Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Belated Gratitude

Two years ago today, on a quiet, dark Sunday morning, the girls and I piled into our little Honda Accord with my mom, Dylan buckled into the front seat of my parents' Dodge Caravan with my twin brother, and with all the most vital possessions we could fit into those two vehicles, we headed to Montana.  Doug would follow us a couple of weeks later after finishing the very last of the donate/sell/stash-in-storage sorting of our remaining possessions and cleaning out our house, locking it and leaving for the last time.

By the time we left California, I was, admittedly, angry, hurt, frustrated and depressed.  It wasn't supposed to be this way.  Intellectually and spiritually I knew better, of course--that we had been where we were supposed to be, doing what we were supposed to be doing, but that was never a guarantee that things would go the way they "should"--but my emotions were having trouble getting on board with that knowledge.  It didn't help that, though not intending to run away, we had very few options left and didn't know what we were headed toward, so it felt a bit like running away.  It was hard for it not to look like we just fled when things got tough.  There were no job offers in Montana, no friends, no home.  As far as we could tell from online searching, there was little in the way of job prospects.  Doug was leaving the valley he grew up in for a place where he knew few people.  The kids were leaving all their friends, and many of Doug's family members that they adored.  They would have to start new schools, and say goodbye to the only home they'd known.  When we bought our house, Keilana wasn't quite 2 1/2 and Dylan wasn't even one yet.  Doug and I would miss our family terribly, too, as well as the most incredible group of friends and ward family that anyone could ask for.  All we knew about coming to Montana was that it was full of loving family, too, and that it was Montana--beautiful, relatively remote, perhaps offering a possibility of refuge for a time: a soft place to land after a lot of hard falls.  It took many more frustrating, depressing months before finally finding a job, but find one we did, only 2 hours away from the place we now called home, and in the state I have always loved above all others.  That was truly a tender mercy.

That's where I was for a long time: grateful, but disappointed.  Grateful, but frustrated.  Grateful, but tired.

I haven't had the privilege of going back to California or seeing those friends (and some of those family members) in the 2 years since that Sunday morning.  But Keilana and Doug have managed to make one trip back.  Thanks to that, I had a rather marvelous experience a few months ago.  Keilana was chatting with me while I prepared dinner.  Somehow, she got to talking about her trip to California with her dad, telling me that they had stopped to see our house.  "Remember the tomatoes that we planted?"

"They're still growing, they looked really healthy.  Daddy and I peaked through the gate and the window at the patio. It looked just like when we left.  And we went through the bushes to the side window so we could see the living room.  It looked the same, too.  We could see the island in the kitchen.  Remember all the cookies we used to make at the island?"  I realized at that point that I had nearly stopped chopping.  I did remember.  So clearly.  I remembered making batch after batch of sugar cookies with my toddlers and preschoolers.

I remembered watching Kylie take her first steps in the corner of that living room over by the TV, and Keira doing her first scooting in the same place.

I remember hours upon hours spent nursing my babies in the rocking chair that sat in front of that window.  I remember the delight with which my little ones planted their first tomato plants out on the patio, and the many hours we spent out there, running through the sprinkler, drawing chalk masterpieces and blowing bubbles with Clayton and Claire.

I could already feel myself getting emotional, and Keilana kept going, "Remember how we used to all play on your bed in your big room?"  I remember so many wrestling matches and so many hours of snuggling and cuddling in that room.

"Remember when we used to go to the Meiks for playdates with Abby, when we'd play in their big yard?"  I remembered a half a dozen she wasn't even present for, afternoons spent chatting with Angie and Emily while our little girls wandered about the house or the backyard, happily entertaining each other, our little three amigos--a blonde, a redhead and a brunette, all with the bluest of blue eyes.

"Remember when we used to go to the beach? And sometimes take Yaya when she came to visit?"

"And how we'd stay at Grandpa Barnes' beach house with Mimi?  Remember how Kylie would eat the sand?"  I remembered all of that, and little Keilana running down Cayucos Peir in her swimsuit and suddenly, looking down, exclaiming, "Hey! The ocean's under there!" and dropping right where she was, pressing her little face against the planks of the pier, bum in the air, to see the ocean beneath her.

I remember coaxing a cautious Dylan into the ocean waves, and pushing Kylie on the swings at the beach, and listening to them all giggle ferociously when we'd feed the sea lions.

"Remember how we used to go to McDermont every Friday and play in the bounce houses and the arcade, and then get slushies on the way home?  And how we used to go buy tamales at the street fair for dinner? And sometimes, if I was good, you'd get me Takis or a churro?"  McDermont, which I sometimes resented for dominating so much of our lives and then having the audacity to be across the street from our house, which I now miss so much.  My babies spent so many happy hours there.

At this point, I wasn't even trying to chop because the tears were clouding my vision, but she kept going.

"I remember when I got to stay at Sethy's house.  Sethy's mom is so much fun.  And Sister Ashcraft, she was the best Primary teacher. I miss having Family Home Evening with the Ashcrafts."

"I miss Jacelyn, too.  And Payton.  Payton's my best friend. Do you remember when she made cookies with us?"

I do, kiddo.  Until that moment, I don't think I had realized just how much Keilana remembered of our life there.  And all the many stresses and frustrations and losses that we dealt with weren't even on her radar.  Those were entirely happy years for her.  And suddenly, I was awash in gratitude.  Not gratitude tempered by stress, or frustration, or grief, or fatigue.  Just pure, joyful, soaring gratitude for the years we spent there.  They were joyful years.  They were the years I brought my babies home and watched them learn to crawl and talk and make cookies.  I was a good mother during those years: reading lots and lots of books, doing little crafts, making cookies and cakes and teaching them songs and teaching them to pray and taking them to the park and on walks--nearly every day--and making the very best of friends.  Those were wonderful, wonderful years.  For the first year and a half or more after we left, thinking about the house, and consequently the loss of the house, was a source of anxiety and frustration for me.  Keilana transformed it.  Without entirely meaning to, she reminded me of what a joyful little house it was, always bursting with laughter and play and extra kids.  The friends that came to visit us when we were in that house are some of the kindest, most generous, and fun people I have every known.  The hours we spent reading books and wrestling on the floor and doing Spanish homework are some of my very best memories.

And I remember double dates and birthday parties  and baby showers and conversations that went on too long into the night and cards and meals and gifts.  I remember trips to the temple and phone calls of encouragement at crucial moments.  I remember visiting teaching moments and Priesthood blessings that strengthened my faith in a Celestial world and a loving Father.  Not everything went the way we wanted it to.  We all made mistakes.  Lots of them.  But ultimately, the people we fell in love with during that joyful time in life were all souls who were committed to the truth that you will find your greatest joy in life in serving others, and that by serving, you might help others find joy as well.  In our own little way, we were trying to build Zion and, even if it didn't happen in the ways that we expected, I certainly think the Lord blessed us with much fruit of that righteous goal in spite of our flaws and missteps.

Those years taught me so well what it means to love with true Christlike love.  I was served so selflessly by those around me.  I was asked to step outside myself more--sometimes in a language not my own. I was asked to be patient when it would've been easy to be short. I was asked to forgive when it would've been easy to hold a grudge.  I was taught to let go when I wanted desperately to hold on. I was taught how to have compassion when judgment or condemnation would've been much easier.  I was taught to be grateful when it would've been easy to be angry. I was taught how to find more when I felt like I had nothing left to give, and then to give that part of myself happily.

The things we went through together--deaths, births, sealings, trials and triumphs--taught me about who I was, and who I want to be, and helped bring me a lot closer to bridging the gap between the two.  How could I possibly be anything but overwhelmingly, unfailingly grateful for that?

I think that's why certain memories remain so clear--so that the Spirit can use them to remind us who we are capable of being, and how joyful it is when we reach for that Divine potential.  As Thanksgiving approaches, I can think of no better way to show my gratitude to God than to stretch a little further, stand a little taller and be a little better.  He's already shown me how, and filled my life with many worthy examples.  The best way to show gratitude is to be and do good.    Because I have been given much, I too must give. 


Kaytee Postma said...

You kinda make me wanna pack up and move there myself! Sounds like a wonderful place!

Becky said...

i love this.