Stuck in the Mud

Have you ever felt stuck?  You take a step, suddenly realizing it was the wrong step to take. I remember having that literal experience once as a kid. My cousins and I were playing kickball, a common activity when we were together. Someone kicked the ball into a ditch, and I went to get it. The minute my foot sank into the mud, I knew I was stuck.

For a brief moment, I felt a sense of panic. It seems a bit ridiculous looking back now. What could possibly have happened? Maybe I’d seen too many television portrayals of people sinking into quicksand. You know the ones. A bystander yelling at the would-be victim to be calm and still, yet panic sets in and they proceed to sink until their hand finally disappears.

All I needed to do was stand still and call for help. And of course, help came. With a group of cousins around, I certainly was not alone. One of them assisted with pulling my foot out of the mud. The only casualty that day was my tennis shoe.

Many steps taken in this life are much less literal, yet come with much more significant consequences. So what happens when a step is misguided or poorly chosen? Certain decisions in my teen and young adult years left  me feeling trapped, afraid my life was messed up permanently.  Regret and guilt crept in, causing me to feel like I was sinking further down in the mud.

Thankfully I eventually discovered ways to counter those fears. Simply choosing to be still, although difficult, was a start. If I could just wait instead of panic, maybe another bad decision would be avoided. Next, it was time to call for help. That help came in different forms. A prayer, a simple phone call to a friend or family member-often both.

“Casting the whole of your care (all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all) on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares about you watchfully.” I Peter 5:7

“…but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24

A friendly listening ear often guided me toward a fresh perspective. There was not always an easy or instant answer, and that was sometimes hard to accept. Yet in spite of unavoidable consequences, with some guidance and faith, I was able to take a step in a new direction, no longer feeling stuck in the mud.

As We Go

This past Friday was a rainy, inside recess kind of day.  My last class of the day is 2nd grade.  So I made a last minute change of plans and decided to teach them a game, Instrument Bingo.  Fairly certain they would at least be familiar with the concept of Bingo, I began to explain this particular version.

Bingo cards are made up of musical instrument pictures, each one also identified by written names.  Many types of instruments, representing all parts of the world, are shown on the cards.  Students listen to recordings of the instruments being played and a voice also tells them the name.  It’s a win, win kinda game.

I wanted this to be a fun learning activity-reminding them I did not expect them to already know all these instruments, and we would be learning them as we played the game. One sweet girl raised her hand, “You mean, we will all learn together as we go.”  Yes!  That is exactly what we will be doing!

That one statement from an innocent 2nd grader holds much wisdom.  As I wrote it down on my “positives” list, I began to think about all the ways it applies to life. Being a spouse, parent, and teacher are perfect examples.  Often our focus is on the big event-a wedding, birth of a baby, college graduation, our first teaching job-culminating in our suddenly taking on those identities.

Yes, those events are important and grant us that particular role or position in name, but time and experience are required for actual transformation.  And that’s what true learning is-transformation.  I need to remember this when feeling frustrated or disappointed with myself concerning my life responsibilities.

My goal should be learning from my own mistakes as well as from others who have more experience.  Followed by a willingness to share what I learn with those who may have just begun their journey down a similar path.  Always making sure to remember-we are all just learning together as we go.

 

As I Go

I am not the same wife I was

On my wedding day

I am not the same mom I was

On my first child’s birth day

So many people, places, events

Influenced who I am today

So many words, prayers, tears

Helped to light my way

 

As I continue walking along

This path we know as life

Will my desires be persistent

To become a better mom and wife

Should I choose to recognize

I am not alone in my strife

Transformation through lessons learned

Will prove worthy of sacrifice

Instant Friends

Have you ever experienced an instantaneous friendship?  You meet someone for the first time, yet it seems as if you’ve always known them?  That’s exactly what happened when I met Shannon.  Both of our husbands had new jobs which brought us to Liberal, KS.  She was the wife of a pastor and me the wife of a high school assistant principal.  We both had young children and were navigating a new place, far away from old friends and family.

If you’ve never been to Liberal, well…there is an actual edge of town. You can see nothing but fields for miles and miles in all directions. The town had a Walmart, a few restaurants, and a small shopping center.  We would drive an hour and a half to Garden City, KS just to eat at Applebees.  Needless to say, it was quite an adjustment for both families.

Our move to Liberal was the second big move we’d made in nine years of marriage.  Memories from previous moves brought images of tear-filled goodbyes with many dear friends.  Some of those goodbyes turned into lifelong friendships, but in that actual moment of leaving it felt like our world was falling apart.  As for me, the tears often continued as I adjusted and searched to figure out my place in a new location.  Looking back now I understand that those lonely times strengthened our marriage and brought our family closer together, but oh were they hard.

Soon after we settled in our new home, I heard an advertisement on the radio for a MOPs (Moms of Preschoolers) group meeting.  I’d never been to one of these before but was excited at the prospect of meeting other moms with small children.  There was also a weekly storytime at the library.  My two oldest would be starting school soon, so that would give Ryan (my youngest) and I a fun outing.

It’s funny looking back now, I can’t remember if I first met Shannon at the library or MOPs.  I definitely noticed her at both events with her young kids.  She had such a welcoming smile, maybe we would become friends!  We introduced ourselves, and it wasn’t long before we had traded phone numbers.  At least now there would be a familiar face at storytime and our MOPs meetings.

Not long after school started, Shannon asked if I’d like to go for a walk after we dropped our older kids off at school.  Our youngest kids were the same age, and still enjoyed short stroller rides.  That first walk remains etched in my memory.  We chatted about our families, what had brought us to Liberal, our future plans.  And then Shannon shared the most amazing thing.  From the time they knew they would be moving, she had been praying that God would send her a friend.  I will never forget her words, “I think you just might be the answer to my prayers.”

From that point on, we were inseparable.  Playdates, family dinners, babysitting for eachother…things all young moms desperately need. I’m not sure how I would have survived that year without her.  It felt like we had known each other our entire lives.  She would even laugh and say she must have named her daughter Kelli after me before she even knew me.  And to make the year even more exciting, she soon discovered they were expecting their third child!  So much to plan and celebrate!

Telling Shannon that we would be moving back to Oklahoma for the following school year was not easy.  I dreaded making that phone call.  We were in Oklahoma for the interview and she was in Kansas, having just given birth to their sweet baby.  Terrible timing, but I knew it couldn’t wait.  Always gracious, she understood.  Moving would eventually be part of their future as well.  There were tears and promises to keep in touch.  Despite having experienced this kind of goodbye with friends before-it was not any easier.

Although Shannon and I had become close friends in such a short time, I had no idea the lasting impact she would have on my life. After our move, there were regular phone calls in those first months and even a visit despite the distance between us.  But our communications quickly took a different tone as Shannon was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer.

How could this be possible?  A young mom of three, healthy, no family history…the wife of a pastor.  She fought so hard.  Surgery, treatments, more surgery…and so many prayers.  I witnessed the outpouring of support from their family and friends past and present.  There were also a few misguided individuals who thought if her faith was just strong enough, she would be healed.  Most certainly they did not truly know Shannon.

If ever there was a time in life where I questioned my own faith, this was it.

I had the privilege of spending a week with Shannon and her family shortly before she died.  Oh, my sweet friend-fighting with courage and grace I had never witnessed before. Her cancer had spread once again causing tremendous pain and weakness.  But she was determined we would go shopping, and we did.  She had also planned an outing for us at a lovely tea room, and we went.  I watched as she pushed through, insisting on serving dinner and giving attention to her family-she loved them so much.

Shannon’s kindness as a friend, patience as a mom, and her unwavering faith in the face of terrible tragedy continues to impact my life. We may have only lived in the same town for one year, fifteen years ago, but I miss her.  The grief that she is not here with her family remains.  I keep a picture of the two of us on a shelf in my closet.  When I look at this sweet photo, I think about the power and importance of friends.  And remembering our instantaneous friendship, I am grateful.

IMG_0398

 

 

Thankful

In an earlier blog post, The Struggle for Control, I shared the story of when my husband, Gart, and I were hit by a drunk driver.  At the time of the accident,  I was eight months pregnant with our first child, Robert. This story is multi-faceted, and I was not quite ready to share the following details in my earlier post.  Honestly, I’m never quite sure how they will be received.

The week after our accident I was recovering at home.  Being eight months pregnant with broken ribs was no fun.  My mom was staying with us to help with cooking and housework, etc so Gart could go back to work.  Although thankful we were all okay, there were many moments of worry and anger.  Worry over the baby, anger at the driver who chose to drive drunk, anger at the establishment where he and his friends had been drinking the night before… negative emotions all around.

One afternoon my mom began to share that something strange had happened to her the night before the accident.  She had not wanted to tell me before for fear of upsetting me further.  Doctors orders were for rest and calm.  Not an easy task when you’re feeling worried and angry!  Looking back, her timing was perfect and helped me work through difficult feelings.

Our first baby shower was scheduled to take place the day our accident occurred. My mom and Aunt Linda were driving up from Arkansas, so it was not unusual that we spoke on the phone the night before.  Last minute details, what time they were leaving, what time we would arrive at the shower-a normal phone call.  Except for the added air of excitement as we said, “Love you!  See you tomorrow!”

For my mom, however, what happened next was the furthest thing from normal.

Through her tears, mom explained that right after she hung up the phone that evening before the accident, she heard a voice.  Clear and precise words, ‘That is the last time you will talk to Kelley.” Obviously, she was shaken and tried to put the thought out of her mind.  Where did that come from? Why would she think such a thing?  But the voice would not go away, so she began to pray.

Her prayers continued through the night and during the drive to Oklahoma the following day.  Pulling in the driveway at my in-law’s house, she immediately noticed our car was not there-we should have already arrived.  My brother-n-law came out to greet them and of course, she knew instantly something was wrong.  It is difficult to imagine the fear my mom felt at that moment…

A picture was taken of our car after the accident.  The driver’s side smashed, the trunk pushed in, the windshield broken…but my side of the car looked like it had never been touched-not even a scratch.  I remember someone commenting, “It looks like an angel was guarding your door.”

Psalm 91:11 says, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways…”

I’m not sure how to adequately explain these events, yet I choose to believe.  I believe my mom’s prayers were answered.  I believe an angel was sent to protect.  Did I actually see one? No.  I don’t understand the how or why.  Sometimes my thoughts wander, thinking about how differently things could have turned out.  Truth is, none of us are guaranteed another breath, so I don’t dwell in that space for long.

“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”  James 4:14

Does this story impact the way I live my life each day?  Not like it should, I’m afraid.  As for today, I am thankful for my mom, who continues to be strong in her faith and persistent in her prayers.  I am thankful for her wisdom in sharing her part of the story with me at just the right moment.  And at this moment, maybe thankful is the best thing for me to be.

IMG_5608
IMG_0060