How We Ended Up Here

When we first moved here I committed to answering with the beautiful truth, the full answer, the even though it makes me sound like a weirdo answer, to the questions “So how did you end up in Grottoes?” As time has passed, even though the commitment to the decision and the assurance of the direction are as clear as the day we left, the details grow fuzzier and I want to write them down. The events that carried us from Ohio to Virginia were nothing is not ordained and so sweet to experience.

In Washington Court House we had everything we could want. We had family close to us, close enough to see them daily had we wanted to, and often we did. There were many celebrations and dinners with big groups of family and then small times meeting with one member at Frisch’s or another at the outlet mall. My kids had the precious experience of being a daily part of extended family life. It was something I hadn’t had growing up, but Kermit did, and in the comparison, I do cherish that village raising children lifestyle.

I had a job I loved in an organization that I still truly believe in. I had coworkers I admired, respected and loved. I’d worked in a number of places and had experienced growing up, learning the lesson that not everything is an emergency and I can just let go when someone doesn’t refill the coffee pot when it’s finished or tells obnoxious jokes. I had years before walked away from education, feeling that things were too big to change and I was too small to make a difference. There I was working in a position that I felt mattered and doing good work next to others who shared my same passion.

We had friends that it had taken years for us to find and develop into a firm friend group. The kids and I had dug a firepit out back and surrounded it with bricks and stones. We spent all summer with groups of dear friends finding out what would happen if you stuck this or that on a stick over a fire and then ate it. I could find someone any day who would come over or meet up somewhere, McDonald’s playplace or in houses that ranged from small in town lots to sprawling farms. My kids had birthday parties that were phenomenal not because they were Pintrest perfection, but because they had a huge number of friends their age come, good friends they’d spent so much time with. Frank had a best friend he described as his “brother friend.” I can’t tell you that I’d ever before felt a part of a group of friends the way I felt in WCH.

We had a home that I loved. We’d worked for years, slowly updating things, removing wallpaper and painting, planting flowers and bulbs, put our personal touches to the house and the yard. Molly still talks about giving her swing set to a friend when we left and riding their Cozy Coupe down the back hill. They had a special area just for digging and I had my small garden. That last summer we’d worked to renovate the back deck, transporting rocks from a friend’s farm and making a rock wall around the side after I’d returned from my uncle’s celebration of life and seen his rock walls. The trees branched out giving the feeling of this embrace of privacy and peace, our own little oasis. I remember when I was packing things in our bedroom I looked out the back window, seeing the glads breaking through the ground and stretching up their stalks and feeling an ache that we wouldn’t see those each year.

And our church. It was every bit a home to us as was North North St. We found a place that we agreed with the teachings, we loved the pastors, our kids loved the children’s ministry, and we love the people there. I was involved, in the women’s ministry, volunteering with the youth and with VBS, for a period in a small group, in Sunday School and in the Rose Ave ministry at the very end. I never felt pressured to do there, but wanted to be there and felt fulfilled by giving to that church. There has been so much blessing brought to me still just through their making the sermons available online and now through livestreaming the services. Sometimes I contemplate sending a message to friends from there and complimenting their dress or hair which I’ve seen on the videocast, but that feels a little…stalkery.

We were plugged in, at church, with family, in the community. Frank was registered for kindergarten. Molly was registered for pre-k. Kermit was working to finish his degree and I was investigating what I needed to further myself in my job. But there were these frustrations. Kermit went to school and when he started they told him he would be finished in 2.5 years. Then credits wouldn’t transfer or the school calendar would change. After 2 years of full time coursework he was told by his school, you should be finished in 2 years and then you’ll do your student teaching. It was as if he was on a treadmill or in a dream where you are running down a corridor towards a light but get no closer.

He wanted to work for a school system that he really loved and valued, but he never found his place. There he was like a junior high boy pining with unrequited love for this dream girl who wouldn’t give him the time of day. In many ways, we saw others feeling the same way traveling through that system. I know that fondness remains, the sweet memories of his youth and the pride he felt then in being a part of a strong proud tradition. He values all he learned there and the teachers who taught him not just subjects, but how to teach. However, space never came for him.

And as much as we felt like we were growing as our children got bigger, it felt like it was always one thing after another. Car accidents and unexpected bills and holding our breath until the next paycheck and never quite feeling like grown ups. Kermit was running an online auction business, but with so many other auction houses in the area and not the right supply, it was not taking off. He was working and going to school and burning himself out and the fruit just wasn’t coming, no matter how diligently we tended our trees.

There were moments where this sense that we should be looking to Virginia, not as homesickness, where I yearned for some nostalgia in Fairfax or looking to trade the support of one set of familial relations for another in Richmond, but as the song of the Valley called, the land where Kermit and I fell in love, where our story had begun, even though we had very few connections and no in roads to anything there.

In the middle of July in 2013 I went to church. It had been a number of weeks, maybe months where the concept of waiting and listening had been on my heart. That Valley song was coming more and more frequently to me when I slid into the pew. Pastor Bruce delivered a sermon, the first in a series called The Expectation Gap, called Welcome To My Frustration. He’s a gifted sermonizer. What he says, connects. When he gets up there to deliver a sermon, I can’t point to a time that I was in that church and the sermon didn’t deliver. But as good as that sermon was, and it was a phenomenal sermon, the passage he pulled from outspoke him. He talked about how Samuel was frustrated, having backed Saul years before and was now being directed by God to anoint someone new to be king. He was afraid of Saul finding out. He was unhappy that Saul hadn’t panned out, so to speak. It is there that he picked up in the scripture.

     1 Samuel 16:1 Now the LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go; I am sending you to Jesse the Bethlehemite. For I have provided Myself a king among his sons.”

 The passage continued and so did the sermon, but I’d heard what was being spoken to me. How long will we mourn for what we’d planned and hoped for in WCH? As Samuel had hoped and planned for this godly, glorious reign for Saul, it was not working out that way. God had something different in mind. So get your horn and go. Pick up your stuff and get a move on. The time to move on this is now and I, God, have a plan.

My heart thudded. The sermon talked about the gap between what you expect and what you get. At one point Kermit whispered something to the effect that he really was understanding the point of the sermon. I leaned over towards the end and said something along the lines of, “What would you think of moving to the Valley?” And he responded “I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately.” We continued to talk and the more we talked the more we knew this was right.

But our life was there. And there was nothing in VA for us. We knew one family in Grottoes, like friendly acquaintances, and then on the other end of the Valley we had a couple that was very dear to us (and incidentally related to the family in Grottoes. It was through this couple that we knew the family.) I arranged to go visit the family in Grottoes and spend a week or more looking for a job and looking for a place to live. If those things fell into line, surely it would be evidence, right?

I came. I sat on the deck at their house and stared at the mountains. Every sermon I heard, every page I read, it kept talking about the promises land. There I sat, staring at our promised land. But at the end of my visit I was no closer to a house or a job then when I started. I delayed my return as long as I could, but finally I needed to return to Ohio. I had a birthday party for Molly to throw. I had a talk to give to the youth group. That last day or so, the husband of the Grottoes family said he had a friend who had a house he rented in town, but that it had someone in it at the moment. He drove me past it and it was sweet, just a few blocks from them, with a nice big yard on a dead end road. There on the front porch was the person who was renting it.

When I left VA I prayed and told God “If this is it, if you want us to come, then that’s the house I want. That’s how I’m going to know.” It wasn’t 24 hours before I got a phone call telling me that the person in that house had gone that day and broken the lease. The house was available. He could get me in touch with the owner.

We had a goal, to get there and start Frank in kindergarten. The decision was made. Any time that I would stop and pray to be sure this was God’s will for us, it was so swiftly met with a sermon about the promised land or the word of a friend unknowingly speaking an answer to my fears. We worried in those days how we’d pay for this move. I’d always hated to ask for prayers for money. It struck me as disingenuous. People would say “I asked my bible study to pray that I would have $500 to pay for a plane ticket to Bermuda and then miraculously there was an envelope with $500 in m mailbox! Praise Jesus!” I always added in my head “and praise the people in your small group that you complained to.” So I kept my prayers to myself.

I would think of ways that God could show me his provision during those days. Someone would come in my imagination and thank me for how wonderful I’d been for doing this or that and would hand me an envelope stuffed with cash. Or I’d be packing boxes from some of the amazing storage spaces in our house there and imagine I’d find a box full of cash hidden behind a brick. But time came closer and closer and still not magical miracle money. We had enough to make it there and pay for the house and like ramen for a week. We knew that we were going where we should be going, so we committed to it.

We got our moving van, we loaded it up, climbed in the cab and turned the key. No go. The company sent a man to fix it and after 4 or 5 hours the man said “Well, this isn’t going to be fixed and the other moving van at the same location is also broken.” The company sent another truck from further away, this time with a team of strapping young men to take the stuff off of one truck and put it in the other truck. And then we were on our way. We hadn’t really felt panic or extreme annoyance. Just this feeling that this situation would ultimately be resolved.

I called the company to update them on our situation and the lady on the phone said “Let me see. We’re going to apply a discount for your trouble and that leaves you with a  balance of…just a moment, let me see. $30.”  I was confused. “$30 what?” I asked, certainly hoping she didn’t mean 30 thousand or 30 hundred, which isn’t really a way to say an amount. “30 dollars,” she replied. Our expenses just dropped by around $1,500. All because our van had been delayed a few hours. That’s a nice chunk of change to fall back into our pockets.

After we’d been here for about a week, with Kermit back in WCH finishing out his contract and finishing cleaning out the house, he came across an old savings bond in the attic he’d been given in his childhood from a company that had been bought out by another company decades before. After a day or so of investigation there was a comfortable nest egg for us and I was able to spend time at home helping the kids transition to their new life and considering jobs instead of grabbing the first thing I could find.

When it was time for Kermit to come he’d put in for a wrestling coaching position in Fort Defiance. He got a call from the athletic director and the conversation was to the effect that there’d been discussion of closing down the wrestling program but that he’d contacted them at just the right time. This AD went to bat for Kermit from day one, going from some great phone conversations and finding a place for him in the daily life of the school, not just after school as a coach.

This is how we came to Grottoes. We were brought here. There was so much in those transitional times that spoke to us that we were supposed to come here and we saw God as a provider in a new light. I can tell story after story of evidence that we made the right move, but this story is so long already. Another day, another post on why we’ve stayed, but for today, this is the story of how we came to be in Grottoes.

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Father Frank

This is the man who delivered Frank.

On purpose. In case you were thinking I went into labor in a Catholic church by accident and this guy just happened to be there, that wasn’t the case.

I was already pregnant when I met Father Klamet, well Dr. Klamet, as I referred to him. I came and we did paperwork, blood tests and joked about maybe twins. We did an ultrasound and I had pictures of this tiny new life. Things were progressing, but then at about 8 weeks there was spotting. I called him and he said he was sure everything was fine but we’d do an ultrasound anyway. He sent me over to the hospital and I waited for the results.

The nurse who called me said “There is no heartbeat.” I didn’t understand that. I watched a lot of House at that time and thought surely there was some medical miracle to be had that would restart that baby’s heart. When the nurse clarified that there was not going to be a miracle here, I dropped the phone.

I went in for my doctor’s appointment and Dr. Klamet encouraged me to allow things to progress naturally. He said what I was experiencing wasn’t the typical loss, but rather a “missed miscarriage.” My baby’s heart had stopped, but my body wasn’t recognizing it. I would continue to have pregnancy symptoms while I had miscarriage symptoms.

These were some of my darkest days, having conversations where people argued with me that I wasn’t losing the baby because I was still have the pregnancy symptoms. They recommended second opinions. They recommended I try something, do something. But even in this midnight, I trusted Dr. Klamet. He told me that particularly in this situation he recommended naturally carrying out the miscarriage so that there would never be the question of “What if….?”

Weeks later there came the day when there was no more maybes or what ifs.

About five months later I was back in his office, pregnant again. I was terrified. I was consumed by certainty that this would end the same way. I had been so happy the time before when I told Kermit, but with this pregnancy, when I told him, I started crying.

Then at 8 weeks, the same point as the previous pregnancy, I began to spot. I called Dr. Klamet from work, sobbing, unable to breath, sitting in the stairwell of that office unable to go up or down, unable to move in my terror.

He brought me in and turned on his ultrasound machine. He showed me a healthy baby, a healthy sac, and a subcutaneous bleed, a small pocket of blood that was placed in not the best spot, but not the worst spot. I started to cry again. This is when the doctor became the priest.

He spoke to me of Matthew 6. He said “Matthew 6:27 it says ‘Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?’ No, you can’t.” He went on to teach me. He told me that worry doesn’t change anything. It wouldn’t keep me from miscarrying. It wouldn’t change the loss of the last baby. If I was to miscarry this baby, I wouldn’t feel comfort by being able to say “Well, I worried about it for the past few weeks, so now my grief is less.” He taught me, “The only thing worry can do is steal the joy of today. Today you have a healthy baby.” Be glad for that.

Oh, what peace he gave me. He told me to go, to focus on positive imagery of pregnancy. If I was to start down the path of fear and worry, to stop myself and refocus on praying and positive thoughts. He offered me such a new way to face my fears.

The day finally came and he delivered Frank, a name given to him in honor of family, but for whom I have always cherished the connection it gave my son to this man. He left the hospital in a rush since Frank was born in the 6 o’clock hour on a Sunday and he had priestly duties to take care of, services to lead. He conducted that Mass in honor of my Frank, and then returned that afternoon bearing gifts from his parishioners.

In the following year, I leaned heavily on his medical expertise. He gave me such great information and empowered me to feel confidence in my abilities as a new mom. He told me during that year that the men of his family didn’t live past 59 and he didn’t expect to live beyond that himself. I thought it was a joke.

I brought Frank in for his one year appointment on a Friday. It was a great appointment and as always he praised me and Frank as being shining examples of what we should be as a good mom and a healthy baby.

That weekend Father Dr. Klamet was gone. I always think, if I had known, I would have taken a picture of him holding Frank at that appointment.

Dr. Klamet taught me so much in the time I knew him and I know I am just one of many, many others who were blessed by his teaching. He is the best example of living out faith I have ever encountered. I can share hundreds of stories, conversations, where he embodied the best in living a holy life. He showed me that being prolife was not about being anti-abortion, but rather being committed to preserving and providing for the life after birth as well, and caring for the mother.

This morning I stood in my kitchen, contemplating the interviews I’ve had in the past week and wondering which direction I will be going. I thought of Dr. Klamet, of his funeral, where the bishop shared that they had been in discussion about moving Dr. Klamet to a new church in another place. The bishop said he’d replied “What God wants, I will give. Where God leads, I will go.” So simply faithful. So simply Frank.

I didn’t remember that today was the date of his passing until I saw someone post about it on Facebook, but it touched my heart to hear the words of a man who taught me so much about peace and faithfulness, float through my head as if he was speaking straight to my face, reminding me to put one foot in front of the other following God’s leading.

What God wants, I will give. Where God leads, I will go.

R.I. P. Father Klamet.

***** If you would like to know more about this amazing man, more of his story leading him to be both a priest and a doctor, this is a nice read by a blogger, and written in a way I think he would have appreciated.  http://www.cleveland.com/brett/blog/index.ssf/2009/04/father_frank_klamet_lived_his.html

The Death of the High Five

Wednesday night I went to get Kermit and Frank at the end of wrestling and after hearing some like amazing something or other that I totally can’t remember, I put my palm right up there, like totally obvy, high five set up. But then…but then this kid like super bummed me out.

He was all, high fives aren’t a thing anymore and now it’s just about the fist bump, which like, fine, I’m totally down with the fist bump. And I’m super into the variations, like where instead of the bwwhhffffssshhhuaw bomb blow up noise, sometimes I wiggle my fingers and say “Sparkles!” and sometimes I make and arc and said “Rainbows” and I don’t mind when people throw up their palms and make a turkey or do whatever it is that makes it an octopus.

But what? No high fives? Well, the whole ride home I was just all shocked and stuff but by the time I settled down into bed I figured it all out that he’s just some punk kid who doesn’t have his finger on the pulse of what’s hip like I do. And I went to sleep and I dreamed about this that improv group that gave high fives on the escalator which was hi-larious.* Hi-5-larious!**

Well, I was sitting here tonight, all warm and happy under my down comforter binge watching some Kimmy Schmidt when like 3 times in one episode all the other characters are throwin’ shade at Kimmy because she likes to high five and stuff. (I think I used that right. Did I use that right? Pretty sure I’m the kind of person who can say throwin’ shade. I just checked. I am.) If it was just once, I would totally be all fine and whatever, but 3 times, y’all!

So if you haven’t heard, high fives are not cool any more!!! Stop the presses and print that, because like I said, I got my finger on the pulse.

But if we gonna be real, I got my whole palm up in the air and I’m waiting, because if I know one thing it’s that stuff comes back in style, and when the high five comes back, oh you better believe this girl is going to be ready for it!

Oh shoot, I pulled my hand down to so the two thumb gesture when I said “this girl” but now, bam, my hand is back up ready for  a high five. There. Good. Set.

* I looked that video up just now. Y’all it’s from 2009. I was sure it came out like last year! Where is my life going?????

** I made that Hi-5-larious thing up myself. It’s gonna catch on, just you wait. My finger, coolness pulse.

 

Surgery

When my left knee went out I was figure skating. I was setting up for a jump, and then twist and down, hard onto the cold smooth ice. It went out other times before then, but that time was bad. We went to the doctor and then to the knee surgeon. When they told me I needed surgery, I cried. I was scared of the knife, scared of the pain, scared of the recovery, scared to be off the ice and what that would mean for the future of what I then thought would be a reasonable future daydream, to be an ice skating coach.

My eyes filled with tears, and the doctor told me that without the surgery I would most likely be looking at not wondering if I could skate, but wondering how long I could walk on it. It was a necessity, a must do, so get on the treadmill and begin strengthening before surgery and fortify yourself to do the work of recovery afterwards.

Also, I was 15. If a doctor told me then to cut off my nose and could convince my mom to sign the paperwork, I would likely have gone along with it.

Generally when I remember that experience I am discussing the effects that Demerol has on me, which is a little silly mixed with a little scary, but I don’t spend much time thinking on that experience. I do remember some things well, hallucinations coming through the IV and visitors through the door, the way the gauze stuck to the incision and the smell of it the first time I cleaned it. I remember that another kid I went to school with but was much cooler than me was at the same physical therapist and when our appointments took place at the same time we’d joke and talk some, but he never spoke to me outside of that building. Years later on a bus at JMU, he joked with me and I blew him off, still sensitive to the snub three years before.  It was during my time at JMU that I remember thinking on surgery as an analogy for something deeper, using that experience to teach myself about the theology of suffering.

The other night I had a moment, a small moment that turned larger than I could hold on my own very quickly. I had the wind knocked out of me, metaphorically, of course. I tend to steer clear of activity that could literally do that to me. Hurt that I had felt beyond struck me every bit as hard as if I’d been slapped across the face. I was winded and tired afterwards and went to sleep ready for the darkness and quiet that rest allows.

The next morning I talked with a dear friend who reminded me a lot of things that I knew to be true, one of which was essentially something I used to say in college. Satan doesn’t come up against someone who doesn’t matter.

The past week or so I have revisited in my mind the stress and hurt I’d felt in the fall and winter before I left my last job and wondered on it. My mom at one point said “God had to do something really big to get you out of there. You were so deeply entrenched in that place.” She was so right.

The same way hearing about the surgery on my knee brought tears to my eyes, fearing the pain of the knife and the uncertainty of the future, walking out of that position gave me the same emotion. This separation will hurt. The impact of this decision will be large, both on me and others who’ve depended on me. This is going to hurt.

But I signed the papers saying I was all in with being all out and I let God pick up the knife and cut me from that place. It stung and it was messy. If the fallout could have been seen and felt and smelt and touched, no one would have denied that the extraction was bloody. However, it was a necessity, a must do, so get on the treadmill and begin strengthening before surgery and fortify myself to do the work of recovery afterwards.

There are cancers in our lives, broken bones and festering sores. We have to be willing to let those things go and to realize that the extraction might be painful, but that pain is for our betterment. It is so natural to fight against pain, but we must fight the urge to avoid pain to our own destructive ends. Had I refused to have that knee surgery, wound up in a wheelchair at this point in my life, in constant pain, would I be happy with my choice? Of course not.

So choose healthy healing pain and allow that in your life. It will be the pain of healing that will make the future something great.

Regrettably Blessed

There are chapters of my life that I would rather I’d read instead of living the movie.

I don’t necessarily regret them. There are lessons that come from even the most difficult situation which give value and benefit that staves off frustration and even further, hopelessness. There is a great power in believing we are made with a plan and a purpose, that our story is written by an author who cares for us and who has designed the plot.

There is nothing in my life that if offered the chance I would strike from the record, but there are a number of moments that if offered the chance to go back, read the transcript and have someone ask me “Get it?” at the end, well that I would jump for.

Now, see, I don’t buy into the “No regrets” philosophy. It seems to me that if you walk your life with no regrets then you haven’t taken any risks worth taking or you have shut off your empathy to the impact you have on those around you. I am not so committed to the bigger picture that I don’t consider the brushstroke and I’m not afraid to be willing to label things as mistakes.

The other night Kermit sat at the end of the bed and said “There was a reason you were where you were” talking about two different times in my life. I looked back and said “There’s a reason I am where I am now, too.” Right now, sitting at home, cooking, sort of cleaning, volunteering, and seeking growth. There is no denying that in the past few months I have seen healing and growth, learned to see others with kindness and compassion, even more, just learning to see others. I have repaired my relationship with my kids which was struggling as I tried to balance an incredibly stressful work situation with not enough left at the end of the day to offer them. I have been able to see my husband as a caretaker and provider in a new way. I have been available to do all the things I wished I could do in the past years, but was too burnt out to get my hands in, so crispy that if I’d tried to pick anything else up, my fingers would have broken off, the edges of toast on the table, pasted together with butter.

There has been so much good for me lately that I could easily examine the time of trial as just a step in reaching this and therefore worth it all. But if I could reach this moment and have just read the book, even a deep involving read that sucks you into the world as if you were there and can taste the butterbeer and hear the mockingjay, I would in a heartbeat.

I often wonder about tactile learners, they hear it, they see it, but it doesn’t click until they experience it. How does one travel through school with that learning style when the first two are the more commonly used methods?  I always imagined myself to be an auditory or visual, certainly not much of a kinesthetic learner, but probably one who reads or listens to information and understands it.

Now I wonder if perhaps all this time I’ve been tactile all this time. I do fancy myself wise enough, discerning enough to hear a warning, “Don’t touch. It’s hot.” and then follow that direction (Although, my husband can tell you of a time he said those exact words to me and I reached my hand out and said “This burner?” then stuck my hand directly on the metal and received quite the blistering answer. Just the once, though.) I consider myself able to comprehend a passage and carry on an in depth conversation, tearing apart the material for all the meat that it holds.

But if I review my reading in my head, review my listening, there rides along side the experiential. I walk through worlds with characters, sitting in the corner of their rooms, observing and experiencing what they are going through. Words come through my ears, but impact my eyes, leaving images as solid as the coffee cup I always have in my hand. It becomes clearer to me that I will be the person who so keenly feels experiences and responds to them, I will continue to be taught this way. The tactile is so pervasive in my person that it invades the auditory and the visual. I could argue that this is reason enough that life should deliver me a book where I can sit and read through and just trust that it will impact me as deeply. Regrettably, though, this isn’t how life works.

I am who I was made to be. There is a plan and a purpose for me. I appreciate that plan and purpose, but I admit that I can muck things up, ruin people’s days, impact my family and friends. I have regrets, things I wish I could change, but the mercy is that I know grace and forgiveness. Without regret, there is no humility. Without humility, no admission of guilt. Without admission, no forgiveness. Without forgiveness, there is no healing. Through that process I am able to see the blessing of regret, to recognize it and its power in my life and to use it for good.

Regret is only a symptom of weakness if we view it that way. I choose to view it as a tool of power, a pen in my hand that allows me to write the next chapter, written in a way to preserve me from rereading the same story for the rest of my life.

 

Teaching the Invisible

     A number of weeks ago I had to submit a writing sample with a job application. This is what I entered. For many years, I have talked about “invisible children,” little ones all around me who I can see, but I have struggled with why the system can’t see them, why their families can’t see them, why they can’t see themselves. Often I can see other teachers who struggle with this gift of sight and I know that it is the cause of the deepest heartache of teaching. The following is a look at some of the many children I’ve seen, children others have seen, and children I have yet to see. She may look more like one than another, facing a certain brand of nightmare, but she is the every man, the every child who faces invisibility. To some of you this may read as fiction, designed to illicit a bogus emotional response, but I trust that to those who have the sight, this will be an outline of your daily life.
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    One of the best weeks in Kate’s preschool class was superhero week. It gave the children a chance to hear stories about powerful people, or about kids just like themselves who became special and powerful and could conquer anything put in front of them. They learned about how good guys were interested in upholding the rules, and they saw that they could easily be a good guy by using walking feet and helping a friend clean up a mess. They dressed up in costumes and role played created scenarios where they were the victors, the champions, the winners.

     The most revealing moment of superhero week, however, was a reader response art paper she created. Across the top it read “If I could have any superpower, I would have the power to….” The children would create a world for themselves when they could shoot ice or control dinosaurs who would defend them, a world where they could fly or turn into an animal. There would some who would answer with the same power as the friend next to them and others who would simply choose a superpower from the list of suggestions she provided. More often than not she could see what power those children really wanted, but couldn’t put into words. It was invisibility.

     Children walked through Kate’s classroom year after year seeking invisibility and at only 4 or 5 years of age, most had not learned to disguise this desire, or to remake it into the appearance of trying to fit in.

       Leona had come to her, nonverbal with behavioral concerns and social limitations. She was still learning toileting skills and needed adult assistance. It was an experience which led to natural bonding as she had to be cared for at her most vulnerable and trust the person meeting her needs. Oh, as a teacher she could use other methods of facilitated communication and work to teach her sign language. She could partner with the speech therapist so she could continue to encourage the development of her verbal skills. She was able to use any number of the methods and techniques she’d learned in trainings and classes. Leona did begin to speak, short bursts, one or two words together, requests for her favorite doll, or to declare her intention, her desire “GET UP!” when asked to sit down. However, no amount of training or education would make Leona communicate purposefully if there had been no connection with whom she spoke. The vulnerable moments created a desire to listen and to be heard.

       One afternoon, concern was raised, marks were noticed during the change from a soiled diaper. “Oh my, this looks like a bad booboo.” She swallowed hard and dug herself deep into her training. This was not a bad diaper rash, she was certain, because she’d spent hours in daily health and first aid and medical administration trainings. These were not bruises caused from natural play. But from her child abuse and neglect training she was as ready as she could be for a conversation. Don’t suggest what happened. Don’t coerce. Ask, don’t demand confidence. “How did you get that boo boo?” Kate asked, with a light and friendly tone, suppressing any indication of what she suspected. Leona giggled and chirped “Daddy!”

      Most people around town knew that Leona’s mother was a single parent who had gone through the school’s special education program and was now on her own living on disability. They clucked their tongues and sighed, but did not offer any practical assistance. She had been guided into Head Start because she herself had gone through the program nearly 2 decades before. It was through home visits by the teachers and meetings with the family service advocate that some red flags were raised. Leona was obviously hispanic. Leona’s mother was obviously not. There were pictures on the walls of the house of a family of 4, but all paperwork indicated a family of three. A conversation with another parent whose husband was going through the process of gaining citizenship alluded to the father who lived in the home but was not in the country legally, a man who was from this other father’s home country in Latin America. Mom continued to insist, however, that she was alone, no man, no family support. There was no Daddy in the picture she showed the county.

      There were concerns, but none that drew their pictures so obviously like the purple ovals there on her inner thighs. Kate thought she should try one more time to find some way to break through Leona’s verbal barrier. “Who is Daddy?” she asked. “Daddy!” Leona chirped again. Kate continued “What did Daddy say about your boo boo?” Leona giggled and began to rock. She put her finger over her lips and began to shush over and over. “Shhh. Shhhh. Shhh.”

      Kate was a mandated reporter. Kate did what she was legally and ethically obligated to do. If she is concerned that a child is being abused, she has to report. She requested that she be followed up with, or that someone follow up with Head Start. Then Leona stopped coming to class. A week went by and she was still absent. The FSA called as was the guideline, to call whenever any student was absent for more than 4 days.

     No response.

     When Leona returned the following week, the bus driver walked her into the classroom and announced “She’s having a rough one today.” She ran about the classroom all morning, knocking things down, pulling other student’s hair, spitting on the floor and laughing. Kate leaned down to speak to her, to remind her to have a calm, quiet body. Leona paused, smiled and made good eye contact with Kate. Then she slapped her across the face. Kate arranged coverage for her room and asked to take a few minutes out of the room to compose herself and speak with the FSA.
  

  When she entered the advocate’s office, she was setting down the phone. Dianne, Leona’s FSA, turned and let Kate know that CPS had investigated. They found no evidence of abuse and had also commented that while there had been expressed concern about a man living in the home, CPS had shared that there was no evidence that a man lived in the house. Kate was dumbfounded. She knew there had been other reports regarding Leona, reports in the past about concerns about abuse and neglect. She knew those pictures were on the wall. She’d seen the family at Walmart one afternoon and saw Leona in the cart with her baby sister and heard the man with them, speaking to the girls, refer to himself as Papi. She knew something was wrong, but she knew, professionally, she must teach each child without bias, serve each family unhindered by prejudice.
   

   She thanked Dianne and returned to the classroom. Leona was flinging toys and screaming unintelligibly, while other children kept their distance on the other side of the room. The teacher who had stood in for Kate explained that she didn’t know what was wrong with Leona, that after Kate had left she just lost it.

      Kate’s cheek had barely lost its sting from Leona’s well aimed attack, but Kate approached anyway. She came from behind her and sat down on a child sized couch. She put her arms loosely about Leona’s waist and encouraged her to sit with her. Leona sat down at first onto Kate’s lap like a chair, but arching her back she began to throw herself against Kate.
    

       She feels invisible, Kate thought. She is invisible.
     

      “Leona! Leona!” Kate called her name, slightly louder than the quaking girl’s cries, but with a soft kind tone. “Leona!” she called again and though her body still thrashed Leona quieted. “Leona, I see you. Leona, I hear you. I see that you’re upset. I hear your crying. Leona, Miss Kate sees you.”
     

      Leona shrank, her movements becoming less erratic, her knees pulling into her chest, her face turning towards Kate. “I see you. I hear you.” Kate repeated this, like a mantra, “I see you. I hear you.”
      

     What could Kate do? Kate saw this invisible child, a child in a situation that the people who could make a difference did not see. What could she do to help her? Give her language, Kate heard in her heart. Teach her to speak, so she may speak for herself. Teach her how to make herself be seen. Continue to look at Leona and see her for who she was trying to show herself to be. Fight the urge to feel like only a set of eyes who can view, a body without hands or feet to put action to the observations.
     

        Fight to make this child, and the next child, visible.

*Image Credit: Laura Williams; Scientific American;  http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/these-5-illusions-turn-ordinary-humans-into-superheroes/
       

Just Me

A few weeks ago I  watched an episode of Gray’s Anatomy. Meredith is sitting there talking with the therapist who has to clear her to return to work after she was brutally beaten by a patient. The therapist is preparing to sign the papers she needs when she says she doesn’t feel better any more. He responds by telling her more or less that as she put it “Any day you don’t die is a good day” and to get on with having a good day. She argues that she doesn’t know what to do. And the therapist responds “Well, the truth is a little scary. The truth is you can do anything you want.”

Oh, that just hit me in the gut! As I sat there reviewing the then recent events of my life, I really comprehended that feeling of “What now? Who will I be and where will I go?” I was at the beginning of the process of job seeking and not weeks deep in reminding myself that if the door doesn’t open, then it’s not my door. Then all of a sudden every door was available for me to reach out and give the knob a little jiggle. Maybe this one or that?

I opened myself up to the options and got real with myself about some things God had been speaking to my heart about. I’d had asked friends to pray for direction for me. I got up and had this discussion with God where I said “Look, I don’t know exactly where You’re taking me, but if you’ve put boots outside my door I’m going to step into them and then I will ask You to tell me where to put each step. Give me tasks that lead me in the direction that You want me to go.”
I could feel the warm leather slide over my feet and felt the heaviness of the footwear. I didn’t sprint with runner’s well laced lightweight sneakers or flit on pointe like a ballerina. I lifted one foot up and tried it out. I was asked to sit at the front desk at our church and greet people as they came in one morning. Task. Step. I was asked to help stuff Easter eggs and tidy a storage closet. Task. Step. I was asked to meet kids at the bus for a few minutes. Task. Step. I was asked to wrote a letter to someone. Task. Step. I was asked to paint a set. Task. Step. Stay home and write on a concept. Task. Step.
I am open to say “Yes” right now. To not limit myself and to open my eyes to those around me. If I can help someone then I will. This has been a really enjoyable time. When I approach these little tasks I find myself praying the same prayer, “Lord, give me the conversations You want me to have. Put the people in front of me today who You want me to be with.” I’m listening and I’m available.

While I’ve been listening, God has been talking to my heart about invisibility. I have for many years seen children who are trying their best to hide or who have invisibility thrust upon them by adults who are incapable of caring for themselves let alone a child, but now I am beginning to see invisible people everywhere. And the more I see these people who are putting on this front, to try and make their struggles, their insecurities, the parts of themselves that they think make them less than, to make those things invisible by dressing up the outward appearance, the clearer the vision becomes. Each task and each step has placed me firmly in the path of seeing the invisible.

To you, that might not sound like much, but to me, it’s heavy. For years I felt invisible, hiding what I thought made me unworthy until I was seen, visible to God, someone who mattered, someone who not just the skills and talents I could boast of were glorious, but even the messy unraveling bits as well. In the Old Testament, there’s a lady named Hagar and she is running in desperation until she comes face to face with the angel of the Lord. He speaks to her and tells her all about who she is and her deepest struggle and she is changed. She says “I have seen the one who sees me,” and named the place Beer Lahai Roi “the well of the Living one who sees me.” She is able to go back and face abject misery because she was no longer invisible. She mattered and she knew there was a plan in her misery bigger than her own.

A few days ago I talked with a friend and I heard myself looking forward to the future with so much excitement about which way my boots have been taking me. I still feel the weight, still feel the steadiness of each step without intense need to be at my destination already, but I heard myself say something to the effect of “Well, hopefully God wants to do more with me than have me be just someone who washes dishes and I don’t know, putters around.” There it was, “just someone.” Even when I’m doing well with patience and deliberation in my steps, there is a small part of me that wants the cake without the baking.

I can honestly say, that if what Jesus wants for me is to spend the rest of my life doing what I have been doing in the past few months, serving where I am tasked and maybe those tasks will never be more showy than painting or sitting and visiting with someone, then I am ok with that. He’s going to have to drop a winning lotto ticket in the mail at some point if that’s the goal, but if I am always stage crew and never the diva, then I’m happy with that.
Everywhere we go we hear messages about being all that we can dream and anything is possible. Alongside the message that Meredith Grey can do anything she wants, is the presumption that that is truth and that it is what will be best. She will chase her dreams and her children won’t suffer for it and her friends will all honor her and her business pursuits will be successful.  It lines up next to the reality that sometimes we were not made to be president or the star of the show. It fosters an attitude of discontent. Is all the lady who checks me out at Kroger’s dreams to be a store clerk? What is wrong with her? What about those with limited abilities, someone who may dream night and day of walking, but for whom that will never be? We’re not all history makers and game changers. Some of us are floor sweepers and coffee makers.

I listened to a talk this week where Louie Giglio spoke on passion and purpose. He spoke at length about how we are designed to do and be who we are and when we line up our passion with our purpose then we will be contented. He pulled from Collosians 3 “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it unto the Lord, not for man.”He challenged that to be our purpose. He went on to assert that if our purpose is to please God, then whatever we are passionate about will bear fruit and that it is his goal that his purpose should always outplay his passion.
That really resonated with me. If my purpose is to glorify God, and I work to that end, then every point where I meet with my passion is all blessing. Obedience to that call frees my path so that when I come across that which I am passionate about I will see that those moments were designed to be all joy and thanksgiving. This is what gives freedom to opportunity in my life, not the concept that I can be or do whatever I want, but rather, I can do what is in front of me to do to the glory of God and trust that my dedication to that purpose will allow the joy of passion to increase.

Today I am “just” doing small things. However, I am beginning to change the word “just” to “simply.” I am ridding my language of limiting the importance of my tasks so that I can see them to have the value that God sees them to have. If I am just going to be anything, I’m just going to be doing what God has for me to do, and there is nothing small about that.
I would ask that you look around you today and see someone who is making themselves invisible because of “just” who struggles against the concept that they should be anything they want, but instead they’re doing something that feels menial. Look in the eyes of the person handing you your food. Fill the silence with pleasant conversation. Give a compliment that sends the message “I see you.”

Simply do it.

My Molly

When Frank was born, they placed him in my arms and my first thought at that moment was “Of course this is you. I’ve known you already.”

When Molly was born, they placed her in my arms and my first thought at that moment was “Here we go…..”

From the moment I met her I recognized her as a challenging creature who would keep me in motion and always on the tips of my toes. She is the picture next to the quote “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” She is the whole definition of spitfire.

When I was good and consistent at running, I could recognize that the effort of the run, the time it took to get changed, to make sure the kids were watched, the stretching, setting my music up and then heading out onto uneven pavement, keeping focused because at any minute those broken sidewalks could catch my shoetip and send me sprawling on my face in front of main street traffic, the burn in my lungs and the stink of the sweat, ache of the muscles and the pain in my knees, it was worth everything.  When I accomplished my goals, crossed finish lines and knew that I had put in the time to see that achievement, you couldn’t have paid me to have given up all the time I put in to that moment.

Molly makes me a runner, as a mom. I have to focus with her or I will trip up. She is ever vigilant, listening to my words and valuing them, but also frequently questioning them to value herself. There are no casual brush off replies with her, no “sure, later we can” or “I’ll think about that” unless you are prepared to make good on it. Conversation with her is every bit a mental exercise as p90x.

She is a social butterfly in a way I never felt I was. I had friends every where I went, made early connections easily and found friendly faces at every campsite my family visited. But Molly, friends find her. She has always had a charisma that has drawn people to her, not children, people, from the oldest to the youngest, to Molly they come.

It is not lost on me that my child who has the most potential to face social battles, those which I personally find the most difficult, has asked Jesus to be in charge of her. I did not push it. I did not suggest it. I did expose her to my faith, as any parent does. She called me in one evening and said “Mom, I want Jesus to be in charge of me.” She asked if I would help her do that and I sat there, a little perplexed. I didn’t want to push a child into faith or make the decision for them. I didn’t want her to ever look back and say “My mom told me what to say,” and so finally I asked her “Well, why don’t you just start with Dear Jesus, and then tell him whatever you want to tell him?” She folded her little hands on her bed and rested her head on them. “Dear Jesus,” she began “I want you to be in charge of me. I want you to be my boss, you and Mommy and Daddy. I want to have you in my heart.”

She has traveled the world of kindergarten with success. She does well academically and from all reports is a good listener and a hard worker. She seems well liked and likes many children. However where before she found that pretty much everyone just fell at her feet in adoration, she has now met a range of kids, kids who are too quiet to connect with easily, children for whom English is their second language and who seek out other children with whom they share a native tongue, children who really like her, but she isn’t sure about and children who occasionally aren’t the nicest. She has entered the tricky space of girl world and this has been one of the biggest challenges of my motherhood.

I can help her learn to read or learn a new skill. I can encourage her to occupy her time with good choices. Those moments, though, when I tuck her in and ask her for her happiest moment of the day, and she tells me that someone made her sad today, I feel like I’m on the swing next to her with no advice except that maybe we could go hide together under the play castle and cry about it. There has been nothing in my life so apt to throw me straight back into the social insecurity of girl world that I grew up with, than knowing the right advice or answer to her problem, but feeling that mama bear urge to stomp right down to the playground and tell everyone to just be decent little humans.

A few weeks ago, Molly came home and told me that she had been excluded from play by some friends and that one of them had threatened to get her in trouble with the principal. I’d been there. In kindergarten I was subject to a little girl who told me I had to hand over my nice pointy tipped crayons or else she would tell her mom, and her mom was a  police officer and she would arrest me. I had no defense against that authority. I would have to choose between giving my best crayons over or resign myself to a life in prison.  I could almost feel those crayons back in my hands and the urge to tell Molly just how 5 year old Sarah felt about all of that. I swallowed as hard as I could and said “I am so sorry that happened to you. That sounds really awful. What did you do?”

Molly lifted her chin and her eyes to mine and said “I went and played kitty and doggy with other people.” She told the story of how she’d walked away from the situation, and felt badly for a minute, but she spotted other friends, went over and convinced them to play the game she wanted to play. 5 year old Sarah peeked out from under the tire tunnel at Molly and wished so very hard that she had an ounce of whatever it was that enabled her not to close in on herself and to just find another way to be happy. 35 year old Sarah picked her jaw off the floor and said “Well, I’m sorry you had to deal with that first stuff, but I want you to know how very proud of you I am that you didn’t go hide and cry or let it ruin your whole recess, that you found other friends and had a good time.” She smiled and said “Yeah, I just played and had a good time anyway.”

I know she will be alright. She is little, but man oh man, how she is fierce.

That’s not to say she’s always the victor or the savior in stories. Just this very morning we had to revisit that situation and talk about how she remembers how that made her feel and if she sees that being done to someone else and doesn’t speak up for them, she’s doing that to them, too. I have scripted with her ways to manage those situations, being kind to the person left out and being kind to the person who is trying to be in control. It is a learning process, it is growing time, but time after time I have seen Molly lace up her shoes, stretch and take off running. I have no doubt that with her dedication and the grace of God, my Molly will always be fierce.

I so, so adore her and enjoy the effort of the exercise that is parenting her.

Been Some Time

 

It has.

It has been some time since I’ve blogged regularly. As a young college graduate with a job that amounted to sitting at a desk judging people all day, I had plenty of time to fiddle on Myspace or play Yahoo games, which both at that time were exceptionally cool, trust me. But as a mom who wants to be present in her kid’s lives and be actively engaged with them and with my husband when they aren’t at school or work, my blogging took a back burner. Actually, I’m fairly certain it’s not even on the stove anymore, just sitting uncovered on the counter neglected and fermenting. Occasionally I glance at it and try to decide if I should through out the whole mess in the pan or maybe there is a way to start over and create something fresh. Generally, the whole thing plays through my head like this, day 1: post, day 3: post, day 4-the rest of my life: lose inspiration, get distracted by life and forget about it for three or four years.

Over the past few months, having more free time has allowed me to sit down and do some writing. It’s been nice to get back into the practice. I have tried to figure out setting up a blog again, but things surely have changed in the past decade, so while I figure out the simple things, like how to make the thing not look like a Microsoft Office document from 1995, bear with me. As I begin, I am going to start with kind of a look at who I am now.

If you are my Facebook friend, or lucky you, my real life you know what my voice sounds like still friend, you know that I have the two awesomest kids on the block, the same cool guy husband and two cats, though those two are different than the two that I had when I blogged regularly.

We are in a tiny town in Virginia embraced by mountains and floating on South River, in a normal looking neighborhood in a house that doesn’t have nearly any of the character that our house in Ohio had, but meets our needs and the yard is flat so mowing is a heck of a lot less effort.

There are days that I ache for Ohio, for our family we left behind, the children who are quickly becoming adults, the emotional closeness that proximity allows, the adults who are still growing themselves. I miss our church, the building, the familiar walls and the easy pathway I knew to get to my seat in time to worship next to some of the most genuine people of faith I’ve know and sit under the teaching of certainly one of the most gifted sermonizers I’ve ever heard. Both Frank and Molly talk about the firepit behind our house on North North, the pit that they dug and then surrounded with stones and bricks, a treasured spot where we met with friends and family and really solidified our roots as a family. There are days that I would flee back there in a heartbeat and settle back into that comfortable life.

But Virginia, our Virginia, is so different than our first time here. In the beginning, the beginning of us, Kermit and I tried a few cities in VA, but found greed and racism and traffic, so rampant that we feared it would change our hearts into dark globs we didn’t like. Leaving, living and then returning, we knew more of what we were looking for, but more than that, we felt led back to a state we’d forsworn, called to a place with no jobs, no home, and only one set of friends who we hadn’t sat at a firepit with probably ever. We came, obediently responding to a call both of us felt.

I often say that since we’ve come, everything in front of Kermit has been bathed in golden light. He moves to the left and there are chimes, he moves to the right and angels sing. He’s faced adversity, certainly, but day in and day out there is such obvious assurance that he is where God wants him. I’ve had those times, too, where I can see immediate clarity to how I’m being used here, but much of my time has been spent feeling a bit like I’m mucking through mire. On the topic, I check in from time to time, and the answer is almost always the same, “I’m preparing you.” For what, I’m not sure, but if there is one thing I’ve learned since coming to the valley, it’s that His plans are always better than my plans.

I suppose I should say, we have found a church here. Well, before I say that, I should say this. Who I am now is still who I was then on this. My faith, my Christianity is a part of who I am. I do not walk my faith out in an attempt to diminish anyone else. I do not form my beliefs in contrast to my friends or my family or society, but rather in reflection of the grace and mercy and peace that I have received from Jesus. If my faith is insulting to you, I really do believe that it is on you, not me. I know that the people who love me and whom I love who have differing views on faith from me, have taken the time to understand my heart and I appreciate that effort. I will talk about God, both in real life and in my writing. I will love others inclusive of their stories and hope to be loved inclusive of mine.

Probably 9 months or so after moving, I returned to Ohio for a visit. A friend there told me she was going to start praying that either God give us a church here or that He would call us back to Ohio, because my heart hurt so badly at not being able to find something to fill the void left over in me. I returned and soon after we started attending the church we’re at now. It wasn’t some lights on, this is it, moment for me. I attended dutifully for quite some time, until one Sunday a sermon spoke about how you can even be selfish for good things, godly things, that selfishness was simply holding on so tightly to what we want that we have no place in our hands for what God has to offer. I dropped my hands and agreed to be fair to this place, to give it an actual chance instead of just attendance.

I grew to enjoy this church, to love the people I knew there, to find a place to serve, but even as recently as 4 or 5 months ago I would still describe it as “the beach house.” Heritage in Ohio was my home, but this was a good home away from home.  Over the past four months, this church has supported me, has connected with me, has given me the opportunity to serve and be served, spoken to me and has sidled alongside Heritage in my heart. Perhaps the situation is something more akin to a duplex, than a beach house.

In a lot of areas right now, I am seeking. I have the availability of time right now to work through things in writing and so here I type. Here, if you like, you will read.