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It’s not what you think.

My friend impressed me by making a cake from America’s Test Kitchen. That’s some serious baking, and if she didn’t live in Medford, it would have been hard for me to not invite myself over. The next day another friend induced serious cravings after sending me a picture of a congratulatory cake that her husband received after thirty years with Gallo Winery. That cake came from a bakery whose sticker said, “AWARD WINNING CAKE.”

Cake is my favorite dessert. Before Costco discontinued their sheet cakes, I would be up for sharing one with anyone who wanted to take on the feat. It never happened, but I liked the idea of it. I was always happy to take leftovers home after a staff party, and even store some in the freezer. Cravings do happen.

After the two teasers, Miss America’s Test Kitchen, and AWARD WINNING CAKE friend, I found myself obsessing about cake. As the cake fantasy persisted, I considered the approximate twenty five February birthdays in my life, and accepted that none of them were going to produce a cake in my presence soon enough to satisfy my immediate cake craving.

I have been known to make food for friends. But I’m not a baker. I feel fairly confident that if I deliver Chicken Piccata to a friend, they are going to be super appreciative. But the traditional cake our family looked forward to on birthday mornings, courtesy of Duncan Hines (or Betty Crocker, both are great!) and good ole canned frosting, is not something I would proudly deliver to someone.

So I decided to whip one up, with not a single person in mind with whom I would share it.

 

This is where PERFECT and SINGLE come in.

My box cake with canned frosting was incredibly satisfying to me. Unimpressive (well, the nonpareils do improve it) and exactly perfect.

After I made my cake, my Gallo friend delivered a chunk of the AWARD WINNING CAKE to me. What timing. If only a day sooner!

There are a lot of things to grumble about as a single person. I understand… married people too… But that’s a different story.

There are also many things one can enjoy about being single. For one, I can leave the fork on the plate. I don’t mean the plate I’m eating from, I mean the presentation plate. It’s not a great strategy if one is trying to lose weight, but apart from that, why remove it?

 

An imperfect person eating a perfect cake. Yum.

Just for the record, my AWARD WINNING CAKE friend texted me to say (because of course, when she delivered cake to me, I gave cake to her), that my cake was better than the bottom chocolate cake on her cake. You can’t go wrong with DH or BC.

My neighbors did receive a couple of pieces… because I love them, plus they loaned me the eggs.

 

 

 

 

It is so tempting to power through grief. To practice gratitude exercises and to count our blessings. To “look on the bright side,” to overcome disappointment, and to “get over it,” which for me is not a quick decision, but an intentional process. I don’t “just get over” anything.

I think these efforts have their place, yet they are not the solution to our sadness. God created every emotion in us. Happiness, joy, elation, celebration, fulfillment, expectations, anger, disappointment, sadness, and sorrow.

Isaiah 53 tells us that Jesus was a man of many sorrows:

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

I can see it now. Peter says, “Jesus! Come on. Pull yourself up by your sandals! You’ve got this!” I’ve been told this by well-meaning people on more than one occasion.  It’s everything in me not to say, “Really? That’s all you have?” I think I have said a form of that a couple of times, Oops.

If you know me, you might have the impression that I am a believer of “pull yourself up… get over it…” and all that jazz. It’s true that I am decisive and intentional. But my process includes tears, it doesn’t avoid them.

This morning on my walk I listened to Catholic radio (this is what I call it, but it was actually, Ave Maria radio… or mater day, or something like that… not sure I know exactly what it is… I learned that today is the day of St. Alphonsus Liguori… I knew nothing about him. I am not Catholic.

But I came home to read up a bit (thank you Catholic radio… more enrichment) and create something that I could revisit… maybe often, or daily during some stretches.

This is what attracts me to Jesus. This love that man cannot grasp.

Yet we who love him can know it. In our suffering, or in the beauty around us, like Queen Anne’s lace, or another day to see blackberries ripen in the month of August. It is love that transcends grief and transforms lives.

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!

Day 10 Mug Hug

 

This is from a set I got a few years back at an after Christmas sale from Pete’s Coffee. You may see it again, or, maybe not this exact one, but one of the other three, that all look the same.

I realized that if you read my blog, “Getting There,”  you read that I had a burning question about my furnace, which was: Has it been broken all these years? The answer is, “Yes.” I could be embarrassed about that. I kind of am. But I’m also, very much not. I am capable and competent in a lot of things, but this was not one of them. As much as I’d discussed my cold house in the winter, no one ever said, “Have you checked to see if the upgrade kit on your TRANE XL 80 has been replaced?” Ugh. I could have gone my whole life and not been compelled to know that information.

Lesson learned however: Get the annual equipment checks.

For many of us, our grateful hearts do the heavy lifting most of the year, but the holidays remind us of our reality that we work so hard to manage or deny. The holidays demand our attention like a mom who places both hands on our cheeks, twists our face in her direction and straight into her eyes.

For encouragement about peace and joy, click here to listen to our pastor’s sermons on the four aspects of advent. I’m so grateful for Pastor Brad Williams whose messages lift me up and equip me for a life that’s not easy to navigate.

That’s it for today. I’m diving in to work. Today on the agenda: Work on Explanation of Services for my new biz, and a website.

For previous posts of My Twelve Mugs of Christmas, click here.

PS: If you receive an email when I post, know that I constantly see room for improvement in my writing, so the post always changes once I hit PUBLISH. To see the most current version, go to the website!

 

 

As I sit here, rain pelts the roof and stormish clouds hover. It’s as if fall has bullied summer out. It’s forced its way in, impatient to wait for September 23rd, the date fall is in invited to join us with open arms, when we are inclined to invite it to stay awhile.

We have expectations of what each season will bring us, yet we are often hit with an unexpected weather change that causes us to wonder where our beloved specific season has left us. Prematurely, rain has replaced sunshine and blue skies have turned grey. I’m no stranger to the unexpected, and I find myself here again in my personal season. I’m startled by the change, but in moments where fear or anxiety tap on my shoulder, I fix my eyes on the bigger picture. I’m intrigued and find wonder in the way things can weave together so mysteriously. 

The end of summer and beginning of fall have always been hectic for me. Both kids’ birthdays are in the first week of September. When the kids were at home, we had the beginning of the new school year, which because of my work at a school, I now refer to affectionately as SY20XX. I’m big on abbreviations, but not acronyms for some reason. Anyway, add birthdays, the demands of the new SY and both kids playing a fall sport, and fall has always been a packed season. Bradley still plays football at a nearby college, and with working at a school, the intensity of the end of summer/beginning of fall persisted. This year I added something else to the mix: I left my school job on August 28th, and went to work for a new company on August 29th.

As soon as I got a breath, I imagined writing a post about the enthusiasm I had for the new career endeavor. I would have told you that on my first day, I was a bit embarrassed because I greeted my co-workers with a hug and held back tears. I’d left a solid job at the school and people I love, for a brand new profession, with the hopes (after several conversations) of a management position with the company. But for now, I took a substantial cut in pay. They wanted to try me out. Everything was so different all at once, and I think my body and spirit were more overwhelmed at it all than my mind was. It might have been putting on the brakes while I was doing my best to convince it that it would all be okay. I have a hard time deciphering between this thinking head of mine and my spirit who I like to think guides me.

I hope it’s not arrogance, yet maybe I’ve got some self reflecting to do on this topic. But because my work ethic and enthusiasm to learn are strong, I imagined I’d be moving up to management within a time frame my budget could tolerate (possibly supplemented with more t-shirt orders or signing up to be a Lyft driver). I also possess what some might consider an overdose of hope and peace.

You know that peace that surpasses all understanding that we’re promised in Philippians 4:7 and the hope we can count on in Hebrews 6? I think I scare my daughter with my hope and peace, and I sometimes wonder if I’m confusing it with ignorance or denial. I put it to the test though. If I were ignorant or in denial, I wouldn’t work so hard to achieve self sufficiency. I would throw caution to the wind and I would have flown to NY for my son’s away football game. I would splurge on spa treatments, buy cable, and be first in line to buy the new iPhone. I would take vacations!

I believe that I’m mostly aware of what I’m doing. I’m constantly talking to God, asking for guidance. I need input from others, and my bed partner Winky, doesn’t count.

Proverbs says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel…” so, I confer a lot with friends. They’re my partner substitutes. I pick and choose them sporadically to listen to my ideas, hoping not to overwhelm any one of them with everything that must be considered in one’s life. Then I make a decision, pray that God will bless it, and proceed. I have faith in that process, and in that, I find peace and hope. That means when things don’t work out the way I anticipate, I am not rocked. I’m planning my course, but like Proverbs 16:9 says, “the Lord establishes our steps.”

My dear friend who is not a Christian asked me the other day if I thought God is a puppeteer, orchestrating my moves. This is one of those moments that I wish my knowledge would allow me to spout off explanations about the mysteries of God. I love this friend and totally get what she’s asking, because I seek the answer to that question regularly. I do believe God is almighty and decides when the wind blows and the seas calm. And I also believe that he made the weather, and well, weather is weather, and if it rains in Portland, he lets it rain. This topic opens up a huge can of worms, and the biggest question a non Christian has is, “Why would God choose to save one child and not another?” My friend, in essence, asked that very question. I have to tell her that I don’t know. But what I do know is that he’s real. That he’s God. That he loves me, and that he is faithful to me. I also want her to read, The Reason for God, by Timothy Keller. He has the answers! I have it cued to listen to it again.

I can say this because God’s faithfulness to me is not a wand he points in my direction and grants me a charmed life. His faithfulness shows up in my heart, in my peace and my hope, in spite of anything but a charmed life, where hardly anything is what I thought it would be or what I would choose it to be, except that I am fully and joyfully at peace.

 

Joyfully I commuted to my new job, reveling in the newness of it all. The commute where for 30 or so minutes I got to pray or listen to Catholic radio or to a current book (I just finished “Dare to Lead” by Brene Brown: Five stars!). It was blissful car time that I’d never have anticipated tolerating, let alone enjoy. But what’s not to enjoy with a view of Portland on both sides of the Markham bridge as I moved with all my new car friends? As I turned the corner off the bridge, old buildings covered in graffiti and railroad tracks and trains that stop traffic several times a day surrounded me. The city is pumping the economy and I’m part of it. I loved it!

The new job however wasn’t as exhilarating as the commute. My eyes were opened to the back house of a staging company where the employees work incredibly hard to create a stunning ambience that will appeal to potential buyers. The first week I was both in awe and physically exhausted. Into week two, I’d discovered how to manage the job so I was contributing more by packing, unpacking, and placing items, rather than lifting bins. The team encouraged this strategy, as they know the toll on the body. I was beginning to get the hang of it all and saw a potential rhythm I would enjoy. But somewhere in the two weeks something unconnected to the physical work wasn’t lining up.

After much thought, reflection, prayer, and some conversations, I came to the conclusion to give my notice. Again, I put my process in place and made a decision. I can’t say I know where God fits into these specific steps, but I felt solid going into the job, and while disappointed, I felt solid leaving.

Suddenly the season that I’d anticipated had switched gears. Of course I considered waiting it out. There’s a really good chance things would have worked out. But at this time in my life, I wanted more control. I’d left my school job for more opportunity and I wasn’t feeling confident that this was going to be it. As I sought a solution to the confusion about the job, I wondered what I could do, where I would work, what can I offer? I was reminded of something I do well, which is to juggle things. Maybe it’s from the years of restaurant work or from being an oldest child taking care of my younger brothers and sister, or my foster siblings. I’ve been in charge and juggling my whole life. Maybe this is what I have to offer!

So, with the decision to leave my job, I am forging ahead with a new plan. While in traffic on my way home from church on Sunday I came up with a business idea and name I love! I’m not yet sharing the name on social media until I research a trademark. I conferred with a Legal Zoom attorney yesterday. Which, BTW, I am so far, impressed with Legal Zoom! My concept is that I will be a source for those who need help juggling the tasks and demands of their life. We’re all stretched so thin, and I will be the one you call to fill in the gaps. Need gifts picked up and wrapped? Call me. Need your house spiffed up for company and the table set? Call me. Need a “Day Of” wedding coordinator? Call me. More to come, but that’s the gist.

I hope to incorporate more blogging into my new effort as well, so you if you follow me, you can move from one season into the next with me, and witness how I manage the clouds, knowing the blue skies are not far behind.

H A P P Y  F A L L !