When Did Everybody Else Get So Old? Indignities, Compromises, and the Unexpected Grace of Midlife (Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2017)

A transparent, honest, humorous memoir that looks at the challenges of midlifeAging well is a topic I’m always interested in–and Jennifer Grant’s memoir about her forties is an  honest, transparent, and humorous look at midlife. She’s an excellent story-teller and I enjoyed hearing about her aging experiences–wearing what she thought were “cool” Elton John-like glasses–only to have her teenage daughter weigh in with her more- than- honest assessment. “You look old and weird in those glasses, Mom.”

The author poignantly describes the transitions we go through with our children. Would we want to go back to those sweet early years when they willingly place their little hands in ours when we cross the street, or get excited about something as simple as finger-painting?   Grant says no, she wants to look forward to who those children will become. She doesn’t want to get stuck looking back at those “good, old days”–even though letting go isn’t easy. It seems that one day our children are sweet and innocent and the next you’re looking at college applications with them. I can relate! Even though I’m well past the middle-age years Jennifer Grant writes about, I can still remember the ache I felt when I walked past my oldest son’s empty bedroom after he left for college. Yet this book offers hope of moving past these empty-nest feelings.

The author writes wisely about the physical, emotional and spiritual challenges of aging and the changes we face throughout our lives–celebrations, sorrows, and joys. She concludes with the wisdom of Solomon from the book of Ecclesiastes: There is a time for everything.

I enjoyed this book, but I am disappointed by the author’s interpretation of the parable of the ten bridesmaids (Matthew 25) in her book’s final chapter. As a Christian, I believe it’s important to consider the full counsel of Scripture when interpreting passages such as this one.

 

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

Surviving Your Spouse’s Alcoholism: Finding Life at the End of the Bottle

Cunning…baffling… powerful..The bright side of alcoholism is recovery!. Alcoholics Anonymous uses those words to describe alcoholism. It’s true. I’ve never felt more confused and powerless than when dealing with my husband Randy’s alcoholism. It’s an intense battle—one most of us are ill-equipped to fight. The harder you try to get someone to stop drinking and change their behavior, the more futile your efforts.

During the worst of Randy’s drinking, I had a recurring nightmare. Randy and I were prisoners behind enemy lines in a war-zone. The scene that kept repeating was one in which I had escaped and was trying desperately to pull him to safety. I couldn’t do it. Each time I had to run for my life, leaving him trapped in the line of fire.

That’s an apt metaphor. If your husband or wife has a drinking problem, you’ll understand. No matter what you do, you can’t seem to get through to them.

Why can’t he stop drinking? It seemed easy for me. I could put down a drink after a few sips, and never want more. For Randy, it was impossible to say no to the next drink–even with serious consequences on the line. At first I  thought it was my fault. If only I were the perfect wife, amazingly sexy and beautiful, then Randy would rush home after work to be with me. Wrong! There’s no way to compete with an addiction.

When I finally found Al-Anon, a support group for families and friends of alcoholics, I learned about the 3 C’s.

  1. I didn’t Cause Randy’s alcoholism.  Nothing I did or didn’t do made a difference in him becoming addicted to alcohol.
  2. I couldn’t Control it. I didn’t have any power to keep him from taking another drink.
  3. I could Contribute, though. I could act in ways that perpetuated the unhealthy patterns. Or I could learn some new ways to respond that could possibly help Randy want to get sober. Most of all, these new changes helped me.

Before Al-Anon, I didn’t have any recovery tools. All I could do was obsess on fixing and controlling Randy. I nagged and lectured and scolded. To no avail. I threatened to leave if he didn’t change. Maybe you’ve done the same.

Randy promised to stop drinking. I wanted desperately to believe him. We twirled round and round with the familiar dance. Nothing changed. I retreated into magical thinking, pretending everything was okay. Our problems aren’t that bad, really. Randy said he could stop drinking anytime. He promised to quit tomorrow. Tomorrow never came.

In the meantime, I became the “alcohol police.” I checked liquor bottles in the kitchen cupboard, measuring how much was there, how much Randy had drank the night before. I even checked the garbage cans to see if he was secretly drinking outside and then tossing the evidence. Talk about crazy behavior!

I placed inspirational books in strategic places around the house and refrigerator magnets with Bible verses on the fridge. I just knew when saw those verses, he would be inspired to change. I envisioned the scene…Randy would see the light and drop to his knees in gratitude for my help. Deb, I’m so sorry for not seeing this sooner. Thank you for helping me. I’ll never drink again. Then we would live happily ever after.

Reality Check

You know only too well, that never happens. Spouses are rarely the ones who talk their alcoholic partners into seeking sobriety.

After several years, I began to consider that Randy could be an alcoholic. I quickly countered with denial.  No way!  I rationalized. Drinking seemed normal, or so I thought. I looked the other way and pretended everything was fine. If we look at reality, then we’ll be required to do something. That seems so hard, so scary.

Fear looms with its icy fingers threatening to suffocate us. The what-ifs take over our thoughts: what if he has an accident on the way home from the bar; what if she loses her job; what if he kills someone in a car accident… scenarios play ad nauseam in our thoughts. It’s exhausting living on this emotional roller coaster—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

I felt alone—even though I had caring friends. I didn’t want to burden them. Besides, what could they do? What I didn’t realize is that you can’t face this battle alone. You can’t be an army of one and expect to survive.

Never Alone

The good news is you are not alone. Others who have been where you are can assure you there is hope! Not merely to survive, but to thrive. You can come out on the other side more whole, more authentically yourself, than you ever thought possible. Addiction has taken a toll, but it doesn’t have to win this battle. There is light and life at the end of the bottle. It takes iron determination to get there, to not give up when things get tough.

You can move forward with your life—no matter what is happening around you. You are not an army of one. You are part of an army of thousands upon thousands who have been where you and I have been and they’ve found a better way to live. As a Christian, I believe we’re serving One who is all-powerful, the God of my understanding, Jesus Christ. A Bible verse says, “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) Not simply a few things, but all things. We will have whatever we need, whatever it takes to fight this battle and find healing and hope for ourselves. Maybe in the process, our loved ones will also desire to fight with everything they’ve got to defeat their addiction.

Hope begins when I believe all things are possible with God.

If your spouse has a drinking problem, I have the greatest compassion for both of you. Please let me know how I can pray for you. 

*This is the first in a series of articles about how to cope with your spouse’s alcoholism.

 

Brave Beauty: Finding the Fearless You (Grand Rapids: Zonderkidz, 2017)

Brave Beauty devotional book for girlsWhile reading Brave Beauty, a devotional for tween girls,  I couldn’t help but think of how much I would’ve appreciated a book like this when I was growing up. Those preteen years are the beginning of an awkward time for girls. I remember having so many doubts about myself and whether or not I fit in. Author Lynn Cowell does an excellent job making readers feel understood and valued.

The book is comprised of 100 mini chapters, courage-building ways for readers to find answers by growing confident in God. Topics range from family, self-worth and friends, to faith, forgiveness and loving difficult people. The author uses a simple, yet effective style to communicate godly wisdom. Each chapter includes a brief example/story followed by a “Becoming Brave” practical challenge and a “Courageous Call” to action. The bite-sized chapters will appeal to young readers–and “older” readers, too, as I find myself looking forward to what’s coming next!

The author offers this gem: It takes bravery to be a girl who thinks people are more important than things. The culture we live in makes “stuff” like clothes and the newest phone so important. A brave beauty recognizes that people are more important than things.

So true and important for girls to learn this when bombarded by a culture that values materialism.

If you have a young girl in your life, get her Brave Beauty. It could be life-changing!

 

 

The Awakening of HK Derryberry: My Unlikely Friendship with the Boy Who Remembers Everything (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017)

The Awakening of HK Derryberry: an unlikely friendship with a special needs boyIf you’ve ever wondered if one person can make a difference in someone’s life,  read The Awakening of HK Derryberry and you will know the answer is a resounding yes!

The unlikely friendship between Jim Bradford, a senior business executive, and 9-year old HK Derryberry, a boy with multiple disabilities, begins on a cold October morning in 1999 when Jim stops at Mrs. Winner’s Chicken & Biscuits in search of a cup of coffee. He almost misses the small boy sitting at a table at the back of the restaurant. When Jim sees HK, he feels an unusual emotional tug. He walks over to talk with the boy–something he almost never did. Jim writes that his encounter with HK that day revealed that he was a “pickpocket,” because he had stolen Jim’s heart.

And I would have to say they have stolen my heart as well. Jim Bradford’s story reeled me right in from the first chapter. We learn that HK was born prematurely under tragic family circumstances. It is a miracle the baby boy survived, but he is blind, has cerebral palsy, and countless other challenges. As I read about the enduring friendship (16 years!) between Jim and HK, I felt my emotions welling up inside. It is inspiring to see how Jim and his wife, Brenda, invested their time and love for HK–and how many amazing possibilities opened up for a lonely little boy who needed a dad.

This is a must-read book. The touching story between a man and a special-needs boy will have you laughing one minute and in tears the next–and learning to look for the unlikely to cross your path.

 

Courage to Carry On: Finding Hope When You’ve Lost Everything

Courage to carry onCourage is something I’ve thought about often during the past month–a commodity sorely needed by victims of Hurricane Harvey and Irma. Like many of us, I’ve witnessed the heartbreaking devastation of these storms as news channels have broadcast moment-by-moment updates. At times, I felt like I was watching a natural disaster movie. It all seemed surreal. But to the people of Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and other areas where there’s been massive flooding and wind damage, it’s all too real.

To say I even begin to understand is an understatement. I have no idea what it’s like to lose everything you own. Sure, it’s easy to say material things are just “things” and don’t matter. What’s really important is our loved ones. And that’s true. But putting your life together after such a disaster is painfully difficult.

I’ve experienced the anxiety and terror of wildfires burning close enough to our home that you see flames. Three years ago, a wildfire burned more than 250,000 acres in our beautiful Methow Valley in Washington state, and destroyed more than 300 homes. We watched our friends reel from their losses. We also watched as they courageously began to rebuild their lives. Two years ago, another fire devastated our area and claimed the lives of three brave firefighters. The tragedy shook our entire community. Several hundred friends and neighbors gathered in the community park for a vigil. The stillness of that August night was lit with the glow from flashlights, cell phones, and glow sticks. Suddenly, material possessions seemed insignificant.

The things that matter the most in this world, they can never be held in our hand.
                                                                                                                     -Gloria Gaither

Believe

A few years ago, I did a word study on courage. In these times of unspeakable tragedy, courage is what will carry us forward. For me, courage is built on a foundation of faith. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it’s looking at your fears full-on and saying, I believe! I believe God is with me through any circumstances I face, no matter how difficult. Whatever situation you’re facing, just breathing the word courage can help you remember God is with you. He is the source of your strength and the reason why you can be courageous.

When I think of courage, people like Corrie ten Boom come to mind. She and her family made the bold decision to hide Jews in their home during World War II. Corrie, her father, and sister were sent to a concentration camp when they were found out. Only Corrie survived to tell the story. She proclaimed God’s faithfulness in the midst of tragedy for the rest of her life. Countless people heard her story–including a former Nazi guard who came forward and asked for her forgiveness. Offering forgiveness to someone who has caused so much pain takes courage to an entirely different level.

And then there are heroes of 9/11–too many to write about in this short blog. The courage of people like Welles Crowther, who is known as the man in the red bandana, inspire us. Welles was twenty-four years old when the plane crashed into the World Trade Center where he worked. He managed to get out safely. But then he ran back in numerous times to save others, accompanying them down forty floors to safety. Welles lost his life that day, but his story lives on. Courage has a way of leaving a legacy.

Take Action

The Bible talks a lot about fear. In fact, the words do not fear appear at least 366 times. What that tells me is having courage and not being afraid is important enough that God inspired the repetition of that command. Sometimes we think courage is some kind of bravery we have to muster up in our own strength. Not true! Courage is a by-product of faith. The antidote for fear is faith. 

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying,  I will try again tomorrow. -Mary Anne Rademacher-Hershey

That’s what will make the difference for hurricane survivors. Having the courage to believe they can take the next step, and then the one after that, one-day-at-a-time. They need courage to believe they can walk through this difficult time and come out on the other side–probably with a story to tell and being different from when they began this unwanted journey.

Walk Through

To carry on is the courageous keeping on with whatever is at hand, whatever is next in importance to do. During World War II, when London was bombed by the Luftwaffe for 59 straight nights, the city never shut down. The people of London went to work and kept their daily routines. That’s remarkable!

I would have been tempted to stay in bed with the covers pulled up around my head. Courage says to keep going, to walk through those deep valleys.

Courage is not having the strength to go on; it is going on when you don’t have the strength.

-Theodore Roosevelt

That’s the bottom line. From somewhere deep inside, you find strength that you could never have imagined and the courage to carry on.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9 (NIV)

We are praying for everyone who has been affected by the hurricanes. May the Lord give you His peace that passes all understanding.

The Magic Wand: 5 Steps to Improve Your Marriage

A Guest Post by Marlene Anderson

Magic Wand Marriage

If you could wave a magic wand and make your marriage more of what you want it to be, what would you see?  How would you and your spouse be interacting, communicating and relating? Our focus is so often on what is not working, we fail to consider what is working and how to accomplish more of that.

We come into marriage with hopes of living happily ever after. We want to love and be loved and feel safe and free to be ourselves. Unfortunately, we bring with us into our marriages unfulfilled needs and old messages from our past that become triggered and transferred to our spouses.

Some of the reasons why marriages get into trouble are poor communication skills, a lack of commitment, inability to resolve conflict and feeling unhappy and unloved. When our communication with each other is reduced to criticism and attack/defend, we have turned our marriage into a battle field.  When we constantly blame, rigidly refuse to listen, we will become disdainful and contemptuous of our partner.

So is there any hope for us? And if so, where do we start?

First, do you want your marriage to survive? Without resolve our attempts for healing will be sabotaged. Are you committed to doing everything you can to make your marriage work?  Remember, whatever problems you are having now that is not resolved will be taken with you to any other relationship.

Second, if you are committed, then ask God to help you become aware of your own unspoken needs from your past that you are bringing to your marriage. Ask Him for clarity, courage and strength to be honest with yourself.  Sometimes it is a desire to be nurtured, loved and respected.  Sometimes it is a strong belief that I have to do everything right to be okay.

Third, learn the skill of listening and mirroring back what you have heard without judgment or interpretation.  “If I understand correctly, this is what you are feeling…” Understand that each of us wants to be heard and validated.  We want to know that we are loveable and loved by God.

Fourth, be willing to be vulnerable.  We are fearful of being honest and genuine because we fear we will become less acceptable, less loveable. It is easier to blame instead of accepting we aren’t perfect, don’t have to be perfect, and we can accept both our strengths and our weaknesses.

And fifth, accept yourself for who you are.  Develop your core beliefs and inner strength.  You can be loving without becoming a doormat.  You can listen respectfully without having to agree with everything.  You can accept responsibility for your emotional responses without attacking. You can put up appropriate boundaries for what you will accept and will not accept.  This is especially important if there is emotional, psychological or physical abuse.  You cannot fix another person.  If you are in an abusive relationship, I strongly suggest you see a good licensed marriage counselor.

How do we build an open, sharing dialogue with our spouse?  How do we build a safe environment where each of us can share with the other? 

You can’t change anyone.  But we can change ourselves.  We can make choices that are healthy for both us and our marriages.  We can be loving and respectful but put appropriate boundaries in place.  Establish some communication guidelines agreeable with both of you.  You will not have a relationship is there is no way to communicate your needs and wishes.

Relationships that have mutual respect, acceptance and commitment require work.  But it is a work that is joyful because of the benefits that you will receive. It’s worth all the effort you can bring.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

 

My thanks to my friend, Marlene Anderson, for her excellent marriage advice. If you’re interested in learning more, visit Marlene’s website: http://focuswithmarlene.com/ 

 

 

What a Good Time Costs: Why Every Teen Should Consider the Risks of Drinking and Driving

My friend shared her concerns on Facebook. The other night, a carload of teens sped past her house. Kids hung out the car windows, obviously drinking. My heart sank. Of course, with graduation coming up and the end of another school year, who doesn’t want to have fun? When you’re 17-years old, you feel invincible. Your whole life awaits. But what if every teen considered what a “good” time can ultimately cost?

No generation is immune to the deadly combination of drinking and driving. Mine included. The summer after I graduated from high school, we lost a classmate. The news of Rick’s death stunned everyone with a sick feeling of shock and disbelief.Why every teen should consider the cost of drinking and driving

Everyone loved Rick. His blue eyes lit up his boyish features, hinting at his mischievous nature. Rick and my boyfriend Randy (now husband) were buddies and teammates on the high school track team. Their relay team had made it to state that year. The newspaper photo showed the jubilant foursome with arms draped around each other’s shoulders, elated with their accomplishment.

Now, Rick was gone. Forever.

I struggled to accept the incomprehensible. Rick had been at a party drinking that night. Driving home, he failed to make the curve on a winding Pennsylvania road. His car slammed into a tree, killing him instantly.

It’s sad that times haven’t changed much. During the 21 years I’ve lived in this small town, we’ve lost at least three teens to accidents involving drinking and driving. Hand-made crosses on the roadside still remind us of lives tragically cut short.

I remember driving past the accident scene several days after two teens had been killed. Limp helium balloons flapped and spray painted messages faded into the rough wooden cross. I noticed a group of friends with numb expressions huddled there. I longed to comfort them. But what could I say? That time will ease the pain but never take it completely away? I cried for these innocent kids confronted with the harsh realities of drinking and driving. Painful memories of our friend Rick who died so long ago, surprised me by resurfacing.

The Reality

Even today, I ask myself what could make a difference. How can teens be encouraged to count the cost before engaging in such risky behavior? During the past two decades, public awareness of DUI issues has heightened.  Groups such as MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) have made a difference. In the United States, the number of drunk driving deaths has been cut in half since MADD was founded in 1980. Yet, the stats for teen drinking and driving still cause alarm.

  • Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens. About 1/4 of those crashes involve an underage drinking driver.
  • Alcohol is a factor in 1/3 of all teenage auto fatalities.
  • Young drinking drivers are involved in fatal crashes at more than twice the rate of drivers 21 and older.
  • Alcohol is linked with an estimated 5,000 deaths in people under age 21 each year–more than all illegal drugs combined.

Have Fun without Alcohol

Too many people, especially teens, embrace the belief that drinking is the only way to have fun. It isn’t easy to get beyond this in a culture steeped in this ideology. And there is the problem. Programs (alcohol-free parties/events)  can have a positive impact, but changes in behavior are the foundation to providing alternatives to the drinking-equals- fun equation.

Dr. Henry Cloud often talks about “playing the movie” of your future. You project what could happen in your life based on possible choices you make. You “play the movie.”

If I go to a party and ride in a car with a driver who’s been drinking, we could get in an accident. Friends could lose their lives. How would I cope? Or I could lose my life. How would that affect my family and friends? If only teens “played the movie” of the grief and loss that follow a fatal car accident, better choices might be made.

What should a good time cost? A few dollars and a few hours? Or perhaps priceless, irreplaceable things, even a lifetime? Is the “fun” of drinking and driving worth the risk?

You only have to look into the blank faces of mourning kids at an accident scene to know the answer.

 

Love Letters from God: Bible Stories for a Girl’s Heart (Grand Rapids: Zonderkidz, 2017)

This picture book may have been written for girls, ages 4-8, but this grown-up girl (me!) finds it delightful. Stories of fourteen incredible women from the Bible fiLove Letters from God: Bible Stories for a Girl's Heartll the pages. Eve (The First Girl), Miriam (The Trusting Girl), Martha (The Busy Girl) are a few women whose inspiring stories are told. The author, Glenys Nellist, uses warm, easy-to-understand language to bring these Bible stories to life. Rachel Clowes’ illustrations are charming.

What makes this book unique is the lift-the-flap love letters from God that accompany each story. These sweet letters show a personal, tender, loving God who cares about each girl. As I read God’s love letters, I couldn’t help but mentally add my name on the blanks provided.

Dear Deb……Can you imagine how thrilled I was when I saw Eve? She was the very first girl I made, and she made creation complete. Did you know I feel the same way when I see you?

Talk about heart-warming! I’m excited to give this book to my granddaughter who celebrates her 5th birthday soon. I’ve written “Lucy” as the recipient of  each letter. She’ll be delighted to see the letters addressed to her.

If you have a little girl in your life, this book is perfect to show her how much God loves her. You might even enjoy reading it to yourself first!

Moms: Our Real Heroes

Moms: our real heroes

Mom & me

I just spent the past several weeks with my hero, my mom. Diagnosed with colon cancer in December, she chose to  have the surgical procedure–difficult under any circumstances, but especially at age 90.

As her surgical team prepped her on that early Tuesday a.m., they all remarked at how amazing she is for a woman her age. “We don’t see many 90-year-olds come through here,” one nurse commented. “Usually their health is compromised and there are too many risks.”

Mom and I both knew that even though she’s strong, this surgery presented lots of unknowns. We prayed together the night before and attempted to say good-byes–just in case. I hugged her extra long before they wheeled her into the OR. A compassionate nurse called me several times while I waited during the almost 4-hour surgery to assure me everything was going well.

While I helped Mom during her recovery, I had time to think about what makes a mom a hero. A while back, I had chatted with Mom and thanked her (you can never say it enough) for all those little things that made a difference while my brothers (four of them!) and I grew up. Things like always being there, packing school lunches, staying up late to sew cute new outfits for me–and for my dolls, too. Mom’s response to my gratitude surprised me. “I don’t think I did anything special,” she said. “I did what moms are supposed to do.”

Maybe that’s an important part of the mom/hero equation. They don’t think they’re doing anything out of the ordinary. They simply do what moms are supposed to do.

I love this quote from Jill Churchill in her book, Grime and Punishment, There’s no way to be a perfect mother–and a million ways to be a good one.

My mom is the first person to admit she wasn’t a perfect mom. It’s the million other ways that she was and is a good mom that make all the difference. So take heart if you’re in the thick of momhood. Once you accept you’ll never be perfect at it, then you can consider the myriad ways to be the hero/mom who leaves her kids and grandkids a lasting legacy.

Some of my mom’s “good-mom” techniques:

  • Be committed.  Mom was all in. 100% there for us. That’s no easy task day-in and day-out with a tribe of kids. We never wondered if she would be home when we came in from school or playing outside. We never once worried if she would have dinner prepared or if she’d be there to tuck us in at night. She was always there–except for the day she gave birth to our youngest sibling– but we’ll overlook that!
  • Set high standards. Mom insisted that we tow the mark. We learned to be honest, to care about others, to help with chores (without getting paid) and without complaining. We knew better than to be disrespectful. She had a zero-tolerance policy.
  • Give selflessly. When I became a mom, I realized this was hard work–without vacations. You’re always a mom. You really can’t take a break or go on a sabbatical. Mom’s job consisted of being home full-time. She tended to the needs of five uniquely different children, managed mountains of laundry, cooked, cleaned and stayed up late to get it done.
  • Stand up for what you believe is right. Mom loved imparting her wisdom and values to us. In the early 1970s when I was a young adult, Mom expressed her opinions on some of the crazy cultural views–like something called “open marriage.” The purveyors of this philosophy touted the advantages of having multiple partners to”enhance” your marriage. Mom didn’t mince words. Those ideas had no place in our family. Period. (I recently read a review on the book, Open Marriage. The reviewer said it was a bad idea in 1970 and it still is  today). Mom knew what she was talking about!

I’m thankful God’s plan for my mom’s life included more time for me to thank her again for being my hero. You really can’t say it enough.

 

 

 

 

 

Everybody wants to change the world, but nobody wants to do the small thing that makes just one person feel loved. -Ann Voskamp

The Broken Way (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016)