I have a new appreciation for seeds.
Three weeks ago Bill and I scanned racks of tiny, colorful packets looking for vegetables to grow in our newly constructed container garden. Our intent is to start the plants indoors and transfer the seedlings outside when weather permits. Seems simple enough.
Bill filled eight small containers with fresh dirt and carefully inserted the small beginnings of arugula, zucchini, peppers and green onions. He placed them on a tray which sits under a timed light on his shop bench and, apart from watering, we leave them alone.
I walk past these pots each time I go to the laundry room or freezer and feel a kinship with them given my season of life. I, too, am planting seeds - letting people know that I am well and able to work again. The website is up, emails have gone out, and my team is spreading the word.
But nothing happens right away in the world of gardening. Day after day I’d pass the starter cups of life-giving potential and see only dirt. Day after day I would open my emails to find no work options. And my husband would say, “Shelaine, it’s only been one month”.
I knew he was right, and waiting is no stranger to me. The last four years have contained lessons from the Lord on the joy and value of surrendering to His timing and not forcing my agenda.
Yet insecurities creep in. Will there be work for me? Are my skills still relevant?
And, in the midst, God speaks.
I stood in front of the workbench one morning enjoying eighteen spindly green strands stretching ceiling-ward. The two pots of arugula had taken off when I was upstairs but the other six remained unchanged. Future salads gave hope. But the more enlightening thought came as a question. Why am I not throwing the other pots away?
A seed can sit dormant in a package for months and only when the environmental conditions are right does it begin to grow. Water triggers enzymes that prompt roots to seek underground moisture and, with time, a sprout heads toward the surface. Only when the tender shoot breaks the soil do I see evidence of what came before.
My journey is no different.
And now I am beginning to see the soil cracking and shoots of opportunity growing. With each inquiry, I receive not only the encouragement of possible work but another story of how God has gone before preparing the way for me and for those in need of something I offer. And I am reminded:
“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” 1Cor. 3:6
With love and gratitude,
“I can help you at this check-out,” offered the manager of a large retail store.
I set my purchase on the counter and asked if the item would be on sale any time soon. His mumbled response got lost in his shirt as he studied the cash register and worked at pushing the correct buttons.
All I caught was, “No, but…murmur, mumble, murmur…can give….15% …discount.”
“Oh, thank you,” I replied.
He busied himself entering codes and continued his muffled talk. I can’t exactly say how it happened but something he uttered under his breath registered, and I got what he meant.
Later I conveyed this story to a son over dinner and at this point in its re-telling I looked at him and declared, “He gave me the senior’s discount! And as I left the store I asked another worker about their policy. It’s 60! Not even 55!”
Without hesitation my clever son replied, “Oh, Mr. Bay, may you rest in peace.”
To be clear, I am 50.
The truth is I’m not that bent out of shape about the episode because I’m not particularly concerned about aging. My dramatic story telling was largely for entertainment value. But the idea of being flabbergasted by one man’s simple gesture of intended kindness does remind me of a principle God has been teaching me for years:
When a situation elicits a disproportionate emotional response, it’s worth taking time to step back and ask God to help me see what else is going on.
I call this having a meeting with myself.
I begin asking myself favorite go-to questions. What’s really going on here for me? What am I afraid of? Do I need a time out? In addition to bringing the intensity down a few notches, these questions help me sift through my feelings and identify core issues.
Sometimes the exercise is brief, as with the “senior moment”. After God and I discussed possible roots to my reaction I concluded that I am feeling better than I have in years. The shock of being thought 60 (or older!) directly conflicts with my internal “age” of 40 or younger. The discount offer clashes with how old I feel and more than anything took me by surprise.
And that is pretty much the end of that incident. Well, I did ask my husband if he thinks I look 60 and, wise man that he is, he replied, “No, of course not!”
But there are other times when clarity takes longer. Some situations trigger deeply imbedded beliefs, insecurities, longings or fears and require more meetings to sort through with God, a trusted friend, or counselor.
Perhaps the greatest learning for me is in asking God to use daily circumstances to refine my character and being willing to endure the internal discomfort situations stir. I credit a wise counselor who years ago instructed me to “just sit in the mess”. At the time I thought, “Am I paying for this advice?” but have since come to appreciate the value in letting God pull back layers of understanding over time.
Running from reactions rarely breeds growth. So, I will return to the retailer in question…just maybe not on the first Tuesday of the month.
With love and gratitude,
There’s nothing like a good stretch.
Picture a mouth wide-open yawn with shoulders pushing back, chest forward, and each arm unfolding to full extension. Fingers splay in full body tension while the yawn completes and then, in an instant, everything collapses into relaxation. Ahhh.
Recently I overheard a trainer at my gym speaking to another client. “Hold that stretch for a minute, not five seconds like most people do.” That statement crystallized my thoughts.
Stretching takes time.
You can’t rush a good lengthening of muscles. When I first began this post-surgery, rigorous rehabilitation fitness program I must confess I didn’t see the value in this static activity. Grab the band with left hand, put right foot forward, turn head to the right, and drop chin to your clavicle. I’d like to think my aversion to stretching came from my inability to track all the lefts and rights. How many times have I heard, “No, you’re other left, Shelaine.”
Eventually I employed the proper technique and then counted. To one minute. Or, depending on the configuration of my body position, I watched the clock methodically tick off 60 long-suffering seconds. How is it that a single minute can feel so prolonged?
The answer may lie in the second unavoidable fact of quality stretching. It hurts.
Last week I had an abnormally tight, painful muscle in my neck, for no obvious reason. I had iced and applied heat and tried all the tricks and poses I knew to relieve the discomfort but to no avail. I explained the situation to my trainer, pointing to the culprit area. She cocked her head one way, and then another, trying to isolate the revolting muscle.
“It’s your levator scapulae,” she concluded. “Try this.”
I contorted my arms and neck into her prescribed position and gasped – not the “breathe deeply” kind of intake, but rather the “How can this possibly be a good idea?” sucking in of oxygen kind. She must read minds. “Just keep breathing deeply. It will release eventually,” she encouraged.
She was right. Eventually.
But did you catch the word contorted? Another aspect of stretching I’ve been pondering is that it requires assuming uncomfortable positions. One evening Bill walked into the room and jested, “Someone call 911! My wife fell down and became a pretzel!” as he observed my body twisted with arms and legs intertwined, all in the name of health. There is just nothing natural-feeling about some of the poses. And yet…
It’s good for me. And it’s a lot like life.
When God calls me into something new I am thrust into the uncomfortable position of change and different. Moving out of the work world four years ago into solitude and quiet strained my muscles of relational connection and task orientation. I grieved the absence of social contact and bore the tension of leaning into that stretch. And, over time, release came. God met me in those alone days and quieted my spirit. I came to love that season.
You’d think I’d learn. Stretching is not a one-off.
Just as a physical muscle needs repeated effort to increase flexibility and range of motion, I find myself experiencing conflicting feelings as I move into the new unknown of returning to work. And in these moments where I feel contorted, pulled or tense God faithfully reminds me that He is the One drawing and leading me forward. Psalm 32:8 comes to mind. “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”
I’m coming to the conclusion that stretching is an act of faith. I intentionally lean into the discomfort because I know that the process of lengthening my muscles - whether physical, spiritual, emotional or social - will, in the end, produce great reward. It’s all connected. When my neck muscles are less tight they don’t pull my clavicle out of place or my shoulder forward. When those parts are aligned, my spine stands tall and my hips move freely which, in turn, means my knees and feet are going the right direction.
And what more could I ask for than my feet heading in the right direction?
With love and gratitude,
Mutual Edit-fication: Term coined for the weekly time Shelaine and Bill spend in front of the fire giving feedback on each other's writing.
It wasn't always this way. For years Saturday mornings were a blur of pancake breakfasts and filling water bottles, then transporting boys across the Lower Mainland to soccer fields. Somewhere over the years cheering on our sons while standing in the rain shifted to sipping coffee in our robes and reviewing writing.
Actually, that makes it sound like I don't know when the change happened, but I do.
It happened when jaw pain sidelined my career in conjunction with our young men launching into adulthood, and Bill and I found ourselves in multiple transitions. Thankfully, we had made efforts over the busy child-raising years to stay connected and worked intentionally at growing together in our marriage. We looked forward to the empty nest season as one where we would spread our wings and hike, kayak, and even travel. However, my world of excruciating pain effectively clipped those wings.
Finding shared activities we could enjoy, during the two years I waited for surgery, proved challenging. We watched hockey and football together allowing the announcers to fill the void of talk in the room. We walked miles, often in silence, to manage jaw pain. And that was about the extent of it…for a while.
I don't recall any conversation initiating our fire-side interactions. It just evolved. During the week I wrote to stay sane and fill time in my endless home-alone days. Bill revised his textbook for the fourth edition and we emailed our work to the other by mid-week. Saturday morning seemed a natural opportunity to exchange ideas, debate sentence structure and encourage our craft.
Bill and I edited ourselves into deeper relationship.
We’ve discovered that pain and loss have a way of redefining us if we allow God to do so. And we haven’t navigated alone. We continue to seek insight from wise counsellors and support from caring friends. It takes a village to keep a marriage strong.
During our surgery months in Mississauga we began reading together, inspired by friends who have developed a meaningful habit of him reading out loud while she quilts. We took Silken Laumann's memoir, Unsinkable, Bob Goff’s Love Does and Chris Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth and spent hours enjoying their words; Bill reading, me listening with jaw wired.
And we loved the shared experience enough that 20 months later we've carried on. Four or five nights a week we crawl into bed and Bill reads a chapter out loud while I settle in and wind down from the day.
My world has opened widely since surgery and we marvel at God's abundant provisions both during and since that season. As I reflect on how we have grown as a couple I'm reminded that it's a three-way partnership. God has called us to committed faithfulness in sickness and health and He desires us to do our part. I write this fully aware that marriage can be a source of great joy, intense sorrow and every emotion in between. Sometimes it is just hard work.
And, we are grateful to the Lord for the dividends on the investment.
Our latest adventure comes in the form of websites. I launched mine in early January, after much edit-fication, and since then we have partnered to create a new site for Bill. You can find his, called Relating Redemptively, at: www.billstrom.ca where you will also see links to his two books, some self-assessments and his blog titled Virtuous Relating. Please, check it out. You might even find some resources there to strengthen your relationships.
With love and gratitude,
In The Midst