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. :-)

Monday, December 15, 2014

People of Williston: Shaleena

Williston, North Dakota, is home. I wasn’t born there. My childhood was not spent there. But I dug the roots of my heart deep into the North Dakota prairie sod in November of 2011. The good earth of that place gave nourishment and my heart grew through so many sizes that I’ve lost count. 

On December 8th, 2014, I left home in my Durango with my husband, 4 kids, and pulling a 4x8 foot Uhaul trailer. The last time I left a place with so few possessions, I was on my way to college. This time, however, I’ve replaced the items I used to cart from place to place with things far more useful, like iron will, untiring hands, courage that defies my understanding, unwavering drive, and faith—the kind that may just let me walk on water pretty soon. :-)

I also carry people with me.

My heart is so chock-full of them that they’re leaking out of my eyes. When something fills me up so much, there is only one thing to do: get that thing on paper.
So I'm going to start a "People of Williston" blog series.  I’m going to get every single one of them on a piece of virtual paper all tidy-like. Watch out though. These people are so incredible that by reading this, your own heart might get too full. And then what will you do?

Move to North Dakota probably. :-)

Because there are so many people in my North Dakota family, and because I can’t possibly decide which one to do first, I’m going to let Brad decide. He picks the name. I write.

For my very first post, Brad has picked a gal we know named Shaleena.

My first “real” conversation with Shaleena was at this year’s Chokecherry festival. We’d been facebook friends for a while, and she saw me post a picture of my office fridge, which is full of energy drinks.

Anyway, Shaleena messaged me after seeing that picture and asked me if I’d be interested in trying an energy drink that she sells. I said sure, because I’m willing to try just about any energy drink.  So at the Chokecherry festival a day or two later, we talked about this drink she sells, and she was pushing her son and new baby girl in a stroller. Her son N was looking lively that day. Of course, N always looks lively to me. N is disabled, and I’m not sure how exactly, but I think he was born prematurely, resulting in being  wheelchair-bound and unable to talk (that I’m aware of). But he’s full of personality. When I taught primary, his class was two rows in front of me during sharing time. He can use his arms quite well, and I’d often watch him slowly inch forward during singing or sharing time. He’d scoot forward little by little and then his teacher would pull him back. I’m certain N just wanted to be the center of attention at the front of the room like most other 3-4 year-old boys.

I don’t like think about people in terms of their hardships, but the great thing about a story like Shaleena's is knowing some of a person’s struggles without them having to tell you. Shaleena has a weary but determined look about her--which I can relate to. The last 6 months of my life have felt that way. She reminds me of this gal I knew in Claremont, CA who had twin girls who were colicky non-sleepers as babies. I asked her honestly how she'd done it. She said, "You don't have a choice. You just do it." I've carried that piece of advice with me through 4 children. Shaleena has that "Just do it" attitude about her and when she speaks. And though we aren't close, I know this about her. And I draw strength from merely seeing her push her son around. She recently gave birth to a baby girl as well, and I know she's pretty athletic (which I can NOT relate to). Anyway, I think to myself, "Dang, she just does life like she owns it."

Shaleena isn’t an outspoken person and her voice is quiet. But I can tell you that beneath her meek exterior is a woman prepared for life's battles. You can see evidence of it in what she accomplishes.
These are the kinds of people you find in Williston, ND.