Empty and Barren. Full and Bountiful.

During a recent walk at the park, I stopped to stare at these trees, contemplating how the two different trees reflect people’s lives. Or, at least resemble differing seasons in their lives.

One person can be the empty, impoverished, stark tree – yet, they work, travel, parent and operate in the world alongside other trees whose lives are abounding in growth, bursting with color and fullness. Sometimes we are the depleted, defeated one…other times, we are full, complete, abundantly blessed.

Why do some lives flourish more than others? 

Similar to the photo below, I also considered how siblings on the same original “branch” veer off as twigs in different directions – one blossoming and succeeding, the other empty and dry.

While God is Sovereign and guides our lives, He gives us enough free will to create or destroy-grow or become stagnant-give up or persevere. Yet, there are those who devote just as much positive effort as the next person but hit concrete walls at every turn. Their circumstances are real and it’s discouraging.

I was standing at my kitchen island last week, across from a beloved person in my life. Our relationship is a curious one as he is the husband of my oldest step-sister. I refer to him as my brother-in-law, because he feels more like family than my blood relatives. He and my husband have become deep friends over the years, bonding over muscle cars (which someday I’ll have to post on this site). He loves to talk, is very relational and covers a variety of topics, including politics. We all love him.

He is battling serious cancer and yet, refuses to bemoan his circumstances. He’s not in denial but he is unlike anyone I’ve ever seen walk through this. He chooses to redirect his thoughts away from the non-stop challenges including his limp, pain, inability to taste or even eat much. I can’t adequately convey the heart-wrenching injustice of this homicidal disease. It rips the person’s dignity away when they are the most vulnerable… they want to be seen as whole when all people see are the physical signs of their illness.

As we caught up on each other’s week, my three 20-something kids gathered around the kitchen island with us. They began bantering with me, pulling food out, asking him questions, and then began a series of everyday, regular chit chat with each other. I looked over at my brother-in-law and saw his eyes following the kids. His eyes spoke before his words emerged, he again reminding me how blessed I am to have these three. Reminding me that our parenting challenges over the years were really nothing. Years ago, I might have thought catching one of them in a lie was Armageddon (strong indicator of how I am as a Mom), but looking back, my parenting-teen troubles were indeed little ones.

His only son has been battling addiction since he was a young teenager. He’s 30. Legal fees drained their savings more times than I can recall. My brother-in-law speaks more openly now than ever before, and I have glimpsed their parental sufferings in new ways. They too set out to be strong parents, worked hard to give their child a positive life and my heart is broken for their plagued family history. Through this barren land they have walked, they have built treasures in heaven. Despite their own parenting difficulties, they took in three different adolescent children over the years when the biological parents had issues. There was sacrifice involved that made my husband and I admire them. They gave up their own comfort to bless others – even those who may never appreciate the level of sacrifice to their daily life, marriage and finances. 

We used to flip pages of magazines once a month and wonder why the glossy good fortune, perfect genetics and posh vacations laid before us couldn’t be ours. We had 30 days in between deliveries to get over ourselves. Now, we scroll. Hourly for some. Every 2 minutes for most. Social media makes it easy to assume that others’ trees are flourishing while ours are not. People tend to indulge in the ‘what if’s’ or ‘if only’s’ as they scroll. For those of us at mid-life and beyond, we are better at laughing now than coveting. We’ve been through some life and know the reality vs. the fantasy. Most importantly, we trust that the depleting times are usually followed by new abundance. Perhaps not in the same ways we were previously accustomed to abundance, but blessed nonetheless.

If we are going through an empty, stark, unproductive or sad season, let us persevere as best we can in our weakened state-allowing God to be our strength. If we are presently experiencing ease, comfort and few worries, let’s count ourselves deeply blessed to possess a free, uncluttered mind for as long as it may last.

My Love/Hate Relationship with Remote Work

Unless there is another extension here in New York, we’re expected to return to the physical premises of work on May 18th. While I have enjoyed many blessings during this time working from home, it will be good to return to the office. This is quite a statement because 1) I’m a Mama-domestic-type person at heart so I love all things home and family; and, 2) the small company I work for is an extremely stressful environment. I plan to leave in the near future.

Some things that I love are also on the hate list…just in a strange reversal in how I view these things!

See the source imageWhat I love about working from home…

  • Hands down, the best part of this bizarre historical time we have been chosen to live out is having a full nest. We all work together in the house, play so many card and board games, cook, bake and eat together like it’s been an extended Christmas vacation (where we also happen to be working). Ironically as I type this, it is snowing out my dining room window (yes, in May), so it really does continue to feel like Christmas vacation.
  • Working 20′ from the kitchen. I snack all day and drink as much water as I want without worrying who is noticing how many trips I make to the rest room!
  • Working the first hour or two in my pajamas, then switching to yoga pants and cozy, cotton tops.
  • No jewelry. No makeup. No hair coiffing.
  • No heels!
  • No nail polish.
  • The lack of a hard, set schedule.
  • The time I have saved by not primping myself, cleaning snow off my car and driving back and forth dealing with traffic is truly priceless.
  • The time I have saved by being able to avoid complainers has increased my productivity. At work, staff wander in and out of my office all day.

See the source image

What I hate about working from home…

  • I was one of the wiser ones at my place of employment who did not permit the owners to contact me after hours – until COVID. Now, the highly tense, always-anxious founders along with a variety of employees contact me not only throughout the work days, but at night and on the weekends. One of the Directors called me on Easter Sunday night!
  • I’m 20′ from the kitchen and I’ve gained 7 pounds. This truth has not stopped me from eating chocolate. Nor has the reality that in a week I need to be back in dress pants.
  • Most rooms have “the office” lingering from one or all of us. Papers, laptops, iPads, pens, notebooks and binders are ever-present throughout the house. We all tend to roam about, trying to get a different view during the day, then leave office remnants on tables and sofas. The decorative vases, photos and candles have all been removed or pushed aside throughout the house.
  • No defined schedule with a clearly marked beginning and end to work hours. I’ve worked more since shelter-in-place than I ever would at the office. The rest of my fam has it much easier with their employers and I thank God every day for that! (And that we have been blessed to remain employed-we are truly grateful.)

As we begin to find our way out of our homes, stepping into this new world, I’m likely not alone when I say that I’m happy to return to a few things from our former existence. At the top of my list is a boundary line between work and home. Yet, this time has also given most people a perspective that has changed us, even if only a little. For those of us still on this side of heaven, we’ve lived through something historic. Praise God.

 

And So She Flew….

This blog has been quiet lately, but my nest has not been. My just-turned-23-year-young daughter (one of the twins) landed the kind of job we’ve been praying for since graduation last May. I rejoiced alongside her four weeks ago that God answered our prayers BIG, but was stunned that the job was 7-states and 16-hours away (by car). Sigh.

I write the beginning of this post from the airport concourse, waiting for my flight back to the nest.

The last month has been slammed at work, then crazy at home with planning, packing and preparing. Now, this huge, life-altering event is behind us. The wheels of my return flight squeaked as they tucked under, making me want to tuck my own feet under me and squeak a bit about what a huge hole there will be in my nest…

I had finally adjusted to the bustling activity and non-stop-in-and-out of the twins returning home from university last May. Although my youngest is still away at her school, the nest was no longer a silent space. We were literally back to “Mommmmm!” at the bathroom door the second I started the shower. Whenever I felt annoyed at something, I mumbled thanks that my nest was alive with life.

My saver-daughter independently purged years worth of clothes and shoes, and thinned three giant bins of cards and notes into one. She even found her saved baby teeth and notes to the tooth fairy (“please leave my teeth and thank you”). Piles to be packed and donations to be given away were strewn throughout the house and her room.

Her room.

The Jonas Brothers. One Direction. Taylor Swift. All decorations from her youth were recently replaced with fresh paint, a new travel theme – complete with photographs of her many adventures in travel. She had wisely turned down a job a Boston a couple months ago and arrived back home ready to nestle in…accepting that it could be a lonnnnnng wait for the “right” opportunity. God has such a sense of humor.

Her and I had just hung the last of enlarged photos from her trips and our summer vacation in Scotland and Ireland when the interviews began with her current job. The room we just completed was quickly deconstructed with all the décor in boxes for her first apartment.

While the mess strewn everywhere, she began wrapping fragiles in what we wrapped her in 23 years ago in the hospital. All of us parents have these exact same, thin, worn wraps somewhere in our homes and it was too much for me when I saw them.

This baby girl is my independent one. We have a favorite family video of her loudly announcing at 2 1/2 years old, “I can do ittttt!” She did not want help. Her independence is part of her. While this is how she can go to a place where she knows zero people, this quality has also (somewhat) eased my Mama-pain over her departure from the nest.

Funny how she’s my most independent one, but she’s also the only one who still sleeps with the same “dollies” at 23 that she did at 2yrs old.

These near stuffing-less treasures went with her far away.

Though Google and Zuckerberg and Apple’s leadership were decades ahead of us in copying and saving our so-called “personal” data – long before society bothered to contemplate if snaps and posts and emails were being saved in massive data centers – and I really go off on a tangent about all of it :), I still embrace certain technologies that keep my babies and I connected. I wonder how I lived without Snapchat to show my kids something at a store. I’ve always refused to use FB despite the disappointment of my friends, but I spend plenty of time on FaceTime with my kids.

Even more than when the twins were at their universities and we talked every day, “live” technologies have officially become a greater blessing during my daughter’s first full week on the job. Snaps of her new office help me picture her there. Snaps of her food make me laugh since she loves to eat! FaceTime on lunch breaks and after work help us still “do life” together as much as we can with 7 states between us.

Though my independent one, she was quick to confirm that it would only be 7 weeks until I arrive for Easter weekend….”you are coming for Easter, right Mom?”

Well…who can say no to that invitation!?

The Unusual December

See the source imageFor the last several years, my post-Thanksgiving activities centered around two things: finishing up the semester of final exams and grading papers, followed by the always-fun list-making for Christmas gifts and planning gatherings. In 2019, my twins moved home after graduating college in May and the Christmas nest would be full with the baby duck arriving home for her university break on December 11th. Dear blogging friends, I had December plans.

Those Christmas plans were exchanged the first few weeks of the holiday season with work. Then, more work. Speeches, a major corporate dinner and a bad run-in between a poor deer and poor me replaced my annual yuletide joys. The blank paper ready for my Christmas lists would have to wait.See the source image

As we always do, we were hosting Thanksgiving dinner and my husband did it all except the baking. For those who have been reading this blog awhile, you’ll recall that I took on another job last Spring. It was to be three days with a maximum of 24 hours/week. I also continued my teaching schedule and accepted another position at the college to run a writing lab.

God had me in a season of corporate “work” in 2019 that I hadn’t experienced in decades. I briefly explained why I took on this new life-change HERE (Joining the Rat-Race Mid-Life). What I didn’t expect was that I was thrown into running an entire department at my company within days of hire and in recent months, have needed to escalate my hours, requiring far too much time and mental energy for a position that was supposed to be a side hustle.

The week before Thanksgiving – three days before an ad agency was to arrive to interview executives, I was surprisingly requested to be a key speaker in their corporate video. A series of questions would be asked, lights would be on me in a dark room…ugh…just when I started dreaming of Christmas menus and my Thanksgiving table only days away…

I worked all weekend without pay to prepare for this unexpected and nerve-wracking event ahead on Monday.

A slew of gentlemen hovered around in the dimly lit room while I was recorded and even though I’ve been teaching college for years, that was crazy stress on the inside while I was as poised and professional as possible on the outside. When the photographer and video crew completed my segment, I tore off my suitcoat and took a deep breath, thanking God it was over.

Eagerly walking toward the door, the executives halted my departure, telling the ad crew to follow me through the orientation I was about to deliver in the conference room for live footage of company activity.

My jaw clenched and back on went my suitcoat.

Hours later, I plopped into my office chair, hoping my deodorant had done its job as I once again swapped a cardigan for the stiff suitcoat.

Before the end of that very same day, the President strolled into my office and announced that it would be appreciated if I would emcee the upcoming investors dinner. Prior to that moment, I was planning to excuse myself altogether from the event…after all, I’m only part-time and really had more important things to do on a Saturday night in December. It was further explained that they still desired for me to go full-time, etc. etc.

My nerves amped up again as the two weeks slugged by until the corporate event. I thought about how a 20-something would really love these opportunities. At 50-something, a mom first, a college professor second, it’s all been really curious to me what God is up to.

Decked out in my best conservative dress, in full-makeup, coiffed hair, with well-rehearsed script in hand, I climbed into my Chevy Traverse on a snowy December evening, so happy the night finally arrived and within hours I could get back to my “real life”. I had prayed over the evening, as the highest executives would be seated directly in front of my podium. Yep, no pressure there.

En route to the swanky venue, I safely swerved to avoid deer #1, but his buddy behind him ran directly in my car’s path… the sound horrific, steel crunching, the poor animal (I was distraught over that thing), my fear and emotional upset setting my heart racing and my hands shaking uncontrollably.

Within minutes, I had pulled over into a gas station and my shaking fingers located the President’s cell number in my phone. I planned to notify her that someone else would have to emcee the event. Something prevented me from making the call. After 30-minutes in that gas station lot, although I was still shaking, the car could drive and off I went. Sitting in the parking lot of the venue, I took some deep breaths, trying to settle my spirit. I decided the first order of business when I walked in was to tell a few organizers that I’d rather not speak due to the accident and would be leaving early.

To this day, no one at my office knows that I hit that deer. The second I walked into the dinner party, demands were immediately made of me. The President was furious with the administrative staff and had to tell me all about it, and I needed to be at the podium within minutes of her concluding statements. See the source image

The following week, even the most busy-body ladies who peer out the windows trying to catch employees leaving early, didn’t notice I was without a vehicle. Without me listing the bizarre upper-management conduct at this organization, it would be difficult to understand the corporate culture. There are many questionable activities and early on, I drew boundaries which others have not. While I’ve gained respect because of those boundaries (and have encouraged others to do the same), compliments from those impressed with my December activities are meaningless to me. I serve an audience of One.

That brief description of only two -of several- chaotic work events in the last few weeks leads into my desire to be a light in an otherwise difficult place for my co-workers. If God placed me there, He has a job for me to do. While the December days passed and I didn’t host friends this season, I reminded myself that service comes in all forms-even those I don’t like :).

I apologize for the rambling nature of the post today…I miss my blogging community and wanted to share here even though as I’ve said before, “if I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter” (attributed to Mark Twain).

God bless your week ahead…See the source image