Two Love Stories

These words were said or written to me in the past year…

“Why do you get to have two love stories?” and “You were blessed to have known such love – twice! – only few have that.”

These words have stuck with me. I have thought about them and considered what they meant to my friends who spoke them and to me who received them. This is what I have concluded…

I get to have two love stories because I keep my heart open to love. This has not always been easy. Sometimes my open heart has been battered.  In 2012 I thought my heart was permanently broken. But here I am…with a heart that is scarred by the inconceivable loss of a husband and child. But, still…I choose to be open to love every day.

I was sent a young man when I was 17 that saw something special in me and wanted to marry me and have children with me. He thought I was gorgeous and sexy and smart and funny for decades. He chose me. He saw something in me that impelled him to be my guy for days and years and decades of Christmases and birthdays and music and watching sunsets, as well as the normal dung of life. We argued over money and child-rearing and we screamed and cried about hurts and loss and broken promises. But we persevered and forgave and healed and carried on. And in the end, our lives together, in all the imperfect messiness, was a love story.

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Years later I was sent an older man when I was an older lady. He saw something special in me and wanted to try marriage with me. He thinks I am beautiful and sexy and wise and funny.  He chose me. He saw something in me that touched him and he thought we would be happy together. Because of lessons learned from my first love story, because I was determined to have special love with this guy, I promised myself and him that I would not allow hurt or pain to come between us. I swore I would let him know if he ever said or did anything to hurt me. For me, an avid avoider of conflict and a person who is an expert at ignoring negative feelings, this was a huge promise. However, I wanted no little slights or misunderstood comments to build even one little stone of a wall around my heart. I would not let little things make our love story any less. Because of keeping this promise, my heart is still full to the brim four years later. I walk around whispering, “thanks!” all day long (1Thessalonians 5:18) because I am living a second love story.

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So ladies, who remarked on my loved life, I can only encourage you to put it out there. If you are still in love with the guy you married, break down the stones of your walled off heart. Forgive past hurts and start filling each others’ lives with new love, an un-walled heart love. If you are starting a new life without that first guy, break down the stones of your walled off heart.  Allow yourself to grieve and wail and throw tantrums.  Feel all that crappy feelings that are weighing on you. And then move forward into a new joy, a new future that is full of hope and possibilities.

If I, an old battered woman, broken almost beyond repair, can throw off the mantel of pain and weariness; if I can hang onto a thread of hope and find a new love story, anyone can. YOU get to have two love stories too! Just start. Because really, as Richard Rohr so eloquently states,  “Love is our foundation and our destiny. It is where we come from and where we’re headed.”

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Who Believes in Dreams?

This is a composition I wrote in August of 2015. This is the beginning of the story of Mark and me.

“Who believes in dreams anymore? Who believes in unseen things, in impossible things, in the things you can’t measure and control? Who believes in things you can’t deduce and reduce and wrap up into a neat package? Who, in this cynical world, remembers how to find Hope?” Ann Voskamp

I had been knocked down, sucker punched by life. I was gutted, an empty shell. I had lost my life as I knew it. My husband was dead at 53 years of age, struck down by malicious brain tumors. My life, the one I knew was waiting for me each day as I awoke, had vanished… a wisp of smoke trailing off on the breeze.  I was alone, stark naked alone. I had never felt so empty.

I came to the blunt realization that no matter how hard I worked, how much I tried, no matter how much I loved Charlie and believed in our life together, he was gone and my life was uncontrollable and unruly. I was a wild-eyed maniac searching for hope amid the ruins of my carefully planned life, like an ant searching for a bread crumb in the cracks of the floorboards. I held onto a thin silk thread of hope that God had it all under control. I clung to hope for a better tomorrow. Even as I sobbed with grief, I held on. I was drowning in sorrow, but I clutched hope to my heart and walked on.

Having Real Dreams

About a year after Charlie died I had many dreams of him coming into a room smiling and me running up and hugging him. I was so thrilled he was back in my life. But at the end of these dreams, he always hugged and kissed me goodbye. At times I woke up crying.

About two years after Charlie died, I started having dreams of me lying in a soft white bed, surrounded by pillows, light, music and being held by someone – a man. He would hug me and say, “I will take care of you.” I thought this might be a dream about God taking care of me as a widow. But, deep in my heart, I wanted to believe it was someone that would enter my life and once again fill my heart with love and joy.

Two and a half years into my walk alone…. I awoke one morning and knew I was done with deep grieving. I had allowed myself to feel everything deeply. I had wept and vented and prayed. And now I was ready to go forward with a scabbed heart to look for love again. I awoke in August, 2014 and said, “Julie, it is time to move forth in Joy.” And I did.

Nightmares in the Dating World

I signed up for a couple of online dating services and started to look for a special guy. What I experienced over the next seven months was a “made for TV movie”. I had thoughts of writing a book entitled “You Can’t Make This Shit Up”.  I was so tired of meeting guys that had no clue as to what they wanted their lives to look like; much less the kind of woman they wanted to spend it with. My world was full of lonely, bitter men. I had just about given up. I decided one night I would give it one more shot.  Instead of waiting around for guys to find and text me, I would look over the profiles of men and write to some of them and see what happened.

125 miles away, on the same night, Mark was having a bad time of it too. He was tired of trying to find love. He had dated several woman that were unstable and a little crazy. He was looking for a woman who had a moral compass and knew what she wanted out of life. He joined an online dating service and wrote up a profile. In a moment of deep loneliness, he called for God to be in control and bring the right woman into his life.

The next night, Mark and I “met” online and exchanged phone numbers. We started talking on the phone and decided to meet the following weekend.

A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes

Mark and I clicked immediately. I felt like I had known Mark for years and he had wandered back into my life. He was genuine and he was my kind of people. He was a good, single father and a generous soul – two things I hold in high regard. He had experienced pain and loneliness and had learned and become better because of these hard parts in his life. I knew that I had met a special man that appreciated the specialness in me.

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And so I have spent countless hours with Mark. We have talked and laughed. We have kissed and hugged. We have gotten to know each other by spending days and hours and minutes together. He is a quirky and complicated and simple and generous. He likes the eccentric and difficult and plain and compassionate Julie. I like that he is spontaneous and a social butterfly. He appreciates that I am a thoughtful introvert. He takes care of me in so many ways even though I am strong and hate to be “bossed around”. He needs a woman’s touch in his life and welcomes my “woman’s grace”.

Living the Dream

Being in a new relationship has been a considerable transition for me. I had moved on from being Charlie’s wife to Julie all alone. Now I have left this place of comfort and frailty to become a woman who has fallen in love again.  I have been vulnerable, rallied, been frightened, hoped, and believed that my life had changed once again – for the better. And standing with me, through all of this, has been Mark.

Mark has within himself the joy of living. That is what I find so endearing about him. He is decidedly unpredictable. This helps me leave my comfort zone and enjoy life on a moment by moment level that I have been trying to practice for months. I am indubitably reserved and thoughtful. This helps him to slow down and enjoy life in a more reflective way. Isn’t it wonderful when two hopeful people find the missing pieces of the puzzles that are their lives in each other? We both, in our own ways, knew there was hope for a better life WITH, rather than a life WITHOUT. I am filled with gratitude that God had such magnificent plans for each of us.

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And so… I have become a woman who believes in dreams. I dreamed, literally, of a man holding me and assuring me that he would take care of me. I have become a woman who believes in unseen things, in impossible things, in the things I can’t wrap up in a neat package. I have become a woman who, in this cynical world, remembered how to Hope. I have found this in my life with Mark. I breathlessly await how God will pour out His mercy and goodness upon us in our days together…

Dreams do Come True

Mark and I were married in June of 2016.

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Grampa and Gramma Camp

(Even though the grandkids call us Mark & Juju)

Last week, from Monday through Friday, Ainsley, our almost 14 year old granddaughter, stayed at the farm with us for Spring Break.  She needed a little break from the stress of being an eighth grader, an older sister of two brothers, a teenager learning to be independent in a family, all the things that lay heavy on a teenager’s heart at times.

Mark and I, knowing the stress of being fourteen invited Ainsley to stay with us at the farm. Here is a list of what she did with us:

  1. Ate lots of good food. She recently became a vegetarian, and since I am one, Mark and I turned her on to all kinds of new foods.
  2. Didn’t worry about her hair. Middle schoolers are hyper aware of how they look and what they wear and how their makeup looks and any new zit that pops up. Ainsley’s hair, which is long and super curly and unmanageable, takes up huge amounts of time in the morning when she gets ready for school.  The hair care regimen was thrown out the window at the farm. Ainsley wore LandRover Hats and pony tails all week. hair.jpg
  3. Watched movies on Netflix with her grandparents. Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Parts 1 and 2 were on Netflix this month and so we watched them on Tuesday and Wednesday night. We really enjoyed them and had some good discussions about the characters.
  4. Made brownies for Mark. We don’t do a lot of sweets at the farmhouse, even though Mark loves sweets! Ainsley made him some Ghirardelli brownies and they ate them with Belgian chocolate ice-cream together! Ugh for me…but they loved the chocoholic fix.
  5. Saw all kinds of things in nature – A momma wren feeding her just hatched babies on the front porch of our house, a snipe hiding in the woods (we had to take a picture and figure out what the odd bird was), a ground hog, a bunch of purple martins in their gourd nests, crawdads, frogs, wild turkeys, and finally a huge snake at the pond that Mark thought was a Cottonmouth but turned out to be a brown water snake. snipe.jpg
  6. Named two places at the farm. The first is Buttercup Meadow and the second is Sea of Green Meadow.buttercup.jpg
  7. Built a fort by the creek.
  8. Read a book on the deck on a beautiful sunny day and got sunburned!
  9. And…finally…her favorite thing (I asked her): she drove the Gator every day many times per day. At the first of the week, I was in the passenger seat. By Thursday, she was off on her own. I can only imagine the freedom she felt as she turned the key, drove off to Buttercup Meadow, and other parts of the farm by herself. It just made her week, and it just made her happy.  I’m not sure why, but I can just tell it did.gator.jpg

And now…she’s gone back to her 8th grade life in Smithfield. I miss her so. I had so much fun with her last week.  We didn’t even do much. But, I know we made memories. When Ainsley was born, as well as Jackson and Oliver, I promised myself that I would not be a Grandma that spoiled my grands with material crap and money. I would spend TIME with them and make memories with them.  Last week was a huge cache of memories in Ainsley’s heart (I hope).

And so…I nicknamed this 5 days Grampa/Gramma Camp. I invited Jackson to come in June and Oliver to come in July. For each child, the days will be different, the memoires will be depend on their choice of things to do with us. But I hope and believe that these will be special times in their lives.  I hope Grampa/Gramma Camp is an annual event for them even as they become teens, and young adults.

When Mark and I bought this farm we asked God to use us and it as a place of peace and serenity for all who came.  I think it proved to be just that for our Spring Break camper, Ainsley last week. I hope and pray the grace that was showered on her last week will get her through the last weeks of middle school.

Pa’s Story vs. Ma’s Story

Since Mark and I became “farmers”” we jokingly refer to each other as Pa and Ma sometimes.  With these nicknames in place, we will sometimes blog about the same activity, event or project.  This will be a kind of Pa vs. Ma post.  We would love to hear your comments, from both male and female perspectives.

The Fallen Barn – Pa’s Story

(as first published on Facebook)

fallen barn.jpgI dismantled one of my tobacco barns that had fallen due to age and weather. A tornado blew through a few years ago and probably pushed it over. I removed the cross beams that were used to hang tobacco sticks from, that weren’t bug eaten or rotted. It took three days but it’s ready for a huge bonfire! I placed the 5v roofing around it as a fire break although the barn sits in a wetland area between a branch and the pond. If you look in the background you can see another identical barn. These things stand 25 x 25 x 25 so it’s no small task.

The Old Barn – Ma’s Story

Near the pond, lay the ruins of a tobacco barn that had collapsed because of age and/or weather.  This sunken pile of wood and metal nagged at Mark. He talked about it often for the first month after we moved to the farm.  I knew, because I know this man so well already, that the pile of beams, boards, and sheet metal was history.

One mild day in February, I returned home from school and noticed Mark’s Land Rover was not in the drive way.  I thought maybe he had gone out and about as he is prone to do.  When I drove farther down the driveway I saw the car parked near the old barn.  I noticed several downed trees pulled out of the morass as well as the barn halfway dismantled.fallen barn 2.jpgMark came walking up grinning. He explained how he was getting rid of the eyesore.  He explained how he climbed up a ladder and examined beams, cut wood, pulled off roofing, etc. I was shocked (upset) that he had done all this by himself. (What if he had fallen, what if he had cut himself, what if he had laid here for hours bleeding??!!) He was so proud. (I did this all by myself, not bad for an old guy, dang, that was a lot of work!!!) Shocked vs. proud…in a nutshell, this is us.

The next day I came home with the intention of helping Mark finish the job.  At the least I was going to hold the ladder for him as he sawed and chopped. But… you know the rest of the story already. It was a fait accompli! The old barn is now a pile of rubble awaiting our next visitors who want to experience a huge bonfire with us.fallen child 4.jpg


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We All Have an Agnes Within Us

My granddaughter is an amazing little soul.  She is quirky and funny and technologically savvy and talented in so many ways.  But… lurking deep within her, is her alter-ego, whom I christened “Agnes” when she was five years old.  Agnes sneaks out occasionally to throw a tantrum, or scream at her parents, or be rude. It still shocks us when Agnes appears because the good twin, Ainsley, is so calm and funny and loving.

So… I was thinking about that the other day and realized that we all have an Agnes within us.  We all have a “dark side” that we try to hide from others and ourselves.  This ”dark twin” bubbles up at times without warning and makes us act in ways that shock us.  We go to bed at night when our Agnes appears and shake our heads and think, “What in the world got into me?”

The Agnes within me keeps me humble and reminds me often of mercy and grace.  In the blink of an eye the good, kind, patient Julie can snap and become bad, rude, intolerant Janice.  And then I have to regroup, ask for forgiveness, and wake the next morning with a firm resolve that Julie, full of grace and God’s lovingkindness, will have a better day.

Ainsley’s Agnes is a reminder to her old grandma, that we all fall short. She reminds me to look with kindness and compassion on others around me when they are acting hateful and mean.  Because, really, everyone has an Agnes Day occasionally.

Our First Weekend at Falling Molly’s

October 2018

And so we showed up for our first weekend at the farm.  We arrived on a Friday afternoon around 4:00.  A terrible Cat 4 hurricane had blown through the area the day before.  Our little creek had flooded our driveway and caused huge cave-ins.  It was impassable. We parked, got out and surveyed the damage.  We definitely needed to do some work this weekend on the huge holes that lay in the center of our pathway to the house.

We were not expecting this. I could tell by the look on Mark’s face that he was a bit devastated by the state of affairs.  Stepping out in faith to buy this farm, being questioned by people about his “sanity”, being married to an under-reactor wife all played into the angst he must have been feeling. He began planning how to fix this problem so it would never happen again (bring in a backhoe, drop in a 6 foot culvert, build a bridge with railroad ties, etc.).

While the first big farm job lay on our minds, we unpacked the small trailer of furniture and boxes we had brought with us.  Our Campbell County neighbors Doug and Trey came by to check out the place. Doug has been farming and building Land Rovers in Campbell County for about 10 years.  His solution to the driveway problem was, “Don’t hire someone! Just fix it!”

The four of us went to dinner at a local place. The food was delicious and plentiful. The real treat was a four piece blues/r&b band, Four Shades of Blue. Who knew in tiny Brookneal, we could hear BB King music and an awesome R & B rendition of “If I had a Hammer”. By my second glass of wine Mark and I were on the tiny dance floor getting down with the locals. (Yes, I am a two glass of wine dancer!)

Friday night’s sleep was rough for us both. We slept with the windows open. We were freezing all night long. We kept hearing noises: creaking house, refrigerator condenser clicking on, raccoons…

Saturday, Mark tackled the huge yard with the mower. It took him 3-1/2 hours to mow the grass.  I unpacked boxes and made supper, my first experience with the new kitchen.

Saturday night sleep was much better. We closed the windows, lit a fire in the wood stove, and turned on a fan for white noise. Those things along with the pure exhaustion of mowing, unpacking and walking uphill to the house a dozen times helped us have a deep and restful night’s sleep.

Sunday we fixed the driveway. Mark used the tractor and I used the shovels.  Hard work! But so rewarding to work as a team to complete our first farm project.  Mark used the DR mower, I picked cattails and wildflowers, and we took our third trip on the Gator down to Hat Creek at the edge of our property and stood in awe at the beautiful land we now owned.

At 2:00 we loaded up our suitcases and headed back to Portsmouth. We both felt a sadness as we drove off. We had found our new home and didn’t want to leave. June 1, our permanent move date, seemed so far away. But, we were full of joy that we had found this beautiful farm that was now ours.

Chapter One – The Seed of a Dream

“Speech has power. Words do not fade. What starts out as a sound, ends in a deed.” -Abraham Joshua Herschel

I have always believed that there is power in words. I spoke some words to Mark last year and they became the seed of a dream we are now making a reality.

Moving into a city after living on four acres in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains for a couple of decades was difficult for me. I began living in a neighborhood with other people right next to me and more across the street and other folks behind me. I was hemmed in on every side. It was suffocating! Now, these were very nice people. Mark had known them for years. But, they were RIGHT THERE! in my face at every turn. I was used to walking out into my yard and it was a place of quiet and peace and nature. In Portsmouth, my yard was a place of neighbors talking on speakerphones, lawnmowers revving at all hours, and airplanes flying overhead.

I was happy in my new home because it was where Mark was. I chose to move here when I said, “I do.” However, there was always a little niggling of yearning within me. I missed trees and big skies. I missed the whisper of the wind through the grass in the pasture. I missed vistas and bird chirps. I missed walking and living surrounded by nature.

And so I spoke these words, “Hey Mark, do you think maybe we could buy a couple of acres out in the country? We could clear it out in the middle and camp out there on the weekends and have a fire pit. We could take the grandkids out there. It would be cool if it had a little creek on it.”

Mark, of course was all for it because he’s all for anything I want. He’s that way.

And in that random, casual conversation, I planted a seed. In that wishful “do you think we could” statement, the beginning of our new life began.