28 April 2011


Although you wouldn't necessarily gather this about me by looking around my house, I don't like clutter and mess.  I like things to generally be in their place and semi-straightened up.  I have a family that includes three boys and one husband; I know my house is never going to look like something out of a magazine (unless maybe there is a print version of Hoarders, but I digress...) and I don't really want it to.  But I do like things to be generally in order.

This week has been a tough one, because we're in transition.  We're moving out old furniture and moving new stuff in.  So. Half of the old set, which has found a new home with a good friend, is still in my garage.  We started loading it into a truck and then...the skies opened and out poured enough rain to fill Lake Michigan.  Well, maybe not quite that much, but honestly, it's been raining here for weeks.  So, the rest of that set sits in the garage until the friends and the husband can both be here at the same time to load and move. 

This also means that there is no furniture in the bedroom.  As in, sleeping on the floor.  Amid piles of clothes.  Since there is, of course, no bed and no dressers in there.  I have slept in worse conditions, that is true.  And I had some cushy comforters and blankies to make a reasonably comfortable nest out of.  It wasn't that bad, and it was only two nights. 

As I am typing this, two strapping young men are upstairs putting together the new bedroom set and I can hardly wait to start putting things back to rights.  Clothes in dressers, knick-knacks back on shelves.  I can hear the power tools buzzing right this very minute, and it really makes me happy.  It's not something I can do, build furniture, but it sure makes me happy that others can.  It will make the mess in my house go away, at least temporarily.

Just like in my bedroom, clutter and mess in my life make me grumpy too.  There has been some more family drama as of late, and I am only indirectly involved.  It directly affects people that I love, and there is very little I can do about that either.  I can provide emotional support, a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen and maybe offer some insight or advice.  But I can't fix what's wrong.  And I can't stop the tears from flowing, and the pain from crashing in.

And just like these guys that are fixing the disarray in my room, there is a silver lining in all these clouds that will bring light into the darkness that has been hanging over my family for several weeks now.

That's the thing....I have to learn to live with the temporary disarray and messiness, in order to get to the order and (relative) neatness that makes me feel better.  And I have to let my people suffer the pain and wander in the dark, so that they can find that silver lining.  If it was light all the time, they'd never see that one sparkly place.

And man, is it a good silver lining.

I really dislike clutter and mess, darkness and pain.  But I have learned that it is a necessary step on the way to a happy and peaceful place.

Now I'm going upstairs to put my clothes away and make my new bed :)

18 April 2011

Faith and conversion

I just read the most amazing book yesterday.  (Book club girls, look away, LOOK AWAY, if you haven't read it yet!)

It is called Unplanned, and it is written by a young woman named Abby Johnson, who was at one time the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic.  She had a dramatic conversion over the course of several years working for Planned Parenthood first as a volunteer, and eventually as a fulltime paid employee, rising to the level of director of her own clinic and a media representative for Planned Parenthood.  She is passionate about helping women; you can see that and feel it in her story.  No matter which side of the fence she is on, literally or figuratively, you can really get a sense of the depth of her commitment.  This post is not a debate about abortion or reproduction rights or any of that icky political stuff.  I have my beliefs, and you have yours, but I don't want to argue.  And see, this is my blog :)

No, I don't want to debate at what point a fetus becomes viable, or what point a fetus gains legal personhood or what the intricacies of the law should look like in my perfect world.  I want to examine Abby's conversion and just stand in awe at what faith can do.

Abby was firmly pro-choice, and believed strongly that women should have the right to choose what to do with their own bodies.  Abby believed whole-heartedly that Planned Parenthood's mission was to decrease the number of abortions overall, and she believed she was working for the betterment of women's lives.  She believed she was working as a part of a force for good in the world. 

But she always had these little questions nagging at her.  She couldn't always reconcile what she said she believed with the actions she took.  She was horrified when a very pregnant woman came into her clinic and asked for a late-term abortion, at twenty-three weeks.  Her own line in the sand was at the point of viability; she couldn't abide late term abortions.  But this woman really challenged her; she said to Abby, "What difference does it make, six weeks or twenty-three weeks? Isn't it all the same anyway? I just want it out of me."  Bound by her commitment and responsibility as clinic director, Abby sent the woman to a medical facility that did late term abortions, not being able to budge the woman from her decision with adoption agency referrals or the knowledge that the baby was in fact medically viable.  The woman simply didn't care, and it bothered Abby greatly.  But this was not the point where she acted.  Not yet.  She was asked to assist in a procedure one day,  and what she saw and what she felt in that room added to her growing  inner turmoil  But this was not the point where she acted yet either.

Finally, she was given a reprimand and a stern talking-to about her clinic's failure to meet its financial goals.  She was told to do whatever she had to do, to raise revenue.  She knew that the clinic made the most money from performing abortions as opposed to family planning and birth control education, and she believed she was being told to increase, not decrease, the number of abortions performed in her clinic.  That went against everything she believed she had been working for, and that was what finally pushed her into action. She left Planned Parenthood and ran into the arms of the "enemy," the Coalition for Life.

Outside of Abby's clinic, there was a fence with a gate where Planned Parenthood employees and client drove through to park their cars.  The fence is symbolic in Abby's story; it's not the kind of fence you can sit on.  You must choose a side.  On one side was Planned Parenthood and on the other was the Coalition for Life and other pro-life individuals who would stand on the sidewalk and offer prayers, or try to persuade the clients going in not to go, that there were other options they should consider.

Out of all of the facets to Abby's story, the one thing that I found most compelling was her relationship with God.  She wanted to be closer to Him, but she wouldn't give up the one thing that meant so much to her, her job.  She truly believed she was doing good work and her family needed the paycheck she brought in.  She went from church to church, finding varying degrees of comfort and acceptance, but never finding her spiritual home.  She heard God's quiet questions and she wondered why, if she was doing good and she could take pride in her work, she couldn't tell her family about her job?  Why did she avoid talking about it with her mother?  Why did her pro-life husband, although he loved her, challenge her when she wanted to talk about things that happened in the clinic?  Why did she avoid telling people at church what she did for a living?  All these questions....

When we know we are doing what we are meant to do or following God's will for us, there is an inner peace that overcomes the questions.  Not that the questions necessarily go away forever, but they don't hold the same power.  It feels easier to let them go.  Abby didn't stop having concerns but because her faith was increasing she was better able to trust that God would answer them in time.  It's really hard to step out in faith, not knowing where the path leads, and afraid that it will lead you away from everything you know and all your places that feel familiar and safe.

Abby did just that, and I am in awe.

Her book is difficult, very difficult to read in places.  I cried with her, more than once.  But ultimately, in the end, it is a beautiful story of faith and redemption.  It got me thinking about a lot of things, in ways I never had before.  It made me question myself on what I believe, and why I believe.  I don't know Abby Johnson and will probably never meet her.  I borrowed the copy of Unplanned from one of my book club girls, didn't pay for it and didn't get asked to write about it.  But I have been moved and affected by Abby's story, and it's made me approach my faith and my beliefs in a new way and I wanted to share it.  I hope you will consider reading Unplanned, and letting it challenge you.

12 April 2011

Any regrets?

**I received a complimentary copy of 29, by Adena Halpern, from my friends at From Left to Write and while this post was inspired by the book, I have received no compensation for it.  The thoughts and opinions in this piece are all my own and are not necessarily endorsed by From Left to Write or the author of the book.** 

I have often thought about what I would do differently over the course of my life, if I had a chance to go back and do it over again.  Adena Halpern's heroine, Ellie,  in 29 got just such a chance.  I really enjoyed reading the book, but even more than that, I enjoyed a meander down memory lane and a mental do-over just to see how things might have gone had I made another choice at several crossroads in my life. And if I had that chance, would I get to have the benefit of knowing what I know now?  THAT would make a big difference.  What age would I go back to?  Which choice would I get to undo?  It really kind of opens up a whole bunch of other questions, doesn't it? 

One of my big regrets that I often think about was my decision to quit the job that I loved when my first child was born.  I was a cargo loadmaster in the AF Reserve, and I LOVED my job.  I oversaw cargo loading and unloading on C141 jets, and flew (literally) around the world as part of my work.  My crew and I would leave our base, fly somewhere and pick up a load of stuff bound for somewhere else, fly there and download it.  Sometimes we'd stay there, or sometimes we'd go and pick up another planeload of stuff somewhere else.  Sometimes we just flew passengers (usually troops or military family members) and sometimes we flew aeromedical evac missions.  We worked hard and played hard.  We stayed hotel rooms in beautiful places sometimes and we stayed in tents in scary places other times. I have been all over Europe, several Middle Eastern locations, Asia, Central and South America, the Pacific Rim.  I have pictures of myself on horseback at the pyramids in Egypt, and outside of centuries-old German castles, and on the beach in Hawaii.  My very first mission, my "dollar ride," went to the south of France.   I have a collection of t-shirts and souvenirs from all over.  We used to call them "MAC treasures," MAC meaning Military Airlift Command.  MAC is no more; the name is gone, but the mission of military airlift moves on, just under a different acronym. There certain things everyone bought in certain countries.  There was the black soap from Spain,  the wooden chests from the Azores.  There were Persian rugs from Kuwait and leather purses and jackets from Turkey.  In Korea, you could buy an amazing array of embroidered things:  what we used to call "morale patches" for your flight suit, helmet bags that were bigger than the AF issued ones with your name and your wings sewn right on.  Bag tags with anything you wanted embroidered on them, in any color you wanted.  I had blue ones with my name and my wings, and Snoopy the Flying Ace on mine. Most of my friends were flight crew members also, and so was my husband.  My whole world was on that airplane, for the most part. 

And then, there was Moe.  Sweet little Moe, precious baby, forced me to re-evaluate what was really important to me.  I believed, right up till the moment I said, "I can't," that I would take some time off to be with him, and then I'd pack my bag for a short 3 or 4 day trip once in awhile, keeping the best of both worlds.  I'm a notorious fence sitter...my butt is perfectly made to get real comfortable up there.  My boss, Chief H, was as patient and kind as he could be; his first grandchild was born close to the same time as Moe, so he got to live through his daughter's pregnancy and mine almost simultaneously.  He said, "Take as much time as you need.  Your job will be here."  Until he couldn't anymore, and he called me at home and said, "It's time for you to make a decision. I need to get you into the training schedule."  As I was talking to him, I was sitting in Moe's room, watching my four month old baby boy sleeping peacefully, and I just couldn't bring myself to say, "Put me in, Coach."  Instead, I said, "I don't think I can, Chief." 

I had made my back-up plan and lined up another job that did not require me to travel.  And as much as I loved the folks in that office, the first day I set foot in there, my heart sank and I knew that I had chosen wrong.  It was a no-win; I didn't want to leave my baby, but I wanted a job that made me feel good too.  If I was going to leave him to go to work, even part time, hadn't it better be worth it? But I was stuck with the decision I made, and over the years, I think I have made the best of it.  After Moe came Larry and Curly, and today, flying is certainly out of the question altogether.  I'd have been able to fly for maybe another year or two, most, anyway.  I have discovered other things I love doing and my military career marches on.  To a different beat and at a different pace, to be sure, but still it marches on.  I am still friends with some of the same people, and I am still married to the same guy, so I have done pretty well in keeping the best of both worlds.

But....given the chance, would I go back to being 29 and making that decision over again?  I don't know that I would decide differently.  I had parents who weren't there when I was growing up and as much as I loved my job, I don't think I could have done it with my whole heart anymore.  The minute I left the local pattern, I'd have been itching to get back home and get my hands on Moe. Where I used to identify myself as an AF reservist, a loadmaster, a flyer....now I identify myself more as Moe, Larry and Curly's mom and Captain America's wife.  I am still an AF reservist and proudly wear the uniform (although it's not a flight suit anymore) and I wear other hats too.

I talk to my friends who are still flying and tell them how I still miss it, 11 years later.  They ask me, if you could go back and change it, would you?

No, I still don't think I would.  I would be tempted, seriously tempted.  But I'd have to say that I love my life and if I had continued to fly, who knows what it would look like?  No, it was a really hard decision that had some long lasting ripple effects, and I often wonder, what if?  Given the chance, I still feel sure I made the right decision for me and my family, no matter how hard it was at the time. 

In the book 29, Ellie gets to do some similar soul-searching, but you'll have to read it to see where her heart lies :)