Thursday, December 30, 2010

Pain and Hope

Sometimes you just wish someone understood your pain.  You know your husband is empathetic, caring and concerned.  But there is that niggling in the back of your head, "Does he really understand or does he think I am faking?"  You have no proof of this, just your brain playing tricks on you.  When you ask your teens to do something for you, like get you a drink, make some tea, unload the dishwasher because the pain won't allow you to do it, they roll their eyes and sigh and you think, "Do they think I am faking?".  You wish they got it, understood.  When your friends show impatience with you for not being able to go and do, you wish they got it, understood.  Then it dawns on you suddenly.  For them to know means they have it.  Means they are in as much pain as you are in.   No, no, no.  I don't want them to ever understand.  I don't want them to EVER get it.  I don't.

But the thing is, I don't want it either.  We are coming to the end of another year.  Another year without a cure.  Not just a cure for my diseases but for so many diseases!  It is heartbreaking.  Yet, we hold on to hope.  Hope that a mistake will happen in a lab and a cure will be found in the process.  Or hell, just a drug with no side effects that makes your body think it is well and takes away all the pain.  Anything.  I'll take anything.

I don't like when I get to this place.  The negativity door just flies open and all the whining, complaining and bitching just flies out.  Just ask Jack!  I guess we all have a tolerance level and I have reached mine once again.  I know it will get better.  I know I will know days of just a little pain.  At least I hope so.  That is the scary part.  You always wonder, is this it? Is this the beginning of a life with a much higher level of pain always?  That is frightening because you know there is that possibility.  It is always out there waiting for you.  The goal is to keep it at bay as long as possible.

Instead of regaling you with all the gritty details of how much pain I am in currently, I simply want to share this poem and in so doing shut the door to negativity once again.

Hopes for 2011

In this upcoming year may we be ever mindful of those around us,
May we smile in the grocery line,
May we slow down and really see the sales clerk, nurse, mechanic, etc.
May we open a door for a stranger,
May we let a car in our lane.

In this upcoming year may we be ever mindful of those we love,
May we tell them "I love you",
May we slow down and really listen,
May we be courteous,
May we give of ourselves.

In this upcoming year may we be ever mindful of ourselves,
May we cut ourselves some slack,
May we slow down and breathe,
May we allow ourselves some fun,
May we allow ourselves to receive.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Advent 2010

I did not grow up knowing about the advent season.  I don't think it is part of the Southern Baptist tradition.  Probably too much like the "Catholics".  Just kidding.  I don't know if it is part of their tradition now or not.    For me, Advent is something I have learned about as an adult.  Unfortunately after my first introduction, it became a part of my husband's job, and quite frankly when I heard Advent, I heard "Your husband is going to be busier than normal, if that is possible".  Don't get me wrong, there were seasons where the message got through.  There were years I could feel the meaning.  I am just saying overall, it was part of Jack's work.  This year it is different.  I am not even in church to hear about advent, yet here it is.  This morning I feel it in my soul.  So, here are my thoughts.

Advent is waiting.  Not the fingers drumming, horn honking, hurry up waiting.  It is the heart opening, soul expecting, mind wondering waiting.  It is in this place that we do find hope, joy and peace.  I feel my family has been in this place for the last year.

Jack left the ministry last year the Sunday before Advent.  We have spent part of this year waiting to see what Jack would do.  Would he teach?  Would he be a therapist?  Would he write?  We have spent part of this year waiting to see what our lives would look like.  Would we start having friends over more?   Would we start new hobbies?  How would we spend our new-found free time?     There were many wonderings.  Like who did we want to become?  What do we want to do with the second half of our lives?  What brings us peace?  What brings us joy?

Those of you who know me are probably guffawing at this moment.  You know that I don't wait well.  I tend to worry, get anxious, even panic when I don't have a plan or know what is going on.  I also tend to worry about money quite a bit, especially since I no longer teach.  But you know, this past year, none of those things have entered my mind.  Oh sure, we have thought about money.  But again I would use the word, wonder.  We have wondered how can we make a little more to make it through this "building up" stage of Jack's practice.  This is miraculous.

A sense of calm and peace settled over our family this year.  As we have spent time wondering, exploring, and loving each other, joy has filled our lives.  No, it has not been an easy year.  Yes, we have had some significant trials.  In years past, these dramas would have easily defined the year for me, but not now.  We are still waiting.  We are still wondering.  We are still loving.

What are you waiting for?  What are you wondering about?  Who are you loving?  I pray this advent season finds you.  I pray you are able to open your heart and let the sense of peace, hope and joy enter.  I love you all.

Peace!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Decorating Part 2

I do love the twinkling lights of Christmas.  I turn my tree on, my wreath and my other tree as soon as I get up in the morning, do you?  I love to see the lights all day long.  I think I may have to think of a way to incorporate lights in my house all year long!

 This is the Gingerbread Garland my mom made many years ago.  I remember being pretty young when she made it.  About 7 or so years ago, my mom gave away several Christmas items to my brothers and me.  This was quite coveted.  But it was the ONLY thing I wanted!  And I won it!  For me it is priceless!
 She sewed all those buttons on my hand and stuffed them all!  She was one patient woman!!!

 This is my Santa collection.  Nothing like my mom's, but I love it.  In fact, most of those Santas came from my mom as gifts!!!  Too funny!
 My large tin collection.  Never really know what to do with them!!
 After a grand Thanksgiving table, I decided to go simple for Christmas.  Plus it will just be the four of us.  I like it!

 This curio cabinet was Jack's Nanny's.  The top Nativity is Allie's.  The second shelf holds the Nativity that Jack got me when we were dating.  And the pewter one my MIL gave several years ago.  The third shelf is awkward and I am not sure how to make it better, but it holds the Santa snack plate and mug. And last are my Dicken's houses!




Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Decorating Part 1

I love the Christmas season.  Growing up, my mom always decorated every inch of our house.  She adored Christmas.  My mom's dad was a tenant farmer and they had very little.  She remembers one Christmas getting fudge (her mom had made) and an apple for Christmas and being happy about it.  But she wanted more for her children, I guess we all do.  So she went over the top.  Plus, Dad started having an open house every year for the church, at least I guess it was Dad's idea.  So then, we started decorating even more.  Mom and I would wear long skirts and turtleneck sweaters, we would light all the candles and offer tons of goodies.  We have some great stories around those open houses.  Like the year my dad decided to burn the grass the Saturday before the Open house.  Oh, and we had no sidewalk to the front day, so people had to track through the burned grass to get inside.  Oh my, we laugh now, but then....not so much.

When I got married, I married a guy whose family didn't quite celebrate Christmas like me.  In fact, his family put up a tree, a wreath, some stockings and that was about it.  On Christmas Eve, they opened their gifts!  ~gasp~  So, the first clash happened.  "Why do we need a wreath in the bathroom?"  "Why do we need a 6-foot tree when we have this perfectly good 3 footer from college?"  "Santa still visits you???  He still visits your brother?  (who was 25 and married at the time)"  Yes, that first year was interesting.  But over the years we have met in the middle.  I put up a little less, and he puts up with a little more!  Okay, well, you may wonder how I put up less....so yea, this is half of what my mom used to do!  On that note, welcome to our home.

In our entryway, I took an old window which I purchased at the flea market for $1 and hung a Yarn Ball wreath I made on it.  On the table I added my new hurricane jars (I think that is what they are called) which I made with thrift store finds, with snow(Epsom Salts), candy and a candle.  Next is a Snowman box I have had for years.  I found this yarn ball snow man at the thrift store this year for $.50!  And then the lamp atop a tin brings it all together.
















As you walk into our den the focal point is our huge fireplace that soars to the ceiling.  I found this wreath at a garage sale about 5 years ago and bought it for $5.  I added a bow and some lights.  This year I was inspired to add balls.  So I bought some large balls at K-Mart on sale for $.50 each.  I think it really dresses up the wreath.












Next I added more vases filled with vintage balls I have had a long time, garland with beads, and the lighted boxes which were gifts over the years.












I picked up this small red sled for $.50 at Goodwill, added a $.25 holly pick and a bow from my stash.  I hung it by the fireplace and really like how it looks.







On one end of the den I tried something new this year.  I put the old rocker in the corner and hung Jack's mom's mirror.  Then I added an old wreath I had and put some balls on it and hung it over the mirror. I really like this look.  The throw was a gift many years ago.







I got these old insulators at an estate sale because they remind me of my mom.  She used to have them all over the house.  So I just arranged them on the side table with some candles, an old bottle and some old McGuffy readers.  Yes, the one on the far left holds pens.  We always need pens when sitting in this chair, so I thought I would "pretty" it up.


On the other side of the room is our tree.  I decorate using ornaments from my childhood, our marriage together, kids' ornaments, places we have gone, and gifts.  I love the eclectic look of a tree. Beside the tree, I hung this great picture.  It is a felt tree from the Dollar Tree, $.50, the frame I got at the thrift store for $.50.  I painted the frame, and the mat and voila!  A piece of artwork for Christmas!

And then the kitchen.  I am having so much fun decorating the kitchen for the seasons!  These columns and plate ledge are fabulous for decorating!  So I took the frames and took out the fall photos and added another felt tree (from the pack I got for the art in the den) in one.  Next I used wrapping paper and cut out ornaments and candy cane shapes.  Looks great!  On the middle column I added an old grater, my camping       coffee pot, and a jar of "lollipops"!  On another column I placed an old feather tree and attached some balls.  On the far column I added my lollipop tree and some Christmas candy to my jars!


And finally I wrapped some tulle around the pillows!  I love my new kitchen!

Sorry for the glitchy photo placements.  Me and blogger don't do photos so great!  I'll work on part 2 and the baking blog post later.  This has taken a while!













Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Month of Thanks

I never have been good with writing every day, and counting down.  So screw it, I will just write when I can!  Afterall, it is MY blog, I can do what I damn well please!!!  :-)

Today, I am thankful for Allie, my dear daughter.  Jack really wanted to know the sex of our first baby, but I said NO!  So to compromise, we found out early the sex of our second child.  We were going to have a girl.  I was so very excited and scared.  Jack had named Stephen after someone special in his life, so I got to name the second child after someone special in my life.  For that reason, I was very excited to have a girl, because I wanted to name her after my grandmother Eads.  But, I realized even before I held her in my arms, that I would have such a huge responsibility to this little girl.  I would need to be a woman she could look up to.  I would need to exhibit the qualities I wanted her to have.  The problem was, I didn't possess all those qualities.  The transformation began while she was still inside me.  I started making small changes in my life that were huge.  My confidence grew in many areas.

The moment they placed her in my arms, I found out that your heart really can grow in an instant.  My fears of not being able to love another child went out the window.  My heart grew and took her in.  It was a peaceful time too.  Her delivery was easy and smooth, and she did not have to be whisked away like Stephen.  So we had her first few minutes alone together.  She also became hungry almost immediately!  She has been hungry for life ever since.

This little girl was almost everything I was not.  She was girly from the moment she could move on her own.  Dolls, dress-up, PINK, and kitchens were her obsessions.  She did not really enjoy being outside and sweating or getting dirty.  She was strong.  She knew her mind and was not shy about letting everyone know it.  She was smart and witty.  Yes, all of this showed up by the age of 3!  I was in awe.  I adored this little ball of pink.

My daughter is the bravest person I know.  She was born with a facial assymetry, and a discoloration on the left side of her body.  When she was little, we encountered many stupid, mean people.  As she has grown, the differences are much less noticeable, yet she still encounters stupid people occasionally.  Where many teen girls would wear their hair over their face, slouch, and not hold their head high, my daughter stands tall, holds her head high and walks with a confidence I can only dream of.  I am amazed by her.  She inspires me daily to be my best me.  She inspires me to be brave in the face of stupidity.

Yes, we have our teen-mom moments.  Yes, sometimes she makes me so mad I want to scream, and vice-versa I am sure.  But this girl, I would not trade her for all the gold in China.  She was a miracle baby.  I should not have gotten pregnant, but God had different plans.  God knew that this little girl and I needed each other.  God knew I needed her to teach me.

Allie, I love you more than the sky is blue, more than the mountain is tall, more than the sun is bright.  Thank you for teaching me all that you have so far.  I look forward to watching you grow and seeing where life takes you.  Just know that I am here.  that I love you.  that you are special.  mom

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Month of Thanks - Day 5,6, and 7

So, it turn out writing daily didn't go so well.  But, I am not going to stop, I will keep trying.

Today I am thankful for my son.  He is my first-born.  He was longed for and dreamed of for many years.  I will never forget hearing those words after hours of labor, "It's a boy!"  In that second, my life changed forever.  I promised him that I would be the best mom I could be.  He and I have a remarkable open relationship.  We can talk to each other easily, we get each other.  He has had to be patient with me as he made each transition in life.  It has been hard for me to let go of each stage.  But he has taught me to embrace the future and not live out of fear.  I can sit and tell him what I fear, and he will patiently listen and then just hug me.  He never makes promises that it won't happen, he just listens and hugs me.  Wow!  What maturity.

I have always felt bad that he has to be the one to usher in each new transition.  Allie has it a bit easier because he has already "broken us in".  We are in one of those times now.  I am trying to transition to the mother of an adult.  Legally, I have no more rights as his parent.  He is now out there having to make his own way and reap those rewards and pay those consequences.  I still want to shield him.  I still want to bring him home under my wing.  But that is not what he wants.  Nor is it what he needs.  He needs me to be here and listen and hug him.  Just like he has been teaching me all along.  I can't make any promises to him.  I can't fix anything for him.  But I can be here.  I can listen.  And you better believe I will hug him.  (afterall, he gives the best hugs....some girl one day will be VERY lucky!!)

Stephen, I love you.  It is such a privilege to be your mom.  You have taught me so very much during your 18 years with me.  I know you are going to go on to do so much good in this world.  Your loving spirit is needed in our world.  As you go, know that I am here.  I will listen.  And I will hug you.  I will not make promises, and I will not try to fix you or the situation.  Of course, as in the past, I will probably screw up some, so please be patient and gently remind me again and again.
I love you,
Mom

What are you thankful for today?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Month of Thanks - Day 4

Today I am thankful for my new job.  I am enjoying this very much.  Since many have asked, I'll describe it briefly here.  I am a Prescreener for The New Teacher Project.  I look at the applications coming in and using the TNTP model, determine whether the applicant gets an interview or not.  This is work that can be done at home on my computer.  In fact, I couldn't sleep last night and so I screened two files.  It is quite nice to be able to log on when I am able and make money.  Jack is doing this as well while his business builds up. It has given us something new to talk about and bond over.  It has been cool.

I love feeling like I am contributing again to my family, and that I am still having some minor role in education.  

What are you thankful for today?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Month of Thanks Day 3

I knew by taking on this challenge of writing about my blessings and what I am thankful for I would encounter obstacles.  I just didn't realize they would come so soon.  Election time is hard.  Our society has made it out to be a "do or die" situation.  Every election it feels as if the future of our country rests on this very election.  It then causes a panic when the election doesn't go your way.  People get worried that everything will change and of course for the worse.  I get tired of it.  I get tired of the name calling on the TV ads.  I am tired of "Us vs. Them".  It doesn't work.  We learned that in kindergarten but forgot it somewhere along the way.  So this is my obstacle today.  Negativity.  But I will overcome it and look toward what I am thankful for today.  I hope you are reading this and thinking as well, since no one but Joy is sharing your blessings.  ~hint hint~

Today I want to focus on my husband.  I met Jack when I was only 18 years old.  He did not make the best impression on me, but there was always something....something I couldn't put my finger on.  He dressed atrociously, which back then counted a lot...okay, still does, and he stood me up for a "prayer meeting".  (We were prayer partners in BSU)  After a year of being aware of him and him being aware of me, he made his move.  Thank goodness I was smart enough to not let his painter's overalls and torn slippers influence my decision.  I said yes, and the rest as they say is history.

We married at 21.  Now stop a minute and remember yourself at 21.......really stop and remember....do see any resemblance to who you are today?  Not me!  Well, yes, of course there are some similarities, but many of the big things have changed in my life.  The same is true of Jack.  He is VERY different than he was back then.  But we have changed together.

I give Jack a lot of credit for us being together today and still so in love.  He pushed us to go out on dates, to go away for weekends, to stay connected.  When we had children, he was able to see into the future how we needed to stay strong, so he fought for time away from the babies.  He was right.  I am so grateful that he had that insight.

Jack knew from the beginning that I was sick.  But neither he nor I had any idea what lay in store for me.  Some men would have left, it would have been too much for them.  There were years where I had many more sick days than good days.  But he hung in there.  He was always there for me.  He learned how to be my advocate and get me what I needed before I could even articulate it myself.  In those times, I can relax and know that it is all okay in his hands.  That is a blessing.  To not have to worry about the kids, what is going on at home or keep up with the meds and what drs. are saying, but to just rest and heal.  Then he stepped up again and took the entire burden of earning for our family on himself.  He saw that I needed to quit working and made it possible.

Jack has always seen the best in me.  He sees things in me that I don't always see, and he tells me.  Miraculously, I often live up to just that.  I am a better person being with him.

He makes me laugh.  His humor has gotten us through many, many, many dark days.  He is witty and even though I don't always get his jokes, I so appreciate the effort.

He has embraced all my quirkiness and learned to love, or at least tolerate, my weirdness.  He just goes along with me at night when I make up the bed to then turn down the covers to crawl in.  He just lets me crawl up on his lap and holds me when the world just seems like to much.  He enjoys my silliness, and praises my attempts at crafts.  He knows I need order and plans.  He tries to accommodate but also helps me see that plans and order aren't the most important things in life.

He has been the best partner in parenting.  He has helped to soften my edginess and my strictness.  He values me and my intuition with the kids.  He makes a conscious effort to be a part of both kid's lives.  And again, his humor in parenting has saved us many times.

I love Jack.  He is my best friend.  He is the one I want to tell all my secrets, my sorrows and all my joys.  His hand is the one I want to hold when I am scared, sad, or joyful.  His face is the one I look for in crowds.  He is the one that makes my heart go pitter patter even after 25 years.

Before everyone is throwing up, I realize that many of you aren't at the same place as I am in your marriage.  I would like to make a couple of points which lead to the main thing I am thankful for in Jack McKinney.

One, it has not always been like it is now.  We have had some really rough patches.  Being chronically ill causes a strain on even the best marriages.  Having children and being a minister causes ENORMOUS strains on our marriage.  All the changes we have grown through have caused some difficult discussions and difficult times in our marriage.

Two, Jack is not perfect.  I am not perfect.  But we are both committed to make this marriage work.  So, we have done some very hard work in our marriage.  It has not been all hearts and happy.  It is hard work, and we have done our share.

But here is the most important thing about Jack McKinney, he has never given up on me or us.  I am so thankful that 26 years ago, he was brave enough to ask me out and I was smart enough to say yes.

I love you, Jack and am so very thankful for everything.

What are you thankful for today?  Will you be brave enough to share?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Month of Thanks Day 2

I have been truly blessed with many friends over my lifetime thus far.  I wish I could name each and every one and list the many ways in which they have blessed my life.  In doing so, I would invariably leave off someone and I just couldn't do that.  So I am going to speak in generalizations.

I have friends with whom I have recently reconnected with from way back in my past, all the way back to middle school days!  I have so enjoyed catching up and seeing what they are up to these days and where their lives have taken them.  They have brought me a sense of "home" with all the memories they bring.  I am thankful for that look in the mirror to see just how far I have come.  Plus the whole feeling like a young girl again...kind of nice!

I have friends who I can count on to tell me the truth.  They will listen to me and console me and when they think I am ready to listen, whether I think I am or not, they will tell me the truth.  How I cherish those friends.  It takes a lot of guts to do that with a friend.  I am so glad they feel safe enough with me to take that chance.  Often in my life, a friend has stepped forward to speak the truth and has helped me from taking fatal steps in the wrong direction.  I am grateful.

I have friends who make me laugh.  I don't mean chuckle.  I mean squeeze your legs together or you will pee laughter.  The laugh that comes from deep in your belly and soul and cleanses.  I meet with three of these women once a month.  But there are others as well.  Thank you for helping keep my sense of humor when I have lost sight of it myself.

I have friends who have loved me through some pretty unloveable times.  I have had moments in my life where I was not the friend I should have been, have been too consumed with my own drama to see yours, yet you stayed by my side.  You waited, silently, with words of love every once in a while to remind me you were still here.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.  You know who you are.

I have friends that I don't see regularly.  In fact, rarely at all.  Yet there is a sister-soul bond that unites us.  When we do see each other or talk on the phone it is as if no time has passed.  You know me better than I know myself at times.  You love me for who I am not what I do.  I know that each of you is on the other end of the phone, and all I have to do is pick it up and you will be there.  That is such a safe feeling.  How blessed I am.

I have friends who push me.  They see my potential when I don't and they push me to step out of my comfort zone.  When I fall, they are there, and when I succeed, they are cheering the loudest.  I so appreciate you.

I have friends who are just a safe place to go.  In their hugs I feel the worries of the world melt away, much like when I am in my mom's arms.  I know I am safe to say whatever I need to.  I know I can cuss, cry, yell or whatever and you will not look down on me, judge me, or be offended by me.  You will just love me.

I am truly a blessed woman today.  Thinking about all of you has made me lonesome for each one of you.  I wish I could fly you all here and spend a week with each one of you.  But alas, I cannot.  So feel my warm hug, hear my loud cackle, and know in your soul, I love you.

Now it is your turn.  Tell me about a friend who has blessed your life.  I just love stories!!

Monday, November 1, 2010

November - A Month of Thanks

I did many things right in raising my children.  But I do have regrets.  One of those regrets is not putting more emphasis on Thanksgiving.  I wish I had spent some time adopting traditions around this holiday like I did Christmas.  It is probably too late with my kids, but not too late for me and Jack.  I will be sharing what new traditions we come up with this month.

I would like to post this month about things/people/places that I am grateful for.  I would like to spend some time really expressing that thanks.  For really, I am truly blessed and have many, many things to be grateful for.  So we will start today.

On Mondays it always strikes me how lucky I am.  See, Mondays are my "Home Day"  I clean the kitchen well, sometimes even mop~gasp~, vacuum, dust, change sheets, do laundry, clean bathrooms and any other cleaning chores I have.  By having all day Monday to do this, I can spend my weekend with my family, and I am not mad at them for not helping me.  They are busy on Mondays, and not around.  I get annoyed when I am busy and people are laying around.  This way, I am happy.  I am getting my house organized and clean which really brings me joy!

This blessing came at great cost to me.  I love having time to do what I need to do.  But the flip side of that is that I can no longer do what I love, what I was born to do, what I am quite gifted at doing - teaching.  Isn't that often the case with blessings?  They often come at a price.  I guess, we eventually see the blessing in that cost.  I am finally there.  It has taken me many years to get here.  But, now?  Wow!  I am so thankful.  I hear how stressed all my friends are, how tired they all are, how they long for more "me" time, and it makes me thankful, no matter how it came to be.

So now I have my weekdays to do as I wish.  I fill them or not.  Sometimes I sit and catch up on DVR'd shows, read or knit.  Sometimes I fill them with volunteering, errands, lunches with friends, appointments.  Sometimes I spend them resting.  It is such a luxury to allow my gut and joints to dictate what and how much I do.  I am a lucky girl!

Now, I want this to be interactive.  You can comment here on the blog, or on facebook, your choice.  Do you have a blessing which cost you?  Would you share it?

Go now and be thankful.  Look for things to be thankful for, you never know what I might ask you to share tomorrow!

Monday, October 4, 2010

In An Instant

A moment in time, and your world can change.  Have you seen the Sprint commercial where because something has downloaded so quickly on her phone a woman is able to bend down faster, and therefore bumps into someone and she ends up a prima ballerina, while the same person with a slower phone ends up a ballet teacher of small children?  A moment, and your world can change.

We've all felt it.  Sometimes it is like we are watching it unfold in slow motion.  A month ago I didn't use the "holder dilly" on the mandolin, and used my hand to hold the potato, and well, sliced a chunk out of my finger.  I watched that unfold in slow motion, but couldn't stop it from occurring because the path was already set in motion.  Sometimes your life changes, and you didn't even see it coming.  You simply picked up the phone and boom!  Life is no longer as it was before.

We can't go back.  We don't have a remote control to push the rewind button.  While cutting that potato, I couldn't push pause when my consciousness realized what was about to occur.  So we have to live with the consequences of that moment.  Me?  I had to get a bandaid.  Sometimes though the consequences are greater than a simple bandaid can alleviate.  It is in those moments when growth happens.

When you find yourself in that situation, your life has drastically changed, you may feel lost.  You may even be angry.  How could one moment change so much?  How could one seemingly small decision change my life so drastically?  There is grief.  You have lost the life you thought you were leading.  There is sorrow.

After the grief, the shock, and the pain is over, you find you still have life.  How do we live after the change?  Do we learn something and become better people?  Do we adapt and in adapting become more?  Or do we let it become a crutch?  Do we then just make bad decisions because life has already changed so why the hell not?

One moment, and your life can change.  So what are you gonna do?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My son's 18th birthday

Today my son turns 18.  He is at college, and I am at home.  This is the first birthday which I have not been with him.  This is our first apart.  We drove down last weekend to watch him play ball and to take him to lunch.  But it was weird.  It was different.  We all felt it.  He got a little choked up and I got, well, I cried.

I never gave much thought to that mother bird.  I have always marveled at the baby birds and how they fly away from the nest and all the cool adventures they will have in life, but never gave a seconds notice to that mother.  What must go through her mind?  Well, after the relief of getting them fed, and all out of the nest, then what?  Basically, she starts the next chapter of her life.  Which for that bird is more eggs.  Well, I am glad we differ there.  I am not at all interested in starting another family, even if it was possible!

I am beginning a new chapter in my life.  I am trying new things, planning new adventures, and trying to stay busy.  I am excited about the possibilities that lay ahead.

Today...today it is not so easy.  It is rainy and cool outside.  It is the kind of day that both my boy and I hate.  We really like the sun.  Not the heat, but the sun.  So, it is the kind of day we would snuggle up and watch a movie.  Of course, as he got older, that would be him snuggled upstairs or over on the couch and me in my chair.  Long gone are the days when he snuggled next to me.  :-)  We might still share a movie, but likely not.  Still, we both knew there was someone else in the house that was battling the weather blues with them.

I miss my boy so terribly.  Yet at the same time I am so very proud of him.  I know it was time.  I know he will succeed.  I am living in the time of Happy/Sads as a friend recently told me.  Happy that he is gone and doing well and sad that he is not still here with me.  A time of change.

So today I will remember.  Remember his birth story, his funny toddler stories, his school days, his baseball stories, his successes as well as his defeats.  Then I will send forth into the universe my hopes for his future.  Hopes of peace, love and tranquility.  I will also probably be sure and hug the girl that is still here.

So, if your kids are still home, go hug them.  If they aren't, well you know where I am.

Peace.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Day Two of the Chicken Experiment

Tonight we had Chicken Tortilla Soup!  This is by far one of my favorite soups!  I usually cut up one or two raw chicken breast and saute it in the pan, but tonight, I used my handy dandy chicken from the one I cooked on Sunday.  The chicken fell apart in the soup instead of being in chunks, but I like it.  PLUS, it is very low in calories!!!  One cup = One bowl = 60 calories!!!!  Of course, we add some cheese and fritos, but not many!  What is your favorite soup recipe?

Chicken Tortilla Soup

7 oz. chicken cut up
1 qt. canned tomatoes
1qt. chicken broth
1 can chopped green chilies
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic
1 t. chili powder
1 t. cumin

Saute the onions and garlic, add the spices, then the chilies, let them blend together a bit, then add the tomatoes, chicken broth and the chicken.  Let simmer for a bit and eat!!

Monday, September 20, 2010

One chicken, how many meals? Day One

Well, yesterday I poached a $4 organic whole chicken.  I scavenged all the meat and put it in a baggie for the week.  Tonight was Chicken Enchiladas Salsa Verde.  Wow!  It was really good!!!  I liked that you could make the salsa verde early in the day and then just assemble at dinner time.  I also really liked the salad on top.  The bad part is that it was 450 calories!!  Got to figure out how to lower that!

So stay tune to see how the chicken gets used tomorrow night.  Oh yea, I am feeding 3 people, btw!  What is your favorite way to use shredded chicken?  Is it low calorie?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Thoughts on my god

Sitting outdoors in the cool temps with my hot coffee.  I love this.  The only thing that could make it better is all of you, my friends, here with me.  I have decided that this is the place for me to worship at this time in my life.  The world seems so crystal clear to me right now.  The blues in the sky are brighter than I remember and the green on the plants and trees, is so vibrant with life.  I feel the pulse of nature through my veins.  It is here I see god.  She is present in so much out here.  I feel her presence in the cool breeze that wafts my hair.  In the warmth of the sun I feel her love.  This is what I know.  This is god.  This is all that I know about god right now.  And this is enough.

I am not one to talk a lot about god.  Don't know if you noticed or not.  I don't claim to have many answers, just a lot of questions.  So I try to focus only on what I know.  The facts that have been made known to me.  For instance, I know that I will make it through the bad times in my life.  I know I will feel alone, but will not be.  I can not say that god only gives us as much as we can handle.  I can't say that because there have been many times in my life I have felt pretty overwhelmed.  But I do know that during those moments, if I took a breath and looked around me, I saw god.  Maybe in my baby's smile, or a friends' hug, or a nurses' soft touch, but god was there.  I don't know about all things work together for good.  There have been plenty of not so good things in my life.  They didn't all work out to be good. Or should I say, I haven't let them all work out for good.  I think we make choices.  I think that is god's gift to us.  We have free-will.  So sometimes I do choose to see the good in events, but sometimes, all I see is the bad.     Sometimes I choose to look back and see how it all came together, other times I see only how it didn't.  But I know that god was there.

Today, god, I give you thanks that even though my body fails me, I have been given a gift.  The gift of time.  I have time to sit out here and feel the warmth of your smile, the soft caress of your breath, your creativity through creation.  My life is slow, just how I like it.  I am not rushed and hurried, I have time to take a breath.  Time to look around me.  Time to let a harried mother go in front of me at the grocery line.  Time to watch football with my husband.  Thank you.  I choose today to look at my    "not working"  as a gift.  Thank you.

Do you see god today?  Do you take the time that is around you?  Even if it is only a minute?  Do you look for god?  I hope so.

May god's smile find you today, may her caress bring you comfort and may her creativity inspire you.  Amen.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Grief

I don't like being sad.  I don't like feeling down.  I don't like feeling like I want to cry all the time.  I don't like being depressed.  I don't like grieving.

Grief is unpredictable.  And that my friends, does not work well with me.  Anyone who knows me, knows I like order and predictability.  Not that my house is clean, or my life in complete order, but I enjoy living with the illusion that my life is pretty ordered.  I detest the unknown.  So I prepare.  I play the "What-If" game lots.   I like to think through every scenario possible and then I feel like I am prepared.  I know, you are laughing.  And well, no, it doesn't work most of the time, okay, hardly ever.  Then I have wasted lots of time and energy on nothing.  But it is what it is.  Grief, comes in and tears that veneer all down.  I can be going along feeling pretty good about myself and my life, and thinking how good I am doing about my sadness over _____(fill in the blank).  And then BAM!!!!  Out of nowhere Grief tears through my order and brings the chaos of sadness and depression.  And sometimes the grief is over something I thought I had gotten over.

I had a conversation last night after dinner with Jack.  We were talking about grief and how each of us was handling it and I asked him if it was possible that my grief was over for Stephen.  The last two days I had felt pretty good and had a really good attitude, so I was thinking that maybe I actually have gotten through this better than I expected.  Then Jack, ever the voice of Truth in my life said, "Grief is like the waves of the ocean.  You stand with your back against the tide and sometimes the waves crash over your head and send you flying off your feet.  And gradually for some, the waves get tamer and you don't get knocked flat by them as often.  And for some, the waves just keep crashing."

Today I had an innocuous facebook exchange with an old high school friend.  We were bantering about something inane and I used the word "ass".  She came back with, "Wow, and you being a preacher's wife."  I quickly wrote back, "Not anymore!"  And just like that a wave came and crashed over my head.  Just like that.

Me, grieving the loss of being a preacher's wife?  Really?  Seriously?  Yes.  That was the only life I knew.  I am out here with no map.  No built-in safe guards.  I don't even know how to define myself anymore.  This ties into Stephen leaving and realizing that in the very near future, I won't have the definition, "Stephen's Mom" or "Allie's Mom".  In the sense that I won't be meeting people in that arena.  I will be meeting people simply as KaKi.  Who is she?  She is no longer a teacher.  She is no longer a preacher's wife.  Who is she?

I am in the midst of lots of change right now.  Change which brings chaos, grief, and adventure.  I know there are positives, but right now, in my grief,  I mourn my losses.  The grief of not being a teacher anymore, still crashes over my head at times.  The grief of not being a preacher's wife and the financial security (ha) that brought, still crashes over my head.  The grief of not having Stephen in our home anymore, is and will crash over my head.  How long?  Well, it has been almost five years since I stopped teaching, although that wave is getting more and more tolerable.

So I am grieving, gasping for breath as the wave recedes.  And I am left looking at the coastline.  I see options there that I have never been able to look at before.  There are adventures waiting for me.  It looks scary, but then I notice something to my right.  I glance over and Jack is standing beside me, reaching his hand out to walk out together.   That is my constant, my North Star.  I know that whatever the future holds, he will be there waiting for me to come up from the water.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What is marriage?

Marriage is many things.  What you normally hear about is the love, the romance, the companionship, and the intimacy.  All of which are true.  Most of the time.  Well some of the time.  Well hopefully more times than not.  What you don't hear much about are the times when it is not.  What about when the romance and intimacy are missing?  What about the times you feel lonely and unloved?  Is that marriage?

My definition of marriage has grown and changed over time.  When I was young the above definition was mine.  Then I got married.  We got jobs, he went to school, we tried unsuccessfully for many years to get pregnant, then had two kids, I became chronically ill, and well, life happened.  There were many times where there was no intimacy, try getting romantic after putting a screaming toddler to bed.  Most nights we just wanted to be alone and sleep or watch TV.  The last thing we wanted was someone else "needing" something from us.  There were times when we both felt we were in this alone.  

So why are we still married and even happily married?  Well, because through all that misery, I still chose him and he still chose me.  We didn't want to be going through all that with anyone else.  See, marriage is choice.  You feel attracted to someone, they feel attracted to you.  You fall in love.  And you choose to spend the rest of your life together.  Your life.  That means the mountaintops and the valleys.  That means when one is hanging over the toilet spilling their guts.  That means when one of you is being a complete asshole.  That means when one of you is totally depressed and can't get out of bed.  That means all of it.  You choose to be with that person.  Now it doesn't always work.  The other person has to choose you back and you can't make them choose you.  They may choose the easy way out and leave.  Because believe you me, staying and choosing during those times is hard work.  You have to listen, you have to compromise, you have to fight for what you believe, you have to tell what you need.  You have to communicate.  You choose to do the work, because you choose to be with that person for life.  And oh the joy when it works.  Man!  The comfort of knowing you have someone in your corner for life will let you jump off cliffs you never imagined.  The thrill of being wanted will help you conquer the world.  

"You reap what you sow."  How true.  Sowing is hard work.  You do it in cold, brutal weather.  You sow in hot, scorching weather and sometimes in beautiful weather.  But oh the joy when the crop comes in!  Of course, then you have to sow again, reap, sow, reap.  Marriage is like that.  You work hard and reap the benefits, then a new stage of life hits, you work hard and reap those benefits.  And pretty soon you have reaped a whole heap of benefits! 

If you aren't married, then you might not have enjoyed this article.  But, you might be counting your lucky stars you don't have to work that hard!  If you are married, go choose them.  Let them hear you say it.  Go do the work, for the benefits will come!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Watching Him Fly












Standing in the parking lot outside the
apartment building, knowing what is coming, my heart lurches.  We are awkwardly standing around because none of us really wants to begin.  A friend said to visualize the goodbye, wished I had done that.  Wished I could have written my script, maybe even taped it  since I don't think words can get by the HUGE lump in my throat.  But the letter I left on his bed will have to do.  Finally, Jack starts the process.  He hugs Stephen and then I go deaf.  I know I am next and the rushing in my ears is drowning out what others are saying.  Finally he comes toward me.  I look in his eyes and I see the fear, I grab him and feel the grief radiating off him.  No matter the good intentions, the tears come.  Silently they fall as I hold my first-born son.  I tell him I love him and that he will do great.  He gruffly tells me he loves me then grabs his sister and they tease.  We get in the car, and I watch him walk away.  The dam breaks and the grief is uncontrollable.  I had no idea the strength of the sorrow.  I couldn't breathe as the sobs wracked through my body.  Every cell in my body wanted to jump out of the car and go back.  It wasn't time was the refrain going through my head.  I only had him 17 years!!  I was supposed to keep him for 18!  Maryland stole one year from me!  I want it back.  I shouted these and other phrases inside my head, didn't want to totally scare the other child, as we drove away.  We drove in silence with the occasional hiccup coming from me, for miles before my breathing began to slow down.



If I had known the depth of the grief I feel today back when trying to get pregnant, would I have tried so hard? If I had known the anguish of raising a teen, would I have tried so long?  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  I would not have missed one day of this beautiful boy's life.  He showed me compassion for others when he was two and waited patiently every morning for his friend Sydney, who had separation anxiety, to arrive so he could read to her so she wouldn't cry.  He showed me how to have fun by making games out of everything we did.  He taught me joy by running to hug me everyday when I came home.  He taught me perseverance by working hard for his dream of playing college baseball.  Yes, I wouldn't have missed a moment of those precious seventeen years.

Now it is time to look ahead.  What new adventures await him?  What new ideas will he discover?  What new lessons will he learn?  I don't know, but I know he will bring his big heart, huge smile and loads of determination to everything and everyone in his way.

Fly my baby bird, Fly!





Sunday, August 15, 2010

Saturday

I stand in his room folding shirts and pants to put in his suitcase.  We separate things to take to college and  things to keep at home and things to go to Goodwill.  I take a break and sit down to sip some tea, and my eyes gravitate to the frames on the wall.  His first professional photo at 6 months.  What a gorgeous, happy baby.  My friend, Leslie, went with me to help me with the ordeal.  For some reason, I didn't think I could do it all by myself.  Right before they called his name, he banged his rattle on his head and a red mark immediately popped up.  Below the photo is his birth announcement.  We wanted to be creative, original with the announcement while spending very little money.  So our friend helped us print them on the computer.  We loved movies, so we used a "Movie" theme.  I remember calling our friend and weeping while telling him the birth length and weight.  I was suffering post-partem depression.

I glance over to my son, who now towers over me, but who still has those beautiful soulful eyes.  My throat constricts with love.  My mind races with questions like,  "Have I taught him everything?"  "Have I really done the best I can do?"  "Will he be safe?"  "Will he make good choices?"  "Will he miss me?"  "Will he be happy?"  "Is this forever?"  He looks at me and knows instinctively what is going on inside my brain, so he makes a joke and we continue working.

The pile of stuff grows to pack into the van and the time keeps ticking.  Tonight we take him to eat, a special dinner.  Allie and I are thinking, "Olive Garden" or "Cheesecake Factory", but no, my boy chooses "Torrero's".  It is a simple Mexican food restaurant he loves.  It is like him, simple, no drama.  We will celebrate all he has meant to us and all he has accomplished.  We will laugh and I will secretly grieve.  Well, hopefully, secretly!

Then tomorrow, we will take our first-born and deposit him out of the nest into the rest of his life.   He will begin living a life that I will not really know much about.

So every time he passes me, I hug him.  Every time we talk, I tell him how much I love him.  Every time I think of him, I cry.

I have done good.  I have raised a sweet, smart, caring, sensitive young man.  Someone I enjoy talking to, and being around.  And now it is time for others to encounter him and for him to explore this great big world on his own.  So, I let go.  I look forward to seeing where his adventure takes him.  I will laugh and applaud when the highs come, and love him when the lows come.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Mother Daughter Camping

Three years ago one of the mothers of my daughter's friends, proposed a camping trip.  It would be her daughter's birthday party.   The other 2 mothers were enthusiastic about  camping and had camped quite a bit.  So all three assured me they would take care of me, and I would have a blast.  I insisted on having an aerobed, which one mom provided.   My daughter and I had had a pretty rough year in our relationship, so I was unsure how much she would want me along.  She insisted that she wanted to come, so I went.

It was a bit rough.  But overall not bad.  I didn't sleep at all the first night, Nature is LOUD!!!  But after that I took drugs and slept like a baby!  The weather was great, the scenery beautiful!  The best part for me was watching my daughter interact with these 4 other girls whom she had grown up with but had just become close to two years before.  I got a glimpse of my daughter's life that I often did not get to see.  She was more loving that weekend than ever before.  I cherish those memories.

The next year we went again!  We go to the same place, the Toe River in the mountains of North Carolina.  This time we went earlier in the week and spent a few days in Asheville.  This was nice for those of us who preferred hotel camping and shopping.  Then we trekked out to the wilderness for the nature camping part.  Again it was a fantastic trip!  It is a lot of work to camp, but worth it to be a part of the girls' discussions.  I loved listening to them talk about their dreams and plans for their lives.  I enjoyed watching the interactions between daughters and mothers.  My daughter and I bond each year on this trip over how much we hate "roughing it"!!!   Last year we rented tubes and the girls went tubing  and then the moms.  It was a blast.

So this year, we made the trek again.  But this year held a new experience.  RAIN!!!  Luckily it only lasted a few hours on the first day and the tents stayed dry!  I was scared for a bit during the storm, it is quite loud when you are in a tent!  But the rest of the trip went without a hitch.  This year it was fun to see how the girls had grown and changed.  It was interesting to see how the relationships between mothers and daughters was different.  And it was nice to see how strong my relationship with my daughter is now.

Anniversaries, birthdays, New Year's, these are all events that make us pause and take a look at where we have been, where we are, and where we are going.  This mother/daughter camping trip has become one of these events for me.  I spend time thinking about my relationship with my daughter.  Marveling at how wonderful she is, how much she has grown, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.   I get to eavesdrop on the conversations she has with her friends.  I am amazed at their wit, their humor, their maturity.  I always come away in awe of these five beautiful young women.  I also like to dream a little about where they will be in five years, ten years, fifteen years.   The girls like to make predictions.   One year everyone agreed who would be the first to be kissed, have a boyfriend, get married and have kids.   Well, we were all wrong!  The first to have a boyfriend was not who we thought, in fact, we all thought (including her) that she would be the last!!!

What markers do you have in your life that make you stop and reflect and dream?  Maybe you need to find a new one.  Just check the weather forecast if your new marker includes being in a tent outdoors!!!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

"I'll Never Marry a Minister"

I grew up knowing exactly whom I did not want to marry.  Well, okay, maybe not exactly whom, but I knew I didn't  want to marry anyone who wanted to be a minister, of any kind.  I was very adamant about this all through  my childhood and teens.

I saw very clearly the toll being a minister's family took on the wife and kids.  I mean, every time you meet someone new and tell them what your husband/dad does, they inevitably say, "Oh wow, that is a tough life."  So who in their right mind signs up for that?  Because they are right.

My dad pastored several churches but was at one church long enough for me to feel like it was home.  We moved there when I was in third grade and left after I graduated high school.  I need to first say that my dad has a thick skin, and very little of this really bothered him.  I mean, sure some of it did, but he is an incredibly forgiving man.  As a child,  I had a hard time understanding why people were being mean to my dad.  I overheard friends' parents talk bad about my dad when they thought we couldn't hear.  (we were in the back of the pickup sitting underneath the OPEN little window????)  My Sunday school teacher made a point of telling me how much she loved me, just not my dad so much.  All of this was incredibly confusing to me.  On top of that, my dad was never home.  He was the kind of minister that his flock came first.  So the phone would ring, off he would go.  We had a vacation planned?  Too bad.  Special dinner?  Sorry.  And I mean who were we to get in the way of God?  Someone's child is dying and I want my dad home for dinner?  Someone's husband just left them and I want to go on vacation?

What sealed the deal for me though was when I was in Jr. high.  I slipped into the sanctuary, not supposed to be there, and saw my daddy in front on the platform with a microphone in front of him and a giant screen beside him.  Up on the screen was a list of all the problems the church had with my dad.  That list was LONG!  The head deacon, a friend of ours I thought, was reading them off and asking my daddy to answer to each one.  I was floored.  Only one of the items still stands out in my memory.  My daddy wore a white suit to a funeral.  Why?  Because the father/husband who had just lost his entire family in a plane crash bought my daddy that suit and asked him to have a praise service because just that year they had all been saved. The only other memory is seeing the back of my mom, sitting tall, but her shoulders shaking just so slightly.  I knew this was killing her.

That was the final straw for me.  As I look back that was also the beginning of my questioning God and the church.  (but that is another post all together)  I made a firm decision that I would not live that life. I just wasn't as good as my mom.  I would have been jumping up and telling them all to go to hell.  I just wouldn't be able to handle the pain.

When it came time to go to college, I went to the same small Baptist (Southern) college  my parents attended and my older brother.  Now, my dad and my brother were both ministers....you would have thought I would have caught that, but NO!  I just wanted to go to college in a different state than my parents lived.  But alas, my dad decided to move the summer before college to a church only 45 minutes away from my school!

My first roommate and I had so much in common.  We became very close in just a few short weeks.  But there was one huge difference, she was there with the intent to find a husband who was going to be a minister.  I was floored!  I tried to warn her.  I told her all the bad stories, but she was just as adamant as I.  In the end she married the son of a minister.  I wonder if she now realizes what she was saved from.  (maybe she'll read and comment....hint hint)

I was extremely open about my not wanting to marry a minister.  In fact, I would not date anyone who wanted to be a minister, which I must say limited my options!!!  Then along came Jack.  He was not intimidated by my strong proclamations.  And for some reason, the wall dropped and well, you know the rest.

Now, though, Jack is not a minister or studying to be a minister.  He is a pastoral counselor.  We do not go to church on Sunday and Wednesday.  He is home every night.  Saturday he is actually present with us and not writing a sermon in his head, or mulling over some other issue related to church.  I have to say, I had no idea really what we were missing until now.

So, am I glad I married a minister?  The jury is still out on that, but I know one thing.  I am glad I married Jack McKinney.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The life of the chronically ill

I am often asked how I can be cheerful and pleasant with chronic illness.  I usually answer that it is my life, and what choice do I have?  I don't want to be gloomy and bitchy everyday of my life.  This answer is of course much easier to give when I am in remission and not in pain.  But after yet another diagnosis, the answer is much more difficult.

At this point in my life, I have been ill longer than not.  My symptoms started when I was 19 years old.  I did not receive my first diagnosis, Crohn's,  until I was 28, but was in and out of hospitals during those nine years.  I didn't experience remission until I was 36 years old.  Those eight years were filled with steroids, weight gain, weight loss, hospitalizations, medications, doctors, and lots of pain.  When I was 32 I received yet another diagnosis, Meineire's.  This proved to be very debilitating.  But it came and went, except in 2001 when it came and stayed and stayed....  Then when I was 40 I received another diagnosis.   This one scared me more than the other two.  It was Ankylosing Spondilytis.  This is a debilitating arthritis of the spine and other joints.  The prognosis is not something I wanted to think about in my 40's.

All of my diagnoses have a common thread, they are all auto-immune diseases.  It seems my body likes to attack itself.  hmmmm......  My doctors are always quite stymied by my body and its reactions to drugs, treatments and well, itself.  And once more my body has decided to throw another curve ball.

About two years ago, my right shoulder started hurting.  I went to the dr. got some prednisone, and realized I could no longer take prednisone when I ended up locking myself in the bathroom caling Jack because all I could think about was killing myself.  By the time I got to the orthopaedist, I could no longer move my shoulder at all.  I had Adhesive Capsulitis, or Frozen Shoulder.  After an Embreazement (VERY PAINFUL SHOT), which failed (another astonishing fact, my doc has never had this fail) and finally surgery, and one and a half years of physical therapy, I was better.  Now one year later, the left shoulder has frozen.  My doctor says this rarely happens, but it does on occasion, so of course, my body has to do it!!!  The pain is too fresh!  I still remember the embreazement and the pain during, the relief after, and the pain after the deadening wears off.  I remember the painful physical therapy, the tears, the screaming, the depression.  I remember the surgery and the pain.  I remember the physical therapy, the pain, the tears, the depression.  I remember.  I don't want to go through this all again.  I DON'T WANT TO!!!!  But what to do?

So, I gripe today, I will cry many tears, and I will fight depression.  Then I will make a choice, I will, most days, choose to smile and carry on.  But some days..........don't ask me.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Grandmother Allie

Sitting outside listening to the birds drinking my coffee.  I’ve just finished watering my garden which always takes me to memories of my Grandmother Allie.  She loved her garden.  She knew the names of all plants, trees and flowers.  She had a magical backyard for a child.  There was a large Mimosa tree which provided endless play.  From the large branches low enough to the ground to climb and climb “high”, to the pods the tree produced to make “beans” with, to the flowery blossoms to pick for “flowers”.  There were vegetables, roses, flowers and lots of herbs growing in her backyard.  Because she lived in Texas, it also meant complete dedication to watering.  I’m not sure why, but I always hated having to help her water.  Yet, it was the one time of the day you had her complete attention.  I would sit on her back stoop and we would talk.  She would tell me about the plants she was watering or stories.  With my Grandmother Allie, I felt completely and absolutely loved.

Living near the border of Oklahoma, my grandmother grew up with tornadoes.  Once a tornado came as a child and it scarred my grandmother for life.  She was terrified of storms.  In her little community (one stoplight on the highway) there were several underground cellars.  Some homes had their own and there were others that were shared.  Every time the clouds became dark and the winds picked up, off we would go to the cellar.  We were usually the only ones there, as we were really in no threat of a tornado, but try telling that to a terrified 70 year old grandmother.  We would sit among the jars of jelly, pickles, tomatoes, and other canned goods.  Even though my grandmother was scared, I was never afraid with her in that cellar.  I had such complete faith in her love and ability to take care of me.

I wish she were here today to see my garden.  She would love it.  Even though I didn’t do the work, she would still praise me.  Regretfully I didn’t inherit her green thumb, but that doesn’t stop me from trying each year.  This year, my tomato plants are actually producing tomatoes.  I am so proud.  Luckily, I have a great friend who is patient with me and helps me have a beautiful garden.

I miss my grandmother.  I wish she could be sitting with me right now.  We would listen to the birds and she would try to identify them.  She would be so delighted that one of my plants (I have NO idea the name) is about to bloom.  She would marvel at the cool temperature.  She would tell me the stories of how she started my coffee addiction at age 3.  She would praise my crocheting attempts and be awed at my knitting.  She would be humbled that I named my daughter Allie after her.  She would praise my parenting skills and tell me how wonderful my children are.  She would love me unconditionally.

I miss you and raise my mug to you.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Letter pt. 2

Before The Letter came, my relationship with Billy Ray Anderson taught me many things.  And after The Letter, I found out if I had really learned those lessons or not.

The first lesson I learned was about good and evil.  I have struggled with this concept for as long as I can remember.  I was raised believing that we were born into sin and needed to be saved to become good.  After being saved, you had a one-way ticket to heaven no matter what.  This reasoning seemed to support that after you are saved, you do good.  You are filled with good.  But this is not the truth that I observed at my dad's church.  That church was filled with saved, good people.  Yet they treated my dad horribly.  They were hurtful not only to him, but to me and my mom.  So from my perspective, I saw good and evil residing in these people.  Then I became a mom and realized this tiny little being was way more holy than any adult I had ever known. As I watched him grow I saw the struggle between good and evil begin.  Talking with Billy Ray I realized this man was a good man.  He had been someone's little boy.  He was sweet, he was a hard-worker and he loved his grandma.  But in a fit of rage, the evil in him took over.  After many talks with my hubby and a lunch with my good friend, Steve Smith, I came to peace about good and evil.  I believe it resides in each of us.  I believe you need to nourish the good for it to be dominant in your life.  But we cannot judge others by their actions because that action lies within us all.

The second lesson I learned is about poverty.  This lesson really started when I began teaching in inner-city schools.  I saw these sweet, loving children living in an environment where violence is commonplace.  In dealing with their parents, I realized that when you are living in survival mode you don't have time to care about education, good vs. evil, or quality of life.  So many have given up and given into drink and drugs just to escape their realities.  I'll never forget this one mom.  She had 5 kids and I had one of the twins.  I went to make a home visit and found her naked on the couch high as a kite.  I judged her that day.  But now I am sorry I did.  I don't know what I would do in her place, watching day after day your children starving, having no new clothes, constantly having to ask for charity, having no idea how to change your life because this is exactly how it was when you were growing up.   I am sorry Ms. Snell.  I am sorry.  Billy Ray is responsible for showing me this.  He talked about what it was like to go hungry and the anger that builds up when he would see other children throwing food away.  He talked about seeing other kids in new clothes and him in clothes from Goodwill or the dumpster.  He helped me to see how these things feed the evil in us.  There is little room for light.  But then he talked about a school teacher who saw him.  She worked with him one on one and taught him to read and write.  His eyes would light up when he spoke about her, she was nourishing the good in Billy Ray.  We must do more.  We need more community centers where children can go and be nourished physically, mentally, and spiritually.  I don't mean "save" them, I mean let them experience music, art, and nature.  We need to provide a safe place to escape the danger of their environments.  I have read about many new programs, but we need more.

The third lesson I learned was about me.  I learned about forgiveness.  I have been the recipient of forgiveness many times in my life and I have been the giver as well.  I grew up thinking there were some actions that were basically unforgivable for me.  As I have lived life, this belief has been challenged over and over.  Twelve years ago, I was the recipient of forgiveness.  This person showed me such grace, it has made a lasting impression.  I am not sure that I have ever forgiven myself or totally accepted this gift.  It hasn't been until recently, as in right this very moment that I have gotten it. I can forgive Billy Ray because he is a person, not a monster.  In prison it is hard to find places to feed your soul.  It is understandable that this dark, shadow side would show itself eventually.  I am not sure I did then, but I do now,  I forgive you Billy Ray.  I know you didn't mean to hurt me.  I also forgive myself and accept your gift of forgiveness dear friend.  I was confused and not seeking help in light-filled places.  I gave into the dark shadows within me.   Thank you Billy Ray and Dear Friend for teaching me about giving and receiving forgiveness.

In all experiences of life there are lessons to be learned.  Some lessons are learned over and over and over and over.  I pray I never quit learning.  My hope is that my heart will continue to stretch and open to all that is out there.  My heart is always willing, it is my mind that is slower.  So, I pray my mind will limber up and continue to accept new thoughts and new sights.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Letting Go of Family Stories

Family stories.  We all have them.  We tell them over and over and laugh or sigh.  We especially love telling stories on others.  The story about how Uncle Charlie fell asleep in church and started snoring, or the time the kids sneaked out of the house without the parents ever knowing.  But there are other stories.  Family stories that are told that describe a person we are no longer.  The bad sheep stories and the shy child stories are the stories that evolved over time to usually help to explain behaviors or help others cope with behaviors in the family that were unexpected or unwanted.  These stories can stay in a family for a long time, or they can slowly be replaced by new stories.  Sometimes the person who is the subject of the story begins to let the stories define who they are today.  They give the story too much power in their lives.  It is usually in the growing up process, that we begin to let go of those stories which no longer describe who we really are or who we have become.

My family is currently in a transition phase of story-telling.  My kids are now old enough to tell the stories, or ask for stories to be told.  Well, truthfully, they are in the eye-rolling stage of "not that story again, mom".  Although secretly, I know they love hearing the stories.  This is not the only change.  My husband is changing his story.  He is no longer a pastor, which means my story has changed as well.  I am no longer a preacher's wife.  He is in a place of figuring out the new story, he is not sure of what it is or will be.  This brings anxiety as well as extreme excitement about what will be.  I look forward to this story and what it will be about.

But another member of our family is changing his story as well.  My son is graduating from high school. He will no longer be living at home and will be encountering new ways to live his life.  As he and we, as his parents, begin to contemplate this new story, we can't help but look back over the story to this point.  I find myself looking in the scrapbooks and rereading the antidotes alongside the photos.  As I do this, I wonder which of these stories will he add onto and which of these will no longer be true.  Will he still have a passion for baseball and will he find a way to have baseball be a part of his life?  Will he still be the sensitive and kind person he is today?  There is one story that has changed and that I as his mother have a hard time letting go.  This story plays in my head unbidden.  It is the story of his birth and the joy at finally having a child.  Plus his first year of life and almost losing him three times.  Holding a baby in your arms and watching them struggle to live leaves an indelible mark on your heart. The truth is, he is no longer that baby who is sick.  In fact, he is a strong, strapping young man.  The picture of health.  Yet to this day when we go to the dr., I hold my breath waiting for the bad news.  It is time that this story stop defining him and my fears for  him.  He is about to set out on his own and he is more than capable to care for himself.  He doesn't need me hovering over him.  He won't end up in the hospital because of a cold.

The funny thing about this story is that it was only true for one year out of the seventeen years he has been alive.  Yet the story so changed my life, that I cling to it.  I have given the story so much power that I still fear for his life.

It is time to let go.  It is time to put that story where it belongs, in the past.  It is part of his story and mine.  But it does not in anyway define who he is today.  So I need to let it go, and trust that he will be okay.

What stories does your family have?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Letter Changes Everything

One of the things that always bothered me about church was all the talk about "helping" others, but there was little "doing".  Social justice is a big part of my spirituality.  My parents imparted this to me by doing not saying.  I grew up with different people staying in our house, or people eating Christmas dinner with us, or driving out to the truck stop to pick someone up.  We delivered groceries and clothes to people.  It was an important part of my growing up.  This to me embodies Jesus' message.  I feel Jesus was about taking care of those around you.  But like I said, at the churches I had been a part of, there was more talking than doing.


That all changed when we moved to Raleigh and Jack started pastoring Pullen.  Here I found people in many different areas actively working to make change.  There was a boycott going on when we got here against Taco Bell and Mt. Olive Pickles around their treatment of farm workers.  (It worked, by the way)   There was an environmental group that set up adventures to clean highways and rivers.  There were groups around hunger issues.  We would go out and glean the sweet potato fields or go to the food bank and help there.  There was a group about the Death Penalty.  They would hold services on the night of an execution and then march to the prison.  They also wrote these guys and visited them in prison.


I didn't jump in.  Wisely, Jack recommended to wait a year and get to know people, settle in, get the kids settled, and basically see what our lives were going to look like before I got too involved.  So I waited.  I kept being drawn to one cause - death row inmates.  It seemed like that year there were several executions.  Years before I had been deeply moved by "Dead Man Walking" and felt I needed to get involved in some way.  Now, if you know me, you know I have a huge fear of being imprisoned falsely.  I don't know why or where this came from, but it is VERY real.  So my interest in this cause surprised both me and Jack.  But when I asked him how I could become involved, he told me about becoming a pen pal.  I thought about it for a while and it seemed the perfect solution.


So Jack introduced me to Billy Ray Anderson.  Billy Ray had written to Jack asking him for a pen pal, and Jack set me up with him.  I was forewarned of the requests for money and of getting too attached, but was not prepared for what would happen.


I realized after his first letter that Billy Ray had a learning disability.  As we begin to write back and forth, I realized that Billy Ray was somewhat mentally disabled.  When he found out I was a teacher, he began to tell me stories from his childhood and told me his I.Q.  His stories broke my heart as I had known many little boys who fit his descriptions.  There seemed to be a symmetry to my work with inner-city kids and now befriending Billy Ray.  I wanted to make a difference in these kids' lives so they would not end up like Billy Ray.


His letters were usually full of scripture and his musings on Jesus.  I told him about some of the students I was tutoring.  He gave me advice about them and my own kids.  He sent me artwork which he had learned to do in prison.   After several months, he asked if I would come to see him.  I was terrified.  Me, going into a prison?  Voluntarily???  Jack agreed to go with me which was allowed because he was a minister.  Jack described the process of the gates closing and at one point being in a very tight space with a gate closed in front of you and another closed behind you.  There really is a "clank".  I made it and met Billy Ray for the first time.  He was a huge man about my age.  Jack stayed with me until my nerves calmed down.  Then he left us alone.  We talked some and he asked me to pray.  Then he asked me to sing, so I sang.  Then it was time to go.  I was deeply saddened to leave him there.  I knew he had done something bad (didn't know what at this point) but he was more like a child than an adult.  Afterwards I asked him about his crime.  He had a hard time telling me, but he did.  He had murdered his girlfriend because she left him.  He described the murder in detail and had confessed when arrested.


All this time the letters kept going back and forth.  I wrote one letter a week, he wrote 4 -5 letters.  I sent little bits of money to his account for stamps and ice cream.   I felt a good friendship with him, much like those I had with my students.  Then one day I opened a letter that changed everything.


Billy Ray wrote a sexually explicit letter to me.  It was a lengthy letter describing many obscene acts.  I was stunned and began crying and shaking at once.  I didn't know what to do.  I felt defiled and betrayed.  We had been writing for over a year at this point.


After much thought and talking with Jack, I opted to end all communications.  Billy Ray had sent several letters as I was trying to understand and decide what I needed to do.  I threw them all away, unopened.  I asked Jack to find a replacement for me and a male therapist had recently asked Jack about a pen pal on death row.  This man took my place and is still writing to Billy Ray.


I have experienced a lot of guilt about leaving Billy Ray.  He has been left all his life, and this is what precipitated his crime.  But at the time, I was unable to cope with the feelings of betrayal and vulnerability his letter evoked.  I was scared.  I became terrified that he would be released and would come to my home. 


About this time a moratorium on executions was put in place as the legislators looked at the issue.  I stopped all involvement in the cause.  Passing the prison causes me much pain.  I have just recently realized the depth of this violation.  I pray that naming it, putting words to the pain can help me begin to heal.