Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Why Your Prayers Don't Work

I’m a praying person. A very loud and passionate praying person. Me and the Divine can really get into it. Actually, it’s usually me yelling, upset and angry for the majority of it, followed by sad and desperate, followed by ready to listen. I don’t believe in formalities with a being who supposedly sent me here to figure stuff out and has invited me to “come unto Him” when life has got me down. No, if He (or She) wants me to give them due attention, they don’t get to pick and choose how that attention comes. If I have to wait my own kids through a tantrum, so does the Divine. 

Anyway, here’s my problem. Facebook has become this maelstrom of polarized sides clashing more than usual lately. Because the world is full of people doing nasty things to each other—just as it always has, only it’s getting more and more media attention. And it’s making people afraid and ignorant and making them consider really stupid things, making them SAY really stupid things. And of course political season is coming into swing, which means adding a big dash of crazy to what is already a primordial ooze of ridiculousness. And I have all these words I want to say but it feels like talking into the white noise. Like really, how can you talk to people who are panicked?

Anyway, whenever some kind of ugly thing happens and people are hurt or killed, people are posting about praying. They pray for this or that person. They pray for a country. They pray for a people. They pray for leaders. They pray for the world. Whatever. It’s become the universally accepted way to mourn terrible things. Just say you’re praying and everyone puts on their sad look and nods in agreement. Then we all go back to our Christmas shopping. Then we go watch a Jesus movie. Then we go to church and talk more about praying. Hell, I don’t even know if you ARE praying. But it doesn’t much matter to me. Either way it’s not working.

It’s not working because we just won’t DO anything different. We act as if praying is the fix. That somehow the Divine is going to wave a magic wand and disburse goodness and fix everything. Or maybe you’re one of those people that believes God is in control of everything and is going to rain more terror and suffering down on us for our own good because only HE can comprehend the purpose and place of your suffering. I really don’t know how to help you if you are one of those people… God help you. But I digress.

Your prayers aren’t working. They’re in that white noise I mentioned. And the more this crap happens, the more commonplace it becomes. And the more commonplace it becomes, the more you accept it. And then your prayers become a cultural practice rather than an actual form of communication.

I get it, too. I get why your prayers are being ignored. You ever had your kid come whine at you for like the tenth time because Sammy hit them or stole their toy or called them a name? And you’re like, in the middle of important adulting stuff, and you pat them on the head or give them a hug or say, “You’re okay” except you’re barely present because what you really want is for them to shut the crap up and get along. I mean, they KNOW what to do. How many times have you told them? They KNOW that if they would just stop trying to control every aspect of the imaginary game they’re playing and let Sammy have a say in how things go down, Sammy wouldn’t have lashed out. They KNOW they haven’t cared about that toy until Sammy picked it up… On and on. You’ve told them. You’ve explained it. And instead of like, GETTING why it is that Sammy is being ugly, they come to you and start whining. So you pat them on the back and tell them to go figure it out.

That’s the Divine. He or she has TOLD you what to do differently. You KNOW how this works. There are some seven billion people on the planet and if even a comparative handful of those people did like, one extra good deed each day, it would DRAMATICALLY change things. You KNOW if you would just be an example, people would actually CHOOSE to do what you do.

But no. You’re going to sit at home and pray for all those people who make bad choices and cause fear the world over. Pray for them. And pray. And DO nothing.

So stop praying. God is sick of you crying over things you can do your part to fix. Start DOING. Start BEING the answer to someone’s prayer. Don’t say a prayer unless you intend to act, unless you intend to follow through on an answer. If you are too lazy to change, then say it out loud. Say it to everyone you know. And then just see if you don’t figure out how to fix that part of yourself. Just say it: “I’m too lazy to change small things in my life. I suck. I need to be better.” I prescribe three times a day, out loud, to someone else.

Next time you see something on the news, on facebook, etc, then stop, let that horror and fear and disgust and sorrow work in you longer than a few seconds. Let it penetrate further than simply changing your Facebook profile picture to the flag of France. Let it sink in. If you’re wondering why people are doing the things they’re doing to others, don’t just wonder. Know that it’s because you failed to change the world, one little act of kindness at a time. It’s on YOU, not God, not a government, not a religion or someone’s mental illness. There isn’t a magic pill people. It’s everyone, individually, spreading more kindness, caring more. 

I’ll be accountable here. I decided to do two things differently after the shooting in San Bernardino:
  1. Call myself out, out loud, to another person, when I feel disgruntled about something stupid, that I take for granted. The other day, for example, we were staying in a hotel and the shower had a really low head. And the thing wouldn’t angle very far so you had to stand really close to the wall. My first thought was one of complaint. "Who the heck installed this thing? Way to think ahead people." And then I stopped and thought, “Oh my GOSH. I have clean water spraying on me. And it’s hot. And I can stand here as long as I want. And I’m annoyed at the HEIGHT it’s pouring out? WTH is wrong with me?” And then I told my husband about my stupid first-world complaint. 
  2. I will no longer passively “put up with” Brad’s obsessive need to recycle. I will participate, fully. I will not get upset when I find his granola bar wrappers lying around and secretly throw them away. I will put them in the bag he keeps for those things that we send off. I will look around me as often as I can remember, particularly at conventions, to grab the things that can be recycled.

Those are the things I decided to do better. I will combat the ugliness of the past few weeks with these small things that I know I can change and have made excuses for in the past.

You're not helpless. Prayer isn't "all you can do" no matter what the thing is you're praying for. Go do something. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Failing at Motherhood

One of the most common questions in my travels is this: "How did you become a writer?"
It seems like a generic question with a simple answer, but to me, it is the question I want to answer most. It's the story of the hurdle I am most proud of overcoming. This is the story of me at my worst and how it motivated me to become my best.

It starts with motherhood.

What I know for sure about being a mother:

We are guilt-ridden. We are never as much as we want to be because we know, at the end of a long and trying day, that there is still more we could have given up for them. We could have been more patient. We could have given up the next chapter in the book we’re reading to play pretend even though we didn’t want to. We could have showed our son how to cut up an apple instead of letting our impatience get the better of us and doing it ourselves so we can get back to whatever. We could have taken the extra time to make our kids put the toys back in an organized fashion rather than letting them throw all the puzzle pieces in the same bag—you know they’ll never build those puzzles again with the pieces mixed up like that. You could have found something to occupy your son rather than falling back on the electronic device he was begging to play.

We mothers spend lots of time asking ourselves if we SHOULD sacrifice more. How much of YOU do you give up for THEM?

The common theme I’ve found as I’ve lived my life as a mother for the past 10 years is that being a mother means sacrificing yourself in entirety. It means that when the choice arises between you and them, you choose them. It means delaying your own wants in the interest of theirs.

I found myself, for the first 4 or 5 years of motherhood, trying to live by this standard. My reasoning was thus: Motherhood is the most important work I can do. Which means it will be the most fulfilling. Which means I will be fulfilled. Which means I will be happy.

Somewhere between cleaning poop finger paintings, getting screamed at for giving a child the wrong spoon, and beating myself up for letting my son watch TV for more than a couple hours, I realized I hated this.

I hated this.

But it wasn’t the standard that I blamed. I didn’t blame the mouths that taught me of the divinity of motherhood and it’s promise of happiness. Like a good mother I blamed myself. Clearly I wasn’t doing a good enough job. If I was, I wouldn’t be so disenfranchised.

I tried harder. I fought harder to love this thing. Less TV for the kids. I WILL mop the kitchen floor every night if it kills me so my kids grow up to be clean people and not slobs. I will read parenting books on how to be better at discipline so I don’t lose my temper so much. We need to eat healthier—I will learn about food, and we will be the healthiest family on the block. My kids will turn their noses up at candy when I’m done with them. I gave more. I sacrificed more. I immersed myself more deeply, watching mothers around me and analyzing their methods. I was going to make this work. I did the things. I endured more things. There are days like this, they said, but at the end of the day it will be worth it. They said the good would outweigh the bad.

God, I hate this.

I hated it. I suffered from insomnia. I was always afraid of waking up in the middle of the night—even to go to the bathroom—because my brain took it as the signal to come alive. It would go and go, thinking about the molecules of my life. The to-do list, the to-worry about list, the daily list of failures, and the daily resolutions for tomorrow. And probably most telling, the pondering list—those things you wonder about life that your day-to-day doesn’t allow you the luxury of exploring. 

Day after day, month after month, year after year. No amount of cuddles and “mom, I love you” could change the fact that I loved them less and less. You read me right. No matter how hard I was trying, I was failing. They were daily reminders that I failed to love motherhood. I failed to tap into whatever divine part of me was made to be a mother. I was not becoming who I was meant to be. I was failing my maker and ultimately myself, and though the me of six years ago would not have recognized this, would have vehemently denied this, I loved my children less. Because you can’t love something you resent.

One evening in 2009 signals the very hour my life began to change. I was at a church activity. The topic: talents. I was in charge of the event, and I had assigned a few women to stand and give a short talk about their talents and how they used them to grow closer to God.

One young mother started off exactly the way I would have: “I didn’t think I had many talents. I mean I can sew and cook and stuff, but I don’t really think of those as talents.”

Yep. That was me.

She continued, “So I asked myself what I love instead. What do I love doing? Well I love watching my kids play. I mean I really love watching them. I could stand by the doorway of the playroom and watch them for hours. And I realized that’s actually my talent, being a mother.”

I stand by the assertion that she was not lying. Even then, when my idea of motherhood was so skewed, I never once thought she wasn’t being 100% genuine. Thinking about and recognizing her talents had obviously been a process of self-exploration. 

So I was left with a fact that would change my perception of everything: Motherhood is a talent.

It was not my talent. No way in heck did I enjoy watching my kids play to that degree. 

But suddenly it was okay that I didn’t. What I once saw as a flaw suddenly became a personality trait. This, I could work with.

This was the beginning of my transition to a writer. Where once there was only one door, now there were many. I could be anything. The question of sacrifice was no longer so hard. I knew that in order to be happy I had to be something other than a mother. I had to have my own time. My kids couldn’t have all of me if I was going to be happy and productive. 

I took myself back, and suddenly there was more to give. All of the energy I’d spent trying to be something I wasn’t was funneled directly into developing myself. I did what I loved, and it made me love myself. It made me excited to stay up late, to wake up early. It made me never care about sleeping again. It made me wonder more about the world around me. It made me ask questions. And it brought my children back to me. I watched them with curiosity and found that within their tiny microcosm of 4 were all the elements that make up the strange dynamic of humanity. They taught me about people, and I loved them for it.

Now here we are, 10 years into parenthood, and I work more than ever. They have less of my undivided attention than ever before. I spend a lot of my time telling my kids to occupy themselves because I don’t have time for whatever the demand of the hour is. They wander convention floors of anywhere from 1,000 to 100,000 people with little supervision. They play a lot of games because I can’t take them bouncing off of walls and breaking everything in the RV for more than half and hour. I make them rush, rush, rush through their schoolwork because I have stuff to do. I yell at them too much. I spank Iyov more than I’d like because I just don’t have the energy after everything else to be creative or patient. We drag them from one place to the next. We make them walk miles. Routines with us are generally unheard of. We are with a different church congregation every weekend, and I told my littlest she did NOT get to hang out in relief society with me even though she is nervous with the new people every week. I forced her get over it because I had to. They make friends every week. They leave those same friends every week. They always have food, but they’ve lived for weeks on PB&J and cheese quesadillas at times. They’ve slept in weather below freezing many nights. They’ve been left alone in situations lots of people would consider bad parenting. They’ve seen us destitute. They’ve seen us stranded. They’ve seen us unable to provide for ourselves. They’ve seen us shop for groceries in other people’s pantries. In the past year we haven’t bought them anything. Anything they have acquired was either from other people or it was something they worked our table to earn money for.

They’ve seen a lot of things that people think kids should be protected from. I am likely the example of what my past self would have considered a neglectful mother.

But I don’t listen to that person anymore. She didn’t know what she was talking about. 

Look, I have no designs of “perfection.” I think the idea is a farce. I don’t have an “ideal childhood” I strive to bring them. I still don’t know what the heck I’m doing with them most of the time. And quite often I ask Heavenly Father what the devil He was thinking, giving me kids when He knew this was going to be my life. I don’t have time for them, at least not the kind of time our culture expects I should give them. They aren’t sheltered. They aren’t worshipped. We don’t revolve our life around them. At. All. Their innocence is not protected. We bring the world to them without filters and spend most of our parenting time trying to make sure they open their eyes.

But we’ve seen our daughter leave money at the feet of a sleeping homeless man without an ounce of prompting.

We’ve seen our oldest son give our youngest son a pep talk to keep working at our table when it’s really busy because he knows we need the help.

We’ve seen our youngest help our neighbor keep track of customers and impress everyone she meets with her ability to articulate her life.

We’ve seen our youngest son drop to his knees without invitation and matter-of-factly deliver a prayer to help us get our RV started.

We’ve seen every single one of our kids thrive. They are fearless and involved even if we’re not purposely involving them.

We demand a lot more of them than people probably think we should and can reasonably expect. I have no doubt that when they grow up, they’ll have challenges. No doubt those challenges will come from whatever they lacked while living this life as my children—the children of a woman without the talent to mother and with a calling that was often placed above their immediate desires. They will lack. I can’t be their everything, no matter how much of myself I give. And I refuse to be. But they’ll also have a lot that most don’t. You can’t give kids everything. You can’t measure your parenting out to deliver a particular child in the end. You can only live your life to it’s fullest. You can only SHOW them how you do that. You can’t do it for them. You can’t make it for them. Just be more and waste less time worrying what being will cost them. Worry less about what you're screwing up so you can spend more time on what you're building.

I became a writer by letting go of ideals. I let go of the word “deserve.” I let go of all my expectations and instead decided I’d be happy. I’d make sure they saw me being happy. Pursuing my happiness is the one thing I know I can consistently do. It’s the only thing I know I’m going to always WANT to do. So that’s what I decided I’d always give them.

My kids often tell Brad and I that we are the best mom and dad in the world. For most of our year, we'd be frank and honest with how we saw it, "Not really, guys. Other parents are a lot more attentive. A lot more available. A lot more patient. We do our best, but we'll probably never be the best parents ever."

They kept saying it. We kept denying it. But all the while people kept coming up to us after conventions, practically every weekend, often more than one person, and tell us how great this or that child of ours was, how impressed they are with their social skills, their manners, what have you.

We were just glad they hadn't gotten us kicked out.  Considering how much we fight with them, how insanely HARD it is to have kids along for something like the Colorworld Book Tour, we marveled that we were somehow managing to raise decent people.

I've thought about this a lot lately, what it means to be a good parent today, and I realized I'd been letting society dictate those standards again, to shame me, and inevitably to shame them and the life they lead that will make them. So now when my kids say I'm the best mom ever, I say thank-you and square my shoulders, proud of the life we've given them and looking forward to the insanely unique people they will grow to be.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

I'm The People of Walmart

See, there are the ‘normal’ people who visit upstanding establishments like Harris Teeter and Publix and Target. They live in houses with manicured lawns and pay HOA dues. They walk their dogs twice a day like clockwork. They do play groups and attend storytime at the library. They bathe each day and use a dishwasher and have indoor plumbing and... hot water. They arrive at work at 9am and leave at 5:30PM. They have a gym membership. They are remodelling their kitchen that’s a bit dated. They’re fencing their backyard so it can be more private. Because nobody actually wants to SEE other people living.

And then there is this whole group of people that visit Walmart who wear weird things in public like pajama pants or lingerie, or are too fat for those shorts or tights, who have weird hair, who wear what appears to be a Halloween costume in May, who have children who go with them to Walmart at midnight when they should really be in bed because that’s what RESPONSIBLE parents do, who buy their wedding bands on Rollback for ten bucks. They ride carts around the store for fun. There’s an entire facebook and website dedicated to these people of Walmart and their strange ways. We sneak pictures of them to share and point our fingers and laugh at those silly people. They frustrate us though. Why do they have to stand out like that and make us uncomfortable? What on EARTH is going through their head? It’s like they don’t realize we live in a civilized society.

You know what I realized today?

I AM one of these People of Walmart.

And it’s not because this is often my ‘yard’:
My view, literally, from my window as I write.

It’s because in the past few months of travelling and living full time in my RV on the road, I feel very much like a social deviant. I feel and see the literal and metaphorical fingers being pointed at me as I go about what has become ‘normal’ for me. We get stared at a LOT driving our RV around, and people are unbelievably impatient around RVs on the road. They just move a feeeew seconds too slow.  So they LAY on their horn as if they can't believe we choose to move like the lumbering 30 foot monstrosity that we are. WHY are we even on the road?!? And more staring... when I get in and out of it, when my kids get out to play nearby. People behave as if they’ve never seen one before. As if I’m misusing it. RVs belong in RV parks… everyone knows THAT. So I get stared at. Especially if we drive it in a place you don’t typically see RVs. Today it was the airport. A lot of time it’s downtown somewhere. The bank. The print shop. The art store. The post office. The library. The book store. The restaurant.

And we are never welcome. People see an RV parked in their lot and FREAK THE HECK OUT. Never mind that it’s the middle of the business day and we actually have STUFF to take care of. Never mind that we’ve only been parked for fifteen minutes. An hour? Forget about it. You WILL see the cops, who, by the way, always have to apologize for bothering us… “It’s just that when we get a call we are obligated to check it out, but no, you’re not actually doing anything wrong…”

I’m not entirely sure what it is people imagine we’re going to do, but it must be something just awful. Maybe they think we’re about to build a camp fire in the parking lot, set up our awning, and have a barbecue. Perhaps, if we like it, we might even decide to take up permanent residence. Come to think of it, we ARE shopping for a new lot to give our kids a more stable parking lot environment...

And please oh PLEASE do not actually SLEEP in your RV in the parking lot, in the rest area, in the open air lot that you PAY to park in, by the public park. Only heathens do that. Only homeless people. Only those strange, gypsy swindlers who will take over your precious piece of asphalt and use it for their own sinister devices. And yes, sadly, even the Temple (which is gated at night so you can’t possible park overnight anyway), would prefer you to park in the street, because each patron is only allowed one spot, thankyouverymuch. (Okay, so the temple president apologized to me for the lot security chasing me down INTO the temple to tell me that, but I’m just tryin’ to make a point about our culture, yo.)

So isn’t it funny or ironic or fitting or whatever you want to call it that the ONE place across America I can count on my RV being accepted is in a Walmart parking lot? The place the civilized people make fun of and complain about and trash for letting in all the riff raff?

Our privileged First World Minds have been conditioned. Led to believe that the people who choose to live outside of commonly accepted social practices are of a baser sort. And by getting this, I’m finally starting to grasp this idea of privilege. It’s the privilege enjoyed by the majority. The race majority. The people who live in homes majority. The middle class majority. The educated majority. The religious majority. The problem seems to be that the majority just doesn’t realize that they are the majority and how their actions as the majority translate to the minority, infecting the way they behave in instinctual and often unpreconceived and unrecognized ways. The people who can’t believe I would have the nerve to park my RV in their lot are simply conditioned to believe that people who live in RVs are more likely to be up to no good, freeloaders, drifters, what have you. It’s probably a perfectly legitimate concern. But it’s wrong. And it’s wrong to pass that kind of blanket judgment. And it’s not that you have a vendetta against people in RVs. You’re just trying to protect yourself. It’s not that the woman who passes to the other side of the street when approaching two black men hates black people. It’s that she’s made an assessment about the most likely scenario based on how she has been educated.

I’m not black. I'm not wearing a burka. I'm not holding hands with my lesbian girlfriend in church. I will never know exactly what it's like to be any of those things. But I'm getting a pretty good glimpse. I am in a very small minority. Every day I spend time I don’t even realize trying to fit my RV life into a society that lives so differently. How I drive, how I think, where I park… If I step out of my RV in someone’s eyeshot, they’re looking at me. I’m subject to the scoffs and hushed conversations of people who can’t understand why I would choose to live like this, why I'm not where the rest of my kind are--at Walmart. They just don’t know me of course. So are they allowed to be concerned about my presence in their lot? Sure. The root of the problem lies in failing to acknowledge how society caters to their more accepted lifestyle. They are privileged because they are the MAJORITY. They have a duty to recognize this. To remember this. And when people finally do, THAT is when perceptions and knee-jerk reactions will change.

I’m one of the people of Walmart. And that's okay with me. Is it okay with you?

Monday, March 16, 2015

I am not chasing my dreams.

Brad informed me the other day that he believes a large number of people we know do NOT know that we live in an RV with our 4 kids, travelling the country to promote my books, and that we plan to do it for the next 2 years. I think I had just assumed that word would get around via facebook and other forms of interaction and eventually everyone would know without me having to tell people individually.
There she is! A 30 foot class A motorhome we call home, named RVEnterprise, but lovingly referred to as "Bessie."
Our paid-off car. Our only one, and we sold it in order to afford the RV.

Brad may be right though. So let me be the first to tell you. In December of 2014, we rented out our home in North Dakota, sold our furniture to pay for 42 conventions, and bought an RV.

The night we bought Bessie. It was that moment that Brad and I realized how deep in it we were. Totally surreal.

We are currently over 3 months into this thing and I have now noticed another trend: people believe I have done all these things to chase my dream to become a famous author.

This is incorrect.

If this were what I was doing, I would have already quit. Actually, I never would have left North Dakota. I cannot speak for Brad because travelling in an RV and talking to people around the country is… well, his dream, (that, and being president of the United States, but I digress). Me though? No, my dream is to lock myself in a quiet room with a carton of cold coconut water and some toffee and almond chocolate while listening to my favorite Pandora station and banging out a story that helps me understand the world. My dream is to wake up to the North Dakota landscape after a heavy frost and feel my heart catch in poignant wonder at the outlines of crystalline-coated fields and trees against a cobalt sky. My dream is to walk outside to an endless expanse of North Dakota nothing and revel in the freedom brought by just standing there and seeing myself as a tiny dot against the endless backdrop of the prairie.
Be still, my beating heart. I love North Dakota, like so, SO much.

My dream is silence in the wee hours of the morning, looking into the darkness outside my window and imagining with a thrill that the only other people within a five hundred mile radius are people like me, those who know that creation speaks its secrets the loudest when everything is quiet, when the space we occupy gets a break from the churning force of humanity. My dream is the ease of insignificance, the music of my own head never to be drowned out by the cacophony of the world.

Hey look, I love talking to hundreds of people while wearing spandex.  It's me in my element. NOT!

Heaven happened here on a regular basis.

In case you were wondering, none of these things happens when you live the life I’m currently living. Furthermore, if the Colorworld Book Tour (#CWBT) results in the infamy of my novels, the aftermath will involve a lot of stuff that my dreams are NOT made of: more people, more talking, more crowds, more travelling, more deadlines, more demands, more hard decisions (of a different kind), and LESS of the aloneness I crave. There is nothing, I mean NOTHING that compares to the thrill I get from being alone. (Except maybe my Sunday night massages) But I swear I can just sit in a quiet, empty room in a comfy chair and smile at how big I scored and how lucky I am to be sitting there all by myself. Throw my laptop into that mix with a word processor and I really don’t know why anyone cares about heaven. It’s right there with me.

Now that you know who I am, why on earth would I put myself through these continually challenging  circumstances that include all of the things I find the most difficult?

The answer is simple.

My Heavenly Father has been abundantly clear and explicit that this is what I am supposed to be doing. And see, I owe Him for giving me writing. He gave me writing at a time when I was the most unhappy with who I was. He rescued me and made me love life and people again. The moment I wrote the very first paragraph of Colorworld, I was forever changed. It’s exactly like that very first conversation I had with Brad in which I knew I needed him in my life forever. I knew I needed writing in that same way. These are the two moments that have been the most transformative in the shortest amount of time. The stories surrounding both of those circumstances (meeting/marrying Brad and sitting down to write the first paragraph of a story) are rife with miracles that still humble me to tears when I think of them even though so much time has passed.

My driver. My biggest fan. My tireless promoter. My social media expert. My kid-wrangler. My problem-solver. My mechanic. My logistics. My inspiration. My marketer. My salesman. My husband. My lover. My masseuse. My best friend. MY GUY.
I don’t know what the end of this tour looks like. But not a day goes by that I have not felt the whisper of God’s encouragement. I ask, “Is this really what You want?” and I always get the same answer. And believe me, I have asked repeatedly because I am so tired I could cry. Really. If I sat here long enough and pinpointed how little I have slept and how much I still need to do, I would just cry. Another thing I ask is, “How long?” I’ve asked that one so often that it’s become a repeating mantra in my head.

I haven’t gotten the answer to that one yet. But it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that I am moving by a power that is not my own. I am moving by a WILL that’s not my own. Sometimes when I meet some quietude at night after the kids are sleeping, I ask myself what I, Rachel E Kelly, want. If I had a choice, what would I want out of my life now?
At the base of the St. Louis arch a couple months ago, early in our tour. Brad had dragged us down there about a mile through the bitter cold (no close parking due to construction and being in an RV), just to take this picture. As he took the photo I felt a mixture of irritation and acceptance because I hadn't wanted to go there in the first place, but I love Brad, so I went, even giving up my coat to Beya because the kids were underdressed for the long walk. I just think my expression encompasses my feelings about this whole #CWBT so well.

And I'm boggled that I seriously don’t know. I am no longer operating on “what Rachel wants.” I don’t even know how to do that anymore (except when Brad asks me if I will work the emails that came in or post something on Twitter, then the answer is a definite NO, I do NOT want to do that.) But if we’re talking about long-term stuff, I have zero desires. I have only what I know, which is that I need to do this. It’s a senseless, illogical thing that I can’t think about for long without my head getting in a twist.

So there you go. I don’t know what I’m doing, except that what I’m doing is what I am supposed to be doing. I’m not chasing my dreams. I’m repaying someone for a gift that was priceless. And one day, when these moments are behind me, if I ever find that quiet room utterly by myself, with coconut water, chocolate, and a laptop, I’ll tell you more about what it’s like to stop clocking in and out of “life,” and what it’s like to stop chasing YOUR dreams and instead chase the dreams of Someone Else whom you love more than anyone or anything else.

This picture is a powerful reminder to me of why I am doing this. I was broken down on the side of the road with our first RV last October (another long story), and still hadn't gone "all in" yet. There was still the option to turn back, but ironically, it was during the hours I spent at this mile marker waiting for a tow, unsure of the outcome, that I understood the moment had been orchestrated to be this way for a purpose, that I should not look to circumstances to tell me whether or not I was in the right or wrong path. So I knew I was in for it in this endeavor. But I also knew I should cling to the ship and not be afraid. I have been frustrated, angry, tired, confused, but I am NOT afraid.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


I consider myself an extremely resilient person. I’m not easily excitable and I’m not easily deterred, especially when I know I’m on the right track. I’m self-motivated, and I believe that I can accomplish anything with my own two hands if I want it bad enough.

I’m good at telling you about my struggles after I have come to terms with them.

I am NOT good at telling you my struggles as they are happening. Probably because I believe every good story needs closure. It needs an ending. I like to start writing and then wrap everything up in a nice neat bow using moving words and fancy metaphors. I like things to make sense. And nobody likes a whiner. I don’t want to be a whiner. In fact, in our home (RV), we have “The Three Things” which are:
Life is not fair.
Life is about waiting.
Life is hard.

Whenever one of our kids lodge a complaint about our or their situation, we invariably require them to recite the three things. They all know them by heart.

I’m going to break my rule of no complaining this time and tell you something that is really really hard for me right now. We have suffered deprivations and circumstances many people can’t properly appreciate unless they’ve been where we are. One day I’ll sit down and write the whole story out, telling you about each and every one. I’ve muscled through a lot of things that people consider uncivilized, dangerous, deal-breakers, or just plain annoying. And I’m happy to continue to do so. But there is still one thing, and no matter how hard I try, I just can’t “get used to it”:

I want to be self-sufficient, and I’m not.

As the months and weeks have worn on, I have been humbled over and over again by the huge outpouring of love and support people have offered. Money in my pocket. Food in my pantry. I’m not talking about “I’m thinking of you” gestures. I’m talking about the stuff that sustains life. I cannot afford to feed myself. I cannot afford to wash my laundry. Sometimes, like now, I can’t even afford gas. I cannot afford to stay in a hotel, even when it is below zero outside at night. I starve myself so that my kids can eat. I take Keshet to bed with me on really cold nights even though I sleep terribly. And having kids in a 30 foot RV takes a special kind of endurance. My sanity and patience is tried by the minute.

And I’m okay with all of this deprivation. I know how to do it and do it well. I can even do it while smiling and being genuinely happy to continue. This life of travel really does suit me. Until even all those sacrifices are not enough. And then I NEED people again. And I’ve been doing it for many many months. At first it was bothersome, but I got through it with a cheerful heart, telling myself that needing help would only be temporary. I was determined to stay humble. And I have learned a lot, and my faith is stronger than it has ever been. People continue to surprise me with their generosity and support. People say all the time that they’ve lost hope in humanity. Not me. I believe in it more every day.

God bless all of you who have been God’s tender mercies in my life. We are always provided for. Always. When crap happens over and over, I face it with peace in my heart, knowing that it’s going to work out, even if I can’t see hide or hair of a solution. Over and over my faith has proven itself up to the task. And God sends me messages daily that I’m on the right track. But this track is taking a hell of a lot more pushing from behind than any regular person ought to need.

It’s been months and months and months of needing other people to pick up the slack. I’m sick in my heart over it. It’s one thing to accept help when you see light on the horizon. Knowing your circumstances are temporary allows you to take the help without too much angst. But sometimes you don’t know anything about the future. Sometimes the necessity for other people’s charity wears out its welcome. It goes on far past comfort. When you wake up in the morning and realize your bank account is overdrawn because of a tithing check, for goodness sake, leaving you no money for gas to get to your next destination, it becomes necessary to ask for help.

And I’m angry.

I’m all harrowed up inside. I’m tired of this thing where I need people. Of all the things I’ve endured, am I not humble enough already? When can I stop feeling mad for needing help AGAIN? And what if I don’t feel disgruntled over it? If it finally becomes easy, does that make me an official “mooch”?

When Brad prays, he asks for people to “feel for our story” and help us.

To me the words sound like chalk-board scratching, and they taste like vinegar. And I just beg God to help me get through the trial of being dependent. Because if I am STILL being forced to accept help, if the cycle is repeating, what lesson am I not learning?

No closure here. Just me. Telling you the thing that hangs over my head daily more than anything else. I don't know. But I needed to tell you. I think, after all you have done, you deserve to know it.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

People of Williston: Audrey

*Brad didn't pick this one. I asked him to give me a person but he never got back to me, so I made a random selection, and Audrey was the winner!

We were at church not long after we had moved back to Williston from Culbertson, and we got there late, which meant we sat aaaaaaaall the way in the back, in the gym, because our ward was (and still is) so huge. Audrey and her then-husband Christian sat behind us with their little girl Kali. Beya had been asking all morning before arriving if we could have someone over for dinner that night (Beya loves dinner guests). We told her she could pick someone to invite, so as soon as sacrament meeting was over, she asked Audrey and Christian, despite the fact that we didn’t yet know their names. It was the first time we had ever seen them as well. I was wearing pants to church that day, and I only remember this because Audrey told me later that this was one of the first things she noticed and she automatically wanted to know me. I think this fact sort of symbolizes what it is that draws me to her—our shared desire to see the Gospel work in any kind of person in any kind of life.

I don’t remember a whole lot about that dinner except that Audrey seemed a little uncomfortable, and Christian asked if my book was a chick book. Funny what you remember about first meetings.

Audrey and I didn’t see each other a whole lot after that because I was in primary, and it was months later when I saw her sitting in Sacrament meeting, and she happened to have some open seats next to her. I learned she’d been going through quite a rough time. She and Christian were separated, and while “divorced single mother” does not encompass who Audrey is, it was that moment, seeing her in church with little Kali on her lap, determined to be there no matter what stigma may follow, that my “amazing person radar” went off I told myself I was going to make more of an effort to know her.

That particular time in my life was pretty hard for me. I was only at church because I didn’t yet have a good enough reason not to be. So I guess you could say I was always looking for reasons to keep staying. Audrey was one of those reasons. I think we all have those people, right? The ones that we say, “If they can do it, so can I.” And then you keep your eye on them, because you need their example.

That’s how I learned that Audrey is not often idle. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say “I don’t have time…” and I have thought to myself, “You don’t know what that really means.” But I think Audrey does. I am continually impressed with what she manages to get done as a working single mother. She teaches 5th grade AND manages the school district’s website, and some other technical thingies that I don’t know a whole lot about. She works away from home. She works AT home. She works a LOT. And she is also super crafty and has an amazing eye for interior design.

In all the time I was in Williston, “Lunch with Audrey” was always on my to-do list, and I am sad to say I never got to. (It’s STILL on my to-do list though!) But I did get to talk to her for more than a couple minutes from time to time, and I was able to glean a lot about her during those times. Audrey is a smiley person. That’s just the way her face naturally falls, it seems. And she laughs a lot. She laughs no matter what she’s feeling, but if you know her well enough, you can tell the difference, and you know what each laugh means. Some people wear their emotions on their face. Audrey wears them in her laugh. I don’t know if she would hide her emotions if she could, but I’m glad she doesn’t.

The longer I have known Audrey, the more I have WANTED to know her. She doesn’t fit a mold, and you know how you can meet a person and think, “This person reminds me of such and such a friend”? Well I can’t think of anyone Audrey reminds me of. I love her uniqueness. And I love the things that come out of her mouth when it comes to the Gospel. They are the words of someone who has put a great deal of thought into how the Gospel fits into her life. She actively engages herself at church. Having spent many months disenfranchised with Sunday meetings, it was people like Audrey that helped rekindle my love for it. Audrey came to help me fold the Clark’s laundry while they were with Chase in the hospital even though I know Audrey is one of the few people that can honestly say, “I don’t have time.” Sometimes small acts speak even more than big ones. When you know what someone sacrifices in order to serve, it makes it that much more meaningful.

I don’t have extended family that are members of my church. This means that I cannot lean on them for my testimony, for my conversion. I can’t “do as they do” because we don’t rely on the same principles. This means that I have to pick and choose who will fill that place for me, who will be that example. It wasn’t something I consciously did after I was baptized, but it happened. Sometimes I “pick” them because they have obvious struggles or because they are so drastically different from me and it intrigues me. Sometimes I “pick” them because we have similar ideologies. These people are those whose opinions and whose actions I care about the most because they strengthen me the most. Audrey is all of these things. I find her inspiring in every way. She just… TRIES. And it’s evident in all that she does. Her life, like mine, is this beautiful mess. I consider it the best kind of life, the most inspiring kind. She might struggle to stay on top of things, and her head may barely be above water, but it's far better than wading. I know from experience the kind of faith that takes, and the kind of growth that engenders. She's an active participant in her own life. It’s kind of addicting to watch her push onward no matter what. You just want to keep cheering for people like her. And you want to BE someone like her.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

People of Williston: Kay

I like Kay because I can’t tell what age she is. Sure, she has a sprinkling of grey hair, has a few wrinkles, and wears glasses, but when you speak to her for any extended period of time, you’re left with the impression that she is neither old nor young. She can giggle with the girls or shake her head with the old biddies. He stories are twenty years old, but her childlike exuberance has stayed with her through the years. Kay is friends with everyone. Or maybe it just seems that way because she seems to fit in with any group. But she gives great hugs that are full of honest affection. I like hugging Kay, and you know I’m not a hugger.

Kay works in the library at church, and before I knew her beyond her calling, she gave me chalk and made copies for my primary class. But Kay and I really began to know each other through my books, which she asked me if she could purchase while giving me chalk in the library one day. She asked like she and I were already friends and I was embarrassed to say that I wasn’t confident enough to address her by her name because I wasn’t 100% sure it was Kay at that time. It took some investigation to verify it,  but looking back, Kay knowing who I was and taking an interest in me and my life’s work when she barely knew me is her MO. She knows how to make friends because she is genuinely interested in people. That sounds like a simple thing, but if you think about it, most people aren’t good at doing  that so organically (including me).

This is my favorite picture of her. She used to have really long hair that she wore in a ponytail or braid down her back. She recently got it cut and I am now more confused than ever about her age. :-)

Some other interesting things I know about Kay:

Kay keeps chickens. Her interest in chickens goes beyond simply egg production, and she reminds me of my sister in that way, because she really enjoys having them.

Kay works as a home care nurse for a family in our ward (church congregation) with a daughter who is in a partial coma (another amazing story for another post!).

Kay works the nightshift. My kind of gal. She’s knows the nighttime is where it’s at.
Kay is a voracious reader. Of all kinds of things.

Kay is a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as of only a couple years ago, I believe. And yes, I am biased toward converts. Go figure. :-)