I had a big deal “milestone” birthday in 2016–you know, one that ends in 0. I decided to take that year to refocus. I resigned from responsibilities outside my home in order to catch up and regroup and prepare to do more things that really mattered to me. I would repair and renovate and bring order to our house. I would give attention to the abilities I have in art and music. I would continue to write and edit for publication in the local newspaper, and consult for doctoral scholars’ dissertations, but my writing focus would be writing blogs and trying to publish the books I’ve written. I got bids from contractors, bought art supplies, and bought Blogging for Dummies. But then–LIFE happened.
My husband and I have four adult children and nine grandchildren who were then all between the ages of 1 and 10. One family lived in a city 5-1/2 hours’ drive away, the others each lived at least 9 hours away. I always had them in my prayers and heart and often on my mind, but they weren’t part of my daily life in person. Then, within 2 months of my milestone birthday, two of the three families, including six of the nine grandchildren, relocated to within 20 miles of our house, one just a mile away–you know, within walking distance. Suddenly my priorities and well-laid plans changed. A normal weekday might include an art class and/or home-school lessons around the dining room table, a Happy Meal at McDonald’s, an excursion to a museum or fair, or cleaning and re-filling a wading pool in the back yard. Sandwiches were now in the shape of train engines–I actually bought a cutter that would do that! The dining room contained a truck depot, a blocks bin, and a game shelf. I bought six extra swimsuits just to keep at Grammie’s house, and kept bedding in the den in case a child suddenly wanted to sleep over. Sunday afternoons were filled with family instead of the internet.
The wise king, Solomon, wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:1, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” James wrote, “…you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.'” Having our plans interrupted, or our purposes delayed, ought to be just fine with us. Every day I need to be as intentional about joyfully believing that God is at work in my life and accepting changes as I was about making the plans in the first place. I have an incredible treasure house of unexpected memories from that year, and they’re especially cherished because four of the six grandchildren have now moved a two-days’ drive away. A contractor is rebuilding a porch next week. I can read Blogging for Dummies now. My milestone year has come and gone. It was used really, really well!
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In July our older daughter and her family moved 850 miles from our city to Charlotte, NC, and she was invited to speak at the farewell dinner for them at our church. She used the theme of 9 months. She and her husband got their daughter nine months after they committed to adopt their first child; she carried each of the other three children for nine months (more or less); and the short stay they expected here in Quincy, Illinois, between her husband’s previous ministry in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago and his next pastorate became–yes, 9 months.
Imagine my surprise when I returned to my blog today and discovered that it has been 9 months since I posted! And what changes the 9 months have brought! I’m adding this particular photo from last fall to illustrate and symbolize those changes–NONE of our big, beautiful maple trees in the 2016 photo are left in 2017.
Future blogs will fill in some of the blanks of those months, but today that very particular time length seems like a promise of greater things to come! I’m imagining a new design for my blog, more frequent but shorter posts, conversations with readers–a fresh start. Please come along!
Today is November 14, and I considered mowing the lawn–it needs it. My vegetable garden is still producing peppers, and my zinnias are still blooming. This is Central Illinois! The trees are so confused that some are still green, some are bright colors, and some have shed their leaves. Some are doing all three at once. I’ve felt like that myself–not quite sure what stage of life I’m in. Having one of those landmark birthdays last month didn’t help.
When I was young and single, the priority was the present. Stage 1. When our children were young, caring for them was our highest priority and obedience to God, and that present priority had great impact on the future. Stage 2. Then they grew up and I went into Stage 3–work, study, earn a doctorate, retire, write articles and books.
And now there’s a new stage that wasn’t expected and I’m as disoriented as the trees. One son was diagnosed with a chronic illness and is moving his family near us. One son-in-law was brutally assaulted in a park, is still recovering, and that family has also moved near us. Instead of seeing our grandchildren a few times a year, I see them most days. I’m prioritizing the present to build the future. There is little time for writing.
But through the awful election campaign that just ended, I wrote on Facebook. It was my small way of trying to use WRITING as a tool for truth, integrity, and civility. When I posted a plea for fairness and critics castigated me for supporting one candidate, it gave me great pleasure to let them know that I wasn’t supporting either candidate, but was simply making a plea for truthful, fair, balanced information–opinions based on facts instead of innuendos. Civility instead of crassness. I think that’s a valid role for a writer–my one small step for mankind at any season of the year, or of my life. And now, I need to go prepare a meal. Our daughter is very ill and her four children are at my house for the day.
Several years ago I decided to disguise the cyclone fence surrounding my vegetable garden by planting morning glories that would vine on it. I planted the seeds, and they sprouted, and they grew, and the vines did, indeed, cover the ugly fence, and the flowers greeted me every morning that summer. And the next. And the next. And the next. Morning glories are persistent.
But then two summers ago, I put in the bed of zinnias in front of the fence. The morning glories did not get the memo that their services were no longer needed. They again sprouted, multiplied, put out tendrils that wrapped around anything they touched, and grew many inches a day. They cheerfully invaded the whole flower bed of zinnias. Every skinny horizontal stem visible in the photo is a morning glory vine–zinnia stems are thick and vertical. The tendrils and leaves are even the same color as the zinnias, and make the plants appear, at first glance, to be lush and healthy. But the morning glory vines’ weight eventually bends the tall stems of the zinnias and pulls them to the ground.
Sometimes habits start out as good, purposeful, under control, and initiated with the best intentions, like my morning glories. But when we become more mature, more intentional, and ready to move on, their seeds are still there, buried in the ground of our mind and heart, and they sprout and grow, and their pretty, once-welcome, innocent-looking tendrils wiggle their way right into the new life we lead and pull us down. We need to search for them daily and pull them out. Yes, they’re beautiful flowers, but if they destroy better things in our lives, they need to treated like weeds and be banished to the compost pile.