Help Yourself to Happiness

It was 11:45 PM on a sub-zero February night, and I was pushing a loaded cart through a 24-hour grocery store. The day had been so jam-packed with five children and their needs, I hadn’t had time to shop. But we were out of everything, and it had to be done.

Even though all the kids were in bed, Nate volunteered to wait up for me, a selfless act for a guy who got up with a 5:00 AM alarm. “The least I can do is help you unload.” He may have been wondering why I was so inefficient with my day that I had to get groceries at midnight, but he didn’t say so.

The weather had been below zero for a record number of days in Chicago. It was the kind of cold that made your nose stick together when you sniffed.

As I turned down our street, I regretted our long driveway and the house-length distance from the car to the kitchen but then got an idea. The ground was ice-solid, so as I turned in the driveway, I drove right onto the front lawn and pulled up to within inches of the kitchen porch steps. This translated to fewer steps for Nate and I, fewer minutes out in the freezing cold and more minutes asleep.

I wasn’t sure how Nate would respond to my idea, and when he opened the kitchen door, he had alarm written all over him, as if my brakes had failed and I’d nearly mowed down the porch. But I jumped out of the car saying, “Good idea, huh?” If nothing else, it was efficient.

I tell this little story because it’s one of thousands of funny memories Nate and I shared, and every couple has a catalog of these, beginning with when they met. The recalling of past couple-comedy or even couple-drama can be the glue that holds two people together if they’re falling apart.

When Nate was in the thick of fighting it out with cancer, we found it beneficial to talk away from it. Discussing symptoms, pain levels and med doses was only troubling, and we both knew we were headed nowhere good. But looking back to the silly stories of our couple-history became a happy diversion that brought smiles rather than apprehension. It became a game to come up with something we hadn’t thought of in years.

When present day life offered nothing but misery, stepping out of it to go back to better days was nourishing and even healing. Memories couldn’t heal Nate’s infected organs, but they were a balm to a different kind of “insides”.

We’ve all heard marriage counselors advise troubled couples to look back on their early relationship for the reasons they fell in love. Life complicates for all of us as the years pass, piling debris between husbands and wives until it’s impossible to climb over it to touch each other. Remembering the silly or risky or crazy days of former years helps sweep away some of the rubble of current woes.

Nate and I found that recounting one memory often triggered another. We could spend thirty light-hearted minutes daisy-chaining happy times together, giggling, smiling, touching one another across the debris of cancer between us.

This can also work for physically healthy couples who find their marriages ailing. Although none of us can erase the past to get that proverbial clean slate, shared memories of earlier days together can bring fresh perspective to today’s troubles. In remembering we can sometimes reclaim some of that original joy.

After Nate and I had unloaded the groceries that cold February night, he pulled the car back over the lawn and onto the driveway where it belonged. When he came in, he did a little recollecting even that night. “Remember when you did fly off the driveway and smash into the porch by the front door? That’s what I was thinking when I saw you coming across the lawn tonight.”

We laughed then, and we laughed 15 years later about the same incident during Nate’s cancer, enjoying looking back at a memory we’d shared.

“Rejoice with the wife of your youth.” (Proverbs 5:18b)

The Waiting Game

When a baby is overdue, waiting can be torture. And I’m just the grandma!

Linnea and her husband Adam are excitedly anticipating the arrival of Baby #2 any minute. His nursery is painted and the newborn car seat is ready to be put back in service. My phone is charged and ready in my pocket. We are all standing by, giddy with anticipation and ready with a heap of love. The only one who has no idea what’s about to happen is their daughter Skylar, 18 months and blissfully unaware.

We all refer to Skylar as our miracle baby. Linnea and Adam knew ahead of time they might have trouble becoming parents and began researching the matter a year after they were married. As test results came in, the news wasn’t good. Doctors said there was “no way” a baby could be conceived without the help of modern medicine, so Linnea and Adam considered their options carefully, praying and sometimes fasting as they went along.

In the end, they decided to try IVF, an expensive, painful, emotionally draining process accompanied by weeks of waiting. Their IVF story can be found on Linnea’s blog,

I’ll never forget the sad day Linnea called me from their home in Florida, her voice so distorted by weeping I couldn’t even identify it as my daughter’s. The IVF procedure had failed.

Picking up the pieces and moving forward, Linnea and Adam decided to start over, saving and planning for a second try at IVF. They hoped to accomplish it within a year. But just as they were ready, both of them felt strongly God wanted them to wait even longer, a difficult word to receive but one they obeyed. Now we know, of course, that the Lord was looking at Skylar. Had they gone ahead with the second IVF, they would have unknowingly set aside God’s baby miracle.

Seven months passed, and Linnea and Adam were still waiting for God’s directive to do a second IVF, but Linnea wasn’t feeling very well. Exhausted by dinner each evening, she was queasy much of the time and wondered what could be wrong.

Then one afternoon Adam suggested the impossible by buying a home pregnancy test. Linnea was too nervous to watch the stick develop and stayed one room away. After a few interminable moments of waiting, Adam walked in, stunned by the result. “It’s positive!”

“Well then the test must be defective,” Linnea concluded. “Let’s go get another one, a different brand.”

That one was positive, too. So was the third test, performed in their doctor’s office two days later. And finally they believed it. A baby that no one could explain was on its way. It was God’s miracle, and their waiting was over.

Skylar was not an “easy” baby. Linnea’s word was “intense”, and the intensity has never lessened. But oh the joy she’s brought to all of us! Nelson lovingly calls her the family maniac, but without Skylar, all of us would have missed out on bushels of laughter and mind-flooding gratitude to God.

In the fall of 2007, when Linnea and Adam anticipated never having children, their mouths would have dropped open and eyes grown wide if someone had said, “Two years from now you’ll be delivering your second baby!”

But this is often how God works. We call out to him in desperation and frustration. We analyze our situation and see it’s not humanly possible for things to work out. We despair and grieve, sometimes railing at God in anger. We cry and say, “It isn’t fair!”

The Lord smiles at three things:

  1. when we say, “I give up.”
  2. when the experts say, “There’s no way.”
  3. when his obedient children say, “Yes, we’ll wait.”

It’s at those times he positions himself to unleash a surprise beyond our wildest imaginations. For our family, Skylar is that wild surprise, and Baby #2 is wild-surprise-maximus!

There is no other explanation for these wonders except to say, it’s all about God. And whatever he has planned is always worth the wait!

“Who is like you among the gods, O Lord—glorious in holiness, awesome in splendor, performing great wonders?” (Exodus 15:11)

At the Head of the Class

Is it possible to live without regrets? Probably not. All of us are pros at looking backwards and playing rounds of would-have, could-have and should-have. Regret comes naturally. The trick is facing forward to play the would-do, could-do and should-do game.

When I think of Nate, particularly of his last year as he suffered so much back pain and then cancer pain, I often wonder if he had regrets. I can’t imagine he did, because in my opinion, he suffered well, taking the high road and carrying his miserable assignment without complaint.

As for me, I have a bucket full of regrets and if-only’s. I try not to play those games, but sometimes they taunt me like a school yard bully.

I think often of my mom, who was a fun-loving, happy-go-lucky person who worked hard and had hundreds of friends. Her funeral was SRO, unusual for a 92 year old woman, the room (and hall and lobby) filled with a crowd of mourners much younger than she. They were people a generation and sometimes two behind her on whom she’d had a profound impact. She was young at heart and in thought, influencing lives of all ages.

I was lucky enough to spend every Saturday evening with mom during the last year of her life. We’d eat, watch TV, play games, laugh, pray, and make plans for the future. One Saturday we found ourselves talking theology. She was in her “Genesis Phase,” digging deep into the first few chapters of the Bible for several months straight. Somehow we got onto the subject of living life without regrets (probably talking about Eve).

I asked mom, “How about you? Do you have any regrets?” This woman had won awards, taught the Bible, led committees, entertained thousands, evangelized neighborhoods, tended to the elderly, babysat unnumbered children, made friends in high places and lived life to the fullest.

She didn’t answer my question right away but seemed lost in thought. Finally she responded. “My whole life is one big regret.”

I couldn’t believe my ears, this coming from a woman who was the role model for hundreds. “What?” I said. “You’re kidding!”

Words of praise rushed from my mouth like water from a fire hose, and I spent the next ten minutes listing reasons why she shouldn’t have any regrets. She continued to look out the window and shake her head just enough for me to notice. I changed the subject, hoping to pull her from the doldrums of the moment. Today I regret filling the air with compliments. If I’d asked for more of her thoughts, I might have learned something.

Mom died in 2005, and I’ve had five years to reflect on her comment. I think she had gleaned so much about the Lord in her studying and praying that she genuinely knew she hadn’t measured up and never could. All the would-haves, could-haves and should-haves she might have accomplished couldn’t even come close.

She had long ago stopped comparing herself to other people and what they’d accomplished, and by then was comparing herself only to Jesus Christ and what he’d accomplished. In her judgment, she’d been “weighed in the balance and found wanting.” (Daniel 5:27)

The fact that I had made a major effort to talk her out of her somber self-assessment proved the shallow depth of my own spiritual understanding. Mom had been attending God’s school of wisdom for 92 years and was finally at the head of the class, but I was trying to coax her to the back row. Examining her life and “landing low” was her arrival at genuine humility. God was nodding his approval and making big plans to lift her up

“Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:9-10).