn’t sell it for enough money, too much hassle.  But after further consideration (and a look at the reality of having two mortgages in two different states) we decided we’d at least try to sell it.  We set up an appointment with a realtor neighbor of ours and started doing some desperately needed upgrades and repairs.

We had carpet replaced in two rooms.  I wrote about that one earlier.  We had some painting done in a couple of rooms.  We packed anything that didn’t move out of the way fast enough.   Our cats are only now beginning to come out of their hiding places, still alert for the sound of packing tape on boxes.

And then came a providential phone call.  A friend called to ask us about a house for sale on our street.  She worked with my husband Jon when we first moved here eight years ago, and her daughter played softball with our daughters.  In fact, Jon was her coach for a couple of years.  Jon mentioned that our house was going to go on the market soon.  Next thing I know, she wants to take a look at our house, which is nowhere near show-ready condition.  My response?  “But she’s been to our house before!”  No matter, it’s a different story when someone is looking at your home to decide if they want to live there.

We flew into hyperdrive and by God’s grace managed to pull it together, mostly by throwing it all out or boxing it all up.  I somehow managed to pack away all my body lotions, along with most of my books, and I miss them.

I have been saying all along that if we managed to sell our house, it would have to be a God-thing.  We’re not good stagers and we’re not able/willing to put in a lot of money to become good stagers.  I can’t decorate my house at the best of times, so trying to decorate it to appeal to someone else is way out of my skill set.  It seems counter-intuitive to put a lot of money into a house you’re moving out of, even if I know intellectually that it makes sense.  And y’all, at heart I’m lazy.  There it is – the ugly truth.  I have lots of plans and ideas but very little follow-through.

Our friend came to view the house, and to make a long story short, she’s buying it!

We sold our house without ever putting it on the market.  If that’s not a God-thing, I don’t know what is.  He went so far beyond what I asked that it’s almost unbelievable.

I’ve noticed that I have a tendency to want to double- and triple-check what it feels like God is calling me to do.  Do you ever do that?  You feel God directing you toward something, and you keep looking for “signs”.  Like this:  God, if you really want me to take this job, make it clear to me. And then even if I do take that step I feel He’s leading me toward, I keep looking behind me for reassurance.  I’m like Lot’s wife, unwilling to turn my back on the past and move forward.  My neck hurts with all the turning back and forth.  So even with all the confirmation God’s given us (OK, mainly me.  Jon was already convinced.) I keep asking for more.  And God keeps putting the pieces of the puzzle in place.  Job?  Check.  Place to live?  Check.  Buyer for current home?  Check.  I an almost hear Him saying, How many other ways must I show you this is My plan?  Sorry, God.  I’m a bit hard-headed and I lean toward the safe side in so many areas of life.

And something else I’ve noticed about myself.  I pray about things, I circle them in prayer and then I’m surprised when my prayers are answered!  Is that a faith issue?  Is it that I don’t think I deserve it?  What ever happened to praying and believing God will answer?  I think for me it’s that I pray and I tell God what I want, and then I follow up with “Your will be done” and maybe I’m afraid to assume that MY will matches up with HIS will.  I know that my kids sometimes ask me for things that I have to refuse because I know things that they don’t.  No, you can’t eat six cupcakes because it will give you a stomachache.  God is the same way with His “kids” because He knows things that we don’t.

So now we have a contract on our house here in SC.   There are still some hurdles to get over – financing, home inspection – but I am doing my best to leave it in God’s hands.  After all, He seems to be doing just fine without my help.

One Closet Away From Britney Spears

Unless you’ve never read my blog/Twitter/Facebook before, you probably know by now that my family is moving this summer.  We’ve known about the move since October and I can’t decide if that’s good or bad.  It’s the old pull-the-Bandaid-off-quickly vs. ease-it-off-slowly debate.  Both ways hurt but which hurts the least?  You’d think the extra preparation time would be a benefit but I’m not certain.  I think it’s helping our kids adjust to the idea, for sure, but in some ways it feels like a long, slow-motion train wreck.

ANYway, we’ve bought ourselves a new-to-us house in our new town and now we have to prepare the house we currently live in to go on the real estate market.  If you’ve ever bought or sold a home you probably just groaned out loud because you know what special kind of agony goes along with selling a house you are actually still living in.  We’ve been here for almost eight years and trust me when I say we’ve made it ours.  We’ve made our mark all over this house, sometimes literally: IMG_2931

But as all the good real estate professionals will tell you, the best way to sell a home quickly is to do something called “staging”.  Among other things, this involves removing most of your personal effects and setting up what remains in a pleasing arrangement meant to entice potential buyers to imagine themselves living in the home.  It should be warm and clean and minimally furnished/decorated.  On a good day I don’t have any idea how to decorate my house, so this should be really interesting

We’ve started packing and decluttering but we have a long ways to go.  A very long ways.  Meanwhile, we are doing some needed repairs and updates.  For instance, the carpet.

Back in 2009 we had The Great Flood, which necessitated replacing the carpet in about 75% of the house due to a leak in an upstairs bathroom.  We re-did the flooring in every room but two – the office and the master bedroom.  Those two rooms had the carpet that was originally installed when the house was built back in 2003, and believe me when I say they did not spend any more on carpet than they had to, because this stuff was the most basic, generic carpet you can find.  So it was time to replace the carpet in those two rooms to make it match the rest of the house.

We got the installation arranged for a Friday when we were to be gone to a gymnastics competition, which is good because who wants to be around when the carpet guys pull up a 10+ year old carpet full of dust, cat hair and other things too horrible to contemplate?  Not this highly allergic girl.  I was planning to leave home on Thursday with our little flipper so we could be at the meet on time since it was a couple of hours from home.

In preparation for the new carpet, my job was to move “all the little stuff” off the floors in those two rooms.  Now, we had already started packing, but people, there was a lot of “stuff” sitting around in those two rooms.  I work part-time and I have two children on my own during the week, because my husband is working in our new town.  By Wednesday I was all stressed out.  More than once I made the comment that I was beginning to understand why poor Britney Spears felt like she had to go out and shave her head all those years ago.  I said that I could fully sympathize with feeling like everything in your life is so out of control that you have to do something to prove to yourself that there’s still a little something within your control.  Life does not just stop coming because you have something special like an interstate move going on, so all the other things still had to be done too.  I had picked up/put away quite a bit but it was becoming very clear that the job was not going to be done in time for the carpet guys to come on Friday.  Luckily a phone call spared me a little bit of anxiety because “the carpet guys” said to move what I could and they’d move anything else still in the way.  Whew.

So off we went to the meet, and we came home to two rooms worth of new carpet.  Ooooh, it was nice!  We took our shoes off and walked around barefoot with exclamations of pleasure and delight.  And then I walked into my bathroom and found about 10 full black trash bags in the bathroom floor.  And I realized that they had replaced the carpet in my closet.

I don’t know about you, but my master bedroom closet is the ultimate hidey hole.  There are lots of other places to hide things I don’t want my guests to see, but with most of those there is the potential that a guest might accidentally open the door to the office/junkroom and my secret will be discovered.  But nobody, nobody, goes into my master bedroom closet uninvited.  For one thing, you’d have to go through the master bedroom and the master bath, and who does that?  Basically it’s a walk-in closet that you can’t actually walk into, because there’s so much stuff in there.

I was floored (pun intended).  Don’t get me wrong – the carpet in the closet was the same old grungy stuff that we had replaced in the other two rooms.  It’s just that I.  Had.  No.  Idea.  I turned to my family and with all seriousness, told them that it’s a good thing I hadn’t known because if I had been responsible for clearing off the floor of the closet, it would have sent me right over the edge into a head-shaving Britney Spears episode.  If I was hair-pulling, hanging-on-by-a-thread stressed about the other two rooms, the closet would have been the  straw that broke the camel’s back.  It turns out that at least one of my family members knew about the closet but “forgot” to tell me.  I say it was some unconscious survival instinct that kept them from telling me.

Anyway, the carpet guys did me a favor because pulling all that stuff out gave me the jump start I needed to clean the closet out and you can actually “walk-in” to it again.  And I’m loving the new carpet so much I kind of want to stay here.