Saturday, June 1, 2013

Chapter 23: Letting Go, Letting God

We were under no false pretenses that our lives were completely crazy.  We knew that we had probably made some bad decisions early in our marriage, but we also knew that we had made some good ones as well.  I had doubted Chris before and I ended up being wrong.  We had seen rejection so many times that I couldn't believe that we hadn't just thrown in the towel or raised our white flag of surrender.  I was never a strong person really.  I guess you could say my strongest act of giving birth alone when I was 17 years old.  So much had happened since then.  I wasn't even sure if I was the same person as I was then.  I know I had to be a better person because I hadn't given up yet.  

As we continued on pursuing our dream of the restaurant we tried making life as good as we could for the kids.  There wasn't much money for entertainment so we didn't go out much.  We played UNO and of course the kids had their XBOX.  We didn't have internet until 3 months after we moved!  It was the satellite internet and we really didn't care for it much, but it was better than nothing! We had to our homeschooling to do and of course the kids were involved in the Praise Band at our church.  I was still working at Landry's and Chris was still doing his tile work.  He was subcontracting and picking up jobs on the side when he could.  We tried to save and stretch our dollars as best we could.  We were also still paying for our tiny building that we hoped would turn into our dream restaurant. 

I am pretty sure that everyone thought that we were completely crazy for leasing a building that we weren't using.  We had a vision and that vision was in that building.  We started our lease in November, 2009 and here we were in May, 2012. We were paying $550.00 a month for the building.  We had sunk $22,500 into the building and that didn't count the penalties for being late on the rent.  We also had several expensive pieces of restaurant equipment that we put into storage.  We tried hanging on as long as we could.  We eventually lost the building in July, 2012.  I can only say this.  We know that the Realtors didn't really understand why we weren't occupying the building and I suppose they saw it fit to just let us go.  We didn't put up much of a fight.  I think deep down Chris and I had this mutual understanding that it was for the best.  I won't lie, it hurt at first.  It was like a sting and a burn and then a stab to the heart.  Once again, I was losing my faith.  I was angry that we had fought so hard to keep our building.  We gave up our house for that building!  So, we cleaned out the building, put our items in storage, and moved on.  We trusted that something good would come from this, it had to. 

The only positive thing that came from that experience is the fact that it was a place for us to live until we found a better place.  Chris and Mikey couldn't have stayed in Ruston otherwise.  Chris contemplated living in his truck before he considered living in the building.  I felt deep sorrow for Chris.  But he didn't let it phase him much, he kept his chin up and said "There is something better."  I wasn't at all convinced.  There were times after that I just wanted to say, forget it.  Let's just forget this whole thing.  It was obvious up to that point that it wasn't going to happen.  If God wanted us to do this, He would have already made a way, right?  Here we were almost 4 years into this and nothing was happening.  The only thing I could do was work, take care of the kids, and just be what I needed to be for my family.

Chris worked and worked just the same as I did but we were still always broke.  We tithed our 10% and even gave extra to missions.  We would see the little blessings all around us. None of our kids were dying of cancer and we still had our dreams.  I was confused, scared, and frustrated all rolled into one.  Sometimes I couldn't see past my own doubts enough to see the good around me.  I wanted to give it fully to God, but holding on to the problems made it seem easier.  I was used to that.  We were always in the hole in the bank and we couldn't pay our bills on time.  I wasn't making as much money as I had hoped, but just enough to buy food for the week.  

Summer turned to Fall and then Winter.  We had propane to heat our home and cook on our stove.  Propane is expensive!  We didn't realize this since we had never had it before.  We got 100 gallons and it lasted us only 2 months!  We saved up and got another 100 gallons and it lasted a little over 6 weeks.  We couldn't afford anymore so I was forced to buy small space heaters to heat our house.  We would have to bundle up on the cold days and just endure it.  It wasn't easy getting out of bed on the really cold days.  The kids never complained.  We continued on with homeschooling and tried to make the best of it. Since we didn't have propane, I couldn't cook on our stove or use our oven.  This makes for a very difficult situation.  How would I be able to make breakfast, lunch, and dinner for 9 people without a stove or an oven?  My wheels began to turn and turn quickly.

Chris had a single buner hot plate I could use and we had a microwave oven.  I also had 2 Crockpots that would come in handy.  But over time the microwave oven that I actually bought used at a Goodwill store stopped working.  Now I was only down to the hot plate and my Crockpots.  The hot plate would work half of the time, but it did it's job somehow.  My Mom suggested that I get a larger roaster oven.  She had one and said it would be good to use for an oven as well.  She gave me the money and I was so very humbled.  I used that thing everyday.  I have learned you can do a lot with one of those things!  I used my Crockpots several times a week as well!  I was able to cook just about anything with those few appliances.  We may not have eaten steak every night, but we did eat pretty good!

Winter was really hard for all of us.  We were basically cooped up day and night at home because we didn't have extra money to do anything.  I would go to work, church and the grocery store.  Going grocery shopping used to be a lot more fun back when we had more money.  But it became a chore, and I hated it.  We had a very strict budget, but I always tried to switch it up and make extra special and unique meals.  It would take twice sometimes three times as long to prepare meals, but I would get it done.  I might have had to start at 10:00 a.m. but it would get done.  We ate simple, but we had enough.  

We still looked to the future and what it would bring.  We learned so much in this whole restaurant process.  We knew exactly what we were doing wrong and how to change it and make it better for us.  We knew this time around we were starting over with a clean slate.   God obviously knew something we didn't.  Our new motto?  "Don't put the wagon before the horse."  We needed a fresh, new plan.  We decided it was time to go a completely different direction.  Chris was inspired by the change and I truly believe it is what we need to do as well.  We are still going full force into our dream, we will open a restaurant!  We haven't come this far to turn back now!  

We are still living in our 3 bedroom mobile home on 25 acres.We did eventually get propane!  We still both work our same jobs, and we are still trying to get to our dream.  Currently, we are proactive in getting what we need to achieve this.  We know that God is working in our lives daily.  He is opening doors and we see now what we need to do to get to the next level.  Do we struggle as much?  Sure, we have our weeks when we have more bills than money, but we just deal with it.  We know that this isn't forever.  One day we will open our doors and know just how hard we worked to get here.  We will know what it took and what we gave up and how much we gave up for it, too.  Our story is far from over.  In a way, it feels like we are at the threshold of a completely new journey ahead.  I can't write it just yet, but I know that the day will come.  So in the meantime, I will keep everything stored away in my memory and continue on with our story.  But I will look back on what I have written and smile.  I am proud of my family.  I am proud of my children and what we have taken them through just to make a better life for them. I admire them for the way they handled leaving their home, moving them 421 miles away from everything they have ever known, bringing them back to live in a 500 square foot building with one bathroom, and nowhere to play.  I will remember the #3 washtub we saved that we used to take baths/showers in.  We would hook up a cheap shower head to the kitchen sink and attached a shower curtain for privacy.  This was all done in our tiny building!  I will remember taking loads and loads of laundry to the laundry-mat every week and missing my own washer/dryer. The kids never complained and kept believing in us when I know they didn't or even still don't understand what we are doing.   It isn't a bed of roses, but I know they are happy and they love us very, very much.  In the end, when Chris and I are successful restaurant owners we won't look at the amount of money we have made and smile, we will look at our journey and laugh.  We will look back on the trials, tears, sacrifices, separation, struggles, and rejection and know that it was all worth it in the end.  We haven't arrived yet, we are not successful restaurant owners yet. But we have something far more valuable right at this very moment, we have each other, so yes, I would say that we pretty much have it all. 

To be continued.....

Chapter 22: Making it Work

Early in our marriage we made a lot of very important decisions.  We knew how we wanted to raise our family.  Chris knew his role and I knew mine.  We were raised by stay-at-home moms ourselves, and we didn't want our kids to be raised otherwise.  I never really worked all that much out of the home.  We didn't rely on two incomes to make everything work.  I am certain that if I had chosen to do something while we were fighting for our home, we probably could have remained there.  But that wasn't an option.  I tell people that I didn't go through 7 pregnancies, labors, and deliveries to get a job.  Do I think other women are bad mothers for going to work?  Absolutely not!  We all do what we feel is best.  But Chris and I wanted me to be able to stay home and there wasn't anything else that we thought we benefit our children more. 

I must admit, I loved staying home.  I liked that although there was still a billion things that had to be accomplished during any given day, I was not tied down by a schedule that kept me away from home.  I was very blessed that Chris had a good job during those years we had our home.  The other years that we struggled, we were so young that we just thought this was the way it was.  But as Chris' business began to take the hits from all around, we still never once considered me getting a job.  We just kept the faith that something would come up.  

Now that we had made the decision to stay in Ruston and not go back to Oklahoma, we had to think differently.  Everything had changed in such a short amount of time for us that we had to take some chances, make even more sacrifices.  Chris suggested that I get a job.  At first the thought of the grueling process of even finding a job didn't rub well with me.  I wasn't qualified in anything.  I didn't go to college, I had been a stay at home mom for so long, I wasn't sure what type of job I could get or who would even hire me.  I knew we needed to get further along than what we were, so I was willing to jump out there and make it work.  The kids were older now, so I wasn't too terribly concerned with having to leave them to go to work.  The only part that made me feel anxiety was leaving them alone in that tiny building.  There was no way they could go outdoors to play since we were living in the city and on a street.  I felt so badly that they were confined to that one room.  It was like sardines smashed tightly together in a can.  But that was the reason why we needed to generate more income, we had to get out of this can!  It wasn't a home and we knew this.

My first attempt at getting a job was putting an ad in the local newspaper.  Chris and I decided that housecleaning and babysitting was my expertise.  I thought that certainly someone would hire me to clean their home, babysit their child(ren), and I even could cook some light dinners.  My price was only $400.00 a week.  That was not bad considering that I would have to be away from my own children on a daily basis, but sadly nobody answered my ad.  I felt defeated.  I looked in the classifieds and wondered what it was I could do that would financially benefit our family.  This was all new to me, I wasn't supposed to be going through this process, but I was.  Chris was so very supportive as he and were starting to realize that we had no choice in the matter.  It was going to take two incomes to make our dreams come true.  I continued to make tutus in the meantime.  But let me say that it was no easy task as we had barely enough room to walk around inside of our tiny building, much less measure tulle and find places to hang them once they were completed.  

We didn't have a dinner table to eat on so we used a plastic storage tote just like we had back when we first moved to Louisiana.  We did have a commercial stove, a 3 compartment sink, and a commercial refrigerator.  I could cook our meals easily, so we never really had an issues in that area.  I couldn't cook anything big seeing as we were so strapped for money.  I would make a tutu and that might be a little bit of money for diapers.  Since we were living in the city, we were within walking distance of a grocery store.  I am not a city girl, but that was one of the perks of living there at the time, we saved a lot of money by not having to drive all that much.  

I was hoping that since I hadn't been successful in finding  job yet that I could just market our tutu business and hopefully that would help us.  The Louisiana Peach Festival was coming up and I thought it would be good for us to take advantage of selling our items there.  Mom agreed that it would be good exposure as well.  We were still making sells through Facebook and locally, but I knew for my sake we needed to do more, lots more!  Mom worked day and night getting items made to bring when she and Kelly came for the festival.  I knew I still needed to find a job, however.  Making tutus wasn't going to help in paying for a place to rent or get us any further along with the restaurant effort.  We just did whatever we could.  I even set up a booth at  local Women's Health Fair, but I sold nothing.  I was so depressed and I second guessed whether or not I should even continue to try.  But we did sell a few here and a few there, but it wasn't doing anything for us financially.  We were not getting ahead and I couldn't have been anymore frustrated.  I needed a better job.  Period.  We would still do the Peach Festival, but I needed to get something now!

It has been said by better people than me that our God works in mysterious ways.  When He closes a door, He opens a window.  I suppose that could be said of the next thing we experienced.  My Dad always says that "God is an on-time God."  I believe that.  That time came and I was convinced of my Dad's words.  One Saturday night while our older 2 kids were in New Orleans at a Youth convention, Chris and I decided to take the other kids out to eat.  It was a rare treat for us to even consider eating out.  But we didn't have 2 other people to pay for and we wanted to get out for a little while and do something for the kids.  We went round and round about where we wanted to eat.  I do believe that most couples do this.  We are not the exception.  We were debating on Chinese, but Chris finally resolved to catfish.  The only catfish place in town was Landry's.  Landry's is a bit on the expensive side for our entire family, but we knew that wherever we went it would cost us money.  He said "If we are going to spend the money, we may as well eat fish."  True.  I hadn't been to Landry's in a very long time.  Landry's is a buffet-style catfish house.  They serve boiled shrimp, fried shrimp, frog legs, fried chicken, and lots of delicious side dishes.  They are most famous for the gigantic homemade cinnamon rolls!  Yum!  We made our plates and found a table.  Chris and I couldn't help but to notice just how busy it was.  Chris looked at me and said "You should get a job here!"  I looked around and thought, "I could do this.  It's really no different than what I do at home."  I liked a busy atmosphere, makes the time go by faster.  I asked our waitress, Pam, if they were hiring.  She said that there was a girl who was leaving to pursue another career in about a month.  I asked if I could leave my name and number.  She took it and gave it to the manager.  I hoped that I would at least get a phone call back to be considered for the position.  Landry's is small but it is popular!  

I waited a few days and Chris thought it would be a good move to just show up at the restaurant after they closed on a Sunday afternoon.  I walked inside and spoke to the lady that basically ran the restaurant.  She said that she would give my name to the owner.  I actually know the owner's wife and her 2 daughters.  I sent messages to each of them and waited for something to happen.  Finally, after about a month, the owner called me in for an interview.  I was nervous, excited, hopeful.  The interview went well and I was to start that weekend!  I could finally breath a little easier knowing that I got a job that could help my family get into a home.  

Waitresses are a dime a dozen, I know this to be true.  I also knew that I had the personality, work ethic, and determination to be the best one I could be.  I felt at home at Landry's.  I felt like this job fit me like a glove. I would only work Friday night, Saturday night, and every other Sunday.  Landry's is only open Thursday through Sunday.  God opened a window after he shut the door.  I knew He was directing us to a better place.  By this time it was April.  We had been living in Ruston in that tiny building for 2 months now.  The kids were getting restless and I honestly didn't blame them.  Chris and I knew we had to find a place to live and fast.  We thought we had found a house before I moved back to Ruston, but it never went through.  We began looking at the online classifieds and saw a place for rent on 25 acres about 12 miles north of Ruston.  We both knew that was outside of the city which meant only one thing, countryside!

I had to work on a Sunday that weekend, so when Chris picked me up from work he said we were going to go look at a house.  He called the man with the house for rent we had seen that morning online.  Again, God stepped in.  We actually knew this man!  He was a fellow-church member.  We went to a church that has around 1,000 people, so it was pretty amazing that we knew him.  We had talked to him and his wife on several different occasions, but had no idea that he had a place for rent.  We went to check it out and Chris immediately fell in love with the driveway before we even reached the home.  We saw someone there looking at the house and property as well.  They decided they were not interested.  The house actually wasn't a house at all, it was a mobile home.  It wasn't a big mobile home, it was actually a rather old one, built in 1985.  Chris and I both lived in mobile homes such as these as kids.  I wasn't too thrilled by this, we wanted a 3 bedroom house.  But we knew it was time to do something.  We couldn't be too picky, this was only temporary.  We took a look around the trailer.  It was very small, and there were lots of us!  We knew it was better that what we were living in at the moment.  So we signed a 1 year lease and put down the deposit of $425.00 and our first month's rent of $425.00.  Finally, we could go back and tell the kids we found them a place to live and it wasn't a 500 square foot brick box.  

I was happy that we could finally have a sense of normalcy.  I hadn't felt normal since we lost our home that previous year.  It also felt like since we hadn't lived in Louisiana for four months that this didn't feel like home to me.  I am not sure why I felt this way, but it took some time for those feeling to dissapate.  As we drove back into town feeling like we were on top of the world, we saw a man that went to our church standing outside of our building speaking to Mikey.  Chris knew this man well and he was a super nice guy.  He only said hello to us as we pulled up but had to leave.  After he left, we asked Mikey what he wanted.  Mikey said that he wanted me to give you this.  Mikey pulled out a pocket full of money.  I thought Chris was owed money from him from a tile job he had done or something.  Chris said that he didn't owe him anything.  I counted the money and it was $380.00!!!  Mikey said that the man told him that God wanted him to give us the money.  It was certainly a blessing seeing as we had just paid $850.00 in deposits and rent!  We cried and thanked God for the blessing that our fellow church member and friend had given.  

Another example of how God is on time happened the very next day.  We were packing up our belongings from our tiny building and in the process of taking the to our place.  I got a letter in the mail at the building saying that we were being EVICTED!  I guess our realtors didn't like the fact that we were living in the building.  They knew that Chris and Mikey were staying there but not that all 9 of us were!  They told us that we had to get out because it wasn't safe for us to live there.  Chris gladly informed our realtor that we were not living there so we were able to keep our building.  God was on time!  We found a place to live hours before we would have been thrown out!  We know that was nothing short of a miracle!

I took the kids to see our new place the very next day.  They were so happy!  It wasn't our big, brick home, but they didn't care.  I knew they were just happy to have a place to run and play.  Our place was completely cut out of the woods.  Literally, we were in the woods!  It would take some time to adjust to living in a trailer, but I knew I could do it.  I am pretty adaptable when I need to be.  Everything around us had changed.  We were opening our eyes to the realities of life.  We were making choices to do things we never thought we would do.  We were bound and determined to make our dreams come true.  We knew one thing to be true.  The best decision we had made was for us to stay together.  We knew we could conquer anything as long as we had each other.  

Friday, May 31, 2013

Chapter 21: The Waiting Game

Moving day was one of the most difficult days I had every lived through.  As the miles began to stretch further and further between  Chris and Mikey, I couldn't help but to feel the despair setting in.  I knew we were going to be alright.  I just didn't like all of the uncertainty that filled the air.  We had somewhat of a plan formulated, but we have made plans before.  It seemed as if everything we ever really wanted almost never came to fruition.  I can remember how I felt when we drove past the Louisiana state line into Arkansas.  Suddenly, Louisiana didn't feel like home anymore.  I wondered if we would ever come back and more importantly, when would we come back?  

I cried as we past Arkansas, Texas, and finally after seeing the Oklahoma welcome sign, I couldn't cry anymore.  This trip to Oklahoma wasn't like the others.  We usually went just for a visit, but this time we were moving there.  I wouldn't have been all that upset if I had Chris and Mikey with us.  But sadly, there was that void inside.  The one that you feel when your heart feels empty and sadness is the only emotion that fills it up.  That was how I was feeling.  I was going to be the sole parent for 6 children.  I had to make sure that we continued on with our homeschooling and keep them disciplined.  There were so many new tasks for me to take on, but most of all I had to keep them safe and happy.  I wasn't going to pretend that I was okay, because I wasn't.  I would need some time for everything to hit me and to face this reality that was our life.  

Most people would say that I had to just get over myself and pretend it was alright.  I couldn't do that.  I am a mother, yes, that is true.  But first of all I am a human being with real emotions, real fears, real worries.  I was at a time in my life where I was trying to blame God for all of this.  I didn't want to see his "master plan."  I just wanted to wake up from this nightmare and move on with our lives.  I was glad though that Mom and Kelly would be able to spend some quality time with the kids.  I know they were happy that we were coming.  I was certain it was going to be different for them, but in a good way.  Chris encouraged me during this entire process.  I couldn't imagine what it would have been like for him if Mikey wasn't there to keep him company.  

As we approached Mom and Kelly's house that evening I was happy to finally be there.  I was ready for this day to be over, that's for sure!  The kids and I were packed so tightly in our Yukon XL with clothing, toys, computers, etc.  Plus we had our 7 bodies inside as well!  Not a comfortable trip for anyone traveling almost 8 hours!  But we made it in one piece.  I was relieved that God had delivered us safely.  I was hurting badly for Chris and Mikey.  I was worried about them.  I felt guilty that they had to live in such a small place and we had lots of room.  I had to keep telling myself, something good will come.  Somehow, however, I couldn't bring myself to believe it just yet.  My faith was shaken and my spirit was weak.  But it was time to accept it.  It was done.  We officially lost our home, we traveled 421 miles, and we were officially starting a new chapter.  No looking back.

Fall is a beautiful time of year, my favorite time.  I really love Oklahoma.  I love my Mom's neighborhood.  It is a quiet place with mostly retired folks and weekend people.  They live on a lake about an hour outside of Tulsa.  If we had to move anywhere this was the perfect place.  I loved that the kids could play outside and we didn't have to worry about them all that much.  The air was beginning to get crisp and it the leaves were certainly falling from their temporary home in the trees.  I loved that having Mom for company took my mind off of what was happening in our lives.  She made it fun.  We really had a good time.  We began couponing before we moved up there.  It was fun to coupon together and go shopping!  It was also necessary because we had lots of mouths to feed!  October came and went and we were approaching 4 weeks since we left Louisiana.  By this point, we hadn't see Chris in almost 5 weeks!  I was especially excited for Thanksgiving!  I was going to drive down to get Chris and Mikey for a few days so they could spend it with us.  

When the day finally came and I saw my husband and my son for the first time in weeks, my heart was full again.  We had such a great Thanksgiving!  The kids spent a lot of time with Chris and life seemed normal.  But all good things come to an end.  I had to drive them back so Chris could return to work.  I drove them to Chris' oldest brother's house in McLeod, TX.  That is about an hour north of Shreveport.  Instead of driving 7 hours to Ruston, I would only have to drive 5 hours.  But we had made plans for them to come back for Christmas.  I was really looking forward to that  and counting down the days.  We were trying to find a place to live during this time.  It's very difficult to find anything for rent in our area that is decent and within our price range.  We hadn't had much success, but we kept looking.  In the meantime, Mom and I started a new hobby.  I needed something other than Facebook to fill my time.  We began making tutus for little girls.  I am not a crafty person, period.  I don't sew and I am not all that creative.  I cook and that is about it in that department.  Mom took to making them fast and showed me how.  We began getting some orders for them and it was really fun!  We named our little business Way Tutu Cute 4 U.  I loved having something to take my mind off of my life.  We made tutus day and night.  We used Phoebe as our model and created a Facebook page for our business.  It was neat to see everyone liking our pictures and requesting us to make tutus.  I was shocked when I realized that Christmas was only a few days away!  That meant it was time to go and get Chris and Mikey!

We always spent Christmas in Oklahoma anyway.  It usually snowed at some point during our visit there and that was really nice seeing as Louisiana doesn't get much of that.  The kids were excited at the possibilty of snow, but I was probably the most excited!  I grew up in West Virginia, and snow was nothing new for me.  I wanted it to snow feet and feet of the white stuff! I wanted to bake cookies and drink hot chocolate and hope and pray that Chris get snowed in so he couldn't leave.  But he staying was not a possibility.  He would have to return and work.  I put all of that aside and tried to enjoy the holidays as well as I could.  We did have a great time together.  Chris and Mikey stayed through New Year's Day, but then it was time to go back.  We left a little later from Oklahoma than we wanted to so there was no way I could drive back the same day.  Instead of driving them back to John's in McLeod, I would go all the way into Ruston and spend the night.  It was bittersweet coming back after 2 1/2 months.  So I spent the first day of 2012 in Louisiana, not what I expected.  It was more than difficult leaving that day.  I still couldn't believe that we didn't have a home of our own.  This shouldn't be happening to us. 

I was devastated when I knew that I would not be with Mikey on his 16th birthday.  We celebrated his birthday over Christmas, but it was life a knife through my heart when January 8th finally came.  I was glad that  Chris took some pictures of him and took him out for a nice dinner.  I never thought that I wouldn't be able to see my kids on their birthday.  But I got through it, just like everything else up to that point.   Mom and I went back to making tutus and I waited on the day that Chris would say that he found us a place to live.  We actually were trying to find a place to live and open our restaurant.  Chris wanted to open the restaurant first.  I actually wanted to find a place to live seeing as I knew he would need my help to get it up and running.  We longed for the day when we could open our doors up and serve good food to the people of Ruston. 

Our restaurant was going to be unique.  We wanted it to be a delivery/pick-up restaurant only.  We would serve Chinese and Mexican food with a splash of fusion food.  We thought we had found the perfect building.  It was small enough yet large enough for what we wanted.  We needed a few more things to open our doors.  Chris worked day and night just to save money.  His dream was this restaurant.  He wouldn't let failure become an option.  We needed money to purchase the food to start it up.  We couldn't just walk into a bank and get a loan, our credit was shot.  We would have to make it happen the old fashioned way, with lots of work and faith.  We had such a support system.  Everyone knew we could do it, and that was comforting going through all of this.  We know we had a lot of people praying for us, too.

January  turned into February, and by that point we had been living in Oklahoma for almost 4 months.  We hadn't seen Chris or Mikey since New Year's.  There weren't any holidays coming up so there wasn't going to be any visits.  I did love being with my Mom and Kelly, but I was growing impatient.  I felt like everyday was Groundhog Day and I was really starting to believe that this was it for us.  Our dreams would never come true and we were supposed to end up like this. Chris continued to be the voice of reason.  He never gave up the faith and always said that "It's gonna happen."  How I wish I could unzip myself and slip into his body and feel tht way.  I would only feel encouraged and recharged when he gave me that pep talk. I did pray to God that He would provide us with some answers.  But the days would come and go and the sun would set with nothing new.  Again, another birthday would be missed, but this time it would be Hannah's.  She turned 11 years old on February 8th of that year.  But with the help of technology, we were able to video chat and that made us feel closer.  

The waiting game continued until on one uneventful Saturday morning, I made a decision.  I was sitting in a rocking chair that I frequently occupied and I did something that is totally out of my comfort zone.  I sent Chris one simple text.  "We are coming down."  I never do such things without proper planning, but I was at my breaking point.  I wanted to at least come for a visit.  I knew we would only have the building we were renting to stay in and it would indeed be cramped, but I missed my guys.  Silas' birthday was coming and I wanted Abigail to have the chance to go with the church Youth group to New Orleans, too.  Chris was happy we were coming and I was so glad.  I honestly thought that this would lift my spirits and give me  renewed sense of hope for our future.  I think the kids needed this visit, too.   

As soon as we arrived back in Ruston, my worries seemed to melt away.  I had more than my fair share of worries still at that point and we were nowhere close to achieving any of our plans, but being together seemed to make it all worthwhile.  Chris was able to see Silas on his 1st birthday and that was special to me.  But during that 2 week visit, I began to feel the pull to stay.  I knew deep down that this wasn't possible, but I wanted it to be a possibility, a real option.  I told Chris that I thought that the kids and I should stay.  Our plans were again shifting and this time we chose to do something that was totally not going to make sense.  There was not logical or practical reason for the kids and I to stay.  We couldn't live in that tiny building, we were trying to save money by living with Mom and Kelly in Oklahoma, and it totally collided with any of our previous plans.  Yes, this was not a sensible plan.  But we are a family, we needed to lean on each other and not through emails, text messages, or video chats, we needed to physically be together.  We weren't sure how this was going to work, or if it would even work at all.  I prayed that once again God would make a way.  So, from that day forward we remained in Louisiana, uncertain about what the future held. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Chapter 20: The Trials Begin

I was full of anxiety almost all of the time.  I couldn't relax and enjoy my life.  I had so many things to be grateful for, I had more than anyone could imagine, but I wasn't really all that happy with how much we struggled so much financially.  It isn't easy watching your husband leave for work before the sun came up and return home late that night and know that his paycheck is already gone and it still isn't enough.  Chris went from a crew of 8 full-time workers to only 2 full-time workers in a matter of months.  We were pinching every penny possible, but even that wasn't enough sometimes.  We still were living in our home and a $1,000.00 a month mortgage was taking it's toll on us.  We were exhausted.  All of our bills were late and when I say late I mean they were beyond late.  My family helped when they could and they will forever be in our debt.  If it wasn't for them, I know there would be months we wouldn't have electricity, water, or gas.  I never in a million years would think that after all of the hard work we had put into building a business that we would be down to this.  The hardest part of it all was feeding my family.  I had to become quite inventive.  As I mention in a previous chapter, we were barely making it.  I can remember when the day finally came when we made the most difficult decision we could have ever made, we would give up our home and move on.

Although I knew that giving the house up would aleve us of a major financial burden, it was bittersweet nonetheless.  I loved our big house!  I love that we brought 2 children home from the hospital to that home, I loved our big front yard, I loved our long, concrete driveway that they kids would ride their bikes up and down.  I loved the smell of the grass when I cut it in the Summertime.  I loved the bonfires and weenie roasts we had in the Fall.  I loved knowing that Chris and I had big plans for our home and it would be home for a long time.  I think then and there we realized we were growing up.  Sure, we were adults in our 30's with lots of kids, but that was probably one of the most heartbreaking decisions we had to face.  I cried at the fact that we didn't want to move, but our hand was forced.  There was not going to be an 11th hour save from God.  He didn't make it possible somehow for us to remain in our home.  I was a little bitter over this and I believe that was the time that I wanted to give up on God, faith, and every dream we ever had.  I just wanted to crawl in a hole and pull the dirt over and say "Game Over." I cried everyday leading up to our moving out.  Chris had to work out of town during this time and there was no getting out of it.  Mikey and I had to pack up everything we could on our own.  He was 15 years old at the time, but he could have very well been a man as good as he was taking all of this.  I was an emotional wreck.  We didn't have anyone helping us, it was just us.

We were literally broke.  We had to make a decision on where we would go.  The trauma to us mentally and emotionally took another toll on us.  Chris and I decided that he would remain in Ruston to work and I and the kids would move in with my Mom and step-Dad, Kelly in Oklahoma, 421 miles away!  We would be separated for an undetermined amount of time.  Again, I felt like I was dying slowly.  Why?  Why us?  We are a very, very close family, but this is our only option?  We have to split up just because we don't make enough money to keep our home or find another place to live?  The answer was clear as a bell. We didn't want to face this harsh reality.  I didn't care much about making future plans.  I was feeling like everything we touched or cared about was burning us in some way.  I felt like we would never get a break.  But moving in with my family was the only logical solution there was.  West Virginia was just too far away and I felt better knowing that we would only be 7 1/2 hours from Ruston.  The next issue was where was Chris going to live?  We were still paying rent on our restaurant building in Ruston.  This was mostly the reason why we gave our house back.  We had so much faith that our restaurant would take off, that we chose to keep the building instead of keeping our home.  Most people would disagree with us and say "Why would you even think of doing such a thing?  This is why you don't have your home!"  I don't blame them for thinking that about us, really I don't.  There were times that I thought the exact same thing.  But I know my husband.  I know he fights for what he believes in.  This is his dream and I didn't want him to let it go.  He had been drug through the ringer so many times, that I can't believe he hadn't given up yet.  People who have done him wrong just don't realize what a precious person he truly is.  He works hard, prays hard, and loves hard. Period.  His word is his promise and he is and honest person.  He needed this.  He needed something other than tile.  He wanted to leave behind a legacy, something for our children and our grandchildren.  I had to believe that this was all going to work out.  I cried my tears and put my big girl panties on and packed our lives in boxes and trash bags.  Chris would live in the restaurant building.  It was only 500 square feet.  It was a kitchen, a bathroom, and one main room.  This was the smallest place I had ever seen in my life.  It certainly wasn't designed for living.  I cringed at the fact that the love of my life would be living in this tiny building.  It broke my heart to not be with him, for us to not be a together as a family physically.  I was in pretty rough shape, but I held it together for the sake of our children.  I had to, I had no choice in the matter.

But the next emotional blow would come a few days before we finally moved out completely.  Mikey decided he wanted to stay behind with Chris and live with him.  I lost it.  There was no more holding it together or bottling up my emotions, I let it all out. I was dead against such a thing!  I wasn't going to leave my son behind.  I couldn't do it and I wouldn't do it.  I felt like he needed to be with me and me alone.  But something inside of me spoke and I knew it was God.  I was being selfish and only thinking of what this would do to me.  I didn't think of Chris and he being alone.  I guess this was the time to start thinking differently seeing as all of our lives were rapidly changing and we couldn't stop it.  I had a very difficult time agreeing to Mikey staying with Chris, but I knew Mikey felt an obligation to the family and to his Dad to stay behind.  That was the beginning of me starting to let him become his own man and boyhood disappeared in the blink of an eye and it never returned. As we began to unpack what belongings we were to keep into that tiny building I started to realize that this was truly happening.  We would essentially be homeless. Chris living in our tiny leased out building that really wasn't an aparment or otherwise didn't count as a home.  I was living with my Mom and step-dad in their home, it wasn't my home.  I could never had imagined that this day would come and with all of the kids to care for it couldn't have come at the worst time.  We threw away or gave away most of our furniture seeing as we couldn't even afford to secure a storage building to keep it.  The only pieces we kept were the boys bunk beds that used to belong to our older 3 children when we first moved to Louisiana.  They were old and the mattresses were worn and hard.  But Chris and Mikey used them to sleep on.  I was moving to the lap of luxury and my son and husband were sleeping on practially only hard boards. We kept Chris' dresser,our deep freezer, washer and our personal belongings. It just didn't seem fair somehow that this was our life.   Our home might have been stripped from us, but the memories I have inside of me will never leave.  I will always have that time we shared in my dreams at night.

The last night in our home was probably one of the hardest nights of my life.  As I lie in our bed for the last time surrounded by the little kids, I couldn't sleep a wink.  I knew I needed sleep as the next day would be a long one traveling to Oklahoma.  Chris wasn't there to wipe my tears and I wouldn't able to say goodbye to him before we left our home of 4 1/2 years.  He was working 3 hours away and I didn't know when I would see him again.  Our plan was to save enough money for us to move back. We wanted to open the restaurant so badly and hoped that with the kids and I being in Oklahoma, we could make that happen by just saving money.  We didn't have many bills now that we didn't have a home so all of our chips were in, we were going for our dream.  

It's amazing at what lengths you will go to make something happen.  Even as difficult as that time was going to be for my family, I knew that God must know what is best for us.  It would take me a long time to come to terms with why we couldn't keep what we had worked so hard for.  We simply weren't idiots.  We knew that we had to give up so much to get to a better place.  Sadly, I didn't like change much, never have honestly.  I sincerely just wanted to keep our home and pray that God answered our prayers.  But that didn't happen and we were in the dark aimlessly roaming and waiting on the day where the answers would be clearer.  I couldn't imagine how difficult of a journey that would actually be.

But the D-day finally came.  We packed up everything that we could physically move.  Chris would return that weekend to remove the rest of our possessions from the home.  We couldn't move our washer/dryer, deep freezer, or anything else we had that was heavy.  I took one final walk around the house stopping in each room to take in the memories that had been created there.  I could still see the kids running around, playing, laughing, and even fighting.  I took my time because my heart was breaking so badly and the dread was setting in more than ever.  I walked in the kitchen and touched every countertop, the fridge, the stove and remembered all of the wonderful meals I had cooked in there.  It was almost like I could smell the birthday cakes I would create for each child at their request, Thanksgiving dinners, or the meals I would make for guests that would come to visit. I looked into the dining room imagined our little table there.  We had the same table since Hannah was a baby!  It had so much history.  I could hear Chris reading the Bible to them and telling them the 4 most imporatant things ever.  "God loves you,  Momma and Daddy love you, you are very handsome man or a very beautiful young lady, and all of you are very, very smart." His voice resignated in my mind.  I could see the kids eating their cereal, or the late night ice cream parties we would have. I could see the guests sitting there as well during the many get togethers we had. I could see it all in my mind. I looked at the different things that were wrong with the house.  The walls witht their crayon markings, the floor that we had to rip the carpet from because it was white and it got so dirty that we had to pull it up.  We only had the concrete floor left, but we never would get the chance to lay new flooring. I walked into our game room where the kids would hang out and more memories flooded back.  I could remember watching movies in that room, the kids playing Xbox, and all of the gatherings we had there.  Our first Thanksgiving in our home was in that room.  We had 5 or 6 tables and chairs set up in there!  It was a very large room!  Phoebe took her first steps in there, Chris would fall asleep on the couch in there after a long day at work.  We homeschooled in that room, I could see the kids running about.  I took one last look at our buck stove that provided heat for us in the Winter.  I laughed slightly at the memory of the first year we lived there and we made the fire so hot that we had to go outside just to get some air.  We learned how to maintain a comfortable tempature, but it was funny to think back on that time.  I remembered the first time we showed the kids the house.  I thought we had finally made it.  I know a house it just four walls with bricks and mortar and a roof, but to us it was more than that.  It was our home.  It was where you could go when the day was done and you just needed to relax. Chris and I would call our bedroom our "safe spot."  When the world was harsh or everything was going wrong, we would find solace there  Life was sweet.  We would open our windows at night and listen to the sounds of the darkness and drift of peacefully without a worry or a care.  We had so many things going on, but for a few short hours we could let them dissolve.  Home was where the kids grew and learned and had a sense of security.  I would miss driving that country road to our home.  I would miss all of the space we had.  I would miss the dreams that we created there.  We made a lot of life changing decisions while living in that house, and now they seemed so far out of reach that is almost seemed like a waste.  

I took  stroll outside and surveyed the property.  The leaves were slowly starting to turn their colors of Fall.  I looked at what beautiful property we had a chance to live on and I began to weep.  I was still waiting for God to step in and make it right.  Again, that didn't happen.  He didn't want us there and for that I was truly sorrowful.  This all felt like a death to me.  I tried to envision us somewhere better doing something else, but I couldn't see a thing.  My mind was full, but my heart was empty.  I felt nauseated by the thought of what the future would bring.  There was so much room for uncertainty that I couldn't breath.  I prayed to God for His protection and guidance and made my way back to the house.  The kids were packing into the vehicle.  I walked back into the home took one look around trying not to linger around too terribly much.  I placed our house keys on the counter and walked away, not looking back.  Mikey was standing outside saying his good-byes to the kids.  The time came for me to do the same thing.  I was frozen, I couldn't move, think, or speak.  I was going insane inside and this was probably the hardest part of this whole process.

I grabbed my baby.  I grabbed my 15 year old son that I had nutured his entire life and held him tight.  I began to bawl and I kept saying that I couldn't do this, I couldn't let him stay.  But deep down that voice returned.  It was telling me that he had to stay, he had to be the man that he was meant to be, he had to be there for his Daddy.  I heeded to the voice, said my final goodbyes, and drove away. So on October 13, 2011,  I took one last look back to our home, and then to my son standing alone in the driveway.  The tears began to fall hard.  It was too much to bear and I didn't have the strength to hold it all in.  I felt alone.  I was not strong enough to do this and somehow I hoped that I would wake up from this terrible nightmare.  But it was real, this was all really happening.  There was no nightmare to wake up to.  We were heading out into the unknown and I didn't know how this would all end.  I just had to trust that God knew better.  But that wasn't convincing me that we could have done something more.  I couldn't think about that now, I had to leave, there was no turning back now. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Chapter 19: Silas

The one thing I have learned over the years when it comes to labor and delivery is anything is possible and everything is unpredictable.  No matter how many times you go through this process, that one thing remains the same.  That morning I was certain that this was the real thing.  Although I had 15 days left until my due date, I couldn't help but to think that this was it.  I was going to have a baby today.  

When I told Chris I thought it be best if he did not go to work I was not lying.  I would never tell my husband, the bread winner, our sole source of income to just skip work if it wasn't important or an emergency.  One good thing about this situation was he did have a couple of guys working for him at that time, so taking off wasn't the issue.  If it wasn't for that, losing money was going to be a problem.  But we knew the day would come for me to give birth, this is called prepared.  We had been through this so many times prior, it was like breathing.  

Chris suggested that I stay home as long as I could as he took some tools and materials to a job site for his help.  I told him I didn't think that would be a good idea.  Contractions were worsening.  My gut instinct said go to the hospital.  I didn't want to risk him being gone and my water break or something serious happen.  I hadn't had any issues before, but there is a first time for everything.  I didn't want to put the kids through anything unnecessary.  We decided it would be best to take me on to the hospital and Chris could get his materials and tools to his guys.  I grabbed my hospital bag, said my goodbyes to my kids, and slowly made my way to my vehicle.  I was not sure if I would be coming home or remaining at the hospital.  At any rate, I was uncomfortable and this was happening for a reason.  

Chris drove me to the ER double doors.  I decided I could walk myself inside while Chris parked the car.  I walked inside slowly and the lady behind a window asked if she could help me.  I calmly told her that I thought I was in labor.  She immediately let me go into the back.  My temperature was taken, blood pressure checked, the routine I was accustomed to.  I was then asked about contractions.  They were a little bit all of the place in time, but they were strong.  That meant nothing to me, I was not the average pregnant woman.  I had done this a time or two.  The next question was sort of comical.  "How many pregnancies have you had?"  My response?  "This is my 9th pregnancy."  Everyone around began to scramble.  Questions were done.  A phone call was made upstairs "We need a wheelchair now."  I was starting to hurt a little more intensely.  The nurses in the ER asked me if I was okay.  I told them I was fine, I had my babies all natural.  I just wanted to get hooked up to a monitor and to check and see if I was anymore dilated.  

As I was wheeled in somewhat of a hurry upstairs to the Labor and Delivery floor, I was at peace.  I had a feeling that today was the day.  I was going to have a baby.  I was hooked up and ready for  monitoring by the time Chris got upstairs.  He couldn't believe how fast I got up there.  I told him that if you need to get upstairs in a hurry, you just tell them that you have been pregnant 9 times.  Funny, but true.  A nurse came in to check my cervix.  She looked puzzled as she conducted the exam.  "You are a solid 2 centimeters."  I was shocked!  "Really?  I know I am in early labor.  I should be more dilated than that!"  I gave her the records of my contractions and she agreed.  We couldn't believe that I was only 2 centimeters.  She thought maybe she couldn't check my cervix well enough since her hands and fingers were on the small side.  She went to get another nurse whose hands and fingers were longer.  We were hoping that she could get a more accurate outcome. 

"You're 4 centimeters."  I knew it.  I had to be at least that much dilated.  My Dr. decided that keeping me was a good idea.  Since my contractions were still not consistent, I was given Pitocin again.  I urged the nurses to start me at the smallest amount possible since I didn't use the epidural.  I was relieved when they did just that.  I was given a small amount in my drip.  But it wouldn't take long for it to take effect. The pain was becoming more and more frequent, but I breathed through it just as I had with the other labors.  

I was 6 centimeters within an hour of the Pitocin. I checked into the hospital at 9 a.m. and by 12:30 p.m. I was 6 centimeters.  This wasn't going to take long at all.  With every contraction our son's head pressed down harder and lower.  I attempted to push, just to see if that was comfortable.  But it wasn't time, I still had 4 centimeters to go.  

We had some visitors during this time.  The conversation was a great distraction from the pain.  I was proud of myself for breathing like I had through the contractions.  Most of them couldn't believe I didn't have the epidural but I was still able to deal with the pain.  No easy feat, but I didn't want to scare everyone off from my wailing.  As the last visitor left it happened.  The welcomed urge to push finally arrived.  

I was calling for the nurses immediately.  They rushed in and checked me.  I was complete.  I did it, I was ready to get this baby born. The nurses prepared the room, I just had to wait on my Dr.  But as with my last 2 babies, I couldn't resist pushing.  Fortunately, my Dr. arrived just as I was starting to really get into the pushing stage.  He only had to sit down for 2 pushes and immediately I could feel my baby's head stretching me until it burned like fire.  It's amazing what our bodies can endure.  I was nauseated, but ready for this to be over.  With a yell and a grunt, I pushed one last time and as with my other 6 children, the feeling of something heavy exiting my body happened again.  Suddenly, everything felt different.  It was like a 100 lb. rock was lifted from my body.  I immediately felt light and I looked up to see my son looking back at me.  He was a big boy!  I could see how he made so much of a fuss inside of my body.  He was born at 3:20 p.m. on February 22, 2011.

I cried and smiled and panted with exhaustion.  That feeling overcame me once again.  The one where you want to freeze time and replay those moments over and over and over again.  It was over, I was a Mom again.  Chris was right there with me as he always had been.  He was in awe of our new son as well.  He weighed in at 7 lb. 10 oz.  Not huge, but our 3rd biggest baby.  He was perfect.  Healthy and pink and his cries were amazing.  We decided on a name for him early on.  We chose Silas Timber Bowman Cato.  He looked like a Silas for sure.   

The kids came to see him that evening.  Phoebe was feeling better.  I was overcome with emotion seeing all 7 of my children in the same room.  We knew that no matter what we had been going through, nothing mattered to us right now.  Our little bubble was perfect.  Chris took the kids home as I was transferred into my recovery room.  Ironically, I was put in the same room as I had been in the last 3 times.  I loved that room, it had a lot of history.  

Silas took right to nursing.  We bonded immediately. Abigail stayed the night with me to keep me company.  Chris texted me a few hours later to inform me that Noah was down with the stomach bug.  I knew that this was not random, we were all going to get it.  Better known as the 24 hour bug in our house, it enters and exits rather quickly.  But I couldn't get it after having a newborn baby.  Worse was that everyone was exposed to it.  Who knew how long it would last and what effect it would have on Silas. 

I prayed that Chris could handle it all.  He was tired and we still had other kids who hadn't had it yet.  He always got the bug in times past, so I hoped that he be spared.  The next day Chris said that Noah was doing better, but that Hannah had it now.  Great.  He was busy cleaning and disinfecting the house.  Poor guy, he was so tired.  I felt good.  The nausea was going away and I was actually pretty hungry.  Abigail went to Subway within the hospital to get us some lunch that afternoon.  About an hour after we ate Abigail began to feel ill.  Oh no.  It hit her hard.  I had to call Chris to come and get her.  He had sick kids at home, but now he had to make a special trip to get Abigail from the hospital.  He took her home and just as Hannah was feeling better Ethan began to feel sick. The good news was it was fast moving, but would it go away before I was to leave the hospital?  

Mikey helped Chris clean the house and take care of the kids.  But eventually he would get the bug as well.  Everyone was beginning to feel better by Day 2 of the bug.  Mikey was still getting over it when Chris began to feel bad.  I was scheduled to leave that day.  I had nobody to come and get us from the hospital.  I was informed that Silas had jaundice and needed to be put under the lights.  I was able to stay another night.  Chris was still sick the next day.  It seemed to hit him harder than anyone else.  I was finally discharged with Silas.  I made the phone call to Chris only to learn that he was not well.  He found the strength to get to the hospital.  He helped load us up but we had to stop a lot on the way home.  Poor guy.  I spent 2 days locked up inside of our bedroom. Chris couldn't hold Silas til he was well.  I never got the bug, I am grateful.  But we will never forget the time that I gave birth to our 7th child and everyone got the stomach bug at the same time.  Good times.

Life was returning back to normal.  We still were struggling in the money department.  We were running out of ideas.  Life was not fun in that sense.  We loved our kids, loved being a family of 9, but we needed to figure out what to do to most benefit our family.  Some sacrifices would have to made. We didn't want to do any of it.  We hoped that by the 11th hour God would step in and stop it all from happening. But the day would finally come when we had to do what we didn't want to do.  Our lives would forever be changed. 

Chapter 18: What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger....

By this time we had seen so many dark days. Sleep was hard to find when all I did was mull over in my head the many questions I had for God.  Why did I feel as if He had abandoned us?  Why did he bring us this far just to pull us back?  I felt like these were valid questions.  These sorts of questions consumed me daily. It wasn't healthy to question anything that God did.  In fact, it was just wrong.  I knew this much to be true.  But somehow it just felt like I had deserved to ask why.  I tried to make sense of it all, but sadly nothing was making sense to me and I couldn't fight the tears back.

My family continued to live as frugally as possible.  I felt like it was a constant challenge just to ensure that their basic needs were met.  I had lists running through my head and sometimes it felt like I was going to explode.  When we were able to get one kid what they needed another needed something just as bad.  We knew something needed to change, but we weren't sure how we were going to do it.  I prayed to God that He would show us the way.  I prayed for answers to my ever growing list of questions.  But somehow asking these questions made me realize that I was not in control of anything.  God had HIS reasons, and HIS reasons were all I needed.  Being still and waiting on God isn't the easiest of tasks.  We had to believe this was all going to work together for the good..because we do love Him.  

I am going to be honest, life was not all the much fun.  I knew I had so much to be grateful for.  I was blessed.  But sometimes when life throws you curve balls, you don't always know which direction to get out of the way.  We kept getting hit from all sides.  We needed a break.  We needed some good news in our lives.  My spirit was dark and my faith was wavering.  But God in his Goodness steps in and his timing is perfect.  We did get some good news and it was not at all what I was expecting. 

I am sure by now you continue to ask the question, Do you want more children? The answer is yes.  Despite the struggles we have financially, we know in our hearts that we are good parents. We know how to raise good children.  God will take care of the rest.  Those are just the small details, but the important part of life is raising children that live for Him.  We had done that to this point.  So it was to no surprise when we found out we were pregnant again!

We had planned on other children.  But we never knew when or if I would actually end up pregnant.  My body was still doing it's own crazy thing.  But it did happen and we were so very happy.  After so many tears of sadness, tears of joy filled my eyes.  I found out I was pregnant with our 7th baby in June, 2010.  A huge part of me knew that I was pregnant long before the test indicated pregnancy.  I took several tests but they all came back "Negative."  This did not change my opinion that I was indeed pregnant.  A week later I took another test and this one was "Positive."  So, yes, I truly believe that woman know their bodies  better than anyone.  We have a unique and special sense that cannot be duplicated.  

I was 32 years old, mother of 6, and currently pregnant with my 7th child.  We were so over the moon about our new baby, but the problems we were still facing did not go away.  I knew that those problems would complicate things a bit.  I had to stay as stress free as possible for not only my mental health but for my unborn child.  I could not face yet another miscarriage.  I had to take better care of myself.  It was imperative that I do so.  

As with my previous pregnancies, the vengeance of the first trimester arrived right on time.  Morning sickness took on an entirely new meaning.  The past few pregnancies had nothing on this one.  Those were cake walks in comparison to what I was facing.  Around Week 7 it hit me and hit me hard.  There was nothing I could do to stop the nausea and vomiting.  I called my Dr. for something to help with the sickness.  I somehow mustered up enough energy to go fill my prescription.  Zofran is not for me, it did not do a single thing to help.  I was bedridden and I hated every second of it.  The only good side of morning sickness is that it suggests that everything is going well.  I knew this much to be true and that somehow made me feel better knowing that my morning sickness being as severe as it was, meant that my baby was developing as it should. 

Caring for 6 other children while right in the middle of the storms of the first trimester was not easy at all.  Thank the Lord they were older by this point.  Sadly, we had to put our homeschooling on hold and this was not something I wanted to do nor had a desire to do.  The kids would fall behind, but I had to get well.  The decision to completely stop schooling was not something that sat well, but it was necessary at the moment.  I had to get back to myself, but it was going to take some time.  I didn't need any added stress to complicate things more. 

Weeks passed and the second trimester came.  I was confident that any day now I would start to feel relief.  Baby was doing well, but I was plagued every second of the day with the nausea.  I began to loathe everything.  Pregnancy hormones are evil, this I know.  I could write a song or another book on those.  But as my tummy started to grow, the feelings of elation and happiness began to fill my heart again.  My body was working overtime, but now I was starting to see the fruition of it all.  But with each passing week into the second trimester I was not feeling better.  The nausea and vomiting continued to hang around.  I felt so sorry for my children.  This was all so much on them.  The older kids had to help take care of the younger kids and help take care of me as well.  I prayed that relief was in my future.  

By the 18th week, I went in for my ultrasound.  I was so very excited to see what this baby was going to be.  By this point, we had 3 of each gender.  We would not have a preference this go around.  As with most parents you just want a healthy baby.  I was just excited to see my baby on the screen and find out if he/she was healthy.  Pregnancy never ceases to amaze me.  I could be pregnant 20 times and it would still all feel so brand new.  Each baby is different, and all are blessings from God.  I might have been complaining of the sickness, but I did thank Him for giving us this miracle.  Despite that fact that our financial world was turned upside down, the pregnancy made everything feel normal even if it was momentarily. I could face another day knowing that we had this new blessing coming into our lives.  

My ultrasound was nothing new to me.  I had seen the same lady that had conducted my previous ultrasounds.  She was so happy to see me and I was relieved that she was still there.  I loved how thorough she was.  She checked and re-checked everything.  She was always spot on in the gender department, too.  Other Mothers I had spoken to that used her said she always got it right.  In my case, that was true as well.  The moment I saw my baby's body on the screen the world melted away.  In that dim and quiet room, I was in awe.  There was a perfect moment in time.  Those were the times I wish I could bottle up and open whenever life was getting to be too much.  Only God gives those moments.  The world was a much better place as I witnessed this miracle, this new life growing within me.  I could feel his/her kicks, but to see them in action right before my very eyes was remarkable.  Only God had seen this precious life, but now I was seeing it, too.  What joy filled my heart! Honestly, I was so very sick that day, but for a brief moment I felt good.  My baby was awesome!  I was due on March 8, 2011.  The time came for the big gender reveal.  I had to know, I couldn't help myself.  

Fortunately, the baby moved it's legs and lo and behold there was a perfect shot.  IT'S A BOY!!  I cried and cried and laughed and cried.  I wanted to shout it from the mountain tops. I was going to be a mother to 4 boys.  Wow.  I saw my baby boy in 4D and he looked perfect.  I wanted to freeze time and just lie there staring at that little screen.  I wanted more than anything for the next 4 months to pass quickly so this new person could be united with us.  I was happy for the time I had, but most excited to share the news with my family.

Everyone was ecstatic I was having another boy.  The sickness stuck around, but I could function for the most part. The planning and preparing for our new son had to get done. I didn't know with this being my 7th baby if I would go full term or not.  After carrying that many children, you can never know for sure.  

But still during that time I was hit with the flu, constant headaches, muscle cramps, and by 32 weeks a extremely severe bladder and kidney infection.  That infection was almost the breaking point for me.  I couldn't shake the nausea and now an infection.  I had went in for a check-up when I told my Dr. that I was experiencing some contractions.  It was to no surprise that I was contracting.  My uterus was all too familiar with pregnancy.  To be on the safe side I was monitored at the hospital just to find out that I had such a severe infection that I had to remain in the hospital for IV fluids and antibiotics.  They had to get medicine into my system immediately.  The contractions began to settle down some as the antibiotics began to take effect.  I would have to remain in the bed for 10 days to ensure that the contractions would not return.  I also had to take 2 different medications to kill the rest of the infection.  

The muscle cramps became so painful I couldn't move.  One night, I was trying to get up to go to the restroom, but my knee locked up and I couldn't move at all.  Chris had to help me to and from the restroom.  Everything hurt on my body and I had gained about 50 lb. by this point.  I still had 8 weeks to go, but wondered if I would make it to that.  

The headaches remained, the muscle cramps got better in time, but the nausea was hanging on.  I could not believe that my entire pregnancy would include morning sickness.  I couldn't remember a day where I didn't feel like vomiting.  Oh how I missed those days!  God gave me strength to endure everything that was happening to me.  Chris was working as much as possible, trying to keep us above water.  The kids were so ready for me to have this baby.  I think I was hard on them sometimes, but it wasn't really me, it was the hormones!  But needless to say they were awesome!  They did what most kids couldn't do and I am so very proud of them. 

I was grateful that I woke up everyday and that it wouldn't be long until our handsome little man would join us.  I had endured so much during a short time, I couldn't believe I was still able to function.  Nausea, vomiting, headaches, extreme weight gain, muscle cramps, knee problems, swelling, horrible acne, and two very severe kidney and bladder infections were what I faced.  But it's true what they say, "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger."  I could say that and it would be the truth.  I knew that God was holding my hand.  I knew that without his strength and hand on my life, I could not have made it those 9 months.  The weeks were coming to an end and 37 weeks approached.  I was so very relieved that I had made it to full term.  I knew that by this point I could deliver and everything would be fine.  I was ready to get this show on the road!  But nothing happened at 37 weeks. Ugh, this was depressing.  I know babies come when they are ready, but this one was being just like his Daddy, stubborn!  

I wasn't sure if I could hold out for my March 8th due date.  That seemed so far away and I was having contractions constantly by this point.  Baby was head down and I felt as if he could just fall out at anytime.  I was 2 centimeters dilated by my 37 week check up.  I decided to start cleaning and walking and taking baths to possibly speed up labor.  I felt so guilty for not letting nature take it's course, but my selfish side was ready to not be pregnant anymore!

On February 21, 2011, I was sitting at the dinner table with my family.  We were eating and chatting as we always do when it started.  I was feeling real contractions and these were different than the others I had been experiencing.  I excused myself from the table and decided it be best if I lie down.  The contraction didn't slow down, so I started keeping a record of them.  I wanted to make sure that this was for real.  I was 16 days to my due date.  I knew that everything was going to fine.  After giving birth to 6 babies, I knew that my body was never going to be the same in the labor department.  I was not typical.  My Dr. even knew that this was a possibility. 

I tried resting just in case I had to jump up and head to the hospital at a moment's notice.  I didn't keep Chris up with me since I knew he would be exhausted if I were to go into the hospital.  But to our surprise Phoebe would awaken us with the stomach flu.  I was floored!  How could this be happening?  I could potentially be in early labor and now one of my kids were sick!  Chris helped out by cleaning her up and making sure she was comfortable.  I couldn't move.  I couldn't help if I wanted to.  He was understanding and did everything great!  He has always done well with the kids in the sickness department. He could run circles around me!  I would not worry about him if were to die today.  I know 100% for sure that our kids would have every need met.  Chris is a wonderful father and he loves our children very much!

As a mother, you want to wrap your kids up in your arms when they are sick and ensure them that everything will be fine.  I was in so much pain I couldn't do that for Phoebe.  I also couldn't risk getting sick.  Phoebe was able to go back to sleep, but I couldn't.  Chris even found sleep again, which I was glad he could sleep because he had no idea just how badly I was hurting that night.  I was able to drift off at around 5 a.m.  But by 8 a.m. I was awake again and this time pain was still hitting me hard.  Chris was up and getting ready to go to work.  I looked at him through sleepy eyes and said this.  "I don't think you should go to work...."

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Chapter 17: When it Rains, it Pours....Hard

Chris and I had been through thick and thin.  We had been together for a very long time. So much had happened during our life together, that we didn't think anything else could affect us again.  Before and during our marriage we had went through fire and back to safety again.  We knew we were destined for greatness because we had so much ambition and drive to do so.  But we would soon find out that no matter how hard we tried, we couldn't get anywhere.

Shortly after Phoebe was born, Chris and I wanted to embark on another adventure.  We are never content on just sitting still and enjoying what we have.  There is always another level we want to move up to.  I suppose you could call that the ambitious side of us.  We knew we never wanted to just be normal.  We had so much inside of us to give our kids a better, happier life.  We thoughtfully would consider all that our ideas and dreams would entail.  What would they mean to our kids, to us as a couple?  We always wanted to make sure that we were in God's will while considering these dreams. Our newest dream at that time was to do something that would make a huge impact on ourselves and our family, we wanted to open a restaurant. 

With our dream of operating a Chick-fil-A unit way out of the picture, we always knew we wanted to be business owners.  Chris was living out that dream as his own boss as a tile setter.  But he had no desire to retire just a tile setter.  He wanted a more meaningful job that meant something to him.  We wanted to leave behind a legacy for our kids.  As food lovers, we knew how important this restaurant would be for us.  With restaurant experience under our belt, we knew we could successfully market and operate our restaurant and eventually restaurants.  If it were God's will, we wanted to expand our business to be bigger and better.  We were well on our way to making those dreams become a reality.  We searched and searched for the perfect location.  When the location finally was discovered, we saw this as a clear sign that we were supposed to be doing this.  We secured the location and from there we began making plans in an effort to open it.  We created our menu and began to start looking for equipment. We purchased several big items and everything was moving a long just as we had hoped.  We were paying the lease on our restaurant building and the mortgage on our home.  God was truly blessing us and we knew that things could only get better.  We were so looking forward to the future.

As the 2008 Presidental Election came and went, we started noticing a trend in our nation's economy.  Suddenly the unthinkable was actually coming to pass.  People were starting to feel the effects of our newly failing economy and jobs were being lost.  Not only were people losing their jobs, but they were losing their homes as well.  We were headed right into housing crisis, but Chris and I still didn't think it would trickle this far down south.  We could only watch the stories on the news of the suffering Americans who worked hard to keep what they had. Our hearts went out to them as we saw what kind of impact it had on their lives.  Watching it on television and experiencing it was two completely different things.  We hoped we would never have to go through that ordeal.  Chris' work was still flourishing, he was staying very busy with his crew still working for him.  Life was moving on as usual for the Cato's.  We weren't feeling any of the affects of the economy starting to unravel slowly.  In fact, we were doing so much better than we had ever done.


We would speak too soon.  About 9 months after the start of our economy beginning to fail, and the housing downfall, we started to feel the leaks in our boat.  Chris began to notice that work was not coming like it had.  It was becoming increasingly difficult to employee 8 people.  A few of them had no choice but to leave and find work elsewhere.  Lowe's was feeling the shock from the earthquake in our economy as well.  Chris wasn't getting work from them nor was he getting it from Home Depot.  Those were two of his big contractors.  We still had bills coming in and not enough money to pay them.  The economy doesn't discriminate, that's for sure.  It doesn't care that you have kids to feed and clothe, bills to pay, a mortgage obligation.  All of those things will keep coming at you every month no matter what.  I was getting worried as we started to feel the boat fill up with more and more water.  We couldn't keep putting our fingers in all of those leaks.  It was getting to the point where we were either going to sink or swim.  I couldn't believe this was happening to us.  I felt like everyone around us was not going through this storm.  It felt like the rain was just pounding us from all sides.  We couldn't get a break to save our lives.  We walked around with the only rain cloud over our heads.  We saw how others continued to prosper and they seemed like they hadn't a care in the world.  We knew early on after this began that we wouldn't be remodeling our house for a very long time, if ever at all. 

Life was certainly getting tough.  Chris worked on any job he possibly could.  We had made the decision during this time to homeschool our kids.  I knew that this would only put more pressure on myself, but it was the right thing to do at that time.  I stayed at home with them as Chris worked as much as he could just to make ends meet.  We couldn't make enough money to meet our needs, it wasn't happening that way for us.  We weren't moving ahead at all.  In fact, we were taking giant steps backwards.  It felt like paying only the interest on a credit card you had run up.  It felt like we weren't getting anywhere.  We needed a miracle, we needed something real and positive and good to happen to us.  We needed God to give us the reassurance that we felt was necessary.  He needed to show us that He had a plan, that this was all happening for a reason and we needed to just be still and let it all happen.  We wanted to know that this storm we were in was all meant for something better and after it was over a rainbow would appear behind the sunshine.  We would wait on those answers patiently.  We would step out on faith and keep doing everything that we were doing before.  We tried our best daily to stay obedient to what His word says.  It was not easy to wake up everyday and smile and be positive.  I had a hard time going to church and praising God.  I wanted to run away from all of our problems, I wanted them to just disappear.  Just looking into my kids' eyes was torture enough.  I saw so many things that they needed, and I felt helpless in the fact that I couldn't do any of them.  Mikey needed shoes for 4 months before I could actually get the "extra" money to buy them.  No parent should have to put something like that on her to-do list.

As money got tighter and tighter the pressure increased dramatically on us to keep paying our mortgage payment.  It wasn't cheap and it wasn't getting any cheaper.  It also wasn't going away either.  Everyday we kept feeling the nuace getting tighter and tighter around our necks.  We knew that the inevitable was coming...we tried to stop it with all we had.  So many weeks would pass when I had to let everything go just to buy food.  I would be extremely limited in the grocery department.  I never knew how much money I would end up with to spend wach week.  I had to get very inventive in what I could buy.  I never took shortcuts despite that fact that we had 6 growing children to feed.  I still tried to make home cooked meals as much as possible.  When the price of food began to go up, I began to turn to coupons for relief.  Couponing was actually going to be implemented into my life whether the economy was good or bad. I loved the thrill of getting something for free or cheap!  But since we were not in a good situation, couponing just became a way of life for me.  I was successful most of the time in getting a lot of what we needed very cheap or free.  We ate a lot of the same meals each week, but we never went to bed hungry.  When the price of bread went up, I started baking my own loaves of bread just to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  We ate a lot of beans and rice and milk was used very sparingly at meal times.  Depression began to sink in deep, but something miraculous would lift our spirits.  We were in the middle of the storm of our lives, but we would soon see the sun begin to appear again.   We could take comfort in knowing that sometimes good things happen during bad times, even if the bad times will return again.