Pain in the Greeting Card Aisle

Greeting card aisle

When I was younger I used to love browsing greeting cards. I found it entertaining to read the sweet sentiments and clever humor.   While I still enjoy the quest to find the “perfect” card for someone, I also find that perusing the wide array of cards can trigger twinges of sadness, too.

One of the first times I felt pain in the greeting card aisle was in May 2008. A bright display of Mother’s Day cards was positioned strategically in the grocery store to make sure no one forgot to say “I love you” to mom on her special day. I wouldn’t have forgotten. In fact, I always purchased a second card along with a Mother’s Day card because my mom’s birthday was May 11 (sometimes the two occasions fell on the same day)! The problem was, that year I had no mom to purchase Mother’s Day and birthday cards for. She had gone to heaven five months earlier. The cards ushered in a wave of sadness as a realized I would never purchase another Mother’s Day card again.

Today I made a trip to the Dollar Store, where the wide selection of inexpensive cards wooed me in.   As my eyes swept the different headings, I became painfully aware of how few categories I could buy from.   I jumped from section to section: Grandparent cards – no. Mom cards – no. Sister cards – no. Nephew or Niece cards – no. Husband or romantic connection cards – no.   Son or daughter cards – no. Grandchildren cards – no.   I also noticed the type of cards I had never received: bridal shower, wedding, anniversary, and birth congratulations, to name a few.

We all face reminders of what we’ve lost or of what we’ve never had. Sometimes those twinges of grief or sadness hit us at unexpected moments. While it’s probably not advisable to start bawling uncontrollably in the card aisle, I think it’s healthy to give ourselves permission to acknowledge the pain caused by a loss or an unfulfilled dream.   Let’s admit it; it hurts. To bury our feelings and pretend we are “just fine” is as artificial as some of the cheesy greeting cards on the shelf.

In addition to admitting the pain to ourselves, it’s often helpful to share how we’re feeling with others. The first place we can go is to our Heavenly Father. God is immediately accessible and we can whisper a prayer anywhere, anytime and be assured he is listening.   He is an ever-present help in times of struggle, and encourages us to cast our cares upon him.

We can also seek out earthly friends. Recently I was carrying (and trying to hide) my deep frustration about an ongoing struggle. In a moment of vulnerability I shared how I was feeling with a trusted person in my life. While my friend couldn’t “fix” the situation, the simple act of verbalizing how I felt lifted my spirits. In return, I need to be that safe place for my friends when they need to share their areas of pain.

The reality is, very few people have a reason to buy cards from every section of the Hallmark store. Each of our lives unfolds differently, and everyone skips certain sections of the card racks. In addition, most of us end up receiving cards we wish we didn’t have to, like those that arrive when we are ill or have lost a loved one.  In truth, the greeting card aisle can be a reminder of painful things. But, it can also be an indicator of life’s blessings.

My scrapbooks and file boxes are overflowing with cards from precious people over the years . . .birthday cards, holiday cards, graduation cards, congratulations cards, encouragement cards, thank you cards, sympathy cards, and “just-because” cards. They remind me that my life has been rich in experiences and in relationships with amazing friends and family.  And I have sent oodles of cards in return, celebrating their joys and expressing my support during their losses.

The next time I go card shopping, I won’t be afraid to admit it if a sneak attack of pain comes along with the task. If it does, I know that God and my friends are available to get me through it. I’ll also strive to be thankful for the opportunity in front of me. As I hunt for the ideal card, I will think of the intended receiver – and be grateful for that person’s presence in my life.  And I’ll remember that the simple act of hand-picking a card, writing a personal note, and sending it may be just the encouragement my friend needs to deal with the greeting card aisles in his or her life.

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“Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you . . .” Psalm 55:22 (NIV)

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18 (NIV)

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up . . .” I Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV)

“Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 (NASB)

 

 

 

Unfulfilled Longings

This post is adapted from a column I wrote for a singles newsletter in 1999 (when I was in my thirties). Since it also touches on the topic of contentment, I thought it was a good companion piece to my July 13, 2014 post, “The Quest for Contentment.”

Last night’s flavors linger fondly in my memory . . . a warm, robust soup served around a candle-lit table . . . the laughter shared among five long-time friends . . . the rustle of tissue paper as birthday gifts were unveiled . . . delicate sips of fragrant tea . . . the softness of cozy afghans as we curled up to watch a movie after dinner. These are memories I savor with fondness and thanksgiving.

I could choose to recall the evening differently. Instead of focusing on the positive moments, the night could have quickly become a reminder of what I don’t have. My four friends are all happily married with beautiful children. It was only natural that much of the chatter centered on their families. At times it was hard to join in the conversation. If I hadn’t carefully re-directed my thought patterns, the evening could have easily become fodder for a pity party later.

Like many singles, it’s sometimes a challenge to feel content when most of your peers are married. For a number of years, I thought the solution was to reach a point of maturity where I no longer felt the desire to marry. Perhaps I assumed that if I just tried hard enough, I would receive the magic “gift of singleness” that would take all my longings away. An article in Today’s Christian Woman captures why this is unlikely to happen. The author wrote, “The desire to be married is actually a hundred different longings, from the want of physical and emotional intimacy, to the simple wish to feel a sense of belonging in a room filled with couples.” No wonder it was an exercise in futility to try and suppress my desire for a soulmate.

So how do we live with unfulfilled longings, whether it is the desire to be married, to be a parent, or something else? I am discovering that one of the keys to contentment is to savor what I have, instead of focusing on what is absent. To savor is to “taste with delight.” It implies a sense of lingering and fully relishing the flavor of the moment.  Savoring means noticing little things, like last night, when I smiled at the artistic way my friend folded the napkins.

It also involves savoring the broader strokes God has painted in my life. While he has not opened the door for me to marry, God has given me many other opportunities, like pursuing an education. One of my married friends expressed her feelings of inadequacy because she had never attended college. As she shared, I realized that everyone deals with issues of insecurity and unmet dreams, especially when we compare ourselves to others.

What would happen if we stopped looking longingly at the grass on the other side of the fence and started savoring our own garden? For example, when I reflect on all the things I have in common with my precious wedded friends, the differences in our marital status seem to fade away. When I whisper a prayer of thanksgiving for the things I typically take for granted, I’m less likely to envy. As I step out in faith to share my unique talents and gifts, I discover that I can make a difference, just as I am. When I take time to nurture my relationship with Christ, I find true belonging, security, and a love that never fails.

Savoring doesn’t come naturally in our fast-paced world, but ultimately we have the choice of where we focus our thoughts and heart.   The more time we spend savoring, the more content we are likely to become.   Something surprising might even happen along the way—we may discover that our longings are being fulfilled in unexpected ways.   God’s desire is to give us fullness of joy—not in some distant future when all our “dreams” are met, but as we trust Him today.

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