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 It is based on a series of mostly unpublished lectures.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.

 

 

 

What I Learned From Our Jack Russell Terrier

Our Jack Russell Terrier Kosmo taught me a lot about finding joy in simple things
We said good-bye recently  to sweet little Kosmo, our 14-year old Jack Russell Terrier. It’s still hard to believe he’s gone. I keep looking for him everywhere. I’m certain that noises I hear are Kosmo. He’s letting us know he’s at the door or jumping down from one of his favorite perches so he can check out what’s going on outside. He never missed a thing!

Kosmo came into our lives on an ordinary summer day. We had no idea our lives would be turned upside down and our hearts inside out by one small dog. Randy and I were content. We already had our fill of Jack Russell adventures with our dog, Kramer. But Doc (the local veterinarian) and his wife Patty were convinced we needed a companion for Kramer.

Patty introduced us to this wriggling bundle of energy one day while I worked at our video store. “Here’s Kramer’s little brother,” she proudly announced.

“What?” I asked, bewildered.

Patty, not one to be discouraged, said she’d already been to the house to tell Randy this exciting news.

I wasn’t sure we were ready to welcome another puppy. Kramer was only 3-years old and we’d weathered his puppyhood without too many problems. Only a few indoor “potty- accidents” and Kramer had mastered the routine. Kosmo proved to be an entirely different story.

“He’s free,” Patty continued. She mentioned that she and Doc had adopted three puppies from this litter. “He’s our gift to you!”

Well, how could we say no? A few weeks later, after Kosmo’s first sign of “trouble,” Patty asked if we were still talking to her. Kosmo had swallowed our neighbor’s gold nugget heart-shaped pendant. He needed to see a specialist in Wenatchee (2 hours away) to have it extracted. Doc had pointed out the perfectly shaped heart lodged in Kosmo’s stomach on the X-ray. That should’ve have been a clue. This dog would cost us way more than we could’ve imagined!

Kosmo’s antics could fill a full-length book. Our sons tried to console us after hearing the sad news that we had to put him to sleep. “Mom, it’s really a miracle that Kosmo survived so many years with all the trouble he got into.”

I managed to laugh, remembering Kosmo’s encounters with bobcats, skunks, cows, getting lost in the wilderness, and swallowing a jellyfish– just to name a few of his misadventures. Yes, it really was a miracle that Kosmo lived to old age.

I can’t help but think of how much we learned from him. He lived his life with ferocity. I’ve read that Jack Russell Terriers are known for being tenacious. Kosmo took this to a whole new level. When my friend Sue came for lunch, Kosmo always raced down the driveway to greet her, leaping as high as he could, and catapulting himself right into her arms. One of his favorite pastimes was dunking his head underwater in the river or at the ocean to dig for rocks. He didn’t give up until he procured the perfect one. He managed to carry it to the car or all the way home. No doubt about it, Kosmo lived life to the fullest.

And we should do the same.

Kosmo was fearless–sometimes to his detriment. His curiosity knew no bounds, and often landed him in deep trouble–when he faced off with cows or deer and managed to hold his ground.

Look at life with courage.

Kosmo offered unconditional love. Whenever Randy and I came home and saw Kosmo watching for us from his window vantage point,  our day instantly became a lot brighter.

Love, love, love!

When I was tempted to be a couch potato—especially on cold winter days, Kosmo let us know that wasn’t happening. Come on, let’s go! His enthusiasm was almost contagious. We’d always give in, bundle up in our winter coats and boots (and bundle Kosmo in his coat) and trudge down the snowy roads together. He loved to go cross country skiing and snowshoeing. He spent most of the time attacking our skis or snowshoes. Now that adds another dimension to trying to stay upright on skis!

Keep moving forward!

Kosmo was 100% loyal. He always knew when we were feeling down or under the weather. He knew it was his place to snuggle next to us. During his last weeks, he hovered especially close. Being near us must have comforted him. We didn’t know how sick he was because he never complained. He kept soldiering on. Our veterinarian told us the tumor in his stomach was so large, he didn’t know how Kosmo had functioned. But I do. It was his job to always be there–right until the end.

Be a faithful friend.

Now my emotions swing between remembering all the moments of pure joy spent with Kramer and Kosmo and feeling heartbroken because I miss them so much. My 5-year old granddaughter Lucy told me that losing Kosmo is super sad. She instructed, “Grammie, you have to get another dog and name him Kosmo.” Children have such a sweet way of fixing your heartache.

I wish it were that simple. It will take time to learn how to do life without Kosmo. Maybe someday we’ll open our hearts to another little canine friend. Until then, we shed some tears and smile through them as we remember.

I’m especially thankful I found a way to write about Kramer and Kosmo. Last year, I launched Kosmo’s Christmas Delivery, a children’s picture book. My friend, Joey Palmberg, brought the story to life with his delightful illustrations. Even though it’s fiction, it’s based on some real-life events. And so the legend of Kosmo lives on!

Remember to give thanks!

 

 

 

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.

 

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/ 

 

 

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)

New Hope for MaNew Hope for Marriagerriage Weekend Retreat…for wives who are struggling in their marriages and looking for refreshment and hope. Join Christie Miller and Deb Kalmbach at beautiful Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center in Bellingham, Washington, April 21-23. Get ready to be encouraged! Contact: Christie@FreshLookThinking.com or debkalmbach@centurytel.net

Date: April 21, 2017—April 23, 2017
Time: 16:00
Event: New Hope for Marriage Weekend Retreat
Topic: New Hope for Marriage
Sponsor: Northwest Christian Speakers Bureau/New Hope for Marriage
360-966-0203
Venue: Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center
Location: Bellingham, WA
Public: Private

You Carried Me: A Daughter’s Memoir (Walden, New York: Plough Publishing House, 2017)

I saw my graMelissa Ohden memoir about being an abortion survivornddaughter Lucy’s face for the first time on an ultrasound when her mom was about 20 weeks pregnant. The clarity of her facial features took my breath away. I fell in love at first sight!

I couldn’t help but think of my experience with baby Lucy when I read Melissa Ohden’s powerful memoir, You Carried Me. Her birth mother was farther along in her pregnancy than when my daughter-in-law had her ultrasound. The circumstances were tragic. Melissa’s mother had a failed abortion. Instead of dying from the poisonous saline solution administered to abort her, baby Melissa was born alive, weighing in at 2 lbs. 14.5 oz. She was adopted by a loving couple who were willing to take on the special needs Melissa might have as a result of the botched abortion. Miraculously, Melissa had no long-term medical complications. 

She discovered at age fourteen that she was an abortion survivor. Melissa had known from an early age that she had been adopted. Finding out that she was aborted and then survived, threw her into an emotional tailspin. Her courage to persevere in the midst of heartbreaking circumstances is inspiring. As a young adult, Melissa began a decade-long search for the truth about her birth and her birth parents. The outcome is nothing short of miraculous. At times while I was reading this book (which I could hardly put down), I had to remind myself “this is a true story.”

Melissa is honest and straight-forward as she tells her story, yet she’s careful to protect the identity of her birth parents. The level of healing and forgiveness the author has experienced in dealing with circumstances clearly out of her control, is a testimony to her faith. It seems Melissa’s life was spared for a greater purpose–to become a voice for the unborn and an advocate for women, men, and children impacted by abortion.

Forgiven: Accepting God’s Amazing Grace

In 1992, artist Thomas Blackshear II, painted a picture titled Forgiven. It took my breath away the first time I saw it. The image is a contemporary man wearing a T-shirt and dirty jeans, holding a mallet in one hand and a nail in the other. The expression on his face is desperation and exhaustion. Standing behind him and holding him up, is Jesus. His nail-scarred hands appear large and strong. His face is tender as he embraces this man, a picture of God’s love and forgiveness, the real message of Easter.      He-is-Risen-from-StudioJRU

Tears welled up in my eyes. The man in the painting reminded me of my husband Randy. He had tried over and over to stop the deadly spiral of alcoholism that he was caught in. Sometimes he broke down in sobs of desperation and anger. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t stop drinking–even though it was destroying him.

But this painting gave me hope. Though Randy’s addiction seemed hopeless, as a Christian, I had to believe that Jesus was right there loving Randy, and that his arms wrapped around him would never let him go.

One week before Easter in the early 1990s, Randy agreed to have our pastor and others pray for him. Pastor Mark and several others placed their hands on Randy’s head and shoulders and prayed. It was powerful. We all felt the intensity of God’s presence. Pastor Mark turned to me and said, “Deb, here’s your husband back.”

I noticed Randy’s eyes seemed clear and at peace, no longer tormented. He felt free! Sadly, after a week of experiencing this miraculous freedom, the old patterns crept back in. Randy struggled with his addiction until 1998 when he finally came to believe that God loved him and had forgiven him. Grasping that truth made all the difference for him. He has been free in Christ since then!

Today, on Good Friday, my thoughts have turned to this painting and the picture of a defeated and desperate man. Tears come to my eyes as I realize once again, the power of forgiveness. Maybe Randy needed that very real taste of freedom he experienced in order to ultimately be able to accept God’s unconditional love for him.

Really, Randy is no different from any of us. We all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. We all have held the mallet and nail in our hands, demanding our own way, instead of humbly submitting to God. I like to think I would never have been part of the crowd shouting, Crucify him! I know better, though. Without God’s amazing gift of grace and forgiveness, I’d never have submitted my life to Him. Only through the pain and heartache of Randy’s struggle with alcoholism, was I finally able to surrender.

I can’t do this.

God can.

I will let Him.

Whatever challenges you may be facing today, the promise and hope of Easter always follow the desperate darkness of Good Friday.

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 3:20,21 (MSG)