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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 either 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 my loss equally, 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?

Some will turn to other people or other things in order to find relief from the pain.

But I turn to God.  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.

This Thanksgiving was anything but typical. It was fragmented and disjointed. Not one TV illustration on how to handle the complexities of Covid ran through 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 how hard this walk can be, striving to thrive, yet not always reaping 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 destruction 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.

You are not alone. George, the farm owners, and I can relate.

There are many people who can relate to George, but how we handle our despair determines if we find our success.

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

What message are they trying to send? That is the question my dear younger friend asked me recently. She sought my perspective on what she sees posted by Christians on Facebook. She asked if I follow and also believe the posts, or in the posts, that depict the opposing political party as evil. Opposing, as in, opposite of Donald Trump.

Another friend began a campaign to convince me that I am wrong in my political position. He knows I’m a Christian, and I guess he thought I was misguided. It was tempting to ignore his messages. I spend a fair amount of time learning what I can about our candidates, which is no easy task. The myriad of information, the sound bites, editorial biases, and then of course, spies or lies, doesn’t make it easy to unearth the truth. However, I had decided that Facebook would not be my source of information.

With a sincere desire to retain my friendship with this person, yet with exasperation, I addressed what I was feeling. I told him I felt he was criticizing me, and trying to convince me that he is right, and I am wrong.

That invited a real conversation. There was beauty in hanging in there, not running from the discomfort, but leaning into it, taking a risk, with an opportunity to share why my faith leads me in a different direction.

When I did that, he said, “But help me understand. I want to understand. As a Christian (he is not to my knowledge) aren’t you supposed to want the things that the Republicans want?”

Such a fair question. So much so, that I’ve asked myself that a million times. I have good good friends who feel similarly to him, and in a kind way, have tried to persuade me that I am missing the point. That it is not the person that they are going to vote for, but the policies that will further Christianity in our country. I could write a lot more about the concept of voting for the party policies and not the person, but I won’t do that now.

On one hand, their points are valid. Yet I can’t reconcile overlooking a person who represents so much division, when God tells us to “keep peace, if at all possible, as long as it is up to you. (paraphrasing).

I shared with my one friend who was looking for answers, that while I seek to obey God’s commandments, I don’t feel a responsibility to convince others that they should do the same. God has freed us of that, but he has not freed us from loving each other. It is his greatest commandment. And I believe the most difficult commandment. It’s not hard for me to not lie, steal, kill, and all the other things that upstanding people take for granted as acts of civil behavior.

But when we feel under attack, are rejected or hurt, or just plain don’t like what someone stands for, we are challenged to implement the love that God requires of us.

Yesterday I attended a Zoom conference hosted by George Fox University, with an author named Jemar Tisby, author of a book called, The Color of Compromise. He spoke to the incongruencies of Christianity and racism. It was in that lecture that I was introduced to the movement of Christian Nationalism. With all of the overt efforts by many Christians to convince everyone that we should vote for President Trump, because he will further the Christian cause, I did not know there was a name for this movement.

This mentality is what my friend is seeing, and why he’s confused. This is why my young friend who is seeking a better world as she raises her children asks, “What is their message?” Why are Christians sharing posts that mock people, and the next posts shout JESUS JESUS JESUS?

Jesus had this message (Matthew 22):

33 And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine.

34 But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together.

35 Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

38 This is the first and great commandment.

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Jesus was, and in his Holy Spirit, is still our greatest example. He overcame the same temptations as we, and then was mocked, betrayed, and then hung on a cross for our sake. It is this love of my savior that strengthens me every day.

It is with him that I find my identity. I love my country, but my identity isn’t found in my patriotism. I am a new creature in Christ Jesus, not in President Trump, Joe Biden, or any other person. One day I will be in heaven, and people from all over the world will share in the glory of our heavenly father. The rich and poor, all races and all languages. We will have one thing in common; we will have all chosen to love and honor our creator.

The last thing I want to do is to contribute to the divisiveness we are all experiencing, in particular, with my brothers and sisters in Christ. I often resist the (strong) urge to post an opposing opinion on Facebook. Sometimes I’m angry, and sometimes I just want to shine a new perspective on an issue. But my better judgment tells me that I may be misunderstood, and as much I enjoy a live conversation, I don’t enjoy the bantering that turns ugly on FB.

The Christian Nationalism voice is loud, but I am finding comfort in authors like Jemar Tisby, in the editorial of Christianity Today, and even in my own church, Beaverton Foursquare, and newly discovered Christians Against Christian Nationalism.

My blog is my space, where I can share a little more depth than FB, and know that if you’re reading this, you’re reading it by choice. And, I thank you for reading!

Here’s to being salt and light of the earth,

 

Joni

Photo credit: Neal E Johnson, Unsplash. Thank you, Neal!

 

I finally made it up in time to see the sunrise. I love being up early, but getting up is another story!

I can’t shake the image of the video I saw of George Floyd. I was late seeing this because I had turned off the TV and extra social media for a couple of days in an effort to focus. Now that I have seen it, it’s definitely difficult to focus.

I think about the emphasis we put on tolerance. But tolerance isn’t enough. Tolerance doesn’t welcome and embrace. It only scratches the surface of what our creator asks of us. Tolerance doesn’t switch courses for the sake of another person. Tolerance doesn’t interrupt one’s bias, sacrifice, or swallow pride. Tolerance is something we do for something, not someone. For many people, tolerance fulfills man’s capacity and is a disguise for something far greater.

God did not say, “Thou shalt tolerate your neighbor.” He went deeper and further than we can imagine. He commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves. When asked, Jesus said that all the law, and the prophets, hang onto this.

This is not love as we know it. We cannot grasp this kind of love without seeing it through the eyes of our creator. We get a glimpse of it in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13We will begin to understand it when we practice it.

Tolerance is not enough.

When my kids began to date, I might have given more consideration to the topic than the average well-rounded, successful, happily married person. I was many things, but I was not that. My emphasis on dating was the expectations of each person, to maintain their integrity and to remain true to one’s self. My dating philosophy sounds easy enough. But so does resisting that last piece of fried chicken. We all know that a simple concept doesn’t necessarily translate to an easy execution. But if we can approach dating, or at least, our reaction to dating, with a few basic practices, I think we can better manage our grief now, and save ourselves from more grief later.

Coming from a divorced woman who has dated very little in the last eleven years, I understand why someone might disregard my opinion. Most people who read this are probably married or have dated much more than I. But what I possess that you may not, are a couple of things. One, I have learned a lot from my mistakes. And two, because of my divorce, I had the opportunity to discover myself, in a space of aloneness. Can I use that word? Is it a word? Dr. Seuss would use it, so I’m leaving it.

Time to reflect on my mistakes and emerge from a place of struggle and autonomy has equipped me for many things.  It’s the source of lots of opinions, based on personal experience. Additionally, I have had three dates since January, one of which lasted for three months. See? I am qualified.

At the beginning of my online dating experience, when it was fun and novel, I thought it would be relatively easy to share my experience. That was until I met someone I liked. Someone worth exploring. I wondered if he would be “the one.” I know, “the one” sounds ambitious. But I am hoping to find a guy who wants to share the rest of his life with me. Real-time documentation suddenly didn’t feel right. Reality TV is not in my future.

Writing about one’s dating life is super intimate. With good friends, transparency is my middle name. However, my middle name changes when we’re talking about going public. Being able to reflect and work through this has been a great luxury, and now I have some things I can share, that won’t read like you’ve broken the lock on my personal diary.

HERE GOES. A whole book could be written on this topic, so understand this is a snapshot of my dating philosophy.

I value the dating process. . .

I went into this relationship with the same mentality I had developed several years back when my kids began to date. If respected, the dating process is an awesome opportunity of discovery, before we make a permanent decision. I say, “if respected,” because often people don’t treat dating like a temporary experience. Instead, subconsciously they commit to the relationship in a permanent sense before there’s a mutual agreement of where the relationship is headed.

Unless both parties have agreed to marriage, I believe either party can call it off, FOR WHATEVER REASON. I understand that there is more to this when a couple has been dating for a long time. This point could have its own chapter. But let’s assume we’re talking about six months or less (but I’m inclined to have the same philosophy for longer periods of time as well). Regardless if one person feels the relationship going in a good direction, it is either person’s right to call it off, FOR WHATEVER REASON. This frees both people to continue in their search.

Breaking up (reverting to my junior high vernacular) is especially hard when you’re focused on marriage, you’re old(er), or it appears that a target has come into view. I had to remind myself of my own dating philosophy. That as much as I liked what I was experiencing, it would not serve either of us well to manipulate or maneuver it. Understanding that dating is a time of exploration, we both have the right to end the discovery.

The best and least we can give one another is kindness. We can’t and shouldn’t attempt to force virtues on another person. We have no right to demand any more than what they want to give us. If they have asked to end the relationship, I believe we should honor their request with very little contest.

Does that mean we were just handed a crappy day, that seeps into a few weeks? Probably. But that doesn’t change that explanations are not owed to either party. The breakup experience is still part of your story, individually and within your relationship. It’s the whole process that refines both of you. It is beautiful, valuable, and sometimes, difficult and painful.

Frequently couples “stick it out”, because the thought of hurting another person is so troublesome. Breaking up seems unkind. As hard as it is to be the breakee (new word), for me, it is more difficult to be the breaker (another new word), unless you don’t mind kicking dogs. OK, I’m joking, but for many people, the anticipation of hurting another person is something to avoid at all cost.  At times truth, authenticity, and sincerity may be uncomfortable and hurt. But almost always, it is the right thing.

If we grant each other this liberty, we can avoid the darts that get thrown and save us wasted time attempting to force relationships that result in bad outcomes.

Remember, we are D A T I N G.

Why it hurts so bad when it ends. . .

After just three months, with Stay at Home orders, and a long-distance relationship, it was still really sad to break up with Bill (Not his real name. Poor guy; he dated someone who blogs!). I think there are two main reasons breakups hurt. One is because we give someone our heart. The other is because we begin to establish a culture that becomes comfortable and familiar, which is where I love to sit. But for this post, I’m going to focus mostly on our hearts.

We hand another person the most tender, powerful part of us. The part that stores our emotions, desires, aspirations, hopes, dreams, feels pain, loss, and grief. We do this, because we care about something. Most likely, it is this other person. Although it’s not always just that, but this snapshot prevents me from elaborating.

This is no different than many things we put our heart into. On a team, you play to win. When you’re not on the field, you think about the game. You prepare off the field and execute on the field. You don’t hesitate. You move forward with ambition, desire, and determination. You dodge bullets, endure discomfort, and subject yourself to pain. On fourth downs you deliberate and make strategic decisions. Your heart is all in.

I think dating well looks the same. Of course, there are stages and circumstances vary. Some relationships require more effort and experience more challenges. They’re all different. Our hearts attach to the unique personality of the relationship. You keep at it because along the way you’ve decided this person is worth the efforts, sacrifice, or emotions you’re handing over. You’re in it to win it.

This is the beauty of life. You expose your talents, skills, personality, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities. A lot is going right. Then you mess up a little, but so what? We all do it. It’s a fumble! You get back up and recover. You keep at it. But then the game clock ends, and you’re left standing there, wondering why you’re stuck in the middle of a play that can’t be finished. Nobody asked you, and the game is over. You didn’t win, and it hurts.

But here’s the thing: unless you cheated, lied, or stole, you played a fair game. If you gave it all you could, you played well. That’s all we can do when we’re looking for Mr. or Mrs. Right. My objective is to find a person who wants to play with me for the rest of my life. After a few sucky weeks, things begin to turn around. We recognize how much we’ve gained, and we’re ready to play again.

When in doubt, stand still. . .

This is an old saying, even before my time! If we aren’t sure about something, then we’re unsure, which means we’re in doubt. Right after a break-up, we are pretty unsure about a lot of things. The relationship, the sincerity of it, the person, our judgment, the list goes on.

I think the hardest thing to do at this time, is to stand still. We desperately want comfort and instinctually want to grab at the most convenient thing. Most often, we think we’ll find comfort in answers. We’re tempted to demand them in an effort to finish the play. What? I wasn’t done! You said this, and what about that? When we don’t get answers, we consider another relationship. We want to be assured that we’re okay. We are, aren’t we?  We’re desperate to compensate for the new loneliness and the abrupt change in culture that has us looking around like Marty McFly in 1955. If we’re not careful, we could find ourselves twirling, into the arms of a tragic country song.

In that moment, our vision is so blurred and our motives so self-serving, that really, the best thing we can do is to be still, be sad, cry, and pray. Even when it doesn’t make sense, we need to accept that we lost this one. There are a million ways we can interfere with God’s plan. I think we have the advantage of seeing his plan, if when in doubt, we stand still.

Trust God (when you’ve asked Him to guide you). . .

After the breakup, I kept coming back to this. We both prayed, together and separately, that God would bless us individually and as a couple. My prayers are a sincere conversation with God. When Bill broke it off with me, I wanted explanations as we all do. But thankfully, Bill was spared the tears when I chose to trust God and honor the dating process that I so much respect.

I mostly stood still.

I don’t think I can write this post without addressing two things. Yes, the hundred miles between us was a challenge. The Stay at Home orders were executed a few weeks into our relationship. That was an even bigger challenge. But I don’t consider either of those obstacles an explanation of why things didn’t work out for us. Because, if both of us wanted our relationship we would have overcome the obstacles that stood in our way.

When we date well, it will hurt when we lose (meaning the relationship ends). When we date well and lose, we will recover and continue. When we date well, and lose, and recover, and continue,  one day we’ll find our team, and win the game.

Whew… this was a long one. Happy D A T I N G . . . whatever that looks like during a pandemic!

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.”