We lived in Utah from December 1997 – August 2000. We had lived in New Mexico for ten years and were planning to follow our jobs to Phoenix when Russell got an offer he couldn’t refuse in Salt Lake City. Being young and adventurous we jumped in. I literally would have followed that man ANYWHERE, but never entertained the idea that moving to a state I’d never even visited and 1000 miles from our family might cause a few problems.
Salt Lake City is beautiful! They have four seasons, just like in those books we read in elementary school, the views from the valley are spectacular, the mountains, the weather is so nice! Even when it snows, the entire place isn’t paralyzed like we are with a little ice in Texas. The tulips come up through the snow in the spring and Christmas lights covered in snow are so spectacular.
The culture, however, was very different from anything we’d experienced. We moved there from Albuquerque, a cultural melting pot that is SO diverse and by contrast Salt Lake seemed very white and very Mormon. While we were white, we definitely were not Mormon and that was a little problematic. I’m not bashing Mormons here, just pointing out that their culture was very different from what we knew. In New Mexico we met so many people that had visited and decided they just had to live there. Many people like us, had no family nearby. We found people to be open and friendly. In Utah, however, it seemed like we were the only people that weren’t “from there” and were the only people there with no extended family. (I’m sure that’s not literally true, but it was my perception.) We both had GREAT jobs, we had a beautiful home with gorgeous views of the mountains and a relationship under s t r e s s. Russell’s job was so consuming that most days he left before Ryan and I got up and came home after we’d gone to bed. Ryan could go days without seeing his dad and was usually the first kid dropped off at daycare and the last picked up. Some days I’d pick Ryan up from daycare and take him to play at McDonald’s while I finished the work I still needed to do —
then, somehow I got pregnant!
Then Paxton came along with the mantra, “HA – you think you can have it all!” His minor health issues pushed our already strained lifestyle right over the edge. I remember sitting looking at the snow capped mountains, tired, frustrated, exhausted, overwhelmed and tired (yes I said that twice on purpose) — thinking
Hell can sure be a beautiful place.
You remember Russell’s work schedule, well we added to that an infant that DID NOT SLEEP. I don’t mean didn’t sleep through the night, I mean, DID NOT SLEEP. He had reflux so badly that he screamed bloody murder EVERY TIME you laid him down and had pneumonia constantly and low oxygen levels continually as a result. It is truly a good thing he was cute because life with him was H A R D.
It took me a long time to surrender to the idea of motherhood. I never really thought I’d be a good mother, I thought I was way too selfish (and I was not wrong!). It wasn’t until a spiritual journey that Russell and I took through the Walk to Emmaus that God really started to change my heart, but even then, I was willing to surrender only because I knew Russell would be such a great dad — I thought just like the rest of our lives he’d drag me along. Pregnancy wasn’t automatic for us, it took quite a few months of trying which really tested my faith because I really felt that God was calling us to parenthood and yet it eluded us. I made an appointment with a fertility specialist and at my first appointment, I was pregnant. Ryan was a dream infant, he took right to breastfeeding, he was happy as could be, he loved daycare, he traveled well, he hardly interrupted our lifestyle at all. I really believed women can have it all, career, family, social life — the skies the limit.
Then we moved and lost all our support system.
Then we had a real baby.
I’d like to say we moved back to Texas and lived happily ever after, but that would not be whole truth. Difficult times don’t just disappear, they slowly fade. We decided that our family needed a full-time wife and mother and evidently that was me! In theory it sounded like a great idea. My employer in Utah had been MORE than gracious with all Paxton’s health issues, they allowed me to work from home three days a week and really could not have been more accommodating. I knew it would be next to impossible to find a new job bringing that baggage along. Our pediatrician in Utah had threatened to drop us from her practice if I didn’t get Paxton out of daycare, how could I put him back? So I reluctantly decided to surrender myself completely to this job of wife and mother and it was a T O U G H transition. But once I realized how much better off all three of the boys were with my undivided attention soon we all began to thrive.
The key here was my surrender. I had to let go of that vision of what I thought my life would be to the life God had chosen for me. In that I grew to realize that Hell is largely of my own making. If I surrender to God’s plan for my life, Hell is a distant threat.
Looking back I realize I’ve had to surrender my vision of my life many times to follow Christ, I’m starting to maybe think, I might not be in control.
Fast forward, I have a dear friend who had the perfect life. She was a beautiful, charming, Godly woman who had a wealthy husband, four wonderful children, a gorgeous home — then he decides he can have it all and starts travelling and cheating and their fairy tale life becomes unraveled. It was ugly. Five people were hurled into unbelievable grief while one seemed oblivious. I know I have no real grasp on the depth of her pain. She asked us to look after the house (I called it the mansion, much to her dismay) while she was gone and as we sat by the pool, I had that same thought, “Hell can sure be a beautiful place” as this beautiful home had become her living Hell.
Contrasted to the missionary that spoke about living among families in an actual landfill that were filled with exuberant joy over the smallest things.
How can a mansion be like hell and a landfill be paradise?
I don’t really understand what Hell is, honestly, I don’t. I’ve studied it in the Bible, I’ve heard lots of people’s thoughts on Hell, I’ve heard lots of sermons on Hell, I even know one very wise Christian who doesn’t really believe it exists, but what I do know for sure is that it is Christ-less. Our Hell on earth comes not from the actual absence of Christ but our inability to see his redemptive plan at that moment. Our personal Hell can be a beautiful place physically, but true beauty rests in the redemptive power of a loving savior — no matter what the circumstance, or what your surroundings look like.
My friend and I shared the same place in our history. A time when our dreams seemed lost, hope seemed illusive and our vision was clouded by circumstances. We lacked the ability to see, at that moment, but not forever. You’ve been there too.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good , for those who are called according to his purpose.Romans 8:28
It’s easy to see Paul’s truth in Romans when our life seems to be in our control but true hope comes from seeing it even in the midst of life’s storms. Living a surrendered life that is not of our own making, that holds treasures only God could imagine, we can trust in the hope of a future and of good despite what this moment may look like.
Hold on! It really does get better.