Saturday, February 6, 2021

On Finding My Tribe


LIFE takes us to unexpected places,

  LOVE brings us home.


I’ve moved around a few times in my life.  My earliest years were spent in the southwest, where I can remember spending Sunday afternoons on Hopi Indian reservations, watching the Butterfly Dances and dancing alongside the Hopi Indians as a happy youngster, searching for the black-and-white painted Pueblo clowns moving amongst them.  As I reached school age, my family moved to the south, where I picked up a southern drawl and wondered why my parents didn’t put a rebel flag in their yard like all the neighbors.  My coming-of-age years were spent in the mountains of Kentucky, living in a very isolated region among people who could not relate to living anywhere else, and who had no desire to do so. Later, married life took my husband and me to the Midwest. There, we lived outside St. Louis, but my work took me into the Ozark hills and a culture very similar to the one I’d come to know in Appalachia.  Ten years later, we returned to the hills of Kentucky, where I am now, and where I hope to remain, God willing.

I share this because I have been thinking a lot lately about those who feel that they have not found their “tribe” and are searching for just the right place to live.  The mindset seems especially rampant now, post-election, as both conservative and liberal-minded folks look for a place where they “belong”. And I admit, I have thought about it a lot as well.  It is very tempting to want to move someplace where more people think like us, live like us, maybe even look like us. Would this be the solution to my discontent? Do I just need to find my people? Is it time to circle the wagons?

It’s called the “siege mentality” and it happens when we begin to feel threatened, isolated, or oppressed because of what we believe or how we choose to live. More than just the “grass being greener” folly, the siege mentality often develops when we have been victimized, ostracized, or marginalized because we took a stand to fight and found ourselves standing alone.  It makes us want to run until we can find a group willing to stand with us.   It’s not that this is necessarily a bad thing; we all desire a community to which we belong and that helps us feel validated to some degree. Such is human nature.  However, I only wish to issue a word of caution that this kind of thinking can too often mislead us into making some very big life decisions based upon an illusion of happiness.

Before I was born, my father as a young man moved to the southwest in search of adventure and to satisfy his desire for wide-open spaces.  Six years later, he’d had his fill of it and missed the changing of the seasons and rainy days and growing tomatoes, so he moved back east with his young family in tow.  Six years after that, he decided he wanted to go back home, and live in familiar lands with familiar people again, so he moved us back to his hometown and swore he’d never move again.  Forty years later now, he never has.  It took him 13 years and nearly 2,000 miles of distance to realize that he was happiest where he’d started. 

My story is a bit different.  I never felt a strong desire to move around, perhaps due to being involuntarily moved around as a kid.  But when presented with the opportunity to move to the Midwest, I was excited, not so much because I was not happy with where we lived at the time, but more because we were moving to an area where there were more Catholics, the “Rome of the West”, no less!  And frankly, I was looking forward to living for the first time in a place where I was not the religious minority.

However, what I found was that in this Catholic stronghold, the people were not as friendly as those I’d known in the south, where everyone calls you “sweetie” and “blesses your heart”.  My husband and I felt spoiled to have dozens of Catholic churches to attend that were within 50 miles of our home, yet, two years later, we were still trying to find a parish where our more traditional Catholic beliefs were supported.  Once we did, we found that after having children, the more orthodox crowd (and priest) at the Catholic church where we’d been attending, did not take too kindly to unruly toddlers disrupting their prayers, and so we began church-hopping again.  And at nearly every church we attended, we were disappointed when pro-life events were poorly attended, by the pro-Obama bumper stickers in the church parking lot, and by a general lack of hospitality afforded those who were obvious strangers.

So, after ten years, we moved again, and just as my father did, we landed right back where we’d started.  Here we live today, in the middle of the Bible belt, in an ocean of strong Christian evangelicals and a speckling of lukewarm Catholics.  We belong to a large Christian, but not Catholic, homeschool co-op that allows me to scratch out the line about “Sola scriptura” in their Statement of Faith before I sign it.  We attend a Catholic church that struggles to remain Catholic, but at least where we can receive the sacraments validly and welcomes enthusiastically my family and accepts our behaviorally challenged children as they are.  Our social circle is composed primarily of homeschooling families and a few others, none of whom share our faith. Like me when I was a child, my children are growing up without Catholic friends and without being exposed every Sunday to the true beauty and reverence that the Holy Mass deserves and should offer.  Our life here is certainly far from our ideal but we make it work.

What that means is that my husband and I must work even harder to catechize our children at home.  It means we must make a greater effort to find opportunities to expose them to the beauty of the faith by taking road trips to visit cathedrals or attend ordinations or beautiful Catholic weddings.  It means inviting our priests over for dinner regularly and asking them to hear our confessions on the back porch because our Catholic church was built without a confessional.  It means using a solid, Catholic curriculum for their homeschool education because the closest Catholic school is 100 miles away.

But more than anything, it means that we must find a way to accept that God has put us where he wants us even if it does not seem ideal.  Even if I can think of a million ways that it could be better.  I could worry about my sons meeting “good Catholic women” to marry someday.  I could worry about them leaving the church because of the Protestant environment in which they are growing up.  I could feel upset about my fellow parishioners who scoff at the way my family chooses to practice what they believe is an “old fashioned” form of Catholicism. There’s no shortage of things to be depressed about if I dwell on them.

And dwell on them, I have. After living for a couple of years where we are today, I was restless and questioned if we were in the best location for our family and our faith.  For a long time, I did not think I belonged in this small town of people who seemed nothing like me.  However, experience had already taught me that no matter where we go, no place will meet all my expectations.  So, we decided to stay for the long haul.  

And it was only after I accepted that fact that God began to lead me to my own tribe.  And to my surprise, they were not the Catholic community that I for so long had wanted to be a part of. Instead, he showed me that it was my Protestant brothers and sisters living all around me who would be the ones I could look to for encouragement and example.  It took my experience of living in both a Catholic stronghold and the Bible Belt to realize this.

Right now, it is their example, and not that of most Catholics, that I am admiring.  They are the ones voting for life when it really counts, forming militias and taking a stand when out-of-state protestors arrive on their doorstep, and still going to church every Sunday despite COVID-19 and governmental threats. They are the ones showing up for Veteran’s Day services and flying the American flag proudly in their yards. They have nourished their faith from generation to generation by teaching their children to learn from the Bible, memorize the commandments, go to church every Sunday (wearing their Sunday best, of course), and respecting the Biblical authoritative structure of the family. These are the things I see our Protestant brothers and sisters doing that are making them great evangelizers in this historic moment for our country. 

For a long time, I didn’t think I’d ever find my tribe, and wanted to move to a place where people were more like me.  Little did I know that God was waiting to show me that the place I needed to be was right where I was all along, surrounded by people I never would have guessed would be the ones I needed to be around the most.  

 

 

 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

7 Quick Takes - 2021 So Far

 

 Happy New Year!

-1-

Like most, I’m not sad to see 2020 end, but I have clenched teeth about 2021.  I am pleased to say that I am feeling even better than I did after my last post, in which I described my COVID-19 experience.  It certainly was a strange illness for me.  For weeks, I had some fatigue and serious brain fog.  My hormones went completely wacko afterwards, also, and so did my moods.  I told my friends that I was either pregnant or post-COVID.  Well, it certainly wasn’t the former as those days are behind me now (sadly).  Things are slowly coming back to normal, and I’m planning to resume running again this coming week, which will probably look a lot like walking.  My husband had an antibody test done two weeks ago and oddly enough, it came back negative, which amazed me because he certainly was exposed to the virus many times while I had it.  I attribute it to either the virus not being as highly contagious as we had thought or God’s mercy.  Probably both.

 -2-

As we usually do, my husband and I welcomed the new year in while we were sound asleep. For the past 20 years, we have helped with a local Christmas Bird Count (CBC) on New Year’s Day and this year was no exception.  This was the 25th year for our particular count, and I have been helping since the beginning.  Back then, I was a single, energetic, eager-to-learn young woman and now I’m a married, worn-out, been-there-done-that mom. Yet, a love of birding has remained constant in my life and it always will.  I hope that someday, I am an eighty-plus year-old woman still counting birds on New Year’s Day. Hopefully some younger birders will join me and drive me around while I peer out the windshield counting starlings and turkey vultures, which is all that may be left.

The intrepid birder.

-3-

We had an epiphany!  We wrapped up our 12-Days of Christmas celebration with a sweet little Epiphany party at home and invited a couple of friends who also were now post-COVID to join us.  I made my first attempt at a charcuterie and it was a lot of fun to put together, even if not Pinterest worthy.  We also made our own chocolate coins, something I wished I’d thought of doing years earlier.  One of our kids reacts to soy lecithin, so I always have to make our own chocolate candy or buy the very expensive allergy-friendly variety.  Finally, I had my own little epiphany and realized that for the price of two bags of the allergy-friendly coins, I could buy a candy coin mold, a bag of Enjoy Life chocolate chips, some gold foil and make my own!  It was super easy and the kids enjoyed doing this as one of their “12-days of Christmas” activities.  At our 12th Night party, we hid the coins and the kids searched for them.  Whoever found the baby in the king cake got to keep all the gold coins (if they were an Evil King) or they could choose to share their gold (if they were a Good King).  Turns out that Daddy found the baby, and while he was on the fence for a moment, he decided to be a Good King and share his wealth of soy-free chocolates.  Long live the King!

King Dad





-4-

After a much needed 2-week break, we resumed school work this past week.  The first day was as bloody as I expected it would be, and it was painful realizing that even sending them to school right now would mean still having them at home.  LOL!  But day 2 went much better after a few motivational speeches (aka, threats) from mom, and I think we are back in our groove again.  I still long for the day that I can have both boys doing schoolwork in the same room, but I have accepted that that day may never come.  For now, we are making homeschool work by having each kid in their own space and I wear the floor out going back and forth from one to the other.  You wouldn’t think I’ve been doing this for six years now based upon how every day feels like day one all over again, but I am hopeful that by the time they start high school, I’ll have a system down.  Maybe.   Strange enough, however, our kids continue to learn despite my (and their) imperfections so something must be working.



-5-

Added to the stress of homeschooling, COVID, and holidays has been my ongoing plight in trying to kill a deer this winter.   Crossbow season opened on September 19 and continues through January 18 and it looks like I will be out there in the deer blind freezing my thumbs off until the very last sunset of the hunting season.  It has been both extremely rewarding (read, time alone outside) and frustrating.  In the almost one-hundred hours now that I have spent hunting, I have seen exactly one deer.  That one deer walked up to my blind, looked at me and turned around, all within about 10 seconds.  I think they’ve got my number.  This is the second year in which I have been unsuccessful with deer hunting, and our freezer is empty of venison now, leaving me with a primeval feeling of failure. I am applying this year for a Kentucky elk permit, and my odds are about 1 in 100 in getting drawn, which I find strangely encouraging.  

One of too many sunrises I watched from the deer blind this season.


-6-

For southern Kentucky, it’s been a snowy winter.  I think we’ve had a total snow accumulation for the winter of about 5 inches.  God likes to tease us with snow down here, giving us just enough to get us excited and eager to build snowmen, but then turning off the snowfall just before the grass is covered.  So, the kids have instead turned to other snowy outdoor pursuits such as jumping on their trampoline and watching the snow fly up as they land, and throwing miniature snowballs at their grandfather as he unsuspectingly steps out onto the front porch, and tricking the dog into eating snow fluff stirred into her bowl amongst the dogfood. I am taking the boys into the forest today for a “snow hike” which is exactly what it sounds like.  The boys love to look for animal tracks and deer trails in the white stuff and sabotage their mom with snow balls down my neck collar when I’m not paying attention, then they’ll come home and muddy up the floors and toss wet clothes all around the woodstove and beg for supper.  I aim to please.

 


-7-

Christmas often brings gifts that keep on giving and such was the case with us.  A couple of weeks after Christmas Day, a friend messaged me asking if we’d like more chickens.  Did we need more chickens? No.  Do we have space for more chickens? No.   But like the homesteading gateway drug that they are, I just couldn’t turn down free chickens, especially when I found out they were Jubilee Orpingtons, a breed I’ve really wanted to raise.  So, with about 30 minutes notice, I went to pick up 7 baby chickens and built a make-shift brooder pen in our laundry room.  They are adorable and really growing fast and making me ever so grateful that my sense of smell that I lost from COVID has not completely yet returned.  My husband, who now is tasked with building a “chicken box” this weekend that will become base camp #2 for the new chickens when we move them outside, was not thrilled, but I just reminded him that thankfully, our friend didn’t offer me a free goat.  Yet.

 

Meet "Black-eyed Pea". His name comes from New Year's Day.
If you're from the south, you'll understand.

And that’s about it for 2021 from here so far.  Is the year over yet?   Just kidding. 

If you’ve made it this far, I encourage you to head over to Kelly’sblog and check out some more Quick Takes much more worthy of your time!

 

 

Saturday, December 26, 2020

My COVID-19 Experience

 

Walking to Grandma's house on Christmas day.

Merry Christmas!

As Minnie Pearl would often say, I’m just so proud to be here, and I hope you are, too.  There’s nothing quite like a bout with a new to science, new to the human population virus to make one appreciate being able to get up and take a deep breath in the morning, and such was my gift this Christmas.  Thank you, Jesus!

It started with body aches.  Or maybe it was the unusual rash that appeared (and itched like crazy) on my back two days before.  Or the headache that I just couldn’t shake the day before that.  They say that COVID-19 is not like the flu, and now that I have experienced both for myself, I would agree.  Unlike the flu, which would hit me fast and hard, the COVID-19 virus came on slowly for a couple of days before really settling in.  By the time I realized I really was getting sick, I’d already gone hiking with a few friends, been to the grocery, and kissed my husband and hugged on my kids.  And yes, I wore a mask to the grocery, social-distanced, all that.  Thankfully, nobody I was in close contact with during that time got sick (even the employee who helped me use the self-checkout at the grocery).

I know it is starting to sound cliche’, but I have no idea how I got it.  The two weeks prior, I hadn’t been within 6-feet of anyone unmasked outside of my immediate family, with three exceptions, and those three people were not ill.  Perhaps one of those three was an asymptomatic carrier, but if that were the case, I would think others in their social circles would also be getting COVID-19, and that does not seem to be the case (I live in a small town so everyone knows who everyone hangs with around here, LOL!).

Anyhow, I wonder if I may have been exposed to the virus months ago and it lingered in my body until my immune system weakened.  And that doesn’t take much, as my body already struggles with an auto-immune disease diagnosed in 2002 (interstitial cystitis).  But really, I’m not sure any of that matters, anyway.  I knew that living any kind of life beyond sequestering ourselves in our house meant accepting an element of risk, and I have no regrets about that.

Uncertain of exactly when my “Day 1” began, we quarantined for longer than the recommended 14-days, which, considering our homesteading, homeschooling, teleworking lifestyle, really wasn’t all that difficult.  I spent 9 days in bed, the longest in my life, other than the period of bedrest required when I was pregnant.  My body cycled between chills, fever, and body aches that would come and go over and over for about four days.  I never had a cough, not even a tickle in my chest, and no issues with breathing.  Nasal congestion was minimal and there was no sore throat. I never lost my appetite nor my strength, which I found quite odd and very unlike the flu.  My single worse symptom was intense back pain around my kidneys, which lingered for a couple of weeks and even today, re-emerges if I over-do it and get fatigued.  After the first week of symptoms, I lost all sense of taste and smell, completely, thus confirming that I definitely had COVID-19.  One month later, I have regained only some of my taste and smell, making Christmas treats a bit of a downer, but giving me the perfect penance for Advent.

Other than that, life is mostly back to normal now.  We had the most beautiful first day of Christmas yesterday, complete with snow, which happens only about 10% of the time here in southern Kentucky.   Joah requested a snow shovel for Christmas (along with a hard hat and pruning saw…not your ordinary kid), so I guess God decided to send some snow to go along with it.  I still get easily fatigued, and Christmas Eve, with all its preparations, combined with kids pulling out all their “behaviors”, almost did me in, but my heroic husband came to my rescue and sent me to take a nap while he picked up the slack.  He has been my saving grace during all the days that I have been out-of-pocket, and in God’s mercy, he has stayed healthy and strong. 

It is not lost on me how serious this virus is for so many.  While I was ill, a friend of mine lost her mother to COVID-19 and my heart breaks for her.  Others we know of are having serious lingering effects.  I certainly do not want this post to appear to downplay its effects.  I have very elderly parents and friends with chronic conditions, and I fear for all of them, and would not knowingly put any of them at risk nor encourage them to take unnecessary risks.

Still, I am grateful now to have had it.  In some ways, it is a relief to have been through it and have it over with, much as having a root canal or giving birth feels.  I often reflect on my life and think about all the times God has given me another day; times when only my guardian angels or modern medicine have saved me.  I’ve been living on borrowed time for a long time now, and I am thankful once again to be able to fight another day.  I guess God has more work for me to do.

I pray that you have a most blessed Christmas season, and I will see you in the coming year, Lord willin’.