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The Perfect Vacation

Summer.  Families are crammed into vans bulging with suitcases, pillows, headphones, and a cooler for drinks and snacks.  Dads are checking the tires one last time.  Moms are reminding themselves this is going to be fun.  Kids are asking if we’re almost there, an hour into the trip.

What makes a perfect vacation?  I can answer that in one paragraph.  It’s being together, creating memories.  That’s it.  It doesn’t matter where you go or how much money you spend but being with the ones you love.

Recently, Randy and I gathered our six children and their families into a two-story lodge, nestled in a remote area of Arizona, away from any store, restaurant, or amusement park.  It was the setting for an unforgettable vacation.

At first, we met some resistance, the majority voting for the enticing call of the beach, amusement parks, fancy restaurants, and the related glamour.  I kept my mind open, considering several elegant accommodations, always returning to the simple.  I knew the results of such distractions.  We would all go our separate ways, meeting at the end of the day, worn out and cranky.

Not knowing when I could gather our chicks together again, I wanted this vacation to be unforgettable, even for the youngest.  It was a risk.  Would we be able to set aside the glitter of the world and have fun being together in one large cabin, with not even a McDonalds in sight?

After making the final decision to rough it and secure our humble accommodations, panic set in.  Four days in a remote area void of worldly entertainment and technology might be a disaster.  Assigning each family to plan a unique game or activity helped ease my fear of potential boredom.  Little did I know all we needed was a creek, a tree house, a zip line, and each other.

My six children and their respective families are scattered all over the country, so some young cousins had never met.  Instant bonding occurred as they ventured into the big backyard that was their playground.  They caught bugs, played with sticks, and jumped rocks in the creek.  We never heard the words, “We’re bored.  What can we do?”  No one complained about standing in long lines.  Not once did anyone text or engage in video games.  WiFi wasn’t available in our remote location so it wasn’t an option.  Although we did have a large screen TV with a DVD player, it was rarely on.  Surprisingly, the call of the wild was more enticing.

I watched my children interact as adults, engaging in deep conversations, remembering childhood pranks, and working together in the kitchen.  There were late night talks and lots of laughter.  Ping pong tournaments, handmade boat races on the creek, silly games, and attempts to catch fish and crawdads filled the days for both young and old.  S’mores never tasted so good made around the fire pit with only the light of the flames and stars.  As we gathered the last evening to watch a variety show that featured everything from break dancing to an original piano composition, I marveled at the love and support that filled the room.  What more could a mom ask than to see her posterity gathered, happily satisfied with what matters?

For us, it was the perfect vacation!

TIME. Friend or Foe?

It was a pleasant evening for May.  The only problem was the bright sun glaring in our eyes each time we stole a glance at the football field.  Sitting on the sunny side, it would be a relief to have it go down before the festivities began.  Nothing was happening and wouldn’t for another hour, but anticipation filled the stadium as we waited.  Helium balloons, flowers, and banners flashing words of “Congratulations” bobbed all around us.  Rows and rows of chairs sat on the newly mown grass facing a silent stage.  We were there for the graduation of our grandson, and soon this empty field would be overflowing with teachers and senior high school students, dressed in long, regal robes.

As I sat on the hard bleacher, I reflected on the life of my oldest grandson.  What happened to the last eighteen years?  It was only yesterday when we watched him toddle around, babbling his baby language, and arranging his matchbox cars in a perfect line.  Now he filed in with four hundred others, in the same kind of straight, precise line.

Time.  We don’t get along.  I want to restrain the hands of a clock to keep them from moving or spin them ahead to the future.  I don’t know which is worse.

The Peter Pan Syndrome

I never wanted to grow up.  For years, I dismayed at each approaching birthday, wishing life to stay the same.  Perhaps I wasn’t anxious to shoulder the responsibility of adulthood, or I was insanely happy being young.  But growing up happened and then I faced the dread of entering each decade; 30, 40, 50, 60.  Stop!  (Note I skipped the 20’s.  Those years were the best!)  I’ve given up grieving over my age.  I now realize that birthdays are a good thing, considering the alternative.

Another issue I face is watching my children, and now my grandchildren grow up.  I enjoy seeing them develop their talents and blossom, yet I cringe when the pigtails and Legos become mascara and iPhones.  Young mothers, beware.  It happens faster than you think.

Then there are the holidays.  I wait all year for Christmas to come.  And because I want it to go slowly and savor every moment, it flees in a flicker.  The more I want time to slow down, it speeds up, and I’m left standing in the midst of wrapping paper and crumbs wondering what happened.

Tomorrow . . .

In contrast with the Peter Pan Syndrome where I want time to stand still is my tendency to concentrate on upcoming events.  I realize how often during the day I catch myself thinking, “Tomorrow I must . . . ” or “I can’t wait until. . . .”  I leave the moment to live in the future.

When I had my first baby, I anxiously anticipated the day she could walk, then talk and tell me what she was feeling.  I couldn’t wait for her hair to grow long enough to stay in ponytails or be brave enough to go down the slide.  A few weeks ago I watched her stand in line excited to ride a wild roller coaster.  What happened?  I focused on the “tomorrows” of her life and missed out on lots of the “today’s.”

While on vacation, I find myself thinking about the activities planned for the next day.  Right in the midst of all the fun, I’m mentally absent.  Realizing what I’m doing, I remind myself to return and enjoy the present.  I’m a planner, and as I focus and prepare for the tomorrows, I often miss out on the enjoyment of what is happening all around me, in my today’s.

Fortunately, I live with a good role model who is the epitome of everything I’m not.  My husband lives for the moment as he enjoys the stroll through the park while I focus on the destination.  Over time, he has rubbed off on me, and I take more opportunities to savor the journey.

Embracing Time

Contending with time is a losing battle.  Time trudges onward regardless of my desire to control it.  Age and increased wisdom have taught me my only choice is to respect it and make it my ally.

I have learned to enjoy every stage of life, both my own and those around me.  Accepting the natural process of aging allows me to rejoice in progress and growth.  I watch my children, grandchildren, and friends with wonder and appreciation for each phase of life we are living.

There is no use pining for the time that is gone.  We can never reclaim it.  Time is the author of our memories and how we use it makes us who we are.  The past becomes valuable when we allow it to teach us.

Time must be valued.  We are all given the same number of minutes in a day and how we choose to use them determines our tomorrows.  Dreams of the future never come true unless we do something with the time we have right now.  Hard work and the wise use of time results in the realization of our hopes and dreams.

Time will not ever be my BEST friend, but I’ve learned to relax and let it do its thing.  I will always wish I could slow it down, but that’s the result of loving life.  Learning to appreciate time as a gift has helped me surrender to its demands and humbly embrace it.  It’s about “time” I figured that out!

Moms in the Kitchen

How does Mom take a few ingredients and combine them in such a way to make mouth-watering meals and desserts?  Here are some favorite recipes, written from a child’s perspective!


1 whole piece of butter

brown sugar

lots of nuts

50 chocolate chips

90 oatmeal

First, we melt the butter.  We put it in the mixer.  Then we turn it on.  Next, add brown sugar.  Chop up nuts.  Put in the chocolate chips and oatmeal.  Now its time to taste a little of the cookie dough.  After that scoop the cookie dough onto the pan.  Put it in a kind of hot oven for 15 minutes.  Get them out of the oven.  When they’re all cooled off, you get to eat them!



A bunch of these vegetables:

Carrots, Peas, Green Beans, Corn

A Whole Chicken

5 cups of gravy


You make it like a pizza crust but harder.  You don’t really eat this part.  Put the crust in a pan so it goes on the sides too.

Mix the filling things together.  Now pour into the crust.  Put a thing on top.  That part you eat.  Put it in the oven to cook for a half hour.


1 handful of cheese

1 meat (chicken)

Just a little sauce (almost like spaghetti sauce)

1 tortilla

Put the chicken in a pot and cook for an hour or two.  Right when it’s done, you put the cheese on top of the chicken.  (Be sure to take the bones out of the chicken first.)  Put the sauce on the tortilla.  Roll it up and eat it!


1 English Muffin

Peanut butter (enough to fill up the tip of a knife.)

Honey (10 seconds long)

Take an English muffin and cut it in half.  Put both halves into a toaster, because our toaster does two at a time.  Set the toaster at one centimeter before the 5.  After the 5 is too much!  Take the English muffins out and put peanut butter on them until you can barely see the muffin part.  Then put honey on top of the peanut butter.  Squeeze the honey over the peanut butter for 10 seconds and then spread it.  It’s all done!

SALMON by Jonathan

Go fishing for salmon (you need one big giant piece)

A little bit of salt

A bunch of pepper (my mom likes it with a bunch of pepper)

Put it in a medium hot oven and cook it for 40 minutes.  Put melted cheese on it.  Then cut it up and eat it with pasta!


10 Oreos

1 box vanilla ice cream

1 Lucky M&M

Whipped Cream (however much you want for the top)

Take out the white stuff on the Oreos (unless you like the white stuff, then leave it in).  Put the Oreos in a bag.  Smash up the cookies with the flat side of a cooking hammer.  (Don’t use the spiky side!)  Put the crushed up Oreos in a pan like thing and flatten it for the crust.  Put the ice cream on until it comes to the top of the pan.  Leave space for whipped cream.  Stick the Lucky M&M in the ice cream with a spoon.  (Don’t use your fingers!)  Put the whipped cream on the top.  We usually put a few crushed up Oreos and sprinkles on top.  If you get the Lucky M&M you get a couple of dollars!

And just in case you want to make something special for Mom:


3 strawberries, cut straight through the fuzzy thing

1 banana, chopped up

4 scoops of strawberry ice cream

4 purple grapes

4 squirts of chocolate

1 card

First, you take ice cream.  Second, get the bananas.  Next, get the grapes and put on the side of the bowl.  Put the chopped strawberries in the middle of the ice cream.  Last, put the squirts of chocolate on the strawberries.  Get a pink string and some scissors.  Put your thumb on the scissors and curl it.  Get a hole puncher and punch a hole 1 centimeter away from the edge of the card.  Take the pink string and put it through the hole and tie a knot.  Put a big heart on the card and write in the heart, “Thank you for everything you do.”

Happy Mother’s Day to Mothers everywhere!  You’re being watched more than you know!

Credits:  First and Second Grade Students from Mrs. Bretzing’s class.

The Quest for Success

Success.  What is it?  How is it measured?  How is it attained?  We spend our lives working, striving, seeking to be successful.  When success is achieved, is that the end, or merely a stepping stone leading us to more?

What is Success?

Success is different for everyone.  Defined as a “favorable outcome,” it is preceded by the desires of our heart.  We decide what we want in life and then strive with all our might to achieve it.  Persistence, patience, and lots of hard work are essential elements of success.

Success does not come without experiencing failure.  Lots of it.  When I was eight years old, I begged my parents to let me play the violin.  Anyone who has listened to a violin student practice will agree it takes years before he or she sounds pleasing to the ear.  Many beginners give up as the rewards of daily practice are not realized for a very long time.

When I entered high school, my persistence began to pay off.  I was the concertmistress for our orchestra and we had an active drama department.  I spent many hours in an orchestra pit accompanying the musicals our school performed, loving every moment.  On the university level, I auditioned and became a member of the Philharmonic Orchestra, gaining exposure to various genres of music with opportunities to perform for larger audiences.

Successful moments were finally awarded, but not before making countless mistakes.  I remember playing in recitals and being embarrassed by my performance.  Vowing I would never play the violin in public again, I eventually reconsidered and attempted one more time.  I can’t think of a solo performance that was free of mistakes, but I kept trying.  Fortunately, success shines brighter than the struggle to get there.  Today I embrace the joy I received from playing the violin while the memory of failures has faded.

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”  Winston Churchill

Measuring Success

I love making lists.  At the end of a busy day, I check my list to find I can only cross off one or two items.  Was my day a waste, or did I achieve success through the back door?

We are the ones who measure our success.  I can refer to my list to determine if my day is successful, or I can count listening to a friend who needed me as a better use of time.  Sometimes we must see beyond the plan and take credit for the simple things.  Success isn’t always visible.

Another way we err is to measure our success using someone else’s ruler.  There are people who make success look easy, but we see the accomplishment, not the journey.  The only fair measurement comes from the person residing in our skin.  We are not in a race, we set the pace, and we determine the finish line.  Comparison breeds discouragement and low self-esteem.

We also become disheartened if we let others measure our success or lack of it.  We should never allow outside voices or opinions crush our dreams.  Keep believing.

“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.”  Abraham Lincoln (From the person who failed twice in business, had a nervous breakdown, and lost eight elections before becoming President of the United States.)

Don’t give up.  Someone said success is a journey, not a destination.  Once achieved, we can hardly sit and relax.  Successful people set another goal and keep pressing forward, knowing there will always be stumbling blocks to conquer.

“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.”  Booker T. Washington

Achieving Success

Determination and hard work are key components of success.  Both take motivation, a positive attitude, and belief in oneself.

Twenty-eight years after graduating from college, I decided to re-enter the classroom as an elementary school teacher.  My timing was not the best.  Two years of teaching experience would not amount to much when competing with the new crop of education majors.  I decreased my odds by choosing a year with more qualified candidates than job openings.

I decided to move forward with my plan in April.  Five months later I was preparing my first-grade classroom for the beginning of school.  How was that possible?

I believed I could do it.  And then I worked my head off.

Ideas change drastically over two and a half decades, so I dug in and studied the current philosophies and methods of education.  I read recent publications and textbooks and became familiar with new terms and practices.  Going on the Internet, I searched sample interview questions and prepared answers.  I was ready when the call came to interview and my efforts paid off.

Was getting the job the end?  It was just the beginning!  Now I had to work long hours to achieve success within the classroom and each year brought new challenges and learning experiences.  I made mistakes, some days I failed, but to see a child succeed made it all worthwhile.

A cancer diagnosis right before the start of a new school year became my toughest hurdle.  I dug deep to give my students the education they deserved and maintain a positive attitude while enduring months of chemotherapy.  There were many days I didn’t know how I could go on.  Mustering every ounce of strength, I did my best and succeeded in completing the year.  I still share a special bond with many of these students and their families.  The harder the road, the sweeter the success.

I will always be glad I didn’t let my weaknesses and deficiencies keep me from pursuing my dream to make a difference in the lives of children.

“Your positive action combined with positive thinking results in success.”  Shiv Khera

Success!  Then What?

Success has a short shelf life.  There is little time to celebrate because life continues and so must we.  Success breeds more success as we gain confidence in our abilities and potential.  Our failures are not failures if we learn from them.  Keep working, keep hoping, keep believing, stay positive, and the cherished yet fleeting moments of success will provide us with well-earned satisfaction and joy.

Why Stories Matter

Our life is a composition of stories, forgotten if not written or shared.  Enjoy this article, written by guest author, Rhonda Lauritzen, founder of Evalogue Life–Tell Your Story!

I didn’t set out to write my own family’s story, or anyone else’s for that matter. In 2007 the power of story showed up in my life out of nowhere. It started as a little spark, or a nudge just to pick up a pen somehow just feeling I should go with it. It felt like the whisperings of purpose so I circled a date on my calendar and decided to simply begin and see what was there. When that date arrived, ideas about my parents flowed freely and in the middle of that writing, I got a call my dad had just passed away. The timing, given everything that was on the page was unbelievably uncanny and in the middle of grieving, I felt that my mother and I should write their life story. Every Essential Element was published four years later, and the process changed me. People’s stories are now my life’s devotion and I have learned that they are far more important to families than I imagined.


Why? At a basic level, humans are storytelling animals, wired in powerful ways. We daydream with our minds telling a running narrative. At night, our minds continue right on with the storytelling. Children act out stories in play, rehearsing grown-up life through narrative. Every movie, television show, and most great songs are stories. Even television commercials grab us with mini vignettes. Interactive gaming creates whole worlds of story in which players become live action heroes.


Stories are how we learn, convey our culture and teach the next generation. Every religious text and oral history tradition passes a canon of stories to the next generation.


With that overview, I’d like to share three core beliefs I have about why stories matter:


First: Stories bind families together.


Second: Stories shape the meaning of what happens to us.


Third: Stories are how we will be remembered.


I want to begin with the first claim, and one of the most powerful reasons to tell stories. It is, simply:

1.  Stories bind families

In my own family, I could not have known when I began writing Every Essential Element that one day, I would have a child who would only know her grandfather, my dad, by the stories we tell about him. Now she has a book to read someday when my own memory has faded, to illustrate why we named her for this man. The process of writing about my parents’ values helped me solidify my own beliefs, encouraging me to become the kind of person who acts on faith.


In addition to my personal experience, there is a wonderful New York Times article entitled, “The Stories That Bind Us,” author Bruce Feiler tells of a time when his family reached a breaking point. Fear that his family was falling apart led him on a quest for the best research about what makes a strong family. He scoured the literature and came to a surprising conclusion, “The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.”


In one powerful study, researchers found that children who knew more about their families did better in times of stress. “We were blown away,” the researcher said. Read related article about Bruce Feiler and the power of telling stories with your families.


The answers children gave to even simple questions like, “where were your parents born,” told whether they felt like they belonged to something bigger than themselves. It turns out that children with the most self-confidence have a strong “intergenerational self.”


Anyway, back to Bruce Feiler. He goes onto clarify that while all stories carry meaning, some are better than others. The most helpful narrative is one called the “oscillating family narrative” which goes something like this: “Darlin’, we’ve had good times and we have had some doozies. But no matter what happened, we always stuck together.” I love that they’re suggesting we whitewash the hard stuff.


In short, if you want a happier, more resilient family then put some effort into intentionally telling the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to get through the difficult ones. This one simple act may increase the odds that your family will flourish.

2.  Stories shape the meaning of what happens to us


Since the beginning of time, humans have been telling stories around the fire. The Bible is in a story format for a reason. In short, story is how we teach and how we inspire. Story has the power to change people.


Here is one of my favorite examples of how story shapes meaning. In Helen Keller’s autobiography the part that stuck with me is where she describes how as a girl, the world existed for her as amorphous shapes that she did not understand. It was not until she gained language that she fully awakened. The ability to describe the world and put it into words made everything come alive for her. She came alive. As she discovered the world through language, she discovered her purpose in it.


I have also seen people evolve through the telling of their story. In other words, they sometimes grow right before my eyes. This usually happens when I am interviewing someone for a full book. It happened in the process of writing Remember When, with Norma Kier. She conquered her greatest fear at age 80 while we were still writing the ending.


There are times when I see something in the teller of a story that he or she may not have noticed in themselves. When I write about their life, they see it through a new lens and it often it solidifies their strengths or points out fences that still need mending while there is time.

3.  Stories are how we will be remembered.


There was no way I could have known when I began writing my parents’ story that one day I would have a little girl named after my dad, and that she would only know him through the book. Without stories passed on, she would share a name with a headstone but not have a connection to the funny grandpa, the passionate entrepreneur, and the in-love husband that he was.

Maybe there’s a great article or study to back up this third point, but instead I’d like to propose this exercise:


How many of your great-grandparents can you name?


Do details and personality traits come to mind about all 8 of your great-grandparents? Do you know how you take after them? What were their greatest triumphs and hardships? Here is a confession. I didn’t even realize I had 8 great-grandparents until I was an adult and did the math. Why? Because I only knew stories about some of them. Now I know them all because I have sought out their stories.


Am I right that the ones you remember best have the strongest stories attached?


It is curious to me that we spend so much money on gravestones, yet these markers tell little about people’s lives. It’s a sobering thought to me that by the time the last person dies who personally knew me, the ONLY memory will be stories passed down. Two generations, that’s all it will take to wipe out all memory of me.


In my own family, I have become more intentional to preserve the ongoing narrative of our story because I know it will strengthen us now, and in the future. I write each story as a love letter to the future. If you don’t tell your story, who will? It reminds me of song from the musical Hamilton, “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”


Rhonda Lauritzen is the founder and an author at Evalogue.Life – Tell Your Story. Rhonda lives to hear and write about people’s lives, especially the uncanny moments. She and her husband Milan restored an 1890 Victorian in Ogden, Utah and work together in it, weaving family and business together. She especially enjoys unplugging in nature. Check out her latest book Remember When, the inspiring Norma and Jim Kier story.

Luck, or Something More?

My husband and I were in the early years of our marriage when we set out across the country, pulling everything we owned in the largest U-Haul trailer our old Pontiac Grand Prix could handle.  Driving from Arizona to Virginia was quite the adventure for a girl who had never been further east than New Mexico.  I felt a mixture of excitement and trepidation as we left family and everything familiar behind in a cloud of Arizona dust.

Poor college students that we were, Randy had learned to do most of the maintenance work on his beloved car.  In preparation for our trip, he changed the oil, did a tune-up, and repacked the bearings on all four wheels.  Being the only transportation we owned, we relied on it to get us to our destination and beyond.

The first thousand miles went well as we wound our way across state after state, enjoying new sites and scenery.  Despite the load we pulled, Randy often left the freeway to explore the less traveled back roads.  We saw amazing country off the beaten path, even though the journey took a few days longer.

After four days of traveling, the only obstacle that kept us from our destination was the Appalachian Mountains.  It was dusk and we were not ready to stop for the night so we decided to press forward.  As Randy studied the map, he noted two possible routes that would accomplish our goal.  We could take a well-traveled highway or a meandering country road lined with trees with the chance of seeing wildlife.  His choice didn’t surprise me.

We were well into our curvy climb when we began hearing a squeaking noise.  It was coming from the left front wheel and sounded like dry bearings.  Since he had packed the bearings himself only a few days earlier, Randy was mystified by the racket.  As we continued our progress up the Appalachians, the noise intensified.  There was no place to pull over on the two-lane narrow road.  I didn’t think our situation could get worse, but with the coming of night, a thick fog engulfed us.  The road was barely visible.

Carefully inching our way up the mountain I could only hope we wouldn’t meet another car traveling the opposite direction.  After what seemed like hours, we reached the top of the mountain range and were surprised to see a dimly lit building off to the right.  Turning in, we realized it was a gas station.  It was almost midnight, but it was open and a man came out to greet us.

“How can I help you?”  I thought I was seeing a ghost.  Who is open this time of night?  I never expected to see any sign of civilization on this remote country road.

Randy explained our predicament and asked if we could use the light from his station to repack the squeaky bearings.  The big-hearted man didn’t hesitate to accommodate our request.

Randy was barely into the repair job when we heard the sound of an approaching car attempting to maneuver the winding road coming up the other side of the mountain.  The engine reeved, brakes screeched, and tires squealed, piercing the peace of a woodland night. Then, an old sports car flashed by, traveling at a speed far too fast for a road full of blind curves immersed in fog.

“What was that?” Randy gasped.

“Well . . .” the station owner drawled.  “That was a local teenage boy who often drives this road late at night, traveling as fast as he can.  He’s crashed several times.  One of these days, he won’t walk away.”

Images of the disaster that might have occurred had we been on the road that evening flashed through our minds.  Being late, the driver thought he had the road to himself.  Pulling a trailer severely limited our ability to navigate the tight curves.  The intense fog that night increased the likelihood of a tragedy.

Was it mere luck that the recently packed bearings squeaked to catch our attention and cause us to pull off the road?  Or, was it divine intervention that saved us from misfortune?

I believe we were guided off the road for a reason.  We still had work to do, a family to raise, and life to live.  Our miracle that night came in the form of noisy wheel bearings that had no reason to need more grease and a gas station that provided a safe exit from the road in time to avoid danger.  When we recognize and acknowledge God’s hand in our lives, we realize how blessed we are and how much we are loved.

Just luck?  I believe there is something more.  Much more.

Five Tools That Build a Lasting Love

My husband, Randy, loves road trips.  I prefer getting to a destination as quickly as possible and search online for flights.  Most often, his choice of travel prevails and once again we load the car with luggage, plenty of snacks, and good reading material.

A few months ago, we packed the car for a three-day trip across the country.  I wondered what I could bring to help pass the endless hours.  I remembered the packet of love letters we wrote during our courtship–letters we hadn’t read for years.  Rummaging through my cedar chest, I found the bulging notebook of correspondence sent during the months we attended different universities.  Giddy with excitement at the thought of revisiting our past together, I placed them in the car by my feet.

The miles flew by as I read each letter.  A lengthy conversation ensued as we recalled precious memories, smiled at our passionate longings, and laughed at our lofty, youthful dreams.  We talked about how our love has deepened and matured over the forty-four years we’ve been married.  And to think we thought we were in love then!

This experience caused me to reflect on the elements that make a love grow and last.  Eternal love evolves over time from the exhilarating first attraction to the all-encompassing emotion that permeates the soul.  Becoming one doesn’t happen overnight.  It takes patience, trust, forgiveness, and a lot of hard work.  Both partners must be equally invested in the project.  Here are five tools that help construct a love that stands the test of time.

1.  Lay a Firm Foundation

Just as a sturdy building begins with a good foundation, so must a lasting relationship.  Both individuals should share similar beliefs in the things that really matter.  We all come from different backgrounds, yet even couples from diverse cultures can build a strong foundation if they share core values.  We need to be on the same path traveling to the same destination.  Life is bumpy enough without trying to stay together while going in opposite directions.  When deciding on a companion for life, it is a lot easier to build on a foundation of mutual goals.

Religion, education, and raising a family are some of the cornerstones that should be discussed before making a commitment to begin construction.  When we married, Randy had two years of college left, with the goal of applying to dental school.  I had graduated with a degree in Elementary Education and knew from the beginning I would be called upon to be the main source of income until he finished his schooling.  It would have been a rocky six years if I hadn’t  been willing to cheer him on in his goal to further his education.

While dating, Randy and I both believed it was important to have children.  We had to compromise, however, when it came to the number of children we wanted.  I remember the shock on his face when I announced I wanted twelve.  (What was I thinking!)  Growing up as an only child, I dreamed of mothering a large family.  I was surprised that he thought four was a good number.  We were blessed with six beautiful children, and I was satisfied and fulfilled with the task of being a mother to half a flock.  Give and take are necessary elements, as long as neither are sacrificing what is most important to them.

2.  Let Go of What Doesn’t Matter

Framing the building consists of various unique and individual designs.  No two rooms are alike just as each individual comes with his own experiences and opinions.  This can either strengthen the building or cause it to tumble.

In many ways, Randy and I are opposites.  He is very calculating, precise, and organized.  I remember opening his sock drawer after doing our wash for the first time.  I saw immediately I was in trouble.  All of his socks were arranged by color and smiling at me, the folds neatly placed in the same direction.  I throw my hastily folded socks in a drawer.  Since I will never have the patience to measure up to his level of proficiency in folding clothes, I leave that task to him, for which he happily complies.

I am a driven person, very aware of filling each measure of time with purpose.  I eat quickly, I multi-task, and I hate being late.  Randy can’t dress and talk at the same time.  If I want to be on time to a function, I leave the room so he can concentrate on the task of getting ready, while I pace the floor.

Randy has the talent to fully enjoy the moment.  I envy his ability to slow down and notice the world while I am focused on moving on to the next project on my checklist.

These differences could drive each other crazy, but instead of shoving a wedge between us, we have learned to embrace each other’s unique personalities.  I have found that these little things don’t matter in the broad scheme of life.  With a dose of tolerance and unconditional love, small annoyances can actually become endearing.

3.  Keep the Flame Alive

Adding fuel to that initial flame is vital.  It is easy for it to dwindle or become extinguished when the daily challenges of life come along. This takes conscious effort, work, and creativity.

A hug speaks volumes.  I came from a family that rarely demonstrated or spoke their feelings.  I married into a family passionate about hugging, and I happily adjusted.  A hug can mend a misunderstanding, speak forgiveness, and show you care.  Words are necessary too.  I don’t let a day go by without telling Randy that I love him.  Every phone conversation ends with the words, “I love you!”  Our actions show love, but those three little words need to be heard often.

Be creative.  Once I secretly reserved a cabin in the mountains for the weekend and took Randy on a treasure hunt to get there.  His workload had been heavy and I could see he needed time away.  On another occasion, I secured a local hotel room for the evening of Valentine’s Day.  I checked in early and decorated the room with streamers, hearts, and balloons.  One anniversary he woke up to a banner that weaved through the dining room.  Each flag represented a year of our marriage stating significant milestones or memories from that year.

Randy has his individual way of adding spark to my life.  I will come home to a beautiful arrangement of flowers or a love poem written from his heart.  Once I told him I wanted a certain charm for a bracelet and he filled the bracelet with charms.  People often comment on how he still opens the car door for me and holds my hand as we walk.

It doesn’t require money to let your partner know you are thinking of them.  It does require planning and time.  Time well spent.

4.  Embrace Life’s Trials

Inevitably, storms come along to challenge the carefully structured building.  Trials are a threat that can send love spiraling downward or soaring upward.

When Randy retired from his job as an Air Force Dentist, we moved our family to Arizona.  At times, work was scarce as he endeavored to establish his own practice.  This was a trying time for our family of eight who had always had a steady, secure income and free medical care.

While trying to build his practice, Randy recruited me to be his dental assistant during the evening hours.  This was a field I knew nothing about.  Once, while assisting him during a wisdom tooth removal, he remarked, “Claudia, you can’t suction blood, if you don’t look.”  My eyes were focused on the floor to ease my queasy stomach–my reaction to needles and blood.  Despite my resistance to our new circumstances, I strived to be a good sport and it wasn’t long until he had his own thriving business.  I was never more happy to return to my duties at home.

A few years down the road, Randy had his turn to offer support and assistance when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  He dug deep to learn how to fix meals, do the laundry, and take care of the things I usually handle.  More importantly, he was there to hold my hand during the difficult days of surgery and chemotherapy.

From the windy days to the hurricanes, it is much easier to walk through the storm hand in hand.  As I look back, it is during the times we leaned on each other for support that our love blossomed far beyond what we ever thought possible.

5.  Live for the Other’s Happiness

One of the biggest problems in a relationship is selfishness.  If I begin to think Randy isn’t fulfilling my needs or is oblivious to my feelings, I change my focus.  “What can I do to make him happy?”

I’m not sure how it works, but as I endeavor to remove the emphasis from myself and concentrate on the needs of my husband, I find fulfillment, joy, and peace.

Camping is not one of my favorite pastimes, but because I love my husband I found myself on a one-week backpacking trip in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming one summer.  Raised a city girl, I attempted to cheerfully hike miles each day carrying everything I needed on my back.  We ate what we caught in the streams, supplemented with MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat).  Upon reaching the mountaintop, we discovered the only way to continue was to walk across a glacier.  As we gingerly inched our way across the icy slope, I wondered if our children were going to end up being orphans.  We each walked away from this experience with different levels of enthusiasm, but being by my husband’s side enjoying nature is something I’ll always remember.

There are evenings I long to stay home and read a book instead of attending a sporting event with Randy.  Knowing how important a baseball game is to him, I go along.  He loves sharing the excitement of a good game, and in return, he is always willing to attend the theater, concert, or a ballet with me.

We live in a world where the tendency is to feel entitled to happiness.  If we aren’t happy, then it’s someone else’s fault.  It doesn’t work that way.  Joy in life comes from forgetting ourselves and thinking of others.  This is the highest kind of love.

Happily Ever After is Now

Too often we compare our relationships to the romantic stories we read or see on the screen.  “Happily Ever After” is not an ending, but a beginning.  We must GIVE all we have to make it continue.  GIVING UP is not an option.  Randy and I have had our disagreements and heartaches, yet we have kept the promises we made forty-four years ago.  We have turned each challenge into a learning experience and have grown together until our thoughts have become one.

We have added a few pounds, wrinkles, and some gray hairs over the years yet our love has grown past the outside layers.  Lifting each other, we’ve reached heights far beyond our ability to realize alone.  Within the walls of our home we find harmony, laughter, respect, and joy, all carefully created, one brick at a time.  And the result?  A love that will last forever.

And a Child Shall Lead

I have driven this same route multiple times for the last three years.  It is the road to my mom’s and I make frequent trips to visit and help her with the challenges of aging.  The only thing different about today was that I had a few special passengers tagging along.  My daughter-in-law and her three little ones were visiting from out of town and they wanted to see great grandma.

The way involves freeway driving and upon arriving at my exit, I chose the middle lane on the ramp, allowing me to still make a left turn and be in the correct lane that led to my mom’s home.  At least that was the reasoning I used.  Truthfully, I wanted to avoid contact with him.

It was a rare day he was not there.  Holding up his cardboard sign, stating his plight in less than five words, he stood hoping.  Hoping for a little thoughtfulness, maybe even a smile or a wave to acknowledge his troubled existence.

Throughout the years, I have given to the needy I’ve seen on street corners, outside a gas station or store.  I’ve taken my children to deliver blankets, necessities, water, and food to the destitute in our town.  But, I always decide who gets my attention, and who I pass by.

This one looks like he could really use some help.  That one probably wants money for drugs or looks young enough to get out there and work. 

I had already profiled this man on the corner, and as such, he received nothing from me.

He was scruffy but in his prime.  From my estimate, he was young and healthy enough to seek employment instead of standing day after day, begging from others.  His rough demeanor solidified my opinion and so I avoided him.  This day was no different.

As words in my mind once again justified the choice to avoid eye contact with the stranger, a soft voice sliced into my rationale from the back seat.

“I wish we had something to give that homeless man.”

It was the voice of my seven-year-old granddaughter, free of judgment, full of charity.

Shame filled my entire being as I was snatched from my selfish, proud thoughts and reminded by a child the admonition to “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” and “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”  When was it that I forgot?

Not knowing what to say, I said nothing.  Instead, I shoved the scene into the furthest corner of my mind, hesitant to see myself as I really was.

Another Chance

A few days later I was a passenger in a car with the same occupants, but this time my daughter-in-law was driving.  As we exited a different freeway to get gas, my granddaughter sighted another poor soul standing on the corner.

“Mom, do we have a water bottle we can give that man?”

Her mom answered we did, but it would be up to me to hand it to him since he was standing on my side.  Anxious to show I had grown from the previous experience, I readily agreed, and pushed the button that rolled down my window.  Grasping the water, I handed it to the old man.

“I hope this helps a little,” spilled the words I really meant.  As the water bottle slid from my hand to his, I looked into his eyes and for a brief moment, I was permitted to see a noble, valued, son of God.  I saw him as God sees him.

My granddaughter’s light rekindled mine that day.  Children humbly look to adults for models but how often do we stop and listen to the wisdom of a child?  Thank you, Afton, for your example of unconditional love.  Without love, we are nothing.

Choosing Joy

A Chance Meeting

I will never forget turning the corner and seeing her for the first time.  She radiated a smile that seized my heart and my eyes would not let go.  Who was this young girl, and what was the source of her light?

Not wanting to leave her presence, I changed my direction and walked alongside her.  She was like a ray of sunshine on a winter day and I desired to bask as long as possible in the warmth she emanated.

Desiring to learn more about this young woman, I asked her a question.  She answered with confidence, offering no apology for her severe speech impediment.  I struggled to pick out words that would help me catch what she was trying to say.  Some words came through, but most of our communication consisted of smiles and nods.  For this reason, I never learned her name.

The Silent Teacher

Reaching her destination, I turned to face my new companion and focus on her angelic face.  Words were not important as our spirits connected, and in a few brief minutes, she conveyed the lesson I hope I never forget.  Joy is not dependent upon circumstances, but choices.

This young woman was confined to a wheelchair.  Her feet and hands were twisted and bent, but her face, oh her face!  Dark, thick hair cascaded past her thin shoulders, framing the most contented, joyful countenance I have ever seen.  There was no hint of self-pity or loathing for her situation.  She had long risen above that.  Sitting before me was an individual who understood her worth and the purpose of her existence.

We are all crippled in one way or another.  Our disabilities may not be physically obvious, but we each struggle with some form of handicap.  It’s easy to let circumstances or weaknesses tarnish our self-worth and get in the way of reaching our potential.  This young woman chose to find joy in her travels through this earthly existence, despite the detours, peeks, and valleys that cluttered her path.  It’s all about choices.

In one small meeting, a wise young girl brightened my life with her smiles and laughter.  I can still feel the warm hug we shared before parting.  Was it a coincidence I came across her that day?  I like to think it was in the stars and she was sent to remind me that I am responsible for my own happiness.  I may never see her again, but her light and example will remain, filling me with the peace and joy that comes from knowing who I am and why I am here.

Hope in a New Year

January 5.  Five days into a new year and I’m still struggling with the culmination of the Christmas season.  I wrestle with this emptiness every year.  The more I put into the planning, the preparation, the surprises, and carrying out the traditions, the more I miss it when it’s over.

This time it has been particularly hard to let go of the past.  It was the year of The Gathering.  One week before Christmas, my six children and their families, totaling thirty-one in all, met for a family reunion.  It was four days of blissful memory making as we baked, decorated, played, and laughed.  The cousins, a year older since our last gathering, were once again best friends.  My adult children shared stories of growing up together.  This is one of my favorite activities as I am constantly learning about their antics and misadventures that I knew nothing about.  Where was I when that happened?

All too soon, the months of planning culminate in our last evening together.  Even though it was December 22, we celebrated it as Christmas Eve with the children acting out the Nativity and a special visit from St. Nicholas who left a surprise in each shoe.  This custom from our German heritage usually occurs on December 6th, but it was delayed this year to accommodate our timetable.

Several of the families traveled to our home to spend the rest of the Christmas holidays together.  Feeding and sleeping fourteen extra loved ones proved to be busy, yet glorious.  I never know when this will happen again, so I treasure each moment, clinging to it like a child holding on to her mother’s leg.  Time is an enemy when it goes by so fast.

So, here I am on January 5th, pulling wrinkled wrapping paper from under the furniture, throwing away leftovers that never got eaten, and wallowing in self-pity.  How I miss the blur of intense activity, loudness, and tight hugs.  I have no control over time moving forward, so I adapt by holding on to what I can.

Instead of putting away the festive decorations, I dust them and set them back in place.  My neighbors have ceased turning on their Christmas lights, but I flip the switch every evening as dusk approaches.  I allow my thoughts to wander and review past conversations, cherished moments with my grandchildren, and the recently shared miracles of the season.  Time marches forward, but cannot erase the light and joy of the past.

Moving onward, I think about a new year, full of promise and countless possibilities.  How can I fill each day of 2018 with meaning?  Just as I planned and prepared for last month’s success, I am responsible to continue creating productive days, making the most of each precious moment.  Instead of compiling a long list of resolutions, I’ve decided to focus on family and joy.  My hope is to find the kind of happiness that fills one’s heart with peace; the peace that comes by serving others.  I will take it one day at a time, grateful to be the author of my new year.

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