A New Name…

img_0504I had no idea how to answer.  It was such a simple question, but surprisingly, it took me off guard.  “What name would you like to have imprinted?”  the saleswoman asked again.   Do I give my current name?  My “first married” name?  Maiden name?  Ahhhh…who am I?

My last name was “Lawyer” until I was twenty-five.  It represented a happy childhood filled with family vacations, dance recitals, and big holiday celebrations.  I consider myself fortunate to have such loving and supportive parents and an ambitious younger brother.  Mom and Dad seemed to do everything right from teaching Jason and I about responsibility, education, faith, and giving us freedom to make our own choices.  And yes, they allowed me to make some of my own not so great choices too.  The name Lawyer represents a long line of family heritage; a great-great-great grandfather who enlisted in the Union army, escaped Andersonville, then joined Sherman’s march.  Better yet, Johanas Lawyer from 1725.  His portrait inscription says it all, “Life, live it well,” written in Latin.  Lawyer, a name symbolizing a bond with family that I’ve known, and some I’ve never met (but feel like I have).   A name that I am proud to have.

It was on May 14, 2005, when I became an “Overfield.”  The first time I met Ryan, I was his waitress.  The second time, I saw him out with a friend.  The third time, I worked with him.  Our paths crossed multiple times, almost as if God had given us chance after chance to connect.   Our first date was a Reds game, and I was ever so ready to be caught on the kiss cam.  Two years later we were married.  One year later we had a daughter, then another… We had five great years together, and two fabulous girls.  The three of us “girls” were at the top of his priority list, and he exemplified a man of integrity and character.

June 2013 brought another change (and name) in my life.  After grieving years for Ryan, the Lord brought me to another incredible man.  I didn’t know that it was possible to fall in love so deeply again.  Kar “Singh” loves life and finds joy in almost every situation.  He is the most passionate, and energetic person I know (besides our son, hum…wonder where he gets that from?).  I love being a Singh, and also learning about a different culture of individuals.  I’ve fallen in love with Indian food, hugging-hugging-and tons more hugging (at all Indian events), calling everyone Auntie and Uncle (even though they may not be related), and dancing it up to Punjab music (talk about a party!).

I look back and see the jagged path that my life has taken thus far.  I am grateful for the journey (both good and bad) that has shaped who I am today.  But even more, I know that I have never been alone.  Although my name has changed throughout my life, my identity has remained constant.  I can say without a doubt, that my Lord has been the ONE rock and stability through it all.  I am Jama because of the way He has led me down my path, through each and every turn.  Sometimes I’ve walked beside him, behind him, and have even tried to led him a few times (although it doesn’t work so well).  I know that my journey is with my creator.  Everyday.  Always.  He will never leave me, nor forsake me, and he loves me with an endless love.  I’m so very grateful that He has allowed me to experience my different names, but I will always be His.

“I would like to have the name, Jama Singh Lawyer Overfield,” I told the saleswoman.  She looked at me and raised her brow.   “God has been my constant through every name I’ve had on my journey.  What better way to recognize that, than by imprinting them on the cover of my Bible?”

 

Running Strong…What it Looks Like to Blend

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What was I thinking? Seriously. Running approximately twenty-six miles, an aching body, plus months and months of training. Why do we do it? The drive to be physically fit? A sense of accomplishment? Perhaps we want to experience the adventure, endurance, pain, bursts of energy, or hills that travel up and down. Life, in itself, is often compared to a marathon. But may I take this metaphor one step further? During the cold winter months of training, I would often force myself to run on a treadmill. I ran, and ran, and ran, yet never got anywhere new! I felt as if I had been trapped on my own hamster wheel. After I completed training, I vowed to never step on a treadmill again. And I haven’t. Yet, as the years have passed, I’ve had moments when I seem to be on that dreaded machine.   I put forth an exuberant amount of energy, but feel like I’m getting nowhere.

On June 14, 2012, I married an incredible man, and I became Jama Singh. My husband, Kar, had lost his first wife to breast cancer, and he found himself raising their two kids, M and C. I had also experienced the loss of my spouse, Ryan, in the fall of 2010. With God’s strength and the hope that I found in my daughters, K and J, we were able to journey forward. When I met Kar, I fell in love with him instantly. I was enamored with his joy for life. “I’m so happy that you found each other,” friends would say. Yes, I was too, God can make beauty from ashes. What I didn’t anticipate, however, was another long run on the treadmill. “Blending families can’t be that hard,” I told myself, “after all, our families have gone through the worst already.”

That summer I started running. Hard. Since I’m an elementary school teacher I had all summer to connect with my new family. M, now the oldest of four, intelligent, creative, whimsical. C, full throttle energy, imaginative, athletic. K, sensitive, compassionate, mature beyond her years. J, independent, spunky, innovative. What I began to realize was that although our family was made of six different personalities, we were still two very distinct groups. We had two different ways of communicating. Two sets of expectations. Two very different types of schedules. Even the food we ate was different! On top of that, Kar and I were working with four grieving children who viewed the opposing parent as somewhat of an intrusion, rather than a support. How can this adult tell me how to behave when mom or dad did it differently? And who are these new brother/sisters that were fun to play with before, but are not so fun to live with now?

Kar and I prayed and prayed as we ran on our family treadmill. Would we ever make any progress? We got professional therapy. We attended classes through Children’s Hospital to learn more about our son’s battle with ADHD, and how it impacted the entire family. We continued to meet in our own Bible Studies, small groups, and sought advice from family and friends.   I went through, and continue to struggle with bouts of depression. I even took a year off from teaching in order to focus on our family and take better care of myself. Still, I was feeling a lack of progress.

The apostle Paul talks about fighting the good fight. Yes, a good fight. Could we possibly be in one right now? Starting from the beginning to learn how to respect one another including our differences is, yes, a good fight. Juggling and understanding the growing needs of members in our family is a good fight. Helping our four children see themselves, and each other, as promises of God is a good fight. Learning to walk humbly and grow closer to our Lord is a good fight. Carving out quality time as a husband and wife is a good fight. We seem to have a lot to fight about!

It was the Passion Week, and I had been reading about the last supper and Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. It occurred to me that I might do the same for my family, no matter how strange they may think I was for cleaning their toes. I made a plan to do it right after dinner. But as the kids were arriving home from school, our son became frustrated and had an angry outburst. And this time, like many times before, I started fuming on the inside. I don’t want to live this way! I despise drama, and my family is consumed with it. Animosity started growing within my heart. How can I possibly get on my knees and wash their stinky feet now?! What I started to realize, is that although I “held it together” the anger I was feeling towards my stepson was, in no way, better than the anger my stepson displayed towards a particular situation. During dinner I felt a gentle whisper inside my heart. “Jama, this is the perfect time to wash the feet of your family.” Our sovereign, Holy God, humbled himself to show love and serve his disciples even though at that time they were arguing about whom among them was the greatest. If God, in all his holiness can do that for me, then I need to learn from Him and do the same, especially in the midst of life’s challenging moments. And what a great moment it turned out to be, right there in our kitchen. As I washed my son’s feet, I looked him in the eyes and told him that I loved him. Really loved him, with a mother’s heart. It was a role I truly wanted for both him and me.

A few weeks later I was at the gym (on an elliptical, I might add) when I overhead someone talking about her love for running. She was explaining that through consistent training she had grown significantly stronger, and was now able to run for miles on end. That’s endurance! Of course, she explained, those positive changes didn’t happen all at once. It took time, self discipline, and a lot of patience. That’s it! I told myself. Even though I felt like we weren’t making much progress, Kar and I actually were, little by little, day by day, and prayer by prayer. With each step we were becoming a stronger family and building the endurance that we would need for a lifetime of connections with each other. We must keep fighting the good fight! I have to remind myself that life, is indeed, a marathon. And the early years of blending a family can feel like a treadmill, or a ginormous hill. But it is worth it. Every second of it. I know in my heart that someday, hopefully a long time from now, we will be told about our endeavors, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have finished the race strong.”

What I learned from a ten year old

ticketI started looking around for a hidden camera.  Is this what really happens when the deli runs out of those little slips of numbered paper?  Tensions were high.  Shoppers were staring one another down as if they were in an old western duel.  Could we possibly be on that reality show where they try and place people in uncomfortable situations, and watch how a person’s inner character is revealed?  I was in the midst of the shoppers, taking special note of the situation.  Interesting.  Very interesting.  Having dropped my kids off at a summer art class, a coffee in my hand, and a feeling of peace and tranquility because I had my own few hours, I was able to smile as I waited for “my turn.”  However, how would I have handled it if my four children were gathered around the cart, (probably arguing over who gets to push it and who is riding in it), as we were trying to rush off to the next thing we had to accomplish that day?  I started thinking about how quick we are to judge others.  We make assumptions about the people we interact with, but not truly knowing what they may be working through.  Years ago, I remember checking out of the grocery store (why am I always there?) with my two girls.  The cashier asked me “How are you today?”  I told her I was “doing well…”  as I fought back tears.  Did I dare tell her that my husband passed away just one week earlier?  That I almost lost it in the breakfast aisle as I stared at my husband’s favorite cereal and realized that I no longer needed to purchase it?  Ever again.  The pain so many people face on a daily basis can be overwhelming.  But it is no excuse to treat others badly.

Our elementary school has a word we try to encourage and live up to.  Kindness.  I have never been so impressed with kindness as I had with my daughter on her tenth birthday.  I take no credit for it whatsoever.  This was all her.  She told me that she wanted to do ten random acts of kindness (one for each year she has been alive).  She showed me her post-it that listed her ideas.  My heart welled up as I read her list.  Then the five of us hopped in the van and were off.  She taped quarters to a vending machine and left a note that said, “please use these quarters to get yourself a treat.”  She gave one of her stuffed animals to a three-year-old at the mall.  She wrote notes of encouragement (“You are special,” “Have a great day,” “Someone cares for you”) and placed them on rows of parked cars.   She saw a sweaty landscaper and gave him a Gatoraid.  (The look on his face was priceless!)  She brought doughnuts to her father’s office for his staff.  She delivered thank you notes that she wrote to the local firefighters and her grandmother.  She made a welcome home banner for her great grandfather as he was being taken home from the hospital.  She picked some flowers for our neighbor, and left some pennies and a note by a wishing well for someone to use.  I learned a lot from my daughter that day.  Kindness does go a long way.  The smiles she helped to create, the feelings of significance that she instilled.  The simple ways of encouraging a stranger that may be trying to get through the day.  I desire to be that kind of person.  May I be that for you next time I meet you in the line at the deli.

Tribute to Peepaw

My daughter was recently given an assignment by her volleyball coach.  She was to interview someone “successful,” and determine what qualities helped to define them in terms of their success.  M and I began a dialogue with one another about what we thought “success” meant.  We discussed the values and goals that our society places on us.  The usual status, wealth, prestige.  But more importantly, we talked about the way our heavenly Father defines success.  Knowing our creator in an intimate way, and reflecting His love to the people we come into contact with.  In essence, it’s all about the relationships we develop and cultivate during our lifetime.  As M and I were talking, I couldn’t help but think about Peepaw.  I thought about his relationship as a loving husband, sincere father, encouraging grandfather, and thankful great-grandfather.  I thought about the friendships he had (after all, he never met a stranger) and the countless stories of the relationships between him and his siblings.  Peepaw lived a truly successful life, and he left an incredible legacy for us all.

Some of my favorite childhood memories took place at Nanny and Peepaw’s house.  The adults were upstairs talking, laughing, or playing games.  While Ryan, Renee, Andrea, Erik, Angela, Jason and I were designing an obstacle course, watching Fraggle Rock, competing in Nintendo Duck hunt, playing hide and seek, eating the endless amount of candy and baked goods that Nanny had sitting out, or climbing around in Peepaw’s boat.  Nanny and Peepaw’s house was a place I always wanted to visit, a house filled with energy and love.  Who could forget the New Year’s Eve celebrations when Nanny would run downstairs banging one of her pots with a wooden spoon, and jokingly collapse in Peepaw’s lap?  What about the banana punch, or for some of us, Oyster soup (which I will never understand the hype of that one)?  And oh, the Thanksgivings, and Christmas’s filled with multiple tables of games like Domino Train, Skip Bo, or sometimes a violent rendition of Spoons.  The passion for visiting Nanny and Peepaw has carried on to the fourth generation.  K has asked frequently, “When can we go see them?”  And I know that other great grandchildren have asked the same.  There is something almost magical about being there, something that both Nanny and Peepaw have put in place.

We all know that the most important part of a house is the foundation.  And the most important part of a family is also the foundation.  Our family was built on the principals or foundation that both Nanny and Peepaw have set.  A strong relationship with Christ has been encouraged and passed down from generation to generation.  Many of us are who we are today because we have been grounded in truth through the foundation of faith that Peepaw and Nanny not only chose to profess, but also demonstrated on a consistent basis.  On the morning of Peepaw’s passing I knew where to turn for comfort.  I pulled out my Bible and randomly came upon the 100th Psalm.  “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.  Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.  Know that the Lord is God.  It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.  Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.  For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”  Thank you Peepaw and thank you Nanny for setting our family’s faith foundation that continues through the generations.

Peepaw and Nanny have also set the foundation for what it means to have a strong marriage.  Sixty-six years strong. I have been in awe of their relationship with one another.  Truly.  Such love, loyalty, commitment, respect.  Peepaw often joked about Nanny being the “Boss,” but we all know that neither one needed to be “in charge.”  They put one another’s needs before their own, and what developed from that was truly beautiful.  Nanny, you have always witnessed to me what it means to display love and devotion, but you have exemplified it over the last 6 months.  What an amazing and incredible love you shared together.

Peepaw set the foundation for fun.  I’ll never forget the time us grandkids made a conga line through the house.  We giggled as we hopped by the adults during one of their card games.  Many of them smiled at us, one of them perhaps, even snapped a picture, but it was Peepaw who jumped on the back of our conga line to join the fun.  He even got us to start chanting, “You get a line, I’ll get a pole, honey, you get a line, I’ll get a pole, babe.  You get a line, I’ll get a pole, we’ll go down to the crawdad hole, honey or baby mine!”  Peepaw had a silly word or phrase for just about anything.  Nanny was “The Boss,” or better yet, “Sugarbooger.” Jason and Erik were known as Jackson and Plugger.  Pizza cheese was often referred to as “glue,” and cool whip stacked on top of fruit salad was known as “Cow Slobber.”  My favorite phrase of Peepaw’s was a “Kiss for Melrose,” which it wasn’t until many years later, I learned that Melrose was indeed a real person. He was great at practical jokes especially to Granny Ruth.  Poor Granny never saw it coming when she sat on the pizza box in the bathroom!

Peepaw set the foundation for character.  He was full of integrity, and thought about his family above all else.  He was known to deliver Valentine chocolates to all of us girls in the family.  Whenever anyone of us would stop by the house he would practically jump out of his chair to show you one of his photographs, family mementos, trains, or the latest addition to his model of the “home place.”  He was always eager to hear about your day, and share some of his stories with you as well.  Those stories never grew old, no matter how many times we heard them. When any of us were around Peepaw, we knew we were important.  After each visit, whether at the house, or even the local cracker barrel, he would walk you to your car and stand waving until you were out of sight.

I know that today, Peepaw is spending time on his new back porch, or under the old oak tree (as he would say).   I’m sure he is filled beyond measure by being the presence of our Holy God.  He’s probably enjoying a reunion with our other family members who have passed on, and updating Ryan about K, and J, and their new siblings.  I’m sure he’s even shared a few dozen stories about the railroad.  We love you Peepaw.  You lived a successful life, and we’re thankful for your firm foundation.

Resources

Please take advantage of the many amazing resources available from support groups, fabulous books, and websites/blogs.  Check out some of my recommended resources for grief, blending families and A…

Source: Resources

A Normal Mother’s Day…

“Mommy!  It’s YOUR day!”  J announced as she swung my door wide open.  She plopped herself on my side of the bed and started rambling about how I should get everything I have ever wanted and desired in life because TODAY was MY special day.  “Thanks sweety,” I replied pulling her in for a hug and kiss while trying to store this moment in my mind for safe keeping.  “How about giving Mommy a little more time to sleep?”  After all, it was only a little after seven.  Why can’t she be this chipper when I wake her up for school at eight?  My husband wiped the sleep from his eyes and led her to the kitchen.  He had an idea.

I stared out the window while I listened to my four kids and hubby create a breakfast that would knock my socks off.  They are so amazing, and my heart wells up with joy when I think of the way God has blessed me with each of them.  I assumed that they must be using the eggs, bagels, fresh berries, and orange juice that I purchased the day before.  I smiled, thinking about the way they needed my prep work to create this Mother’s Day surprise.  I started to hope that there would be enough left over, and they wouldn’t be disappointed when they had to eat it again for the brunch that was planned after church.  It would be my turn to make eggs for my own Mom.

As I lay there, my heart started growing heavy.  I knew Mother’s Day would be a hard day for so many people I loved.  I thought of my first mother-in-law, Linda, who lost her son in 2010.  Ryan was only thirty-three.  He should have had so many years left to savor with his two daughters and me.  Although the girls and I continue to love her and have a great relationship with her, Linda would not be receiving a hug and endearing words from her oldest son today.  She so deserves to.

I also thought about my mother in-law-in-law.  (Who has those?)  Mary, my husband’s late wife’s mother.  She too lost her oldest child, and best friend to breast cancer.  Also way too early.  I love Mary.  I will never forget the way she embraced me and opened her heart after meeting me for the first time.  It was truly one of the most loving and beautiful things I ever encountered.  If I had lost my daughter, I’m not sure how I would have reacted to someone else entering the lives of my son-in-law and grandchildren.  She is amazing.

My thoughts quickly focused on my kids.  All four of them.  For K and J, today was a celebration.  They were ready to shower me with love, handmade cards, and a finger printed necklace.  For M and C, there was pain.  Much pain.  As they entered my bedroom holding the breakfast tray, I noticed M wearing her mother’s locket and a forced smile.  C gave me a quick hug, and then he went off and running to look for his own locket to wear.  This day seems to scream to many kids that “Mom isn’t here.”  Much like those dreaded days at school they call, “Donuts with Dad,” or “Teatime with Mom.”    I hugged and kissed all of my kids, and told them how thankful I was for each of them.  Then I pulled M and C aside and looked into their eyes.  “I’m so sorry that your Mommy isn’t here with you today.  I truly wish that she was.  I know that today is especially difficult, but you are not alone.  I love you so much, and I am here for you.  I can never replace your Mommy, but I love you and I’m thankful to have you in my life.”  Oh how I wish those words could take away their pain, but I know it won’t even come close.  My heart aches for them.  I love them so much.

At church, M rested her head on my shoulder.  I was so grateful that she felt comfortable enough to do so.  My mom sat on the other side of me.  And there were times that I reached out and held her hand.  My mom is truly one of the greatest women I know.  She is quiet, never seeking or desiring to be the center of attention.  But she is confident and always, always generous.  She has dropped everything to come to my side when I’ve needed her, or when she “just wanted to.”  She speaks with such love and grace.    She jumps in and helps out.  Truly a woman to admire.  I love you mom.

Our pastor shared an unbelievable Mother’s Day message.  He used the metaphor of Moses holding up his hands as the Israelites went into battle.  As his hands were raised, Israel had the advantage.  We, as mothers, also have our hands held high.  We love our children unconditionally, pray for them, lead them through their decisions in life, and hopefully give them the encouragement they need to follow their own path.  It is definitely not a role that most of us moms take lightly.  However, the weight of our “arms” can bring us down.  We need each other, our families, and faith the be able to hold them up high.   Being a mother is the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had, yet it is also the most challenging.  Thank you Lord that you are the one that brings me comfort when I need it, strength to face the day, and hope for what the future holds.  Thank you for giving me grace as I wander in the land of motherhood, but find my own identity in being your beloved daughter.

http://www.cpcc.church/resources/messages/arms-up/

Happy Mothers Day Moms!