Monthly Archives: November 2013

Family is a huge piece in my puzzle

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When I began to search for the misses pieces of my puzzle/what made me who I was, I had to look back to my beginning, and then some.  I was born the baby of eight in a blended family.  There were two brothers and a sister from my Dad’s previous marriages, two sisters and a brother from my Mom’s previous marriage, and one older brother from their marriage together, then I came along almost 4 ½ years later.  Obviously, I wasn’t planned, but I don’t think any of my siblings were actually planned, so I don’t feel slighted. 

My Dad was the oldest son of three whose parents were strong Christians in their community and who helped to “plant” churches throughout the valley where they lived.  I suppose Dad was considered a “black sheep” in the family, once he was an adult.  He had married and had his first child by the time he was 20, and soon thereafter, he and his first wife decided they shouldn’t be married.  My oldest half-sister ended up living with her maternal grandparents. Our Dad was in the service and went to Korea for a short time, but he was discharged after a severe break to his leg.  Sometime after his return to the states, he met and married his second wife.  My two half-brothers were born over the course of this marriage, but Dad, once again, couldn’t stay settled, so he left and divorced her, as well. 

Meanwhile, my Mom was living the best she could as a widow with three small children.  Mom married her first husband when she was 16, right after an early graduation from high school.  They had their first child, my next oldest half-sister, when my Mom was 18.  Two years later, they had my half-brother, and then in 2 ½  more years, my younger half-sister was born.  My Mom’s first husband, who was 15 years older than she, was battling heart disease that he had contracted due to having rheumatic fever as a child, during their entire marriage.  When their youngest daughter, my half-sister, was 3, he died of heart failure, leaving Mom with an 8, 6, and 3-year old.  Mom worked for a while and family helped to watch my siblings, but it grew too much for her, emotionally as well as physically, so she drew unemployment,  and made do with what little they had.  She survived alone for about 6 years before her neighbor introduced her to their cousin, my Dad. 

Mom went on a couple bowling dates with Dad, at the insistence of her neighbor friends.  Mom didn’t feel sure about the thought of marrying my Dad, but then my Dad’s parents got them to go to church.  Both Mom and Dad became Christians and decided to marry, just a month and a half before my one full brother was born. By the time I came along, my oldest sister was married, with a child of her own and my next oldest sister was going to college.  I was the baby of this incredible blended family, a puzzle of its own, and as I grew, I felt we were a wonderful family.  

I began to consider how my heritage had shaped me when I had to do a family tree project for that infamous high school psychology class, and then again, in college, when I wrote a paper about compulsive overeating.  Yet, it wasn’t until 1993, when I pursued official counseling for the first time in my life, that I more earnestly sought to discover how the lives of my family had shaped me. 

The counselor I was seeing had been trained to use geno-grams to enlighten his clients as to why they behaved and felt certain ways.  As I met with him for several months, my husband joining in from time to time, we worked through each person on my family tree and discussed their lives.  When we came to someone about whom I didn’t know much, the counselor would give me the assignment of finding out more.  I spoke with my Mom quite a bit during this process and uncovered truths which enlightened me on my journey.  Some of my behaviors began to make more sense.  The way my parents had raised me took on new meaning.  I started to see how my life, my actions, my feelings, combined with the lives of my family members, added up to a more complete picture of who I was and why I was that way. 

Piecing together the elements of my life passed on to me from this amazingly blessed and crazy family has been the grandest part of my adventure, to say the least.  So many good memories are mixed with so many hurtful memories, when I think of my family.  There are too many details to divulge here, but maybe someday I’ll share it all in my book I keep saying I’ll publish. 

Suffice it to say at this point that one of the pieces of my puzzle affected by my family was the ages of my siblings and parents.  Due to the fact that I came along last in this mosaic of a family, I have been both blessed and cursed.  The blessings came when I was young, the baby, and received loads of attention from my oldest siblings.  As they grew and moved away, starting their own families, I was blessed again to have nieces and nephews close to my age. Yet, I never knew what it was like to actually walk through life, growing up together, with my siblings.  Even my full brother, who’s 4 ½ years older than I, faced some stages of life at a different time than me.  I didn’t have a sister close in age with which to go through all the changes of becoming a woman, a wife, a mother.  My Mom was so much older, from another generation, that she didn’t quite know how to approach this.  The absence of my siblings in my day-to-day life has continued as I’ve gone through adulthood.  They are mostly all at stages far ahead of me, to the point that our lives don’t mesh together enough to be able to exist in consistent, daily relationships. 

My parents’ ages also affected me.  Mom was 37 when I was born; Dad was 45.  What a different perspective on life they had compared to the parents of my friends!  My parents were one generation ahead of those of my friends, and they were tired, facing physical issues that my friends’ parents weren’t.  It left me feeling like I was raising myself, emotionally.  Though I was well-cared for physically, they simply weren’t there for me for the basic emotional and social nurturing that I needed.  Dad was ill, with his heart; Mom worked full time nights, so she could still be there in the morning when I left for school and in the evening to cook dinner for us.  They didn’t relate well, not really having a love relationship, and I did not see an example of what a true marriage was supposed to be, nor were the relationships between them and my siblings of the greatest quality.  My ideas of love, family, and marriage were shaped by television shows like Happy Days, the Love Boat, and General Hospital.  My perception of life was way off, and this made those pieces of my life puzzle very misshapen. 

These are only a couple pieces of the family part of my puzzle, yet these were big pieces.  I am affected today by these aspects of my journey.  I am still learning to work with these pieces of my puzzle, to embrace them, and accept them as a part of who I am while I allow God to transform me into who He meant for me to be.  There are times when these family dynamics re-open old wounds, and I have to allow God to continue to re-shape those pieces of my puzzle so they can fit the way He meant for them to fit, instead of allowing the enemy of our lives to continually rob me of the wholeness God desires for me.  I’m thankful for my sibling relationships having come through some rough spots and being at a mostly good place at this point in my life. 

There is no doubt that family affects the development of our life puzzles more than any factor, other than God Himself.  If you are going to fit the pieces of your life together, you will need to spend much time in pulling together all those pieces that have been shaped by your family experiences, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  It’s a journey full of highs and lows, but how rich and colorful my life puzzle has become as I’ve allowed God to fit these pieces together.  Amazingly, God has revealed much to me through my family relationships and He continues to use my siblings to impact my life, to guide me, to learn from their examples and their mistakes, and to be His love for me at times when I need it most.

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See the bright side of life

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ImageI used to be more of a glass half-empty kind of person.  Ten plus years ago, I lived in a frightful state of negativity most of the time.  It had been that way for years, I think, but it was around that time when an old friend from high school found me through email.

It was so good to “reunite” him.  He had been in the armed services since we graduated from high school and somewhere along the line, with all life entails, we fell out of touch.  We spent most of our first emails “catching up” on each other’s lives.  Apparently, my negativity came through to him in what I wrote.  

He began to share with me the changes that had taken place in his life, in his heart, as a result of serving our country.  There were many atrocities he had witnessed as he served through such times as Desert Storm and the wars in Bosnia.  As he shared, he confessed that there was a point when he volunteered for every “suicide” mission that came along, meaning he was willing to take on anything and everything no matter what the outcome might of been.  He was so down on life because of some personal experiences and because of all that he saw happening around the world.

Life changed for him one day when he was driving through a war-torn zone and saw a man with tattered clothing picking through the trash to try to find whatever food he could.  Suddenly, my friend’s eyes were opened to the blessings in his life.  He saw that even in the service he at least has 3 meals a day, clothes to wear, water to drink, and a place to sleep when he returned from a mission.  He had his fellow servicemen to walk through each day with him, to share in the ups and downs, to experience the tough stuff together.  It was a true reality check for him.

Experiencing all he had shared through his emails to me, I began to look at my life differently as well.  God used my friend’s stories to open my eyes to the many blessings in my life.  I have a warm bed and clothes to wear, heat in winter and cool in summer, food to set on my table each day, cars to get our family where we need to go, running water to drink and take showers, money to pay our bills, medical care, and most of all, I have friendships and family, a spouse who makes me laugh and takes care of me when I’m sick, and children who need me and who I adore.  How rich I am!

My son was quoting some statistics to us last evening.  I don’t remember them exactly but any of us could look them up on the internet instantaneously.  Some of what he said was that if we have food to eat each day, then we are richer than 85% of the people on this planet, and if we have a home and car, we are more well off than 75% of the people on Earth…..something to that effect.  How startling it is to think this is true.  Living here in these United States, it is so easy to focus on the rich and famous who have more money than they know what to do with and to think we, the “normal” people, are lowly and worthless.  I could go on a rant right now about how the Hollywood and sports elite could support the rest of the world, but I’ll save that for another time.  For now, I simply want to say how blessed I am and how I long to do more to help others who are in need.  I long to get my focus off of the “extras” that I don’t have and onto how I could share my little with those who need so much.

This time of year is full of great opportunities to help others through Operation Christmas Child, by giving farm animals and clean water through World Vision, by donating to Coats for Kids or Food for the Hungry, or sponsoring a child through Nazarene Compassionate Ministries or Compassion International.  I know I always want for our family to go serve some at a local soup kitchen or food/clothing pantry or rescue mission.  Whatever we can give, whatever we can do, God will bless exponentially in our lives and in the lives of those whom we serve.  Like the old hymn of the church says, “Little is much when God is in it…”


In the harvest field now ripened
There’s a work for all to do;
Hark! the voice of God is calling
To the harvest calling you.

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Words & Music: Kit­tie L. Suf­field, 1924 

Little is much when God is in it!
Labor not for wealth or fame.
There’s a crown—and you can win it,
If you go in Jesus’ Name.

In the mad rush of the broad way,
In the hurry and the strife,
Tell of Jesus’ love and mercy,
Give to them the Word of Life.

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Does the place you’re called to labor
Seem too small and little known?
It is great if God is in it,
And He’ll not forget His own.

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Are you laid aside from service,
Body worn from toil and care?
You can still be in the battle,
In the sacred place of prayer.

Refrain

When the conflict here is ended
And our race on earth is run,
He will say, if we are faithful,
“Welcome home, My child—well done!”

Refrain

Friends

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We have a neighbor across the street from us who has become our friend.  When we stand at our kitchen sink, we can see into her living room, if her front door is open.  I sometimes see her sitting at her dining room table in the late evening, working puzzles, one after the other. 

One day, we went over to visit with her, and I sat down at the dining room table with her to work on a puzzle.  She explained she was working on some pieces she had found in a paper bag.  There was no picture, so she had no idea what she was creating, nor did she know if all the pieces were there.  I laughed but started trying to put some pieces together, without much success.  After about 15 minutes, she declared we should give up.  I reluctantly submitted while we moved to the living room to talk.  I understood her frustration and feeling that it was hopeless, yet, in a twisted sort of irony (for me, who does not like puzzle-working), I wanted to keep trying to work it.  Though, I knew it could be missing half the pieces, my heart was troubled just walking away from it, never to know what the picture might have been, or whether only a few pieces weren’t there.  I’m just that way, I suppose, unable to leave a “story” unfinished.  

I’ve come to realize that not all people see the need to pursue finishing the picture, whether in puzzle-working, watching a movie, reading a book, or in life’s puzzle.  One of my closest friends is this way, and it’s troubled me some, leaving me confused at times.  I’ve questioned whether there was something wrong with me, or was there something wrong with her? Of course, neither answer is yes.  We are simply different personalities, and God works in us differently.  This is all part of our individual puzzles that God fits together, eventually making us all one, just as He is One with the Spirit and the Son.  

We need friends of all types, and our friends need us.  I dearly love my friend who is content not to question and dig deep.  God has used her in my life, as He does so many of my friends.  Yet, it may always boggle my mind how she can just leave the questions unanswered.  I desire to learn from her and hope she can learn from me, as well.  

What would we do without friends?  Next to family, they are a huge force in all our lives; sometimes, they influence us more strongly than our families, for the good or the not so good.  Our relationships with friends comprise many pieces of our life puzzles.  

My first memories of friendship are of those who lived near me or who went to church with me.  These friends were mostly by default because they were there, not because I chose to be friends with them.  Those who lived near me were my playmates, and eventually, we went to school together.  At church, my friends were those who went to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School with me.  These friendships are where some of my first memories of hurt feelings originate.  The old adage that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words never hurt me” is just not true. 

I can still recall some of the hurtful words said to me by those friends in my neighborhood, being made fun of because of my weight, boys picking on me and my brother standing up for me (they were quite scared of him).  Yet, these were supposedly my friends.  Hmm… how they shaped some of my puzzle pieces… 

One of my best memories of those early years, and friendship, was my brother’s best friend, who also became my friend.  He actually was my first crush, when I was 5!  Through the years, he proved to be a friend who was more like a brother, and I don’t think I could’ve survived growing up without him (or, at least, I think I would’ve needed even more counseling in my life had he not been a part of my growing up years). 

So many friends have come in and out of my life over the course of time.  I’m thankful that some have become closer than family to me.  I’m sad that some have betrayed me and turned their backs on our friendship.  I’m delighted when I become reacquainted with an old friend and we’re able to “pick up where we left off” with each other.  However, unlike my family experiences, I learned early on that friends are not always to be trusted, nor can you always count on friends.  My emotional wounds from friends were evident to me even when I was young, whereas, with my family, I didn’t realize my emotional hurts from them until I was grown and could step back and look at the memories from a more objective viewpoint.  

As a result of learning early that friends will sometimes hurt you, I became reserved with my emotions towards my friends.  I had more surface friendships and was scared to share too deeply with those in my life.  This was a formational part of my life puzzle, some of which I regret, yet, some of which could not be avoided.  It’s a sad, but true, part of life, that we are going to be wounded, often by those we think are the closest to us.  

I have a few friends with whom I am still in touch that I have known since kindergarten.  What a joy it was to see them at my 20th high school reunion a few years ago!  Even though we never really spend time together, we sometimes e-mail or comment on each other’s Facebook profiles.    Renewing these friendships has seemed to restore a part of myself I’d forgotten existed.  Whenever I see one of them in person, my heart leaps and feels at home. 

A couple years ago, my dear Uncle passed away.  I anticipated attending his memorial service, knowing it would be a celebration of his life and that I would be reunited with family I hadn’t seen in years.  Surprisingly, one of the highlights of my day was seeing an old friend, one I hadn’t even thought of for quite a while.  

He was a boy who had gone to church with me when we were very young, but he and I attended different elementary schools.  When we entered Jr. High School, our grade schools both fed into the same Jr. High, so we were in school together for the rest of our teen years.  Here was a friend that was connected through church and school memories, and what an incredible joy to talk with him a few moments, to know he shared in my grief of losing my Uncle because my Uncle had impacted his life, as well.  

It all took me back to a part of my life puzzle that has been completed for years, a part I hadn’t been considering for some time.  I was able to see God’s handiwork in a new way, to appreciate that part of my life with renewed thankfulness and understanding as to how God has fit it all together.  Have you had that experience of seeing a friend from another time in your life, and you know that you know them, but you just can’t place them?  Then, a light goes off in your head and you remember them, and suddenly it all fits together.  That’s what it was like when I saw my friend at the memorial service, to a degree, and pieces of my life made more sense in that moment. 

I have been blessed to have great friends at all different stages, and locations, of my life.  There are those I don’t talk with regularly but whenever we meet, it’s like we were never apart.   Some with whom I share email jokes and inspirational stories, who send me their prayer requests and with whom I can share mine.  Still , there are those that are an active part of my life, who call, email, visit, text, Facebook, do whatever it takes to keep in touch and to share life together, no matter the distance.  Finally, there have been a few friends who were only in my life for a season.  It’s these friends that I don’t quite understand how their puzzle pieces fit into my life, at times. 

Those who were in my life, but now are no longer, be it from time, changes in life, distance, or a choice made by one of us, seem to almost haunt me with a lingering doubt and uncertainty as to God’s intentions or purposes for the heartache that is left when someone disappears from our day to day existence.  I’m thankful for Facebook, that has allowed me to reconnect with some of these friends, just to know they are there, and I have a means to contact them if I feel compelled to do so.  There are a few, though, about whom I do not have this assurance; I don’t know how to reach them, or they have made themselves unreachable to me.  I lack peace in these past relationships, and I don’t understand God’s purposes in this. 

I’m reminded of those hard to place puzzle pieces that you sometimes come across, or those spots in a puzzle where it seems that none of the pieces fit.  When I’m working a puzzle, I have to just leave those sections alone and go back to work on an area that does go together.  I figure I can come back to those unworkable pieces later on, when the rest of the picture is taking on more form, and that then it will make more sense as to what piece needs to go there. 

For those friendships that have left me without closure, without peace, I must lean into trusting God in a way that demands me to let it all go, to take off my hands and leave it in His.  I don’t always follow through on this; I pick it back up and question and worry.  Yet, whenever this happens, I realize that I’m only hurting myself more, that He is the one who will make sense of it all, in His time. 

There’s a wonderful Amy Grant song that crosses my mind regularly when I’m confronted with these unresolved friendship pieces of my life puzzle.  Her song says:

Why, why, why? Does it go this way?

Why, why, why…and all I can say…

Is somewhere down the road,

There’ll be answers to the question;

Somewhere down the road,

Though we cannot see it now;

Somewhere down the road,

You will find

Mighty Arms

Reaching for you,

And they will hold the answers,

At the end of the road. 

Yes, friends impact our lives in mighty ways, and God uses them to shape our life puzzles.  Understanding how He can use all of them to make our lives into something beautiful is paramount to our allowing Him to shape and create us into the people He intended for us to be from the start.  Part of that process includes blessings and is easier for us to embrace.  There will also be woundings in our experiences that God will use for His purposes, even though He isn’t the source of those wounds.Image