What’s the Difference?

Comparisons. Aren’t they fun? As soon as I get excited about whatever new dress size I’ve fit into after months of dieting, I overhear someone bemoaning the fact that they’ve just sized up to the very same number.

I’ve spent years perfecting my apple pie recipe, and it’s a keeper. So why do I get jittery when someone says they never use shortening in their crust, or a certain type of apple, or whatever it is that I have always used and my family has always loved?

I can be perfectly happy with my circumstances one moment—my dress size, my baking skills—and in the next moment I’m crestfallen, just because I noticed someone else has things or does things a little differently.

Constantly comparing and measuring myself against others is immature, whiny, and depressing. When it comes to my marriage, though, comparisons are dangerous.

Let’s say my husband has done something sweet and romantic, and I’m reveling in it. Until I hear about some other grand gesture by some other husband. Then the bloom starts to droop off the rose.

What changed? My husband was thoughtful and kind, and he showed his love for me in his own, unique way. It was more than enough for me until my greedy eyes drifted elsewhere. When I take my eyes off of my own relationship, and let my gaze wander over to someone else’s husband…well, it’s rather obvious that I’m on a slippery slope that leads nowhere good.

Even though I don’t consciously think, “I wonder what it would be like to be married to that guy,” I am still allowing myself to wish my husband were more like “that guy.” I’m taking my focus off of the blessing I have in my own husband and marriage, and I’m coveting the blessings that belong to someone else. I’m also cheating my husband of the credit and gratitude and affectionate feelings that he has every right to expect from me as his biblically-ordained other half: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Ephesians 5:31).

Ultimately, it comes down to contentment, which the dictionary defines as “ease of mind.” My mind isn’t taking it easy when it’s casting about looking for comparisons—checking to see if I’m justified in being happy with the way things are.

When I learned that a friend of ours gives his wife roses every anniversary – one for every year they’ve been married, plus an extra for the year to come – I felt a brief rush of happiness for them. It was quickly followed by a sour feeling in my stomach: after eighteen years, it’s too late for us to start that tradition now.

I hope you’re disgusted with me, because I certainly am. Especially since my husband has his own tradition for each of our anniversaries (which I shall not share with you because it’s my blessing, and I want you to think about yours).

Another friend of mine has the stereotypical husband who completely forgets every anniversary. Not only that: he forgets her birthday. And Valentine’s Day. This was a serious source of argument for the first several years of their marriage. One day, she was grumbling about the situation to God, and she felt Him prodding her: have you ever doubted his love for you? There was no hesitation—the answer was an emphatic no. That realization helped her stop expecting her husband to show his love the way other husbands show theirs. She does like celebrations, though, and gifts. So she leaves post-it notes on the bathroom mirror and on his steering wheel for several days leading up to each special occasion. Sometimes, even that doesn’t work. In that case, she goes shopping and gets something gift-wrapped for herself. Later, she gives him the box so he can present it to her (and he is ever-so relieved and grateful). After forty-some-odd years together, they are one of the happiest couples I have ever known.

What’s the formula? Simple: she’s got “ease of mind.” She doesn’t stew and pout and dwell on his forgetfulness, chalking it up to insensitivity and lack of love. She’s clear-eyed when she looks at him, seeing exactly who he is and refusing to compare him to other men (or that mythical creature known as the Ideal Husband).

Is your husband romantic? Wonderful.

Is he less romantic than “that guy”? Too bad—you already said he was romantic, so be grateful for that.

Is he about as romantic as a fencepost? You still chose him and married him, so take a minute to focus like a laser beam on the blessing that he is.

Everyone Has a Story

Pete and I just spent a morning clearing out weeds, trimming trees and bushes, picking up trash, filling dumpsters and pickups. We were part of the “exterior team,” which included maybe a dozen of our fellow church members. Others on our team were removing unusable fence boards, chopping out stumps, whacking weeds.

There were at least a dozen more of us inside the house. They were removing carpet, clearing out debris, disinfecting floors, fixtures, and appliances.

We were at the home of a woman that most of us had never met. In fact, we did not even meet her today. We received word that she needed our help through our church‘s ministry, the Colorado Springs Project. Her friends, neighbors, even family had gone for years without any knowledge of what was going on inside her house.

The details are personal, but my point is this: this woman–this loved, precious child of God–believed that she was beyond help, so she never asked for it. She lived her life as if everything were normal, but she never allowed anyone inside her home, inside her struggles.

It is absolutely heart-breaking to think that she lived in such an isolated state, apparently convinced that others could not–or would not want to–help her. As if nobody else had problems approaching the level of hers. As if everyone else’s facades are actually true, and problems are best dealt with by hiding them, pretending, just going along.

My house is probably messier than yours. I have three animals as an excuse. But let’s forget about house messes for a minute. How many of us have a heart, even a corner of it, that’s just as hidden and broken and debris-filled as this woman’s house? And how many of us refuse to let anyone else see it, not even a glimpse, because we’re sure it would frighten people away?

I updated my “about me” page with this in mind, and here is what I added:

Here’s the thing: I am deeply flawed and broken, and I believe that to hide that from others is to be deceitful. Too many of us are sold on one another’s facades, and it leads us to hide our own struggles, withdraw, and isolate ourselves. Most of my nonfiction writing reveals some kind of goofy, stupid, selfish, sinful thing I have done. If you find me horrible, that’s okay. You’re supposed to, because I am. The only good in me comes from Christ, and if I hide my flaws from others, I’m robbing them of the opportunity to seek help for flaws of their own…to know that He is gracious and merciful and loving. He loves us the way we are — and will not leave us that way.

Please know that your struggles, your sins, your debris–none of it ought to be hidden. Open the blinds, open the door, and let others step into your life. Your real life. God created us for community because we need it. I know it’s scary. But the alternative is…well, it’s terrifying. It’s too much for you to carry alone, so stop trying.

Giving Ourselves Away

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a friend from church whose family recently took in three foster children (a sibling group, ages 2, 6, and 10). She and her husband are one year away from sending their youngest child off to college. Their oldest three are all either finishing college or already out in the working world. Her husband is just a year or two away from retirement.

She shared with me the day-to-day struggles of caring for a toddler at her age, and dealing with the six-year-old calling her “Mommy” from the first day they met, and the palpable anger of the ten-year-old boy when he doesn’t get his way. She said she ends each day completely exhausted. Looking into her weary eyes, I believed it.

Then she said, “You know, we were really looking forward to our retirement years, and they’re so close now. We talked about how we would travel, and relax, and spend time together. And sometimes I feel like we’ve sacrificed our lives for these kids.”

She paused, leaned back in her chair with a smile, and said, “But that’s what it’s all about: giving ourselves away. What’s our life for, if not that?”

I’m in Love with a Pedometer (WFMW)

I knew I wasn’t an especially active person. I work out of my home for the most part, and much of my time is spent in a chair, staring at the computer (like now). But it wasn’t until I clipped a rather small, benign-looking gadget to my hip that I realized how sedentary I really am.

According to several articles, including this one, a sedentary person walks an average of 1,000 to 3,000 per day. On my first pedometer-laden day, I barely passed 1,200. And that was on a day that I thought I was busy! Pitiful.

So I decided to push it to 5,000. I did a lot of useless pacing. I stood up and walked around the room every time I waited for a website to load (which takes a bit of time since we don’t have DSL). Little things like that. I only made it to 3,000.

The next day, I vacuumed. Now, I wouldn’t say I’m a slob. But you might. So vacuuming is not necessarily a regular habit in this house. I also did an extra load or two of laundry. And I went around the house decluttering a few times that day. I reached (passed!) 5,000 steps, and my house was cleaner than it typically is, unless company’s coming.

Hm. Perhaps I was onto something.

This past week, I increased my goal to 10,000 steps per day, which is the recommended average for maximum health benefit and weight loss. The sheets on all the beds in the house are fresh. The sheets I removed have been laundered and put away, rather than crammed in the hamper for some magical future day when I have extra time. The hard floors have been mopped. There is virtually no clutter anywhere in the house, and the kitchen counters are confused, wondering why all their dirty dish friends have been cutting their visits so short.

Still, all that activity only gets me to about 8,000 steps. So, in the afternoons, when I have the news on, or the girls want me to watch a movie with them, I walk. It annoyed the girls at first, but they’re getting used to it. I walk back and forth behind the sofa, where I am still able to pay attention to whatever’s on the tube but I don’t get in anyone’s way. Yesterday, I knocked off 2,500 steps this way, just walking during the last few minutes of Meet the Robinsons, which the girls have been wanting me to see.

Guess what I normally do when I’m watching tv in the afternoon. I eat. Being notoriously bad at multi-tasking, there is no way I could handle watching, walking and eating. So, without much effort, I have eliminated a few hundred extra calories from my day. Not to mention what I’m burning with all that walking (roughly 300 calories per day when I hit 10,000 steps).

And one more thing: when I run errands, I walk up and down every single aisle now, since it adds hundreds of steps and not much extra time. Side effect? I remember to pick up things that I forgot to put on my list, just because I happen to walk right by them!

My pedometer really works for me. It keeps me moving, it keeps my house clean, it keeps me from mindlessly stuffing my face, and it even keeps my pantry stocked.

Click here to see what works for Shannon!  (Hers is a healthy tip this week, too.)

So Far This Morning …

I woke to a misty sky and snow-covered ground, though it was in the 60s just yesterday.

Once the sun had made its way through the haze, brightening the trees and tinting our dirt road yellow, the snow began to melt and disappear.

Before it had gone completely, more snow was falling.

The sun eventually turned the snow to rain, but the cold air fought back and turned the rain to sleet.

And now, as I write this, the sun has pushed back once again, and even the rain drops are fading.

I’ve only been up for three hours.

It’s intriguing to me that I can so thoroughly enjoy — even be thrilled by — the unpredictability of the weather here at the foot of the mountains. And yet I cannot seem to handle the slightest surprise in my daily routine.

Perhaps I should begin to look at my circumstances as snow, rain, sun, and sleet. Maybe then I’d enjoy the ride.

Book Reviews Updated

I’ve been long overdue in updating my book reviews, and I’ve been a frequent guest at the library lately.

Recently added reviews (in no particular order, just what’s popping into my head!):

The Glass Castle
As I Lay Dying
The Whistling Season
Of Mice and Men
A Separate Peace

Coming soon:

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter
Light in August