With the gratitude word being thrown around during this time of year, I have a confession: I give stuff, material goods a lot of power and influence in my life.
Since I was a small girl, I remember always wanting things.
The idea of wanting more popped into my head during a church service this last weekend. As the pastor kept talking, I began to ponder my materialistic evolution.
In elementary school, I was shipped in by bus to the “city.” At school, kids wore fresh new in-style sneakers. Boys parted their hair on one side and wore collared shirts. The popular girls had bouncy hair and neatly ironed clothes.
Then there was me.
My blonde fro hair looked like one of the “Jackson 5.” I wore bell bottoms and a marijuana leaf t-shirt. There was a thick layer of dirt under my nails. I was fresh off the hippie farm in the 1970s.
Stuff or things had very little meaning. I had little knowledge of the latest gadget, toy, or the need to fit into the latest fad.
After moving into the city from the farm, a dramatic change took place: I began to want what my well to do “rich” classmates had…the designer jeans, the latest shoes, video games…
My family lived in a series of modest old rental homes throughout the city. My parents worked hard to make ends meet at their blue-collar jobs.
I wanted. I wanted. I wanted.
While my dad would lecture: “What do you think I am Mr. Gottrocks?” My mom, on the other hand, wanted so badly to give us not just her children’s needs, but their wants. She opened credit cards that would be run up again and again. On shopping trips with my mom in department stores, I would rarely stand at the register during check-out for fear of the infamous “over the credit limit call.”
In retrospect and now as a parent, I feel selfish and guilty for always wanting “more.”
Isn’t that how it works, generally speaking, we are never fully satisfied? The latest “thing” seems never to be enough. The thought of how I have fallen victim to the dark, weak part of our society whose thirst is never quenched is depressing – especially on Thanksgiving Day.
Growing up on the farm there was no competition between neighbors or friends. Life was simple. I never recall craving more stuff. I do remember being happy and satisfied.
I remember one of the first times when I “had” to have something… the white leather moccasin style shoes. The shoe model was perfectly positioned on the wall of shoes. It sparkled and beckoned me to come closer.
And so my life began a never ending series of wanting more stuff, and not being satisfied with what I had in front of me. Flashes of my history made me feel melancholy. By the end of my step back in time, I am, frankly, disappointed with my incessant need for things.
Last night as we arrived at our Thanksgiving family destination, I broke away from the chatter of the house. The crisp night air was invigorating. I glanced up to the darkness of the night sky filled with a magnificent display of stars. Each one placed in its own fixed spot seemed to shout, “See me, here I am. Are you enjoying me?”
I realized the need to recapture that pure, raw gratitude I once had in my life. And that I should not dwell on things, but moments. I want to live a life that has deeper meaning and is overflowing with moments – both good and bad.
How much better would our world be if we were all simply happy with what we have and basked in moments? What a life-altering thought.
As a child growing up on a farm for the first seven years of my life, I hadn’t a care in the world. My days were spent running barefoot through wheat fields, chasing beautiful strutting peacocks and feeding scratch to our chickens.
We lived in a little red house with a large wooden porch and a barn nestled next to a busy highway on the outskirts of town. Being a young child, I was always told the highway was very dangerous. The extinction of my precious, beloved animals confirmed this month after month, year after year. It was even dangerous to pick up our mail. To retrieve mail we had to walk up a long cement driveway, open a large wire gate, then walk up another short hill. The mailbox sat on the edge of the highway with trucks and cars blowing past.
Occasionally, we’d bump into our neighbors riding their horse in the canyon, or picking up mail. My parents would chat for a bit about the weather, property issues and animal annoyances.
Hitchhikers were commonplace in the 1970s, and often came by asking for food and water. My parents rarely turned anyone away. We slept with our doors and windows unlocked most nights.
Which brings me to my point: my parents considered everyone a neighbor.
Consider that for a moment.
My parents rarely turned anyone away. Our home was a blessing to anyone who needed love, who needed a blanket, food or water.
Now as an adult, I look around my suburban neighborhood. The picturesque cottage homes sit tightly one next to the other. Lawns are neatly cut and the black paved streets are flawless. Yet, behind the doors there is happiness, laughter and joy. There is also anger, pain, sadness and depression. There are neighbors who embrace each other, while others won’t even wave.
The concept of loving our neighbors, city and community is a recent theme at Mariners Church headquartered in Orange County, California entitled “Love Where You Live” (LWYL). In a nutshell, the series cites the plethora of benefits to communities and the world if we loved our neighbors more. After all, would Jesus turn away from a friendly wave, or reject a complimentary plate of food?
No, He would not.
Please bare with me as this post is not one of being preachy, but rather a deep, personal inner reflection.
Evolution of the Bad Neighbor
During my lifetime, I have had the opportunity to live in a diverse number of areas – from the city, beach towns, farms, small towns, mid-size cities, mountain towns, to a suburban community. Even though each area had its own ups and downs, I feel that through the process I became somewhat jaded in loving where I lived.
The fear of going close to the highway mailbox had grown exponentially bigger.
For years, I lived in the city and I would pull my car into our condo garage and then quickly shut it to avoid talking to our neighbors. Another time, I recall driving home from a long day at the office, and impatiently honking my horn at the traffic on our urban street only to realize it was a fire truck with Santa greeting small children at Christmastime.
What had I turned into? Not a good neighbor that’s for sure. That little girl from the farm who gave water from a garden hose to strangers had faded.
Could she be revived?
Being a Good Neighbor, Again
After moving into the suburbs nearly 10 years ago, I was hardened and bitter. I had built huge walls to avoid developing relationships for fear of dangerous rejection and being hurt.
It has taken the encouragement of my social, extrovert husband and kids to pull me out of my shell. I am not saying now that I’m Mrs. Super Friendly neighbor, but I have taken chances to show my neighbors love. However, being a good neighbor has a deeper meaning than courtesies and friendliness. How about telling a neighbor you are praying for her during her upcoming surgery? Or, giving a neighbor a hug when you can see the type of day he’s having?
I now love where I live. It took the LWYL series to remind me of my roots of love and that same love that Jesus showed to complete strangers. Once again, my parents had it right: we should treat everyone like our neighbor.
What a beautiful, life-changing thought.
Do you Love Where You Live? Why? Why not?
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and Love your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27
Editor’s Note: I’ve taken a bit of a respite from writing on Clearly Kristal. Well, I’m back. I’m ready to write. To share in honesty and truth. As Writer Anne Lamott wrote in her book “Bird by Bird: “You string words together like beads to tell a story. You are desperate to communicate, to edify or entertain, to preserve moments of grace or joy or transcendence, to make real or imagined events come alive. But you cannot will this to happen. It is a matter of persistence and faith and hard work. So you might as well just go ahead and get started.”
So let’s get started…
“Well, do you want the place?” my mom asked.
I ran my hand along the kitchen counter and strolled towards the living room.
The internal dialogue and imagery in my head as an 18-year-old about to land her first place went something like this:
This place could be all mine! I envisioned the lights dimmed in the small living room. The music jumped, lights flashed, friends danced. The crowd was pumpin.
“So, what do you think, Kristal?” my mom prompted.
Snapping out of my daydream, I whipped, “Uh, ya, I’ll take it.”
She nodded her head, and then pointed to the window, and offered to sew paisley patterned curtains to match my futon. As we walked around the old vacated house, I sensed my mom’s underlying sadness.
I then imagined her dialogue:
I’ve lost her. She’s moving out. My baby.
The Swimming Pool House
This first place, though, was no regular house. This house was full of deep family history. It was owned by my mother’s father (my grandfather), who moved his family to California from New Mexico around 1955.
My grandfather had kept the house as a rental property. Over the years, the house was split into two separate living spaces with a tenant in each space. The inside of the house was simple with its thick carmel brown shag carpet and pasty white walls. In the living room was a wall and floor heater that made a loud ticking sound when blazing. The tiny kitchen had an old broken down dishwasher, but was equipped with a highly used microwave. Next to the kitchen leading to an outdoor patio was a double decker washer and dryer. I think you could fit five pieces of clothing in it total.
The hallway that connected to the living room led to the first bedroom on the left with a tiny closet and a big window. Continuing down the hallway on the right was a bathroom with pink and black checkered tile that had a lingering musty smell.
The outside of the house was something special. My grandfather had painted it fluorescent green during the 1980s. Hence the name “the swimming pool house” fit perfectly. Even though the color was awful and neighbors detested it, my grandfather loved the color. He was never one to follow the rules, but made his own rules up in life. Which is all the more reason I too loved this swimming pool-colored house.
My grandfather had moved his family west for a better life in the mid 1950s. His youngest son was born with severe mental and physical “handicaps.” In the small New Mexico town with at least a thirty-minute drive to the nearest hospital, my grandparents consulted with world-renowned specialists to assess their “handicap” son. Their son’s prognosis was bleak at best. At the time, California provided the best state care for special needs individuals.
Around age 14, my mother was uprooted from her little southwestern desert town for sunny, hopeful California. After a few years of living in California, her mother, who had always been a rather bitter, uptight woman, began experiencing terrible headaches. They soon learned she had a brain tumor.
My mother lost her mother to the Lord during brain surgery at age 17. My grandmother was only 36 years old. By age 18, my mother broke away to marry her high school sweetheart. She packed her own boxes of memories from this very house. It wasn’t until years later, my mother admitted that she felt guilty for leaving her widowed father alone.
But she needed to break free.
Now more than 30 years later, we walked the same rooms. “I can still smell my mom’s gardenia perfume,” she said, taking a breath as we entered the bedroom. I inspected the closet with its thick wooden sliding doors. I tried to busy my mind with where my roommate, and I would put our twin beds and matching black lacquer nightstands.
Just before starting my freshman year of college, I packed 18 years of memories into boxes and carted them five miles away to the swimming pool house.
Yet, underneath all the excitement, I felt a sense of abandonment of my family. As the eldest sister to my two younger sisters, I was the leader and organizer. I kept as much as I could “together” when my dad was checked out on a drinking binge, and my mother was doing her best to keep up family appearances while working multiple jobs.
Like my mom, I was ready to carve out the world and make it my own. I needed to break free.
Now as a mom, I’m several short years away from my first child wanting to break free. Sometimes when tucking my two girls in to bed in the darkness of their rooms, I hold a long, close-up gaze. I want to freeze that moment in time. I make a mental note to hold that moment close to my heart before the tour of rentals and packing of memories begins.
Because I know someday they’ll daydream about the day they break free.Follow
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
We had different colored eyes. She was blessed with beautiful blue. Me? Plain brown.
Her face was square with a perfect button-shaped nose and high cheekbones. My face was long and oval with a bigger, protruding nose much like my Grandmother Mona. She had a thick mane of hair, while my baby fine hair was thinning with multiple cowlicks. She had large pouty red lips compared to my disappearing slivered opening.
Everyone always raved to my parents: “She’s beautiful and doesn’t look a thing like your other daughters!”
Both good and bad, these words seem to typecast my younger sister’s future in some twisted way.
Don’t get me wrong, everyone is born unique and special – and with their own issues and problems. My younger sister not only looked different, but was born almost subdued. She was unlike the rest of our loud, gregarious brown-eyed family members. She was sensitive and quiet.
Out of jealousy of her obvious beauty, I would tease that she was adopted.
Not only was my little sister born a striking beauty, she had a remarkable sweetness and gullibility on the inside. She was giving and kind.
Growing up, she loved baby dolls and small animals. She always played animal doctor on our farm and rescued all kinds of creatures. Being only two years apart, she became my primary playmate. This was a particularly important time of closeness between us when we lived on the commune farm as there were no neighborhood kids to play ball in the street, or run through the sprinklers with during those years.
As a small child I remember her having some type of urological surgery. My parents bought her a new silky pink nightgown when she returned from the hospital. Back then, “new things” were not the norm for my working class hippie family.
I felt another tinge of jealousy.
It also didn’t help that our own father was an alcoholic and often checked out. However, years later a dramatic change took place…
She started skipping school in junior high and high school. Her grades slipping, she began smoking cigarettes and hanging out with the “wrong crowd” down by the creek and liquor store. Her physical appearance changed dramatically as well. She bleached her beautiful locks of hair platinum blonde white, and wore thick makeup that masked those sparkling blue eyes. She would spend hours baking in the sun to achieve a deep bronze tan.
Could this just be rebellious teenage puberty – or something more?
Emotionally, her shyness turned into hiding in her room as a teenage recluse. A few years later, we found out she was being abused by her boyfriend, who we fittingly nicknamed S.O.T. E. (pronounced soh-dee; AKA Scum Of The Earth).
He had been torturing her for many years. She felt trapped and alone.
As time went on, I think my mother especially became desperate and worried. She offered to enroll her in a local modeling school. Perhaps this could boost her self esteem and bring her out of the darkness?
I think this was a brief time of “shining” for my sister and mom. My formerly shy sister had learned how to walk the runway, build a portfolio and film commercials. Sadly, her confidence would boost only temporarily – only to return to the abuser.
And yet, another sting of disappointment.
By the time she reached her senior year of high school, she was working hard to break off the relationship with her abuser. She began to focus more on her inside beauty; and breaking the stereotype and cycle of abuse.
Could there be brains behind this beauty?
She graduated from high school, and officially broke off the relationship with her abuser boyfriend. She took a part-time job at a local restaurant while attending junior college. Around the same time, I was about to graduate from college (a first in our family).
While talking with her one day, she told me pointedly: “I thought if you can graduate from college, then so can I.”
I was touched. No sting at all.
A few short years later, she transferred to a four-year university. The day I stood in the audience during her graduation ceremony, tears welled in my eyes. I knew what this day meant: my beautiful blue-eyed sister with the button nose had beaten the odds of escaping abuse. She had achieved straight As throughout her college career.
Naturally, her college major was human services, which has allowed her to counsel at-risk families and battered, abused single mothers.
The exterior, vain differences and comparisons of years past were unimportant. The stings of jealousy had vanished. There was nothing but love remaining.
Did you know? One in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence. #loveisrespect Source: http://www.loveisrespect.org
To read previous Summer Blogging a Book Series:
For more than 40 years my mom took in people to our eclectic, hippie home.
The pained filled.
Sometimes, the unwanted.
And a vast majority of those who captured my mom’s heart were runaway girls. There seemed to be an unlocked, rotating door with a line of girls every day of the year.
There had been so many girls. Each with a name and a story.
There was Missy, a tiny teenage girl with long, straight brown hair and twinkling hazel eyes. A friend of my younger sister she ran away from her overbearing mother. During those months, it was as if a weight had been taken off her shoulders, and she needed space to breathe. Eventually, she reached a truce with her mother, and returned home.
And then there was Deidre, who was a college friend of my sister. The feisty, petite strawberry blonde was a computer science major and college soccer player. A good student with street smarts, she was bound for a college degree and career. However, her life changed forever when she became pregnant her senior year. My mom being the “cool mom” had talked with her about the options. My mom had pleaded with her to move in and raise the baby at our home. We, once again, welcomed two additional new girls into our home.
Jennifer was an awkward long-legged tween who wore braces. When she first moved in, she was like a timid abused animal. She walked with her head down and slowly slid her feet. If you approached her to quickly, she would startle. Molested by her father, and living with a cold-hearted mother, she lived with us for several months. After awhile, her smile beamed, and a bounce of self confidence and happiness returned. I remember when I heard her laugh aloud for the first time.
I think it was then I realized the gift my mom had given these girls and so many others like her.
It was love. Love does cure and mend wounds. It gives hope in a world that seems lost.
Most recently, Jennifer, who is now a grown woman returned to the home she began healing as an abused teenager. Looking around the home, she was overcome with emotion. This was one of the few places she considered safe and full of love and hope. This was the place she found hope and light in the dark.
In that moment, she cried while hugging my mom, and was thankful she opened her home and heart at a time she needed it most.
Now that’s love.
You have just read an excerpt from my manuscript…more to come in publication. Read about another sweet girl who lived with us in Ready to Run.
Have you ever ran away from home? How long did it last? Where did you go? As a parent, if your child’s teenage friend asked to live with you because of turbulence and/or abuse in the home would you allow it? Why or why not?Follow