Few Things are Needed

Bam – we’re suddenly real close to the busy holiday season! We’re on the edge of running here and there, creating  l o n g  to do lists, decorating, gathering, traveling, baking beckoning, cards to send, carols to sing and bathrooms to be cleaned…..

About this time last year, in a gathering of young moms I meet with, there was a challenge to insert our own name into this verse, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed, indeed only one.” (Luke 10:41-42) I’ve found this challenge to be very clarifying over and over, and now might be good time to take a preemptive strike so I don’t end up worried and upset about many things in the next several weeks.

Here’s how this played out for me last year at this time…

As someone who cares a lot about the details, I can get stuck – like the day Erin was coming home from college, actually simply stopping home for a short visit on her way to a weekend with friends; she had two friends from school traveling with her. Though she wouldn’t even be spending the night, I wanted to dust her room and get many other things done before their arrival. As she & her friends edged closer and closer to home, I suddenly  thought, “Oh my gosh, they will be here right at lunch! I should make them a homemade meal, college kids don’t get many home cooked meals! BUT also I have these other things on my list….how can I do it all?”

Feeling the urgency to get many things done (for college students who would be here for a short time and  likely wouldn’t notice), I quietly heard in my head, “Sheri, Sheri, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed.” That caused me to pause and I quickly grasped the clarity needed, “Right, a meal. That’s what is needed.” All the other things became insignificant and I focused on getting a meal ready for Erin & her friends. When they arrived we had a really peaceful and focused time during their visit– in which they enjoyed the soup and likely didn’t notice if I had vacuumed or not!

As we journey through these upcoming holidays, if we find ourselves worried, upset, overwhelmed, maybe cranky and tired, may Luke 10:41-42 run through our minds and clarify our moments. May we find peace in the few things that are needed, and indeed find the only one that really does.

See (and be) a Helper

While driving on a stretch of interstate recently I saw several cars pulled over onto the median on the other side of the highway. As I drove by I saw a car smashed against a bridge support and people running to the vehicle. Running so fast, to someone they didn’t know, to help.

In a time where divisiveness, being rude and mean is easily recorded and splashed before us, it’s easy to believe we’ve lost our good nature. It might seem that a thin veil covers a deep well of a negativity; that an angry outburst, from even the most mild-mannered among us, could happen given the right topic, time or forum.

As we marked 9/11 a few weeks ago I was reminded of Mr. Rogers. Do your remember his mother’s wise and calming words to him when he was a boy? On that sunny September 11th, in the midst of unspeakable evil that unraveled before our eyes, we were encouraged to tell our kids (and maybe even ourselves) to “Look for the helpers.” There were so many helpers in the rubble, in the air, on the ground, in the stairwells, on the street, on the phone…they were everywhere.

I heard those very words in my head as I watched several men running toward the highway accident; there they were, the helpers. My heart lifted and my spirit was reminded that it is our very natural nature to be a helper. We instinctively run to our fellow man in need.

There are many helpers all around, we need to look for them…and we need to be one. When have you last seen a helper? Or have you been a helper? Would you share it in a comment? Your story might just lift someone else’s heart and renew a tired spirit.

A place to land

AirBirdnBird

An odd sight for sure, this bird house hanging off my house. But it makes me smile everyday because it’s evidence of a sweet act of kindness.

Here’s how it got there…

Several weeks ago two birds were hanging out on the corner of that roof for two days singing, singing & singing. On day three I noticed they were tearing into a small spot of rotting wood. By day five they had opened an impressive, though frustrating, gaping hole. I watched as they carried in this and that to build their nest, and I sent a picture to Kevin.

After Kevin got home from work he retrieved the ladder to inspect these squatters, discovering a nest in process but no eggs. With no building permit posted, he cleaned out their construction, temporarily boarded up and sealed the entry to clearly communicate “No Vacancy”.

The next morning the racket over their eviction was on the edge of panic. Though I knew Kevin didn’t remove eggs, you would’ve thought their babies were inside; I sent videos and pictures to him of the ruckus. At some point he texted back, “Do you think there’s a place to mount a bird house for them?” (I thought he meant in the backyard.)

That evening the ladder came back out and this simple “AirBirdnBird” was offered ~ not in the backyard but right where these birds thought they needed a place. The pair moved in within two days and began coming and going, singing and looking in my kitchen window, “You’re welcome” I said to them. The babies soon arrived and for weeks there was much activity and many songs, all becoming a sweet spot in my days.

This saga caused me think about extending kindness and refuge to others. The world is big, and there are so many issues that feel overwhelming, loud, messy and beyond my capacity. But what about the things and people who are within my reach? Am I kind to all? Even the uninvited squawkers? Do I offer a safe spot to land for the person who has a tender heart; who maybe needs to rest on a corner for a minute, an hour or more? Do I listen and care for the person, even if I’m not aligned with something? Do I make concessions for the things that cross my path that weren’t a part of my plan for the day? Am I generous in what I extend? Am I aware of the panicked songs around me? Can I serve in a way that settles the panic of another into a song?

All good questions for me to truthfully ponder.

These pushy, loud, little birds became a sweet part of my days, I miss them now that their babies have flown the nest. My husband is in the process of mending this corner of the roof and will move the bird house to the back yard where we hope they make a return visit next year. But also, he’s decided to add a winter roost to the side of our garage for the ones who might be looking for a spot when it gets cold.

It’s what we can offer, so we will.

Its that time of year once more

Last night I ran so quickly to the grocery store for one little thing but was paused immediately by the sight of the Red Kettle. Oh, the Red Kettle at Christmas. Each and every year it brings gratitude for a lesson learned on giving, but also a heaviness as I feel again the loss of a great man who influenced our lives.

Here’s the story from 2012…

An uncomfortable but true tale: The red kettles used to annoy me. For years I felt guilty if I didn’t have anything to put in them, so sometimes I would just go in a different door. Classy, right? I also felt annoyed because it felt like they were everywhere.  Then when I did have a dollar to give, I used to kind of wish I had a hand stamp that I could wave at the next kettle ringer indicating I already gave.

Oh, how I was filled with the giving spirit of Christmas.

Then one Sunday morning in December of 2008, I heard Stan Buck, (our pastor who passed away November 18, 2012) give us a challenge about the red kettles. He challenged us to give generously; to be prepared to give each and every time we passed a red kettle.

He suggested that if we put a dollar in the kettle each time we passed one it is likely to not total more than $50. He suggested most of us can afford to be that generous. If that’s not your situation consider dropping fifty cents or even a quarter – each and every time. It feels good. Which is usually how giving goes ~ in blessing others we tend to feel the blessing in our own hearts.

Perhaps the truth was I wasn’t actually annoyed at the red kettles, it’s more likely I was annoyed at myself for not being prepared to give. Or possibly I was stingy. I’m not sure, but what I do know is that since that message, each Christmas season I have gone to the bank for my $1 bills and I put one in the kettle each and every time I see one.

And this year, since Stan isn’t here to give his dollar bills, I will put one in for him too.

2009 – The first Red Kettle post (The $1 Difference) can be read here
2010 – The second Red Kettle post (Be Not afraid of the Red Kettles) is here

 

The Day My Son was Married

(The wedding was almost three months ago and I’m just now beginning to record the experience of our son getting married. I have sort of held and treasured that day in my heart. The photographer’s photos recently came in and I sat looking through them for days, refreshing the joy from that day in July. Over these few months I have loved watching my son become a husband, and I love having a daughter-in-law!)

The heart feels intensely what words attempt to capture. My mind sees images of days gone by, but not forgotten. Even now my hand can still feel his once small hand in mine, and my ears, if strained enough can almost hear his little boy voice. The days with my boy were so good; well, and sometimes kinda hard. The days were sometimes  l o n g , yet also they seem swept away in a flash. The time I had to grow him up was not enough, but also, it was enough. Raising him up to let him go was a little bit of everything.

Our fist official mother-son date was when he was 3, our most special mother-son dance was when he was 23.  It’s been a wonderful life being his mom to this point, and a most amazing and beautiful transition in our journey took place 89 days ago. This  summer our boy, who is now a man, took a most lovely, beautiful woman as his wife. To have and to hold, from that day forward til the end of their time on earth. I used to take his hand and walk him around the block, but this day I took his arm and he walked me down the aisle. I took a seat while he stood tall and strong, beaming, watching and waiting for the woman of his dreams to walk down the aisle to be joined to him forever.

Look how he looks at her

It was a holy moment. Watching him watch her, knowing she was now his number one was a moment I will treasure. But it wasn’t bittersweet, it was simply sweet. I wonder if intentionally raising “future adults” was the key; my perspective was always “Don’t raise kids”. I understood there was a limit to the time I had and I worked to steward that well. I wasn’t perfect, in fact, so far from it. I didn’t handle a multitude of things very well in my season. But also I did. I got it right more often than I got it terribly wrong. There were Legos and puppies, kisses and slammed doors, football and wrestling, end of the school year parties with couches on the front lawn. We had trampolines and late homework, sibling squabbles and secrets, car accidents, Sprite-spraying-everywhere spills, and all. summer. long. basement slumber parties with the Fresh Price and Nanny. We had a little bit of everything. And now, on this most special day, the fruit of all those growing up years and experiences was standing tall and independent just a few feet away, and my body could hardly hold my heart.

Love captured here

I don’t believe I’ll ever forget our mother-son dance. I couldn’t tell you if anyone was in the barn watching or not (pictures say there were), what I can tell you is for those few minutes I held this boy once again, looked into his eyes and sang to him once more. It was another holy moment.

When God granted us this boy, it was for a time. The Lord knew Zach would leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife.  I kind of believe the wedding prep and many celebrations all along the way were a part of preparing, not just for this incredible summer day where he wed the girl of his dreams, but to offer a season of transition to let him go with arms wide open.

The Happiest Couple

The words here are intended to capture the intensity of my heart in this most amazing season. Trusting that in days gone by I’ll still see images of us playing with cars, reading, walking, dancing and transitioning him from my boy to Claire’s husband at the party of the century!

Such good times

 

Click here to listen to I’ll Let You Go, by Jessica Allossery ~ our Mother-Son dance song.

The photo at the top of this post is from their private”First Look”. Look again…his eyes and heart are for her, and she can hardly hold her love for him. Releasing him to her, and this kind of love, was literally what I had prayed for since he was two years old. What a prayer answered!

He’a always been a note writer

Newspaper, Coffee, Connection

My name is Sheri and I am a hoarder.

The newspaper, the Wall Street Journal to be specific, is the thing I accumulate, stock, collect and store (my husband might say shoes, but he’ll agree to the paper as well). In another galaxy, far, far away, I had to read the Wall Street to begin my work day at the brokerage firm where I processed tenders and mergers. That was when I discovered the Wall Street had a lot of personality. Thirty years later, in the very early morning, someone still delivers it to my my porch. I’m certain I receive the digital version as well, but I’ve never once looked at it. Feeling the paper in my hands, cutting articles with scissors in place of forwarding a link, is a thing that on some level satisfies my soul. Upon receiving an article my kids have said, ‘You know there’s probably a link to this article.’ I’m sure there is and I don’t care. Sitting on the porch, with a cup of coffee, reading the paper is one of my favorite things.

To be clear, I don’t read every article, I’m not all up on Manafort, or why Canada and the U.S. missed a Nafta deadline last Friday, or Amazon’s plans to take over the world. But I now ponder questions to ask our financial adviser about retirement.  Among so many other things, I’ve learned about on-line tools that can help with depression, that many most harassed women stay silent, that Twitter can be mob like (shocking), the hospital of the future will look different, and that Lego is restructuring due to weaker sales and a lower profits. (Legos are the awesome, let’s all go buy some!)

When I go on vacation and friends stay here with our dog, I’m happy to share my paper with them, but also I offer a place to collect the papers so I can go through them upon return. This explains the Target bag full of newspapers. Like an episode on A&E I hear myself saying things like, “No, don’t recycle those yet, I’m going to read them.” and “What if there’s a good article in that pile?” I’m known to cut articles out and leave them around the house for our kids to read when they venture home. Ideally if everyone would initial the article after they’ve read  it and then discuss it at dinner I’d be so happy! With everyone out of the nest this doesn’t happen often, so I clip, address, find stamps and leave envelopes for the postman to pick up.

Here’s the thing, reading the newspaper slows me down, it causes me to sit, savor coffee and read at my leisure. I don’t feel rushed to read the article in a feed or save it as a link and then forget about it, I read it when I want. (How many recipes, links and articles have a saved on Facebook? 34. That’s not counting the links I’ve emailed to myself to read or reference later; which I might be hard pressed to retrieve because I don’t label them.) Reading the paper this way feels old school in this new world. I appreciate the exposure to other’s thought out opinions, the learning to be had, reviews read, and insights gained.

My quirky newspaper habits just might also be about connection; about letting my family and friends know, ‘Hey I thought of you today. I read this and I thought of YOU. I am aware of your interests, personality, life and I want you to know I think about you when you are out of my sight.’ Another category is  ‘I found this interesting and since you don’t live here anymore I can’t read it out loud to you.’ (Always a favorite – one time I read an entire Wikipedia article about Parishs to Courtney as we drove into New Orleans at 1 am. She about died.)

This week I got caught up on a whole big stack of papers, so some of you might want to watch your mail.

I’d LOVE to here from you ~ what do you collect, store, hoard? I’d love to hear why!
Also, what do you do to slow down?

New Chapters of a Favorite Book

It’s been eight years since I wrote these words about our first one leaving the nest for college. It’s that time of year for many of you so I thought I’d drop these words here today. I’d LOVE to hear about your experience of leaving your son or daughter at college ~ leave a comment to share ❤

Original post August 31, 2010
It’s time to report that everything did not change on August 14, 2010.

If I felt everything changed the day she left for kindergarten, then surely everything really would change the day Courtney, our first born, left for college. The sadness I discovered when she climbed onto the bus for elementary school surely would not compare to the grief I would walk into as she left for college.

I remember the first time the new feelings hit me. It was the spring break of her junior year; she and I were at the college for a visit. The day was sunny and exciting, how fun it was to be doing this with her! My parents had not taken me on any college visits, so this was new territory and I felt so blessed to offer her this experience. Then I glanced at her walking beside me and my chest suddenly felt tight and slightly crushed. It came out of nowhere; my throat constricted, my eyes welled up and the first wave of a grief-like feeling crashed into me.

Those feelings hit at random times over the sixteen months, but waves came more frequently those last few weeks before the move. One day while on the patio by myself a big one hit out of nowhere, it  felt like my heart skipped a few beats and I had a sharp intake of breath, tears sprang to my eyes and I felt deep sadness wash over me. Not sure what to do with these new feelings, I intentionally spent little time thinking of the upcoming moving day. But the calendar kept moving toward it.

The day we moved Courtney was beautiful and the college had the whole freshman moving day thing figured out. There was an unmistakable air of excitement. We got almost everything up in one trip, laughed so hard as she and I tried to figure out how to make the lofted bed! Even as I helped, I tried to stand back as she figured out where to put her items in her tiny space (so hard for a mom who loves to organize). It came to be time for lunch, then we met her lovely roommate, went off for a Target run, back to the dorm for last touches and then the good-byes. She was excited, comfortable, and confident. She had dinner plans with Katie, her friend since second grade, and I was feeling stronger than expected.

 

Then her baby sister wrapped her arms around her neck and about broke in two. Oh, oh, oh, ohhhhh…tears sprang to my eyes. . .but unexpectedly grief stayed at bay. Her big 6’2″ little brother wrapped his arms around her – practically engulfing her. I felt such a pride swelling within me at these sibling relationships; we did it, we helped this trio cultivate strong love and deep bonds. And grief stayed at bay.

Even when her dad pulled her in for a hug I was okay. When I wrapped myself around her I just knew in my deepest parts that she would be fine. I was not saying good-bye, as I wiped tears I understood I was saying hello to this amazingly, wonderful young adult daughter of mine, and new chapters were about to unfold.

I credit God with granting me strength for those moments and the ones that followed. The drive home was quiet as Erin & Zach took in the new dynamic that would unfold at home as the three musketeers became the two amigos. It was good for me to be one who was strong and confident in the knowledge that we would all be not just okay, but indeed we would all be good.
To be sure…I miss her in this house. I miss her in my daily life.I wonder about her more times than I could count in a day. And in all of that, it’s still good. We parented toward this. She is making friends, being responsible, becoming independent. Everything did not change, but many things did and will. But it’s rather like discovering your favorite book didn’t end, there were many more chapters captured in volume two. . .and you just discovered volume two. . .and you can’t wait to see where the story goes.
(August 31, 2018…this one who blazed the trail graduated, got her first job and 401K. She moved to Naperville, IL and is currently living and working New Orleans, LA. Being a mom is an incredible adventure and we are more resilient, elastic and brave than we think we might be, so be encouraged moms (and dads) everywhere – we can do this!)

Let’s Talk

Writing has eluded me for so long. Too long. Writing is a processing, sorting out, gather my thoughts kind of tool. For months upon months words form in my mind & I determine to put them down, then I sort though email, clean off my desk, do the dishes, walk the dog, read a book, clean out my spam file ~ you know, get ready to write…and then I don’t.

The possible reasons are many~

  • there are so many voices out “there”
  • who cares?
  • the “kids” are all moved out and the title of the blog seems wrong in this season
  • I shouldn’t write until I find a new title (or go back to an old one)
  • writing about mom stuff is trickier when your kids are adulting
  • my season of transition to empty nest and new town made for some empty spaces – not a bad thing, just a quiet thing
  • I’ve always had a “so what?” question to answer before I post anything; purposeful posting if you will. That question has been hard to answer for some reason so its been quiet on the blog

But I’m feeling called back, there are topics and ideas swirling once more. I have resolved to use some discipline to gather them up, sort them out and see what will pass the “so what?” question.

  • Some of what has been calling for attention has been mother-daughter-in-law musings. (Those have been swirling for a very long time) I talk with a lot of moms about a lot of things and this topic seems to be something to chat about. Maybe because it feels a little tricky for many I kept putting it off (and off), then my son got engaged and I thought “Well, now I can’t write about it.” So I didn’t. Now I’m a fresh-faced three-week-old, baby mother-in-law, so it doesn’t seem like the time either. But the truth is the topic is worth exploring, so we’ll talk about it soon. I absolutely invite your thoughts and experiences into this conversation. (you can private fb message me, post a comment here or email me at shericarlstrom@gmail.com)
  • In this newish territory of having young adult children, I’m exploring, reading articles and hungry to walk it well. It’s another transition season and I’ll likely sort some of that out here. Which means I’m also issuing a call out for your experiences and thoughts as the parent and as the young adult. What do we do well, where are we in need of growth?
  • Faith – this area of my life is in daily need of attention, and this side of heaven, it’ll be in need of strengthening, obedience and growth.
  • Marriage
  • Friendship and community

May many conversations about many topics unfold. Let’s talk here…until I change the address of the blog. Change is good and transitions get us there. Sometimes you have to move the plant to a new place, turn it around so each side gets some sun, add some fertilizer to the water here and there, and then patiently watch it grow.

Here’s to all of that ~ cheers!

A Sensitive Journey

She made more meals than could ever be calculated; prepared rooms, snacks, desserts and more desserts for visits spanning every season and most holidays. She unwrapped and then swaddled in love each of my babies upon first look. She set up fold out couches and makeshift beds as we brought home one, then two, then three and even four kids. She allowed the dog in the house when we all knew it was a big ask. She cleaned toothpaste laden bathrooms and washed so many sheets after each visit. My mother-in-law never complained. Not once. She provided, cared and loved for years on years.

Her body betrayed her some months ago when a little stroke in her brain caused some not so little problems with her memory. That short-term memory is kind of a big deal, and as Kalie (my sister-in-law), her husband, Kevin and I sort it all out (we don’t exactly know what to sort out, or even really how to sort it out), we partner as a team to help the one we love navigate the days in her own apartment 15 miles from Kalie, 600 miles from us. (Though she alternately travels with us to our home as we step into guiding her in this tricky ground.)

Sometimes she’s quite cognoscente of her lapses, sometimes she’s not. But always she’s afraid of being a burden. Daily she enjoys the company, puzzles, walks, dogs to scratch and meals to share ~ but lingering somewhere is a desire to not be in the way. It’s a difficult battle to win. I try to put myself in her shoes, how will I feel if my children one day help me navigate my days? How will I feel purpose in days like this?

Over all those years, each time I arrived at her house, I exhaled and rested while she worked and took care. I left with a soul and body that had experienced an intermission. This is what I want to give her now. It’s all rather complicated and sometimes tricky when you kind of need but don’t really want. When you believe you can because you don’t really notice the gaps and holes.

This journey through life is to be made together, in grace. We were created for relationship, sometimes that means baking bars to later pull out of the freezer and making up the couch, sometimes it means enjoying someone else’s soup and letting others swaddle you in a love that you paid forward over lots and lots of years. And sometimes it might just feel backwards and uncomfortable, but always we hope it feels like love.

on a journey with the ones I love,
sheri

Soaking in the Old

There is something about the Old Testament that I’m deeply drawn to. Maybe it’s my own humanity laid bare in those pages. I can relate to the Israelites as they complain, disobey, lie, make idols who don’t speak to them, and go their own way even after they have seen God provide in ways that are undeniably God.

There was a time I equated the Old Testament with an angry, vengeful God, but when I read the Old Testament the first time I experienced a forgiving Father who time and time again left room and made a way for the return of wayward people. A steadfast, unchanging, loving, faithful Father. I’m back in those pages once again ~ here are a few things that are making their way into my prayer journal…

Genesis
» Day 1 ~ There was light and dark, but the sun and moon weren’t created until Day 4
I find this interesting each time I read it. 

» God asks  ›  Adam blames Eve  ›  Eve blames serpent
When called out my instinct searches for a quick escape, one offering the least amount of accountability and blame. I’m not saying I do that, but my instinct has had to be tamed and ruled over as I have grown and continue to grow. (Genesis 4:6 reminds me “But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”)

I also love what my Life Application says about this incident…
“The serpent tempted Eve by getting her to doubt God’s goodness. He implied that God was strict, stingy, and selfish for not wanting Eve to share his knowledge of good and evil. Satan made Eve forget all that God had given her and instead, focus on what God had forbidden.”  How often do we forget to focus on on what God has given us? Satan, with a sleight of hand trick, draws our eyes to what he wishes us to see, forgetting what is truly in front of us.

» God provided for Cain even when He banished him
When Cain said to God “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me away from the land and I will be hidden from your presence. I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”(4:13-14) God didn’t say, “Whelp, you killed your brother, sooooo….” Instead He said “Not so, anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.” (4:15) Banished, but provided for.

» Abraham
“Abraham believes the LORD, and he credited to him as righteousness.” Genesis 15:6
Abraham – the Father of Faith, a man of God held in high, high regard, not sure of how God would build his family, agreed to his wife’s suggestion to sleep with her Egyptian slave. (??!!) We also read that Abraham lied not once, but on two occasions about Sarah being his wife. When he lies the first time, a part of me can’t believe he didn’t seek and trust God. When he lies the second time, I think, “C’mon man….are you serious? Are you going to do this again?!” And then I immediately wonder how many times God has looked at me and thought, ” Are you really not going to seek me or trust me?” and also “C’mon Sheri, are you serious? Are you really going to do that again?!”

But Abraham also stood in the gap and boldly pleaded with God to spare Sodom for 50, then 45, then, 40, then 30, then 20, then 10 righteous people. He was a good, good man, a righteous man whom God chose and loved deeply, who also made some wrong choices and walked in some broken ways.

Humanity spilling across the many pages and stories of the Old Testament. But not just humanity, also God. Forgiving, providing, calling, waiting, loving, and then forgiving some more. I relate to the people of the Old Testament, and I need the God who is described from the Old to the New Testament.