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 It is based on a series of mostly unpublished lectures.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

 

 

 

A Crazy, Holy Grace: The Healing Power of Pain and Memory (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017)

 A collection of essays dealing with pain and lossThis collection of essays from Frederick Buechner delve into the nature of how we deal with pain and loss. Buechner is no stranger to this topic as he has spent much of his life grappling with his father’s suicide when he was a young boy. As an adult, he faced the anguish of his daughter’s anorexia. Even though God may seem silent during  times of crushing grief, Buechner discovered God’s presence and his grace–that he truly is close to the brokenhearted.

The author, an excellent storyteller, tells about an experience at a retreat. Someone commented to Buechner that he had experienced a great deal of pain in his life, but he been a good steward of his pain. That was a new concept to Buechner–and to me as well. I like the idea that we can choose a positive way to manage the sad and puzzling events that happen in our lives. We can be good stewards of our pain.

Buechner says the tendency is to push pain away, to forget what happened, to never speak of a loved one we have lost.  Yet miracles happen when we walk through the gates of pain.

Miracles happen because of the willingness to open the door into your pain. Open your ears and your eyes to the elusive, invisible, silent presence of healing, of the power of God to heal, which moves as quietly, as undramatically, as the wind moves.

The author concludes that joy is at the end. When we enter through the gates of pain, we can encounter joy. Treasure can be found when we are willing to work through our sorrow. Buechner’s gentle, easy style draws readers in and gives hope. His compassionate, authentic wisdom make this book well worth reading.

 

*I received a copy of 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 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.

 

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)

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.

 

 

Let Compassion Guide Your Social Media Conversations

Heart of compassionMaybe it’s just me, but it seems like social media conversations are often lacking in compassion. There doesn’t seem to be much restraint as people are quick to vent their emotions online.  The result is a nasty, mean comment that hurts!

I recently read a troubling conversation thread on Facebook. My friend had posted a picture of her son who would have turned 34 that day. The photo showed him on an earlier birthday, blowing out candles on a cake. My friend simply wanted to remember him in better times. Last fall,  he was killed in a tragic series of events. Sadly, he had suffered from mental illness. One day he snapped and killed three people on a random shooting spree near his apartment. Then police shot and killed him. There’s no way to understand the intensity of pain and anguish felt by each person affected by this tragedy. This would be any parent’s worst nightmare.

Most people who commented on my friend’s Facebook post had only words of compassion and support. Really, it’s impossible to find the right words. Then as I scrolled down the page, the mother of one of the victims weighed in expressing her raw anger and bitterness. The conversation that ensued seemed like a posting free-for-all. My heart ached for my friend and for this mom who are both dealing with an enormous burden of grief. I was thankful for a few voices who brought some reason and compassion into this volatile exchange of words.

Social media has brought many positive changes–the ability to communicate with a large audience, to keep in touch with friends by simply sending out a short update. Text messaging makes it possible to contact people quickly and efficiently. But lately, I’ve been more aware of the downside. Maybe it’s because you don’t look into the eyes of the person you’re communicating with, that makes it easier to send out brutal comments and criticism. People are quick to judge the mother whose child climbed into the gorilla habitat at the Cincinnati Zoo or the parents of the toddler who was attacked and killed by the alligator at Disney World. You just write whatever is on your mind and then hit send. There’s no compassion or even an attempt to understand what the people involved are experiencing. The biggest problem with social media communication? Once those words are hurled into cyberspace, there’s no way to retrieve them. The sting of negativity is there forever. It used to be that when you had a verbal confrontation with another person, there might only be a few witnesses, if any. Now, a Facebook or Twitter post can be viewed by hundreds if not thousands or even more.

Last Sunday, my pastor talked about how damaging words can be. He referenced James 3:1-12, a scripture passage that tells about how something as small as our tongues can be so destructive–just as a small spark can start a huge firestorm. (Something we’re painfully aware of here in central Washington as another fire season begins). The same guidance for speaking can be applied to our social media conversations. Instead of rushing to comment and pass judgment on others, maybe we should pause and ask ourselves the three questions Pastor Jeff mentioned in his sermon:

1. Is it true?
Do we know the facts about what’s being said–or is it hearsay?

2. Is it helpful?

Is what we’re considering passing along something that will have a positive impact?

3. Is it necessary?

How important is it that we share this information?

Maybe when we feel strongly about joining a social media conversation, we need to put love and compassion first and leave judgment and criticism behind. Most of us are struggling through life to do the best we can. And if there’s a need to confront or express our opinion, we can consider how to communicate this in the most loving way possible.

How do you respond to negative comments on social media?

 

 

New Hope for Marriage Retreat

If you or someone you know is struggling in her marriage, I’d like to invite you to consider New Hope for Marriage, a small group retreat to help wives find hope for their hurting and conflicted marriages.

We’re now taking reservations for the Spring Retreat which will be held at Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center, just outside of Bellingham, Washington, April 29-May 1, 2016.

Christie Miller, my co-facilitator, and I are passionate about helping other women come to the Lord for a transformation and healing of their marriages. We know–we’ve been there!

For more information, visit: www.nwspeakers.com