George Bailey & Me

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“Why the heck does it have to be SO HARD?!?!” I wailed to God that Christmas Eve.

Once again, wanting a loving, Christmas Eve family experience, I attempted to force the concrete square through the circular opening and failed. We were all dressed up and driving into town to attend Christmas Eve services. The children were in their early teens by now. I thought surely we can do this! However, my anxiety was at a fever pitch and my tolerance was shot. Five minutes on the way into town, loud arguing was beginning in the back seat and I just couldn’t handle anymore fighting. So, I did what any rational parent would do. I turned the car around, drove myself back home, got out and told my husband to take them to church by himself. How kind of me. And that saint of a man did.

Back inside the house, I poured myself a huge eggnog and put on “Its a Wonderful Life” to distract myself. I fussed at God, “Why would you allow it be so hard if you know I am trying?” All of a sudden a near audible thought ran through my head, “The journey is worth it. I sent my Son into the world knowing He’d be rejected and crucified by man, but sent Him anyway bc His life on Earth mattered. Your journey is worth it too.” I nearly fell off the couch. This jolted my mindset just like George Bailey’s in the movie I was watching.

Ever since that moment I’ve quit expecting things to be easier. I realize it’s not about comfort or lack of conflict. This life is a gift with all the good, bad and ugly. It’s a process. But if God loves me enough to send His Son even though He knew we’d reject and crucify Him, I suppose I can handle some conflict and difficult circumstances myself. Praise the Lord for His infinite goodness where a worn out mama can belly ache to Him and He will answer our prayers- just like He did for George Bailey in the movie “Its a Wonderful Life.”

THANKFUL? No Way!

Reflecting on our recent holiday of Thanksgiving, I felt challenged to thank God for things I wish I didn’t have to. The saying, “God won’t give you more than you can handle” makes me cringe because I know for a fact He will give me whatever it takes to draw me to Him. He will do the same to you.

The reason He gives those He loves more than we can handle is because He knows we need almost brokenness to get past our human selves to seek Him.

If everything were manageable why would we need God? I also believe He wants us to thank Him for the things that break us because it’s then that we are able to grow into His likeness. He has to stretch us beyond comfort. It’s a dichotomy, but it’s very real.

I had been very self sufficient and a hard worker since my youth because I believed that if I put forth 100% effort and gave my everything, good would come my way. I relied on that mentality and it served me well through high school and college. Sure, I had many positive accolades and awards, but it still didn’t prepare me for what was to come.

Once, when my husband and I were early married, we served as ministry staff at a retreat. We were prayed over and the lady praying was taken aback. I didn’t understand at the time but now I get it. She stood up and said, “Oh my, you have a powerful path in your future.” We had no clue what she meant and just went about the normal business of living. Little did we know, she was foreshadowing our future.

After praying for years that I would be able to have children, low and behold, I got WAY more than I ever could have hoped for. I had a beautiful, little girl and a year later came identical, natural triplet males. Sure, our cup runneth over and yes, we had a quiver full, but the pathway there was a frightening trial.

I found out I was having triplets while having an ultrasound at the local hospital. My husband was home on his lunch hour while our one year old daughter was napping. Another family was also in the waiting room but had many family present for their baby’s first, grainy photos. My mother, afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease couldn’t be there nor could my in laws who both were working. I sat all alone waiting my turn for the cold metal strobe to tell me all was well with my baby.

I was slightly afraid because I had experienced a complication. However, that wasn’t near the complications I would be having shortly! As I lie there having the ultrasound, my technician abruptly stopped and said, “Oh my! I see two- you are having twins! You can cry now.” I lay there thinking, “What? Twins?” And then she became startled and said, “Wait! I see another. Wait. Let me go get the radiologist. I’ll be right back.” I lay there dumbfounded. How in the world could this be happening? I’m barely a mother. My mother is dying of Alzheimer’s disease down the street and I don’t know enough on how to mother that many children. I began selling my too small car and home when she came back to the ultrasound room. My first comments were, “Are there any more?” Once she said no, I began the task of realigning the Earth on its axis.

After arriving home, I tried to tell my husband the news but no words came. Instead, I handed him three stuffed animals. In true, pied piper sense his response was only, “Cool!”

I haven’t been as cool. This journey has broken me many times over the past two decades. Remember, I’m a believer in hard work and effort overcomes all. But guess what? Nope, it doesn’t. You can’t work good to occur. You can’t hope people will change. You can’t pretend good is happening when it’s not. You also can’t ignore difficulty and pretend it doesn’t exist. All of it is very real. We all struggle. We all have something or someone that brings us to our breaking point.

I recently read the book “Prison to Praise” by Merlin Carothers that says we need to thank God for the very painful, difficult situations we have. He says it’s then that God can unleash His power to make change. Usually, it seems, that powerful change is in our attitude and therefore, our behaviors. I’m no Pollyanna and I am real in that I struggle mightily. I wrestle against circumstances and their perceived unfairness like anyone. However, I’ve grown weary trying to make things like I think “they should be.”

Letting go of results and expectations seem to be my struggle. I’ve wanted things to be just so and people to do this or that but have only met frustration over and over. I suppose God wants me to let Him be God and me be Katie? Maybe I’m supposed to leave results to Him and enjoy the process of raising children the good and the bad?

I’ve found the self restraint required to let things be almost impossible. I’ve wanted so much to “fix” things to how in my mind seem appropriate. But where has it gotten me? No where I’d like. So, in an effort to do the unthinkable, I am going to try thanking Him for things I don’t like and for those I want to change. I am going to ask Him to do His bidding rather than my all too faulty, presumptuous ideas. Maybe then, I can finally relax? Thankfully, it really doesn’t matter because I’m not in charge anyway. That much I DO know.

THE BLACK HOLE

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Does anyone else have a junk drawer that is basically a black hole? It’s full, but of who knows what?  Recently, I spent hours going through one of these looking for something.  Of course, it never appeared but some other really cool stuff did.  I ended up reminiscing through pictures, children’s art, cards and very old documents from my grandparents.  I highly recommend doing it sometime.  Just sit down and take an inventory of your past years. Updated perspective is truly remarkable.

Some of the amazing items found were over a hundred years old. I happened upon my grandfather’s 1926 certificate of initiation into the Alpha chapter of Pi Kappa Phi at College of Charleston. I also found a tenant farmer deed that was originally signed in 1884.  It was glued to the new one signed and notarized in 1909.  I have no idea what to do with it but just touching the papered history of my family felt special.  The children’s art is way too numerous to detail, but I loved the preschool mom letters.  Ridiculously cute, they described me as 45 pounds and basically perfect (where did that opinion go?). A prized find was a tiny journal I had jotted some hilarious encounters with my children in. If any of you still have small children around, it is so worth it.

One entry in the journal had me at dinner with two of them.  Apparently, one son wanted to say the Lord’s Prayer since he recently learned it. He began and then I noticed he said, “And lead us into temptation…”  Upon finishing, I corrected him that it was actually, “And lead us NOT into temptation.”  He shrugged and said, “What’s the big deal? It’s only ONE word!” Another was driving home from school, our daughter was reading about the Holocaust.  She shared a very tragic story of a woman whose husband was shot in front of her and she delivered a stillborn days later.  It was a very somber, quiet moment until my son said to me, “And you think YOU have stress!” (He had a very good point.)

As funny as the stories were, the art sweet, and the old pictures meaningful, I was amazed at the feeling of positivity that came from reminiscing.  It was like looking back through a filtered, edited frame that provided good light and a beautiful landscape of my life. Sometimes, saved clutter can be good thing (sorry, Martha).

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PLU or Who?

The first time I heard the term “PLU” was when I described a crowd. My sis-in-law said, “You mean PLUs.” I asked what that meant and she said, “People Like Us.” She nailed it. She wasn’t referring to people like her, but rather a group of similar people. The homogenous crowd I described WAS so alike I could have easily described one individual or the collective group and they seemed the exact same.

Recall being pigeon-holed by people as a prep, jock, or geek in high school? It was how kids identified themselves and each other. It was major effort to get to know someone outside your bubble. And more often than not, that cross- pollination didn’t happen that much.

Calling a crowd a “PLU” is not necessarily a compliment. When people only associate with like minded, like-appearing and like-interested groups, not a whole lot of influence or change occurs. It’s like we sometimes cocoon ourselves in familiarity, therefore protecting ourselves from appearing different from our perceived assigned group.

Growing up, our children were very open to a vast array of friends. Some were foreign exchange students from Germany, China, Roatán, and Poland that would visit. One of our sons called his friends “the misfits” in middle school. It wasn’t negative, just a description of his “Non-PLUs.” He already got how it was cool to get to know and get along with a myriad of people.

I used to be concerned with being in a PLU crowd. It was exhaustive trying to maintain the associations, relationships, activities and enrollments I self imposed on myself. Once I got over my petty insecurities, I realized I identified with all ages of people.  I met some of the coolest people in non-PLU territory. They are 81-94 years and I love them!  Had I not looked outside my PLU, I’d have missed that HUGE blessing!