Struggling in Spring

Sitting outside this morning, the lush green that comes after springtime rains surrounded me. Birds flitting back and forth to my birdfeeder provided music superior to my Echo Dot. Lilac buds are moments away from showing off their fragrance that can’t be bottled. My perennials swayed in the breeze promising that they will bloom when their time is right.

Yet, I kept looking at my little rose garden. I’d planted three rose bushes last year, and they did not disappoint. They gloriously wore their intricate colors on each fragile petal. They gave me a great excuse to inhale deeply when I bent over their blooms.

I crossed my fingers all winter long that all three would survive. 

It was a late spring (wow, I sound like my dad!), but I started checking them each day as soon as the snow melted. They were not cooperating with my timeframe!

Two of them finally started to sprout some little shoots. The third one has been a lot more reluctant as it struggles to turn the palest shade of green. The patient side of me wants to give it a chance. The impatient side of me wants to rip it out and get another one started so my rose garden feels complete.

We associate springtime with new life and surprises. A victory over the hush of winter.

Is that why my bare rose bush feels so out of place? Or why a precious blue robin’s egg on the sidewalk tugs at my heart? Or why I root for a tree that has a few too many dead branches?

Struggles don’t just happen in the garden. I know too many people right now who look outside and see spring, but are overwhelmed with grief. The incongruency between the darkness in the soul and the abundance of new life outside must be almost unbearable.

Cheering for my struggling rose bush may seem insignificant. However, this year it is reminding me of the people I love that have empty arms and lonely hearts.

I suspect that all three of the rose bushes will bloom this summer. Guess which flowers will mean the most to me? The one that struggled. So for anyone who feels overwhelmed with struggles this spring, may you find one tiny bit of ‘hope’ today.
bloom

 

 

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My Nesting Place

I built my first nest when I was about five years old. All I needed was my rusty metal wagon, my baby doll, her favorite blanket, and the hog house down by the crick.

Yes, the hog house. 

I’d been plopped into my brother’s hog lot from the time I could stand on my own. My brother loved his pigs, and I loved my brother.

pigs

Once he left for college, all that remained was the empty hog barn. It made perfect sense for me to move in with my baby doll, Thumbelina. She was thrilled!

Pulling my wagon, I began my daily trek to the hog barn with my little treasures. It didn’t take long for me to begin cleaning and decorating my little piece of heaven.

Soon the dusty wood floor was swept clean with a broom that I dragged along. I tossed anything that I deemed unnecessary into a nearby ditch. What a busy little girl I was.

I imagined that a little rusty box was the perfect table to adorn with a little blue plastic glass ‘borrowed’ from the kitchen. Each day I gathered dandelions, violets, or sweet clover to add a touch of color in the ‘vase.’ I also brought a bottle for Thumbelina and some of my favorite books to read to her. Torn out pages from my coloring books adorned the sagging walls of the building.

I didn’t know that what I was doing was nesting. 

Typically people think of nesting as something that only birds do. While they are the master nest builders, I resonate with this definition from Collins English Dictionary.

 “The tendency to arrange one’s immediate surroundings, such as a home or work station, to create a place where one feels secure, comfortable, or in control.”

My little nest in that hog house by the crick gave me a taste of creating a place where I felt secure, comfortable, and a little bit in control. It wasn’t until three years ago that I created my own little nest again. (I nested in our home on behalf of my family for decades, but to nest on my own – now that’s a little different.)

This time it wasn’t in a hog house, and I didn’t have to haul my treasures to the nest in a rusty little wagon. Instead, when our last child moved out, Ron and I had to do a bit of recalibrating in our home. So, he wanted to move his office from the room at the top of the stairs to the boys’ old room at the end of the upstairs hall.

What happened next was all his idea.

“Why don’t you take my old office and create an office for yourself,” he proposed.

That felt SO uncomfortable. I had no need for an office. At least that’s what I thought until he changed his angle.

“What if you just created your own nest then,” he mused. He knew I was a sucker for anything ‘birdlike.’ “You’d have a great view into your garden and get to watch the birds from the window while you write.” This man should have been a lawyer. (Since I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve hollered down the hall twice telling him I’d just seen an oriole and a goldfinch on my birdfeeder.)

Hmm. That sounded a lot more interesting. After all, I HATED it when people said I had an empty nest. My husband and I were still here. How could it be an empty nest with two people living in our home?

It takes me awhile to begin wrapping my head around new ideas so I grabbed my copy of The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith. I’d read it a few years ago and had been so inspired by her proposition that we can trust our instincts when we surround ourselves with things that we love. Her tagline (which by the way applies beyond decorating) is “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be BEAUTIFUL.”

The more I meandered through the pages of her book, the more I began to see the wisdom of building a nest that is just for me. My mental list of things to tuck in my nest grew. Just like a bird picks the right materials, I wanted to pick what was right for me. Here are just a few of them.

A bookcase holding my favorite books

books

Vases that I’d given my mom decades ago

A little glass dog that belonged to my grandparents

Glass Dog

Pottery my children made

A drawer to hold all the letters from my mom

letters

A frame to display an aqua button from my mom’s woolen dress coat

I had to buy paint, fabric for window treatments, and furniture. But the rest of my nest is filled with little items that had been hidden away because they were too precious to be given away. Now they surround me and help me feel secure, comfortable, and yes, even a little bit in control.

The greatest compliment I receive when people walk in my ‘nest’ is “THIS IS SO YOU.”

A bird can be identified by its nest and what’s in it. Who doesn’t recognize the perfect color of blue of the robin’s egg?Front Porch Nest

My nest will tell you that I love the gentle colors of nature – blues, greens, browns. I love birds. Gardens. Flowers. Books. Family. The Cubs. Seasons.

And while I will not be giving birth to little ones in this nest, I will be birthing books. What a gift Ron has given me to envision my own nest where I could be free to be creative like I was created to be.

DISCLOSURE: It took me about two years to feel comfortable in my nest for reasons that I don’t fully understand yet. That’s to write about on another day. In my nest.

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You’re Delighted Over Me?

Poor little Carter. Another uncharacteristic April snowfall caused this 5-year-old to burst into tears.

“Summer will never come,” he sobbed to his parents.

When asked why he wanted summer to come, he said he wanted to play in the sandbox. To go to the beach. To play at the park. To be outside.

Fortunately, this winter loving woman didn’t take it personally. A change of seasons is typically good for anyone – but especially for little people who still race around barefoot and hunt for ants in the dirt.

Last weekend, I watched Carter and Riley burst out of the house almost as soon as the sun finally emerged from behind the clouds. It didn’t take long for their giggles and squeals to fill the springtime air. They completely relished their chance to once again dig in the sand and run through the yard.

Then I found them doing this.

Two Boys and a Puddle

Carter traded his bike for a stick as soon as he saw the stream flowing at the end of his driveway. Riley was right behind him. Two boys + two sticks + muddy water = JOY!

“EWWWW! SEAWEED!” they shouted.

Digging into the mud to see what they could ‘catch’ occupied their full attention.

And mine.

Knowing that Carter had just been mourning another snowfall made me even more delighted that he was getting to play, really play, outside. No frozen fingers or cumbersome coats. He was free to explore and imagine. Both boys were free to be little boys that afternoon. And I loved watching it all.

Just like God must delight in watching me. That thought would have shocked me years ago, but now I love the tenderness it creates in me.

I remembered when this realization first occurred to me. I’d just spent 15 weeks training for my first marathon. A somewhat selfish act, I’d told myself, yet I had sensed a desire from outside of myself to run it. While the actual marathon was in fact a powerful experience, what happened during my last long training run was the life changer. When I wrote about running my first marathon, here’s how I captured that defining moment.


“About two weeks before the marathon, I had a God moment that will forever change my image of Him. I was running along Algonquin Rd. and was pouring my heart out with thankfulness and praise. I was amazed that He orchestrated my running and kept me relatively healthy and completely injury free – my runs were never cancelled by storms – I was still excited – He provided great running routes – and on and on. Then suddenly my spirit sensed His response. I actually looked up because it was so strong. The God of the universe told me that it was His pleasure to let me do this. It made Him so joyful when I got to run. I had the sense that He was saying, “You think you are joy-filled to be running? You should see how delighted I am that you are running.” WOW! That marked me. I had given this process to Him, and He was excited right alongside of me. Take that one home, Linda.”


I suspect that I’m not the only one that doesn’t typically think of God delighting over us. Or that He may delight over us only when we are ‘doing’ something we deem significant.

Could it be that His delight comes in ways like mine did watching Carter and Riley playing with sticks, mud, and water? Could it be that He delights when I embrace the life He’s given me that is right in front of me?

What would it look like if we went through our days imagining God saying, “You think you are joyful to be ___________? You should see how delighted I am that you are ___________!”

I’d take it even a step farther. What if God says, “You think you are joyful to BE. You should see how delighted I am that you ARE.” Maybe it’s not about doing at all. It is just about being.

Thanks Carter and Riley for reminding your nana of something very precious!

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Even if it hurts?

This little guy has been making quite the ruckus at my house the past few days. His body pounding against the window echoed throughout the entire first floor. What baffled me is that he does this to himself over and over. AND OVER. I simply couldn’t understand it.

Robin Defending Territory

I unsuccessfully tried to make him stop because I can’t stand listening to this self-inflicted pain. I dashed outside to startle him. I pounded on the window from the inside to frighten him. But he only disappeared for a few minutes before he returned with increased vigor. Pounding away.

I asked my dad why a robin would be hurting himself like this. He knew the answer right away.

Dad explained that the robin saw a reflection of himself in the family room window and was simply protecting his territory. It was mating season, and his main focus was claiming my backyard for HIS territory. He thought he was fighting another male. He was really fighting his reflection.

That was unbelievable to me.

“Even if it hurts him every time he flies up against the window?”

My dad nodded. “Yep,” he said. “It’s just like he’d battle another male robin. The pain is worth it.”

So, with new understanding, I watched this ‘crazy’ robin for a couple more days. I was astonished to notice a couple of things.

There were no other male robins anywhere in sight. None. He’d probably already cleared them away, but he was too focused on his reflection to see the truth.

And, literally two feet away from the family room window perched the female robin. She sat quietly on my flower pot tilting her head up toward the lunatic as he kept intimidating the window.

If only he would just turn around and see freedom from a threat AND his prize. Oh the pain he could prevent.

Playing in the background of my mind – during all this robin pounding – was a question as to why it bothered me so much. After all, it was just a bird – and an ordinary one at that.

My dad’s explanation gave me some clarity. The robin was fighting against himself. Unnecessarily.

I too was fighting against myself. Unnecessarily. Here I thought I was simply processing the recent hurts that had accumulated in my heart. I replayed the situations of being silenced or misrepresented like I was binge watching Netflix.

Was I changing anything that had happened to me? No.

Was my pain lessening as I replayed the scenes? No.

Was I experiencing the freedom that I should be feeling in this new season of my life? No.

I was just pounding again and again into those ‘glassy’ situations even thought it was now only hurting me.

“Love keeps no record of wrongs.” That’s what I read in I Corinthians 13.

Shoot.

Could it be that all I was doing was keeping a record of wrongs? Was I pounding myself like the robin? Was that my way of protecting my territory? If I replayed it enough times, would I make sense of it? Would I feel vindicated?

When the only person I was hurting was, in fact, me?

Those poundings were distracting me from seeing the beauty around me. If I say I write to encourage others to notice the people and the moments in their life, why was I guilty of focusing on something I couldn’t control?

Old patterns die slowly, but they do die. For that I am grateful. I’m not hitting the window as often right now. And I hope when I do, I’ll remember that foolish robin.

This morning, I looked out my kitchen window and smiled. The male and female robins were bounding in my garden bed gathering twigs and stems to build their nest. The pounding has stopped. He’s focusing on what he has ahead of him.

It’s my time to do that as well.

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A Letter to the Bride

Last summer, one of my dear young friends got married. I wanted to symbolically ‘be’ with her on her wedding day, so she allowed me to knit her a lacy wrap that would hug her throughout her day. As I knitted, I couldn’t help but see some analogies between creating this wrap and creating a marriage. Whether you are married or not and whether you have an easy or a hard marriage, I hope these words encourage you. Angel gave me permission to share my letter with you.


Dearest Angel,

I loved you from that first time I saw you dragging your baby doll by the arm while Grant and Jordan played in the gym. I’ve watched you grow into a woman – sometimes with a front row seat and sometimes with binoculars. One thing has always remained the same…you are like family to me. I’m always cheering for you. I’d do anything I could for you.

So…when I heard of your wedding, I began imaging how to ‘show up’ for you. Thank you for saying yes to this wrap, beause it honestly meant a lot to me to be able to give this to you. Whether or not you wear it on your wedding day doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that knitting it reminded me about “knitting” two lives together in marriage.

So here are a few of my thoughts I had as I knitted.

  • Marriage is created stitch by stitch, row by row. Every stitch is critical so it doesn’t unravel, yet we rarely look at each individual stitch. We look at the whole. There’s so much grace.
  • Marriage is filled with mistakes. Some can be ripped out and repaired and some leave a mark. Guess what? There are SO many mistakes in this wrap. Initially I tried to fix them all, but then I realized I’d never finish if I kept that up. So I corrected them when I could, but moved on when I needed to. I was delighted in what unfolded. As I began to relax in following the pattern, I made fewer mistakes. And row by row, the wrap emerged. The good news is that time and forgiveness and courage in a marriage will help our eyes focus on the beauty in each other instead of our mess-ups.
  • I could never have created this pattern on my own. It’s a pattern that has been passed down through generations of Estonian women. I often thought (when I wearied of the intricate pattern) that if they could do it, so could I. It was like they were my silent cheerleaders. The same is true in marriage. I could not have done this alone – nor could Ron. We both have needed various types of co-creators at different seasons of our marriage. It’s true today even after 37 years. We need a network of trustworthy people who have our backs. You and Keith will need to draw upon others as well. It’s important when life is easy AND hard.
  • I cannot knit something like this in front of the TV. Or in a noisy room. Or when I’m tired. I wondered how that applies to marriage, and this is what I came up with. Culture will have plenty of pulls on you to avoid focusing on your marriage. I couldn’t build a beautiful marriage when I was too busy, too distracted, or too tired. That’s where I wish I could have my major do-overs.
  • There was a very clear and detailed pattern for this wrap. I included a copy of it so it would make sense. You’ll also see how I kept track of where I was. I had my own unique system to basically not lose my place. While you won’t get clear instructions on the day you say “I do”, together you will “write” your own pattern. You’ll be able to decide upon some ‘guiding principles’ to keep you creating a lovely marriage. I’d encourage you to do that – I wish I’d done that earlier as we could have pass some pain when we got sideways early on.
  • So Angel, I wish I could express my heart and all that it holds for you. Know that I knit this with love and affection. I’m for you! I’m here to listen and I care.

Happy, happy wedding day. More importantly, knit a beautiful life with Keith!

Your Illinois mom,

Linda

lace wrap

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Unexpected Kindnesses

Is it possible that kindness is an overlooked and undervalued fruit of the spirit?

I’ve come to believe that perhaps it is.

Admittedly, I don’t have very thick skin, so I have to work really hard to let hurts slide off me. Also, I feel loved primarily through words of affirmation, so I’m extra sensitive to blunt, terse tones and careless words. All the same, kindness is a fruit of the spirit, right?

These past few weeks have been marked with lots of hard decisions and painful endings. Each day held its own challenges and sadness. Sometimes, and I’m not exaggerating, each hour held its own challenges and sadness.

What has made all the difference, at least for me, is how people respond and connect to one another during hard seasons. And seeing glimpses of kindness has reignited my passion to be known as a woman who passionately does random acts of kindness.

Here’s a glimpse behind the curtain of two selfless acts of kindness that displayed Jesus like I haven’t seen in a long time.

My father-in-law, having just suffered a stroke, was told that it was time for him to enter hospice care. His wife of 60 years and five adult children were reeling with grief and the reality that had just crashed into their lives. As Ron and I sat in the car crying with our oldest son the next morning, I was so not ready to walk into the training that I was leading for my job. But, I had to go in. I was raw and not quite sure what would happen when I entered. As soon as I opened the door, I saw the man who would be leading worship. He instantly read the pain in my eyes and wordlessly walked toward me. My tears flowed as he extended his arms for a hug. He spoke not a word and asked for not one detail. He was simply Jesus for me as he displayed unselfish kindness. His kind gesture was like a sip of cool water after a summer training run. I was able to turn my face toward the Shepherd after that act of genuine kindness.


 A few weeks later, on what would be my father-in-law’s last day on earth, he awoke with a start and weakly cried out, “Water.” What I saw next was the most beautiful picture of kindness that I have ever witnessed. My husband helped him cradle a cup of water in the crook of his weakened arm and held the straw to his dad’s lips. He bravely struggled to swallow a few sips of water. Ron had all the time in the world to tenderly and kindly hold that glass of water. With tears in his eyes, Ron’s act of kindness was palpable. And holy. It is what I think Jesus would have done in that moment.  

My list could go on. The checker named Donna at Jewel. The hospice nurse. Neighbors. Dear friends sending texts. Hugs from our children. And on and on.

I’m left wondering how my influence could be different if I set my agenda aside and took the spotlight off of me long enough to be kind. The unexpected and unhurried kindness of the people that interacted with us during the past weeks have inspired me to relook at that simple word.

Kindness. Genuine kindness.

I have been listening to  Reckless Love of God, on repeat lately. It won’t surprise you to know that the line about His kindness toward us catches me every time.

This late winter slough captures how these past weeks have felt. Broken trees. Bare branches. But in the midst of it, the clear water provides a mirror to the sky. The snowy borders soften the harsh scene. That’s, for me, what kindness can do.

Slough

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Thorns and Tears

The gloomy and damp weather accompanied me on my morning walk. My soul resonated with the wind, the chill, and the lingering fog. The charred smell of the recent burn mingled with the musty scent of soggy leaves that covered the ground.

Last fall’s grasses drooped with weariness like a defeated army. Any buds I spotted on the trees seemed a long way from blooming. Where was the hope I’d longed to see when I left my house? Where were the signs of life sprouting out of the coverings of winter? Why did everything feel lifeless? Why can’t I just take a deep breath and let it all out?

My grievances grew as I talked with Jesus.

People silenced. Misunderstood. Suffering. Mistreated.

People needing hope. Courage. Connection. Kindness. Forgiveness.

The few birds that flitted around me seemed to ask me to look around. To listen to something other than my list of complaints. To open my eyes.

This is what I saw.

Thorns and Tears

Tiny drops of water clinging to thorny, barren branches. Everywhere. I’d been looking for buds and missed the water. That which all of life is built upon. Water. Life. I sensed His quiet and gentle voice reminding me that the grievances feel like grievances because all of pain is so out of His original design for me. For everyone.

When I watched The Passion of the Christ, a scene resonated with me – and I remembered it when I saw the drops of water. Just as Jesus took his final breath, the camera followed a drop of water from the sky down to earth. Regardless of what the director wanted that drop of water to represent, for me, it was a tear from heaven. A holy drop of water grieving with us for the pain of living in this fallen world where people hurt and bodies fail.

Today, He surrounded me with tiny drops of water as if He agreed with the pain I felt over the dissonance between the way things should be and the way things are. Do those drops of water change anything? No. The situations stay the same, but perhaps I can refocus my vantage point.

The fact that this is Holy Week isn’t lost on me. The week where the dissonance I’m feeling today is very vivid.

So as we approach Good Friday, let’s not just see the thorns, but the tears. And words can’t convey the gratitude I feel knowing that just as the woods will eventually come to life again, Easter Sunday will always follow Good Friday.

 

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