WIP: The Effectual Struggle

 Do you ever feel like that scripture from Mosiah 7:18? 

"Notwithstanding our many strugglings, which have been in vain; yet I trust there remaineth an effectual struggle to be made."

That is my work in progress currently. 

Actually, that is my life.

Do you know what effectual means? Google says "successful in producing a desired or intended result; effective."

There yet remaineth an effectual struggle.

I'll take the struggle if it's effectual.

I'll do anything I need to, if it's effectual.

I think I like that word.

May your struggles all be effectual.

The Hidden Bench Photo by JoLyn Brown

My Life: Making a List of Good Read-Aloud Books.

Acording to my schedule for this week, I'm supposed to post something about my life. The thing of it is, I've offically joined the ranks of Kindergarten Moms and my life is one big SCHEDULE now. Sometimes I want to throw SCHEDULE out the window.

What happened to waking with the sun? Who decided five-years-old's should have homework? And why can't I just hop in the car and go to Salt Lake or somthing whenever I want anymore?

I miss being unpredictable. I miss being impulsive.

Okay, it's not that bad. Schedules are, in fact, the only thing that works for us right now. Otherwise, the dishes invade the kitchen, we run out of clean clothes, and spend all afternoon watching Phineas and Ferb.

Yes, that is what happened when I got sick this week and let the SCHEDULE go.

That, and I started reading Ramona the Pest aloud to my son.  He loves it. I love reading these books from my own childhood to him. I don't know how much he understands, but he's willing to listen, and I'm almost always willing to read. I may not be able to skip Kindergarten on a whim, but no one's said anything about randomly curling up together to read about someone impulsive. And we all know how impulsive Ramona is.

So, all you readers out there, what are some of the best books you've found for reading aloud to kids? Lets include ages too, because, as much as I LOVE Harry Potter, my five year old just won't appreciate it yet.

I'll start the list:

 1. The Mouse and the Motorcycle (I think he was three. He might have been a little young, but it was the first time we read a chapter book aloud.)
 2. Ramona the Pest (He's five, and I think he's really relating to Ramona. Plus I love talking to him about it.)
3. Charlotte's Web (I haven't started this one yet, so I don't know how it will go. I hope he likes it.)

Women I Admire: My Aunts, My Cousin, and The Loneliest Road in America

The Loneliest Road in America by adventurejournalist

(This is really long. You've been warned.) The summer after my freshman year, I came home from college with battle scars. No one could see them. They were all on the inside. My parents knew. I put them through a lot in the months following.

I was nineteen years old, and the world had exploded around me. Living on my own did it to me; shook me to the roots. Boyfriends. Roommates. The dorms. My first experience on my own. I was growing up and the world looked a little darker now.

At the beginning of the summer, my parents suggested I go and visit my Great Aunt Jean; my Granny's littlest sister.

I'd never been on a road trip without my parents. I'd never gone so far from them. Even college was only three hours away. And I hated to drive. But all I could think of was this little ranch style house nestled along a winding road. A warm memory. A place I felt safe. A place that felt like love.

My parents told me my dad's oldest sister would be going to my great aunt's with my cousin for a few days. It didn't take much to add me to their party. My traveling companions were two women I admire.

My Aunt Jane. Nineteen and a half years older than my father, she'd always remind me she could be my grandmother. She'd share family stories with the flair of a storyteller, never leaving any doubt of the love and respect she had for the people she talked about. I could listen to her for hours.

And my cousin Cynthia. A storyteller in her own right, she was also a published poet and had a love for all things family and nature. For most my life I think showed my admiration with tendency to follow her around. And she always took it in stride. At the time of our trip, she had a four year old son and was eight months pregnant with her second. Yes, that's right. Eight.

We piled in the car. Me, my aunt, my pregnant cousin, and my cousin's son. We took turns driving. Told stories. Laughed. I drove through my first road construction (mostly because I was too scared to get off so we could change drivers.) The road took us to Northern California, to a small town in the mountains and my Great Aunt Jean's.

Arriving was like peeling back layers, complications, bits of the depression festering inside me. I was given my own bedroom. I slept in the very bed my great grandmother shared with Aunt Jean after my grandfather died. Each night I sat at the desk and wrote what I was grateful for.

Aunt Jean is another woman I admire. Company is welcome, always, as long as they cook their own meals. Between the group of us we tried out some old family recipes using leftovers and canned foods from the pantry. We watched shows, visited, and explored antique stores. I think they were a little worried I was bored.

But I was thriving. I'd been planted in the center of something so good and lovely that I wanted nothing more than to sit and soak it up. A bright warmth inched into the darkness of my past, casting strange shadows on the memories of my freshman year. Shadows I didn't understand yet.

I got locked out the car one day. More accurately, me, my pregnant cousin, and her son, got locked out of the car. We were up the canyon in one hundred degree weather, and the cell phones didn't work. I think we really freaked out some of the other park visitors when Cynthia waddled over asking if anyone had a phone that worked.

In the end we found help, got the second set of keys and made it back. But that day sitting with Cynthia on the sidewalk as she talked about hard things that happened to her in the past was another changing point for me.

At the end of our trip, we said goodbye, loaded the car and headed back the way we came. Morning dripped away to mid-day. The traffic came to a standstill. We read Harry Potter to each other and called my uncle to find out what was going on.

That is when we learned about the fires. And the road closures. And the alternate route home, dead center through Nevada and across through to Utah. Night was coming on. Cynthia began to have labor pains. We considered hospitals until we were sure the labor wasn't progressing. By then it was night. The hotels were completely full. We had two options.

Camp out in the car. Or drive through to Utah.

So far I was the kid on the trip. I didn't know much; didn't have much experience. But with my aunt falling asleep, and my cousin still really uncomfortable, I was suddenly the best option for getting us home.

A sense of  dread hit me as the headlights illuminated an ominous sign, "Welcome to the Loneliest Road in America."

In the seat next to me, Aunt Jane offered reassurance. "I'll stay awake with you. Let's just keep talking."

What do you talk about on the Loneliest Road In America? Not the color of the road, or the beauty of the surrounding wilderness, that's for sure.

In the darkness of that night I think I told my aunt every single experience in college I'd had. Every boy. Every miss-placed hope. Every fear. When her head dropped forward and she let out a tiny snore, I fell silent, praying with all my heart that we'd make it home and that I wouldn't kill us all.

"Don't stop talking." My Aunt said, waking up to enough to urge me on again. Another rabbit darted across the road. "Whatever you do, don't stop talking."

My throat was raw and my body stiff by the time we reached Delta in the early hours of the morning. We were so close to home, but I wasn't driving an inch further. We got a hotel and I shared a bed with my aunt.

The next morning, Aunt Jane would drive us into the tiny town in Utah that I call home. I would walk inside the house and sit at the table near my mother. I would tell her everything that happened, but even once I was done, I'd feel like pieces of it were missing. Something happened to me that I couldn't describe.

All these years later, I think about that unexpected detour and all the ones my life has taken since. There is so much about that crazy freshman year that I wouldn't trade for anything. The darkness is parted now, almost completely, and what I see is beautiful.

I see what maybe my aunt and cousin saw; what they tried to explain by the stories they shared with me. It's not always like we think. It's not always as dark as it seems. And when the road gets so long and lonely that we think we can't possibly make it, there is always someone there. An angel in the darkness next to you that whispers, "Don't stop. Whatever you do, Don't stop."

God Writes the Best Stories

A few months back, I got the opportunity to get together with some friends from high school for a bridal shower. It had been since my own wedding, six years ago, that I'd seen some of them. With a certain amount of nervous worry, I decided to go. It had been so long. Would we still be able to talk? Did six years and different life circumstances mean our friendship was a thing of the past? Would the evening be awkward?

I don't think my body relaxed once as I made my way into the house and embraced my friends. Part of me wanted to duck out, apologizing for showing up somewhere I might not belong any more. They obviously had kept in touch better than I had. Why hadn't I been a better friend! These girls were blessing to me my senior year and I wondered, as I sat down stiffly on the sofa, if I'd ever really be able to express my gratitude. Maybe that was why I showed up, despite the near panic I felt. Somewhere inside, I was more afraid of them not knowing how much I cared.

In hindsight, the evening must have been orchestrated by God. He has a way of pulling a beautiful story out of my life; one divinely wrote moment to the next.

Five of us stayed later than the rest, sitting around talking, remembering. I saw what worry, years, and growing up had blurred a little.

I saw my friends.

The one who never spoke an ill word of anyone, the one I often wished to be more like.
The one who's been there since one month after my birth. Like God planned on us walking together from the beginning.
The one that sticks loyally to your side despite everything because she cares about people personally.
The one that bursts in with color and sunshine. She never feels awkward. And never lets you feel that way either, at least not for long.

Before I left, I noticed a white board hanging on the wall of the kitchen. Words were written all over it. I asked my friend who was getting married what it was for.

"That is my gratitude board. I started it when things where hard. I write on it things that I'm thankful for; things that make me happy."

For a moment, I saw something deep inside her, a glimpse of the trials she's been through, her personal journey with God. And it was beautiful. Like her admitting her struggle also revealed the sweet brilliance of her testimony.

Not more than ten minutes later, I would encounter my own personal trial and begin another journey down a path unexpected. In the months that have passed, I've thought about those girls many times. Each has played a part in helping me face the future, all because of the faith and trust I saw in them that night. If I had my own gratitude board, their names would be on it.

The ironic thing is I'm more grateful for them now than ever before, and they still might never know it.  I hope one day they realize whenever their lives crossed with mine I've been better off. Its like that moment in a good book when someone perfect from the beginning walks in with just enough answers to get the hero to the end. God writes the best stories. I love what he's written for me.