I'm showing you these pics, because you are my people. These were taken as official photos for The Dallas Moms Blog and happened to be taken on my birthday a little bit ago. And I felt the sting of loss on this day, especially. Turning another double digit year older, and looking at the prospects for my future made me request beg to be the first in line at the photo shoot. Just so I could be the first to get out. Get' er done is sort of my philosophy on most everything anymore. And to keep it all honest, I kept the dark circles in place as they appeared on this day - as a picture of what life is like for me now. Aint no makeup in the world gonna cover that up.
And on the topic of truth and confessions, today I thought I would address a few of the strangest comments or questions I've heard thus far, along the way....
Observation #1 ...thoughts about my body. To which people feel free to comment upon and about at anytime, because - well, I'm not exactly sure why.
My general guess is that my pre-grief body just didn't meet their hopes and expectations. But my general answer to everyone on the topic is that no, I am not on the KETO diet. I'm on the, I'm really sad, grief diet. And that, obviously makes a few people giddy with delight - and they all want to know what that particular eating plan consists of. Then I stare blankly at them and wonder about their priorites.
So, ... BIG announcement to my critics everywhere: I just ate a giant helping of chocolate covered almonds so I should be filling out nicely before we know it.
Observation #2, which gets me right in the heart every. single. time.....
Kristi, oh you're still going through that? Or in other words,... I thought you were over that already. Which leaves me without proper words, here or there. But I do wonder if on some distant planet, where these very tough hearted and resilient people come from - if the person they love the most dies in their arms without warning - if they then just head on out to the all you can eat Post Death Buffet and drown their shock and horror in a big plate from the salad bar. Then maybe go see a movie.
Y'all, people are just crazy. And some are just mean, whether they intend to be or not.
And then, #3, the big one that I feel so very opinionated about.... What is it that I do all day? What am I talking about when I say that I'm forever standing on the corner of busy and exhausted?
So just for fun, I invite you to run my day to day marathon with me - with a few highlights and accomplishments thrown in randomly in case someone wants to applaud or take a nap in my honor. This may be about a week's worth of energy and a whole lot of praying to get all of the following done and over so I can finally just sit down ....
Most days I wake up between 5:30 and 6am to do house stuff like unload the dishwasher, put the wet clothes into the dryer, clean up the previous night's frat party that happened in my den as I slept; get dressed for work, cook breakfast for me and the kids, blah blah blah, other random and assorted mom things. Work for a crazy amount of hours doing sweaty, physical labor while being perky and nice to everyone in the world. Come home, clean up the morning tornado that happened while I was at work and the boys were left unsupervised before school, fight crime and political corruption in the City. Email lots of people about my plight, ask for help from friends and strangers, plead my case for change to the public. Argue with the insurance company and City officials about all sorts of bad things, try to wrap up the Estate of my deceased mother, usually go to the bank or email the lawyer about the Estate of Fireman Dave. Meet with City Council reps, Mayoral candidates, news reporters and anyone else who will listen. Promise to show up at next City Council meeting and cry in public. Receive lots of registered mail from creditors wanting all sorts of stuff, and random people asking to buy my house. Take a kid to urgent care for what posed as, but turned out to not be, a broken wrist from football practice. Take a dog to the emergency doggie vet for what posed as, but turned out not to be, a broken hip. But do this in the middle of the night. Replace an entire shower, but not all by myself. Replace a back door so the neighborhood ax murderer can't get in. Buy a lot of groceries and panic at how much it cost. Sell an old car. Sell another old car. Research and purchase a new car so we have one reliable vehicle in the family. Learn to replace a battery on an old truck. Clean up dog diarrhea and other horrible things. Argue with a stupid person on Facebook in honor of Fireman Dave. Work some more, apply for more survivor benefits to support my family, help a kid graduate high school and get into college, attend lots of mandatory Senior parent meetings. Hold a gigantic garage sale to raise money for a cause but then end up spending it on a new motor for our home air conditioner. Hug a couple of sad kids, and remind them that we are still here and safe.
So when I fall into bed at night or in the middle of the day because I just can't anymore, and I cry into the hanky that has been my constant companion for the last 5 months, it's because the world just seems like such a hard and scary place - all while trying to be brave and not having anyone to ask or share or even get an encouraging hug. There's a reason that solitary confinement is used as punishment on top of punishment in prison. I just think most people think I should be over all this by now. Because they are.
And more and more these days I find myself clearing the clutter and creating easy spaces in our home, not for me to stay, but to make it easier on others for when I'm gone. And I do a lot of thinking and praying about purpose and energy and strength to keep up this pace all by myself. And then I wait to hear back - trying to decide if any of this is worth it.
Is my statement of faith worth it? Is it even really a thing to me anymore? God and I are in talks about just that. Is my running around and trying to manage the every day worth the trouble? Because y'all, I'm pretty sure I've lost the focus on what this life is all about. But I'd like to hope that it's about more than what I'm living now. But maybe it isn't - and it's exactly this type of living that's pointing me strongly toward the desire for a better place. Loneliness will do that, too. I can write a book on the business of loneliness. Maybe I will, when I find time.
But for now, I'll be about my business of supporting a family and raising some kids. Oh, and changing the dirty politics of Dallas for the benefit of those who will suffer next. I only ask for a giant statue in front of City Hall or maybe a plaque with the inscription that my sister in law showed me once on an old grave, She hath done what she could.
* all typos are my own. Thinking I need new glasses and an assistant.
** note that I wrote an entire post with no curse words
Lately I was pretty convinced that I was onto something a little more stable, a little more predictable, a little more not so sad. Then I remembered that I'm just me, and not able to leap mountains and hurdle life's troubles like they're just some little ol' thing. And I remembered that every time I think grief is a manageable task, it proves to me that it isn't.
And y'all a few notes on that..... I've had so many people tell me that they understand how I feel because they've lost a parent or a sibling or a friend. And to that I say, no. Just no. And then I tell them to see my own personal checklist.... all parents gone. Siblings gone. Best friend gone. Husband gone. ... And that the loss of a spouse doesn't even resemble the loss of the others, as bad as they feel and trust me that I know,... they're just not the same magnitude and scale.
What I mostly appreciate is when people tell me that they would never assume to understand how I feel since they haven't gone through the loss of their husband. Those are appropriate and caring words for the grieving among us.
I also stood back and listened the other day at work to a few gals chatting about their frustrating husbands, their husband's annoying habits, ...... all the girl talk between those that still have a husband to talk about. So I tried not to listen. Then I tried not to tell them to get down on their knees and thank God for the annoying thing their person did that day... as it can be all taken away from them in minutes. For me it was about 10 minutes, actually. 10 minutes before I had just watched Fireman Dave play football with the boys, then he was gone.
So please go love on your people. Laugh at their silly, annoying things, and be thankful that you have a shared life to build a conversation upon. Or don't, and then look back one day and wish you had.
This past week was Spring Break and I sent the boys to Houston to spend time with their cousins. And here is the crew. (I actually spring breaked in Probate Court for those who are curious. But not the entire week.)
Movies, bowling, basketball, and a trip to be together where good things happened was what this week was about. The last time these kids were together, they all saw the tragedy that life can bring on in an instant. And how life turns from front yard football games to saying goodbye - so this week I am thankful for my neice who took care of my share of the bunch, took them in, and gave them good memories of time together to outweigh all the rest. This is probably where I should do some sort of social media hashtag thing and start a following of people I don't know commenting on my kids. But no. These days I just want to keep them all close and sheltered from the world. For at least a bit longer anyway.
Kid 1 committed to play football for his first choice school, Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. We had the wonderful opportunity to participate in National Signing Day and to sign his letter of intent to the school. Lord help me as I deal with sending him off that far from home; and help me not to check real estate listings in the metro Jackson area during my times of weakness.
Actually I didn't love Jackson when we went to visit, but I think it's because we took a wrong turn and ended up in a place that resembled one of those gang ridden areas you see in scary movies where there are drugs and violence and people in bandanas. However, once we found our correct way, and I discovered that they indeed have a Whole Foods and some really nice boutique shopping, I totally got on board with it and looked at a couple of For Sale properties just out of curiousity. For investment purposes only... but now that my options are wide open, ....
Fireman Dave and I actually fell in love with Nashville, Tennessee and had been doing some future planning for our retirement years. Will I have retirement years? Are you there God? It's me, Kristi. ..... Please let me have retirement years full of peaceful places, nice people and a better attitude. Amen.
But getting to that point basically involves getting through a brick wall. And here is the latest update on our situation.
First, still no final death certificate which I think is some giant cosmic joke. So no. No life insurance proceeds at this time. This better be worth it, Fireman Dave, just let me say.
And regarding the final wages and the health insurance, a few weeks ago I wrote a letter to The City of Dallas, specifically the benefits department, and sent it to a few key people. I soon received a phone call from the Assistant City Manager who invited me to meet with him to work out some, um... things. As he said, I got his attention.
So we met two weeks ago and I had the opportuntity to tell him, along with the Chief of Staff of the Big City Manager, or whatever his title is, plus two lawyers who tried to look at me with sad and caring eyes, but didn't fool me for a second ... how they have affected my family's life. It will be four months next week and they have still not paid me my husband's final paycheck. It will be four months that I have had to pay $1100 monthly premiums to remain on the COBRA health insurance since they removed me and the kids from their plan 7 days after Fireman Dave died. And along with the President of our local Fire Union, and my dear and lovely friend, the Dallas Fire Chaplain, I was able to tell them that it is evident that this city does not care about their first responders and how each of our days has been affected by their decision to put the dollar value of an insurance plan over and above the life value of a near 20 year veteran firefighter.
We are asking for a policy change to allow survivors of Active Duty Death the same benefits as those of Line of Duty Death. The only difference in more cases than not, being location and timing of the death. Had my husband been at the station or within 24 hours of his last shift when he passed, I would not be deaing with the issues that I am now.
And honestly, I believe that the City called that meeting hoping to give me a bit of false assurance and mostly, really, to get me to be quiet. But they obviously haven't read too much of my blog. So I continue to send follow up emails to certain key officials regarding this policy change, and will soon move on to bigger and louder sources of spreading the word about how the City of Dallas treats their first responders. I'm happy to be David to their Goliath... and fully realize that if this was a TV show or movie, I should be looking out for hired hit men to run me over with a van or take me out after step aerobics in the gym locker room. Oh the drama that death, anger and sadness bring.
But y'all this policy change is bigger than the Walters family. The Dallas Fire Rescue recently had a forced retirement due to an illness, and to ensure continued health coverage for this fireman's family should he die, he had to sign his retirement papers right there in his hospital bed. Can we all say the word, WRONG? And there are countless other stories just like his and mine.
Maybe I just happen to be the one willing to fight for it to change. And on that note... I will be holding a garage sale very soon to support not only my efforts at change and/or paying my stupid health insurance premiums, but to raise awareness of how ridiculously expensive college tuition is for a part time fitness instructor and mom of three teen boys. (And to answer the pressing question that I hear often, why don't I just find other insurance at a cheaper price? Because if I quit now, the City will have no obligation to do anything. So basically it's a contest of who's gonna blink first. Who are you betting on?).
And if you you have junk that is sitting around and you want to contribute to the Kristi campaign, let me know. You can email me at email@example.com
More on my emotional state later... but short version: after I marched strong on the City on a Monday, I melted down completely on a Tuesday, crying most of the day for any and every reason, and laid in bed and occasionally ate cookies. Grief is a road, for sure. It might be like that long historic Route 66 Highway tour that we took a scenic vacation to see not long ago. Sights and sounds of the past, mixed in with long stretches of dry and deserted spaces, and no end in sight. Thank goodness for interesting roadside stops along the way.
I grew up in a family that stood firm in our beliefs about used cars, shag carpet and the use of duct tape for various purposes. And with that shortened version of my truth, today I walk back in time to a sampling of the many places my old cars left me stranded over the years. More than I could ever begin to list in one blog post, but the highlights alone are a story worth telling.
There was that time that I had to run across 6 lanes of South Buckner Blvd in the dead of night, wearing a leotard, leg warmers and carrying a bag full of cash from my part time job at the Big Town Mall ladies fitness gym. Yes, I was supposed to be carrying the bag full of cash as I was trying to deposit it, but instead guarded it with my life as I dodged traffic, ran through a ditch and banged on the already closed and locked door of the KMart till the manager felt sorry for me and let me in. It was probably the crying and the leotard that convinced him.
And there was that time in College Station, Texas, independent college girl though I was, when I got stranded in the left turn lane of one of the busiest intersections in town and gave up on just about everything and again dodged traffic and mean stares as I ran into the McDonalds across the street and collect called my dad. It wasn't a good conversation.
And another one of my biggest and all time etched into my brain memories, though certainly not even near the end of the list, was that time on the dive bar and cheap motel stretch of Samuell Blvd where, thank the good Lord, it was at least daylight. I don't remember if I was wearing a leotard that time, but chances are good - and I found a pay phone outside a liquor store somewhere between the Lido XXX Theater and the Palm Motel - and again, collect called my dad at work. And though on that particular day I looked nearly, if not exactly like a prostitute on her lunch break - just hangin at the Swif-T Beer and Wine - it was right then and there that I declared an end to the madness and soon after bought my very first brand new car.
And I felt like Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind where she's already picked enough cotton to make her hands bleed, though thankfully not while wearing a leotard, and waves her fist in the air with before - its - time woman power and says something along the lines of... as God as my witness I will never drive a beat up old car again.
But I spoke too soon and found myself stranded in the drive through pharmacy line at the CVS with a dead battery last week. I also can't turn off the heat, but we can save that one for another day. And trust that it had already been a day above all days with the Uber driver forgetting to pick up Kid 3 for school and 6 hours at work with low blood sugar and no snack, and I sat in that drive through and cried some very desperate cries of frustration. You can ask anyone inside the CVS who could see me through that big glass pharmacy window, telling the pharmacist about that sad woman out the window who could probably use a sedative, on the double. Anyway, a nice young mechanic came by and got the car started and led me off to an even nicer Islamic man at the car repair place who taught me all about his culture and his beliefs as we shared Hershey miniatures and I poured out my soul. Maybe I left a better person for the low, low cost of a $200 battery and a nervous breakdown, but really I still just feel the same.
And it seems that every day of late for the Walters is a new moutain to climb. And though this week, for the first time in almost 3 months, I actually had 2 days where I held conversations with people other than myself without being hysterical, and foolishly thought myself getting stronger, I then remembered I wasn't.
And it turns out to be totally true that one is indeed the loneliest number, in every sense. I did, however, get a sweet offer from a crazy man to move in with me - since my husband is dead, and his rent just went up $30 a month at his apartment. Then I remembered that I had been so long inside my safe and secure bubble that I forgot that I live in a world full of insanity and danger. And for the curious, though I think it would be grand to share the cost of my high water and electric bills with someone, I politely declined his kind offer in such a way that made us both feel better about our time together. Then I went home and text documented it to everyone and checked my door locks.
And y'all, just when I think I've got myself a little bit together it's like a big ol' explosion of emotion hits me again. Like today. And yesterday. Thank you Travis County Medical Examiner for sending me right back to the starting line.
And the news is that Fireman Dave died of natural causes. Causes that are making me so angry right about now that should he pop in to pay me an after-worldy visit, he should be sorely afraid. Causes that may force me to, if given the opportunity right now as I speak, just kill him myself. So people, listen as I begin this week's sermon: Take care of your bodies. Admit when you may not be feeling in tip top shape and then do something about it. Something that does not involve ignoring the situation and denying the reality of the fact that you hold not only your own life in your hands, but that of everyone who loves you. Now pass the offering plate and Amen.
So today I feel more lost and lonely than ever, because the time that has passed has made the burden of alone even heavier. I use the word alone as a noun because I firmly believe it to be not only a thing, but the person that I am right now, and a place not unlike hell on earth. I thought time was supposed to heal, but obviously someone lied. And y'all, lonely aches all over and makes me cry anywhere and everywhere including, but not limited to, driving down the road, shopping for groceries and putting gas in the car. All things that I actually did today all while crying like a baby. There are so many witnesses.
And to me, lonely feels like doing every single thing by myself, and even thinking and planning to do every single thing by myself. Maybe for the rest of my life. Chores, decisions, discipline. Home management, doctor appointments, errands, household repairs, upkeep and paying for...... like - everything. Family crises, dramatic teen outbursts, broken down cars. Driving new places, learning where to park, learning how to shop for or fix or make things I never even thought about before. Plus my usual load of cooking, cleaning, laundry, working my job and getting up like a farmer each day to find time to do it all. Maybe if I subtracted out all the hours I spend crying, I might be a better time manager.
And lonely feels like me quietly hating it when someone else refers to their love, their significant other, their person, with fondness, affection, .... with knowledge that they even have a person to love. And it feels like anger when I get messages from people who are made obviously uncomfortable by my unhappiness and work like heck trying to swing me over to the other side.
I know more this week than I have in the last few months. But I feel like I've been knocked down from my ledge of comfortable ignorance, where I had started to develop a sense of routine. And I mostly just want to feel lost and confused again instead of lost and hopeless. There is actually a difference, but I never knew that till now.
I started this post on a day, almost 2 months ago, at a time I obviously had a burst of courage or some other sort of adrenaline pumping reaction to our life change that made me feel like writing. Then it apparently stopped, and I became my regular, borderline, hysterical self, all with grown out hair highlights and a dirty house.
But it gives me hope to look back now and see that at least I tried - because as time has gone on, I've done very little of that - at least no more than what it has taken to get through the day to to day trudge through paperwork and account changes, and figuring out where the Walters family is in this new life.
So I hope to get back here more often, as I write a little diary of what it feels like to be me right now. The Firefighter's Widow.
"I had planned for my next blog post to be about one of our stops on our Thanksgiving vacation Tour de Texas by way of Mississippi .... the part about my severe allergic reaction to deep east Texas and how I scratched my own eyeball in the worst of ways as I slept last Monday night and impaired my vision and had to go to an emergency eye doctor appt in Little Town, and sat there with about 100 old people there to check on their cataracts. I also thought I would share how my poor vision made me misjudge my step into the bathtub that very night and how I broke my toe. But Fireman Dave showed me up, and told a story all his own last Friday night, November 23, 2018. I decided that a diary may be my best bet at trying to get these days into words.
Today I fixed the mailbox all by myself. And today, Wednesday, November 28, Fireman Dave's body was escorted back to Dallas by his fire crew, friends, and 2 of our sons. I guess that's as good a place as any to start this story. Thursday, November 29, 2018 - today I go to the funeral home to view my husband for the first time after his death last Friday night. And as I sit here and think back on a week ago today, I never thought or imagined that it would be the last night that I would ever lay down next to Fireman Dave. I also never imagined that I would spend the next 5 days planning a funeral and worrying what our tomorrows are going to look like and how much money we owe and to whom. I actually think a week ago tonight - we were out of town with relatives - that I left the family room of our shared rental house and headed to our bedroom because I didn't want to watch Thursday night football. I still don't want to watch Thursday night football, though I hear it through my wall coming from Kids 1 and 2. I think that whole concept of being a last time for everything is far too complex to even get started on, but I will say this - it's all true. There really is a last time for everything and a person can just up and die on a pretty Friday night and I'm already getting really sad compiling my lists of lasts with Fireman Dave - the saddest part being that the list has just begun. What might the coming days and months be like? I'm thinking nightmarish, but trying to put a spin on it - like maybe it will be so nightmarish that some Hollywood movie person will think it awful enough to make into a movie and pay me a bazillion dollars so I can afford college tuition for my kids. And THAT, dear reader, is a whole nother subject for a whole nother day. And I will add that the visit to the funeral home ranked right up there with getting my foot run over by a truck while watching Old Yeller. I cried in the first few minutes of seeing what I went there to see, but something - or rather, Someone - made me pull it together for Kid 1 who was with me and not handling the sight of his dad very well. I will go ahead and add here that he and I decided that if we tilt our heads to the left just a bit - maybe 45 degrees, that we could picture the person we were visiting resembling Fireman Dave. It was a stretch, but so are each of our days right now. And while we were there, Kid 1 put his daddy's wedding ring back on the finger of the man I married. Why was it off, you wonder? Because last Friday - the incident - Kid 1 picked his daddy clean of all jewels and valuables before the official people rolled him away from us on a stretcher. The one and only time I will allow pick pocketing and theft from my boys."
And picking up with today, almost 2 months after that writing, I will tell you that I pretty much spend every day at this computer - just not the way I would wish. I wish it were to write and encourage and use what I always thought was my gift. But instead, I pay people, and I argue with people, and I mail things - a million things, and I unearth passwords and hidden debts, and I count the dollars and cents that it takes to raise a family of 3 teenage boys on my own.
And for the curious out there - No. There is still no cause of death. Though I've heard many of your theories, trust that I was there when it happened, and even I do not know what happened to my husband. Some of you are very creative in your thinking, however, and you know that I always appreciate a little flair for the dramatic in the routine of normal. I will also tell you that my husband died in my arms, and in the presence of so many people who love him more than words can say. And I will say that my boys and their young cousins saw some things that night that young eyes should never have to see. If you want to pray for anything, pray for them to remember what is good, and for God's grace to allow them to forget the fear of that night. That is a giant burden for a young person to carry for a lifetime.
And addressing the other end of all that is curious - No. There is still no life insurance as there is no cause of death. And there is very little help from the City of Dallas - aside from a handful of those that have stuck beside me through it all. Our city health insurance was terminated 7 days after the death of my husband, and I was given the option of continuation at more than double the cost we had paid days before. And addressing specifically all my active duty fire and police readers out there - if you think that your city, your employer will stick around to care for your survivors, please talk to me about that. It is very eye opening what your loved ones will deal with when you are gone. It may even make you want to return and haunt the city halls until such changes are made that will give some rest to the weary and some assuredness to the scared. Fireman Dave will be happy to lead the haunt.
And following that same path of direct anger and frustration, let me address the fire retirees out there who thought it a good thing to make a run on the pension system and take out all that was yours. All that was yours, took away from all that was everyone else's. Can I live on the pension payment we were given? Maybe if I move the boys under a bridge downtown. So one defunct pension system later, please let me put some faces on the ones paying for your boat, your sports car, your vacation home, and your security:
I see these faces every day, and hold onto these boys with all I've got to assure them that I will do my best to take care of them. So far that hasn't proven to be easy. But with the thoughtful and generous gifts of friends, coworkers, and even some secret angels out there that I've never even met, we're still here and counting our days together.
And honest to gosh truth, so far I'm more tired than I have ever been in my entire life and giving serious thought to job possibilities and all the things I thought I would never have to think about again. I guess God heard my secret plans and laughed.
And to sum it all up, y'all, I'm sad. About every last bit of it.
I sat through my 4th rainy high school football game of the season, watching Kid 1 play one of the last games of his Senior year. It was Homecoming for Bryan Adams High School, already the underdog right out of the gate in Friday night's game against Lancaster High School. And as people slipped and slid down the steps of the bleachers on that miserable night at Forester Field in Dallas, I watched my son get plowed down on the field, time and again, by what looked to be a 400 lb, 30 year old man - and made a note to myself to inquire about birth certificates for the opposing team's players.
The Lancaster team brought with them - obvious speed, talent, precision, and what looked like a full bus load of well practiced agression - trash talking our boys all night long on the field. They also brought the world's loudest band - and when they played through the entire half time show's time allotment for both schools - with no regard for BA's Homecoming festivities and special performances - another mental note was made to check the UIL rules of behavior for band programs, especially in the category of rudeness and inconsideration. But our adorably awesome band? ... Though they rarely got the opportunity to toot their own horns that night because of you know who..... stood at the ready to share their spirit if ever given the chance. Go BAnd!
Lancaster ended the night by playing for half of eternity even after the game was over - loudly overtaking the coaches' post game huddle with the players, and most noticably, over our school's game night tradition of player, staff and cheerleaders joining hands to sing their Alma Mater.
But our school did what they do best, though the best for our boys this Friday night got them only as far as a 78 to 0 score in favor of the other team. But I'm calling a win for BA on this one.... as it takes more strength and power to share what you have plenty of with someone who has less. Lancaster High, I'm looking you on this one. We all learn at some time or another that there's really no sport in beating someone who's already down.
In the parable of The Good Samaritan in the Bible, Jesus tells of a traveler, a Jew, who was beaten, robbed and left on the side of the road. Pretty much everone who passes him by takes notice, but keeps walking.... until a Samaritan - a people who didn't much get along with Jews (um, football rival teams on a Friday night?) - is the one who stops and helps the injured man. The Samaratin takes him to a safe place, pays for his care, and even promises to come along a bit later to take care of any extra expenses that come up. And y'all, I get all the warm feels just thinking about the degree of nice showing up there.
And I think this is where the mom in me stops trying to talk football and starts to talk about what really matters - beyond the game and beyond the score, and about raising kids into good adults.
I guess Friday night's score will forever be a sore spot for my Senior Varsity player, but as I try to remind him, eye rolls expected, ... Sweetheart, it's only a game.
Because when my son comes home after school and tells me that he spent part of practice changing a flat tire for a parent at the school, or that the team has to be there late one day because they're helping a neighbor with a yard project, I know that his teachers and coaches are looking far beyond Friday night's game and right into the hearts of these young people. When practice is paused until all players are on board with the required grades to play, the real lesson of team work is taught and learned. When the coaches organize a team breakfast with their biggest rival team, in an effort to build healthy competition via friendship and common ground, I know that life lessons are being served up larger than Friday night's score. Go Coaches!
And when my son's coaches and teachers are invested not only in his contribution to the football program, or his future playing prospects, but his prospects as a contributing member of society, I know that he's in the hands of adults that have some of life's biggest questions figured out. .... Possible recipe being, take what you have to offer, use the heck out of it, and then share it with someone else. Bring someone along with you and lift someone up behind you, and may the road to Samaria wherever be smoothly paved and well lit for your travels.
I hope that happens for Lancaster's program as well. Because one day all these kids will walk off that field and need to know how to live life without the Friday Night Lights deciding their priorities. I think my own kid has had enough of a mixed curriculum in that area to stand a good chance.
Friday's game was hard to watch. It's always hard to see your kid get knocked around on the field or off. But as a parent, I'm in the business of raising a good person, and way too much of the time, y'all, it involves a few hard knocks. And I'm proud to share that job with the amazing staff at Bryan Adams.
And yes, those wonderful kids, coaches, cheerleaders and staff still joined hands on the sideline after the game - despite the noise of the other team, and stood together as the family that they have become at BA.
Lancaster may have won last Friday, but I think BA won the game that really matters.
Does Kristi ever blog anymore I hear my friends saying? And the answer is yes, but only when I can write something that doesn't sound:
a) mean b) meaner c) meanest
Because, unfortunately, that's sort of where some of my most recent weeks have taken me. And I'm ready to get off this road and onto one filled with nice people, chocolate and Jesus. And even better would be nice people eating chocolate while acting like Jesus.
But alas, I had the mean co-worker at the gym last week tell me that my voice is too loud and that, blah blah blah, .... I forget the rest. To which I said, This voice that I use every day?... the one that God gave me to use for his glory? And then the ugly part of me thought of how I wanted to push her in the pool right then.
Then there was Facebook talk of a crazy kid on the loose at one of the local schools, threatening to shoot everyone the following day, promptly at 2pm. To which I say, Seriously, if you are organized enough to plan it out to the exact minute, you have a future in management or some sort of mathematical field, and you should straighten up and find your true calling.
And of course I replied to more than one nervous mom, - something along the lines of, Nothing will come of this, let the school handle it and do what they are trained to do well - Because I wanted to come across as knowledgable and calm and experienced since we just had our own school shooting threat at the boys' school about two weeks ago. But all my comments were were a tiny voice in the sea of others traveling down Mass Hysteria Lane. And as it turns out, mostly just a big lie about what the whole inside of me is saying despite my best attempts at courage and faith.
And then we met with a college recruiter and admissions counselor for Kid 1 and got a mix of all excited and mostly nervous and I almost fainted when I heard the annual cost of private college tuition presented to me over a plate of grilled brussels sprouts and cute, school logo frosted cookies.
And of course there was all the talk of politics and who is anti-this and that and possibly even anti-everything that isn't their exact picture of perfect - with the all time famous, Fireman Dave all up in it stirring the commentary pot with his own brand of open forum discussion. And I just sit back and wonder if we'll ever get invited to anything fun anymore. Once again, waiting and watching for more nice people eating chocolate while acting like Jesus.
And I'll tell the honest truth here, by Friday night about 8pm, when Kid 1 said he wanted to drive an hour away to a movie, and Kid 3 wanted to go by himself to a high school football game and Kid 2 took off with a friend to a thing - I sat in the kitchen chair and met my match in tearful eyed worry. Because despite all of these years that I spent praying to be the one who maturely let my kids grow up and out and away toward all that God wants them to be - I'm the one who fear takes hold of and is afraid for them to go into large crowds, public places, and any distance away that I can't step between them and a stray bullet.
And as happy as I was to do it, I spoke last week to a small crowd, following a well educated, prominent man in a highly appointed government position - and y'all, all I could hear when he spoke was a hate speech of his very own. I heard him start the conversation about great strides made in the areas of acceptance and equality and opportunity - but then I heard it all end with names and photos of those against him in the climb toward the world being a kinder place. And the list continued in such a way that it became, to me, a most wanted poster of all the people who did him wrong. And just gonna put this out there for thought.... Am I wrong in noticing that making memes of people who have been an obstacle in your fight for what is right according to the simple law of What would Jesus do? is, in and of itself, wrong?
And when it was my turn to speak, I got up in front of a group of people who stared at me blankly for a couple of minutes, as they tried to decide if it was okay to be less than serious and not overly distraught. Is it okay to switch gears from frowny faced, focused concern - to laughter and absolutely no deep meaning whatsoever? I seriously wanted to stop and just say, look people, if you wanna feel sad over something, you're all welcome to come take a look at my boys' bathroom. And then for an encore, each of their rooms and my laundry room.
And I stepped away from that microphone with mixed feelings on both how I did up there with my story - and how I did up there in the general sense of giving people 10 minutes of non-biased, non-political, non-agenda driven story telling.
And I spent that same afternoon doubting the place and importance of what I do here. Because I don't cover newsy topics. I don't solve a whole lot of problems. And I don't try to pretend that I ever could or can. I don't even give fashion advice or make anything crafty or handy or pretty..... I pretty much just vacuum the floor about 3 times a week and try to raise decent children. Then I tell whoever wants to hear about it that sometimes it's just way too hard to make it one more day. ..... But that on a good day, I get a little reminder to reset my Kristi meter and see this thing called life for the beauty that it really is. And I think I just have to find a happy place of acceptance for just being me. The me that sat in the kitchen chair Friday night, using the word, overwhelmed a whole lot.
But then I woke Saturday morning to a Facetime visit with the cutest girl on the planet - and got to talk with her for about an hour - an hour of both of us trying to figure out what the other is saying, but at the same time, both of us staring at each other with big eyes of wonder in how we met and came to be such good friends. I took her on a tour of the house, including each of the sleeping boys who managed to raise their teenage heads and wave to Uganda before crashing back into their own little worlds. Except for Kid 3 who kept his head under his pillow and Loyce just saw a lump in the bed and took my word for it that he was in there. She also enjoys seeing Rita the dog, so we had a little get together with them too.
I walked her outside and inside and we talked about the places that she would show me if I ever get to visit her in Uganda. She wants to go to a mall that she has seen on a road trip, but has never had the chance to visit. Y'all, a 13 year old girl that has never been to a mall. Part of me says Praise the Lord above for that fact, and the other part of me feels her first mall visit coming her way shortly. Thanks be to God for my super friend who stands not only in my place for such occasions, but in the shoes of the good Lord, blessing these sweet kids with her endless love, energy and devotion. (and for sending a special delivery of sweets for my sweet and filling in for me from afar.)
And Loyce got the biggest smile on her face when Fireman Dave walked behind me and waved to her on the camera. She calls him Mr. David, and always asks about him and the boys in her letters. She may be the only person in the world who doesn't know his political leanings and probably wouldn't care one way or the other - which basically makes us just like twins.
We ended our visit with a trip to my refrigerator door. She knows the word, fridge, but doesn't have one.
Here is a picture of her at her house. The grass outbuilding part of the house is her kitchen, and pridefully says that she is the best cook in her family.
I told her that in America, we put important papers and pictures on the fridge door so we can see it every day. And I I showed her that her picture has a special spot on our refrigerator door along with Kids 1-3, so we can keep her in our house and our hearts every day.
She said a few sentences in her dominant language, Lugbara, and we laughed at what she said. Something about the purpose of squirrels - as we both agreed they are useless and the bane of both of our societies. I can only imagine how frustrating it is to speak 3 languages - 2 very well, and 1 still in the learning stages, then be asked to converse and write in the least of them. So it takes us a bit to get going. And it takes some interpreting. But she knows the words for love and joy and friendship. And again she invited us to come see her. Another one of the many tuggings that have been in my heart of late to do exactly that. She does not know, however, that I get the leg cramps on even an hour long flight - and vertigo on those that are longer. She also does not know or understand my innate fear of leaving the familiar, and of change and of adventure in general. But she knows without a doubt that the Walters family is crazy in love with her and she has full confidence that love is good enough to get us there and for her to take me to that mall she wants to see.
So here it is. My reminder that the sweetest things in life just happen. And the sweetest, happiest people around are the ones that are not worried about the things that I place as such obstacles in my every day. For the love of all things, Loyce has a pit latrine and she smiles the brightest smile of any I have ever seen. There's a lesson somewhere in there for me, I know. And I know that our visit this weekend was one of those pre-ordained moments of greatness to re-set my view on the week. And maybe even the world.
I'm not sure how to get over my worries about the boys venturing into their independence, with all its dangers and traps. And I'm for sure not sure about how to let them go into it with their eyes still wide open, only expecting the good.
Praying for our world to be filled with love, kindness, and nice people eating chocolate - while acting like Jesus.
Hello and welcome to the rain forest which is Dallas. It's a full on mosquito storm around here and I discovered in such a way in the bathroom stall at my son's football game this past Thursday, that even in the nicest of stadiums, in the richest of school districts - um, sure not talking about ours...... we're all equal in the eyes of God's creatures. It became a total issue of self preservation in there.
Kid 3 had a game at Highland Park stadium Thursday night, and we knew going in that it would be a predictable disaster, but then the lightning struck and we all got sent out of the stands to take cover for 30 minutes... except for the fact that when there's another bolt, the 30 minutes re-start - endlessly. So this went on for about an eternity when Fireman Dave and I decided it was time to go get something to eat since neither our school's coach nor the Highland Park coach wanted to be the first to cancel the game. The boys ended up going back out maybe an hour and a half later and playing 2 quarters just to show that we could. Indeed, it was the disaster we expected, but y'all, we did it on our terms.
Then we got a call from Kid 2 saying his car wouldn't start and was stranded on the corner of Where am I and I don't know what to do. And I swear if we didn't get almost the same call from Kid 1 a bit later about his truck not starting. I grew up with a dad that was King of the Used Car Purchase, and the Walters family is obviously following in those royal footsteps.
My dad liked to fix just about everything with duct tape, and if that didn't work, he had a good ol' boy named Grady that usually had a back alley part or two and would be willing to fix it for the price of cheap plus a case of beer. I have yet to find a Grady of our own, but do, in fact, have duct tape at the ready for many a project. I did learn a thing or two from my dad.
And here we are the following night, in the middle of the Friday Night Lights Monsoon where Kid 1 played Highland Park's Varsity team. Again, another predictable disaster, but let me say that the character of our boys, our parents, our school administration shines in the face of a challenge. Though I gave up after about the 4th lightning delay, and tired of sheltering in the hot sweat of Fireman Dave's truck, I called it quits and decided to follow the team on Twitter in the comfort and dry of my own home. And again, neither coach would be the one to call off the war, so they boys finally came back out about 10pm to play a bit longer and prolong the ineveitbale. But,.... y'all, this gives me public school parent goose bumps - every school principal and administrator stayed the entire time, waited out the storm, and stood there to support this team that started out as the underdog in every way in this battle. The score board says we lost, but my heart says we won in what was really important.
And on the subject of school, I can't even believe that Kid 1 just purchased his cap and gown for graduation and is right in the middle of receiving his college acceptance letters. More on that later, but there are already a few options, and it has been my constant prayer that he find what is right for him, without the influence of others in his decision. Y'all, this is such a big issue right now, and my school of thought is this, I believe the boys need to find their own way before trying to share that way with anyone else. And as we say in church, Lord hear our prayer. And you just have to read this... that I just saw in our church email for the coming week.
Wilshire Talks, Sept. 30
Plan to stay for lunch and Wilshire Talks next Sunday, Sept. 30, with two Wilshire members telling their stories in a TED Talk format. Speakers will be Wally Brewster, former U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic, and Kristi Walters, mom, fitness instructor, blogger and humorist. Lunch is free. Wally made international news in 2013 when after unanimous confirmation by the United States Senate he became the first person in a same-sex marriage to represent the U.S. at the ambassadorial level in the Americas. His appointment was opposed by the Catholic Church and evangelical leaders. In his Sunday talk, Wally will explain how his own Christian faith sustained him in this challenge. Kristi is a regular blogger for Wilshire’s Facebook page, where she often writes about her husband, “Fireman Dave,” and their three boys and their journey through public education, family drama and lessons learned as a fitness instructor. Child care provided during the event with pre-registration.
Um, thank you for whoever tried to make me sound interesting in this ad. But following up after someone who's gonna talk about something thoughtful and intellectually stimulating over a plate of lasagna has got me thinking about what on earth I actually do have to say. Maybe something that will make everyone want to go home for a cozy Sunday nap,... but I appreciate the press. And, yes I am honored to have been invited to share. Really. Wally's gonna be a tough act to follow, but can he tell an entire story about diarrhea like I can? Only time will tell.
Oh, and just for the fun of saying this happened... I sprung a hole in my work pants one day last week. Leaving me to dig around in my bag of tricks to find an emergency pair. Kind of like when I used to pack a little ziploc bag for the boys with extra shorts and underwear when they were in pre-K, in case of a similar yet somehow so different pants problem, I had a pair of black and red dotted Nike tights as my only choice to wear with my clashing gray top and bright pink and purple shoes. It looked like Hobo day at the Y that day, but I got paid so I have to be thankful for that. And no crazy man attacked me over towels which is always a plus. If you didn't hear that story, you can read all about it here.
And last bit of news for this week - I invited my brother to come see Kid 1 play this past Friday night. And I'm just going to say that I knew that this situation could end up as bad or worse than the game itself, but a feeling in me made me do the right thing. He did show up, wandered around and found Kids 2 and 3 in their respective spots, and tried to make reasonable conversation. We're all pretty sure he was drunk, but did a good job of holding it together for the first quarter of the game. He did, however, tell Kid 2 how mad I make him and how he would like to kick me in the head. Such love we share. I've heard worse. Much worse. In fact, that pales in comparison to the one where he would like to cut off my head and put it on a stick. Something about my head just gets this guy all riled up.
Anyway, it was, for me anyway, an extension of the grace that I know full well that I receive each and every day from the God that doesn't have to even give me the time of day.
So I invited my brother to the game becuase I have been invited many a time to start again, even in the smallest of ways. And I hope I continue to get those second and third and millionth chances. Again, Lord hear our prayers.
I will just say this... my brother is a challenge. He is what happens when a parent stops being the parent and allows the kid to control the home. He is what happens when the parent is so afraid of what the kid might do, that they let the kid do whatever he wants at the expense of the family. And he is the perfect example of an adult who never learned the word no. So now he is stuck in a place with a suitcase full of bad decisions, an empty house that he inherited, with all its contents, and no one to share it with. He's an adult who never learned to interact with other adults because he was far too long treated as a child. And now that my mom is gone and his support system that had set the tone for his existence is gone, he's lost and lonely and not sure how to move one step beyond where he is now.
He loves to throw raging, curse filled tantrums my way - having learned that from the best of them, our mom. But what he has found in me is a woman that has grown up and away from the position of being held prisoner to the abuse. He finds in me a person that he can easily yell at because I was always the one easy to yell at. But I learned so long ago that not giving it the attention that the abuser is hoping for, not getting involved, not yelling back, not encouraging the moment, makes his energies tired, lifeless, and all the more draining on his attempts. And I have to remind him that I, too, learned from the best - our mom, as I put up with abuse for a lifetime, and had to figure out how to move beyond it.
I think I'm still figuring it out - even as the mother of 3 almost grown kids of my own. Sadly, I may always be the kid that was this or wasn't that in her eyes. But the good thing is that I am now the adult that refuses to let that be acceptable. So last week when my brother tried to fire off his best anger, I met it with an invitation to see my son play football. And I met it with the disciplinary words of a mother telling a child that his behavior will not be tolerated, and to please try again.
Teaching a grown man the difference between right and wrong is probably a bigger job than I have time for at this point, but to be a part of my life, he has to learn the rules.
I would typically throw in a Bible verse or some sort of catchy lesson right in the here and now. But I've come up dry on this one. My prayer is for healing, for patience - which I heard we should never really pray for because God will certainly give you the practice you need to get it perfect - and for me to just be what I need to be for this family.
And.... for you, I wish you such good things this week... pants with no holes and blessings beyond measure.
One time, ...pretty sure it was only one time.... a hardened criminal, a convict, a member of the chain gang ...named a baby after me. And that may be the single most kind thing anyone has ever done, seeing that he could've named that baby after almost anyone, including that child's mother.... But he chose me, and to this day I still feel all warm inside over it all. And somewhere out there, there is a little Kristi, roaming her way through young adult hood searching for her namesake and wondering who the heck spelled Kristi with a K in the front and an I at the end and made it so she can't even get a can of Coke with her name on it.
Y'all, it was a simpler time. Kids ran around all over the place, teenagers ran around all over the place, and as I think about it now, it's really a wonder that any of us made it out alive. I kinda had my crowd that I hung around with in what I like to call my tan and go days...... where my appointment with a lawn chair in the backyard or the roof of the house was #1 on my summer time schedule, completing all beauty tasks at once.... savage tan, free hair highlights and what I like to think of now as plenty of Vitamin D all stocked up to prevent osteoporosis. And somewhere between my relaxation time, friend time and the ability to eat an entire pizza and still wear a bikini... I met a fella that walked right into my summer and left me with one of the best stories I've ever told.
But the most complicated piece of that summer puzzle was that I wasn't really this guy's friend nearly as much as he was mine. Really... as much as he decided that he was to be mine... and mine forever. Like a daily bff Valentine, until he got sent off to a prison and all those collect calls from the pay phone in the common room were running up a bill for me and my parents.
I met my friend when he was simply a lost and lonely, out of school, young adult, trying to find his way in the big city by lying to me and others about his past. He said he was an orphan and had been raised at the local children's home until the age of 18, when he was tossed out into adulthood and the relative insecurity of unemployment and poverty. I do remember that he somehow had enough money for a truck - as well as a truck load of booze, just about every weekend, but at the age of high school ignorance, none of that made me question the reality of his tale.
We met through a mutual friend, and it was one of those good girl hangs out with her boyfriend and all his guy friends all the live long day until about 4pm when she was due at her part time job, or out into the yard to work on her tan kinds of relationships. Y'all, I was living and loving, and not thinking a day ahead of the one I was in. And this guy just jumped into our little circle as if he had been there all along, and with stories of a common bond that he liked to tell of him and me in such a loving way that made me wish they were all true. Turns out either I was very forgetful, or he was very imaginative in his tales of our good times shared and friendship grown into a lifetime story of mutual admiration. He remembered all the times I was nice to him and all the ways I had helped him, and basically remembered me as a younger stand in for the mother that he told me he never had. I was obviously scatterbrained, forgetful, or just self absorbed in the way 18 year old girls can be. But God gives us all grace and mercy so somehow I must've absorbed enough of it to share.
Turns out he was homeless. I'm not sure I even knew that till way into time spent with him. I guess I noticed that he spent a lot of time at my friend's house, and that he appeared and disappeared pretty often and not on any certain schedule. But the eyes of an 18 year old tend to fog over at the thought of anything deeper than a few hours and some laughs. I think I figured it out when none of us had seen him for a few days and an impromptu search party located him camped in his truck in the mall parking lot.
He sort of vanished about the time I left for college. Maybe it was during or after the stint in the county jail where I was privileged to be listed as his family member and allowed to visit. How did I deserve such an honor? I'm not sure other than the fact that maybe God had run out of people to give it to at the time; so he chose me.
Time went by and I was off learning how to be an adult on my own. I had been living in an apartment in my little college town for a while when one day I got a surprise visitor. My new old friend had tracked me down. Looking back now, I may or may not have been an accessory to something or other - or maybe just the safe hideout. I only remember going out to eat.
But he left again, as quickly as he showed up - and I didn't hear from him for quite some time till I got a collect call from the whatever whatever unit of the Texas Penitentiary System. I knew who it was before I accepted the charges, and opened an all new, yet final chapter of Me and My Convict.
His story was that he was accused of something that wasn't true, that there was a young lady involved that he loved very much, and that the baby on the way was because of their luckiness in this life in finding each other. A version of his story that made me happy for him,... though a different version of the story got him 35 years for aggravated sexual assault. True or not? I may never know, but he said he was going to name the baby after me. Because I was nice to him.
Y'all, out of the sheer goodness of my heart, and feelings of guilt if I ignored the situation, I have walked my blonde hair right into both the Dallas County jail and as well as a maximum security facility in the south of Texas. That one was just a little road trip from my place of higher education, so it was really both a gesture of Christian love as well as a once in a lifetime learning experience. Kind of like when people travel to Africa and go on safari and say that it changed them forever? A trip down frisk and walk lane will most certainly change a girl forever in much the same fashion.
I remember not knowing exactly what to wear to a prison visit, but think I chose something to make sure that I wouldn't blend in too much with the locals, and be accidentally mistaken for someone who came to stay the night. Knowing me it was probably a dress and a smile, because, y'all, I was raised a healthy mixture of both right and wrong.
And I know it meant the world to him to know that I would make the drive to see him. And y'all, you can fully trust that not only did I renew my friendship with you know who, but I made all new friends with the prison guards - so much so that they gave me a personal escort down that long and lonely hallway. Maybe they do that for everyone. Maybe just for the ones who look they're not quite sure of prison protocol and etiquette.
It was a Saturday morning, I arrived, checked in my necessaries, and waited for I wasn't sure what. I wasn't entirely sure what made me decide to take that drive. But I did it and hoped for the best that I would make it safely home to watch Designing Women on TV later that day.
My friend took a while to get to me. I didn't know that they get to change into their good outfits for visit day. Now I do. And he looked good. But mostly he looked happy. And I guess I did, too. I knew even that day that visits like this couldn't be my forever routine - and there came a time when I just stopped. Because it was time.
I still can't tell you why I almost cry when I remember that visit. Maybe it's the idea of a life lost to crime - the crime of not being part of a family to guide you into adulthood in a good and proper way. Maybe it's because I remember how much he wanted a friend, and how much he wanted me to be her. He liked to tell people that I was his sister, like he was missing out on so much for so long, that when courtesy and kind and fun finally met him, he took full hold and loved on it like nobody's business.
It's a story anyway. It's a piece of who I used to be, and who I hope I still might be given the situation of someone in need. My friend was maybe the loneliest person I ever knew, outside of myself. He needed friends and family and discipline and routine and a place to feel safe and at home. Give a young man a truck, no job and very little to look forward to, and you'll get back just as much in return. Maybe even with a few cuts, bruises and a newfound criminal tendency to go with it.
I don't remember a single conversation with him about his faith or his choices, only conversations partly created from a faulty memory... or out of a need to have a connection with someone who would be a temporary parking spot for all his troubles. I do remember plenty of lazy summer days and being together with people still young enough to not worry about every last detail of a person's questionable character. And mostly I remember being young enough to not be so quick to judge and say no before ever considering the possibility of a friendship. At the time I never thought about how much a smile and a willingness to agree on a happy story that never actually took place could mean to a person who just needed a first line to a new chapter.
I think about him every now and then, how he appeared out of nowhere with a made up past and a hopeful future of finding his place and his people. I may never know the end of his story, other than what I find on Google that tells me his expected release date. It looks like two consecutive, fairly long sentences.
That young man had a lot of love to give, and I was lucky to be someone he chose to give it to. I desperately needed that at the time, too. I find it a forever mystery of how Lost and can meet Lonely, say hello and form a forever bond, - sometimes working out better than others. But for the lucky ones, we walk out of it together a little bit better than we started. Friends are good for that.
* author edit: I wrote these words in 2015 and keep coming back to this post every year. This year I had a particular reason, ... as I was contacted by a blog reader asking me specifically if I could help her son with a school project. He needed to interview someone who remembered 9/11 - which made me feel like an old history professor or a grandma with a blanket in my lap telling stories of the old days. But of course I said yes, and let the young man ask me questions. I gave the same answers as I wrote about here in this post. That will never change, I think.
I've had a hard time writing this week. Even thinking about WHAT to write kept me quiet.
Because it seems that all the news going on of things far bigger than my dog eating our dinner the other night and the really cute sweater I just bought just shouted for me to be quiet.
Hush. And listen to what is being said around you, Kristi. Listen to the sounds of the world that are bigger than you.
And today I am sitting here quiet. Waiting for the boys to get home from school. Remembering, like we all are, the events of this day 14 years ago.
I can tell you all the details of where I was that morning... but it's not very exciting. And not at all important in the big scheme of things.
But I think like so many of us, the day made me scared. And sad. And as the day went on I got more scared. And a lot more sad. And the news kept showing the same scenes over and over all day till I couldn't stand it anymore and turned it all off and went to my parents' house. My dad was still alive then. For about 5 more months.
And we pulled out the baby pool for little bitty Kid 1 to splash around in. He was 15 months old. And did I mention that I was also a rather large, pregnant woman awaiting the birth of Kid 2 any day? And I think that's what scared the life out of me. Thinking about their little lives and what kind of world they would grow up in.
And I sat out on my parents' back patio and cried. I cried because I was overloaded with bad news. And I cried because I went to the bank earlier that day and everyone in there scared me and I ended up leaving without taking care of a darn thing. And I cried because there were other moms like me.... but moms who would be raising kids on their own from then on. And I cried looking at my little one splashing around in the pool and not knowing that there are mean people.
And I was terrified of going home by myself that night because Fireman Dave was at the station. Because the news had me convinced that evil was all around.
My dad had gone to the hospital earlier that day as well. He had been at work and had a hemorrhage in his eye that was a result of his illness. And he looked terrible and felt even worse, but I think having a baby swimming in a little pool out on your patio just makes things feel a lot better.
So we sat. And we listened to the quietest quiet I think I've ever heard. Because there were no airplanes flying. And people everywhere, I think, were somewhere inside waiting for more news. And I remember the amazing, gorgeous day it was here in Dallas.
And I think what takes my breath away is how life goes on. In every situation of loss or disappointment or hurt, life goes on all around - while yours seems to stand still for way too long. Don't you hate that? I just really do.
But what I think has stayed with me the most, aside from the actual scenes of the day.... are the people left behind to grieve their losses. And I say THEIR losses because it was news to most of us, but it was reality for others. News that affected each one of our emotions, but a reality that became bigger than life for a whole lot of people.
So I feel hurt for the people that still wake up on this day each year and remember what they were doing and how it all changed without even imagining that it could.
And I think, truth be told, I feel a little selfish that I wait till this day each year to remember. Because there are way too many people that remember it all every day - not just on an anniversary day.
So I think far more important than what I was doing that day, and my own smallish perspective of events, ... is to consider how the lives of those directly affected have moved forward.
I wonder how the last 14 years have been.
I think there's probably some good lessons on living in their stories.
The final organizational message sent to all my Gateway Of Grace baby shower friends and helpers went something like this....
I'm counting on you ladies to handle the small talk and social portion of today's event... as, surprise! I tend to fade into the wallpaper in party atmospheres. Actually, I tend to hide myself in the wallpaper, the bathroom, the back porch or my car, pretending to fetch this, that or the other that I claim to have forgotten and need to survive.
And just to note, I received two, large, gently used baby items - a swing and a play mat - that I chose not to give at this baby shower. Given the size of these things, and all the wonderful our gal is already receiving, I wasn't sure how much room they have in their apartment. So I checked with my Gateway of Grace go-to person, and asked if they might have a use for them.
And it turns out that God had already asked, answered and delivered..... as another expectant mother delivered early, and had just this past week mentioned that she would love to have a baby swing. So basically I'm loving how God takes one thing and turns it into even more. Sort of like a buy one get one free sale on fancy shampoo at the salon, or 3 for $1 anything at the grocery store, .... bundles of good are always better when joined with a free gift.
Can't wait to see everyone Saturday a little before 11:00 - like a ladies SWAT team, gathering in the parking lot, ready to charge their home with goodness.
That's how I saw this thing working out. But here's how it really did.
Fireman Dave helped me load and unload all the gifts into my car. Thank the lord for the invention of fold down seats and mid-size SUV's. And I can't even tell you my shock and surprise when the baby jogger stroller/car seat combo arrived in a giant, crate sized cardboard box, and after assembly, took up the size of a love seat in Kid 2's room.
(Let me add a shout out to Kid 2 for being the keeper of all the baby gifts, wrapped in cute animal prints and pink bows, in his room for the last 2 weeks. Because not only is he a hard worker, a good student, and pretty cute in all the ways, he's also kind and good and extremely patient with my projects.)
And we headed out to Apartment 2102, with cupcakes, lemonade and a leaky cooler full of ice to bless some souls for the Kingdom of God. Or so I thought.
Myself, three friends, and one fireman walked awkwardly into M's apartment, not realizing the cultural expectation of removing our shoes - something about the Biblical tradition of sandal wearing and foot washing, and sort of like the tradition I tried to start with my boys a million years ago - leaving a shoe basket at the back door for them to take off their dirties and save me hours of vacuuming and sweeping time over the course of motherhood. My tradition never took hold, though. I should've told the boys it was part of our religion.
We were greeted with hugs and kisses on the cheek, and the most amazing smell of lunch cooking. M's friends arrived, each with kids of their own and more yummy food smells.... And y'all, I was in pure wonderment at the size of the platters and bowls these ladies hauled in... like they all went shopping at the restaurant supply store for industrial size cooking utensils. I watched one of the ladies stirring shredded carrots and raisins into a giant bowl of cooked rice, and tried to ask her about her recipe. I could've/should've just said, Hey...you just won the Lottery! Because she had no clue what I was saying... but boy did she look happy and sweet about it.
The apartment was clean and neat and the table was set with a table cloth, plates of cookies, fresh fruit, and trays of mixed nuts. Long cushions lined the living room walls, sheer curtains hung over the windows, and a 3 year old boy watched cartoons. He was 9 months old when his family moved here to Dallas. My friend Kelli brought a big brother gift to him, the first and most brilliantly thought out move toward a new friendship.
M's husband was quiet, but welcoming. Probably like most men, ... wondering what the what am I supposed to do now that all these ladies have shown up at my house on my day off from work? His answer? Stick around for a few minutes to look polite, then walk outside with Fireman Dave and never come back till the party is over. They had important men things to discuss.
And we ladies had gifts to give and get, and small talk to make - and truth be told, I had some questions to ask. Like, where are you from? Afghanistan. How long have you been here? Almost 2 years. How did you choose Dallas? Because husband knew one person here, and it was as good a start as any. Do you ever get to go home to see your family? No, it wouldn't be safe to return. Why? Because, dear American lady, don't you ever watch or listen to the news? The honest to goodness answer is no. I try to avoid it at all costs. Except for the weather on stormy days and some of the juicier, gossipy news clips that show up on Yahoo when I check my email.
One of M's friends spoke the best English, proud of how she has learned it all in less than 2 years as a student at Gateway of Grace. She works at a company that repairs those little table top trivia games that you see at Chili's while you wait on your food. Small world, I told her... we LOVE those trivia games - they make us forget how hungry we are while we wait. She calls her English teacher from Gateway of Grace, her American mom, and I crazy loved that from the start.
M wanted lots of pictures to send home to her mom. Her mom lives in the capital city of Afghanistan now, safer than they were, but not completely so. Her husband said the same about his family. Worried especially because he worked as an interpreter for the US Embassy and would not be well loved nor received back in his home village. He can never go back, and is concerned that his family will be recognized and harmed because of his allegiances. And we were not permitted pictures. We could take them for ourselves to keep, but I couldn't share them with you. Not sure if this is a safety thing, a religious thing, or just a thing... but the pictures in my mind of this day will stay with me for a long time, just in my memory.
M opened all her gifts, loving especially all the little girl clothes. I noticed that she loved the ones with special details, unique sewing, girly prints the most.... And I thought how much I can understand that... having dressed 3 boys in Spider Man t-shirts and anything else that was made especially for getting ripped, torn or muddied within 10 seconds of first wear.
Then our new friends set out the feast. And Lord help me, as I learned way too much about how American meat is sacrificed in an un-clean way and all the gory details involved with that. I can never un-hear what I heard, thank you very much - And from this day forward I only want to shop for halal meat even if grass fed beef is on sale at the Aldi.
We sat around a mat laid on the floor, and used M's beautiful china plates and silver. Baked chicken, eggplant, broccoli cucumber tomato salad, some sort of lamb dish, enough rice to feed an army - and homemade yogurt. And our contribution? Cutesy pink cupcakes, lemonade and a sugar high for the next 12 hours for these sweet ladies' children.
We visited, asked more questions, answered the ones we could, and mostly just enjoyed a good meal in a small, hot apartment with people I would've never met had I not stepped out on faith to volunteer for this baby shower. One of the ladies said she liked blonde hair - and I told her I liked her sparkly, sequin outfit, and that I could hook her up with a great colorist if she ever wants some Dallas blonde highlights.
We took a group picture of all of us that will be shared across miles with people I'll surely never know or see. And they made a heaping plate of food for Fireman Dave to take home with him - again, on one of M's beautiful china plates. I asked if she would rather I put it on a paper plate so she wouldn't lose a dish. And she said no, she wanted me to have it. And I asked her if I could please return it to her another day with some cookies or brownies on it, and she said that I/we are welcome in her home anytime.
I read to her one of the notes that a friend included with her gift - a blessing for M and the new baby, and I think we all cried a collective tear of joy at what had brought us all together today. Babies and gifts and a nudging in me that I had something to give that someone needed to receive. Y'all, this shower sprung up so fast that I worried if it would survive the 2 week rushed planning and providing. But I have to say, I had nothing to worry about. God placed the call in my heart, and all I did was say it out loud. He made sure that others heard it.
I think I'll return that beautiful plate with or without something on it. Probably with, ... but I'm not sure it would even matter after getting to know these ladies. I've spoken of their kindness, generosity and thankfulness all afternoon. They've formed their own community of like kinds - other refugee friends. Other Muslim friends. Young moms raising their kids together with new and like adventures. And all trying to find where they fit in here in Dallas. I hope after today that these women know they fit in with me and my friends... and our church and my blog readers and basically everyone that has the kind of heart that is open to God's kind of love. The love that I sort of think is the best kind.
post script: that whole charging their home with goodness thing.... I feel like it was the other way around. I'm feeling fully charged.
and if you feel like you can host a baby shower or help with another one of the Gateway of Grace events, or tutor English to these very special people, all you have to do is say yes to the nudge. I promise to help you make it happen.