Ruth

I met Ruth when I accidentally showed up at the wrong college ministry freshman year (I ended up staying). We looked alike, too, which sometimes caused people to mistake us for sisters. We always found this hilarious.

In college we hung out a bit – the occasional coffee or swimming at the indoor pool in the university recreation center. We’d tread water in the deep end and chat.

Ruth was my polar opposite back then: in my days of too many boys and too much alcohol, she was on the straight and narrow. She would have been aghast that I would ever entertain the thought of getting drunk or was not a virgin – so I just left out those parts of my life.

Nonetheless, we found common ground, and the many memories of this college Bible group have Ruth in them and we stayed close. One night, she was discussing how after graduation she was going to live with her brother for several months who was living in Europe. I was jealous of her upcoming adventure, not to mention I had a slight crush on her gorgeous older brother. And that’s when she said it:

“You should come for a visit!” Oh my goodness, that was too good to pass up!

The three of us spent a week traveling around England with no particular plan, just wherever the trains happened to take us that morning. I loved it!

This trip cemented our status as lifelong friends, in what was supposed to be a friendship that faded away with college life. Ruth became one of my closest confidants in my adult life. The days of editing my life for her ears had long since passed. She knew everything. In time we had grown up: I cleaned up my act and Ruth realized the world was not as black and white as she thought it to be.

We kept each other in the loop about our various romantic escapades, struggles, and joys – as singles and as wives. We also shared the hardship of infertility. Our stories were night and day different, but both of our homes remained silent without children.

A few years ago, we decided to restart our adventures by meeting halfway between our homes, as we live quite a distance apart. Our adventures have spanned a near-death experience in West Virginian mountains and backpacking cities. We try to meet up at least once a year and do something fun: it’s usually outdoors, involves a glass of wine, a tourist stop, and deep conversations.

A friend like Ruth is one of those rare gems – I think of her more as a sister. Her intelligence, character, and love of God have not only inspired me but buoyed me through some really hard times, as well as contributed to the good times. I know I can call her at any time to tell her anything, and she will always be gentle and listen. She doesn’t judge, yet she’ll call a spade a spade when it needs to be said. I am so grateful for her honesty and her 24 karat persona.

I’m excited to see where the Lord is going to lead Ruth. She made the decision to leave her abusive marriage after many failed attempts to fix it. Now that she is free from that burden, I know she will blossom, like the tree by the water in Jeremiah 17:7-8.

….and I can’t wait for our next adventure!

 

Chantel

I still vividly remember the first time I saw her.

It was 2 weeks before my wedding. I was moonlighting on third shift, helping to cover a coworker out on FMLA. I got off shift that morning and hopped into the car with my fiance: we were driving to Virginia to meet his sister, her husband, and my oldest soon-to-be nephew and 2 nieces.

I tried to sleep in the car, but it was a fitful, unrested sleep. I was an overtired, grumpy, frazzled, dehydrated, stressed out bride who was about to meet extended family for the first time. And I was a hot mess.

I managed to pull myself together by the time we arrived in their driveway, and that’s when I saw her from the passenger side of the car: a cute little 9 year old with light brown hair and big expressive brown eyes was playing in the yard. This had to be Chantel. We locked eyes. I had never been an aunt before. We started quizzicaly at each other, unsure of what all this meant. I remember she gave me a big hug, as we got out of the car, and were ushered into the house, welcomed with open arms.

Through the years, I’d watch her blossom into a teenager. What began as her watching me put on make up in the morning morphed into me asking her for make up advice. Her make up game was on fleek, as the kids say nowadays.

The teenage years became fraught with angst and rebellion, accentuated with drugs and sex, probably steaming from the abuse she had suffered and never treated. I’d call her out and try my best to show her I would always be there and love her despite her many lapses in judgment. Her parents kicked her out of the house several times for having drugs and basically threw up their arms with frustration in terms of helping her professionally and emotionally. She’s currently living with a friend’s family at age 19, in between jobs again.

She needs someone to show her the love of the Father. And so I remain, checking on her through text messages and sending birthday gifts.

I was in town, visiting her family without my husband, a few weeks ago. While she was invited over for dinner, her lack of communication skills kept her from stopping by. It was no matter: I had already arranged a lunch date with her before I arrived.

* * * * *

Almost to the day, 10 years after we met in a driveway, I picked Chantel up in a stranger’s driveway. She was at another friend’s house, in the middle of absolute nowhere. She looked like she had dropped some excess weight, as her belly ring was clearly on display, and wore the light aroma of of marijuana as she slid into the passenger seat. Both of us were nursing a hangover: I sipped too much wine the night before and had a splitting headache. She had done shots (“Only like 6 or 7” – I kindly informed her 4 was binge drinking – she had no clue) and spent part of the night throwing up. She had been arrested again last month, this time for petit larceny, after failing to say no to a friend’s suggestion of putting unpaid merchandise in her purse. She was on probation, of course.

I swear, her communication skills and insecurity will be the end of her.

This was demonstrated again in her failing to pick a spot for lunch. “I don’t know, what do you want?” I pushed her to make a decision and she finally chose Red Robin, a fine choice, even though my Lenten fast meant I wouldn’t get my favorite bottomless root beer float.

Our conversation was surface level, but by the time food arrived we were in a deep talk about her insecurities, her inability to express her desires, and how that was making her life very difficult. She knew that stealing was wrong, but she lacked the fortitude to say no, blaming it on being tired after a long day, wanting to go home, and the “Sure, whatever” mindset she has when making decisions that directly affect her.

She acknowledged what I already knew to be true, but she has a streak of lip service behind her. Chantel’s words and actions are light years apart.

After lunch, I drove her back to her current home and I felt that tug from the Holy Spirit to pray with her. I struggle to say Grace before meals in a group setting, but I obliged.

“Can I pray with you?” I asked as she was about to leave the car.
“Sure,” she replied.

I held her hands and spoke His words over her. They flowed out, like a poem. I asked for her protection and that Chantel would know how beautiful, strong, and loved she was. There were tears in her eyes at the end.

Before she left, I told her not to spend dwindling money on weed, as I could smell it on her. I hugged her tight, told her I loved her, and to call me if she needed anything.

And before I knew it, I was flying south on the interstate, heading for home.

I hope Chantel’s future is brighter than her past. But only she can make that happen.

Open Prose Letter to my Niece Chantel

Dear Chantel,

And so, it happened again. You got caught – this time by the police – with drugs. As tears welled up in my eyes, as we again had a conversation about making better choices and moving forward out of the fray, you are back to where you were a year ago. I don’t understand how someone like you, with their whole future ahead of them, continues to make these choices that do nothing but keep you down.

I keep asking myself why. As I thought about it, I think I nailed down your life motto, which seems to fit all the trouble you find yourself in as of late:

I do what I want. The rules do not apply to me if it conflicts with what I want.

I wrote this prose – more for me, than you – to get all of things feelings off my chest.

****language warning****

Late to high school
Skipping class
Maybe not show up
Truancy and tardies
Notes home for skipping
Your message to others
Has been the same
Since high school
I do what I want
Fuck them

Smoking pot in the house
Carrying at school for friends
There are rules and consequences of this
Your response
:
Fuck that
I do what I want
I am in charge
Not you
Fuck you
And get out of my way
Before I fuck you up

Stealing a car
And narcotics
May be against the laws of this state
But it didn’t matter right now
In the moment
Because you’d say
I do what I want
I needed the high
You have no idea
What’s going on in my head
Only way to get there was to drive
I do what I want
Fuck you for not understanding

Breaking the rules
Of the state or of your parents
Don’t mean shit
You’re only sorry you got caught
Sorry you’re going to get chewed out
And stonewalled at home
Showing up for a court date
Is a minor inconvenience
But it will happen again
Because you simply do what you want
Getting drunk
And getting home
Were top priority
What you wanted in that moment
Not your safety
Or the safety of others
The rules of the road don’t apply in these situations
You do what you want
Fuck them for getting in your way

If you’re prosecuted for intent to distribute
It won’t stop you from doing it again
If you want to do it
You fly under the radar to evade capture
You will still drive
You will still smoke
You will still do hits
You will still sell
You will still do what you want
When you want
Because you always have
Fuck them if they try and stop you
You are in charge
You do what you want
The rules serve as only boundaries
To remain undetected

If you kill someone in a car accident
Driving home from a party cuz you were legally drunk
But the least drunk of your friends in the car
It won’t change nothing
You do what you want
Someone dying won’t change your wants
Unless your wants change
History tells us it won’t
But I hear you loud and clear:
I wanna get high
I wanna get fucked up tonight
I wanna get laid right now
I wanna take nude selfies for likes
I wanna forget my pain
I wanna take hits til I can’t feel
Cuz that’s what I love to do
It’s what I want
I’m gonna do what I want
Fuck you if you get in my way

A trail of destruction
Strained relationships
Fines
Legal woes
Maybe even jail time
Will follow you
Until you decide
To want different things
Like abiding by laws
And taking care of yourself
Right now it’s all noise
It’s all a stalling tactic
Because in the end
You’ll do what you want
Over and over
And over and over again
That is your narrative:
I do want I want
The rules do not apply to me
If it conflicts with what I want
And fuck anybody
Who tries to stop me
From getting what I want

And with everything that’s happened
Everything is right on track for you
You’re getting what you want

But I am always here
Watching
And praying
For you
That you will seek help
From a therapist
From the Lord
From me
So we can help silence
The demons
The drugs cannot do

Bons baisers,
Aunt Simonne

 

Michigan Musings: Lake Huron Adventures of the Past

Nearly every summer in the 90’s was spent on the shores of Lake Huron.

They were all adventures.

My dad’s sister had a cottage on the lake in Port Austin in Broken Rocks – it was more of a house than cottage. I spent my days with my cousins, climbing on the giant boulders that jutted out from the land into the vast lake.  My one cousin and I would dig for clay at The Cove and then we fired the pots we made in that night’s beach campfire. I hunted crayfish in the shoals and attempted to net hundreds of fish that ultimately got away.

Swimming was by far my favorite. My feet adjusted quickly to Huron’s unfriendly rocky bottom and choppy waters. I couldn’t wait to get in the water.

My first brush with death happened in the lake when I was 9: the small sailboat my dad and I were on capsized when the wind changed directions and my dad wasn’t quick enough with the sail: I got trapped under the boat momentarily. My dad was freaked out, but I thought this was a great adventure. We had life jackets on, Dad was here, what could have possibly gone wrong? Ah, to view the world as a child.

I learned how to ride horses at the local riding stable. It was western trail riding on old nags, but that didn’t register to me. This was another adventure, quite different from my normal life. The trail leader said I was a natural on horseback and I began taking English riding lessons back home. The only problem was barnstorming: the horses knew the trail and once they realized they were heading back to the barn, where food was, they took off like they were wild mustangs. I had one horse take off into a gallop on me – mind you, I’m not wearing a helmet – and grabbed fist fulls of mane to stay on! I made it back okay, but ever since that time, I’ve been spooked with speed on horses.

We usually stopped for dinner at one of the restaurants in the small downtown – Chuck and Jane’s was our top spot. Evenings were spent eating ice cream and walking along the breakwater at the marina.  I loved the gift shops – Finan’s and the Dime Store – they had everything a preteen girl would want. I especially loved the cedar boxes – I have 2 of them with a horse on it – and Port Austin, MI was stamped in the lower right corner of the lid. My grandma couldn’t come downtown without stopping for bread and other delicious items from Murphy’s Bakery. For a special treat, we’d drive to Grindstone City’s General Store: they had the best ice cream in this hemisphere. This is not a hyperbole, this is fact.

Once I was a teenager, we began to stay at Ray’s (my mom’s cousin) quintessential cottage a few miles down the road in Caseville – its musty cottage smell is forever etched in my memory. The beach there had a sandy bottom, a welcomed relief from my aunt’s beach. This cottage is special to me because 2 things happened here that still ring true in my adult life: I officially became a Christian and began mapping out my family tree. I still walk daily with the Lord and am now writing down 20 years of genealogical research into a book.

As the years went on, it became me, my sister, mother, and grandmother in Port Austin trips. We’d stop at the IGA (a grocery store) in Bad Axe and get all the supplies we’d need for the week. Shopping with my mother and grandmother, this was a 2 hour excursion, which I always dreaded.  I wanted to get up to the cottage as soon as possible and see my lake! The foodstuff could wait.

Ray was there with his wife when we arrived. There were 2 cottages on the property – they would stay in one, we’d stay in the other. Ray was old enough to be my grandfather. My sister and I went fishing with him on his boat and caught so many lake perch our live wells were filled to the gills! Ray’s navigational systems weren’t working, so we had to stay within sight of land – but Ray started chasing schools of perch, as fishermen tend to do, and the next thing we know, we’re surrounded by water. It was I who got us safely back to shore after I found Sebewaing’s lone water tower in the distance.

There was no TV here. This was long before the internet was ubiquitous (I would go a whole week without checking my email!). I truly unhooked from the world I knew, the craziness of my household. And I loved every minute of it.

Watching the storms roll in on the lake was better than TV. I collected zebra mussel shells as if they were conch shells. The waterslide in Caseville proved I could get over my fear of heights. My 82 year old grandmother beat me in mini golf at Sandy Dunes. I would run the fitness trail at Port Crescent State Park, usually with my Dad when he showed up for a couple of days. Countless walks on the beach, watching the sunset, campfires every night – I never got bored and planned to move here alone after college.

These summers moulded my heart to love the beach life, which is part of the reason I live in the coastal Carolinas. Like so many others, I can sum up my childhood summers in 2 words: Port Austin.

If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

Michigan Musings: Port Austin

The morning ride to Port Austin always started before dawn in the western suburbs of Detroit when I was a kid.

My younger sister and I would pile into the car with my dad; my mom would drive up at a more respectable time with my grandparents. I was always enchanted by the sunrise. This time of day was foreign to me and it only added to the adventure. We’d barrel through the city’s interstates before taking the exit for M53, or as my ancestors called it, Van Dyke; this artery would take us to our final destination. As the road retreated back into suburban Detroit, the further we drove, the more country it became. The next thing I know, I’m surrounded by fields, microscopic one stop light towns, and signs reminding us to share the road with Amish buggies.

2 hours later, we’d come upon the largest city in the thumb – Bad Axe. Van Dyke turns here, so you have to follow the signs, otherwise you’ll be lost among an endless cornfield heading in the wrong direction, as we did one year. We’d stop here for food, now that our bodies were fully awake, as was the sun. As one who hated breakfast food, my dad managed to get me hooked on McDonald’s breakfast burritos on one of these trips.

A half hour and more fields later, we’d arrive at our destination: Port Austin, Michigan. Population: 800. Van Dyke ended at a T stop for the simple fact that Lake Huron and the city marina were directly across from this main intersection. You could see the lighthouse, which warned ships of the shallow waters since the 1800’s. We always turned left.  My heartbeat would quicken the moment I saw the lake.

I rolled into this town for the first time in summer of 1989. I had never seen the ocean, but to me, this was the ocean. This was amazing. I belonged here.

The Dovecote

It was popular in the nineteenth century to name your house, no matter if it were a cottage or an estate. I have embraced this tradition with my homes.

Our old house was aptly named The Burning Pinecone, after the fabulous firepit my husband built (many a nights were spent drinking and roasting marshmallows with friends) and the giant pinecones that fell from the towering long leaf pines. Most of our fires were fueled by the massive amount of pinecones on the half acre of land we owned. The new house is nothing like our old house. It is much smaller and less grand: it is the epitome of average. It faces the south, so less sunlight comes through our windows, but it keeps it cooler in the summer. Our yard is so tiny, in fact, the listing had the lot in square feet instead of acres. Because of all the other expenses, a firepit has not been built yet, but we have picked out its site. There will be more nights of roasting marshmallows soon.

Our new home needed a name. I didn’t want another firepit inspired moniker and so I considered what other people have named their houses for inspiration. From one of my favorite books, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, John and Meg Brooke’s house was named The Dovecote. Having no idea what a dovecote was, I looked up the meaning of it on Google and promptly went into silent laugh mode:

dovecotehaha

I thought this was a perfect description of our new property, especially after my husband and I failed to get the loveseat through the door (he and his co-worker managed to shove it through the other door with a millimeter of clearance, but not without damaging the walls in the process).

I then read the description of The Dovecote Alcott gave in the book:

And speaking of sentiment brings us very naturally to the ‘Dovecote’.

That was the name of the little brown house Mr. Brooke had prepared for Meg’s first home. Laurie had christened it, saying it was highly appropriate to the gentle lovers who ‘went on together like a pair of turtledoves, with first a bill and then a coo’. It was a tiny house, with a little garden behind and a lawn about as big as a pocket handkerchief in the front. Here Meg meant to have a fountain, shrubbery, and a profusion of lovely flowers, though just at present the fountain was represented by a weather–beaten urn, very like a dilapidated slopbowl, the shrubbery consisted of several young larches, undecided whether to live or die, and the profusion of flowers was merely hinted by regiments of sticks to show where seeds were planted. But inside, it was altogether charming, and the happy bride saw no fault from garret to cellar. To be sure, the hall was so narrow it was fortunate that they had no piano, for one never could have been got in whole, the dining room was so small that six people were a tight fit, and the kitchen stairs seemed built for the express purpose of precipitating both servants and china pell–mell into the coalbin. But once get used to these slight blemishes and nothing could be more complete, for good sense and good taste had presided over the furnishing, and the result was highly satisfactory. There were no marble–topped tables, long mirrors, or lace curtains in the little parlor, but simple furniture, plenty of books, a fine picture or two, a stand of flowers in the bay window, and, scattered all about, the pretty gifts which came from friendly hands and were the fairer for the loving messages they brought.

My hear swelled. As a writer, this was perfect! My new home reflected all the nuances of the Brooke’s home, save for the coalbin. It’s coziness (read: small quarters) and less than stellar landscaping (read: years of outright neglect) will be knit into the fabric of my life. Our front yard, which is about the size of a handkerchief, will hopefully be blooming with flowers and evergreen foundation plants this time next year. We have a wonky staircase as well, I’m sure I’ll go down it pell mell at some point.

And so, my new home is affectionately known as The Dovecote. I’m looking forward to entertaining friends and strangers over tea. When our house was blessed, the pastor likened it to the moon, reflecting the light of the Son. I hope everyone who comes through the doors of The Dovecote senses the love of the Lord in this space.

I also plan to frame this passage and display it in my new home.

Releasing the House

I don’t remember where the idea came from; I may have read about it or it came to me on its own.

Way back when we sold our first house, once we were under contract, I decided to “release the house” through prayer. Alone in the house, I walked into each room, placed a hand on each wall in the room and prayed a short prayer over each wall.

I did the same for this house. I prayed for the incoming family: for their safety, comfort, the new memories they would make there. I prayed for all of those who would walk through the doors would know the spirit of the Lord was here. I don’t know if they are Christians or not; I prayed they would find Christ if they have not and grow more deeply in Him if they were. I also thanked the Lord for the opportunity to live in and use this big house for His benefit, recounting all the people we served here. I touched on memories and prayed the house into its new owners.

I am beyond ready for this experience to be done.

Writing Challenge Day 23: A Family Member You Dislike

Let me start by saying I do not dislike any family members. I’m very proud that I am not in a rift or avoid any of my kin.

That being said, there is one family member who I am not happy with right now. This person is a parent of a child in desperate need of counseling due to the extreme severity of the child’s mental health. They got on their soapbox with great fanfare about how they were a champion of doing the right thing by bringing in professionals; several months later, the words ring empty. Luckily the situation which caused all this uproar has calmed down, but I know the volcano is only sleeping; they think it is dormant. I pity anyone caught in the lava flow of the next eruption. Yours truly will probably be one of the casualties, because I care too damn much.

So be it. The child is worth it.

I live too far away and cannot become that meddling relative in matters of which I have no jurisdiction. I can only support from outside. And they know – the whole lot of them – I am always here to listen, help, and do. And unlike all of them, my actions and my words are one in the same.

April: Live with Confidence

One of the perks of living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder is that you second guess EVERYTHING. Whether I am buying a house, a pair of socks, treating a patient, or making a life altering decision, my brain whispers, “Are you sure? What if you’re wrong? What if the exact opposite is true/better? How will you know? You need to think/pray/freak out more about this.” I am paralyzed by indecision and worry that my choice is wrong, either fundamentally or factually.

This month is going to require some confidence.

Heck, my entire life could use some confidence.

I’m closing on my 3rd house this month.  Yup – for those of you keeping score at home – I have owned more houses than cars (3:1). I have decisions to make about paint, decor, and where the silverware drawer is going to be in the kitchen. I have cleaning projects, landscape projects, and painting projects all lined up; most of them will be put on hold until I can unload my current property to conserve money. This is my new home, I have to own it and the decisions that come with it.

The loved one with an alcohol addiction combined with a new house that I’m 85% sure I like has been a bit more than I expected to be dealing with at this point. Nonetheless, the Lord shall provide.

I found this book about making decisions with a Christian-centric mindset, and it was like a breath of fresh air for me.  The basic principle was, “What does God think about non-moral decisions? How do I know God’s will for my life?” Mr. DeYoung proposes just to do something, much akin to throwing spaghetti against the wall to see if it will stick – the fleeces we depend on are more out of our culture than the Bible. The Bible has much to say about living, but does not specifically address major life decisions such as, should I marry this person?  Should I buy this car? Obviously, seeking the Lord in all things, but sometimes He doesn’t give a clear answer. And so we act. The Lord will provide.

What does living with confidence look like? I’m not sure yet.

I need to pray about that some more.

Change & What Follows

My new gig is nothing like anything I’ve ever experienced in my field before. It’s embarrassingly easy.

The first couple of weeks were nothing but solid stress. There was a large stone in my stomach, even while I wasn’t at work; that seems to be subsiding now. My two employees under me had the task to train me. One of them was so Type A it was nearly suffocating. The other was so Type B it was comical. I learned a lot from both of them, though. Luckily, I do not work with them on a regular basis; they only cover me when I am out.

I work alone in a glorified closet.

In between seeing a fraction of the patients I saw at my old job, there is a lot of free time. As a contract employee, I do not have to conform to the rest of my office mates. I exist for one job and I’m the only one in the building who can perform it. Everyone has been nice, but distant. I can’t figure out if it’s office dynamics, me being introverted, or if I’m disliked. I’ve been advised to keep a low profile as the office can be a bit of a shark tank. Nonetheless, I am left to my own devices.

At first, the free time seemed nonexistent, as I was trying to get my feet underneath me. Now I’ve settled in to a comfortable routine, with the things I was fretting over are now on autopilot. Or at least I think they are.

I’m taking this time to read news stories, watch my Twitter feed, write, and read. It’s an introvert’s dream. As soon as I get the funds, I’m purchasing a 20lb kettleball weight to work on my flabby arms. I started doing push-ups on the countertop and walking on a trail at lunch. I’m going to use this time to get myself in better shape and work on my writing. And I’m very excited about that!

In other exciting news, my husband and I got a buyer’s agent: we’re officially house hunting to downsize. I have a sense of peace about this. I’m only a little sad to lose my dream house. It’s so much to maintain, inside and out: as we get older, it will only become more of a burden.

And so everything is changing again. As the leaves are in the bud stage, with pollen everywhere, spring is here. And like the trees, I believe I am coming into season as well.

Bring on the summer.

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:32-34)