Embracing Change When You Want Everything to Stay the Same

Sometimes it seems much longer than two months since we loaded the last items into our car and drove away from what has been home for 22 years. In many ways, I feel like like I’m on an extended vacation. Any day now, we’ll drive those familiar country roads that have taken us home for more than two decades. I wake up in the night and wonder, where am I?  We’ve stayed in so many different locations lately. My head knows we’ve made a major change, but my heart is slow to catch up.

Since change is never easy, what steps can you take to embrace your new situation? Here are a few that are helping me:

  • Find a routine and stick with it.

Try to have some  sense of order to your days–especially when everything around you seems chaotic. Since my husband Randy and I are retired, we don’t have a structured work schedule. Instead, we’ve been building some order into each day. We take an afternoon walk, stop by the local Starbucks for coffee or plan meals at the “usual” time. Familiar routines make any place seem more like home.

  • Acknowledge your feelings.

It can feel uncomfortable being in a place where you don’t know anyone–at least not yet. And change can bring feelings of loss and sadness. It’s OK to feel this way! It won’t last forever. I’m convinced of that!Helpful ways to embrace change

 

  • Step out of your comfort zone.

Being part of a church community is important to us, so we’ve visited some new churches. Even though everyone has been welcoming and friendly, it’s still difficult going somewhere when you don’t know anyone. I realize even more how important it is to extend a warm welcome to a newcomer. I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone, and I’m now attending a women’s Bible study and some exercise classes at the local gym. I’m glad I made myself go!

  • Don’t stare at the closed door so long that you miss the open one.

I love this quote by Helen Keller. It’s good to remember when you’re missing what’s familiar. You will never go forward as long as you look backward.

When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us. -Helen Keller

  • Be fully present in the moment.

I’ve always appreciated the wisdom of Al-Anon, a support group for families and friends of alcoholics.  Just for Today is great advice–being right where you are in this moment. Not longing for what has been or projecting what may be coming in the future. Just for Today I can be grateful for where I am this very moment. When I consider our many blessings, I can’t help but be filled with gratitude.

  • Know that God has a purpose in placing you exactly where you are.

When Randy and I decided to move across the mountains to the west/”wet” side of the state, we had a purpose for making this monumental change. We wanted to be intentional with our choice to live closer to family members. When we remember our “why,” it makes the “what” much easier.

Last January, I started using a huge calendar that’s spread out so you can see the entire year. I remember looking at everything on my plate–preparation for multiple speaking engagements, writing projects, getting the house de-cluttered and ready to put on the market, and moving–if and when our house sold. At the top of the calendar I wrote with a black sharpie,  The One Who Called You is Faithful and He Will Do It!” ( 1 Thessalonians 5:24) And He has! We’ve walked through each challenge on that calendar and come out on the other side. How encouraging to look at the 2+ months left in this year–not to mention what unknowns lie ahead–and be reminded that God is always with us, always faithful.

Are you facing any changes in your life? I’d love to pray for you. 

Surviving Your Spouse’s Alcoholism: Don’t Give Up 5 Minutes Before the Miracle!

Surviving your spouse's alcoholism: don't give up 5 minutes before the miracle!The last thing you want to hear when you’re struggling with an alcoholic spouse is that it takes time for changes to happen. I remember feeling frustrated when A.A. friends told me, “Don’t give up 5 minutes before the miracle!”

Five minutes?? Are you kidding? It’s been more than two decades. I’ve waited long enough!

How long, Lord? I agonized. I’ve been praying and waiting so long. Nothing seems to change. Have you ever felt that way? You feel like you’re banging your head against a brick wall. Well-meaning family members and friends encourage you to give up. It’s hopeless, they say.

Giving God time to work in our lives can be the hardest thing…especially when you’ve been hurt, betrayed, or treated unjustly by your spouse. In fact, just the idea that God would ask you to obey Him in something, when it’s your partner who is so out of line in your mind, can seem outrageous.

At one point, all I wanted to do was give up. I would’ve been justified. I’d waited and prayed. I’d gone to counseling and Al-Anon. Randy could not overcome alcoholism. Then a friend had the audacity to encourage me to wait even longer. What??

I want to say that each person’s situation is unique. We all have to make our own choices. Sometimes we have to leave our marriage or file for a separation or even divorce. If you’re being abused and your safety is in question, then you must get help. I never want to judge another person for their decisions.

Yet something powerful happens when we surrender. OK, God, I’m going to trust you with my marriage. It looks impossible to me, but I’m willing to wait longer to see how You’re going to work all this out. By letting go, we give God permission and room to do miracles in us and in our marriages.

What if I had given up? I would’ve missed the miracle of Randy’s recovery from alcoholism and the amazing transformation of our marriage nearly 20 years ago. Even though I made many difficult choices along the way–setting boundaries and even separating from Randy for a while, I’m grateful I gave God and Randy more time. I don’t blame people who advised me to give up. Our marriage looked beyond hope. I almost believed Randy would never be able to stop drinking.

We often make those judgments without considering God’s part in the equation. He is able to do far more than we could imagine. It took more time for trust to be rebuilt, for our relationship to grow and change with sobriety. Praise God, the miracle happened! We still don’t have a “perfect” marriage. News flash: two imperfect people coming together equals something less than perfect. But it’s good , so good doing life together with this man God has given to me.

Marriage is a way for two spiritual friends to help each other on their journey to become the persons God designed them to be…a new and deeper kind of happiness is found on the far side of holiness. Marriage is glorious but hard. It’s a burning joy and strength, and yet it is blood, sweat, and tears, humbling defeats and exhausting victories. -Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

Yes, marriage is all of these. But the rewards of coming out on the other side are priceless. We enjoyed our son’s wedding as an intact family and we’ve welcomed two precious grandchildren. Now I have the joy of watching them interact with their “Pappy.” I almost missed these moments. I’m thankful I didn’t give up.

So how do you keep going when you want to quit?

  • Be willing to wait on the Lord. His ways are not our ways!

Our thinking is limited. God’s resources are infinite.

We think the answer is “A” or “B” and God says, “Oranges!” –Bill Myers

Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:14

  • Ask God to change you.

God uses marriage to change us, to help us become more like Him—if we’re willing. We have to consistently check our attitudes. Am I being selfish? Am I only thinking of “me” instead of “we?”

God uses adversity to refine us and shape us into His image.

When you start thinking of your spouse’s weaknesses, then start asking God to help you with yours…learning to love, appreciate, and be thankful for that imperfect spouse is one of the most soul-transforming things you can do. -Gary Thomas

  • Wait with Expectancy

God usually does the unexpected–and sometimes it’s more than we ever imagined.

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

-Ephesians 3: 20 (MSG)

No matter where you are in your marriage, remember, the miracle might only be 5 minutes away!

Other posts in the “Surviving Your Spouse’s Alcoholism” series:

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

Surviving Your Spouse’s Alcoholism: Boot Camp Basics

Surviving Your Spouse’s Alcoholism: Finding Courage to Be Yourself

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rescue: Seven People, Seven Amazing Stories… (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017)

The Rescue: Seven people, seven amazing storiesIf you’ve ever wondered if God is at work in individual lives, then you must read The Rescue. This book tells the stories of seven people impacted by the abuse or poor decisions of others– or by their own destructive choices. God’s intervention in their lives is nothing short of miraculous. An invitation to church, the “chance” hearing of a radio or TV sermon, or a flight attendant’s conversation with a passenger reading his Bible all changed the trajectory of their lives.

Once I started reading each story, I couldn’t put the book down. The author has done an excellent job of drawing you in to seven uniquely different and challenging life experiences. Each person faced extreme circumstances. Yet these powerful testimonies of Jesus’ redemption and healing offer hope and encouragement. More than likely, we may know someone who suffers from similar problems: drug addiction, sexual abuse, homelessness, and the negative impact for children growing up in dysfunctional, broken families.

When much of what we hear each day is bad news, The Rescue provides a ray of sunshine and hope. This book is a good choice for anyone who feels hopeless. Anyone who needs a boost of encouragement and the hope of having their life transformed will find good news here.

Thank you, Billy Graham: I’m One of the Lives You Touched

Billy Graham's life and ministry touched countelss lives“We all have a Billy Graham story,” one of his daughters said at his funeral last Friday. It’s true. The Reverend Billy Graham touched countless lives during his decades of ministry, including mine.

In 1979, I attended the Billy Graham Crusade on Okinawa, Japan. My husband Randy was stationed at Kadena Air Base, and we had just completed our first of three years living overseas. For months, the Christian community buzzed with excitement preparing for the crusade.

As a new Christian, I was curious about what the big deal was…but I soon found out. A crowd packed the stadium that night. Since Randy was away on temporary duty, our two young sons and I tagged along with some friends. We had seats up high in the stadium and no big screens to see close-up shots of the stage. But Rev. Graham’s message rang out loud and clear.

He presented the gospel simply and directly with his easy drawl. “Ya’ll come,” he said at the conclusion of his sermon. “Come just as you are.” Suddenly throngs of people streamed toward the field. Billy Graham encouraged people to keep coming. The hymn, “Just As I Am” accompanied the long lines of people going forward to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

Let the Little Children Come

“Mommy, I have to go forward,” 5-year old Jeremy tugged at my hand.

“Oh, honey, ” I said to my young son, ” it’s wonderful that you want to go forward, but we can pray right here.” Making our way through the crowds and down onto the field seemed daunting.

Yet Jeremy insisted. “No, I need to go forward!”

I looked at my friends. How could we discourage this little guy? We all agreed. We inched our way down the stairs and onto the field. It was a moment I won’t ever forget. Hundreds of counselors waited for each person who came.  Now I understood why this event required months of preparation. It wasn’t just about hearing an inspiring message. Making a decision to follow Jesus meant taking action and having a follow-up plan. Both of our sons became Christians that night. They each received a small red New Testament Bible, as Jeremy recently reminded me. That night on Okinawa, our faith grew wings. Two little boys, now grown men, have memories of the night when they gave their lives to Jesus Christ.

At his father’s service, Ned Graham, described his father as being F.A.T. –Faithful, Available, and Teachable. I’m thankful he was all three. Because Billy Graham came to a remote island many years ago, our lives were changed.

 

Surviving Your Spouse’s Alcoholism: Friends for the Journey

You cannot survive your spouse's alcoholism without supportive friends

Photo by Hannah Rodrigo on Unsplash

God still sends angels: ones with skin, hair and belly laughs. Angels like our friend, Jim. I met him at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting where I was the speaker for Al-Anon. I remember feeling at a loss for encouraging words. My situation with Randy and his alcoholism seemed impossible. What could I say to offer any hope? Jim came up to me after the meeting and introduced himself. He told me how much he appreciated what I had to say.

“You know, Randy’s story is like mine.” He pulled a business card out of his pocket. “If I can ever help you or Randy, please call me.”

And I did. So began a friendship only God could have orchestrated. Jim lived an hour from us, a ferry ride across Puget Sound from our Seattle suburb. He was always a phone call away, always ready to listen to Randy or me, always ready to offer support, and even some humor.

One night I called Jim in a panic. I had invited some friends over for a basket party…perfect, I thought. I’m the one who’s a basket case! I told Jim that Randy had come home drunk and had fallen asleep on the bedroom floor. What should I do?

Jim asked, “Is Randy causing any problems at the moment?”

“Uh, no,” I answered.

“Can you just cover him with a blanket, close the bedroom door, and go on with the evening?”

I hadn’t even considered that. I’d been frantically thinking of ways to contact everyone, cancel the event, and then seethe with resentment.

“I know you can do it,” Jim calmly advised.

And I did. My friends arrived, not having a clue that Randy was passed out on the bedroom floor. We had a good time and I managed to forget about our problems for a little while.

Jim kept reminding me. “Randy is a child of God. He needs your love and support.”

I wasn’t so sure. After all that had happened, I wondered how I could ever love Randy again. I wasn’t even sure if I liked him.

Have you ever felt like that? Your spouse has broken all the rules, caused so much pain, financial hardship, and even embarrassment that you can’t ever imagine feeling any different.

And then God has the audacity to send an angel, someone like Jim. He sends someone who speaks truth to you, who tells you about love, the kind of love described in 1 Corinthians 13. Love is patient, love is kind. Love doesn’t boast…You’ve heard it at weddings and you don’t want to hear it now. It’s impossible, you think. Well, think again.

Real Love

Through people like Jim, I had to reevaluate my definition of love. Even though I hated what had happened because of Randy’s alcoholism, Jim was right. Randy deserved to be treated with dignity—and mercy. That didn’t mean I accepted everything he did with a smile. Not at all. But I learned to take a step back emotionally and not react in the same way. I learned to love my husband with God’s kind of love. I covered him with a blanket of mercy and compassion–just as I had done the night of the basket party.

People like Jim are more than friends…angels, perhaps? His compassion had helped to penetrate the coldness of my heart, my inability to love. Only God could come up with such a plan, just the right person at the right time to help us.

Many years have passed since I took Jim up on his offer to help us. Just last week, Randy and I visited Jim who is in a nursing home. Even though he has dementia and didn’t remember who we are, his eyes still sparkled when we walked into his room.

Randy and I both choked up with emotion. “Jim, it’s because of you, we’re here today. You saved Randy’s life.”

“I did?” Jim blinked, hardly able to believe what we were saying.

I noticed the Christmas photo card I had sent on top of a stack of books next to Jim’s chair.

“See? This is our family. Our sons, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren.” I pointed to the pictures.

Jim might not have understood why we were there or what we were talking about, but we did. We couldn’t have made it without him.

Hope begins when you realize you are not alone. Don’t forget to watch for God’s angels!

Interested in reading more about this topic? Check out these posts:

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

Surviving Your Spouse’s Alcoholism: Boot Camp Basics

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surviving Your Spouse’s Alcoholism: Boot Camp Basics

Prayer is the number 1 way to combat alcoholism. Photo by Ben WhiteIn my previous article about surviving your spouse’s alcoholism, I compared the struggle with alcoholism to an intense battle. It certainly is a battle on multiple levels: spiritual, physical, emotional. At first, I didn’t have a clue how to “fight” this battle. I needed basic training. I had to admit there was a problem before I could reach out for help. That’s a huge first step!

When I discovered Al-Anon, a support group for family members and friends of alcoholics, I felt elated. Now I could  find out how to fix my husband’s drinking problem. I looked at the people sitting around the table in the church fellowship hall. I knew they had the answers. When I poured out my pain, everyone listened with compassion. Then one older woman said, “I used to think if my husband stopped drinking, if only he would change, then our lives would be great. What I’ve learned is I can’t do anything about my husband. The only person I can help is myself!”

What? You’ve got to be kidding. You mean there’s nothing I can do to change Randy? And you can’t be serious that it’s partly my problem. My problem is him! If only he’d stop drinking, then our lives could be normal. I wanted to  blame Randy for everything that was wrong in our world. At that first Al-Anon meeting, I had no idea I had embarked on a boot camp of personal growth and discovery that ultimately changed my life.

Have you ever felt that way? You see your husband or wife as the problem. If only she would stop drinking, then you could be happy. It takes a lot of courage to evaluate our own behavior, the ways we’ve contributed to our problems. When we stop trying to control our spouse and stop playing into negative behaviors (such as arguing with someone who’s drunk and irrational), then the familiar, unhealthy cycle is interrupted. A counselor once told me alcoholism is like gears moving in sync with predictable behaviors. When the non-alcoholic spouse stops doing what is familiar, then the gears don’t move so well and may eventually come to a halt.

If any of this were easy, we’d figure it out quickly and then go on happily about our lives. Healing is a process and unlearning years of learned behaviors takes time and more time. But it’s so worth it! And sometimes, changing our behaviors can motivate our loved ones to want to change, also. There are no guarantees, but the good news is that we will change. We will be different if we go through the “recovery” boot camp.

I used to lament to a friend that I felt stuck. Nothing seemed to be changing in my life. I was worried that I’d be in the same place several years in the future. My wise friend said, “No, you won’t. As long as you’re taking steps toward growth and change, there’s no way you’ll be in the same place because you’re moving forward!”

Moving Forward

So how do we start the process?

  • Tell yourself the truth.  I found it impossibly difficult to finally say the words, “My husband is an alcoholic. Our marriage is in shambles. My life is a mess. And the most important words…I need help!”
  • Stop pretending. Yes, there’s an “elephant” in our homes wreaking havoc and destruction. We have to acknowledge that truth. I remember keeping a smile plastered on my face and telling people I was fine—when in reality, I felt broken. I barely kept myself afloat emotionally, physically and spiritually. It’s okay not to be fine.
  • Find supportive people. We have to be willing to take off our masks and trust a friend, a counselor, or a support group with our truth. Not everyone will understand, so it’s important to find people who are trustworthy of helping you carry your pain.
  • Believe in a Power greater than yourself. I came into Al-Anon believing in a Higher Power, Jesus Christ. The challenge for me was to deepen my faith. I admitted I couldn’t handle Randy’s alcoholism. I surrendered.

Surrender

In a battle, surrender is seen as a position of weakness. You call it quits, wave the white flag, and put yourself in the enemy’s hands. When we surrender in the battle that is alcoholism, we take a position of strength. We admit I can’t do it. But there is One who can. I will let Him. I have been relieved of trying to do it all, to make someone change, believing it’s my responsibility when it isn’t. Only God can change a person’s heart.

Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. -John 8:32.

Truth gives us the ability to walk into the light instead of staying forever hidden in the darkness. Truth brings freedom and relief. Some days it will feel like boot camp. I didn’t sign up for this. How come I have to do all this recovery stuff when he isn’t doing anything? That’s how I felt at times. The hope is that we are growing into the men and women God created us to be. We’re not stuck any longer.

How do we learn to respond differently? Prayer, practice and time. Three steps forward, two steps back. But always moving forward. Being open and teachable. Recognizing what we’re doing that isn’t working or helping us or our spouse get well.

Hope begins when I tell myself the truth.

 

The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017)

The Remarkable Ordinary by Frederick BuechnerI have long been an admirer of Frederick Buechner’s wisdom. This book is no exception. It is based on a series of mostly unpublished lectures. The author encourages us to take a moment to see what’s really around us. With life’s hectic pace, we often don’t see what is remarkable. He talks about art (writing, painting, music) as a medium for helping us see what is meaningful. Buechner says to take time to stop, look, and listen–and we will be amazed at what we find!

“So, art is saying Stop. It helps us to stop by putting a frame around something and makes us see it in a way we would never have seen it under the normal circumstances of living, as so many of us do, on sort of automatic pilot, going through the world without really seeing much of anything…So, stop and see. Become more sensitive, more aware, more alive to our own humanness, to the humanness of each other.”

Frederick Buechner’s writing style is easy to read, conversational–like talking with a good friend. He points out that we need to pay attention–really notice what’s going on around us. As a theologian, he ties these ideas with his biblical faith. Paying attention to being alive is important. Paying attention to each other and to God, to how he’s moving and speaking or where he’s trying to take you.

Listen for God, stop and watch and wait for him. To love God means to pay attention, be mindful, be open to the possibility that God is with you in ways, that unless you have your eyes open, you may never glimpse. He speaks words that, unless you have your ears open, you may never hear. Draw near to him as best you can.

I love the story he tells about a Christmas Eve in Vermont. He had told his neighbors he would take care of their sheep while they were away. He nearly forgot that evening with all of the holiday activities, but then remembered. As late as it was, he and his brother trudged through snow to the neighbor’s barn. It struck him that there he was in a barn with sheep and a manger on Christmas Eve. With all the busyness of the Christmas season, we sometimes forget to notice what it’s really about.

Buechner encourages us to love others. He notes we would be overwhelmed if we stopped to look and listen to every person who passes by. But he says, “We can surely do more than we do!”

The Remarkable Ordinary has helped me look for God’s extraordinary work in life’s seemingly unimportant routines. What a gift!

* I was given a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

 

Challenges of the Sandwich Generation: Learning to Celebrate All of Life

It won’t be long ’til we say hello to our baby granddaughter!

I learned today that I’m part of the Club Sandwich generation. According to Wikipedia, we’re typically in our 50’s or 60’s sandwiched between aging parents, adult children, and grandchildren.  I guess they call this a “club” because there are so many of us–7-10 million!

It’s a bittersweet time in my life. In December, my mom and I and my four siblings made the difficult but necessary choice to place my dad in a dementia care facility. We enlisted the help of an excellent aging well consultant, Liz Taylor/Aging Deliberately from the Seattle area.

“There are solutions,” Liz told us. “All of them are difficult. But you can do this!” Her guidance and support steadied Mom and me, giving us courage and strength to do what was best for her and dad. To our surprise, the much-dreaded event of taking Dad to his new home went more smoothly than expected. Mom and I envisioned a tearful, heart-wrenching moment of leaving Dad there. Instead, our hearts were buoyed by the warm welcome Dad received from the staff. When we kissed him good-bye, he held up the Christmas cookie he was munching on and said, “See you soon!”

Of course, this has been a time of mixed emotions…grief in facing the loss of the dad I’ve known as he slowly slips into the fog of dementia. But also relief as we acknowledge the reality of his condition. This is without a doubt the very best for Dad–and Mom, who was exhausted by her heroic caregiving efforts.

On the other side of this long good-bye is a much-anticipated hello to a sweet grandbaby girl (our first grandchild!) who is due to arrive any day now. In January, I had the wonderful privilege of being with Jeremy and Jen for the baby ultrasound, a wow experience! The tech showed us some 4-D images of this tiny baby who weighed in at less than a pound. I uttered an audible gasp when the ultrasound wand brought her face into view, showing her features and perfectly formed hands with two fingers in her miniature nostrils. We all chuckled as I reached for the Kleenex–strategically placed for emotional parents and grandparents. What a moment…love at first sight! I can hardly wait to cradle her in my arms. These are the miracles of life, the comings and the goings, all in God’s perfect timing…all to be cherished.

So instead of bemoaning the fact that I’m part of Club Sandwich–I want to focus instead on celebrating all of life.

How are you coping with being a member of this not-so-elite “club?”

Friends For Life

Friends that Last a Lifetime

Captain Kalmbach gets ready for another adventure!

A couple of months ago, Randy and I traveled to Austin, Texas for a reunion of the 15th TRS (Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron) which was stationed at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan. We had an amazing time reconnecting with old friends. Most we hadn’t seen in more than 36 years, but we discovered that time didn’t matter. Our experiences had bonded us together in ways I hadn’t imagined. I couldn’t help but think that each of us had been divinely appointed to be there during those years–1978-1981.

As we reminisced, we wives wondered how we had ever survived being on an island the size of New Jersey–most of us with young children, with our husbands gone half the time. The guys flew RF-4s, the reconnaissance or “recce” counterpart of the F-4 Phantom fighter jet. They spent 2 weeks on temporary duty in South Korea where the 15th TRS operated a detachment. Then they returned to Okinawa for 2 weeks, a cycle that continued for the entire three years of our assignment. Randy never unpacked his suitcase!

At the reunion, we laughed about the challenges of coping with life on Okinawa, mostly by ourselves. Back then, it hardly seemed funny. When a typhoon threatened the island, our husbands left us behind to get the planes out of harm’s way. You’ve got to be kidding! I thought. They leave and we stay? To their credit, the squadron always left a few guys to check in on us, making sure we had everything we needed to weather the storm. We were grateful for that!

Communication (or the lack thereof) was especially challenging. We didn’t have any phones. This was long before cell phones or texting. Can you imagine? When Randy left for Korea, we were incommunicado–except for the “Phantom Express.” Other crews whose 2- week rotation was up brought letters from the guys who were still there. I still treasure a box of Randy’s “Phantom Express” letters.

Even though we dealt with our share of inconveniences, we knew we weren’t alone. Some of my dearest friendships were forged on Okinawa. The friends who sponsored us when we arrived gave us the lowdown on how to deal with life in a very foreign country, i.e., how to avoid mold growing on your shoes in those dark, damp closets among many other tidbits of helpful advice. One friend faithfully came to visit every Tuesday after work to encourage me and share her faith. Another friend’s joyful, optimistic attitude bubbled over and became contagious– no matter what you were going through. I knew I could always count on these friends. They made all the difference during those three years living overseas.

So when Randy and I received the invitation to the reunion, we hesitated to travel so far for a weekend spent with people we hadn’t seen for several decades. Neither of us anticipated the sweetness of reuniting with friends who had walked a very unique journey with us. Randy separated from the Air Force after our Okinawa assignment in 1981. Those who stayed in the service commented that they never experienced this depth of friendship at any of their future military assignments.

Maybe that’s because tough circumstances tend to draw us closer together. I’ve learned through the years to watch with anticipation to see who God brings across my path to help me find my way. After all, friendship may be the closest reflection of God’s love for us that we will ever experience. I’m convinced that some of God’s brightest reflectors happened to be on Okinawa at the same time as me.

 

 

Christmas: God’s Special Delivery

I’d like to tell you a story. It happened a long time ago, but not in a galaxy far, far away–though living on Okinawa, Japan for three years seemed that way! I’ll never forget the first year Randy and I celebrated Christmas overseas  with our sons, Chris and Jeremy, who were 7 and 4- years old. It’s a poignant memory as  we’ve recently said good-bye to Randy’s mom. Even though we’re heartbroken by her loss, we’ve found comfort in a parade of memories that span several decades. This is a story about her and her generous heart that blessed our lives beyond anything I could ever have imagined.

Travel back with me through time…December 1978. Two little boys are seated at the kitchen table working on their Christmas wish lists. winter

“Mommy, how do you spell bionic?” Seven year-old Chris looked up from writing his Christmas wish list. He’d been searching the Sears catalog for pictures of the Bionic Man, the to-die-for toy every little boy wanted in the late 1970s. He and his younger brother Jeremy had grown increasingly concerned about whether Christmas would come to Okinawa. They wanted to make sure their grandparents knew exactly where to send their presents.

I smiled when I saw their lists. The boys had written pages of their most wished-for gifts; robots, Lego sets, and the all-important Bionic Man. They included catalog page numbers showing where to locate their requests. Rather than lecture them about the virtues of giving, I allowed them the freedom to write without mom-assistance. We sealed their letters and dropped them at the post office.

I confessed silently that I also wondered if Christmas would come to our overseas home. It didn’t seem at all like December. Banana palms flapped outside our windows, and the children played outside without jackets. Back home in Pennsylvania, winter had set in. I imagined snow blanketing the countryside. We almost always enjoyed a white Christmas. Not on Okinawa!

The highlight of our pre-holiday days was stopping at the post office to check for packages or letters, the only connection to our family back in the States. This was long before cell phones, Facebook, and Skype. We didn’t have a phone. Even if we called the United States from the military base, the phone bill would have cost a small fortune.

I reached into our mail box with anticipation. Empty. I managed a smile. “Don’t worry, guys, it takes a long time for mail to come all the way across the ocean to us,” I said with forced optimism. They didn’t buy it.

As Christmas got closer, I began to get concerned– and more homesick than ever.

Finally, our daily post office trip paid off. There among several letters and Christmas cards was the coveted green slip. We had a package!

Chris and Jeremy jumped up and down. “Mommy, please can we open it?”

How could I say no? The boys ripped off the wrapping paper, and pulled out some chocolate candy, a stuffed teddy bear, and some picture books.

“That was nice of Grandpa and Grandma, wasn’t it?”

They nodded, but I could tell they were disappointed.

“Do you think they got our letters?” Chris asked.

“I’m not sure, honey.” I knelt down so I could give him my best mom’s heart-to heart. “You know, it’s fun getting gifts, but we have to remember the real meaning of Christmas. Jesus is the most special gift.” I could tell they weren’t convinced.

Christmas Eve arrived much like any other day on Okinawa. Business as usual, no last-minute shopping at malls or carolers crunching through snow. Would Chris and Jeremy understand that it was too late for more packages to arrive? I determined to set a positive example. We could still celebrate Christmas, even in a foreign country, even without many gifts.

We attended the candlelight service on base later that night. Randy and I held hands while we sang “Joy to the World.” The chapel glowed with flickering candles. I looked around and realized that we had become an extended family with these friends we had come to know. Even though we lived in an unfamiliar place, we weren’t alone.

The chaplain interrupted my thoughts. “You might not realize it, but you’re making memories for a lifetime here. Oh—one final announcement. I’ve just gotten word that there’s been an unexpected mail delivery tonight. Be sure to stop by the post office. Maybe there’s a surprise for you. God bless you–and Merry Christmas!”

Of course, we joined the crowd of families checking our post office boxes one last time before Christmas.

“Daddy, are there any packages for us?” Chris and Jeremy looked hopeful.

They cheered when they saw the green slips in our box. We quickly took our place in line. I held my breath while the postal clerk searched through the mountains of packages. None of us could believe the huge package she set on the counter addressed to Chris and Jeremy Kalmbach.

Randy helped the boys tear open the gigantic box from Pennsylvania. On top of the stack of wrapped gifts was a letter.

Dear Chris and Jeremy,

We know it’s hard to be far away at Christmas. Here are all the gifts you wished for. We love you and miss you. Have a wonderful Christmas!

I still remember the incredulous look on our sons’ faces as they unpacked that box. There were the Lego sets, the robots, and yes, even the Bionic Man.

I felt stunned that Mom had found every single gift. My first reaction was embarrassment for allowing the boys to write such extravagant lists. Then I understood. They wanted us to feel their love and the joy of our family Christmas traditions, even halfway around the world.

And isn’t that what Christmas is all about? The love of family and friends and gifts sent to homesick kids is only a small reflection of God’s most extravagant gift, His special delivery of a Savior to a broken and hurting world.

Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.Mother Teresa

Thanks, Mom, for the many ways you showed God’s love to us!