Lessons in the Layoff

I remember the day well, October 7, 2019 — I was at my sister’s for a ten day stay with my nephew while she and her husband went on a mission trip to Macedonia. Kevin texted with the news that he had been laid off. We were fourteen hours apart, my sister was about to leave for the airport and I just wanted to go home. Teary and in disbelief I grabbed a notebook and wrote down everything he said; my mind was scattered and I knew when we hung up I would forget all the things he said. Severance, amazing. Benefits continued, blessing. Call our financial advisor, good idea. Hiring coach provided, wonderful. But even in hearing this I still had many tears, a few sobs and a little panic.

Lesson One — Lean in and listen
Feeling a little unsettled, Kevin had been praying about his job for awhile, and he reminded me that the last word he had heard from God was to ‘Stay put. Stay on this path.’ Okay we did that, but now what? Kevin said he planned the next day to be a time of fasting; he would go into a state park with his bible and a notebook, walk and sit in the quiet and seek to hear from God. Of course — lean in and listen for God. I knew at that moment we would be okay because Kevin wasn’t going to go forward in his own strength or wisdom, though he has much of both, he was going to be still and lean not on his own understanding.

Lesson Two — Go visit your Father
I waited the next day for the fast to end and Kevin to call. I tried to not rush him through what he was saying but I was anxious to hear what God had said. What’s next? I was wondering. Where do we put our feet? What do we do now? I couldn’t wait to hear what God said.

And here’s what God spoke to Kevin’s heart, I’m glad you’re here spending the day with me.

Of course. The Lord was happy his son had come to spend time with him, to be near his Father; that Kevin knew who to go to before any decisions or directions were taken.

Though I hoped for a billboard with a map in the woods that day, what we got was far better; the reminder that sometimes God wants us to just come and visit. He wants to know we love him for him, not for what he delivers. Can you imagine if your kids never just snuggled up with you, climbed in your lap, or if they only called when they needed something from you? Once again, I felt a peace wash over me, God is with us, we’ll be okay. The what, when, where, why and how could wait. God had led us to this job six years ago, and now it was gone, but we didn’t feel abandoned. Confused maybe, but trusting still.

Lesson Three — Its okay to not understand
When we moved to Michigan from Indiana for this job, I didn’t really understand it. We had just launched our last one to college, alongside a few close friends. I had planned to enter the empty nest season with walks and wine on the porch with one of my best friends who lived around the corner. But alas it was not to be. Instead I would move 80 miles away to a very small, but adorable and historic, town. And as it turns out our time here has turned into one of the sweetest blessings of our lives.

Six years ago I said I don’t understand this move, it’s not what I imagined at this point of my life, but I trust it. I was sometimes lonely that first year, but I also had peace. And so it goes again — this is not what I expected at this point of our lives either, it’s not what I would choose, but I trust it.

I’m leaning in, listening, visiting my Father, trusting and peaceful as we enter this next unforeseen season. It’s not what I expected, but I do have peace and I still trust what’s next.

Three Lessons in Such a Time as This

“What remains after a storm is what we learn in the middle of the storm”,
this was from a teaching in mid-March from Lee Cummings of Radiant Church and has stuck with me in this COVID-19, quarantine, lock-down time. Back in March we didn’t really have any idea how long, or to what extent this “storm” would affect us. Or what it would reveal about us…about me. But I’m learning a few things…

Worship & prayer fatigue?
In March, beginning each day with a live stream prayer & worship time was exactly what I needed, it was centering and filling; calming to my soul. But on Monday of week 7, I watched my husband slowly climb out of bed and suggested that maybe we just sleep in. To which he responded by starting the coffee and getting the service pulled up. (So much for sleeping in!) That morning’s prayer addressed a fear that had crept in and by having it revealed, I had the opportunity to replace it with faith and trust; I would have missed all that if I had given into the fatigue of the morning rhythm we have established. Is it possible I had become tired of praying and worshiping daily?

I am a jealous God
In another message Pastor Lee said God is “exposing and dismantling the idols of our culture”. Well…and also my own. As our retirement account plunged day after day, after day, I found myself panicking a little. As investments were going down, anxiety went up. So where do you put your hope and trust, Sheri? Where does your peace come from? Ahhhh….an exposed idol. On some level, my peace and hope for our future was reliant on our retirement fund. Now, it’s good to be wise and plan for sure, but if that’s where my peace comes from then I have put my faith in something that can be snatched away quickly. I’m grateful this was revealed within me. As things are stripped away, can I still give thanks for that which remains? The answer is now yes.

Cast off every weight and hindrance
…they began to throw the cargo overboard…On the third day, they threw the ships’s tackle overboard with their own hands. Acts 27:18-19
When the cargo and tackle was loaded on the ship, it was needed and necessary. But there came a point where they had to rethink the load. So the challenge in this teaching was to think about any weight or hindrance, not so much sin, just unnecessary perspectives, mentalities, comforts and such that we don’t need right now. This was valuable for me; we have some big things coming up and I discovered I was clinging to thoughts, ways, and comforts that could make the journey more difficult. In identifying these, I’m able to work on offloading that which has potential to weigh me down unnecessarily.

Still learning and growing over here. Sometimes I take my eyes off the one who commands the waves and calms the storm and put them on too much media. Sometimes I feel the weight of the collateral damage of this time for so many and I feel weary and unsteady. But I am learning in the middle of all this, and when this storm is over I’ll be grateful for the lessons that will remain.

I would LOVE to hear what you’re learning in this time. Consider leaving a comment, maybe we can all learn from each other.

Be wise, see you soon.

Day 37 Quarantine Observations

Keeping a morning schedule and rhythm has helped
Each morning we’ve been streaming a prayer and worship service that has been grounding and good. The pastor likened it to back when the first thing to happen each morning was a fire being lit in the kitchen to warm the house for the day. This practice sets the posture of my heart for the day. And then I need to set that posture again the next day, and the next and the next. Manna for today.

Leggings have become a staple
I’m not saying its a great idea, but its what we’ve got over here. I’m not as interested in maintaining myfitnesspal calorie counts or logging weigh watchers points; I should, but I’m not. It may take a minute to work my way back into jeans, but I’m not beating myself up about it.

Exercise matters
Whilst wearing my leggings, getting on the treadmill, doing a workout, or walking outside is a game changer every time I do it. Obviously good for me physically, but exercise is doing its job in the emotional and mental departments as well. Gold star for this little gem called exercise.

Empathy for all
We’re under similar restrictions yet in different situations. Though time is constant, we seemingly have much of it on our hands, while others surely feel they have less. More obligations exist as working from home, managing the education and supervision of kids, now out of school and/or daycare, is a daily reality. Some are working more shifts, longer hours, are more at risk. Some are suddenly & unexpectedly out of work, some families are looking at low or empty checkbook balances, alongside some who are still getting paid and for moment, experiencing financial peace. Its all of this and more. Some are feeling squeezed by all the togetherness under their roof, some are doing this thing solo and might be feeling isolated. Awareness of others’ positions is good. Empathy for all is important; I believe everyone is just doing the best they can.

Grace upon grace upon grace
There are varying thoughts, manners of precautions, levels of anxieties, frustrations and volumes on voices regarding COVID-19. There are disagreements, varying expectations, disparaging remarks (from every which angle of this), hopes, fears and more. I need to let grace abound, covering my own heart and flowing out. Every. Day.

Connecting in creative ways
We miss our people. One of my besties lives up the street, I walk past her house a lot (in an exercise way, not a creepy way), and not sitting across from her is hard. Family trips have been cancelled, gatherings now happening over the computer instead of homes, parks, churches and restaurants. Like you all, we’re making the best of it — we’ve played games, cleaned out closets, had dinners and happy hours together with our family and friends. Next up – download Catan so I can join my kids and my friend Barb who are playing virtually.

Showers, hair, cooking and more…
Happening in varying degrees and it’s fine.

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!)