Friday, 27 March 2020

A New Nomal

I haven’t written anything the past few weeks. Like so many of you with age and health-related conditions that plunge me right into the highest risk group, I’ve felt completely inadequate, and even a little selfish, just staying in my home so I won’t become part of the problem. I listen to the news and pray for others who have medical knowledge and are putting their lives on the line to help those who have become infected. I marvel at the bravery and selflessness of first responders, truck drivers, government officials, church leaders and people still working in stores, restaurants, pharmacies and industry so our lives can go on in what has been termed a new kind of normal. They are providing the necessities of life to those who are trying to follow the rules and guidelines so this terrible virus can reach its peak and subside. I look in awe at others who are finding creative ways to help and keep in contact with family, neighbors and friends and wish I was more of an extrovert who had invited additional people into my life before this whole thing began. I feel sorrow and concern for those who are unemployed or have lost loved ones.

It is a scary and depressing situation. People are going through an unprecedented range of emotions, but there is no one person to blame. I keep praying for insight and the ability to know what I can do to help as I paint walls, polish floors and clean out cupboards as a way to keep my mind from wandering or spending too much time glued to one of our many forms of technology. Nothing happened until a few minutes ago when I was working on the last few chapters of my next book. As I was trying to set my main characters up for the grand finale of the entire series, I began to see that what I was writing had direct relevance for me. Maybe right now isn’t my time to shine or become anyone’s hero. Maybe I’m supposed to be taking these days and weeks to discover who I am at present and what it will take for me to become the woman God intended for me to be all along. I’ve always resisted moving out of my comfort zone unless something forced me to do so.

We are just seeing the first wave of the destruction this pandemic is going to bring. But becoming overly discouraged, fearing the future or shouting out our beliefs about injustice and who is making what mistakes isn’t going to help. It’s time to face both our strengths and our weaknesses and decide what we’re able and willing to do once all the bans have been lifted. Who will require our help then, and what can we be doing now to prepare to meet those needs? It will be an individual decision for each of us. But regardless of what others may be lacking, and our inability to help others - even then - we can always offer hope, love and friendship.

And when we are feeling weak, we can look into the faultless, blue sky when it isn’t raining and know that we are not alone. God will bring us through this a stronger and more compassionate people if we put our trust in Him. Quiet acts of kindness, and the willingness to put our own needs aside as we look into someone else’s heart, will get us through the difficult days that still lay ahead. I hope I will be ready when the time for the kind of service I can give comes again. What about you? 

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Precious Children

I got up this morning with every intention of adding to my last blog. The news lately has been overrun with the disappearance or death of God's precious children by the hands of their parents, foster parents, care givers and total strangers. One of these stories was on Dateline a couple of Friday's ago, and it really struck home because much of it took place in the town closest to where I raised my own children in Southeastern Idaho. The bizarre happenings have become so sensationalized that people around the globe now know the names of everyone involved and are just waiting to see what will happen next.

As a former teacher of high school journalism and television production, I know how the media works. Their job is to sell the news by slanting it in whatever direction will get the most readers and viewers. And like it or not, we have become a society that literally devours tragedy, ruthlessness, anti-heroism, the inhumane, the bad and the disgusting. I suppose that's the reason I went into overload this morning after reading an article my sister sent about new legislation in Washington state. The headline read: Sex ed bill requires R-rated material taught to children."

I won't go into details because it was much too graphic and disturbing for my gentle spirit. I believe children should be allowed to play, grow and learn without being bombarded by things they are too young to understand. There is a time and a place for everything, and not all children are ready to learn about certain things at the same age. But after shutting down my computer and getting ready for church, I suddenly realized that I didn't want to write about the atrocities perpetuated against children again like I had planned on doing. They hurt too much for the survivor and will never be fully understood. 

Satan wants us to become so discouraged, depressed, and even fascinated with his evil designs, and the people who choose to follow him, that we can no longer see the good in the world and express gratitude for the millions of wonderful parents who are trying to safeguard their children and instill healthy values. So I decided to comment on some of the amazing people I've viewed over the past few weeks who have set such a tremendous example for me. I've seen numerous parents who have children with disabilities like Down's Syndrome, Autism, anxiety, missing limbs, loss of hearing or sight and the inability to communicate who show tremendous compassion, acceptance, tolerance and love. 

I suppose that's why I love being part of a religious community so much and having the privilege of teaching little children each week at church. I love their innocence, beauty, self-acceptance, inquisitiveness and ability to learn. I love watching fathers help their sons do difficult tasks and mothers taking their daughters to activities where they can be included, even if they don't understand. 

But I suppose the most life-altering experience I've had recently is watching a family at church as they rose to the challenge of accepting what God had in mind for their son. He was born at less than 27 weeks and weighed only little over a pound. His chance of survival was minimal. His esophagus hadn't even attached to his stomach, and there was nothing he could do on his own. His sweet parents were given the choice of allowing him to die in as much comfort as the nurses and doctors could provide, or have him life-flighted to a neonatal facility at the University of Utah hospital. They chose to take a risk.

I watched and listened in a state of almost suspended animation as these faithful and brave parents spent time with him each day, cherishing each moment because they knew it could be his last. Prayers were sent heavenward, medical personnel kept constant watch and God sent miracles. Today McKay reached five pounds. He is two and a half months old and has been through more in his short time on earth than most people go through in a long and productive lifetime. When I see his beautiful face, and eyes so bright and alert, I know I am seeing God's tender mercy in action. No one knows what the future might bring for him, but for me, and all who are aware of him, he has taught us so much about our reason for being here.

We came to earth to gain a body, follow God's commandments, do good as our Savior did, gain experience and prove our willingness to put aside the natural man so we can return to our heavenly home again. If I choose to fill my mind with all the evil and negativity in the world, I'm missing the entire point for being here. That's not to say I shouldn't be aware of, and do, what I can to make bad situations better. We can't be fence sitters and expect to foster the right kind of change. But if I want to spread personal light, it has to come from within. 

That's why I choose to focus on the positive today. It makes my heart soar when I see others who share the same desire. Life will be filled with hard knocks for all of us, and we need to be there for others who feel they may be losing their way. Especially our children. They are the future of the world and all that is in it. When I leave this earth, I hope the babies I tried to carry in this life will be there to meet me. I dedicate the following poem to them, and to all parents who have lost children before they were able to hold them in their arms. They may not be with us in body, but they are always part of our soul. Perhaps we love and cherish others more because of all we have lost.

My tiny, precious baby,
just a few short moments ago 
your physical body left mine.
Only heaven can know the pain
and sorrow I am now experiencing.

It is so real, so intense, so consuming.
Yet somewhere deep inside 
is a calmness, a loving certainty
that you are back home where you belong
with our Heavenly Father and Mother.

I wanted to give you a physical body,
a home for your spirit, and a family 
who would always love and support you.
I wanted to feel your tiny arms around my neck
and hear you call me “mommy.”

Oh, I know God must love you very much
and He must need you with Him a little longer.
But that does not stop the anguish
or the sorrow that comes from losing you.
For leaving your remains where I can never visit them.

And it does not take away the emptiness
I will feel inside when I leave this hospital 
without you inside of me, next to my heart, 
where I can cherish the feeling of your little spirit 
growing, changing, becoming someone wonderful.

Yesterday, a one-time miracle happened.
The doctor did an ultra sound.
I saw your tiny body, every finger and toe, 
clinging desperately and heroically to mine,
and your strong heart beating with clarity.

I knew you were a fighter,
and that someday you would 
bless the lives of so many others 
with your strength, your caring,
your tenancy and indomitable spirit.

I can see the temple through my window.
Its brilliant light seems to be guiding my way.
The clock says it is nearly three in the morning.
The physical danger for me has not yet passed, 
but when it does, life will go on. 

Still, I doubt my emotional longing for you 
will ever subside into anything less
than profound heartache and a gnawing
question about God's timing and design; 
His reason for taking you from me.

But know this, my darling baby,
I wanted you, and you will always be
part of my life, my soul and my heart.
Every time I look up into the blue of the sky,
I will pray that someday we will meet.

That I can look into your angle face
and give you all that was denied to both of us
in this mortal lifetime of hard discovery.
Believing that will someday happen gives me 
the courage to move forward on my own. 

Be brave my precious baby of great promise.
Know that God is real, His purpose kind,
His reasoning fair, and our joy complete
when we are finally allowed to meet.
Eternity will be truly glorious if you are there.

Saturday, 22 February 2020

The Hands

I was reading an article a few days ago in a Brazilian publication, dated Wednesday, January 29, 2020, that forced me to think about a topic I haven't reflected on for quite some time. The title was "Brazilian gov't promotes chastity to teens with 'I choose to wait' program." The subtitle read. "Abortion proponents not surprisingly object to sex education that doesn't promote artificial contraception."

Keeping children safe from experiences that could damage the rest of their lives is an issue close to my heart, so I was anxious to read what it said. Damares Alves, Brazil's Minister for Women, Family and Human Rights was asking parents to simply consider telling their teenagers to wait until adulthood before having sex. That idea unleashed a rampage of negative comments from many factions who believe that contraceptives and abortions are the only way to to stop the epidemic of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. But that isn't what stunned me into almost disbelief. The statement that brought tears to my eyes, and a great deal of pain and renewed suffering said that there was a bill before Brazil's congress that would lower the age of consensual sex to twelve. She believes that would only legalize pedophilia, and I completely agree.

Engaging in, or being forced into, acts that are not understood destroys not only the moral fabric of a victim's life but tarnishes every relationship that might be entered into later on. While I know not everyone will agree with my sentiments, I speak from personal experience as to what being sexually molested did to me. I was ten and eleven when my violin teacher began touching me inappropriately. I knew something wasn't right. The nausea in my stomach and the sickness in my heart were telling me that. But when I finally got the courage to tell my mother what was happening, her reply was not something a child is likely to hear today. This was before children had any rights, and  parents ruled with what seemed like an iron fist. She told me that he had never done that to her, so he couldn't possibly be doing it to me. I was just using it as an excuse so I wouldn't have to practice.

I was forced to continue with my lessons until I was so torn up inside that every time I picked up my bow I began pulling out my eye lashes and eye brows. I don't know what finally made my mother reconsider. Maybe it was the haunted look in my eyes. I see pictures that were taken of me around that time and find it hard to believe they're even real. I was just glad to have the horror stop. Eventually, I was able to keep it from invading my every waking thought, but it was still corroding my spirit. I started to cry and became physically ill the first time a boy asked me out on a date. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't let any boy get close to me - not even ones I really liked.

I wanted to date and have fun like all the other girls, but there was something inside holding me back. Even when I was in college and dating dozens of different guys, I never felt like I could really connect with any of them. I just drifted from guy to guy hoping that someday I would meet someone who could make me feel alive. I even fell in love a couple of times, but the relationships never went anywhere. And if a guy's hands looked a certain way, I couldn't bear to have him touch me. I eventually married  a man I wasn't really attracted to because I was twenty-three, and he kept insisting that he needed me. It was a disastrous mistake, and one I have paid for ever since making it. I was a vulnerable virgin with no one to guide or protect me.

Being a dutiful, submissive wife was easy because that's the way I had been raised, but whatever was going on inside of me continued to fester until my body started to shut down.  The doctor finally told me that I would be dead in six months if I didn't do something to stop it. After a great deal of soul-searching I walked out the door and never looked back. I wish I could say there was a miraculous flood of light that let me know what had been going on inside of me all those years, but that's not what happened. It was another decade before I almost had a complete nervous breakdown, and the therapist asked if I was aware of all the abuse I had suffered throughout most of my life.

I really had no idea what she was talking about. I had always considered myself just a weak person who hadn't earned the right to be loved. (Maybe I'll talk more about that in another post.) But right now, I want to share with you something I learned in the few weeks of therapy I had with her before she succumbed to breast cancer. It's all about self-reflection and being strong enough to reach inside to the damaged child that will always be a part of who I am. That little girl told me about the hands and what they had done to wreck havoc with both of our lives. Perhaps reading what I wrote will give someone the chance to better understand his or her own experience. I still cry whenever I read it, but the realization I gained has made me a better person and a more dedicated defender of children. Childhood and youth should be cherished and protected, not ruled by laws that are created by adults with agendas of their own.

Old man with puffy face, puffy body, puffy hands

and fine, thinning hair, brushed neatly back.
You took my childhood! My youth!
My life! My reason for being!

Your hands played soothing melodies on the violin,
touched my knees, my arms, and traveled slowly up and down.
They made the bile rise to my throat, my skin crawl. 
Your hands have never been forgotten.

I am left with an obsession about men’s hands.
Soft, fleshy, pale, girlie hands can never touch me.
Hands in general cannot touch me.
I don’t trust their motives.

They arouse feelings of fear, isolation and disgust.
They move where they should not go.
They invade my privacy, my inner parts,
make me numb with terror I do not understand.

My mother knows about the hands.
She is the one who should have protected me.
But she thinks I’m making up stories.
You were her teacher once and never touched her.

I’m ashamed. I’m silenced.
I bear my burden by pretending nothing happened.
I half-believe I am crazy, pulling out eyelashes 
and eyebrows each time I pick up my bow. 

Your eyes stare at my breasts,
daring me to move or say something.
I look down at the carpet lying neatly on the floor.
If I do not make contact with them you cannot see me.

I will never make eye contact with men,
then they will not be able to see me or 
my curving breasts and try to touch them.
I am invisible even though my heart is racing.

What are you doing to me? I don’t understand.
My stomach lurches as my hands move
spasmodically back and forth around each other 
trying to make sense of what is happening.

Why won’t anyone listen to me?
Where is the name for what I am feeling?
I am not telling lies; it hurts too badly for that.
I want the feelings, the shame to go away.

I hate you standing behind me where 
I cannot see what you are going to do.
I abhor the feeling of your fingers closing over mine,
the softness of your body brushing against me.

I want to be sick, to scream and push you away,
to stay safe in my room with my dolls and my books.
where windows to the outside world do not exist,
and no one can approach me unnoticed.

You touched me in ways a man should never touch a child.
You looked at me with eyes that stripped away my innocence.
I didn’t know what you were doing, but you did?
Arousing sick passions by looking at and touching me.

You justified your behavior because you never penetrated,
but my spirit understood the evil even if I could not define it.
You took my trust, my ability to know intimacy, 
my self-respect, that special, woman part of me.

I am still a frightened little girl in a woman’s body,
a woman who has never felt safe with a man.
One who has never believed anyone could love her,
anyone, except a disgusting old man.

Yes, you stole my life, all I had to give,
leaving me nothing but a nightmare too horrid to consider
until the darkness crowded out the light, and I was left
with nothing but anger I could not express, even at you.

But you are a monster, the worst kind of criminal.
You deserve castration, public hanging,
branding with the physical mark of child molester.
How can you face the eyes looking back in the mirror?

How many people suspected what you but said nothing?

                                            ~ Jan Hill (aka: JS Ririe)


Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Promptings and Valentine's Day Gift for You

A few years ago I was sitting in my beautiful new home next to a private pond in a small forest area in central Missouri where turtles the size of dinner plates walked fearlessly up to my front door and bull frogs sang to each other in the pond. White-tailed rabbits played tag in the grass and deer grazed just beyond the tree line. I had nearly worked myself to death the fourteen previous months clearing debris, planting grass, hauling rocks for flowerbeds and planting rosebushes and other flowers that bloomed profusely in the moderate, humid climate. 

I had also survived three brown recluse spider bites that the doctor treated with the same medication given to anthrax victims, along with falling victim to poison ivy twice since no one had cleared the woods before I tackled them, and I didn’t know what it looked like. But despite a few minor drawbacks, it was a perfect oasis after a teaching career that ended with two years of being the lead witness in a lawsuit the mother of a son with Ashbergers had filed against the school district. I sat through dozens of meetings as the faculty representative and had to testify in federal court. 

While the district won the case, it wasn’t without great sacrifices to my mental and physical health. I needed time to regroup and learn to live with a lot of changes since I had decided to take an early retirement. I knew I would never survive another year in the classroom if I had to deal with another deranged and vindictive parent. So I left all I had ever known, moved halfway across the country and built a home on the acre and a quarter lot next to my sister. It was absolutely perfect. We spent a portion of each day together, and I came to know her husband much better than I had in the past.

But eighteen months after moving there, I began having the feeling that I needed to return to the mountains so I would be closer to my son and his family. His wife had been diagnosed with stage 4 Melanoma Lymphoma nine months after I retired, and I wondered why I hadn’t been prompted to move there in the first place. I missed my children and grandchildren and wanted to be where I could help out more, but I loved where I was living and the calmness around me after so many storms in trying to rebuild my life after a divorce, added schooling, buying and selling three homes, and working for three districts in different parts of my home state. I kept fighting my feelings until my son called one day to say that having me so far away just wasn't working for him any longer. While he respected my right to live where I wanted to be, he needed me where I could be more of a support and help to him and his family while they continued this very difficult journey.

I'm not sure he meant it as a quilt-trip some of our kids are so good at getting us to take, but it did add some much-needed clarity. For the first time in my life, I was being truly selfish. I had a portion of what I had always wanted: my dream house, someone I trusted to talk to each day, enough money to survive on, and an inner peace I didn't want to jeopardize. But I had also promised to be there for my children, and that pledge didn't end just because they were grown with families of their own. So after a great many tears and days spent in soul-searching, I began praying for guidance I wasn't sure I could follow. After much contemplation, and a trip to a place that held great spiritual significance to me, nine words flashed into my mind that made the floodgates open for a very different reason than self-pity. “Eve left the Garden of Eden for her posterity.” 

As a student of the scriptures, I knew Eve had made a difficult decision that many people in the Christian community call a sin. But to me, it was always more of a divine choice because, without it, the rest of God's children would never have had the opportunity to come to earth, receive bodies, learn right from wrong, feel joy and sorrow, be recipients of Christ's Atonement and have the opportunity to live with God again. I love Mother Eve, and in a very simplistic way, I felt I was being asked to make a sacrifice similar to the one she had made so many years ago. I was indeed living in my personal Garden of Eden. I had my dream home in the country near the water in perfectly peaceful and awe-inspiring surroundings. And while I wanted to do what was right, I didn’t want to leave my paradise to go back to the city where people lived nearly on top of each other and life moved so fast it was like a perpetual rollercoaster.

But I had asked God what I needed to do, and he had given me an answer. Now, I had to decide if I was strong enough to live by the faith I always professed to have. Before I had a chance to back out, I put my beautiful, custom-designed home on the market thinking I would have several months to make the transition. But as always happens when least expected, I had an offer the next day. That left me one month before closing to pack everything and make the arrangements necessary for the return trip. Since there wasn't time to return to Utah to look for a home, my son and daughter-in-law said they would find one for me.

They lived in a densely populated area where far too many transplants from California had driven the housing market to a point where I would be lucky to find something even half as spacious and nice for the amount of money I could invest. I tried to be brave as they sent me a dozen or more listings, but it was hard to make a decision because I had always gone by the feeling I got when I walked into a home before deciding to buy it. Walking by faith isn't easy, and it was a struggle to keep the tears from falling when I walked into the house they felt would be perfect me. 

The first thing I noticed was the lack of sunlight, followed by half-a-dozen or more houses seen from every window, hundreds of nail holes in the walls, rough slate floors in the kitchen and dining room, no jetted tub and olive green walls with dark gray trim throughout the entire basement. The only thing that made me smile was the castle that had been built into the playroom. But within two weeks I had all the walls re-painted and had met many of my neighbors. I can't say the move was easy or that I don't miss what I left behind, but I am learning that when we follow righteous promoting the blessings will follow. I've been able to share holidays and special occasions with my son and daughter-in-law - who has now fully recovered. I've spend countless weekends with my granddaughter, published 11 books, and have been able to counsel with my son more often. I've made new friends, been given the opportunity to serve others in ways I never dreamed possible, and have been able to visit my sister at least once each year. 

Is life easy? Not exactly! I still get lonely, discouraged and wonder if I will ever like the house I've been in for over four years now. But I chose to do something incredibly hard for me, and I'm learning to look for the blessings that decision has brought. I suppose that's what all of us must do if we want to find personal peace. God never promised that our lives would be easy. He only promised that they would be worth it. That's why I get up each morning armed with a list of things I want to accomplish. Most of the time, I barely make it through the first few items, but I try to live with purpose because I want to be happy and see the good in every situation.

I know I will never have what I think I want, but what I have is adequate for my needs. Maybe that's the lesson I was supposed to learn all along. I gave up something tangible that I really desired for opportunities to grow and develop in ways I never would had I stayed in my personal Garden of Eden. At least it's something to think about during the quiet moments. If nothing more, I've saved myself countless hours of feeling guilty because I let personal desires override the needs of people I dearly love. For them, no sacrifice will ever be  too great. 

As my Valentine's Day gift to all of you, February 11, 12 and 13, you can download two of my books LOST and RESILIENCE for free at . Feel the love and commitment of family, friends, children, husband and significant others in two heart-warming and adventure-filled stories.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

February is Finally Here!

My apologies to anyone who tries to read this post. The funky background color has made part of it almost illegible - somewhat like my handwriting. I was trying to be more creative, but after several   attempts to correct my error before sending it into cyberspace I have to admit defeat. I've accidentally embedded something I do not know how to get rid of.  I suppose we all make mistakes and do things without thinking. It's part of the human experience, but I try not to make them in such a big and dramatic way.  I would have deleted it but felt there might be someone who would appreciate the message my friend has to share. We all live with disappointment and hardships, but she has turned her very visible limitations into amazing strengths that bless so many lives. I used to start each school year by telling my students that everyone has disabilities. Some of them are just more obvious than others. I still believe that is true and try to approach my own issues in a more positive way. It's certainly more productive than crying all the time.

After nearly a month of complaining about gray, dreary skies we have beautiful sun right now. It warms my soul and makes my heart sing. It's chipping away at the loneliness and depression that seems to settle on me each winter as I contemplate a new year and try to decide what I'm going to do to become a more productive, loving and considerate person. Perhaps part of my unexpected joy comes from reading a post on Facebook this morning. I don't spend much time there because it's been my understanding of late that most of the posts my friends share never become available to me. There seems to be a disconnect somewhere in the system that limits the amount of information any subscriber receives, but I suppose that's okay since there's nothing I can do to change it. But during the few moments I spend there, I like to rejoice in my friend's accomplishments and mourn with those who feel loss.

This particular post came from a young woman I've known since her birth. For reasons unknown to the medical community, she was born without legs and a right arm. Her left arm came only the her elbow where three random fingers were attached. Everyone in the community felt sympathy for her parents and siblings and wondered how they would ever survive. But unbeknownst to all of us, this child was meant for greatness. Not that she became world-renown for any outstanding accomplishments, but she grew to womanhood with more courage and a better attitude towards life than any of the most beautiful people I've ever met. Her personality is extraordinary. Her friends  abundant, and her desire to excel nothing short of awe-inspiring. I watched her as a teacher when she was in high school. She was an honor student who went on to graduate from college, marry and began teaching school herself.

I'm not sure what her status in life is right now, but in her own words this morning, she described how she had undergone a personal metamorphous the past few months. She had lost over thirty pounds (something totally mind-boggling to me since she only has the core of her body to work with), was exercising daily, eating better and was now able to get into her wheelchair without as much effort or pain. Linsey's radiant face let me know that she had not given up on life. Instead, it made my nose tickle and a slight pain come to my chest because I don't concentrate on the little, happy things in my life nearly enough. Like yesterday when a snow storm forced me to shovel my driveway and sidewalk twice in six hours. My granddaughter had been sick during the night and came to stay with me for the day while her parents went to work. 

After she had washed the throw-up from her hair, I fixed her scrambled eggs and toast to eat while we watched three Disney, modern-day princess, movies. We laughed, talked and snuggled up together in our favorite chair. I didn't care that I wasn't getting anything on my list of work that needed to be done completed because I knew days like this were coming to an end. She's eleven and wanting to stay with grandma won't last forever. How grateful I am to have her in my life. She's the only granddaughter I will ever have, and she's truly amazing, despite some childish flaws. I hope I can remember that the next time she tells me she doesn't want to eat something I fix or complains about helping me weed the garden. 

The simple things of life are what really matter. They make the tough times easier to bear and the good times more joyful. Knowing we had the opportunity to spend a pleasant day together means more to me than sending my new book off to Amazon like I had done at four o'clock yesterday morning because I was unable to sleep. I hope you've had a moment like that to enjoy recently. If not, look for one. They come quite unexpectedly and often go by unrecognized because we're so busy doing other things.

But since I've mentioned it, I'm going to throw in the link to where my latest book can be found in case you might be interested in something else I've written under the pen name of JS Ririe. 

Unsheltered - Reagan Sinclair, FBI - Book 4, continues the story of a young agent as she is forced into hiding with the baby whose life she saved in the Colombian jungle. It's mostly about making choices, finding answers and living with consequences - something we all have to do. I spend a lot of time thinking about life and how the simplest choices can make the most difference in where we end up or who we become. There is a spark of genius in everyone that can make the world better. I try to look for that in the people I meet each day. 

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Great and wonderful women

So I've been sitting at my desk for the past few hours trying to finish the final edit of my next book, Unsheltered, the forth book in the Reagan Sinclair, FBI series that I was hoping to have out by the end of the week. I'm not sure that's going to happen now because I keep running into snags with the dialogue and trying to make sure everything makes sense. It's been challenging because my main character is dealing with the consequences of some weighty decisions she's made. Her life isn't where she wants it to be, and she keeps being drawn into things that can't be controlled. It's caused me to reflect on a great many things in my personal life because it certainly hasn't turned out the way I expected. I suppose few people's lives do, but I keep looking for that silver lining that is supposed to exist in even the most difficult circumstances.

Above me is the picture of seven women, along with a plaque that reads, "Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass . . . It's about learning to dance in the rain." These women are radiant examples of  overcoming obstacles that would make women of lesser courage fall by the wayside. I know this because they are part of my family. From my daughter to my maternal great, great, great grandmother, I see in their faces attributes I have inherited and the strength of character I would like to achieve. My daughter has lived through hard things I'm not even aware of. My mother raised a large family on her own after my father's death and kept on fighting after a complete nervous breakdown. My grandmother was a dreamer who loved to write but was never able to travel and see any of the things she wrote about. My great grandmother lived in a cave in the side of a mountain because her husband was asked to move north and settle a territory that had only been inhabited by American Indians. Her mother had traveled across thousands of miles of wilderness in a covered wagon because she wanted to live in a place where her family would no longer be persecuted for religious belief. The last woman, whom I most resemble, is Ellenor Wiggins.

I don't know much about her, but I feel a definite kinship. When I look in her eyes, I see a reflection of some of the pain I've had to bear. There is a soulful reminder that she loved deeply, tried to do her best, and probably failed as many times as she succeeded. But with the firm determination of any pioneer who is traveling uncharted courses, she knows she will survive until her time on earth has ended. It's comforting to look at the faces of these women because we are part of each other. Some of the same blood flows through our veins, and we've been a heritage to be proud of.  I know I will meet Grandma Ellenor again someday, and we'll exchange life stories. Some of them will make us cry, but there will be laughter because we will understand far more than we do now.

I'm grateful I have a desire to know where I came from. Reflecting on the lives of my ancestors and learning more about them gives me hope. It helps me identify my own weaknesses and move forward, even I don't have the strength or the courage. One of my greatest desires at this stage of my life is that at least some of the things I'm doing will make them glad I'm part of their family. I don't have to deal with the physical hardships most of them had to endure, but my challenges have been just as disheartening because I'm sure we all want, or wanted, the same things. Work we can be proud of doing. People who care. Something to believe in. And the capacity to make some of our dreams come true. It's what I want for my own posterity, and I hope I'm setting the right example.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Family and Loss

I just read an article about two sets of young parents who lost their babies without ever being able to take them home. One, a little girl named Grace, died not long before she could be delivered, and the second, a little boy named Charlie, who lived for only a few days and went though numerous surgeries. They talked about their great love for these children they would not be able to raise and how they did not blame God for wanting them to come back home to him. While their grief in this life will never entirely disappear, both families know they will see their children again and that brings peace. My heart went out to them. I know what it feels like to lose children, and so does my daughter. The pain is so intense it feels like it will rip everything inside apart, and there is always the niggling thought that perhaps something could have been done to prevent it.

I was with my daughter the day she lost her first child. I was driving from Idaho to Washington to visit when I got a frantic call telling me to hurry because she was spotting and needed me to take her to the hospital. Her husband was working and couldn't be reached. I drove as quickly as I could over unfamiliar and winding country roads the last 100 miles of my journey. Without even stopping for a bathroom break, I drove her to the closet town that was over thirty miles away. By the time her husband arrived, the baby was gone, and we all learned that if the doctor been able to get to her sooner, the outcome would have been much better. Her next child, my grandson, was stillborn. I wasn't there when he was delivered, but I went to the mortuary with them to pick up the little silver heart where his ashes had been put so she could carry them with her wherever she went. 

Times like these truly force us to think about our mortality and how very lucky some of us are to even be alive. But they also bring back painful, personal memories for me that fade a little when I'm not reminded of them, but seem to come back full-force whenever I read about people who have been able to see and perhaps hold their babies for a brief moment in time. I was able to get pregnant with great regularity, but I was not able to carry any of my babies for over three months. I never got to feel them move inside of me or see my body change in that beautiful way a woman's does as a baby continues to grow. I never got to feel their heart beating or wear maternity clothes. After twenty tries at becoming a mother naturally, the doctor found so many tumors inside of me that an emergency hysterectomy was performed. 

I never talk much about those days of sorrow and pain. I was blessed to adopt two beautiful babies who have brought great joy into my life, but it often seems like whatever I was cursed with has continued to the next generation with no biological reason. My daughter was finally able to have a child who lived. My grandson is six now, but he was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at three and there have been numerous times when we've almost lost him. My daughter-in-law has never been able to get pregnant, but she and my son have adopted my sweet granddaughter who is now eleven. I love them fiercely and would do anything to see them healthy and happy. 

The hardest thing to digest was finding out after my last miscarriage that it was a chromosome imbalance between my ex-husband and me that caused all of my babies to die. Had I married anyone else, my babies would have survived. That was quite a bitter pill to take, especially since my marriage had never been a happy one, and my husband had only agreed to adopt if I would do all the work. That was an easy decision for me to make since I wanted children so badly. I'm only sorry I couldn't give them everything I wanted them to have - mainly a home where they would feel nothing but love and acceptance. None of us were ever good enough for the man who had promised to be there for us.

I've never shared this next part with anyone other than a teacher I had in a college class when I went back to get a Master's degree in mid-life so I could better support myself and my children. It's rather lengthy, and was written as an essay in third person because even ten years after the fact it was nearly impossible to think about without excruciating pain, but it tells about my last miscarriage. Maybe it will help someone else who has experienced the same kind of loss. We women have tender hearts, but few people know what to say when a baby is lost early in a pregnancy. It seems like we're mostly forgotten, and once a mother is able to carry a child and take him or her home, she moves from that place of seeming bareness into the life most women take for granted. I hope this essay gives those of you who have never encountered this kind of tragedy some added perspective so you can bless other's live with your understanding and support.


     She looked around the small cell she found herself in. Suddenly, it all came back. Three months ago she had entered the gynecologist’s office for the hundredth time, or maybe it only seemed like that because the trauma associated with each visit had made each moment’s wait in the examining room seem an eternity. She had clenched her fists until the knuckles turned white and had tried to push back the nausea that threatened to strangle her.
     She had known why she was here for days as she always had. A new life was growing inside of her - a life trying for the twentieth time in ten years to gain a physical body and the chance to be her child. She had known of this child’s existence within a few hours of its conception. 
     Most people thought she was crazy when she told them of her uncanny feelings, so she quit telling. But not telling did not make the premonitions go away. It only made them more intense. Besides, what did it matter to anyone else how many times a woman got pregnant? It was like taking a vocational class at school. Students could try with all their might to build something beautiful, but if the project was not completed, it was deemed a failure.
     And she couldn’t handle another failure at not being a woman - the real woman her husband had always wanted would give him a child. There was nothing wrong with him. He got her pregnant on a regular basis. It was her fault she couldn’t carry the baby to term.She could almost understand his coldness when a baby was lost at home, but not being with her when the remains of their children were pulled from her womb was something she would never understand. They were hers whether dead or alive. It hardly mattered that she would never get to snuggle them in her arms. The vision of their glory and innocence would be etched forever in the recesses of her mind.
     To control the pain, she learned silence, but that silence only contributed to the enmity she often felt for the man who had promised to love and cherish her in sickness and health.His constant criticism made her feel less-than-human, but this pregnancy seemed different and maybe it would take away some of the stigma she felt for not being like other women. This baby had already made it through the first trimester - something none of the others had been able to do. And today, she was going to see this awe-inspiring miracle for the first time through an ultrasound – also something that had never happened with any of her other pregnancies.
     It was cold in the examining room, and the temperature lowered even farther as a monitor was brought in and a gooey substance smeared over her abdomen. The doctor smiled, the nurse held her shivering hand, and when she looked up she could see her little miracle moving vigorously around in the safety of an embryonic sac. She could identify tiny fingers and toes. It was too early to determine sex, but that didn’t matter. She had seen something awe-inspiring and marvelous. No other experience in life could be quite as grand and glorious.
     She wanted to savor her newfound peace and contentment alone because no one else would understand how valuable this moment was to her womanly sanity. She had long before given up talking about her real feelings, and wished she didn’t have to share this experience with anyone except her two adopted children. Time and exposure to emotional abuse had not yet hardened them as it had her. They knew she loved and wanted them. Adoption was just a big word they had yet to understand.
     And they talked constantly about having a baby brother or sister. Her daughter wanted to hold the baby and show it off. Her son wanted to share his toys. It didn’t matter if they got broken because he would show the baby how to take care of things.
     She stroked her stomach on the long drive home, crooning words of love to her unborn child. And when she got to the house, she hurried to her room and undressed in front of the mirror. She felt beautifully radiant for the first time in her life and wanted to see if the reason for her hope had altered her physical appearance. It hadn’t! Her tummy wasn’t even protruding, but the tranquility in her eyes had never been there before. She smiled to herself as she dressed to prepare the evening meal.
     About midnight there was a cry. She jerked awake and listened for the sound of her children. All was quiet, but that was not unusual since they lived far out in the country where nighttime sounds came only from nocturnal birds and animals whose habitats were near. Still, she knew that sleep would not return until she had checked on their safety. So much could happen to them in the night, like the time her son had difficulty breathing and she had held his hand through the bars of his crib all night long. It had turned out to be an intolerance to milk, something easily corrected, but not so easily forgotten. 
     Moonlight stole across their peaceful, sleeping faces as she brushed each cheek with a kiss and secured their tangled covers.She had often wondered about a mother’s intuitiveness when it came to her children, but as the long night hours turned into a flickering red dawn she understood more fully that a mother’s intuition was merely one of God’s gifts of preparation for what was to come.
     Her family was seated around the kitchen table eating a Saturday breakfast of bacon, eggs and homemade pancakes when the first fluttering in her abdomen began. She escaped to the bathroom before anyone could see the hovering tears. Surely it couldn’t be happening again, but tiny drops of fresh blood were descending from her uterus to her undergarments.
     With panic so all encompassing that she feared she would become physically ill before she could even sit down; she called her doctor at his home. His instructions were brief. “Get to the hospital at once.” 
     The town where the hospital stood on the banks of a swift-moving river was over forty miles away. She lay in the back seat with her husband behind the wheel. It was mostly a silent drive, except for an occasional question as to what was happening from her children. It was too late for even a word of kindness now from the man she had married because he had never been part of what she was going through before. 
     The lights in the examining room were blinding, but she hardly noticed. She was stripped of her clothing and strapped to a table. A nurse was squeezing her hand. “It hurts, dear, I know,” she tried to comfort in a practiced fashion. “But it won’t be much longer.”
     “Not much longer,” she reflected, as cramp after cramp elicited inside contortions. How could these people know what time was? Nineteen, now twenty times she had been placed in this identical situation. Her baby was dying, and all the begging and pleading and prayers in the world could not reverse it. Where was God’s mercy? Hadn’t she sufficiently proven that she would endure anything to give life to one of his children?
     The doctor completed the exam and then tore off his examining gloves as he moved to her side. She could read the pity in his eyes. 
     “I wish I could be more hopeful, but I’m afraid your baby is starting to abort. There’s a possibility the process could reverse. We’ll have you admitted, and then we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”
     She mumbled a polite thank you and was whisked away to the maternity ward where she was put in a room with a woman who was in the final stages of labor. It was the perfect irony. She couldn’t blame the woman who every now and then groaned out with pain, but it was hard to be sympathetic when the woman announced that she would never go through the ordeal again because no child was worth it.
     Her own children were taken to her mother’s where preparations were made for them to spend the night. They didn’t want to leave her and clung to the side of her bed, but she reassured them with a motherly kiss, and told them that grandma was expecting them and would have something fun for them to do. Her husband asked if she needed anything, or if he should stay. She told him everything would be fine, so he left with the children.
     She would never remember the details of that long afternoon and evening. Only that she cried and prayed that God would not forget her, and that in his mercy he would let her child live. And when the nurses came in to check on her, she put up a courageous front. She had spent years learning how to hold feelings inside and nothing would allow her to fall apart in front of strangers now. The pity would destroy whatever was left inside. Besides, what she was going through wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was just something that happened to unlucky women, but even unlucky women deserved a miracle sometimes.
     The woman in labor had her baby, and another expectant mother was brought in to replace her. Fortunately, it was a woman even less inclined to small talk than she was so they got along fine. Television was impossible to watch because she could not stop herself from slipping into the bathroom every time she felt even the smallest contraction to see if any changes in her condition were evident.
     She wanted to go home. She wanted to hold her children so tightly in her arms that the impression of their small bodies would never leave hers. At the same time, she wanted to run away from everything - all the pain and suffering and heartache that had come with trying to be a natural mother. Perhaps things would have been different if her husband had not blamed her for the loss of their children. If she had the courage, she would tell him what the doctor told her in the examining room that morning. It wasn’t her fault. There marriage had been cursed with a chromosome incompatibility. All their babies would die. But if they had been married to other people . . . It was too late to think about that now.
     In the early hours of the morning, her baby quit struggling. It slipped from her body as silently as it had entered it. She couldn’t stop herself from scooping up the remains in a clinical container and holding them close to her heart while she said goodbye. In a few short hours, they would be analyzed and destroyed.
     She left the container behind and slipped silently back into bed. She wanted to grieve like some of the women in the south she had read about, rocking back and forth and moaning loudly and with total abandon. Even throwing or breaking things would bring relief, but that wasn’t her nature. She couldn’t stand waste of any kind, so she did the only thing she was prepared to do. She took pen in hand, and aided by the moonlight pouring in through her window she wrote.
     “My tiny, precious baby, just a few short minutes ago your physical body left mine. Only heaven can know the pain and sorrow I am going through. It is so real, so intense, yet somewhere deep inside is calmness, a loving certainty that you are back home with our Heavenly Father.
     “I wanted to give you a physical body, a home for your spirit, and a family who would love and support you. I also wanted to feel your tiny arms around my neck and hear you call me ‘mommy.’I know God must love you very much, and he must have wanted you with him a little longer, but that does not stop the pain and heartache of losing you. And it does not stop the emptiness I will feel inside when I leave this hospital without your small body next to my heart where I can cherish the feelings of your spirit growing inside of me.
     “Yesterday, a miracle happened. The doctor did an ultrasound. I saw your tiny body clinging so desperately to mine and your strong heart beating. I knew you were a fighter, and someday you will bless the lives of many others with your strength.I can see the temple through my window. It is nearly three in the morning. The physical danger for me has not yet passed but shortly will. However, my emotional longing to hold and love you will be with me for what is left of my mortal life. I will always wonder about you, wanting to know where you are and whom you are with.
     “Every time I look up into the brilliant blue of the sky, I will pray that someday we will meet. That I can take you in my arms and give you all the love I have inside to give. I have to believe that someday this will happen – that you can yet be a part of my life. Be brave my precious baby. Life will hold wonderful things for you when you finally make it to earth. And I will be waiting for you no matter how long it takes.”
     She held the papers to her lips, and tears of mourning blotted the ink. She had done all she could. Life would never allow her the blessing of natural motherhood, and her belief in personal miracles had been shattered almost irrevocably, but she would never give up loving every child she met because there was no way of knowing if one of the children she had tried to carry would come into her life in a very different way.