Saturday, September 19, 2015

The phrase "God will never give you more than you can handle" has always bothered me.  I know it has brought comfort to many people and I have good friends who disagree with my view of how God interacts with the world, but I just cannot accept it.  Maybe it is because I have a hard time with the idea of God "giving" a child the burden of being raped and contracting AIDS or of Him "giving" a parent the horror of watching their children starve to death because there is no food.  I also wonder about those who are broken; the lost souls who have been so abused and so hurt that they just cannot pick themselves up again.  If God only gave them what they could handle, then why did they break?

I prefer to look at it differently.  Free will, while a beautiful blessing, also allows for evil and death to roam our fallen and broken world.  God did not encourage the diseased man to rape the child; He was devastated at the evil perpetrated.  In the same way God did not multiply the pestilence or prevent the rain from coming so that the children would starve to death.  He shared the pain of those parents and their community as they watched their beloved wither and die.  The imagery that comes to mind for me is of Jesus holding the raped child and weeping for the diseased man.  He is standing with the parents burying their children and telling them that everything will be ok.  The broken are those who have tried too hard to handle life on their own.  The ones who wouldn't or didn't know how to place their pain and suffering at the foot of the cross.  Life is more than any of us can handle, but by accepting that you cannot do it alone and by being willing to Trust God and offer him the weight you are carrying you can make it through.

My vision is not of an aloof God who just watches us from afar nor of a God who intentionally puts us in harms way.  I don't like putting limits on God.  Any time we try to define Him we are putting Him in a box (no matter how large that box may be) and since we can never fully understand Him I wonder if it is better to hold onto simple sayings or images that bring us comfort, because the end result is the same.  When you say, "God will never give you more than you can handle" what you are saying is that you have to Trust Him to help you take care of things.  That part is absolutely true.

Starting Over

I have thought about getting back to blogging for quite a while.  There are so many thoughts swirling in my mind that it would be helpful to get them organized and typed out.  I like to think it might help me to sleep better anyway.  My original plan was to come in and clean up my blog getting rid of the posts I was sure were absurd and that I had regretted ever sharing with the world.  Instead when I signed in for the first time in years I found that my posts weren't absurd or too embarrassing, but were a piece of where I was and who I was at that time in my life.  I'm sure there are some I could remove and I did take down my conversion story so that I can finish it, but for the most part my posts were simply a part of me.  I have no idea how frequently I will post, but since I am mostly writing this blog for myself I figure it will work out however I need it to.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

This is just what I needed to read this week:   Why I am No Homeschool Superstar

I too struggle with comparing myself and my homeschooling to that of others, which can be very depressing when I read the wonderful colorful cheery and abundant posts on any number of blogs.  There are times I am confident and optimistic, but then (usually after hearing or reading about how others are homeschooling) I start to question myself.  Mostly it is a matter of my pride.  I want to be able to brag about how wonderful/advanced/smart my kids are compared to others.  I want to be able to say that my kids are obviously smart and talented, but I know it doesn't have anything to do with them.  It is all about me.  I want to say those things because it makes me feel like I made my kids successful which is a lie both because I cannot make them successful and because success in our Western society is not real lasting success.  I suppose I should say it is only part of me that wants to be filled with pride, the other part of me wants to surrender to God completely and humble myself and teach my children to do the same.  It is not about me, it is not about them, it is all about Him.  He has a plan for them and if I am successful as a parent and teacher, then I will facilitate their discovery of that plan, and I know they will only be truly happy once they have found the path God intends for them.  That plan may look nothing like what society call success, but that is what I pray for them.

Several years ago I had a wonderful mom tell me that I should listen for and write down messages God is sending me in places like Mass.  I have heard these messages loudly and repeatedly, though only sometimes in Mass.  These messages are snipets here and there, a radio program I tuned in to for a few minutes for no reason or a speech I heard or something I read in a book or an email.  These touched me and have stayed with me.  It has become a bit of a mantra for me as these messages fit together so beautifully I cannot help but put them together.

"There will always be others who have MORE than I do.  More money, time, patience, space in their homes, cooperation in their families, things they can articulate clearly, intelligence, humbleness and holiness than I do.  But I have to show up anyway.  Despite my shortcomings, despite my trials and pain, I need to DO IT ANYWAY.  God provides for me all I need to follow the path he intends for my life.  All I have to do is surrender and trust that he has me and will not let me fall.  All I can do is to Fill-the-Jars with the meager "water" I have and He will turn it into wine - not for my glory but for His."

Fill-the-Jars is a story told to me a few months ago by Suzie Andres (author of the fantastic Little Way of Homeschooling which I highly recommend for anyone interested in homeschooling).  The story hearkens back to the Wedding at Cana where Jesus told the servants to fill the jars with water.  They did as they were told and Jesus turned the water into wine.  They didn't have to do anything other than follow His direction and a miracle occurred.  And so, in my life if I go where God directs and humble myself to His will, then He will take my meager efforts and turn them into something that glorifies Him. 

I just keep having to tell myself this every time I feel unworthy of all the responsibilities that have been entrusted to me.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Healing Power of Water

I rediscovered how much I love the coast over this last weekend.  I have always loved being out of the city/suburbs and before gas prices soared I used to just get in the car with the kids and drive anywhere to be away from buildings and manicured lawns.  Other than the annual homeschool camping trip that we look forward to every year, we have stayed close to home for a while now.  After Jonathan's death my sister, Melinda, would hike almost every weekend and found that it was very healing for her.  I think she may be onto something.  I've spent the last year mostly at home and not really interested in being around people, but I'm beginning to think that something needs to change.  Going out to the coast reminded me how connected I feel to God through the water.  I don't know what it is or why, but being near a natural source of water has always brought me peace.  Whether it is going to one of the waterfalls, the river or the beach I just need to be near it.  I sleep a lot better when I can hear the steady drumming of rain, the crashing of waves or the flowing of a stream or river.  I suppose that is one reason why the Pacific Northwest has always felt like home to me.

The only thing I wish we had done differently on the trip was to have more quiet time.  We saw some amazing things and did a lot more than I thought we would manage to squeeze in, but I wish we had more down time.  I had my mornings with a cup of coffee just sitting watching and listening to the waves and birds, but more would have been good.  Next time.

I do have to admit that I like the comforts of society.  I grew up camping the "real way" with my parents that involved driving out to the middle of nowhere (as in no roads in addition to no buildings, running water, electricity, etc), digging our own pit toilet and surviving off only the things we brought for as much as a week.  They liked to find the most out of the way places...I really should ask how they found the places they did.  I was not a fan of it by the time I reached about 10 years old and we stopped going soon after that.  I like having a bed to sleep in, electricity, a heater when it is cold, running water and hot water for a shower.  So while our trip included all the standard comforts of home and more, it was still awesome and healing to be able to step outside and be so close to the water.  It is something I need to do more often.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Year Later

    July 20th at a little after 2:30pm, one year ago my life changed in a profound way.  Those who know me well know that I over-think everything.  That means this post will be rewritten too many times before I finally post it.  Writing/talking things out helps me work through what I am thinking, but getting it down in a coherent way that I am willing to make public is harder.

     Jeff was unemployed at the time and therefore at home.  We were snuggling and talking with the little kids when I got the call.  I couldn't believe the words Deborah, my brother's ex-wife, was saying.  She told me that she just wanted me to know that Jonathan had died that day.  She then went on and on in her usual way of filling the silence talking about a police detective who wouldn't talk to her about the details and therefore wouldn't talk to me (so don't bother calling), about how she would take care of everything because she was the beneficiary, I think she started talking about the details of how/where she would have my brother's remains cared for, then she asked if I heard that she and Jonathan were reconciling.  That snapped me out of my fog because Jonathan and I had discussed the "reconciliation" and it was not what she was describing.  He needed a place to stay because he was going to lose his house (because of her actions that cost him his security clearance and a good chunk of his salary - something I learned of later) and figured since he was paying for the house she lived in he might as well move in there.  He had no intention of reconciling with her, but wanted to be there for his son.  When he told me he was going to talk to her I encouraged him to make it clear he was not 'getting back together' but needed to live in the house - their marriage ended after 3 years because of her viscous verbal abuse which continued after the divorce.  I may have started arguing with her, but ended up ignoring the tangent she was on and insisted on getting the detective's name and phone number from her.  She begrudgingly complied warning me the detective would not speak with me.

     The detective did not answer, so I left a message.  Then I sent an email asking for prayers for my brother's soul.  In between my short bouts of writing or talking I was crying.  While I waited for the police detective to call me back I searched desperately online hoping to find news about a car crash or fire, something anything but what I knew had happened.

      Jonathan always had a very hard time in social situations.  He could not read body language and didn't understand empathy.  In talking with him he would go off on tangents for hours about topics that interested him without any prompting - or interest sometimes - from his listeners.  He was so very smart when it came to matters of book knowledge and so very lost when you had to add in the human factor.  He told me once that even the thought of having to make small talk with others caused him physical pain.  It wasn't that he didn't like people, on the contrary he needed that connection with others, it was just that his way of connecting was so different than the norm that it was off-putting for most people.  I'm sure there is some kind of fancy label that could have been applied to him, but it doesn't really make a difference now.

      In 2001 my entire family had to move from the large house in the South Bay Area in California, so my sister went to Oregon for college, Jeff and I and the kids followed (it was my idea first!), my parents stayed with friends to get back on their feet, my uncle moved into his own apt and Jonathan headed out to Virginia.  Even with 3,000 miles between us I remember spending hours on the phone with Jonathan even in those first few months when he was staying with our aunt out in VA.  As my family grew over the years, it became harder to have hours available to talk with him.  In 2004 Jonathan decided it was time to get married because he was lonely in Maryland (where he had bought a house), so he joined a match-making company hoping it would work out.  He wanted a Catholic woman who was loyal to Church teaching esp on things like contraception and abortion because he was so very pro-life.  That one thing cut his list down to nothing.  They kept setting him up on dates anyway, probably to justify their paycheck, and nothing was working out.  Jonathan was frustrated and added in young adult gatherings that a local Catholic parish had.  That is where he met Deborah.  He was so excited when she called him back.  That was his reason for marrying her - she had to be interested in him because she called him back.  He had been rejected by so many people throughout his life that he couldn't believe she was interested in him after one conversation (that included his annual income as a networking engineer with a high security clearance and current business/get-rich-quick scheme).  I was happy for him because he was happy.  Jonathan felt things very deeply, but he wasn't very good about sharing those emotions with others.  He also wasn't the most patient of people.  On the one hand he used his incredible mind to plot and plan every detail of various schemes and ideas he had but on the other hand he wanted things done immediately when he decided it was time to move.  Getting kids ready to go or the time to put them in carseats when we went somewhere with him would make him crazy.  Anyway, after about 6 months of dating, Jonathan proposed to Deborah.  The description he gave me of her was that she clipped coupons and was very careful with money, she called him regularly, she cared about her 11 year old son and was a good single mom and she was Catholic.  She might not be as good a Catholic as he was hoping for, but he had no luck finding a good Catholic anyway.  The other thing he said that sticks out in memory was that he could "save" her and her son by providing and caring for them.  I think all men want to be the knight in shining armor, and my brother was no different.  Our father left our mom with 3 small children and my step-dad had a lot of issues, so I think Jonathan wanted to try and make up for our crappy childhood.  During their marriage prep a few warning signs started popping up, and they started fighting over those things.  I spoke with her a few times and realized very quickly that they were not a good match.  My mom realized the same thing and we tried warning Jonathan, but he had made up his mind to go forward.  A few weeks before the wedding, Jonathan told me the honeymoon period was over.  I tried warning him of how hard the marriage would be if everything he thought about her was wrong and they were already unhappy, but he was not willing to stop things.  They got married in 2005 and problems arose almost immediately.  Deborah had lived at her parents house and worked full time throughout her parenting experience, and as someone who did the same thing for a while, it is a hard adjustment to suddenly be a nuclear family.  Poor Michael did not adjust well and Deborah disagreed with my brother on how to parent Michael.  Once Michael made a few mistakes and ended up in the juvenile system, everything got worse.  Through a difficult pregnancy, the housing market collapse, a disastrous attempt at being landlords, out of control spending and very different approaches to life and Catholicism, the marriage failed.  Jonathan moved out in Jan 2009 after a particularly bad argument that caused him to call 911 to have the police there to protect him as he gathered his things and left.  He continued to pay the bills and gave Deborah a few hundred dollars every month for things for David (their 2 year old son), but told her she would need to get a job to cover the rest (something they had been fighting over for months).  Jonathan was devastated.  He didn't understand why things got so bad, so just before leaving his marriage he left the Church.  He told me it wasn't that he thought the Church was wrong, it was that he just didn't care about doing the "right" thing anymore.  He had lived his entire life doing the "right" thing, and he had nothing good to show for it.  The therapist he had been seeing for about a year had put him on anti-depressants and that definitely changed his personality and outlook on life.  His phone calls came farther and farther apart, and were more cryptic.  He told me that he had his faith in God restored, but didn't want to talk about what had happened.  Then in Sept 2009 our grandma died rather suddenly and no one could get in touch with Jonathan.  I began to worry, but continued living life.  Then in January Jonathan called me.  We had never been out of touch for so long.  He told me that he had had a mental break and that he had ended up committing himself back in Sept because he was afraid he would hurt himself.  He was there for a few weeks and felt like he was doing ok now.  I encouraged him to get in touch with his closest friend from before his marriage who was a priest to talk about the demonic aspect of what he was describing.  The way my brother described what was going on with him reminded me of Screwtape Letters.  It was as if he could actually hear the angel and demon whispering in his ear.  It sounded a lot like demonic obsession (as opposed to demonic possession).  Whether there is a scientific/medical explanation for it or not, it doesn't change that it could have been happening.  He had been taking anti-psychotic medication and was seeing his therapist regularly, which is why I suggested adding the spiritual to that routine.  I spent hours everyday in the beginning talking to Jonathan because he said the voices didn't bother him as much when we talked.  As time went on, the conversations would happen every few days and as he spent more and more time at our Aunt and Uncle's house there would be longer gaps between calls.  During all of this, Jonathan did his best to keep Deborah out of the loop because he knew she would use it against him - he would have me listen to the angry, mean calls that would come in when we were on the phone (he called through his computer to avoid paying long distance charges) for hours.  He started going to Mass again and became close to the pastor at the Benedictine church he could walk to from his house.  He had been doing day trading for about a year or so to support both households and was doing pretty well with it.  Things were looking up.  Then somehow Deborah got enough details of his mental state to call his work and inform them that he had mental problems.  Since his job required a high security clearance, they revoked his clearance until an investigation could be done.  He was moved to another building and his pay was cut.  He was also switched to a day shift, so he was working around a lot of people which has always caused him problems.  After another stint in the hospital (one where he could call and let me know what was going on), he was moving forward.  He gave the investigators all they needed and they were sure that his clearance would be reinstated since his issues were not going to affect national security.
    July 20th, 2010.  It had been about 3 weeks since I had heard from Jonathan.  Our last conversation had been about money.  The stock market was not doing well, so he had lost a lot of money.  He could no longer afford to support both houses, was looking at having to declare bankruptcy and he wanted to spend more time with his son David, so he figured he could move back into the house since he was paying for it anyway.  I cautioned him to be careful since the mean phone calls had continued and he had been so miserable when he was there before.  He assured me he would be cautious. 
    As I waited for the detective to call me back, I knew.  I knew he had killed himself.  My brother who had spent almost his entire life doing the right thing.  He had been a good Catholic, even when it was hard (other than the 1 year).  He got it.  He understood Faith even when there were so many things in life he didn't get.  He knew so much - most of my Catholic education had been from him.  If it weren't for his influence I don't know if I would be Catholic today.  How, how could the Devil win with someone like Jonathan?  It wasn't fair, more than that, the thought was unbearable.
      The detective called me back as soon as she finished talking to my mom.  She apologized for Deborah calling me.  She had called Deborah (even though the divorce was finalized) to get phone numbers for our family and Deborah had been uncooperative.  She had asked Deborah not to call anyone, and that she would handle things.  The detective had to search my brother's things to find the phone numbers which sadly gave Deborah enough time to start calling people.  Since Deborah had never liked my mom much (or maybe it was because she knew how much time Jonathan and I spent talking), she called me first so thankfully the detective was able to be the one to call my mom.  Not only had Jonathan killed himself, he had done it very publicly at work - something way out of character.  He was such a private person, he handled things on his own as much as possible.  It just didn't make any sense.  There was no evidence that he had planned to kill himself, and the detective was at a loss as to what pushed him over the edge.  She felt in her gut there was more to it, but she could not prove anything.  The next few months were spent sorting out Jonathan's affairs as much as possible.  My mom as next of kin flew out and stayed with my aunt and uncle while dealing with everything.  Since she is disabled, they had to do a lot to help her.  If it weren't for their support I don't think my mom would have been able to function.  There were little things we discovered that gave us hope for his soul - there was absolutely no sign of planning suicide, he had even just gone grocery shopping and ordered something from Amazon before he died.  My mom found and talked to the priest Jonathan had been to regularly.  He said Jonathan had been working to get better and that he had been to Confession regularly.  The list goes on.
     Since Jonathan had talked to me about wanting to move out to Oregon to be closer to family (once he got a more favorable custody arrangement and got his finances sorted out), we decided to bury him out here.  Throughout all of this, Deborah was livid.  She felt she should be in charge of everything and was not happy that as an ex-wife she had no claim.  She had recently been named the sole beneficiary on all Jonathan's insurance policies, and we were not fighting that.  We just wanted to bury Jonathan out here close to family who loved him.  Deborah refused to be helpful in any way and would not let my mom see her grandson whom she had never met.  My mom did her best while mourning her son, getting nasty calls from Deborah and resistance from my brother's bank and work to settle his estate.  There wasn't much because of how much debt Jonathan had, but she did the best she could.  Deborah ended up suing my mom to take over as administrator, so my mom came back out here to Oregon (my dad had moved up here the summer before and my mom had been taking care of her dad after my grandma died) and we buried Jonathan before the court date.  Deborah won the case and was appointed administrator.  She started calling every place we paid (for the cremation, burial, the church where the Funeral Mass was said, shipping his personal affects, etc) to harass them about how much money was spent and how she was not happy that nothing could be done.  From the bank accounts that were pay-on-death and therefore not part of the estate and the insurance, Deborah should have gotten about $350,000.  Jonathan's estate was about $8,000 which barely covered administrative costs, burial expenses and shipping.  Every now and then I hear rumors that Deborah plans to sue my mom over the $8,000, but so far nothing has happened.
      The last year has been a roller coaster.  I feel like I lost a year.  I can think of all the things I did, but it doesn't feel like I was living those memories, just going from thing to thing.  I think I am doing better now.  I still have off days, but overall I feel like I am starting to live again.  I pray for Jonathan's soul regularly and hope that someday I can ask him what happened.  In the meantime I plan to thwart the devil in any way I can, and maybe I can help get a few more souls out of his clutches along the way - just the way Jonathan would have wanted it.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

I realized last night how much I have gotten done around the house this week.  One of the things I let go last summer after Jonathan died was the backyard.  I didn't touch it, so the last time it was mowed or weeded was summer of 09.  That is a lot of growth - some of the grass and weeds were 3-4' tall and the weeds I had previously been pulling out spread happily under my neglect.  It took another 4 hours to dig up blackberries, gather sticks (we have a 40' willow tree on our small lot, so there are many, many sticks) and rocks and mow one corner of the yard.  Then another 4 hours to finish mowing and hand weed a bit around the raspberries that are coming out farther into the yard than I planned for.  It is amazing the difference a little care makes!  The yard seems quite a bit larger now that it has been cleaned up some.  There is still plenty of work that needs to be done, but at least I can go outside and not feel like there is one more pressing item on my To Do list.

The other big project I worked on this week was cleaning up the garage.  Our house is 1000sq ft with a full, mostly unfinished basement and a 1-car garage.  The only access to the basement is through the garage.  Since we are not moving any time soon (and are a family of 9), I have to utilize as much space as I can so that we don't kill each other during the long wet seasons.  My current plan is to finish the garage, so that we can have a family room in addition to the living room - which will also make the basement more accessible.  I am just beginning this project and figure it will take about 2 years to get it done, but it will be so nice to have it!  I spent yesterday working on clearing out junk, moving things we are keeping and cleaning items so they can be used.  The garage looks a lot better, though now I have to clean up, organize and condense (and possibly move) my workbench.  Then I can start on the wiring, insulation, etc.

When I add in making 3 meals a day, taking a day to clean the house (that was neglected last week while the kids were in soccer camp), changing diapers, feeding the baby, taking care of the kids, spelling countless words for Elora, taking breaks to look at or research various bugs Damien caught, listen to Zachery talk about so many, many things, get Ariana a tetanus booster when she stepped on a nail (I read her the pros and cons of the vaccine our ND recommended and let her decide), go in for the follow-up ultrasound of my thyroid (still waiting for the results) and spending evenings with Jeff, I suddenly feel like my days were a bit more productive than I originally thought.  We even managed to pray the rosary yesterday. 

Next week we have Zachery's 10th birthday, family coming for 4th of July (which will be bittersweet because the last visit with Jonathan was for 4th of July 2 years ago and it was one of the few holidays we loved as kids growing up), grocery shopping for a good chunk of July including our big homeschool camping trip and planning for and starting to pack for that camping trip.

Sadly the only project around the house for the next week or so will be cleaning and maintaining...and eating all the perishable food. 

Thursday, June 30, 2011

There is Never Enough Time

I have started several blog posts, but there is just not enough time to finish them before I get pulled in a new direction.  It isn't just blog posts either, but all computer time.  While it is good to be so involved in life that I don't have time for the computer, it is frustrating to feel like I am still not accomplishing much.

Several years ago I asked God to show me all the moments during the day when I could work on writing projects because I felt so overwhelmed, and he showed me so many that I finally had to ask him to stop!  I keep meaning to ask to be shown those moments again, but then I get distracted.

Ariana asked that we pray together as a family again regularly, and we really need to.  I know the time is there somewhere in my day, I just need to carve it out and make it a routine so that we don't forget...or get distracted.