Not to Be Left Out

All this month, I’ve been sharing stories and thoughts about my dad, who died just over a year ago. The month is coming to an end, and I would miss an essential part of Dad’s life and my memories if I didn’t share about my mom and dad’s marriage.

They did marriage well. Maybe I can claim that for the sheer length of their marriage. But to me, it was more than that. I’m sure they would agree. It wasn’t that they had it all figured out or had a perfect marriage. They were two imperfect people doing their best.

It’s not that I think my or everyone else’s marriage should look exactly like my mom and dad’s. All marriages are different. But there are some things I learned from watching them together, through better and worse, richer and poorer, in sickness and in health.

Do your best.

Love well.

Laugh often.

Be willing to grow.

I’m still working on some of these. But I’m doing my best. Just like they did. I’m thankful for their example.

Into The Woods

My dad took me on a trailride in Eminence, Missouri. One of my best childhood friends, Julie, and my Uncle Bud went, along with, of course, four horses. We drove down a slight hill with dense trees on both sides until we came to a clearing filled with more pickup trucks and horse trailers than I had ever seen. Horses were everywhere. Everyone wore cowboy boots. For some people, that might seem like everyday life. To me, it was strange yet wonderful.

We ate chow. Not dinner or breakfast, but chow. In the mess hall. Every night was a campfire with some banjo music and dancing. Every day was a lot of horseback riding in beautiful woods along stunning bluffs. Dad let me  ride his horse, Lady, who came from Texas with a trailer load of cattle when Dad was a young teen. She was well-trained and gentle, which was the only thing that gave me solace when the trail led downward in the woods, then took a sharp left turn along the rocky ledge of a bluff. I was certain at least one horse and rider would plummet to their deaths.

I loved riding, but I had never ridden in such a beautiful area for so long. I had never been with so many gorgeous, strong horses. I had never been around so many people who loved their horses.

I give my parents much credit for letting me, even gently pushing me, to try new things, to see that there was a world outside of what I knew, to explore the possibilities. And not just the things they enjoyed. When they asked where I’d most like to go the summer after high school graduation, I said New York City. My dad wasn’t a city guy, but he willingly went. In fact, he insisted on driving us into Manhattan. It wasn’t his favorite place in the world, but to me, it was sort of like riding horses into the beautiful woods years earlier. It was an unexplored world, bursting with possibilities and adventures. I took it one step at a time and enjoyed the unfamiliar scenery. And he and Mom let me.

None of us are going to experience the entire world. In fact, some of us won’t physically travel much at all. Even when money was tight, my parents tried to give me opportunities to see new places, meet new people, and consider new viewpoints. And I am grateful. They let me know there are many ways to see the world: traveling, reading, meeting people, inviting conversation.

One of my favorite quotes hangs on a wall in my house: “The world is a book, and those who don’t travel read only one page.” (St. Augustine)

Travel today, even if it’s from the comfort of your own home.

 

 

The Things We Don’t See

My dad worked hard. He was a farmer, but that’s not all. In addition to the hours upon hours he spent working the fields, fixing and maintaining equipment, taking care of livestock, and keeping everything in an old farmhouse working well, he worked off season jobs to provide for us.

I didn’t think much of it at the time. I rarely didn’t have something I really wanted. And I rarely saw his absence as a stressful thing. Hard work was just part of farm life. We all had jobs. To me, it seemed more like an honor to be able to help than a burden. I wonder if part of it is because I was the youngest, and getting to do “big kid responsibilities” was something I looked forward to. After all, I saw my mom and dad do things I couldn’t do, then I watched my sisters do things I couldn’t do, so by the time I could do them, I was ready and willing.

I loved taking meals to the field with my mom. She wrapped hot ham and cheese sandwiches in foil, so Dad would have something warm to eat. She filled a large mason jar with ice and brewed tea, placing a piece of wax paper over the top before tightly screwing the lid on. That way, it wouldn’t leak. I remember holding the tea jar and thinking it was freezing cold and holding the warm food and thinking it would burn me. We’d drive the old pickup to the field and sit a couple rows down from where he was. Sometimes he’d stop on his next round. Other times, he didn’t want to stop until a certain time, so we’d watch him work up and down the field.

He rarely took much time to talk. He’d quickly share with mom how things were going. Many times, he was stressed, and I rarely understood the details of what wasn’t working right or why the crops weren’t quite what he wanted them to be. But I loved the smell of the harvested crops and overturned soil. I marveled at how filthy my dad could get. I was always surprised by how loud the machinery was.

I understood things on my own terms.

I didn’t understand exactly how crops turned into money – money we needed to pay bills for months to come. I didn’t understand how stressful a broken machinery part could be. I knew time and money could fix about anything, but breaks seemed to come when both time and money were short. I didn’t understand how much my dad relied on my mom through those busy days, weeks, and months, how much more she had on her plate and mind. They seemed to handle it all in stride. I think if I had asked them at the time, they would have shrugged it off and said something like, “We’re just doing what has to be done.”

I didn’t understand at the time, because my little eyes didn’t have the experiences to see the details around me. As I grew up, I began to understand a bit more. I think we all do. We learn as we grow, and what we learn doesn’t just benefit our present. We begin to understand our past, too. And that helps us move into the future.

I’m still learning. I still don’t understand everything. I still don’t see everything. But I’m learning.And I’m going to work hard at learning. It’s in my blood.

 

Tips for Struggling Adult Children

635995551842428548423414045_adultingYesterday, I posted some tips for the parents who might be struggling to parent their adult children well. Today, I want to write specifically for the adult children of those parents…

Adulting isn’t easy. You might miss your mom, the freedom of your childhood, or the dreams you determined but just can’t seem to reach. Or you might be angry that your mom isn’t who you need her to be as you grow into adulthood. She’s not available, doesn’t seem to understand, or can’t seem to accept you as an adult. What can you do?

Step through grief. Life changes. You’ve left many things behind—some that you were too young to remember. You celebrated moving on at times, but other times, it’s been difficult. That’s okay. Let yourself grieve the loss of something or someone, recognize you can’t completely go back, but you can celebrate and embrace what God has in store for the next stage of life.

Focus on what you need, not what you want. This is a hard one no matter how selfless you think you are. You’ll wrestle through assumptions and expectations. Dreams begin to rub against reality. Be as honest as you can be with yourself and others. Instead of choosing to surround yourself with people who affirm whatever you want, choose people who will support and encourage you but also challenge you to continually grow.

Refuse to think you have all the answers. With adulthood comes with responsibility to be a humble, lifelong learner. Admit you don’t know it all, and face the idea that your experiences don’t reflect all of reality. Avoid being too hard on yourself. You’ll have to learn some things the hard way.

Refrain from keeping people where they were, including your parents. Just because your parents responded to you in a certain way in a specific situation or season of your life doesn’t mean that response defines them. Just as you change and grow, so will they. That doesn’t mean they’ll become more like you want them to be, but it also doesn’t mean you understand everything about them.

Be responsible. Blame only digs a hole of insecurities and hurt feelings that are difficult to overcome. Honestly evaluate yourself often in order to learn and grow.

Give God your whole heart, mind, soul, and strength. It’s easier said than done. So many things grab at our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and while God wants us to invest in and be passionate about people, they are never to take His place. Let Him lead. You can trust Him, even through the messiness of adulting.

50 Years of Marriage

My parents aren’t perfect. They’d be the first to admit it. There were times in my life I certainly thought “less than perfect” was an understatement, but those days are gone. My parents have done a lot of things well, and today, on their 50th wedding anniversary, I want to celebrate a few.

My parents are authentic. What you see is what you get.

My parents are giving. They’d help just about anyone they could.

My parents are relational. Those who know my dad will chuckle at this one. It’s definitely an understatement. I’m not sure he knows what a stranger is. My parents have developed some phenomenal friendships over the years, and I know they’ve been a blessing to many. For the record, hearing my parents share about their friends, they feel equally as blessed.

My parents invest. I’ve watched my dad work alongside young men, and I know a group of young women (okay, so they’re my age) with whom my mom worked for several years who love being around her. Making a difference in people’s lives is important to my parents. They see opportunities instead of inconveniences.

My parents parent well. One of the things I respect most about my parents is their willingness to let me and their other children be adults. It seems obvious to let adult children be adults, but it’s easier said than done. They’ve never tried to interfere with issues I’ve had (even though I’m sure at times they certainly want to shake me and tell me how to straighten myself and my life out). They advice without demanding. They consult when asked, don’t protect from consequences, and don’t say “I told you so.”

My parents enjoy life. My dad recently said, “We’ve nearly reached 50 years of marriage, and we’ve laughed just about every single day.” Not many people can say that. My dad’s sense of humor is a bit odd. He certainly enjoys his own jokes and is probably one of the goofiest people I know. I rolled my eyes at his antics at times, but now I actually find the same antics as endearing. My mom chastises my dad for his goofiness, but she laughs, too. They find humor in the strangest situations, but the laughter they experience alongside each other has carried them through dark days and made good days great days.

My parents aren’t done living. When they retired several years ago, they shifted into another gear instead of sitting back and letting time pass.  Mom began volunteering at the elementary school to help young students who struggle to read. Dad took on many projects with friends and at home. They started walking together regularly. They took trips, visited friends and family, and helped neighbors. They live each today as fully as they can.

My parents inspire me. Not because I want to be just like them. Not because they’re perfect. They inspire me because I believe they are the best people they can be.

Of course, my opinion is a bit biased, but I’m obviously okay with sharing it with you. I want to honor my parents on their 50th wedding anniversary. And I challenge you to honor someone in your life today. Avoid empty compliments. Think of the people who really inspire you – not because they try to be perfect or have all the pieces in life neatly put together, but because they are who they are, fully experiencing and growing with each passing day. Share how someone has impacted your life, and let the impact create ripple effects through your life into others’ lives.

Your Guide

guide a: something that provides a person with guiding information; b: a person who directs another’s conduct or course of life; c: a device for steadying or directing the motion of something (merriam-webster.com)

What guides you?

Before you answer too quickly, let me give you a few scenarios.

  1. You hurriedly run into the store to pick up a few things. You need to get in and out as quickly as possible. As you approach the check out lane, you see someone with an overflowing cart getting ready to get into the shortest line – the one you were ready to get into. If you quicken your steps just a bit, you could possibly get there before she does.
  2. The service at the restaurant is horrible. You suspect someone didn’t show up for work, because the servers are doing their best at trying to cover too many tables. But your coffee is regular, not decaf, and your toast is burned. Your server places the check on the table. It’s time to decide on her tip.
  3. You’ve been getting together with a group of women for a short time. It’s a group of women you feel a connection with and can see longterm relationships budding. You listen to them talk about a woman who called to say she’d miss the get-together because of a family issue, and you hear more of the family issue you feel you need to know. You’re fairly certain the woman wouldn’t want these details shared so freely, and you know you wouldn’t want the group talking about you when you weren’t there…but you wonder how they’ll respond if you speak up.

What influences your decisions?

Past experiences? Words of parents, teachers and friends? Expectations of who you are or who you should be? Standards of your faith? Guilt? Convenience?

When you do things, do not let selfishness or pride be your guide. Instead, be humble and give more honor to others than to yourselves. Do not be interested only in your own life, but be interested in the lives of others. Philippians 2:3-4

Easier said than done sometimes. We’re inundated with a multitude of messages from many people around us. We’ve been bombarded with messages of our culture for years. Plus the fact that we’ll atrophy into selfishness because that’s just how people are. We have to be deliberate about not letting selfishness and pride guide us, being humble, honoring others, and being interested in the lives of others.

Being deliberate involves careful and thorough consideration as well as an awareness of the consequences. Next time you’re faced with a decision, ask yourself a few questions:

  • How will my decision impact others and my relationships with them?
  • What message am I sending and what values am I reflecting by my decision?
  • What am I basing my decision on, and is that basis credible?

In your lives you must think and act like Christ Jesus. Christ himself was like God in everything. But he did not think that being equal with God was something to be used for his own benefit. Philippians 2:5-6