Losing color, looking limp, and barely hanging in there • • •

Have you been there friend?

This plant has looked tired and worn down most of the last year. I’ve almost given up on it too many times to count. When I finally gave it some dedicated attention I realized it literally had no roots; it was just sitting in soggy dirt. “No wonder it’s so pale and lifeless.” I thought and I finally threw it away.

But in a last ditch, heart inspired, rescue and recovery plan I snagged it back out of the trash and whispered, “Let’s try this again”.

Incredibly it did just that.
After a lifeless year, it’s coming back, I see new, fresh growth!

The old soil was wet and a little moldy. I dumped it out, washed the pot and put in fresh stuff. I tenderly placed it back in the pot labeled “grow”, and moved it to a new window.

And so lessons appear from the tired, fading plant ~

• let’s check our soil. What are we sitting in? Is it saturated with the wrong stuff?

• what am I rooted in? Do I even have any roots, or am I simply sitting on top of moldy soil in a pot I didn’t choose, falling over from time to time?

• do you need a fresh perspective? Do you need to change the window you’re looking through?

• and just in case you need someone to whisper this to you, here it is, “Hey there love, let’s try this again.”

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.

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?

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

The Discipline of Shoveling Snow

We have a wonderful man who shovels our snow all winter long. He simply shows up, sometimes before we are even awake, and takes care of the snow. No doubt about it, we are lucky ducks. Last week he told me he was having surgery and wouldn’t be able to shovel for 2-6 weeks, so for now we have our old jobs back. And when I say we, I mostly mean Kevin.

Last night we got a few inches of wet, heavy snow ~ thinking of our mailman who delivers the mail door to door, I decided I would shovel just the sidewalk and front steps. While doing this I realized how happy Kevin would be to come home and see those two areas clear of snow – he would only have to do the driveway.

While working I noticed part of the sidewalk for the church two doors down was not shoveled, I thought ‘You should go shovel that sidewalk’, I quickly revealed my selfishness in my next thought, ‘But I don’t really want to.’ Then I heard this, “Do it as an act of obedience.”

After spending time in my Bible and in prayer this morning it might be expected I would want to shovel that walk, but I didn’t. ‘Maybe it wasn’t the Holy Spirit. But then…maybe it was.’  I decided I would do it after I finished my sidewalk. But felt pressed to do it immediately, before completing my own work. So I did, and as I did I thought of it my first fruit offering of labor. :)  When I finished the church’s sidewalk this thought dropped in my mind, “Well done.”

drivewayAfter finishing our sidewalk I decided to shovel just part of the driveway – to help Kevin. I had no intention of doing the whole driveway, just a wee bit of it. But I kept doing a little more, and a little more until I decided I had done enough. ‘Won’t Kevin crack up when he comes home to see everything shoveled except the center.’ But as I went to put the shovel in the garage my spirit settled on finishing the job; as an act of discipline, and as an act of service to my husband, I would finish the work before me.

As I write all these words I debate deleting the whole thing…my thoughts and actions today are just so small and selfish, not really blog worthy stuff.

But I leave the words because as I did this work in the quiet of the morning I realized I have told God I want to grow this year. Last year was a year of finding my footing in a year of big, big changes; a year of settling into my new community and into my new role as empty nester. This year I yearn to grow again. And maybe God used this as an opportunity to encourage me in small steps of obedience, discipline and service ~ attributes good for growth.

Is it possible that when we take even little steps in obedience God is pleased and offers a “Well done”? Maybe so, maybe so.

(By the time Kevin got home, it had been raining for awhile. Right away he said he was glad he hadn’t taken the time to shovel early in the morning because the rain had taken care of it! I looked at my neighbor’s driveway that had not been shoveled and her’s was as clear of snow as ours!! So I believe it’s quite possible today wasn’t about shoveling, but more about a lesson in discipline, and for that I also am well pleased.)