The Difference Between Leaving and Saying Goodbye

On my third appointment with my therapist I hit her with two big questions. The first I wrote about here. The second was this: how do you say goodbye?

Our denomination moves it’s clergy from place to place. They teach us how to leave but not how to say goodbye.

This discussion with my therapist was more complex. She asked: What were my expectations? Did I see saying goodbye as more emotional?

We talked about the directions we’re given when we leave an appointment. There is a detailed list about cleaning the house and packing. It goes so far as to say “label the boxes” (as if anyone would pack a box and not label its contents).

There’s another list with specifics to include for the people who will be following us. There is no shortage of information on how to leave.

But where’s the list telling you how to say goodbye? When do they tell you you’re likely to have feelings of loss and grief and that these feelings can come before you leave?

No one tells you that months after you’ve left you’ll remember a funny moment when you were there and laugh out loud. Or that you may have feelings of sadness or depression; that leaving is hard.

It’s easy to outline the tangibles; to make a to-do list for packing and cleaning and preparing the way for the next people.

It’s even easy to smile at your farewell reception. You’re going through the motions because you’re living on adrenaline and it’s reminding you of all you have to do next.

It was years before I realized that isn’t saying goodbye. I recognized I had learned some tricks along the way. If you didn’t get too close to people, if you treated them as congregants or volunteers and kept them at arms length then saying goodbye seemed easy. Only that’s not real. It’s superficial and you’ve cheated them and yourself from genuine fellowship.

Now, as we prepare for our last farewell as we enter retirement I want to know how I can do more than leave.

I’ve been journaling my feelings and trying to figure out this goodbye thing. As I worked on a draft for a blog post Emily Freeman’s name came up in my inbox with the subject line reading: 3 Simple Ways to Say Goodbye

There was no mistaking God was hearing my concerns and answering my heart cries.

I’m including the link to her article because you really should read it. We’re all going through goodbye’s of one kind or another so consider her words.

Here’s a couple of things that spoke deeply to me:

Maybe one reason you’ve not been able to move forward into your next right thing is because there’s an ending lingering in your life that never ended with a period.

It was Christmas break of my 8th grade year. I was enjoying school, where we lived and life in general. A day or two after Christmas my parents packed us up and we moved to another town. We would soon learn they left their life as ministers and would divorce. There were no goodbyes, no farewells. We just left. Almost 50 years later this is still a tender spot in my heart.

 As Emily writes, “the first thing is to put a period on the experience.

Don’t let the stuff outweigh the sacred.

Photographs and memories help us mark special times in our life. They are the stuff. The sacred is the impact those moments and people had in your life. How did it change you or help shape you some way?

The sacred things we mark from the ending will be brought forth into our beginnings, not necessarily because of an external thing we bring with us, but because of the person we have become.” 

I have viewed our retirement as an ending. When someone told me it’s the next chapter I corrected her and said it’s the last chapter.

As trite as it may sound it’s true that every ending is also a beginning. I’ve chosen to look at the ending without considering how it’s been preparing me for a new beginning. This is the space I need to give more thought. This is what will help me say goodbye without that unfinished feeling that lingers. It’s a hollow feeling when you fail to mark the sacred things from the time that was.

I know I’ve been changed from those surrounding me. I am full of gratitude for how they’ve impacted my life and given me more understanding of grace.

This is how to say goodbye: with a heart full and running over with gratitude for God’s gift of unending grace and His reckless love.

5 Good Things

1. sons
Our second child was a boy. It’s nearly incomprehensible how much joy both of our children bring. I delight in the differences between daughters and sons. We have been through challenging times with this boy. Perhaps that is what makes the joy so full.


2. breakfast
I’ve always been a breakfast person even when it meant a carton of chocolate milk picked up at the convenience store. Most of my life it’s been little more than cereal and milk. The past few years it’s become a more intentional menu. After visiting Israel I came home eating yogurt most days for breakfast. Greek yogurt, nuts, honey and hot tea, preferably Tazo Organic Chai…..yum!


3. community worship
I’m lousy at personal worship. I’m impatient and self-conscious and all of that. But coming together with others and seeing their expressions is where I find a deeper appreciation.


4. rhythm
I like complicated beats. The kind that aren’t always expected. A syncopated rhythm or at least one with with hesitation. It draws me in. Makes me notice. But the subtle rhythms of life are the ones that trip me up. I don’t know what takes me so long to notice them and make the connections they are drawing in my life.


5. old things
An old manual typewriter sits not far from where I sit now. It doesn’t work well. You can’t get a piece of paper in it because the paper wheel doesn’t grab properly. But I like seeing it. The record player across the room isn’t as obvious. It plays vinyl but it’s not old. It’s made to look like a replica and has a few modern hookups. I learned to type on a manual but one perhaps not this old. I asked for a record player for my 15 birthday and had one until getting the new things called c.d. players in the 80’s. Today even the younger ones are turning back to what is old. They wear wireless headphones while listening to needles glide across vinyl records. Amazing.

The best old things are friends.

The Perfect Side of Boring

Yesterday was the reason people live in South Florida. The skies were a cloudless blue. Humidity was low and the temperature never got above a pleasant 80*. It was perfect. It’s January and this is our winter. 


My freshman English teacher assigned us to write how we envisioned the world. I don’t remember the words I wrote only her comments written in red on the top of my paper. I wrote my vision of a perfect world and she wrote “how boring” that would be.


She didn’t know my parents had divorced earlier that year and that my dad took my younger brother and moved to another state. She didn’t know mom and I also moved and were living far from family. She didn’t know my perfect world had been turned upside down.


How could there be a problem with perfect? If it were boring it wouldn’t be perfect. How did my teacher not get that?


In the years since I’ve learned a lot about perfection and perspective. I know that most of our days are average and ordinary. They are doing the mundane things that must be done. We’re buying groceries and preparing meals. We’re doing laundry and washing dishes, sitting in meetings and standing in lines. We’re fighting traffic in our daily commute while trying to remember everything on our to-do list for the day.


If we’re honest, on the days nothing breaks down they are perfect. And perhaps, some would say, boring. 


So what is perfect? Is it blue skies and 80* in winter? 

If I could, I’d live somewhere else July – September. The humidity is stifling and temperatures rarely get below 77. Heat + humidity = feels like in the 90’s. Every day, month after muggy month.


But we stay because we love palm trees and the close proximity to the ocean. We know the promise of winter. The same reasons some stay through snowy winters. They know the promise of summer.


Perfect is personal. That’s what my teacher didn’t understand.


When my parents divorced I still went to school, mom and I still went to church. We did all the same things but it wasn’t the same. What was ordinary before now looked perfect. Obviously it wasn’t for my parents but it was for my 13 year old self.

It would seem the route to perfection is through hard times. Through times that aren’t comfortable. The prettiest roses I’ve seen grow in climates with cold, snowy winters. 


The weather is simply an analogy for how it is in life. It helps me see that a day of doing all the things can be perfect, if not spectacular. 

The Changing Family Table

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Every year it seems Thanksgiving is getting closer to being squeezed out by all the fanfare of Black Friday. In between the adds for “Best Deals” are the grocery specials on sweet potatoes and turkeys.

Then there are voices proclaiming appreciation for Thanksgiving more than Christmas. They like the slower pace dictated by the day that seems to be focused on family.

Family has always been the focus of our Thanksgiving gathering. Some years have included friends who would have been home alone. We discover which customs we share and where we differ…usually as it relates to food. My mother-in-law always brought the northern foods to our more southern group that would never consider having a Thanksgiving meal without pecan pie.

Menu aside our real reason for gathering was each other. This year will be the first in our 41 year marriage where we won’t be with family on Thanksgiving day. In today’s mobile society that’s quite an achievement. It also speaks to the fact that we like each other.

I know my heart will be missing our coming together. It already does. I’m saddened that my cousin won’t be able to host this year because of damage to their home caused by Hurricane Michael. Five weeks later and only one supermarket chain has been able to reopen.

While we won’t be with kin we will be with our community that gives us every reason to be thankful. Some of our residents in our ARC will celebrate with their sponsors or friends. Very few will share the day with family. For all of them we will be that for them, as best we can while also wearing the hats of pastor, teacher, director. Seeing change in their lives gives us more than we can ever give to them.

One of our counselors focuses on gratitude in one of her groups. Many of us have learned the value of incorporating thoughts of gratitude daily. It’s an intentional practice. It’s especially important for those who find themselves living in a place that was their last hope.

We’ve used different ways to share our thanks over the years. Reading their words humbles me and draws me in a little more to their journey.

We’ve done this at our family Thanksgivings too. Our words of thanks are evidence of privilege: family, music, food, laughter. They are simple and general even though said with true gratitude.

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It’s a mingling of both that brings hearts together in a real family table. One that extends beyond the literal table and chairs. We need the experience of each other to build a stronger community. But we need it most to come closer to God’s immense grace and mercy.

Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing thy grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.

Write 31 Days {week 4}

This is the last full week of October’s writing challenge. I’m enjoying culling through my photos to see what is sparked by the prompts. It’s not always the obvious. I’m trying to stretch my mind though some days….there isn’t much to stretch. You can follow me on Instagram to see my previous posts or check them out here: week 1, week 2, week 3.

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21 | start

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” Arthur Ashe

Start a book, a garden, a family. Start singing. Start dancing. Start living.

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22 | help

My husband and I are Administrators of a residential rehabilitation program. People come to us for some kind of help. Some come seeking shelter from the streets thinking they just need food and rest. Some are looking for a magic cure. But they come searching for help. Help is easy to offer. That’s what we do. 

As I walked down the hall trying to balance the boxes I had in my arms one of the residents called out, “Need help?” “I got it”, I replied as I continued toward the door. He was persistent as he said a littler more firmly, “Let us help you.”

Me? Need help? He caught me. Yes, I could have managed the load I was carrying but to be honest, it was nice to have someone notice the load and want to share it with me. I want to think that accepting his help actually helped us both.

There’s an old hymn we sing we often sing that reminds us who is our true help.

“Are we weak and heavy-laden,

  Cumbered with a load of care?

Precious Savior, still our refuge—

  Take it to the Lord in prayer;

Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?

  Take it to the Lord in prayer;

In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,

  Thou wilt find a solace there.”

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23 | common

Shells are as common to our South Florida landscape as fall leaves are in the northeast. What’s ordinary to one isn’t to another which is our cue to take note of the every day things around us. The simple and familiar are where our gratitude begins.

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24 | brief

The lifespan of a butterfly is brief. Yet in it’s time it does what it was created to do. 

25.capture.IG

25 | capture

Like so many others, this young one is watching for a wave to capture. Often, they spend more time waiting. Perhaps the anticipation is part of the lure. 

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26 | celebrate

11 years ago I stroked my daughter’s hair as she gave birth to her daughter. We celebrate the grand’s birthday this weekend. We’ve been to parties at parks, bounce places and zip lines but this year we’re being banished. After we eat at her choice of restaurants and watch her open her presents, that is. This year she’s having a sleepover. Even her dad is getting the boot for a girls only night. I expect there will be little sleep and an overflow of giggles.

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27 | whole

Our nephew and his bride cut through the whole for the first slice of their wedding cake. This is how we live life – one slice at a time. Make it sweet!

 

Life in Pieces

snapped tree

They did the obvious work first: removing the tree that was snapped by 155 mph winds and fell on their roof then rolled onto the back of their truck. They took pictures of the damage for the insurance claim they’d file in the coming days. Then they began picking through the water saturated things inside this house in the Florida panhandle that is a gathering place for our family.

Ten days later and there is no electricity but cell coverage is coming back in spurts. My cousin drove an hour and half away to have wifi and file a claim with their homeowners insurance. They were the only ones inside a restaurant they found open at the beach to celebrate her husband’s 60th birthday. This will be one none of us will forget.

We live 9 hours south and have had our scares with hurricanes. Last year we evacuated as Irma took aim in our direction but unlike Panama City, we escaped a direct hit and Irma’s punch was much lighter. It doesn’t matter if you live in tornado alley, on a fault line or where annual blizzards cover your cars there is nothing to prepare you for sifting through your life amid the ruins of your home.

When my cousin found a spot of cell coverage she called and quickly said, “We’re okay”. In an instant you realize all the stuff is just that and you celebrate life.

We’ve been able to talk to a few times. Each time we speak I hear her old self coming back but this devastating event will remake her like they’ll remake their home.

insulation

Steve.roof

Boxes of photo albums had expanded with water were pulled from the attic. Some were beyond saving but the ones in frames made it. Pieces of their life sat in piles to save or trash.

She sent texts as she sorted through. I wish I could have been there with her. She’s not a cryer but I know my eyes would have teared up and maybe together we’d have let a few tears fall. We would have found humor where we could because it’s what our family does. But the texts were good. Her words connected us.

As she sifted through the damp and curled pieces she found love letters between she and her husband when they were dating. They had survived Hurricane Michael just as their love has survived. Thirty-eight years of marriage doesn’t come without figurative storms and they’ve had a few. We’ve all had those moments when we surveyed the damage and made decisions to rebuild or not.

Standing in the middle of their house with a gaping hole through the roof, water still puddled on the floor, insulation hanging down through the ceiling, he asked if she wanted to move. It didn’t take my cousin long to answer a definite NO. She reminded him she likes her neighborhood and her neighbors. This is more than a house. It’s where they’ve put roots that are stronger than the trees tossed like toothpicks.

The ruins that remain are looking more like pieces than can be put back together.

“The rainbow doesn’t negate the effects of the storm, 
but does bring light to the dark and is a symbol of hope.”

*As I finished this I got word their water and electricity have been restored!

Write 31 Days {week 2}

This the second week of the writing challenge to write everyday in October. I’m expressing my writing with photos posted on Instagram and posting weekly reviews here. You can find week one here.

Five Minute Friday gives word prompts to direct our writing. If you want to explore the writings of others check out the hashtag #write31days.

Day 7 | Hope

hope.write31days

From the tiny acorn, the ones that litter the yard and crunch under your feet, come strong oak trees. The acorn and mustard seed, both small in size, are symbols of hope. Their growth and strength doesn’t come overnight but with waiting. Their growth is not limited by size. Hope in God is always without limitations. 

“Wait with hope. Hope now; hope always!” Psalm 131:3 the Message

Day 8 | Comfort

8.comfort.write31days

“The best comfort food will always be greens, cornbread, and fried chicken.” Maya Angelou

Cornbread is one of my comfort foods. My granny made hers in a cast-iron skillet in the oven. She liked to crumble her cornbread in a glass of buttermilk and eat it with a spoon. I just like it slathered with butter. Though it’s pretty good to crumble a bit of it and add to beef stew. Delicious comfort!

Day 9 | Inspire

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“Creativity takes courage.” Pablo Picasso

Day 10 | How

10.how.write31days

“A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” Eleanor Roosevelt  

I wonder if we’re at our strongest when we feel the weakest.

Day 11 | Door

11.door.write31days

This is a door at Thomas Edison’s winter home in Ft. Myers, FL. (An interesting tour) Edison opened the  door to sight and sound with his inventions of the incandescent light bulb, phonograph, film, and movie camera just to name a few. These days I’m contemplating what new doors will open to a new future. I’m learning to accept not having that answered today. I can accept it because I believe in God who has been called the door. It’s not always easy but faith seldom is.

Day 12 | Praise

12.praise.write31days

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fam.BW.IG

fam.PC.IG

The past 10 years we’ve celebrated Thanksgiving with extended family in Panama City, Florida. Most years, tables have been put end to end outside to accommodate our growing family. Over the years we’ve added spouses and grandchildren and held space for empty chairs of parents who have passed. 

Each year my cousin (our hostess) has a different way for us to express our thanks. One year there were five corn kernels on our plates. Another year we wrote on construction paper leaves and hung on a branch. It wasn’t the method but the priority and reason we gathered. From youngest to oldest we shared things that filled our hearts with thanks. Music, family, faith, being together, laughter….so much.

This year Hurricane Michael marched through their town with no respect to the families who make their lives there. When my phone lit up with my cousin’s name I answered screaming her name in sheer delight – “Beki!” Her first words were actually, “Breathe….breathe….we’re alright. Our home is destroyed but we’re all okay” A tall pine tree at the corner of their yard came down on their roof and then rolled onto his truck. They were inside their house praying and singing songs of praise. They were scared but the worst had passed and now we were so very thankful for their safety. Gratitude is another form of praise. 

It’s too early to know if we’ll be able to gather for another Thanksgiving celebration in their yard this year. But we will continue to praise as our hearts are full of thanks for each other. 

Day 13 | Talk

13.talk.write31days

I miss this lady.  I miss her laugh and her encouragement. I miss the long talks we had catching up on life from our corners of the country. I miss her heart for service. But all that I miss is held in our memories and passed on to us through her example. 

A Few Things I Learned This Summer

what.i.learned.blog

It’s been a while since I’ve written a recap of things I’ve learned. It started with Emily Freeman‘s invitation to join her in keeping track of the things. She started a monthly review over on her blog that has become a seasonal account. It’s not easy to recall the lessons but being intentional helps us see that we are always learning and sometimes the little things are the big triumphs.

  1. Henry and I were invited to participate in a wedding this summer. It was a privilege and joy to see the transformation and restoration take place in this young man’s life. The wedding was in Philadelphia which gave us a few hours to explore the city and wish we’d had more time. We spent an evening walking in the historic downtown and enjoyed the mixture of history, urban and northern scenery. Who knew?
  2. I took a break. I put blogging on hold and released myself from self-imposed pressures of social media. It was the best thing I did for myself. I realized (aka learned) I’d been focusing on the wrong things. I felt like I was chasing after approval and life isn’t meant to be a chase nor do I need man’s approval. (Still working on that one.)
  3. I discovered Tazo Chai Vanilla Caramel tea. Delicious!
  4. Art is saving my sanity. I am an over thinker. Anyone? The only shut off button for my mind seems to be busy hands. When I’m sewing or painting or taking photos my mind is focused on what’s in front of me. It’s deciding which color of thread to use and cutting the fabric straight. Or setting up a still life shoot or doodling. I’ve known this but when I cut back on blogging I rediscovered what adds peace to my life. And to the lives of those around me 😉 You can check out my photos on Unsplash, a free download site.
  5. I learned to make Apple Cider donuts. YES! First, cooking is not my gifting. I often find it confusing and stressful. But…..there are these apple cider donuts we buy every August from an Orchard in North Carolina. And We. Love. Them. The donuts and the orchard because there is just too much goodness there. This year I set out to learn to make them. My only criteria was they had to be baked. I ordered donut baking pans from Amazon. There is still a bit of tinkering to do with the recipe but it was a success! If you’re interested you can find the recipe here.

We are always learning something but it happens in such ordinary ways we forget the little strides we’re making. I’d encourage you to keep track of the lessons. Jot them down in your day planner or write them on the wall calendar. Make a “Learned” list in Evernote or tell Alexa to keep track but do it. (she says to herself) It’s a gift to yourself.

 

The Things We Keep

bears.doll.blog

It had been a while since my father-in-law died when I saw his phone number still in my husbands contact list. It was thoughtless of me to call this to his attention but I did. He knew it was there, of course.

Mama had the same phone number over 30 years. It was the only one I knew by memory not speed dial. She was the last to maintain a landline, one that would give a busy signal because she never used an answering machine.
When Alzheimer’s progressed to where she needed the safety of a nursing facility I never deleted the phone number from my contacts. I can recite it today as fast as my own.

It’s been 2 years and three months since mama died and I get it. I’ve cleaned out my contact list a couple of times since her passing and both times my finger paused at her name before going on to the next. As if leaving her name in print in my electronic contact book will secure her place in my life.
I am slowly starting to sort through things as we prepare our move into retirement. Clutter is not me but there is So Much Stuff. Every room I walk through holds more things to decide what to keep and what to let go. On the wall is a framed cover of Carole King’s Tapestry album. I practically wore the grooves of the vinyl down the summer of my 14th year. It’s never the item but the memory connected to it.
Every year when we bring out the boxes of Christmas ornaments there is a gold-painted construction paper macaroni star made by one of our kids in preschool. Our kids are in their late 30’s. Dried pasta and Elmer’s school glue are amazing.
I may not be a pack rat but I have a sentimental heart that holds tightly to memories.
At some point I’ll need to let go of our daughter’s favorite rag doll. The one she carried by the braided pigtails until they came unglued from the side of her head. I’ll have to find a new home for our son’s first teddy bear that he named Freddy and the Star Wars figures he’s insisted we keep for him the past 20 years.
Letting go of the things feels like a betrayal. As if all the stories are tied to an object when the most precious things for us to keep are the stories.
There are tangible things we keep. Granny’s dishes kept packed in a box. Ticket stubs from our first trip to England. Family bibles. And phone numbers in contacts.

Five-Minute Friday {Celebrate}

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“Celebrate”, she said.

“Today?” I thought.

Really, it’s not been a great week. I’ve tossed and turned carrying burdens of friends, feeling uncertainty in decisions that don’t have to be made now except for my lack of patience. I’ve been angered by injustice to others and disappointed in much, including myself. We haven’t even seen blue skies in the Sunshine State in two days and the forecast is for more storms.

Celebrate?

Wait, I see a sliver of blue in the sky out back. There is a small part in the clouds. For now. The rains will come again but now there is blue so yes, let’s celebrate now!

Let’s celebrate when the sun peaks out and when the rains pour down.

Let’s celebrate when the answers don’t come or the answer is no.

Let’s celebrate when it doesn’t go my way, when another sleepless night comes and when you feel forgotten. Let’s celebrate in the middle of the mess.

I can’t celebrate without gratitude and gratitude is what I need now. A heart that is thankful for umbrellas and taking risks and knowing that God knows my need.

Let’s celebrate for friends who share their burdens and friends who ask for prayer and friends you’ve never met on this side of the screen and leave you words of encouragement and truth.

Let’s celebrate every day a God who sees inside our mess and calls us His own.

Linking up with a free-writing mob of bloggers in a weekly writing prompt hosted by Kate. Stop over and be part of the conversation.