How to Sleep Well

One summer evening 9 years ago, I was holding the reins of life so tightly that the tension had crept into my jaw. I knew I was grinding my teeth at night; it’s one of my body’s telltale signs that I’m seething with something that needs to be vented and hasn’t been. You’d have thought that pain in my jaw, neck, back, and legs would have brought me to some kind of reckoning – but No. People are stubborn. And if you mess with an animal in pain, often you just aggravate them further. So it was with me.

I was physically miserable, but I was compounding my misery by arguing with a few people – the main one being my husband. Today, I don’t even know what I was fuming about, exactly, but we were working through some tough things, individually and together, and it was all crashing in on me. So I was letting him have it.

Disagreements can be productive, but the problem on this day, and others like it, was that no amount of arguing was going to solve the issues at hand. Primarily for one very good reason. My husband was not in the room. He wasn’t even in the house. Whether he was traveling, working late, or out with friends, I don’t recall….it was long ago….and his whereabouts then are not germane to this story. What is germane is that I was very angry and resentful – feeling ‘put upon,’ as they say – and my rant with him, and some other people, lived entirely in my head, was leading me exactly – nowhere.

Our two kids at the time were ages 3 and 8 months. I had spent much of that day on a chore no mother can ignore. Laundry. I’d done 4 or 5 loads of it. But because I couldn’t find precious minutes to fold those loads between picking up toys, making meals and snacks, cleaning up messes, and entertaining my charges (especially the ‘older’ one of our babes), I had deposited the clean clothes on the only large, flat surface available – our bed in the Master bedroom. Through tight eyes, I was staring down a mountain of ‘lights,’ ‘darks,’ and ‘colors.’  I was NOT happy.

I wanted to crawl into that bed and shut out the world. Stop the spinning. Stop the incessant demands on me. Forget about life. And sleep. Front time to time, I was doing too much of that, too. Sleeping. It was an effort to refresh my body, sure, and I justified the mid-day naps by saying I needed them to cope. But the truth is, I used these breaks to not cope. It was a means of escape. And it wasn’t good, restful sleep. I wasn’t waking up feeling a whole lot better than when I’d laid down.

So, back to my tirade…I wanted to take that pile of laundry and hurl it across the room in a fit of rage. But I had hit a wall. I just couldn’t do even that. And that’s when, for some unknown reason, I sank to my knees next to the bed, buried my face in my hands, and prayed.

I hadn’t really prayed – in that position, or in that kind of way – since I was a little girl. A jumble of tangled thoughts, fears, concerns, worries, complaints, and frustrations tumbled up and out of me as I talked to God. And the longer I went on, the more I felt His steadying hand on me, the reality of His presence with me in my room, telling me that peace is possible – even for me. I was down there on the floor for about 20-25 minutes. I know because I looked at the clock when I got up and was shocked at how much time had passed. I had entered into a timeless space with God during our dialogue, one that in hindsight I’d see marked the beginning of a new way of living.

That singular experience with prayer changed my way of viewing God – from some distant, remote ‘being’ who has knowledge of me but no real interest, to a God who was approachable. Someone I could talk to. And in time, I stopped venting to Him, and started thanking Him, because I could see evidence of His love for me in my daily life, and then in my life in general, and finally, even in the parts of my past for which I felt ashamed.

Today, I know beyond the shadow of any doubt, that The Lord is my truest friend, the Lover of my soul, who cares for me so much more than I care for myself. And the key to a good night’s sleep is not my chamomile tea, or a few carefree moments with a novel – though I enjoy both of these before I turn in. No, the key for me is to lay everything within me at God’s feet, knowing and expecting Him to handle my present concerns with the same undivided attention He has given to me all of my life. His Hand on me is peace.

In peace I shall both lie down and sleep,

for you alone, Lord, make me secure. 

– Psalm 4:9

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Bath Time Reflection

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One of the things I love most about being a parent is the random conversation. You know – the one that happens at that strangest time?

The other night, I was helping my youngest out of his bath when we had this one. I wrote it down for posterity’s sake.

“Mommy, do you know everyone in the world?”

“No!” I chuckle. “No. Not even close.”

“But everyone knows Jesus.”

‘Wow – what a segue,’ I think.

“No, Honey. Everyone doesn’t.”

I think for a beat or two.

“But we do. Hmm – what do you know about Him?”

“He’s powerful.”

“Yes. What else?”

“I don’t know.”

“How do you think he feels when he looks at you?”

Partially wrapped only in his towel, he looks up at me with a wet face and tousled hair, and breaks into a full-face grin.

“Happy!!”

I can’t help but smile broadly too.  My little man feels unconditionally loved.  And he is.  He truly, truly is.

Then, a couple verses of Scripture spring to mind:

 Jesus…called the children to himself and said, “Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these….” – Luke 18:17

Oh – if we could just approach Him with this same expectation that we would be received unconditionally….

“With age-old love I have loved you” – Jeremiah 31:3

I know, I know.  Why do I still allow doubt to creep in?

What was that other verse – the one from Song of Songs? I get my Bible and look it up. The book will make you blush, but it’s a love story between God and His beloved – His people – and He’s speaking to every single one of us, beckoning us to union with Him.

“How beautiful you are, how pleasing, my love, my delight!”  – Song of Songs 7:7

It feels wonderful to read this, to have knowledge of where to turn to find it. And the more I see the big picture, the more I understand that the Old and New Testaments together are one big love story to the world – and to me. But as I read, I’m also aware of all the pages in my Bible with which I’m not familiar. And I sense that I’m being called – again.

Today, I’m studying in Hebrews when this pops out:

“Everyone who lives on milk lacks experience of the word of righteousness, for he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties are trained by practice to discern good and evil.” – Hebrews 6:13-14

My son’s understanding of Jesus is absolutely correct, but he has more to learn. He needs to mature. And although I have been a Christian for many years, this verse is an exhortation to my spiritual renewal, too. I can’t rest on what I know and expect to deepen my relationship with Christ. Like any relationship, this one requires attention, care, and a desire to learn more about the other person. Friendships and marriages become stale and fall apart when the individuals involved fail to keep pursuing one another. And since my God, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), I can count on Him not giving up on his end.  That leaves the rest to me.

It’s Lent. A perfect time to consider ways to recommit myself to Christ. If my heart, mind, and soul look the same now as they did last Lent, or the ones before, I have work to do. The Bible is a large tome. Time to dig in.

My Good Husband

My Good Husband

The couple was passing me on the sidewalk as I was heading into the shopping center and they were walking out. He was slightly ahead of her and all of us were instinctively hunched over, bracing ourselves against the 14 degree temperature and sub-zero wind chill. He looked back at her and gruffly said:

“I’m not tryin’ to leave you, but I’m getting to the car.”

Then he turned and headed off into the parking lot, leaving her there, moving along slowly with a downcast face.

I immediately thought of my husband. I’m not going to say we’re perfect people and have never had a rough patch in our marriage, and unfortunately on this Friday afternoon, I also don’t have time to paint a full picture for you and list all of his best qualities.  But I just HAD to write this.

In our 17 years of marriage (plus one year of dating), he has never left me alone. Not without his love, not without his friendship, not without his support, not without his concern, not without his physical presence at a moment when I really needed him. Never left me alone.

And when it comes to cars and parking lots – there’s the truth about him in a nutshell.  If the weather was bad or the situation iffy, he’d tell me to stay where I’d be warm, or dry, or cool, or safe, etc. and he’d go get the car and bring it around to me.  I admit, there might have been times when this was better for him (he’s a faster walker than me, and if the road is icy you don’t want to walk with me!), but whatever the case, he’s always considering my best interests, and if the kids are with us, theirs as well.

DSC_0093 - Version 2Last weekend when I woke up on Valentine’s Day, the first thing I saw were gorgeous red roses from my husband. And down the hall, my daughter saw pink tulips, from that same good man. Tonight, he will take our daughter to the annual Father-Daughter Dance at her school. It’s the fourth time they’ve been, and my little girl looks forward to it every year. This ritual is close to her heart and I know why.  It’s a night where she has the undivided attention of her first love, her dad. I love this night, too, because I know that day by day her interactions with her dad form her expectations about how she is to be treated by a man somewhere down the road. Tonight she gets to practice being the apple of someone’s eye. And my sweet girl is blessed, just like me.

73 Valentine’s Days

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They were married by the local pastor on January 18, 1942 in the living room of her parents’ home. It was a simple ceremony with immediate family in attendance.  She wore a navy blue dress and an orchid corsage, and afterwards they had a celebratory lunch. For their 60th wedding anniversary, I asked her sisters what kind of cake they’d had so that I could replicate it. Neither one could remember. I had wanted the cake to be a surprise, but I finally broke down and asked the bride – my grandmother – and even she couldn’t remember.  Such details weren’t important, apparently.  What was important was that they’d made a lifelong commitment that day, at the young age, both of them, of just 19.

As of today, they have celebrated 73 years of marriage, and 73 Valentine’s Days as husband and wife.  If that isn’t “a love that lasts,” I’m not sure what is.

In 2012, my family gathered to celebrate my grandparents’ 70th anniversary, and I was one of several people who gave toasts at dinner. I read a longer version of the letter below in a trembling voice. A few months later, my grandmother wanted to publish my letter in their church’s quarterly newsletter, and so my thoughts were shared with a broader audience. I was flattered, but also a bit nervous, since I guess you could say this was my public writing debut – at least for the kind of writing I care most about – matters of faith and the heart.

On Tuesday this week, as Grandma told me she and Grandpa would attend a Sweethearts Luncheon for Valentine’s Day, I asked for her thoughts on publishing a short form of the letter here. She consented and said it was a good idea. She has always encouraged me. And so, in celebration of this day of love, I venture into heart-filled terrain once again.

A tribute to my grandparents:

January 2012

Dear Grandma and Grandpa,

Five years ago we gathered together to celebrate your 65th wedding anniversary, an extraordinary event. Yet here we are, blessed again, with another 5 years of a remarkable marriage….  

Your marriage didn’t simply last, it flourished. How did that happen? I explored the idea with the goal of more deeply appreciating your marriage, and strengthening my own. And here’s my theory.

For the last seven decades, consciously or not, you have each cultivated a servant’s heart. You have awoken each morning and asked your soul, “How can I promote the well-being and happiness of this person I love – today?” And then you got up and did what was needed. It was through billions of kind words, billions of small acts of love, and billions of tiny moments. In short, whether you always did it intentionally or not, you made the love you share a higher calling.

Even today when I sit and observe you, I see the ripple effect of a small, seemingly insignificant choice – the way you say one another’s names. Hazel. Allen. You say each other’s names lovingly, softly, in a voice that asks, “Are you here for me, my love?” And the response, however it comes, is always, “Yes. I am here for you. I am fully present to you. You can be confident in me. I am devoted to you.”

In all my life, as I have listened to your exchanges, I have never heard resentment or bitterness creep into your voices when you speak to one another. If you have been angry, you have discussed the issue, reached a decision together, and let it go. To my knowledge, and from what I have witnessed, you have never carried grudges against one another. You have never ledgered wrongs. You forgive.   …

Now I look forward and ask, “What can we as a family do to continue your accomplishment? What lessons do we carry forward?”

We can move forward as you have, with servants’ hearts. Love is only advanced in the world when people choose to serve others. To do that, we must set ourselves aside and focus on one another. I look to you both as role models in how to do this, and in how to live a full life, rich in all the ways I want mine to be.   …

Cathedral builders worked entire lifetimes without ever seeing the results of their work fully incorporated into the finished structure. Every individual life is like this. We don’t always know the full impact of the countless small decisions we make every day. But we move forward in faith, and in your lives, the results have been beautiful.

Our family gathered here is your cathedral. Your marriage was the cornerstone, and we are building upward. The values, skills, and morals you have passed on to us are the buttresses and beams. The memories and stories are the artwork and stained glass windows. And an occasion as special as this one is like a visit to the cathedral – a chance to celebrate what has been accomplished.

I love you more than I can ever express here. I am honored to be your granddaughter. And I will take what I have learned from you and pass it on. I will do my very best to make your story my own. 

With love and more love,

Gretchen