Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bizarre Comfort Objects, Wacky Phobias

Don't you love the way every child has a marvelously unique personality? I love to think back on Ethan's and Allyson's toddler days, when we enjoyed hours of entertainment just watching their little personalities unfold. Here are some funny quirks that are now just fond memories....

Excerpt From Allyson's Journal, Sunday 7/15/07 (age 13 months)
Many babies get attached to a comfort object: a favorite blankie, a pacifier, a monkey. You, however, don't seem to form any long-term attachments. Instead, you become infatuated with various random objects.

Ally With Green Puppy and Baby

Although you do enjoy hugging your Baby (the blue Sleepy Time bear) and the green puppy that a kid from our home group gave you, you get the most intense pleasure from carrying around less conventional comfort objects: fingernail polish bottles, hand lotion, a can of Eagle Brand condensed milk at the grocery store, your tiny toothbrush, Mommy's hairbrush, suntan lotion, tiny hair clips, water bottles (full or empty, which you pretend to drink), and dental floss, to name a few.

I think the reason these objects are so highly prized is that you labor so much to obtain them. You reach high overhead to fish things out of the vanity drawers in our bathroom. You pull open the bottom cabinets, straining against the safety locks, and wedge your little arm through the crack. You grunt and whine, rummaging blindly, and you persist until you pull out whatever object you happen to grab hold of. Once you have worked the object free, you brandish it triumphantly over your head, and then you carry it gleefully around the house.

You guard these prizes fiercely, and as long as they aren't harmful, we don't have the heart to take them away after you have worked so hard to obtain them. So we let you carry these bizarre comfort objects all around until you finally forget about them and abandon them in odd places.

The very best objects, though, are the forbidden ones. You are always on the lookout to snatch car keys, cell phones, and TV remotes. You are very adept at pushing buttons. Once, you were randomly calling someone on my cell phone, and I wasn't ready to battle you for possession. So I held down the End button until the phone turned off. Now, I thought, you could do less damage. You were too smart, though. Immediately, you pressed and held the same button until you heard the welcome tones as the phone sprang back to life. So I had to pry it loose from your clenched fingers. Boy, were you mad!

We've tried to give you toy versions of these treasures, but you are too clever to fall for imitations. No matter what fancy lights or sounds come with a toy cell phone or keys, you still prefer the ones we are using.

Oh well. Sometimes it can be inconvenient, but mainly it's pretty cute!

Eighteen Months Later
Allyson still hasn't adopted a comfort object. She loves many of her dolls and stuffed animals, but she never has chosen a favorite. She is still fascinated by bizarre objects--her latest infatuation is with kitchen gadgets like the garlic press and the silicone basting brush. I think she's going to be like her mother!

Ethan's Quirks
As a toddler, Ethan was attached to his Barney stuffed animal, which was not surprising since he was crazy about that mildly annoying show featuring the giant purple dinosaur. What I recall when I look back on Ethan's toddler days is his wide array of peculiar phobias.

Ethan, Age 1

He was afraid of:
  • The vacuum cleaner - Much too noisy
  • The ironing board - Made a scary screeching noise (because it was literally as old as I was)
  • All costumed characters - Especially the "rat" at Chuck E. Cheese. He loved going there, but he spent much of his time huddled behind my legs.
  • Balloons - He was terrified of the loud noise when he heard them pop. He couldn't be anywhere near a balloon without going into hysterics.
  • Tree bark - Much too rough
  • Grass - ???
The funniest and most inconvenient phobia was the fear of grass. He had to be carried across the grass until he was well past two. If we tried to set him down on the grass, he would scream and tighten his grip like a boa constrictor. Even during an Easter egg hunt with all his cousins, Ethan would not retrieve his own eggs. He'd get so excited when he spotted an egg, but he would cry out in terror when we held him near the ground to reach it. The whole family laughed until we cried.

Ethan, Aunt Emily, Cousin Hillary

Emily babysat Ethan for a few months, around the time he turned one. Uncle Chris cured him of a couple phobias during that time. He held an ironing board and folded and unfolded it rapidly. If there was any screeching noise from their ironing board, Ethan couldn't have known because he was screaming too loudly to hear it. Throughout this therapy session, Chris laughed uproariously, and Ethan gradually stopped his crying and eventually couldn't keep from laughing along with him. I wasn't sure how I felt about this story until I realized that Ethan really was cured. In fact, every time I unfolded the ironing board after that, Ethan would laugh.

Chris also chased Ethan and little Hillary around with the vacuum cleaner. Both of them would howl piteously and climb up on the furniture. I'm not sure the conditioning was so effective with the vacuum cleaner; at age 11, Ethan is still a little uneasy when we vacuum (because Bill tries to run over his feet).

Ten Years Later Ethan finally outgrew all of his strange phobias, with the possible exception of the vacuum cleaner. His newest worry is sickness, especially stomach viruses. He is terrified of germs, and he's developed some unusual strategies for keeping well--which seem pretty effective since he never seems to get sick.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Forgiven Much

In last night's home group meeting, we discussed the story of the sinful woman who washed Jesus' feet with her tears and dried them with her hair:
Luke 7:36-39, 44-47
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat.a]">[a] 37 When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. 38 Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”


44 Then [Jesus] turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.

47 “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.”

As we discussed the passage, some of my friends said they could really relate to Simon, the Pharisee, because they've judged others who seem sinful. I have certainly been guilty of judging others more often than I'd care to admit, but I had to speak up and say, "I relate more to the prostitute." Then I shared this story....

Last spring, I enrolled in a Bible study on the book of Romans, called Free. At the beginning of the semester, we wrote down on a card the things we'd like God to free us from. We knelt at the foot of a wooden cross and laid our cards there. I wrote that I'd like to be free from shame, and also from my fear of death (but that's another story). Honestly, I wasn't sure even God could set me free from these burdens, but he answered both prayers in wonderful ways that I could never have predicted.

Throughout the class, I marveled at how Paul, who called himself "the chief among sinners," was not only forgiven, but was used in a powerful way. God didn't waste ANY of Paul's experiences, not the sins, not the persecution. All of it was used for God's glory, and Paul's life was transformed. I slowly began to realize that if God could forgive Paul and use his experiences for a beautiful purpose, surely he could do the same for me.

Around the end of January 2008, I felt I was ready to give my shame over to God, but I didn't know how. I won't go into details about why I felt ashamed because I know God has forgotten my sins, and I need to forget them as well. But I'll tell you that I carried a deep shame for many, many years. It went beyond simple regret. I had allowed that shame to define my character, and it was crippling me.

I knew with my brain that God had forgiven me, but my heart could not accept that forgiveness. This really prevented me from receiving God's love; I told a friend that it was as if there was a veil between me and God. I could feel that he was so very near, but I couldn't reach him. Because I couldn't experience God's love, neither could I really accept love from anyone else. I suffered excruciating insecurities in my marriage which made me jealous and fearful, and I hated myself for it. I also had a problem making friends. I always thought, "If she really knew who I was, she wouldn't love me." So I was guarded in all my relationships.

I had a friend who was in counseling at the time, and her counselor had said, "Secrets are powerful. They can build a wall between you and the people you love." He told her that sharing her secret could take away its power over her. I knew then what I had to do, but I was afraid to do it. Satan had told me for years that I must never, ever talk about my shame--that if I did, no one would love me and I'd be alone.

I prayed and asked God to show me who I should talk to, and to give me the courage to open my heart. I told my secret to one old friend and one new one.

The first time was over lunch at a favorite restaurant. My mouth was dry, my hands were clammy and trembling, and my heart was racing. I stumbled over the words, and at times I was choked by tears, but I told her absolutely everything about the sin that had haunted me for years. She listened without judgment. When I was finished, she said of course she still loved me--that sin is not who I am! She told me God had forgiven me, that it was "ancient history." Then she spoke what I believe to be a message from God: even though David committed a grievous sin with Bathsheba and even murdered her husband, God still called David a man after his own heart.

I cried profusely, probably to our waitress's chagrin. It was wonderful to have my friend there with me, hugging me as I cried, giving me a tangible way to feel God's love embracing me.

When I shared my shame with another friend a couple of days later, it was just a little easier. My second friend also was very accepting and loving. She said God didn't remember my sin, and to bring it up over and over was an insult to his grace. She shared some past guilt of her own, and we prayed together that God would help us forgive ourselves.

Like the woman who washed Jesus' feet with her tears, I had an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I had been forgiven so much, and I was positively overflowing with love. A weight had been lifted, and I found myself smiling and even laughing as I went about my daily work. Once while I was washing dishes, I heard Brandon Heath's "Don't Get Comfortable" for the first time, and I was thrilled by the lyrics. As I listened to that song, I heard God telling me, "This is not yesterday.... I am gonna love like you've never seen! You are gonna live like you used to dream! This is your new song."

As I began to really experience God's love, that love started to flow out from me in new ways. I started to speak to strangers at the grocery store. I began to make new friends, close friends. I began to feel more secure and intimate with my husband. I asked God to help me love some "difficult people," and he answered my prayers.

Since then, I have been drawn to hurting people, and I'm so thankful that I can share the love and hope that I have received from God. I have been forgiven much, and I can't help but love much!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

He Makes Me Lie Down

During the last few weeks, I've been battling anxiety every time I read the newspaper or watch the news--I seem to have a compulsion to hear about the latest round of layoffs and business failures. The recession became more real to me recently when my own company--which employs both me and my husband--laid off a modest number of workers, and also when I started to see some friends in our area losing jobs.

I'm thankful for my current memory passage, which admonishes me not to worry about what we will eat or drink or wear, but I haven't really allowed it to transform my thinking yet.

When Allyson and I went to my parents' for our weekly visit on Monday, I asked Mom how she and Dad had managed during the recession in the 70s. Working in construction, Dad was out of work for extended periods, and they had five children to support! "How did you keep from going crazy with worry?" I asked.

"I just had to pray and trust God to provide," she answered.

And that is what God did, through the the church, family, and friends--and even strangers. There was the woman at church who gave Mom a stack of clothes that got my sister Amy through the school year. There was the man at the farmer's market who always heaped the bushel baskets of vegetables to overflowing. There were the dresses that my grandmother, an excellent seamstress, made for me and my sisters. There was the car that Uncle Max gave them. There was the man at church who loaned them money for a car repair. My sister Melody had been making two trips to drive everyone to church, and this is how he knew they needed help. Mom and Dad had planned to wait for six weeks for their income tax return, so this was a big blessing.

It couldn't have been easy for my parents, but what surprises me is that I have very little memory of those financial difficulties. Of course, I was very young, only six years old when we had to leave Indiana in order for Dad to find construction work. But I do remember our life there, and what I recall is a loving, happy home where we all had fun together. I remember spending my days with Mom, going everywhere with her. I remember playing games and reading stories. I remember snapping mountains of green beans on the porch, which we ate for months and months, so that the older kids said they didn't care if they ever saw a green bean again. (I was so picky that I subsisted on peanut butter and breakfast cereal, so I didn't eat any green beans myself.)

Starting Our Life In Texas
Our first Christmas in Texas, we had to buy an artificial tree and all the decorations; when they'd packed the U-Haul trailer, the ornaments had not made the cut. All we could afford was a wooden ornament kit that we had to paint. Sitting around the table together and painting those simple bells and rocking horses is one of my favorite memories, and we never would have experienced that if they could have just bought a few boxes of "fancy" ornaments. They lasted for years, and in better times, they reminded us of that first Christmas.

Amy, Emily, Me - Texas c. 1977

I'm thankful for the difficulties God allowed us to experience. I learned what really matters in life--and it isn't material possessions. I learned to be responsible with money and to get by with less. I learned to trust in God, not a job.

For some reason, I've been wanting to shelter my own kids from these lessons. I've always loved the passage in Matthew 6, but I never thought I might REALLY have to worry about what we would eat. I pray that God will give me the courage to withstand whatever trials the future may hold for my family, and that he will develop my character and strengthen my faith.

One thing I do know: God is with me always. When I catch myself worrying, he brings scriptures to my mind. I was walking through the dairy aisle at Walmart last week, and I felt my chest tightening as anxious thoughts attacked. Suddenly, I heard the 23rd Psalm in my mind--as plainly as if someone were reading it to me. I heard it in the King James version, beloved from my childhood: "The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul."

I love the idea of God MAKING me lie down. It's like when Allyson is beside herself with rage and frustration, and I know all she needs is a good nap. I make her lie down, and when she wakes up she is her usual sunny self. I'm so glad God knows when I need to lie down, too.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

About My Valentine

I thought it would be fitting to do a little bragging on my sweetheart for Valentine's Day. I was able to dig up something I submitted to a Good Housekeeping contest back in 2006. I was supposed to tell how my husband was Mr. Housekeeping--how he made my job around the house much easier and how that added to our romance. I was absolutely convinced he was going to win the plasma TV, or at least the really cool table saw. There must have been some mistake, though, because I never heard back from them. Here is what I wrote...

February 6, 2006
I fell in love with my husband over dishes [and toddler vomit]. As our hands brushed in the soapy water, I thought, “Wow! Good-looking, smart, funny, and he washes dishes!”

Dishes were only the beginning. Without discussing or negotiating, Bill shares equally in cooking and cleaning duties. He helps with laundry and does all the vacuuming and dusting. He keeps the hardwood floors shining, and he gathers and carries out all the trash—I never have to touch it. I love the feeling of teamwork when we cook a big meal together or just do the nightly dishes.

Beyond daily chores, Bill energetically tackles bigger tasks like cleaning the oven, bleaching grout, and banishing shower mildew. He washes the windows, inside and out. He loves to paint, lay tile, and do anything involving power tools.

Bill’s gift is organizing. He picks up clutter, cleans closets, and helps me file my stacks of paper. He tolerates my messiness with grace and humor.

I most admire his support in parenting my 8-year-old (his stepson). Mornings, he lays out Ethan’s clothes, prepares his breakfast, and packs his lunch. Evenings, he helps with homework and oversees bath time. He also supervises room cleaning, a daunting task. We are now expecting our first baby, and I know Bill will be a sensitive, supportive father.

Our marriage has taught me to find romance in unexpected ways; Bill’s hard work is how he expresses his love. I know he respects and cherishes me, and I couldn’t ask for more in a husband.

Work Christmas Party 2005

Three Years Later
As I'd predicted, Bill is an incredibly wonderful father, but I'll save that story for Father's Day. He still expresses his love through kind, thoughtful acts. Just last night, he surprised me with a romantic gesture.

We went to the Canucks/Stars game for our Valentines date. As we sat on the edge of our seats throughout the fast-paced, very close game (which the Canucks lost, sadly), I noticed an older couple in the row ahead of us. She was covered with a plaid blanket and was nestled under his arm for the entire game. She laid her head on his shoulder, and he squeezed her arm and occasionally kissed the top of her head.

"How romantic," I mused (a little wistfully). "He must really love her!" My own husband was leaning forward in his seat, eyes trained on the game.

At the end of the second period, Bill excused himself to find a restroom. He was gone for at least 15 minutes, and I was starting to worry that his large dinner was not sitting well. He finally arrived with a hot drink in his hand. I knew immediately that it was hot chocolate for me because I'd mentioned earlier that a hot chocolate might be nice after the game.

Bill told his friend Troy that he'd had to walk to several stands to find one that sold hot chocolate. During that time, he missed the Stars' winning goal and several other exciting plays. Here we were, watching his favorite hockey team in person, and he was hunting down hot chocolate for his shivering wife!

I thought, "How romantic! He must really love me!"

He followed up this morning by making thick French toast with sourdough bread. Yes, I think he really does love me. And the feeling is mutual.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

What Is It With Cupcakes?

You may remember my last baking fiasco when Ethan and I made cupcakes for his Christmas party. I guess I didn't learn my lesson. Ethan announced today that he'd signed up to bring cupcakes for his Valentines party tomorrow, and he wanted to bring the same Reese Cup cupcakes we'd made in third grade.

Of course, we could have just bought some cupcakes and put the mini Reese Cups on top, but Ethan said, "Those store-bought cupcakes are yucky." So we headed to the store right after school to pick up a chocolate cake mix, some white frosting, and the Reese Cups.

Ethan wanted to crack the eggs and measure the oil and water, so I let him. I told him to put in 1-1/3 cups of water, and I handed him the two measuring cups. When he started mixing the batter, I thought it looked surprisingly watery, but I figured it must be normal; how can you mess up a box cake mix?

While I poured the batter into the muffin tins, Ethan toiled over a theme paper. I don't know who struggled more. I was splashing an alarming amount of batter all over the pans and the counter. I'd never seen such thin batter.

I congratulated myself on getting the cupcakes in so early. We'd be able to frost them right after dinner, and we wouldn't stay up til all hours baking like the last time.

Twenty-two minutes later, both the cupcakes and the theme paper were finished. The cupcakes were... shriveled! They had sunk to about half the height of the muffin cups, and they had pulled away from the sides.

"Stupid box mix!" I railed, just as Bill arrived home from work.

"What's wrong with those muffins?" he asked. "You must have done something wrong."

"No," I argued. "See, the box says 3 eggs, half a cup of oil, and 1-1/3 cups of water."

"Oh, was it only 1-1/3 cups?" Ethan asked.

"How much did you put in?"

He started laughing. "Three and a third cups!"

"Ethannnn!!" I wailed. I thought for a moment. "Maybe we could still use them. Maybe after we frost them..."

"You're not taking those to school," Bill said emphatically. "You'll just have to go to the store and buy another cake mix."

And that is why we will be up til all hours frosting cupcakes tonight. Argh!!!

Now we have to figure out what to do with 24 shriveled cupcakes--well, make that 22 cupcakes. We already ate two. They're not bad, just a little chewy and very moist.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

It's a Hee-Haw Thing

Yesterday I showed this picture to Allyson:

I said, "Isn't that a funny monkey?"

She replied, "That's not a monkey. It's a hee-haw fing."

"Do you mean a donkey?" I asked. She nodded. "Why do you think that's a donkey?"

"Cuz it has four legs," she explained.

I told her that monkeys have four legs, too, but sometimes they walk on their back legs.

"Well, that monkey has a funny bum!" she giggled.

It struck me as pretty hilarious that even at age two, Allyson has ideas about what bottoms should look like, and she thinks it's funny when a bottom doesn't fit the usual mold.

I found the picture on the main Yahoo page, and it was labeled the most emailed picture of the week. The caption just said something about it being a celebes crested macaque. There was no story with it. Obviously, other people had the same junior-high reaction that I did.

What does it say about our culture that the most popular picture is not a daring rescue, a cute baby, or even a beautiful woman? No, the most popular picture is a ridiculously giant monkey butt. I think it says God built us with a delightful, quirky sense of humor that unites us. We can all use a laugh with the scary economic news these days.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Our Little Princess

By far, Allyson's favorite Christmas treasure is her princess trunk full of pink, yellow, and blue princess dress-up clothes. There are tiny "ball gowns" with lace, ruffles, and sequins. There are crowns, clip-on earrings, and clunky high-heeled clogs. There's even a tiny blue purse to hold the jewelry.

I love to see Allyson prance around proudly in her finery. She absolutely BECOMES "Cinderlella" when she dons one of those costumes. It doesn't matter that you can plainly see her blue jeans or pajamas sticking out the bottom of the skirt, or her turtleneck peeking out the top of the bodice. It doesn't matter that her hair is wild and tangled.

"Look at me, Mama!" she crows.

The funny thing is, even before her grandmothers bought her the princess paraphernalia at Christmas, she was already playing princess. Her babysitter's daughter Lucy, age three, has an impressive wardrobe of princess gowns, and they entertain themselves endlessly with them.

A few weeks before Christmas, I was sitting on Allyson's floor while she picked out her big girl panties for the day. Suddenly, she shrieked with joy as she spotted her beloved princess panties, handed down from her Canadian cousin, Katie. They are rather worn, but she loves them because they have all the Disney princesses on them--Belle, Aurora, Cinderella, and Ariel--and also because they belonged to Katie.

Allyson and Cousin Katie

I was surprised when she draped the panties over her head. "It's a crown!" she said. She grabbed a baby bath towel from the shelf and wrapped it around her shoulders. Clutching her royal robe with one hand and securing her crown with the other, she spun in slow circles. "I'm a princess!" she exulted.

I murmured admiring words as I fought to suppress my laughter. "Yes, you are such a beautiful princess," I agreed.

"You be a princess, too, Mommy!" Allyson urged. She handed me a pair of Little Mermaid panties.

I hesitated for a moment and then set them atop my head. I grabbed a baby blanket and carefully arranged it over my shoulders, keeping my chin high to keep the pantie crown steady. I held the blanket with one hand and flourished regally with the other as we spun in tight circles.

After a few rotations, we collapsed in a giggling, breathless heap. I'd never dreamed you could have so much fun with a pair of panties and a bath towel--with your little princess by your side.

I envy Allyson's unconstrained imagination, and her conviction that she is both beautiful and special. I hope she never loses that certainty.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

I Needed a Billboard

This story has been on my mind for a few weeks. It's an old one that keeps coming to mind. This was the first time I ever remember getting clear direction from God when I asked for guidance....

In 1998, my ex-husband Byron and I purchased a Chevron convenience store in a rural area about an hour south of where we lived at the time. It had always been Byron's dream to own his own business, and I reluctantly went along for the ride.

We really should not have been approved for the loan; we had zero start-up capital and had to finance the down payment with a small personal loan. Our credit was impeccable, though, and we were approved for an SBA-backed loan. I was terrified, but I got caught up in the excitement despite myself.

We sold gas and groceries and had a grill that served delicious hamburgers and various fried foods. We employed three people full time and four part time. We had no idea what we were doing, though Byron had previously managed an Exxon.

Bumps in the Road
We very quickly ran into some serious snags, the worst being a mandatory EPA upgrade of our gas tanks (the tanks below the ground, not the pumps). This would cost thousands of dollars, and we simply didn't have it. We had no choice but to borrow the money from our gas supplier, and we had to turn over a few cents for every gallon that we sold. This left us with literally no profit on our gas sales, and we actually lost money because there were at least a couple of drive-offs each week.

We also lost quite a bit of money on the grill because the demand was pretty low, and it required an extra employee during grill hours. Still, when we threatened to close it, the locals boycotted our store because they wanted the OPTION to buy a burger now and then, even if they rarely did.

The worst problem seemed to be employee thefts, though we never could prove it and therefore never had the courage to terminate anyone. Besides, had we fired these longstanding employees, it would have alienated our customers, their friends. The shortages from the register slowed down when we adopted a required receipt policy, but the loss of products was a constant problem.

One weekend, we went out of town and left the store in the care of the employees. When we came back, the entire alcohol cooler was empty, but the alcohol sales were only a little higher than normal. That cost us another couple thousand dollars that we didn't have.

All of this time, we were commuting an hour each way, and Byron had to be there at 6:30 in the morning. I was working a full-time job in the city and working at least three shifts a week at the store. I also did all the books in the evenings when I was not working at the store. Oh, and I was also taking care of 18-month-old Ethan, who was a busy and adorable toddler.

I was so busy and so stressed out that I was constantly sick, and I got so thin that even I thought I was too skinny. I had tonsillitis, strep throat, ear infections, and an embarrassing breakout of impetigo on my face (a yucky skin infection).

Mom and Dad Come to the Rescue
A few months into the ordeal, my parents were visiting from LaGrange, about four hours away. I fell into my mother's arms and wept. I told her I couldn't take the stress any longer. There were just too many shifts to cover, and we couldn't be there all the time to watch the employees.

My parents, who were retired, talked it over and decided to come work in the store with us. I felt bad to let them do it, but I don't know how we would have survived without them. Dad ran the grill during the day and did the heavy cleaning in the evenings. Mom ran the register at the store, looked after Ethan while I worked, and did almost all the cooking and laundry. Mom and Dad stayed with us all week and then went home to LaGrange each weekend.

We had finally moved closer to the store. We rented out our house in the city, and the five of us lived in a two-bedroom, single-wide trailer that was literally older than I was. (I was 28 at the time.) I'll tell more in a future post about our experiences in the trailer; we actually enjoyed living there, so far out in the country.

Having Mom and Dad there definitely made life easier, but we were still losing money. Also, we paid them more than the average wage for a convenience store worker; we definitely wanted to make it worth their time. But it was a strain on our already tight budget.

This was a very dark period in my life, and had I had more time to think--and had I not had beautiful Ethan--I might have been suicidal. The pressure of paying our vendors, buying sufficient stock, and praying that the payroll checks wouldn't bounce (sometimes they did) was almost too much to bear. The worst part of it was wondering which of the employees was stealing from us. All of them professed to love us and always made over Ethan when we brought him in. So how could they steal from us? Did they think that there was so much money coming through that we wouldn't miss it? Did they realize we couldn't pay our personal bills and had a hard time putting food on our table?

I was still commuting over two hours a day during the week because I had kept my transcription job in the city. That job was the one bright spot in my life because I had so many loving, supportive friends there, and when I was transcribing urology records, I could forget about all my problems. But I was more tired than I ever thought possible. I was always desperate to stay awake on the drive because Ethan was strapped into the backseat. I would slap myself repeatedly until my eyes watered. If it was cold, I'd put my hand out the window until it was numb, and then I'd hold my frigid hand against my belly. I'm sure God kept us alive more than once.

I never talked to God much during that time, though I did go to church every other Sunday when I was not working. There was no time to think, no time to spend with precious Ethan, and no time to spend with my husband. How I wish I could get that year of Ethan's life back!

The Beginning of the End
After about a year, everything fell apart. Byron couldn't take the pressure of managing the store, and he returned to full-time police work. I had to quit my beloved transcription job and run the store. I hired a consultant and prepared to follow through with all of his suggestions, including closing the grill and firing all our employees (except my parents, of course).

One of our employees was a young lady who was my age, but she looked and acted much older. (I'll call her Wendy, though that is not her real name.) She'd had a hard life, and her eyes were always sad; you could see the defeat in the slump of her shoulders. I agonized over firing her. She was a single mom and had a young son to support.

The only times I ever saw her eyes brighten was when her grandparents came into the store. I am not sure what her family history was, but they had raised her. They were kind and loving people, and the whole town loved them.

A Heartbreaking Calamity
A couple weeks after I took over the store, during Wendy's shift, there was a horrific accident on the country highway in front of our store. Both occupants of one car were killed on impact. We all ran out of the building to the scene of the accident. Wendy was inconsolable when she realized it was her grandparents' car.

A friend took Wendy away, and I finished her shift. Everyone in the small town was shaken, and there were many tears. I wondered where Wendy was, and whether she was okay.

When I locked up the store at 11:00 and headed for home, I found Wendy around the corner from the scene of the accident. She was sitting on the hood of her car and staring. She seemed too drained to even cry. She said only one word: "Why?"

I wished I had an answer for her. I sat next to her on the hood of her car and wept. I wanted to put my arms around her, but I didn't know how she would react. I wanted to tell her some soothing, comforting word from God, but I had nothing to offer at that moment.

Finally, I asked if I could give her a ride home, but she said no, she just wanted to sit here for awhile. She assured me she would be okay, and I reluctantly drove away. In the car on the short drive to the trailer, I cried out to God. I talked to him as I would to my mother.

"I can' take this any more, God. I know you said you'd never put more on me than I can bear, but I don't think I can bear any more. What should I do? How can I fire everyone now?"

I heard nothing. "I need a sign, God. But how will I hear you? How can you even tell me what to do? I never recognize your voice. What I need is a billboard. Something I can't possibly miss. Will you do that for me?"

On the dirt road to our trailer, I looked up at the dazzling stars on the inky canopy of the sky, and I felt a peace I couldn't explain. I didn't know what the answer would be, but I knew God was going to answer me. I knew he would be with me, and everything would be alright.

The Billboard Arrives
It was only a few days later that the billboard arrived... in the form of two government officials from the state alcoholic beverage commission. They were responding to a tip that our store was too close to the neighboring school, and they were measuring. They delivered the news as soon as they finished: our store was only 997 yards from the school, three yards short of the required 1000 yard distance. We would have to suspend all alcohol sales for at least three months until we could get approval from the town council and apply for a new license. This was how the previous owners had obtained a license, and the exception was not transferable. They had not disclosed the information to us, and this was the result.

I was filled with a sense of awe rather than dread. I knew immediately that this was my sign. Since alcohol comprised at least 60% of our gross profit, I knew there was no way we could survive for three months without it.

We immediately closed the store and made an appointment with a bankruptcy lawyer. Since we had not incorporated, our personal debts were mixed in with the store note and various other debts. Ten years of good credit were gone like a whiff of smoke.

Peace At Last
Throughout the process of closing the store, going through bankruptcy court, and looking for another job, I never lost the sense of peace I'd found on that starry night. I knew God cared about me and had a plan for me, and I knew now that the only thing in life that really mattered was spending time with my family.

I was thankful to have just one job with a steady paycheck, and I was thankful to move back into our home in the city. I was thankful to take care of my own child, now two years old. If I could go back in time, I'm sure I would not have chosen that path. Still, I learned that I have an inner strength I never suspected. More importantly, I learned that God never stopped loving me even when I didn't have time for him, and he was faithful to deliver me when I finally reached out to him.


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