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.

Friday, April 22, 2011

My Story Part 5...School days and siblings

My brother made it as far as the end of the street. He sat on the corner, duffel bag beside him and cried. Dad, of course, watching closely out the front porch.

I don't know what was said. Dad walked outside and brought brother home. I sat and cried. I was angry. Sad. Confused. Mad.

Both of them were stubborn, both of them pushed the other, and I couldn't handle the thought of potentially losing my brother, my confidant, my protector. And the fact that the man who could look at me sternly and make me cave like a ton of bricks, could actually apply the tough love he'd only threaten with, was overwhelming.

That day changed me.

It changed brother.

In completely different ways. Brother built a stronger wall, but maybe I did too. It was just that I started to see hurt behind the strong eyes of my father and I wanted more than anything to never be the cause of it.

I left out an important element that happened a year prior to this. Baby brother was born. Oh, how I had prayed so often for a sister! More than anything in the world, I wanted a sister. I prayed and prayed for her to come.

God gave me baby brother, and I was okay with it. But it didn't stop the prayers for my sister. ;)

The days, though at times tumultuous, were generally full of love. I see that now so well. We were not wealthy by any means. We struggled - had the lights turned off on us for late bills, and were excused from the private school for a few weeks because payments were passed due. It wasn't always easy, but the Christmases with oranges and bananas as stocking-stuffers, favorite candy bars wrapped and placed under the tree... Coloring books and crayons... A board game to play together....

Those were simple. Simply beautiful. Full of that kind of love where a mom and dad know they have not a lot to offer but try to make the simplest kind of day special. I now know how much work goes into a day like that.

We played and played with each other and our new baby brother. Probably a little too much. When baby brother was only a year and a half, big brother snapped his little leg in a wrestling match. His infantile cast which mom keeps in a drawer still brings back fun memories of how big brother got baby brother to shush and stop crying - in order to cover his transgression - and it actually worked! Baby brother fell asleep, but when he woke up screaming, mom realized there was a problem and rushed him to the hospital. Little leg intact and covered in a tiny cast that we all decorated with loving marks was a bold reminder that the plan didn't work as well as we thought. Smiles while looking back... not as much fun as you're living through them, moment by moment I'm sure.

And so it was that dad finished his school days. His college was finally complete and we were faced with another move. I wasn't given a vote in the decision, but I surely thought I deserved one. Just as I had been miffed at the thought of moving from my home as a four-year-old, I was miffed at the thought when a ten-year-old. Thankfully, my acting out tactics had changed some. So, there we were. 1985 and the decision was made to move. Back to my beloved St. Louis. Though it wasn't my choice at the time, I am so thankful now that it happened.

Oh, and that wasn't all. There was an announcement made along with it. Not only were we moving this summer... Mom was pregnant.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

My Story Part 4...School days and leaving

School was not as tumultuous as my first day of K-4 might have suggested. Aside from a losing battle with my spelling manual in the first grade, my grades were good and my behavior acceptable. Mom could breathe easy.

Both of my parents worked, and at times we'd finish school before mom would finish work and we'd be left in the care of another; or come home to a tape recording of my mom's voice telling us she'd be home in half an hour, and to begin our homework or chores. During those days we lived in a high-rise apartment building where we'd play with as many kids as we could gather. Cops and robbers, Dukes of Hazard, superheroes, rollerskating, bike riding, and more. We'd play for hours and hours. All of course after our homework and chores...

Do you ever look back in your mind's eye to those years? The late 70's, my earliest memories, are locked in a grainy, hazy yellow film roll. The 80's, a bit different. Almost like a bluish tint hovers in all corners and each scene seems to be in vibrant widescreen. Then there's the 90's. Deliciously 90's, every memory. The foggy whiteness that makes each scene milky and blissful blankets the memory with a memory in and of itself. Like the whole world was opening up and the real techno age was about to break all boundaries.

And here we sit in the 21st century, now looking back at the 2010's decade passing and it all seems to have happened in HDTV. I wonder what film roll it will look like in my mind in about 20 more years. Or what the real techno age will look like then.

But these memories, those early 80's of blue edges and widescreens changed my memory's vision forever. The years were not easy. Dad worked full time, went to school, and somehow managed to put us in private school. He'd not always succeed in making enough money to lavish gifts upon us at Christmas, but there was love a-plenty. I look back at the days of togetherness we had and am astounded at the thought that I could ever focus on the turmoil! Because if there's one thing I see more clearly now through each frame of film, it's that there were two people who loved and adored us kids more than we could know.... until we become parents ourselves.

Our home was a strict one. Rules were not foreign to us, and we managed it fairly well until something finally broke. My brother and I, you see, had been left in the care of a friend of my parents, who then left us in the care of her child. Old enough to be responsible for a 60 minute absence, you would think, but not in reality. We were both badly mistreated. It was our secret. We feared we'd be hurt and punished, or who knows what else goes through a 6 and 7 year-old's mind. Fear can do crazy things to your mind at any age. I don't know how I dealt with it other than just blocking it out, but my brother just got angrier and angrier. I won't tell too much of his side, only as it pertains to me. His story is his to tell and he does a fine job of it. He's definitely the one who inherited my dad's writing talent for sure!

But that leads me to the breaking point. I was 9, my brother 10. He had had enough of the rules. It's almost funny to me now to think of what in the world the rules actually were back then. I mean, we weren't going out on our own yet, so it wasn't about the curfew. Boyfriends and girlfriends? Nope. It was probably just the whole, church, school, no TV but a few select programs, no secular music, no being friends with so-and-so, etc. But to this 10 year old who bottled up his secrets, fears, and frustration, it became too much.

He and dad came to a stand-still one evening.

Dad told him that if he lived in his home, he'd live by his rules.

Fine. That opened the door to options. Leaving.

I think they both thought the other was bluffing. My brother packed a duffel bag with his bb gun and a few supplies and headed toward the door. I remember crying, begging my dad not to let him go. Begging brother to reconsider.

No bluffs.

Out the door he went.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

My Story Part 3...Early days

Today's morning sermon was an affirmation of what I'm taking the time to do here. It was an incredible reminder of why I was made. Why YOU were made!

I love my husband so much. I love who he is and how he acts. I most of all love not just how he loves me, but how he loves God. How he always seeks God's purpose in everything. This morning, I think he could have said it no better when looking out into the face of hundreds after reading our text in Psalms.

"No one can praise God like you can. Sure, the rocks could cry out if you didn't, but the Creator of the universe created you for one reason. To bring him glory. And no one else can do it quite like you can." he said.

I could chew on those words for a long time. And I think I will.

I know that this is my story, and better said, God's story through my life, but I will take a moment to say just a little about my husband. The one who doesn't just complete me, but is me by extension. The crazy logic that only an almighty hand could design when two are joined, and are no longer two, but one. God's math.

It's funny how people feel free to belittle another's spouse to their face. As if the one doesn't feel the detrimental blow intended for the other. But that's a side note. A rabbit I won't chase. ;)

Not long ago, a friend of ours was talking to us about a young lady who as a high-schooler started a Bible study group in her school. This girl organized and led a group until it became so large - over 200 - that the school auditorium was opened to them. She continued through college, and began to organize more and more groups and our friend described her like this: "She's the kind of person where you see the potential she has - what God can do through her - and you step back just so you won't mess it up. And if it's a matter of writing a check to fulfill that plan, I'll get my pen and checkbook - just to have a part."

My heart swelled and was so encouraged by the story, but all I could think of was my sweet husband. A man who at the age of 16 was preaching to thousands who would gather to hear the good news freely preached in a land where for 45 years Communism ruled and oppressed. And people stood back, watched, and, yes, wrote the checks. People paid his way to the US to study, and brought him to me. I'll never be able to thank those people enough; those who saw the great work of God in him even then. How even now as people of his country are no longer enthused by the sweet story of the Scriptures, yet some still come. My husband, full of fervor now stands before hundreds, not thousands, and preaches the same Gospel, the same love, the same stories. And God through his people, keeps the funds coming. Even in the craziest of circumstances.

Last year, we decided to surprise my brother as we were passing through his town while out traveling. He was assistant manager at a store and was working that day. We pulled up and walked in, all the kids running to hug him. We couldn't stay too long - since he was, after all, working - but in the course of our short visit, my husband met a man. They began a friendly chit-chat, and on the way out, he slipped us $50, because the work we do touched his heart. And so it is in our lives. A passionately purpose-driven man guides this family to places I could not have imagined. Because, like I said, he loves God in a way that is sometimes baffling to me. And I love him for it. Because I, by extension, am him. And I am honored.

All that was free. :) My heart was just full of how thankful I am for him today, and how he continually guides me to know and love my Savior more, and seek his purpose, for his glory.

Before I delve into this next part, I will say that I am am wrestling some with what is to be said, and what is not. I pray the Lord will give me peace each step of the way. But some hard parts await. I will wade through whatever rough waters lie ahead, and I ask grace from readers to understand that how I say what I say, and what I reveal and only that be taken at face value. I can not stop a stranger from reading into what I'm going to say, but I pray that whatever is said would be used to help and most of all bring glory to a risen Savior!

Early days...

That's me around 3 and 4 years old. In some ways, I feel that way still. You know, small, naive, ready to see the big wide world. In other ways (okay, most ways) I see how long passed those days really are.

During these formidable years, we moved. From everything I knew, from my beloved home, friends, and extended family, we moved far away. I was not happy. Mom tells me that I was a spunky little lass in those days. Who me?! I would literally hop up onto my brother, pin him down and get my way by force. Funny how I don't remember that. :P

What I do remember is my first day of K-4. Yes that lovely school photo from 1979 depicts such a sweet face, doesn't it? I really was most of the time!

But that day in September so long ago, I was feeling feisty! Mad at the world because I had to move to a strange town, make new friends AND start school, I made my disapproval known by throwing my raisins at my teacher and loudly proclaiming I would NOT be quiet after being asked to oh so many times. Good grief, my poor mother! I can only imagine what she must have thought on the very first day of my school career! Was this really just the precursor of what was to come?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My Story Part 2.... Answered Prayers

I wish that I had pictures of myself as an infant. I suppose it was a difficult thing for my parents to see their child all yellow, lying in an incubator, and dwindling in weight by the hour. Besides, photography then was nothing like it is today. But I often wonder about just what it might have looked like to receive a miracle - what the photos sitting side by side could have evidenced.

The test results were baffling. It wasn't even standard procedure to run the test again.
But there they stood.
Doctors and parents in a hospital room bewildered.
Nothing.
No spot, no obstruction, no fever. Just an underweight baby who must be held for observation a bit longer, and when they did take me home, instructions to sit me near the window a few times a day to absorb the sunlight and all its benefits. Oh how I adore the sunlight even today.

God had answered prayers. My parents knew it. No matter who else believed in miracles or didn't, there was proof positive that we had received one. A healthy baby girl they would affectionately call "Shelly" though not the name they chose for the official certificate of birth, was brought home and doted over. The first girl in the family. The first granddaughter, niece, sister, you name it. Yes, I was spoiled in any way they could afford, though probably more so by the giddy baby-talk and never being allowed to have my feet touch the ground as being passed from person to person than in actual material gifts being showered upon me.

My first memories were probably a month or so before this picture was taken.

I once asked my mom if we were ever in a park with picnic tables and a ball field where I was sat near a big tree possibly in a play pen because I had memories of people eating, playing baseball, and sitting next to a huge tree, but all memories were as if I was looking through a screen. She told me that I was probably around 10 to 12 months old when the church picnic was held at the local park. I don't remember this particular day when my aunt gave me a bath, dressed me and then just had to take my picture with the towel on my head. I don't know why, but it's one of my favorite pictures of myself as a child. Maybe because it now reminds me so much of my youngest when he was so small. Poor kid, always being compared to mommy.

And then there was my mom and my brother. Not that dad wasn't around, but my earliest memories are of course of the two people with whom I spent the most time. I adored them both. I still do.

The picture of my first birthday with my mom in profile is the one I still think is the picture I have of her where anyone would believe it was me if I told them so. And the one with the three of us, it's typical of what I remember at that stage. Though my memories of mom were always with long, flowing hair. The short do was surely temporary. I know the stage well myself.

These days in my memories were quite sporadic, of course. For a mother, I am sure those days can seem to drag on at times, and at others fly so quickly through your fingers as you grasp to capture just one more fleeting moment. However we look at it, things were quite simple.

They didn't stay that way.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

My Story Part 1... Once upon a time...

Here I am in the early morning hours lying on my bed pondering things. The dark has faded and the sun is now rising above these mountains. I suppose its around 7 AM now, in fact, it is according to my laptop's clock. And as my jet-lag is still winning this 3-day fight, for the last hour or so I have been reading and catching up on my favorite blogs after having been pretty much AWOL from the technological side of life for the past few weeks.

The wedding was gorgeous. My sister made a beautiful bride. I enjoyed every second with my siblings - like never before,really - and each moment with my parents, though they all seemed so few.

And as I return to my life here, looking for a place to move, packing, unpacking, and packing some more I have been tempted to forget what I said about my story, and just skip it since who really cares? But I know that's a little of the fatigue talking and a little bit of the evil one trying to deceive me into thinking that I am nothing special.

But today, I feel special. I feel alive. Tired. But alive. Here for a purpose. Not even sure of all the aspects of that purpose, but nonetheless, here and willing to fulfill that plan only God can orchestrate.

I lived so many years thinking of what I would say if I could instead of just saying what I could, so this morning, before breakfast, before coffee, before schoolwork, housework, or packing, I will say what I can and save more for another day.

Though I can't rightfully start my story with a true "Once upon a time..." it does make it a little more enchanting. ;) But something I have been thinking about lately is that it didn't all start with me. It didn't even start with my parents, or their parents, or their parents' parents. It started in the beginning. With a plan. I just happen to be part of that plan. (Ephesians 1:4) God's plan for my life. Oh how I long to fulfill that plan...

- 1975 -

Summer had set in, and typical, muggy St. Louis weather had no doubt been the talk of everyone's suffering. Julys can be a challenge, and this one was no different for most, but for a young, beautiful 23-year-old mother it was about to get more challenging than she could have imagined.

6 weeks. Her due date was still 6 weeks away, and everything was fine. Her first born of only 17 and a half months frolicked around her in play and her new baby lie in her womb content and right on schedule... until the 11th.

July 11th. The day I was born.

My mother could tell you the story better than I can, but her stories of the events through my words will have to suffice. For some reason, the contractions which were believed to be only of the Braxton-Hicks type, were not stopping. My father was called to be informed that she was going to the hospital, but that it was fine, then called again to come from work as quickly as possible, but didn't make it quite in time to be there. Mom gave birth to me, 5 pounds 8 ounces (kind of a chunker for that stage of the game!) and watched as the doctors carried me off to poke, prod, and analyze. My body was jaundiced, and my test results came back as having some kind of spot or obstruction in my bowel, that must be operated on immediately. I lay in an incubator, as my parents prayed that the life of their daughter be spared.

I have often been thankful for the lack of memories a baby has. My mother would tear up every time she would tell me the story of my birth and how God worked in miraculous ways, but how her heart suffered when she was suddenly gutted from the child in her womb and left alone in a room as I was alone in an incubator. I must have cried. If my mind could have formulated words, I'm sure I'd have been begging for the warmth of my mother's arms.

But the separation continued, and the prayer chain began. Grandma, grandpa, family, friends all began to pray. What probably was no more than 2 days I am sure seemed like an eternity. The doctors were convinced that there was no time to waste. My little life hung in the balance. Certain testing would have to be done once more for the doctors to be certain where and how the operation on this tiny infant would take place.

My dad said once that what he remembered of those days was just sitting, kneeling, and praying. Doctors would come and go talking about the dangers, procedures, and odds, and he'd just kneel again and pray. I wonder what kind of faith he gained that day.

The tests were run again, and the results were in.