Clean up on aisle 12 (part 2/2):

I kept my eyes closed for a long time after I said amen. I felt so much love from above like it was the warm sun shining upon me. When I opened my eyes and looked around the kids all had their thumbs up. We would leave in the morning.  (you’ve read part one, right?)

[I want you to know that I’m leaving out a good chunk of the logistics that affected all of this. The reasons for the urgent move are filed in the “He had a bad day and I don’t need to tell the world about it” area of my thoughts of the past. Everyone can have a bad day- some just have worse consequences than others.]

I hated telling my kids that they had to leave stuff behind. I promised them I would re-purchase the bikes, and toys once we got to Idaho. I told them that they could each fill up a back pack with what toys they could fit into it. “These are all just things- we are bringing what’s important- one another.” A good look in their eyes told me they were okay.

I didn’t think about if I was okay. I had to be brave and lead out both emotionally and physically. I could have done a commercial for those space-saving vacuum bags as I stuffed bedding and clothing in the back of the van. A quick yard sale in the morning, with everything I couldn’t bring was being exchanged for dollar bills to fill the gas tank. I watched a man put on an oxygen mask beside his car and walk slowly towards me with his tank. “Any jewelry for sale?” he asked. I had it in my pocket. It was worth about a thousand dollars and it had moved from my ring finger down into a deep wound in my side. I brought it out and it rested on my hand as I looked up at him. “How much would you give me for this?” It was my voice- but it sounded so calm. He brought out a velcro wallet and presented every cent. $60. I literally felt it; His joy pulled out all the pains from within me. As I handed it to him- I was free. This was worth far more than a few twenty-dollar bills. Everything I owned in the past had become the means to escape from it.

Driving across the united states with 5 kids wasn’t exciting, fun, or adventurous- it was nuts. When there are two parents in the car it’s easy to take kids in for bathroom breaks. It’s even easier to take one alone. I used to harshly judge people who left a car-full of kids alone . . . until I was at who-knows-where, Tennessee in the gas station bathroom praying my kids were safe. (Now I do things like wait around a bit and watch their kids for them.)

We took it slow, but as fast as we could. I avoided thinking too much. Though I often envied the windshield wipers, I needed a pair for my eyes. Halfway through the sunflower fields of Nebraska I lost it. I had to pull over at a rest stop and find some courage to keep going. The kids were glad for some fresh air and we donated about 10 bucks to some vending machines that seemed a little out of place. We didn’t look like we were on vacation, I was the grown up single mom version of Natty Gann. But where I was going there wouldn’t be anyone ready with open arms to hold me.

Oh, and I didn’t know where I was going to live. I hadn’t made arrangements. This is where my sister jumped in and saved me. She called with the good news that I could tour some rentals the second I got to town, just two long days from then. It was enough encouragement to dry my eyes and get back on the road. As my kids climbed back into their crammed little places in the van I said, “Wow guys! I’m really so impressed that you haven’t been complaining.” My youngest daughter looked a little too happy. “Especially you dear, all of those little teddy bears and stuffed animals–yet you figured out which ones to bring on this adventure!” That’s when the older kids confessed, “Whatever, she begged us all to put her toys in our backpacks!” They each opened their places to fill with what they wanted to bring and proved it . They were full of her little beanie babies and teddy bears. I smiled. I cried. Good, I thought, we are bringing the best things about our life with us.

There were things about the landscape and scenery that amazed me. The St. Louis arch, a gateway to the west! The fields of sunflowers, the hotel parking lots that seemed to say you are one step closer to your new life. When we pulled into town we went straight to the rentals and I selected one. The builder said, “Do you want to move-in tomorrow? When does your moving truck get here?” I was speechless. I hadn’t planned a response for that question- I hadn’t expected it. My silence spoke volumes. He noticed and said, “How bout you come back in 2 hours and I’ll have the contract ready and you can move in?” Phew. When I came back the place was vacuumed. We went inside and knelt down and thanked God for blessing us to make it. I prayerfully dedicated our home to be a place of learning, love and togetherness. It didn’t matter that it was empty, it was home.

There were new people to meet, but I had inadvertently put up a pretty good and confusing front. Some sweet neighbors had rushed to the rescue with some needed items, I accepted some of them, but I had saved a little money and was okay with taking my time to get what we needed. The first day at church was educational. I was wearing a red dress and heels, and a happy smile. The kids were all sitting tall and reverent just as we had in other churches. That’s when I realized it– the confusion.  The looks were the familiar…’she looks a little too happy, what is she on?’ and, ‘I thought she was a single mom with 5 kids, why is she smiling?’ and even, ‘how did she get all those kids to church on her own?’.  Had I mistakingly packed the sadness of my life with me?

One well-intending new friend came over a second time and we had a little more time to talk. She said, “Well you seem happy.” So I told her what lead to the divorce and I shared why I was happy and why I felt so free. She responded with the following, “wow, I just saw the little blonde baby boy on your lap and assumed the discretion was on your part.”  I laughed. I laughed out loud. I instantly forgave her, because it was awesome to consider. If I was happy it meant the divorce was my fault? Hmmmm, I had never felt such a misleading weight of my own happiness. I tried to care, I even considered conforming to the unhappiness that seemed to be the only logical option. It was impossible.

This is where the real lesson learned in this post-and-a-half comes in. Stop thinking about yourself. Stop wondering what other people are thinking. Yes, you are alone. Happy or not, you are alone. Happy or not your kids are alone too. Take the time to share with others why you are okay, but don’t feel like you have to justify your happiness. Focus on your children and it will help shape your hope in the virtue in the world.

The goodness is everywhere. Point out the kind gesture the husband in front of you offers his wife as he reaches his arm across the tops of the kids heads to reach her shoulder. Point out love wherever you see it. Offer your arms around your children. Be willing to serve where the Bishop asks. Accept the pity others offer by shaping it into a compliment to them and their generous thoughtfulness. Touch-up your lipstick and wear the heels. Be yourself and know that where you sit is the best possible place you can be. Church isn’t for perfect people; It’s for people who recognize the one perfect being and his sacrifice in the garden of Gethsemane. It’s for people who value the opportunities to love and care for others.

Don’t expect the perfection from others that you yourself can’t even offer. Find your place in your ward family. I’m a sister there. I’m an older sister and a younger sister. I’ve lived and learned and can share how I’ve found peace in the hard, dark days of life. I can share that with others as we discuss how to grow and strengthen our relationships. I can learn from them as they share how they found virtue and forgiveness in their hearts. Maybe we’re not alone at church at all. Maybe it’s just one long row of people there together to repent and replenish and to find the courage make it through another week.

It’s not as easy as you think to feel alone. Just as the Savior suffered for each of our sins and sadnesses, he broke the binding loneliness of each sin and suffering. He has bound himself to each of us, and if we let him comfort us, he will fill us with an overflowing witness that He is there . . . and so is love.

2 thoughts on “Clean up on aisle 12 (part 2/2):

  1. Leah, you’ve experienced so much in the past few years. I had no idea. I’m impressed with your courage and how you’ve learned from these life events.

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