You Will Forget

Have I ever mentioned that I’ve been single for a very long time?  Maybe I haven’t fully explained to my faithful readers that finally connecting with the man I believe God ordained for me to spend my life with is something for which I’m full of thanks?

Throughout my single years, I’ve dreamed about this time in my life – how I’d feel, what I’d say, things I’d do.  It seemed so far from my reality that I knew I’d be the most grateful, kind, gentle, and gracious girlfriend/fiancée/wife anyone could ever imagine.  I’ve often joked around with my family that when I’m finally pregnant, they’ll find me throwing up with a smile on my face, just so joyful to be having a baby of my own.

And yet, as I’ve settled into this relationship and this new role in my life, it feels completely natural and normal.  I’m the same woman I’ve always been, just with a new set of responsibilities and relationships to nurture.  I’m very thankful for Rick, but I don’t find myself trembling in gratitude and overlooking every little frustration because I’m so happy to have that promised mate.  In fact, I may speak my mind more often than a younger bride.  I know that this relationship is IT, so I want it to be right and good.  I don’t mind sharing my thoughts on that with Rick – setting the record straight, making my feelings known, and standing up for what I have come to know is true.

The funny thing is the near offense I have caught myself feeling when well-meaning friends who prayed with me for years to be connected to the man God had for me congratulate me, or indicate that this situation is unbelievably good.  Something inside me tenses up, wondering what they thought was so wrong with me that they now have to congratulate me for finally landing A MAN.  I want to snap at them, “Hey! I’ve turned down a number of marriage proposals.”  But I know that isn’t what they mean.  They were so gracious to listen to me whine and complain about my frustration and pain, never feeling peace that the man who was interested in me was the right one, and then dealing with my fears that God didn’t want me to get married.  They prayed for me, anguished with me, and now they are thrilled for me that the time has come.  I accept their joy and am so glad to be able to share the obvious answer to our prayers with them.

Being single this long brought with it a sense of shame and a feeling that I could be married if I would just work out whatever was wrong with me.  If I could just love God more, have a better figure, wear the right clothes, say the right things to men, and so on – THEN the magical moment would come and I could be a bride.  But that didn’t make any sense.  I had single friends with near perfect figures, great relationships with God, killer fashion sense, and great personalities – yet they faced the same struggles.  I knew married women who were terrible messes and whose husbands adored them anyway.  I rejected the idea that something about me needed to be better before the time would come for the right man to love me.  Even in my rejection of the idea, the feelings came back from time to time.  How did THAT woman find a husband before me?  Why did he pick HER and reject me?  If that woman would just fix that one thing about herself, she could find a husband.   Ugh.

God’s been leading me back repeatedly to a Scripture He laid on my heart several years ago.  It’s Isaiah 54, which begins, “Sing, oh barren! You who have not borne, break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not labored with child!  For more are the children of the desolate than those of the married woman,’ says the Lord.”

Believe me when I say I began to sing!  Every time I had an opportunity, I sang.  I sang loudly.  Sing, sing, sing!  I sang as I worked around the house, as I walked down halls at church, belting out the lyrics in services.  Judge me if you want, I thought, but my God has told me to sing and I’m not going to do it half-heartedly!  I sang and sang and sang, thinking there are more types of barrenness than just those who are physically unable to bear a child.

During my engagement, God has repeatedly drawn my heart back to this chapter.  It speaks to my heart and stirs my emotions.  It goes on to tell me not to be afraid because God will make sure I’m not ashamed.  “For you will forget the shame of your youth, and will not remember the reproach of your widowhood anymore.”

That phrase, you will forget, echoes through my mind.  God promised that I would forget the way I felt, ashamed and afraid, and He’s done it.  It’s hard to remember those feelings any longer.  I now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was nothing wrong with me (or Rick), but God just had some things for us to do alone before we needed to be together.  God will make sure we have the things our hearts desire.  It’s just happening later than we expected it to, later than what many other people experience.

One final thought…  I was walking on the treadmill at the gym the other night.  There aren’t many treadmills there and they were all being used.  I kept having this thought that I was just taking up space for the real athletes as I plodded along, huffing and puffing at my slow speed.  But my heart rate was at a good pace, I was sweating nicely, and I was making personal progress even if I was moving much slower than most of the others.  I finally decided to tell the voices in my head to be quiet.  I made a choice to stop comparing my speed to the speed of those around me.  I decided just to pay attention to my own body and what I needed, do the best I could, and forget everyone else.

What I can remember about my years of singleness is that it was hard for me to make that same decision then.  It was hard to stop comparing myself, my progress, my barrenness to those around me.  Dear friends had been married for 10 years already and had gorgeous homes with handsome, faithful, hard-working husbands and several kids!  If I could’ve just told those voices to be quiet and focused on doing the best I could do, those years would’ve been much more pleasant.  I don’t think I would’ve gotten connected with Rick any sooner.  I do think I would’ve had a lot more joy in the journey to him.

I don’t want to forget it all.  I want to be able to encourage others who wait.  But I am thankful to forget the shame, the fear, and to move forward with my life.  I’m looking forward to getting married and filling our home with love and joy and yes, even at times, raised voices and challenging words.  It takes all those things to make a family.  I’m happy to have my chance.

In closing, I want to also acknowledge you all, my faithful readers.  I am so thankful for you.  I can see how many people read my blog every day, but I cannot tell who you are unless you specifically subscribe to my blog.  Then I only see your email address, so if I don’t recognize it, I still don’t know who you are.  But it’s such an encouragement to my heart when I run into someone who may have never commented on a post I’ve written, but who mentions something I wrote that touched them.  It’s such an encouragement when I see a jump in the number of typical readers in a day and I know that a group of you out there who I’ve never met are reading it together and discussing it.  It makes my day.  I haven’t been writing as much recently because I’ve been so busy preparing for married life and my upcoming move, but I plan to continue to blog and hope to have a lot more time to write once I’m a farmer’s wife.  I hope you’ll continue to read.

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Filed under Love, Spiritual Life

The Inner Ring

There was a time in my life when I didn’t care about marriage.  I’m sure of it.  Really.  There MUST have been…  When I was younger I knew it wasn’t time yet, but I still looked forward to the day I would have a husband, when I would have that part of my future determined and set.  When my parents had my baby brother, I was nearly eleven years old.  I don’t think I realized he wasn’t my own son – until I wanted to go outside and play…  His baby sweetness consumed me and I knew I wanted to have children of my own.  As the years of perpetual singleness dragged on, my empty arms ached, longing to be a part of marriage, a family, that elusive world I couldn’t seem to join in spite of the ease with which nearly everyone around me seemed to be entering it.

One of my favorite writings addresses this issue.  By C.S. Lewis, it’s a 9-page article entitled, “The Inner Ring”, published in his book The Weight of Glory.  He addresses the reality of our human desire to get into the group we are excluded from.  We always want what we think we cannot have, want to be accepted by those who don’t accept us, want to climb over that fence that separates us from whatever is on the other side.  At times, we think there is no way we can be happy until we cross that line.  We strive and strain and turn ourselves inside out, trying to get into that elite group that eludes us.

The craziest part of it all, as Lewis points out, is that once we are a part of the group we wanted so badly to become a part of, it suddenly loses it’s magic.  After all, the group accepted us, so it can’t be as great as we thought it was to begin with!  We realize there is a better group that hasn’t yet accepted us, and so we begin seeking acceptance into the next group.  The rings never end because each time we get deeper into the inner ring, the same thing happens all over again.

Lewis’ answer to this problem is that we should forget about getting into anyone else’s inner ring.  We should do the best we can at what we have to do and soon we will be known for our excellence and be included among those who make decisions about the thing we do.  In our spare time, we should hang out with people we actually like and do fun things with them.  Then we will form friendships and without even meaning to, we will find ourselves at the center of an inner ring of our own.

I’ve been caught up in the tasks of planning my wedding, preparing to move to another area of the country, leaving my jobs and friends and church, settling into a new house, and learning to know and understand my fiance better.  Yet today I opened my email and saw a newsletter from a website for brides that provides resources to help in the planning process, and I stopped for a moment.  I stopped because I had a flash, my heart squeezing tight, remembering how it felt to be on the outside of this inner circle – the inner circle of “bride”.  I remembered the longing, the feeling that I might never belong to the group, might never experience how it felt to be chosen, loved, and accepted, and might never get to pick out the perfect white dress.

Today I took care of some precious children I have grown to love, laughed as the little one threw her arms in the air twirling and dancing, calling for me to watch her, and then helped her older sister write a story for school.  I listened as my precious niece sang me a song and felt the joy of anticipation that I get to spend time with her in a few weeks.  Motherhood now looms before me, the next inner ring that I have not yet been welcomed into.

I have to laugh at myself.  I must be still for a few moments tonight to soak it in, appreciate the tremendous blessing I’m currently walking in.  I don’t want to rush through this beautiful time in my life without even recognizing that this is GOOD. 

Tonight I’m thankful for love, even though I understand it is not the solution to every problem.  I’m thankful for the children God has given me to love at this time, in this way.  I’m thankful for hope – finally a hope I can sink into a bit – that I will one day have children of my own.  I’m thankful for the home being prepared for me, for the family that Rick and I will create, to provide that stability and security I’ve been missing.

And I pray for all my dear friends who stand outside the circle, waiting for the day when the boundary will melt away and they will be welcomed in.  If I could pull you in myself, I would.  Instead, I will pray as so many have done for me.

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Just Breathe

“Just breathe, Kimberly.  Relax and breathe.”

These are the soothing words that my mother has been whispering to me for my entire life.  And now my sweet, wise fiancé whispers them to me as well.  They are both the kind of people who feel excited “on the inside.”  They smile slightly when they’re happy while I jump up and down, clapping and laughing loudly.  They also take things in stride  and don’t get too upset when things don’t go the way they planned.  They aren’t so sure they were the ones who  were right to begin with.

So why, raised by such a calm and reasonable mother, do I find it so hard just to relax and breathe?  And why has it always been this way?  Why do I hold on to everything with such a tight grip, feeling that the world will go spinning out of control if I can’t keep it in check?

I want things RIGHT.
I want everything to go smoothly and to flow, and I want everyone happy.  But in my vain attempts to keep  it all in check, I become unhappy – full of angst and fighting to keep myself from a full-blown anxiety attack.  Thank  God I haven’t had one of those in a very long time…

God has been drilling these lessons into my head for the last several years, over and over again.  I am not in control.  I cannot make anything go my way.  The sheer force of my will isn’t enough.  I do not always have the answers.  In fact, I am often very wrong.  I can relax and let God handle the things that concern me. 

So today, Labor Day, I am ceasing from my labors.  I’m taking the advice of a friend who came over to help me unravel the mess in my head and put together a priority list.  She told me I’m not allowed to worry about the lingering items on my to do list concerning the wedding, honeymoon, and new life together in a new house in a new part of the country.  She said I am only allowed to concern myself with what is on the list for today – and I now have a well-organized list to tell me just what that is.

I’m going to go sit with a friend and drink some coffee.  We’re going to laugh and talk and not worry about the fact that my wedding invitation envelopes lay un-addressed in a pile on my desk (and no one else can do them for me because they must be RIGHT).

I’m going to stop concerning myself with who will replace me at my job and trust that God has heard my prayers for just the right person at just the right time.  (Oh, how hard it will be to believe that anyone else can love and nurture and bless those children and my dear friends, their parents, as well as I can…)

As the list of concerns and things I must do grows and the time in which to do them shrinks, I am doing all I can to lay my concerns before the Lord and trust that He will work everything out.  I am doing my best to remember how incredibly joyful this time in my life is and to relish the pleasure of being a bride.  I am trying to delegate things to my friends and family, letting perfectionism slip away and sanity return.

God, help me to remember to breathe.

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Working It Out

Rick laughs and tells me everything I write about him makes it seem like our relationship has been smooth sailing from day one, the stuff of romance novels.  That’s not exactly true, I say.  Anyone with a brain will know that two people in a relationship have struggles.  And my sweet farmer-fiancé just smiles.

He apologizes to me for making me cry on a semi-regular basis.  I laugh and tell him, we’re just working it out.  I cry.  I cry when doing the laundry of the beautiful and frustrating children whose parents I now help out.  Those tiny little clothes are getting bigger.  I will miss their sparkly eyes and their unruly hair and the frightfully intelligent smart-aleck comments.  And when I realize how much I’ll miss them, I get weepy for my own unborn (un-conceived!) children who will also grow up and change and not be babies forever.  I get teary when I see the wedding of anyone else these days.  Reading the poetic blog of a young farmer’s wife leaves me wiping my eyes.  So, sweet man, there is no need to apologize.  I cry.

The emotional roller-coaster I was on during the first few months of our relationship left me wondering if I needed some kind of medication.  I swung between feelings of total assurance that this amazing man was the one for me to equal certainty that it would never work and I was giving a kind and gracious man false hope.  I mean, seriously, ME?  A farmer’s wife???  I asked him if he was still single at his age because he had some kind of weird perversion and watched like a hawk for months, looking in vain for any sign of addiction or character-flaw.   I didn’t talk to him for an entire weekend because I thought he had called me fat.  He had no idea the comment he thought was encouraging hit a raw and exposed nerve and sent me reeling.  He went to another country for six weeks and called me twice a week.  After talking several times a day every day for the previous six months, I felt like I’d been totally abandoned.  He says he was thinking about me the entire time and thought calling that often while he was on a mission trip was going above and beyond.

We are a real couple with real challenges.  After so many years of singleness, we are learning what it means to be a couple.  We are learning to change our thinking from “me and my friends/family/church” to “us and our future together”.  It doesn’t always come easy.  When the sales lady at the department store told me the total on some makeup I purchased during his recent visit, his jaw hit the floor.  Is that how much that stuff always costs?  I’m
learning what it means to have someone else look at how I spend my money.
  Um, er, our money…  Ouch.

But how can two people learn to meld their separate lives into one any other way?  We have to learn to navigate one another’s currents.  We work together to figure each other out, and we try to be gracious through the challenges.  We laugh a lot – maybe not at the moment we realize how very differently we think about something – but eventually.  We are learning to compromise.  I’m learning that I am right a lot less often than I thought.

Through the challenges, we are learning what it means to be loved.  Acceptance, right where we are, for who we are, is a daily practice.  And it’s worth it.  When I look into his brilliant blue eyes, kindness oozing from every
part of him, I see the glory of God.
I see just how much God loves me and wants what’s best for me.

I am so thankful for this man who fixes my broken furniture, loads dozens of heavy boxes into his truck for their journey north, and never loses his temper.  Gratitude fills my heart for this generous man who wants to give me the honeymoon of my dreams.  I am deeply in love.  His precious soul is becoming intertwined with mine.

And yet…  I still have to remind myself that he isn’t getting off the phone early with me tonight because he doesn’t want to talk to me. He is hanging up because I asked him to help me get to bed earlier by ending our conversations earlier.  It feels like he doesn’t want to talk, but he is simply honoring my request for adequate rest.  So I give myself a little pep talk, thank him for being so responsible, and (because I have time) sit down and write a blog.

We are working it out. 

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Don’t Poke the Bear

I’ve had a hard time giving in to love.  Holding myself back, watching for inconsistencies, and handling disappointment have been my history.  Things have been different with Rick.  As I look back on my life and evaluate things, I realize that I’m different too. 

Within the last few years, I’ve finally come to see God has “my husband.”  I always thought people who said that were totally cuckoo.  I couldn’t understand it.  But as I’ve begun to understand God as my provider, comfort, joy, strength, and the only one who can love me perfectly, the role of husband has become clear.  The role of husband isn’t for him to be my everything. but to be my partner as we look together to Christ to be our provider, comfort, joy, strength, and One who loves us perfectly.  I am The Bride of Christ – a part of His church and special to Him. And understanding His love for me makes me realize that all other human love is just a shadow of the way He loves. 

How has this changed me in relationships?  Well, for starters, I don’t expect Rick to be God.  He is wonderful, but he isn’t perfect.  He is so very, very good, but he isn’t the answer to my every need or desire.  When I try to place that burden on him, it’s too much for him to bear.  Any man would crumble under the weight of that load.  When I recognize that God is working out His plan for my life and trust Him in it, then I can let Rick be who he is.  I can relax when things don’t go the way that seems right to me and realize that God is still taking care of me.  I don’t have to fight and fuss and get uptight.  (Er, uh, ahem…)

Do I ever fight and fuss and get uptight?  Well, the things is, I’m not perfect either.  And I’m really thankful that Rick doesn’t expect me to be God.  When I get my eyes off Jesus and start looking at the waves around me, I can get scared and start sinking when I could be walking on the water.  A good friend who knows me well has a most annoyingly accurate phrase she uses at times:  Don’t poke the bear!  Yes, she’s referring to me when I get out of sorts.  (Not exactly the most flattering description…)  But God sent me a kind, patient, understanding man who is strong enough to handle me.  I feel such security with him.  When I keep my eyes on Jesus, I can relax and let Rick be Rick and God be God. 

It’s a much better deal all around.

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A Farmer’s Wife?

It’s been shocking to many, many people (including ME) that I am marrying a farmer and moving to the rural midwest to live in the land of cornfields and barns.  I’ve been asked how I can leave the bustling, fabulous city of Nashville for country life.  Won’t I miss Starbucks?

I don’t mind answering these questions because I had to answer them for myself first.  I had to come to terms with what’s really important to me before I could even consider seriously dating Rick.  I had decided that I was done with casual dating and I could tell he was serious, so I did some soul-searching early on in our relationship.  Just how important is Nashville to me?

I love Nashville.  I love the American southeast.  I have a special place in my heart for magnolia trees, rolling hills, thick green trees, and that sweet, southern drawl.  I enjoy mild winters and how very nice everything is.  If I need to purchase something, I have so many choices that I’d never be patient enough to look at all my options before making a decision.  I live right next door to one of the wealthiest towns in the entire country.  Right down the road from my house are streets lined with mansions.  It is a lovely place to live.  But no amount of loveliness can make up for loneliness.

I have lived a good life.  God has blessed me with good friends.  I’ve really enjoyed city life.  It’s been no big deal to go to NFL games and cheer the Titans on, scream “Fang Fingers!” at hockey games, go to a major concert and see the performer the next day at a pancake restaurant.  I’ve eaten in the fanciest restaurants, traveled the country and stayed in the nicest hotels, and filled my life with good things.  But in all of that, I went home alone every night.  I felt the ache of empty arms when I saw a mother rocking her sleeping baby.  I chafed at never having a home of my own to settle into and decorate and organize just right.

To me, the reality of having a loving husband, a home of my own, and the hope of children is worth giving up a weekly visit to Chipotle or seeing a celebrity at church.  Not to mention that the idea of wide, open spaces and the safety of country living is very appealing!  I’ve had all the big living I need.  I’m ready to settle down and be a wife and mother.  And writer.  And maybe do a little teaching and speaking on the side…  🙂

I grew up in the area I’ll be moving back to.  Vivid childhood memories of running free, totally unafraid, and feeling connected to the ground beneath my feet draw me back.  I was the wild child who did all I could to get my four-wheeler (ATV) completely air-born, who caught slimy tadpoles in the pond, and whose heart was broken when my willow tree got cut down.  During a recent trip to visit Rick, I sat quietly on a large rock and listened to the sounds around me. let the little ants crawl up my arm.  I felt like I was twelve again – carefree, happy, and at peace.  I’m blessed to still have relationships with people I knew when I lived there, including my grandfather and cousins.

Will I be the typical farmer’s wife, canning peaches and running a tractor?  Well, probably not.  But I don’t think I’d mind learning how to can my own food and avoid the preservatives and unknown ingredients I’ve been eating in food that comes from who-knows-where.  Driving a tractor, though, is something I plan to leave all in Rick’s capable, calloused hands.

By the way, even though the community is rural, there’s a good-sized city within 40 minutes of his house and a grocery store just a few miles from his front door.  The man who acted as my adopted grandfather when I was a little girl (before my grandparents moved there) has a coffee shop just two miles away.  And there’s a mall within 30 minutes of the farm.  See, friends?  I’m going to be okay.  And I even hear they’re building a Starbucks a couple miles down the turnpike.  Oh yeah…

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Maurice Carter

 I think the first time I saw Maurice, he was singing with the choir at church.  Then I worked with him on staff at the church.  When I started on staff, he was the Single’s/Young Adults Pastor.  I’d originally come to Nashville because of music, but upon arriving I discovered that when EVERYONE sings, only the ones with the best connections (due to talent or some other factor) get to sing on stage.  Maurice opened up the stage for me to sing in the single’s ministry.  It was an intimate group, and I cherished it.

Maurice and I started making a habit of stopping by each other’s offices from time to time to chat.  He was the one who encouraged me not to stop blogging when I faced some resistance in it.  He encouraged me to do all I could with writing.  He could sense the presence of God, tap into that power, and encourage me in a way that touched my heart deeply.  Apparently, I’m not the only one he ministered to.

He was also an amazing musician.  He had another life when he wasn’t ministering to me and others around the church.  He was a back-up singer for Wynonna Judd and The Judds.  He wrote songs, mentored others in music, and helped lead worship at our church.  His talent was remarkable, but he didn’t treat anyone else like they weren’t important because of it.  He rubbed elbows with some of the most famous people on earth and he never let on that he was kind of a big deal. 

My last conversation with Maurice was unfinished.  He was at church on the Sunday night after I got engaged.  Rick was with me, and with Maurice’s travel schedule and Rick’s infrequent visits to the church (he lives out of town), they hadn’t had a chance to meet yet.  I introduced them and Maurice immediately began getting to know Rick.  Sensing that I wasn’t necessary to the conversation, I allowed them to talk and I moved on to speak to some other friends.  When they finished, Maurice told me that I had a good man.  He wanted to talk to me more about our plans and the changes coming in our lives, but he was heading to Japan for a mission trip the next day and that conversation would have to wait until he got back.  I was looking forward to the next time I ran into him at Starbucks or after a service at church so we could talk more.

Exactly two weeks after that conversation, I received word that Maurice had died of a heart attack.  He was 43 years old.  I had just started driving home from my fiancé’s house and had a long drive ahead.  Through tears, I attempted to make the right turns and find my way back on unfamiliar roads.  No surprise:  I got a little lost.  I pulled over and called Rick, tearfully explaining that I needed his help to figure out where I was, and that I was extra upset because my friend had died.  Rick got me on the right road again and I made it back to Nashville in a fog of grief.

This week has been hard.  We’re having a service to honor Maurice on Sunday at church.  I look around me and see the faces of so many that loved him, felt his friendship, and are aching from loss.  He is in heaven with Jesus, but we are left with a hole in our hearts and in our community.  Will I always think of Maurice when I see a bright yellow SUV?  Will I always wonder what he’s laughing about when I hear loud laughter in the halls of the church?  Will I always look for him when I walk into Starbucks?  These are the questions I have, and my friendship with him was nothing compared with many who were much closer.  My heart aches for his precious family, including two little nephews who adored him.

In the middle of all that, I’m trying to plan a wedding.  My friend is gone, but I need to pick out a wedding cake design.  Our church has lost a pastor, but I need to find a rehearsal dinner location.  My friends are grieving, but I need to get their addresses for my guest list.  My mind is a jumble of joy and grief right now.  Do the trivial things like the color of my bridesmaid’s dresses even matter?  Death puts a new perspective on everything.  My dreams at night are a tangled web of a wedding service mixed with a funeral service.

And this must be the way many of us feel.  We have children to raise, jobs to do, events to organize, and yet we bear the grief of missing our friend.  It feels like the world should stop, but it doesn’t.  Even his family must make plans and move forward while they stumble in grief.

We loved Maurice.  We are happy for him that he is with the Lord.  We are sad for ourselves.

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