“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need” oh this Rolling Stones song always comes on the radio just when I need to be reminded of that. Synchronicity? Me finding meaning in a song that is playing anyway? God speaking through the Rolling Stones? Who knows? But this song has always been there just when I needed it….
What I want and what I need are usually very different things. This week, I wanted to come home out of the cold weather after work and just enjoy my cozy little home with my husband, my kids, and a nice hot chai tea all cuddled up on the couch in my soft blanket. What I did not want was 4 days without power after an ice storm took down trees and power lines all over north Georgia Monday night with 77,000 people left without power. Many people (such as my family) did not have power for 4 to 5 days with temps ranging from 8 degrees to 34 degrees and winds howling to mock our helplessness. I cursed myself a few times for the stupidity of not having an adequate source of alternate heat. Here in Georgia, we are just not used to dealing with sub-freezing temperatures for days without power.
So, I bought my house as a steal-of-a-deal foreclosure. It wasn’t exactly my dream home or what I “wanted” but I needed an affordable home. I didn’t get to decide if I wanted a fireplace option or not. I just got a really cute, little house in a nice school district for 1/4 of what it is now valued at, which is all I could afford. I don’t really have much money to spare with two kids, one who has special needs and extra costs. I didn’t prioritize purchasing an alternate heat source. I figured the ice storm they called for might knock out power for one night, no biggie. I was wrong.
I will confess that staying the night with my extended family wasn’t what I wanted. My neck is still sore from it. But maybe it was what I needed in some strange way. Most of the best things in my life are things I didn’t want and didn’t even realize I needed.
I am proud of myself for staying pretty Zen about the whole situation and just accepting the fact that misery was inevitable so why fight it…but on Day 3 with no power I knew it wouldn’t be safe with temps at 8 degrees to keep my kids at home even under 15 blankets. The temperature inside my house was 38 degrees and falling fast. I called around and all of my family members were also without power. But my grandparents did have a gas fireplace. So we all piled in at their house…my grandparents, my parents, my kids, my husband and myself. My grandpa said “do you realize we have 4 generations sleeping under one roof tonight?” He looked so happy saying that.
I decided in this situation, now displaced staying with my grandparents in the dark, that my old friend gratitude would be the best coping skill to get me through this. I started mentally counting my blessings. As a counselor, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs kept coming to mind. Sometimes, you just can’t have the whole pyramid. But then I realized I was being a bit of a brat. I did in fact have the whole pyramid even if tonight didn’t feel very fun or comfortable.
Some things I reminded myself of as I tried to maintain a positive mood through the blackout:
1) 4 generations of my family, all healthy and under one roof tonight keeping warm together is a pretty amazing thing. Thank God my Grandfather decided to put a gas fireplace in the house he built. Together, thanks to his wisdom, we were winging it through this frigid and miserable weather. Winging it through this extended power outage. We banded together and went where the warmth was. I imagined us as ice-age nomads and this situation bundled around a fire inside 4 walls was pretty luxurious in comparison. We had somewhere to go. We were fed, warm, physically ok. We could check off at least the bottom 2 levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
2) I never sleep well in a home that isn’t my own, so I stayed up sitting by the fire and read “A Good and Perfect Gift” by Amy Julia Becker. This book is more than just a narrative that spans the first two years of Amy’s new life parenting a child with Down syndrome. From the initial dark moments in the hospital to the light and laughter Penny brought into the family, it is a story of a remarkable little girl who surpassed expectations. It is the story of a young couple coming to terms with their first-born child being different than they anticipated, and eventually receiving that child as a good and precious gift. As I read each page, I felt like I was reading my own words about how grief can be transformed into acceptance and even joy. My son may have different special needs, but nonetheless this book touched my heart and spirit deeply. If I had been just in my normal day-to-day routine, I would have put off reading this book in favor of other activities. Because the power was out, I only had access to this book I just happened to have in my car.
3) Around 1am when I finished my book, I climbed into bed. My little family of 4 shared one bed and because of that I slept with my babies (who are now 9 and 7) for the first time in years. My oldest son curled up onto my chest and snuggled just like he did when he was an infant. In that moment time slowed down. Kairos. God’s time. I just held him, thinking back over his life, my life, smelling his head, touching his soft face, praying wordless prayers of intense gratitude in the form of tears of joy. I looked over at my younger son all cuddled up on his brother and thanked God for sending me this special surprise who looks after his brother and is so independent. I had worried when I learned I was unexpectedly pregnant with him that due to his brother’s special needs that having him would take my attention away and I had a lot of guilt for being so irresponsible as to fall unexpectedly pregnant…again…but looking back it all fits together beautifully. My younger son is the best helper, therapist, friend, and brother. My older son is blessed to have him. I don’t think he would be making as much progress without him. Sometimes we don’t get what we want, we get what we need. He needed a brother, this brother.
4) I will forever be in gratitude to my family who supported me in so many ways through my journey as a young mother trying to finish school, trying to do the best I can and still struggling, for loving my children unconditionally and providing loving care for my children when I have to work. I always thought I wanted to move away from my family out of the country and to a big city. I did for a while. Then I came back after my 1st son was born because I realized I needed them. I needed a family support system. I couldn’t do it alone, even as much as I stubbornly wanted to at first.
5) I am thankful for the picture of my great-grandmother beside the fireplace. She is my happy place. She is who I wish I could be, who I hope to be more like each day. Her faith, her love, her food, her kindness, her hugs for everyone who entered her home, her yard with a rope swing and horses and her knowing we were good kids and wouldn’t run off so she didn’t have to keep too close an eye on us. Her eyes sparkled in that picture the way they did in real life. When I sat her picture by me as I read, I noticed that her eyes are the same color as mine and the same shape. I remember her voice. I felt her presence along with my other great-grandmothers who have passed on around me when my babies were born giving me strength. It was such a blessing to be there just looking at her picture. I wanted to be at home watching mindless TV, but maybe I needed to spend some time with my Ma-Maw instead. It did my heart good.
6) As I sat in bed with my son’s head on my chest, I didn’t fall asleep. I was wide awake. More awake than I have felt in a long time. Inspired by the book I had read, I silently pour out to God all of my uncertainties, fears, lack of direction, the feeling that I have no idea if I should just rest easy and stay the course in this season of my life or look for different jobs, do something bold, have another child, start something grand, etc. I just lied there hoping to have some kind of epiphany. Instead, I just got a feeling in my heart. A feeling of gratitude and love and warmth. That I have all I need. That the lack is perhaps just in my mind. That God has me right where I need to be and will direct my path like stepping stones through a garden. Rest easy. Resting in the peace of Jesus feels so different than laziness to me. Laziness is knowing you should be doing something and refusing to use your gifts and talents out of defiance and a preference for the easy way or to avoid hard work. Resting in the peace of Jesus is knowing that I am doing everything I can in this season of life to love, serve and do the good things God has given me the talent and passion to do. I am not wasting my talents. I use them everyday in my work, in my home, and at church. Sure, when your life’s work is counseling abused women and children at a non-profit center and raising children there isn’t much of a paycheck and sometimes I feel guilty about not providing more financial security for my family, but I know that ultimately security of any kind is an illusion unless we find that security in God. My kids are fine with our tiny home as long as I’m there in it with them most of the time. After praying and pondering, I feel confident that I am at a good place, a blessed place in my life and that when and if I should move on to another career or agency, to having more kids, to writing a book or starting my own agency, that God will light the way and provide me with the stepping stones if only I keep my eyes out looking for them.
7) I also count my blessings when I think about the people who offered to open their homes to our family in this time of need. Three families from our church and one close friend of mine called to let me know that we were welcome to stay with them until our power was restored. I love how one friend told me that when you have plenty, its a sign you need to give. She had an extra bedroom and plenty of warm heat we were welcome to. What if the whole world ran like that? Those who have giving to those who don’t. Everyone working hard to use the gifts and talents they have to love and serve? If you have 2 coats, give one away, Jesus said. Knowing that I have not only an amazingly supportive family, but a truly loving and responsive church family makes me feel so much more secure than I would feel even if I had a large bank balance. We can wing it together through anything. There may be times when I am in need or there may be times when they are in need.
8) I meditated on how thankful I am for my supervisors and co-workers. We are like a big family (all women) and we were all calling to check on each other and sharing our stories of trying to survive the big freeze. We had power at work, so most of us came in and worked our shifts (perhaps enjoying a little too much hot coffee).
9) I also reflected on how most of my plans have really sucked and how God has used my crappy planning to weave other plans that astonish me with their beauty. It’s like I handed God a big, tangled mess of strings and yarn and I got handed back a gorgeous tapestry. I’m making less plans these days and just handing over my knots and yarn to the Great Weaver open to how I can play my part in the weaving process instead of hindering it and insisting on making my own dang tapestry no matter how ugly it might be.
10) As I looked around my grandparents’ house and looked at all of the pictures of myself, my sister, my cousins, my parents growing up, it dawned on me that I have come a LOOOOOONG way in terms of my maturity, decision making, ability to love myself and others, ability to forgive myself and others, and I thank God that I am not that sad, scared, bratty, hurting, confused girl I was when many of those pictures in their house were taken.
11) I reminded myself that one day, hopefully soon, I would actually get to take a shower and wear clean clothes again. I reminded myself how lucky I am to live in a place where clean water and electricity is the norm. I am able to give my kids clean water to drink and nutritious food to eat. This is something many mothers around the world would give anything for. They would feel like they had won the lottery if they only had to go 4 days without heat and electricity. Hell, even here in the Northeast US there are people who are snowed into their homes for weeks. I don’t have it all that bad. I just expect bliss because living in the South usually is quite blissful. The weather is usually as pleasant as the people who call strangers “honey” and “darlin” as they bless hearts. A Winter storm in GA is luckily as rare as rude Southern people.
After this week, even though our experience of being cold and displaced wasn’t fun or comfortable, I was reminded once again that what I want isn’t always what I need. What I want may be my comfy bed, my TV, a hot tea, and space from my relatives; but what I need is family and friends keeping warm together however we can, loving each other, and bearing with each other through this often uncomfortable, cold, and brutal thing called life. If we have to suffer, let our suffering be worth something. Let it refine us. Let us be thankful and learn from the adversity. Let us count our blessings as we wing it together through this harsh Winter.
And yes, the power did finally come back on! On behalf of all parents trying to entertain kids for 4 days with no power….let’s just take a moment of silence in reverence for our restored power and sanity!