The Fire

Aren’t we all our most reflective selves at the end of a year? Everywhere we turn, folks are remembering and reviewing and resolving.  Certain markers in life cause us all to pull back and allow ourselves a broader view of the space in which we circulate.  We can count on a new year to be one of those.

All I know to do with my writing is be honest.  And there is a reason my writing has been a bit, well, constipated for the last ten months.  I have been exhausted beyond words.  About that many months ago, I quit a job I loved because things there got a bit awkward, and thank goodness I did because, though I didn’t know it at the time, my year was about to launch into a realm of busy-ness and difficulty that makes me grateful I didn’t see it coming.

This isn’t a poor-me post.  Before you quit reading because you don’t want to hear me complain about circumstances that sound ridiculous in the re-telling, just know that much.  Nope, I have nothing to complain about.  But if I could take you through all the shiny pictures on my phone from this last year, you’d see pictures of smiles and travels and guests and stunning scenery and grandbabies and all kinds of adventures.  And if you saw a picture of my heart, it would look super-glued and scotch-taped and sore and pushing through to create an outward smile.

Never in my life have I had an entire year of hard.  Up until this one, I’ve had years where I looked back and thought “Wow, there was a hard part in there!” but 2018 was more like, “Every single memory has a tainted backstory.” And not just for me, but for our whole family! Throughout this year, I didn’t find myself feeling sad, I felt myself having to power through as all the things around me that I held dear felt like they were crumbling and nothing I knew was secure — but One.

First a little story.  In the last three years, I have found a new hobby and you could NOT have convinced me that my animal-loving heart or my warmth-loving body would ever in a gajillion years enjoy suiting up in winter gear every day as fall turns to frigid winter and using various weapons to try to shoot a deer.  I’d have laughed at you.  But I found a new side of myself as Alison, the sitter-and-waiter.  And Alison, the harvester of beautiful organic meat.  And Alison, the defender of does — because if you didn’t know it before today, bucks are jerks.  I’m talking raping murderers of fawns, and mean as sin.  So I only shoot the big, mean ones.  Or attempt to.  And in the meantime, I visit with squirrels and birds, snowshoe hares, and beautiful does and fawns and the occasional wolf or bear.  I hone my eyesight to see every movement.  I settle into the woods and into my new instincts and train myself to sit so very still and listen and not fill every moment with busy-ness and plans and noise.  It is a process.  A long process.  And I’m super proud of it.  Two years ago, I shot my first deer.  It changed me.  I did a THING! and it impressed the heck out of myself and just about everyone who knows me.  (insert chuckle)  I didn’t enjoy the taking of a life.  BUT, I appreciated greatly the sacrifice that was given to nourish my family.  And, dang it, my shot through iron sites at 80+ yards that dropped a buck immediately was stinking impressive, if I do say so myself.

So this year, after having been skunked last year, the pressure was on.  We had a fabulous apple year meaning our orchards were bringing in some serious hoofed traffic. HUGE bucks were on our game cams.  Even before I could be out there for bow season, we were studying patterns and tracks and racks, and I was naming the boys I wanted to harvest.  Chocolate Rain and Mr. Big were my goals.  I was out in my stand most of bow season and almost every single day of rifle season — sometimes twice a day.  I literally didn’t go anywhere for almost a month except my deer stand.  I was so committed and ready.  I saw so many does, I couldn’t even count them.  So many fawns became my unknowing pets.  I knew who hung out with whom.  I knew which apples they liked best.  I knew what the sound of a little buck crunching his food sounded like and could hear and sense in an uncanny way, the approach of a deer.  I won’t tell you all the stories except that one day, I did shoot my beautiful buck.  And tracked him with my sweet man and eventually my son who came to help.  It was a good kill shot, but he ran far and fast and by the time he collapsed, our also-hunting neighbor found him and collected him (if you are him, and you read this, you’re welcome).  By dark, we had exhausted ourselves in the deep snow and dark and trudged up and down and far and wide in all our gear with our guns to a point of exhaustion I’ve only known a few times in my life with absolutely nothing to show for it.  When the four hunters in the family were done with the season and no one had gotten a deer for all our efforts and time and struggles, I found myself saying to God (because you talk to Him extra in the quiet), “Seems like it would have been easy to send me my big buck!  I tried so hard! What in the world?!  Can you just let me know why this had to be so hard?”

And like a thought-bubble of words that pinged around my head, I knew these words, “Was it enough that I found you faithful?”

Imagine my slack-jawed mouth shutting.

This year, a couple low points had me feeling like a failure as a parent in a brand new way, had me sobbing in physical pain that I haven’t known before, had me spent emotionally to a point I couldn’t describe, had me begging God to heal my daughter as she struggled to want to survive through a long battle for her health — she crawled into her Momma’s lap, a fragile wisp of herself with her bones protruding through her skin and pressed her ear to my heart as I held her in a way I hadn’t since she was tiny.  My sweet man and I had to trust God for basics and look to Him for answers in brand new ways this year — a battle between questioning every choice we’d made to get to this point, and choosing to stand and hold our ground.  We’ve stood for our family and our own mental health as never before — brand new and awful battles.

We gathered our family for the last few hours of 2018 to begin a new and not-so-new tradition.  We started our evening with lots of food and fellowship as always.  We took communion together as part of our tradition.  Then, we took a look back on our collective year.  The level of pain in each of my childrens’ and sweet man’s eyes and we tried to, each and all, find the good parts was a bit much.  And for Miss Merry Sunshine here, it was unusual to be the one who couldn’t come up with one solid, beautiful untainted memory of my own.  And then at the end of everyone else’s recollections, I found it.

At the worst of things, December 19th, 2018 my family said, ENOUGH!!  One of my children called an impromptu meeting at my son’s house and though it was late and we’d all had a long day and some of us had to travel almost two hours to get there, we all worshiped and prepared our hearts to storm some spiritual gates.   We arrived and settled the babies down and gathered in his kitchen and literally linked arms and began praising.  We had gone from despair that day to all-eyes-up.  We cast off everything ugly.  We claimed health and supernatural peace.  We anointed each other with oil and prayed for specific needs.  We broke spiritual chains, and prepared ourselves for a new beginning.  God met us there as we’ve never known before.  He heard His kids needing Him.  He surrounded and uplifted and strengthened and restored and healed.  And let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like watching your grown children anoint their father with oil and pray over him.

Since 2010 when we took our big journey into the unknown, we began marking moments with altars. So on New Year’s Eve, we met and had prepared a giant altar behind the barn and went out there in a blizzard.  We gathered with words written on paper that needed to burn.  And as a family, we put it all to death.  All of it is done.

During the heat of my battle this year, a new and dear friend of mine gave me words that  have resonated in a way, I’ll cling to for the rest of my days.  She reminded me that when three men went into the blazing furnace as they stood firm for what they knew, that the only things that burned in that inferno were the things which had bound them.  Just let that sit there.

fire 2

I had things that bound me this year — things I didn’t even realize were stuck on me.  I had folks to forgive and ask forgiveness from.  I had some pride in my *rightest* way of doing things.  I had misplaced security in things that weren’t secure at all.

As each of these layers were revealed to me, I had a responsibility to dig in, gear up, be still, sit in the quiet, study my surroundings, train myself to know what is real and what is dangerous, be willing to take risks, be brave, stand in what I know, use the weapons I have, and know that at the end of it all, all that matters is if He finds me faithful.  It is enough.

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Recalculating Route

Alison, the passenger

Alison, the passenger

It’s true.  I’ve been known to get a little anxiety about being in high-stress situations in a vehicle — these may include bad winter roads, high traffic, or unknown places which is sad because I have also driven lots of places on my own, far more than I ever dreamed I would!

Traveling with my family on my sweet man’s business trips and setting up in various cities with a determination to take my children to see the sights while he conducted meetings, tends to force a girl out of her comfort zone.  When we first started road-tripping as a family, I earned my navigational chops with a rare item — you may have heard of it?  It’s called a paper map.  Eventually, we progressed to a GPS that suctioned to the windshield.  One of those babies guided me, driving on my own with my children in the backseat) through downtown Washington DC (my most challenging driving to date).  I once drove a bit on the wrong side of the road in Australia.  I have navigated my husband through situations so dicey we would never want to repeat them.  In those moments, when tensions run high, I promise, it helps everything when you love your navigator — and he, you.

Ironically, now we live in a place where we are literally the farthest location in the continental US from an interstate highway.  Where we live, two lane roads are what we’ve got, and every route will most likely include dirt-road driving.  With some of the highest snowfall in the country, winter-road-driving is an every day occurrence half of the year.  Might as well settle into it.

Because though the weather might be frightening, it also provides views like this…

PIKE LAKE ROAD

Or this…

sunset

But there are still days.  There are still times when my stomach is in my throat.  When I have to release my grip from the passenger door.  When I have to tell myself that tears won’t help the zero visibility and give myself a pep talk something like…”Chin up, buttercup!  Just get home.”  Or maybe, “Please, Jesus just take the wheel!”  Haha.

When I look back at the path we have chosen as a family, I see it like those big cities, foreign countries, and unfamiliar roads.  There have been so many that were overwhelming, so many that felt upside-down and backwards, and so many that were so beautiful, they took my breath away.

Around the world, you find a couple different kinds of folks.  You find those that are content to stay put, and those that need to see more than the world around them.  Everywhere we’ve been, we find people who have always been in their hometown and have never ventured out.  And then you find people like we’ve been with an insatiable desire to have our worlds expanded.  I think each has a hard time imagining how the other feels.

Once upon a time, we were doing the thing.  We were living in a neighborhood and driving a minivan and we had a dog and a cat and a boy and two girls.  My husband worked long hours, and I did from home as well.  We went to a church and were working our way up the *life ladders,* whether social, church or corporate. Our visions for our future and our family looked much like everyone else’s.  We had a 401K because everyone did.  We invested more than we had into our home because we were told it was a sound investment.

We made most decisions based on how it would be perceived rather than what was authentic to who we were.

And then, one day, we were told that we were traveling too much and our kids were missing too much school.  An awareness began.  A feeling of unrest took root.  When it was time to send my little precious people out to a freezing cold bus stop and send them to a movie day at school with their pillows and a stuffed animal, I kept them home and we watched the same movie snuggled in momma’s bed, and I realized there might be a different way.  I began to research and it was within a few weeks that we quit school and our precious little people inspired a new path for our family — at home.  We understood (though we had no idea the depth) that we would be different.  That our children would be judged and stared at and commented upon.  But we were willing to pay that price.

That price affected us greatly.  We endured insults and comments and judgments.  But we also road-tripped 48 states and visited several countries.  We also got as close as a family can get, and beautifully, that bond endures.  My children are brilliant (I wish I could take the credit but I can’t) because they had space and time to learn and grow and develop on their own.  And even because of the comments and insults and judgments.

This first route change began a series of route recalculations that we could have never seen coming.  Within a few years, we would be called as a family to buck all of the systems and lay down every one of our desires to be normal and keep up with those darn Joneses.  Each time we got called out of something, we lost friends and areas of community, and each time we gained vast perspective and measures of freedom.

I heard a song recently called Different.  In it, the writer says he longs to be different.  To take the road less traveled, so to speak.  I heard those words and I wondered if he meant it.  We thought that once.  We told God we would be willing to do anything He asked us to.  We told Him we would lay it ALL down.  He listened.  He put one challenge, one obstacle course after another in front of us, and asked if we meant it.  Each time, we felt His smile and His hand guiding our every move.  But each time we had to be willing to lose to GAIN.  Perhaps the hardest part was letting go of what folks would think, but each time got easier and those voices faded into the distance.

It’s like putting a destination into your map app and seeing the shortest, easiest route and instead choosing the route with tolls and bridges and dirt roads and maybe even a ferry ride –through a blizzard.

The harder path changes you.  It has to because the challenges make you dig into your grit, lean heavily into trusting something bigger than yourself even when the way is unclear, yet provides you with views and stories of which you’ve never dreamed!

Our best stories from our 13,000 mile family RV trip 8 years ago are the ones that got us to impossible moments where we reached the end of the road and our own capabilities.  Only miracles could fix the pickles in which we found ourselves.

And miracles abounded.

So here’s a question for you: let’s say you were to begin a road trip of that magnitude today with your family.  Would you prefer to travel in an ancient, untested RV that got 5 miles to the gallon, beginning with $600 in your bank account with winter on your heels, OR would you pick the million dollar motorhome with all the comforts possible, unlimited funds, guaranteed safety, and perfect summer weather?  I’m asking myself right this minute, and I will still say that I honestly don’t know.  I did the first one and guys, it was HARD! And scary! And pushed me to my limits as a person, wife, and mother.  Yet, I GREW!  I left my home convinced that the place on which we had a huge mortgage was the only home I had ever known and I could never — would never — leave it.  I came home from that trip having seen things that made me ready to shuck off anything and everything and go anywhere God asked me to go.  I let go of all of the things I thought were important and was prepared for anything.  In each *impossible* situation, my fingers were pried off of my security, one by one,  and I was asked to trust in a whole new way.  By the time we pulled in to palm tree-lined campground pads next to Prevosts in our Clampett-mobile a couple dozen times, we had decided that our image was something to let go of!

But friends, our dreams changed! Our scope, our perspective, our very vision grew!!  We saw our box and leaped out!!! Our lives would turn upside down, and we would be called to *different* in a way we could have never imagined in a million years.

We sit in awe these days — awe at what God did with our dreams when we set them at His feet.

He took us through storms to train us to lean in and listen through the wind and thunder for the route to be recalculated.

He drove us through deserts so we would not only know what dry felt like, but abundance when we saw it.

He took us on roads so winding that we couldn’t even see the road ahead until we popped out on top of a mountain and had our breath stolen by the view.

I say it often — you can’t surrender a little bit.  Surrender to something bigger than you requires every little morsel.  But when the road you’re on has signs that feel like STOP and DEAD END, it’s most likely that surrendering the route to the Navigator Who adores you, Who can see the view from every direction, will absolutely change your life.

And you wouldn’t go back for ANYTHING.