Something big is happening to our family.
Not big like welcoming a new baby, or buying a new car, or participating in a world-wide adventure.
No, it’s more of a moral shake-up.
In a big way.
Do you believe in God? Maybe a higher being? Someone or something that directs your life, or cares about your actions?
I always have, and I have always felt like God has played a massive part in the good and bad things of my life.
For the last few years, I feel like God had been trying to communicate something to me, but I wasn’t able to figure it out.
All I knew was that what our family was doing was not working, and in fact, it was getting worse.
You see, I grew up in a family with thirteen kids. I was the second youngest and I spent a fair amount of my younger and mid-years watching my brothers and sisters get married and succeed in life. I naturally assumed that if I followed the pattern that they and so many others before me undertook, the same would happen for me.
You know the pattern–
- graduate high school,
- go to college,
- get a degree,
- get a job in corporate America,
- and climb, baby, climb.
We tried that for a few years–okay, maybe eleven years, and it worked pretty well. I tried my best to believe that I was happy decorating my home, driving my kids to and from over-priced activities, and color coordinating our outfits.
Inside, my brain was feeling like it was withering away to the size of a grape.
I’m not suggesting that those things aren’t valuable or worthwhile pastimes.
I am saying that, for me, they do not hold enough magic that I thought they would.
In between those eleven years, my husband and I worked very hard to make sound economic and financial decisions with our money and with the purchasing of homes. When we started out as a newly married couple, it was completely normal to buy a home and expect the value to rise over the years so that it could one day be sold at a profit.
Something happened to America. That beautiful and solid dreamed turned into a nightmare. Not just a nightmare for our family, but for most of America.
Not only did the bursting of the housing bubble affect the real estate market, it flooded in to every aspect of the economy. It hurt my husband’s job, and soon we were not only faced with astronomical house debt, we were faced with job loss. For the last four years, we have been in and out of a job more times than I care to count.
We made our way out of the black hole of debt only by the skin of our teeth, quick thinking, and generous friends, but we did not forget the lessons we learned while mired in the quicksand of economic collapse.
I soon realized that the things that mattered most to my family, and that made us happy–a group of dudes and one mom, were being outside, wrestling, eating, being outside, reading as many books as we could get our hands on, and being outside.
Not once did the decor in our house improve our mood, the clothes on our backs bring indescribably joy, or the car we drove bring a sense of fulfillment to any of us.
Okay, yes, I will admit that the state of cleanliness of clothing, home, and vehicle, and the availability of plentiful and delicious food matter-a lot, but those things don’t cost money. They only require discipline. (With of course the small expenditure of cleaning supplies and food and adequate clothing that fits.)
I began to observe the things that brought true happiness to our family, and noticed that we were the most happy when we were engaged in useful tasks that required a great deal of thought, puzzling out a solution, and using our bodies as the machines they were designed to be.
This became a paradigm shift for me.
I was finally able to stop desiring things that I couldn’t have, and not because there wasn’t money to have them, but because I realized that buying things just to buy something does not bring happiness.
I want to say this again–THIS BECAME A PARADIGM SHIFT FOR ME.
It doesn’t mean anything for you, or at any rate, you shouldn’t assume that I am judging anyone else based off that statement.
I study people, that’s what I do as an anthropologist–I look for patterns and symbolism in peoples lives, and I sort through how those things create meaning.
I am simply sharing that I was searching for my own meaning somewhere that I never should have been.
I grew up in a small farming community. When I lived there, there were less than one thousand residents. My school was K-12, and at the time, and definitely as a teenager, I hated it. But there has never been a place I have lived since that has left me feeling so much a part of something, and loved and appreciated by so many, than that tiny Southern Alberta community.
My goal, as a teenager, was to get out of there as fast as I could. I wanted to run away and never look back. Kick up the dust on that old town, and say Sionara.
I got my wish. At 17, I got in my loaded up Subaru Outback, and headed south to the United States of America.
Guess what, I’ve never been able to get that tiny community out of my system. I try to head back there as often as I can. And I have lived in many of America’s great cities–Salt Lake City, Washington D.C., Chicago, and Houston.
I have loved the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life. Again, as an anthropologist at heart, cultures move my soul. I’ve had the opportunity to break bread with all kinds of people from all corners of God’s great earth. It has been wonderful, thought provoking, heart stirring, and my soul has been enlarged forever. I can’t even begin to describe to you the joy that I feel to count among my friends people from around the world. It reassures me that, at our core, all humans are loving and generous and inclusive.
But there is a part of suburbia that disturbs me.
And again, it disturbs me. It does not have to disturb you.
I grew up with my mother and father pounding perspective and self-control down my throat. I learned to do chores as if my life depended on it. I learned to obey my parents–and my life did depend on it. I learned to get out there and move myself to wherever my body needed moving without relying on my parents. It was either a bike or my legs, but if I had to be at baseball, basketball, volley ball, or cheerleading practice, I was not going to wait for my parents to get myself there on time.
I also learned at a young age that no one else was going to entertain me. Maybe it’s because I was a child of the 80’s and 90’s, but I don’t recall a massive amount of programs for children. I spent my summers at the pool, or roaming the countryside with my buddies. We woke up in the morning, watched cartoons and ate sugar cereal, did our chores, and then hit the road. We lived at the pool, the library, the park, and in our friend’s back yards. There was not a night that we weren’t playing kickball or hide and go seek.
As time went by, we all got jobs. We were lifeguards, librarians, farmers, cooks, newspaper carriers, etc.
I get it, I get it, jobs are available for kids wherever you live. But I have noticed more and more teenagers loitering their summers and weekends away, and becoming more rowdy in their pursuit of entertainment.
So, back to the big thing for my family.
And to God playing a big part in my life.
For the past year, my husband had been working in the oil fields of New Mexico. It wasn’t our first choice for a job, but after being a near candidate for a plentiful number of jobs in the corporate world that somehow evaporated just as the job was about to be offered, we didn’t know what else to do.
It sucks to live apart from your spouse.
It sucks even more to be a single parent to four children. Our baby wasn’t even a year old when her father left for the first time.
He missed birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Sporting events, and everything else that a dad misses when he is only home five days a month.
Ironically, it was probably the best thing that could have happened for our family.
We took that time to think deeply about what we wanted out of life, and we thought drastically outside of the box.
Up until that time, we viewed success as most of America views success- fancy house in the suburbs, big SUV, six figure job, and every convenience at one’s fingertips. And a fancy wardrobe to boot.
We sought a pathway to that life, and failed time and time again. We begged our Heavenly Father to provide our family with a job that would allow us to remain in a community we loved, surrounded by the people we loved, if only he would bring our dad home. And I firmly believe that God wants families to be together. I trusted that our prayers were not out of bounds–that they were in line with what God would want for us.
It is my belief that God answers prayers to the best of his ability, especially when they are in line with his will.
And here we were trying so desperately to align ourselves to what we thought was his will for us.
But after a trip out to Canada this summer, to my old stomping grounds and the community I grew up in, something clicked into place for me.
I watched my children for the entire month that we lived in that small community. They were involved with the local kids. They took themselves to the pool, the library, the church, the community activities. They participated in every opportunity to build, mow lawns, do chores, and use their brains and bodies for labor. And the light bulb went on.
My prayers were wrong.
I was praying to stay in a place that would not help us grow into the family that God wanted, and needed, us to become.
As a mother of boys, I know that boys need to use their bodies as machines. They need to use their brains to solve the problems that only their bodies can fulfill. They need to be outside every day in the warmth and in the cold. They need to have jobs. And they need to have local mentors.
They need to be in a smaller, tighter community.
My prayers were wrong.
And I thank my Heavenly Father that he didn’t bother answering them.
He didn’t leave me alone.
Even in my most heart broken moments, I hear a distinct voice saying to me: “Wait, wait. It’s going to make sense someday, and it is going to exceed anything that you could have ever dreamed up on your own.”
When we returned from that trip, my husband and I decided he would look for jobs outside of Texas. And he would look for jobs in smaller communities.
And that is when the miracle came.
And it does exceed everything that my head could have come up with on its own.
Because it answered every secret prayer that I and my husband have ever had in our hearts, but always considered an impossible dream.
So we are moving.
We are leaving suburbia behind and we are taking our family to Montana.
For the past month he has been employed as a marketing director for a firmly established company that has been thriving since the 60’s. His employers are excellent mentors for him, and my crazy talented and artistic husband finally has the opportunity to be creative and thought provoking to his heart’s content. He has the opportunity to help build something that is stable and thriving, into something more. He has the opportunity to become a pillar in this new community by virtue of his job, and later by virtue of his stalwart character.
Can you tell that I think he is pretty awesome. He always has been, no matter what his circumstance, and I am grateful for the opportunity to see him at his worst, and at his best. He is not a man that changes with the circumstances of his life–he remains strong and humble throughout.
As for myself, I have been a child of the mountains and outdoors my entire life. Moving away from Southern Alberta is something that I thought I wanted all those years ago. But I have since discovered that the mountains speak my language, and my roots are firmly planted in where the earth rises to meet the sky.
Alma’s new employers asked him if his wife was a shopper, feeling concerned that the closest Walmart or Shopping Mall would be two hours away. “She’s no shopper,” he assured them, “She’s an explorer!”
My sons and daughter will get the same experiences that I had as a youth, with one added bonus. Instead of living in a landlocked community in the middle of nowhere, like I did, we are moving to West Yellowstone, Montana–the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park. I couldn’t wait to get out and explore the world, because I was sure that the world needed to be explored in order to fully appreciate it.
But I have since learned that some of the best experiences regarding the world are how you treat the world that comes to you. And where else does the world come to visit, if not Yellowstone National Park.
Does this mean that I no longer feel that travelling is sufficient?
Of course not.
But it does mean that my children will have the chance, the opportunity, and the responsibility to show the world that AmeriCanadians are some of the kindest, most hardworking, and humble people on earth.
I want the readers of this post to understand something. These are words that I am writing for myself. I am writing them to express the words and thoughts that have been swirling in my brain, heart, and soul, for months and years. I have gone through hell this past year as a single parent. I have suffered to the very depths of my soul trying to figure out what God was trying to communicate to me. It took me forever to figure out that my pathway is not the same pathway as yours, my brother’s, or my neighbor’s. My husband and I have sought God daily, and begged him to show us what was right for our family. It took us a very long time to ask him for the right things. There were days when I doubted that God cared about my prayers, and there were days when I could hardly stand to be around my children any longer than one more second. I have been the worst me that I didn’t even know existed. I have been the loneliest me that I didn’t even know mattered-I generally like to be alone, but not that alone.
I cannot say that I did it all alone because there have been a massive amount of friends and strangers who have stepped out of my darkness and shone light on my family when I thought there was no light left to shine.
I am not suggesting that I deserve a reward or a trophy, but maybe one of those lame participation ribbons for those that finish the race dead last.
And I am not saying that the journey is done.
But my family is going to be together again. And we are going to be in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, with the opportunities that I believe will help my children become just who God wants them to become. And I’m like you, I sincerely believe that they are meant for something more than just the average Joe. But that is going to take an experience that only God can provide–one that requires a change of scenery, heart, body, and mind.
I am so up for this challenge.
And I am so grateful for unanswered prayers. They taught me how to refine my thinking, my desires, and my focus on what matters most to become what matters the best.
Certainly, I am not exactly returning home to the place of my birth, that is certain. Montana is not Canada, although it will be the closest I will have lived to date to the country of my birth. But Montana will be the home of my re-birth–and the chance for my family to try harder to be more, and to make every experience count.