Bragging on My Husband (Because…Bacon!!)

Bragging on My Husband (Because…Bacon!!)

My husband performed something of a miracle this week. He made bacon.

He didn’t cook bacon. He MADE it. From scratch.

He cured the pork all week long and then smoked it on our back porch this afternoon.

When he pulled the slab of mouth-watering goodness out of the smoker, cut off a thin slice, fried it in a pan for just a minute, and gave me the sizzling piece – I thought perhaps I could live on just this for the next few years.

My husband’s slab of homemade bacon. Right out of the smoker.

I have often said that there are five reasons I could never be a vegetarian:

1. Pancetta.

2. Prosciutto.

3. Salami.

4. Carpaccio.

5. BACON.

Note – four of these are cured pork and the first and the last are very similar. Bacon is smoked, while pancetta is not.  (A little shout out to Bart Simpson fans here! I absolutely love this clip too!!)

It was a GREAT afternoon!

If you’ve eaten at our home, you know my husband is a culinary wizard. I like to say that I cook for sustenance and to feed our family during the week. But on the weekend and when we entertain, the love of my life cooks for fun and relaxation. He’s made his own marshmallows, candied oranges, corned beef, sausage….even his own hot sauce (after growing his own peppers first – multiple kinds for the right mix of flavors, naturally). And these are just the things that immediately come to mind because he’s made them in the last year or two! We’ve been married 19 years. Do the math. The number of delicious meals he’s made is mind boggling!

People say my guy is a “foodie,” and I guess that’s true. But I think he’s also gifted. And what that means for me and our kids is that we’re very, very blessed.

If you ask him, my husband will tell you he enjoys cooking. And he likes to see people take pleasure in the fruits of his efforts.

Which is the way it’s supposed to be.

Because when you bless others with a God-given gift, it will bring you joy.

What are your gifts? Do you know?

Do you often sell yourself short?

Don’t think you have to have stellar musical ability or athletic prowess to be considered gifted.

One could argue that the world needs people to exercise their ‘quieter’ talents even more.

Are you a good listener?

Are you patient and calm when others would rush a tender soul?

Do you create warm and inviting spaces where people like to gather?

Are you a natural ‘encourager’?

Are you good at problem-solving?

We all have gifts, and no two of us are the same. Imagine if everyone used his or her gifts to their fullest extent.

Your gifts were given to you for two reasons: to help build up the world, and to bring you joy in the process.

That’s something delicious (like bacon!) to think about today.

 

Bless us, Oh Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive, from Thy bounty, through Christ Our Lord, Amen. – Catholic Mealtime Prayer

Folly and Sparks! Have a Joyful 4th!

Folly and Sparks! Have a Joyful 4th!
Photo by Kristopher Roller, StockSnap.io

As I understand it, my great-grandparents’ marriage started off with sparks. Of the good sort.

Just 17 years old, Bessie Lowe was bound and determined to marry James Smith – the young man of her dreams. It’s not clear whether Bessie’s groom-to-be was afraid to approach Bessie’s father about the marriage, but in any case, Bessie was the one who told her dad about the engagement. According to a quote in an old family photo album, Bessie’s dad told her he and her mother had seen the folly of marrying too young. She came back at him. “Well,” she said, “We would like to see the folly of it too.”

Bessie and Jimmie were married on the 4th of July, 1916, in Grants Pass, Oregon. After the ceremony they held a family picnic where everyone – and I mean everyone – played baseball. Firecracker that she was, my great-grandmother ran the bases in her wedding dress.

Times were simple and lean and about to get leaner. In 1932, Jimmie lost his job as a truck driver for a lumberyard, so he took my grandpa (and later, grandpa’s sister) to live on the family’s farm while Bessie worked as a washerwoman in a Seattle laundry. The family was separated for two years, seeing one another only on holidays. Decades later, my grandpa choked up every time he spoke of this, remembering it as a great injustice that his beloved mother should ever have had to work that hard under such awful conditions. And yet Bessie did – for the love of her family and to help provide for them. Further, she kept her chin up, never losing the laughing spirit that sparked that running of the bases on her wedding day.

I knew Bessie only when I was a young child, and what I recall best are her eyes. People tell me she had one brown and one blue, but in my mind I see the way those eyes crinkle at me in delight. She sits on a piano bench in her living room, studying me with her whole face, body, heart, and spirit. She radiates joy. She throws her head back and laughs, letting ripples of happiness shake her whole frame.

The lesson in all of this is that the same woman who told her dad of her plans to marry the man she loved, played America’s game right after saying her vows, and toiled at an awful job to care for a family she adored who – to the very last among us – remembers her as laughing, made one critical choice above all others: she consistently chose joy.

Do you choose joy every day? Do you have the kind of faith that trusts that Life is Good, and you – even you – are cared for regardless of your current situation?

I believe that my great-grandmother must have. She trusted in the Presence that pushed up the flowers in her yard year after year, and brought her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren back to her when she’d gone full seasons without seeing them.

Right to the end, hers was an all-embracing, loving, grateful smile that no one could dismiss.

My great-grandmother Bessie Smith, always smiling.

On this holiday of family picnics and fireworks, may we press fully into that kind of joy.

 

Creating New Memories of Dad

Creating New Memories of Dad
Ashe Gold

Have you ever revisited a memory only to discover that your recollection was, in some way, skewed?

This happened to me recently.

I was thinking back to when I was 12 or 13, spending a day with my dad. We were in Morocco. Epcot’s Morocco.

My folks had recently divorced. At the time, my sister and I were living in Jacksonville, Florida, with my mom but for reasons I can’t remember, this day-trip to Orlando was just for Dad and me.

We were having a blast – “hoofing it” as Dad always said – walking quickly all over the park to take in as much as we possibly could in 12 or so hours. Just before dinner, we stopped at Morocco, and as we admired the leather goods in the shops, I told Dad I needed to visit the ladies’ room.

There, I discovered what every adolescent girl dreads.

And dear God. I was not prepared. No purse. No supplies. Nothing.

Feeling slightly nauseous, with butterflies in my stomach, I marched outside. Dad was standing by a dim streetlamp, basking in the sunset over the man-made lake.

“Dad, I need a quarter.”

He looked down at me with his calm, bright blue eyes, smiled and asked, “Why do you need a quarter?”

“Uhmmm. For the machine in the ladies’ room.”

His forehead wrinkled and lips puckered in perplexity.

Time stood still for me.

Perhaps a millisecond later, he began to fumble ferociously for a quarter, patting his shirt pocket and the pockets on the front and back of his shorts without feeling anything. Finally, he found the handful of change, opened his palm, and fished out one shiny 25 cent piece.

I took it from him without a word.

When I returned, he was fidgety. There was a crisp air of uncertainty about him.

“So,” he tried to sound casual, “Where would you like to eat? We can go anywhere in the world!”

So Dad. So typical of Dad to attempt humor just then. And I showed my gratitude with a grudging smile.

We settled on Japan, where, over my first-ever bowl of udon I also felt for the first time that necessary parting of ways – the separation that comes between the child and the parent, and in this case, between a girl and her father. Things would be unsaid. Experiences would be unshared. Life would be lived separately.

But there is more.

I used to think this story was about me and the time my monthly cycle began at Epcot Center. And it is – in a very small way. What’s more important however, is that Grace showed up that day, and taught me a lesson for life about men.

My dad is a gentleman through and through. That doesn’t mean he always responds with composure or perfect words the first moment of a challenging situation; it means that he will respond correctly when given the fullness of an opportunity. The distinction is important.

This little incident was a building block planted by Grace in my life. How do I know? Because my father’s response to me – initially awkward, but full of love and tenderness – was a foreshadowing of interactions I would later have with my husband. By looking back on this memory, I can see that I was being taught that today I am to give my husband room and time to respond with the love and compassion I know he has for me, even if the circumstances of any given situation take him by surprise.

Men get a lot of bad press these days, and yes – there are more than a few out there who are behaving poorly and thus becoming fodder for headlines, memes, and tabloids. But I’ve been blessed to know many good men – righteous men who through their actions, big and small, show their love and concern for the women and children in their lives. Fathers especially, who shepherd their families with perseverance and thoughtfulness. They aren’t showy or prideful about their contributions; they do it out of the purity of their hearts, and we would do well to honor them appropriately and regularly for it.

The love these men express is a reflection of the bigger Love – the eternal Love. The One that brought all of us into being through the free gift of Grace and uses individuals to do work in the world. Love is an unparalleled force that we cannot escape, and we desire it above everything else.

Relationships with parents can be complicated. Holidays like Father’s Day can stir up a whole host of emotions. But deep within, many of us want to feel or say something more than, “Have a beer on me, Dad!” “Play some golf!” “Take a load off!” or the generic, “Enjoy your day!” Even if our dads have passed on and our interactions were troubled, we want to have hearts of gratitude for these men who touched our lives so deeply.

The not-so-secret secret that Grace teaches is that gratitude is a practice that can be learned. So here’s an exercise for building gratitude for your dad (and indeed any man in your life) that you can try – today.

1) Think of time when he was tender to you. An isolated incident.

2) Visualize yourself through his eyes. Remember that you were his child. Consider how he must have felt as he looked at your face. However imperfectly he expressed his emotions for you, try to imagine the stirrings of his heart.

3) Add the emotion you feel from this “imaginative view” to your databank of knowledge about your dad. Assume his best intentions. Grant him a bit more grace in your heart and you will want to act toward him accordingly.

Can the past teach us about the present?

Does Grace always show up in our life’s story if we look closely enough?

I believe the answer to these questions is ‘Yes.’ And we can respond with gratitude today if we can gradually come to believe that there’s a God who was walking with us then, and who walks with us still.

What Do You KNOW is Right?

What Do You KNOW is Right?
Photo by Warren Wong, Burlington Heights, Hamilton, Canada. unsplash.com

I was prepared to make my case to him, but he surprised me completely when he said,

“It goes against everything I know is right.”

Even if I could, I would never go back to his tender age – fourteen – to face the challenges of adolescence once more.

He’d been issued an invitation to see a movie with friends, and before I talked to him about it I’d watched the trailer online. The premise alone suggested the film would have few redeeming qualities: colleagues trapped in a skyscraper are challenged to a game of kill or be killed by an unknown voice blasted over the company’s intercom system. Call me ‘chicken,’ but the plot, music, and outtakes told me all I needed to know: there’s no way I’d want to watch this movie, and knowing my son, it wasn’t going to be good for him either.

If you’re a parent you know this hard truth: We cannot perpetually shield our children from a world bent on destroying their innocence and the values with which they were raised. But we try.

Lately, my relationship with my son has consisted of more challenging moments than warm fuzzy ones. We irritate one another. I remind him to do tasks I feel are essential (study for that test, be clear in your plans with friends, limit your XBox time, etc.), while he pushes back (I’m ready for the test, my friends know what’s up, and your limits are unreasonable.) It’s standard teenage fare. But I don’t like feeling like a mini dictator, and he chafes under restrictions which simultaneously curb his freedom and protect him.

Day after day, we do the dance, and I must say, he is a responsible, well-mannered, and thoughtful kid -most of the time. But then I wonder – when faced with a tough decision, what will he do?

The movie was a simple case – I wasn’t going to allow him to see it and I figured there would be alternative plans made in the event he couldn’t go. But before I let him know that, I wanted to hear his thoughts. Opportunities like this one are rarer than I’d wish.

I approached him as he played a video game and told him to pause it – that we needed to talk. Then I told him the facts without offering an opinion: the invitation was to see “The Belko Experiment.” Did he know this movie?

He let out a big sigh and gave me that shocking answer.

“It goes against everything I know is right.”

The coldblooded murder and gore for gore’s sake, the deceit, the lack of heroism (as far as we understood) – it was all troubling. We talked about this and I understood what he was seeing. There seemed to be no fight between good and evil – and not one where you know in advance that good will triumph. We stand firm in the knowledge of the Promise: that the war between good and evil has already been fought, and good has won – for all eternity. It’s imperative to remind ourselves and others of this when the world’s real-life events already cause enough doubt, dismay, and despair.

Where did this child of mine come from?

I wish there were some way to ensure that he would never go astray, that he’d always reach such lofty reasoned conclusions, borne of efforts (both his and mine) to adhere to a higher moral code. But there are no guarantees.

The only thing I can say is this: I have prayed for this child, and I will keep on praying for him, and no power on earth can touch the One to whom I entrust my son entirely. I am confident that my appeals are heard, and that the Lord who has gifted my son with life and begun a good work in his soul, will carry it on to completion in life eternal with Himself.

 

Someone Died and All He Could Think Was “Where’s the Pork Roll?”

Someone Died and All He Could Think Was “Where’s the Pork Roll?”
My children with their great-grandparents at their 75th Wedding Anniversary Celebration, January 2017.

I always knew there was a range of emotions to encounter in grief, but I didn’t count on humor being one of them.

We were sitting down to dinner on the day my grandfather died. On my own, I had already told the children the news one-by-one, something that needed to be done because my husband was in another state at a colleague’s mother’s funeral and our kids’ age spread meant they wouldn’t be able to process the info in the same way. We had all been together in Seattle just a week before to celebrate my grandparents’ 75th wedding anniversary. Telling the kids that their 94-year old great-grandfather – who had seemed the picture of health – had suddenly entered heaven came as a shock to them, to say the least. Kids are never prepared. But then again, are any of us?

Everyone was happy that it was ‘breakfast for dinner’ – pancakes, eggs, fruit and OJ, but about 5 minutes into the meal my 7-year old son asked, “Where’s the pork roll?” – a Philadelphia favorite and weekend staple in our house.

I let out a frustrated sigh that I wasn’t aware I’d been holding in.

“I forgot it, alright? Bestefar died today and I forgot the pork roll. We’ll be fine without it.”

Then I promptly burst into tears.

My 11-year old daughter dropped her fork and in a shaky voice said, “Oh, Mom! Are you ok?”

Banging his fist on the table – young man of the house – my teenage son declared, “Clearly, she is NOT ok!!”

Turning to me, he said – a little too loudly, “MOM! If you need to go lie down, or…or…or take a break…or something…you just do that, OK?”

Then, to my left, a sweet little 7-year old’s voice said, “Mom?”

In a state of disbelief, I turned to my youngest son.

“Yes?” I said.

“Are you thinking dark thoughts?”

It was all I could do not to burst into fits of laughter.

Maturity in three stages spread out before me. The 7-year old had forgotten the day’s events. The 11-year old could only feel empathy. And the 14-year old was desperately trying to control the situation.

It was a foreshadowing of my own grieving process – the one I would go through in the weeks ahead.

Grandpa passed in January and Grandma passed in March, and every day I’m in one of these three stages: denial, empathy and sadness, or trying to regain a footing. My grandparents meant more to me than most people may realize. Despite the geographical distance between us, they were a firm foundation in my life; I counted on them for stability and strength in ways that only now are becoming apparent to me.

And I’ve been rather silent on this blog as I try to process that realization, focusing instead on just getting through the days. But this morning I realized yet again that what they were to me is what I have been called to be to others. The mantle is passed in this way from generation to generation. And if I spend my life trying to emulate theirs, I will have succeeded in giving my children the precious gifts my grandparents gave to me. These three things abide: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)

Post Script: Some Words on Creating Art After Loss

Post Script: Some Words on Creating Art After Loss

It was the boxes that set me off. Four arrived from Washington state, lovingly packed by my dad and my aunt and filled to the brim with treasured items from my grandparents’ apartment. Both of them passed recently after 75 years of marriage – Grandpa on January 28, and Grandma on March 2. The boxes’ arrival conveyed a finality that words never could.

It had been a tough day already. I’d had to delete the reminder that kept popping up on my phone.

Call Grandma and Grandpa” hurt me every time I saw it.

That task was a perpetual one. Call every week or two, just to check in. Make a little statement of love to span the distance between my hometown of Annapolis, and theirs – Seattle.

Life around here is probably like yours. Activities to get to, people to care for. My kids were the reason for that reminder. Time spent on homework, sports, music lessons, meals, and sweatpants and socks gone M.I.A. gets frittered away so easily, and my mind unravels bit by bit. I need a ‘ping’ now and then to keep me on track – to help me stay the course for ‘to-dos’ of eternal value.

And besides, I looked forward to our conversations, especially the ones between just Grandma and me.

“Tell me about the children,” Grandma always began, and I’d fill her in on the latest. I know she asked because she wanted to hear, but I also know that she asked because she knew that my kids hold my heart, and talking about them brings me joy. Grandma was savvy; she could see what was important and what wasn’t.

But yesterday, there was no need for the phone reminder anymore. The void in my heart caused by their absence is reminder enough.

How can a void be filled?

You can try to stuff it with meaningless stuff, but that’s not what we learn in Scripture.

“In the beginning…the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss…Then God said, ‘Let there be light,'” (Genesis 1:1-2).

You know the rest of the story.

Voids can only be filled by one thing: the power of the Creator doing what He does best – create.

My faith has been carrying me steadily, but riding the emotions is an important part of grief.

I’m thinking about this when my husband comes home from work to find me crying.

Fear has gripped me. What if something happens to the few recordings I have of their voices? What if I can’t tell their story? The bigger fear is this: What if I forget….the way they spoke to me, the feel of their hugs, the sound of their laughter….And oh my gosh, we laughed so much because they embraced life fully and radiated happiness.

It’s what they wished for me – for all of us – even as Grandma whispered in each of my children’s ears the very last time she hugged them. “Have a happy life,”she said to them, one by one.

How can I create anything of meaning and joy when fear and sadness press in?

Look again at the picture in this post. See my daughter playing piano in the background? She’s using her God-given gifts to compose a piece that tumbles like thunder and shakes the floors of our home. She presses into it, telling me that it’s helping her prepare to play a similar song called “Seascape,” that conjures up waves rolling on a sandy shore.

There’s a lesson in this moment.

To cover an abyss we must plod through darkness, leaning into the Source of all power to do the art of creating life in the now. We trust in faith that we will be given what we need, and that promised joy will indeed come. 

So play the song, write the book, take the trip, make the call, and see and speak and push through the pain to make something new out of a formless phase.

The Little Bluebird of Happiness Speaks to Me

The Little Bluebird of Happiness Speaks to Me

“I remember this,” I said to Grandma, “I always liked it.”

I sat on the floor of my grandparents’ dining room, knowing it was likely the last time I’d ever be in their home. It was February 2016, and the property had been sold to a home builder who valued the land more than the house itself. My grandparents had gracefully accepted their transition to a retirement home, but were still returning to the house to clean out more than 6 decades worth of accumulated possessions. Grandma sat on a chair while I pulled items out of the hutch and packed them into boxes.

“It’s a bluebird of happiness,” she said wistfully. “Take it.”

The glass bluebird had been in my grandparents’ kitchen window for as long as I could remember, but was now hidden among other trinkets, ready for a move. I made a mental note to ask Grandma later about its significance, but I never did. After she passed, I took it down from a shelf in my home and examined it more closely.

“Leo Ward 1983,” reads the etching on the bottom, and a quick Google search reveals that many of these bluebirds were created in the 1980s. They sell on Ebay for about $10.

But monetary value holds no value at all when it comes to memories.

Even on rainy Seattle days, my grandparents’ kitchen was always bright, sunny, and smelling of fresh fruit. A few potted plants on the windowsills surrounded the table and chairs in the cozy corner, where two large windows met and overlooked the fenced-in backyard.

We sat down to a set table for every meal. Placemats and cloth napkins, even at breakfast. Milk for cereal in its own pitcher. Everything that would be needed was before us in the center. No one would eat alone or hopping up and down to retrieve items.

And what’s the significance?

I felt honored in my grandparents’ home. Not because of what I’d been doing in my life, but because there was literally a space carved out just for me, three times a day, where my presence was anticipated and cherished.

In modern life, we are so consumed with what we accomplish in a given day. I run from one activity to the next, feeling pushed to make my choices count. But meals together can slow this all down to allow us moments of sanctifying grace.

When I look at the bluebird, I am taken back to the table, where I remember being accepted, encouraged, affirmed, strengthened, and deeply loved.

The bluebird of happiness tells me that – even now – there is always time to hear the heart, and that connection to and gratitude for one another is what truly brings us joy.

When I Think of Her

When I Think of Her

I think of her most often when I’m doing the everyday tasks. So that’s all the time.

Folding laundry.

Combing a child’s hair.

Setting a table.

Sweeping the floor.

Making dinner.

Piano music is playing on the radio and I’m doing this last thing – crushing ground beef against the side of a pot to ensure that it browns evenly – when I start to cry.

Grief is like that. It sneaks up on you at the strangest moments.

I turn the stove down and wander into the family room, letting the meat rest until I can slow the sobs.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Something she can’t do anymore.

I cry harder.

I have faith. I trust that all is well.

But sadness is…It just is.

How many days did my grandma move in a trance around her home mourning the people she’d loved and lost?

Oh, stakkars liten” I hear her say, as she called me when I was a child. It’s Norwegian for “poor little one.”

We carry these precious pieces with us – the knowledge that we were loved, even as love was shown in the words chosen to comfort us in our everyday distress.

And this is just a small part of what I want to write about.

Some of you are aware, and others are just hearing, that I want to undertake a new challenge. I’d like to write a book for my kids about how love and grace have shown up throughout generations of their family, as it has in all our families, if we look closely enough.

I don’t know how long this will take. It could be quite a long process. But I will document it here on my blog and share how it goes with you, while offering what I hope will be useful observations so that if anyone else should like to undertake a similar adventure they can learn from my experience.

If you haven’t done so already, I invite you to sign up to receive updates by email. Look for the green box in the sidebar above. Thanks for joining me.

What Makes a Couple Truly Beautiful?

What Makes a Couple Truly Beautiful?
My grandparents, Allen and Hazel, who celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary January 18, 2017. He passed into eternity on January 28, and she followed on March 2.

It seemed like a dream as I pressed the receiver to my ear and heard my dad’s voice.

“Grandma is no longer with us. She’s with Grandpa now.”

She passed late Thursday night. Her decline had been swift. Just 11 days earlier I was in Seattle for my grandfather’s memorial service and she had seemed frail but steady.

But when you lost your spouse of 75 years just weeks ago, and you’ve held out for one final trip down memory lane in the company of family and friends, perhaps you just decide once and for all that enough is enough.

At a certain point, the body won’t hold a soul that wants to go where a body simply can’t.

She was one half of the most beautiful couple I have ever known.

I said on their 70th wedding anniversary that it was my right to put them on a pedestal, and I still believe that it is. Their relationship exuded a quality I seldom see – a quality they would never have thought described them, but then, most people who have this deny it out of sheer humility.

That quality is holiness.

Too often, holiness is associated with religiosity, and this, my grandparents were emphatically, not.

Holiness is something so much more sublime. Divine. An intention of the heart.

As I wrote on their 75th wedding anniversary, which we celebrated together in January:

It has been said that the purpose of marriage is not to make us happy, but instead, to make us HOLY.

I’ve been considering this statement for the last several years. And even if a person does not submit to the idea that our universe – and all that lies within it – is here for a divine purpose, namely, so that we can learn how to live like the Creator – a force of Love with a capital “L” that gives so freely He even wants to live through each one of us….Yes, even if someone does not agree with this heartfelt belief of mine, there is value in considering holiness as a purpose for marriage. And here’s why.

The process of becoming holy is the refinement of a person. It is a gradual sloughing off of all that is flawed in order to move toward perfection in goodness and righteousness – like placing rocks in a crucible and burning away impurities to reveal hidden gold or silver.

When I think about the ideal marriage, this is exactly what happens for the 2 individuals involved.

When it works well, marriage does several things to us and for us. It brings us joy. It brings us love. It brings us companionship for life’s adventures.

Most importantly though, it helps us to understand the long-term benefits of practicing a myriad of virtues such as acceptance, compassion, consideration, flexibility, generosity, humility, kindness, and forgiveness….

A good spouse encourages us, and calls us back toward the best version of ourselves. Over the long haul, there is benefit to both people in choosing:

patience over edginess,

service over self-centeredness,

understanding over egoism,

honesty over deceit,

and unity over division.

Was the path my grandparents took an easy one? Almost certainly not. I’m sure they faced tests and struggles that the rest of our family never knew about. But they passed through those fires and came out stronger and purer because of them.

My grandparents taught me by example what the path of holiness looks like. In their quiet way, they kept faith in God and lived as servants to one another. This, more than any other, is their enduring legacy to me.

Yes, they have left me beautiful memories, family I love deeply, and a few precious mementos, but it’s the love and honor they gave each other that I value the most.

Perhaps that’s why I can’t think of one without the other, and why Grandma couldn’t stay with us any longer than she did.

“Come live with me, and be my love,
And we will some new pleasures prove
Of golden sands, and crystal brooks,
With silken lines, and silver hooks.”
John Donne

 

How to Know When Following Your Heart is Right

How to Know When Following Your Heart is Right

I lost my grandpa this week. The pain is new and deep, and I know that I will miss him for the rest of my life.

Memories comfort me, yes, but so does something else. The knowledge that I told him on so many, many occasions that I loved him. I did not let key opportunities slip by.

Just a week before my grandpa passed, my family and I had gathered in his retirement home in Seattle, WA, to celebrate his and my grandma’s 75th wedding anniversary. They were married in January 1942, just a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when Grandpa realized he’d be entering the Army Air Corps and knew he couldn’t go without his love. Allen and Hazel were high school sweethearts who truly grew up into adulthood together. As Grandpa said just a few days ago, “We met in May 1939, and I knew she was the one for me.”

Over the years, our family gathered from across the U.S. to celebrate 4 of their major milestone anniversaries: 60, 65, 70, and 75. At the 60th, I hardly said a word about the love and pride I was feeling. But something changed by the 65th, and today I suddenly realized why.

It was January 2007. I was midway through the 8-month process of learning and discernment that is required of people who wish to enter the Catholic Church – smack dab in the middle of the longest stretch of time I had ever spent considering God’s Word and thinking about His role in my life. And since we often can see with clarity in hindsight those things which seem muddled in the moment, now I know that God was working in my heart and gently coaxing me on to joy in the pursuit of His purposes.

Not everyone is comfortable expressing love in words, and the truth is, it wasn’t always that way for me. On the flight out to the West Coast in 2007, I wrote a letter to my grandparents that I planned to read at the anniversary dinner. I was full of adrenaline as my pen shot across the pages, charged with emotion as I lay down memory after memory, puffed with happiness at the thought that I would be able to share them with Grandma and Grandpa. And when the time came to read, I was shaking all over. It wasn’t seamless, but I got through it, word by word, my voice faltering and cracking.

My family praised me, but what meant the most was the knowledge that my words were a gift my grandparents truly treasured. Grandma called me over with a gentle wave, held my hands in both of hers and said, “Gretchen, dear, have you ever thought about being a writer?” She knew I wrote nonfiction educational materials, but she was talking about something more. She was urging me forward. “Yes, Grandma. It’s actually what I think I want to do.” “You should do it.” She nodded slightly to indicate her seriousness and squeezed my hands. “You should do it.”

Me reading to Grandma and Grandpa at their 75th Wedding Anniversary Celebration, nearly two weeks ago.

I had reservations and told her so – that I didn’t think I had any worthy material, had no idea what to write about. She listened lovingly and nodded understandingly, but my grandma encourages regardless of fear. She is a quiet repose of strength and confidence.

I would go on to write another letter for their 70th, and deliver it with less anxiety than I had on the 65th. And when last weekend came, I was filled with calm and a deep conviction that I was doing the right thing, regardless of whether the thoughts I expressed were the same thoughts as those of others in the room. It turns out I was right – Grandpa was just a couple days from meeting his Creator, and this was my last chance to pour out my heart to him.

How can we know when we’re on the right path? How we can know we are saying or doing what we should? For me, there are a few indicators:

1) I ask who I’m serving. Who am I doing this for? If my actions are born of love, a desire to be in community and relationship with others, and above all, if I’m aiming to please God with all my mind, heart, soul, and strength, I’m probably headed in the right direction.

2) I consider the voices I’m hearing. Encouragement and gentleness come from Love (with a capital “L”). He does not chastise or tell me I’m an unworthy, useless, untalented wanna-be. If negative voices are dominating my thoughts, I must call them out to fight with the blinding light of Truth. God is Love. He is Light. There is no hate and no darkness in Him. And He alone can give me the strength and confidence I need to move forward, if I surrender to His good will and love for me.

3) I remember in faith that I am not an accident. The desires of my heart to do good work in my life were planted there by the One who loves me more than I can comprehend, and wants me to enjoy life to the fullest. My desires are part His divine plan.

In His Word, God tells us how to live joyfully, and He promises us that we are all given gifts. Don’t we believe that He’ll help us to use those gifts? Don’t we know without having seen that Love is real, and therefore we can step out with our talents, trusting in that Love to see us through? We move in faith, believing that He has blessings in store for us if we work with Him, if we don’t give in to the lies that plague us.

“Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” – Hebrews 3:15