Of Parenting, Crooked Backs & Delightful Conversations With Rough-looking Men

Thanks to back spasms that have been tormenting me, off and on since June, with no medical explanation, I hobbled toward the checkout at Canadian Tire, looking like an 80-something-year-old with too much plastic surgery. (This is an observation I made recently, when a certain actress was on the new and her body and face didn’t match, and that is what I remind me of on those days.) On my best days I forget it ever happened and on my worst days, which fortunately are few and far in between, I cannot walk without support. And on the not-good-but able to move days, I shuffle slowly with occasional debilitating spasms. It was one of those days and I hoped to not stand too long.

I assessed the line lengths and the cart contents. Why I even bothered to assess it, I’m not sure. It’s useless, really, choosing the shortest line. I should have learned that a few days earlier when I tried it, and stood there, shifting from foot to foot, my arms loaded with more than enough stuff to justify a cart, while the elderly lady in front of me struggled with her card. Turned out she just didn’t know how to use it, and after about a dozen tries, I finally whispered to the cashier that she’s not finishing the process after entering her pin. In no time, after that, I was out of there. Never mind that the long line beside had moved a fine lot of people through by then, and I’d have been long gone had I chosen that one.

I chose a random line, in the Canadian Tire store, knowing it would be what it would be, and entertained myself with people watching. The gentleman in front of me continued eyeing the product beside us. It’s strategically placed at the checkout, in hopes customers will pick up one little thing, or another, whether they need it or not. He reached for a measuring tape–a nice big one–and placed it on top of his stack. He glanced my way and in that moment I spoke spontaneously, as I do from time to time, in a boring moment like that. And, quite frankly, he looked as bored as I felt, and there was some kind of instant connection. I saw it in his eyes, a certain kindness that welcomes conversation.  His tattoos, shaved head and biker’s beard and mustache made no difference to me, other than a passing observation.

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“Everyone needs one of those,” I said, nodding at the measuring tape.

“I bet I already have nine or so at home,” he said with a chuckle.

“It’s always a matter of finding one when you need it, eh” I said, “especially when you have almost as many kids in the house. And I do…  five,” I added. I didn’t add that we have six right now, with a German exchange student living with our family.

He snorted then, and for one moment I thought it was because of our having five kids. It just popped out, when I thought it, and even as I said it, I realized I should have kept my mouth shut. But it’s true. Things get used, misplaced and finding one out of nine measuring tapes, or nail clippers, or combs isn’t that easy.

He looked at me then, laughing, “I have more kids than that… I have fourteen!”

“Oh wow! Good for you,” I said. It was my turn to laugh, and then I did to him what people do to me when they learn we have five children. I offered a look that was a cross between admiration and disbelief. Admittedly, my shock was a bit influenced by his appearance. May as well be honest. I picture guys like him with fourteen Harley bikes, not that big a family.

He laughed again, “No. Good for you. You knew when to stop!”

“That may be a matter of opinion… ” I said,  “One of my favourite parenting moments was the day one of our children yelled at my husband and me, in anger, for having such a big family.”

He laughed and shared his parenting highlight. “My all-time favourite moment was when my oldest son, then in his thirties, called and said, ‘Dad, I just did to my son what you used to do to me’, and he told me how he was angry with his son and yelled at him.” He laughed again, a twinkle in his eye, and continued, “And he said to me,  ‘Then I stopped mid-sentence to say, ‘My gosh! I’m just like my dad!’ So I said to him, ‘What… you’re calling to blame me for that?’ and my son says, ‘No, Dad, I’m calling to say “I’m sorry. I finally get it!'”

The conversation carried on from there, about parenting and the moments we have, the ups and downs. We both spoke candidly, having similar personalities, and at one point, after a particularly revealing statement he said, “I’m no hypocrite…. Sometimes I wish I was.”

I laughed then, and echoed his statement. “Yeah… I’m not either. I tend to say it as it is,” I said. The cashier called to help the next person in line, and we parted ways.

It was a refreshing moment, with a complete stranger whom I will not likely meet again, sharing  things as they really are. Life as it should be, in my opinion, with no pretenses. It reminded me of a message I received the other week from a young mom who felt like she really blows it sometimes. She started by asking me if I was ever afraid I’d make the same mistakes my parents made.

I wrote back, unfiltered and told her I never feared I would sexually abuse children. Ever. But, yes, I was afraid I  would repeat the anger and other harshness, I wrote back and shared how I started with spanking our children much too hard, and out of anger. I told her how I yelled at them. And how there was a moment when I realized it was all wrong, the way I parented, and I went for help. I didn’t do it perfectly, after that, but things started to change. And it’s still a growing, learning experience. I told her she will be okay, and do well, and even reaching out will have a powerful impact.

She sent a note to thank me for being honest, because it’s not comfortable for people to admit to having done it wrong. Well, I did it wrong, and that’s just the way it is. It’s pointless to pretend it was any different than it was. It was pretty horrid, at times, the first years. It was lonely and I felt like a complete failure, and I begged God constantly to transform me, to make me a good mom. Then I discovered that He was far more interested in making my heart beautiful, by giving me a revelation of His kindness, than He was in suddenly perfecting me.  And in discovering His kindness, I became more like Him, and thereby more kind to my family.

These candid conversations, sharing our imperfections, failures and what we’ve learned  offer hope for the next generation. They’re necessary. I think to myself, if only we could be a bit more like that, and not pretend, the world would be a different place. It would be a community of sharing. And if the world can’t be made like that, all at once, I can still be that…  And so can you.  Then, if we can encourage others, the ripples will begin.

 

© Trudy Metzger

 

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Yet More Family Reunions…

I had intended, in my previous blog post, to carry on into Saturday, June 21, but ran out of time. Besides, over 2000 words is enough for one sitting., both to write and to read. Too much, for some people….

Following the excitement, noise and shenanigans of my side of the family, we had our Annual Summer BBQ on Tim’s side of the family. It’s a different experience entirely. The Metzger family, while a strongly opinionated–whom Tim would playfully describe as ‘determined’ in contrast with the Harder ‘stubbornness’–are a very peaceful group to spend a day with. Pleasant and peaceful.

No wrestling. No throwing water at anyone, or playing tricks. No rambunctious nonsense or people laughing until they can’t talk. What I’m really saying is that they are more self-controlled, mature stock than I come from.  I enjoy both worlds equally.  That Saturday, however, I was quite ready for the world I was in, to unwind from the busyness of the preceding week.

We met at noon, but our family was late. Tim, Nicole and Bryan had to work until noon. Everyone brings food to these events. Lots of it. And, true to the reputation of Mennonite cooking, it is good food. Frighteningly good, for someone trying to make good food choices.

We sat in the shade, in a haphazard circle, to eat lunch. The weather couldn’t have been much more perfect. Hot and sunny, with a nice breeze.

After lunch–which really had more dinner qualities than lunch qualities–Uncle Amsey hooked up the wagon and offered to take willing participants on a ride to the back of the property. A good number climbed on board, and away we went.

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Amsey’s farm was the childhood home of John and Lavina Metzger, Tim’s grandparents. We listened to the uncles and aunts reminisce, when we stopped at the back of the property, going back down memory lane of ‘how things were’ back then and what has changed. It’s hard to picture parents–in this case in-laws–and uncles and aunts as little Old Order children, running around the farm.  If the property could tell stories and produce images of days gone by, it would fascinate me to spend a great deal of time knowing those stories.

I jumped off the wagon to get a few more pictures. No more was I in the long grass when one of the uncles warned, “Look out Trudy! There are snakes in the grass!” Immediately others chimed in.

For one brief moment they spooked me before I realized they wanted a reaction, and resisted the urge to dive for the wagon again. Okay, I take that back about there being ‘no shenanigans’ in the Metzger family…

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The young boys went exploring for a few minutes, several nearly hidden by the tall grass. A picture perfect moment

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Kordan lasted a few minutes in the long grass before returning to the wagon to sit with his daddy, and watch his the others wade through it. I managed to capture a father-son picture, as well as a close up of my love.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the way back,  cousin Jen–a fun and beautiful friend–sat with her father’s farm, and the Macton Catholic church  in the background, creating  a lovely picture. And several other interesting shots…

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA…including a personal favourite of these two little boys, against the blue sky. It made me think of their lives… So young… it all lies before them… and the sky really is the limit…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABack at the house,  a few aunts and one cousin sit in a circle of now mostly empty lawn chairs. They seemed quite happy to have stayed behind in the shade. And two nights later, when my sun-burned shoulders awakened me to a sharp stinging, I understood why.

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We kept the annual tradition of ice cream mid afternoon. There was popcorn again, as well, and I wonder if it is becoming the new annual tradition. That’s two years in a row. And that suited me just fine, since I’m not much of a fan of ice cream… unless it’s mixed in with popcorn.  I totally grossed Jen out, but Uncle Dave Metzger and cousin Lorna tried it and concluded it wasn’t too bad.

(Before you say, “Eww gross!’ and write it off, I suggest you try it and then form an opinion. When my daughters brought this idea home from a sleepover with their friend Cherry, I was totally disgusted… until I had one bite… In my opinion chocolate is best, and it’s best with super cold ice cream, when it’s not so hot that ice cream melts quickly. That way the popcorn stays crisp and crunchy. )

Tim and I engaged in a deep conversation with Uncle Dave Metzger, hearing his heartbeat on everything from faith, to family, to the culture of his childhood.  Uncle Ab and I had a short conversation as well, sparked by a column I had printed in our local paper, and he shared of the discussion it triggered among some of the men from their church.

He wondered if I’d speak for them sometime, and I said I’d love to! We’d even do a Q & A session, I said, if they’re interested. From what he told me of their discussion, it would be a mutual learning experience and a delightful time.

There were many other interactions, but those two stood out. In both instances the uncles instigated the conversation… With age and time there is much wisdom. While these uncles are still young, they have lived long enough to have that wisdom and I enjoy the dialogue.

As I left the gathering, it struck me, again, how important family is. I left home a month before sixteen, and never really bonded again the way healthy families bond. Even what bond was there before I left, seemed lost. In some ways that can’t be regained, but with time and age the awareness hits me of what was lost in that process.

I find myself, especially in the past year or two, enjoying time with family–whether Harders or Metzgers. A cousin with whom I had lost touch in my early teens, has become one of my dearest friends since 2010, when we reconnected via Facebook and she attended the first conference we did for women. When I’m with siblings, I’m at ease again and truly enjoy the time.. And my in-laws are among the people I love most and enjoy being with.  I call my mom a few times a month–in spite of the fact that I can’t tolerate phone calls and phone conversation because of restlessness and distraction issues–and we talk for an hour… or two… or more… At the end of the day it is true that blood is thicker than water.

After the reunion our family spent a few hours at the Crane Lake Discovery Camp annual BBQ fundraiser. It’s always a great time, and an opportunity to connect with friends we don’t see often. That could be another thousand words, but I’ll spare us all.

I had parked beside the grave yard so I took a few more pictures.  I find them quite beautiful. And they carry many an untold story that would capture the mind and heart, if it were to be told. Dreams lie there, unfulfilled, unexplored. Others lived with passion, changing someone’s world. Tragedies. Promises. Hopes.

These all create a sense of mystery and wonderment for me, when I see the tombstones, marking the memory of someone resting there. And always I think about my life, and the unknown, and pray my dreams will not go to the grave with me, but that I will keep living them, no matter the  battles I fight for them.

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Those happy and determined thoughts in mind, I started for home. Heading toward Wallenstein, the light caught my eye between the trees and I pulled over once more, to take a few final shots of the evening sun.

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As if promising of ‘tomorrow’ the sun slipped behind the horizon in the west, bringing to a close another beautiful day.  My heart was full at the realization that the world is most beautiful when shared with those we love, and those who love us. When we hold on to the things that matter most, and embrace difference of opinion and culture. When diversity is not a threat, but an opportunity for richness and sharing.

These past few days, my world was most beautiful!

 

© Trudy Metzger

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Church Life: Cheerleaders, Warriors, Bleachers or Battlefields

Often, when someone asks me, “So what do you do?” or “Where do you work?”, and I share how I work predominantly with Child Sex Abuse victims, I am enthusiastically applauded. “That takes so much courage….” or “Good for you… that’s not for everyone…”

Recently, sitting at Tim Hortons in New Hamburg, a woman, seated not far from me, started a conversation. It began superficially enough. “You have beautiful hair! I like the angles,” she said. I thanked her. “You’ve been in here before,”she continued, “I noticed it then too. It’s very beautiful.” I thanked her again, and passed the credit on to my hairdresser, Erin, at Le Salon, Fairview Mall.

As she pulled out a book to read, I realized I had been here before, in a different time, at the same place, observing her, with her coffee and book. Intriguing. Tim Hortons is not a place I would go to read. Couldn’t concentrate if I wanted to. I’d soon be ‘people watching’, and analyzing them, which would be rude, so better not to do that. My computer, on the other hand, writing my book or working on some blog, now that keeps me engaged. I returned to my writing for a moment, but again our eyes met, and the conversation continued.

At one point she asked me what I do, so I told her a bit about my work, the conferences, and meeting with people. “Wow! Good for you!” I could have recorded it, to play as a duet for the next person, when I’m asked again. It is a predictable response. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I think it is insincere–I’ve never felt that way. It’s just a ‘not so subtle’ reminder how lonely the task is. It is easy to ‘applaud from a distance’ the thing that frightens us. Sexual abuse frightens most everyone.

She and I chatted a while longer. I answered her questions. Where do I speak? What is my training? Who funds the work? And anything else that came to mind.

The conversation ended, and the stranger slipped back out of my life. But since then, I have contemplated more deeply than ever, the magnitude of what we fight against, the battle it is, and the loneliness of it. Tim and I had already talked about this numerous times, and asked some pretty tough questions, because we realize this thing is bigger than we anticipated, going into it.

The questions are the result of a deep awareness that many, if not most, Christians and churches shy away from the topic, even while congregants slowly suffocate in their pain, or worse, carry on the chains.

There is nothing glamorous about fighting for the hearts of people. It is raw, painful, bloody hell. To step in and struggle endlessly, in an effort to find a heart, sometimes hardly beating–buried deep, or having been shut down by years of abuse and traumatic memories–is a daunting task. To lead that heart to healing, takes time and compassion.

What we need–those of us in this battle for hearts and minds of these victims–is not an audience in the bleachers that stands and applauds at the ‘great work’, or cheerleaders to dance and celebrate, but warriors who will fight with us, and for us. Not necessarily as part of ministry directly, but for churches, and Christians in general, to acknowledge the need, and offer support and care for victims and workers alike.

As I work with various individuals, whether abuse victims or not, and walk them through their pain, to help them find hope in Jesus, I realize more and more how much we need ‘Jesus-focused’ ministry in our evangelical churches, more than we need another program or project. Granted, people may still need professional counselling, but in knowing who we are in Christ, in truly understanding grace, we are better equipped for a full recovery.

I pray for the day when churches see this as a necessary ministry to offer, so that congregants can be free, rather than leaving it to counsellors and volunteers to do on their own. There is far more ‘work’ to do, than what a few well-meaning individuals can do on their own.

Jesus, after speaking with the woman at the well–a woman who had a ‘story’–challenged His disciples. He recognized what we, as believers, still struggle to get, that in entering into the very heart of people, and going to the raw pain of their stories, we are able to offer them ‘living water’, to fill that emptiness.

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When the Samaritan woman showed interest in that living water, Jesus cut to the chase. “Go get your husband,” He said to her.

“I don’t have one,” she answered.

“You have spoken truthfully,” He continued, “because you have had five husbands, and now you’re living common law.”

The woman perceived Jesus to be a prophet, and continued the dialogue with Him, opening the door for Him to give her hope.

Worship, He told her, is not about a place or a cultural, but a spirit connection with God. “…the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

The woman told Jesus that she knows the Messiah is coming, indicating that she is waiting, and at that moment, Jesus revealed Himself as ‘the One’.

Just then the disciples returned and Jesus immediately drew their attention to the great need around them. An ordinary Samaritan woman, who came to a well to draw water, even looked as though she had something to offer Jesus, was in fact in a place of deep need.

John 4:34-35

New King James Version (NKJV)

34 (When the disciples told him to eat), Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. 35 …Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!”

Whether it’s sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, countless failed relationships, or any other thing, there are many people, who look ‘together’ on Sunday morning at church, who have stories of deep pain. People who ‘show up at the well’ to draw water… even looking as they have the wherewithal to serve others, all the while hiding their pain. Pain they are trying to fill, with one thing or another, like the woman at the well.

I hear the cry of Jesus, and wonder if we, like the disciples, have become distracted with ‘life’… with ‘bread’… with the things we can see and measure, all the while neglecting the hearts of people….

We offer ‘twelve steps’ for this, ‘and 6 steps’ for that, but do we ever take Jesus into their stories, and stay there until that moment when Jesus is able to speak past the ‘stuff of life’? Do we simply let them ‘draw their own water’ at the well, and hope they keep the strength to come draw again? Or do we go below the surface, and give Jesus opportunity say to them, “I am the Messiah…if you drink from my well, you will never thirst again”?

 

© Trudy Metzger

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Happy Birthday to Me, From Dad

Shortly after that visit, Dad’s leg was amputated, just below the knee.  They had transferred him to London Ontario for the surgery. And, because of his weak heart, they could not put him out for the procedure. Again his strong, stubborn, German blood served him well.He seemed none the worse for the wear, when I visited him following the procedure. I’ll spare the details, but he enthusiastically described every sound, every little thing he felt during that procedure. His only regret was that the doctors wouldn’t let him watch. I understood his intrigue, having watched a small procedure on my hip some years earlier, while the doctor kept muttering, “You don’t have to watch.”  To which I replied, “But I want to!”

He told me never to worry about my health. Never to fear or worry, but always to trust God with my health and my life, as was his goal. Little did he realize what lay ahead of him, and little did I realize what lay ahead for me and how fitting his advice would be.

Dad went through rehab and bounced back quickly, learning to walk again and reclaiming his independence and making it possible for him to return home.  As winter approached, my baby-belly grew, and my trips to see him died down. Our contact returned to ‘normal’.

The following April I gave birth to our third son, Kordan Timothy Steven, completing our family of five. Life was busy. All consuming.

Spring gave way to summer, and summer to fall. Then in October, 2002, the phone rang, one Saturday afternoon. It was Dad, calling to ‘talk’. He was struggling. Afraid. Worried that God could not find it in His heart to forgive a man like himself, with all the evil things he had done. What if there was just not enough grace? Would he end up in hell, after all?

The fear was triggered by the notion that one must suffer in this life, or have it coming in the next. I had heard this teaching in childhood, but had long forgotten it. He had recovered too quickly from the amputation, he feared. Almost no pain, no suffering. Just a quick surgery and a painless recovery. He was certain this meant he was doomed. His good friend, a saint in Dad’s mind, had also had an amputation and suffered agonizingly. It all fit together to support some warped theology he had learned and embraced.

“Dad, suffering or not suffering has nothing to do with salvation,” I said. But he wasn’t so sure, so I began asking him questions.

“Do you believe in Jesus as your Saviour?” I asked. He said he did. “Have you asked Him to forgive your sins?” He said he had. “Do you believe that Jesus is the Way to heaven?” He answered affirmatively. “Dad, then you are saved. Don’t give the enemy power over you. When he tempts you to fear, tell him the truth. Tell him what you just told me, that you have repented, that you have been forgiven and that he has no right to you.”

Dad sounded tired, sad. We chatted a while longer, then he thanked me for my time and we hung up.

It felt good. Dad, who always had all the answers, who knew his Bible inside out–however religious his past interpretations had been–called me for encouragement. I, the non-Mennonite rebel, had hope to offer him at his lowest point. I felt honoured that he trusted me with his struggle, and allowed me to speak truth into his experience.

The following month, November 23, 2002, I turned 33. It was late evening when the phone rang again. It was Dad, just calling to wish me a happy birthday. He called just to say he remembered me. That he thought of me… of the day I was born and brought into his life. It had taken him 33 years, but I finally felt that I was held in my father’s heart.

It was the first time in my life that Dad had remembered my birthday, or put in the effort to call me and tell me. And it would be the last.

© Trudy Metzger

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Old Shoes & Bad Habits

Back in April Tim threw out a pair of Kordan’s old running shoes. They were in bad shape. The kind that make you wonder, ‘where are that child’s parents?’ when you see them on another child.

Kordan, not ready to part with his shoes, reclaimed them from the top of the garbage and continued to wear them. Almost daily they were his shoes of choice, even though he had better ones to choose from.

On Friday, after school was out for the summer, Tim informed Kordan that his shoes were going to be tossed and they were not coming back. It wasn’t up for discussion

Kordan studied them a bit, before trying to negotiate and convince his daddy that they still had some miles left in them.  They got tossed.

Old shoes, old t-shirts, old underwear…. There is something familiar and comfortable about clothes that know our body, clothes that fit. Even if they are worn out, ‘holey’ and less than attractive.

***

Habits we form can be like that. Sometimes they start out as good habits—or at least with good intentions—much like brand new shoes. Other times they’re not even good to start, more like a pair of used shoes we might find at a second-hand store.

With time we become familiar in our habits, oblivious to the fact that they no longer serve their purpose, if they ever had one. We don’t realize that we would be better to develop new ones to replace the old.

We all have blind spots, and the more our weaknesses  link to our habits, the less likely that we will recognize them on our own. Sometimes we need help to see through it.

***

Recently, while chatting with a group of wives, one of them commented how her husband and sons wear their underwear until there’s nothing left but threads. Is this a male thing? (I have a husband and three boys…)

That discussion reminded me of adjusting to this part of marriage…. and doing my husband’s laundry. Week after week, I would wash the same t-shirts and underwear, and week after week they became more threadbare. I washed, folded and popped them in Tim’s drawer, expecting that one day he would notice and throw them out. Since they were his clothes I thought it inappropriate for me to do it.  But he continued wearing them, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they were wearing out.

When one pair of underwear was barely attached at the crotch—having almost turned into a mini-skirt—I decided to take matters into my own hands. I got a scissors and cut the final threads, then neatly folded them and slipped them into Tim’s drawer, expecting a good laugh in a few days.

I waited, thinking he would try them on one morning, only to discover a super-short skirt, and playfully scold me for my warped sense of humour. He never did.

I had waited patiently for a few days before I checked his drawer and the altered underwear were gone. That evening I asked Tim if he had found them.

Unfazed, he nodded with a chuckle and shrugged, “I just presumed they had worn through, so I threw them out.”

***

It’s much like that with bad habits. Even if we’re not aware that they’re not good for us, that something isn’t quite right, it’s easy to overlook how bad things are.

With old shoes, t-shirts and underwear, nothing too life-shattering will happen if they rip or tear. Our pride might be a bit bent out of shape, but that’s not the end of the world.

Our habits, on the other hand, impact us, and all those around us. They have the potential to destroy relationships, lives and leave us feeling exposed and naked, if they get out of control.

If we have friends in our lives who love us enough to help us see the truth, and protect us from ourselves, we are truly blessed. And if we’ll hear them, and take it to heart, we are wise, and better for it.

Overcoming bad habits takes time and dedication. Like Kordan and his old shoes, you may be tempted to go back to the trash, and reach for them. They’re comfortable. Each time you’re tempted, but choose instead to develop a new good habit, you will become stronger.

That said… it’s time for my walk. It’s a new habit I picked up a little while ago. Consistency and intentionality make all the difference in successfully adopting new good habits.

© Trudy Metzger 2012

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Is Love a Commitment or a Bouquet?

Rarely do I go to the grocery store in the morning. However, as fate would have it, I stopped this morning to pick up some critical items for the office—namely coffee, cream and milk.

The first thing I noticed, to the point of distraction, was the number of men in the store. Many congregated around the flowers, either deciding on the perfect bouquet, or doing the math to figure out which would put the smallest dent in the wallet, for the biggest ‘wow’ from a sweetheart. Hopefully most were giving thought to the intended message.

There were businessmen in suits, casually dressed men, and those who looked like they had crawled out of bed against their own will but with a good awareness of self-preservation. Mostly they carefully avoided eye contact with each other—probably hoping no one would recognize them or judge the fact that Valentine flowers were being purchased at the grocery store. (Relax guys… you’re all buying them at the same place! Who is going to judge you?? Oh, and, BTW, don’t forget to remove the ‘grocery’ sticker.)

The scene humoured me. Maybe it shouldn’t.

Seems to me I had to stop at the grocery store on Valentine’s Day last year too. The scene was similar with men rushing about, looking just as distressed.

This got me thinking about the whole ‘Valentine’s Day thing’, and romantic relationships in general. The purpose for it is to set aside a day of the year to focus on celebrating the romantic love in our lives. And that’s not a bad thing.

However, as I observed the frenzy of activity, I realized that each of these men have a story, a ‘someone’ who shares that story with them. For some, hopefully for most, the flowers are a meaningful expression of the love they live daily.

You may be thinking, “….but with flowers from a grocery store?” Sure, why not? It isn’t breaking the bank that makes the thought count. It’s the other 364.5 days of the year and how he has cherished her.

For others, I presume, the flowers, or their romantic purpose, are given little thought, and serve mostly to keep him out of the doghouse with ‘the wife’.

And that mental wandering led me to thinking about my marriage. My husband and I are pretty normal people. Make that very normal. Our lives are busy with work, family–5 kids and a dog, to be precise–ministry, committees, and hobbies. We have normal ups and downs in our relationship, just like everyone else. But the one thing my husband has done every day for the past 18 years, other than the rare day that we did not see each other or speak on the phone, is tell me he loves me. That is approximately 6,579 times, minus a few days, plus add in the countless days that he told me numerous times a day. We have rarely parted ways without a hug, a kiss, and an ‘I love you’—even on the days that we were ticked off or hurt.

I reciprocate, or even initiate, the same gesture, but I have him to thank for it. Early in marriage, when I asked why he insists on giving me a good-bye kiss and saying ‘I love you’, just to go to the grocery store, Tim told me that he wanted us always to part ways, affirming our love for each other. “You never know when will be your last good-bye’, he said.  

This act of love has served our marriage well. It has taken discipline, sacrifice and the choice of will, on the days where feelings didn’t match our commitment. Other days it has threatened to make us late for work or other responsibilities when passion out-measured time available to celebrate our feelings. But , regardless of our feelings, it has always reminded us that we are in it for the long haul, that there is no competition in our love for each other and, no matter what happens, we have each other’s heart.

Today, in spite of what other Valentine’s Day celebrations we do or do not make happen, or whether I get flowers from a grocery store… or none… I am thankful for the love of my life. Truth be told, I can’t even recall what he did last year to celebrate, but I remember all the ways he helped me the other 364.5 days in between, and how special he makes me feel every day of the year. That is the love I celebrate today.

Happy Valentine’s Day!