Typically, if I make plans to attend a New Year's Eve function, unless it starts by 8:00, I'm probably going to decide at around 8:15 that I'm nice and warm and getting a little sleepy, anyway, and skip it. I had friends of friends invite my family to a really cool ranch party in Las Vegas three or four years in a row, but the party didn't start until 10:00 PM, and by then, if I haven't already started amping up, I'm winding down in a big way.
As far as resolutions, I subscribe to the philosophy that any day is a great day to start a good new habit or to ditch a bad old one. I never want to be among the full parking lot at the gym on January 2. If I ever resolve to do something, I don't want to take it so lightly. And I don't want to wait for a magic date.
For me, January 1 is the next day on the continuum after December 31. You wake up, and nothing is substantially different. So, while I like any excuse to celebrate, this isn't one of "my" holidays.
That said, this year, I am looking back over the past twelve months and am more than a little awed about everything that has happened. This time last year, I was in a long-distance relationship with my boyfriend of six months; I was one month into what would be a full-on half-year battle with chronic pain; I was living in an RV, my home for nearly two years, on the east side of Austin... And there's so much more.
So, in no particular order, here's my 2013:
1. I got married! James moved to Austin in early February. He said that he wanted to be in town for at least a month to see if we could live in the same place without driving each other crazy. I might have been driven a little crazy. I was concerned that he might fall in love with downtown Austin and the lifestyle and not be in any hurry to "make it official." But at the end of February, when he'd come over for dinner, he mentioned off-handedly, "I was thinking about when we should get married, and April 1st seems like a good date." If you haven't seen our wedding video, here:
While I think this is the most raw and sincere expression of a love that leaves my man absolutely speechless, our officiant told James that he might want to write "actual" vows. He said that, no matter how "cool" I was, women want something different (maybe "normal"?) for their wedding. I'm so glad James didn't listen to him! James knows me. I knew exactly what he meant. He told me later that he knew I'd write something poignant (and, likely, verbose) and that he wasn't about to try to "compete" with that, so he went his own direction. I love his direction.
As to people who think this is just another weird Austin thing or that we're mocking marriage... Lots of people have fun at their weddings. This wedding was "us." My husband has never been married before because he never met anyone else he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. He was very serious. I was very serious. But we can be serious in our intent and still have a good time carrying it out. In fact, this is how we live our lives.
|Photo credit Alec Hilliard|
The past nine months of marriage have been like nothing I could ever have imagined. James and I love and appreciate each other. He makes my life so much brighter, and I try to employ Dr. Laura's advice constantly: "When you wake up in the morning, ask yourself, 'What can I do to make him happy that he's alive? And what can I do to make him happy that he married me?'"
My best friend lives in the same house with me. His company is a pleasure, and loving him is easy. I am blessed, and sometimes challenged, and head-over-heels in love.
2. Chronic pain defined the first half of 2013. The process of trying to treat my back pain (chiropractic, my first involvement with acupuncture, lots and lots of NSAIDS), then getting a diagnosis (thanks to the Volunteer Health Clinic) including my first (and scary!) MRI, to the hopelessness of months of only two hours of sleep at a time, to feeling very much like I was going crazy even to the point of giving my then-fiance an out... I have a much more compassionate view of people who deal with their bodies' unrelenting attack on themselves. It is honestly the worst thing that I have ever experienced, and I'm very sad that it colored so much of both of James' family's visits (for his birthday in December 2012, when it was first starting, and then our wedding weekend). I hate that my daughter woke up so many nights to my crying and felt like she needed to check on me, even though there was nothing to be done for it. But I absolutely adore my family's patience and long-suffering with me. I hope I didn't make it too awful for them; I tried not to. I felt so respected and "heard" by the entirely volunteer staff at the health clinic that it was a blessing to interact with them.
3. The Nuthaus. Living this close to downtown has opened up so many opportunities. First of all, I can either walk or bike almost everywhere. If I run out of eggs or butter or just need an emergency cheap soda, they're all right up the road. If I want nice flip-flops, or fro-yo, or bubble tea, or kitschy Austin weird-wear: can walk. If I want to see what's going on at the Capitol, or enjoy one of the best Indian restaurants in Las Vegas, or have sushi or an incredible pear cider on tap: boom. Done. I can ride my bike to the library, to get the fancy cat food that we have to feed all of the cats because Aish only gets the best but she will eat garbage if that's what the other cats are eating. I rode my bike to the courthouse to file my name change request. I've ridden to book group, to church, mystery shops. We walk to meals, to sight-see, and to run errands.
But there's something else: If you've been paying attention, you know that we see a lot of super eccentric stuff around here. Beyond that, though, living this close to an urban center has given me the opportunity to get to know some of "those people" you might pass in a car and feel sorry for, but not be able to connect with. (Yes, I just ended a sentence in a preposition. To do otherwise sounded awkward.)
Yes, there are the people who have touched us and passed by, like Vanessa and Kenneth, the expecting couple James met when he first moved in. There is the guy playing guitar to whom James stopped to listen, and genuinely chat up, before offering him and his friends dinner. I have to say that in this regard, James is such an example and so convicting to me. He does not see the street people as a group of down-on-their-luck people. He sees them as individuals. People he'd probably like if he got to know them. And he's interested in them and their stories. He's concerned.
We have spent great chunks of time talking to the vendors on 23rd Street. There have been people who want to tell us their stories, even if they aren't asking for help. Our porch is a comfortable invitation, a place to rest. But there are people resting on the steps of the churches on Guadalupe, too, and they want to be heard. Just last night, Daphne and I talked to a couple who said they were in danger of homelessness. The wife had all of the work receipts that her husband had from working for a day labor service. There was one man who told me that the meal from Potbelly and the chat was worth so much more than when people just give him money.
People like that come and go, and it's incredible to get to interact with them on a minuscule level. But there are others we see more frequently.
There's "Grandpa," the man who looks barely older than my own dad, and sometimes not much rougher (though yesterday when I saw him, he had a great bruise over his left eye, as though someone had kicked him when he was sleeping). I know where he usually sleeps, and in the morning, he walks past the Nuthaus to Taco Cabana. He sits in the dining room and drinks a water, then he makes himself a lemonade. I have chatted with him once, and he is mostly "there." He just has that lost look of someone who doesn't have an anchor.
There's another man we call alternately "our neighbor" and "crazy guy," because he has two different personalities. When he's lucid, he's friendly and wishes us well. He will say, "Jesus loves you," and if you say, "Thanks," he'll usually stop and say, "Seriously. I mean it. He really does." He doesn't think we're taking it seriously enough. Other times, he's back in the alley, swearing at someone we can't see. Or at life. Who knows? Recently, he seems to have acquired a wheel-chair bound friend. Now, sometimes he'll be hollering and cursing, but still carefully pushing his friend.
And there's also a very sweet old lady who isn't homeless. She lives somewhere down the street from us, though I don't know exactly where. But she walks all the time. She has a walker, and her hair is always in a perfect bun. It might be 49 degrees outside, windy, and sprinkling, and she'll have on her shawl and plastic rain hat, walking with her walker. I officially met her about a week after James moved in, when I was working at the Nuthaus and saw her standing on the sidewalk, looking at the house. She said that she was so glad to see people living in these long-vacant properties. We haven't had a chance to chat again, but every time I see her, I feel like we're... well, neighbors.
Sometimes it's heart-breaking to see life as up-close as we get to see it living here. But I love it. I don't want to be blind. I want to know. And, if I can, I want to help. Even if that just means sitting on the curb with my arm around a girl I don't know, while she works through a panic attack. I love the Nuthaus.
4. The Pregnancy. Almost immediately after James and I got married, I got pregnant. Obviously, it didn't result in our having a baby, but I credit the pregnancy hormones with pushing forward my pain diminishing. When I found out that I was pregnant, I weaned off of the Gabapentin and Naprosyn as quickly as I felt was safe. And even though I'd found both to be a miracle for which I'd been desperate a mere two or three weeks earlier, I didn't need them anymore. When I was pregnant with Daphne, and again this time, my asthma abated. My mom has a friend whose intense rheumatoid arthritis goes away when she's carrying a baby. I am certain that I was pushed forward months of recovery time due to the brief influx of hormones.
5. Four Awesome Organizations. This year, I had the privilege of bumping up against four organizations whose work I so earnestly believe in that I'm trying to help in the small ways I have available to me. I want to share what they do with others, too, in case anyone else is moved to pitch in. These are also in no particular order:
Help One Now
James and I traveled to Haiti with Help One Now, and I can't even begin to describe what an eye- and heart-opening trip that was for us. Help One Now has been working in Uganda, Haiti, and Zimbabwe for some time, and they're just kicking off work in Ethiopia. The cool thing about Help One Now is that they don't go in and try to assert their presence or their way of "fixing" local issues. They work with established leadership, people who live in the countries, and who are already doing their part to tackle a problem that they see.
In Haiti specifically, we got to meet three such leaders. The first was Jean Alix Paul, a pastor/businessman at whose home we stayed. An orphanage, a school, a children's home, and a business incubation program are all under his supervision... and I think he probably does a lot of other stuff about which I have no idea. Also, he and his family and household graciously host visitors to Haiti. In 2014, the visiting teams will stay in a guest house closer to work sites, a project Jean Alix has also overseen.
The second was Pastor St. Cyr, who had a church and school in the urban city of Port au Prince before the 2010 earthquake. After that disaster struck, he planted a church in the biggest tent city, a place of otherwise darkness, where children were at risk for trafficking, where the was violence and desperation. He made it his goal to hold worship services every single day, to have some hope and singing and light in the makeshift neighborhood. Since then, he has build a much safer church building than the one damaged in the earthquake, and has been able to move the school there. They are very close to opening a medical clinic in the same building.
The third pastor we met was Gaetan Alcegaire. He moved back to Haiti (having come to the US with very many opportunities to work) specifically to start an orphanage on some family land. Immediately, the children came. For a long time, every day, all day, his goal was to find enough food to feed his kids. After the earthquake, things became even more desperate, and American groups would come, promise help, and disappear. Through a partnership with Help One Now, Pastor Gaetan has built dorms for his children, with whom he was sleeping outside under tarps because he explained that a shepherd doesn't leave his sheep. He has built a two-story school building that now houses 400 children, including all of the kids in his home as well as children from the surrounding area, many of whom cannot pay the $25 a year fee to attend. They are not turned away.
|The children at Yahve Shemma, Pastor Gaetan's home. They had never|
had pizza before and weren't sure what to do with it. Also, they are taught
not to eat with their hands, but to use utensils. Whoops! We meant well. :)
These three men all work in and around Port au Prince, Petionville, Guibert, and Kenscoff. There is a newer initiative in Ferrier, an anti-trafficking house where children who are basically caught at the border, as they're being attempted-smuggled out of the country. We sponsor a beautiful 8-year-old girl who was a house slave, and has probably lived a harder life in her 8 years than I have in my 40. It is my hope that they can find her family, and that she is able to get an education and grow up knowing the love and security that kids deserve. If you're interested in helping sponsor an orphan or at-risk child, or a teacher (remember those kids who don't have the ability to pay the fee for their schooling?) you can find out how here.
Homes 4 Vets
We first encountered Homes 4 Vets at a re-enactment event at Camp Mabry. This group seeks to provide housing and job/life training for homeless veterans. The details of the program are on their website. They have just submitted the paperwork to become a 501(c)3 charitable organization, and need $6 million to start on the rec center and infrastructure. They need $23 million to build out the whole community and to put all of the program into place.
They chose the dome shape for the single-family properties because of the durability of such structures. After the rec center and single-family domes go up, they have plans for family housing, four sets of townhouses each with a common courtyard and playground accessible only to the residents from those houses.
The residents will have two years to complete job training and life skills training, and the board plans to use their contacts to help them find employment.
It's an ambitious plan, and it's been started and is spearheaded by a retired dual-service Veteran, a young architect who caught the Veteran's dream, and the owner of a construction company. Since that time, a CPA has joined the board, and these four men are pushing forward this ambitious program. I'm excited to see what happens! If you know anyone in central Texas who has land they'd like to donate, or if you'd like to donate funds or time, let me know and I can pass your information along to them.
Rework Project is also a local service to the homeless and those transitioning out of homelessness. The "Reworkers" learn wood-working skills by building and selling five awesome products: bird-houses, tree swings, huge tabletop Jenga-style games, bean-bag toss/cornhole games, and my favorite, picnic tables. They will personalize these to your specifications, and even with customization, they are incredibly affordable. Especially the picnic table!
The Reworkers learn how to and then build these products, then they are able to keep the majority of the profits for themselves. If you'd like to read one of their success stories that it near and dear to my heart, go here, and scroll down (better yet, just read it all) to the part about Anthony. Anthony isn't just the guy who lives in the same RV spot where I used to live. He's in our small group, and I consider him to be my friend. I'm so proud of Allison and of him and of this entire program.
Having lost 100% of their funding for 2014, Allison had to decide whether to pack it up or try to raise the $40k that Rework needs herself. In under a month, they've already gotten $36,000. If you can help, either in a one-time gift or a monthly contribution, go to here.
Mobile Loaves and Fishes
When I lived in the RV park, I saw Mobile Loaves and Fishes trailers. They also sponsored one community barbecue. Other than that, I didn't really know much about them until this year. They serve the street community extensively, with food, clothes, and shelter. Their most recent project here in Austin is best explained in this video.
Included in that video is a gentleman named Glenn who is familiar to me from church and Rework, too. Also, Anthony (mentioned above) has been doing a lot of work at the garden (included being stung right in the face by a bee; I guess that's part of it: beekeeping) and learning to can to use any bounty from the garden.
When James and I got married, we donated the RV to Mobile Loaves and Fishes. I hope it's going to be used in this community! Also, I did a dunder-headed thing and never got the trailer re-titled in my name, so they're having to do all of that, and they're so gracious about the whole thing.
So, basically, my life has been enriched a great deal by knowing that these four organizations exist. I mentioned Volunteer Health Clinic above, and that's one that actually benefited ME. I couldn't have afforded the MRI I got on my own. It's awesome to me to know that there are people who care, and who are out there doing the stuff, and who love and want to bring the marginalized into the circle of light most of us occupy.
I will say that being Facebook friends with some of our new Haitian friends is a little surreal. The other day when one of the pastors "liked" my post about the entire Firefly collection being on sale for $5 on Amazon.com, I felt like I needed to explain that I hadn't bought it myself... But then maybe he's a Firefly fan. I have no idea. But sometimes, it throws into stark relief the contrast between what occupies our day-to-day lives. And yet, because of Help One Now, we are friends. He can message me when he needs prayer for something. I am honored to be on the fringes of his life and the lives of others I admire. It is an inspiration to be in the orbit of these people who are serving orphans, and the homeless, and Veterans. It is an honor.
6. Life as Usual. Then there's the every day stuff, and that's just about as incredible as the extra-ordinary stuff, too.
First there's my job. Yes, I'm an insurance agent (with Hejny Insurance Agency). Yes, I find that every bit as funny as when I was a property manager. No, I don't think I'm awesome at it, but I can administrate stuff, and people seem to like to talk to me on the phone. Moses and Lisa offered me a job, and a spare office for my daughter to do school, at a time when I desperately needed an income, and was trying to figure out how to keep from sending Daphne to school (I don't think that there's anything wrong with school, and it might be an option in the future; but I didn't want my divorce and financial issues to force my hand). THEN when I wanted to move to Austin, they let me stay with them, working remotely... even though, technically, my job was, um, reception. So. I'm continually grateful for how they've accommodated my "special needs" time and again.
Then there's my daughter. As she matures, I see her becoming this young woman who both amazes and terrifies me. I think that it's probably normal to feel like you're "losing" your kid sometimes. And I am. She doesn't think what I think just because I think it and wish she did. She's becoming this person who is totally separate from me, and I am excited to see what she does with her life. She is clever and talented. She is a born leader. She is so much more secure than I was at her age. I love her with everything that I am. (And, yes, there's also an "everything" for my husband. Love is pretty awesome like that.)
And also, there is a group of friends from church who have really lived out what it means to be community to me this year. We've had game nights, and shared meals, and evenings out, and birthday parties. We've laughed and cried together. We've shared concerns and hopes and ideas and pop culture. I've been confronted and counseled and supported and encouraged... and it's been fun and hard and purposeful. It's what this is supposed to be like.
D and I re-started BSF this year, and she's already made a new friend we're supposed to get together with this week. I'm still doing mystery shopping, and we've gotten to putt at a sports club, play laser tag, go bowling, see movies, eat at an awesome local sports bar a whole lot, and have all sorts of fun in exchange for paperwork. I'm comfortably settling back into Astro-owning. And all of the "normalcy" is pretty great.
Suffice it to say, 2013 has easily been the best year of my life. I'm eagerly looking forward to 2014. Hope you are, too.