Blue Collar Girl Trapped in a White Collar Marriage

I want to take you back to the 1970s and 80s and reminisce about what it was like to grow up somewhere on the spectrum between poor and blue-collar in Upstate, New York, where I grew up.  Back to the days when it was common to see a 1971 Plymouth Baracuda cruising down the streets of Syracuse, windows open, driven around by a guy in a dark blue uniform with a name-tag, blasting “Free Bird” or “Stairway to Heaven.” Maybe there’s a cigarette dangling from his dirty/greasy hands, hands that are hard to get completely clean.

Maybe there’s a little blonde-haired girl in the back seat with him, looking out the window, hoping the smoke will stop blowing into her face.

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Me, as a young girl.

That little girl was me, and I want to share with you my perspective of what it was like to grow up in a blue collar single-parent family — both the good and the bad— and what I have learned since then.  I will also share how I have changed (or not) since transitioning to a white collar marriage several years ago.

Here is my super quick back-story:

I grew up the child of a single working mom after my parents’ divorce at the age of four.  My dad worked at a local car manufacturing company and we didn’t see him very much because he was always working (overtime, double-time, and other terms his union negotiated for him), and did not consistently seek out a relationship with my sister and me. There were also some dysfunctional elements of my childhood in the mix as well.  My single mom was poor, and we (my sister, mom, and me) survived on her small secretary’s salary.  Child support was very low back then so I always noticed how hard she struggled.  Our small family of three drove around in a brown pinto and didn’t go out to eat much because we couldn’t “afford it.” On hot summer days, we would beg my mom to stop at Arctic Isle (the local ice cream stand) for a $1.00 soft serve ice cream cone and the answer was always “no, it’s too expensive, we have ice cream in the freezer at home.”

Not having a lot of money growing up made me take a good, hard look around me and make some serious inner vows. Vows such as:

“I will work really hard, go to school, and make good money so I won’t have to struggle.”

“I will marry an awesome guy and we will NOT get a divorce.”

“And if don’t get married, fine.  I will do really well in my career.”

“I will show everyone that I am not a loser and will make something of myself.”  (Not sure exactly where that one came from, but I think it stemmed from some deep-seeded self-confidence issues.)

With those inner vows in the back of my mind, I started babysitting at 11, worked my way through high school and college (clocking in between 20 and 30 hours per week as a waitress during college), and then landed a professional job in my early 20’s.  I eventually got married and ended up in what I call a white-collar marriage. On a side note, I was also very picky about the guys I dated, making sure I wouldn’t end up with a “creep,” a “perv,” or a “loser.”  Bottom line?  I didn’t go on many dates.

Below is just a portion of the more difficult aspects of growing up in the poor/blue collar income bracket. Perhaps you can relate to some of these?

  • …First, I remember all the CIGARETTE SMOKE.  Smoke in the house.  Smoke in the car.  Smoke in a tree.  (How can that be?) I have so many memories of just sitting in front of a various TVs that sat perched on the green living room carpet, watching maybe Star Trek, Evel Knievel, or Scooby Doo while someone smoked behind me in an easy chair, reading a newspaper. Growing up in a smoke cloud gave me (subconscious) permission to begin smoking myself very part-time through high school and college.  I finally quit in my early 20s.
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I am a proud survivor of years of second hand smoke.  I began smoking part-time in high school but quit in my early 20s.
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My grandfather RIP at Christmas time
  • …We MOVED a lot.  I have many fond/not so fond memories of various apartment buildings, houses we shared with other friends, and yes….I even spent some time in the coveted trailer park.  I will never, ever forget how tiny those little trailer bedrooms were, and the trailer closets were ridiculous.  On an up note, I was able to share a house (different units) with my best friend Hillary, who was also in a single-parent home, which was awesome. We also lived in the same apartment building a couple of times.
  • …We had NO MONEY.  I heard “we can’t afford that” about 1000 times.  Want to stop at McDonalds?  Nope, not gonna happen.  If you want money, you had to get your butt off the couch and go earn it, all by yourself.  So that’s exactly what I did. I have never stopped working and to be honest, it’s so strange for me to not work in a way that earns an income to this day (more on that later). I am still so grateful that my grandparents were so generous with my sister and me — they provided everything from new Trapper Keepers for back to school (remember those?), to new clothes and shoes, to very generous Christmas gifts.
  • …I didn’t see much of my DAD.  He was always working — overtime, time and a half, holiday time, double-time, and the list goes on.  As touched on above, he didn’t make a huge effort to spend time with me and my sister growing up. Early in life, I developed some father-figure issues and ended up crushing a lot of older men, and men in positions of authority over me.
  • ….Finally, I struggled with some TOUGH EMOTIONS.  I often felt ashamed of my clothes, house, and cars.  I felt insecure and unworthy of love.  I feared rejection.  There were some things that happened that caused some deep wounds, that I have (thankfully) since healed from.  But they were very hard to go through at the time.
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Yes friends that is a beer in my hand

But growing up blue-collar was also a blessing in many ways.  Here are just a few of the positive elements of growing up in a blue-collar family:

  • First and foremost, I developed an amazing WORK ETHIC.  I have no problem with doing “real work,” “physical work,” and “working with my hands.”  I have actually picked the following: rocks in a huge farm pasture/field, tomato horn worms off of tomato plants,  and weeds from my mom’s garden.  I mowed the lawn consistently (when not living in apartment complexes). In fact, I still happily mow my own yard here in Suburbia while my neighbors watch me curiously from their windows.  Bottom line?  I am not lazy and I’m not afraid of real work.
  • Secondly, I KEEP IT REAL with no BS.  You will always get the real deal from me. I will always shoot 100 percent straight with you.  I don’t like to lie; it makes me uncomfortable.  The only lie I will tell you is if you ask me directly if you look fat in that dress, and if you do, I will feel bad, and I will lie and say no.  You have been warned.  But that’s about the only lie I feel okay about.  Sorry not sorry.
  • Thirdly, I will never be pretentious. I will never think I’m better than you.  I will always treat everyone THE SAME.  And I will always be generous.  I will always over-tip waiters and waitresses, and I will always say “hi” and “thank you” to all the people who make my life easier.  Why would I be snooty with waitresses and maids?  I actually did both of those jobs for many years to earn a living.  Those are my peeps.
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Having fun at one of the restaurants (the Ground Round) I worked at during college.  I sometimes clocked up to 30 hours per week waitressing during school.  Growing up blue collar gave me a kick-butt work ethic.
  • Lastly, I developed an appreciation for the CLASSICS, and no I’m not talking about classical music or classical home-schooling eduction.  I’m talking about Classic cars and classic rock, baby.  Whenever I go back to Syracuse I still see folks driving around in a classic car blasting classic rock.  I just went to one the Eagles’ final concerts last summer before their lead singer passed away.  It was a blast!  (see photo below.)

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    My dad owns five classic (muscle) cars.  These were the cars I grew up around.  I want one.
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Plymouth Baracuda.

So what have I learned since “moving on up” to a different income level?

First, I actually really appreciate money and where it came from.  It is a blessing to actually have some of it.  But here’s the deal: I never want to rely too heavily on money or grow accustomed to being upper middle class.  Why?  Because I developed a deep financial insecurity early on. I know deep in my heart that you can have money one moment, but then the next moment…POOF! It’s gone.  And then you are back to square one. So I decided to not even leave square one in the first place.

Secondly, I am still cheap (especially with myself) and don’t like to spend money.  I still clip coupons (if I feel like it, because coupons are really a pain), and try to limit my children’s material possessions so they don’t become “spoiled.”

Thirdly, I still feel weird about not working outside the home in a way that generates an income. I still feel a little bit like a “moocher” even though my husband assures me he is fine with me being a stay at home parent.  I do plan to work again when my kids are older and after our next adoption, but I would prefer to work part time.

And on that note, I think that’s one of the best things money will buy you: options.  I have the option of working part-time rather than full-time down the road. Our family has the option of spending our money on nice vacations (we have created memories for our kids and have taken them to some nice places). We have the option of buying my kids sneakers exactly when they need them, rather than waiting until the next paycheck comes in.

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There is one thing money can buy: precious time with your family!  We do spend money on making memories with our kids, for sure.  Above, Claire and Erik enjoy fishing in a back-country lake in Utah.

Fourthly, I have learned that money doesn’t buy happiness or inner peace.  However, it does buy time and convenience.  It’s either time or money.  Either you spend the time on something and save the money, or spend the money on something and get back some of your time.  So in that way, it’s a lot easier to exist in a white-collar world.

Finally, the number one reason I believe God has blessed us with a little bit of extra income is a. because God is good and He just chooses to bless us in this particular way, b. we both worked very hard to get here, c. to afford to adopt our children, because adoption is expensive, and d. so we can be generous with other people, and also with ministries and other worthy causes that need financial assistance.

Bottom line?  I believe money is a gift to help support and enhance human relationships and to support worthy causes.  If you have money, chances are, God wants you to help others in need.

So why did I choose the title of this blog?  Honestly, I’m not really “trapped”in a white-collar marriage per se, but I feel as though I really don’t belong some elements of this world, deep down.  One night we spent time with another couple who are also in our income bracket.  Both the husband and wife were very cultured and came from solid families, and they had lived all over the world.  Both of them had PhDs from prestigious universities.  As they shared about their childhoods and current successful careers, I felt like I just couldn’t relate to them.  I felt like I had to impress them with something about my life, but I just couldn’t think of anything to say.  I also didn’t feel like I could be completely myself around them.  (Qualifier: most white-collar folks are super, duper nice and not pretentious at all. Maybe they’re a lot like me and didn’t grow up that way. But if they did grow up with wealth, they seem to have a certain self-confidence about them that poor kids lack.  I think I sense this subconsciously and feel I cannot relate.)

In closing, Oprah Winfrey once said that obtaining money just makes you MORE of something.  So if you are kind, you become more kind.  If you are generous, you become more generous.  If you are an arse, you become more of an arse.  I agree with her assessment.

Since transitioning income brackets I have become the following:

More cheap (with myself)

More generous with others

More unpretentious

More hard working 

More efficient with my time.  

More grateful for money, but knowing it’s limitations

I am grateful to be where I am today, but I will never forget where I came from.  My childhood made me into the person I am today, and I am grateful for all the lessons it taught me.  Blue-collar workers truly do make the world go round, and I am proud to be counted among them.

So if you see a suburban woman driving around a really nice convertible, blasting the Eagles, drinking coffee from a coffee mug from home because she didn’t want to stop at Starbucks because it’s too expensive, all the while thinking about how she needs to mow her lawn when she gets home, well…that would be me.

I’m teetering between the two worlds, not really fitting into either one at this point.

But that’s ok, because that old saying is true:

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

So while I may be in a white-collar marriage, I’ll always be the same blue-collar girl, deep inside.

Peace out.

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Off to the Eagles concert with my dear friend Ragan, in my convertible!

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PS: Stay tuned for a future post: Raising Blue Collar Kids in a White Collar family.

Thanks for reading!!

Top Ten Decorating Tips

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We love our new rustic wood-pallet wall. We hung up an industrial-style clock to mix things up.  Don’t be afraid to mix styles as long as it all blends well together at the end.

I have been happily married for 17 years and have been decorating our home on and off ever since.  After years of flipping through magazines, going over to my friends’ homes and stealing ideas, watching HGTV like everyone else, and just plain wandering through furniture stores and cruising around on-line, I have finally figured out my own decorating style and picked up a lot of solid decorating tips over the years.  I want to share them with you today.

But first, no…I don’t think I’m the most fabulous decorator in town.  I have made many mistakes along the way and I still have a lot to learn. Secondly, there is nothing in this post that is rocket science, just things I have learned over the years.

So without further delay, here are my top ten decorating tips, in order. I will start from the beginning, in case you suck at, errr….are new to, decorating.

Tip #1 Declutter your home and get rid of your old college furniture

If you do not declutter, no matter how awesomely decorated your house looks, it will look BAD because it will look CLUTTERED.   I am not talking about “normal family clutter.”  We all have that.  I am talking about serious clutter.  Get rid of it or find a home for it.  Also, if you have old furniture from your grandma or your college days and you don’t think it’s up to snuff and it’s from around 1985, get rid of it.  (If you can’t afford new furniture, see my P.S. where I give you a couple of ideas of how to decorate inexpensively.) Once your home is relatively free of old stuff and clutter, we can move on to decorating…. woo hoo

Tip #2 Decide your decorating style 

The first question I need to ask you is: which side are you on?  Classic or Eclectic?  Let me explain. Classic decorators include traditional, transitional, country, coastal, antique, etc.  If you are eclectic, perhaps you lean towards modern, vintage, or industrial, or even something crazy like art-deco.  Or perhaps you are somewhere in between.  I visited a friend last year in California and she decorated her home in the style of mid-century modern and I loved it!!  But I have no clue how to decorate like that.  So you first need to decide your style.

Click here for ideas to get started:

www.hgtv.com/design/decorating/design-101/design-styles-defined-pictures

My suggestion?  If you are not sure what to do, choose something more traditional or classic, and add different decor elements from a different style or styles.  My personal decorating style is traditional/classic with rustic, vintage, and industrial touches.

Tip #3 Decide on, and purchase, your big ticket items first 

Choose your furniture and larger items first and foremost.  Make sure they all blend together well.  Beware of darker furniture, because in the light of a furniture store what may look a beautiful wine/brown leather color actually looks black when you bring it home (I know this from experience).  If you have have young kiddos, consider a darker leather couch, or washable fabric with a guarantee of some sort.  Bottom line: get your furniture and rugs (or wood floors) down first before you get all crazy with the smaller stuff.  Or the smaller stuff won’t blend in.

Tip #4 Choose your paint colors carefully.  And “pop color” on a ceiling or a door

I cannot tell you how many paint mistakes I have made.  We once bought what I thought was a beautiful light orange color and painted our entire living room with it.  Once the paint was up, it looked like human skin on a very pale white girl.  It was awful.  We had to repaint it immediately.  Another time I surprised Erik by painting our master bathroom really cool, light “sea foam blue” color.  The only problem?  After it was up it changed into mint green.  That did not go over very well, and he made fun of me for about a year until we changed the color.

Paint color is magical and mystical.  It changes color once it leaves the store and is up on your wall.  It changes color throughout the day.  You will love it at 9 am and hate it at 6pm.  I am not kidding you.  The point?  Try to find a color you can live with/absolutely love 24 hours a day.  If in doubt, go neutral.  Grays, creams, and beiges are still lovely. If you are not sure which color to choose, yellows and blues are good go-to’s.  Beware of super dark colors.  Few homes can actually pull them off well because they are so dependent on natural light, which varies throughout the day.  Your super cool dark red accent wall will look like deep-dried blood around 9 pm.  I would avoid that if I were you.

My suggestion?  Paint you walls warmer colors and “pop a color” on your ceiling or door.  We painted our bedroom a cream color and the ceiling a very dark orange and I think it looks pretty freaking cool.  Our living and dining rooms we painted a cream color (interactive cream – Sherwin Williams) on the walls and then a lovely brown color (canoe- Sherwin Williams) on the ceilings. But make sure the two colors blend well together.  Ask the paint store for assistance in this.

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Paint colors: always tough to figure out.  We wanted a “warm” feeling in our dining room so we used cream for our walls, but then we “popped color” (brown) on our ceiling.

Tip #5 Put up a wood pallet wall or paint a fun color on an accent wall

We put up a wood-pallet wall and we LOVE it!  If you don’t like the wood-on-the-walls look, then paint one wall a different, accent color.  And then decorate it with cool, funky picture frames or other decor items.  Get creative.

*since wood-pallet walls are all the rage, I will put more detail on what we did specifically in my P.S.S. section.

Tip #6 Add smaller items and accent pieces 

After you have purchased the furniture and have chosen your paint colors, and perhaps painted or wooded-up an accent wall, now the fun begins.  Get online or go to stores and find pictures, decor and other items that “speak to you.”  There are so many good places to find inexpensive decor items.  I love the Home Goods Store.  You can try TJ Maxx, Target, Walmart, Michaels, and even K Mart.  You can go on-line wayfair.com.  There are SO many choices now.

My suggestion?  Have fun and get pieces from different decor styles but make sure it all blends together at the end.

Tip #7 Organize all of your family photos and kids art/brag stuff in one area of the house 

We put our updated family photos on our new wood pallet wall.  And all of my kids art work and certificates of achievement are placed in another smaller area.  I think it looks cluttered if your kid stuff and family photos are all over the house (my personal opinion).  Figure out where it looks best and put it all in one spot.

Tip #8 Pop color throughout the house

With every room, the rule is two basic colors and one “pop” color.  So, for my living room, my two colors are cream and brown (kinda boring) but I “popped” yellow in the book case as well as the curtains and pillows.  It looks better with one “pop” color.

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Two basic colors (cream and light brown) with one “pop” color — yellow

Tip #9 Decorate according to your own values

Decorate with meaningful pictures and art work that represents who you are. Like birds?  Decorate with bird art.  Huge fan of music? Purchase an old guitar and mount it on your wall.  Are you religious and want to have a conversation piece?  Pop some religious art.  We hung two really cool pics of “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” in our dining room; a before and after of sorts.  It makes for some great discussion with guests.  I have fun vintage signs in my kitchen which make people laugh and it starts conversations.

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Daniel in the Lion’s Den — a great conversation piece

Tip #10 Got kids?  Create a kid space

Kids are the number reason why houses get MESSY. Try to keep it all in one room of the house.  Do the best you can.  Keep all of your board games in a place you can easily see and access.  Keep all of the art stuff in one place too.

Bonus! Tip #11 Update your lighting fixtures

This one change will greatly affect how the inside of your home looks.  Take a look at your current dining room or kitchen table chandelier.  Does it cover the time span between 1965 and 2005??  If it does, please, for the love of all things, REPLACE it.  You can find some awesome, inexpensive light fixtures online (Amazon, Home Decorators, Wayfair) or at many home stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot.  What about your kitchen?  Does it have that huge fluorescent light in the middle of it?  Get rid of that son of a gun.  Install cool, fun, practical lighting all over your home.  Buy new table lamps with style and color.  Consider small hanging lights (like indoor Christmas lights, but not) in one room of the house (perhaps your kids space). Lighting can VASTLY change the mood of your home.

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One of the best things you can do is update your lighting fixtures!!  We found this one at home decorators.com

Bonus Tip #12 Steal (I mean, get….) ideas from your friends, and decorate slowly

I love visiting new homes and getting ideas from my friends.  Of course, I don’t completely copy them exactly, but I get new ideas.  You can also feel free to steal ideas from me.  And decorate incrementally!!  Don’t stress over how long it takes to get your home together.  It has taken me three and half years to beautify my current home and it’s still not completely decorated.  Take your time and try to enjoy it.

Bonus Tip #13 Remember why you decorate

Finally, remember the ultimate goal of having a nice home is that you have a comfortable space for yourself (if you are single) or for you and your family to enjoy and live together in peace and harmony.  Try not to obsess over your home (and decorating). Love PEOPLE more than you love things.  Things get old, dirty, and broken.  People are gifts from God.  This includes friends and neighbors, too.  Welcome them into your home and feed them some tasty food.  If you love your home and the way it looks, it will make you and your family happier, and you will be much more motived to throw some par-tays.

In conclusion, I hope this post helps get you motivated to replace some old lighting fixtures, tackle a wood-pallet wall, and paint over that dried-blood-red wall with something light, fresh, and pleasing to the eye.  But make sure you like your paint color at both 9 am and 9 pm.  🙂

What about you?  What are your best decorating tips?  Let’s all share and learn from each other!

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P.S.: Here are just a couple of “cheap” decorating tips.  You can find quality, inexpensive paint at Lowe’s and Home Depot.  Choose paint colors carefully.  Paint first.  Got old couches and you can’t afford to purchase new pieces?  No worries.  Buy a couple of nice, cream, matching slipcovers that FIT WELL and then buy some really nice, colorful accent pillows to go in each corner of couches (or love seats).  Pier One has great accent pillows.  Got an 80s coffee table from your grandma?  Fine. Paint it and then distress it (google or youtube this.)  Put some books neatly on the coffee table and maybe a cool vase in the middle. You can find lots of decor items in clearance aisles in various stores and at Flea Markets.  Go to Michaels, buy some cheap frames, and then print off things you find on-line and then put the print in the frame (vintage maps, vintage birds, anything that doesn’t have a copyright).  You can even put your kids artwork in cheap frames.  Check on line deals; wayfair.com has daily deals of up to 70 percent off.  Watch that site like a hawk. Finally, google “cheap decorating tips” and you will find many ideas.

P.S.S: Our wood pallet wall: to make a long story very short, I was originally going to do “peel and stick wood.”  (Just google it.) But it was WAY too expensive and definitely a DIY project (you have to carefully, with a little saw, cut the sides off of pieces that are too long) so I hired a local guy who actually got real, reclaimed wood, stained it in about five different colors or shades of the same color, and then he put it up piece by piece, staggering the wood out in a way that looks cool.  It took him several days to get the wood ready and about two days to install it; the total was about $800.  You can totally DIY this project but it’s a pain as you have to a. Locate the wood b. Make sure the wood is the same size and very straight across the top c. Stain most of the wood in grays and browns (leave several pieces with no color however) and then d. Carefully put the wood up evenly in a staggered way with a nail gun.  That takes a lot of time.  Or you can pay someone, as we did.  If you live local, I will give you the contact information of the guy we hired if interested.  You can also do a wood wall much cheaper by using Lath strips of wood, found at Home Depot, which are about $12 per bundle.  You install them with a Brad Nailer.

Hope this helps!! Thanks for reading!

Venezuela in Crisis

18698582_10154654317252218_1194346669_oNo food, no medicine, babies left at hospitals, kidnappings, protesters dying, and complete government denial.  Maria shares her story.

A quick note from Heather:  About four months ago, I watched a news clip of a very attractive yet very skinny Venezuelan woman digging through the trash.  She explained to the news reporter that she was looking for food to feed her family.  I then contacted my friend who is from Venezuela (who now lives in the U.S.) and asked if this report was indeed true, and she said a resounding YES but that it was far worse than I could imagine.  She told me her mother in law (Maria) lives and works in Venezuela and could really fill me in.  So I sent Maria an email with several questions.  She wrote me the following letter in return:

Dear Heather,

Without a shadow of a doubt, Venezuela is in the middle of  a complete humanitarian crisis.  Please allow me a few moments to tell you what I see on a daily basis.

No food, no medicines, and even longer lines to obtain what little people can find.

People are dying on a daily basis due to lack of food and BASIC medical supplies. Hospitals and healthcare centers have collapsed due to the fact that there are no supplies in order to treat patients. Doctors have been arrested or reprimanded by the government for “smuggling” gauze, band aids, alcohol etc. in order to help treat patients. Add to these more serious cases, like cancer patients receiving chemotherapy or diabetic patients receiving dialysis treatments, and surviving deems nearly impossible.

There is also an immense  lack of staple foods and essential items (toilet paper, sanitary pads, deodorant, toothpaste, etc.).  The government has tried to subsidize these items but you must stand in very long lines (we are talking anywhere from 4 to 12 hours) in order to obtain them at a reasonable price. For those who can afford to pay prices that are 4 to 5 times their cost, they are limited to a certain quantity and you must present your identification every single time you make a purchase. It has been a way for the government to control and monitor your spending for years. And they still call this a democratic country.

The inflation rate has caused devastation throughout the nation.  A monthly minimum wage salary is 40,000 Bolivares (About 10 dollars) which can buy you practically nothing, so standing in extremely long lines is the ONLY option for most Venezuelans.

A study came out recently, that the average Venezuelan has lost 19 pounds. People call it the “Maduro diet.”  People are rummaging through the trash. Everyone is so thin. I can’t begin to imagine what it is like to raise a young family.

I need to tell you about the babies.  As a volunteer in a children’s hospital, I see how almost daily, mothers are leaving their babies because they are physically unable to feed their children (lack of proper nutrition for the mother; therefore little to no milk production) as well as financially (formula is liquid gold…too expensive). Mother’s resort to the last option, leaving them somewhere they feel can properly keep these infants and babies alive. Most are sent to nearby orphanages, which as you can imagine are already filled to capacity; with yet again very little to tend to these children. Some babies have died due to lack of nutrition.

Venezuela is very unsafe.  It’s not safe to walk the streets.  Business Insider ranked the top 50 most dangerous cities in the world; seven of them are in Venezuela. Caracas, our capital, is ranked 1st. However, the government has rarely released this data, and most know the numbers are far worse than the government claims.

Close friends of our family were kidnapped off the streets and held for ransom.  They call this the Secuestro Express.  This is where gangs target upper class citizens whose families are able to pay ransoms quickly and quietly.

Things are completely out of control.  

There is no freedom of speech, no freedom of the press, no freedom to protest peacefully as the constitution states. There is no democracy.

The people of Venezuela have been protesting out on the streets for the past 50 + days. This is a constitutional right, but from that first massive protest, the national guard has acted out violently against protesters. More than 50 deaths have been reported, mostly young students who are in the front of these marches.  These young people, the future of our nation, protest wearing white shirts on their backs with their hands raised, yet this is the threat the government chooses to silence.  These young adults who were born into this administration, but knowing that there has to be a bigger and better future for them, choose to stand up and resist this regime. These 16, 17 and 18 year old young adults are our fallen heroes.

Those who speak out against the government will be sought out and punished and for the case of many, they have been silenced.  Passports have been seized and many people (at this point, those in dissent) are not able to leave the country.  I am worried that soon it could be even worse for regular citizens who wish to leave.

Maduro is an illegitimate president. A dictator to a once fruitful nation. Alongside Chavez, he has destroyed our nation and left it in RUINS!

I have a few thoughts on what people can do to help.

First, you need to know that this a spiritual battle. There is EVIL residing in our land, no doubt about it. Only through prayer and fasting will these demons come out. To those who can, please pray, please fast, please spread the word.

There are many organizations that help.  We recommend cuatroporvenezuela.org.  This organization provides food, basic medical supplies, and much needed medicines to the people of Venezuela.  

Thank you for your interest in our story and the plight of the Venezuelan people.

May God bless you,

Maria

P.S. from Heather: This blog post is my attempt to help. If you are willing and able, please consider making a donation to the website I listed above.  No amount is too small.  And FEEL FREE to share this post.  And above all, please PRAY as Maria directed.  God bless you all, and may God save the people of Venezuela.

Below: protestors attacked by the Venezuelan military.

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Below: doctor pleads with the National Guard to stop harming the young students.  Moments later he was hosed down. (see photo at top of post).  All photo credits go to the people who posted them on Instagram.

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Small Things with Great Love

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Me (above) — working behind the scenes to impact my kids for good.  And my kids — who appreciate me one day a year.  Happy Mother’s Day!

Several years ago, a well-known Christian Pastor resigned his post as Senior Pastor of a large church, and moved to Asia in order to serve God in a more behind-the-scenes way.  Francis Chan was quoted as saying:

“I don’t believe God wants our church life to be centered on buildings and services.  Instead, God wants our churches to be focused on active discipleship, mission, and the pursuit of unity.”  He also added: “I think there has been too much emphasis on me.  Even in my own church I heard the words “Francis Chan” more than I heard the words “Holy Spirit,” he said.*

It got me thinking about why someone would give up their position in the spotlight to serve within the shadows?  In our society, there is such a distinction between the hero and the individual; those in the spotlight and those whose roles are more behind-the- scenes.  We tend to subconsciously elevate the rock star, the leader, the politician, the athlete, the movie star, or (for some of us) the well-known pastor.

I call these people the “one percenters.”  About one percent of the human population seems to influence the rest of us “99 percenters,” for better or for worse. These are the people with platforms, followers (social media and otherwise), and cheering fans.  I think it’s sometimes easy to think that those in a position of leadership are the ones who make a difference in this world.

But what about the rest of us?  Do we have a part to play?  Can we make a difference?

I am a humble “99 percenter” who has never had a platform of influence.  However, there was a time many years ago where I worked for a U.S. Senator as his Legislative Assistant.  Although he was the “important one,” I was able to play a key role on his staff and influence and support him behind-the-scenes.  Since leaving the work-force to become a stay at home parent, I have often struggled with wondering if I am making a difference in this world. A lot of what I do is unnoticed by anyone (even my kids!) and I often feel like I’m not making much of an impact.

This blog post is my attempt to figure out if those in the spot-light are more influential than those who work behind-the-scenes. Because in my mind, it’s obvious…it’s the ones who stand up in front of the rest of us who have more of an impact.  So I decided to do a little research on this topic.

In my mind, the greatest one percenter of all time is Jesus Christ.  Before you dismiss me because you may not be religious, please bear this in mind: if you google the most influential figures in human history, Jesus Christ tops almost every single list.  His birth literally split the calendar in two and his death is worn symbolically by millions around their neck in a tiny gold or silver remembrance.  His religion is followed by about one third of the human population to this day.  His religion is followed by me.

So I decided to do a simple study of the four gospels on the life of Christ.  One question I tried to answer was:  did he take the role of the Rock Star hero in front of large groups being admired by many, or did he influence in more obscure ways, working behind-the-scenes?  And which method was more effective?

Because in my mind, surely Jesus-the-Rock star must be way more influential than Jesus the behind-the-scenes.

This is what I discovered: I found that Jesus did preach to large crowds to be sure, however, he spent an extraordinary amount of time with individuals doing personal ministry, following a daily routine which was directed by his Father in Heaven, and working behind the scenes changing one life at a time incrementally.  He mostly hung out with one person or a small group of people (his 12 Apostles, for example).  He didn’t seem to prefer to be in the spotlight.

The second question I tried to answer was: what was the reaction of the large crowds?  I found that the reaction of the crowds was mixed at best and typically ranged from the crowds believing his message, to confusion, to anger, to unbelief, to curiosity, or to just plain hanging around to see if he would do another miracle.  Sometimes the crowds went to extremes: some wanted to kill him because they hated his message so much, while others wanted to immediately install him as King. The bottom line is that the crowds were all over the place and his impact on them was mixed.

On a side note, Jesus himself was often frustrated with the crowds.  He often expressed disappointment at their unbelief.  He often grew frustrated that they couldn’t see what was standing right in front of them.  In other words, being the most important and influential person in the world with a platform and a huge following wasn’t as great as you might think it would be, and Jesus’ impact on the crowds wasn’t as great as you might think it would be.

What about his work to the individual?  I discovered that Jesus seemed to do his best work in three ways: First, behind the scenes. Second, by impacting one life at a time, or one small group at a time.  And finally, incrementally.  Jesus seemed to understand that change happens one small measure at a time.

Can this model of incremental-influence-behind-the-scenes, or just working behind-the-scenes-while-still-being-vital-to-the-mission be modeled elsewhere?  I believe it can!

Let me give you a few other examples of what I am talking about.

First, the politician. This is a world I know something about after serving as a staffer (and volunteer) to four “powerful, important people” who run our country (as I touched on above).  But here’s a little secret: behind every influential politician is his/her staff, whom that Member is relying very heavily upon.  In fact, staff often advise Members on how to vote on certain bills, write speeches for them, tell them which events to attend, speak for them in meetings, and draft legislation on their behalf. Bottom line: the Member of Congress is the Rock Star, but almost equally as important is his or her staff, doing a lot of the work for them behind-the-scenes.

Secondly, this one is for all you sports junkies out there.  Here is a quick pop quiz:

Q: Who is the most important player on a football team?

A: The Quarterback, of course.  He is the captain, the one who is most centrally responsible for what happens on the field. All the players and fans look to him.

Q: How about the second most important player?

A: The second most important player on a football team is the Left Tackle.

Q: Huh?  What is a Left Tackle?

A: He is the player who spends his Sunday afternoons getting the snot beat out of him play after play to protect the quarterback from getting hit from behind. He is the quarterback’s ultimate protector.

For proof of this, just ask any quarterback or better yet look at the second highest paid player on the team. It is often the Left Tackle. Does anyone know who Tom Brady’s Left Tackle is? Can anybody name one Left Tackle at all?  This is a great example of how people who often make huge impacts often labor in relative obscurity.

Thirdly, one example from history.  Joshua Chamberlain was a schoolteacher from Maine who became a Colonel in the Union Army and was almost single-handedly responsible for winning the Battle of Gettysburg.  How?   He basically had to guard a hilltop from the Confederates, because if they captured it, the Union army would essentially lose the infamous battle. His tattered crew was out of ammo, greatly reduced, and were tired to bone, but at Chamberlain’s command, they fixed bayonets and charged downhill, causing the Confederate troops to retreat, and thus kept the Confederate army from winning the Battle of Gettysburg. Historians have determined that if Chamberlain hadn’t charged that day, the rebels would have won at Gettysburg, which would mean that the South would have won the actual war.  Historians also insist that if the South had won the war, we would live on a territorially fragmented continent much like Europe.  The United States exists as it is today because of one school teacher from Maine who worked behind the scenes and influenced a small number of troops in his charge.  Amazing!*

And finally, Mother Theresa.  She spent her entire life working behind the scenes to the very “least of these” in Calcutta, India.  Here is the list of the people she spent her time with: those suffering with HIV/AIDS, those with leprosy and tuberculosis, the orphans, the poorest of the poor, and the dying.  She even rescued 37 children in the middle of a war zone.  If you want to be inspired, google “Mother Theresa quotes.”

I will leave my favorite one at the close of this post.

I wanted to briefly address the one percenters who actually have a position of influence on the rest of us. I think your opportunities are very clear: you have a huge platform and can make a huge impact!  Use your platform for good!  But just a few thoughts from a humble 99 percenter:

To the athlete: Remember your teammates who often go unnoticed, but upon whom your success stands or falls.

The the political leader: Govern with the individual in mind rather than your reelection, and remember the late night staffer who toils on your behalf.

To the movie/TV/rock star: Use your influence for the good of mankind rather than yourself.

To the CEO: Remember that you would not have a company if it were not for all of the people who run it.  Appreciate them.

Finally, to the Pastor: Love people more than your platform.  Point others to the only One who deserves true worship.  Resist the pride that comes with leadership.  Remember your Congregant, and how his and her gifts are vital to the church and the community.  Listen to their ideas for change!  Consider the example of Francis Chan, who was willing to let go of his platform to work in obscurity.

(A quick note to the Congregant: Don’t make a hero out of your pastor, or idolize them.  They have an important role to play, but so do you.  Play your part and play it well.)

I want to circle back to Jesus before I close this post.

My final nagging question was: how did the number one most influential person in human history end his speaking career?  What did he say and what was the effect?

The last recorded speech he gave to the crowds went something like this: “you will not have the light (me) with you much longer.  Believe in the light while you still have it, or darkness will overtake you.” (John 12: 35-36 paraphrase).

How did the crowds respond?  The Scriptures give us a sobering report: even after Jesus had performed so many miracles in their presence, they still did not believe in him. (John 12:47)

Let’s take a look, then, at two individuals whom he privately influenced from when he was actually in the process of dying on the cross, and then one after he was resurrected.

To the thief on the cross, he gave witness of himself, and the thief put his faith in him as Messiah. Jesus said said these words to him: “This day you will be with me in paradise.” In essence, Jesus saved a soul right before he died.  Then John (his Apostle) brought his mother Mary over to him presumably to say goodbye to her son, when Jesus said “Woman, behold your son.”  Then he looked at John and said “Behold your mother.”  In other words, he was telling John, his number one Apostle besides Peter (and James), to take care of his mom.  As a mom, this warms my heart.  And then after he was raised from the dead he had a long conversation with Peter about feeding his sheep, which influenced Peter to go out and spread his message, which literally changed the world.

I don’t know about you, but Jesus’ example is deeply encouraging to me.   And it’s something I can handle.  We can all be in the the business of working out of the spotlight and changing one life at a time.  Even if the change is incremental, hard to see at first, and can’t be measured by the normal markers of success.  I can start with those right in front of me: my husband and three kids.

We can all have influence, even if we are not in the one percent.  We can all impact one small area of life.

We can all influence one person for good.

And by doing so, we can change the world!

In closing, my favorite Mother Theresa quote:

“Not all of us can do great things.  But we can do small things with great love.”

Amen!

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  • source: “Christian famous” pastor quits his church, moves to Asia.”  Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog 12/22/2010.  According to Wiki, Pastor Chan now works in San Francisco – working to start a church planting and discipleship movement.
  • Source: “The Butterfly Effect” book by Andy Andrews

The Top 7 Conversational Styles that Drive us all Cray-Cray!

 

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Me with one of my very best friends Ragan, as we are about to engage in some good, deep conversation.

So you think you’re a pretty good conversationalist, do you?

Most people think they are. However, I recently read an article that suggested that in our age of social media (verses in-person social interaction), most of us are struggling with our conversational skills.  The article (link below) talks about one big mistake that many people make in conversation: they become a Conversational Narcissist.  This person subtly, or not so subtly, turns the conversation back to himself.  A conversation with a Narcissist (Rob, in the example below) goes something like this:

James: I’m thinking about buying a new car.

Rob: Oh yeah, I’m thinking about buying a new car too.

James: Really?

Rob: Yup, I just test drove a new mustang. It was awesome!  Let me tell you all about it….

Did you see how Rob didn’t give a support response or keep the spotlight on James, but instead turned the conversation right back to himself? Many people struggle with keeping the conversation focused on the other person.  This is probably the number one mistake people make in conversation.  Additionally, many people also struggle with asking the other person any questions at all.  From the article:

Most folks seem to struggle with asking any questions at all and have a very difficult time relinquishing the floor.”

The article goes on to say “It’s fine to share things about yourself, as long you loop the conversation back to the person who initiated the topic.”

The article made me take a hard look at my own conversational skills. I am very introspective and I love deep conversation with good friends.  I really try hard to be a good listener and draw others out.  The only problem is that I have noticed that many people are so impressed with my listening skills that they forget to ask me any questions!!

But I am in no way perfect in conversation. For starters, I am a recovering blabber who used to share WAY too much detail.  Many years ago my employer told me that I went on and on when speaking, which led to me not getting a particular job.  Also, I sometimes have an agenda.   Nope, I’m not interested in selling  you a product, but I might want to sell you an idea.  My husband Erik takes the brunt of this because I’m always pestering him with my ideas about what to do and where to go as a family, or “can we have so and so over for dinner?”  Stuff like that.

So with my own issues in mind, Erik and I (and Ragan, pictured above) have developed a list of conversational styles we have noticed over many years. PLEASE KNOW that this list is intended to be a funny, non-judgmental, yet truthful/helpful look at some of the faux paus that we have consistently seen over the years (and that we, ourselves, have also made).

So, Besides the Conversational Narcissist, which is probably the worst, here are the other 6 Conversation Styles that Drives us all Crazy (in no particular order):

  1. The Story Topper: We all know this one.   He’s the guy or the gal who always has a better story to share. A better car, a better house, better kids, or a better life. Or conversely, he or she has it worse than you, and he wants you to know that you don’t have it as bad as you think you do. A conversation with a Story Topper (in positive form) can go like this: Me: “Hey Sally! You’ll never guess who I just ran into! Harrison Ford!” Sally: “That’s nothing! I just ran into Justin Timberlake yesterday, and JLo is coming over to my house for dinner tonight!” It can also look like this (in the negative form): Jane: “Man, I’m struggling to lose my last ten pounds of baby weight!” Sally: “That’s nothing! Try having to lose the last 50! You don’t know how good you have it!” You know you’re with a story topper when you feel like that cool story you just shared is not so cool, or that your perspective falls short of reality.
  2. The Topic Changer: This is the person who doesn’t prefer to stay on the topic that you are on; they want to talk about what they want to talk about. They don’t stay on point. Just when you are getting into the topic, for some reason, they change it. You know you’re with a Topic Changer when you find yourself frustrated that you were not able to dig as deeply into something as you wanted to, or you find yourself distracted by the conversation, rather than satisfied.
  3.  The Monologuer: You know this one: the person who wants to tell you every.little.detail. about something that happened to them or what they are going through. OR, if your Monologuer is from another generation, he (it’s usually an old man, let’s be honest) will go on and on about World War II, stories of how it used to be, what is wrong with this world, and his opinion on Donald Trump. It’s like they are just talking to themselves. And maybe they are, since most of us tune them out after about five minutes.  The Monologuer makes you feel like you want to find any excuse to leave the immediate vicinity as soon as possible. The problem is it is almost easier to escape quicksand.
  4. The Foyer Talker: These are folks that excel at small talk and don’t know when to leave the party. They stay in the foyer, continuing on with the conversation, oblivious to fact that you need to put your kids to bed, or clean up the house, or sleep. They are unable to read your body language and they are not in tune with  social norms or cues. You genuinely like this person but you genuinely want them to leave so you can relax and watch TV.
  5. The Agenda-cizers: These peeps try to subtly or not so subtly work in a personal agenda into their conversations. For example: “Hey, did you know I’m selling a new product? I’d like you to hear about it. Perhaps you can work underneath my pyramid scheme, I mean…perhaps you’d like to work alongside of me and make lots of money. Let’s have coffee to talk all about it…”  You feel like you always have to play defense with this person while trying to be somewhat open to what they are trying to sell you, err… I mean tell you.   (PS: I mean no disrespect to those people who use social media to promote something they are trying to sell.  I’m not talking about you.  I’m talking about the person who is pushy with their agenda and they are always thinking about it every time they see you.)
  6. Misc. Other Annoying Personas: The following Personalities deserve “honorable mentions.” The Story-Teller is like the Monologuer only better because they are super interesting to listen to while still being a one-sided conversationalist. The Interviewer asks too many questions and seems nosey. The Taboo Talker freely shares their views on religion and politics (or directly asks you about your views) and makes everyone feel uncomfortable. The Mood Changers either bring the conversation more “up” or “down” in an attempt to deflect their own personal feelings of discomfort.   Finally, the Debaters are always trying to “win” the argument or bring you over to their side with persuasion.   Did I forget any?  Please feel free to comment below.  Let’s all speak freely on this!

I will conclude with just one simple rule that each of us can follow to instantly bring our Conversational IQ up 100 points. Here it is:

Consider the other person.

That’s it. Not rocket science.   Just think of two little words help you: PING, PONG. Engage in a game of ping pong by answering their question with just enough detail to keep things interesting, and then PING the ball (the conversation) back to the form of another question.  When there is a pause, hopefully, they will ask you a question, and PONG the ball back to you.  You talk, they talk.  Ping, then Pong.  The goal is that the conversation is a mutual exchange of opinions and ideas.  Share enough, but not too much, unless they dig you for more detail.

Just a couple more things you can do: Don’t hog the floor. Hit the ball back to them.  Share interesting details, but don’t go on and on.  Read their body language.  Ask them questions.  Respect their answers.

If you ask the other person lots of good questions and do a few other normal, human- kindness, non-selfish things, everyone will love you and think you’re the coolest person around and they will leave your presence wanting to spend more time with you. Why?  Because you’re a good conversationalist and you make them feel good by listening to them, thereby affirming their dignity as a human being!

But wait – what if they are a conversational narcissist and/or they don’t hit the ball back to you? I am going to leave my thoughts on that in the P.S. section if you are interested.

In conclusion, if we all consider the other person, and ask good, engaging questions, everyone will leave the conversation satisfied and happy, with the relationship being strengthened and deepened.

So who wants to get together for some good, deep convo?

I’ll bring the coffee!

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PS: What to do when the other person is a Conversational Narcissist or a Monologuer or just doesn’t want to play PING PONG with you in conversation?

    • One, let the conversation go flat and see if they PING the ball back to you with a question.
    • Two, you can ask them another question, and hopefully with this round you will begin playing PING PONG again and it becomes a mutual exchange. However this can be dangerous as it may feed into the problem behavior, leaving you frustrated.
    • Three, just say what you want to say as though the other person actually asked you a question.   Just take the floor. Even if they didn’t give it to you.
    • Four, be patient and just let the conversation go naturally. Conversation should be a natural, enjoyable exchange. And it doesn’t have to be perfect. One person may talk more than the other one. It’s really all up to what you want in a relationship.   If you have something to say, just remember that John Mayer song: “Say What You Need To Say.” Don’t wait for a transition or a question. Just say it!!!
    • Finally, when they start to rattle on, drink another glass of wine. 🙂

 

To read about the Conversational Narcissist, click here:

/http://www.artofmanliness.com/2011/05/01/the-art-of-conversation-how-to-avoid-conversational-narcissism/

My Thoughts on Infertility, Adoption, and a Mysterious Miracle (that hasn’t happened)(Plus a PS: for infertile women)

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My college girlfriends, at the start of their baby boom.  Me, in the back, with my career.

Many years ago I body-doubled as a full time student at Liberty University as well as an almost full-time lounge waitress at The Ground Round, serving beer and Long Island Ice Teas to mostly semi-drunk rednecks, err…people. I often joked to friends that I was a good Christian college student by day, and a wild cocktail waitress by night.  But that story is for another post.

When it was slow at the restaurant, I would often dream about my future. This is how my future would play out:

First, I was going to find my wonderful husband at Liberty because that’s what all the other girls were doing. Secondly, we would marry and proceed to have four healthy, biological children (two boys and two girls) two years apart, and stop having children when I turned 30 because after the age of 30 you ran the risk of having a child with medical issues.  Thirdly, I would start my career after my kids were in school and finally, we would all live happily ever after.

And that’s exactly how it all played out.

Not.

I can tell you with a smirk on my face that the opposite occurred in almost every way!

After college (in which I graduated very much a single young lady) I began an awesome, yet intense professional career (you can read about it here.) When I turned 25, I met a wonderful guy named Erik and we began dating.  He was an amazing guy and after a few months, I had a sneaking suspicion that he just might be ‘the one.’  But then one day he dropped a bomb on me: he told me that many years ago he had undergone chemotherapy treatment for cancer which had left him unable to have biological children.  He delivered this news right before Christmas because I had planned to bring him home to meet the family.

“I need you to know this now, in case you change your mind about bringing me home to meet your family and dating me. I really like you, but I would understand if you feel we need to break things off,” he said to me with sadness in his eyes.

I was devastated and moped around for a few days, wrestling with the decision to stay in a relationship with Erik. However, I had a strong feeling that if I broke things off with him, I would deeply, deeply regret it all the days of my life.  Again, that sneaking suspicion that he was the one kept coming back to me.  Erik was an incredible guy who was very deep, Godly, and intelligent.  That was my version of the Trifecta.  Plus, I knew that if we ever wanted kids, we could always adopt.  So with much prayer and tears, I said YES to Erik and thereby gave up the dream of ever getting pregnant, ever feeling the kick of a baby in my growing belly, and ever seeing our genetic traits come alive in a new human being that we both created.  In summary, I was choosing infertility.

After I prayed, I had a peace that I had done the right thing. Erik and I continued dating, he met my family, we got married, and the rest is history.  And I have never regretted my decision to marry Erik, not even for a second.

So you would think dealing with infertility would be “easier” because I knew about it beforehand rather than being surprised by it after marriage, right?

I think the answer (for me) is yes and no. Yes, in that I knew it all going in and therefore, wasn’t surprised.  And no, because I learned that even if you know about something beforehand, it doesn’t make it that much easier to deal with.  It just takes the edge off, really.

What also made it hard is that I did some research and discovered that in a few cases, men were able to gain their fertility after several years following their chemotherapy treatments. Somewhere deep inside a tiny seed of hope was planted.

So how did the sting of infertility manifest itself? I found myself jealous and comparison-prone when all of my college friends went through their “baby boom.”  I can’t remember the number of baby showers I attended to support my friends with forced (and sometimes real) smiles, gazing at their huge bellies while I looked down at my (mostly)flat one.  I also wrestled with the occasional “trigger.”  For me, a trigger is a “reminder” of what should have been or what could have been if only (fill in the blank).  Three common triggers for me came on Christmas (yet another Christmas and still no baby), my birthday (wow, I’m another year older and still no baby), and of course the mother of all triggers – Mother’s Day!!

Other triggers included finding out that a previously infertile couple was now expecting. Of course I was overjoyed for them but also painfully aware that they had indeed left The Club, while we were still active members of it.  As I mentioned, I also wrestled with comparison.  Many of my best friends started their families very young. While I was blazing through my career, they popped out multiple babies.  It was weird watching their children celebrating their fifth birthday while I had nothing cooking in my own personal oven.

People also accidentally say insensitive things to infertile couples. I heard things like:

“Slow down and just relax. It will happen!” … “All in God’s perfect timing!” and … “Oh, I understand what you are going through.  We tried for two whole months before we finally got pregnant.”

I could go on but you get the gist. In a nutshell, infertility is hard, it makes you feel “lesser than,” you tend to compare yourself with women that easily conceive, you might grow jealous and insecure quite frequently, people say insensitive things, it’s expensive to deal with, it causes lots of stress in the relationship, and you sit around wondering how you are ever going to build your family.

One last note about infertility: infertility is a very hidden, easily masked, very painful and private experience for one in eight married couples. Please be careful before you make comments to young (or not so young) married couples like: “when are you going to start a family?”  You have no idea what they may be going through!  Ok, on with the story.

Obviously, Erik and I were aware that adoption was the only option available for us to build our family. But here’s the problem. My heart wasn’t really “into” adoption for several reasons, mostly reasons that I am embarrassed to admit to you, so I am asking for your permission2speakfreely here, without judgment.  And so I will.  Below were my concerns about adoption (before we adopted):

  1. I won’t love the baby because it won’t be “my own.”
  2. What if the baby is ugly? I probably will not love an ugly baby.
  3. Adoption is second choice; a Plan B. It’s “not as good as” having a beautiful bio baby.* (please see my * at the end of this post)
  4. Most people want to have their “own, biological” baby. People only adopt because “they have to” in order to have kids (similar to number three, but broadening it out to the general population).
  5. Adoption is scary because the babies might have to deal with potential drug and alcohol abuse while they are in utero, and the occasional brownie.
  6. Adoption is so much paperwork and it’s unfair because they make you go through so many hoops that other parents don’t have to go through.  It’s so unfair!!

To make a long story short, we ended up adopting three awesome kids (you can read their stories below), and now I can honestly say that numbers one through four are just plain WRONG and ignorant. There is some truth to numbers 5 and 6, however.  Especially number six.  Adoption is a LOT of work, you have to get “clearance” to adopt from a wide variety of sources, and each box you check off for your paperwork can have several hours of effort (and waiting) behind it.  You have to “prove” you are worthy to adopt (whereas folks who become pregnant the old fashioned way can just become parents, even if they are lousy parents).  It feels very unfair and intrusive at times.

(On a side note/rant, I also wrestled with how hard the process is to adopt children world-wide who need homes. For example, I have a friend whose parents live and work in Venezuela.  Her mother-in-law volunteers at a hospital and routinely sees babies as young as three months old abandoned at the hospital due to the on-going crisis in that country. There are thousands of good families all over the world who would be willing to take in these babies in (and others like them world-wide) but because so many governments stand in the way, it’s not possible.  And the children suffer.  Some countries even close their adoption programs because of the stigma of having other cultures care for their own children. Again, the children suffer.)

So on to the conclusion of my story. So…having dealt with infertility and adoption, you would think everything would wrap up with a neat little bow at this point, correct?

It would have except for something weird that has happened to us/me that very few people know about.

For almost two decades, I believe God has spoken to Erik and me about believing Him for a miracle pregnancy. What??  You ask.  I know!!  I’m in my 40s.  Nobody my age is even having babies anymore, many of my friends have kids in college and some of my friends are actually (gulp) grandparents!  I know it’s crazy.   But I could tell you story after story of God speaking to me and overall confirming to me to keep believing for this miracle.   We even felt directed to attempt two IVF cycles (which subsequently failed).  The Lord gave us many big and small signs along the way to encourage us to embark out on this faith limb, only to see the limb fall to the ground not once, but twice.  It was a very painful time for us, but Erik and I to this day both believe we were supposed to do both rounds of IVF for some mysterious reason.

The question I have been wrestling with for years is this: why would God keep asking us to believe Him for a miracle that He never delivers? It’s been eighteen long years that this has been going on and I’m still not pregnant.  Could it be that we need to adopt all the kids we are supposed to adopt first?  I think that is one plausible explanation.  There are others.  But it’s still a mystery with no closure (and I love closure).  I’ve prayed numerous times that God would please let me know if I have misunderstood Him or if it’s time to move on.  But as of right now I believe I am supposed to remain in a state of suspended animation and faith that it still could actually happen.

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My three beautiful kiddos.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In conclusion, I am thankful for the hard yet wonderful gift of infertility, which gave me three of my most valuable treasures. I wouldn’t have it any other way.  As for the mystery?  God is in that too.  And even if that never resolves in a way that makes sense, the Lord knows what He is doing and has a plan. I need only to look at the faces of my three beautiful children to know that the biggest mystery is solved: we couldn’t have our “own” kids because God had our “own” kids coming to us in a different way.

And that, my friends, is good enough for me.

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Thanks for reading!  For those who missed my kiddos’ adoption stories….

You can read Khloe’s Adoption story here

You can find Claire’s here

And Logan’s here

PS: A quick note to infertile women (who would love a family): I am now about 80% of the way across the “infertility bridge” and can look back with some hindsight.  I can honestly say to you that things will get better and everything will eventually will work itself out, I promise. Everything happens for a reason, to quote a man-made proverb, and for us, we were meant to adopt.  I don’t know what it will look like for you.  And as for all my friends who had kids ahead of me (for example my awesome college buddies pictured above)?  I love them because they give me such great intel on what to expect in just a few short years (plus some great hand-me-downs).  Many other friends and family ended having kids around the same time I did, and I found out that most older kids play with younger kids anyway, or babysit them later, which is also very cool.  I’m now in my 40s and guess what?  It’s really not that big of a deal to have kids when you’re older.  A lot of women are getting pregnant or adopting much later in life.  Having younger kids is keeping me young. I actually might adopt/host/foster more kids in the future.  I guess my point is – everything will eventually work itself out the way it’s supposed to.  I know it’s tough.  Hang in there.   God is with you.  He loves you and will help you. Infertility is unfair and hard and crushing and disappointing and a real pain, I know.  But it will get better!  I promise!

Thanks for reading!

*in a million years I never thought the adopted child was second best in any way, shape or form, period.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Adoption Story (by Khloe, Age 13)

In the orphanage

I grew up in an orphanage and I lived there until I was 8 years old.

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Sometimes I would be sad because my old parents left me in the hospital the day I was born. If I could, I would ask them why. I never felt unwanted, but just sad to not be part of a real family. The hardest part about living in the orphanage was not having any freedom. They did not let us go outside that much and we were stuck in that building for life. It was boring and the same day after day. I shared my bedroom with about 15 other kids.

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Living in such a large group had fun times though. We had pillow fights at night and we would tell stories. In the mornings we would eat fruit and soup, and in the evenings we would eat potatoes and pierogis.

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A young girl with blonde hair took care of us. She spent lots of time braiding my hair.

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During the day I went to school in the orphanage. I liked math and recess. At recess we would pick apples and eat them even though they were not ripe.

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At around 6 I realized that kids were disappearing. They were being taken away. I wondered where they were going. I saw families coming and going and a friend told me that she had a friend who disappeared and had been taken by a family. We thought it was a little scary like kidnapping. But at the same time maybe it was a good thing because it could lead to a better life. When a family would visit the orphanage there would be lots of talking about it. I came to the point where I wanted to have a family too because I wanted to have freedom and to be loved by somebody. One day I got in trouble for not listening when I was told to stand facing the corner and not look back. I had been yelling at a kid for grabbing my doll. Well I looked back and ended up locked in the bedroom. I stood there crying and prayed to God. I said ‘God please give me a family’. I wanted to get out of there. About 6 months later the principal came to get me and told me I was going to meet a family. I was so happy to meet a real family but I did not know they were for me. I thought they were just visiting. I had never been visited by anyone before. Not once in 8 long years. I slowly entered the room and saw a man and a woman waiting for me. We played games on their iPad and also played in a sticker book. It was fun. It was weird though because they could not speak Ukrainian, but they could speak broken Russian. The visit ended and they left. I was happy because I got to play with a family. I was sad when they left. The headmaster of the school told me that the family was going to come back to get to know me. A few weeks later they were back. They came to the orphanage every day to visit me and to play with me. After a few visits the headmaster told me the family was going to adopt me. I was so scared. I did not know these people and I didn’t know if they were good or if they were bad. I was also maybe a little happy because I could have someone to love and have a real family of my own. I still remember my adoption day. I was terrified and I did not want to go. I stood in the corner and screamed.

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They told me that the man was going to take me out for a while and bring me back but I knew they were lying. I knew this was forever. I was not really thinking, but I knew I was never coming back here. I had no idea where I was going. My caregiver walked me out of the orphanage forever and my new dad carried me to the car.

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I was angry and scared. It was a cold day. We drove to Kiev and I spent the next couple of days in an apartment with my new dad. I got to know him by playing tricks on him and shaking up the soda bottles. I also did a lot of screaming. I was totally freaked out because I was going to a whole different country. I traveled to America in my first plane ride. It was pretty cool. They had TVs and the chairs leaned back.

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Then we arrived in America and I saw my brother and sister for the first time but I was in too much shock to care or even look at them. I was exhausted and my entire life was gone.

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Then I began my long journey adjusting to American life.

In America

I still remember my first night in America. I went to bed in the top bunk with my new sister and brother in the same room. I rocked myself to sleep. I missed the orphanage. That night I was thirsty so I got out of bed. I started drinking out of my sleeping sister’s cup. It was milk so I moved on to my brother’s cup. He had milk too. Climbing back up to the bunkbed I fell on the floor with a crash and started to cry. Dad came in and got me and we watched a Ukrainian kid’s show DVD. After I calmed down he put me back to bed. It was a rough first night. There were lots of things to get used to in America like money. I earned my first dollar sweeping the floor for my mom.

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In the orphanage I never touched money so having my own money made me feel powerful. My first sport was learning to ride a scooter and after that a bike. Learning to ride a bike was hard and finding my balance was hard.

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I also learned to swim. I had never swum before and it was scary. I thought I was going to drown, but I liked it because the water was fun.

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Having parents is hard because they are bosses who are always around. Sometimes I do not like the choices that they make. I was also very mean to my parents because I was very angry about many things and adjusting to a new environment. I feel bad about that sometimes. The good part about having parents is having someone to talk to and share my feelings with.

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They are also someone to love. Love comes hard for me though because the thought of being rejected scares me. Sometimes when I am with my dad in the store and he sends me off to shop for something I make sure he is still going to be there when I get back. I say ‘Dad, you are still going to be here right?’ The very best thing about being in America is not being stuck in the orphanage. I am free. Having a brother and sister is sometimes annoying because they are not mature sometimes. I do like having a brother and sister though because I always have someone to play with. America has brought lots of new experiences to me. Many of these are scary like my first time riding an escalator, to my first roller coaster, to skiing, to swimming with the sting-rays. My dad calls me his first-timer. Back in Ukraine I never thought I would do things like that.

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Note from mom and dad. It is great to see Khloe come full circle and make her own blog post in her words. Khloe is definitely a work in progress and has been 2 steps forward and 1 step back for many years. On any given day or hour you can be amazed at how far she has come, and painfully aware of how far she still needs to go. For the full day by day story of her adoption including how we almost missed her, the early hard (and sometimes hilarious) days ,and the growth since then you can read here.

Khloe is now a complex combination. She is not the same fractured little girl that we adopted 5 years ago.

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She is also not the fully Americanized teenager she sometimes appears to be. She is a mix of the two on any given day and still finding her way.

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Khloe: All in all, my crazy adoption experience was magical because having a great family changed everything for me. I am still a work in progress because I am still learning many things, but I know I’m on the right track. My advice to any kid being adopted is that it will change your life for the better. If anyone has questions about my journey respond in the comments and I will be glad to answer them!

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A Little Help from Above

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I lost my Grandfather Art (far left) one day in a Museum in Washington, D.C. God sent an Angel to help me find him.

Several years ago, my elderly grandfather Art came down to visit our family in the suburbs of Washington D.C.  His visit came shortly after we adopted our son, Logan. I was still getting used to having a new baby and juggling two kids instead of one, but one fine day I agreed to take him down to Washington, D.C., to see the sights.  So one morning I loaded up my baby, my five year old, and my elderly yet still mobile grandfather (so, in essence, three young children) and headed down to the city, all by myself.  We arrived, parked, and promptly went to the Museum of Natural History.

If you’ve never been to the Museum of Natural History, you need to know that it’s a very large museum, with these huge wings that spread for about two blocks, and it’s several stories high. However, there is a central section which is great for meeting up at prearranged times, or in case you get lost.  Unless that person you are trying to meet up with is an elderly man who is hard of hearing, who doesn’t know how to use his cell phone or even hear it ringing, and doesn’t remember the time or the place where you were supposed to meet.

So that’s what happened. My grandfather went in one direction and I took my kids to another section and we were supposed to meet back in the middle at 1 pm.  I had his cell number and everything would be fine.

Until it wasn’t. Until he didn’t meet me where he said he would, and wouldn’t answer his cell.  Until I went looking and looking for him for a total of about an hour with a fussy new baby and a five year old.  I called my husband for some emotional support; no answer.  I went inside and outside the museum; no Grandpa. I looked high and low.  I even backtracked to the huge section of the museum he said he would be in.  I was just about to grab a staff member of the museum but I decided to walk outside (again) to make sure Grandpa had not wandered out there.  And then I remembered that in all of the confusion, I had forgotten to pray.

So while I was scanning the crowd, I prayed a silent prayer:

“Dear Lord.  Grandpa Art is lost.  I need your help.  Can you help me to find him?”

So there I was, just quietly standing and scanning, not making a sound, not looking distressed, when the man that was casually standing about two feet away from me turned to me and said “Excuse me, ma’am. Is there anything wrong?”

I decided that I would just be honest with him in the event God was attempting to help me.

“Yes, actually there is. My Grandpa is lost.  I can’t find him. I’ve been looking for over an hour and I can’t find him.  I’m freaking out.  He is hard of hearing and not answering his cell.  He’s lost.  I’m not sure you can help, but that’s what’s wrong.  Since you asked.”

He looked at me with a mixture of confidence and kindness and said the following words: “Do you see that group of kids?” (He pointed to a large group of high school kids.) I said “yes.”  He went on: “I’m a private investigator and I was hired by the school to keep track of all of these kids.  And I’m good at finding people.  I will find your Grandpa for you.  What is his name and what does he look like?”

My jaw dropped open while I gave him the description of my Grandpa which boiled down to: “well, his name is Art and he’s tall, thin and old.”

“Ok, I will find him for you. Wait here. I’ll be right back.”

Seriously.

So I stood there waiting with renewed hope. Not five minutes later the Angel, err I mean Private Investigator man returns with my Grandfather in tow!  I couldn’t believe it!

I thanked him profusely and hugged my Grandpa. Then he turned and headed off to be with his student group.

That day I was freshly reminded of a profound, yet really very simple, lesson:

“God will help me when I pray.”

Even to such a degree that he sends a Private Investigator/Angel who randomly asks me if anything is wrong. God sent me the best that day to find my Grandpa.

I will close with a verse of Scripture:

“I lift my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.”  Psalm 121:1

Amen!

 

Two Minute Tuesdays: There are Two Sides to Every Mole (Or: The ONE amazing thing about having a lot of moles)

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True confession: I have many huge moles on my back. I think they are disgusting and I have to get them looked at by a Dermatologist every six months.  I have them removed if they get too big.  Several years ago, I was lamenting to my Doctor about how I hated to have so many moles, but he interrupted my complaining with the following words:

“Heather, there is actually one really good thing about having a lot of moles. People with a lot of moles age more slowly than those with less moles.  So, you will stay younger longer!  By seven years, actually.”

That got my attention, so I googled it, and sure enough, it’s true. According to one article:

  • People who have a higher mole count tend to age slower than those who have fewer moles (think: 100 moles compared to 25, says research published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention.) The study observed more than 900 sets of twins—comparing the differences between their DNA—and found that those who had a higher mole count were less vulnerable to the effects of skin aging (the difference equated to about 6 to 7 years of aging). http://www.menshealth.com/health/is-your-body-7-years-younger-than-your-age. 

According to another article, which gets more into the weeds (you can skip this section if you don’t like weeds):

  • The reason for these links are unclear, but researchers have noticed that people with large numbers of moles have differences in the strands of DNA in each cell which carry their genetic code. Sections on the end of these strands are called telomeres, and are effectively a countdown timer governing the number of times a cell can divide to produce new cells. The longer the telomere, the more cell divisions can take place over a lifetime – and more moles were linked to longer telomeres. Dr Bataille, who presented her findings at a Royal Society of Medicine conference, suggested that moles were a visible product of the underlying system which controls body ageing. She said: “Some people will have two moles, some people will have 600, but when you have a patient with lots of moles, we noticed they tended to age better.” http://www.bbc.com/news/health-11813378

But before you get too excited, having a lot of moles means that your risk for cancer increases. Here is a nutshell if what you should look out for:

  • Moles that increases in size.
  • An outline of a mole that becomes notched.
  • A spot that changes color from brown to black or is varied.
  • A spot that becomes raised or develops a lump within it.

I guess there are two sides to every mole.

In conclusion, I have no idea if I am aging any better than the general population. I know I feel young and healthy, and my hairdresser, who is also one of my very best friends (who is in her early thirties herself), always tells me she agrees with this research because I “have very, very few gray hairs.” And then she adds with a cheeky smile: “Plus, you act kind of immature, like me.”

I agree.

I hate my moles, but if having a lot of moles means I will age better, I welcome the moles.

But I  will get them checked regularly, too. 🙂

Escape from Latvia – Conclusion (Coming to America)

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My husband with his grandmother on our wedding day.  Without her bravery, I would never have known him.

After barely escaping the firebombing of Dresden, Anna and Irena arrived safely in Austria where they lived in the Alps for several months.  Anna got a job as kitchen help to a woman who ran a boys’ boarding school for Austria’s wealthy class.  While Anna was busy cooking and cleaning, Irena played outside where the boys at the school taught her how to ski.  For the first time in her young life, Irena enjoyed an ordinary childhood filled with the simple things: dry clothes, food, sweets to eat, and jumping up and down on real feather beds that she could actually sink down into.

However, this was not to last.  News came that the Russians had taken Hungary and were at the Austrian border.  It was time to go.  Anna’s husband Karlis arranged for her and Irena to leave the country.  They packed their one shared suitcase and left the country, but on May 8, 1945, they found out some incredible news: World War II was officially over!  When Anna heard this, she looked down at her baby girl and began to cry.

It was over!  It was finally over.  And they had survived.

But almost immediately another thought invaded her mind: would they be able to return to Latvia?

History shows that there were more than 100,000 Latvians who either returned to Germany following the war, or found themselves in Germany at the war’s conclusion, and most of them became temporary residents of what was called “the American zone.” These Latvians had to either return to Latvia (which most did not) or stay in temporary refugee housing, awaiting relocation.

Anna decided it was best to not return to Latvia, so she and Irena spent several years in DP (Displaced Persons) camps set up by Americans. It was temporary housing, and much of what happened was unplanned and unpredictable – the size of the camps, how crowded, how quickly people would be assigned to sponsors, when and where they would get food and how much per family, how would they find their relatives, and most importantly: which country would take them in.  Refugee housing was humble and challenging: sometimes 8 families had to share a single room, with sheets hung between beds for privacy.

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Irena, seven years old, when she was living in Germany in a Displaced Persons Camp.

Because there were so many refugees that needed homes, some nations, like the United States, Canada, and Australia (among others), stepped forward to allow some of them to come to them. However, a refugee’s family needed to be sponsored by a family from the sponsoring country.

“Whichever country picks us, we will go there.” Anna said to Irena.  Karlis was secretly hoping for the United States, but there were other countries that were willing to take these refugees, and they had no idea where they would end up.  However, it is rumored that Karlis, a well connected man, had called in some favors to request being sponsored to come to the United States.  Still, their future hung in the balance.

Finally, the day came when they didn’t have to wait any longer to find out where they would be living.

“Pack your bags Irena,” Anna said with a gleam in her eye. “We are going to America!”

In the spring of 1949, Karlis, Anna and Irena were sponsored to come to America by the First Lutheran Church in Oklahoma City.  They boarded the HMS Stewart, a troop carrier, and crossed the Atlantic. Anna breathed a huge sigh of relief when she saw the statue of Liberty.  After New York they still had to make their way to New Orleans.   Finally, on November 15, they arrived at the harbor in New Orleans and boarded a train to Oklahoma.

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Their arrival made the front page of the Daily Oklahoman newspaper.

To celebrate their arrival, the family of three enjoyed their first hamburger.  Later, they found out that they were the first refugee family to arrive in Oklahoma City as a part of the church’s refugee relocation project. The church provided living quarters in their community building (upstairs was a complete apartment), in return for which Anna and Karlis maintained and cleaned the church and the church’s community building.  After they settled into America, Karlis and Anna celebrated the birth of their daughter, Aija.

The years flew by and Irena eventually grew up, met another Latvian refugee also named Karlis, got married and had three sons – Eduard, Erik, and Andrew.  Their middle son is my husband, Erik.

As Anna grew older, she was still unsettled about one final issue: her relationship with the Lord. Although she knew without a doubt that God had indeed protected her and Irena throughout the war, she was uncertain as to whether she would be admitted into heaven when she passed.   Her grandsons and their wives shared the gospel with her many times, and one day Irena presented a simple gospel tract in Latvian to Anna.   The tract said that God loved her and desired a relationship with her, but that sin separated her from that relationship.  Repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins would restore that relationship and give her the peace she was searching for, peace to know that her sins were forgiven and her soul was secured forever in Heaven with God.  After reading the tract, Anna turned to Irena and indicated that she wanted to pray to receive Christ as her Savior.  In Irena’s own words:

“She prayed the prayer with me, and her eyes filled with tears as she expressed sheer gratitude for sharing this with her. No longer would she need to talk about going to heaven in terms of “I hope.”  She was elated, and amazed at how simply and easily that light went on and now she understood.”

Two years later, on November 25, 2012, Anna passed into eternity at the age of 100, leaving a shining legacy of courage and tenacity to all of the generations that now enjoy this wonderful home we all call America. Her three grandsons gave her Eulogy, and she was buried in Wisconsin with her family and close friends at her side.

Closing comments:

Our family recently watched Back to the Future, which made me think of this story.  If Anna and Irena had not survived the war, Erik would not be here, and I would not be here, at least in the same way.  We would have never adopted our three beautiful kids, with one more adoption on the way.  It’s crazy to me that of the 60 million refugees wandering around during World War II, that Anna, Karlis, and Irena made it to the United States, especially considering that only 34,000 Latvians immigrated to the U.S. following the war.  It was clearly God’s will for them to survive the war, start a new life in America, and have kids and grandkids.

I miss “Grannie Annie” as we lovingly called her. She would tell us all of the stories I have chronicled here, and many more that went unrecorded, in her thick Latvian accent.  So many times the six of us grandkids (the three boys and their three wives) would spontaneously exclaim: “Man.  We need to write all of this down, Granny Annie!  It’s so amazing how you and mom even survived!  Someone’s gotta write this stuff down!”

So here it is, peeps.

I know Anna is looking down from Heaven and smiling on her family tree.  There is a little bit of Granny Annie in every single member of my husband’s family, and I’m so grateful to know each of them and call them my family as well.  Of course, I am partial to Grannie Annie’s favorite grandson Erik.  I think Erik is her favorite because he resembles her first husband, Juris.  (I am also putting this sentence in here to see if anyone in the family will notice. Ha.)

So Granny Annie, if you are reading this blog from Heaven: Thank you for your courage and drive, because none of us would be here if it weren’t for you.  We’re proud of you and we will have a big party in Heaven when we get there.  Your stories and miracles have bolstered my faith.  We love you!  Love, your Granddaughter, Heather

I hope Anna’s story has bolstered your faith as well, My Dear Reader.

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A few additional research notes:

All told, by some estimates, a total of about 60 million Europeans became refugees during the entire World War II period. According to the United Nations, a million people had yet to find a place to settle by 1951, more than five years after the fighting stopped.http://time.com/4029800/world-war-ii-refugee-photos-migrant-crisis/

By 1959 some 900,000 European refugees had been absorbed by west European countries. In addition, 461,000 had been accepted by the USA, and a further 523,000 by other countries. But many ‘hard-core’ refugees still remained in camps.http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwtwo/refugees_01.shtml