Lessons from a (late) newlywed, Part 3: A trip down memory lane

This weekend we headed back to Nebraska to see Trung’s folks. I had only met them once when they came through Denver on their way out for vacation, and then only for about an hour or so. They couldn’t come to the wedding due to the Covid outbreak, and so, nearly two years after I met them, after we knew they were vaccinated, we decided it was time.

Visiting his parents has been like stepping back in time for me. White slate fireplace, much like my own grandpa’s back in Idaho. Red and white marbled tile in the basement, like my grandpa’s office. An old but beautiful claw bathtub in the basement bathroom. Wood paneling like a house I lived in as a teen. Nothing updated, nothing new, random things crammed in every possible corner… and family pictures displayed proudly on the main wall, for all to see.

I love it.

Pictures of their kids growing up hung on nearly every wall in those multiple-photo-collage-frames. Graduation pictures too, as each one of their kids shook hands and earned their diplomas. Then the family pictures when they were home from college (and yes Trung even pointed out the freshman fifteen he gained that first year – haha!). Grandkid photos on the frig and stuck between the glass and wood frame of the china cabinet. Our wedding portrait with his sisters and their families right there, in the middle of it all.

They welcomed me in as if they’d known me for years. Sharing family stories over tea, passing along family heirlooms, things they had saved for Trung for when he got married…even offering to buy us a new frig if we needed it when Trung jokingly said they could bequeath their frig to us in the will. Sitting there, listening…. hearing other parts of their family story that were new to me, I began to see more of where the man I fell in love with gets it from.

Oh sure, I grew up in a family that would have “given the shirt off their back” to anyone who needed. I always heard that about all my family back in Idaho, and I watched my parents model the same kind of generosity. But this was different for me somehow. These are immigrants who came here escaping a Communist regime. They did anything and everything to make it here, provide for their 5 kids (who are now all very successful). They helped bring other families here. They live on a retirement salary now, and yet here they are offering to help, still. My parents do the same, and I would do the same for my kids, but there is something so humbling about it coming from a family that started with nothing. Literally. It’s not that my parents were wealthy or that I was anything more than average growing up, but my dad was an officer in the military. We did just fine. Mom sewed my clothes until practically high school, I dressed like a dork in the 80’s like everyone did, we hardly ever ate out (and when we did it was Pizza Hut or KFC)… but listening to how they left everything behind to start a new life here? Vastly different from my story. It’s more than humbling.

Hear me clearly: I’m not saying that just because you may have been born here that you had it easy. I know countless people that were native-born Americans (of various backgrounds) but their families have similar struggling stories. Deep poverty where there wasn’t ever food in the frig, families who worked two jobs not only to provide but also to move to safer neighborhoods. People whose parents prayed their kids wouldn’t be the ones shot by stray bullets. White families, black families, brown families. Every color, every nationality. Poverty and the struggle to make it here is no respecter of the level of melanin you have in your skin. But the pursuit to work hard, the goal to provide, not to have the “latest and greatest’ at every turn, but to have what you need, and to have a little extra so you can still help others who have less than you?

Priceless. Necessary. A more than honorable goal.

I have had a number of discussions with 20-somethings, and one of the most striking things I think I have ever heard was a statement that they think the “American Dream” is unreachable for them, because everything has become so expensive and they can’t find the jobs that allow them to earn what they need to get there. But if an immigrant family with 5 kids can sit at the end of their life and look back and realize what they have done…. how can some version not be attainable in the next generations?

Somehow I question if what is sold as the “American Dream” has at its focus the wrong thing. Why does it seem to have a particular expected outcome, so that the next generations think its unattainable? I guess I am just thinking that no matter how you define it, whether its a place to call your own, a secure job that supports you (and maybe more), a travel budget, freedom to work when you want, or whatever else your goal is, its going to take hard work. Long hours. Saving and not going into debt if you can avoid it. Times you succeed and times you fail – and learn to not make the same mistakes. You can’t control life all the time… so I guess I wonder….are you asking the right questions?

Jesus talked some about working really, really hard, only to lose your life. I don’t think for one minute he was saying hard work and providing for yourself (and family) wasn’t a good goal. It’s just that there is MORE than just working. More than just what your hands can produce. Are you looking for that along the way? Are you looking for what is hidden, are you cultivating that inner life and contentment, are you investing in helping others out of their hard places?

There was a song back in the 80’s called “Doubly Good to You” by Amy Grant. I think the lyrics express at least some of the questions we need to be asking:

“If you look in the mirror at the end of a hard day, and you know in your heart you have not lied, and if you gave love freely and if you earned an honest wage…..”

Those questions – aren’t they a better way to measure life? This certainly seems to be more of the lens that I see my parents have used to measure their life now that they are in their 70’s… and I see this in Trung’s parents as well.

So my question and challenge to you, my friends, is this: What can you learn from the lives of those that are different from you? Have you taken the time to listen — really listen? And if you have, is it changing you? For those of you who walk with Jesus, filled with his Spirit.. are you letting it give you new eyes to be grateful, new ways to show compassion to others just trying to make it?

Musings from this local Nebraska coffee shop……

Blessings, my friends!

Lessons from a (late) newlywed, Part 1: Moving Boxes

I can’t believe it’s been 4 months already. I admit, it seems a bit strange for me to be claiming the title of “newlywed” – but alas, that is what we are according to the calendar. I think we can claim that for maybe two more months? Another six? I guess it doesn’t really matter. We’ve started the journey of “getting to know the stranger [we] just married” (as a Relevant Magazine article on marriage put it quite succinctly) – haha!

I have been wanting to write about this for a while, but mystified a bit as to exactly where to start, and what to write that isn’t too personal and that actually is more than just a newlywed story. I need to have a point. I think I finally found a few, and so this will be Part 1 of maybe 2 or 3 more blogs. We’ll see how the things I have collected fit together. For now… I will start with the pre-wedding event of MOVING.

When we met, I lived over an hour away. We commuted for two very long years to see each other every other weekend – and needless to say, we were very much looking forward to that coming to an end! Although my house was newly built, his was nearly paid off and he had been in his community (which is amazing, I must say!) for well over 15 years. It made more sense for me to move into his house and join him outside of Boulder. So, this past June I sold my house, packed up my stuff, and said good-bye to my beloved kitchen island (sniff, sniff). I had arranged to move all my stuff up to his house 3 weeks before the wedding, in hopes that I could get some things unpacked and empty a few boxes. I lived with my folks for those last 3 weeks so I could spend some last time with them. What a blessing it was!

As I saw the boxes piling up in my house, I knew I needed to warn him. You see, I had moved all my life, so I was well aware that what fits nicely into two cabinets or drawers can take anywhere between 4 and 6 boxes, depending on what you are packing. I also knew that when he moved into his house, he had nothing but what he could fit into his truck, and now he had a full kitchen on his own so….. I was pretty sure the boxes from my kitchen alone would make him break out in a cold sweat. There were, of course, still the book boxes from my office (being an avid reader and in grad school), and clothes boxes…. garage stuff and memory stuff from the kids….needless to say, it stacked up. It actually didn’t seem like a lot for me, but I had a feeling it was going to seem like a lot to him.

I called to give him warning when the truck left my driveway:

“Just giving you a head’s up…. It’s going to look like a lot….I know. As long as your back spare bedroom is empty, we’ll be fine. All we have to do is clear the driveway, and I’ll direct them where things go. You can help get them lunch and water. Shouldn’t take more than an hour to unload.”

Whereas this was normal for me, and I was in all-out project mode…. you should have seen the look on his face when the truck showed up. I had to chuckle. All I could do was reassure him that I had a place for all of it!

Thus began the two month process of unpacking and clearing the back bedroom out. I got some done before the wedding, finished a lot the week after our honeymoon, and then gradually worked on the rest… and I was right. I found (or created) nooks and crannies for just about everything. Every now and then, he would peek in the room, raise an eyebrow, and I could see his mind spinning… “where is the rest of this going??” I imagine he was thinking.

At one point, when I was tucking some kitchen things away in a fabric bin (which fit perfectly into a bookshelf he had he wasn’t really using), he made a simple statement, an observation, and it threw me into a bit of a tailspin. I didn’t honestly know how to respond, so I think I tried to be cute and say something funny. Yet, the more I thought about it, the more my “I thought I was done with those” insecurities raged – and I wanted to defend myself. I knew exactly what I wanted to say:

“Look, I’m sorry this all seems like such a pain for you, but its MY STUFF from my life before I met you, when I raised my kids. These are the memories that mean something to me. These are the things that I like to do, the things that are important to me. Did you just think I wasn’t going to bring it with me? You saw all of them at my house…..(and if we’re counting boxes, I can almost guarantee you would have more boxes than me if we had to pack out your house)…”

Instead, I said nothing – because I knew it wouldn’t acknowledge the huge change that he was going through having me move in and take over his space. He’d had housemates, but none that put pictures and candles on the mantle, added pillows to his couch, and put quilts in a basket for folks to cuddle up with. None that added to the stash of cooking stuff already in the kitchen (mixer, multi colored spatulas, baking stuff, my collection of teas…)

My first internal reaction was not patient, or kind, or graceful. I was hurt, and he had no idea.

This is why I being quick to listen AND speak makes a huge difference in any relationship. I asked the Lord to calm me down (after venting in my head, I’ll be honest), and then I started trying to figure out why what he said bothered me in the first place.

However small, I realized his comment made me question myself, made me wonder if what I had to bring really made a difference in this bachelor-now-husband’s life. After I spent some time in prayer, I was able to pull my brain back from the edge and reminded myself of the truth: he loves me, I love him, and God knew we were right for each other. My gifts and uniqueness had a place in this home, even if they are things he isn’t used to yet. And oh yeah, the enemy. Of course he’d start at the beginning to try to create insecurity and division.

Later that week I was finally able to bring the subject up to him and we talked – about how each of us had our own lives before we met, lives that the other person wasn’t a part of. We both acknowledged that we feel on the outside sometimes when the other person shares stories and laughter about ‘life before’. That was a hard recognition. It’s going to take some adjusting, but I think we both acknowledged that each of our separate lives, and the memories that go with them are important. After all, it not only gives us a chance to show grace for each other – it’s also a chance to have a window into how each of us became the person we are now.

Newlywed or not, my challenge for you today is this:

Think about how often God gives us a gift, or puts us in a new situation. We make new friends, have new relationships, experience chances to grow. Maybe we are excited at first, but when we realize the implications of that gift – the extra people living in the house, the new job, new situation…sometimes we just aren’t sure what to do with the other things that come with it or the work it will take, are we?

It reminds me of the parable Jesus told of the good and faithful servant (Matthew 25), who has invested a little money on behalf of the owner and made a nice return. Jesus says that of course the owner is going to commend him! But more than just commending him, the owner sets the servant over MORE more than he was originally entrusted to him.. I have always wondered… did he WANT the extra responsibility? How much harder did this make things, even if it was an honor?

Sometimes gifts, blessings, good things can be overwhelming. They can cause you to wonder if you jumped too soon, took on more than you can handle, or if you just grossly underestimated your ability to tackle the new road in front of you. I felt like that as a new parent 23 years ago. I distinctly recall that in my job as a technical lead about 10 years ago. Every day I was on my knees asking for wisdom in both cases because I knew I couldn’t do it without God’s strength and courage. It was humbling, but grace abounded and I learned. Needless to say, I am finding myself there yet again.

We have to remember that whenever we are given chances to grow – yes – sometimes those involve HUGE leaps into new things that we will be unprepared for. But we can trust he is there, always, leading, encouraging, coaxing us to depend on his grace and strength for the next journey.

I am learning to depend on grace every day again as a newlywed, because as much as I learned in my first marriage.. this is new ground being broken, and we have to figure out our own new life together.

Truly, a gift.

Now, if I can just figure out where to put my turkey pan we’ll only use twice a year… 🙂

Something New

You know how sometimes a verse just sticks in your brain and you can’t get it out, and you realize that it is then the Lord is speaking to you through that verse, even though it was a different time, a different people, spoken thousands of years ago?

For me, that started happening quite frequently about 2 1/2 years ago in a deeper way than I have ever known. The harder thing was that I couldn’t hold onto them well, or believe that they could be true…. let alone that I think we Christians are often accused of “cherry picking” verses we like and taking them way out of context, and I didn’t want to be doing that just because I liked the verse.

No, this one I came across in normal reading, I didn’t go looking for and I didn’t find in a devotional to try and hold onto. I was in a time in life where everything I knew had just crumbled, and I was trying to make sense of it all as I figured out a new way to be. It was into this place in time I stumbled across the following (well known) verse:

“Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” – Isaiah 43:18-19.

Now, most of the time I have heard this verse used to explain how Isaiah was speaking to the people of Israel of the messiah to come, that is, as a pre-cursor to Christ. I’m not saying that isn’t the case in the bigger picture. Sure, it could have had two meanings. Yet to the Israelites at the time under Babylonian rule, this was actually spoken about what God was doing in their present time. The new thing God was doing then was preparing to bring Cyrus, the Persian king, to take over Babylon and their oppressive way of ruling, and to bring Israel home (see. Isaiah 45:1 and 13.. it happened in 539BC). So the new thing that Isaiah was speaking about was actually deliverance … just deliverance in a very real and tangible way.

I just kept coming back to this verse. What if I didn’t want new? What if I wanted what was? I couldn’t change things, and I knew I had to keep moving forward to find my “new normal”, and so I did. I dove into things I loved to do – I hiked mountains, I went on long trail rides, and I loved on people. I read, I studied, I pressed into God when it was hard, and I hung onto things I could scarcely believe. (Lest you think it was all roses….yes I went to counseling, and yes I got angry and had panic attacks and cried and grieved and journaled a TON.)

I did what I knew would bring me back to being whole: I reestablished my identity as a child of God alone, and I chose to be content no matter what my new normal was going to be. I couldn’t see what “new thing” God was doing yet, so holding onto the verse for me was more of a puzzling thing.

I know, Lord, I know you are doing something new in my life right now. I just don’t get it yet. I guess you will show me when I am ready.

Enter Trung… the man to whom I am now engaged.

(Love the slippers, don’t you? Just admit it)

It has been a year and a half since we first started talking. I know.. much of what has been going on since we started dating has not made it to my blog, and that is on purpose. I have been protective of this entire journey except for a few select folks, mainly because I’m not the type to share some huge monumental personal things, but also because I wanted to honor him in this process, as he is a pretty personal type of guy (he’s an 5 on the enneagram).

Yet even when he came into the picture, I still had a hard time wrapping my head around this “new thing” God was doing… for me AND for him. Sometimes I still struggle to wrap my head around the depth of what it has become, and as I look out at the wedding being planned for this August, I realize I no longer have any twinge of sadness when I see folks posting about their anniversaries of many years.

I am finally – finally! Leaning into the new thing God is doing, and I cannot wait to start life with this amazing guy God has given me. August can’t come soon enough. We may be streaming it on Facebook if no one can come, but we are getting married!

Ok now back to the purpose of this blog…I really didn’t want this post to be just about me. I know I am certainly not the only one who has had to find a new normal at some point in their lives. Heck, its all everyone is talking about now with all the quarantines across our country and the world.

Finding a new normal isn’t new though.

It seems to be the way of humanity whenever big things happen, have you noticed that?

—Scripturally – Israel wanted ‘what was’ after God delivered them from slavery. Somehow things seemed better back in Egypt. After return from Babylonian captivity, Israel wanted ‘what was’ and tried to figure out how to become a nation again. When they started rebuilding the temple, many wept who had been alive and had seen the prior temple built by Solomon.

— In our current day, things have shifted and changed after every war. After 9/11. After the first school shooting. After the internet became available for everyone, after cell phones became a necessity. Some generations long for the decades when things seemed “better” – but were they really? Yes we still deal with racism in our country. Yes we still hurt each other, we fail to take care of and defend those that need it, but at least discussions are on the table. It’s out in the open. Everything doesn’t have to be hidden now that was in the past in our country, and its time for healing. I’d like to think having to suffer together as the human race makes us realize our mortality and how much we need each other, no matter our race, ethnicity, religious background (or none), sexuality, education or economic status.

Moving forward, whether personally or as a society doesn’t mean we automatically stop longing for what was. It’s like we get stuck, where the past can seem to have been “better” than the present. Do we realize in saying that we overlook the flaws of what was? Massive flaws that were there before and just could never be fixed, or maybe could never be seen.

That, my friends, is the challenge of the times in which we are living. Sure, we are all learning a “new normal”.. and please hear me: I am NOT SAYING that God is the source of this virus to teach us something new. I’m just asking, are we up to the challenge of LEARNING in the midst of it?

Although this wasn’t intended to be a Covid survival post, I do think it can be a time for us to look honestly at what we are learning in this time… about being alone, about being with “stuck” with family, about helping and serving others… about how much money we spent on ourselves or on things that we really do not need, about how we handle finances, where we find our peace – and make some purposeful changes about how we do life, when things get “back to normal”.

What are you learning you will not let go of when the quarantine is over?