Monday, November 14, 2011

No Free Refills

It's something we've gotten used to over the more than 12 years we've lived abroad. No free refills. No free water. No ice - unless requested. Just something simple. Something you take for granted, I guess.

But the reality of emptiness and the need for a refill hits you hard sometimes, and your parched soul reaches out for a drop - only to be told it comes at a price.

Last week my husband and I signed up to participate in a joint choir. It was composed of about 130 people from different churches in this area. It had been a long while since I had sung in a choir, so I thought I'd enjoy it. Especially this time of year. My sister and I even discussed recently how much we love the classic choir sound, symphonies, chamber music, orchestras, sign us up! And around this time of year, we had almost always been involved in some sort of choir or another. Church, secular, doesn't matter. Choir harmonies touch our soul. We were brought up in a home where that kind of music was essentially the only kind allowed! :) And now I'm thankful for the love I have for the classic sound our parents were so sure to introduce to us.

Oh, how the sweet memories flood my heart! Many an evening was spent tinkering with an old record player. Remember those huge things that took up half a wall in any room, with big speakers and a compartment which would hold a small collection of records right next to the player itself? Yup. That's what we had. My dad and I would stay up chatting late into the evenings as we'd fiddle with our player on the fritz. We would try to make sure we at least had it going around Christmas time when he'd play Handel's Messiah from start to finish, then of course break out the Johnny Mathis albums. So many of my life's memories are centered around music.

I had forgotten that. Or maybe just blocked it out, to be honest. And that's what I'm doing here, right? Being honest? :)

So there I stood in rehearsal Saturday. We had all gathered Friday evening to be introduced to the songs we'd sing on Sunday. Yes, Sunday. One rehearsal Friday night, then from 9 AM - 5 PM Saturday, then a concert on Sunday. We'd have to get our act together. And we tried. But as I stood there intending to participate in the vocal warm-up on Saturday, my mouth went silent. Something about the choir director reminded me of my dad who for most of the years of my childhood was the choir director of our little church choir. I suddenly didn't want to be there. Our director began to stop us, and tell us that when we sing, we open our soul. We dig from the depths of what is within us and we share it with the world at large. As I stood there, nothing would come out but tears. I wanted to leave, but I figured if I did that, people would be able to see I was crying, so I just stayed. I began to tussle with the Lord in my mind and beg him to release me from the commitment I made to come, or at least give me the strength to stay if that's truly what he wanted. Because on my own, I couldn't do it. I was empty. Down to the last drop, and I had nothing within my soul to share with anyone. They'd all bled me dry, and I had let it happen.

But somehow amidst the dark feeling of emptiness and bitterness, the music gripped my soul. I heard the sounds that had before fed me, and I felt the comfort only a Holy One can bring in the time of need. I didn't even realize it instantaneously, but as I stood there, eyes looking toward the ceiling, letting the tears flow and the prayers rise, I was taken from empty to being filled. By Sunday, again without even realizing it right away, I was full to overflowing, and once again was able to sing with every fiber of my being. My, how long it had been! As far as quantity singing goes, I hadn't sung that much since college and those crazy, rigorous schedules they had us on, but as far as singing with my whole heart goes - as if it doesn't matter if others judge me or take that piece of my soul I was offering and trample on it like discarded refuse? I'm not sure... but it's been a long time, and it felt good.

From empty to full, but it wasn't free at all. If you'd have told me the price before, would I have been willing to pay for this assurance of freedom, and grace? Maybe not. I imagine sometimes to refresh our motor, we must be emptied out of what it is we thought we had, or who we suppose ourselves to be in order to be filled with something we can actually share. I don't care what kind of spiritual babble or cliché people might thrown my way, this ministry thing can be tough. It drains you, and sometimes empties you of everything you have to share and leaves you questioning. And the miracle among the struggle? It's the fact that the filling doesn't come from those who've emptied you out, it comes from the One who's reservoir is never dry.

Free refills? Maybe not. Giving the love may cost you everything, but embracing it? Yeah, that's free.

Monday, November 7, 2011

My story part 17... a family, a move, and a dream.

I know I probably have not left anyone at the edge of their seats, but for those of you who have asked me why I haven't posted the next part of my story yet, I thought I'd take this first paragraph to explain. Though the fact that all three of our kids now do school online through a streaming video program has a lot to do with the fact that I have very little computer time these days, the truth is this next part is hard to relive, dwell on, look at pictures of, and even talk about sometimes. It was the biggest decision of our lives. The thing that took me from every comfort I knew into the exciting, wide world. And it came at a price. One I was willing to pay, but one that cuts deeply as I look back, feeling the loss I know I will never be able to redeem. I try not to live with regrets, and I am thankful for every moment I was able to cherish while my father was still living. I do sometimes - probably a little every day - wish they could have been more. So, as you read this next part, be lenient with a girl who must face this "goodbye" afresh.

**************************************************************************

For the first 18 months of our little girl's life, we traveled across states, presenting our dream and our little family hoping people would invest and allow us to move here permanently. She was only 10 days old when we packed our little Honda and headed out. We made some beautiful memories and some life-long friends during those days.


It was just the three of us, and we raised enough money for the move, and support to live on month to month. We planned our departure date for March of 1999. My grandparents allowed us to store our things in their garage until we could pack a container and head out. My parents let us stay in a room in their home when we weren't traveling, and our little girl grew so fast I think we all wished things would slow down just a bit.








For as much time as we could schedule, we spent special days gathering with friends and family. I remember those days now with such fondness, and often wonder at my enthusiasm to leave everything I ever knew behind to embrace the unknown, exciting, and mysterious. It's not all as romantic as that, trust me, but it does have it's charms.

The day came when a jet would fly us off to the unfamiliar, for me at least. From a world of bustling responsibilities to a laid-back way of life. From one set of grandparents for my girl, to another. I wish you could see the reflection in this next picture like I can see it in mine, but my parents stood in the left corner just watching as we boarded the plane to move our lives so very far away. I can only wonder how that felt, and would not be surprised if I must experience it one day myself as I watch my little ones soar from the nest into what I now know is a world much larger than the small circle of my life.


We said goodbye.

And then we said "hello".



Hello to a new home, a new place, a new dream. Things were so different. They were so different than they are even now as our lives have become that of a typical busy big-city dweller. But then, it wasn't like it is now. The days were long and slow. The time I spent alone with my little girl was priceless. But the ignorance of how to do a simple thing like buy a loaf of bread, or that I should fill my bathtub with water in the evenings before going to bed just in case the water would get turned off, or the hours without warning that electricity would come and go were all things so foreign to this American girl. Not that those kinds of things happened constantly, but the fact that they happened made me constantly aware of the fact that I am not in my element any more. Those first six months were the hardest for me. Trying to learn enough to be able to go out on my own and speak to someone, filling my days with teaching my nearly-two-year-old the alphabet, colors, numbers, and whatever else I could think of, and just plain trying to wrap my head around a new language, was starting to get to me.

But then came the good news, and our dream took on a new chapter.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Darkness and Light

My mom asked me when I'd get back to continuing my story, and I will, I promise. But the last post I started on our continuing story was a little more emotionally overwhelming than I expected. I couldn't bring myself to look at more than one photo without crying and mourning once again. And that took up the time I had scheduled for a blog post, so I've postponed it for a little longer. Sorry, mom! I'll continue soon. ;)

But for this week's blog post on the study I've been joining, I have to say that I am more encouraged than last week. Oh, I still have questions. MANY questions! My study journal is full of them, trust me. But what jumped out at me most this week is the fact that darkness is conquered by light! I'm so smart, huh? Such an elementary concept, but how often did I not see because I was blinded by darkness?

The passage tells us that he who hates his brother is not only in darkness, but is blinded by it. I think of how many times I have judged a brother or sister because of my preconceived ideas or preferences, did it bring on darkness or light?

Hatred blinds, love enlightens.

Did I actually hate when I misjudged or criticized? I'll ponder that for myself, and let you draw your own conclusions if you join me in self-examination.

And maybe we can both find comfort in the fact that we are told in verse 12 we are forgiven, not for any other reason but his name's sake.

May light flood the darkness in our lives today.

May truth and love prevail, and all for his name's sake.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Questioning to learn, or learning to question...

It's been 3 weeks since we began our Bible study on 1 John. I have honestly been dreading this post because this past week has been a difficult one for me. Every time I read, hear, or discuss a passage in the Bible, it seems as if I'm not learning - I'm just left questioning.

We were at a conference this weekend. The theme was from Mark chapter 9 verse 50. We are to have salt in ourselves and live at peace with each other. Sounds great... but after however many sessions I sat through, I was only left with questions. What does salt represent in the Bible? Truth? Love? Grace? Wisdom? Why are these things not explained if we are to have salt, be salt, and use salt?

Is there something wrong with me? What am I not seeing that everyone else seems to have no problem with? Because really, all that stuff sounds great, all the lessons were well-studied and wonderful. But I have no basis if I don't know what in the world you're talking about.

Questions.

Then the Bible study verses this week. After about day 3, I wrote in my study journal: "It seems as if all answers are turning into questions instead of the opposite. I just don't know..."

What commandments must we follow?

What does it mean to walk as Jesus did?

I wish I had answers this week, really. But all I have are questions. More and more it seems as if all I have are questions. But maybe that's how I will learn.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Back in the Word again.

Funny title, right? Well, I'm done hiding. Pretending like it's all perfect and I know what I'm doing. I don't. I'm not perfect, I'm on a journey. And this journey for me included time out of God's Word. Sound crazy? Well, maybe it is a little, but it had become such a habit, a ritual, and almost a chore. No, exactly that, a chore for me. Always feeling condemned if I didn't grab my Bible, prayer list and spend an hour or so preparing myself for the battle each day. And what wife and mom of three has an office she can run to for an hour alone each day? I wish. And I got so far behind, so bogged down with guilt that I didn't want to have anything to do with it for a while. So, I told God I would pray to him, ask him to lead me and remind me of the verses I memorized through the years, the truths I've studied, and make what I knew already something real in my life.

Something real, please!

I didn't want to give up. It took a while. Really. I went for about a year without regularly opening the Scriptures for a daily Bible time. Occasionally, I'd grab my Bible and look up a verse for something or another, I'd carry it on Sundays and read along with sermons and classes, but I didn't want a "plan to follow". I'm not recommending this method, I'm just not hiding what I did. You see, I had become dependent on the fact that my rituals were completed that my heart suffered it's greatest need... fellowship with the Father through his Son, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Recently, I've been in the Word. It has a new light for me. Like a fresh book I've not yet seen. The truths seem different. The promises seem real. But I didn't know where to begin as far as studying goes. A friend of mine posted a link to a Bible study she is doing on 1 John, so I looked it up. It was just what I needed. A verse, maybe two a day to meditate on, write, study, discuss, pray over. Then, every Wednesday for those who wanted, we'd share our links on the blog, and glean from each other.

Last week, I didn't participate. What did I know? I have more questions than answers! But the verses wouldn't let me go this week. You see, in our study, we are to print out a booklet we can follow each day. On the daily sheet there's an "application" part on the page where we need to write what we can apply from these verses. Hm. Makes me grin. Apply it daily, just one thought. Who'd have thunk? :P What have I been missing all this time? Oh, but I won't go there.

I'll just say that these past few days after only the first 9 verses of 1 John, I am amazed at the transformation of my heart! Verse three says: "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." So my application is to declare to you what I've been finding, that we may find fellowship with each other, as our true fellowship is with the Father through his Son.

What has been heavy on my heart for some time (as I'm sure you've gathered from some of my previous posts!) is that we Christians in our "fellowship" at times seem so fake. But what I've learned this week from our few verses is that our fellowship with each other should be reflective of our true fellowship with God through Jesus Christ. I mean, seriously. We are to be known by our love, right? But how often in our "fellowship" have we been guilty of condemnation and backbiting each other? How many times have I?

And the next verse says "these things I write unto you that your joy may be full". What things? Just the first three verses. The fact that Jesus, who always was, came in the flesh, and is the Word in flesh, giving eternal life that we may have fellowship with God and in turn each other.

And our joy will be full?

Complete?

Did I miss this somewhere along the line? I mean, I've heard it a thousand times, probably, but did I ever really believe it? The fact that joy - my joy - can be full through fellowship not only with God but with those believers around me? I think I missed it. Truly.

Because it had been believers I was avoiding. The hurt, the lies, the judgmental comments, stares and assumptions. I was done. I kept my distance for a while, but I told you about that already. And I missed the fact that my fellowship with others is to reflect the true fellowship I have with God through Jesus. How many of us have missed it? How long to stay in our judgmental circle of approved people spouting the same thing we've heard over and over without just reaching a loving hand to speak of the God of light, in whom there is no darkness at all?

Oh, I am not guiltless. Verse 8 shows us that none of us are. But I guess what I enjoy most is the fact that it's no secret. We're not expected to cover up the fact that we're not perfect. God knows we aren't and he has provided a way for us to love and be loved in spite of ourselves.

Oh what a great love this is!

What a great truth!

What a great God!

Friday, September 23, 2011

My Story Part 16... "our" story begins

After the honeymoon, we were to report back to college for classes, but thankfully, the winter of '95-'96 slowed us down a bit. No rental truck to move our stuff into the apartment would even hire out trucks until the storm had passed. So, we got a couple extra days of solace before jumping right back into the school scene. When I think back, I wonder how in the world I even considered that to be a good idea! I mean, getting married in December between school semesters? Oh, but to be with my George as husband and wife a month, a week, a day, an hour, a minute, even a second sooner... that's all that was on my mind. And I'd choose it all again.

I had only two semesters of college to complete. I wanted to finish up and leave with my sweet George as soon as possible, so I crammed my 4 years into three and half taking as many credits as I was allowed. Those days were days of little sleep, rushing to classes, work, home, and back again; but I remember them fondly. I wouldn't recommend this choice to anyone else of 20, but at the same time, I wouldn't change my decision even if I could. Strange now that I think about it this way. There are a few things I'd change along the way, but marrying at such a young age certainly wouldn't be one of them. Oh, I didn't always think that. There were times in my life when I wondered if I did the right thing, but now I am certain I did.

Our plans were coming together. I finished my first semester, and had one more to go. Summer of '96 came along with my 21st birthday. George and I went into Chicago and
had a lovely night out on the town! Just the two of us. We always have such fun together, just a couple of goobers, enjoying each other's silliness. That's us.

I took a summer school class or two and then the fall semester began. One more, and I was DONE! I remember the excitement and the feeling of accomplishment as if it was yesterday. September - October - November came and we were looking forward to celebrating our first year of marriage. But that November our lives were changed forever. I had three months of college left - finals, reports, assignments - you know the drill. But those last three months of college were the first three months of pregnancy.

Plans?

Out the window.

We were expecting and I was terrified, and excited at the same time. Talk about challenging! My first trimester was true to common form and I was queasy all the time. Losing my breakfast, lunch, and sometimes dinner at the drop of a hat became just the norm. I lost weight the first two months, but I made up for it, trust me! Finals finally came and I was elated. Finished forever! We moved back to Missouri just two weeks after my last final, with plans to return in May for our graduation ceremony, when I'd be nearly 8 months pregnant. Oy, and pregnant I was!


We decided to move near my parents until the birth of the baby, and help my dad in the little church in the country. They ended up helping us more than we did them, I think. ;) A little house one of the members owned was available for rent, so we were able to secure that, and we finally settled in until our little one was born. We traveled at times sharing our vision and our ministry plans, but for the most part, those months were spent at home, growing increasingly more uncomfortable. 50 pounds later, I was ready to burst! An ultrasound at 8 and a half months showed that our bundle-of-joy was breech, and had the umbilical cord around her neck. A c-section was scheduled.

One more challenge for this young mother of 22, but whatever was best for baby, was best for me. She apparently didn't like schedules even then, though. Because late in the evening July 16th, 1997 after hours of back pain and massages (hey, I had never been in labor before, how was I to know that's what it felt like!?) my water broke. I called the hospital and asked what I should do, and if I had time to get a shower, to which the nurse quickly responded "No! Come in right now!" George grabbed the camera and snapped a picture as I was getting things ready to go.

So, off we rushed to the hospital ahead of schedule, but only by a few hours. Our little girl was to come at an 8 AM c-section, July 17th. But she would have none of it. I got to the hospital around 11 PM on the 16th, and by the time midnight rolled around, they were concerned. Things couldn't progress too much or our baby would be in danger. My doctor was called and I was taken into the operating room. I won't scare you with my crazy birth story, I'll just say that finally, at 2:51 AM, July 17th, 1997, the most beautiful baby girl I've ever seen came into this world.

We were parents - a family of three.

Our hearts and lives were forever altered.



We brought our precious baby girl home from the hospital on the following Sunday.

We dressed her up in a frilly dress that my dad had bought, and headed to church that evening. Dad blessed her in prayer, and we all had a special time of welcoming this wonderful treasure into our lives.

I cherish those moments and memories now more than ever. She has brought more light into our lives than I could have ever imagined possible.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Love

Love is patient, love is kind, does not envy, is not proud, thinks no evil.. etc. You get the picture. We've all seen little posters, bookmarks,stickers and things to remind us what I Corinthians 13 says about love. There's faith, hope and love, but the greatest is love. We say it all the time, we write it on our frilly pictures and inscribe it on things precious to us. Yet, I wonder how often we practice it. Or should I say, I wonder how often I practice it.

I had lunch with a friend yesterday. She's a sweet, pretty, smart girl and a wonderful person. I love her. But as I considered this feeling of love I have for my friend I was faced with a thought on which I ponder even now. When I hugged her goodbye, I said "I love you". Now, if you know me, you probably know that I say that very seldom outside of my own family members. Unless you are just one of those friends to whom I feel close enough to say "I love you". I have to admit, that list is growing, and fast. Because what I considered before as awkward and strange has suddenly slapped me across the face in a feeling of "shouldn't I be sharing love more and MORE?"

And so I ponder.

Love.

"Charity" as it was called of old. Love in action. I am overwhelmed by the thought that love is the one thing we should be KNOWN by, yet the one thing that lacks most. At least, as I see it. Have we truly read and applied the things we claim to know? Are we but sounding brass and clanging cymbals? I speak more to myself than anyone today, honestly.

Long-suffering, kind, not proud, not boastful, not envious, not rude, not self-seeking, not easily provoked, thinks no evil, rejoices in truth and not in iniquity, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things.

That - plus more - is love.

GOD IS LOVE. And I am one of his own, proclaiming his goodness and work in my life.

So what do I do about love? How much of that stuff can be said about me personally? I don't know, honestly. While I sat at lunch with my friend, she grinned at me across the table and said sweetly "You know, I used to think that you're unapproachable". It was the second time in TWO DAYS... um, folks that's 2 for 2, so it sent my head spinning... that someone had said something to me about being more of an unapproachable example than a person they'd expect to be close to. In all fairness, I'm close to both of them and feel free to be myself when around them, so they know better now. But what about before?

I have been cumbered by the thought these last 48 hours of how to express love - approachable, open, honest love rather than a cold representation of what people think I should be or am. I know it's not solely my job. We should all take part. Can we band together to believe all things? Hope all things? Rejoice in truth? Be patient and kind?

I weep as I consider the fact that I don't know how to do it - well, not alone anyway. How do I break down the proverbial wall that stands between you, me, and your preconceived ideas of what you think the church rules say you have to do to approach the love of God? No, the love of Shelly. Because that's what I can give you here. You will have to meet him for his infinite measure of love, but what I can give is the measure of God's love I have in my heart. That's all I can offer, honestly. And how do I give it if you fret to come near?

In the name of full disclosure, because of lies about me and rumors that eventually came my way, and even in-my-face-confrontations, I have been happy in my pew for a few years now. Withdrawn and content to let people have their space, since that's what I thought they wanted anyway. I will shake a hand, smile, and ask how they are doing, sometimes say that I'm praying for them, and always mean it. But rarely have I really tried to reach out like before. The wounds too deep. I got tired of being the one who always made the first step. And the second. And trying to pull for a third or fourth.

But love bears all things. That's been a hard pill for me to swallow, to be honest. I can truly say that I am not holding grudges now. But I fearfully step into this opening of my heart and soul again with those around me. Loving.

And may love abide in me always. I extend it to you, really I do. It's yours for the taking.

And in case you're wondering, there's no wall on my side. No rules, no expectations. Just love, hoping all things for you.

Welcome, friend.

Monday, September 5, 2011

My Story Part 15... weddings, marriage, and plans

The year was 1995.

Big hair was destined to go out of style and we all had things like email, laptops, and cell phones. Well, some of us did. Things seemed to be moving in a pace much faster than the average person could keep up with, and everyone appeared to be enjoying the ride. We were no different. Our lives were changing quickly - it was as if the whole world was ours for the taking. But that didn't matter - we had each other, and that was enough for us.

It's funny how you view things as a 20-year-old. Have I said that before?! Sometimes I wish I had some of that faith, or maybe just some of the naivety I had then. Ah, to truly think that anything I wanted to do was possible. Then again, maybe that's what the late 30's are for... refocusing on that in which you once believed. Bring on the 40's! But I digress....

Wedding plans took place between classes, work, phone calls and faxes.
Those days seem like somewhat of a blur. Waiting for the moment I'd be forever linked to my true love, planning, working, and studying all somehow weaved together in a tapestry that was my life. I remember those days fondly, and not-so-fondly at the same time...
At last, our wedding day came. It was right around Christmas time, so the hustle and bustle of a world gone topsy-turvy was not all attributed to us, but it sure did add to the chaos!
Plans finally came together and our wedding took place in a way in which I could have only dreamt. Looking back, I'm very different now than I was then, but strangely, I wouldn't change a thing. Oh, if I were to redo it now it'd be strikingly opposite - but knowing that it was OUR day, the way we wanted it then, 90's style and all, I am content with our choices and cherish the memories of each and every moment of that special day!
The vows mean more than the pictures - okay, THAT I would change! Have you seen the pictures from weddings these days? But at least we have pictures that recorded our moments! ;) But the vows don't change. Maybe they do... they mean more to me now than ever. The depth of their meaning couldn't possibly have been fathomed by a mind so young, I suppose, but today... I may only be at the precipice about to dive into their true meaning, even after nearly 16 years. Who knows? Maybe I'll be able to elaborate even more in another 16.

And so, plans became a wedding and a wedding became a marriage. And all I had to do was finish my degree within a year's time. Our plans were to finish college, raise money to go overseas as missionaries, and start our life and family abroad.

Plans changed.

Kind of...







Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My Story Part 14... love and marriage, or the promise of it anyway...

I am finding that it's okay to revisit memories these days. It has been a very long month in some ways, and in others, it has flown by. My mom and I have discussed how it felt as if we were in a movie and we were those people who were standing in the middle of Time's Square, or Grand Central Station - the five of us just standing there, hand in hand, feeling the weight of our sixth missing - and the rest of the world passed us by in a whir as we slowly just tried to grasp what was happening around us. These days it feels more, for me anyway,like I am trying to reenter that world of rushing and whirring and I can't quite keep step with the rest who have not slowed down during my leave of absence. And I am compelled to seek solace in my memories. So I continue my story which brought me to the place I am today and revisit memories that I will forever hold dear.

Where were we?

Oh, I hadn't seen George in six months. He was to fly into St. Louis for my Thanksgiving break, and I was to drive down and meet him there. He had yet to meet my family, so the challenge of getting them together was interesting. My dad decided to pick him up at the airport with a picture in hand as a reference point. That's all he had to go on. Oh, that and his name. I was driving down with a friend so I was not at the airport to meet this boy I knew I would marry, but I can only assume it was a nerve-wracking time for both father and future son-in-law! Since I was informed that George did not look a whole lot like his picture, Dad did what he knew would work. He paged him. :) And from there, they made sure George made it safely to my grandparents' house.

My grandparents were of course thrilled to have the opportunity to host my boyfriend. They could closely inspect this prospect of mine. You see, I am the first granddaughter and they, especially grandpa, were very protective and always a great source of counsel as I grew up. Of course, I can't say that I always followed the advice when grandma would tease with things like "Well I was married with a child by your age!" Uh-huh. That was when I was 19. No thanks! ;) But protective they were. Grandpa's first "fun" in welcoming George into his home was showing him his guns. Now, for a boy who grew up in a country where artillery was only in hands of the Communists, this was for sure a little daunting. For grandpa, this was great fun. But I guess George took it all with a grain of salt, because he stuck around! ;)

My trip was no longer than planned, but finally I arrived home late into the evening and was only able to call my sweet George and wish him a good night's rest until we'd see each other in the morning. Just one more day.

When I did see him, it was as if I was coming home. I don't think I recognized it then as I do now, and even as I write, my eyes well up with tears. But there it was. The place I'd rest until death do us part. His sweet arms.

Thanksgiving Day came, and as was our tradition, we all gathered at grandma and grandpa's house. Aunts, uncles, cousins - the whole gang. I don't even know how many we were back then, but the house would always be overflowing with at least 25 people or more. It was great fun! But George must have felt a LITTLE overwhelmed. Not just meeting my parents, nope, we threw him into the whole group. And he survived. He gave me a ring that day. Not my engagement ring, but just a pretty ruby ring which symbolized for us an intention to marry. When my parents and grandparents called us to the front room for a "discussion", I don't remember feeling intimidated, but I remember feeling safe. The people who I cared most about in this world were all right there in one room, concerned for me. And though three of them are gone, I now realize that what they were doing was trying to make sure that I'd feel safe even after they were no longer here to sit in quiet living rooms of life and enjoy my conversation. And I do. I feel safe, loved and cherished. Now more than ever.




So it was that we were to be married. I was only 19 years old. Looking back, I see myself as so immature and silly even. You know that line in Pride and Prejudice where Mr. Bennett calls his daughters "three of the silliest girls in all of England"? I often wonder why my dad wouldn't have said that about me, even though I'd never have admitted it back then! But we were in love and plans made way for reality and we walked each step confident in each other, if in nothing else.




After school was finally out, May of '95, George went back to his home country, and I went on a tour for the college that summer. It was a challenge like none I'd had before. And a lovely learning experience at the same time. We were apart, but George would leave me little letters and packages along my journey across the southern states, and our hearts became more and more knit together. I turned 20, completed my responsibilities, and was to fly along with my parents to see George in his homeland and meet his parents. It was my turn to be plunged into the world of meeting and being approved by not just the parents, but the whole family and more!





So, off to Europe went the three us. Mom, dad, and I had never even needed a passport before, and we were about to embark on a journey like we'd not dare dream. It seems now as if it really was a dream. We were greeted with such love and excitement. Because we were going to have our wedding in America, we were decided to have an "engagement" of sorts while there. I didn't realize what that meant until days before the party! We walked into my husband's home church and I was overwhelmed! The reception hall was gorgeous, and we would host over 100 guests, ceremony and all. Family and friends who would not be able to make the trip to see our wedding, came to an elaborate feast of fun and vows. Yes, vows. The pastor came, and during that time, in George's native county, it was a custom to exchange wedding bands on the right hand as a vow of engagement until the wedding day when they'd be switched to the left hand. So, rings we exchanged, promises we exchanged, and home alone we went! It was the weirdest feeling of being promised, and not yet married. But there were only four months to wait...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Come as you are...

It's funny how death will cause you to reexamine life.

And that's what I'm doing. Reexamining, relearning, reevaluating - call it what you will - but there's a certain unsettling feeling when you realize that this is all temporary, and you're never guaranteed another day. So this day had better count.

As I take this next step on my journey, I am confronted with my approach on humanity, on life in general... and I have found that many of us often say "come as you are" when we really mean "come as I want you to come".

I had a conversation with a friend last week which just made me speechless. Literally. All I could do was sit and take it in. When she was finished, I could say nothing but these words "Well, I tend to believe that God's grace is sufficient for that."

But do I?

I haven't always. It's been a long road, but upon reexamination, I have found that I can believe that, and I do. Instead of seeing it that way for many years, I focused on the religious aspect. Boy, are we good at that! From the coffers of religious rituals we have unearthed our own alters of sacrificial penance, and we step back and look at what "good" we've done. We come not as we are, but with a mask to show what we think we should be, and what we actually are is plunged into a sarcophagus that should have held the dead - for we are meant to be alive and free!

I used to tremble at what people might say, or lose sleep over not being accepted for doing this-or-that, fearfully approaching those who say "come as you are" as if what I am just might not be enough.

Ah, Enough...

But I breathe softly today. Calm and unmoved, not with a spirit of fear, but with a sound mind and truly say to my fellowman:
"Come as you are, GRACE will bring the rest."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Cherish the moments

For those of you who know me personally and have asked - yes, I intend to continue my story in the next few posts, however, today I wish simply to share a few current events and thoughts.

Two weeks ago today, I lost my father. He was only 58 years old. I guess lost is a strong word since I know where he is. Faith was his life; his passion. I share that faith. No matter what I can say about my father, one fact remains: he believed in things some struggle to explain their whole lives. And he was a master at explaining the reasoning behind his faith, but it still all came down to one thing - he believed, and that belief drove him to live the way he did; spreading love wherever he went. For that, I am sincerely grateful.

As I write this draft sitting on an airplane to return to my sweet love and our three children, I can simply sit alone in this crowd and wonder how I was so lucky to have been a part of dad’s few, short days on this earth. How was it that I was chosen to be the child of such amazing parents and blessed to have felt such love from the moment I drew my first breath and even before? I cannot explain the “whys” of things like my scholar father could, but I suppose even that comes down to faith itself.
After getting the news of our father’s death, I boarded a plane as quickly as I could and together with my siblings traveled to be by my mother’s side. I suppose I’ll tell more about the funeral and more importantly my dad’s life in later posts, but the thing I want to say today is that moments matter. I only had 11 short days with my mom and siblings this time, but I soaked them up, as they flew by.

I entitled this post “Cherish the Moments” because as we were clearing out some of my dad’s lovely never-throw-anything-away-unless-you-have-to closets, my brother found an old childhood cassette tape. Complete with stories and songs we’d listen to on our family road trips. Oh the fun we had singing and playing in the car as children! On our way to the airport, what better way to make the ride more fun than to pop in our old childhood story tape? Does is get better than that? Probably not. And we figured it would distract us from the fact that we must again be separated by oceans…
We all enjoyed the crazy voices and silly songs until we pulled onto the exit toward the airport and a song entitled “Cherish the Moments” began to play. The tears were almost instant. Mom, younger brother, sister, and I wept as we thought of the moments we had -and anguish stole joy -and loss was real once again.

As I hugged my mother to say yet another heart-wrenching goodbye in the airport, she sweetly whispered, “I’ve cherished every moment I’ve ever had with you.”

I had no doubt.

But in that moment, a flood of moments came to memory and I could only ache to never say another goodbye as long as I live. But then, I’m just a hopeless dreamer, I guess, or maybe just in stage “denial” of grief today.

So now, I’m only a few hours away from seeing the love of my life and my dear children and new moments will be soon cherished. More now than ever, I think. And as reality and grief will almost certainly walk hand in hand from that Tuesday in July until the day I take my last breath, I hope to learn to cherish each and every second of each and every moment I share with the amazing people in my life.

I’ve cherished each one too, mom, and hope to share a million more.

************************************************************
I have a layover. Fun, I know. It’s a three-hour layover in London. Not really enough time to do anything but change terminals, go through security, and sit until they tell you which gate to go to for the next flight. So, I proofread the first art of this post, and then just sat for a little while. Watching people. I like to people watch… minus the creepy stalking type. :P Do you ever just sit in the park or airport and watch what people do? I don’t unless I’m forced to on a day like today, but it’s quite interesting to say the least.

People come.

People go.

People bond - yes, bond even in an airport over a cup of coffee.

Moments, remember those? It’s funny because there were many moments over the past week where my mom and siblings and I sat in the same room just silent. I think it would have been awkward for anyone but us, and trust me, it was irregular for my family to have long moments of quiet, but as we sat there and just existed in the same space for a little time, it was a healing balm to comfort us. Knowing that the other was there just to be there in another’s presence, and cherish a moment or two.
Or really however many passed. It’s hard to know as we walked through these last two weeks seemingly in slow motion, as everyone and everything scurried by in a whir.

But I digress… the airport people… each one important to someone. A story lies within. A person somewhere on this earth loves them. I wonder how many moments will be shared among them, and how many will whisper a prayer of thanksgiving for the ones they love. To cherish. Always.

I wonder how many have hurts, how many have triumphs to rejoice over today. I wonder how many know they are loved. Truly loved. And if not by a human being, by a God who has created them for a special purpose.

All I can hope as I watch for this next half an hour or so, is that I can walk through my life cherishing moments in a new way. And I can only pray the same for the hundreds of strangers who occupy this same space for a moment in my life, and theirs.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Duplicitous Death

You vex and deceive and haunt my heart
While offering me thoughts of relief.
Toil and agonize as I might,
You promise hope.
I fly on wings of memories,
And soar to the pinnacle of love shared.
You snatch me back as I grapple for more,
Weary.
Sweet, comforting resting place
You offer no rest for me.
Oh how you hold the power to stir a cyclone of emotion!
Smiles and laughter mixed with gutteral cries of pain.
Wails of grief I can not hide from nearby listeners
They can only stand and pity us who suffer.
Oh sweet death you taunt me with your promises.
Sweet, haunting, duplicitous death...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My Story Part 13... The chase

I needed to talk to George. But I was much more of a rigid traditionalist back then. The girl chasing the boy? Could my ego handle it?

A couple days passed and I decided that I was going to have to throw caution to the wind and find out what happened with George and why he hadn't told me he wasn't returning.

I called.




I don't remember what I said exactly, but the conversation wasn't extremely long. I do know that I tried to convince him to return. He asked to talk to my roommate's boyfriend, a friend of his, and I relinquished the phone.

I was stunned. I really had come to the realization that I was in love with George, yet I was now in a state of confusion. If it was meant to be, wouldn't we be in the same place? Wouldn't everything just work out? Well... not in our case. Destiny needed a little prodding, and I for one am so grateful that I realized back then what I wanted and I set out to get it... even though it took a while to finally obtain the object of my affection! ;)

And so the chase went on. I would call, and he'd be allusive. I found out from my roommate's boyfriend that George had asked him if I was still dating "what's-his-name", and wanted to be certain that he wouldn't be rejected again. Boy, did it take some convincing. The volley of calls continued and my parents and others tried to convince me that I still needed time to go out with other guys to make sure I was "settling" for the right one. And so the tug-of-war in my heart continued.

One day, a boy with whom I had gone out one time the previous year asked me out again. I was shocked. Had he asked me for a second date the previous year, I'd have jumped at the chance, but now? "No, thank you", I said. And then I talked to my parents and told them where my heart was, and what had been going on. My dad asked me to promise him that if the guy came and asked again, that I'd say yes to at least one date and then make up my mind afterwards. I promised I'd say yes if he asked again, because really, what guy asks a second time after being told no? Well, apparently some guys do. Who knew?

How would I tell George? I guess there was no easy way around it. I just had to say it. I had promised my dad I'd say yes if he asked again, and so I'd be going on a date with a guy I had no interest in. It is all very strange for me to think about now because I think if I were to have been a little more like I am now - or maybe a little more like I had been a couple years before that time, I'd have told my dad how much I love him, but that he was just plain wrong. Regardless, maybe it was just a good lesson for me to feel the tussle of my sentiments in ways I had not yet known.

I had a pleasant dinner on a group date with a few other couples, thank goodness. It was nice, but I couldn't think of much other than "I have to tell George that I went tonight." Stressful. I didn't want to hurt him, but I knew it would. I don't remember much else about that evening except my arrival home. I can picture myself walking into the dorm, and from the moment my feet hit the floor of the long hallway, I heard the phone ringing. Each step seems to replay in slow motion as I got closer and closer to the ringing phone and lifted it to my ear.

It was George.

I will never forget the sound in his voice. I had hurt him. But if it was any consolation, I told him that what I had figured out that night was that I never wanted to do that with any other guy but him. Now, I just had to convince him of that. So the phone tag continued, and my dad says that I racked up about $100 a month in phone bills, since those were the days of pay phones and phone cards. But it finally worked. George had told me that he loved me and agreed to come to meet my family for Thanksgiving. I would be driving home with a friend and he would fly in to my beloved home town where my dad would pick him up. It had been 6 months since I had seen him.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

My story part 12... a girl and a boy

I have to admit, I had to read the previous post just now to see where I left off. It's funny how we forget, and how we remember for that matter. It's been fun for me to sit and recall the good and bad of our little journey. And to relive the emotions I had. I would never have believed you if you told me then where I'd be today, but that's not important now, is it?

After he had walked away in that parking lot, I was stunned - speechless. I had a million thoughts going through my head. I went back to campus with my roommate and we talked. She asked me, "If there wasn't another guy, Shelly, would there be a George in your love-life?" I didn't know how to answer that. I wasn't in LOVE with anyone! Or at least I didn't want to be. I was 18 years old. And besides, he wasn't my type. Just a skinny 155 pound kid barely taller than I... but why did it feel like I had just said goodbye to my best friend? I blocked all my feelings out as best I could and finally got some sleep. In the morning as we were getting ready to leave, I tried to catch a glimpse of him. I didn't even get to wave goodbye.

My parents had come to pick me up from college. We went to lunch with a couple of my girlfriends, and we began to discuss the George saga. We joked and laughed, but at one point, things didn't seem so lighthearted anymore. I talked things over with my dad. I gave him the letters George had written to me so he could evaluate the situation. He said nothing more than "I like this George fella". And smiled.

Once I got home, I began to check out books from the library about George's country, the Communism that ruled it for 45 years, the fall that took place in 1989, and anything else that could tell me a little bit about this boy who had become more and more intriguing to me. As I was researching my new-found topic that summer, my mom walked into my room and said "So, you're going to marry this George fella, aren't you?" I just laughed her off, and began to share what I was learning.

I had a visitor arriving from another state soon. I had been out on a few dates with the guy, and I liked him, but nothing was serious - never serious. He and his family had to drive across my state for a wedding and they decided they'd stop in and have a meal with us. It was a Sunday. We were all at church, and they joined the services, then we had lunch together. It was very pleasant and we had a nice time getting to know his family. I really liked his mom. But things didn't feel different even after that meeting. So, we said our goodbyes and my dad wanted to stop into the store before going home. As we were walking down the aisle, I just stopped and gazed at the items in front of me. Endless shelves of nothingness is what I saw - just off in a daze. "You're not thinking about the guy who just left here, are you? You're thinking about George", Dad said. He was right, but I didn't admit it.

When I got home, I pulled out that piece of paper with the contact information for George. I wrote him a letter that day. I don't remember what it said, exactly. But I had to write. I had to know what was going on with him. And so our correspondence began. Nearly every week, I'd write or receive a letter in the mail. I had also written to the other guy telling him that I didn't think we should continue dating, since I really wasn't interested in more that having a friend. I didn't want a boyfriend at that point, and even though I had turned 19, I still considered myself far too young to make any crucial decisions about love. :)

So, the studying of Eastern Europe continued, as did the letters from afar. I was hopeful, and happy. I knew that no matter what this became, it was a priceless relationship from which I had only gained a better understanding of the world. This "George fella" was like no one I had ever met, and I was only better for knowing him. I looked forward to the end of the summer and the start of the new semester. I had decided to return, and skip my plans to pursue the apprenticeship program for law that I had been interested in. I would just finish my degree here, and if I wanted to study anything after that, I'd consider it later. For now, I had decided I wanted to be there.

I had arrived one week early to fulfill my work scholarship obligations. It was a fun work-filled week. I had chatted with my friends and roommate about the happenings of the summer, and we joked and laughed about what it all meant. They'd predict who I was going to end up with, and we'd all have fun trying to decipher what deeper meanings any happenings in our lives had. But that week came to an end, and all the students were now to arrive. I remember that day as if it was yesterday. I stood in one of my favorite dresses and waited. I was working in the dining hall, so I had a pretty good view of anyone who came on opening day.

And then, I saw her. The host mother for George in the US. I went to greet her, and smiling, I inquired about George. "He's not coming", was all she said. Her children were there so I began to chat with them about the opening day festivities, but quickly found an excuse to leave. I was still working, so I just went to a station where a close friend was working and said to her, "He's not coming back! Why am I here?"

"You're in love with George, Shelly, aren't you?"
It was the first time I admitted it to anyone - even myself.
"I think I am", I whispered.

But it didn't matter. He wasn't there, and how would he ever know now? I was 19, and didn't need to think about such things. I couldn't be in love, and I tried to talk myself out of it - to no avail. I was miserable without him.

Before his host family left, the mom found me and put a piece of paper in my hand. "Call him. I'm sure he'd love to talk to you."

But what would I say?

Friday, June 3, 2011

My Story Part 11... College days

I love plants. I love watching things grow. If my husband would be comfortable in a home with green absolutely everywhere, I'd grow even veggies and herbs inside, since our climate would not permit the growing of things outdoors much of the year. Maybe one day when we finally get to build our house we'll have the "greenhouse" space we've planned for in a towering bay for my little jungle, as my sister most affectionately calls it. ;) She even helped me name all my plants!

But as I care for them, I am awed. Just at the way they spring to life, go dormant, and even die. Yes, completely dry out and die, just to sprout again in the spring - some of them. The process always reminds me of God. The great One who's planned the cycle out perfectly.

Last week, I severed two hearty branches from a strong Dracaena I have in the corner of my living room. I have pruned this plant many times, and transplanted its offspring in various new pots. But this time, she was nearly six feet tall and bending at the weight of her lofty crown. Something had to be done. Nothing short of whacking off her glory, and allowing her sprouts to flourish. A sacrifice for the greater good. I had no extra pots, so I took the high branches outside. I wonder if they will survive - regardless, they are remnants of growth in a life. And these events reminded me of my story.

Those college days were days of dissecting, dividing, parting, and disconnecting everything I had ever known. Parts of me which I thought were essential were severed and gone. Remnants left behind me that I had once lived there, to survive or to die, regardless - I had once lived there. I was uprooted and gone now.

As any college freshman, I was excited, scared, ambitious, and emotional. Things were new and different, and that was okay. I could handle them - I was an adult after all, right? I don't know if the details of some parts of this journey are worth delving into, but I can say that I am grateful for the lessons learned.

Two weeks into my newfound journey I met a boy. We were just kids, and as I look back I'm astonished that we even took ourselves seriously, much less expected anyone else to! But that's not my point here. One day I was with my roommate and we were just in a group introducing ourselves to another group of guys and girls. Everything informal, like it should be. No expectations. I remember that chance meeting, but I don't remember the boy specifically. He tells me he was part of that group, and I believe him. ;)

I started to enjoy college. I wasn't new to the world of going to school and working, but now the classes were a little more demanding. I began to get the hang of it, and even started to go out on dates here and there, always casual. A concept the "boy" didn't quite grasp. He's kind of the all-or-nothing type, which balances me well, I guess. Since I worked on campus for the dining hall, I soon met the boy named George for real. That, I remember. ;) Not allowed to work off campus because he was only in the country on a student visa, we became colleagues. For some reason our work schedules began to coincide quite often. Our group of friends would hang out more and more often, and we'd always seem to get lost in long conversations.

His stories intrigued me. Happenings of life under Communism in an Eastern European country were things I had only ever read about. Hours and hours we'd sit in our "group" and study, play, and talk - as if no one else in the world existed. He began to give me dating advice. You see, I was casually dating two different guys. Some people don't agree with that concept, but it worked for me. I wasn't the type to just give my heart away, and I wanted to know more about any guy I'd consider getting close to. So, saying yes to a date from one or 20 guys didn't seem despicable to me. They knew - the whole campus knew, and I was not about to settle down early! ;) Life was about going forward and not thinking about commitment yet!

George would tell me this or that about his dating ideas, and would mention which guy would be more suited for me, etc.
Until one day.
It was almost the end of the year. He asked if he could share a burger with me after church on Sunday night. I accepted.

I didn't realize it'd just be the two of us this time. He had gone to pick up some fast-food and we met in the little cafe on campus. We sat enjoying the food and laughing when things suddenly got serious. He looked at me and said "You know, I've decided something. I'd like to put my name in as a contender in this competition". At first, I had no idea what he was talking about. He continued: "I've been told not to tell you I love you, so I'm not going to do that, I'm just going to ask you if you'd consider me in this competition."

Woah. Hang on a sec. Competition? "There is no competition", I explained. "I'm not giving my heart away to anyone, and I don't want things to change right now. I love our friendship." Uh-oh, I'd gone and said it - the dreaded word, friendship. I think it's the most beautiful word a couple can share, but to a 19 year old guy, it's a death sentence. Death to his hopes of competing. And I didn't like that word either. No competition.

Well, he took that little explanation to mean that between him and the other guys, there's no competition. He'd never win.

Almost a week passed and it was graduation day. We went and watched the graduating seniors march their way across the platform, receive their diplomas, and prepare for a life after their long journey of preparation. The next morning, we were all to leave. George walked me to the parking lot and told me that he was giving me his address in Europe and that if I wanted to contact him, it'd be my choice, but that he'd not bother me again with his requests.

He said goodbye, and walked away.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Faith days and church days

I am taking a little break from my story for this next post. There's just a little something on my heart that I want to share.

My sweet college buddy Julie started a blog a while back. She was going through spiritual metamorphosis in a way... and so was I. We reconnected in a bond that is stronger today than it was back then... And she is the main reason I began this blog, to be honest. Well, her "little" blog wasn't like mine. I've been allusive. Never posting my full name, no face-bearing pictures of myself or kiddos, all the while knowing personally 12 of my 14 followers... which is now at 15, as of today, so welcome newcomer! ;)
Nope, she was all out there. And was totally exposed. Something that horrifies me.

But she was REAL. Always. And it wasn't always easy for her, on the contrary, it was painstakingly hard. But she stuck with it, proclaiming the name of Jesus, and lifting up his love and grace through it all. Inspiring. Well... she was/is in this little online contest thing I found out about through facebook, and I innocently entered my vote for her, and continued following her blog posts. What followed shocked me.

It had become a contest of faith-based blogs in which people of other faiths entered. I was oblivious at first. I only follow a few blogs, anyway and barely even have time for that. But I read her latest entry which was so thought-provoking, no matter which way you look at it. And I saw a bit of what was going on. The Pagan faith was represented along with Judaism, Islam and Christianity. There was nothing specific to the contest that said "faith in Christ" blogs. And some people weren't quite so happy with "faith" being undefined.

And Julie responded. To me, it wasn't a matter of proclaiming her faith in Jesus Christ, she's done that all along. It's the fact that she challenged me, and hopefully others, to think about the love God has for us - all of us. And that we wrestle not the flesh and blood among us. If it scares you, don't read it all, I only had time to check some of the things out, but what I found is that we as Christians (and forgive me for lumping us all in the same pot for a minute) so often sugar-coat things.

I tried to say to myself that we don't have a religion. But I went to church on Sunday. Today's not a church day, it's Monday. But what are my rituals? Did I pray and read my church-approved portion of scripture? Did I sleep in, skip it, and then feel guilty for not paying my "dues"?

I do have a personal relationship with a living God through Jesus Christ, my Savior. Just to be clear. ;) But whether I like it or not I have a religion as well. I'm kind of upset about that today. I almost wish I didn't. No churchy habitual practices so I could say that it's ONLY about a person, about my Savior. But we again tend to sugar-coat things, and I'm no different, I guess. I want it to be about one thing only, the love of God through Jesus Christ, and I pray it becomes that in my life more and more each day.


As I was reading the counter-views of other faiths I realized that it's really all true. Each view takes faith to believe, it's just what you're putting yours in. I choose Christ. And I'd do it again and again and again.

And maybe tomorrow will be a church day, maybe it won't. But it's always a faith day.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My Story Part 10... Decisions that shape our lives

Florida? Was this a joke? What was he thinking?

I don't even know if my brother ended up going to Florida - ever.
But I said no.

There had been a time in my life when I just followed his lead in everything. He's very charming, you see. Hoping of course to convince you of his bewitching personality, I'd urge you to overlook my stupidity when saying that I still bear the scars of our relationship. No, literally. Scars on my legs. He would convince me to be his beautiful assistant (seriously, that one probably works on any 10-year-old!) while he would shoot the target I was standing in front of with anything from bee bee guns to Chinese stars. Okay, maybe it was more my stupidity than his charm, but over the past few years, I had learned that I could resist his beguiling, persuasive tactics.

It was actually quite simple. I remembered dad's face. It was something that molded my character over the following years. Maybe a little more than necessary. Maybe not. God used it to shape my life, so I will try not to analyze it too much. But that broken, fragile man grieving for the loss of his firstborn was a pain I think I was blessed to witness. Maybe just because I realized then how much we were loved. Or at least I understood as much as was humanly possible for me to without being a parent then myself. It was the blessing I took away from the pain.

Brother eventually came home. He was with us for just a few months before he received a full scholarship to SMU. He was and is simply brilliant. A chip off the old block, like it or not. ;) Things were almost back to normal, and then he had to leave us again. Mom loaded all of us kids into her minivan, and we headed down to Texas. There, we left the boy who would soon be a man and we headed home - minus one. But this time it was just because that was the way it was supposed to be; the regular course of life. Nests being emptied, one by one.

And so I began my senior year of high school. It was about me and my high hopes, big dreams. I wanted to study law. I loved books and libraries. I still do. The smell, the silence, the history of who said what and why hidden behind bulwarks of leather-bound pages, mmm... intoxicating. The whole intrigue of what makes our society what it is, was so alluring to me that I couldn't help but dream that I'd have it all someday. The life of a young lawyer, able to run from our world into a world of words or dive right into the real-life clashes and trials that make this world go round, was at my fingertips.

And I saw that face once again.

I asked my daddy what he thought. Though he was not apposed to my career choice, he asked if I'd please consider going to a Bible college and studying God's law for just one year before I'd study man's. How could I refuse that argument? More and more I had learned to trust that face.

He began to write me letters during my high school days.
"Temporal benefits and blessings are like the summer flowers on a dew laden meadow -- their passing beauty can only be enjoyed for a brief moment, for when the sun beats down and the winds blow (like the trials that come into each of our lives) they do not possess the strength to stay, for theirs was an existence based on beauty instead of strength; ergo, seek to build that which will last and beauty will someday bow before steadfastness and say, 'Thou art truly worthwhile'."

He wrote... and I was safe when he spoke.

It was 1993, and I was soon to be 18. My graduation day came, and my confidant - a year my junior - was to be left behind. She was the one thing I wanted to take with me to college more than anything else, but couldn't. My summer birthday came, then August rolled around and at mom and dad's prompting, I left for Bible college, plans intact. One year. Then I'd hit the ground running.

My Story Part 9... Homes and runaways

I have often wondered if my brother had seen my dad's face that night if it would have changed his life. I know it changed mine.

As father sat on the edge of my bed, face swollen from the tears he had obviously shed hours before he disturbed my slumber; he could only mutter the words "Where is he? Do you know where he is?". I honestly had no clue. Brother had made sure of it. I would have told and he knew it.

We sat and cried. Just dad and I in that lonely room. All quiet.

The man who led his family tall and strong seemed a little smaller as his drooping shoulders left my room. I don't know if my dad ever got a wink of sleep that night. I finally drifted off, certain that brother might just be at a friend's house. Phone call after phone call was made the next morning. No one knew anything.

I'm not sure how or when, but brother called eventually letting us know that he was okay, but not coming back. No one from the school had called so mom knew he was at least attending school still.

Did she sit up late each night and wait? I think I would. All I do know is that there was a dark, heavy feeling in our home for a while. Suspicion was more prevalent than ever and tears flowed at the drop of a hat. We weren't whole. A member was missing and we could feel it, though it was seldom said.

One day while doing laundry and cleaning out brother's things, mom found an address. Brother must have scratched it on a piece of paper for his records or something. Mom knew it. Like moms have the power to do - just know. And she did. He had been found. She knew where he was.

The relationship began to mend, I guess. I was busy, mom and dad were busy with life and the two younger ones, brother was busy, and we eventually got on with life, as one does. I was still going to school and had soon gotten my first real job outside of babysitting. I was the girl behind the counter at the corner Steak and Shake . It was a rude awakening to a world of reality I had only danced around before. Here, I was engaged in its waltz. Friends, coworkers, bosses and paychecks - I still ponder the logic behind throwing a seventeen-year-old into the world of adulthood of paying bills and juggling school and job. Though it did prepare me for college and the rest of my life, isn't the "rest of my life" extremely long compared to those carefree days of youth? Some days I wish it would have lasted longer. But I'm not sorry I learned to stand on my own two feet.

It was the summer before my senior year of high school. Brother was still gone. He'd sometimes call and get me up-to-date with his happenings, but this time he called to ask me something.

"Come with me, Shel", he said. "I'm going to be an actor, I may have a modeling job lined up, something to pay the bills, and you can do it too. We'll work together, and make it big."

I loved my brother. I loved the way he always protected me. He stood up for me so many times in our lives. He charmed me into doing just about anything for him his whole life.

"Go with you?", I asked. "Where?"

"Florida. I've got big plans!"

I was stunned.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

My Story Part 8... Just trouble

I planned on writing the next two parts of my story last week. I had things in my mind that started to play out in a way that were a little too real.

Too raw.

So, I put it off. I don't know if I literally left anyone hanging... but I kind of left myself hanging. There in the year 1990 where all emotions were high and nothing seemed as if it could go anywhere but upward... But it didn't. And maybe I just didn't want to drudge through the memories of it... but to remain in its tumult is unfair to myself because we did all come through it with God's help.

So there we were. My sophomore year of high school, and I was back with my best friend whom I cherish like no other. That was the year we became inseparable. Only God knew how I would need a friend with whom I could be totally honest. Completely and utterly myself when "myself" wasn't good enough for others. When I wasn't at her house, she was at mine. Few were the days or nights we'd spend apart... well, aside from the school nights. And even then we'd somehow convince our parents to allow us to stay over sometimes. I felt safe with her. I thank God even today for the safety of her. Nothing judged, nothing expected, just open arms of love. Then. Now. Always. She truly is a picture of Christ in my life!

But the safety sometimes evaporated at her absence. Older brother was pushing the limits like never before. Sometimes I think that the reason he and my mom didn't see eye to eye on things is because they are just too much alike. Stubborn and argumentative. But limits were crossed. Brother had wielded his quick tongue and lashed at a delicate piece of my mom's heart once too much. And she took a swing. I'll never forget that day. Having to physically pull your mother and brother off each other in a brawl is something that no one should have to experience. They had pushed each other to a place where neither one was using logic.

Do you ever have moments where you replay the events in your mind's cushy cinema, body slouched, eye's wide open, gazes focused on window panes, and time passes as if you'd been absent for a few hours? I do. And it was no different that day. The scuffle had reached my bedroom door and into my sacred space. I had separated them. I sat in my room replaying not the day's events but the life and love that we had shared. I cried. How did loving sweet brother who as a toddler had not wanted to raise a finger to me when I was wailing on him - so as not to be un-gentleman-like - become the angry brother who raised his fist to not only a woman, but mother?

Brother stormed out of the house, and mom went to her room. She'd always emerge after having lost her temper. And I want to be fair here. Rarely had she ever raised a hand to us. And that day might have been in self-defense only. Was brother the one who raised a fist first? Had she slapped his sarcastic, sharp mouth first? I don't know. I wasn't there at the beginning of the argument. I do know that she had only ever slapped my mouth once. Many were the days when she would scream in frustration at this or that. She'd retract into her room for a time of remorse and reflection and then emerge in tears apologizing. So scared that she'd become a product of how she was raised, she'd crumble into a sincere weeping mess, asking forgiveness. And we'd give it to her.

But this time was different. Something changed. Things were never the same again. Maybe brother just wouldn't forgive this time. For my mother who had suffered the abuse of dishes, hangers, fists, boards, or whatever else was around, maybe there's more forgiveness allotted. I like to think so. She was so rarely anything but loving and happy, except when she wasn't. ;) Who would have guessed she had such a trying past? I doubt the onlookers had a clue.

But we were meant to learn from it. I know we did, maybe we still are. But for teenagers, the learning doesn't come easily. Brother eventually came home. He was quiet. And quiet he's not. Our house was always boisterous, loud, exciting, game-filled, and fun. But somewhere during the years of 90 and 91, it faded for a while.

Brother had started his plan. He knew that I'd try to stop him. Or that I'd tattle. And maybe I would have... okay, probably would have.

And then it happened. Plans were no more - actions settled in. I don't even remember what month it was, but I think it was toward the end of the school year, 1991. I was nearly 16. Brother was 17. We had left in the morning like any other day. Separate schools, separate schedules, separate jobs, always just meeting somewhere in the middle for a meal, or maybe at the end of the day, but always just enjoying each other's company. It was before the day of cell phones. Well, not technically. But no one carried those big chunky things around except for businessmen on TV. It wasn't odd that we'd not seen each other after a long day of school, sports and work. It wasn't even odd for the three of us kids to go to sleep without big brother home. With no way to contact him at any given moment of the day, we always just awaited his arrival.

But at 3 O'clock in the morning when my door opened waking me from a deep sleep, I knew something was wrong.

Brother was gone.

Monday, May 2, 2011

My Story Part 7... School days and trouble

I had never been in the principal's office at night. It was surreal and a bit creepy. Even when we had evening basketball games and different functions at the school at night, there was never this darkness that hovered like it did that night. The strange fact that we were at school during the hours of darkness was coupled by the feeling of being called into the principal's office with my parents. A certain doom was looming and I could feel it.

No one was cheery. We all entered and sat in a circle. I was questioned about my past experiences at other schools since my history of schools attended was now vast. I was questioned about how I viewed authority. About my salvation, oh, about most everything the board of trustees could think to ask a 13-year-old girl who was a newcomer and obviously meddling with the peace that must have been so prevalent before she arrived.

My mom stood up for me.

It was something that I will never forget. Though her bold in-your-face type personality was embarrassing when she'd tell someone off, it was comforting to know that I had someone in my corner. She hadn't flown off the handle right away, but had listened to my complaining for months, weighed the veracity of my side of the story, then just had had enough of the questioning about this "troubled teen" being so one-sided.

I learned a lot from my mom. Her statement of, "If I don't stand up for my kids, who will?", resonates with me still today. And I am proud to have a crazy, boisterous, passionate woman who lead me to believe I could overcome obstacles and criticism regardless of the source. No matter how little I appreciated it then.

Well, the school year ended much better than it began. I had new friends and had finally found a place in my school life, and the administration had to put a little more credence in my story when others were coming forward with similar complaints.

Mom felt that I was in no way vindicated, though. She and Dad had decided to pull us out of a place that wouldn't try to help us as students, and off to another school we went. It was 45 minutes away and Dad had a job not far from the school, so it worked out well.

It was my first year of high school. Wow. That was no fun. A new school, new friends, and Algebra? Ick. But we made it work. More so the friends and school part than Algebra itself. ;) I started to feel more and more comfortable and joined a singing group, and even had my first boyfriend. I was a mess. He helped me feel accepted, and just good about myself... and it had been a while. I'll never forget the sweet puppy love feelings that made the 9th grade more bearable.

But in March, we got a notice. Dad had lost his job and was behind one full month on payments, and we were asked to leave. Though we weren't technically boyfriend and girlfriend at that moment - with all the drama that surrounds teenage relationships - it was a separation hard for me at the time. But we moved on.

Into the local public school again - this time high school. My grades were good and my teachers liked me, but my locker was in the drug corner. Most sales and/or consumption of drugs happened right there in that corner, and me with my naivety, funny clothes, extremely long hair and backwardness didn't quite fit into the mix. I would pack my backpack with all six books that I'd need for the day and hope to not have to return to the lockers until the afternoon. It didn't always happen. I'd inevitably forget something! I remember sneaking through the halls after the bell had rung and jetting off to chorus class late since no one would be by the lockers at that time. My teacher would excuse me, since I never caused any trouble.

And so I finished up the last 3 tumultuous months of my first year of high school. I had loathed it, but big brother had it easier and had made more and more friends, played sports, and loved his classes. I begged mom and dad to let me go back to the old private school since said teacher had been dismissed and even new administration had taken over, while brother begged them to let him stay where he was for once.

We both got our way. Our troubles were seemingly over. It was the year of 1990 - a new decade - what could go wrong?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

My Story Part 6... School days and more schools

Baby sister came in September of 1985. What a year that was! I was in fifth grade, ten years old, and babying my sweet bundle from God just for me.
At least, that's how I felt since mom said "Okay, stop praying, Shel, you have your sister!"
But she wasn't just for me.
She lit up our lives like no one would have expected.
She was that gorgeous bundle of sweet and happy that we had all needed.

Our move brought moving of schools.

For someone who didn't like change, and had attended the same school for the last six years, this would be interesting. The first one was an hour away. That lasted for all of fifth grade. I sincerely remember little about that school but the long drive and suspecting my teacher had a crush on the 6th grade teacher... and the fact that he was a man and that had never happened before either. I didn't like it one bit. But there was a girl named Angie who was nice to me. And that got me through.

Sixth and seventh were in the public school down the road. It was a first for us, and a real eye-opener. I had a great teacher in sixth grade.
Mrs. Michaels.
I'll never forget her. Sixth grade was a year that brought challenges among peers and trying to fit in with my backwards private school ways and my funny clothes; but it brought comfort in school aspects. I was ahead for the most part and my grades stood out. My teacher encouraged me like few others. She knew it had to be hard for the little turtle peeking out from her shell that secluded her for oh so many years, but she also saw me for me. Not something I could say about many in my life.
Then or now.
I loved her. I think I still do.
And maybe that's the reason I wanted to change my mind about law and just become a teacher instead.

I wasn't so fortunate in seventh grade, but that's not really worth going into. It wasn't a horrible year, but it did nothing to promote my feeling good in my own skin, that's for sure. I was gangly, awkward and pubescent. But it was okay. I had a few friends, and Kirk Cameron was on "Growing Pains", so life couldn't be all bad. ;)

And so the late 80's carried on. How I loved the 80's... I mean, big hair and neon colors?! What can be more enticing to a teenage girly-girl?! :) And the fact that my daughter is in love with hot pink, bright teal, and leggings under absolutely everything - oh, that just tickles me to no end. And I love watching her 8th-grade-self and remembering...


8th grade was a year that I will ever be grateful for. Oh, how the challenges came, but oh how God did provide! In the year of one of my biggest challenges to date, one of life's biggest blessings came along.
I was 13. She was 12.
The girl with whom I'd share my secrets and deepest of feelings from adolescence to adulthood and beyond came into my life that year. It was a small private school and we'd share 7th and 8th grade classes and study halls on occasion. Little did I know then that it would be the year I needed her to come into my life.

I had a teacher who will remain nameless. He was our homeroom teacher and my goodness how he disliked me. I'd have a pass for being late, and I'd receive demerits. I'd give an opinion during a class discussion and I'd suddenly be "rebellious and insubordinate"... and more demerits came. The boys in the back would talk, I'd get demerits. It became more than I could handle and I stood up for myself one day. Yeah, that wasn't pretty either. The children who had lived their entire lives in this school aghast at the fact that a pupil would challenge a teacher sat in awe as I told the teacher to come with me to the principal to sort things out, or I'd leave myself.
And I did.

Step by step down the hall way with Mr. 8th-grade-teacher spewing demerits with each stride. Finally, I caved, went back in the class, but promised to go to Mr. Principal's office when the bell rang. I forget how many demerits it took to get in real trouble, but trust me, I was in it. The bell rang, and off I was to the principal's office.

Big mistake.

He didn't greet me with warmth and comfort. And now, looking back, I must say that it is only fair that a boss would back his teacher and not take the word of a 13-year-old without any proof. However, to simply label, scold and discredit is surely not the answer either.

And so I became the labeled one in any class held by my homeroom teacher, and was pulled aside in the hallway on occasion for the principal to check my daily attitude. The other teachers were great, for the most part, but I wasn't about to take things lying down. I wonder at that since later in the next few years I would buckle if only to gain peace, however, that was not the real me. The real me was that 13-year-old fighting like nobody's business to be treated fairly. Oh, how much I had to learn about this unfair world of ours!

Throughout the year, other students would witness the injustices, experience some themselves and start to back me up. A coup. That's how the administration saw it. And I was the leader. It's humorous to me now to even think of it that way. As if I was iron-clad-warrior-girl roaming the halls of the doomed, seeking to set them free. ;)

My parents were called.

The board was contacted. Yup. The whole entire school board.

And I was to meet them at 6 O'clock Thursday evening along with my parents.