Sunday, October 28, 2012

COM Ch 3: More Than You Wanted to Know

Chapter 3:  More Than You Wanted to Know

            So you may be asking, “Who is this Heather and what gives her the authority to write this book?”  (Or you may not be, so I’ll ask it for you.)  In answer to the latter question: “Nothing!”  I just felt like writing down some thoughts that kept circling around my pretty, little head.  I don’t know everything or even part of everything when it comes to being a parent or a Christian or a spouse or a daughter or a person or anything. (Despite the many times that I may act like I do.)  And I am not a Biblical scholar by any means, so nothing I say here is expert advice or “gospel truth” (unless it is actually the Gospel’s Truth).  These are just my reflections on life and God and faith.  And I invite you to listen to my thoughts, my fears, my struggles, and my unanswered questions.  Now, I don’t know if anyone else will find my story as endlessly fascinating as I do, but here it is.       
            And who am I?  Well, how do you answer a question like that?  That question is why people travel the world, go to therapy or try a new hobby . . . to find themselves.  If we were stuck next to each other on a long plane ride (Me on the aisle, of course.  You can have the window!) and you asked me about myself, I might answer like this:  (And since you would be a captive audience, unable to get away for the duration of the trip, you’d probably be going, “Why did I ask that?”)

            “Well, let me see.  I am a laidback kind of person who loves to read and garden.  I like the easy, low-key road.  And I am a country girl at heart.  I would love nothing more than a little bit of land for my kids to play on, a large vegetable and fruit garden, and a large front porch with a swing.  Oh, and a window over the kitchen sink to look outdoors while I am doing dishes.  I hate staring at the wall!  I also really want wood floors.  I hate carpet and the ground-in dirt.
            And I like things easy and simple.  I don’t particularly like to be tested and tried.  (Who does?)  But I like to think of myself as a rock when it comes to trials, firm and immovable.  However, I’ve come to realize that the slightest wind of change scares me.  In fact, I hate changes and I hate surprises.  I’d rather always be in-the-know.  I remember being completely frazzled once (to the point of tears) when everyone else knew about a surprise visit I was going to get from someone, and no one would tell me who it was.  I wanted complete awareness (part of needing to be in control). 
            I don’t need much excitement in my life.  My favorite thing to do is just to hang out with my family and a few close friends.  And to read or crochet a blanket.  And to plant my garden!  (In pots, right now, because we don’t have our own yard.)  And I am trying my best to live a godly life so that I may win others to the Lord with my example.  But I do have a tendency to be self-righteous (I’m working on that) and I struggle with procrastination (I’ll work on that later!). 
            Let’s see, what else?  One frustrating thing about me is my remarkable ability to leave things right where I drop them.  And to lose pens, which makes my husband crazy.  You would think that in the course of the day, we would run across a big stash of misplaced pens.  But somehow we don’t.  It’s as though they fall into an invisible abyss or black hole in our house as soon as they leave my hand.  A hole that also contains several pairs of scissors, my car keys, and our library cards.  It’s a skill.  It really is! 
            Or they could just be hiding under one of the many piles of random “stuff” that are all over the house.  I hate “stuff.”  I’m trying to organize this “stuff” and get it put away.  And I have been for years!  I think that papers and toys multiply like rabbits while you are sleeping.  You can never keep up with them no matter how hard you try.  So, why stress yourself out?  Yeah, that’s me in a very small nutshell.  Thanks for asking!” 
            It would be fun to answer that way.  Though I could just see the blank look on your face as you say, “Okay, then!  Um, yeah, I think I see someone else I need to talk to.  Bye!” 
            (Maybe it would be better to use it on telemarketers who call and ask how I’m doing?  I could say, “Well, actually, things aren’t too bad right now, you know.  Because I’m a laid-back kind of person.  I enjoy reading and gardening and taking the easy, low-key road . . .”  I’d make sure that they couldn’t get a word in edgewise till they just gave up and hung up.  Oh, yes!  Poetic justice!)  
            Okay, seriously though!  If I wanted to give you a more proper picture of myself, it would go like this: 
            “I am a mother of three amazing sons and wife to a wonderful husband.  I feel so fortunate to have been blessed with children that I love being around all day and a husband that I can’t wait to wrap my arms around the moment he walks in the door.  (Oh, if only he could get paid to be home with the family.) 
            I am also a Christian who couldn’t imagine a life without the Lord.  Whenever I think of those who face this life on their own, I think of how terrifying that would be to me.  Life is hard enough without thinking that there is no real point to it all and no Godly guidance or providence.  For me, it’s just like John 6:68: “Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”  If Jesus isn’t the answer, then nothing else matters.          
            I am also a Licensed Professional Counselor with a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology.  But that sounds more impressive than it really is, because I actually have very little counseling experience.
            And my first “attempt” at it wasn’t very impressive, either.  My very first counseling job was, of course, as an intern.  I was supposed to sit in with my supervisor as he counseled a reluctant teen boy.  And I was hugely pregnant with my first child. 
            Before going into the counseling room, I was passing through the office when a bowl of butterscotch candies called out to me, “Heather, you want one of us!  We look good, don’t we?  Go ahead, take one!  The baby wants butterscotch!”  A little voice in my head said, “Don’t do it.”  But did I listen?  No!  I grabbed a piece and popped it in my mouth.  After all, I was just going to be listening.  I wouldn’t even have to say a word.  Surely, I could just sit there quietly and suck on my candy. 
            Now, this was the first time I met this teen.  I was already feeling very conspicuous being the very large-bellied newbie and the only female in the room.  But if that wasn’t enough . . . as my supervisor was discussing delicate details of the boy’s life with him, I inhaled this butterscotch candy into the back of my throat.  Immediately, I began gagging on it.  But I didn’t want to disrupt the flow of conversation, so I sat there completely still - smiling and calm - as I sputtered and slurped and tried to coax the traitorous butterscotch back into my mouth with my tongue.  (I’m sure it was really creepy!)
            When I finally pulled the candy back into my mouth, I resumed quietly sitting there, acting like nothing happened and with a wide-eyed, innocent look of, “What?  What are you all looking at?”  I knew they were laughing on the inside.  They giggled and shook as they talked.  Though, politely, neither one of them would even look at me.  Worst part was, neither of them even knew that I had this candy in my mouth, and I was too embarrassed to ever explain it.  So I can only imagine what they must have thought was going on with the motionless, creepy, smiling, pregnant woman spontaneously choking in the middle of the room.
            Anyway, since I decided to stay home with my children shortly after getting my license, I have a lot more head knowledge than experience.  (And with all this stored up knowledge, I do have a tendency to like to hear myself talk.  Just tell me to shut up if I go on too much.)  But while I love counseling, I love being a mother even more.  And I wouldn’t trade my time at home for anything.  I love what I’m doing!”  
            Yeah, that pretty much sums me up also.   
            Let me go back a bit further now to the beginning of my Christian walk.  When I was eleven, I was at a Christian summer camp having a great time.  I was making new friends, acting out the classic Who’s on First? for everyone, and falling out of the top bunk onto the hard cement floor in the middle of a deep sleep.  (Just minutes after the girl next to me did.  What’s that about?) 
            My parents had searched for years for God.  They had tried various “religions” and had finally come to Christianity some time before.  I had yet to make my own commitment.  Little did I know that this would be the year that I would start my own journey with the Lord. 
            It was during a classic altar-call that I felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  I sat there on one of the wooden benches and felt the irresistible urge to go up during the call.  But I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  It went over and over in my head, Just get up and go.  See, others are going, too.  The call will end soon.  Just go
            And then before I could stop myself, I felt myself get up and start walking.  It was almost as though I was on auto-pilot, like I was watching myself do it.  I walked to the front, I knelt, I prayed, and I cried.  I was only eleven, but I was ready and I was serious.  And, as many people can relate, I can only describe the feeling as refreshing.  Later that night, a fellow camper saw my red, puffy, crying eyes (crying from joy, of course) and she asked if I went up.     
            “Yes,” I said.
            “Cool,” she said.  Yeah, it was cool!
            I was fortunate to, for the most part, grow up as a Christian and in a faith-filled home.  While life wasn’t ideal, I was shielded from a lot of bad influences.  I had a relatively stable adolescence, and I generally enjoyed my youth.  However, I did have three dads by the time I was eight years old. 
            My mom had divorced from my father, Bill, when I was two.  I didn’t remember him.  I got a letter from him when I was thirteen and that was when I first started getting to know him.  We exchanged a couple letters, and I met him for the “first” time when I was fifteen. 
            It was at my grandparents’ fiftieth-wedding anniversary.  I was as nervous as could be as I looked around at all the men, trying to figure out which one was him.  Unexpectedly, someone came up next to me, put his arm around my shoulder and said, “Hi, Heather.”  My mom says that I looked at him and let out a little, surprised scream.  I don’t remember that.  (That’s probably a good thing.  How embarrassing!)
            Since then, I have seen him about once every year or two.  He is a gentle man and a believer in the Lord.  And the family that he comes from is amazing.  They are a family that you would find in the “good old days.”  My aunts and uncles and all my cousins still enjoy getting together regularly for visits and reunions at my grandparents’ house.  Everyone is very kind, respects each other and genuinely seems to enjoy each other’s company. 
            Come to think of it, I have rarely ever seen any contention or strife at any family gathering.  There is a sense of community and love and strong family ties.  It’s just the kind of stability and closeness that a lot of people, including myself, yearn for.  And I have to say, I’m honored to be considered part of that family!  I believe that somewhere in their family tree, God blessed them and it has spilled down through the generations.   
            My grandparents, Grandpa and Grandma K, live in the middle of the bluffs in Iowa where there is a neighbor every mile or so.  These neighbors all learn to rely on and care for each other, regardless of how much they “like” each other.  It is so unlike living in the cities or suburbs today.  
            I’ve gone to see them about once or twice every year since I was fifteen.  And it’s been an extra blessing to have my children get to know them.  Grandma is just this itty-bitty thing (just my size) who raised six kids in a tiny, little farm house on a couple hundred acres of land in Iowa, the same land they still live on.  Grandpa is a quiet, content soul who physically worked hard over the years to provide for his family.  And although they are in their nineties now, they are still going and are always ready for company. 
            Grandma tells me that Grandpa always looks forward to when little ones come to visit.  He just loves to sit and watch them play.  And when they leave, he always gets a little sad and asks, “Are any more kids coming to visit?” 
            One of the recent times we were up there, I got the gift of three precious moments that will forever be emblazoned in my mind.  At the last minute, we had decided to go visit for an extended weekend.  It was a long, difficult car ride with three young children.  Halfway there, I began to wonder if we should have bothered.  It took us six hours and we arrived long after the sun went down. 
            My grandparents always tell us just to let ourselves in if they are in bed.  When we all scrambled up the stairs and into their kitchen, there was my grandfather - my ninety-plus-year-old grandfather - standing by the window waiting for us.  He told me that he was concerned for us and that he waited for us to get there safely, checking out the window anytime headlights went by.  Grandma was usually the one to wait up, but this was the first time that I had ever heard that he waits for us!  It gave me a warm feeling to know that Grandpa cared that much to wait up that late.  (And then, of course, I felt bad for making him wait up that long!)   
            When we put our bags in our rooms, Grandma and I sat at the kitchen table, chatting over a plate of chocolate-chip cookies (as we always do when we first arrive, no matter how late it is).  And since we had arrived safely, Grandpa decided it was time for him to go to bed.  He shuffled to the kitchen table, leaned down and gave my grandmother a goodnight kiss.  It was the sweetest thing I had ever seen.  In their nineties and they still kiss each other goodnight.  Oh, that everyone could know that kind of love! 
            The next day, we were all hanging out in the living room.  My son Ryder, two years old at the time, pulled a chair up to their big picture window to watch the cows across the street.  When I looked over at him a little later, I saw that Grandpa had pulled a chair up next to him, and they were both just quietly watching the cows together.  How I wish I had my camera!  My wonderful Grandpa and sweet baby boy just sitting in silence together, heads nearly touching, enjoying the view outside.  I stood there for a moment just letting that picture burn into my memory, and I filed it in my mind with the other two moments.  I thank God that we decided to make that impromptu trip.  It was worth it!
            My Grandma has always had such a welcoming attitude and home that people are always anxious to get out there to visit, even non-family members.  It actually took me quite a while to realize who was family and who wasn’t because everyone was always welcome, no matter their relation.  She keeps saying, “I don’t know why the kids always want to come out here to visit.  There’s nothing for them to do here.  It’s just us.”  But I tell her that’s exactly the reason why people want to visit.  She makes it feel like home, no matter who you are. 
            One of the greatest compliments I ever heard about a mother was something my biological father told me about my grandmother.  In a letter he wrote to me, he commented how she was ready for another barn dance, although she was eighty-eight years old at the time.  He wrote, “My mom . . . always up for a party, even at 88.  She’s one of a kind . . . a legend.” 
            I love that!  I really, really love that a son would say that about his mother.  One of a kind!  A legend!  She definitely is an amazing person.  Grandpa, too.  Simply doing their best to love and serve their family and those who come to their door with the kind of servant-love that Jesus has for us.  It has been a blessing to get to know them. 
            I just wish I could pick them up, put them in my pocket and carry them around with me all the time.  I would look in there every now and then and say, “Hey, how are you doing?  Can I get you some water, some crackers, mashed potatoes and roast beef?  Here you go!  Now, how about a hug?  Thanks.”  Or I wish that they lived closer.  I would visit a lot more.  They are the kind of grandparents I wish everyone could have.  And I thank God that they are mine.   
            Anyway, enough bragging about them and back to my story of growing up.  Although things had seemed relatively easy for me, the scars of divorce went deep.  I had always considered myself like a duck with water when problems came.  They just rolled off my back.  I was actually oddly proud of myself that I didn’t let the divorces affect me.  When I was about ten or so, someone once asked me if it bothered me that my parents were divorced.  I smiled, continued riding my scooter and said, “Nope.”  And I felt like I looked so strong.  And it felt good.  But the scars were there, and they were deeper than I knew. 
            As I said, my parents divorced when I was two.  My mom remarried and had a son, Sean, with my first step-dad, Tom, when I was four.  They divorced a couple years later and she married my second step-dad, Bob, when I was about eight.  They had four more sons, Bobby, Bradley, Taylor and Tyler.  (Oh, yeah, a lot of boys in my house.  I was the only one to get my own room; one of the true benefits of being the only girl.) 
            I was fortunate that I had one dad from my preteen years on.  And in the early years of my mom and Bob’s marriage, things felt normal and comfortable.  We had a home life that felt as “homey” as it could be.  I really enjoyed the much-desired stability as I grew into an adult, and was very thankful for those years of normalcy.  Overall, all of my fathers were good people, and I didn’t seem to have too much trouble adjusting to the changes. 
            But I didn’t realize at the time that I had just ignored or internalized any feelings and fears that I had from the divorces.  I could be so happy-go-lucky as a teen because I hadn’t yet discovered the pain and heartache that I kept buried deep inside.   
            My mom once told me about a time when I was around two or three.  We had apparently moved around a lot by that point.  One day, after she got in a fight with a boyfriend, she yelled, “Come on, Heather.  Let’s go!” 
            She said that I ran to my room and started grabbing my things and cried, “Can I at least take my clothes with me?”  I don’t recall that incident.  But obviously, it was hard for me to face changes and disruptions, even back then.  So stuffing the emotions and pain was probably a good thing at the time.  It helped me to have that enjoyable childhood. 
            Adolescence was actually a great time for me.  And there were two major factors that made my growing years so wonderful.  The first and most important was my best friend, Gina.  Gina and I were very much alike.  We enjoyed many of the same things, had the same ridiculous sense of humor and we were always laughing.  I believe that we never had one fight all through high school. 
            In fact, we were oddly similar.  Friends teased us that we shared a brain, but that only one of us got it at a time.  Once, we were playing a game called Sardines with our youth group.  The game is like playing hide-and-seek in the dark.  One person hides and everyone else feels their way around and tries to find them.  When you find the person, you hide quietly with them until, eventually, everyone has found the hider. 
            I had hidden way up on the top of a cabinet, and I had been up there for a long time, watching people come in and search the room and leave.  No one could find me.  Then Gina and another girl entered the room.  And I heard Gina say, “If I was Heather, where would I hide?”  Immediately, she walks over to the cabinet, looks up into the blackness where I am crouching and says, “I think someone’s up there!”  She was the first one to find me.
            Another time, we met for breakfast at a local pancake house for some prayer before school.  I had ordered a plate of French Toast.  And when it arrived, I took a bite and immediately spit it out. 
            “I hate soggy French Toast,” I said.
            Gina says, “Oh, I love soggy French Toast!”  And she reaches over to take a bite off my plate.  But instead of taking any of the fifty other pieces, she unwittingly reaches past all of those to stab at the one that I just spit out, and she pops it into her mouth.  I stared at her for a moment.
            “Um, Gina, that’s the one that I just spit out!”
            She pauses in mid-chew, then shrugs and says, “At least we’re good friends!”          
            Having her as a friend was all I really needed.  She didn’t have any sisters, either.  So we were the closest thing to “sisters” we could be.  I was never too concerned about being part of the “popular” group (or any group) at school because I had her as a friend.  I got along with most everyone in school and called them friends.  But I didn’t get together with them outside of school, nor was I invited to any high school parties by my classmates (except for one graduation party.  Thank you, Jessica.).  But it honestly didn’t bother me because I had what I needed - one good, close friend. 
            I was, and still am, someone who would rather have a few deep, stable, long-term relationships than many shallower ones.  (To any moms out there who may be concerned about your child because you don’t think they could possibly be happy unless they have lots of friends:  Trust me, it is possible to be happily content with just one good friend!  Some of us are just made that way.  So, don’t worry too much!) 
            The other very big blessing in my young life was the wonderful youth group that I was part of as I grew up.  Actually, there were a couple different ones.  But the one that I think most fondly of was the one my mother created.  She took charge of the youth group when I was in high school and, with God’s help, turned it into something amazing. 
            We not only went on fun adventure trips, like canoeing and white-water rafting, but we had a group of kids that was on fire for the Lord.  And we had a desire to share it by reaching out.  We put on plays to share the message of salvation in the park gazebo and in the local high-school, and we were always inviting new kids to join.  We were a large, eclectic group of teens who enjoyed each other and inspired each other.  Everyone was always glad to see you!  Most of those years, I helped out as a leader.  And I loved it.  As I look back, I can say that it really had a positive impact on my life and helped me to stay on the straight and narrow and to grow my faith. 
            My mother had a way about her that seemed to draw the kids in.  She always said that the three most important factors of reaching people for Christ were “relationships, relationships, relationships!”  And she always tried hard to make the youth group kids feel welcome and important.  There were always kids at our house or on the phone, as she did her best to help and encourage them.  It really was an honor to watch her inspire the kids and to be a part of something so remarkable.
            Through high school, my mom and I got along quite well.  We had some typical mother-daughter fights, but not many.  I would hear everyone else complaining about their parents, and it was such a foreign concept to me.  I thought that my mother was the cool one.  And my friends thought so, too!  
            One day, to wish one of the teens a Happy Birthday, she dressed up in this huge, ugly gown, stuffed it with pillows, smeared make-up all over her face and burst into his workplace as the Obnoxious Relative singing “Happy Birthday.”  She was a riot!  And I was mortified!  Secretly amused and proud of her, but mortified!
            My enjoyable adolescence was also greatly helped by the fact that I adored school!  I had more fun (and still do) shopping for school supplies than I do for clothes or jewelry.  (It’s sick, I know!)  I loved the classes, the work, the books, the tests, the whole kit-and-caboodle. 
            All through high school, I was a cheerleader, and I was captain the last year-and-a-half.  Now, you have to understand, though, that this is not really bragging because the cheerleaders were not considered “the cool ones” at my school.  That would be the pom-poms who danced during home games.  The cheerleaders may have been more of a nuisance, according to one report I heard.  Even though we were the ones who came to every game. 
            But the poms have the music and the dancing, and that beats everything.  (I secretly wished I was a pom.)  But that didn’t matter; I was having fun.  Every game was a blast for me because Gina and I were really in our own little world.  And we loved it.  (I went back recently to attend a homecoming game as an alumna.  And I gotta ask, “Were our skirts that short?”  ‘Cuz that’s wrong.  That’s just wrong!) 
            When I wasn’t at school or at home cleaning or babysitting, I was working at a part-time job that I really enjoyed.  It was at a little sandwich-and-ice-cream shop.  I loved interacting with the customers and preparing the food.  I loved making the sandwiches and I loved serving the ice cream. 
            Ice cream always made people happy.  Customers would brighten up and smile when you handed them an ice-cream cone or hot-fudge sundae.  And we would chat and exchange pleasant small talk.  It was just such a friendly place to work.  (Except for the times that I forgot the bananas on the banana splits - which was remarkably often.  For some reason, people get really angry when they drive all the way to the restaurant, order a banana split, get in their car and drive all the way home, sit down at the table with a spoon, open their banana splits and find . . . no bananas.  Go figure!) 
            But it was a great place to work.  Except for one day that really stands out in my mind!  I hadn’t been working there very long when one of the most unusual things happened to me.  While I was stocking the ice-cream counter, I had to look for some more containers in the large freezers by the wall.  These were two large, industrial-sized freezers that faced each other, a few feet apart. 
            I looked in one and then, without letting go of the handle, reached over and opened the other one with my other hand.  What no one knew was that one had a leaky drip-pan.  This caused the electricity to run through the metal door.  And when I grabbed each door with a different hand, I completed the circuit between these two freezers.  Immediately, an enormous surge of electricity ran through me that I had never felt in my life before.  (Nothing like messing around with the electric fences or putting a nine-volt battery to your tongue.)  I began to scream as everything around me shook violently.  I could feel my face contorting from the electricity. 
            You’ve seen the cartoons where one character gets electrocuted and it’s like they are stuck to it?  I never knew that was really possible.  But it took me only a moment to realize that I was stuck between the two freezers, as though my hands were glued to the handles.  Try as I might, I couldn’t let go.  My co-worker ran over when she heard me screaming, and I could see the stunned look on her face through my convulsing vision. 
            “DON”T . . . TOUCH . . . ME,” I screamed, for fear that she may get stuck in the loop, too.  I looked over at my left hand, saw my fingers wrapped around the handle, and I began to pull with all my might to get loose, as the electricity continued to pulse through me.  Slowly, slowly, I watched my hand slide from the handle, centimeter by centimeter until it reached the end of my fingers.  As soon as my fingers slid from the handle, I was thrown back against the wall where I crumpled into a blubbering heap. 
            Shockingly, no one called an ambulance and I never saw a doctor.  But, Thank You, Lord, I never had any lasting problems from it.  (That I know of!  Hmm?  I wonder if this explains why, according to husband, electrical appliances and the car only seem to have problems when I use them!  No kidding!)  I should have gone home early, but my sense of duty kept me there.  But for the rest of the evening, I had a terrible fear of touching two things at once, so I did everything with one hand securely tucked behind my back. 
            My boss at the ice-cream shop was also part of our close-knit church.  It was a church that was started in my parents’ home, with some close friends.  I felt so comfortable there.  I knew everyone and was part of it from the very beginning.  It eventually grew to fill a building, and it was a place where people actually looked forward to seeing you.  We’d all go out to eat afterwards at that little sandwich-and-ice-cream shop and talk and laugh for hours.  Things were good all around.  (I didn’t even mind the extra responsibility that I had around the house, being the oldest of six.  I just always saw it as part of my life.  It was a known joke that my mom fondly called me “Heatherella.”)     
            Oh, I just thought of something!  Okay, I’m just going to throw this in here because I have nowhere else to throw it.  Seriously, it relates to nothing and has no point, but I have to share it because it doesn’t happen every day.  I was swimming in the lake once when I was a kid.  And I felt something hard under my foot.  Thinking, Hmmm, buried treasure, maybe?  I dug it up.  It was a clam.  The first one I ever found. 
            And then I thought, Hey, pearls!  (I was just a kid, remember!)  So I tried to pry it open.  Have you ever tried to open a clam before?  I could barely get it to budge, just about a centimeter or so.  When I realized that I’d never get in there to get a pearl, I thought that it would be funny, instead, to fill it up with water.  I dunked it back under the water and let it close. 
            I picked it up to look at it, rather proud of what I did.  And as I chuckled to myself, it spit a stream of water right into my eyeballs.  I got spit on . . . by a clam.  A clam!  I am the only person I know who’s been spit on by a clam.  Just had to share it!
            I would say that, for the most part, I had a simple and predictable kind of youth.  Leave it to Beaver or Ozzie and Harriet!  Just the way I like it!  Basically, I had a lot of good times.  I also had many opportunities to go to summer and winter Christian camps, to several evangelism-training conferences, and a chance to go on my first short-term mission trip when I was almost eighteen.   This was also my first time flying overseas. 
            Gina and I went with a small group of high-schoolers and our leaders, Beverly and Victor (but try as I might, I kept calling them “Veverly and Bictor”) on a one-week trip to Russia.  It was 1993 (that dates me, doesn’t it?) and we went to pass out Bibles and Christian pamphlets to the people. 
            Since we were not allowed to be there as a “mission” group, we had to go as part of a “tour” group.  This really confused and bothered our tour guide.  He couldn’t understand why our group would rather be outside in the courtyard passing out pamphlets than in the beautiful museum with everyone else.  He actually came out and yelled at us for that one. 
            We got to visit Moscow and St. Petersburg.  We saw the Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral, and Dostoevsky’s tomb.  It was really wild to be standing in places that I had only seen in pictures before.  And I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the people.  We were able to witness one-on-one to different people as we took a tour of the cities, rode an overnight train, went to a private play performance, and attended the Russian circus ( . . . where Victor scolded Gina and me for giving each other piggy-back rides and obnoxiously running all over while we waited in line outside.  “Do you guys see anyone else acting like that here?” he said.  We dropped our heads in shame and assumed the proper look of remorse.  “Sorrrry, Victorrrr!”) 
            We got to witness a little to the chain-smoking children that waited to beg money off of us whenever we got off the bus.  (Talk about street-smart, wily kids!)  And we visited a place where mentally-handicapped youth made handmade crafts.  We sang songs with them and told them about Jesus and how He loved them.  They gave me a sweet, little flower made out of feathers.  I still have it! 
            And I also went home with two favorite memories that will always stick with me.  One of them was right outside that museum where our tour guide scolded us.  We were visiting the beautiful Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg, and we got to see some wonderful works of art.  After a few minutes, though, we snuck out of the museum to pass out pamphlets in the courtyard. 
            Since it was winter, we had on our bulky winter coats and our backpacks.  In our backpacks were the pamphlets and a few Bibles that we had to pass out.  I passed out a lot of the pamphlets that gave the “Romans Road” message; a short, quick description of the way to salvation.  But I hadn’t yet given away one Bible the whole trip.
            I clearly remember looking up at one man that was about fifteen feet away, headed in my direction.  I remember how tired he looked, carrying a briefcase that must have been full of lead.  He seemed to be wearing the weight of the world on his slumped shoulders; the picture of a man who had lost all hope and joy in life.  And this overwhelming urge came over me to give him a Bible.  I couldn’t reach my backpack while wearing it, and I couldn’t get it off without a lot of struggle.  So I called Gina over and asked her to get one out quickly.  It was a feeling through my whole body that this man needed a Bible. 
            Just as he passed by, I walked towards him with the Bible in my hand.  “Gift, gift,” I said in Russian.  I didn’t know Russian, but this was one word we were taught, along with “I don’t know how to speak Russian.” 
            “Gift, Gift for you.”  He held up his hands and began walking away, refusing to look me in the eye.  He didn’t want anything that I was asking him to buy.  Russia had many pushy street vendors who accosted you at every turn.  “You buy for $2.00.  $2.00 only for you.  You a pretty girl.”  (As an inside joke, “Only for you” became our phrase for the trip.) 
            “Gift, GIFT,” I kept saying.  I wouldn’t give up, as I followed him a few steps.  “Free gift!” I pleaded.  He didn’t even want to look at it.  But I persisted and followed.  And then, he paused and ever so slightly leaned in and looked at it.  He wasn’t going to step towards it, though, so I slowly walked forward, holding out the Bible.  “Gift for you,” I said.  He reached out and gently, cautiously, put his hand on it.  As soon as it was in his hand, I backed up and raised my hands in the air to show him that I didn’t want anything for it. 
            “Free,” I said.  He was obviously confused that I would just give something to him, and he stood there a moment.  I smiled and backed up a bit, pushing him forward with my hand gestures to show that it was his now.  He turned slowly and walked away, quite puzzled.  And I went back to work passing out more pamphlets. 
            It was sometime later that I happened to glance over toward one of the alleys that lead from the courtyard.  And there, leaning against the wall, was the man reading his new Bible.  Shudders went through my body.  I wanted to cry for joy!  I hadn’t passed out another Bible the whole day and, in fact, I can’t recall any of the other Bibles I passed out the whole trip.  But I truly believe that the one that I did was meant to be. 
            I am so blessed to be a part of that.  I will always remember that scene, and I have prayed for him from time to time.  I don’t know who he was or where he is now.  But maybe that Bible was a little ray of light in his very dark world.  And I hope to meet him in Heaven someday.  For all I know, that may have been his only chance to hear the gospel in such a spiritually-dark place.  And had I not been sensitive to the Spirit’s leading, I may have missed an opportunity to share the love and message of Jesus with someone who was lost.  That’s really what this life is about, after all.  You don’t know when or where you may be moved to do something, but the Lord looks for those with sensitive, willing hearts to do His will. 
            [Remember the story of the talents in Matthew 25.  Each servant was entrusted with a talent.  It was up to them to use them wisely, to make them profitable.  Failing to do any good with them was a disgrace and punishable.  And as I read this, I imagine a talent to be our Christian witness of our salvation.  We’ve been given the Holy Spirit and the call to go out and witness to others - to reflect Christ more and more.  But how often do we hide this talent, this glorious gift of salvation, and forget that we are to multiply it by sharing it with others? 
            Or how about the story of Philip in Acts 8: 26-40.  He was instructed to go by a certain chariot and stand there.  I’m sure it sounded like an odd, insignificant request.  But while standing by the chariot, he heard someone reading from Isaiah.  Philip recognized this as an “open door,” an opportunity to share his faith and impart godly knowledge.  He could have ignored it.  But because he was sensitive enough to hear the Spirit’s leading and willing enough to follow, he was able to help lead someone to Christ.  
            I’m sure I’d be saddened to discover what talents I fail to use and what open doors I miss daily, all because I don’t make the effort to listen to or obey God’s daily calls, or because I am just too focused on myself!   Hmm?  Just thinking out loud!]               
            The other favorite (and most heartbreaking) memory was visiting the orphanage in Moscow.  I still can’t think about it today without welling up with tears a little.  We went there just to spend the afternoon with these wonderful kids, to pass out candy and treats, and spend some time playing with them.  We didn’t speak the same language, but it didn’t matter.  They seemed to enjoy our company nearly as much as we enjoyed theirs. 
            These kids were darling.  Here we were, about a dozen teenagers, having the time of our lives making these kids smile.  There was one very excitable little boy who had never had a blue sucker before.  When we showed him his blue tongue in the mirror, he never put his tongue back in his mouth the whole visit.  He was so thrilled with his new color that he wagged it at everyone the whole afternoon. 
            Then there was the most proper little boy I had ever seen.  He was more like a little-bitty, three-year-old man in his tiny, brown suit.  He had this little handkerchief that he kept in his front suit pocket.  And every so often, he would pull it out, discreetly wipe his nose and tuck it back in again, with more maturity than I have ever seen in a child (or a full-grown man, for that matter).   
            When we first got there, we all meandered around among the kids, not sure of what they expected from us.  But eventually, we all drifted to a child or two of our own to spend our few precious hours with.  There were so many amazing kids at this orphanage.  And although these kids were cared for well by the staff at this particular orphanage, I wanted so badly to take little Meesha home with me.  He was this cute, little, three or four-year-old boy who caught my attention right away and just stole my heart.  He was so quiet and reserved and just seemed to yearn for some individual attention from someone.
            When I started to play with just him, though, he turned out to be quite sprightly.  And he basked in the attention.  He loved to run and be chased.  I would pretend to turn away, and he would come up close behind me.  Then I would turn around really fast, act surprised, and start to chase him.  He’d squeal with delight and run off to hide in some corner.  I would, of course, catch up with him and scoop him up and tickle him.  He would just laugh and laugh.  And then we would do it all over again.  I just adored him and his smile. 
            We had brought Barbie dolls with us from America to give to the little girls who don’t have those dolls over there.  It would cost them about a month’s worth of wages to buy a Barbie, if I remember correctly.  So they were rare and very desirable, and we were encouraged to bring one to give out.  But we were never instructed to bring boys’ toys, nor did it ever occur to me to do that.  But at this moment, in that orphanage, I deeply regretted it.  I had found a little boy that just stole my heart.  And I desperately wanted to give him something special, something of his own. 
            Oh, how I wish I had brought some toy cars with me, instead of a Barbie.  In fact, for the price of that Barbie, I could have bought twenty toy cars to hand out among those little boys who had nothing to call their own.  (It is something that I still sigh about.  There are very few things in my life that I wish I could go back and change.  But this is one of them.  If I was really thinking, I would have packed that suitcase full of gifts and toys, instead of toiletries and extra changes of clothes.  Oh, I wish I could do it again!)  
            The thought even crossed my mind to give him the Barbie, but it just didn’t feel right.  And before I knew it, it was time to leave.  Here I had a Barbie to give to no one in particular, and a particular little boy with nothing to give him.  I frantically searched my pockets to find anything.  I pulled out two tiny carved Russian dolls that someone had given me on the trip, and I quickly put one into his little hand.  It wasn’t much of anything and I was somewhat embarrassed.  But it was all I had.  I signaled that it was his to keep, and I showed him that I had one to keep, too.  We would be bonded by our matching figures. 
            I hugged him and began walking away.  He looked down into his tiny hand, gripped that little doll tightly and looked up at me.  I could tell that he was beginning to realize that I was leaving, and his little hand went up to wave.  And he just stood there expressionless, watching me walk away, as he became lost in the sea of children.  And all I could think was that I had let him down.  I had given him hope that he found someone of his own.  I had given him a few short hours of feeling like he meant the world to someone, and then I had to leave him behind.  I was heartbroken! 
            I don’t know if he understood that we were just visiting.  For all I knew, everything in him was hoping that this was the day he would finally find a family.  If I could have grabbed him and jumped on the plane and taken him home with me, I would have.  But I was only seventeen.  And so I left him waving there, and I went into the hall and started crying.  And I didn’t stop crying for quite a while.  (Just like everyone else on the team!  In fact, it still gets me every time I think about it.  It’s especially sad now, since I now have little boys of my own.  I can only imagine how it would feel to know that one of them were in his shoes.)  
            It’s been over eighteen years since that trip.  But I still whisper a prayer every now and then for Meesha and the man with the Bible.  I pray that I may be able to meet them one day in Heaven.  And I am so grateful for the opportunity that I had to be a part of their lives - even if just in a small way - and to let them be a part of mine.  It was a good trip!   
            Well, enough of that.  Back to America.  As I said, I was very fortunate to have had such a fulfilling adolescence.  These were the many things that made my youth such a pleasant time for me.  And things went rather smoothly . . . until I was eighteen years old. 
            Then like getting hit by a wrecking ball out of nowhere, those long-repressed feelings and fears from the divorces blind-sided me.  I began to discover new things about myself.  And I didn’t like what I was seeing.  But I couldn’t suppress them any longer.  I had to face them.  And it would be years of emotional, mental, and spiritual work before I became someone I liked again.   

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