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.

RAINBOWS & BUTTERFLIES

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Sometimes we are inexplicably given the gift of a sign or message.  That sign can be the thing that helps us to persevere, hang on, or power through difficult times.  Having had a few trials myself, I have come to recognize two spontaneous messages of hope in my life.  Those two signs I find comfort in are: monarch butterflies and double rainbows.  (Nope, I do not have any imaginary friends or see unicorns- in case you are wondering.)

One of these signs appeared while I was vacationing at the beach. Longing for a modicum of peace, I decided to take a solo walk along the shore.  It was a bright, breezy day with vast, blue skies exploding in every direction.  I knew the crashing waves would drown out the sounds of the world and the smell of salt and laughter of gulls would relieve my internal and external tension.  I began to talk to God about all that was bothering me (He already knew, but hey?) and asked for guidance, wisdom, clarity and anything else He might throw in for good measure.  All of a sudden, out of NO WHERE appeared a lone, monarch butterfly.  It was bright yellow and fluttered about me for a good, five minutes.  It’s spontaneous presence was awe inspiring and felt like a divine message of hope was hitting my “Inbox.”

My second “message moment” occurred more recently.  A friend was sharing what she was enduring over the phone.  By chance, I looked up and saw not one, but TWO spectacular rainbows.  Their concise, colorful arches expanded the sky end to end and took my breath away.  Immediately, I pulled my car over and told her to hang on because I was sending her something via text RIGHT then.  The shot was a “shout from the sky” telling us to hang on because the same God who promised Noah no more floods was still with her too!  She agreed they were perfect and perfectly timed.

Some might reason these two phenomena away with scientific facts.  That’s okay.  I still get to choose that they hold deeper meaning for me.  I think I need these symbols of  hope to keep on keeping on. Also, I like hearing from the Creator, no matter His medium.  (And, no, I still haven’t, and don’t plan on seeing any unicorns.)

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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!

THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING!

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It started 21 years ago when I was Orca the Whale.  I was already on “bed arrest” for a high risk pregnancy but then had to be admitted to a teaching hospital with a neonatal unit.  This aged facility was where my Cornish hen-sized babies would enter the world too early at 30 weeks. I recall there being lots of preterm, laboring moms that night and no room for admittance. So I got to lie on a gurney for a bed with a curtain as a partition. I recall garish, exposed, fluorescent bulbs, and the view of a mega dust bunny gliding back and forth over my head. To keep the babies baking longer, I was given a med that caused vomiting. Not just a little either.  So, in my 1/2 star accommodations, I thought to myself, “This can’t be happening.”  But it did. And it kept happening for 6 more weeks….

The next time it happened I was outnumbered and carting all my brood to a public library. It was one of the very few places I could go with 4 preschoolers without doing a perpetual head count.  Since we were potty training, I was relieved there was a potty right there too. We go in the library and one of my guys is so engrossed in his trains that he goes #2 right there by the train table, completely unnoticed. (As you know, children run around and around and back and forth A LOT when playing at a train table.)  To add insult to injury, my sons also had on deep-trekked shoes and were innocently “painting” the carpet with the “accident.”  I got a sudden whiff and the panic set in.  My 911 button was pushed and I went into damage control.  Mortified, I take the culprit to get cleaned up.  Then, the perturbed librarian comes at me with carpet cleaner. I thought to myself, “This can’t be happening!” But as sure as stink it did! I got to clean carpet, clean children, clean shoes and accept the fact we couldn’t go there ever, ever again.

Looking back, those minor horrors were “Boot Camp” to prepare me for a whole lot to come.  I can take a whole lot more stress now than I could back then.  I am not as fazed at shattered windows, fender benders, and escaped pet snakes. Maybe God knew I needed to be pushed.  Maybe He knew what would get through to me.  I really don’t know, but I can definitely say I got the message.

Tattoo Who

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I always thought tattoos were interesting. I have no idea why, but I would look at them and think to myself, “What does that mean?” and “Why do they have that?” I was inexplicably drawn to them and could only imagine the story behind the ink. I even researched what the Bible said about them. However, I was raised by a father that said a tattoo was a “permanent reminder of a temporary feeling.”

Throughout history, tattoos have sometimes had negative connotations. My husband had a grandfather who was a merchant marine that was embarrassed of his – so much so, he hid his with long-sleeved shirts in sweltering heat. Cher even had hers lasered off. Yet they seem more ubiquitous and socially accepted now than ever.

To me, tattoos are interpretive, personal art. The only thing that stopped me from getting one was the fact my intuitive husband said I’d want to change mine out after a month like an accessory. His opinion was correct in that I was easily bored with decor and fashion. In those areas, he had me pegged.

There were, however, nonnegotiables in my life: my devotion to my family and my faith. To explain, it takes supernatural, God- equipped strength to raise  (much less live with)  4 teenagers. So, when I hit a particularly difficult, rough patch, I decided to take a personal “break.” I have no clue how to define or what constitutes “a break,” but I will say it was the healthiest choice. No kidding, I hit a very high, hard wall in parenting. So, I separated myself to avoid perpetuating anymore negativity and to gain perspective. I went to the beach and started praying fervently. I had no idea what to do, how to do it, or what could come of my quandry.  I just kept seeking divine guidance.  I knew God was there and would help me but I didn’t know what that would look like. The more I prayed, the more God drew closer. I felt His comforting presence and sensed my job was to back off and let Him do His work. I felt without a doubt that God was telling me to “Be still” and just “Be Thankful.” That message, after days of prayer, was all I needed to stop trying so hard to force change. My role rather, was to rejoice and be thankful for all God’s blessings. This was new for me: I was to stop micromanaging everything and just “be.”

After contemplating this reality, it dawned on me that I felt a permanent reminder was in order. It was like I was driven by an external force that sunny weekday to go to the beach tattoo parlor. Yep, a middle aged, mother of 4 had an unwavering plan to commemorate this “God moment” in ink.

With their high-tech, graphics design program, and medical grade equipment, the artist created a light- hued, grey scripted message on my inner wrist. It was and is my permanent message from God to be still and be thankful.

It has induced hilarious banter from some like, “Did you get that in prison?” I also find it humorous that I am the only one in my family with one- none of my college kids do. Interestingly, it has also been the impetus of deep conversations with strangers regarding faith.  I don’t regret it and haven’t for one moment wanted to change it out either.

Drive Thru Prayers

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One morning, one of our sons told us he was too sick to go to school. Knowing there was no immediate sign of illness, I decided to take him to the pediatrician to squelch any lingering questions of the contrary. We saw the doctor who gave him a clean bill of health and a direct pass back to school. (When you have 4, you have to be creative to avoid future endeavors.). But being the softie parent that I was, I decided to ease the pain of returning him straight to school by detouring through the local Sonic. In the drive thru, he ordered and we could audibly make out sniffles and a crackling voice through the speaker. When we arrived to the window to pay, the worker had red eyes from obvious crying. I asked her what was wrong. She said her family member was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma and had a short time left to live. Eyeing our son, I said that we would pray for her and her family member and that we were so sorry for her bad news. She thanked us and we waited for his order. Once we were alone, I remarked to him how important it was that no matter where he was or what he was doing, he needed to be ready for God’s call to intercede and pray for people. Without missing a beat, he turned to me and asked, “Do you think they need any prayer at Burger King?”

Normal Is Just A Setting On A Dryer

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I never could figure out what category to put our family in to be able to assess if I was “doing it right.” Should we go in the higher order multiples group (fancy term for triplets or more) or a regular, 4 children family, or the identical (“freak of nature”) and therefore, not assessable category? I mean, I had to find that template or else all would be a loss.

As I knew it, everything I undertook, had to have a measurable outcome and THEN I would know if I was doing a good job or not. This uncharted territory gave me hives. Who had a 20 month old, natural identical boys and 3 preemies 10 weeks early on all kinds of monitors? I didn’t know WHAT I was doing and therefore did what came oh so naturally but self-destructive….I compared myself to others. That easy road was open, wide and welcoming, at first. It seemed harmless enough until I realized I wasn’t fitting into “the norm” that others seemed to be. No one could relate. Nobody at the Multiples Group, nobody at preschool, and no one anywhere as far as I could find. I searched everywhere. I read books. I attended workshops by renowned authors, so called “parenting experts.” I asked all the doctors, nurses, and clergy I could about everything. I wrote letters to authors whose books were about parenting (one author was unfortunately deceased and couldn’t answer my maniacal questions). I was a control freak freaking out that I didn’t know how to handle all of it. I had no idea I was adding insult to injury and trying to complete the impossible. I was like a barefooted hiker trying to summit a mountain in -5 degrees with no experience or supplies. It hadn’t dawned on me yet that maybe NOT knowing was good for me, that maybe my fear of failure and lack of understanding would actually draw me closer to my Creator. I had no idea that normal doesn’t even exist! I later joined a Bible Study and heard the saying that “Normal Is Just A Setting On a Dryer.” That has been my motto ever since. There. Is. No. Normal. We are all just here for a while working out this experience called life and trying to make the best of it. That’s all.

The Golden Girls

I never thought my favorite way to spend a Wednesday afternoon would be in the midst of “seasoned women of a certain age.” Fortunately, fate lead me into the most amazing group of them. I had prayed about my friendships feeling disconnect and wondered why things changed so much. By forming a loosely connected group with them (which began through church), we have become a close-knit support system of one another. These girls range from 81 to 94 and can tell a story!  I have learned so much from listening to them and seeking their wisdom. We have a devotion, just talk our “girl talk,” and laugh!  After that, we normally go to the Pub onsite and maybe or maybe not have a glass of wine. It has been extraordinary how much joy I get from being with them. In fact, I get way more out of our time together than they do. We’ve had prayers answered, dealt with death of loved ones, health problems and political issues. Occasionally, I get the privilege to hear about a prior romance (or a colorful joke). It seems the more time we spend together, the more easily the stories flow. My husband says that this group is what “rings my chimes.”  I tend to agree.

God Will Never Give You More Than You Can Handle

If you, like me, despise the above saying, then you will easily understand me. I absolutely believe there IS a higher power and have come to know him as Jesus. Yes, He most certainly WILL give you more than you can handle. It’s His means to draw you closer. It’s not to disregard your surely, evolved abilities, but to salvage those in overwhelming, unbearable circumstances.  I learned this tough lesson when I, Katie, Miss do-it-all, over-achiever, was given natural, identical triplets 3 months after my mother succumbed to Alzheimer’s and while I was raising a 1 year old. My sister said God did this to get my attention because that was the only way. I beg to differ. I think God did this to bless my husband and me and to teach us. Now there has been a cost: loss of prior beliefs, less invitations and others, but they pale in comparison to the life lessons we’ve gained. Maybe you have a similar story from a different perspective. Maybe you were blessed with a special needs child (greatest nod from God I can imagine) or you have endured a trial that has left you more aware of what really matters. Maybe you lost something that opened your eyes to something greater.  I don’t know, but I do believe we all can learn from and gain perspective from one another. That is why I decided to do this blog that many friends say might help someone else.