When enough is enough

Life is crazy.  Sometimes it’s crazy good.  Other times not.  2014 ended with a bang when I got engaged to the only man I’ve ever truly loved in November.  2015 started off with one when I married said man January 10th (if you’re reading my love story blog there will be some updates there too soon so watch for them).  Yes, you did read that right…I got engaged November 28th and was married January 10th.  No, I’m not pregnant, no I’m not dying, no there was no “urgency” to have such a short engagement other than it’s just kinda what we as LDS people do.  Not all of us but as a whole, long engagements aren’t our thing.

Combining two families is tough enough, but moving cross country 8 days after getting married makes that even tougher.  Toss in that you’re driving, that you don’t have a home and jobs waiting for you in the new location, that it’s on the opposite side of the country from most of the people you love and then sprinkle in the fact that the location is a totally and completely different culture than you’ve ever known or experienced (my Southern friends will back me up on this I’m sure) AND you’re driving out there with only the bare essentials (you know clothes, computers, cosmetics) and it’s even tougher.

Let’s also point out that we were moving to “his” family.  His Mom, his brothers, his nephews, his…

My experience with “in-laws” hasn’t been great.  I was never very close to my ex mother in law.  Honestly, we share a mutual detest of each other even now.  My ex sister in-law and I were never close either.  In fact, with one exception (love you Shamon), I don’t particularly care for any of my in-laws.

As a female, I’m hard wired to worry and I am extremely proficient at it.  What if his mom didn’t like me, what if his brothers didn’t like me, what if they didn’t like the kids?  What if the only reason they loved me is because I was his wife?  What if I had the same bad relationships with THESE in-laws I had with just about all the others.  What if Arkansas was the death of me because it is precisely 2281.29 from my baby sister/bestie’s house to mine and his family hated me?

My husband and I had countless conversations about it where he tried to reassure me that his people weren’t like “that”.  I friended his brother on Facebook and we began to chat and talk and get to know each other.  Baby brother seemed nice enough…maybe the others would be too.

We arrived at Mama’s house Friday January 23rd and it was honestly…hell.  We wound up sleeping on the floor, I got a text from my daughter while returning the rental car that was alarming and I spent that first night crying myself to sleep.  When my husband asked what I needed him to do to help, I begged him to take me home even though there was no longer a home to go home to back in the NW.  When he reminded me of that I resigned myself to what I was sure was going to be a long period of gray days despite how brightly the sun was shining.

Looking back on it now, that first night and all of its emotion was likely way more grief over the loss I was still feeling with having moved and exhaustion from the trip.  My husband immediately got to work fixing things though and the following afternoon (January 24th, 2015) we received keys to a home of our own.

Since getting our own spot, we see Mama and the boys at least once a week.  The first time we were there for dinner my daughter said a blessing and Mama tacked on a PS. Through her simple prayer thanking God for finally bringing all of her children to her at the same time (this is the first time ever that all four of her boys have lived local to her) and the tears that followed I discovered the purpose of my family being in Arkansas…we were there to answer her prayers period.  Amazing how knowing your purpose can sure change your attitude about things.  After wiping away her tears I hugged her and she whispered in my ear “thank you, I love you.”

Over the last three weeks I’ve had the opportunity to spend lots of time with Mama. Let me tell you something…I love my Mama!  She is without a doubt one of the most amazing women I have ever met or known of in the history of pretty much ever and as divine providence would have it (because I don’t believe in luck), she loves me just because she can.  The more time I spend with her the more time I wanna spend.

The story doesn’t end here though…

Upon our arrival, that same brother I was getting to know via phone and Facebook met us at McDonald’s and escorted us to Mama’s house.  When a situation there got hard for the kids he swooped them up and immediately commenced spoiling them and showing them off.  Already he was proud and when asked “who’s kids are those” his response was “my nieces and nephew.”  I was equally proud to claim his son too. Seriously Lil D stole my heart the second we met.  From inception and with one exception “these” in-laws were proving to be quite different.

Two weeks ago I got to meet one of my youngest nephews.  He is the sweetest, cutest, cuddliest baby EVER.  I also got to spend some time with his Dad finally.  He wasn’t around much our first weekend here because the baby was sick and in the hospital. This brother, who I lovingly now call Big Mike (and he even agrees he totally is), was just as great as the first one I had gotten to know.  In case you’re not counting…one great husband + 1 great Mama + 2 great brothers (the 3rd brother I could do without) + 2 adorable nephews…I’d say we’re off to a good start.

Weekly visits (and sometimes more) have continued since we got here.  The more time I spend at Mama’s house and the more I get to know her and the boys, the better it has gotten.  So much so in fact, that I jokingly told my husband if we ever divorce I want two things…the bed and Mama!

Mama and I are so close already.  Two weeks ago she hugged me and said “you are simply my daughter and I love you”.  What validation and acceptance in that statement.  I made a promise to her that I will blog about later, but here’s what’s up…I still despise Arkansas (yes more is coming about that too) but I am crazy about Mama and I will be local to her until the day she dies.

Sunday we typically always go to Mama’s house.  Yesterday we came home from Church, those that were hungry grabbed a snack and off we headed.  We walked in and I was greeted with hugs and the 2 great brothers both asked how I was.  Here’s the best part…they both GENUINELY wanted to know too.  Mama smiles as she sees us walk in and stops what she’s doing to hug on all of us.  The house is full of people. Mama, all 4 of her boys, me, 4 of her grandkids, and my brother’s girlfriend. Later joining us is my other brother’s wife, and Mama’s husband. Did I mention how crazy I am about these nephews…

I’m so happy being there that when my husband asks if we should head home before it gets dark I volunteer to drive (even though I don’t really like driving at night) so that we can stay longer.  At one moment of the evening, I found myself looking around the room and just taking it all in.  I couldn’t contain the happiness I was feeling…you may recall the status update.  I love my family I’m telling ya!

We return to our home and go about our nighttime/bedtime rituals and as I lay all snuggled up next to my husband it hits me.

I am FINALLY enough!

In that moment I realized that good, bad or ugly (and sometimes I’m all of those things)…I am enough.

It’s Electric…but there’s no slide

I seriously don’t know how the early pioneers did it.  While I can cook with coals from my fire, it’s arduous to say the least and I despise it.  Often by the time the fire yields the perfect coals for cooking, I’ve run out of steam to dig the coals out and use them to cook so I just wait for the fire to burn itself out.  Yes I own a dutch oven, yes I own a cast iron skillet and can cook in this primitive way, but I am extremely grateful for the magic of electricity.

My crock pot has gotten more attention in the three months I’ve lived up river than it’s gotten in the last three years I think. In fact, I could probably use a couple more even.  That and a rice maker but we’ll talk about rice another day perhaps.  When my lovely crock isn’t making 6 quarts of yummy goodness for my family, my electric skillet or Foreman are getting worked out.  Sadly, I can’t have the skillet and crock pot plugged in at the same time so cooking continues to be an adventure but I’m figuring it out as I go.  I will say this though:  my creative spirit/talents don’t just stop at graphic and paper design.  I’m getting pretty creative at caring for my family too.

In addition to cookbooks for open fire cooking, I invested in cookbooks specifically for slow cookers and electric skillets and the kiddos think my efforts are stellar.  I’d take all the credit but it’s not that hard to read and follow directions so thanks go to Editors of Favorite Brand Name Recipes  and Presto.  This was tonight’s dinner:

Chicken fried steak (super easy…cubed steak dipped in egg then in bread crumbs then in egg again then in bread crumbs again and fried in electric skillet), a fantastic side dish (page 148 of the crock pot cookbook) and corn.  It’s a carnal sin (or it should be anyway) to have chicken fried steak without gravy but there was nothing fancy about the gravy.

Pretty much the only noise I heard from my kids during dinner was choruses of yum and agreement that this meal hit the spot.  Oh yes and begging me to make sure I made it again sometime soon and requests to take the leftovers to school tomorrow for lunch.  Pretty sure that’s kid speak for “DANG my mama can COOK”…at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Winds of Change

As a parent, I’m entitled to not only personal revelation, but any revelation I want or need to help me with those I’m a steward over.  In short, as the head of the household I’m entitled to personal revelation for my family.  Likewise, as the head of the Ward family, the Bishop is entitled to revelation for the ward.

The Friday before I was due to move to Cougar, I received the most interesting voice mail.  It went on about how Bishop Heath (my new Bishop) had instructed this person to get us in a closer park, to do it immediately, and to do whatever it took to get us there.  When I called back, the High Priest Group Leader informed me what he already had paperwork for me and could come get me so I could see the place and fill out the paperwork and twenty minutes later I was on my way.  The new park has laundry facilities on-site, is 5 miles from the highway/town, there are members within walking distance and it even comes with a pool.  This guy and his wife even took me to the Cougar park to get my deposit back and everything.

As we’re driving up to Cougar he assures me that the new ward will love on me extra good and I proudly boast what big shoes they have to fill because my beloved 7th Ward is affectionately nick named 7th Heaven.  He insists they are up to the challenge and he was right.

Since arriving in my new spot, I’ve been loved on very good.  I’ve met so many people I can’t remember everyone (and I’m good with names and faces) and we’ve been very warmly received.  We’ve attended church here almost a month now (well Miss Ella and I have anyway) and as difficult as it is for me to ask, each time we have a need and I’m willing to humble myself enough to ask, that need is always met.

Our place within the new RV park is prime real estate let me tell you.  We only have neighbors on one side and we have the biggest yard (or pretty close to it) in the entire place.  Oh and let’s not forget this view…

Gorgeous isn’t it?  Go ahead be jealous…

Camp life is physically a lot harder than apartment/city living is.  Having to dispose of the dirt you’ve acquired after digging out a fire pit is no joke.  Building fires daily is also tougher than flipping the switch on the gas fireplace we had in our apartment.  Additional chores include things like stacking wood, dumping gray and black water, doing dishes without using a sink, cooking over a fire pit with no grill, shaking out rugs and sweeping several times a day, and countless other things.  We also have to do chores two or three times a day if we’d like to keep our spot looking spiffy.  Then there’s going to the bathroom to shower and do hair and makeup…talk about a workout sometimes (uphill carrying all your stuff).  Despite being physically harder, we lead a much simpler life and I have now heard every one of my kids say that this new way of living is not as bad as they thought it would be and they actually do like the simplicity of it.

We’ve survived our first major rain storm (though we do need to get our trailer tarped before the next major rains come), we’ve been able to endure the epic heat wave we’ve had lately in relative ease given we have a pool and AC in the trailer, we’ve met great people in and out of our Ward alike, we’ve started to put the most important things first finally, and ultimately, I think we’ve realized we can endure way more than we ever thought we could.  Except if it’s mosquitoes…I’m not enduring those little suckers well at all.

While this particular circumstance is not how I’d prefer to live if it were up to me, it has been a learning experience already.  I’ve learned that when a trial comes our way (and they will keep coming trust me), we can make it an obstacle or an opportunity by how we respond to it.  I choose to allow this opportunity to make me better not bitter.

Full Surrender

If you and I are Facebook friends, then you know things are incredibly difficult for me right now.  I wasn’t going to come out with what it is that has me rattled to the core, but writing has always been cathartic for me and with the challenges that lie ahead, I need all the relief I can get.

I am about to embark on yet another forced adventure and have cried gallons of tears over it; rivers maybe even.  The details as to the how and why aren’t really that important.  It’s the what that has me rather troubled. This new adventure is as scary as it is frustrating and as sad as it is hard. I feel ill-equipped even if I am uniquely qualified for it.

Since June 15th I’ve been on the phone, online, packing, or crying.  I’ve not been able to focus on much of anything and sleep has been in short supply as my mind is consumed with good and bad thoughts.  Satan would have me believe that I’m a terrible mother and my kids deserve more.  He’d have me believe that this current circumstance was totally preventable and all my fault.  He’d have me believe that I’m a failure and suggest I respond by doing some outrageous things.  It’s so painful a recent Facebook status of mine read “In addition to crying enough tears over the last few days to end any water shortage a small country might be facing, I’ve also talked so much I’m hoarse and apparently sound like my son on the phone. I’m pretty sure I’ve also been rejected more times in the last 72 hours than I ever have in the previous 40 years and some-odd days leading up to the last 72 hours COMBINED. Never again will I say it can’t get any worse or this is the hardest it’s ever been because it just gets worse and harder when I do. I feel like I’m facing insurmountable odds and though as my good friend Hanna reminded me, I will adapt because I don’t have any other choice, all I really want to do is be 4 again play play dough and dress up with my Mom. Yes I know that God is mindful of me; yes I am reading my scriptures; yes I am saying my prayers. Yes I am going to church (speaking of that any locals that can give us a ride tomorrow that’d be awesome) BUT…if one more person says to just keep the faith or reminds me that He has a plan I might have to punch them in the throat…HARD. Will everything be OK eventually…of course it always is. That’s not the problem…the problem is it’s not OK right now and I really REALLY need it to be.”

I have been a member of the Vancouver 7th Ward since my arrival in Vancouver 4 years ago.  I have developed some relationships with people in this ward that I cherish.  I am confident they know who they are so I don’t need to name them all here.  In short, 7th Ward is where it’s at.  Without a doubt, the most incredible ward I’ve ever been in.  Up until four years ago my fave ward was Springboro, but the relationships and love I’ve received in the last four years in Vancouver 7th make all other wards pale in comparison.  This is truly a ward family…and I am a big part of it.  Sunday July 13th will be our last Sunday in the ward; typing that brings tears to my eyes and as hard as leaving this ward is, it’s not the hardest part.

This isn’t even the sweetest part of our current location though.  My sister and bestest best friend forever and ever and always lives 10 minutes up the street.  I see a lot of her, we have a standing weekly date night, her 17-year-old son said it’s weird that we’re so close because he feels like he has two moms only instead of us being lesbian (though we do believe we’ve been mistaken for such before) we’re sisters.  I love her boys like my own son and she has backed me up to the ends of the earth and beyond with my own kids countless times.  Moving out of 7th Ward also means I’m moving away from her.  I can’t even begin to explain how painful it is to know that I will soon be a lot further than just 10 minutes down the street from her.

Then there’s my adoptive parents…I’ve blogged about how important they are to me several times and I’m moving even further away from them as well.  This means, just as we were getting used to the fun of holidays together we’re going to be too far away to enjoy any more.  This breaks my heart.  I am insanely in love with my baby nephew who we all actually call Baby.  I adore his mom, I’m crazy about my niece and well I just love my adopted family a ton and I know they love me also.  Sad to just get my parents back in my life only to move away from them yet again.

Finally in all of this there is the love of my life.  He and I just got back together the end of May and now, just 6 or 8 weeks later I’m moving away from him too.  He lives 20 minutes away and I typically only see him once a week right now and it’s not nearly enough time with him.  What will I do when I’m only able to see him once a month?  I think this, combined with everything else might be the death of me.  I cry and cry and cry.  My heart is so heavy; I am so pained.

See it’s not just that we’re moving…it’s that for the next few months we will be living in a 27′ Wanderer Gliderite trailer in an RV park in Cougar, WA.  To some this might sound like paradise.  Keep in mind that I am a city girl.  I even love traffic and smog (yeah I know crazy).  Consider also that there will be 4 of us living in that space, and our neighbors will be inches away.  These things alone are enough to make the situation difficult but then, for good measure, let’s just throw in the fact that the population of our new home is one hundred fifty according to the 2010 census.  Seriously?  That’s fewer people than just the apartment complex I now live in has.  Oh yeah and let us not forget that this place is 40 miles one way from the nearest real town and I don’t have a car, a bike, a scooter, or anything other than two good feet and one really bad back to get around on.  If all that isn’t bad enough, there’s the bugs and wildlife that I’d rather not live near let alone with, campfire cooking, shared showers (or insane propane costs for hot showers in the trailer), and the fact that there’s no cell coverage at the camp itself.  Just because I can camp doesn’t mean I want to, enjoy it, or am even looking forward to it.  Earlier I said I was uniquely qualified right?  I can cook in foil on coals of a fire and make it taste good, just as easy as I can cook on a regular stove.  I can build fires that burn so hot with no non-natural ingredients that they have to be put out twice, I can pitch a tent, I can clean a fish, and lots of other outdoorsy kinds of things.  Knowing how and wanting to do them are not the same though.

Heartache and sorrow have prevailed as I’ve thought about where and how I’ll be living this time next month.  I’ve cried to my sister, my mom, my home teachers, my visiting teachers, my friends, my boyfriend, and even my kids.  My kids are really excited.  Each of them have a different reason they think this is all going to be OK.  I have yet to be convinced…until about an hour ago.

Sunday afternoon my sister drove me up to the campground to put down a deposit on my spot and though I tried to play it off like it was gonna be great, inside I was miserable.  On the drive up there though I happened to hear Building 429’s song We Won’t Be Shaken.  My sister and I were chatting away like we always do when we’re in the car and so I only kinda, sorta, not really paid attention to the lyrics.  You know how when you’re really tired but you have to do something critical and dangerous like oh drive you pay more attention?  Well that’s where I was at and so I got a chance to really hear and internalize the lyrics to this song…I couldn’t believe what peace washed over me when I heard these lyrics:

…This mountain rises higher
The way seems so unclear
But I know that You go with me so I will never fear
I will trust in You

Whatever will come our way
Through fire or pouring rain
Oh we won’t be shaken
No we won’t be shaken
Whatever tomorrow brings
Together we’ll rise and sing
That we won’t be shaken…

You know my every longing
You’ve heard my every prayer
You’ve held me in my weakness
Cause You are always there
So I’ll stand in full surrender
It’s Your way and not my own
My mind is set on nothing less
Than You and You alone
I will not be moved…

This has now become my family’s theme song.  It’s often very interesting to me how God works.  At various points through this process, each of my children have come to me individually and said that maybe the reason we were going through this was basically to do what this song says…set our minds on Him and nothing less.

I’m sure it’s only me and mine, but we are that family in the movie RV.  Hopefully we’ll have the same experience after our RV adventure minus the septic scene and a few others.  At the beginning of this movie Robyn Williams, who’s character’s name I don’t remember,  mentions how plugged in everyone is.  They text each other from other rooms in the house and spend pretty much zero time together.  That’s my family presently.  We’ve gotten away from the basics.  We’ve stopped doing things together in more than one aspect of our lives.  On any given day of the week, you’ll find me plugged into the computer doing homework, editing photos, playing Words with Friends or otherwise computer driven, my 15-year-old on her phone doing much of the same things, my son swallowed up by Xbox and my youngest daughter busy reading or listening to music.  Each of us in the same household, but quite literally off in our own worlds.  We’ve been too distracted by other things and people to even do some of the most important things that need doing to safeguard our family from the winds of hell that seek to destroy us.  Things like Family Home Evening, family scripture study, family prayer, regular church attendance, personal prayer and scripture study.  As a result, Satan has had a firm hold on my family for a long time.

When crying with my middle daughter recently about this move and explaining how frustrated I was at all the rejection I’ve gotten and how of all the places in the world I wanted to be right now, Cougar, WA was not even close to “it” she, in all the wisdom that is this young woman, said maybe the reason we’re being stuck in Cougar is because God wants us to come back to Him and He knows to do that we need to be somewhere free of distraction.  See…told you that young woman is wise beyond her 15 years for sure.

I still don’t know the purpose in this scene, but I do think my daughter is right.  It’s remote enough that the number one rule is always take a buddy.  The distractions are pretty much going to be gone entirely.  The camp does offer internet but I’m not sure there will be enough umph in the trailer to even run my computer which will make finishing school very difficult.  Then, as I listened to this Building 429 song a while ago, there was that line or two that just kind of kidney punched me.  “So I’ll stand in full surrender, it’s Your way and not my own” and then later as the chorus plays again we hear “whatever tomorrow brings, together we’ll rise and sing” and through this whole process those who’ve had the details all along I’ve said this same thing to.  At the end of the day, even with all the misgivings I have about this adventure two things remain constant.  We are together and the gospel is still true.

I know that my Heavenly Father loves me; I know that my children know this same thing.  I know that just as He has provided for us in our time of need right here in Vancouver, He will continue to do the same in Cougar.  His love is constant and unchanging even when the world around us is not.  Where there is chaos, He provides peace.  Where there is fear and doubt, He offers blessed assurance.  I have learned, even when I struggle to look in the right direction, that whether I feel overwhelmed by chaos and fearful or at peace and full of blessed assurance largely depends on where I look and what I focus on.  These next few months of “camping” (albeit doing so in relative style) will undoubtedly be rough, but there are also tender mercies to be found and blessings already present.

This has happened in July not January.  It’s plenty warm enough to camp indefinitely.  It happened after reconciliation with my adopted family because the trailer we are using belongs to my adopted cousin who is letting me use it at no charge.  It’s happening at just about the same time my kids get back from/head off to Girls Camp and Scout Camp so camp skills will be fresh in their minds.  We are fortunate enough to be in a ward when we move and not just a branch, people we love have agreed to come visit so we won’t be alone, space was available immediately with no difficult getting in, several of our close friends are avid campers and they have helped us to prepare, our beloved 7th Ward has plenty of trucks and trailers so a u-haul isn’t necessary, we’re getting a huge storage unit half off for three months, our pad is all-inclusive and we don’t have to risk that scene in RV where they have to dump the waste, the campground owner is very kind, there are members in Cougar, the place is undeniably beautiful, there’s lake access both to the East and West of us within walking distance (so the kids can cool off on these hot summer days that are upon us), we will soon be lean and mean with all the walking we’ll have to do (we have to walk a half mile round trip just to have cell phone coverage), the buddy system allows any two of us to get closer at countless points through the day, the absence of distractions requires us to put first/most important things first, we’ll have great stories to tell kids and grand kids down the road, though there isn’t cell coverage at camp, there is Internet so I can finish school if the connection is adequate and arguably the most important of all the immediate blessings is that we will be together and we will not be living on the streets.

My kids are phenomenal and I don’t just say that because they are mine.  Ask anyone who’s met them and they will tell you that though not perfect, these kids are indeed amazing.  They could have reacted very differently when learning how we’d be living for the next few months.  Here’s what happened though…my youngest daughter excitedly proclaimed “FINALLY you’re taking us camping, I love camping” and my son said “just imagine all the bugs I can catch and throw on Jazmyne” (typical little brother for you), and Jazmyne just keeps assuring me that it’s not a big deal and we’re gonna be just fine.  Already I’m seeing some positive changes in these children as we prepare for camp life too.

We are all thinking about what we can do to pass the time as a family,  Jazmyne was “caught” in her scriptures voluntarily for the first time in months at church on Sunday and she volunteered to read a few chapters last night while we were reading Moroni to help Miss Gabryella finish up her Personal Progress.  Mason excitedly pulled out his Duty to God book and informed us he was anxious to get started on it.  Additionally, he has volunteered to do all the manly camp things like chop wood, hunt, fish (and clean/gut his kill) and when saying our family prayer last night he asked God to bless him with the ability to bless his family during this experience.  In short, our hearts are already returning to God.  We have a long ways to go still, but I believe we’re moving in the right direction both literally and figuratively.

Though this will be an adjustment for sure and may often prove difficult, the despair and gloom I feel around this change is dissipating quickly.  “Whatever will come our way, through fire or pouring rain, oh we won’t be shaken.  No we won’t be shaken.  Whatever tomorrow brings, together we’ll rise and sing that we won’t be shaken.  No we won’t be shaken…we will trust in You and we will not be shaken.”

How do I Save the Sheep Disguised as a Ram

The Bible tells of a parable where a shepherd leaves the 90 and 9 and looks for the one lone sheep who has gone astray.  We know that this is an allegory for what Jesus does for each of us when we are the lone sheep wandering astray, but perhaps it also means what we do as parents what I do as a mother.

My fold has just 4 sheep.  They sometimes wander, a few have gotten lost a time or two and one has strayed so far I often wonder if I’m ever gonna be able to lead my lone sheep back to pasture. It’s trying on good days, but on bad days it’s beyond bad.  There are so many conflicting emotions in my head and heart every minute of every hour of every day.  I love this lone sheep and that love keeps me plugged in and fighting.  For, with and against my lone sheep if need be to make sure that this sheep is safe and warm and loved and happy and successful and fed physically AND spiritually.   Lately it seems like the battle is against my precious lamb.

It’s been my experience that often we are our own worst enemies and this certainly holds true in my situation.  How do I save my lamb from themselves?  It doesn’t matter how many times I say:

NO!  No don’t go that way the flocks is over here.

NO!  No don’t go down that path it’s too rough.

NO!  No don’t climb that mountain it’s dangerous.

NO!  No don’t wander away, you’ll get lost.

NO!  No don’t I haven’t left you I’m here I promise.

NO!  No don’t leave there’s strength in numbers.

NO!  No trust me I’ve been down this road before.

NO!  No be careful some “sheep” are wolves in wait.

It doesn’t matter if these are things I literally say or figuratively say.  No matter what I do, my lost sheep still manages to find their way into a mess they can’t easily get out of.  My little lamb frequently wanders down the path alone, away from the rest of the flock and locks antlers with any who dare approach.  It’s an exhausting battle.  How do you help someone who doesn’t seem genuinely invested in helping themselves?  How do you help someone who is compliant not because they find any intrinsic value in being so, but solely because they fear the consequences of insubordination more?

Sheep need carbs, protein, minerals, salt, calcium, phosphorous, fiber and water.  Protein doesn’t come from grain though so how do you keep a sheep healthy when the only thing they want to eat is straw?  And then what about when the sheep forgets they are still a lamb and tries to buck up like a ram effectively holding the shepherd hostage in the pasture?!?!?  Just like a shepherd tends to both the flock and the individual sheep that make it up, I too much do the same.  This grows increasingly more difficult as I find myself often doing without or going without the things I need to refuel my energy reserves be they spiritual or physical or both.  How can I tend my flock when I can’t even make the time or get a moment’s peace to look after me?

They aren’t big enough that they can tend themselves all the time without me and yet the lost sheep consumes so much time, energy and effort that there isn’t enough left to adequately look after the others.  Despite being as stubborn as an ox sometimes, my lost sheep won’t fare any better alone that real sheep do.  Sheep need the security of a flock like people need the security of a family.  When sheep are alone it’s almost always because they are sick.  Being alone produces anxiety in sheep because they are born herders.

Sheep are usually tender, docile, playful animals.  They love to play and climb and explore (which is also why they often get lost), they love to be active.  Typically only rams are aggressive…especially during mating season.  Experts tell you never trust a ram even if you hand raised it from a baby.  What then do I do to coax my precious lost sheep out of the ram’s body it inhabits most often?  Is it my job to coax the lamb out, or just keep the ram from hurting themselves or someone else?  I don’t know…I really just don’t at all know.

I see this lost one as a lamb, but often they present as a ram.  If rams aren’t to be trusted ever no matter what, can the same be said for people who behave like rams?  People who butt heads with everyone around them constantly, people who are mean and aggressive, people who others tend to steer clear of, people who, when they’ve nothing else or no one else to butt against , go out of their way to butt against themselves?  What am I to do with this?  If I shut the ram out and leave it to fend for itself, the lamb inside grows anxious and wary.  If though I try to ignore the ram and appeal to the lamb, it’s often a losing battle that escalates into something bigger and uglier than it ever needs to be or ever should have gotten.  The horns on the ram I butt heads with daily hurt—severe.

How do I  brave the ram for the sake of the lamb?

I don’t honestly know.  I don’t know how I’m going to get through the next minute of the next hour of the next day sometimes.  I can’t see into tomorrow because I can’t see past tonight.  Thoughts consume my mind like how can we get everyone in bed for the night with no drama?  How can we avoid having the police being called…again?  How do I show love to the lamb when the ram is present and butting heads?  How do I prevent my other sheep from learning the bad habits of the lost one?  How do I keep myself fit enough to do all that is required of me to tend this flock?  I sincerely have no idea…do you?

 

For the Love of Play Dough

One of my favorite scriptures is in the book of Isaiah.  Yes I know how deeply profound and prophetic this book is, but nonetheless I find enormous strength in this scripture from the 10th verse of the 41st chapter.  It says “fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”  I’ve always found comfort in this scripture, but the full magnitude of it has become clear recently.

You may recall from my earlier post how I’m the girl whose parents don’t love her.  I’m not being dramatic here either.  My father and I have never met and he blames me for essentially everything horrible that has ever happened in his life.  You know, I caused his wife to leave him and his son to hate him and him to go to jail and him to…fill in the blank.  If it was bad and it happened to my father, somehow I’m to blame.  In our last conversation he said that everything about my existence has done nothing but cause him pain.  He went on to say that if I was any kind of daughter and any kind of sister I’d work to reunite a father with his son (my brother) and maybe THEN he’d (my father) be willing to meet me and his grandchildren.  What he fails to realize is my brother is just as done with him as I am, if not more.

Then there’s my mother.  Where do I even begin?

Perhaps the best place is with some of the stories she told me growing up.  First there was the one about how according to hospital records I wasn’t hers because her baby was released three days early so there must have been a switch.  There was how she got my belly button at K-Mart and if I wasn’t good she’d take me back for a refund.  Then there was how she didn’t decide to keep me till a few weeks before I was born and, as if that wasn’t enough on its own, she followed this up by saying she only kept me to spite her father who, upon discovering she was pregnant, told her to choose between her family and her “nigger baby.”  Don’t worry, my grandfather came around and I ended up being his favorite grandbaby but yes, it did start out a little tumultuous for us.

None of the childhood memories I have of my mother are pleasant.  She has betrayed my trust more times than I can remember.  Not quite three years ago I set aside every heartache and sorrow and every broken promise and shattered trust to work on building a relationship with her.  While it was better than it had been before, I still never felt like a priority to her and found our relationship leaving a lot to be desired.  Instead of being heartbroken over how difficult the relationship is, I just chose to accept it for what it was and go from there.  That worked fine enough until she betrayed me yet again a few weeks ago.

Growing up my mother always told us to never make a promise we couldn’t keep.  I trusted her that when she said “I promise” it was something she’d do (or not do or whatever).  Hearing her say “I promise” was a huge deal.  She never said it often and when she did, she stuck to it…or at least she used to.  February 11th she promised me something and broke that promise not 8 hours later.  Every prior betrayal came bubbling back to the surface and I found myself in tears for days.  While in this teary place, I posted the song Just A Little Stronger” by Sara Evans and explained that while this song is about breaking up with a man, it fit for the break up I was having with my mother.  Then this comment was made “I’ve been in your life since you were 4 years old on and off seen a lot so that being said I’m here for you now if you would like to talk call me.”

I had to call the person who left the comment.  When I did, it was honestly…excruciating.  I learned that some the images that “flashed” in my head from time to time were actually clips of memories.  All the ones that involved my mother were bad.  I learned that my mother abandoned me when I was 4 because she met a man and honestly I suspect that wasn’t the first time it happened.  You see, the person leaving the comment was one of my first babysitters.  The things she told me, the connections she helped me draw, the pain she helped me process.  It was bittersweet to say the least.  Even now, weeks later I’m not sure if I was entirely ready for the conversation.  Growing up I had always figured my mom was awful due to her addiction to bad men (that’s a blog post for a different day).  I guess my subconscious reconciled the abandonment and hurt by convincing me that she was only “that way” because of the men in her life.  Having this conversation with my babysitter told a different story.  My mom was perfectly adept at doing bad by me all on her own.

After piecing all the memories together, my babysitter told me two stories that I honestly wish I would have never know. Both involve my sisters.  When I was about 6 and my sister about 2, my mother’s neglect nearly cost me my sister.  We were living with my babysitter at the time (yes I do remember living with her) and she thought my mother had put my sister and I to bed.  I showed up at the top of her sunken living room sometime later where she reports asking me didn’t my mom put us to bed.  I told her no and that my sister was in the tub.  My babysitter reports racing to the bathroom to find my sister sitting in frigid water shivering and her lips a lovely shade of purple.  Purple is my favorite color but the lips of a 2-year-old shouldn’t be purple unless they’ve drunk grape kool-aid or eating a purple Popsicle and neither held true for my baby sis.  My babysitter and her husband yanked her out the tub and after searching for my mother found her asleep next to her drunk husband.  My mother nearly killed my sister to tend to her husband.  Not cool.  I actually have memories of her nearly killing her several other times as well.

The second story involving my sister is one that I can’t relate or even type without tears and it occurred more than 30 years ago.  Back then, there were no laws on the books against late trimester abortions and, though telling my sitter she was going to keep the baby she was pregnant with. my mom had an abortion at roughly 6 months pregnant (plus or minus a few weeks).  After lying to my babysitter about why she needed her to watch us, she proceeded to describe what my baby sister looked like in great detail after the procedure.  At that late in the pregnancy, the hospital induced labor, my sister was born, her cord cut and she struggled to breathe for several minutes before dying.  Because my mom signed papers to end her pregnancy, the hospital wouldn’t save her.  I later learned that another woman (a friend of my mom’s) had the same procedure around the same time and her baby lived for hours or days in a refrigerated room after being aborted.  I cannot in any way consider this any less than an act of murder.  My sister Stacie would be about 34 today.  Somehow I just know that she and I and my surviving sister would be best of friends.  I never met her, I didn’t even know about her (or remember my mom being pregnant with her) till many years after her death and yet, 34 years later I still miss her.  Her death at the hand of my mother is another betrayal.  Maybe it shouldn’t be, but that’s what it feels like nonetheless.  My babysitter informed me she was blonde and blue-eyed and I pray that I will know her or recognize her on the other side of the veil and that we will be close there since we were denied that chance here.

After processing all of this information I told my babysitter that I felt like an orphan and she said that she still considered my sister and I her girls and she loved us and I’d never be an orphan as a result.  It was then that the tide/tone of our conversation shifted and I began to realize that nearly all the happy memories I have as a child involved this babysitter and her husband somehow.  There aren’t very many that’s for sure, but the ones I do have somehow always come back to her.  While chatting on Facebook she showed me pictures of cakes that were made for birthdays for my sister and I, pictures of me as a child and informed me that after the bathtub incident she prayed every night that we would be protected.  She likely asked God to do just what He says he will in that scripture I started the blog out with…to strengthen us and to be with us.  And, while her prayers didn’t prevent all the heartache that we endured, I choose to believe that those prayers are what kept us from having it much worse.  Sure our experiences were rotten, but that rotten experience has had no power to permanently alter our course.  We have become great women and even greater moms despite the bad example our own mother provided.  Both my sister and I have deep personal relationships with God and we trust Him because His grace is always sufficient.

Though I’ve never had parents who loved and adored me, God has more than made up for that by putting countless people in my life who love me and “Mawee” (as my sister called her) the babysitter is one of those people.  As I’ve struggled and plead with Heavenly Father to remember childhood, often pleasant memories have her in it.  She and her husband were both very good to me.  Sadly I spent the majority of my life without her though because my mom took us away when she realized how close to her we’d become.  Nonetheless, in the brief time Mawee (pronounced Maw eeee) was in my life she showed me love.  The memories were often stuck in my subconscious mind but I choose to believe that her love, couple with that of my Great Uncle Ike and a few others was the driving force to help me beat the odds and turn out OK in spite of my mother.

What do I remember about Mawee?  I remember her in the kitchen cooking and me having a miniature Tupperware set “cooking” right alongside her.  I have a very vivid memory of sitting at her kitchen table coloring with her.  No words were exchanged she we just colored and colored.  It seems we could sit at the table with color-books and crayons or plain paper and crayons and waste away an entire day or two or 5. I remember my artwork being pasted all over her refrigerator too.  She loved me and she was proud of me.  I think she was even the one who taught me how to first write my name.

It didn’t just end there though.  I remember once while visiting her she heard me say I wanted to learn to crochet so she went and grabbed a hook and some yarn.  It was a plastic pink crochet hook and mint green yarn. I don’t remember the actual “learning process,” but I do remember making a mint green chain the length of her living room lol.  She only taught me how to do the basic chain stitch, but it was a building block for future learning.  After being taught to crochet and getting the basic chain stitch mastered, she played a game called WaterWorks with her husband and I.

I remember Mawee and her husband coming to school with me to have lunch and I remember her husband reading to me.  In fact, they gave me a book called Holly Hobbie’s Nursery Rhymes for my 5th birthday and I still have it. I remember her always ensuring we felt loved, but my favorite memory of Mawee though is all about play dough. She would make her own dough and used kool-aid to color it.  Coloring the dough by kneading the kool-aid into it was my job.  I remember this vividly because it stained my hands and because there was oil in the play dough recipe, I could leave my kool-aid stained hand-prints on anything.  I remember “stamping” them on paper that was later displayed proudly on their fridge.  I sincerely wish some of the artwork we created together would have been saved.  It didn’t end here though.  Once we got the dough colored, she would play with me.  I remember having the play dough barber shop set and we’d take turns cutting hair over and over in various colors.  We made and “ate” play dough cookies and cakes and I rolled and rolled and rolled balls of it to make the worlds longest fake snake/earthworm and on and on.  I’ve honestly never known a grown up who was so invested in play than Mawee was.

Of all the things she taught me though, the most important one may well be to believe in God.  Until recently I had never been able to place where that deep-seated belief came from because my mom isn’t very religious, nor is anyone else in my family of origin.  I remember Mawee praying with me, I remember her teaching me to bow my head and fold my hands ad I remember seeing her read her bible.  Because she loves God the way that she does, it was easy for her to open her heart up to us and do unto the “least of these” like the Bible says to.

You see, when she started babysitting us, Mawee had no kids of her own.  She loved us as if we were hers though.  In fact, she tells of times where my mom would pick us up to take us home and we’d cry and cry.  We were close to her because she was willing to invest in us.  Her investment was likely viewed as a threat though and eventually my mom took us away and didn’t bring us back.  I don’t remember how old I was when my mom took us away for good, but thanks to Facebook, Mawee and I were able to reunite a few years ago and just like she did all those years ago, she continues to make me feel loved.  In fact, my baby sister has little to no recollection of her and yet Mawee tells me all the time (daily almost) how much love she has for my sister and I and how proud of us she is.

Recently she told me how much regret she’s carried for not keeping us to trying to keep us when my mom abandoned us for 10 days 35 years ago.  She said she often wonders what she could have spared us if she’d have just fought to keep us.  I submit to you that by praying for us every day, she DID fight to keep us.  I choose to believe that because of Mawee’s prayers for us over the years, our difficult situation was not any worse (and it could have been).  I choose to believe that because of Mawee’s prayers, God looked after us a little more than He might have otherwise.   When her third granddaughter was born, she had a prominent dimple in her right cheek just like me and of that Mawee says “when she was born that’s all I could think of was you…see maybe that was a sign from God that you were OK didn’t think about that till now.”  While we weren’t spared some monstrous circumstances, we were nonetheless spared.  Kids with childhoods like mine and my sister’s don’t always make it out alive let alone turn out as good as we have.

In a recent Facebook conversation Mawee said, “this is what I have protected for many years” and proceeded to show me pictures of me as a child and pictures of a cake for either my sister or I’s birthday.  This brings me back to that scripture…He says He will strengthen and help us and I choose to believe that the way Mawee loved my sister and I was nothing short of an act of God.  An act that has kept me strengthened and helped over the years far beyond my ability to comprehend it.  And so, though I have no warm regard or memories of my mother, I feel incredibly blessed that He saw fit to grace my life with women like Mawee who, has told me repeatedly I needn’t feel like an orphan because I have her.

It amazes me honestly how something so little can often mean so much.  I only got to meet Mawee because my godmother was friends with both my mom and Mawee’s husband.  She suggested or mentioned to my mom that Mawee might be willing to babysit and the rest is history.  I don’t remember my godmother.  She’s been deceased now for nearly 10 years and yet I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for her.  I got Mawee because of her and having Mawee then and now has made all the difference.

I am especially grateful to my beloved Heavenly Father for giving me exactly what I needed when my parents refused to be anything I needed.  Thank you Mawee for loving me and giving me so many of the happy memories I do have.  Childhood is barely worth remembering, but thanks in large part to you and your husband it’s not a total wash.  I think we should get together and make some more play dough (kool-aid colorants and all) just for old time’s sake.  I love you and will never be able to thank you enough for loving me just because you could.

Just One

There’s this book called “Dorie:  The Girl Nobody Loved” and I can totally relate only my title might be “Faith:  The Girl Parents Don’t Love.”  I have jokingly said for years that my childhood is that period between birth and having my first child that I’d really like to forget.  Most of it I thought I had forgotten actually, but recently some repressed memories were brought to the forefront of my mind and confirmed by a few people who have known me since pretty much ever.  As I’ve pondered and prayed and healed I’ve come to the realization that the people who should have loved me never did and I’m not convinced even now, after nearly 40 years they do presently.

Despite the failures of my Earthly parents though, I’ve learned who I am as a daughter of God and He loves me beyond words.  Because of His great love for me, he has more than made up for the lack in my life and I’ve been able to overcome some really wretched experiences as a result.  Sometimes all it takes is just one.  One person, one thought, one moment, one smile, one hug…just one.

While I’ve been blessed by more than just one person or experience in my life, I’m not sure I’ve ever taken the time to write how one man’s efforts during sporadic visits to his home-made a huge difference in my life as a child and now an adult.  His name was Ike and he was one of the first people in my life that I KNEW loved me.  I’m honestly can’t remember him ever telling me he did but he behaved in such a way that leaves me 150% certain of the fact that he did.  Now, some 25+ years since his passing knowing he loved me is likely one of the things that got me through some of the dark days I’ve seen, even if I wasn’t conscious of this fact at the time.

Uncle Ike was my Great Uncle and a great uncle both.  When I was a child he lived in Medford, Oregon and though I didn’t see him too many times before his death, I remember him as vividly as I do fondly.  He used to work on the Alaska pipeline and I’m thinking I came along after he had long since retired.  On the floor of his home there was a white wolf skin rug.  Until a few years ago I always thought it was a bear.  I remember him sitting on the wolf’s head with me in his arms and being a captive listener while he told me a story about how that wolf became a rug on his floor.  It’s funny how the brain works…I don’t remember any of those stories now and I always fell asleep before he could get to the end of telling one, but I DO remember having the experience.  The memory is vivid in my mind.  I miss those stories and wish I could remember them.

My Great Uncle Ike also had a shop of some sorts on his property.  It was not  uncommon for me to be found underfoot while he worked in the shop.  I remember this stick he had.  I’m not sure if it was a yard stick or a drumstick or a tree branch or what.  I only know that it was colorful and magical and our experiences with this stick are firmly etched in the deepest recesses of my mind.  You see, each color of paint on the stick did something different.  Each color was magical and I could with Uncle Ike’s assistance we’d point the stick, call out the color and magically be transported or transformed into who knows what I don’t even remember; 25 years is a long time and my memory isn’t what it used to be.  I remember the house vividly, I remember the shop being “up the hill” a bit from the house and I remember how the shop was laid out.  The details of what the paint colors were or what magical power they possessed are immaterial.  These childhood games and stories serve to solidify two simple truths; I mattered to Great Uncle Ike, he loved me.

Another game we played was likely the precursor to the now popular game of Jenga (dang it we should have patented the idea).  Only instead of playing with wooden blocks, we’d play with sugar cubes and just when I was ready to stack the last cube on the top of the wobbling tower, Uncle Ike would “accidentally” knock it down and we’d laugh and build all over again.  I remember him smiling at me when he caught me stuffing a cube in my mouth from time to time too.  I can still remember exactly where in his house this kitchen table was that we’d play at and where we’d sit while playing.  Near the table was a display case full of all kinds of trinkets and collectibles and I’d love to look at them and imagine the world they came from.  I remember Uncle Ike telling me stories about his trinket acquisitions as well.

I remember a door at the back of their kitchen.  I’m not sure if it was the “main entrance” to their house or not but I remember if you were inside the house and heading out the door there was a picnic table in the yard to the right.  Uncle Ike and Aunt Betty had beanbag ashtrays.  Kinda like this:

I don’t remember if Uncle Ike smoked or not but I remember him turning these ashtrays into toys for me.  He’d pull the “tray” part off the bean bag and I could play and play and play with that thing; seemingly without getting bored very fast and everything.  Uncle Ike; just thinking his name can bring tears.  He and my Great Aunt Betty’s house was always so full of adventure and mystery.  I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a good experience there.  There’s a line in the song “That Home” by Newsboys that says “In that home we knew we were safe to be young enough to dream, find the faith to believe and in that home, love, it had no end” and this is exactly how I’d describe Great Uncle Ike and Great Aunt Betty’s home.  In that home I was free to wander and explore, I was free to make-believe and play.  I was free to dream and discover and make mistakes and learn and grow.  In that home I was loved.

My dearest Great Uncle Ike likely never could have imagined what a profound impact all of those small gestures would have on a girl such as I. So few of the memories I have from childhood are happy and I am so grateful to have been so loved by my Uncle that every memory I have of him is a happy one.  Even when he got Alzheimer’s and we couldn’t play like we used to, I still knew he loved me.  Sometimes, oftentimes actually, growing up it felt like no one did and then I stop and remember the greatness that was my Great Uncle Ike.