Last summer, I received an email invite to go square dancing at Art House North, a community in Saint Paul launched and led by my favorite singer/songwriter, Sara Groves. I didn’t go, but wished I did. All reports suggested it was a grand time!
So this summer when I got the notice that Art House North was doing another night of square dancing, I thought twice. I kept the email in my inbox for a week or two, but ultimately deleted it because an out-of-town event was going to make it nearly impossible for me to go.
Just 24 hours before square dancing event, I received a Facebook message from an out-of-state friend I hadn’t seen or talked to in 18 months. “Hey! In case you have the night free, we’re hanging out at this on Tuesday night.” Attached was the square dancing flyer.
Perhaps I was supposed to go square dancing after all?
The next day, just one hour AFTER I’d arrived back home from the out-of-town event, just 55 minutes BEFORE the square dancing event was scheduled to start, my husband was already on his way home so I could travel 53 minutes one way to square dance.
This was as crazy as crazy gets.
Honestly, it seemed stupid. Square dancing? By myself? On a Tuesday night? After I just got home from a BIG out-of-town event? Yes, please?
I had no idea WHY I was doing this. But for some reason, I KNEW I was supposed to go square dancing!
Let me tell you. Square dancing was AWESOME!
It was the breath of fresh air I so desperately needed.
Here are the advantages of square dancing with strangers!
I don’t know WHY square dancing was invented, but it seems clear to me. Square dancing creates community!
Where else do you get an opportunity to hold hands with strangers and skip in circles?
People actually look you in the eye and smile for no reason.
Square dancing brings young and old together.
Promenade two by two? Who wouldn’t want to promenade?
Do-si-do? Who wouldn’t want to do-si-do?
Forget small talk! You’re dancing with people the whole time.
Somebody’s searching for a dancing partner just like you.
Square dancing types are easy to please. Forget Pinterest pretty. A plate of watermelon wedges, a tray of oatmeal chocolate chip bars, and a couple water jugs will do just fine.
Where else do you get a chance to run to the center of the circle, hop on one foot, and yell “Woo!?!”
People clap for you.
The strumming of the stringers is super chill.
You’ll find one old friend and a bunch of new friends among strangers.
You feel kind of geeky, but you totally don’t care.
At the end of the night, your hands will feel sticky and icky like they touched right about 10,000 hands. But you’ll wash with warm water and soap and count it all blessing.
I woke in my parents’ guest room to Monday morning thunderstorms.
Rain and thunder gave way to the weather channel app. Needless to say, the day’s forecast did NOT look good. Heavy rain until 1:00 p.m. A 20-40% chance of rain between 1:00 and 4:00 p.m. Then downhill from there.
The forecast gave way to a Facebook post that went something like this: “Please pray for today’s weather and I’m serious. The golf tournament in honor of my dad and his upcoming lung transplant is scheduled for today from 1-6 p.m. CST. Ideally, we need sunshine or overcast with NO RAIN between 1-8 p.m. Our family has been going through bad and very bad times for 14 years. If we could just have this one day of sunshine that would be awesome.”
My Facebook post gave way to tears and prayers. I prayed 100 times over the course of 10 minutes. I prayed all the ways you could pray for weather and then some. “Dear God, please make it stop raining between 1-8 p.m. today so we can have the golf tournament in honor of my dad. In Jesus’ name, Amen. Dear God, please make it stop raining. In Jesus’ name, Amen. Dear Heavenly Father, you are so good and we know you can do anything. Please make the sun come out at 1:00 and stay dry until 8:00 so we can have this tournament for my dad. In Jesus’ name, Amen. Dear God, please make it stop raining. In Jesus’ name, please make it stop raining. Please make it stop raining.”
Tears and prayers gave way to my mom yelling through the door between the bathroom and guest room. “The tournament is canceled because of thunderstorms, and has been RESCHEDULED for next Monday the 18th.”
I was SO angry.
I popped my head out the bathroom door, told my parents how mad I was, told them to go, and confirmed (BY YELLING VERY LOUDLY) that I WASN’T mad at them, I was mad at God.
Couldn’t we just have this one day after all we’ve been through?
24 minutes after I published the Facebook post asking for prayers for good weather, I deleted it. My dad had been in contact with the owners of the golf course. The golf tournament was officially POSTPONED due to thunderstorms that were projected to last all day. No use bothering people with worry and negativity when I already knew that prayer wasn’t going to be answered.
Did I mention that I was SO angry?
Of all things, now weather’s going to get in the way?
I’m 95% confident I’ve NEVER been more angry at God. He knows the hell my family of origin has been through the past 14 years. If God is so good, why couldn’t he just grant us this ONE day of sunshine, this ONE ray of hope, this ONE day we’d be surrounded by friends and family and feel loved, supported and cared for without more roadblocks. Couldn’t He just give us this ONE day?
I was so angry that I’d driven all the way to my parents’ house and stayed overnight for nothing.
I was so angry that my husband and two big kids had driven 1 hour 30 minutes and were already 3/4 of the way to my parents’ house when I had to call and tell them to turn around.
I was so angry that my brother was there with his friend, that they both took the day off from work and came especially for the golf tournament. I was so angry that he seriously might NOT be able to come on the rescheduled date.
I was so angry that all the food and prizes had been prepared, tee times had been arranged, schedules had been rearranged for this…and now it’d have to be moved to a week later.
I was so angry thinking about the people who might fall through the cracks now that the tournament was rescheduled because we all know that this week’s schedule is RARELY the same as next week’s.
I was so angry that we’d have to go through this all over again in one week, that we’d have yet another chance to worry about rain.
I was so angry thinking about my dad on oxygen, about to go on a lung transplant list, and why does it seem like everyone else’s dads are healthy and playing golf without a second thought?
I was so angry thinking back on everything we’ve been through the past 14 years, and now God can’t grant this ONE day of sunny or simple overcast weather?
If you know me at all, you know I’m NOT an angry person.
But I was angry that morning.
The most angry I’ve ever been.
I see God in everything. I give Him credit where credit is due. I have no problem seeing His work and grace in good and VERY bad times. But this crossed MY line. If God can do all things and knows everything we’ve been through, why we couldn’t he make this one day of sunny? Why couldn’t we have this ONE day of goodness? Honestly, I still don’t know why it thunderstormed all the live long day.
No doubt about it, I was set on leaving my parent’s house as quickly as possible. I got up. Got ready for the day. Didn’t fix my hair because who really cares and it’s pouring rain anyway. Threw my dirty clothes in the suitcase and zipped it up. I made it clear to my mom, dad and my 4-year-old daughter that “We’re leaving soon, like 10 minutes from now, and we’re NOT eating muffins before we go.”
I didn’t want the muffins.
I wasn’t buying my parents’ seemingly calm and grace-filled reasoning that “We can’t control the weather. We’re not happy either, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”
God could have done something about this, and chose NOT to for some reason beyond me.
I didn’t want the muffins.
I tried explaining to my four year old that we were leaving in as few words as possible, but she wanted the muffins.
She started crying.
I started crying.
She got the muffins because what’s the use of depriving a four year old of muffins in the midst of misery?
I lay in my parents’ guest bed staring out the rain-dropped window while my daughter ate muffins.
“I don’t know why my mom is so sad,” my daughter said to my parents.
“The clouds are mean,” said my 2 1/2-year-old nephew after a loud clap of thunder.
After what seemed like a 30-minute breakfast, the blueberry muffins were finally gone, the skim milk was finally ingested. I was ready to go home.
I walked right through the rain and loaded the bags in the trunk like it was an emergency.
My sister gave me a hug.
My parents told me to call them later.
And off we went back home.
Later that afternoon, I became numb. By early evening, I was exhausted.
My husband asked WHAT we could do to make me feel better? He was operating at an 8, and judged me to be a -3. Maybe a hot shower followed by a movie by myself in our bedroom?
I rented a crier about a woman who had breast cancer and then died from brain cancer because WHY NOT feel all the feels? I breathed deeply and let myself sink into the bed. After the movie, I had a huge knot that hurt on one side of my neck. I, of course, was imagining I had brain cancer because I’ve had so many headaches lately, and after today, I wouldn’t be surprised if something big happened to me, too.
Apparently, the shower and movie DID help! I felt better yesterday. Tuesday was MUCH better than Monday.
But Wednesday afternoon, anger came trickling back in when I least expected it.
Why is a small, but growing segment of the blogosphere freaking out about the “hidden dangers of Pokemon Go?” Why are we finding fault in a game that encourages kids to get out on their bikes, go to parks, check in at churches, and gets them actively engaged with friends and family? I’d forgotten how frustrated I can get with Christians who don’t seem tuned in to real life, who forget that that the world has more serious concerns than the “witchcraft origins” of a cartoon character. Can’t we all just get along? Don’t we have more important things to worry about? I’d been sensing a POSITIVE blog post rising up in me about this crazy Pokemon Go phenomenon, but after reading that Pokemon post this afternoon, I sensed the frustration within and couldn’t stop taking deep breaths over this stupidity. For the good of all parties, there will be NO blog post about Pokemon Go.
The BRAND NEW capris I bought 12 days ago and only wore once to a wet photo shoot were full of grass and mud stains that weren’t coming out. I left the capris in the laundry room, went outside to pick weeds in the garden, threw away trash from wherever I could find it, and deadheaded begonias in the window boxes while the children played water guns.
After all that, I went inside to make myself a bowl of bing cherries and purposely put ONE bright red cherry on top for goodwill.
A bowl of cherries, a minute of self care on our front porch, and a four-year-old neighbor girl later, MY ONE BRIGHT RED CHERRY WAS GONE! I’d saved that ONE bright red cherry for last for a reason, and she ate it right out of my bowl with no remorse whatsoever.
“You ate my last cherry!” I uttered in surprise like only a four (forty) year old could.
She ate my one, bright red cherry, the one I handpicked for myself.
A minute later, after cherry girl and the other kids left to play, I sat and stared at the white clouds drifting through the sky.
I needed to chill.
I needed to get a grip.
Our neighbors parked a parade float in their driveway and had music up loud as they were repairing the sound system. Honestly, the music resonated incredibly well with my soul as I was picking weeds. Now an hour or two later as I sat sat on the porch watching clouds – somehow NOT surprised that my one, bright red, self-care, all-things-bright-and-cheery cherry had been eaten by a four year old – a new song played.
A song like no other.
No partying or raging.
No anger or injustice.
Just a sweet, simple song.
Totally out of character. Totally unexpected. Totally out of nowhere.
Baby You’re Mine.
Baby You’re Mine.
I nestled into the comfy porch couch and let the sweet tune and simple lyrics settle into my soul as they may.
The sky was blue.
Clouds drifted, their movement barely perceivable.
I was still angry. I still felt a fire within. A fire for justice and all things GOOD instead of evil. But in my heart I knew the truth. I could see and feel the truth. It’s okay to be mad at God. He can handle it. He’s bigger than anger, better and beyond human comprehension.
I held two long-standing dreams for my 40th birthday.
Run a marathon
Take a mission trip to Haiti with my husband
Run a Marathon
I was going to run Grandma’s Marathon in June 2016 or Twin Cities Marathon in October 2016. The dream to run a marathon for my 40th was serious and alive for a few good years until the rubber hit the road and I realized I’d need to actually sign up and start training. When I reminded my husband that this was a goal for my 40th and told him we were approaching the time I’d need to commit, he reminded me that my plate is full, that training for a marathon was super intense, and that I also have a book writing goal, so perhaps it would be better to spend time focusing my efforts on that dream instead.
He was right. His logic made sense. I made a cold and fast decision to drop my dream of running a marathon for my 40th birthday.
Take a Mission Trip to Haiti with My Husband
My husband and I were going to Haiti to visit our sponsored children through Compassion International. Better yet? We were going to Haiti to visit our three sponsored children there, then fly over to Dominican Republic to visit our sponsored child there. It was an idyllic 40th birthday plan in my book. My husband would meet all four of our sponsored children in one week, and we’d plan some sun time for the Dominican side so my husband could get the R&R he needed. I wanted us to take our first mission trip as a married couple. I wanted my husband to see me in my happy place. I wanted him to KNOW that very best part of me. I wanted him to understand why I can’t shake my trips to Haiti, Dominican and Kenya. My dream to make this trip for my 40th was serious and alive for TWO years until the rubber hit the road and I realized we’d need to actually book the trip and start planning all the details.
We had big conversations.
For a period of three or four weeks, it was official! We were planning a Haiti/Dominican trip for my 40th, sometime in the second half of 2016.
But things didn’t feel right. I knew my husband didn’t really want to go to Haiti, and was just agreeing to please me. I didn’t want this to be a check-it-off-the-list experience. I love Haiti. I love it so much I can barely contain my tears writing these sentences. But I also love Kenya. I love it so much that I’d go back today, in a heartbeat if I could. Having said that, I know my heart and I know my current reality. It isn’t realistic to keep both Haiti AND Kenya active and open in my heart during this season of life with three children, ages 13, 11 and 4, at home. I’d consider myself ridiculouslyblessed if I was able to take ONE mission trip a year until our two oldest graduate from high school. But that once-a-year-dream isn’t realistic. If I returned to Haiti, I’d open my heart up wide all over again, and would want to go back for a third visit. But then there’s Kenya. If I went to Haiti for my 40th in 2016, that would mean Kenya would have to hold off until 2017, more likely 2018. Could my heart bear the weight of that possibility?
I prayed. I thought about it. I knew what was safest for my heart and the best decision given my current reality, finances, life as a mom of three, and wife of a husband who’s crazy busy with work. One late night after the kids were in bed, I requested time with my husband and told him straight up, “We’re not going to Haiti for my 40th.”
I drew Haiti a beautiful little circle on our bed sheets with my finger, surrendered the final 40th birthday dream, and left it there with God. I never said I was surrendering Haiti for good. I’m surrendering it for now.
With tears and Haiti in a bed sheet circle, that left my heart open and committed to Kenya, and Kenya only. For now. For this season. If God sees fit to open the circle for Kenya AND Haiti someday, I won’t be surprised. In my heart of hearts, I see both. But for now, one. Kenya.
And with that, both of my 40th birthday dreams died.
Four to six weeks later, we found out that my dad was approved for a lung transplant. If everything goes as planned, he will be placed on the national lung transplant registry by mid-July, just days after my 40th birthday. My mom is first in care for my dad. But my mom is also first in care for my sister who has schizoaffective disorder – bipolar type; she has two children and lives two blocks from my parents. Since I’m oldest in my family of origin, that leaves me second in care for my dad while he’s going through the transplant, and first in back-up care for my sister and her two children while my dad and mom are going through the transplant.
My husband has an intense corporate job that often requires longer-than-normal work days, occasional work on nights and weekends, and regularly takes him away on business travel.
I’m home this summer with three children. It’s only my second summer home full-time since I became a mom nearly 14 years ago. Our youngest starts kindergarten in 14 months.
I’ve written and thoroughly edited TWO children’s book manuscripts, and have a third roughly drafted. I need to write the series proposal and get it in the hands of a literary agent. After that, I’d like to tackle an adult nonfiction proposal.
I’m EIGHT pounds over my most comfortable weight, and haven’t been able to get the weight off since it first started piling on in January 2015 after my husband’s eye cancer diagnosis. I’m wearing capri leggings every day this summer because I only fit into one of my size 8 drawer full of shorts. And my well went dry last weekend because I haven’t had enough time to replenish my soul these past seven weeks.
The Lord is so wise and graceful with his gifts.
He knows what we need and when we need it.
40-some days ago when I realized my 40th birthday was approaching, my emotions got the best of me. No marathon. No trip to Haiti with my husband. No marking of this momentous occasion. 40 is big to me. If you know me well, you know I’ve been looking forward to 40 forever. I wanted to do something big for my 40th, something special, something to honor who I am and how I want to live the second half of life.
I wondered if there was a way to still pull something off that resonated with my soul. Perhaps a Facebook campaign – 44 days to my 40th birthday – in which I’d collect 440 pair of new underwear for boys and girls at the orphanage in Kenya? Perhaps a party in which we could raise funds for a set of swings and slides for the children at the orphanage?
Creating a new dream out of nowhere was crazy, impossible and possibly stupid. I had a little meltdown on my bed, then headed to the gym with my 4 year old. As I pulled into a parking spot, I looked down at my phone and noticed an email had arrived from wise counsel, someone who has taken at least EIGHT hours solid just listening to me. I hadn’t communicated with this person for a couple months, so she had no reason to communicate with me that morning besides this perfectly-timed gem.
You do not have to look for anything, just look.
You do not have to listen for specific sounds, just listen.
You do not have to accomplish anything, just be.
And in the looking, and the listening, and the being; find Me.
Ann Lewin in Celtic Daily Prayer, Book Two, p 1483
Tears. Just tears.
The timing of the email was impeccable. God was clearly speaking. I didn’t have to do anything momentous or incredibly special for my 40th birthday. I didn’t have to find a way to celebrate and express the unique heart He’s given me for life. I didn’t have to prove to anyone except myself and God that I’m heading into this second half of life with passion, fervor, grace and an open heart for whatever He has planned for me.
I don’t have to work for the world anymore.
His dreams are greater than mine.
His plans are greater than my plans.
He needed me to know this.
My job from here on out is to look, listen, be, and seek Him first.
I know I’ll run a marathon someday.
I know I’ll return to Haiti someday.
I know I’ll return to Kenya.
I pray I’ll go on a mission trip with my husband someday.
I know, without a doubt, that I’m going to keep working on those books.
I know I’m home for a reason, for this season, to help my family.
I know I need to take care of myself.
I know God’s timing is perfect.
I know His gifts are good.
I surrendered two 40th birthday dreams. But God’s filling in the gaps with gifts aplenty.
Time at home with my children this summer.
Time at home so our family has a sense of stability.
Helping my parents with the CaringBridge and Facebook pages set up for my dad’s upcoming lung transplant.
Being available to help my parents when my dad gets called for the lung transplant.
Being available to help my sister and her two children.
Becoming a Facebook page administrator for the nonprofit, Love For Kenya, with whom I traveled last fall.
A photography partnership with a nonprofit that celebrates babies with Down syndrome.
A divine encounter with the president of MN Teen Challenge who confirmed that my idea would be an “incredible ministry.”
Joining a private writing community on Facebook.
“Yes” to an intense, three-day writing workshop in November 2016.
Two 5Ks instead of that marathon.
A compass from day camp with a message from my four year old. “If you don’t remember where you’re going, then you have that to remember. Okay?”
A perfect ending to the last night I could call myself “39” without lying, including a senior photo shoot, three end-of-season clearance outfits at my favorite store White House Black Market (so I don’t have to wear capri leggings every day this summer), and a beautifully-painted sunset to top it all off.