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Bragging Rights and the Pursuit of Happiness

I had the most glorious weekend. Well, glorious Saturday, anyway. Friday night Will and Arien took my Littles, plus 3 of Arien’s younger sisters, camping. And David came home for the weekend. You don’t realize how much young children demand out of you until you get a chance to miss them (I never did get to that point – just enjoyed their absence!).

Friday night David and I watched The Greatest Showman. I had just downloaded it a week earlier when Arien was over and didn’t mind seeing it again. It’s a good movie. There are several songs I want to buy (next month’s budget!). I was surprised when David told me the next day that he had gone ahead and downloaded the musical’s title track. Apparently, he liked it. Actually, he said some of the girls in the dishroom at camp have been singing the songs in the kitchen all summer long, so he was already familiar with some of them!

Saturday, I met my friend Jenny in Altoona. It has been several years since we’ve spent time together alone. She’s so good for me, spiritually. Altoona traffic was insane. We both got stuck in traffic. It was backed clear onto the interstate. There was not any accident, but it was all traffic headed for Adventureland. I remember one year we went on a Sat. and Paul and I told each other, “Never again!” We finally met up at the new outlet mall they opened up last fall. I had never been there before. It’s a nice atmosphere. It reminds me of a couple different outdoor malls that Kathy and I have visited in Omaha – kind of a “village” effect. Jenny introduced me to the Vera Bradley store. I’ve actually visited the one out at Jordan Creek but that’s a smaller store and the prices – wow. But, VB at the outlet mall was having a 70% sale, so things were quite a bit more affordable Saturday! Anyway, that was nice and then we went to lunch and that was it. I then headed out to Jordan Creek to Younkers. I was driving Will’s Honda (he had my van) that sits so low to the ground I struggled to get out of it every time. The driver’s side door doesn’t lock and I couldn’t figure out the lights or radio! But it made the trip and I was grateful.

This was my last time at Younkers and it just made me so sad to see how desolate the store is. There’s no more overhead music being piped in. There’s no decorations. Liquidated merchandise is crammed together without order and it’s already so picked over. There are tags on all the mannequins and shelving saying, “Yes – I’m for sale!” I shouldn’t feel so emotional about a store but I think I have written before about how much Younkers stores figure into my earliest memories. I did find a pair of jersey material shorts that I had been looking for. Shopping is changing and those changes are convenient. I love, love, love Amazon and other on-line realtors, but there’s just something about strolling through a nice department store that also brings pleasure to my senses. And Younkers always reminded me of my grandmother.

So, anyway, then I went to see Mamma Mia 2. Later, David wrinkled his nose and said, “You went alone? And that was fun?” It was! I mean, I like attending movies with friends as much as the next person, but I really enjoy my own company, too. And I don’t feel self-conscious about being alone when I’m in a dark movie theater like I do at a restaurant. The movie (also a musical) was amazing! Years ago, I watched the first one on dvd. I remember Paul had taken the older boys to a father/son retreat and I just had Sam who was only 1 or 2 at the time. I painted my living room ceiling while I watched the movie and just fell in love . I bought the song track shortly thereafter at Best Buy and I still listen to those songs today! I thought Mamma Mia 2 was even better than the first one. A friend posted on FB that she took her daughter to see it and how much fun they had. Her daughter is in Lizzie’s class at school and there is NO way I’d let the girls see either movie right now. They’re great fun with awesome music and dance routines, but there is a still a negative moral message that the entire musical’s premise is built upon. That bothers me and there’s a part of my conscience that nags that me saying, “If the girls shouldn’t watch this, should you?” I know, I know…So, anyway – this is not an endorsement for the movie, just a report of what I did.

And then I met David and Ben for supper, which was nice. We went to Walmart and I went home, tidied up the house, and watched some more of “My Five Wives.” This is a free show I’ve been streaming in bits and pieces this summer. It’s interesting. Maybe I’ve already mentioned it. There’s 3 seasons of this show that used to air on cable. It’s a reality show about a former FLDS family in northern Utah who are living a polygamous lifestyle. All the adults grew up in it so it seems very normal to them. They have 25 kids altogether. The family lives a very modern, “normal” lifestyle – unlike the images we typically associate with polygamy. I did think it was interesting, though, that the oldest child, who is married and out of the home, has chosen to not live in poloygamy and in interviews with some of the other kids, they, to a person, have been very emphatic that they plan to live in a normal two-person marriage someday. So, while the tv viewer is seeing a very loving, huge family, things must not be all rosy for the children to not be excited about the prospect of the same for themselves. But it’s entertaining. And it’s not Shakespeare!


I’m still watching Ellie for changes and she does seem a little more softer, malleable. It is tempting to want to remind her constantly that as a Christian, she should not be doing whatever it is she is in trouble for at the moment.I think there can be some room for that but neither do I want to use her salvation as a “weapon” against her either. I know later that same week Ellie did something (I can’t remember now) and I actually very gently asked her, “Now is this something a Christ-follower does?” She looked at me for a moment and then said, clearly exasperated, “Give me a break! I’ve only been doing this for three days!” Ha, ha – I guess she does have a point.

Sam said recently that all the pillows on my bed have a “unique” smell and that’s why he loves lying in my bed because, “It smells just like you, Mom!” Aw-w-w…

And for an ew-w-w-w, not aw-w-w-w story, read the following: Olivia is a strange cat. She can be very affectionate, although she’s not one to really jump in your lap for cuddling. In fact, if you do start scratching her ears and neck, she will bite you. Only, it’s not a mean bite. I think it’s her way of showing affection, in a very weird and painful way. She is a chewer. She will get into food left out, she chews open garbage bags, and even the cushion that I am sitting on right now has been chewed up around the edges. As you’ll recall she chewed Sam’s gerbil to death last fall and I’m a little nervous about bringing a new kitten into the house next month. If she does accidentally kill her, I hope she does it before I get the new cat’s shots – just a thought. She constantly asks to be fed. Bella only mewed when she knew it was about that time. This cat though, every time you so much as put a single foot on the basement steps, she is there begging. And she flops herself onto your feet as you walk, making it very difficult to even get to her food dish if you were, indeed, planning to feed her. She refuses to give her up her seat at any time. If Bella was sitting somewhere, she would move as soon as you nudged her. We can pull a chair across the room and this cat will not budge from her spot. She loves my office chair at my desks in the basement and I am usually perched on the edge because she refuses to move (I should probably just plop her on the floor, but then I feel guilty because she was there first). So, anyway – weird cat.

We’ve had a lot of frogs this year because it’s been a wet summer. Olivia was in the mudroom the other day and Sam reported to me that she was playing with a frog that had gotten into the room. Gross. So, I went to check on the situation and all I could see was a frog arm sticking out of Olivia’s mouth. I wanted to vomit. And then, a few moments later she urped something and it was frog pieces. It looked like water beads. Ew, ew, ew! I couldn’t even think about it without feeling queasy. Later that same day, there was another, even larger frog on the inside door of the mudroom (they must be coming in underneath the one door – there’s a gap there, I’ve noticed) and there sat Olivia, eyeballing her prey. This time we shooed the frog outside.


I’ve actually done one thing right this summer which has been to take the kids to the library a few times. We never managed that even once last summer! All 3 love graphic novels. I know their classrooms or the school library had some and the kids were forever checking those out, bringing them home, and then fighting over whose turn it was to read them. So, they were delighted to find a selection of them at the public library in Pville. That library is the smallest library I have ever been in. The entire children’s section is smaller than the size of my bedroom (my bedroom is not large). So, anyway, the kids brought home some of the graphic novels and then Lizzie told me that there was a homosexual storyline in one of them. I looked it over and sure enough, there was. Ugh. Obviously, they weren’t going to finish reading it. But I just wasn’t sure what to say or if I should even say anything at all to the library. In my experience, librarians tend to be on the liberal don’t-ban-my-books end of the spectrum. It was quite possible that they would not share my dismay, but would see this as a good thing, since the acceptance of homosexuality is very mainstream now. I sure didn’t want to be perceived as this religious nut job who only wants her kids to read Dick and Jane books, but the idea of not saying anything bothered me, too.

So, I finally just put sticky notes on the offending pages and I did bring up to the librarian. I was very nice and told her I was sure she was probably not aware of this (hopefully), but this was what we had found in the book. She did seem horrified and assured me she had no idea and couldn’t understand why authors would put such a thing in a children’s book. She took the book from me and assured me they would do something about it. Of course, I may have been the topic of a laughing conversation between staff once I left and the “something” she did might have been to re shelve the book. I don’t know! But I did something which is, I suppose, better than nothing.
Last Wed. we toured Ben’s new home. It’s a nice, spacious house. I’m still very impressed with the way it sounds the house and accompanying program will be run. Ben is enthusiastic. Tomorrow, we are having an extensive intake interview with the program director. Wed. I am meeting the head of the program at the house again so I can take measurements of the room Ben picked. I need to buy him some furniture and it occurred to me it might be helpful to know exactly how much space he has. I think I’m going to get him a platform bed. These have drawers underneath which will be helpful, storage-wise, but it would also eliminate Ben having to clean under his bed. All his life he has deposited socks and tissues under his bed and still lacks the retrieval skills necessary for such activity.

I have a whole list of things I need to purchase for him and I find that I am absolutely dragging my feet about starting the process.

I don’t want him to go.

I want him to go.

Why do our kids have to grow up and leave us? I know it has something to do with the propagation of the human race, but man, it’s hard. I never realized how much I thrived on being needed until they gradually quit needing me at all.

And if a person has their kids in their twenties, like most do, then the kids start to fly away just as Mom is going into menopause. That is so not fair. We’re already struggling with our emotions and depression and hot flashes and weight gain – and then our kids leave.

Of course, with Ben it’s a little different, too. He has needed me in a way the others never had. I have poured myself out into this child because he needed so much. I remember holding him as a newborn in the NICU and feeling something just happen to my heart. It burst wide open with an emotion I had not felt before, not even with his older brother. It was this total surrender of anything I wanted in life in order to help this broken little person. It was like somebody took a pin to my heart and it gushed out all over Ben. He was mine and nobody was going to tell me that he wasn’t going to live or walk or be normal in any way. If it was possible to heal him with love, then he had all he needed from me.

I guess I should hasten to add that I have felt that to certain extent with all my kids. There is just something about motherhood that is hard to even capture with words. But it was different with Ben.

And now, I have to let him be independent. I have to let somebody else or a group of somebody elses oversee his needs. When he started school in the 7th grade I remember getting a visual picture of me, backing up a little bit, as I let his teachers and the staff walk into the innermost circle around him. But I was sure hanging over their shoulders! I always thought I must be something of a pain, but I had a couple of his teachers repeatedly tell me that I was a “joy” to work with. I must not have been too annoying, then. I digress.

Ben will always need me. And honestly, I hope he doesn’t outlive me, because right now, the thought of someone else doing what I do scares me because I know they won’t do it as well as me! But the chances are very good Ben will live the last 30 years of his life or so without me. And by then, he may bear little resemblance to the person he is today, anyway. If he continues to mature he may even move beyond a group home experience (my heart can’t take that thought right now, though).

I have to do this. It’s Ben’s time to soar. He will never know the turmoil I’m feeling because I don’t want to dampen his enthusiasm in any way. I’m just going to smile and tell him, “You can do this!” and then I’ll blog furiously and try not to cry. Too much, anyway.

And there are others who still need me. The other day I was smoothing Ellie’s hair into a puff with a hairbrush. I was sweeping the brush over her hair and she says in this oh-so-icy voice, “I do not grow hair on my forehead. Therefore, it is not necessary for you to brush there!” She sounded like a 77 year old matron talking to her servant – not a 7 year old girl! And tonight I had to pull her off her sister as she attempted to yank Lizzie’s hair out by the roots. We talked and I asked her, “Do you think Jesus would pull his sister’s hair?” I cannot remember what she replied now, but it took awhile before she was ready to apologize. Apparently, she had a good reason for the attempted scalping. Yeah, she’s going to need me for awhile. So does Lizzie – for protection.

I have been so tired all day long. I think I need to get myself to bed earlier tonight because it will be another early morning. I need to get the girls to therapy first thing in the morning.

We had Ben’s intake interview this afternoon. It took 2 hours, but went very well. I guess they are going to be 4 and eventually 5 young men in this home. Two, including Ben, are already committed and they are talking to a 3rd and 4th right now. You cannot open a home, though, until you have 3 committed on paper.

What else?

Oh, I had a lady at Hobby Lobby today tell me that I had “polite and well-behaved grandchildren.” I even had make-up on! Of course, the Littles thought that was the funniest thing they’d heard in their entire lives and none of them could quit laughing for some time. I wasn’t quite laughing but I wasn’t sure whether I was offended or not!
The other day Lizzie surprised me when she told her sister, “Yeah – don’t be like the people in Black Lives Matter!” I flipped down my visor so I could see her talking (I was driving) because I wasn’t sure where she was going with that. I gathered from Lizzie’s continued talking that she was referring to the rioters (the kids had seen news coverage of some recent riots in Chicago over a black man’s shooting by a white police officer) and her point to her sister was to not make excuses for bad behavior. And then Lizzie wrapped up her admonition with, “Besides we know that it’s not just black lives that matter. ALL lives matter!” I could not have said it better myself! I probably have said that, actually, which is where Lizzie got it. She does, apparently, listen to me sometimes.
Last Thursday we had 14 tornadoes touch down in Iowa. Unreal. We had very nice weather here, actually. I was alternately mowing and painting and I did notice that the sky looked a little dark so I told the kids to push the mower into the garage. We ended up getting a few raindrops and that was it. The sun came back out and I went back to mowing. And then I came in the house and flipped on the radio and discovered that it was non-ending weather coverage! The Vermeer plant in Pella, which is in my county, but 45 min away, took a direct hit. Our former neighbor’s husband lost his truck that day since the vehicles in the employee parking lot ended up stacked on top of eachother! Bondurant got hit, but not too terribly. That’s a half hour away. And then Marshalltown got it pretty badly. That’s a little over an hour away. They are still without power and water in parts of the city. This has been a weird summer, weather-wise. But I still have a house and air conditioning and running water, so I’m not going to complain about some freaky weather patterns.

It's only about a month now until school starts – the 28th. I am dreading it. I think it’s because I will be teacher subbing in the not too distant future and I am kind of scared about doing that. I’m sure it will be fine, but the idea of it still makes me nervous. I would much rather just stay home all the time.

But then I won’t have any money. Actually, I’ve started to panic about money again. I’ve done this a handful of times since Paul’s death. It suddenly occurred to me the other night that the most I’m going to be able to sub any month is 20 days. That’s only about $2000 monthly in income for only 9 months of the year. Right now, that will be fine. I won’t even have to sub all 20 days – if I could even get that many. But in 5 years Sam turns 16 and I will lose my mother’s portion of Social Security. What am I going to do then? What do I do when he graduates and I get no SS at all? What about when the girls turn 18 and I lose their adoption subsidy? But I am reminding myself that every time I have started to panic before, God has shown a way. I remember the night Paul died thinking over and over, “What are we going to do now?” A big portion of that concern was financial. And God provided much more abundantly than I could even imagine at the time. So I think what I am supposed to do right now is to trust even though I don’t have all those answers that I would prefer to have. I always think of Elisabeth Elliot’s advice to “do the next thing.” Right now, the next thing seems to be subbing. And I have my degree so surely that has to be worth something to some employer. God knows my heart is to be home in the summers with my kids and I don’t know what other plans He might have in store for the future.

I think I have written about this before, but there have been a few occasions in my life when I heard the voice of God. It was not audible, of course, but He spoke so loudly and clearly to my heart that I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it was Him and not my own thoughts or fancies. One time, oh about a decade or so ago, I was really discouraged about our finances and some other things in my life. . I don’t even remember what was going on, exactly. But it was one of those times where I was praying and kind of moaning and just fretting. And I heard so clearly God say to me, “See what great things I am going to do.” I have never forgotten that. And He has done great things! And so I have to trust that He will continue to take care of me and do those “great things.”

I’m still not too big on faith. I’d rather have all my answers now! But then, I suppose I would not need Him as much if I had them.

I had one more thing I wanted to write about, but I need to clean up the kitchen. I am SO tired! I think as soon as I can shoo these kids off to bed I’m going to go myself. Plus, my finger is throbbing and typing is making it worse. I smashed it a couple of hours ago between a heavy scrapbook and a plastic basket. I must have really done a number on it because it has not quit hurting yet.

So, I may get this finished tonight or I may delay until tomorrow. My poor finger!


And it still hurts today, although not as bad as last night. I have a feeling when I change the nail polish, I’ll find a bruised nail under there.

I have a friend – well, I thought she was a friend, but I haven’t had much contact from her in close to a year – who has torn apart her family in recent months. She’s left her husband and her children, moved in with another guy, frequently posts angry/profane things on her FB wall (she claims to be a Christian, though), etc. It’s very sad, but at the same time, while at times, I have tried to be encouraging in response to her FB posts, I don’t feel like our relationship is such that I can say, “WHAT are you doing?” I don’t know – maybe I should. I know others have, with no apparent success. Anyway, last week she posted a simple, plaintive comment that really struck me. She wrote, “All I wanted was to be happy.”

That says a lot, doesn’t it? It’s part of the human condition to chase happiness, only to find that it remains temporary or elusive. We might not tear apart our families in pursuit of it, but yet it does have the tendency to become the driving force of our life. We pass a message to our kids that happiness is all that matters in life . We say things like, “Well, I just want them to be happy” when referring to our kids. That’s normal. But as a godly parent, we should want more than that for our children – and for ourselves. We need to pursue holiness, not happiness. And in doing so, we will probably find the greatest happiness possible. I thought about writing those things to my friend, but I don’t know how receptive she’d be to the message.


I don't look as happy I should here - I really was!  It's just a bad picture.

Ok, lastly, I’m bragging on me here because I’m NOT going to do it on Facebook. Today, I had a strange package in my mailbox. This time it wasn’t a parenting book! It was from BVU and inside was this letter and award for academic excellence. The letter mentions something about 10% of all BVU students obtaining this high of academic achievement, so I assume each of us got this little plaque. But it’s special and I’m proud of it. Quite honestly, I have spent the majority of my life not feeling like I was all that smart. It started as a young teenager when I just could not understand the higher math and science concepts my classmates seemed to latch onto with no problems at all. I just assumed from then on that my brain was deficient in some way. And I know there are different areas of “smartness.” Academics is one area and one area only. I can look back now on my adult life and point out different areas where I have excelled. Obviously, I DO have brains. And honestly, if I had not had Will’s help in my math and science classes, I would not be receiving this award. That is an area of my brain that just doesn’t compute very well . And that’s ok. My biggest fear when I thought about returning to college was that I would flunk out. I did not think I had the intellectual ability to do it.

But I did it!


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