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This Thanksgiving was so different, but no different. While Covid was a component, it wasn’t the culprit.

The holidays are not my favorite time of year. In fact, they’re my least favorite, which seems almost sacrilegious, especially because, I am religious. Not only am I religious, but Thanksgiving used to be my favorite holiday. Tired of consumerism, but loving food to a fault, a holiday centered around foods unique to once a year and family, was just great with me. It segued into transforming the house into a Christmas wonderland. I relished the Christmas spirit, with my children underfoot or at older ages, making their Christmas gift lists overtly known. The gift exchanges with friends, baking, giving extra to those in need, I loved it all, but so much more, because it was done within the framework of my family.

Which is probably why it’s so hard to find joy in the holidays still, ten years after my divorce. Wait, it might be eleven! But I’m not counting. Those are the holidays that I still want, and cannot have. I made the decision soon after the divorce that I would not give in to the temptation of a stale emotional state. So, for the holidays, I would do my best to maintain the integrity of who I am. Each year, while on a lesser scale, but still in earnest, I pursue the holidays. I do my best to maintain a semblance of the home and traditions my kids grew up in. While the family we knew died, we don’t have to live like we died, but can live and thrive.

But that is no easy task. Thriving can mean striving, and if one is always striving, seeking that life that we desire, the one that brings us joy and peace, the process can be arduous.

Even today, with just my daughter, our two dogs, and myself, I made a full Thanksgiving dinner. Yes, a whole turkey, and the works. Because of medical issues, my daughter did not eat (these are not related to her medical issues she had in HS or college). I can imagine what some of you are thinking, and it’s probably not, “Can I have the recipe?”

Since the divorce, this family still struggles to find its footing. The reasons are complex, and for many families of divorce, this is not the case. But it is the case for ours, and I know there are others.

In spite of the big meals I make, the bounce in my step, the decorations of tinsel and sparkle, the holidays are difficult, and I find myself enduring them, instead of running into their arms with the excitement I once knew.

Well-intentioned people have advised me with admonishment to move on, reminding me that God is my husband and my father. My first response is to punch them. I want to say, “Well, that’s easy for you to say, since you have one.” Would one say that to someone who lost a child in death?

Punching them isn’t cool though, and I could not agree with them more. Without God as my husband and father, I would not be here today. Besides the health of my daughter, my relationship with my children, and living without my family during the holidays has brought me closer to God than any other thing. God created my family. It is his design. And I believe that as my heavenly father and husband, he mourns with me, with every ornament I hang, the disappointments I bear, and the tears that fall.

If you are divorced and strive to thrive, but face the glare of the holiday lights that expose the losses, and intensifies the pain, I see you. I feel you, and I know you. God created the design of family to be the pillar of our society, and our strength in times of good and bad. Every form of media emphasizes the value of family. That when we have our family, we have everything, even when faced with the most difficult of circumstances.

What does that mean then, for those who don’t have family, or it’s been dismantled beyond recognition? When that family is no longer there, like the rag that gets tossed around a bit, yet still predictably, always ready for use when needed?

There are times I turn to some of my amazing friends. Some people will turn to romantic relationships, drugs, or alcohol. Determined to wedge something into that empty space, they attempt to complete the puzzle that was uniquely made for their family.

My friends are a generous salve. They are angels in my life, divinely appointed for me. And while they are sometimes an answer to prayer, they, nor drugs, alcohol, or romantic fulfillment can answer prayers or change hearts.

Every year, it’s the same drill. I brace myself, I prepare myself, I’m disappointed, I grieve, and I beg God for mercy. And every year, he delivers in specific, unique, and holy ways that are difficult to articulate, because I think, all miracles are.

This Thanksgiving was anything but typical. It was fragmented and disjointed. I couldn’t find the answer in one TV illustration on how to handle the complexities of Covid. None of the experts on TV addressed my personal scenario. But God heard my pleas and answered my prayers. He gave me courage to find the right words when I needed them, and tenderness in my execution. Angels were on my side and in my presence. My daughter and I shared a time of conversation that united us and a memory that I will treasure; one on which we can build.

The holidays shine a light on the brokenness that we work so hard to recover. But there is one who is the light of the world, whose light is so powerful, that he will not let the darkness overpower him (John 1:5). He is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34).

Covid is hard. I understand that the destruction it’s caused. But the media and God are right. That when we have the love of our families, we can overcome any hardship. Of the hardships we face,  none compares to the hardship of losing one’s family.

Being this transparent is hard for me. But I know this hard walk. It’s exhausting and discouraging when we don’t reap what we’ve sown. It reminds me of some favorite movies. One I recently saw called The Biggest Little Farm. It documents the enormous energy that a family puts into building a farm out of nothing. One fiasco and tragedy after the other occurs, until ultimately they discover how all of those mishaps shaped their farm into the success it is today.

The other movie is more relevant to this time of year. That is “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  After so much sacrifice and devotion to the people he loves, George Baily faces the potential collapse of his business, and not because of any fault of his own. Through an angel, and the beautiful gift of perspective, George is able to reconcile his losses and overcome his despair.

It’s true that in the end, George has his family. But it’s God who gives him the perspective he needs to be pointed in the right direction, positioning himself for God’s miracles.

Many of us can relate to George. If that weren’t true, they wouldn’t have made a movie about it! Look for your Clarence, and let him point you in the right direction.

You can do this, because God can do this.

PS: Oh, and a whole pie. These are the best store-bought homemade pies ever.

I am 60. I am 60. I hear that over and over in my head. I envision a circle of people, acknowledging they have a problem, and then I realize my only problem is that I have a problem being 60, not that I am 60.

Our family tradition. It’s not pretty, but it’s my favorite, and even more so, because Bridgette surprised me by keeping our tradition going.

I’m healthy, so any issues I have about turning 60 are emotional, and really, given our current situation, I need to get over it. But I never just “get over” anything. I need to make sense of it.

I’ve been reconciling advancing in age with every birthday since about the age of 50. For the last ten years I am more anxious about the things I haven’t yet accomplished. Write a book, start a non profit for people who suddenly find themselves single who don’t have family to hold them up, host a fundraising dance party where I get to choose all the music. Hike in France, dine in Italy, where my daughter couldn’t find the words to describe its freshness, and where Phil from “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having” describes local food culture that inspires me to work hard so one day my ship will come in, and deliver me to the gelato shop he featured.

Age is not just a number, any more than money is just a number. I avoided the topic of “60” as long as I could. Now, it’s not just about “running out of time,” but the wrinkles in my hands, neck, and face remind me, no, yell at me, that the truth of my age will no longer be ignored. April 16th approached. And now the COVID virus has joined me in my emotional journey.

One minute I’m grateful for the silver linings that this experience affords us, and the next minute I feel like Christmas is tomorrow and I haven’t purchased one gift, and all the stores are closed. From “Embrace and relax.” to “Get yoself out of bed and get to it. You’ve got a gelato shop in Italy to visit!”

I understand Paul, the epitome of flesh and spirit, a living example of the struggles within.

Like a cold that doesn’t leave me bedridden, yet has me constantly reaching for the tissue, I am working on this issue. Monday was my “birthday week,” which meant it was time to get serious about this project: my turning 60 emotions.

I have a weird fondness for these cyclist images on the road.

Monday started with a bike ride. It was a cool spring morning with a bright blue sky behind bursting buds of pink and white. I pedaled up a familiar path, out of the “saddle” (feeling like an imposter using cyclist language). My route wasn’t pre-planned, but I’d vowed to ride twelve miles. I titled my ride: BYE BYE CREAM STUFFED PASTRY AND CREAM PIE, in honor of the two Easter meals provided to me by my friend.

I’ve lived in this part of town for twenty years, so I’m comfortable navigating my way around. I take in the spring colors popping up in manicured lawns and the smell of fresh bark dust. So, my ride will be familiar. I can relax and focus on the traffic and my path, watching for obstacles that could disrupt a very good experience.

I begin my conversation with God. In this moment I want to talk to him about being 60. I begin by acknowledging what is good in my life. My bike that continues to operate, has yet to fail me, and that I am 60 and riding it (even up off the saddle) is reason to thank him.

Gratitude overcomes me, and the route transforms from slightly mundane to glorious. I am capable, I am able, I am healthy. I am grateful for this body, this bike, this community, and for the plain good fortune of experiencing “this,” when so many are suffering and so much is at stake.

After gratitude come my pleas to God. Pleas for my children, pleas for friends, for my Valentine’s Day relationship, pleas for our president, my church staff, and our world, pleas for overcoming the learning curve in my business, and pleas for success in my business. In the midst of praying for one dear friend, I look to my right to see the word VICTORY. It’s among other Nike shrine like buildings that are emerging on Nike Land. A weird sense of warmth towards Nike envelops me, and I thank God, and Nike for this encouragement.

Thank you, Nike.

Gratitude is a popular (and necessary) strategy for overcoming emotions that can send us down an ugly rabbit hole. We are instructed to use it faithfully.

But for me, before gratitude, is God. He opens my eyes and expands my heart. He’s a light that exposes what we already know to be true, but forget when the clouds dim our view.

John 1: 5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Referring to Jesus.

In my efforts to reconcile what I am losing, I forget what I have. What I have gets lost, and what I don’t have emerges and somehow gets preferential treatment. But my communion with God exposes what is true. Sometimes that is my own greed or vanity. And in that truth, I can see more clearly what is right before me, on this day, in this moment, and discover the beautiful perspective that empowers me for another day, another person, another purpose.

God + Gratitude = Beautiful Perspective.

Here’s to “Getting Over It.”

 

 

 

 

Yesterday morning gratitude hit me right in the eyes, literally. My contacts weren’t working right. My left eye was either blurry or clear, depending on whether I had my glasses on or off, while my right eye did the same thing, but opposite of the other. I was frustrated as I scrambled and then aborted plans to ride my bike to work, aware that my bike riding days are numbered as the morning temps go down and the promise of winter rain increases. I was also slightly preoccupied with my vanity. This was the first time I would have not only worn glasses to work, but in front of anyone who hadn’t spent the night with me (outside of my kids), which I can count on one or two fingers how many times that has happened in the last 10 years. However, I was reminded that at least I had newish glasses that with the help of modern technology aren’t quite as thick as they once were.

I drove to work switching my eyes shut and open, shut and open, using traffic like a vision board in my doctor’s office. I began to self diagnose my eye problem. Do I have a cataract? Do I have to go into the doctor (another annoying disruption of my perfectly planned day), is this the end of my vision as I know it? I began thanking God for my bad eyes. These bad eyes are great eyes! Cataracts would be bad eyes.

I had a surgery on my eyes before I was five. I remember wearing patches and playing with fuzzy puzzles right after the surgery. I wore glasses until I graduated from high school, when I was in charge of my own life and could purchase contacts. When I read stories from the olden days I’ve wondered if I would have been thrown aside as an inferior product. I wore a back brace when I was a junior in high school due to scoliosis and my eyes are wonky. “Throw her out!” they (who, they is I’m not sure) might have instructed. Given the chance I would have pleaded, “But look, my teeth are good! And if you give me a chance you might find my cooking okay, my home decor talents decent, and if you wait long enough, I’ll make you something with the new Silhouette Cameo 3 I’m going to purchase!” I am a genuinely grateful person for so many things, among them, for being born in 1960 and not 1801 (the truly olden days).

As I listen to the California fire stories and devastation, I am grateful not only for my house, but for the benefits of a healthy and capable body and the privilege to work. Things like the California fires heightens my awareness in times of frustration. Last week I was forced to pull $1300 from my savings for a new water heater. The week before it was $650 for new tires. The list goes on. For a fraction of a second, like when my eyes weren’t working or I was writing checks, I recognize the potential of freaking out, because I have done it before, justified or not. I admit this, knowing I can’t be alone in my reaction to financial fragility. But instead of freaking out, my gratitude is increasing, and I have to believe it comes from the practice I’ve learned: to give God the glory and gratitude for my life.

Over the last 10 years I have had to seek out things for which I’m grateful. It has been a conscious endeavor as the things that I’ve lost cause me still to tear up. The effects are felt every day. But my endeavor to seek out what God has given me has been the difference between joy and depression. I cannot claim the same things many others claim for which they are grateful. Especially during the holidays when the absence of family is pronounced. I cannot take a gratitude pill and make the hurt go away, any more than a person with an amputated leg can bring it back with positive thinking.

But I have learned that I have no right to anything. I have no more right to a home than those in California or in Haiti. I have no more right to happiness than the student at my school who dreads the long weekend because home is not a respite. While Paul was imprisoned he said, I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Phil 4:13

Paul doesn’t say that when we give thanks we are instantly healed and we won’t feel our losses. But he says, “I have learned the secret…”  I believe it was a process for Paul, and it’s been a process for me. As I seek God and it is revealed to me the things for which I can be grateful, I rejoice in the God to whom I owe everything, even when I am sad for what I miss. My heart fills up with celebration of a God that loves me so much that joy overflows in my sadness. It is a peace that surpasses all understanding that God promises us in Philippians 4. It is unexplainable and attainable.

Our creator knows us. While a grateful heart brings us peace and joy, God understands that we have desires. If that were not so, he wouldn’t have instructed us to also make requests: Philippians 4:6 and 7: “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” He didn’t ask us to replace requests with thanksgiving. He knows there are missing pieces in our lives. He doesn’t ask us to ignore them, but encourages us to acknowledge what we have, so we are not overwhelmed with what we don’t, and ultimately so we can recognize that it is from him that we receive all things.

So, on this Thanksgiving holiday, I am grateful for my gratitude.

And by the way, I don’t have cataracts. I just had two contacts in one eye. How ironic. My surgery when I was young was for double vision!

Love to my friends and family. I am so grateful for you,

Joni

 

Dear God, I thank you for this day in Portland, Oregon. The sky is clear; it’s crisp and strikingly beautiful. I thank you for the comfort of my home.

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 9.33.54 AM

I embrace this new year with enthusiasm and excitement. In this morning it’s easy to do.  A new 2015 is on the immediate horizon. Even with my enthusiasm for what’s ahead, I am aware that the realities of the new schedule will be different than what I’ve been living. The differences remain to be seen, and in some ways, I welcome what I imagine to be more predictable, even if rigid. I pray that you walk with me this year as I become fully enveloped in my new job, even on those days when it’s ordinary and mundane, strenuous and frustrating.

I pray Lord that I will walk in your will, every day. I recognize the impossibility of that, but it’s my desire, nonetheless. I ask that your Holy Spirit would speak to me when I’m out of your will, and that I would correct before I make mistakes that are difficult to adjust, especially when they affect other people. I pray Lord that my heart for people would be your heart. That I would see them through your eyes, accepting their faults and aware of my own, and that ultimately, I wouldn’t spend any time at all on anyone’s faults. This is why I pray; I know myself well.

I pray Lord that you will give this old mind the ability to learn things that don’t come easy to me. Insurance and numbers have never been easy for me. But you gave me this job, so I trust you know something about me that I do not.  I ask that you would give me clarity and comprehension, and that like a sponge I would absorb information that will help me in being the best I can be in my job.  I pray that my information would be used to improve others’ lives. That it would be helpful and valuable, and that it would all work together for your good, my well being, and financial security.

I pray that my new relationships will be meaningful and that while I’m working full time, my old relationships will remain strong and lifelong.

I pray for my children’s well being while I am gone for a 40 hour work week. That when I am unable to help them, our history will emerge and wisdom will be on their side. That the effort of the past will be fruit for their future, and that they will thrive in your will and your Holy Spirit will be their guide.

I pray for the dogs, that they will be happy and find a way to entertain themselves, so that I am not spending my time doing that when I come home. I pray that they learn to use the doggie door and that they use it to go out and relieve themselves, and that in the process they remain in our yard, and safe.

I pray that I’m disciplined and return to good eating habits and that my bad habits don’t linger into Valentine’s Day, or any other excuse I can find to eat a good or bad meal, or snacks, or samples at Costco.

I pray that in the midst of my job, I can continue to build a home where at the end of the day, it’s where I most want to be, and that ultimately, others also enjoy spending time. I pray that I am able to continue the small things that will add to my skill set and professional value, such as Spanish. In that, I include my blog; where that fits, I don’t know, but I ask you Lord that I can continue it, unless I discover I no longer enjoy it.

I ask you Lord that your Holy Spirit will guide me in my schedule. That I will make time for reading your word first thing in the morning, time for prayer, and for exercise.  That my first priority is to feed my soul with your words, and that I will provide for my body what it needs to stay strong and live a long life, God willing.

Lord, as I say this prayer, I am reminded of a million things that I could ask you for.  Time for good meals, my kids’ activities, discipline in getting to bed early, so I can get up early. I praise you every time I get out of bed, because as much as I love the day when I get going, I love my bed when I’m in it. Transitions are hard, and that transition is included.

You are my strength. In you, I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.  I understand Lord that I will fall short of my earthly aspirations. I ask Lord that you will keep me grounded and I ask that my perspective will be what is important to you.  My human nature will seek to accomplish it all, but I ask you Lord to bless me with your nature. I pray Lord that my life in 2015 will glorify you.

I am excited for 2015. My hope comes from you. You have been my provider and will continue to provide according to your will for my life. I thank you Lord for 2014. It was hard, good, and I (we) walked it with you. I ask Lord that we continue into 2015 in the same way, and that each step is a step closer to victory, whatever that looks like.

I love you.

Amen

Yesterday morning started at 5am when I entered my post for this blog.  Then Bridgette and went on a walk, got a coffee, and hustled ourselves to get to a Thanksgiving church service at 9:30, while Bradley played football with some classmates.  It was a great beginning for me.  Our church service moved us to a place of gratitude as we were reminded by Pastor Randy that Jesus broke bread with his disciples, just before he was to be nailed to a cross.  In that moment, he gave thanks, and shared it with people he loved.

Starting my Thanksgiving with a stunning reminder of what Jesus did for us amongst the anguish of his imminent but willing sacrifice allowed everything else to fall into place.  Nothing in that moment of recognition was absolved for me. Heartache still settles in my soul about things that are a result of a family divided.  Yet, when I think about Jesus, and the purity of his sacrifice, his immmeasurable commitment without an angle that served his own purpose, my heart fills with gratitude.  It’s a sense that is so significant that I want it with me at all times, particularly for those times that I’m reminded of what I’m missing; what my kids are missing.

The music was beautiful worship songs with lyrics that speak deep. One of them is called Never Once by Matt Redman.   A few verses and chorus go like this: To hear it go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=722zPX1npcA… I’ve got to learn how to add music to my blog!

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Kneeling on this battle ground
Seeing just how much You’ve done
Knowing every victory
Was Your power in us

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Speaking of music, Idina Menzel’s CD is awesome. She has the same sassy style, rich delivery, and enviable range that we know from her Broadway roles. She doesn’t quite defy gravity in this album.  But there are times it feels like Elphaba singing  “December Prayer”, “Silent Night”, “River”, and other songs, that’s very satisfying for me.

We had a fabulous time at our friends’/relatives’ house.

We watched Seattle beat San Francisco.  We played a game called Loaded Questions, an old favorite where we guess who thinks what, and I ate my share and more.  Pastor Randy commented that he steers away from anything green and tends to lean into foods that are brown. I can attest to that, but I also like the greens, typically that include fats that start with B, such as B-A-C-O-N and B-U-T-T-E-R.

Melted butter on top of Yellow cake mix. Walnuts to the right, for those of us who have to have nuts in our desserts. Recipe by Yummly

Pumpkin Spice Dump Cake just about to go into the oven. Melted butter on top of Yellow cake mix. Walnuts to the right, for those of us who have to have nuts in our desserts.
Recipe by Yummly. I used my app on my phone.

A conversation I had with myself and God was that too much is considered gorging.  I’m back on track.  I hope you ate great food. And I hope that conversations with God brought you to a place of gratitude and comfort.

My plate. It includes a green bean recipe from Pinterest: add bacon.

My plate. It includes a green bean recipe from Pinterest: add bacon.