Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Your Traditional Life Has Stories to Tell

Story has always been a bedrock concept in personal writing and, well, storytelling. And the idea that we all have a story has been especially highlighted in recent years.

But I’m one of those people who tend to think their lives are too traditional to call any part of them “story.” After all, I grew up with two parents, I was educated in public schools and a private university, I had jobs, I got married, we had children, we moved from state to state for my husband’s work, I worked more jobs, the children grew up and left, we had grandchildren, we moved again . . . See?

Most of that traditional life has been the result of God allowing my parents and me to make choices that have been along traditional lines in our culture. There is nothing wrong with that. But, still, doesn’t that kind of life often sound like “nothing much” to most of us who live it?

What's to tell?

But who said God is traditional, whatever that really means? If he were, we truly would have all the same series of stories. But we don't. And why would we put any life in a box labeled “nothing much”? Don’t we realize God is a story maker? Not dull, meaningless, haphazard stories, but stories of both difficulty and blessing that have meaning when he is in them.

Have you read his book lately?
Here is a story God gave me. It's been a burst of ongoing fulfillment and blessing in my traditional life.

I was always a reader and a writer. English was my favorite class in school, and student journalism was my contribution. But when it came to a college major and career planning, I thought studying English and literature led only to a teaching career, a career not for me.

Instead I settled on social work. After all, both my parents were in helping professions. I admire all those who are in those types of professions, including my brother. But my favorite part of the job was writing my reports.

When my husband and I were ready for me to work outside the home again, God surprised me. He had led us through my husband’s work to live in one of the hotbeds of Christian publishing: Grand Rapids, Michigan. Beyond anything I could have dreamed for myself (being so traditional, you know), I was given an opportunity to take an entry level job in one of the publishing companies there. I have since been in the publishing world for nearly thirty years—one of the greatest blessings in my life (next to my family, of course).

There was nothing traditional about it for me; I had no experience to know how to navigate this new career. But God placed in my heart an assurance that I was where he wanted me to be, and from the beginning he placed people in this new—and exciting!—endeavor to help me find my way, learn, and grow. He wrote a story, complete with a beginning, a cast of characters, but as yet no end. He wrote a unique story just for me.
When I turn back the pages of my life, I can see other stories as well. Times when God allowed me to help write the story with choices, even mistakes. The best stories are from whenever I followed his lead, which even in difficult times ultimately led to experiencing abundance in my traditional life.
Your life is made of stories. Blessing stories and, of course, difficult stories. We all have experiences we'd prefer not to relive by sharing, but sometimes the difficult stories turn out to be blessing stories we can share. Difficult or not, embedded in what we think of as a traditional life or not, the stories that make up our lives can have meaning for those who are meant to hear them. We have only to say, "I have a story to tell."

What's one of yours? 

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Explaining the Work-from-Home Spouse

Most weekday mornings when I leave for work, my husband is in the family room, having his breakfast, watching some business channel on TV. Our routines are not quite the same; his runs later than mine.

“Well, I’m going to work now,” I say. “See you later,” he replies. And then I walk into my office and shut the door. I’m a freelancer who works from home.

My husband meets a lot of new people because, unlike me, he actually leaves our condo. Puts on clothes acceptable to the public and gets in his car and drives away. And sometimes, though rarely, people ask him what his wife “does.” (Every woman does something, people!) 

He tells them I am a writer and editor, and then I imagine the conversation goes like this:

Them: “Really! Writes and edits what?”

Him: “Whatever they ask her to do.”

Them: “They?”

Him: “Yeah, the ones who write the checks. We like the checks.”

Them (choosing another tact, embarrassed at the mercenary answer): “What time does she have to be at work every day?”

Him: “It varies. Sometime it depends on how she feels or what else is going on, though the people who write the checks do seem to expect her to be, you know, 'available.'”

Them (wondering if he’s delusional): “Does she have a very long commute?”

Him: “Whew, yeah. Maybe a whole minute if she stops somewhere along the way to grab another cup of coffee or look at the birds or something. She's kind of flighty that way.”

Them (now sure he’s delusional): “Uh, well, hmm. Office attire seems to be pretty casual these days. Is that true for her or does she have a dress code?”

Him: “I’d say her code is that pajamas with fluffy pink bathrobe and white socks with no shoes look. Then after a shower, she changes to one of a couple of shades of casual black sweatpants. But I'm pretty sure she wears one of her best T-shirts. And in the summer she usually goes barefoot.”

Them: “Can we back up a minute? Where does she work?”

Him: “At Bloom in Words Editorial Services.”

Them: “Oh, so she has her own building.”

Him: “Well, yeah. But I hang out there pretty often, too—though I’m not really allowed to go into her office when she's working; she says it breaks her concentration. She also makes me answer the phone when I’m there.”

Them (afraid to follow up; this woman sounds demanding): “So when does she get out of work?”

Him: “She’s kind of in and out, you know? Day, night, whatever. But she usually appears for dinner. I’m the cook. Sometimes she makes chili, though. It's her second calling.”

Them (not sure where to go next): “Great, great. That’s great. Just great. Uh, does she get any perks with her job?”

Him: “Her business manager has to purchase a lot of coffee for her. A lot of coffee. A lot. Sometimes she begs for chocolate.”

Them: “Oh? Who is her business manager?”

Him: “Me. She needed someone good with numbers, taxes . . . so I do all that.”

Them: “So you work together then.”

Him: “No.”

Maybe it would be better if he let people assume I don’t do anything. Not a thing.

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Saturday, April 09, 2016

Frazier Said It: “I AM Things.”

"You could be a lot of things. I am much older than you are. I AM things.” ― Frazier

I recently ran across this quote from the TV show Frazier. Say what you will about that character’s pretentious and childish views, but sometimes he has a flash of self-awareness that can challenge us all.

Middle-aged Frazier was talking to a young woman who was more than twenty years his junior. After a whirlwind relationship he probably thought would make him feel young again, he told her he was no longer inclined to explore every possibility in life with her. His previous choices and experiences had shaped him. He was acknowledging he had already spent years becoming, and trying to force himself back to the beginning was not a good idea!

“I AM things,” he said.

Not long ago a friend of mine asked rhetorically, “How did I get here?” She was looking around at her life, her current landing place, a little disconcerted, I think. She had met her many responsibilities year after year, and then circumstances changed. She wondered just how she had reached this particular point. I don’t know everything in her mind and in her heart, but based on my own experience, I wonder if she felt as though she had been on some kind of spaceship at a docking station, but then zoomed into another universe at warp speed.

I have sometimes asked myself how I got where I am, especially as I watch younger women live out their lives, but with a slightly different question at play: What if I could have become . . .? How I finish that sentence could be another post.

Maybe the answer to both questions—“How did I get here?” and “What if I could have become . . .? —is the same: “I AM things.”

Maybe we shouldn’t look too long at where we are, but say to ourselves, “Wow, here I am at a foreign and little bit scary place. Somehow, I didn't expect to be here, but I can’t go back. Besides, I already AM things, things that make me who and what I am. I can live the life I am meant to live by building on the things I have become. I can celebrate becoming in the past, and look forward to becoming in the future. I can embrace what’s good about the things I am. And what is not good, with God’s help, can be changed.”

You might be only twenty, middle-aged like Frazier, or "of a certain age." But if you said to yourself, “I AM things,” rather than the at-times-understandable “How did I get here?” or “What if I had become . . .?” how would that change your outlook today?

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