When I asked Diane to be the next PRP she was hesitant. She may be the life of the party (most of the time), but she’s also pretty private, and having your personal life splayed across the World Wide Web is not for everyone. She did agree, though, with minimal arm twisting and bribery (just kidding), and here’s how that went:
Me: What are some of the things you like?
Diane: Cherry cheesecake, silence, sounds in the woods, amusement parks at night, walking in the rain, walking when it’s a full moon, loud rock music while driving, singing out loud, blueberry picking, potato chips.
Me: Pet peeves?
Diane: Coming home after work and the dishes aren’t done.
Me: How was it growing up in a remote Northern Ontario village?
Diane: Positive: running through overgrown bushes, singing, falling into my own imaginary world where I was in control. Knowing the people that lived around me, no one was a stranger. We had freedom to walk anywhere, anytime. Once, at two in the morning, I walked along a railway track about half a mile long without any fear. I was fourteen at the time, and we didn’t fear for our safety. If we did get hurt it was within our own circles. Outdoor skating and swimming at a nearby provincial park. Everyone was invited to weddings. Town activities were fun because you knew everyone.
But, we were often bored, and the town had its own pecking order. We were isolated from the big cities–no playgrounds, malls or restaurants. Activities were limited and everyone knew too much about you.
Me: Describe your family life.
Diane: I am blessed with a man who is kind, gentle, and dedicated. He has been patient, caring, understanding, and stood with me through many shared hardships. Together we brought four children into this world and dedicated our lives to raising them. He and the children have been my greatest pleasure and joy to this day. If everything disappeared from my life, all would still be well as long as they were in it.
Me: You’ve often mentioned a ‘Turning Point.’ What was that?
Diane: At seventeen I went to a retreat with a Catholic youth group. By this time I was broken inside and didn’t know what to do about it. I had built many walls to protect myself from people, from allowing them to hurt me in the ways they had. I went for a weekend of spirituality, what I received had a major impact inside of me.
One of the events was a two-hour time of prayer. Praying without books or beads was foreign. What would I do? After what seemed like five minutes the announcer said we were at the end of the two hours. I was in tears when the lights came on, and something was different inside of me after that. I was alive. I could feel joy, happiness, and freedom–emotions I had tucked away. I found myself volunteering for activities (not something I did).
I loved every moment of the rest of the retreat. It was like I was floating, in love and loving life. But, I tucked all those wonderful feelings back where they belonged when I had to return to the real world. It would be years later when I felt that love again, when, at twenty-four, Christ opened the door for me to see who God was and the love he had for me. It continues to be a journey of healing, and I have found myself many times needing grace, forgiveness, and mercy.
Shame had always been a constant companion. I would never look anyone in the eyes. When someone spoke to me and I was expected to look at them, my heart would beat faster, my body would stiffen and I felt like I was shrinking. Anyone outside my comfort zone would trigger these reactions inside of me. I know it’s difficult for most people to engage in conversation and interact with others but, for me, it went beyond the ordinary. So, I avoided interacting with people. Making appointments and answering the phone were difficult and I had to prepare myself for those conversations. Over the years I have conquered these hang ups.
Me: What’s the biggest breakthrough you’ve experienced lately?
Diane: I love the woman I was made to be–now. I was the girl they laugh at in high school for growing up to be fat with kids hanging on her hips (as though it’s a tragedy not to remain a knockout).
Being a mother is one of the greatest joys of my life. But, my weight was not embraced with such joy. When my stomach started bulging out I hid it with loose clothing. It’s the mushroom that got the best of me. I never looked at a mirror for years, only at my face. I never wanted to see those bulges. I would never look at myself in a picture. I had aged. I was fat. I avoided these things… until lately. I love who I am with the bulges. Not that I promote being unhealthy, for those reasons I try to eat better. But, I am who I am. Not perfect, but full of many things that have blessed my family and others. I bring to society the good and the flaws.
I cannot fully explain why, but today I can look at pictures of me, knowing that I am who I am, the person who, should we meet, would want, somehow, to be a blessing to you.
Thanks, Diane. You sure bless everyone you come in contact with–just by being plainly, remarkable you.
My friend Diane is like a magnet.
No, not a fridge magnet
Not that kind of magnet, either. More like a ‘people’ magnet. They’re drawn to her–all kinds of people: big, tall, small people, thin, round–all people and especially hurting people.
Maybe it’s because she’s had a few struggles in life, herself, or maybe it’s just that she truly has the ability to accept others right where they are–no strings attached, no hidden agendas. Maybe both. Either way, she sure attracts people. Rabble-rousers, hooligans and schismatics alike (and a few regular folk, of course), all feel the pull toward her genuine desire to put others first.
‘Conventional’ is not a word I would use to describe her. But, ‘fun?’ Well, that’s another story.
She’s one of those plainly remarkable people who could jump out of her seat at the end of a six-hour office management meeting and get everyone up doing the limbo. Nobody gets hurt. When you’re around Diane, not only is it okay to be a kid again, you feel like you really are.
She’s got a radar for anyone who looks like they might be in need of a ride, an encouraging word, a card, a phone call, a friend… And, I can honestly tell you, in the more than ten years I’ve known her I have never once heard her gossiping, slandering or complaining. At times, we’ve shared our gut feelings together about some serious issues, but never a word to malign another. In fact, she does her best to slip out of conversations heading in that direction. That makes her my hero.
We all get a handful of really good friends who help make us who we are, who actually change the direction our life might otherwise have taken–just by being in it. Diane is one of mine.
I have found myself making changes in the way I’ve treated others by following her example, and secretly admiring her for how outgoing she is. She’s the kind of person who gets things started; big on ideas, and even bigger on helping everyone feel like they’re a part of whatever is happening.
You can’t possibly think of Diane without thinking of her wonderful family. And wonderful is not a word I use loosely here. They are creative, energetic, fun-loving and extremely caring. When someone near to me was going through a difficult time financially the whole family came up with a Wal-Mart gift card for $500. Not from the overflow of a lucrative lifestyle–rather, from a jar they keep to collect offerings for those in need. And, maybe that’s because they know about that, too.
This potato farming family spent several years running their own retail business, not only here in our small town, but way up north. Travelling Highway 144 up to Chapleau every week was just part of the family adventure of owning a dollar store operation. Her husband, Michel, even hit a moose on his way back, once.
They literally lived in the back of the store–all six of them. They’ve lived in basements and vans, too, and maybe that’s why they’re such a close family, I don’t know–one thing I do know is that they’re big on respecting others–almost as big as they are on having fun. Did I mention they like to have fun?
With one daughter just graduating high school and another going into it, a son going into college, another son working and a husband (who loves her to pieces–and it shows) farming fifty plus hours a week, she can breathe a little easier now. That’s because she’s saying goodbye to a season of her life that has so defined her for the past twenty years–being a home school mom.
Yes, remarkably, through running an organic vegetable farm, a small business in three locations and, more recently, a sleep shift at Christian Horizons (so she could be home during the day with the kids), leading a youth group, and lending hands to anyone in need she managed to do an AMAZING job of, not only being the glue that held her family together, but shaping, educating, forming and moulding some of the most absolutely delightful young people you could ever know.
I wish I could go on. This truly beautiful woman has blessed me more than my meagre words could ever possibly convey. And, if I could be half the blessing to others as she has been to me, I know that I will have lived a life well worth living.
I asked Diane to if I could interview her for my next PRP post, and she agreed. Why don’t you grab a coffee and come meet us over here?
I recently asked my ‘getting to know her better and better since Facebook’ friend, Susan, if she could be the very first person I interview for my new category–Plainly Remarkable People.
Here’s how that went . . .
Me: What’s a typical day in the life of Susan?
Susan: Nearly every morning at seven, Muffy wakes me up. I sit up and pat her and sing to her. I smile at myself in the mirror, and at God and at my new wrinkles and how much I like the grey in my hair, and start waking people up. I eat right away, because of low blood sugar and check my computer mail while I’m eating breakfast. I’m very food oriented, so I scan the refrigerator to see what I have on hand to cook with that day. We have a lovely Christian woman coming in tutoring Mel, which makes it my job to clean the house before 9:30. This is difficult. I realize how dirty my house is. Then the day really begins. I hug a sleepy girl, and smile at a grouchy boy. Somewhere between this time I am praying. The afternoon goes swiftly. Evenings are spent being an encouragement to my family.
Susan: One of the best days I’ve ever had in my entire life happened two weekends ago. I drove all the way to New Liskeard with my guys. We met up with a couple of friends from church. We laughed and talked all the way. I saw God’s hand in this adventure. I wasn’t tired, and no mishaps. I never got lost. The rain stopped when we went for a walk at the Provincial Park in Englehart. Mostly, I got to be with two very happy fellas and their friends. It was about being exactly where the Lord wanted me to be at the exact time. I will never forget that day.
Me: What is the most difficult thing in your life now?
Susan: Oh boy, it’s not a stretch to say the depression that my son is going through is huge for me to deal with. He’s wrestling with God and I see the darkness ensuing. It is like I’m standing in this gap and the burden to pray is mine. I look at my son in the morning and I ask, “Are you happy, yet?”
He says, “Do I look happy?” I ply him with Jelly bellies and smoothies. We walk and talk. I drive him to doctor’s appointments and work–hoping that, one day, I’ll look back on this time and say, “Hey, look at how the Lord got us through this,” and everything will be fine.
It’s a struggle. I am not quite convinced that the fault lies squarely on heredity or the lack of trying. Sometimes I see Satan’s hand in this and I get confused. What is spiritual? What is chemical? What is circumstance? I get depressed at times but have little time to wallow in it.
When someone you love is depressed and talking about dying and how hateful life is, well where do you go with that? On my knees, I suppose. I pray and pray. This too shall pass; the sun is just beyond the horizon waiting to rise.
Me: How does dealing with issues like Tourette’s affect your outlook on life?
Susan: Tourette’s is an ugly word. It makes someone do and say things that are so involuntary. It looks like demon possession at times. But it’s not. When we first suspected Mel of having Tourette’s, she was only seven. I put my head in the sand until she was about nine. Then we had her diagnosed. The diagnosis makes it real. I believe God allowed this to come about for a reason. It brought me out of my place of comfort and taught me acceptance. It causes me to pray and cry and care more. I think the best thing, though, is that it’s taught me that there is only one ‘normal,’ and that’s a setting on the drier. I’ve learned to look at others who have disabilities with more compassion. I always say to God, “You know I can’t handle this, don’t you?” And he always tells me that I can and that I will.
Me: Tell us about your faith in God.
Susan: Truthfully, he’s my best friend. The trials in my life seem only to draw me closer to him. I struggle with church–you know, the ‘institution.’ I go for the message but can hear it via the internet and sit comfortably on my little chair and sip on my hot water. I struggle with wearing appropriate clothing to church to please others. I sing and forget the one I’m singing to and look around at everyone else. I have C.A.D.D.: Church Attention Deficit Disorder. I smile and shake hands because we’re told to greet others around us. Do we all really care about each other? Church used to be the Pregnancy Care Centre; Meals on Wheels. Our friends and family were with us and we cared. Now, it’s just strangers shaking hands, worried about catching germs, careful not to share too much. But, God–he’s my rock and my strength.
Me: What was it like for you growing up?
Susan: The best part of growing up was where I grew up, on 100 acres of land so remote that the only sounds we heard were birds singing, wind rustling and the occasional wolf howling. I knew every inch of the property. When I was seven, I was off on my own, picking wild berries and visiting my favourite secret haunts. We had an apple orchard and my mom had this huge garden. The water we drank came out of a well and it was pristine. We had no running water and a wood stove to heat the house. God had His hand on me even then. When I first learned how to read (around six, I think), my dad brought home a box of donated books. I chose two that I still own. One was Little Pilgrims Progress and the other a book of children’s prayers and verses. As I got older I was very shy and quiet. Despite that I had eight brothers and sisters I felt alone, but I stopped feeling that way years ago when I realized I never really was–that Jesus was (and still is) with me.
Me: What’s it like being in a second marriage and having mixed relationships?
Susan: The Bible say’s that God hates divorce; I hate it, too. It’s a brokenness. I covet those marriages that have lasted forever. Where the children in the home have had the same two parents raise them up. My older kids have a fear of marriage and having children. In a perfect world we don’t make mistakes and we wait for God to bring us our perfect mate. I’m thinking that, no matter who you’re married to, there will always be struggle. I think it’s best to stay single and own a really loyal dog–isn’t that in the Bible somewhere?
Me: What are a few of your favourite things?
Susan: Brown paper packages tied up with string. Walking the dog to the pond. One-on-one time with my kids. Answers to prayers. Apple pie and chocolate (not necessarily together, but sometimes). A clean home–which is rare. Friends–I don’t have many, but those I have I treasure. I know that one day we will all be in Heaven together.
Me: Do you have any pet peeves?
Susan: Don’t get me started. The bathroom left in a mess. Running out of money in the grocery store and the cashier looking at me with daggers while we play Let’s Make a Deal. People constantly asking me where things are. Mel’s friends coming over and listening to rap–trying to understand the words– then having to Google the lyrics. Being sound asleep and someone knocking on my door asking me if I’m asleep. Peanut cans that have the warning “May contain nuts” on them. Googling a Grandma’s Never Fail – Best Ever in the whole wide world recipe, only to have it fail. Should I go on?
Me: If you could leave us with one word of wisdom, what would it be?
Thank you soooooo much, Susan. My life is much richer because you’re in it.
Remember when you used to play marbles and you finally won that beauty that wasn’t going down without a fight?
Once you had it you never wanted to play it—just in case? You treasured its uniqueness; admired its beauty. My friend Susan is like that. She’s . . . different—in the best way possible. I’m tempted to tuck her into a private pocket of my own safekeeping and hoard her all to myself. I like the way she dresses, her quick wit–tempered with off-the-cuff hilarity and genuine compassion, and most of all, I like her unpretentious integrity—especially in matters of the heart.
I’d like her to be my best kept secret, but, since she’s one of those Plainly Remarkable People I’ve been talking about I relented and decided to share her with the rest of the world.
‘Personable’ comes to mind. I can’t help feeling comfortable with someone who wants to know how I’m really doing, and also what kind of mascara I’m wearing. She knows what it is to soar, and she also knows what it’s like to live in the trenches–and if you find yourself in one, too, she’ll splash a little sunshine on you with her signature smile, a kind word, her unassuming wisdom and a chicken casserole–and you’ll think you’re staying at a five-star comfort Inn.
She’s refreshingly honest, too, a homeschooling mom with an amazing family—but not the ‘Wow, it’s amazing how much better I am than you’ kind of family—a real family, replete with down-in-the-dirt challenges and some satisfying successes, too.
Recently, one of her sons graduated with honours (top marks in Technology) from high school and she celebrated the accomplishment on her wall. If you’re blessed enough to be one of her Facebook friends you’ll get a daily splattering of her sentiments and music pics (usually retro tunes you can’t imagine how you ever got on without) or recipes.
Her youngest son just got a promotion with the Web designer he works for because he was so impressed with his web designs. Not bad for a 16-year-old working hard at getting good grades and battling depression. She also has two grown children from a previous marriage she’s very connected with who have great jobs, and a beautiful young daughter dealing with the daily difficulties of Tourette’s syndrome. When I asked her about the successes in her life she put it this way:
…successes for me, are those things that allow me, firsthand, to see God in action.
Mostly, I’m impressed with the way she’s devoted to being a mom. An unsung pillar of support, striving to stand in a world of walls crumbling and collapsing all around. I’m impressed with her willingness to reach out to others with a kind word or a good deed. And, though she’ll tell you honestly about the struggles she’s facing, she doesn’t brood on them or let them control her. I asked her if there were days she wishes things could be different:
Several years ago I decided to be a Pollyanna. She played this glad game. You know, if life throws you a lemon then make lemonade. It really set in–made a big difference in my home and with people. You smile, they smile. The sun is shining, and you want others to experience its warmth and brightness. On the other hand, some days I need and want others to smile at me and to tell me things are going to get better. I gravitate towards positive people. If that sounds new age forgive me. Saying that, I also want my friends to be able to feel that they can share their trials and hurts with me and not be afraid, and I can do the same.
When I was earnestly seeking direction in my life a few years back, my answer arrived in the form of an unexpected card from Susan, and a note inside with a story that just happened to coincide with the very thing I was going through. No surprise, though, she really does walk to the beat of the One who measures our motives and keeps us instep with his purposes–even though the music might be a dirge, for a season.
Oh—and she also has a very cute dog named ‘Muffy.’
I recently asked Susan if I could interview her for my new blog category, and she graciously accepted. You can read all about it here.