In What He Has Refused Me

{originally written June 2011}

Today I was thinking about some things I am really, really, really hoping for right now. That got me wondering what kind of person I would be if I had gotten everything I wanted when I wanted it.

If I had gotten to ride the carousel every time my mom and I went to Kmart when I was a little girl, it would have been expected and not special. Instead, I still remember how excited I was to drop the quarter into the machine when Mom said it was okay.


Same goes with getting gum or candy at the checkout line in the grocery store. Because it wasn't a given for every grocery store trip, I learned that I didn't get everything that I wanted, but the times when I did were more meaningful.


If my parents had agreed once I entered jr. high to spend their money on the most expensive jeans and shirts and shoes for me, I would have felt like hot stuff, but I might have not learned to look deeper than clothing. I might have chosen my friends based on their wardrobe choices and not how I felt when I was around them.


And again, the birthday when I opened up a brand new pair of Doc Martens wouldn't have been as exciting to me.

If I had married my first love, I might have been happy. I for sure would have missed out on some terribly painful heartbreak. But I never would have met and fallen in love with my Danilo, and I thank heaven on my knees that that's not the case.



If the hardships I have experienced had been lifted the first time I asked for them to be, I would have missed the opportunity to allow Heavenly Father to see me through to the end, letting Him show me that I can do hard things and that He was mindful of me through the entire process. He has taught me that this will always be the case, without exception, throughout my entire life.






He Let Me Fail


A mini-chapter in gratitude. This chapter will be more meaningful if you have read my depression story.

My peers had been excused from the room. I was left sitting in front of three college professors. Tears slipped down my nose as I tried to compose myself.

This was the day at the end of each semester when we brought in our teacher work sample, a project into which if done right, we had poured all of our energy and many, many hours throughout the last few months.

Before presenting our projects, we sat with 3-4 other students from the teaching program and discussed in front of a panel of our professors what we had learned from our experience practicing in classrooms this semester.

Truth be told, while this kind of "activity" would cause a lot of people anxiety, I actually really enjoyed it. Most of us really enjoyed it. We were teachers at heart and almost teachers with a degree. Speaking and presenting had long lost the intimidation factor.

Today was different from the other semesters. I had made it through the question and answer period all right, but one by one as my fellow teaching students presented their projects, I shuddered to think what the next few minutes were going to bring. I was stepping into completely uncharted territory. This was definitely going to be a first.

  *****

A year earlier, I had called off the engagement just as I finished the semester. A strange and terrifying summer had followed. After the suicide notes had been destroyed and I had returned safely from my "outing" into the mountains, it was time to start thinking about getting ready for school again in August. It seemed like a joke. I was far from okay, but my parents were lovingly adamant that I would not continue to spend the unforeseeable future crawled up in a ball in my bedroom day and night.

What upset me the most was that who-I-was-now was going to go up and destroy all the work who-I-once-was had done. I had the blessing of a couple semesters of a four-year full-ride scholarship left which was all mine unless my grades dipped below a B-average level. Who-I-once-was loved school, thrived in school, and had since 1st grade (I skipped Kindergarten). Who-I-was-now was totally apathetic. 

 I put it off as long as possible til one day, about a week before school started, my mom sat next to me and said we would leave the couch as soon as I was registered. This was the semester that I was supposed to be wrapping up my minor in Spanish. I registered for my three remaining Spanish classes. 

I had to be enrolled in four classes for my scholarship to apply, so on the first day of class, like a vagrant, I wandered the halls of the social science building, listened to the professors and walked in to the first class I thought I could probably manage, something about communication and family relationships.

Apathy took a backseat to my love for Spanish that semester. Especially Spanish: Phonetics and Phonology. Good grief I gobbled that stuff up. I went to school everyday and felt like I was wearing a mask, like I was fooling my professors, my friends, everyone. I'm stable. I'm healthy. I'm normal. My Spanish classes had about a 10:1 guy/girl ratio due to all the missionaries in the area who learn Spanish on missions. Because I was thriving on this phonetics and phonology stuff, they would often invite themselves over for study groups at my house. How awesome this would be if I were normal. What a shame that I'm a freak, I'd think. What I didn't realize was that my classes had sneaked in the backdoor and were busy instilling a love for life within me again.

*****
I made it through that semester with good grades because of my love for Spanish and because I made a comment about once a class period on communication in family relationships in the social science building. The holidays came and I met Laura. The combination of my good experience at school and the fun I had with Laura made me long to be normal again. I really think this might work, I thought, and registered for my next semester in the education program.

*****

By the time school started in January, I had made a major shift for the better. I had realized the whole going-to-hell thing was a farce and was just now in the process of rewiring my thoughts that had been trained to think in such self-deprecating ways. School helped a lot. Our practice work out in the classrooms helped a lot. 

The hard truth was, though, that the education program required me to operate at top-notch levels when it came to studying and completing projects, and I wasn't prepared to operate at that level.

A large assignment was coming due, and I couldn't wrap my head around it. My healing process was going very, very well, and frankly I was so grateful and so happy, there was no room for panic. The day approached when I was to turn in my assignment. When the professor called for it, I simply just didn't turn anything in. I walked out of the classroom shocked that I was still breathing, that my heart was still beating, in fact, I felt fine. All those years when I wondered what would happen if I didn't turn in an assignment. Well now I knew. The world kept turning.

*****

Similar circumstances played themselves out 2-3 more times in different classes. I was doing the best I knew how and turning in everything I was able to complete, that just wasn't everything I was supposed to have done. One by one I approached my professors and let them know I was recovering from a severe bout with depression. A few of them worked with me and extended my deadlines which I always met because I was so grateful. 

But I just hadn't been able to pull off that major project of the semester. I was to meet with a group of teaching students in front of a panel of my professors and I didn't know what to do. I thought not showing up would probably be the very worst, so I typed up a letter, dressed in my classroom best, and headed up to school. 

We started by sharing our experiences from the elementary school classroom. I'd had many positive ones to talk about. Next, one by one, my peers shared their projects. 

My turn came. I was too nervous to take a deep breath so instead offered a prayer that I wouldn't faint. God was listening. He always had been, but the important thing was that now I knew it. I handed each of my professors a letter. It was an apology for the less-than-stellar work I had produced this semester. It was an explanation that my bout with depression had taken a toll on my ability to complete work in a timely manner. It expressed a hope that as I continued to recover, they would see significant improvement, and that I was willing to do whatever I needed to in the coming weeks to complete the work I hadn't finished to their satisfaction. 

I felt like a rock dropped into my stomach when none of them nodded okay, and the woman professor leading the group asked my fellow classmates to leave the room.

*****

He was not going to let me fail, was He? That wouldn't be good for my recovering mental health. 

A lot of communication went on within the department. Two of my professors were pleased with my efforts to communicate with them throughout the semester. I had turned in all my work, and coupled with their understanding of my circumstances, they felt comfortable letting me pass their classes. I was so grateful for their understanding.

Two of them did not. Oh I resented them. I had done the very best I could with circumstances that were more than I could handle. And it wasn't good enough. I was determined that I wouldn't spend too much mental energy on it. At this point I had reached the understanding that no matter how worthless and low you feel, God has never left the picture. With this fresh in my mind, I knew I would not crumble. But I still resented my professors.

I don't anymore. 

Sometimes compassion steps in, like those first two professors did, and grants us a favor. And it is a blessing. Sometimes life bears down and teaches us a lesson. And we need to experience both. 

He let me fail. And though it took me awhile to realize it, He gave me a tremendous gift.  I know now what failure tastes like.

The question, "What if I fail?" doesn't scare me anymore.

Was it humbling watching my classmates move on to student teaching and graduation while I went back to the college classroom? Yes. Was it hard receiving a letter notifying me of the probation hearing on my status within the education program? Yes.

But did I make it? Yes. I did. With a new powerful life lesson in my tool-belt. 

I can fail. I can pick myself up again. And His love is sure through all of it.



In Case of Poison



I heard a cry that was meant for a momma's arms barreling up the front steps. I dropped my kitchen duties and was in the living room in time to scoop her up.

"I stepped in poison! I don't want to DIE!" she sobbed.

I figured this had something to do with the "this lawn has been sprayed today" flag staked in our neighbor's lawn.

Upon further investigation, I learned that I was indeed right. Little girl often bops around the neighborhood close behind a friend who is three years older and full of helpful information, like what butting in line at the bus stop means and why you shouldn't do it. But today she'd pronounced a death sentence of poison-by-walking-through-your-neighbor's-treated-lawn on my daughter's head and then disappeared, leaving her to contemplate her tragic fate alone.

I breathed the phrase that has brought comfort to little girl many a time.

"Do you know this happened to me when I was a little girl?" Relief washed over her face and worry took a backseat to her wonder. "Really?"

"Yeah," I began to explain, leading her to the bathroom.  "I mean, if we drank the stuff on the grass, we'd get very, very sick. And we don't want to run around in the sprayed grass on purpose. But if we accidentally step in it, all we need to do is wash it off."

Drying her off, little girl asked me a few more questions about the exact details of my brush with poisoned grass as a little girl, and by the time she hopped off the counter, seemed satisfied that everything was going to be okay.


 *****

I read a scary statistic the other day. The average age of exposure and addiction to pornography is 11 years old. That is before most students even enter a middle school.

What's the big deal? What a person likes to look at is their business right? It is. But know that those images are not harmless. They are capable of altering minds and hearts. Of destroying bonds in healthy relationships. They are capable of destroying trust. Of shattering families and individuals. It's not a mess you can clean up in one day. The effects have the potential to reverberate through generations. 

Those who brush it off as no big deal are doing mankind an abominable disservice. 

Pornography used to have to be sought after. Now, more often than not, it finds you. And if you bite, computers, tablets, hand-held devices can provide access from then on out anytime you want in seconds. 

A new sentiment I hear being expressed is that it is not about if our children stumble upon pornography. It's about when they do. 

*****

Every day when that bus rounds the corner out of the neighborhood with a big chunk of my whole world on it, I know it's already begun. She is discovering, whether she is conscious of it or not, that the outside world is different than our home. The things we value here are a little different than what is valued out there. The way we talk to each other here is a little different than the way people talk to each other out there. This is kindergarten. I know the gap's just going to widen with every passing year.

It's not all bad. I hope we have prepared her well to develop and thrive in the world outside our home. But I hope and pray that the things she learns here will guide her decisions and behavior out there. And that no matter where she goes, she associates home with love, joy and safety and the place she belongs. 

Hearing those statistics about the age 11 the other day, I couldn't shake the thought that it wasn't too early to discuss these things with little girl. The fact that she is proficient at navigating our laptop and any tablet or smart phone she can get her hands on sealed the deal.

God does not leave us alone to deal with matters such as these. I told Heavenly Father that afternoon when I decided to do it, "I'm not quite sure how to approach this with little girl, but I am sure it's important."

As I went about my day, one word flashed largely in my mind.

POISON.

And I knew exactly where to go with it.

  *****

This is how Daddy and I tried to explain it to little girl the other night.

Remember the time you stepped in that lawn that had been sprayed?

And you were worried it was poison?

What is it that is so scary about poison?

How did it feel? It was really scary for you, wasn't it?

And where did you go? You ran home, didn't you? And we washed it off together?

How did you feel after we washed it off?

So our bodies are the part of us that walk and talk and breathe. Do you know what our spirit is? It's who we are on the inside. It's our feelings about Heavenly Father. It's how we feel about ourselves and the way we treat other people.

Did you know that while there are things that are poison to our bodies, there are also things that are poison to our spirits?

Want to know what one kind of poison to our spirit is?

And we went on to discuss the kinds of pictures that are not hard to find all over the internet and how the people in them may (or may not) be dressed. When people continue viewing pictures like this day after day, they lose the ability to feel close to Heavenly Father, to make good choices, and to feel close to other people. They often feel very bad inside because it makes their spirit sick.

You will probably come upon pictures like this by accident, like when you accidentally ran through that lawn. If you do, leave what you're doing, and come tell Dad or me like you did with the spray in the lawn. And we will talk about it, and that will be just like washing the poison off your feet. You'll be on your way, nothing more to worry about, in no time.

We figured that was enough for one night.

*****

I am recognizing there is another quality I want my home to possess. I want it to be the place my children come when they encounter this or any other brush with poison to the soul. Come home and talk no matter how mild or serious your brush with it has been. Don't feel like you need to keep it a secret or hide it or manage it on your own. Don't stay away. That little voice that's telling you it's hopeless or it's too late? Yeah. I've dealt with him too. And he's lying.
I am finding that it would be dangerous to assume that these things will not happen in my home or to my children. As unsettling as that thought is, I know I am not alone. Though I know the world outside will influence them, I pray that even more so, they will, through their goodness, influence the world. 



The Great Pumpkin Love Story



This might just go down in the books as a story we tell for all Halloweens to come. 

Halloween morning, I woke up to find all of our pumpkins taken off our porch. Gosh dang it! I knew we'd been lucky all these years that they hadn't gone missing. The home I grew up in is situated on a steep road, and I remember falling asleep in October to the sound of  pumpkins bumping down the street with a mixture of hoots, hollers and YEAHS! from teenage boys. We learned early on to bring our pumpkins in at night. I'd gotten lazy here.  

It wasn't long before little girl was up and truly the first words out of her mouth from her bedroom were, "MOOOO-OM. It's time to carve PUMP-kins!"

I stood in her doorway. "Oh sweetie, some stinkers last night were having fun and took our pumpkins away. Isn't that silly?"

"For real?" she asked. And as soon as I started to nod, she bolted to the front door. I was guilty of snagging my camera as I chased after her so I could catch her reaction. This would be a fun memory someday.

As soon as she verified that every stair that had once held a pumpkin was empty, she turned to face me with her feet planted, her little hands in fists as she folded her arms. "But WHY?" she said.

I explained, snapping a picture, that I remember the time my mom had come into my room as a kid on November 1st to tell me the pumpkin I'd carved the night before was gone. It was just a silly thing teenagers like to do at Halloween time.

My plan now this morning was to run to the grocery store and buy at least one if not two more pumpkins so that our pumpkin carving tradition could continue, and I explained that to Grace. She followed me around the house a bit until the dam, that I didn't realize was about to break, did, and the tears came rolling down her cheeks. "But that was my pumpkin from the pumpkin patch!" She was now openly sobbing. My heart now throbbed with the understanding that this was perhaps the cruelest thing she had yet encountered in her five years. I snagged the opportunity to scoop her up and snuggle as she absorbed a harsh reality of this world. Sometimes our pumpkins get stolen off our porch at Halloween.  

I had her sit on my lap as I logged into Facebook and posted the picture of her reaction on the front porch along with the caption, "To the stinkers who stole our pumpkins off our front steps, I hope you have the image of the face of this little girl who woke up asking if we could carve pumpkins today etched in your memory for all time." I thought twice before sending it out there. I hoped people understood it was laced with humor, because otherwise it sounded pretty bitter. I just figured anyone who had ever had to relate the harsh realities of pumpkins and teenagers and Halloween to their little one would be able to relate and have a good laugh. At the risk of thinking too hard, I sent it off.

We started moving around the house getting ready for our day, but it wasn't long before my phone dinged with a message. "We have two pumpkins to spare! I can bring them to you," said my neighbor. Ding. "Come have little girl pick a pumpkin off our porch. My kids aren't planning on carving this year. She can't be sad today!" said another neighbor.

My heart tingled with warmth. I love my neighbors. And I mentally scratched going to the grocery store for pumpkins off my list. We put on some shoes and put little boy in the stroller and set off to gather the pumpkins on hold for us from neighbors. 

After arriving home and filling four of our steps with pumpkins, I saw a few Facebook notifications had come in since we'd left. I expected a few likes, and a couple of uncles asking what I expected leaving big fat tempting pumpkins on the porch all night. 

Instead, for almost every, "That's awful! I'm sorry!" there was an "If I lived closer, I would come put the rest of mine on your porch!"

"We have two left. Please come get them!"

"I have two! I will donate to the great pumpkin tragedy!"

And my favorite. "I will send one thousand pumpkins. Just please no more super sad faces!"

Little girl and I read through the comments together. When we finished, all on her own, the words, "So many people are so loving!" fell out of her mouth. 
  
I knew I needed to get back on Facebook and post the picture of our once-empty steps now full again, and let them know how much we appreciated the offers for pumpkins, because we were now taken care of. 
 
While our tragedy was so very, very minor, it reminded me of some of the ideas I have clung to in hard times in our world. Like the week after the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings in Newton, Connecticut. This quote soothed my heart that felt like it had been scraped raw as over twenty families laid their kindergartners to rest. Speaking of when alarming events occurred in the world during his childhood, Mr. Rogers said: "My mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world."
 
And after the Boston Marathon bombings, it was mentioned how seconds after the bombing there were many people who ran toward the chaos. So much of the time the instigator of terror gets the attention, but if we were to open our eyes a little wider, we would see that our world is not as far gone as we think it is.  

I had meant the whole thing to be rather funny. But instead my friends and neighbors gave me the opportunity to discuss with my daughter an important principle she will at times have to cling to in today's world. As my mom posted on little girl's thumbs up picture at the top of this post, "For all that is bad, there is so much good! The negative gives opportunity to the positive!"
 
Later that morning we ran and grabbed some breakfast for fun because Daddy had the day off. And when we got back, there were two more pumpkins on our porch, bringing the total to seven. We carved more than we've ever carved before.
 
Hope you had a lovely Halloween.



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