Tuesday, February 14, 2017

15751 South Park Avenue: When a House is More Than Just a House

My friend Janet posted this photo of her childhood home on Facebook. Someone has rehabbed it a bit (nice tile back splash in the kitchen, by the way), polished the original woodwork, and is selling it. It is a charming Chicago-style brick bungalow. But that is not why this photo struck my heart.

Immediately my mind was flooded with memories of our time together as little girls. Janet and I spent many Sunday afternoons in this house at 15751 South Park Avenue, in South Holland, Illinois. Even if the real estate company hadn’t given the street address and provided photos I would have recognized it.

The Aarup family attended the same church as mine – our parents were friends. And, I became an honorary Aarup most Sunday afternoons after church, inviting myself over for Sunday dinner, playing all the way up until the evening church service. Janet’s house number, 15751, was the same backward and forward. I had it memorized; I had her phone number memorized also. But it is her family’s house that will forever be etched in my mind.

I don’t think we had air conditioning in those days, so our families relied on window units and big box fans. On hot summer afternoons, Janet and I would place a big flat bed sheet on the living room floor and set books all around the edges. Then, we’d take the living room fan and insert it at one end of our makeshift tent. It would blow up, igloo-shaped, and we’d sit inside and giggle and talk. It was all fun until her dad came home and wondered why we had commandeered the fan that was cooling down the rest of the stuffy house.

I also remember spending time in that brown-paneled basement. We had sleepovers with girlfriends – one time having a spitting contest, propelling grape seeds into the toilet. Again, it was all fun until the toilet overflowed at 2 a.m. Needless to say, her long-suffering father was not pleased. I seem to remember steam coming out of his ears.

We also crafted in that indestructible room. We had this brilliant idea to do a hair transplant from her sister’s doll with her long, luxurious locks to Janet’s baby doll which had a sad little plastic, bald, molded head. We put on “lab coats,” after raiding her dad’s closet for white shirts, and set up a makeshift operating table, laying both dolls side by side.

We snipped away, getting a huge mound of donor hair, and then set about gluing it to the poor, bald baby doll. Of course, we had not thought what her older sister would say. When Robin returned she was furious, and Janet and I got a good scolding.

Her house was on a main street, and we could walk down the block to the South Holland Bowl. They had  a little restaurant attached where aproned ladies  served sandwiches to hungry bowlers. I remember stopping in there for a bottled Coke and taking our time sipping it on our walk back to her house.

We had one more escapade in the 15751 house. There was a huge vacant lot just to the north, and we loved to play there. So when a builder came and began surveying the lot to build two more homes, we were upset. We waited till they were done for the day and then quietly pulled out the stakes, every last one of them. Alas, we were unsuccessful (although probably criminal). Today there are two houses firmly planted just to the north of hers, but not without the vigilant, aggressive protest of two young girls.

It was nice to see you again, 15751. Thank you for allowing me to visit, play, and get into all sorts of trouble. You are forever in my heart.

Thursday, January 12, 2017


I’ve been reading a lot about selecting a “word of the year.” For some, it is seen as a divinely-given word that will help focus their heart and mind on where God is leading. For others, the word is carefully selected as a symbol of their focused dreams, desires, or wishes.

And even while I admired the word choices of others, I honestly didn’t feel a desire to pen one of my own. After all, how could I put my current, mostly muddled feelings into one single word?

But one afternoon, while driving back from Lowe's, I tried to express my current state of mind to my husband.  Earlier that morning, in one of those pop-up Facebook memories (which are quite helpful for a woman of my age), it said that four years ago, I had published my first (and only) book.

I was shocked to realize how time had sped by.  In these four years, I’ve often been asked – what is next?  My answer continues to be: I have no idea.

There’s plenty of reasons why. Life has been busy. I uprooted my family and moved hundreds of miles to a new home. I’ve switched jobs, said goodbye to old friends, and tentatively started to open my heart to a few new ones. My husband and I have watched our only child graduate high school and begin college. And (the reason for another trip to the hardware store) we’ve been painting and rebuilding and cleaning our beloved 1960s beach house.

So while the past four years may not look super productive on my writing resume, I’ve put mile upon mile on this weary soul of mine. Maybe this is why, as I began this January, I sensed a word quietly resonating in my soul.


The word “wait” can have many meanings. To “lie in wait” means you are going to ambush the enemy. And then there is the type of waiting that anticipates a very specific event: “I can’t wait until Friday” or “I’m waiting for my package to arrive from Amazon.”

But that isn’t the type of waiting I mean.

I was thinking about the unique way the word “wait” is used in Scripture – to “wait upon the Lord.” It means to have an attitude of your soul that points God-ward. As one writer explains, “It implies the listening ear, a heart responsive to the wooing of God, a concentration of the spiritual faculties upon heavenly things, the patience of faith.”

This type of faith contains anticipation, but not merely of something happening to me – personally, more of an expectant interaction with the Almighty.

As the Psalmist says, “My soul, wait thou . . . for God only” (69:5).

Rather than feeling guilty about not writing, not doing, not achieving. Rather than seeking out the next project or looking for a new challenge, I am going to sit back and wait.

And, let’s be honest, this type of waiting doesn’t come naturally, especially for me. I like to do. I like to plan. I like to dream. So waiting can feel a whole lot like giving up. It can even feel like failure or laziness. But, this year that word keeps whispering into my heart.

“Wait. Wait on everything. Wait on me.”

And so I will.

Friend, I have to tell you – this might be the best New Year’s resolution I’ve ever made. It feels good. It feels right. Even as it rolls off my tongue, I can feel the tension in my shoulders release, as I breathe a sigh of relief. I can wait.  

I can put off deciding anything and everything in a God-ordained kind of way. I don’t have to have it all figured out. I don’t have to worry that I’m not doing enough. I can know for certain that this is the place I’m meant to be right now.

I’m going to sit in this moment.

I’m going to rest in His peace.

I’m going to push aside the niggling self-induced guilt.

I’m going to enjoy waiting on the Lord with that beautiful song by Mumford & Sons softly playing as a repeat song track in the background.

When He moves, I will follow.

Until then, I will wait. Lord, let me wait . . . resting my soul in Thee.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A New Year's Blessing

New Year's Day always feels a bit disconcerting to me.

My Christmas decorations are looking a bit "tired" . . . to put it nicely. One of the sheep in my nativity set has fallen over , and three chocolate bars are laying on the hay, right next to the wise men. It looks a bit like a cryptic crime scene.

Our once festively decorated dining room is now cluttered with a 50s fiberglass lampshade sitting askew on top of magazine ads, a pile of receipts, unpaid bills, and a Fannie May mint meltaway bar (missing two of the three sections of chocolate).

Yep. This is me - not the Instagram version - but the real one. Rumpled and a bit cluttered. Forgetful and uncertain.

This is the New Year. 

For all of our celebrating, the grand countdown, the auld lang synes, the kisses, New Year's Day always seems a bit ordinary, even a bit disappointing, doesn't it?

So here I sit - still wearing my flannel pajama pants, no makeup, Alfred Hitchcock on the television, Christmas cookies tempting me to put off healthy eating just one more day. My mind is torn between plans and challenges for the days ahead, and the fact that I really, really need to clean my house.

But I'm glad that on this ordinary day there is time for me, for all of us, to stop and think. 

So before I pull the plastic Christmas bins out of the storage area and pack up that poor, tired manger scene, Before I take a walk or take out the garbage that is piling up, I want to put words to this day. The first day of 2017.

Many of us have said we are glad to be rid of 2016. And, I have nodded in agreement. This year was a tough one. But I'm also realizing that in the midst of 2016 have been precious times with our friends and family. And I want more of those in 2017. I don't want grand, crazy, extraordinary things, just the regular stuff that I love, and a maybe a few special wishes thrown into the mix. 

So here is my "ordinary" New Year's wish list...
  • I want to walk on the beach and find another seashell.
  • I want to go shopping at thrift stores with my daughter, looking for t-shirts, purses, and jackets.
  • I want to bake muffins and cakes and cookies, and even a few of those recipes I've pinned.
  • I want to enjoy dinners at interesting restaurants with my husband, and maybe a glass of Chardonnay.
  • I want time and space to pray and think and read.
  • I want to work and write. 
  • I want to clean my house. 
  • I want to organize my linen closet, paint the laundry room, throw out junk. 
  • I want my family to be healthy. I want my mom to come through her cancer surgery successfully with as little pain as possible.
  • I want my friends who have suffered great loss and pain in 2016 to heal. I want them to feel loved and appreciated and find peace.
  • I want to honor God with everything I do and say. 
  • I want to avoid worry, cast my cares on Him.
  • And tonight, I just want a quiet family fondue dinner with a late-night showing of Rear Window, and maybe a glass of that almond champagne that's been chilling in the fridge.
Blessings to you, my friends. Thank you for sharing my journey in 2016. And may you get all of your ordinary wishes for the New Year. 

Love to you in 2017.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Burnt Out at Christmas

for those I love who are struggling this Christmas ...

It was only in mid-life that I discovered I adored brussel sprouts. We were having a holiday dinner at my Uncle Jim's house in the backwoods of Tennessee. His mother-in-law, Raymonda, had cooked the little knobby-looking veggies until they were burnt and caramelized.

Overdone, I thought. But, I decided to brave a taste anyway. Suddenly, a vegetable I knew only as mini, soggy cabbage was transformed. Now these . . . these were magical brussel sprouts, cooked with olive oil and a bit of butter until they were a dark roasted blackish-brown. The charred bits were the most delicious.

But while brussel sprouts become the best version of themselves when you burn the crap out them, I'm not so sure about people. And, this year, I've felt burnt to the crisp. As December rolls to a close, I feel like I must have charred bits showing from the wear and tear of 2016.

And I'm not alone. A friend of mine posted on FB that she didn't want any gifts for Christmas. She had lost her parent just weeks before - and it had just been too difficult of a year. Maybe give me a hug when you see me, she wrote.

I understand. This has been a tough one for me as well. I feel emotionally spent. What a helluva fall it has been.

I've gone through an empty nest phase, seeing my one and only leave for college. Just a few weeks later, I lost a dear friend to a horrible accident, leaving his wife, daughters, and the rest of us gasping with disbelief. I lived through a pretty intense hurricane - an actual one - that aimed directly at the beach house we bought just two years prior. I watched as my neighbor lost his battle to cancer, one loved one struggled with depression and chronic illness, and then I received news that my mom has a recurrence of breast cancer. Sigh... I am Burnt Out. Depleted. Exhausted. Worn. Tired. Spent.

And now Christmas is upon us. How do you jingle all the way when you feel "bleh" inside? How do you spread Christmas cheer when your own light has been dimmed? 

A writer friend commented that there is nothing in Scripture about needing to have the Christmas Spirit. And she is right. There are no easy answers, no quick fixes to snap out of our somber mood, but I would argue that perhaps you don't need fixing. It is perfectly fine to walk through this season of discontent without putting up a tree or hanging a single ornament.

We can be contemplative and sad. We can look back with longing. We can cling to hope. We can grieve for what is lost. We can be deeply thankful for those we hold dear. We can let quiet hymns soothe our soul. We can hold onto hot mugs of eggnog or mulled wine and let tears flow unhindered when needed.

So back to those brussel sprouts. Why is it that they are most intensely flavorful when burnt? And is it possible that these difficult times of my own life are actually precious and important? I can't cover them up - I have to walk through these dark days just as I have my happy, light hearted ones. Both the good and the bad have shaped who I am today.

In my own life, many Christmases have come and gone. They were not all perfect, nor were they easy. So if you too are reeling from the blows life can bring... If you are tired. If you feel depleted of cheer, know that it is okay to sit in its midst and rest.

Matthew 1:27 says, "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him 'Immanuel' (which means 'God with us')." This is Christmas in its essence: God is with us - and He is not present only in the happy. He is with us in the sad and difficult and exhausted as well.

Jesus, God's Son, became present for us in the itchy hay, in the dirty manger, in the crowded spaces of our lives. He came for the weary. He came to take our burden. He came to be our light in the pitch darkness, our help in times of trouble, our peace in the midst of our despair.

And for that I am thankful . . . a bit burnt, a bit crispy at the edges, but profoundly thankful. Rest in His peace this Christmas friends, and may God, Immanuel, be with you through it all.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Thankful for the Ordinary - Even Ice Cubes

I'm reminded today, to be thankful for the normal. Even for ice cubes.

Following the hurricane, there was no electric and no clean water. Ice became a hot commodity in our community. We arrived at the grocery store and someone said they had just delivered 10 pallets of bagged ice. People were joyful - carrying two or three bags in their shopping carts. Milt and I rushed to the aisle only to find it was gone all of it...not one cube to be found.

Ordinary ice.

Ice cubes that I take for granted. I throw them out if they fall on our kitchen floor or if I accidentally put too much into my cup at the soda fountain.

I've received a huge reminder that we are to take nothing for granted. Normal is so good. And everything that we love or hate or even whine about can change in the blink of an eye.

The hot mug of coffee I am drinking is a gift. That bed that I slept in is a gift. That person who we hug or argue with is also a gift...a tremendous gift. Even the long commute to work - which I used to complain about daily - is a gift

We have been given so much - and yet we spend our days arguing over the small things that divide us. We fail to notice the beauty and love around us because we are too busy picking at imperfections.

Maybe it takes a hurricane or losing someone we love to make us wake up and see life around us for what it is. I've been through both in the past month or so.

And I have been reminded that in the most important ways, I am incredibly blessed. I am so thankful.

For my friends.
For my family.
For my home.
For the sunshine.
For electricity.
For clean water.
For a warm bed.
For a roof over my head.
For sunshine.
For the air I breathe.
For ice cubes!

Thank you God for the ordinary.