May I Have This Dance?

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He came rushing in

All breathless and brisk.

“May I have this dance?”

And lifted her wrist.

Surprised, she turned her face

Up to his hoary one.

“Aren’t you a little old

To be dancing for fun?”

“Oh no,” he chortled,

“I’ve been at this a long time.

I’m quite good, you know

And still in my prime.”

Before she could answer,

She was swept off her feet.

And went twirling midair

Not missing a beat.

Round and round they flew

As I stood there watching

Old Wind and Miss Snow

Became one in the dancing!

How to Survive a Deathblow and Live to Tell About It

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It is not a matter of if…it is a matter of when.  Nearly everyone at some point in their life (and sometimes multiple times) will be dealt a blow that knocks them off their feet, takes their breath away, and leaves them wondering if they will survive or causes them to wish they wouldn’t.  A deathblow is a thing or event that destroys life or hope, especially suddenly.

Over the course of the past decade, I was dealt a couple of these.  In this blog post I will not be telling the story of the events (that’s for another place and time) but rather offering four suggestions on how to survive a deathblow and ultimately thrive in another season of life.

A deathblow typically happens suddenly, out of the blue, sideswiping you and leaving you in a state of shock.  Deathblows cover a broad range of events and occurrences, and what may take one person out of the game of life, may simply be a short hiccup to another.  A major deathblow can be like an earthquake followed by multiple smaller tremors, leaving you wondering when the next one will hit.

Perhaps it is something you feared.  Perhaps it never entered your worst thoughts.  Perhaps it unfolded in slow motion and you couldn’t stop it.  Perhaps it struck like lightening…the death of a child, the diagnosis of cancer, the demise of a marriage, the downfall of a business, a horrible accident, a crippling illness, a sickening betrayal, or financial bankruptcy.

Maybe there were warning signs of impending danger that you ignored.  Maybe you made some very unwise choices.  Maybe you felt you caused it or contributed to it.  Maybe you were completely innocent of wrong.  Whatever the case, you have survived.  Now what?  Of course, some deathblows do end in, well, death…but that is not the case for you personally or you wouldn’t be reading this!

I honestly thought that somehow I was immune to something so dreadful that it would cause my life to come to a standstill.  As a Christian, I believed that God would protect me from that type of horror.  Sure, there were all the “ordinary” trials and troubles of life.  Each one was faced and overcome to some degree or another and I moved on.  But what happens when you think you won’t recover?  What happens when there is no way back to the life you once lived?  What then?

Entire books have been written on this subject, and this is just one simple blog post.  For the sake of brevity, I will offer just four, out of the many lessons from the furnace, that not only helped me survive but ultimately flourish in a new life.  No one taught me to do these things.  Somehow I intuitively or instinctively knew that I must… if I were to survive.

  1. Develop Circles of Support.  One of the first things I did was gather a circle of about 12 women whom I called on regularly for encouragement, prayer, wisdom, and sanity.  Some of them had suffered the same catastrophe and could offer very practical help.  We were meant to live life in community and all the more so when we think we are going down for the last time.  Within that circle, there were three whom I called upon nearly every day for a season, and I feared I would wear them out!  Contrarily, I soon discovered that pain is the great isolator.  God will give us many people to cheer us on and walk beside us, but only One can truly understand and share in our anguish, Christ Himself.  I came to discover that no pain is so deep that His love does not go deeper.
  2.  Keep a Favor Journal.  This is what I called my journal where I kept an ongoing list of evidences of God’s grace and favor on my   life.  Because so much was happening that was negative, inspiring fear, hopelessness, and loss of confidence, it became absolutely vital that I identify every little blessing for which I was grateful on a daily basis.  I actually left this journal laying out so I could review it regularly.  Because of this practice, it is now second nature to me, and I no longer have to write it all down.  You may think, “Oh, isn’t that sweet?  What a nice little idea!”  Oh, no, that was warfare!  As life came crashing down around me, every time I identified and gave thanks for the good that was still there, it shot down the lies that my life was over and God really didn’t care all that much about it.
  3. Keep a Truth Journal.  I called this journal, “Things I Know to Be True.”  You see, when everything is shaking and you are not sure what is going to be left of your life, you need to hang onto some things that never change.  It was important to me that I put them in my own words, not someone else’s.  Here I wrote down all that I knew to be true about God, His nature, His character, and my relationship to Him.  When you have been dealt a deathblow, everything you once took for granted that you knew, comes into question.  This is a time to know God, stripped of religiosity, in His most basic characteristics:  He is love, He is good, He is faithful, He is sovereign, He is wise, He is merciful.
  4. Keep a Shepherd’s Heart Journal.  This is what I called my ongoing list of other people whom I cared for and their needs and concerns. This helped get the focus off myself and onto others; thereby, dealing a deathblow of my own to self-pity, something I once entertained regularly!  Here I wrote out my prayers for others, ideas on how I could bless and help them, and how I carried out those plans.  Every time I extended care to others in the midst of my own pain, I could feel life growing in me once again.

“And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” ~ St. Peter

It Was A Very Good Year…

Happy New Year!  I decided to write a New Year’s letter rather than a Christmas letter this year.  2013 was the most eventful year of our lives next to 1983, 30 years ago, when I moved to southern Texas from Florida in January, met Larry, got engaged in March, moved to Michigan in May, got married in August, and moved to Mexico two weeks after our wedding. 

Let me sum up this past year very quickly:  I spent the first two months recovering from an leg muscle strain; Larry landed a new job in Indiana and commuted for four months; Aaron got engaged to Adrienne; I quit my job at the Portage Police Department ; we sold our house in Michigan; we bought a new house in Indiana and moved; Adam took five trips within the U.S. and one to China where he spent two months; and Aaron and Adrienne got married and then took a trip to Japan for a reception and honeymoon.  Whew!  If you don’t like long newsletters, you can stop right here and you have the abbreviated version. However, if you are into details, read on…

Last year at this time found me in much pain from a pulled muscle in my left leg and sciatica in my right hip that started in October of 2012.  I was off work, walking with a cane, and in physical therapy for a couple of months.  This was a difficult blow because I had been doing so well with the fibromyalgia.  However, by mid February, I was back to work.  I love to walk and never take that ability for granted anymore.

Larry applied for a job with Courier Corporation in Kendallville, Indiana in January of 2013.  When he went down for an interview in late January, the company recommended that he bring his wife with him so she could check out the town.  I was happy to do so, and we spent a weekend here and were pretty confident the job would be offered to him.  We even contacted a realtor because we were sure we would be moving!  His former employer had cut everyone’s hours to 28 per week, and we just couldn’t do that anymore.

Indeed, Larry did get the job and started work at Courier on March 7.  Courier Corporation is America’s third largest book manufacturer, the pioneer in customized four-color books for education and trade, and a worldwide leader in the production of Bibles.  Larry works as an applications specialist, which is similar to his previous work as a prepress technician. 

He commuted back and forth from Indiana to Michigan for four months, working three or four days in a row and then having three or four days off.  Courier paid for an apartment for him where he stayed while he was working, and then he would come back to Michigan on his days off.  It’s an hour and 40 minute drive so this was not practical for the long haul.  Although we lived in the Kalamazoo/Portage area for nearly 28 years and have many friends and family there, we knew that moving was the only option.

We listed our house in Portage in mid-February and by mid-May, it sold.  I showed it probably 30 times in that timeframe!  It was quite the process, getting our house ready to sell and then showing it two to three times a week.  I’m glad those days are over! 

The new owners of the house lived in Kalamazoo, but we were surprised to find out that the husband is from Carroll, Iowa.  That’s just 25 minutes from my hometown.  He and I were both actually born in the same hospital, and his grandparents are from my tiny hometown of Wall Lake, Iowa.  His grandmother actually went to school with my dad.  It took a small world and a great big God to orchestrate that one! 

Meanwhile, back in Indiana, Larry discovered that one of his coworkers was quitting his job and moving to Dallas, Texas where he got a new job.  He commented to Larry, “Tomorrow you are going to sell your house, and then you are going to buy mine!”  And that is exactly what happened.  The very next day we got the offer on our house, and four days later we drove down to Avilla, Indiana, looked at their house, and wrote an offer for it!  And to top it off, our neighbors directly across the street (one house number from ours) have the last name of Mueller, the only other ones in this small town! 

Alongside all this excitement and change, Aaron and Adrienne became engaged on May 14 and got married on October 5.  At the time of their engagement, they had been dating for nearly a year.  She is from Japan (her mother is Japanese and her father is from Michigan.)  Her brother also lives here and is a good friend of Aaron’s.  Her parents visited here for three weeks in May so we had the opportunity to get to know them better.  They have been missionary pastors in Japan for 20 years.  They got to be here to witness their daughter get engaged!  Here’s how it went down…

Aaron took Adrienne out for dinner and brought her back to our house just at dusk, supposedly to watch a movie.  Instead, he walked her down a lighted path to the backyard where a few friends and I had “set the stage” earlier in the day, per Aaron’s request.  Underneath our Japanese maple tree bedecked in pink blossoms, awaited a pair of wicker chairs, plump pillows, a hanging basket of flowers, and small table surrounded by lanterns.  Dangling from the tree branches glowed Japanese lanterns and an outdoor chandelier sparkling in the sunset.  As they sat down, Erika was bewildered as Aaron brought out a large bag filled with five small gifts…each one representing a significant moment in their courtship.  One by one she opened the gifts, making exclamations of delight.  Then Aaron stood up and walked a few steps away from the chairs and invited Adrienne to join him.  Only at that point did she realize what was coming and cried out, “Oh, is this it?  Is this it?”  Bending on one knee, he pulled out a tiny box…and the words she longed to hear ensued, “Adrienne Sager, will you marry me?”  The air hung still in silence, and then a long embrace transformed into a dance.  Unbeknownst to Adrienne, inside the dark house, lined up along all the windows on the north side were her parents, brother, friends, and Aaron’s family quietly, breathlessly, watching the scene unfold.  As Aaron took her hand, he led her up the candlelit steps to the upstairs deck and flung open the sliding door….lights flooded the kitchen and shouts of “Congratulations!” filled the air.  Later, toasts were lifted, and good wishes and prayers given to the newly engaged couple.  Our house on Abbott Avenue held many beautiful memories, and how fitting that this was the last big event to take place there!

Another bit of good news occurred on May 31st when Aaron had an echocardiogram, which came back completely normal.  He had been diagnosed with pulmonary artery stenosis back in 2007 but now no longer has it. 

In case this wasn’t enough transition and excitement for us, Adam had plans of his own that he was pursuing.  He was awarded a fellowship to do earthquake research through the National Science Foundation for the East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes (EASPI) Program.  In early April he went to Washington, D.C. for three days of orientation.  Early May found him in Pittsburgh for the Structures Congress of the American Society of Civil Engineers.  On June 9 he flew to Beijing, China for more orientation and touring The Great Wall and Forbidden City, followed by nearly two months at the Harbin Institute of Technology in Harbin, China “simulating the effects of earthquakes on structures through a combination of experimental testing and computational simulation.”  He arrived back in the States on August 4, just in time to head for the University of Illinois in Champaign for a month of further research work.  Then he headed back to Kalamazoo in September to continue his graduate studies at WMU and his work as a teaching and research assistant for the College of Engineering.  In October he was off to Buffalo, New York to observe more earthquake testing.  He ended the year in December with a trip to St. Louis with a friend just for fun.  (I don’t know if he ever really unpacked his suitcase all year!)  Adam will obtain his master’s degree in Structural Engineering in June and from there will hopefully become gainfully employed!  He has decided not to pursue his doctorate at this time.

Of course, the highlight of 2013 was the wedding of Aaron and Adrienne.  The venue and date were chosen, which was followed by a whirlwind of a summer.  I quit my job on June 7, Adam left for China on June 9, we had a garage sale on June 28, closed on our house in Portage on July 9, spent four days cleaning and preparing the new house in Indiana, and then packed and moved July 15 and 16.  In my “spare time” I was helping with wedding planning and preparations. We were scheduled to close on our new house on July 11; however, we found out that the sellers were in the process of bankruptcy, which delayed our closing for a whopping three months!  The sellers allowed us to live here rent-free during that time. 

August and September brought a flurry of unpacking and decorating our new home and traveling back and forth to Kalamazoo for wedding planning, as well as our own 30th wedding anniversary!  A bridal shower was held in Adrienne’s honor on September 7 in Kalamazoo.  Unbeknownst to Adrienne, it was arranged for her mother to “attend” via Skyping from Japan!  It was a very special day.

An outdoor wedding in early October in Michigan…a pastoral setting with sheep lazily grazing on rolling hills; oak leaves gently descending; warm temperatures with slate grey skies that threatened rain but held off until after the ceremony; beautiful rustic chic décor; heartfelt vows; a reception under a tent with nearly 200 guests; a barbecue catered dinner; enthusiastic speeches from the attendants; sky lanterns released; and a bride and groom absolutely glowing with joy and anticipation.  That pretty much sums it up.  Here is a link to the wedding gallery of photos:  galleries.mettsphoto.com/mueller/.

The honeymooners spent a few days at The Weathervane Inn near Muskegon before they returned to their jobs.  The newlyweds have set up house at the same apartment where Aaron lived with Adam previously – a two-bedroom apartment at Kensington Place in Kalamazoo.  In November they flew to Japan for two weeks for a reception with her Japanese family and friends and a honeymoon at Natural Isana Resort (www.natural-isana.com).

In October we enjoyed a visit from my sister, Ginny, and her boyfriend, Robert, from Texas.  Thanksgiving Day brought us all together (except Aaron who had to work) for a wonderful feast.  Christmas Eve and Day were celebrated with the Triple A’s – Aaron, Adrienne, and Adam – here at our home in Avilla, Indiana. 

Aaron is still working as a public safety journalist for MLive.com/Kalamazoo Gazette.  He covers crime and breaking news primarily.  He is excited to start working a dayshift  beginning this month.  Adrienne works at Mackenzie’s Bakery starting work at 4:00 a.m.!  You can check out Aaron’s work at connect.mlive.com/staff/AaronMueller/posts.html and Adrienne’s at www.mackenziesbakery.com.

For the time being, I have chosen not to work a job.  Larry’s schedule is such that he has three or four days off in a row plus several weeks off a year, which affords us opportunities to travel and do other things together locally.  We have been visiting a lot of churches in the area, and soon we will decide on which one to attend.  I hope to be able to start a women’s book study this year similar to the one I had when I was in Kalamazoo.  I enjoy gardening, cooking, photography, decorating, crafting, reading, and writing.  This winter I composed my first full-length poem entitled, “Winter’s Child.”  You can read it on my blog, Views From the Empty Nest, at janetfmueller.wordpress.com.

We are so grateful for this new start on life!  Some of the things I enjoy here are:  1.)  A gorgeous view from our backyard of an open field and woods.  I think I will never grow tired of watching the sunrise from the patio.  2.)  Our rural setting.  A red barn, silo, black Angus cattle, and cornfields right across from the development where we live.  3.)  The friendly people in our neighborhood and town.  4.)  The big city of Fort Wayne so close by.  We go there at least twice a week.  5.)  Gardening and eating the produce thereof.  6.) Time to do all the things I love like sewing, crafting, cooking, and writing. 

In June we are planning to fly to Colorado for the wedding of Larry’s nephew and spend some time there sightseeing.  In August we plan to go to Iowa for my 40th high school class reunion and hopefully see several of my family members.Image

We trust that 2014 will bring you much peace and joy.