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The Kid on The Fence

I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, but I did grow up in an average American home in the 80’s and 90’s. Christianity was still woven into the everyday and wasn’t offensive in public. Christmas I knew was about Jesus but to me it didn’t extend beyond the cute little nativity set my mom painted and sold at craft fairs. Easter I knew was also about Jesus and his death but I didn’t understand that and I knew nothing about the resurrection. Most of what I learned about God came from the Andy Griffith Show (which came on CBS after my mom’s soap operas) and from the evangelical neighbors next door and their daughters who were determined to tell me about God.

Each day I’d head outside in the backyard to play. The neighbors would also play in their backyard everyday. They had a “real” playset straight out of a catalogue; needless to say I desperately wanted to play on their playset. I was terribly nosey and watched through a knot hole in the fence as they put the set together, each screw made me more envious. When the set was done at last the new neighbors emerged to play. I watched with curiosity; sure these girls must be rich and spoiled to have such an amazing thing in their backyard.

It took a few days of watching them for me to realize they seemed pretty normal. One girl was my age and the other was only a year and a half younger. They seemed like best friends, a strange concept for me since my own sister was so much older than me and was currently in middle school and wanted nothing to do with me. At last, on a whim, I climbed to the top of the fence peaked my head over and said hi. That was the beginning of a very fruitful friendship. Each day they’d play outside on their playset and I’d climb the fence, poke my head over and chat with them.

Read more …The Kid on The Fence

Why I Speak Spanish

Warning: Some of the content in this post may challenge you as I talk about a politically charged topic.If you start reading, please read all the way to the end or you might miss the main message.

Here’s What It Was Like Growing Up As An Illegal Alien 

I spent most of my life as an illegal alien, watching from the outside as I desperately wanted citizenship. I did everything I could to fit in; I changed my behavior, learned to speak another language, and looked down on the other illegals who didn’t put in the same effort I did to ‘look the part’. 

I was treated like a second-class citizen because I was not a native-born, many in the community looked down on me when they met or learn of my family. My family was clearly not citizens, they didn’t speak the language, kept to themselves, didn’t attempt to integrate, and everything about their behavior and accent gave away how much they didn’t belong.

Then, I married a citizen. He taught me about his culture, while still struggling to integrate. People were kind and nice, but on occasion, some changed the way they treated me because I was not a born citizen and my past was not acceptable. They spoke slower even though I learned the language. When misunderstandings arose - normal ones that happen in life - they sighed and chalked it up to me not being born into it. They’d looked down upon me rather than clarifying what was confusing.

Middle School

I am not a front-row student. Those students get way too much attention and I’ve always preferred to fly under the radar if I can. There’s the added benefit of being able to work ahead if you sit in the back row and finishing your work before the teacher can even finish her lecture. That’s exactly the tactic I used in my 7th-grade geography class.

The teacher was really passionate about the subject and overall a very caring teacher, but geography, in the forms of technical terms, never interested me. I was very bored in the class and I’d frequently have the homework done before she finished her lesson. Once the lesson was over she’d give everyone 15 minutes to start working on their homework and I could use this time to read my own book. 

One day she was walking through the back row and she paused at the students next to me. She spoke slowly and clearly to them but I could tell she was very frustrated, they had been drawing pictures on their worksheets rather than doing them. Outright not doing the work would never have crossed my mind so my interest was piqued and I observed as casually as I could.

“You need to do these worksheets.” She said to them.

They looked up at her and shrugged their shoulders.

Her impatience was growing. “You need to do the class work or you won't pass. NO PASS-EH.”

One of the boys spoke up. “No learn-eh no speak-eh.”

She rolled her eyes and put her hands up in exasperation and walked away. I watched the boys out of the corner of my eye for the rest of the period as they tried hard to figure out the worksheet. My next few classes had a handful of the same students in them and I observed how the teachers all clearly avoided them and in some cases utterly ignored them. They were there but not really there.

It went against my grain. I didn’t like how completely overlooked they were - even though I had ignored them until only a few days earlier. They sat away from everyone at lunch and were totally ignored by the other students. Sure everyone has their group of friends they eat with but they at least acknowledge the other students with nods and pleasantries, but these kids were unacknowledged.

I didn’t fly below the radar because that’s what I wanted, I genuinely wanted to be seen but because of a complicated home life it was just better, I felt, to go unseen. My insides hurt that there were others that lived this same existence. They were ok with being unseen because in many of their cases they were not legally here so going under the radar was also to their benefit.

I asked one of my friends what they thought of the table in the corner that no one ever looked at and she replied “That’s where the dumb kids sit. They’ll fail out soon enough or drop out.” a few others agreed with her.

I was sickened by her sentiments. I had seen what one of them was drawing on his paper it was great. He wasn’t stupid he just didn’t understand. Speaking English couldn’t and shouldn’t be the sole measure of their intelligence and worth. 

So a few days later I mustered up my courage and when our geography teacher was done with her lecture I moved my chair in front of their desks and began to slowly read the worksheets to them. At first, they just looked at me in shock, but I had a natural self-consequence about me and I pushed through the initial awkwardness.

I used hand movements and gestures to help me, I didn’t speak a word of Spanish and they spoke very little English, but we managed. Each day was the same and it moved from being more than just in geography class into the others. My Language Arts teacher got mad at me one day but I told her my grades weren’t suffering and neither were theirs and asked her to make an exception to her no talking rule. She liked the classroom to be quiet so the students could do their reading and my voice isn’t exactly quiet, I eventually talked her into letting us go to the library at the end of each period promising we would not mess around and get in trouble.

This lasted the rest of 7th grade and 8th grade. They picked up more English and needed less and less help and I learned some very basic Spanish. As soon as I got into 9th grade and could take a language I jumped on the opportunity and took the accelerated program. I was in advanced classes so I rarely ever had ESL students in my classes anymore but they all knew where my friends and I sat for lunch and they’d seek me out if they needed anything. My friends were all appalled with me over this set-up and frequently asked me why I bothered to talk with them. They were undesirable. I just rolled my eyes and did my own thing, which if you haven’t noticed, is pretty much what I did all the time.

All Men Were Created Equal

I’m not quoting from any American doctrine here, I’m quoting a Christian one. You see when I said earlier that I was an illegal alien I meant I was an outsider in the body of Christ. I didn’t grow up in a Christian home and every time I stepped foot in a Christian house or a Christian church I knew I was a foreigner and I accepted that I would not be treated with the same respect and dignity as a ‘citizen’ would be. I knew I would be judged when they met my family.

When I was 12 years old I went to the church at the end of my street. I had decided that I was old enough to make that trek and so I did (see I really did whatever I wanted). For several weeks I showed up at the church and sat in the back during the grown-up service - I had no clue there was a children’s service. Several of the parishioners noticed me and were entertained by my appearance. At first, they just watched me but after a week or two someone finally greeted me. They were so nice and I was so excited I went straight home and told my mom how cool they were and began convincing her to come to. 

Eventually, my mom came with me a few weeks later. Comments were made by both parties and my mom left never to return to that church again, and the next week when I showed up I was told it was better if I stopped coming and that I wasn’t welcome.

I wasn’t a natural born citizen of the kingdom of heaven and my visa was denied. Years passed by and I continued to attend church, in fact, I even believed Jesus was the risen Son of God and my personal Savior, yet church after church treated me differently than those who were born into Christian families. I’d attend with friends who were from Christian families and I would get excluded from activities or events because I didn’t come from a Christian family. I spoke “Christianese” I modified my behavior and yet I still wasn’t one of them. In some cases, I even followed the rules better than the kids from Christian homes.

I wanted so desperately to be a part of the community. To each other, they were kind, loving, helpful, forgiving, and understanding. I couldn’t explain it back then, but I knew God was real even if they weren’t. I knew God loved me as his daughter and I had the same value to Him and that after this life my reward would be the same, but I accepted that in this life I would never be a member of the in-crowd. In some cases, I even viewed Christians as a necessary evil that had to be dealt with to follow the God I knew existed.

Being unseen and unheard is a painful way to live and there is a large population of people in this country that live that way every single day. The plight of these students was familiar to me because it was what I faced every time I attended church. I couldn’t have articulated it this way back then, I simply knew I was just like them in some way. I knew we were the same even if our earthly citizenship wasn’t the same.

Santa and Gwendyl

I know that I’m going to get the question so I figure I may as well go ahead and address it. I’m pretty open about the poor relationship that I have with my own mother, and I know someone is bound to ask if I think the Conversation Journal could have helped us. Sometimes, as I’ve gone through this journey I want to say no way there are too many problems between us, but if I’m honest my mom and I had a form of this when I was young.

The year was 1990 something and I still believed in Santa. Long before Elf on a Shelf, my first-grade teacher Mrs. Feather had a little elf that came to our classroom in the month of December to keep an eye on us. I was always wildly caught up in the fantastic and the romance of a good fairy tale. I’m sure my mother could see the light in my eyes as I came home every day to enthusiastically report on the activities of our classroom elf.

I think this must have been what inspired my mother to start writing to me as the elf named Gwendyl. I’m not sure exactly how it started out but a tradition began that carried on until I was in sixth-grade. Gwendyl would arrive sometime after Thanksgiving. I’d find a little note card somewhere in my room with greetings from the little elf and report on what Santa thought of my behavior from the year. I would write him back and give him gifts of stickers and miniature toy items. Between the start of the letters and Chrismas morning, Gwendyl and I would have written dozens of letters to each other.

Through my parents' divorce when I had no one to talk to, I confided my heart to the little elf holding back nothing. I told him of the bullies at school that were picking on me. I opened my heart about everything I had kept inside for the other eleven months of the year. My desire to move out or run away. As I got older and started to question whether or not Santa was real and if the elf was in fact real he would write to me about all the kids in California (I wanted to move away from my mom and live with my grandparents in California) who had stopped believing and how they were sapping the magic out of Christmas. He’d tell me about how you didn’t get Christmas presents anymore if you stopped believing. In short, Gwendyl guilted me to believe Santa for far too long.

In sixth grade (yes I said sixth grade), we were given the first graders’ letters to Santa and asked to write back to them. I was horrified by the act of lying to the first graders and was ranting to my mom about it. I asked her if I could just send the letter to Santa instead of lying to the poor kid. It is a moment that shaped me. I can remember exactly where we were driving and how I was sitting in the car. Corner of Forest Meadows and Beulah in front of Coco’s always feels a little drained of hope to me because that is where hope and magic died for me. That probably sounds dramatic but it felt dramatic.

santaandgwen small

My mom quietly said, “I suppose it has gone on long enough and I’ve got to say goodbye to the Gwendyl act, but Santa isn’t real and Gwendyl has been me this entire time.”

I had bared my soul to that elf, I had asked her on many occasions if she was Gwendyl. My trust was completely broken and shattered. Now we weren’t on the greatest footing already, but this destroyed any last vestiges of respect I had for her. It was literally a tailspin downward in our relationship after that. 

Do I think that a Conversation Journal could have helped us? Yes I do. The first section of the journal parents and children lay down ground rules for the journal and that is designed to prevent the trust from being betrayed or broken. You might want to skip over this part as I’m sure it could feel like the hardest part of the journal, but it is there to protect the relationship. Had my mom and I been on the same page about our letters to each other, had there been transparency and boundaries I do believe that for me, writing to my mom would have been a better way for me to continue conversations with her.

Now there are some mental illnesses involved in our relationship so I’m not sure if we could have ever been as close or open as my heart desired, but I do think that written conversations would have been the best way for her to connect with me. Gwendyl proved that I was willing to open up in writing way more than I ever was verbally. I have never been a huge talker, I have bursts of talking, but then I need recovery time because talking is very draining for me. I’m sure there are other introverts out there that are the same way.

Now the Conversation Journal was designed, initially, for me to continue talking with my oldest daughter when we couldn’t logistically talk with each other. She is a talker and I love her little heart, but at the end of the day, there are 4 other kids that have to be put to sleep that also want to talk to mom. I don’t have the capacity to sit and talk with each of them for an hour or two before bed. We’ve built rhythms into our family of each child having a special one on one time with me and Jason but realistically it can’t be every day. The Conversation Journal allows her and now my sons as well, to continue talking to me when life prevents us from having verbal communication, and I can respond to them while they are at school and I have more leisure time for such things.

I love that they want to talk to me. It is a strange sensation to have them fight to talk to me as I don’t remember ever wanting to sit and talk with my mom, or at least when I did it was always followed by an apprehension that prevented me from speaking up. I am in way over my head and have no personal experience with this. The Journal and the podcast are tools I use to help equip me for this load I carry and I hope that they can benefit others because I’m betting I am not the only person who feels this way when it comes to talking with their kids. 


18 Years Later

In high school, I was a class clown. I enjoyed - and still do - making people laugh especially with my totally nerdy raps about whatever the teacher was lecturing on. That’s right all y’all high school friends some of you know the only reason you passed biology (the 3rd time you took it, yeah you know who you are) was because of my catchy songs about osmosis! I’ll also admit to being a pretty fast learner and being completely board in school most days and not really taking any of it seriously. I had 100% in most classes higher in some because the teachers forced me to do the extra credit to keep me busy, that was all that mattered… a big fat A!

The one exception to this was Astronomy class. I was quite determined that I wanted to be an experimental particle physicist and this class, and the internships and independent studies I knew the teacher could get me, were all very serious. I had no time for distractions, no room for fun!

When I walked into class the first day and discovered the normal teacher was on maternity leave and we would have a sub for the first 4 weeks I was quite upset. I didn’t want to lose valuable time with a real teacher and the connections she had at the local observatories - and their relationships with international observatories. I had my eye on Budapest and Switzerland, I was focused!

The sub called us all to gather around for a very rudimentary experiment in physics, I took my spot in the circle with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. The sub attempted her experiment, but she wasn’t impressing anyone else either, but she wouldn’t let us move on until she finished. Normally I probably would have been at the lead of the trouble-making jokesters, but like I said chip on my shoulder and serious about the class… So that is why I got extra irritated at the short kid across the circle from me who wouldn’t stop messing around. I knew of him, he was the grade above me and my friend had once had a crush on him in middle school, but I didn’t remember his name.

At last, I couldn’t take it anymore so I called across the circle to him, “Shut up short stack let’s get this experiment over with.”


In that moment I had no clue that 4 years later I would marry that kid - who was nearly a foot shorter than me at the time, and 18 years later we would have 5 kids together. It’s crazy sometimes to think how far we’ve come! More than half of my life has been spent crushing on and loving that “short stack” from Astronomy class.


My Testimony - Part 4

I’m spending a little time sharing my testimony on my blog right now. It is a 4 part series. This is the fourth installment if you want to start at the beginning click here. In the first installment, I give a background on what my home life was like spiritually for the first 12 years of my life. In the second installment, I tell the story of how I came to believe in Jesus as the Son of God. In the third installment, I tell you about how I came to accept Jesus Christ as my savior.

I endured my mom and stepdad for only a few more months after that faithful Christmas Eve.My mom's moods started shifting and that awful man wasn’t fulling her as she had expected and she was ready to move on to the next thing that promised to bring her happiness and fulfillment.

Things rapidly spiraled out of control starting in March. I had gone on a trip with my dad and stepmom to-be for Spring Break and while I was gone my mom had spent time with her high school bestie, who happened to be a functioning drug addict. From her, my mom got validation that if this man wasn’t making her happy she should move on to what made her happy.

At this time my stepdad underwent a change of heart and conviction of his actions towards me. He and my mom had a winter home in a city about 3 hours away. He spent the entire winter there for the most part while my mom traveled back and forth because her company was still in our hometown. On his trip back up to our home town for the spring season, he had spent the entire 3 hours thinking of a way to make me cry when he arrived.

At this point, I had settled into an acceptance of the situation and was enduring them with a degree of peace. I had Jesus and I would be graduating high school the following year. I was no longer insulted and offended by my stepdad’s hatred of me. I was no longer shocked at my mom’s indifference. I had found contentment within the situation. I was the queen of my own little kingdom.

My stepdad pulled the horse trailer in the back fence and I met him there to help him unload all of his horses. The first words out of his mouth were the words he had planned and rehearsed for 3 hours “You can no longer park your car in the garage under the apartment, you have to park it over there.” He pointed at the corner of the land furthest from the garage apartment.

“Do you want me to move it now or shall I move it after we are done unloading the horses?” was my response. I could tell that it disarmed him and he looked shocked. He mumbled something about it not needing to be done today and maybe it was okay to leave my car where it was. He unhitched the truck from the trailer and drove off leaving me to unload the horses and unpack the tack room myself.

The next day I received an invitation from him to dinner at the main house. This wasn’t entirely unusual, but it often meant that they were not in the mood to cook and wanted me to make the dinner for them. I walked in prepared to make Taco salad, their favorite meal, but my stepdad had already cooked dinner. I sat down watching him and trying to gauge his mood and figure out what was going on.

At last, he spoke. In a frenzy of words, he confessed to having spent 3 hours the previous day thinking of ways to make me cry. He admitted to intentionally spent the last 5 years trying to make my life as miserable as he possibly could. He apologized, he repented, he explained, and at last, he asked for forgiveness - not that day, but eventually. He said my non-reaction the day before had convicted him and that he had left straight away to go to the pastor of the church and confess everything which he had just said to me and to enroll in counseling and therapy.

I was stunned. I was silent. My mom, however, broke the silence. She exclaimed that she knew it all the whole time and that he was despicable and would be filing for divorce. My mouth dropped open and I looked at her for a long time with so many emotions boiling up inside, but I said nothing. Over the next few months, she dismantled our life with him. Everything I had valued, my horse, my privacy, my freedom, my future dreams, my little kingdom I had built for myself - they were all taken away.

I spiraled into a depression. I started running to numb the pain and thoughts that were warring inside of me. I ran when I woke up, I ran mid-afternoon, and I ran after dinner. I did sit up and crunches in between. I eventually worked my way into running 7 miles a day and 15 miles on, particularly bad days. I was nauseous from my emotions so I stopped eating, though not intentionally. I lost 50 pounds in two months.

I moved in with my dad temporarily while my mom sorted things out and found a new place to live. I was happier there and wanted to stay but I wasn’t 18 and she threatened to get the police involved if I didn’t come live with her. I was defeated and moved back in with her. She was also a mess, but I was unable to take care of her and be there for her as I had when she and my dad had gotten a divorce. 

She sat on the couch for hours every day watching TV and my hatred of her grew. She wanted all of my attention and I wanted to give her nothing. I continued on at church, not the same church, but a church my friends attended. She hated that my attention was given there and forbid me to go and insisted that all the Christian books be disposed of and removed from the house. For the first time ever I outright and deliberately disobeyed her and I didn’t care. I hid the books in my car and continued to go to church with my friends. The most remarkable thing I did in rebellion though was, at last, I opened my bible and I read it for myself.

I started at the very beginning and worked my way to the end. Of course, most of it was over my head. I was in the violence of emotions when I read and I couldn’t take it all in, but it opened the door to me. I could read the bible and not somehow suddenly and accidentally start worshipping the devil.

I turned 18 and I tried to stay with my mom, I felt she needed me, but we were no good together. The contempt on my part and the codependency on her part made for a sick and disgusting relationship, so I moved out. She moved across the country as a result of my moving out. My need to run away and escape faded with her leaving our home town. I was temporarily at peace, and convinced that everything was now okay. Jason and I started dating a few weeks after she left, and our romance was whirlwind having been friends for so long before we dated.

Jason and I got married and moved across the country. I didn’t realize it then, but I was still stuck in my depression. Life was better and I wasn’t running, but I still was very unhappy. I had suffered and it was all for nothing, and I couldn’t make sense of it. I stewed in anger and I hated people. There were a few people I tolerated but mostly I preferred animals to people.

The thing is, my life was so vastly better and different than it had been, at last, there was light when before all I had known was darkness. I couldn’t see that there was still darkness because it was not as dark as it was. I say I was unhappy, and yet I was the happiest I had ever been.

A few years later M was born and at that moment that I saw her sweet little face, I started to soften. I realized that people weren’t as bad as I had thought and that while I loved animals, no pet would ever be as important to me as that little girl. 

I started doing Bible studies with other women instead of my own haphazard reading. I learned about Jesus in deeper ways than you can ever learn from Sunday sermons alone. 

For a time Jason and I attended a church that was very heavy into the idea of prayer. I wouldn’t say they were “name it and claim it”, but without proper follow up and study on my own part I began to buy into this idea that if I had enough faith God would do whatever I prayed. I don’t think at the time I would have identified that in myself, but I was positive that if I asked with enough faith He would move a mountain. I never had reason to pray for a mountain to move so alas all the mountains of the world are still in their God-ordained place.

I believed Jesus was the son of God, I accepted him as my Savior, but I was learning to see him as Lord. You see God was at the beck and call of my prayer whim and His answering was based on my own degree of faith and had nothing to do with His majesty. God’s will was submitted to my level of faith. Oh how differently I would have prayed had I only realized all of this sooner.

As I was working through my anger issues (you can click here to read more about that) I started realizing that all of my anger was coming from things not being as I wanted them to be. My sweet 4th child was a doozy and life was tough with him during his first year. When he was 10 months old I had a moment with a group of women when it all made sense (you can click here to read about it). At last, I submitted to Jesus as my Lord. I learned to bring my hopes and dreams, emotions and fears - all of me - under his Will and not my own.

Do I have everything all figured out? Heck no! It is a daily thing, seeking out Jesus. I’m still on a journey with him - in fact, right now He’s showing me a lot about Faith, Will, and Submission. I hope to be able to blog about that soon, but for now, I’m content learning at His pace.

Read more …My Testimony - Part 4