It’s 11:25pm and everyone’s asleep except for me and Tenley, our dog. Tonight, our humble abode can be found snuggling between the trailer of a vagabond twenty-something and decked out tour bus in a Cabela’s parking lot in Billings, Montana. There are at least eight other RVs parked here and I quite literally have to fight the instinct to knock on each door and say, “Pleases, tell me the story that has you sleeping in the parking lot tonight.” I’ve come to learn that people like us… people who camp out in a parking lot…. we have a story.
Looking back over the past four months, there’s SO MUCH I would have told myself then… knowing what I do now. Things that would have saved us time and money. Things that would have prevented fits of frustration and our kids’ ears from explicit language spewing out of our mouths. (Mostly Jamie, but I can hold my own, unfortunately.) But, it would have also caused us to miss out on some seriously needed refining and pruning. We’re different people now than we were then. Praise God.
The next part of the story has us heading from Connecticut, to visit my brother and his family in Maryland. He graciously let us crash at his house before picking up the RV the following day. That event, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily worthy of an entire blog post, however, the story behind how I met my brother is. So, I’m sharing that today. I promise… it’s worth the read.
Interesting fact about me: I don’t share my husband’s last name. When people find out, especially men in the church, they usually assume that I’m some “flaming feminist” with a problem submitting to her husband’s authority. Seriously. I’ve had men say this to my face. And women. (I’ll save that topic for another post. I promise.) I actually find the comments amusing. Ignorant, but amusing. I’m also pretty quick to point out that neither feminism, nor my husband’s authority, is something I take issue with and that their assumptions give evidence to their stupidity. (I’m a little nicer than that. Usually.)
The reason why my name is different is logistically simple, but, also emotionally complicated. Long story made short: Before my parents married, my father had another wife and two children. It wasn’t something he ever talked about growing up. I remember finding pictures of his children and asking my mom who they were. My curiosity was alway met with blunt, nonsensical responses. Eventually, I pieced together the truth. My dad married young and became a parent far quicker that he should have. (And I would take that a step farther and contend that parenthood wasn’t a calling for him. Some people just aren’t made for it. He most definitely wasn’t.)
He eventually left his family. Completely. He divorced his wife and signed away the parental rights for his children. I won’t pretend to know why. It’s something I can’t fathom. He tried to contact them a few times throughout his life. Maybe conviction and regret got the best of him. But, he died without ever meeting them again. And his death also meant a huge road block for me to ever meet them. I didn’t know their names or where they lived. So, when it came time for Jamie and I to get married, I told him that I needed to keep my name, not because I didn’t like his, or because my identity was wrapped up in seven letters. It was because I knew the only chance I ever had to meet my brother and sister was if they found ME. And the only way they could do that was through my name. (This was years before DNA testing kits, when VHS tapes were still on the shelves and pumpkin spice flavoring wasn’t in Spam. Back when the world hadn’t lost its collective mind.)
If you know Jamie, you know this wasn’t even an issue. I’ve never met a human being more confident in who he is, yet so humble in living out that confidence. It’s almost like God knew what He was doing when he put us together. (It definitely takes a “special” human being to deal with me on a daily basis.) There were always the awkward moments when someone would call him Mr. Catlett. Our kids still snicker when it happens. And, like I mentioned before, I have received my share of eye-rolls over the years due to my choice to not take Jamie’s name. But, over time you learn to deal with people’s assumptions, which truly is a sad commentary on our society as a whole.
Years past and we never really thought about the difference in our names until about 10 years ago when I received an email from my editor. Back then, I was writing for a Christian magazine in the midwest. My editor had received an email from a woman asking for my contact information. When my editor informed the woman that doing so would go against company policy, the woman explained that she had been married to my father years before and wanted to get in touch with him. (Yeah… I know. We really need to write a book about our lives. Probably 10 books because the volume of crazy Jesus stories is pretty insane.)
I remember receiving the forwarded email from my editor. I was sitting in my office, working on an article when the email popped up. I opened it immediately and read through it several times before I began putting the pieces together. The first time through, I thought the email went to the wrong person. The second time, I began to remember my dad’s former life. Could this actually be his first wife? The third time through, I remembered why I never changed my name and all the people who said it would be pointless because the likelihood of my brother and sister ever finding me (or ever wanting to find me) was probably miniscule. It was the proverbial needle in a haystack, but like everything else, when Jesus is involved, there’s this magnet in your life…. no matter the seemingly insurmountable amount of hay and how infinitesimal the size of the needle, the dots are connected. The lost are found. Always.
Eventually I connected with my father’s ex-wife. I had to tell her that he passed away long ago. She told me about her life and the lives of her children; she suggested the possibility of us all meeting. Because the story isn’t just mine to share, I’ll leave it here. But, almost ten years have passed since that moment and I have a brother because of it. Something I longed for ever since I was a child. I also have the most amazing sister-in-law, and a nephew and niece. If you know me, you know I come from a broken family. The word dysfunctional doesn’t begin to describe my upbringing. But, despite everything, the Lord was faithful in giving me the one thing I ever really wanted: a family that truly loved me, unconditionally and unequivocally. Of course, I have that with Jamie and the kids, but being raised in a family whose love was conditional at BEST…. it leaves a mark (some of my fellow Enneagram 8s can attest to that!)
Years removed from it all, people ask why I haven’t changed my name. (It’s a little annoying, if I’m honest. But, I always laugh at how completely acceptable people think it is to ask the question. FYI… it isn’t. Mind your business and keep your opinions to yourself.) But, here’s the truth: My name is like an Ebenezer stone. It reminds me of His faithfulness. How He finds the needle in the haystack. How He makes the seemingly impossible merely mathematically improbable. He’s reminded us of that time and time again over the past four and a half months. He is faithful and very real. He isn’t a myth, or a coping mechanism, for weak-minded people. I think the problem is that we put Him in a box. I know I did, but He obliterated it about four months ago.