Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Friday, January 24, 2020

Patchwork Promises

 If you happen to know my husband, you may have noticed he’s nearly always in blue jeans. Has been since I met him in 1973. What you may not know is that for decades (probably since I stopped trying to patch them), I’ve been saving his torn and worn jeans—along with a pair or two of my own—with the intention of one day cutting them into squares and making a quilt.

Eventually, I filled a large box labelled “Old jeans for quilt.” After the box filled, the jeans began piling up on top.

One day I took an honest look at that box with its added pile. “Who am I kidding?” I thought. “This quilt is never going to happen.”

Too stubborn to part with them, I thought I’d make time once I retired.

Then I retired.

Months passed. The jeans remained untouched. Not being one who enjoys hanging on to useless stuff, I reached a decision about the jeans. “If one year goes by from the date of my retirement,” I told Hubby, “and I still haven’t begun cutting those jeans into squares, they’ve got to go.”

I took his silence to mean he held no opinion one way or the other.

Where exactly they would ‘go,’ I had no idea. Do thrift stores want them? I didn’t know, but the pressure was finally on. I began cutting out squares while watching TV. Or, as I like to call it, redeeming the time. At some point after the cutting began, it occurred to me that ripped jeans are trendy and expensive. I was probably sitting on a gold mine which, now that I was cutting it all up, would once again be worthless. Oh well. I never did have a head for business.

The box now contains 250 seven-inch squares of denim waiting to be pieced together. In varying shades of blue, faded blue, grey, black, and faded black, I figure I can arrange them into some sort of pattern. I even cut out several back pockets which I plan to randomly apply at assorted angles to camouflage the blunders I’m certain to make.

Next step: stocking my sewing box with heavy thread and sturdy sewing machine needles. 

Accounting for a half-inch seam allowance, my questionable math skills tell me I can make a quilt about eight feet square if I want it that large. Maybe I should make three twin-size, so each of our kids gets one. Or five lap quilts, one for each grandson? Should I continue saving jeans? How long do I expect us both to live, anyway?

Maybe I should hang onto the finished quilt in case my husband becomes a celebrity. We could raffle them off and donate the proceeds to charity. Can you imagine how much a quilt might go for if made from blue jeans once worn by Dwayne Johnson or Kanye West or Ed Sheeran? How about Elvis or O.J. Simpson or Billy Graham?

Well, I suppose if Hubby becomes famous, whichever of our kids ends up with this masterpiece can cash in. Meanwhile, I have a project to finish. If a year goes by and I still haven’t begun stitching this heirloom together, the pieces have got to go.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend…” (from Ecclesiastes 3)

Friday, January 17, 2020

Let's Hear It for those THOUGHS

I am learning to love the word “though.”

Last month, I enjoyed the privilege of being guest speaker at a Christmas banquet in MacGregor. The women of the Sommerfeld Mennonite Church were warm, welcoming, and responsive. They laughed in all the right places and grew quiet right on cue. And if you ever doubted the adage that Mennonite girls can cook, doubt no longer. I stuffed myself with delicious food even though I could only sample a fraction of their potluck offerings.

That night I shared with the group some of my funniest stories, but also some serious ones. We looked at a short passage from Habakkuk chapter three, clearly written to an agricultural community during a bleak time.

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength.”

Do you see all the “thoughs” in that passage? The writer is telling us we can rejoice even in the middle of hardship and pain. I encouraged the women to fill in those “thoughs” with their own “thoughs.” We all have them. Make a list, whatever yours might be. Though my marriage is broken, though I am not receiving healing from this illness, though I am still unemployed, though my loved one has an addiction…you know what yours are, and maybe the list seems extra-long. Once your list is done, add the YET part, like Habakkuk did. Yet I will rejoice in the Lord.

Why? Because your story isn’t over. God is in the business of great reversals. We see it all through the Bible. Think of Esther. Job. Gideon. Lazarus. But nowhere more powerfully than at the cross of Christ. What our enemy thought was his greatest victory—the Son of God, dead—turned out to be his greatest defeat. Not only did Jesus return to life, but his resurrection made a way for us all to live forever. The greatest reversal ever.

And God can do the same with your pain. Your “though.” You may not see it today or tomorrow, but one day you will tell the complete story. The ending will be so triumphant, greater than you could have ever imagined (see Ephesians 3:20).

I’ve never jumped on the bandwagon of choosing a theme word for a year, but I’m beginning to think “though” might be a great word for 2020. One day, we will have perfect twenty-twenty vision. We’ll see our lives—past, present, and future—the same way God sees them. We’ll view with clarity the great reversals he performed in our lives when we continued to worship him no matter what.

And we’ll realize the precious value of a little word like “though.”

Friday, January 10, 2020

Grandma’s Top Ten Coping Strategies

By the time this column appears on your doorstep or online, I’ll be in Calgary. For an entire week, I’ll have sole care of our two youngest grandsons, ages two and four, while their parents take a much-needed break somewhere warm.

I started a list of coping strategies well in advance. Once we’ve all survived the week—assuming we do—I’ll let you know how well they worked. Do you have any to add?

1.     Cook no adult meals. Get a list of stuff the boys will actually eat. Why waste time and effort preparing meat and vegetables only to coax minuscule bites into reluctant little mouths? They—and I—can survive quite nicely for a week on peanut butter sandwiches or Kraft Dinner or whatever their parents put on the list.

2.     Take your showers at night after they’re in bed because they’ll rise before you. Although I am an early riser, I’ve learned from previous visits that these boys have me beat. Trying to stick to my morning shower regime will only lead to frustration. I can adapt. For a week.

3.     Lie down during their nap no matter how messy the house. My natural tendency is to rip around like a maniac while the kids sleep just to stay on top of the housework. If I’m going to survive, I need to kick my obsessive-compulsive habits to the curb and make staying on top of my own energy level a priority.

4.     Clean the kitchen only once per day, after they’re in bed. See point number three.

5.     Pack along some little surprises for them, maybe one per day to look forward to. Ten dollars at MCC bought me a week’s worth of new-to-them books, toys, and puzzles. Along with this, a little chart showing how many days remain might prove helpful.

6.     Try to take them outside for a bit every day. Calgary is famous for its warm chinooks, but the temperatures could also drop to minus forty. A blizzard could hit. Three feet of snow could fall, leaving only me to shovel the driveway. I’ll pray for chinooks.

7.     Have enough coffee and hazelnut creamer on hand. I’m normally a one-cup-per-day gal, but keeping other people’s children alive and well calls for extreme measures. I may need two cups. Sacrificing my caffeine in this coffee-less home would be stupid. As for the hazelnut creamer, what’s the point of coffee without it?

8.     See if their mom can leave behind perfume or lotion to use so you smell like her. You never know what might comfort the boys, and I’m certainly not opposed to subconscious methods if they work. Can’t hurt…unless it only makes them miss her more.

9.     When your daughter asks if she should cancel the babysitter for her usual one-day-per-week, say no. Getting the boys to the sitter’s house is nerve-wracking for this scaredy-cat city driver, but by midweek, I’m going to need the break. And forcing myself to drive outside my comfort zone will do me good.

10.  Most important of all, DO NOT skip your prayer and scripture time even if you must do it at night. You’ll need it to keep your cool. Temper tantrums are not limited to toddlers.

It occurs to me as I strategize that many people in our world care for grandchildren full time. Sometimes by choice, but often it’s from the crises created by drugs, mental illness, or AIDS. Those grandparents don’t get breaks. They can’t provide a new surprise every day. A cup of coffee or a nap isn’t going to cut it. They need our prayers, our support, and our compassion. If my week makes me more empathetic, it will be seven days well spent.

Friday, January 3, 2020

New and Glorious Morn

December 27th. It’s six-thirty in the morning and we’re saying goodbye to our Calgary kids who came for a whirlwind week of Christmas chaos. Toddlers lacking in routine but rich in sugar. Sweet moments of opening gifts, playing with toys, cuddling up to read stories, laughing at their cute expressions. Biting our tongues over temper tantrums and whining and the house turned upside down. They’ve become reacquainted with cousins, aunts and uncles—and even a great-grandmother the little one had never met. They’ve been taken to church, to the playground, and around the block.

Now it’s time to say goodbye. We squeeze the stuffing out of them and send them on their way, grateful for good traveling weather and praying for safety.

I take my coffee into the living room and sit staring at the tree, only partially lit due to a failed string of lights since some time Christmas Eve. In the stillness, I reflect on our time together. What just happened here?

I’d entered into it determined not to entertain impossible expectations—or any expectations at all. A group photo would have been nice, since it was our first time together in two years. But I knew better than to bank on it. We managed to collect all thirteen of us under the same roof for only two hours, during which the little ones slept.

I’d asked God to help me adopt a servant’s heart, to gladly make each day as good, each meal as tasty, each bed as comfortable, each event as convenient for others as it lay within me to do. How did I do, God?

He doesn’t answer.

All I know for sure is I’m exhausted. I drift off for a bit, wondering how to spend this day. Should I kick it into high gear, restore the house to order? Or should I lie around watching Christmas movies in my pajamas, polishing off the egg nog, fudge, and Chex mix? I could take advantage of the quiet, buckle down at my computer and hammer out some new columns or maybe even the first chapter of a new novel. Or perhaps I should give my sluggish ol’ body a head-start on 2020 by going for a brisk walk and drinking a gallon of water.

For now, I doze.

When I open my eyes again, the sun—which we have not seen for days—streams through my living room window. It laser-beams its radiance across the top of our mantle, brilliantly illuminating the nativity scene. In his creativity, kindness, and gentleness, God reminds me once again of what all the fuss was about. Or what it was supposed to be about.

In the end, I spend the day in moderation. Some laundry and puttering, a bit of writing, a short nap, a little fresh air and healthy food along with the leftover treats. My heart is at peace, because I know that whatever post-holiday feelings I might be sorting, the joys and disappointments, the not nearly enoughs and the much-too-much, God is always sufficient. The goals or dreams or worries I might have for the new year pale in light of the one true gift that is mine every day: God’s love, sent to us through a baby in a manger.