Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Weight of a Gift...The Burden of a Blessing, Part 1

For you, dear reader, I offer this story...

After many years of living, loving, and learning, a man looked around at his possessions and saw he had been blessed.  He'd struggled in life, yes, but he needed nothing and was in want of very little.  But in looking around at all he had, he realized how much there was.  Too much really.  So he slowly began to whittle away at his possessions until had only what he needed and cherished.  His life felt simplified and content.  It was joy in the most basic of ways and he reveled in it.  

One day, not long after, a friend stopped by for a visit.  The man was delighted to see his friend and embraced her upon his arrival.  They sat down for a cup of tea as the sun poured in his little humble kitchen window and laughed and reminisced and caught up.  Suddenly, his friend remembered that she'd brought a gift for him and hastily pulled it from her pocket and handed it to him filled excitement.  The man, surprised, told her she didn't have too of course but that of course he was touched and upon opening it found a lovely little stained-glass sun catcher to remind him of her.  He put it in his window and it glowed as it's fragments of color caught the sun's rays and delighted his home.  Their visit ended shortly and his friend left.

Life went on with him doing his daily routines and other guests stopping in from time to time.  One day he was sitting by himself and noticed that though the sun was shining, it somehow just didn't seem to sparkle into his home like before.  He thought about this for a moment and walked over to the window to inspect it.  Immediately he could see the problem.  The suncatcher was grimy with dirt and dust and fingerprints and the daily grind of life happening about it.  He'd never stopped to clean it.  He grabbed a rag and polished it up and placed it back in its place.  Once again, it radiated beauty like before.  

This brought a broad smile of deep satisfaction to the man, until he looked about his home and saw that there were other things that were not as beautiful as they'd once seemed.  Though he had few trinkets, he'd been given a few as gifts and he noticed now how they all had collected dust and debris just like the suncatcher.  Being the deep-thinker that he was, this made him wonder, "are gifts truly gifts when we have to work to maintain them?  When we have to sacrifice time or energy for them?"  Those gifts were cherished and beautiful but they did need work done to or around them, some more than others.  If this was true, which he now knew it indeed was, then why accept a gift at all if in the end it just cost you time and effort...or more.   So he decided at that very moment, to give away his trinkets--including the beautiful suncatcher--and made the decision to humbly, but honestly, and as kindly as he could, decline all gifts.  

As the years passed on, the man insisted on living this way.  He turned down gifts and while some friends understood, some did not and he eventually lost touch with them.  This made him sad when he thought about it, for he never intended to hurt his friends nor lose relationships.  He was not lazy in the least as he worked very hard everyday.  It was just that he was struck so deeply by the realization that no gift comes without some form of work involved, that he was intrigued enough to see what difference not accepting those said gifts would make.  And a difference it did make.  He had far less--if any--unnecessary work to do.  But his life was duller now.  He'd not only lost the few gifts he had that magnified the beauty of his home; he'd lost the friends who had magnified his life.  

At the very end of his life, he realized the most important lesson:

No gift is effortless.

No blessing is free from burden. be continued...


Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Miracle of a Home

I challenged myself quite some time ago to dig deep when I write.  To fumble through the file folders tucked away in nooks and crannies of my poor shriveling brain and find words that were able to paint pictures.  I enjoy doing this.  But not now.  I promised this story to my friends and my family and even some pseudo-strangers, nearly 2 months ago, but life keeps kicking me in the gut...mostly in the form of crazy children who struggle to sleep all night.  So I am finally taking the time to write this story.  And no.  I am not going to "wax poetic" on this one.  I am not going to dig deep and fill it full of beautiful words that paint brilliant pictures.  Nope.

I'm just gonna belly up to the bar, so to speak, pour a shot of whiskey and tell this story bare bones style.  It's all I've got the time and energy for right now and I fear if I wait till the time and energy increase, the details of the story--and that is what makes it so amazing--will have faded and decrease.  I can't risk that.  ...and let's face it...some stories don't need all gussied up...they just tell themselves...

So, we moved to Hawaii.  Nearly three month ago.

If you are one of my ridiculously large number of FB friends, you will likely know this and I am sorry if this bores you to tears but there may be one person out there who isn't my FB friend and who just might stumble upon this blog and not know some of the back story to the real story so just pour another shot and hold tight...

I should probably add here for any random reader who doesn't know me, that we aren't millionaires who just up and moved to paradise because we wanted to.  We are an Army family and Uncle Sam sent an email to my husband one day in February and it said, in much more professional language, "Hey you...gather up your kin...we're movin' ya to Hawaii this summer."  So...he did.  Complete with all 4 kiddos, most noticeably our newborn baby girl.

This is the part where I pour another shot for myself, drain it quickly, and tell you straight out...moving with a baby...not for the faint of heart.  'Nuff said.

As I often do, I dreamt of this move.  I tried my darndest to sprinkle my dreams with healthy doses of realism, but apparently I need to be more generous in my sprinkling.  Regardless, we moved with a very positive outlook on the whole thing--this was afterall Hawaii.  I'd imagine there are a handful of places slightly harder to imagine moving to happily.

Another shot of whiskey please, and feel free to have the bartender switch it out to the cheap stuff cause this could long and agonizing and potentially expensive before it gets pretty again...

If you've ever moved, whether across the street or across the globe, you know the one tangible thing that makes itself the center of attention is your home.  HOME.  And is often the case in our American society, we want to make our home within a house.  A physical structure, sturdy and sufficient to keep us warm when it's cold and cool when it's hot and dry when rainy and wet when dry.

Whoops.  Sorry about that...perhaps I should slow down on the beverages...where were we? Oh, yes...a house/home...

We were very proactive. We contacted housing almost immediately upon receiving our RFO (request for orders) in February and got the how-to's on getting on the wait list for housing.  We also began scouring the web for rentals so we would know what to expect if we were forced to live off post.  At some point in the late spring/early summer, we officially got on the housing wait list.  Two weeks before we flew from the Mainland we made one more "hey just checking and seeing what the latest news on movement was" phone call.  A 3-6 month wait for housing for a 5 bedroom in the area around where my husband would work, but at least one month of that will have gone by by the time we arrived and we knew we were taking 30ish days of leave to enjoy the island, so maybe, it would seem even shorter.  Mid-July we arrive...exhausted but feeling blissful...Here we are in HAWAII!  And not just for a week or so but for 3 YEARS!  WOW!  Our little born-and-raised-in-southcentral-Illinois hearts could hardly contain the excitement!  How blessed we were!  This Army journey we've been on for the last 13 years--though full of stinky times--has blessed us with the opportunities to live in places we had only dreamed of--Alaska, Germany, Ft. Polk, Louisiana 

Joking!  There is beauty to be found in every duty assignment and some people loved it there. 

That was a Friday.  The following Monday we were in front of the door to housing 15 minutes before they even opened.  We said a prayer that they'd be able to hand us keys that day and walked in.  But this is where the story gets real.  Where the feel of paradise starts to give way to the reality that no place is perfect.

Better put on some strong coffee.  

Nine to twelve months.  To wait for on-post housing.  Surely there had to be some mistake.  I smiled at the woman across the desk and politely reminded her that we'd just called in 2 weeks ago and were told it would be 3-6 months, and things can't just change like that...can they?  Apparently so.  Dead serious she was.  We. Were. Not. Getting. A. House. On. Post.  Begin your house hunt.  Another employee spread a map of Oahu out in front of us and gave us a canned speech about living here, here, here,  "Well over here on the leeward side you are going to get more bang for your buck--bigger nicer newer homes--but you will pay for it in the 1.5-2 hours you will spend a day in commuting.  But over here on the windward side, your commute will be negligable but don't expect as many choices. Now go begin looking and, oh, by the way, you have to prove to us that you are looking by documenting every phone call, email, text, and in-person visit you make and why you won't take each home that you look at. Bye now!"  Um...yeah...okay.  So where to begin?  It was a lot to process.  A couple of deep breaths later we got logical and decided to start first by applying for housing with the Air Force and Navy since neighboring JB Pearl-Hickam would allow us to get on their lists.

First stop, 5 bedrooms.  That's fine...we'd "settle" for a 4.  Okay...fill this out and check online for your status in a day or two.  By the way...your priority 4...not Key and Essential personnel, not AF, and not Navy (the whole Joint Base thing).  Fine.  I'll just go over and see what the Navy says!  TAKE THAT!  Afterall, he who casts his net the widest reeps the biggest benefits, right?  And right here I need to stop and tell you that this was where we realized that none of our GPS devices like Hawaii.  At.  All.  I enter in the Naval Housing office address...the TomTom (whom we affectionately call "Tomantha" seeing as she is a girl) takes us to a Target parking lot.  Not quite the same thing by any stretch of the imagination.  So after driving around and asking random strangers (who look like maybe, just MAYBE they might be military and perhaps know where the Naval Housing office really is) where the heck we should go, we arrive.  I shlep all four kids into the office solo because hubby has to continue in-processing back at the Army post (that whole 30 days of leave...yeah...didn't happen...but that's a story for another time).  They won't even see me.  They are "by appointment only" and the soonest they can get me in is 2 weeks out.  I take it (and then lose it and have to reschedule thanks to not one, but two back-to-back hurricanes headed for us, the first in 20 years).   The cold hard truth hits: we are going to be living off post.

Now, this is the point where I need to start downin' the strong coffee and get serious and let you in on a couple of crucial points that many folks on the mainland don't realize about Hawaii.  This island is tiny: 30 some miles across at it's longest point I think (those whiskey shots make it hard to remember the exact number).  There are a LOT of people living on this tiny island though.  There are only 3 Interstates (just stop...we realize it's a misnomer to even call them "interstates" since you cannot use them to get to any other state).  The maximum speed limit I have found on this island is 55mph and only for very short stretches of road.  Factor those all together and it makes for a nasty little cocktail known as a Mai Tai Hawaiian Traffic.  Sure you may only live 10 miles from work...but it can and will take you an entire hour to go that far if you are traveling with the flow of traffic during peak rush hour.  If there is an accident, even longer.  It isn't fun, pleasant, or remotely enjoyable unless one actually likes sitting in traffic and would list it as a hobby. But there isn't much that can be done about it other than trying to avoid it if at all is what it is.

Let me wrap all the details of the house hunt up quickly:  scour every website recommended to find a rental (buying was not an option for our family)...investigate every single home that fits in our budget and could fit all of us and our stuff...learn the hard way that online pictures and descriptions are often better than the real thing...begin to realize that we may just end up living on the "dreaded" leeward side which means being in the thick of the horrible traffic...hearing half the people say to NEVER live out there and the other half saying that while it does stink, make the most of it as many are forced to do...find out the hard way that the more "choice" rentals are highly competed for and that it's hard not to take it personally when you aren't selected as the "winning" family (and begin to second guess every little thing your family does or says in the presence of owners and property managers, like, oh, maybe...a toddler who picked his nose and wiped it on me)...keep calling housing and asking ever so nicely if ANYTHING has become available yet, only to hear "no"...finally get selected for a home in Ewa Beach (yes...that is in the "horrid commute zone")...all this while enjoying the splendor that is living in a hotel with 4 kids for a month or more.

Maybe we should ask for the whiskey back?  

But in all seriousness, just knowing we were finally on the path to getting the keys to a home did so much good for our family.  A huge burden off our chests for sure.  And no, we weren't going to like the commute but we aren't the only ones and maybe we just need to realize that God wants out there for a reason.  In all of this melee of a move, I had to swallow my pride and realize that at least one or two of the boys needed to go to brick-and-mortar school this year.  I just couldn't homeschool them all and do it well this year, my health had started to go down hill and I absolutely could not afford to get sick again.  I had to get serious with myself and realize this.  So we googled "Catholic Schools+Ewa Beach" and stumbled upon Our Lady of Perpetual Help just a mile and a half from the house!  PTL!  Sr. Davalyn (I'm probably butchering the spelling), the principal, was incredibly welcoming and thrilled to have the older 2 boys attend.  So while they took a modest little placement test on a Wednesday afternoon, I set in to fill out copious amounts of paperwork for the school.  Upon the completion I handed the stack over and asked Sister, "what about the $800 to hold their seats?  It's not refundable.  And we don't officially sign the lease till Friday afternoon after you all will be out of school.  I mean...well...I guess there is a super-slim chance housing could call us and say we have a house on post in the next 48 hours and..."  She politely shook her head "no" and stopped my stammering line of questioning, "Amanda, don't worry about that.  The boys will start Tuesday, assuming you signed the lease for the house here.  If you don't, we wouldn't want you feeling locked into driving daily all the way out here just for school especially when there are some excellent Catholic schools nearer to where you'd be, so just can pay that Tuesday morning."  And then she paused, and smiled so very knowingly, "Because you never know...God can work miracles.  God can work miracles."

This is where I look you dead in the eye and tell you that in all seriousness, when she said that, the oddest little sense of relief and calm came over me.  I couldn't explain it.  I still can't.  But it was the first of many little oddities that should NOT have happened...but did.  Need a refill on that coffee?

Friday rolled around.  At 4pm we were meeting the property manager--a tiny little Filipino woman who honestly intimidated the crud out of me--at the house to sign the documents.  At 3:50pm I called the head of housing for one last attempt at an on post home.  Nothing still.  And she asked if I wanted her to put us on the "locked into a lease" list so that they would not call us with a housing offer in 2 weeks after we were legally locked into a lease for 18 months.  YES!  Put me on the list!  Because for heaven's sake, do NOT call me Monday morning and try to offer me housing...I might lose it and go more crazy than I already am.  So that was it.  At 4, we signed the lease, got the keys, put some of our luggage in the house and took a deep breath of relief.  We had a home.  ...And then I screamed!  "STEVE!  We forgot to give her the deposit check!!!!  Oh no!"  I panicked...remember...she intimidated me and I immediately feared the worst: that she would use our forgetting the check as grounds to evict us a mere hour after we moved in.  This check wasn't tiny either--$5500 thanks to the high cost of living.  I called her as fast as my fingers would dial, "The check--we can get it to you now--can you come back??"  In an almost Jekyll and Hyde manner, this formerly stern and no-nonsense property manager seems immensely kind and understanding, "Oh, don't worry about it.  Will you be back this weekend?  I'll just get it then."  Sure...Sunday afternoon...I thought that check was mortar holding the bricks of this rental agreement together, but if you don't want it immediately that's fine...I have NO problem holding off on handing over that much money.

So let me ask you...would YOU be so nonchalant about a big ole check like that if you were her? neither.  Again...this should NOT have happened, but it did.  Pass the cream and sugar please...

Sunday rolls around.  I am in Walmart (home of heepin' helpings of craziness at rock-bottom prices) with all the minions solo again (funny that Uncle Sam should think he needs my husband to actually work...that's sarcasm by the way).  Let's just say nothing went right and by the time I got back to the van, I had all humans present and accounted for but a hefty amount of sanity was left behind and we were running late on getting back to the house.  SO... I called her and apologized, expecting her to be peeved but still meet me since she needed the money.  Not so much.  After finding out that I was not anywhere near the house (well, at least by Oahu standards), she told me not to stress and make an extra trip.  Could I meet her tomorrow afternoon, say 4pm?  Yes.  I can.

Yes, I have been stirring my cuppa joe for the last 2 minutes straight without one sip, but I'm just trying to prove my point...THIS. This should NOT have happened...noticing a pattern here?

Monday morning: a delightful young man whom I was put in contact with by my baby girl's Godparents arrives at the hotel where we are staying (until our household good arrive since we sorta need beds to sleep on) to watch the youngest two while I take the older two to finish gathering schools supplies and uniforms and cap the day off with FINALLY getting that check handed over.  A couple of hours later while in the uniform store, my phone rings.  It's our doctor.  One son had had some tests run because he was needing to use the bathroom a LOT for no apparent reason.  Urine sample revealed blood in the urine and he wanted more tests run.  On top of everything else we've just dealt with, this was super scary.  I didn't need this. But before I could allow my mind to wonder off into bad scenario land, the phone rings again.  It's housing.  I mumble a few words in my head that I'd like to say out loud.  She sounds scared.  Very scared.  I think she was afraid I'd materialize through the phone line and physically choke her for what she was about to say: Mrs. Huber, are you locked into a lease yet?  Um...HELLO!?!?!  Did we NOT just have this conversation 3 days ago?!?!?  But I remain calm, "maybe." That's all I could say.  She goes on to tell me that they MAY have a 5 bedroom house for us just 2 exits down from where my husband is working.  There is one family ahead of us on the list who are still in a hotel just like we are and they MUST give their answer to housing by 2pm that very day.  My response, "Yes. We are very interested.  I have to know by 2/2:30ish though and in the meantime I will make some calls about getting out of the lease."  We hang up.  WHAT ON EARTH IS GOING ON?!?!?!?!  My son could maybe be seriously ill.  We might not be living the home we thought we were going to live in because we may instead be living in the house we had wanted to live in.  This isn't confusing at all, nor overwhelming!!!  I do my best to call the property manager to begin this awkward conversation.  She picks up quickly and for some reason, I immediately go into the days news chronologically which means I start out by telling her about the call from the doctor even though it seemingly has nothing to do with why I called her.  She cuts me off in the most soothing, reassuring voice I'd every heard from her, "Amanda, you do what you have to do, do you hear me?  YOU do what YOU have to do to take care of your family.  You may need to  be closer to Tripler Hospital, no? Do what you have to do and call me later's okay."

Pushing all beverages aside because they really don't matter anymore, look me in eye cause I NEED you to know how serious I am when I say this.  When she hung up I shivered.  Not because I was cold but because of the chills that had just been sent down my spine.  NONE of this was suppose to happen.  NONE OF IT!  A private school that needs the money doesn't just blow off $800.  A property manager (for a very picky owner) doesn't forget--and keep putting off collecting--a check for $5500.  The same prop manager doesn't basically just invite you to walk away from the contract without you even asking.

I do not have to tell you that the next 3 hours were quite possibly the longest 3 hours of my life.  2:15 pm--I've heard nothing and so I am not to proud to call housing and ask.  Of course, I get the voice mail.  The boys and I are on our way back out to the house to organize their stuff for school the next day.  We pull off the H-1 "interstate" on the Ewa Beach exit and the phone rings.  Hawaii is hands-free so I pull off onto the shoulder.  It's housing.  I hear these words, "Amanda, the house is yours if you want it."  Tears immediately start rolling down my cheeks.  I am as thrilled as a kid on Christmas who just got the best present of her life.  But then I remember the hell we have been through this past month and stop crying and say straight out, "What the heck is WRONG with this house that a family passed it up?"  We've been burned this PCS and I just can't be too careful.  "Nothing.  Nothing is wrong with this house.  If you can, come by and look at it in a bit.  The family ahead of you had signed a contract to buy a home the same day you signed a contract to lease.  Fortunately for you, lease contracts are a breeze to get out of compared to trying--and failing--to get out of a mortgage that has already begun processing."  So I agree to swing by the house.  I already know we want it, but if I learned anything from the house hunt it was that you never never never sign for a house site unseen.  We get there and confirm that's it more than what we wanted.  This is home.  A quick call to the prop manager and she asks if they were able to get us a house.  When I say yes, she congratulates me, informs me that no, I don't need to pay them anything for electricity/water/cleaning for the weekend we were in and out, and ends by saying she was going to keep our son and our entire family in her prayers.

One week later and we had the keys to the house.   Our house sits on a hill, a big hill, and when we look out our back windows we see the Waianae mountains, the Aloha Stadium,  and Pearl Harbor.  The USS Missouri and the Arizona Memorial from our own backyard.  This house with any and all quirks that may come is more, SO much more than we could ever have asked for.

Fictitious beverages and bar scenery aside, this story tells itself.  Life is hard, even if our current problems are oh so very "first world."  Our journeys are rough.  We are gonna stumble and fall and for seemingly no good reason at all, for no bad choices on our part.  But I think that sometimes God takes us to the destinations He wants us at via the longer rougher path so that we can appreciate so much better the destination itself.  Perhaps if He'd taken us on the smooth and short path, we wouldn't be able to see how grand our destination really is... 

Jeremiah 29:11 (RSV)--11 For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

God didn't tell his people this right before he gifted them with amazing splendor, riches, and an easy life.  Rather, He tells them this right before they are sent into a bitter exile in Babylon for years.  He's reminding them that ALL things things work for good through Him...even our sufferings.

I've never been sent into exile.  I've never been diagnosed with a terminal illness.  I've never lost a child.  I've never experienced starvation, persecution, torture, slavery, rape, or any other horrendous plight upon this earth.  But I have experienced my own suffering.  We all have.  And while in the midst of it, it hurts like hell.  It stings, bites, pinches, snarls, and snags the happiness out of our lives. You may yell, kick, scream, and whine because it hurts.  Go ahead.  Do that.  He is still there with you.  And He does bring us out of it.  And sometimes He uses little miracles to do so.  I'd like to think it's his way of saying, "the ways of this world say that none of these things should have happened, but look...I am not of this world...and I can make any and all things happen, even the impossible.

In the end, I hope this little story of how my little family ended up in this beautiful little house on a hill in Hawaii can put a tiny smile on your face, send a tickle of a chill down your spine, but most of all remind you that not matter how big or small your suffering, your "exile" is, He will bring you out of it.  Have hope.  Have faith.  Hold on strong knowing you are where you need to be on this journey and He will bring you out in the midst of joy...

Well, the bar is closing.  The barkeep is cleanin' up.  It's time to back away from the bar and say good night.  As the saying goes, "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here."  But me?  I am going home...home sweet, amazing, MIRACULOUS home.  Prost!

(Note: I cannot end my telling of this without adding 2 more miracles that happened in the course of all this playing out.  First, we didn't stumble upon another equally awesome little Catholic school just outside the back gate to my husband's work.  It's run by tiny little Filipino nuns (non-intimidating sort) who love to laugh, dance the Electric Slide with the kids, and wear Hello Kitty watches given to them by students...and one of my sons has an amazing teacher who is helping him catch up to where he should be!  Second, and far more important, the blood in the urine...a complete fluke.  No signs of it at all in the further testing.  Some may say "coincidence"...I say miracle.)

Monday, January 14, 2013

To Be Rocked

A toddler can wince and scream and throw a fit, a downright tantrum.  And you can do everything seemingly possible to try to calm him...and it not work.

Often you don't know the reason.  But sometimes, do.

He is tired.  Exhausted.  So tired and so exhausted he cannot focus on sleep even if sleep would be easy to find.  Over-tired and over-exhausted.  Drained from too much stimuli.  Unable to calm down and just sleep in peace.

The tears roll like a broken dam.  Crying turns into sobbing turns into this sort of labored breathing and wailing.  He reaches out for you and you take him.  Hold him close.  Shhh.  Rest.  But no, mere seconds and he push you back.  He wants down.  Only to continue this cycle of knowing what he needs but not knowing how to get there.

Finally you settle him as best you can into his cozy crib, turn on the little light display with the lullabies and just walk out.  Maybe he needs to have some space.  Space to figure out just exactly what it is he needs, what it is that is so upsetting.

You stand outside the room listening to the crying, your heart breaking for him, for just a short while before the tone changes.  The hysteria giving way to sorrow.  He realizes now.  He knows.  He wants you.  To rock him, to comfort him, to tell him everything will be okay.  That you got this.  No harm will come to him --you won't let it. You love him too much to let that happen.  And he knows it.  He can sense it, feel it.

"I rocky," he says through his ever-calming tears.

And so you rock him.  Rock him to comfort, to security, to sleep.   He knew all along what he needed; he just wasn't sure it's what he WANTED.

And so it is with us.  With me.

This world over-stimulates me.  Overwhelms me.  It batters and abuses with its imperfections.  And in rising up to battle it, I tire.  I grow wearier and wearier.  And before I know it, I am the toddler, throwing fits.  Kicking and screaming.  Inconsolable.  I know what I need;  I'm just not sure it's want I want.

I need Him.  God help me!

In the midst of my tantrums I scream for His presence.  "Where are you in this?!"  "Show me how this is supposed to work for Your good, for Your glory!"  ...because I can't see it.    You see, that is what I want.  I want to know His plans.  I want to be on the same page as my God.  But, it's not necessarily what I need.

What I need is rocked.

And after He gives me a little space to sob it out and breathe, I realize...He's been there all along.  He has tried to comfort me, to rock me.  But I was too busy screaming questions at Him.

Now I see.  I feel.

"I rocky."

And He does.  He comforts.  He shushes the chaos around me.  He touches my most inner soul like a mother touches the face of her newborn.  He rocks.  And He promises no harm shall come to me.  Rest.  Rest in Me.

Me and you, we get too caught up in being grown-ups sometimes.  We pray for grown-up things like wisdom and patience, trust and conversion of hearts.  But sometimes we just need to let go and be a CHILD of GOD and say, "I rocky, Lord."  Rock me, comfort me, hug me.

I watched my husband walk into the night on his way to a month long field exercise a few years back.  And there I was, mother of a toddler, pregnant, and in a foreign country that I was supposed to be in love with and having daily adventures in.  But all I felt was alone, scared, and utterly sad.  I returned to bed as the clock read 4:00 a.m.  And I laid there and cried in a whisper, "Hug me Lord."

And He did.

He has hugged me, He has rocked me many times and yet I always fail to remember to ask for that first in the midst of the storm.

So today, I asked.  Again.  And he obliged. 

The storm and chaos of my illness, our adoption, this deployment swirl around me.  I threw my fit.  I had my tantrum.  I asked my questions.  And then in the midst of tears I broke down deep and whispered, "I rocky."

His arms reach out for me and he says, "Come here my child and let me rock you."

All along, this was what I needed.  His comfort all around me.  Not the grown-up prayer requests all checked off neatly in a prayer journal.  Just rocked.  Just me and Him.  To know that He's got this. 

This imperfect world will always try to batter and bruise us, but when we get to the point that we can no longer stand tall and battle it confidently, we MUST remember that He is more infinite that this world.  And that instead of asking for strength for the battle, sometimes, just maybe, what we really rocked.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Mercy, Grace, & Comic Relief: Raw. Real. Graced.

Mercy, Grace, & Comic Relief: Raw. Real. Graced.: "I'm sorry," I whisper, "I am so sorry." I rub his little check and whisper it again.  "Mama," he says. That's all.  Not the beginning ...

Raw. Real. Graced.

"I'm sorry," I whisper, "I am so sorry."

I rub his little check and whisper it again.  "Mama," he says.

That's all.  Not the beginning of a sentence.  Tis its own sentence.  A statement...mama, MY mama.

Deeper my heart sinks into itself because if I could take back my actions, if I could take back my words from moments before, I would.  But I can't.  Funny thing about doesn't promise any do-overs.  

I settle him in his crib and slowly close the door to his room.  I put his big brothers to bed with two chapters and a begged-for third of the latest book.  I close the book to begs for more.  But not tonight, the next chapter is not of that book.  It's of me.  It's a begging of forgiveness from them...toward me.  For the same moments I can't do over.

No.  We can't take them back.  We can't do them over.  But oh--sweet forgiveness!  The same God that gave me this life in which I can have no do-overs promises me mercy for those same moments if only I ask.  And oh how I ask!  

Grace.  It's taken me well over 30 years to learn REAL GRACE.  Not a meal-time prayer?  Not the smooth elegance with which some move?  No...grace. REAL, RAW GRACE.

Because you see, in the screen of my computer before I begin to type, before it is brought to life from its dark slumber, I see a woman.  Tears.  Gray hairs.  Misplaced hairs.  Little makeup and what's there...smudged.  I want to hug her.  Ask her what on earth is the matter. But I know.  She's me.  She's mad, frustrated, burdened.  She is real and the pain is raw.

And she is tired of pretending she's the only one who is not perfect.  So she hits the keys on the keyboard and brings the monitor to life.  Tonight it ends, this dance of masqueraded perfection that so many like her try to wear so...perfectly.  Tonight she reaches out and hopes, PRAYS that if her flinging off of the mask can help just ONE other person to fling of theirs she can feel better about this imperfect world we live in.

The keys begin to fly and REAL unfolds onto the electronic page.  It will be RAW but that is what she feels it will take to shake others to the realization that ALL are burdened, ALL are imperfect, and we ALL must lean on each other.  We must. Because only then can we see the earthly example of the grace of Him, the grace our Father has for us.  For you.  For me...

I had been reading some new blogs with common themes--find the JOY in life, everyday no matter what.  YES!  Absolutely! One calls it "skimming the cream."  In other words, skim the cream off the top and partake of the joyous milk of life.  That one writer, she encourages us to do that in our writings, our emails, our banter and chatter throughout the day, our blogs, and--yes--our Facebook postings.  Let the world see your joy not our sorrow.  True, perhaps.  Yet I beg you...let your joy be real.  Let it be raw. Be unafraid to let us see all your sides.  Allow us to see those moments when you have had to dig deep through the sorrow, through the pain in order to find that joy.

My mind is saturated with musings of others in this FB, Twitter, and Pinterest world, and so are most others' minds too.  And before we know it we can begin to feel overwhelmed.  So many ideas, so many wonderful happy lives, so many updates...and then...we look in the mirror and we  

Us. Without the Pinterest worthy DIY projects, dinners, and clothes.  Without the bodies or faces worthy of posting online because so many others look better, run more, eat healthier.  Without the kids kids getting straight A's consistently every quarter of every year, or always hitting the ball out of the park for that grand slam just in time to win the game.  Without the fancy homes and cars, all clean and polished.  Without spouses who always look great, smell good, and do ANYTHING for us at any time of day regardless of well, anything.  Without her talent or his genius.  Without.  Without.  Without...

WE, yes WE, you and I and million other people.  We did this.  We both created this and yet we despise it.  It temporarily lifts, and consistently drops us, all at the same time.  

We let the world know of our wonders and joys yet fail to mention we struggle daily too.  Because you do.  You know that right?  Each and every one of us does.  WE ALL STRUGGLE.  Let it be known, right along with your joys.  You needn't air your dirty laundry.  You needn't lose your positive outlook on life.  All you need to say, even if just sometimes, is "Today...I struggle.  Please grant me grace."  Because we will.  He will.  Let it be known.  

And just maybe a million other souls will be inspired to be real.  To be raw.  To bear their hearts, their vulnerabilities, and ask for grace.  And it shall be given.

So let me take the lead.  Let me tell you of my moments this day that, if I could have a do-over on, I would...

In a matter of minutes, I took my eyes off joy.  I see only an hour-late supper, piles of extra dishes, trash and toys to be picked up, and a toddler fresh out his high chair whining.  I see only that he ate little and played with much and I had much to do that was ever so imperfect.  Others cook from-scratch, healthy meals that their families eat up.  Others have husbands and kids who jump up to clean the kitchen and the house.  Others have toddlers who self-feed neatly.  Others.  They don't struggle...right? 

Then the tray, perched precariously on the only half-empty spot left in the kitchen, fell off, face down, mess all around.  That spark ignited the dynamite.  I blew up.  I lost it.  I screamed.  I scared him, the toddler.  He began to cry.  But all I could see was frustration and anger.  Why me!  Enough!  QUIET!  But no...  He cried louder, his brothers still and quiet and I realize.  I must look like a beast.  Not a loving mother.  Not at all.  And I loathe myself for it.  I stop and love them.  The best I can.  The rest of the evening was semi-volatile.  Like the remnants of a fire left to smolder, I was not ablaze but still hot.  I wasn't completely out until I put my babies to bed and begged for forgiveness.  For grace.  And they gave it.  

From my oldest, "It's okay mom, I forgive have a lot on your plate."  Grace and wisdom...from a nine-year-old.  

From my middle man, "I always love you mom."  

And from that toddling babe..."mama."

I didn't deserve it, but they gave it.  And He will too.  

And you?  Stop being afraid to be seen a little muddy and messed, a little worn and raw.  

You are loved deeply.  DEEPLY.  Breathe it in that love.  From us, yes, but oh SO much more so from Him.  And no mud or mess, wear and tear can shallow that depth of His love.  Nor ours.  That is GRACE.  REAL, RAW...and JOYOUS GRACE.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Patriotic Pride

In about an hour I will leave here to go vote in my fourth Presidential election.  It seems to small when I try to put it into words, but it's not.  It's huge.  It's huge for any American who chooses to partake of their right to vote for their government, but for me, right now, it's even bigger.

Twelve years ago(ish), I voted in my first Presidential election.  I was a senior at Eastern Illinois University and recently started dating the man that would become my husband.  I voted on campus, and then promptly drove back to my battalion commander's home in order to assist in some planning for our Army ROTC pancake breakfast that was coming up.  That was Bush vs. Gore.  And as I recall, we really didn't know for quite a while who was really going to be the winner (thank you Florida).  {{why do I get the sneaking suspicion that this election may prove to be the same?}}  It felt neat to vote for something so big for the first time.  I think I thought I was a big shot.  My how our perspectives change...

Eight years ago, I sat at our dining room table in our home in Ft. Richardson, Alaska, going over our absentee ballots from our home of registry--Illinois--with my husband.  "Who is this Barack Obama running for Senate?" my husband asked.  I replied with what little I knew about the Senate race in Illinois that year: that the Republican nominee for the seat had dropped out of the race on account of a recently publicized sex-scandal and that they had brought in some guy from Maryland (who somehow owned land in IL which thus made him eligible to run for Senate from my state) by the name of Alan Keyes (at least that was what I could come away with...Keyes story was hard to follow for me).  We both agreed that voting for someone to represent our state who was NOT FROM our state seemed hypocritical, so we voted for Obama.  The Presidential part of the election mattered that year to me, as it should have, but my choice was more clear cut.  I will say this, by this point we were parents to our oldest son.  We had seen friends sent off to both Afghanistan and Iraq and knew that inevitably, Steve would be too.  If those two things don't open your perspective on who or what to vote for, if not clarify it, then something is wrong with you.  My "first time" voting for President made me feel cool because I was 21 and a "with-it" college student."  This second time, who I was had changed thus who I considered voting for changed too.

Four years ago, we sat at that same table--this time located in a stairwell apartment in Bamberg, Germany--and again filled out our absentee ballots.  My husband had just returned from his first deployment to Afghanistan, and we were now the parents of two energetic and bright boys.  Again, our perspectives had changed.  After you've said goodbye to your soul mate for 15 months, full well knowing he's going somewhere dangerous to not only ensure that our country can keep it's liberties, but to assist in bringing those same liberties to those suffering under tyrannical rule,'s real.  It's beyond just saying thanks to those who have guaranteed our freedoms, but living that thanks daily.  And all those "red messages" I had received during that deployment--emails informing you of casualities within the unit--made it so much more real that by not voting, by not educating yourself about who and what you are voting for was a spit in the face to those who died and to those to whom those "red messages" were delivered in person, with a folded American flag.

So now I sit here about to vote for President for the 4th time.  We are parents to 3 boys and daughter somewhere in India whom we have yet to meet.  We've endured 2 deployments and are in the throws of a 3rd.  My husband had been in literal near-death experiences.  We've been to memorial services for fellow servicemembers who paid the ultimate sacrifice.  We've seen the less publicized sides to all this as well: high divorce rates, families torn apart, suicides.  But we are constantly reminded of blessings too.  It's a bittersweet but awesome experience, this life we are blessed with.  Not only do our perspectives change but if we are lucky enough, we have friends along the way who warmly challenge us to understand why we take the certain stands we take.  After all, if you say you believe strongly in something, know WHY you think that, don't be ashamed, and be able to kindly dialogue with others--even those who disagree with you--why you believe what you believe.  That is the beauty of our nation; to be able to say, "I can see that you are passionate about your beliefs and I can understand WHY you believe that way, but I do not, yet I chose to treat you with love and respect and humbly ask that you do the same."

I cast my vote in person this year.  Thank God we have the ability to do absentee ballots, but there is something inherently beautiful and American about being able to walk into a polling place proudly and cast your vote.  When I have been forced to vote absentee in the past, while I am grateful, I am always saddened a bit.  Dropping your ballot in the mail somehow lacks the thrill of patriotism that stepping behind the curtain holds.  In my little home town, election days is usually chilly.  The same ladies are there year after year as judges: the Wagner sisters and Ochs' sisters-in-law.  I enjoy seeing them and the handful of other neighbors who are voting at the same time as me.  It draws me back to tradition, to history, and into something much deeper than my own right to vote.

I have had the blessing to live in different states and in a different country.  My husband has lived in 2 other countries as well.  Germany was beautiful, it was serene,  but it was not home and I was constantly reminded in many small ways that although I love to travel, America is my home and America is where I will return.  It also reminded me to look beyond the frontal images of who is running for office as their motives can sometimes be well-hidden but sinister.  See the remains of WWII on Germany's landscape, and that thought is not far off.  Korea reminded my dad--who fought there--and my husband who served near the DMZ for a year that if we cannot see past our differences, it can literally tear us in two.  And Afghanistan...he has constantly said that if a tour there doesn't brand the importance of your freedoms and rights into your psyche, nothing can or will. 

So today, as I go into vote in little ole' Ste. Marie, I refuse to see potential democrats or republicans, Obama or Romney supporters.  I chose to see Americans and only Americans.  And whatever, tomorrow brings, America we will still be.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Call to India

I am sitting here at a complete loss for how to begin this story.  After moving my gaze between computer monitor and messy desk over and over again in a 5 minute period, I decided the best thing to do was to simply start typing.  Just let the words flow as the experts say.  And of course they'd say that...words flow forth from them like water over the falls at Niagra.  Time will only tell if mine flow as brilliantly.

Just yesterday we went "public" with our adoption.  AKA we announced it in a status update on FB.  I promised within that brief and joyous announcement that a blog post would follow soon giving the back-story.  Do we need one?  No not really.  If we want to adopt, it's our choice and our's alone.  But I guess the reasons why I wanted to tell our tale were three-fold.  First, we knew that in a perfect world, where we would have been able to have told everyone face-to-face, we would have been asked questions--some perfectly normal and well-founded and expected and some, off-the-wall and bizarre and abrasive.  So we wanted to answer some of them in a one-stop-shop sort of way.  Second, we simply wanted to share with the world our journey to the call of adoption.  Our third and final reason to share is the most important: to put our story out there so that maybe, JUST maybe, someone else will be led to explore the wonders of adoption.  Because, you see, it was in a similar medium that we read our friends' journey to adoption and that was truly the spark that started our burning desire to answer this call.

Almost from the very beginning of our marriage, my husband has felt the call to adopt.  Not just a "hey, I think that adoption is a really good thing and I might look into it" sort of way, but in a true Divinely called sense.  But this marriage is a partnership and I as the other partner was not hearing that same Divine phone line ringing.  I LOVED the idea of adoption.  I would raise my hands in excitement for families who were growing through it!   I would dance the dance with them, praying for patience during the waiting times, calmness through the frustrating paperwork times, and understanding during the adjustment times.  I had a niece and nephew both adopted from Guatemala and can't imagine life without them just as I can't with any of my biological ones.  I loved adoption.  But loving it and feeling called to are two totally different and separate things.  Through our 10+ years of marriage, my husband would bring up the subject, and I'd politely (ok, sometimes not so politely) shoot it down--it wasn't the right time, it cost too much, he was deploying again, I can't handle the kids I already have!  But I always knew he still felt called.  I eventually just sort of grew to ignore that part of him as selfish as that may sound.

Let me break in here with this little nugget of honesty: in the RARE moments I did feel slightly more inclined towards the idea of adoption, I would end up reeling back from it for gender reasons.  I don't know specifically where I read (or possibly watched on some news program) it, but quite sometime ago, I remember hearing about some psychological research that had been done.  It basically said that when a family has children biologically before deciding to adopt, they might want to consider gender in the sense that if all of their children are of one gender (I have all boys), it is often easier for the existing siblings to grow used to, attached to, and bond with their new adopted sibling if he/she is of the opposite gender (for us that would mean adopting a girl.)  

Before you go "hmmf," and blow this research off as nonsense, consider a 4 year old boy (or a girl, but I have a 4 year old boy so that is who I am going with ).  You have one older brother and one younger brother.  You are  beginning to work your way into understanding the world more and more, but you are still a little kid, innocent in mind and spirit.  To you, siblings start out as babies, and before that they grow for a LONG time in mommy's tummy.  When they finally come out  and come to live with you they are this tiny squirmy ball of cuteness and fuss who can't be played with just yet (which is a bummer) but also can't get into your stuff yet (which is a great thing).  So one day mommy and daddy sit you down and tell you that they are going to adopt a sibling.  Cool.  Adopt.  You have a few questions but you really still have very little idea, if any, what adoption is.  And then the sibling comes home.  Now, if the sibling is a boy just like you and your brothers there is a good chance that you will be really, in all honesty completely confused, even if you are excited.  Because, wait a minute, this isn't a newborn--he's 2.  And wait, he looks a little different then us.  Oh...and why, or when (and if so, how did I miss it) was he in your tummy.  And above all...he's my brother?  Now, if the sibling being adopted were a girl, ALL those same confusions and question will still be there, but wait...she's my sister!  I don't have a sister to compare her too--she's my ONLY sister.  In fact, other than mommy (whose not a kid so it's not the same), she's the only girl in the house!  In essence, the fact that she is a girl and is the only sister they've got really diminishes all those other questions that to a 4 year old can really feel like a big deal and prove to be rather big obstacles to forming a bond.  Some may disagree, that fine.  And this certainly does not mean that a family canNOT adopt a child of the same gender of their existing kids.  But for me, it made sense--even for a parent.  And yet, everytime I would think "okay so if we DO adopt, we should focus on gaining a daughter," I was simultaneously hit with a tremendous amount of guilt.  For, by saying, yes to a girl, I was say no to all these perfectly wonderful boys!  UGH.  

It really got to me.  I LOVED being a mom of only boys.  I mean this quite seriously and in all honesty.  I relished the fact that I had 3 boys who loved their mama.  I felt a real comfort in the fact that in having only boys, I didn't have to worry about frilly dresses, tu-tus or tiaras.  I was the only one whose hair really needed in the mornings--and that, thank you, was taking too much time anyway.  But mostly, I felt as if God were entrusting these boys with me to raise up to be fine, caring, compassionate gentlemen--an increasingly rare find these days.  I was ever comfortable and content with this.  I was meant to have boys.  So...adoption was off the table again.

All that changed in February.  Some friends of ours had put on FB that if we wanted to receive some exciting news from them, we needed to private message them our email address.  So...I did.  And--again, this is a tough admission on my part--it was purely out of nosiness.  That evening I received an email from them that would end up changing our lives forever.  In it, they announced they'd decided to adopt from India, and MUCH to their surprise they were given a referral extremely quickly for two biological sisters there!  What wonderful news!  But if she had just simply ended her email there and not included a brief sentence as to why, that email would have not had much impact at all.  I am paraphrasing here, but what she typed was something like, "...we felt so called to help the plight of girls in India..." and included a link to a news article they'd seen.  I clicked on it, watched it, and nothing has been the same since.

The plight of girls in India?  What?  Huh?!  Here, watch this:
...but wait until you've finished reading my blog post first, if you don't mind.

Suffice to say, that after seeing that, the whole guilt over specifying that we'd like a girl if we were to adopt thing, went out the window.  For no fault of their own, and simply because they are female, they are not wanted.  Orphanages full of nothing but girls and villages full of nothing but young men who worry they will have no one to marry.  Yes.  It really is that staggering.

My spark had been lit and began to look into adoption--my husband was gone that week for work and perhaps it was a God-send because it allowed me to discern this calling on my own, with no pressure from anyone else.  When he got home, I immediately spoke to him about it and of course, he felt like his years of prayer that my heart be moved to adopt were finally being answered.

I won't lie though the next couple of weeks were tough on me.  It was almost as if the devil knew God had written this wonderful thing on my heart and he--the devil--was going to do everything in his power to stop it from going any further.  Most of it revolved around my ability to parent.  I had some ROUGH days during which I would think as I looked in teh mirror, "seriously, YOU want to adopt!!!??  What kind of crazy joke is that--you can't handle the ones you've got!  You snap at them and loose your cool way to often!  How can you be a loving mother to an orphaned little girl when you can't even be that to your sons?!?!"  But always, through my tears, God would have some tiny little sign--unmistakable and unmissable--to remind to put the devil behind me and focus on Him.  

One morning, as I drove home from gym, feeling fat and unfit as a person, and even worse as a mother listening to Josh cry in the back seat (he was dreadfully unhappy because I had dared to subject him to yet another half-hour in the gym's daycare), I pulled up to a red light and noticed the mini-van in front of me had a little round magnet in bold beautiful colors that said simply, "Adoption--a gift of a lifetime."  I stared at it for as long as I could and marveled at how magnificently God works.  When He truly has a path for us laid out, he makes it crystal clear, even if we have to see it blurred a bit through our tears of self-pity.

This journey to adoption--which turns into the journey OF adoption--has changed my life on so many levels.  I have learned to let go and let God have control of my family and much to my amazement, thinks work much smoother.  I learned to focus on our family as an entity rather than 5--soon to be 6 (soon being a figurative word as the adoption process takes a while)--independent humans who through their neediness wear me down.  It sounds ugly, but that is how I went through most every day prior to this.  My husband needed affection, a clean home, clothes, and dishes, and the bills paid on time.  My eldest needed constant reminding of not only how and where to put his stuff but that he was loved and worth the world.  My middle son was bull-headed, stubborn, and needed a firm handling or the whole world would go to pot that day.  My youngest, he just needed a regular schedule to sleep properly and not be so fussy that I wanted to pull my hair out.  And me...well, I just wanted some sleep and for people to freakin' leave me alone!  Yeah I know, it sounds dreamy (hint the sarcasm) but that is exactly how every day seemed to feel for me.  But after God hit us upside the heart with this call, He also just sort of gently took me to a calmer place where I was reassured that I could do this.  I began to see my husband and my kids in a brighter light.  I realized I had to stop focusing on what each of them was taking from me (which left me feeling empty) and start focusing on what each one gave TO me that I needed to feel happier, fuller, complete.

I'm still real.  Today in fact, kinda sucked.  It rained and I just felt blah all day, but that happens to all of us sometime.  I don't let it get to me.  I don't take one dreary day and let it tell me I suck at life, at parenting, at loving.  Because I don't.  And even on those down days, I'll still be giving our daughter--the one I haven't met yet--a mother, a family, a forever home, thing she has none of now.  A mother who is there to pick you up when you fall and reassure you that you will heal, you will get back up and carry on--even if that mother is melancholy that day--is far better than having no mother at all.