Our little family started 2016 with a new home, new schools, new job and new town. We moved about three hours away and are getting used to south Texas. We have discovered the places we want to be and those to shy away from, and will hopefully be buying a house in the Shiner or Hallettsville area at the end of next year, maybe sooner.
This move was desperately needed in about a million ways. The kids and I need to be away from the Waco area and all of the awful memories we’ve acquired over the last five years. I couldn’t stand driving by the Delta Inn every morning on my way to work. I hated going by our old neighborhood every day on my way to get the kids. The gut punches never dull or cease. Its been almost three years and it still takes my breath away. I’m ready for something to take my breath away in a positive way. I am waiting expectantly. Good things are coming.
We miss some people and things about home, but honestly, my couch feels the same as it did on Wingate, and then on Lawndale. There have been some unexpected but welcome byproducts of being away from central Texas. Historically, I have a tendency to coax along relationships with people I desperately want in my life (family, friends, romances, otherwise). It is exhausting and fruitless. In a purely circumstantial but definite kind of way, those people who want to be in our lives will have to work at it. I have a few in my world who continue to sit on their ass and expect me to make up the difference even three hours away. It is a relief, because those relationships are dead weight that I should have stopped nursing along years ago. Now, we can all mutter something about busy lives and kids and miles apart and sleep okay at night. The people who have been a solid rock for us to cling to in the past are still there, and remain unchanged. I remember a good friend telling me over and over again, “Relationships aren’t really that hard. The good has to outweigh the bad. That’s about all there is to it.” So if the good doesn’t outweigh the bad, inevitably you will fade into someone we used to know. Its not as bad as it sounds. It actually tastes a little like fresh air and freedom.
I’m learning a lot about myself and what I want out of my next 35 years. It is entirely different than I thought it would be ten years ago, but I feel like I’m closer to who God made me to be than I ever have been. I’ve spent the last five years clinging to comfort zones, and I’ve spent the last five weeks sprinting into the most uncharted territory I’ve ever been through.Team Thiele’s theme for 2016 is Pushing the Limits. Stay tuned…
Rene had the gift of prophecy. You know those stories about the man who feels led to buy a gallon of milk at midnight in the pouring rain and take it to a random house and knock on the door? After knocking, an exasperated, young mother answers his knock and cries, “Oh my goodness!! I have no money and the baby is so hungry! I just prayed that God would provide and here you are!” That man was my husband in countless scenarios over the years. I was the chauffer for three of the random milk trips, among countless other short and long adventures that I followed him on, simply because God told him to move, so we did.It sounds far-fetched. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see God work tangibly with your own two eyes, it’s a hard sell. I needed some convincing at first, but after a cynic like me sees, hears, and feels God working in undeniably clear ways, I’m a believer for life.
After my marriage became something unrecognizable and my life fell off of the edge of the earth and shattered into a trillion pieces, I grieved for many things. I processed the loss of my best friend and partner fairly normally. I went through the stages predictably enough and came to terms with the end of us and the emergence of I. I missed the father Rene used to be for all four of the kids, but I worked through that and leaned more on my family to help fill in the gaps. After all was said and done, my relationship with God was really the only wound that still laid torn open, raw and bleeding. I never lost faith or questioned God’s existence, but my interactions with God were very different after I lost Ren.
During the good years of us, the God I had come to know was very much present in our home, at our dinner table, at soccer games and in line with us at HEB. My husband was an amazing spiritual leader and lived in prayer so he wouldn’t miss his next opportunity to carry out his purpose. I could tell stories for days that would give you goose bumps – both the good and the bad kind. Through amazing victories and gut-wrenching spiritual warfare, we fought together, supported each other, and believed whole-heartedly that we were exactly where we were supposed to be. I felt it.
The tallest and most substantial trees fall the hardest. According to him, Rene had issues with abandonment from childhood. There was some abuse mixed in there with general apathy, which was the same thing in his mind. The issues led to hard drug use at a young age, which we know makes quite the difference in terms of addiction, recovery and recidivism. The drugs made their exit when Rene accepted Christ, but we all know the life of a Christian isn’t guaranteed to be easy and free of temptation. We are actually guaranteed the exact opposite. In fact, Jesus tells his disciples at Gethsemane, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) The body’s weaknesses create quite an elaborate feast for Satan. He preys on preexisting, toxic behaviors and aliments we have and pushes the buttons he knows are likely to make us stumble. Addiction was Rene’s weakness, and mixed with compounding mental illness, it was the only axe that even stood a chance of falling that tree.
After the fall, I doubted that what I saw in Rene was real. I doubted everything and everyone I knew to be true and just and right. For years, I slunk back into apathetic Christianity. I desperately needed to understand why God had allowed Ren to fall as he did and if his tangible presence in our lives was simply a figment of my spiritually romanticized imagination. Losing the God I knew so intimately for years resulted in me losing my purpose and myself. I still knew God, but He was more like a distant third cousin than my dad. Because of the lack of understanding and doubt, I had no idea what kind of God I even knew anymore. I am stubborn and very often have a one-track mind. I need clarity and specific directions. God knows this. I depended so heavily on the very clear and tangible directions literally plopped in my lap for years that I forgot how to seek guidance and direction from God. I prayed for some kind of recognizable two-way communication from God so I could know for sure He was hearing me. Nothing. I got nothing. I prayed for God to please talk to me in a way that was familiar. Silence. I couldn’t hear anything. Desperation, anxiety and sheer panic all made their home in the pit of my stomach every day all day. Lots of things happened. People came and went in my life. More hurt and more uncertainty prevailed. I prayed. I heard nothing. La Vega happened. I accepted the job. I have to drive by our old neighborhood every day on my way home. It hurts every day. Like clockwork, I pass Kendall Lane and here comes desperation, anxiety and panic again, so familiar that they are almost welcome. The job is draining on all levels, with the very rare burst of validation from a student once in awhile. It seems like a very hard, possibly wrong path in my journey.
And then one afternoon, Mr. Smith came into my room. He cleans the school and I’d never looked up long enough to notice him before. It was after school and I was entering grades. He came over to my desk and said, “The kids are going to be okay.” I looked up and gave him a painted smile. I said, “Oh yes, they will be fine. This is just a hard stage for them and some of them come from less than desirable situations at home.” He said, “No, your kids. They will be fine. They have everything they need. You are loving them and it will go a long way. They will be just fine, Miss.” And then he said, “I didn’t want to come in here. I don’t know you, Miss. I told God that I didn’t want to come in here and I didn’t know you, and he said, ‘I know her,’ so I came in to tell you that. You’re a threat, Miss, and you’re on display. Satan thought he had you, but when he got to you, you were already God’s, so he couldn’t have you. You were already spoken for. All he can do is torment you and make you miserable, if you give him the chance. Don’t give him the chance, Miss. You got this. The battle is already won. Think about who is leading your army. You got this, Miss. I just wish I could make you see it like I see it.”
My goodness, I saw it and heard it, bright, shiny, loud, and clear. I know the look a person has in their eyes when God is telling them to say or do something that makes them feel awkward or exposed. I know the sometimes reluctant leap of faith it takes to follow God’s call when you’d rather retreat into your bedroom and sleep for a few years, or put in your ear buds and keep buffing the hallway, in Mr. Smith’s case. I know the burden, the stress and the pressure associated with it, too, and how it shows in your eyes and sounds in your voice and is embodied in body language. Its not all magic and rainbows and happy endings. Following God’s call is never easy and always costs us something. I thanked Mr. Smith and told him I saw what he was saying. He said, “I know you do. Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep moving. That’s all you have to do. You got this, Miss. He’s got you. He hears you. You think you’re not praying right or saying the right words. He knows you. You’re His.” And he walked out of my classroom.
I never lost faith, but my path was so clouded with doubt and desperation. I needed to hear with my ears and see with my eyes that God still had me, and that he always has. I desperately needed reassurance that what I saw in Ren and what we had was very real and not delusional. So I needed it, and in a very tangible fashion that He knew would be a breath of fresh air, God said, “I’m here. I’m listening. Lean not on your own understanding, but on Me. You know Me. You always have. Just keep moving. You got this.”
Since that day about a month ago, I’ve talked to Mr. Smith only a few times. He said what needed to be communicated, and faded back into the background. If La Vega was a wrong turn, and the last several years have been a complete wash, I am okay with that. I needed to have that man walk in my classroom that day. I needed to hear what he had to say from a complete stranger and see the awkward, shifting eyes and the reluctance in the demeanor. My life has not been ideal, but some things I know to be true. I always have. I just needed some reminding.
We’ve had a lot of changes in our lives lately, as usual. One thing that remains the same: the cantankerous nature of the elusive L word. I mean, not elusive in the sense that its never used. “Love” is declared a million billion times a day and has at least that many motivations shoving it out of people’s mouths and into the ears of vulnerable, unsuspecting prey. Its overused to a huge fault, said much too often and much too soon. Its elusive in the sense that it carries no meaning, no punch, no backbone for most who use it. Which is why I don’t use it much. If I say, “I love you,” I mean it and I won’t ever unlove you. I can’t. I have tried and tried and wish I could. Some people I have loved really should be completely pissed away and flushed down the toilet. Nevertheless, they still occupy a dank, chilly borough of my heart. That’s how I’m wired.
I seem very different than that to most, however. Instead of the huge, sensitive, bleeding heart that I am, I seem like a cold, hard bitch who could and will break you in half if the mood strikes. The exterior facade is a learned, necessary shield against the horrible world we live in. The interior hasn’t changed much since I was Anaiah’s age. My heart is the same. I love hard and unconditionally and believe in hundredth chances. A constant battle between heart and head is always going on, and that makes for a very exhausted, disenchanted me.
In the past few months, I’ve been asked more and more why I am “closed” and stick to my very small circle of family and friends. Why don’t I give people a chance? Why don’t I say “I love you” to everyone who says it to me, especially the people who I really do care about? I don’t have sufficient answers, but I have experiences that influence most things in my heart and head. So, I will share some experiences over the next several blog posts and hopefully shed a little light on my journey. Experiences aren’t excuses, just further explanation about why I am the way I am. All of that is the lubed up way to tell you that this is about to be where the “textually explicit” part of the blog begins. Comments are always encouraged and welcomed, but please keep the following in mind: I am not who I was. But part of who I was makes me who I am. And I like who I am.
The students were asked to reflect on the following quote from Flannery O’Connor.
“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”
They were instructed to write a short essay describing a time in their lives when the truth didn’t change regardless of how they felt about it. Here is one of my favorites:
My blog is suffering… but we all are lately. The kids and I have been battling little sicknesses here and there since before Christmas, and I have a cough straight from the pits of hell that will not get out of my chest. I’ll either get better or die. The doctor is not an option until I’m closer to death because its expensive. And we have no money to spend on crap like doctors and medicine and electricity. Fun times in the life of us.
Speaking of life, a trending question among the concerned and sometimes just nosy surrounding us is, “Chass, what are you going to do with your life?” Well, folks, luckily I have some options, and here they are:
#1) I can get a job working full-time making $12 an hour 8 am to 5 pm, which translates to $23,040 per year before taxes. I spend at least $10,560 on childcare per year, which leaves me with $12,480 per year to live on with option #1. Let’s subtract rent, which at the very least is $750 per month, totaling $9,000 per year, leaving us with $3,480 to live on, before taxes, after childcare and rent are subtracted. I’ve gotten out groceries down to $300ish a month, totaling $3,600 per year. That leaves us -$120 per year, before taxes and after childcare, rent and groceries. Moral of the story: At $12 an hour, the kids and I can have daycare, a place to live and minimal groceries, but we will not have gas, insurance, electricity, or running water. Option #1 can’t work.
#2) I can be a prostitute. This would give me more than $12 an hour (I have references), but the risk of STDs, bodily harm (remember, doctors and medicine is expensive…) and definitely not working 8am to 5 pm won’t work for the kids. I can’t be walking into PTA meetings or karate looking like one giant herpes sore or bruised and beat up. Oh, and its illegal in Texas and also Jesus frowns on it. So option #2 is out, also.
#3) I can live off of the government. Welfare, otherwise known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), is a thing, I’ve heard. I can pass the required drug test, if caffeine doesn’t count. The maximum benefit for a family of three consisting of one parent and two children in the household is $260 per month. That’s a joke. We’ve established that won’t even cover minimal groceries. Also, paternity information is required for all children in the household. While I obviously know who my babies’ daddy is, you must have an open child support case with the attorney general’s office (case number required when applying) in order to receive any benefits. The state wants to make sure you’ve exhausted the option of child support before they hand you any money. I get that, but what if, hypothetically speaking, Mr. Paternity is incarcerated and has voluntarily relinquished all parental rights? Well, citizens, there isn’t a check box for that one. The Health and Human Services’ gears get all jammed and no one has answers for that scenario. So, even if we qualified for public assistance and it was enough for us to squeak by on temporarily, we can’t get it. Ever. Because we can’t file for child support. Because my divorce and custody papers tell me specifically I can’t. Because my kids legally have only a mother and no father. BUT, the state of Texas insists that to apply for benefits, it is absolutely necessary to have a case number… Option #3, you’re pissing me off.
#4) I could be a full-time student. My FAFSA says I qualify for $20,000 in financial aid for 2014-2015. School costs $8,400 this semester. See the figures in option #1. This isn’t going to add up nicely, either.
So, in conclusion, life is expensive and there are no definite answers right now. I’m doing freelance work, applying for jobs and hopefully going to school, contingent on financial aid. We will see. I usually don’t put financial matters out there, but I’ve been getting feedback lately that is uninformed and simply ridiculous. Have I applied for jobs? Yes, hundreds all over Texas. Have I received interviews? Yes, over 25. Have I been offered jobs? Yes, several. Why haven’t I taken them? Because, see option #1. Life is expensive, and more so as the sole provider for a three and four year old. Any help we get is from the goodness of people’s hearts. No one on this big, beautiful earth is legally or financially obligated to help our family of three. This is just our world for now. I am not pretentious or too good to take a $10 or $12 an hour job. I can’t take it. My hands are tied. I can’t pay bills and support us on that. Whether I’m $200 or $2,000 short for the month, I’m still clearly short. Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, my friends.