I haven’t posted in a while, dear reader.  It is not because I haven’t thought about all of you, and it isn’t because I had nothing to say. I suppose it is because I have had too much to say that I could not actually share with the world. Despite my desire to be an open book, to be as transparent in my failures as in my successes, the truth is that there are some things that one cannot simply share with the world, even from the relative anonymity  of the internet.

The Handy Man and I have struggled.  Not to spoil the story–but simply as reassurance–we are fine now.  However, the last six-and-a-half years have been tough.  Really, really tough.  Our marriage has gone through some of the worst of the “for better or for worse” in our marriage vows.  Discouragement, anger (at God, at each other), disappointment, financial stress…all served to make our marriage difficult.  We are on the mend, I think…talking more, seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, trusting God to be God and allowing each other to be human.  Now that that is out of the way…

You know, when I first started this blog, The Handy Man had just lost his job. I was SO optimistic that God would provide for us. And in my arrogance I naturally assumed that He would provide in a way that would include a GREAT new job for the Handy Man–a career that would be fulfilling and would pay us at least as much as he had made before, if not more.  I was just so sure that God would BLESS us.  You know, we would be #blessed.

Ha.  You can read about that journey over the course of the last six years in the archives.  Sometimes we were very optimistic, other times we were despairing.  The Handy Man went back to school. Surely, I thought, this would lead to a GOOD job with GREAT pay and decent benefits.  That did not pan out.  Then, he got the factory job. Surely THIS was the stepping stone to something wonderful!  Instead, it slowly sucked the life out of him brow-beating day after brow-beating day.  He was so demoralized, yet so relieved when he was fired from that job.   So, when a friend offered him a position as a helper in his tiling business, The Handy Man took it. It was a generous offer for what it was….but it came no where near meeting our financial needs.  I watched for over a year as the Handy Man’s body suffered the abuse of a torturous  physically demanding job. And still, I had this great hope that one of the jobs to which The Handy Man applied would be THE ONE.  I prayed over them. I hoped for them. I believed  God would BLESS us.  In the mean time, I spent 15 months delivering pizzas. Then I stopped. Then God placed the school bus driver job in my lap. Somehow, He always provided, whether I was the main bread winner or The Handy Man was….or even when it made absolutely NO sense how we possible could survive. Because frequently, it made no sense. God’s grace was manifested in ways too amazing to have been asked for….how could we have known to ask for the things that happened to provide for us?  Was the blessing in the provision, or was it in seeing God provide in ways too amazing to believe?

In our culture, even among some of our good Christian friends, that pesky #blessed pops up whenever good things happen–a new house, a new car, a new baby, an adoption, a vacation, etc.   It’s enough, sometimes, to want to never look at Facebook again. But when do we ever see #blessed when we lose a job, or lose a loved one to death, or find ourselves at the end of our ropes desperately hanging on because we have absolutely NO IDEA how the bills will be paid or how we will afford to feed our kids?  In our church culture, these are not the things that we think of when we think of being blessed.

Our ideas of blessedness pervade even more nuanced things, like how we expected our families to turn out. We never think, “Oh, wow, I want my teenage daughter to get pregnant her first year of college, and we will be BLESSED with a beautiful granddaughter!”  And yet, the blessings of having Sweet Pea in our life and the ray of sunshine she is in this world would have never happened if her existence had happened as we would have planned.  Star Child recently announced her pregnancy to the online world. We have known for a lot longer than that, and after the initial shock, we are thrilled….for we have learned that the true blessing is not in having it as we wished, but that God would give us a grandchild at all. (We are expecting our first grandson!)

Laura Story is one of my favorite song writers.  “Blessings”  is one of my favorite songs, especially in light of all the things we have gone through in the last few years.

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things
‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise
We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your word is not enough
And all the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe
‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguiseWhen friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not,
This is not our home
It’s not our home’Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise


You see, the thing is, how blessed I am has NOTHING to do with how much money we have, or what our house looks like, or whether our family is Facebook perfect. My blessedness is not dependent on my good health or whether God answered my prayers the way I wanted Him to.  We are not blessed because we tithe or because we do enough for God. We are not blessed because we do anything to earn it.  The Bible says God blessed Abraham  because He chose Abraham, and as a result of Abraham’s believing God’s blessing for him, he was considered righteous…simply  because he believed God WOULD bless him as God had promised.  God does the choosing. God does the blessing.  I receive it all by grace, just as Abraham did.  (And yes, there is blessing in obedience, but our temptation is to believe that our obedience is what caused the blessing…what happens when we are obedient but the blessing doesn’t come? What if my obedience does not lead to a prayer answered affirmatively?  Am I then less blessed?)

I am learning–I cannot say I have learned, because, truthfully, at the next crisis moment I will be probably be right back at the place of desperation begging God to show up AS HE HAS promised. (He says he will never leave nor forsake us!)  But I am learning that to be #blessed  looks a lot less like what the world around us (and yes, even the church) says it does, and looks a lot more like finding Jesus in the suffering.  And maybe that is the point.

After so many disappointing situations where we HOPED for a certain job, but were disappointed, or where we EXPECTED God to do great things, but those great things never panned out as we thought, we finally stopped hoping and stopped expecting. We simply trusted that God would take care of us, whatever that looked like,. We trusted God to BE God…to provide, to lead, to  bless us how HE saw fit.   I know I personally just surrendered it; I took myself out of the blessings driver seat.  I stopped telling God HOW to bless us and started trusting that He would do what was best for us. It is hard to pray with no clear cut expectation…because my human inclination is to picture my expected end and have God do it like some kind of genie.   My desired path to #blessed  is not at all how God usually chooses to bless me. Usually, the blessing comes through tears. Usually, it comes through the trial–not  having avoided it.  And I am learning that I would not really want it any other way. You see, what I learn of God’s character–of his real, abiding love for me— and what I learn about myself and my absolute NEED for God to be the one in charge of my life, of how much I must depend on Him alone, these are the things that that bless.

So. I write this blog post today with an encouragement for those who are not feeling particularly #blessed.  Stop looking at the world to define blessing, and start looking to the only one who can actually  bless you. Believe Him when he says he has a hope and a future for you.  His plans for you are so much better than the plans you have for yourself, even when the path to and through them is dark, scary, and filled with suffering. His sanctifying work in you may be the greatest blessing, if you will simply stop fighting to have it your way and trust Him to do it HIS way. And remember, His way led Jesus to the cross and invites us to take up our crosses and follow him, to forsake the easy way and walk the hard path of humble, dependent surrender.

Oh, and lest I forget to tell you how the job thing worked out….The Handy Man DID finally get a good job.  He is a custodian at a local elementary school.  The pay is, well, it is just enough.  We won’t be going on any fancy vacations or buying any brand new cars anytime soon, but after the last few years, just knowing that we have a steady income is such a relief.  And, he likes the job. He likes his coworker, he loves the kids…and they appreciate and love him back.  The work is just challenging enough to cause him to need rest each night,  but not so hard it is beating him down. The path we took to get here…as difficult and as heart-wrenching as it has been…well, I would say it has made us #blessed.




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Instant Gratification

I could not wait until the project was done…I just had to share with you the progress in my room.  I have been mudding and sanding walls all day….between checking emails and packaging up the curriculum I am selling on Ebay. (I have sold five of my groups of items, so, YAY me!)

When people find out I home educate my kids, they generally assume I have a lot of patience. “Oh, I could never do that! I don’t have the patience!” “You must have SO MUCH patience!”  Uh, not quite. God has grown me in the area of patience, but I would not call myself a patient person. There are few precious times when teaching my children that I have seen an idea or concept click…it usually happens out of my sight while they are doing the assignment or something else altogether. But sometimes, the AH-HA moment happens right there, and then, I experience instant gratification. But for the most part, no matter how I might long to see it, I have to be content knowing that those pieces are being put together and those ideas are being assimilated because I see the evidence, even if I don’t see that actual moment.

Fixing my room has been a bit like that. I see the evidence–in my dust covered everything (including me and my glasses–perhaps THAT is why I can’t see anything!) and in the evidence born by my screaming wrists and aching back. It is still a mess, but each layer of mud, each bout of sanding is bringing me closer to the goal.

I decided I was NOT going to move my desk one more time. It is currently in several pieces around my bed, with the heavy roll top sitting ON my bed. That has to be moved if I wish to sleep tonight.  I decided to focus on that wall and get it done first so I could get the paint on it. So, while the rest of the room is still a gigantic mess, that wall where the desk sits is looking good!

Instant gratification. So much further to go, but I can see the glimpse.  Do you want to see it, too? Yeah, I thought you might….

The Handy Man got me….so I got him


Progress!!   I only did a little over half the wall because that seam behind the bookcase needs re-doing.  But at least the desk has somewhere to go tonight!  Those lighter patches are still wet….but I LOVE that color. I am hoping it will help make our bedroom a restful place. It only took 21 years for me to get my room painted.

Another note of instant gratification…well, as instant as it gets with this sort of thing….7 pounds down in twelve days. I will take it!

So, there you have it…a-not-quite-done update. I hope to come back to you in a few days with pics of a finished room.   Stay tuned…..



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An ugly mess is a work in progress

This has been a very busy week…and next week will be even busier…and then the week after that, the kids and I leave for Maine. Whew!  I have several bus trips coming up, including four days working for Piedmont College. The Handy Man and Little Princess are headed to GAP again next week. Add in various appointments and standing obligations, and I will have to remind myself to breathe.

Old pop corn Ceiling                          new painted ceiling

A daughter of a friend recently started her own blog about her adventures as a new airline stewardess, and today she posted about the need to be kind to oneself.  It was  a very insightful thought from a young woman (early 20’s) and I started to think about how hard I am on myself so often.

Over the last year, I had fallen off the Trim Healthy Mama wagon and found myself plunged deep into the grasp of sugar and caffeine addiction. I have also been having a good bit of joint pain–mostly in my wrists and fingers, but also in my knees.  I am hoping those things are all related.  I have been trying to get myself back on track. In addition to gaining back a good bit of the weight I had done so well to lose, I have been dealing with back problems. My chiropractor moved to Florida in December (how dare he retire when I needed him?!) and the new guy is just not quite as skilled. I have actually been seeing two chiropractors–one that can work on my lower back and the replacement guy who uses the instrument to get the subtle areas of my upper back and neck.  My back has  been slowly improving–just in time to go to Maine and sleep on some really awful beds…but I digress….

A few nights ago I slept in a wrong position, and I woke up with my neck in terrible pain. My C2 is out, and that affects my upper thoracic. It is hard to turn my head.

All this would not be such an issue, but I am desperately trying to get my room painted!  The first step was the ceiling, which I accomplished with the help of my mother. I painted it last week. Now, I am working on taking the strips off the wall joints, and taping and putting mud on them. (Not actual mud—joint compound–for those who may not know.)  There are tons of holes in the walls, too….and of course they need to be filled. I was using a small blade, but the Handy Man went to the shed and got me the professional tools after I asked. The corners are the most frustrating for me, but I am getting the hang of it.  I needed the Handy Man to take out some useless phone jacks (from when our house was an office many, many years ago.)


old jacks out…patch in place under the window

Here’s the thing about mudding walls: It takes time. You have to put the tape on and do the first coat, then sand, then the second coat, then sand, and then the third coat.  It takes time and patience.  You cannot rush it. You have to allow each coat to dry before you sand it. When it is all done, the wall is smooth and ready for paint. But it takes time to get there.  I struggle to let it dry before I sand, and then I want it perfect in one or two coats. But that is NOT how it works.

And that is not how we work, either. God is smoothing us out, taking the worldly and ungodly edges off us…and it takes time. The Bible says that He who began a good work in us WILL bring it to completion in the day of Jesus. In other words…He began the good work, and he is working on each of His own…and that work will not be done until Jesus comes back or we go home.  The Father will complete the work, and it takes a lifetime.

I should be glad my walls will only take about three coats. Thankfully that job will be done soon. Even if I only get part of the walls done before I leave for Maine, it will be completed when I get home.  My own sanctification is taking a bit longer.

It’s an ugly mess right now!

And that leads me to where I began: I fell off the wagon, but I am back on it. I have been exercising again (T-Tapp and Praise Moves, alternating days) and eating the way I know I need to eat to feel better.  I am trying to be kind to myself and remind myself that I am worth so much to the Father that He sent his Son to rescue me. I am redeemed, even when I fall off the wagon…and dearly, dearly loved. It is worth it to take care of myself, to do the hard things and make the better choices.

So, here is to being kind to ourselves and to the ugly mess that we are while we are being sanctified. Can I get an amen?

Works in progress: Grace needed for both!

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Painted White

The Handy Man is off at GAP, taking Little Princess (she is FINALLY old enough to go!) with him, leaving me with the boys.  I have been working to fix up our bedroom. There is actually a plan (still in my head, but a plan nonetheless) to beautify several rooms in our home, but I decided to start with our bedroom. The boys are VERY unhappy that I am not starting with THEIR room….they think it is patently unfair that they have to have pink walls. It is a valid point, but I think it is a test of their burgeoning masculinity to live with pink for a bit longer.

Our home is a house trailer–a large one (28 x 66 ft)–and as such it has those ugly strips that cover the joints in the sheet rock covering the walls. I have decided to remove them from our room, which means that I have to tape and mud all those joints. I will get to that on Saturday, perhaps, but today was the day to paint the ceiling.

My mother, who at age 72  can out-do me any day of the week, came up last week to help me strip the popcorn off the ceiling.  She did most of it, and I helped. First, we sprayed the ceiling with warm water and a few drops of Dawn (using one of those small, plastic,  pump-up, pressurized spray tanks) and then she showed me how to use a scraper and a dust pan to just scrape that nasty stuff right off.  It worked beautifully.  I had a few things to patch–places where we I gouged too hard–and the one huge place where the useless vent lived.  We covered that vent with brown packing tape 20.5 years ago when we moved in, and it had been like that since then.  (It was supposed to help moisture escape, but all it ever did was allow cold air in during the winter. )  The Handy Man has permanently covered several of them through the years, and some even got finished, but ours was still in the temporary state. No longer!

Today, I finished getting the last specks of popcorn from between the molding and the ceiling, and then I painted the ceiling white.  It feels SO GOOD to have that accomplished! I got paint on my ceiling fan, but since I am either going to replace the fan or spray paint it, that does not seem like such a big deal.

Here’s the thing. Even though I have patched the ceiling and sanded it, and even though it is now a clean white…it still has scars.  I will have to go back and re-mud a few places and then re-sand and then re-paint. The major renovation is DONE.  The OLD has been removed, and the new is in place, but it will still need some fixing.

My ceiling is a picture of what it is like to be a Christian. Before Jesus, I was like my old ceiling…made for a purpose, but defiled by the world and even by my own design.  My ceiling had collected spider webs and was stained by dust and dirt that would never come off until I stripped it completely. And that is what Jesus did for me. He completely stripped all the sinful yuck out of me…He made me new.  And just as I have to go back now and then to dust my ceiling, maybe even patch it, He continues his work in me. It is called sanctification, this work He is doing in me.

That sanctification process is long–life long, to be exact. He has taken the Handy Man and me down some really twisty roads, places we would have NEVER chosen to go, in order to show us things we would not have learned on the easy path. We have so far to go…in our marriage, in ourselves.  And yet, Jesus has brought us so very far.  It is easy to forget at times that I am indeed a new creature. I have been stripped and repainted and made something beautiful, from the inside out, not just on the surface.

I still have the rest of our room to finish. So much still to do. Walls to mud, holes to fix, primer, then paint.  I have plans to get rid of our huge, bulky bed and replace the frame with something sleek and lower to the ground. (Neither the Handy Man nor I can get in or out of bed without some care.)  I want to put the bed back in front of the other window, and if he will let me, trade the Handy Man’s bulky chifferobe for something more efficient. (He is not likely to let me do that, but we will see.)  I am even attempting to figure out how to move my roll top desk, which I love,  back into the living room. (That will take a complete closet remodel, so that is not likely to happen this year, but I am not going to stop dreaming!)   Today, I will clean up the paint, vacuum up all the spiders that were hiding behind my bed, and finish cleaning up a bit, all in anticipation of finishing walls over the weekend and into next week.

But tonight, when I look up at my ceiling, I will see the clean, white surface and be reminded that I am new, too.

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When the answer is continually, “No”

I have not written much lately about our daily adventures. Frankly, I’ve been in quite a funk.  The last 14 months have been difficult…really difficult. Losing my father. The Handy Man’s fall off  the ladder. The Handy Man losing the job he hated that didn’t make much, but at least it was steady.  Losing my grandfather.  Even the good things, while very good, were stressful: our amazing trip to Maine (where I traveled 1200+ miles with four kids alone and then back 1200+ miles with two kids alone, and where we put Daddy’s ashes to rest) and Lindy’s wedding (about which I never even blogged because I was too exhausted!)

The Handy Man has been working part time for a friend who installs tile.  It is a physically demanding job with unpredictable hours and often very long commutes.  Meanwhile, the Handy Man has been applying to jobs locally.  I babysat a little girl for a few months, and then I passed my test to get my CDL to become a bus driver, and now I drive part time for the county school system with hopes of going full time (and getting some medical insurance for myself!) Life is topsy-turvy at best right now–uncertain, unpredictable, financially on the edge of ruin.  Looking at preliminary tax numbers, we earned less last year than all but our first year of marriage, almost 23 years ago. That is depressing.

More than that, though, is that this season has lasted so very long.  When the Handy Man lost his job five and a half years ago, I was so optimistic that something would surely come along soon. And then it didn’t, so he went back to school. And the position for which he trained didn’t come along, so he took something else that paid less, but at least it paid something, in exchange for the promise that when a position in his field of preference opened, he would get that opportunity. Until it became clear that he wouldn’t.  And then he lost that job. Thankfully, our friend was able to use him right away….part time.  And so we continue to wait.

We have had several job opportunities come to us for the Handy Man–people contacting me to let me know of an opening where they work, or with someone they know, or something they saw. And each time, if it was a job that matched the many varied skills of the Handy Man, he applied.  At the end of December he had an extraordinarily promising interview–they sent him home with insurance information and asked for his license for a background check.  It was a job in the field in which he spent 16 years. It was located in the town where we would like to relocate to be closer to church.   It was the perfect job, or so we thought. Last week he heard back. Thanks, but no thanks. He did not get it. I had allowed myself to hope; I had allowed myself to consider and dare to dream of the possibility of a better job with better pay and health coverage so I could finally take care of some health issues I have. I was crushed. On so many levels, I was utterly crushed.

Can I just be honest here?  This one hit me so very hard.  I have prayed and prayed and PRAYED for a job for my husband.  At first, for the first five years even, I prayed for a job that would provide financial stability.  And then my prayers shifted as I watched my husband work this part time tile job–a job that sometimes requires him to walk up and down a flight of stairs 50 times a day to cut tiles, a job that requires him to move sometimes more than 2000 pounds of materials, one box at a time, up those stairs, a job that has caused him to go down to the smallest size pants he has ever worn in our marriage.  He comes home  so exhausted some nights that all he can do is eat dinner, shower, and fall into bed. And then some weeks, when his boss doesn’t have work, he doesn’t work at all.  I would call it feast or famine, but there is never a feast. My husband is so smart, so able to do so many things. Why has God denied every good opportunity that has come to our attention?

I feel  betrayed. For the first time in this long season, I find myself waking at night wracked with anxiety.  God has always provided for us. I KNOW THIS.  And yet, I see the hours my husband has worked, and I know what pay I have coming, and I have no idea how those bills will be paid, how I will put food on the table for my children.  Yes, the provision is always there.  It is, undeniably.   I am beginning to understand why the Israelite  children complained so about manna.  They saw God’s faithfulness day after day after day. Yet, each morning they had to get up, gather just enough for THAT day (twice as much the day before Sabbath) and watch it rot with worms if they tried to gather more than they needed. Each day they were completely dependent on God, and that provision was COMPLETELY OUT OF THEIR CONTROL.  It sounds easy. Just gather today’s manna. Trust that tomorrow it will be there again.  I know I have to die to my ideas of control and security.  Again. And again. And yet again. It’s exhausting.

The last few weeks I have found myself crying–literally crying, with tears rolling down my cheeks, sobs wracking my  body–as I call on the Lord. I want to know WHY!?!  I want to know what else we need to do.  I want to know what we are doing wrong. WHY has He forsaken us?  Okay, I know He has not actually forsaken us.  I know it just feels that way.  And yet, sometimes I will feel the tears rolling down my cheeks before I realize I am crying. I am angry with God, pleading with God, depending on God…all at the same time. And yes, even worshiping Him in the midst of all the angst.

I posted on social media that I was having trouble sleeping due to anxiety. Some of my friends were super helpful–they were praying, they offered some natural remedies for anxiety, they love us.  Others encouraged us to look to the Lord .  Good advice. And others admonished me that God never promised to change our circumstance, that people in countries where Christians are killed come to Jesus without assurances that their circumstances will change.  And yes, that is true.  I just want to say that when you have a friend who is hurting, there are certain things that are not helpful. Telling them to buck up,  comparing their hurt to others–it doesn’t help.  Reminding them that all the lost people around them are looking at them and wondering where the joy is–that doesn’t help, either.

Here is my response. I am hurting. I find myself crying for reasons I cannot control. My doctor today (because, yes, I finally went for my annual checkup four months late) told me that my blood pressure is way too high. As I broke down in her office and gave her the snapshot of my life, she just nodded and said, “so you feel like life is falling apart?”  Yep, that about sums it up. She told me to take care of myself–my thyroid is not functioning well again, so we upped my medication. She admonished me to get my blood pressure checked several times a week and report back to her–if it is still high, then I have to start on mediation. In her words, I am in danger of “Stroking out” and my family and children need me.  She recognized that the anxiety and depression may be partly caused by the thyroid. And she gave me a natural supplement to help with mood stabilization.  Some of what I have been going through may be physical,  but not all of it

There is more that God has been showing me.  Last night, I was crying. Sweet Pea came into my room in need of tooth brushing so she could go to bed. As I was brushing her teeth, I began to sing, as I do every night that I brush her teeth  (her Mom is often not home from work when it is bed time.)  Last night,  from the depths of my despair, a praise medley–not of songs I have ever heard, either–came pouring from my lips as I brushed her teeth.  She did not fight me as I brushed, and I felt the Holy Spirit bringing forth worship that I was incapable of generating on my own in that moment.  I began to think on Scripture. The latter part of Hebrews chapter four through Hebrews chapter eight talks in depth about Jesus our high priest. In Hebrews 4:15, it says “For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”    And then God brought to my mind what Jesus called out on the cross in the dark hour before his death. Matthew 27 and Mark 15 both record that Jesus called out in a loud voice at around the ninth hour, “My God, My God, Why has Thou Forsaken me?”  Two things stand out.  First, Jesus still acknowledged God, his Father. Second, Jesus felt abandoned.  He was tested in every way and never sinned. He felt what we  will at some time feel, and he never sinned. Even in his agony, crying out to God, asking His Father why he he had forsaken the Son….even in that, Jesus did not sin.

And that leads me to this:  Even in MY agony. Even as I cry out. Even as I question God and beg him and ask Him where He is and Why this is happening.  Even as I demand to know how much LONGER this season will last.  Even as I cannot FEEL HIS COMFORT, even then, He loves me, and He is with me, and He does not condemn me.  I don’t have to be the perfect Christian with all the answers because I am not.  A friend told me that my hope is in Jesus.  And she is right. My hope IS in Jesus. And if He came to take me home RIGHT NOW, that would be such a huge relief.

The hard part is living this reality:  our situation may never change. The Handy Man may never get the job that will be physically less demanding and pay better and more consistently.  I may never have the assurance that tomorrow’s bills will be paid beyond seeing that God was faithful today. I may live with my health issues, unable to address them until they kill me.  The hard part is dying to all those things.

Today, as I drove three hours round trip to my doctor, I was listening to a Christian radio station.  God ministered to me through song after song after song…songs about believing even when God doesn’t answer prayer, songs about holding on when you want to give up, songs about praising Him in the storm. He knew exactly what my hurting heart needed to hear, and He made sure I heard it. This song by Skillet came on, and the words really, really spoke to me:


You spoke a word and life began
Told oceans where to start and where to end
You set in motion time and space
But still you come and you call to me by name
Still you come and you call to me by name

If you can hold the stars in place
You can hold my heart the same
Whenever I fall away
Whenever I start to break
So here I am, lifting up my heart
To the one who holds the stars

The deepest depths, the darkest nights
Can’t separate, can’t keep me from your sight
I get so lost, forget my way
But still you love and you don’t forget my name

If you can hold the stars in place
You can hold my heart the same
Whenever I fall away
Whenever I start to break
So here I am, lifting up my heart
If you can calm the raging sea
You can calm the storm in me
You’re never too far away
You never show up too late
So here I am, lifting up my heart
To the one who holds the stars

Your love has called my name
What do I have to fear?
What do I have to fear?
Your love has called my name
What do I have to fear?
What do I have to fear?

If you can hold the stars in place
You can hold my heart the same
Whenever I fall away
Whenever I start to break
So here I am, lifting up my heart
(Lifting up my heart)
If you can calm the raging sea
You can calm the storm in me
You’re never too far away
You never show up too late
So here I am, lifting up my heart
To the one who holds the stars

You’re the one who holds the stars

One last thought comes to me as I get ready to post this blog.  I may not always be the chipper soldier of the cross that exudes pure joy in the midst of trials. In fact, I know I am not.  I do know, though, that it is in my honesty that my unbelieving family sees my Jesus. My mother told me the other day that she knows that my strength and my comfort come from my faith in the Lord.  She said that for me, it is REAL.  She doesn’t see that because I am so strong and  handle things so well.  She was encouraging me with the truth…a truth she does not believe for herself, but which she sees as undeniably real in me, as she reminded me that God has not forsaken me.  I think it is possible that when our faith is authentic, and we are REAL about our struggles, and we don’t sugarcoat our fears….it is just possible that those are the times when the unbelievers around us see Jesus.  It is just a thought.



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Saying Goodbye to Daddy….Maine part 4

My father was not a particularly religious man, and his desire was that, instead of a church service, we have a big party to celebrate his life. We had held a drop-in event in honor of his memory back in December, shortly after he passed away, but most of the family was unable to attend then. My aunt Brett had passed away less than a month before Daddy, and her family had held a few memorial events for her in England, where she had  lived (and raised her children) almost her entire adult life. My cousins thought it would be nice to have some of her ashes in the river, too, though, as she had loved Maine as a child and young adult, just as my grandmother had loved Maine. Although I wished fervently that my father had loved the Lord, I knew that  I could honor his memory and my mother by participating in this somewhat unorthodox event.

My sister had spent hours and hours preparing for this party. She had come up with the idea of making etched glasses for the participants to take home, and I know my mother had helped with some of those. They were beautiful, each one unique. Everyone was invited to choose a glass and drink out of it for the party. Jenny had also purchased all the supplies: table cloths, everything needed to consume all the food, etc. She had prepared menus. (I did my part by cooking all the things that needed an oven or a crock pot over on the mainland.) My cousins Ruscha (who flew in from England) and Kaf were on the island with Jenny, and they had prepared the specialty hors d’oeuvres and a special English tea station in honor of their mother, and they had helped to decorate the house.

Rocky Ledge has a huge screened-in front porch with a large window on either side of the centrally-placed front door. There was a line strung across each window with pictures hung on it with tiny clothespins; one window featured pictures of my father, and the other window featured Aunt Brett. There was a table placed in front of each window with larger pictures featured. Along the end of the porch with the round meal table, there was another long line hung along the screen that featured pictures of our grandmother, Elisabeth, Aunt Brett (Betsy as she was called back then), and my father, along with their siblings and other Maine friends and neighbors with whom they had shared their childhood.  In front of the porch, near the rocks, my sister and cousins had set up the old writing desk, and on it were a few more pictures as well as dissolvable paper and a jar of water; we were all invited to write a message (or messages) to our loved ones and place those messages into the jar, which would then be poured into the river with their ashes.

(Top left: cousins at the writing desk;  Clockwise: all available space was used for seating; Uncle Peter gives his tribute; Uncle Alex gives his tribute; my brother Ryan listens attentively.)

Just about every neighbor on the island came to the party. It was amazing to see people whom I had not seen in 30 years.  We came to a time of sharing remembrances of my aunt and father, and everyone found a place somewhere on the porch or just inside the door; some stood, some sat on the floor, and all the chairs and couches were in use. My Uncle Alex read the tribute he had written right after my father passed away. I had read it then, but it was good to hear my uncle read it with his own inflections.  My father had been a man of many talents including music and his amazing ability to fix cars. Daddy had been a leader in the army, where he won two bronze stars in service to his country. (It was interesting to me to hear my Uncle Peter give his pacifist take on that service, and I have to say that he did give my father his due. While my father fought in Viet Nam, though, my Uncle Peter had been home protesting the war; the microcosm of the Blachly family reflected the struggle of our country during that time in our history.)  It was a bit surreal to hear of how my uncles had so looked up to my father; Uncle Alex said that they all thought Dad could become president some day.  Dad’s adult reality was a little different,  but it was really sweet to hear them pay homage to him. Several car stories were told, including a somewhat hilarious one by cousin Kaf who shared how Daddy taught her to drive once she had moved to the US and was pregnant with her first child.

Other people shared as they felt led, and then my four older girls sang a song whose words are actually a famous poem: In Flanders Fields. ( A version can be heard here.)  Poor Lindy could not finish as she was sobbing too hard, but the other three gamely made it to the beautiful finish. My father did not fight in WWI, but he loved this song, and he particularly loved it when my girls sang it for him.  ( And I love it when my girls sing, too, because they have such beautiful natural harmonies, and their voices naturally complement each other.) Several people cried during their song, and I was one of them, as I remembered how my father would always beam at them with tears in his eyes as they sang. It was a fitting song for the moment.

When the time came for the ashes to be placed in the river, the generosity of our island neighbors came into play. We had three of our family boats in operation, but that was not nearly enough capacity to take everyone out into the river. A few of our neighbors with larger boats piled our children and extended loved ones into their vessels so we could all be out in the river.  My mother, Eric, Jenny, Ryan and I were in Eric and Jenny’s boat. As all the boats came together in the river, my Uncle Peter directed us in a round of “Oh, Give Thanks”, which has become over the years a family blessing–one which we had sung every year at Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania (on the family farm belonging to the descendants of my grandmother’s family. Maine is the heritage of my grandfather’s side.)

“Oh give thanks, Oh give thanks, Oh give thanks unto the Lord

For He is gracious and his mercy endureth forever and ever…”

When the first group gets to the second line, the second group enters. We did this with four or five boatloads of people, each boat getting their direction as Uncle Peter pointed to us. As the boat motors were cut off, the singing echoed across the water. Then  a sacred silence set in as we drifted in a block down the river gently together. My cousins had released their mom’s ashes and then my mother handed Ryan and me an American flag. We unfolded it and held it aloft as she leaned over the boat and released Dad’s ashes into the river. When she was finished, she pressed play on her phone, and Taps  rang out over the hushed river. My brother Eric uttered a few words as benediction, and all the boats started back up and headed back to their respective docks to unload their passengers.   It was a lovely way for everyone to be involved in that special, last good-bye. (Mom did not release all of Dad’s ashes into the river, though. Even as I write this, she, Gladys Mae and Little Princess are traveling the entire country, visiting places she and Dad loved, leaving some of Dad’s ashes in each place. It is meaningful for Mom and the girls, and I am glad they get to do that.)


                    (Putting Daddy’s ashes in the river as he requested. Photo Credit, HLND photography)

As the sun set, everyone departed for the mainland. Jenny sent her children across the water with my children. Cousin Margaret sent her children back across with her husband, Catlin. Left at Rocky Ledge were my mother, my brother-in-law Matt, and the eight first cousins. It was Jenny’s 40th birthday, and we were ending the day with a celebration!

Kaf and Ruscha had arranged for two small ice cream cakes from Witch Spring Hill (our favorite ice cream stand!) to be brought across and stored in the tiny freezer. They had also purchased the largest bottle of champagne I had ever seen.  Margaret pulled out her guitar, and we sang to Jenny;  the cork on the champagne was popped  and champagne was served all around. (And it was GOOD champagne, too!)  Now, our family is fairly talented bunch. Most of us either sing, play an instrument, conduct orchestras or chorales, play in rock bands, lead worship in churches, etc…..some of us excel in visual arts like painting or photography…some of us excel at a few of those mentioned.  So when Margaret started playing “Row, Row, Row  Your Boat” on her guitar, we all responded by singing in a ridiculous number of harmonies. Then, she switched gears and , using the same chords, starting singing another song. Some were still on “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” while others made the transition to the new song. This went on through about a half dozen songs…so at the end, we had a harmonizing medley of about six songs.  It was so much fun. Some of us danced with Jenny as we celebrated the 40’s club….exclusive to those of us female cousins who fit that description. The neighbors on the back side of the island started shooting off fireworks, as they had promised, in honor of both the 4th of July (the next day) and Dad.   We had a wonderful time.

Top photo: Family picture on Sheep Island the day of the memorial; 2nd row: 8 of 11 first cousins in my generation; Star Child and Little Princess sister bonding time; folks at memorial on the front porch of Sheep Island Rocky Ledge. Bottom Row: more shots of the memorial on the porch


It was late when Margaret, James (her brother) and I headed back across the water. The sky was black with a million white stars in it. The river was black, but as we headed home, the fireworks exploding over the island were reflected in the water behind us. Since I was facing backward, I had the perfect view  of it. It was magical. Margaret, James and I began to sing as we motored across.  It was the end of a perfect day honoring my father and my aunt. I had seen relatives and family friends whom I had not seen in ages. I had been able to celebrate my father’s life. And while I had already said everything I needed to say to Daddy when he was alive, I was glad for the closure.

The next few days would be a whirlwind of activity. July 4th was a busy day. We started the day with cousins tie-dying T-shirts on the porch at Rocky Ledge, followed by an adult cousin’s frigid swim off the rocks in the cove at high tide. The afternoon would find the majority of us down at the waterfront in Bath rocking along to Hollowbody Electric Band, my Uncle Peter’s rock band.  It was a great afternoon of making absolute fools of ourselves dancing in front of the crowd, hooting and hollering for the band, and catching up with cousins. Cousin Margaret’s husband, Catlin, took my boys and their two children to ride the carnival rides. I was grateful to avoid that particular festivity. When the show was over, the boys and their second cousins volunteered as the roadies, gladly ignoring child labor laws for the privilege of carrying their great-uncle’s band equipment. The Handy Man spent most of the day working on the rewiring project. My sister and cousins warmed all the left-overs up down at the Todd Cabin, where my girls were staying, and we all feasted together. That night, the boys went down to visit their friend, Thomas, and they spent at least an hour playing with sparklers. I sat in the chair while they played, and I  could see the fireworks of several small towns around us reflecting in the water of the river.  It was a discordant fireworks show, with the sound reaching us well after the next round of explosions were happening, but it was a beautiful show nonetheless.

(Top, L-R: Me, Margaret and Kaf at Uncle Peter’s concert; Cousins Tie-dye; my brother Ryan between my girls on the lawn at the concert.  Bottom, L-R:  Uncle Peter on stage; 1st and 2nd cousin kids’ breakfast at our cabin…LOTS of pancakes! ; Little Roadies)

The next day the wood for the new pier was delivered.  Uncle Peter brought the wood in at high tide, and those of us who wanted to witness the event went over early so we could see this happen. It was a LOT of wood, and it made Uncle Peter’s boat look so tiny. We unloaded the wood (I use the word “we” loosely. I helped with about 1 1/2 boards and then got out of the way.) After the wood delivery, my big girls took my sister’s girls, and they headed to Portland for light-house touring and shopping. They had a blast. Meanwhile, my boys greatly enjoyed an afternoon on the island.  The girls returned, and since some of our cousins had departed, my big girls were invited to stay the night on Sheep Island. They learned the wonders of a night on the island. Meanwhile, my mother and I had run up to Cundy’s Harbor and had filled the boat gas tanks as well as purchased some lobsters for dinner. Omie (my mother) and I cooked the lobsters in the sea water Little Princess had  hauled up from the dock for us.  The Handy Man and the little kids ate steak while Little Princess, Omie and I dined on lobster. It was delicious! My brother came back across the water to get Omie, and they headed back to the island.

(Wood Delivery!)

July 6th was a day of great activity. Omie, Gladys Mae and Little Princess left us to head out on their cross-country journey. They were heading into Canada and then out to Seattle, Washington, down through California, and east again through Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. They would ultimately travel over 10,000 miles, visiting places that had been special to my father, leaving some of his ashes in each of those special places. They would be gone five more weeks.  It was a difficult goodbye, and tears were shed all around. I knew I would miss them all terribly!  Mom was dropping my brother Ryan at the airport on the way out, but first I followed them as far as the transfer station so Little Princess could redeem the bottles and cans for some pocket money.


(Omie, Gladys Mae, and Little Princess get ready to embark on their cross-country adventure)

The girls had all cleaned the Todd Cabin, and we did a few last loads of laundry there. That afternoon, I persuaded the Handy Man to head over to Sheep Island for one last goodbye before I had to take him to the airport. Eric, Matt and Jenny were working on rebuilding the pier, which had snapped a stringer a few days before the party. Uncle Peter showed up and offered to take the Handy Man and me sailing. Since Dee had not yet participated in a sail, we left  Sweet Pea with my sister, and we three went sailing. It was magic, being on the family boat, the Royal Tern, again.  As we headed out, Uncle Peter asked me if I wanted to man the tiller, and I was so happy to do so. As I sat there, all my sailing experiences came rushing back. I remembered Grandpa teaching me to sail. I remembered my father sailing with the family, and how we would lie up on the fore deck or on the aft deck. I remembered the rules of the river, even as I was asking Uncle Peter about them. It was magical.  We landed back at a neighbor’s dock, and  then we headed back to the other side of the river. The Handy Man had a flight to catch.

            (L-R, Top: Uncle Peter manning the tiller as captain of the Royal Tern; I took my turn; Dee not taking any chances with her life jacket on. Bottom: The Handy Man enjoying the sail; the Royal Tern at her mooring.)

Dee and Sweet Pea moved back up to the cabin for the night. Lindy and Star Child spent one more night on Sheep Island. The next morning, Dee, Star Child, and Lindy, accompanied by Sweet Pea and Star Child’s dog, Journey, packed up and headed for home. Dee’s little Scion could have doubled as a clown car at the circus, the way they were all packed in there. The boys and I were left. We had one more night in the cabin, and we spent much of the next morning cleaning to make sure it was as nice for the next tenants as it had been left for us.  Barbara, Melina’s mom, had generously offered her washing machine, and I used it to wash the last load of cabin linens. Meanwhile, the boys and I made two trips to the transfer station to get rid of all our recyclables and trash. We finished cleaning and headed out. Saying good-bye to the cabin was bittersweet for me. I was ready to head home, but part of me could have stayed for much longer. We finally left around 1:00 that afternoon.

We headed south and spent the rest of the afternoon with Melina and her family.  They had house guests, and we all spent a few pleasant hours talking and getting to know each other while my boys thoroughly enjoyed playing with new friends.  We left late in the afternoon and made our way back to New Hampshire, where Grammy Frannie (my friend Tammy’s grandmother) awaited with her warm hospitality. We spent a fast night there, then headed south to Pennsylvania.  We stopped in New York City for fast food and a potty break, and finally arrived at our friends’ home late in the afternoon.

(Lil’ Adventurer loved playing at Melina’s house!  The monopoly board was one that Melina’s father, Frank, made for her one Christmas. When we were teenagers, one rainy day, Melina, Luke and I were very bored. We made up our own Monopoly board using names of places and things familiar to us.  Instead of railroads, we named the four sailboats that our families owned.  Instead of jail, it was “up the creek without a paddle”  I loved seeing this amazing gift Frank had made for Melina. It was like a moment of our childhood immortalized.)

We had arranged to stay a few nights with my friend Gayle-Rae’s mother-in-love, Carol. We all went to Hershey’s Chocolate World museum that evening. We toured the museum and bought milkshakes.  The boys were having fun with their friend, Josh. The next morning, we all went to church together after going out for breakfast.  Gayle-Rae’s family headed back to Georgia, and I made a few phone calls to our cousins in the area. Cousin Bill got back to me and invited the boys and I out to the family farm for lunch. We had a fabulous time with Bill and Cathy and their children.  The boys got to see the farm, I got to see all the changes that had been made since our last visit. It was wonderful to be back in the house where I had spend all my childhood Thanksgivings.

(Top photos at Hershey’s Chocolate World with Gayle-Rae, her son, her mother-in-love, Carol, and her niece…bottom photo with Bill and Cathy and their children)

On Monday we headed back into DC. I took the back roads and drove the boys past the house where I spent most of my childhood years in Maryland, and then we headed to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History before going to see Grandpa.  We had a short visit with Grandpa and then headed back down into Virginia to spend the night with my cousin Amrit and her family.  We had a nice visit with them, and then, despite my better judgment, we went back into DC to say one last goodbye to Grandpa.  I am glad we did. We had no way of knowing it, but it was to be our final goodbye. (Grandpa passed away in August.)

    (clockwise, from top left: Amrit, the boys and me at the Smithsonian, Grandpa selfie)

Finally, twenty-two days after we had left Georgia, we returned home. We arrived to the excited greeting of two dogs who were overjoyed to have children home again, and my husband who was also overjoyed to have us home again.  Sweet Pea greeted us with huge hugs, too. It was a very happy reunion.

It had been exhilarating. I had recovered memories and friendships I never expected to recover. I had bonded with family. I had been given so much in the way of emotional healing. I was exhausted!

As I finish this post, here at the end of 2016, so much has happened since this trip. All that is for another post, but looking back from the perspective of several months, I know that this trip was profound in so many ways. I will be forever grateful that the Lord allowed me the gift of going.  And it is my sincerest desire to go back again next summer. We shall see how the Lord leads….




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Maine, part 3….I rediscover my past

It was day two of my adventure in Maine. I had found my friend Melina from my Maine years on Facebook, and she had accepted my friend request quite some time ago, but she never posts, so I was unsure if I could reach her. I took a chance and messaged her, hoping that maybe while I was in Maine, her time there would overlap. She messaged me back quickly with the happy news that she LIVES in Maine, that she was only 42 minutes away, and that she could come up on Saturday to see me. I was so excited!

Jenny invited the kids and me over to Sheep Island, and we were very eager to go! Uncle Peter gave me a tutorial on how to run the boat, and the kids and I set out. Our visit to Sheep Island was amazing. The kids were so happy to see their cousins, and Sweet Pea was happy to have another large porch play-ground. Jenny showed me all around the house, which didn’t take too long; Rocky Ledge is basically a 20 x 20 two-story box with a huge front porch. Some things were different, but mostly it was the same. Some major improvements had been made: a new propane stove replacing the ancient one in which I baked brownies as a kid. There was a new propane refrigerator. (There had been one when I was little, but at some point it had broken and my last few years on Sheep Island we had used the big lead-lined, horse-hair insulated ice box on the front porch.) The outhouse had been completely re-done with windows and a clear roof. It was down-right luxurious for an outdoor potty!  We culminated the day with a boat ride over to Cundy’s Harbor, where the whaler I was driving decided not to restart. Jenny towed us back to Sheep Island, and ultimately back to Brightwater when the boat remained stubborn. Sweet Pea fell sound asleep in my arms while wearing her life jacket. (She slept so soundly in Maine!  It had to have been how much time she spent outside.)  I never was able to get the boat started again, and Uncle Peter was very generous to put his personal whaler into the water for me to use from there-on out.

Lobster crates make great play-pens!

20160623_184252                                                                            Jenny tows us home

The kids spent a good amount of time roaming the island with their cousins. One of my joys in being in Maine was allowing all my children the opportunity to be free-range kids. This would continue to play out over the next two weeks as they discovered greater and greater independence.  On Sheep Island, there is nowhere for them to go–they were always somewhere on the island. They could run and play as much as they desired…coming home for food or drink as needed.  My children found a similar freedom on Brightwater, our peninsula home. There was almost always someone around with whom to play, explore, discover, and build forts, and as long as they wore life jackets on the docks, they were free to just go and enjoy. I saw them  and whomever was with them whenever someone was hungry or thirsty or needed permission to go off somewhere on a boat with another family or family member. Sometimes a cousin or friend would show up at meal time, and I would feed them. And likewise, my kids ate where ever they landed at meal time. It was and is an idyllic place to spend time when you are a child. It’s one of the few places left where the kids can have this freedom, and I am so grateful that at least some of my children get to experience that as children. My older children later expressed some bitterness that they did not get to experience that when they were younger.

Free Range kids!

Isaiah deckhand

Curious George quickly learned how to catch the dock and cast us off.  Uncle Eric in the background…

Back on Brightwater that afternoon, the kids and I set off to take a walk. I wanted to see if the Duponts were there. Eric and my mother had rented the Duponts little Todd Cabin for my girls for the next weekend, and I was eager to see them and everyone else I had known as a child. I had Sweet Pea on my back as we walked up the Dupont’s driveway. As we walked up, a vehicle towing a trailer was coming down. The man stopped, I explained that we wanted to see if the Duponts were there. He introduced himself as Gus, and I told him I was a Blachly. We chatted a few more minutes, and I asked him his last name. “Manomaitis,” he replied. Tears sprung to my eyes. “You’re Luke’s dad!” I exclaimed. He nodded in the affirmative. “I’m Andrea….I used to hang out with Luke and Melina ALL the time!”  “I haven’t seen you since you were a kid!  Why don’t you and the kids cut across the meadow there, and meet me over at the big house.”


Mr. Gus’s kitchen….the kids’ juice glasses and fresh rhubarb on the counter. The tiled back-splash was painted by Melina’s mother, Barbara.

When I was a kid, Luke and his family camped in tents on their property. He, Melina and I were tight….and the summer I was 15, I had a serious crush (like, I was in love, as only a 15 year old girl can be) on Luke. I had always hoped he felt the same, but I never knew for sure. One of the horrible side effects of being molested is that you cannot trust that your perceptions are correct; if your perceptions were correct, you reason, you would never have been molested in the first place. Shame and guilt compound this problem.   It is a lie that feeds and corrupts so many areas of life. I am better at trusting my gut instincts now, but for a long time, I had no idea what was true and what was not true, what I could trust and what I could not trust. I knew how I had felt about Luke, but I had never been quite sure how he had felt about me. The summer before, Melina and I had been sidetracked for a few weeks with the arrival of two blonde boys, Mike and Jeff. I am not sure how Luke felt about the fact that his two chums were distracted with those other boys, but I do seem to remember that he was not too pleased. Strangely enough, I really could not remember much before the summer I was 14. I had some general memories–baking brownies on Sheep Island, spending hours reading down at the end of the island while the seals played on the rocks, sailing with Grandpa and my father. But the people were vague. And I really had no memories of Melina and Luke going back much farther than age 14. That was all about to change….

The kids and I had a great visit with Gus. His wife Renee was in Bangkok with Luke and his wife and their newly-born third child. The kids played on the carousel horse in Gus’s sun room, while he showed me around his beautiful home. He explained that the ceiling in the living room was built to look like the inside of the Airstream trailer they had camped in for many years. It is a gorgeous home. We left with some freshly harvested rhubarb, which I knew was going to be used to honor my father in some way as he LOVED rhubarb when he was alive.

Mr. Gus and Rachel, Curious George and Sweet Pea 

As we walked back across the meadow, we cut closer to the farmhouse at the top of the meadow, near the road. The Maslen family lived in the farmhouse. I was always in awe of Eric and Lucy Maslen and their tribe of ten children. I thought that was an unspeakably huge family. It does not seem so remarkable now that I have eight children. The Maslen home is next to  the barn in which the barn dance thrown at the beginning of August is always held. I loved the barn dances as a child. Coming back as an adult, the barn looked so small. I have no idea how that many people could fit into it, but the locals tell me that the barn dance seems to grow each year.  I saw a little old man in the front windows of the glassed-in porch, and as we got to that side of the house, I decided to knock on the door. He answered, I explained who I was. He kissed me on the cheek, remarked that it had been a very long time since he had seen me,  and told me he was sorry to hear about my father. And then he pointed at Little Princess and declared, “Now, THAT is a Blachly!”   Mr. Maslen is probably closest to my grandfather in age.  His pronouncement felt like a blessing. We bid him good-bye and walked home. Uncle Peter called as we were walking back and invited the kids to go sailing. They were thrilled to go. Back at the cabin, as Sweet pea napped, I began to mull over this strange feeling I had. I could not define it at the time, but  as I have thought about it since then, I think I was feeling a sense of being known.  This feeling would grow as I continued to meet people who had known me as a child.

My pastor often talks about our deepest desire as humans to be completely known and completely accepted and loved. Ultimately, this deep desire can only be met in Jesus Christ, who knows us completely, loves us completely, and accepts us completely. (And Jesus alone did everything needed for our salvation completely…so that all we have to do is receive it.) So much of my life had been spent in hiding who I was, in feeling shame over my existence, in trying to measure up and failing miserably. Here I was encountering people who had known me and who were happy to see me. The culmination of all this would happen over a week later when we held the memorial party in honor of my father and my aunt. As I mingled at that party and encountered all the people I had known as a child, I was amazed that they had remembered me.  A few of them reminded me of events that we had shared, places we had gone. I was someone in their memories. It was overwhelming to think that on some level, I had mattered to these people.  My memories had seemed blank, but they weren’t. The memories were there, lying dormant. I began to recall the people and the events we shared. It has shattered me to think about how long I have continued to live the lie that I had not mattered to anyone. Because the truth is, I had mattered, I was remembered, and I had been missed, even on the smallest level.  I am still absorbing this. My friend and counselor Debbie reminds me that this is part of living in repentance:  I must take that truth and apply it to my life and my memories. I mattered. I mattered to my family. I mattered to the summer people. And I mattered–and will always matter–to Jesus. That last part I did get, but the rest I am just now starting to understand.  I am not sure words can convey how deeply this truth moves me. To think that I mattered to other people during a time in my life when I had buried myself so deeply as a defense mechanism….it is earth-shattering.

But this was all to come.

First, we had to go through fire.

Friday morning, Jenny and her children came across the river and loaded their van with laundry and shopping bags. They had a lot of errands to run. The boys and Little Princess played and explored most of Friday morning. Around midday, a van pulled up at the Blachly cabin next door. (My grandfather inherited the Field Cabin, and his brother and sister inherited the Blachly Cabin when Great-Grandpa died. The Blachly Cabin is now largely in the care of my second cousin, Sarah, and her husband, Aaron.)  My boys spotted two little girls, and we walked in that direction to make contact. It was cousin Sarah’s husband, Aaron, with their two oldest children, Nora and Josie. The kids all quickly made acquaintance, and much joy was shared that that we had kids that seemed perfectly matched in age. Little Princess, age 11, paired with Nora, age 10. Lil’ Adventurer, age 8, paired with Josie, age 8. Curious Georige, age 6, paired with Calvin, age 6. Iris, age 3, and Sweet Pea, age 18 months, were the only two left out of the perfect match-up. Aaron explained that Sarah was still getting groceries for the weekend, but that she would be up soon. I went back into the cabin to give Sweet Pea a nap.

About an  hour or so later, the phone rang. Jenny had received a call from our Sheep Island neighbor, Rob Miller, who had recently retired as fire chief for Cundy’s Harbor, which is the harbor just beyond Sheep Island. He had gotten a fire call for Sheep Island and was alerting Jenny that our cottages were potentially in danger. Jenny asked me to go down to one of the houses further around the Boulevard on Brightwater with a view across the river to Sheep Island and see if I could see anything.  I grabbed Sweet Pea, stopped at the Blachly Cabin, where Sarah had just arrived, said something to effect of how great it was to see her after so many years, and could I please leave all the kids with her for a minute. She said yes, and I hurriedly drove down the road. As I ran behind the neighbor’s cabin, I could see three things clearly: Sheep Island was on fire, it was big, and our house was not burning.  I ran back to the Blachly Cabin and asked Sarah if she could keep all the kids while I went across the river. She hugged me, told me to go and not to worry about the kids as I thrust Sweet Pea into her arms.Sweet Pea, who usually has to warm up to strangers, was fine as I hurried away. Sarah and Aaron would eventually feed all my children dinner.



Sweet Pea and Cousin Sarah enjoy some swim time while Nana was away. Thanks, Sarah, for the photo!

(Sarah and her family were very important people in my life when I was younger. I did not realize it until many years afterwards, but I managed to name my three older girls after Sarah and her sisters. Sarah’s mom and the children always spent a huge chunk of each summer in Maine, and I have distinct memories of hanging around them and trying to help with the babies–because I LOVED babies as a young teen!  Those memories came flooding back as I interacted with Sarah. It was so sweet to remember their family and how much I loved them. The spring break before I turned 16, I actually flew to New England to spend some time with them. My 16th summer was spent on a mission trip with Teen Missions, and I was raising money for that trip. Dan and Andrée gave me a huge sum–about a fourth of what I needed for the whole trip.  It had been 29 years since I had seen their family.)

As I reached the dock and began to untie Uncle Peter’s whaler, Jenny and her children came racing down the path. I re-tied Uncle Peter’s boat, and climbed into Jenny’s boat. We raced across the water at breakneck speed. Jenny moved immediately into action, telling her kids to gather all of their personal belongings, throw them into bags, and take them to the pier. Once those things were out of the house, Jenny started taking the precious pictures and things out of the house. I felt as useful as a milk bucket under a bull. It had been 30 years, and  I had no idea what was precious and what was not!  And then it struck me: every lantern at Rocky Ledge runs on fuel. The stove and refrigerator run on propane. If the fire got close enough to our house, it did not seem like a good idea to have all that fuel in the house. I started removing fuel, and then paint thinner and paint from the back room. If it was flammable, I was getting it out of the house. I made note of where the fire extinguishers were.


Our pretty potty, spared from the fire…but barely!  Flames were just beyond our outhouse and a brush pile next to it was barely saved. Fire fighter equipment visible…chainsaws and gas cans.



Photo credit:  Portland Press Herald.  Rocky Ledge is the house with the bright green roof.

Meanwhile, Uncle Peter had arrived. He started using our water pump (which is piped from some rain barrels that my brother installed last year) to wet down the outside of the house. We ultimately pumped the water barrels dry. My niece and I went upstairs with some buckets of water, and she climbed out onto the back roof, a very perilous perch, and wet down the outside walls above it. I closed the windows to keep embers from flying in. Jenny had  been in contact with her good friends who owned the  house two down from us (and in fact the entire end of the island) and they had requested that she get a few  of their precious belongings out of their house. At some point, as the firemen began to swarm the island, I looked out and saw that there were a more than a  dozen yachts and smaller vessels anchored around the coves. The people had come ashore and were offering help. They helped us move propane tanks. They helped lug gasoline containers from fire pump to fire pump. They helped carry heavy stuff to our pier. Then, when it was all over, they just disappeared again. A total of nine fire departments responded, as well as the Maine Forestry Service and the Coast Guard. We watched in awe as the helicopter swooped in and dumped bucket after bucket of water on the fire. My  nieces and nephew were scared at times. At one point, I realized that the only effective thing I could do was be a comfort. I prayed with my nephew and assured him that everything would be okay…even if we lost the house, the people we love were okay. He seemed to calm down a bit.


We could feel the helicopter coming in before we could see it. It was REALLY close to us!

During this time, my sister was going around the island collecting gas cans for the firemen’s chainsaws and for the three portable water pumps the firemen were using to pump river water onto the fire. One of them was stationed at our dock. On an island with no running water, everything for fighting a fire must be brought in with the firemen. Adding to the difficulty of having no running water was the fact the center of the island was covered with downed trees that had fallen about five years ago in a micro-burst. Maneuverability was seriously undermined by the dense brush, rugged terrain and fallen trees. The firemen worked hard to contain that fire, having to switch tactics every time the wind shifted. At one point, they had left the other end of the fire to come toward the our end of it, and my niece was the one who came running down the path to alert us to the fact that our neighbors were about to lose their outhouse.  Miraculously, no one was hurt and no structures were lost.

Uncle Peter went to the harbor  to get more gas. It was choas. Organized chaos. Finally, after about 4 hours, the fire was contained. It had burned 4 acres of land, had come within 100 feet of our back door (and much closer to our friend’s home two doors down) and had left us with a huge mess to clean up.  We sat on the front porch at the end it all and breathed a sigh of relief.  Uncle Peter and Jenny each drank a beer, Jenny offered me a glass of wine, which I gladly accepted, and we celebrated the fact that our island sanctuary was safe.  We had made plans the night before to have dinner with Marilyn, an island neighbor, but we suspended our surf and turf for another night. Marilyn, at age 85, had had enough excitement, and I needed to get back across to my children.  Jenny was frazzled and Rocky Ledge looked as if it had been ransacked. Uncle Peter and I rode back across the water together. (He was incredibly gracious when I almost dumped him into the water by putting the boat in gear before he was seated…and again when I almost immediately ran over a rock, which was just barely  under water due to the high tide.)


The first of several fire boats that would land at our dock. That interior dock is impossible to navigate to or from at low tide! Later the outer dock would have more boats tied to it.

I found it strange that of all the emotions I felt while the fire raged, I was never afraid.  I feel as though I have walked through several fires in my life–fires that have destroyed me or nearly destroyed me; some sovereignly designed by God to do just that so he could rebuild me, and others of my own making–and although I have never been through a real fire with flames, I was safe in the knowledge that everything that mattered to me was safe. If the house had burned, then my sister, her kids, and I could have simply gotten in a boat and escaped…and my children were all safe. It would have been horrible to lose Rocky Ledge, but as Jenny said, that is why we have insurance.  There was nothing in that fire that could destroy me. And it was comforting to know that. Perhaps I would have felt differently if I had been staying on Sheep Island. I don’t know.

Aftermath. The next day we walked around the burn area. Firemen stayed on scene for a few days after the fire was extinguished, working on hot spots. The island is covered in peat moss, which can smolder for a long time in the ground. The forestry service cut a  3 foot swath around the burn area, throwing green stuff outside the burned area and dead or charred stuff into the burn area. At some point, all that will have to be removed to prevent another fire situation. This fire has been deemed man-made in nature, although exact details have not been released.

Jenny brought her kids across to Brightwater so I could feed them and allow them to take some showers. Amelia ultimately decided to stay the night with us, which Little Princess loved. They snuggled together under the covers and I felt like I got to know Amelia a bit better. We had a good time, despite the crazy afternoon we had experienced.

The next morning, we took Amelia back across the river. Jenny had not slept much at all, but she had spent a lot of time and effort putting the house back in order. She had some things she wanted me to take back to the stone room–an extra gas can, some paint and paint thinner–flammables she did not want left at Rocky Ledge. The boys immediately disappeared, and it took a while to wrangle them  back so we could get back across the river. Melina was coming! I was so excited to see her again.

Melina arrived. We hugged. I was struck with how little she had changed. I met her boys. My children were down at the dock swimming with their third cousins, Sarah’s children. We sent Melina’s boys down there, but they felt a little awkward. Melina went and made introductions, while Sweet Pea continued to sleep. Melina and I talked about our lives, our journeys, our children.  She was shocked that I could not remember all the years we had been friends. “Don’t you remember playing in my sandbox?” she asked. I didn’t. I asked her to tell me what it had looked like, and she replied, “I’n not going to tell you because you ARE going to remember.”  I shared some of the painful stuff from my past. And a while later, out of the blue, I DID remember her sandbox!  I described it to her, and she smiled and affirmed that I was remembering correctly. We had been friends since at least the age of five, and possibly as early as three years old. She remembered digging for clams when we were really little.  She said to me, “Andrea, you are still the same funny girl you always were.”

And as we talked, a whole host of memories washed over me.  I am not sure if Melina realized how intense that felt for me. She began telling the story of how I made her jump for the dock, because I was terrible at landing the boat, and we were too far away, and she jumped right into the water. All the moms on shore had horrified faces, but Melina somehow jumped out of the water onto the dock (it had to have been low tide) and pulled the boat in. I remembered it! Oh, how we laughed. I remembered playing in Arthur’s cabin. Her family had owned a charming property–the larger cabin was Kate’s cabin and the smaller one was Arthur’s cabin. We spent countless hours playing house, sleeping over, staying up way too late in Arthur’s cabin. She reminded me of how the three of us (Luke included) would make rice crispy treats, but somehow they almost never made it out of the pot where we had melted the marshmallows and dumped the cereal. We ate it hot. I remembered how her mom always had some baked goodies around. Muffins, brownies, etc…and always fresh fruit. The memories washed over me, lapping at my soul like a gentle wave, and then consuming me like a tsunami.  Melina brought me the gift of remembering my past. And to my joy, there were some wonderful things in it!  Luke, Melina and I would take  a canoe out into the middle of the basin and spend hours on the little island out there. Often we would lose a paddle and someone would have to swim to get it. The three of us would play on the rocks, explore the woods, play card games and endless games of Chinese checkers. I asked about Luke, and she told me that she was sure he had felt the same about me as I had about him that summer we were 15. She said he had been really bummed that I did not come back my 16th year.  Could it be that my perceptions were correct? Had Luke really liked the 15 year old me?  There was something sweet and comforting in the thought.  My past was becoming my own, and it was filled with sweet, wonderful things, not just bad, too-horrible-to-remember things. Repentance here involves allowing my past to be redeemed, not just from sin, but from the lies of darkness that would seek to steal my joy.

Melina came back on Wednesday, and we went to her parent’s house and I was reacquainted with them. It was like being back with family again. Their hugs were so genuine. Their welcome was so warm. We ate potato salad and blueberry pie, and Frank and Sweet Pea bonded. I told them that my older children were all going to be there by Friday, and Barbara invited me to bring them all over for blueberry pie. I did take all my children over on Friday. Dee played the grand piano, and Barbara invited her to come play anytime, even if they were not home. Star Child helped serve blue berry pie, and Frank  and Sweet Pea cemented their friendship with a walk around their yard. Barabara asked if there was anything we needed for the memorial party. She offered me everything from her kitchen to her baking pans…and in the end she offered to arrange a bouquet of flowers from her bountiful and beautiful flower garden. I accepted that offer  with thanks. Melina was coming up on Sunday to help me cook. Barbara was going to see Melina on Saturday and would borrow her crock pot for me as I had several large pork shoulders to cook for BBQ sliders. Barbara and Frank hugged my children as if they were their own grandchildren, and it warmed my heart so much to experience that welcoming love. I had missed them, and I had not even known it!

photo credit: sarahthetrex 

The boys at the Roberts’ home….another carousel horse!  Mr. Frank and Hazel become best buddies.

Thursday night, my mother and Gladys Mae had arrived. Gladys Mae and Little Princess stayed in the Todd cabin that night, and the next morning we moved Sweet Pea down there, too. The girls had arrived around 3 am Friday morning. I allowed them to sleep in and then called them to come up and eat pancakes and sausage for breakfast. Two little boys raced down the road and gleefully woke their sisters up. The girls had been sorely missed! Sweet Pea and Dee were reunited. Star Child moved back up to stay with us because she had her dog Journey with her.  Friday night I met the Handy Man at the airport.


Elisha Todd Cabin

Lil’ Adventurer discovers yet another carousel horse at the Todd Cabin

Reunited and it felt so good!

Sarah and her family had left the previous Monday, but the Duponts had arrived.  I had spent an hour or so visiting with them, and my boys were delighted to find that their grandson was with them. Thomas was 7 years old, just between my boys in age, and he was also in 7th heaven with two little male playfellows.  My children had also spent a night with my sister during that week, leaving Sweet Pea and me at loose ends. That day it ended up raining and dreary, the perfect day to sleep late, lounge in jammies, and rest. It was a great day to be indoors, although over on the island, my kids were running full tilt with their cousins. My children returned, and the latter part of that week was filled with the rest of the family arriving. Eric made a trip to the airport to pick up cousin Ruscha from England. Uncle Richard had arrived  from England at some point as well. (He was staying with Uncle Peter. Ruscha was staying at Rocky Ledge with Jenny and her crew. Our brother Ryan had also arrived and was on Sheep Island at Rocky Ledge.)  Kaf drove in from New York, and then on Friday, cousin Margaret and her family arrived. They had rented the Blachly Cabin from Sarah for the weekend. With them was 7 year old Leo and 4 year old Gail. Rachel knew them from her visit to D.C. for Grandpa’s birthday, and it was a happy reunion all the way around. Again the boys had a male cousin just the right age next door!

Cousins, first and second!  and Curious George and Thomas enjoying ice cream at our favorite place, Witch Spring Hill

Saturday morning dawned early, and the Handy Man got a running start on the re-wiring of the cabin project. He started by examining the situation. Later Eric and our brother-in-law Matt would come over and start pulling wires off the walls. I think that was the day Uncle Peter took all my children and Jenny’s children sailing. He later told me that Gladys Mae was smart and strong; she had saved the day when a line had gotten stuck and the boat was about to crash into some rocks. Uncle Peter takes his sailing seriously, and to give a compliment like that was indeed high praise! While the men worked and the kids played, Mom and I went exploring.

Uncle Peter and Uncle Richard take 8 kids sailing…..far right, Uncle Peter

photo credit: sarahthetrex

First, we went around the Boulevard to the other side of Brightwater to visit Margaret and Bill. Margaret had been my father’s crush when he was around 15. They had remained friends through all those years. I remembered how we always stopped and stayed a night at Margaret and Bill’s house in Connecticut on our way to Maine each summer. l remembered the house quite clearly, and Margaret was stunned to hear the details. I was stunned, too, as I had no idea all that was in my memory!  Margaret had stayed in touch with me during the years I was estranged from my parents. I know our estrangement had concerned her greatly, and she had prayed for us. She rejoiced to learn of our reunion, and she pulled me aside to let me know how much she knew it had meant to my father. When I was a child, Bill had a beautiful wooden ski boat with a powerful motor. We used to water ski in The Narrows. Bill was always patient. I think I got up a few times, but I never water-skied well. I was sad  that that beautiful boat no longer exists.

Lobster rolls with Mom at Cundy’s Harbor and Holbrooks Wharf.  When I was a child, Holbrooks store was run by Christine, who I think was ancient when my father was a boy. Christine always kept the store chock-full of stuff, and she was also the post-mistress.  The store has very little in it now–I am not even sure how it can stay open–and the post office is somewhere else now, but the wharf restaurant has grown. We enjoyed our lunch!

We visited a while, and then Mom and I set out for town. We were looking for birthday cards for Jenny, and I had a burning question to answer. I remembered distinctly that once a year our family would go down to a pizza place near the Bath Iron Works and eat out. It was remarkable because we almost never ate out. This place had plastic red and white checkered table cloths, and they served beer by the pitcher. We always ordered two pizzas (one always had mushrooms) and we children would each get a huge plastic tumbler of soda with straws that still had the end paper on the top of them.  Eric had also remembered this experience, and there were a few places I thought it could be. Mom gamely went into a few establishments with me as we tried to find the right one, but we were not successful. We decided to go to Cundy’s Harbor instead and have lobster rolls. We reminisced about Dad as we ate, sometimes allowing tears to touch our eyes. Mom smiled and said that this lunch was on Dad. He did love to take us to lunch!  I think Mom and I needed to have some time to remember Dad and Maine quietly before the crowd would descend the next day. We had a lovely afternoon, and then we headed back to Brightwater. Mom headed back across the river to Rocky Ledge. I texted Melina and told her I would need her around noon on Sunday. That night cousin Margaret and her husband Catlin invited the Handy Man and I over for  a visit. We stayed way too late and had a lovely visit.

Electrical upgrade. It’s a two-man kitchen at most!  The original wiring was from the 1930’s, cloth covered, and very unsafe. 

The next morning we woke to a flurry of activity. Star Child came up and started pulling the pork for me. She stood and pulled pork for over an hour, and in the end we had gorgeous BBQ.  I had delivered a good bit of the non-perishable food to Rocky Ledge the day before. Jenny, Kaf and Ruscha had done extensive shopping for the cheeses, olives,  adult beverages, etc.  We got a few texts asking for ice and the like, which Lindy and the Handy Man picked up while making a Lowe’s run in town. Melina showed up while I was working on cheese olive balls. Second cousins twice removed, Peter and Pam, showed up while our cabin was in a flurry of activity. The Handy Man was working on wires. Melina and I were cooking–heating meatballs, making cheese pinwheels, baking olive cheese balls, etc.   Mom was having an emotional morning, and she had come across the water for some support. She ended up visiting with Pam and Peter. Margaret came by and said that she and Bill were not going to be able to attend the party after all, but could I please write two messages on the dissolving paper for her?  She wrote the messages, and entrusted them to my care. Melina continued to work on our food. I realized that we were going to run out of time and oven space, and I sent a pan of artichoke dip over to the Blachly Cabin where cousin Margaret graciously stuck it into the oven for me.

Eventually we had most of the food ready to go. Coolers of ice were ready to go. Barbara had delivered two gorgeous bouquets of flowers, and we had put garbage bags over them to protect them from the wind on the way across.  Marilyn, our 85 year old neighbor on Sheep Island, came across in her big boat to pick up all my children and both of Melina’s boys. I think Pam and Peter went with her, too.  Eric. Matt and Ryan came across in two boats. Melina had loaded the back of her van with all the food we had prepared, as well as everything else that had to go across the water, and had taken it all down to the Wynburg dock so it could be loaded easily. (It sure beat hauling all that down the long path to our dock!). All the people and food went across while Melina and I waited for one last pan of food to get finished. I had even made my father’s rhubarb crumble.  I changed clothes at the last minute, and Melina and I made our way over to Sheep Island. Uncle Peter continued to run shuttles for a while, but eventually there were 54 of us on the Rocky Ledge porch and in the house.  Some of them were island neighbors. Most were family. It was a lovely showing for my father and my aunt.


Family photo on Rocky Ledge. Four generations of  the Blachly family represented.


(More to come in Maine, part 4!)






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