Journey for Pure Life

That we may be overwhelmed by the wonder and beauty of it all.

Tag: North Carolina

The pain love truth that is reunification

AT 3 (2)

There’s a sad face on the large family calendar on my dining room wall.  A sad face on the night that I typed these messages to my husband….

“I wrote that last night. That’s not what’s in my heart right now…now I just feel dark.”

“I didn’t know they would make it hurt like this.”

“I feel like dying.”

It was the day that we received a phone call, on a sunny afternoon as I rode shot gun down HWY 24 towards the middle school pickup line, all dressed up and lots of places to be.  The three children in our care were away for an extended visitation and we expected them back before the court date. But as we turned into the middle lane in front of the school that afternoon, pines and cars and lives began to blur all around me while I  listened to my husband’s end of the conversation.  I knew what he was being told.

They weren’t coming back.  The kids, they wouldn’t be coming back…to my home, my hugs, my dinner table, my love, my imperfect everything. Just like that. Just like that. They were gone. Anger and tears in all those public places that evening.

AT 11

I hadn’t said that kind of goodbye, I hadn’t explained anything to them, I hadn’t told them I’d always be right where I am and love them just like I do. My heart wasn’t prepared for what was done that day.

It wasn’t a literal death I felt. But that of a heart ripped out, a soul forever changed. Again. And worse this time.

Court was coming up. I knew, I certainly knew, that things would likely change after that court date. But I thought…I assumed…court orders were adhered to.  I thought, I assumed…I had one more night, at least. I thought, assumed, had faith and trust that they’d tell me what everyone else had discussed and already knew.  They didn’t.

AT 10

It wasn’t only these children that caused my pain, or this situation. I hurt for a future I’d envisioned for so very long, for partnerships I’d worked hard for and felt strongly about, for a system I’d trusted. For all the foster moms who’d given their whole heart…only to be tossed aside when they were no longer needed.

That afternoon I felt how the world had so often made me feel, from the time I was a young girl. When my performance was done, they were done. I wasn’t wanted anymore. And on that day, what I’d done,  it seemed like it hadn’t been enough after all…

………………………………………………………………………………..

AT 13

One week following that phone call, we left the courthouse with finality and I just wanted to be in a beautiful place, in a spot where the sun was shining and I could soak it all up. I wanted to celebrate instead of grieve. I wanted to feel something good. I wanted to be done with the sad.

We sat on the waterfront at a favorite downtown restaurant, a place that has stood since the 1930s and where I had one of my first jobs. Familiar faces, people who knew me to be good, who’s respect I had earned. A favorite meal, fishing boats coming in for the day, a brilliant blue sky.

I couldn’t go back to that empty house by myself that day, not yet, so I’d asked my husband to put off work for a little longer and lunch with me.

As we sat there, we made a list of all the things we could do now, now that we only had three children again….

…snowboarding…

…Puerto Rico…

…trade in the mom van…

…have lunch dates in the middle of the day…

Basically, do us again. The extravagant and the simple.

AT 2

I wanted to celebrate that day and in the days to come, and grieve no more.   Life, without my whole heart consent, had just changed again, and there was nothing I could do but

squint my eyes hard for the silver lining, love so much I could feel the ache in my chest and return to an us I hadn’t seen in awhile.

And a me. Because who was I now, anyway, without the six?  I never went anywhere without, “are they all yours?” to which I would stumble over an answer that I maybe never quite figured out. I wasn’t invited to family weddings because I had too many kids. Strangers thanked me for what I was doing, on the street, in the hair salon, to which I was shocked and surprised. Six billion people would probably do it better, but I’m what they’ve got. And I like to think all the aunts out there would give it their best effort as well.  But that identity had been a hard one.

That was probably the day that I started planning a section hike on the Appalachian Trail.  It wouldn’t have been possible before.

Now I’d do it, even if I had to do it alone.

AT 5

When the kids first left, the abrupt shock of the silence in my home (with my own now away at school during the day) was a bit traumatic. One day they were there, with all their needs and their noise and their snuggles…and then they weren’t.

I was left alone in a house that was empty. The empty, it was twofold. We could get back to the core family, the originals. I could get back to my home, all that had been neglected. To patience and time and lovies that wouldn’t be interrupted. But then, the empty came and overwhelmed me. I couldn’t bear it, couldn’t let my thoughts be free in that silence, couldn’t let my mind go to all the places it had gone a thousand times before…

“What if…?”

“How can they…?”

“This isn’t…”

“What will…”

“Who will they…”

“Why did they…why did they…why?”

Couldn’t do it, sit in that quiet with a mind that’s always turned on, not for that first week. And so, in my grief, while I packed up little belongings, took down a crib I couldn’t continue to look at fresh each morning and each night before I closed my eyes, ripped wallpaper down that I’d been wanting to for years…I did something else…

Spiritual or deep or philosophical or meaningful it wasn’t. But it’s what I did.

I binge-watched Friends in the background of all that grief and packing.

That’s right. All. Day. Long. My “friends” would see me through, with their witty banter and familiar voices. Rachel, Chandler, Phoebe, Ross, Joey, Monica. And they did see me through. Almost to the final season.

AT 6

And after that week, when I’d retreated from most people and activities, after my tears and anger had presented in the initial shocking moments, after all the wallpaper was down and the 4T and 5T and size 8 clothes were packed up, after the Batman figures and books and Little People were placed carefully into boxes, God gifted me this one afternoon when I didn’t need Friends anymore. Out on my green lawn under another sky of blue, He gave me peace.

And after that, He gifted me with a friend to share the AT trek with.

Fifteen painful miles Amy and I hiked, with about 30 pounds on our backs, along the Tennessee/North Carolina border. Starting at Carvers Gap in North Carolina’s Mitchell County, we hiked Jane Bald, Round Bald, Yellow Gap Mountain, Little Hump and Big Hump Mountain, before ending up on Highway 19 in Watauga County.  About six miles in we camped with other backpackers at Overmountain Shelter, sharing fireside laughs and stories.  We hung our hammocks in the trees and lay for hours, aching, under a bright harvest moon, Roaring Creek Valley below us, the high-pitched howling of coyotes making its way to us a few times through the cold night air. Sleep we did little of.

Somehow, despite the intense pains all over my body and the lack of sleep, I felt energized and amazing in a way I hadn’t in a long, long time. The deepest crevices of my soul knew that even though things were unpleasant, things were right.

AT 14

We talked for hours and hours and hours, Amy and I. On the ride up and back, on the trail, a distraction from everything that hurt so much worse than we’d anticipated.

I told her about the kids and what had happened. But only once and then we didn’t talk about it again.

I realized on that trail without it needing to be said…There are no perfect journeys. We all have a cross to bear, a healing to seek, a pain to endure.

Her toes, my knees.  Her childhood, my present. Hiker Joe’s shortened route, because the agony overwhelmed . Our altered end point, because we couldn’t bear to walk the same enchanting wretchedness twice.

Love, it’s the most painful journey of all, I think. When it’s done right and done for real. When it’s the hard days. When it’s letting go when you’re asked to. When it’s imperfect and holding on tight anyway. When it’s messing it up real good and having the courage to try again. When it’s foster care. When it’s loving yourself and those with big mama hearts enough to speak out. When it’s losing yourself for a season to fill up the spaces where a child was empty. When it’s doing what love asks of you, no matter what that is.  And I think, that it’s in that hurting kind of love where you’ll find your most exquisite self.

Three days ago a woman cried to me. She’d never been a mom. She longed to be a mom, even a temporary mom. Her hearts whispers to her of the children in need, of the safe haven she could be….but for the fear, and the fear of the pain, she hesitates. This is all I know…

Things will be hard. And we  may will be mistreated, forgotten about, left behind.

We can’t control it all, even some of the big things.

We can choose wisely when given the choice. We can let go and love through the hurt when we aren’t.

We can keep moving toward what’s good.

We can surround ourselves with those a bit ahead on the spiritual/life trail. They’ll hold us up when we’re weak, and some of the time, they won’t even realize they’re doing it.

Amy taught me, and the trail taught me those few days, that we press in hard, move forward, and we count it all joy that we can and we will. We laugh, make lovely whatever small space we’re given, let others in, sleep under the stars.

We stay the course, we love like we know how, how people need us to, even when it hurts like the dickens, even when it’s the most unfair, even when it all feels wrong. Because, the essence of what is real love asks us to. To suffer with those who suffer.

I’d do it again. A thousand times over.

Saxapahaw. Best thing I did this summer.

Bloop!

No.

No, no, no, no no no NO……!

Shock. Panic rising. Heart sinking to its lowest. Not again.

Nine-year-old Emma heard the horrifying little bloop  from the front of the rented canoe and quickly turned to look back.

“Was that your phone?” she gaped.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

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I’d happened upon the wee town of Saxapahaw (I’ve been schooled that it’s pronounced Sax-pahaw. That second ‘a’ is silent, accent is on the ‘haw.’) by accident one day while looking for stopover options for our Deep Creek mountain trip. We didn’t end up staying that night but the Airbnb listing intrigued me.  A yurt on a creek, on a farm, in a river town, owned by someone I had once gone to school with.

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A couple weeks after returning from Deep Creek, on a Tuesday, I booked the yurt. We’d had court (always my very least favorite place to be) that Thursday, during which big, risk-all or end-all decisions were made for the kids currently in kinship care with us, and I just….needed  a moment. A decent-sized moment. Emma and I took that moment together. After a full year of her sharing me with five other children, some of them very young and needy, some of them requiring more of my attention than she does, we needed it and she deserved it.

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Saxapahaw is a tiny blip on a piece of the Haw River. It’s located in Alamance County, and an easy twenty minutes out of Chapel Hill. Old brick mill buildings along the river are now home to local businesses so Mayberry and quirky and sustainable and eco-friendly and 2017 all at once. But this speck of a village…more full of life than possibly any other town I’ve visited.

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One by one, we fell in love….

Cane Creek Farm

The yurt at Cane Creek Farm was our first yurt retreat. We felt a bit like fru-fru, upscale Native Americans because though we were sleeping in what is essentially a giant, round tent, cooking meals over a campfire and using an outhouse (or a pot, I’ll be honest), we also had the luxuries of an actual wooden floor, a fridge, outlets and lovely strung lights hanging above us. As I soaked in all the coziness from the yurt’s bed that first evening, I studied its construction. My mind was already rolling around plans for my husband to build me my own on a little piece of land we’ve got…he always adores when I think up new, big projects for us (him.)

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Lucky for him, I discovered that this particular yurt was pieced together by a few willing hands and is totally possible for us to tackle ourselves. Cane Creek’s yurt, however, comes with an extra special piece of history that probably most renters don’t know and that can never be replaced. That beautifully old wooden floor I’d been admiring was pieced back together with the very same wood that mill workers had once walked across in the old dye house down by the river, the portion that is now the Saxapahaw General Store.

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In the same way those three connections are made, we found similar connections all over town.

The weekly crochet group may be nestled in among the diners and customers at the General Store, chatting away with busy hands as food and refreshments move around them. A Hawbridge School class may be meeting in the old colored school building now located at the Saxapahaw Museum. You may need to use the restroom at The Haw Canoe and Kayak Co. before your paddle out, climb the stairs to the old recreation area and stumble upon a dark gym, the massive faces that are the Paperhand Puppet Intervention props, staring down at you from each available wall. The butchery will offer the Village Bakehouse (housed within The Eddy Pub) bread, and also the local farm’s t-shirts. At Saturdays in Saxapahaw, you’ll be able to browse the local goods of area vendors (like Haw River Farmhouse Ales whose Sun Hands Summer Golden seasonal brew I can still taste and comes in such a cool little bottle that it’s now nestled on a shelf with other treasures I’ve found along the way) and hear different local musicians each week during summer. When a name is mentioned here, everyone seems to know exactly who you mean.

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Businesses and people don’t seem to stand alone, but appear to be so naturally intertwined with each other, beneficial to each other, that you wonder how they got that way and how all towns across America can replicate what they’ve created.

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The Haw Canoe and Kayak Company

Despite years of mill pollution into the 110-mile Haw River, it is now more closely protected and a stunning sight. A canoe and short shuttle ride was provided to us by The Haw Canoe and Kayak Company, with a bit of instruction. We had three hours. The whistles attached to our life jackets were for blowing if we really needed help.  At the spot where we put in you can never go to the left. A left will take you to the dam and over its falls. This terrifies me, of course. Class I rapids now terrify me. But to the right, oh my heavens. A glassy, still corridor of water between borders of green with very few buildings peeking out on both banks. A blue sky rising up in between with a few puffy, picturesque clouds amidst its near perfection. I had my phone, of course, and took some of the most gorgeous iPhone photos I have probably ever taken. Then I put it safely away.  I wanted to fully enjoy this. The calm beauty of the river, the ease of our first canoe trip, the realization that the river at this spot was incredibly shallow and swim-able…we were giddy, Emma and I. We swam, laughed, played. We swam over to where some people were jumping off high rocks, at a point I was later told is the deepest part in the area.

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We’d climbed back into the canoe to dry off for a minute after watching the rock jumpers. My things started getting wet in the bottom. I was in the midst of half-laughing/half-talking to myself about the wonders of the Haw, picking up my little bag to move it…

Bloop!

Every bit of giddy drained right out of me. The first-time, Haw River high we’d just been on….gone.

Emma heard the horrifying little bloop  from the front of the rented canoe and quickly turned to look back.

“Was that your phone?” she gaped.

We hadn’t even seen  what had fallen in. We knew.

How is it possible that I have just lost another thing to a river? Another phone? Those photos!? (Previously, I have lost the equivalent of about $2000 in rivers, including a phone, a days-old camera and an old and simple, but so beautiful to me and my very first, kayak. Don’t ask me how. It’s just my thing, apparently.)

This was a new phone. My husband had spent a literal three hours getting it set up for me.  It was so recent that I remembered it well. And those photos!

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I’d immediately instructed Emma to take off her life jacket and search the bottom for me. Most everywhere else we’d been we could see the bottom. Reach-down-and-pick-it-up shallow. Not here. We could touch, though, and we felt around for a good silent, somber ten minutes before I dropped my head against the canoe and resigned myself to the fact that I had just dropped a few hundred dollars and beautiful pictures into the river. Again.

“Should I blow the whistle now?”  Emma asked, quiet and serious.

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“No, Emma, we don’t need to blow the whistle…”  I replied, dejected and almost in a whisper, but with a hint of a smile trying to find lips.

Upon our return to The Haw Canoe and Kayak Co., Matt, who’d helped us into the river, learned of the phone incident. He gave me his phone to call my husband (who, by the tone of his “hello?” at having me call him from an unknown number, knew I’d had another sort of incident that would cost him money), treated my daughter to a popsicle and printed off directions to the nearest Verizon store. He had an entire group he was heading off to the river with at the exact time we strolled back up the path…but he waited. They all waited. Until he’d seen us entirely and patiently through the process as if he had nothing else in the world to do just then. He even figured he or someone would probably come back with my phone.

Just before I headed out the door,  my MapQuest directions in hand, he gave me his thickly laminated card, just in case.

“It’s waterproof,”  he smirked.

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Saxapahaw General Store

The food at the Saxapahaw General Store (part store, part restaurant, part gathering place) is local, seasonal, creative, delicious, exquisite. By the time we reluctantly drove out of town, I’d tried the in-season Mozzarella Caprese Stack, the Duck Jam Burger (made with locally-sourced beef, blueberry ketchup and duck bacon), the Chicken Salad and the Duck Salad (best dang duck I’ve ever had in my life!).

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But it was the people….They left me a bit stunned and and a lot happy.

Maybe it was the fact that it was the first time in a year that I could actually be in a place without six little people crying, screaming, fighting, needing, pooping, running, playing, talking, talking, talking at/to me that I actually could  hold an appropriate conversation with another adult. Maybe it was like four-year-old Rief said, as he overheard me telling my husband upon return about how nice  everyone was…

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“Maybe they’re so nice because they really liked your skirt,”  he stated as he looked me up and down.

But no…I think it was just them. Every.single. one. that I had any sort of conversation with, there was connection. Genuine, slowed-down, looked us in the eye, stopped-everything-else-they’re-doing, fully engaged, real live connection.

I’ve got a small handful of business cards and handwritten contact info around me, given to me by the locals we met, just in case. When we accidentally wandered into Left Bank Butchery on a day that it was closed, we were invited in to have a look at the half of an open Cane Creek Farm pig on the back table.  When we met Chris, special needs teacher/coach during the school year, Sax General Store employee in the summer, he heard our phone-in-the-beautiful-river story and nearly offered to go look for it.

“Yeah, everyone in town’s gonna offer to find your phone,”  Matt with the canoes assured me later.

…………………………………………………………………………….

Back on the farm one evening, our last, the sun had begun to set, cooling the red dirt acreage off just enough for us to finally walk the perimeter and visit all the animals. I had given Emma my old camera to use for the first time and she was thrilled. I’d never let anyone handle my cameras before. (Though it seems….perhaps…maybe I’m the one I need to be most concerned about.) The evening was…quiet, mother/daughter, easy, intimate.

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The owners were away, camping in Nova Scotia. In their place, a farm sitter, though we hadn’t met her, seen her, heard from her. One of the owners kept in contact with me herself to make sure all was well. And it was.

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We had followed the red dirt that evening, which led us around the back of the main house and toward the gardens. Dogs rushed to us, barking but friendly. I glanced upward, towards the house, spotted a second-story deck and then…skin. Lots of skin.

Ah, there she was. Elusive farm sitter girl, at the end of a scorching day, amidst the cows and the guineas, in the sanctuary of the peaceful Piedmont acres, probably believing herself to be utterly alone…Topless.

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At first we looked away, admired the vegetable gardens with new fervor, then we exchanged a few words with now-clothed upper deck girl, acting as nonchalant as possible, and then we strolled on, giggling and taking sunset photos all the way back to the yurt. I later asked a new friend if this was Saxapahaw normal. Not quite, but it is farm sitter girl normal, I was informed. I also later realized, as I studied the farm’s map carefully back at the yurt, that I had led us right down the wrong path that evening. To think, had we gone wide and around the actual  farm perimeter, we’d have missed all that. And the big laugh we all had later.

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Because two weeks later we were back and really  met her, and the most precious little thing she is. When she’s not topless on the farm, she works in outdoor education. All natural, sweet-spirited and free. Like General Store Chris, my Emma girl liked her immediately. Kids can sometimes tell about people, you know.

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On a Tuesday, we ate our last Saxapahaw meal at the General Store’s outdoor cafe and grabbed a few items for the road. As I took a last glance around the store, at the fresh produce in their bins, the local artisan’s goods, soaked in all the kind and laidback Saxapahaw that I could, I turned to Emma and reluctantly said, “So we just leave?”

Though neither of us wanted to, she replied, “Yeah. We just leave.”

But I had a feeling that Jane, the museum director who’d shown us around that morning, was right.

“You’ll be back. I can tell,” she’d said, smiling her gentle smile.

(And we were, of course.)

After the pouring out of myself for the past year, Sax gave back to me. Nurtured a mother/daughter relationship. Gave me the perfect blend of peace, people and excitement. Filled me right up again.

 

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