Nature’s Music Soothes the Soul

I had been irritable for a few days.  Little things were bothering me that normally didn’t.  I was short with my family.  I was just plain irritable.  Life was off….. and I wasn’t sure why.

Until….

This weekend when I got up early, before any of my neighbors or my family and got in the pool.

It was so quiet.

It was so calm.

The sun was just coming up and I was alone.

I needed to do my lap swimming, part of my summer exercise routine.  So, I set out, swimming.  Still feeling irritable and off, like I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed… again!

It was so QUIET!  There were no flood lights shining into my backyard, blinding me.  There were no loud phone conversations, to which I should not be privy.  There was no base booming in the air or reverberating through the water and up my spine.  It was QUIET.  PEACEFUL. SERENE.

I didn’t need music.  I didn’t need my phone or TV.  I was disconnected from the very connected world we now live in.  It was just me and I could enjoy this morning, with the birds and yes the bugs!

I swam, different strokes on my back and on my stomach.  Listening to what was going on around me.  Ducks flew over my head.  Birds I had never seen or heard, were on the wall and trees singing to me, beautiful songs.  Birds I was used to seeing, sat on the wall watching me and making sure I knew they were there by the sounds they made.  The gentle breeze through the fronds of the many palm trees in our yard and in our neighbors’ yards created a melody that was soothing.  The sound of the waterfall into our pool soothed my weary soul.  Bees buzzed my head to land in the pool and take a drink (I didn’t enjoy that so much!).  And a beautiful, red dragonfly, like none I had ever seen before, swooped and dived around my head and my pool, following me and entertaining me.  This was Nature’s music.  This was Nature’s dance.

What a beautiful song it was!  What a spectacular dance it was!

And halfway through my lap swimming, it hit me.  THIS is why I had been so irritable.  I was missing my quiet time…. not just any quiet time, but the time I spent outside enjoying Nature’s music.

It is HOT here in Arizona, so outside time is limited to water time, which for me means pool time.  It is too hot to hike.  It is too hot for walks.  It is too hot to be outdoors. Period!  (For me anyway.  Yes, others get outside and hike, bike and walk, but NOT me in this heat!  I don’t like to sweat!)  I was missing the outdoors.  Last year, I was able to spend every morning and every evening in the pool, exercising and relaxing and enjoying the birds and bugs, the sunsets and sunrises, and the stars.  But this year I haven’t been able to enjoy it as much.  My quiet time had been hijacked and I didn’t realize how much I needed it or missed it.  Until my swim on Saturday morning.

I need time outside.  I need time in nature.  I need time disconnected from a very connected world.  I need to turn it all off and just be….. and time outside does that for me.  That is why we have created the backyard oasis we have spent the past year and a half building.  It gives us a place to get away.  A place to disconnect and breathe.  Something I really need.

Whether it is in the woods or the desert…. on the beach or on a mountain….. at the ocean, by a lake, on a river or in a pool…. in a national park, a forest or my backyard…. hiking, walking, swimming or just sitting….. I NEED to be outdoors.  And I need nature’s music to sooth my soul.  And outdoors, in the natural world, is where I feel closest to God.  It is where I feel spiritual.  It is where I can clear my mind and heal whatever my heart needs healing.  Nature is wondrous, a magical place with healing attributes.  Nature shows me what a mighty God I have and ALL that He has created.

At the end of my very long swim, I was at peace.  I was smiling.  And the feeling of waking up on the wrong side of the bed was gone.  The irritable feeling was gone.  My equilibrium was back.  I felt like me again.

All I needed was to be outside, where I could hear nature singing to me.  Then I could finally breathe……

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A lesson in Change Through a Trip to the Store

I have been in this store a million times in multiple states.  And the store has been the same wherever I went….well maybe there were a few small differences, nothing to really throw me off or make me notice them. 

There are quite a few of the stores near me that I can shop at, making it easier because I know if I can’t find it at one store, I will find it at another.  And I can stop in, no matter where I am going because there are so many to choose from.

So, this week I walked into a Target store near me that I hadn’t been to in a few months…. I stopped in my tracks when I walked through the doors.  Where was I?

Really??  Where were the electronics…. They were here near the door the last time I was here.  Ugh!

The ENTIRE store was changed.  I didn’t recognize it AT ALL!

REALLY??!!

Why rearrange the store?  Where did everything go?  I was on a mission with a time constraint and I couldn’t find anything…. Nothing was where it was supposed to be.  Seriously?? 

Change is inevitable.  I get that.  I used to spend all day rearranging the kitchen, or the living room, or the dining room, or my kids rooms, trying to get the rooms just right in the house where we were living at the moment, because I wanted it to feel like home, even though I knew we would be moving again.  I was freaking out, feeling lost and uncomfortable because NOTHING was where it was supposed to be…is that how my boys or my husband felt when they came home after one of my rearranging days?  I wanted to turn around and leave the store and not return until it was back the way it was used to be…. Did my kids and husband want to turn around and run from the house when I changed things?  Hmmmm…..

I was beginning to see how change affects me.  I have always had a difficult time with change.  Change was not always a good thing for me.  It didn’t always bring positive things to my life.  But some change did.  Still, change is uncomfortable.  I want to control the change in my life (thus my rearranging when I WANTED to). 

And well, I figure that after 30 years of standing beside my husband as he served our country in the Air Force, after ALL the moves, ALL the TDY’s (when my husband had to go away for training or other reasons also known as Temporary Duty for those not familiar with military lingo), and after the ALL the deployments, missed holidays, missed birthdays…. Well you get it…. After all the change that was required of us by the military and that was completely out of my control, I think I deserve a “change free” life for the rest of my life!

Yeah.  Like that is going to happen!

My trip to Target proves I will NEVER have a “change free” life. 

Shouldn’t each individual have an “out-of-our-control-change” quotient and once reached, then only change that we can control is allowed?  So, Target should have checked with me before they changed the store!  Shouldn’t they have known that only change I approve of and control is allowed for the rest of my life?

I guess they didn’t get the memo!

So, I cannot control change around me.  I cannot stop it from happening.  But I can control how I handle it.

Yes, it freaked me out to enter a store I did not recognize, when I should have.  But I have gone to new places and not known where things were and it didn’t make me want to run away.  So why did this completely throw me?  Because it was familiar before and now it wasn’t.  When the comfortable and known becomes the unknown it also becomes uncomfortable.  So, how do I make it more comfortable?  By pushing past the discomfort and moving on.  By trusting and taking a leap.

Change is inevitable.  It is going to happen whether or not I want it to.  It is going to happen whether or not I like it.  It is going to happen whether or not I control it.  And though change in my younger years was negative and brought about a lot of pain, NOT ALL change will be negative.  There is positive change in life.  And there is something that can be learned.  Something that can be taken from change that can help me grow as a person, even the negative change. 

Walking into my favorite store this week reminded me that stepping outside my comfort zone creates growth.  And showed me that if I just go with it, then it will soon become comfortable and familiar and it will make shopping their easier in the long run.

Maybe that was Targets plan all along! 

I finished my shopping trip, found everything I needed (though it took me MUCH LONGER than it should have), and my day was NOT ruined by this change.

I just need to take the leap and push through that discomfort, whatever it is, and growth will come!

(I still don’t like change, but I am learning to accept it and learn!)

My Big Brother

I picked up my phone today.  I wanted to call.  It hit me.  I can’t.

My brother is gone.

Today is his birthday.  And I wanted to call to wish him a Happy Birthday….. but I can’t…….

January 13, 2010, my phone rang.  It was an Idaho number and I knew it had to be him, my brother.  The brother I searched my entire life for.  I had had his name for over 20 years and longed to hear his voice and to see him.  I knew it was him calling.

I will never forget that phone call.  The first time I heard my brothers voice and his laugh.   We talked a while that first phone call.  We laughed.  We cried.  We asked questions.  It felt so good to finally have heard from him.

My brother.  The one I longed to know.

We called each other quite a bit over the next year and connected on Facebook where we could share pictures and catch up on our lives.

And then came the day I would finally meet my brother and the rest of my siblings.  I met him and my older sister at a hotel.  It was wonderful.  That first hug!  I will never forget that.  Or his laugh.  Us girls talked and talked, and he listened and laughed at us and with us.

And then it was time for all 6 of us siblings to finally be together.  What a wonderful weekend that was…… a weekend filled with laughter, stories and bonding.

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I spent some time alone with my brother that weekend, sitting in his car in a parking lot waiting for our sister to meet our father.  We talked about our birth father.  My brother heard the emotion in my voice, saw the way I was struggling with seeing our birth father from a distance and he made me get out of the car and meet our birth father.  I will NEVER forget that.

After that time in the parking lot the three of us headed back to the cabin to have dinner and hang out with all our siblings.  We had a great meal, sat around the fire talking, and had a great time just hanging out.  So much laughter.

After that first meeting in 2011, my brother and I talked on the phone and stayed in touch via Facebook.  I would call on his birthday.  He would call me on my birthday.  And we would talk in between.  I really enjoyed those conversations. And his laugh.  He would tease me….  I so enjoyed having my big brother in my life.  It was part of what I had been missing in my life.

IMG_2328 copyWe didn’t see each other again until November 2012.  My husband and I went home to Washington for Thanksgiving that year.  I let my brother know we would be within a few hours of him in the tri-cities in Washington for a night on our way back to the west side of the state and he made the effort to drive a few hours to see us, meeting us for a late lunch.  It was the first time he had met my husband.  Such a nice visit, short, but nice.

The next few years brought lots of phone calls.  This was what I had always wanted.  My brother was a part of my life.  I wished we had grown up together, that we had had those years of memories to talk about… but we didn’t.  All we had was now.  Precious time to get to know each other.  I am so grateful for the time we did have, the short in person visits and the many phone calls.

I loved my big brother…  He was funny, had the biggest heart and loved the outdoors.  He could fix just about anything.  And he could play the harmonica!  He was so talented!

The end of December 2018, my brother came to Arizona, wanting to escape the cold winter in Idaho.  We were just one stop on his trip through California, Arizona and Nevada before heading back home to Idaho.

He arrived a day after my youngest son and daughter-in-law had arrived.  Finally, one of my siblings was going to get to meet my sons.  I was so excited to have my brother here.  The first night he hung out with us for a while, had some dinner.  We talked and laughed.  It made my heart so happy to see my brother with my family.  Another day he went fishing with my oldest son and stayed one night here with us instead of out at the lake in his camper, the night before my birthday.  It was a wonderful feeling to wake up on my birthday and have my brother here, in my house.  We spent the first half of the day just talking.  It really was nice to have him here.

And then he left again, heading farther away from us and then eventually back home.

May 29, 2019, I got a message to call his younger sister, the one who had helped my sister and I connect with our long-lost older siblings.  She wanted me to call as soon as I could.  I knew something was wrong.  That phone call….. I won’t ever forget…. She told me our brother was gone.

If only I had known that the night he spent here would be the last time I would see him….. if only I had known….. I wish I had been able to spend more time with my brother while he was here.  We thought there would be more time.  We planned for him to come back next winter and we would have more time together, we would plan it better.  If only……

That is the thing about death, it makes us question everything.  And it makes us wish for more time…for one more day…. One more hour…..

Today I wanted to call my brother to wish him a happy birthday.  I had 9 years with him.  It wasn’t enough time.  Yet I am so deeply grateful for the time we did have.  I am so grateful my boys got to meet their uncle.

I miss you, Nathan!  I will always miss you!  I will always love you, my big brother!

Happy Birthday!  I hope you had the best party EVER in heaven!

Two Days in Normandy, France

Today is the 75th Anniversary of D-Day.

So many brave men landing on beaches, flying in aircraft, and dropping from the sky into enemy territory….. brave men…..

I had read about World War II in books and had seen the movies about D-Day and the war.  I could see it and imagine what those brave men did and saw, yet nothing really prepared me for the reality of that war.  It was not until April 2000, when my husband, our sons and I visited the beaches of Normandy, that I truly understood the enormity of the sacrifices and bravery of the men that day on the beaches of Normandy and on the surrounding land and in the sky.

19 years ago, we traveled to Normandy, France, to visit the beaches and see for ourselves the history of that day.  We planned the trip and the stops we would make in order to show our boys what happened and to show them the bravery of our men in uniform.  It would be two days, packed with history.

st mere egliseWe started out by stopping in St Mere Eglise, where the 82nd Airborne Division parachuted in on D-Day.  The paratroopers landed in and around the town and fighting began with the Germans.  We were there to see the Airborne Museum and to see the church, where John Steele landed, his parachute getting caught on the steeple.  He hung there for two hours while the fighting raged on, until the Germans cut him down and took him prisoner.  I couldn’t imagine it, even after seeing the movies in which this scene was depicted, yet there on the church steeple was the effigy of John Steel, hanging there.  How frightening that must have been for that soldier, to be so exposed to the enemy with no way to escape.  Seeing that church and the museum, I knew this was going to be a trip that would have a long-lasting impact on me and on my family.

Utah beach was the first beach we visited.  Here American soldiers landed on June 6th, 1944.  We had to see the beach first, before the museum… we had to see where those brave men landed that day…. I thought it would just be a beach by now with no evidence of the war.  It had been 56 years since the landings of D-Day.  I was surprised and shocked to see so many of the obstacles used by the Germans still on the beach, where they were placed to deter any invasions.  We could see the wreckage in the water of the American watercraft that brought our soldiers ashore.  The gun mounts used by the Germans and the remains of cement bunkers were scattered throughout the dunes.  This made the war real.  Here it was for all future generations to see.  The Utah Beach museum was built around W5, a German Block House.  It was eerie to see what remained, to know that Germans were here, waiting…..

We started our second day in Normandy by stopping in a little village, Graignes, to see a the church at Graignes (2)church there.  On D-day, paratroopers were dropped here, accidently.  This was not where they were supposed to be, so far into German held territory.  And the villagers here helped those American soldiers, hiding them and helping them to go back into the marshes to recover their gear and equipment over the days following D-Day.  When the Germans discovered the Americans were there, a fight ensued, and the village bore the brunt of the German revenge.  The remains of the church, set on fire by the Germans, now stands as a memorial to the American soldiers who lost their lives here and to the villagers who were killed by the Germans in retaliation for their kindness to American soldiers, to include two Priests.  A solemn place.  Standing in what was left of the church, I couldn’t help but feel the strength and courage of those villagers as they helped the soldiers there to liberate them.  Their courageous spirit lives on in that memorial to their sacrifice.

omaha beachOmaha beach was more of a beach, with monuments along the road above the beach, reminding visitors what happened here.  But unlike Utah beach, the debris and obstacles were not visible, long removed.  I watched others walking on the beach and wondered if they knew what occured here on that day in 1944.  So many fought here to defeat evil.  We then went to the museum just up the road.  The museum told the stories of those who fought here and those who died here.  Our boys were learning so much about a war that was way before their time.  I could see the impact it was having on them….

I asked both of my boys recently what stood out to them, and they both said the craters.  Point du Hoc was one stop on that second day and it was the one that stood out to all of us as the depiction of war.  Point du Hoc is a surreal landscaped, high atop a 100-foot cliff that overlooks the English Channel and is the high point between Utah and Omaha beaches.  Perfect for the Germans to spot any Allied Forces coming in.  It was here that Army Rangers, using ropes and rickety ladders, scaled the cliff to reach the top and take Point du Hoc.  The U.S. Navy had began bombing before the Rangers began to scale the cliff and the craters were evidence of that bombing, or as one of my sons said evidence “of the madness of that day”.  We walked the land there, covered with craters from the U.S. bombs and it felt like we were walking on the moon.  The craters were big….. not just big, but huge.  And 56 years later they were still there, a lasting reminder to the world of what war looks like.  Hundreds of craters.  Everywhere.  As far as we could see.  And bunkers.  And gun mounts.  We were shocked by what we saw.

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And then we walked to the edge of the cliff, looking down….. how did those Rangers make it up that cliff?  I could not fathom what must have been going through their minds as they climbed up the cliff, with gunfire and grenades raining down on them.  The fear.  They were being killed by the Germans and yet they persisted.  And they took Point du Hoc.  Those brave men…… giving so much for the world and for the freedom they believed so strongly in.

Point du Hoc remains the most impactful part of our trip to Normandy.  The craters.  The cliff.  The lives lost.  And the brave men who fought for freedom.

Later, as we walked through the Normandy American Cemetery, I could not help but to Normandy American Cemetery and memorialbe sad for the lives lost.  And grateful.  Grateful for the brave men.  Grateful that these men were willing to fight for and die for our country and for others in the pursuit of freedom for all.

Many fought gallantly in World War II.  And I will remember and honor their courage and their sacrifice.  75 years ago today, men stormed the beaches of Normandy and dropped inland, all willing to die for this fight and for others.  Some came home injured, but alive.  Some came home and never talked about that day or the war.  Some lost their lives, buried in American Cemeteries overseas or brought back to the U.S. for burial.  Some were never found… still missing in action.

These brave men will never be forgotten.  Their bravery will never be forgotten.  Their sacrifice will always be remembered, today and every day.

Memorial Day– A Day of Remembrance

This morning, our town held a Memorial Day Ceremony hosted by the American Legion-Post 39 and the Gilbert Historical Society.  It was held outside at the Gilbert Historical Museum in HD South.  My husband was the guest speaker for the ceremony.  It was an honor to be there to honor and remember all who have given their lives in service to our Great Nation.  And I couldn’t be prouder of my husband and the words he spoke to honor them.  May we never forget those who died keeping us free and my we always remember to honor them!

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Here is his speech, in honor of the men and women from all branches of our military who paid the ultimate price to keep us free-

“TIME WILL NOT DIM THE GLORY OF THEIR DEEDS”
– General John J. Pershing
MEMORIAL DAY 2019

Mayor, Councilmembers, distinguished guests, great patriots of the American Legion, fellow citizens and veterans of Gilbert, and to those among us who have an even deeper, more personal connection to this special day. It’s an honor to share this morning with all of you as we remember the fallen…… recognize their sacrifice…. and express our infinite gratitude to their families.

“Time will not dim the glory of their deeds.” These are the words at the base of a large stone eagle located in the middle of an American military cemetery in France. I found myself reading them as I stood among thousands of American graves as I visited the St Mihiel cemetery almost 20 years ago. St Mihiel is just one among many of the dedicated resting places for those to whom we owe so much.

It’s incredible to think that over 1.2 million Americans have been lost in service to our great nation since those first days when the ink was still fresh on our founding documents. So many Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice for liberty across the globe. So, I want to take you on a short journey of remembrance this morning.

If we travel 7,000 miles to our west, to the Philippines and the Manilla American Cemetery, we will find 17,000 servicemembers laid at rest. A little closer, in Hawaii, we remember the over 2,300 servicemembers lost in December of 1941, including over 1,100 on the USS Arizona alone…those lost on the Arizona included 37 sets of brothers and also a father and son.

Across the United States, in the 151 national cemeteries as well as in community cemeteries and family plots we remember hundreds of thousands of fallen warriors…the bravest of the brave…geographically separated but eternally linked in their sacrifice.

As we journey to our nation’s eastern shore, just across the river from the Lincoln Memorial in our nation’s capitol, we come to Arlington National Cemetery…final resting place of so many of the fallen. At the epicenter of this most hallowed ground …. The Tomb of the Unknowns. Perpetually watched over by the Army’s Old Guard, a tradition they have maintained for over 70 years, the Tomb is a reminder …. A reminder of those lost in conflict that were never recovered or returned to their
families. Since WWI over 86,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen are still listed as missing in action …… but it’s been said, and I’m certain all of us would agree, that a servicemember is only missing if they are forgotten….so today we also remember those American heroes who rest in unknown graves.

As we look across Arlington’s Tomb of the Unknowns, just downhill and towards a rising sun, we find Section 60, also known as the saddest acre in America. It is the final resting place for so many of those brave young men and women killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa. It’s where you will find the still grieving Gold Star families and friends of those most recently lost. These graves aren’t as old as the others in the cemetery and it’s not uncommon to find a family member kneeling
next to their lost loved one’s headstone in silent prayer. It’s here that you will find Army Staff Sergeant Alex Conrad, a local Hamilton High School graduate and special operations soldier killed in the line of duty just last year. We especially honor the sacrifice of those families today.

As we continue to move farther east and cross the Atlantic, we find Western Europe and North Africa dotted with 21 American military cemeteries where over 100,000 Americans are buried.

At the Normandy American Cemetery, situated just uphill from that historic beach, we can walk among 9,300 graves of America’s bravest from WWII …… and a single grave from WWI.

It’s at Normandy, inscribed at the cemetery’s entrance pavilion, where we find the immortal words of Sergeant John Ellery who said … “You can manufacture weapons ….and you can purchase ammunition, ….but you can’t buy valor and you can’t pull heroes off an assembly line.”

Among Normandy’s graves, we can find President Theodore Roosevelt’s eldest son, Ted Junior, who at 56 was the oldest to land during D-day. He would receive the Medal of Honor for his actions on that beach but would not survive the war. As many of you know, he had been instrumental in the establishment of the American Legion after WWI. Ted had been gassed and wounded during the summer of 1918, then had returned to Europe to serve his nation again in a second world war.

At Normandy, Ted is buried right next to the only world war one grave in that cemetery. That grave belongs to his brother, and President Roosevelt’s youngest son, Quentin. Quentin had been killed in 1918 in aerial combat when he was only 20. He had been buried in an isolated gravesite until, a few years after the end of WWII, he was moved to the Normandy cemetery where he lies today, side by side with his brother.

As I mentioned earlier, it was just about 20 years ago that I found myself in France, about 300 miles to the east of Normandy. I was with my unit and we were participating in a combined military exercise.  While there, I made time to visit three local military cemeteries.

I first visited a French military cemetery to pay my respects. It was in a bit of disrepair….crumbling headstones and unkept grounds greeted my eyes……those young French soldiers had been forgotten.

Next, I came upon a German military cemetery…..and found a group of young military cadets doing their best to maintain those German graves, marked by metal crosses, so far from home. Their countrymen were remembered.

Last, I visited the American military cemetery at St Mihiel…over 40 beautifully landscaped acres containing 4,153 graves and a memorial to 284 missing in action. There I found a cemetery employee on his hands and knees moving from white marble headstone to white marble headstone along a perfectly aligned row of graves. Carefully, he sanded each to ensure they were a pristine white. I was
proud that the Americans buried there were not only remembered, they were cared for and honored each and every day. And on this day, we remember the sacrifice, often made in faraway lands, of our servicemembers.

At noon today, our flag will move from half to full staff and the memory of the fallen will be raised by the living. We will not let time dim the glory of their deeds but resolve that on this and all future Memorial Days to not let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and for a bold future… for our children……our grandchildren….. and for our great nation.

 

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Beauty Found in the Desert- A Daily Reminder

To many who have never visited or lived in Arizona, the state conjures up images of the desert, where life is difficult, and water is scarce.  Dry.  Dusty.  Brown.  Dead.  Much like the deserts depicted in Old Western Movies. 

As a young girl growing up in the Pacific Northwest where everything was green and there was plenty of water, the desert did not seem desirable.  Or livable.  As a young girl, all I could picture was a brown, dry, harsh environment where life was difficult and not much survived.  Much like my own life felt….

And then I visited Arizona the summer after my mother’s death.  My dad, 2nd stepmom, her daughter, my sister and I took a road trip from Washington, traveling south through Nevada to Arizona and then back to Washington via Hwy 101 through California and Oregon.  It was a long trip in a very hot car with the windows rolled up and cigarette smoke swirling through the air.  Thankfully we did not spend long days on the road, that would have been hell!  Us three girl’s road in the back seat together and took turns being the one in the middle, because the unlucky one who sat in the middle ended up with the other two laying on her while they slept…..yes, a very long road trip. 

The BEST part of the entire trip was the drive through and the stops in Arizona….the usual stops like the Grand Canyon and Phoenix and then the unexpected stops to see ancient ruins, enjoy a lunch along Oak Creek and a night in my favorite spot, Sedona. 

It was my first time in the southwest and I loved all the things we did and the places we saw in Arizona.  As we drove along the highway I would stare out the window, the others sleeping beside me.  I was mesmerized by the rocks, the shapes they formed, the colors all so varied and unique.  And I felt I would miss the beauty and natural art if I fell asleep.  Next to the ocean, Arizona became a favorite place. 

But it was the RED that drew me in.  The red in the rocks that contrasted beautifully against the blue sky and green of the pine trees.  The red in the dirt that stained my feet as we walked along the trails.  And the red of the sunset, that fire in the sky. 

Yes, I fell in love with the southwest that summer and though I did not live there, my heart desired to be free, living among the red that permeates this state. 

Nine years later, my husband, our oldest son and I drove through Arizona, stopping at the Grand Canyon and other National Parks, as well as historic sites along Interstate 40, heading east….we were on our way to his first Air Force assignment in North Dakota.  Again, I felt the pull, the longing to be in the southwest, to let my heart sing amid the red. 

We did not return to Arizona for another 24 years and it was a road trip that brought us back here.  Just my husband and I.  And it was that road trip that changed my husbands view of the state that had long ago captured my heart.  He, like so many others, thought it was just a brown, dry and dusty environment.  And he loves his trees, all the green of the northwest, and his mountains.  We drove to the Grand Canyon and then south through Flagstaff to Sedona, just so I could show him what I loved here.  He was surprised by the forests of pine trees.  He enjoyed Oak Creek… yes, there is water in this dry state!  And he began to see what I saw.  Yes, this mesmerizing place was drawing him in, too. 

And to my surprise, when he retired from the Air Force a few years later, my husband chose Arizona as one of the states we could live in…. and then we moved here.  He was still thinking that the Phoenix area would be flat and dusty…. and he was pleasantly surprised to see mountains around the valley. 

But the desert is a harsh environment.  It is dry here.  There is not much water.  It is HOT in the summer!  And yes it is dusty.  A very harsh environment where it can be hard for life of any type to survive, let alone thrive. 

But life does thrive here.  There is beauty in the desert.  What once looked dead, thrives when it rains.  Plants and animals adapt… not just surviving but thriving in this harsh environment. 

Here in the desert, in one of the harshest and at times ugliest environments, beauty grows, beauty shines, and life can thrive. 

Every place has its own beauty.  And though I love and miss the Pacific Northwest, I know I was born to live in Arizona. 

I was born to live in a place where I am reminded that despite the difficult challenges, despite the harsh environment, despite the lack at times of the components necessary to live and to grow, there is still life.  There is beauty among the spines and beauty in the dusty arid climate.  We just have to look for it.

The desert reminds me that we too, can bloom.  It reminds me that even those of us who have grown up in the harshest of environments, in abuse and neglect can still thrive.  The desert shows me every day that even without all the things needed to thrive, and with the thorns and spines that a challenging and harsh life has us growing in order to survive, we can still bloom where we are planted.  We can still thrive.  Despite the ugliness of the harshest life, there is still beauty.

It does not matter where my life began.  The loss, the abandonment, the challenges, the abuse… none of that keeps me from growing, blooming and shining.  Just like the wondrous and amazing life in the desert.

There is so much beauty in the harshest climates.  And when we look beyond the brown, beyond the dust, past the thorns and spines, we can see the beauty all around. 

Out of the harshest of environments, beauty shines. 

The desert is proof of that!

I am proof of that! 

 

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A Tale of Two Returned Letters

I have shared here on my blog about my adoption and the search for my birth family.  And I shared how I found my family and the reunions with them.  (Finding the Missing Pieces part 1, part 2 and part 3).  I am an adoptee and that is a part of my life story and a part of who I am.  And though I have found my family, there is still so much to learn, so many to get to know…. the journey continues through phone calls, in person gatherings, laughter and tears.  This month marks 8 years since I met my siblings and birth father in person.  In Finding the Missing Pieces part 2, I shared about meeting my birth father, how I forced my way into meeting him after he denied being my father three times.

The first denial was in the form of a letter, returned to me.  It was September 2002 and I had been waiting with breath held for an answer to a letter I had sent in August to the man I believed was my birth father.

aAnd then I received this letter in the mail.  An envelope addressed to me with his return address.  I held my breath…. Could it?  Would it give me the answers I was seeking?

And then opening it, my heart fell, hard, crashing into a million pieces.  Inside that envelope was my letter and my envelope, returned to me.  And on my letter was written-

b

I was devastated.  I cried.  And then I got angry.  My gut told me this was the right man because he did not want me to contact him again… and that was underlined to emphasize his wishes.  But my gut knew he was my birth father.  Why?  Because if he wasn’t he would have let me know in a kinder way and wished me well in my search, as others had done during my long search.  Underlining those words and sending me my letter and envelope told me there was much more to the story.

And I cried more.  The feelings of abandonment returned.  The feeling of having done something terrible came back in full force.  I was again that little girl who thought she had to have been horrible in order for her father to leave her and to not love her.  It had to be my fault.

It took me a really long time to get past this let down.  But I moved on.  Mostly.

And I continued to search for my siblings and my birth mother, while stopping the search for my birth father.  What was the point in searching for him, when I already knew where he was and that he wanted nothing to do with me?

My reaction to that letter was not a positive.  Despite finding a way to move on, the pain stayed with me until that day, May 9, 2011, when I finally met my birth father and he acknowledged me.

After finding my birth father, he called me many times.  We talked and he answered the questions I had.  He sent me pictures of my grandparents and of him as a child.  He sent me birthday cards.  He called on the anniversary of our meeting.  He said he loved me.  It was nice to have a relationship with him, even if it meant I could not call him and had to wait for him to call me.  He had a difficult marriage situation and he hid his relationship with his kids from his wife, calling from a cell she didn’t know about and using a post office box that we could send letters to so she wouldn’t see them.  I was okay with it, because I had a chance to meet him and the communication we had was a bonus.  Something I never expected.

Those few years of contact gave me time to heal.  I was still angry about him not giving me my birth mothers maiden name in 2002 when I first asked in that letter that he returned to me.  I was still angry because had he given me that info first time I asked, then I would have found my birth mother before she passed away.  But I couldn’t change what happened, so I learned to let it go and forgive him.

A lot had changed in me between the time I had received that returned letter and the day I met him.  I was healing and growing and learning to let go of what I could not control.

Eventually the calls from my birth father stopped.  It has been a couple of years now since I last heard from him.  The last few phone calls I had had from him were short and filled with questions about my older sister… had I heard from her?  What was going on with her?  And then he would have to go.  The calls to me stopped about the time she told him to not contact her any longer.

And it didn’t bother me.  I didn’t even notice he hadn’t called until a few months after my birthday a couple of years ago.  But I still sent him letters, Christmas cards and birthday cards.  I just wanted to let him know I was still here.  But I didn’t worry about and even wait for those calls or letters anymore.

I was okay without him.

cAnd then this past Christmas I sent him a card, like I have done the past few years.  And a couple of weeks letter it came back to me, marked return to sender.  Another returned letter.  But this time I didn’t cry.  I actually laughed.  Okay, I thought, he is finally done with his kids and moved on.  Instead of crying, instead of my heart crashing to the ground in a million pieces, I was fine.  I was okay.

My reaction to this second returned letter was a complete 360 from the first returned letter.  I was different and in a different place in my life when the second returned letter showed up in my mailbox.  I had finally realized that this was his issue, not that of any of his children.  I didn’t do anything wrong.  I wasn’t horrible, I wasn’t unlovable.  He had the issues.  And he was the one missing out, not me.  He was missing out on knowing his daughter and his grandsons.  And I was not the only one he was missing….. he was the one missing out on relationships with his six children, all wonderful, unique and amazing individuals.  And he was missing out on the opportunity to know and enjoy ALL his grandkids.  THAT was his loss.  Not ours!  NOT MINE.

I am very grateful for the relationship we had while we had it, and grateful for the answers to my questions.  I will always have a place in my heart for my birth father, for the man who took care of me along with my mother, the first year of my life.  And I am thankful, every day, that he gave me the information I needed to find my birth mothers family… my family.  I am happy that I got to know him and that I was able to get those missing puzzle pieces from him.

And more than ANYTHING I am at PEACE with this last returned letter.

Two returned letters….. two different responses.  And a grateful heart!