I met Kathleen Freeman through ACFW and have reveled in her positive attitude, wit, and humor in writing circles. When we began to spend more time together at conferences, I realized her personal story had circles of depth, like rings in a tree, where she’d chosen to learn from very tough situations and chose to persevere once again. She is definitely an expert at rebuilding, in many kinds of circumstances, which I appreciate as a wildfire survivor. I hope you’ll be encouraged by her very open sharing here in your own journey to continue building hope and faith into the woodwork of what’s most important in life too.
And Then We Rebuild
By Kathleen Freeman
More than once in my life, I’ve been called stubborn. In fact, in a recent hand-writing analysis, the word came up no less than four times.
My husband took this crushing news with one of those horn-blast laughs and a knowing look in his eye. Okay. So it’s not news to anyone who knows me well. Still, there are words I like better than stubborn. Hopeful. Resilient… persistent.
I was born persistent, and it’s what has allowed me to survive three brothers, dysfunction, abuse, loss and, in writing, desert-wandering, Moses style.
Poor me, right?
In a way my difficulties have been a gift. Through my sometimes painful and often beautiful journey, my super-sensitivity has toughened. I take steps, and best of all, I lean on God. I have developed a can-do attitude.
The first time I saw the broken house, paint slid in sheets from the outside walls. In other places, bubbles the size of large rocks lifted in the most unusual of bumps. The roof leaked, the windows leaked, the floors needed work, and so much was wrong with it, many before us had called it a tearer-downer.
“What do you think?” My husband turned to me.
“What do I think?” My heart pounded the way it did before I committed to something possibly foolish, and for certain, time intensive. “Well,” I said to him, “it has a lot wrong with it, but I feel like God said to me, ‘Kathleen, what is it you want in a house, really want? Don’t hold back. List all of it: Water, mountains, AND forest? Check. A lawn for badminton? Secret doors? Animal life? A sundial? Yes!’” I shook my head. “I think we can fix it. That being said, it will take away from my writing.”
He waited, not pushing, but knowing I have a soft place in my heart for “the broken, the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” It goes with the tagline printed on my business cards: Beauty in simplicity, hope in hard times. It also goes with my longtime belief that each person, no matter how broken, is worthy of time and effort. I love encouraging fabulousness and potential. The more broken something is, the more excited I am to help with a turn-around.
Growing up poor wasn’t rough on us as kids. We enjoyed being barefoot all summer. We climbed trees, built forts, waded in flooded gutters, swam in creeks—made our joy. Growing up poor in a middle to upper middle class neighborhood was rough. We were bullied far more than the average kid, and necessity opened the door to abuse.
Like many abused little girls, I pulled inside of myself. I read or wrote in class when I should have been paying attention. I kept a cushion of jacket around me whenever others were around. I didn’t put forth effort to look attractive. I let myself look a little broken, like the house, leaving a “flaw” or two, assuming it would make my life safer.
“If you don’t live in the house full time, you should let it stay grungy on the outside. Otherwise people will break in.” My brother told us after we bought the broken house.
Fear. We were not going to let it keep the house from becoming what it should.
Besides, my brother was wrong. Letting something look a little broken on the outside, letting flaws show, had opened me up to extra bullying. Kids seeking power saw that I wasn’t caring for myself the way I should have. That left me vulnerable to break-ins. The same would happen with the house.
Through the years and through the fears, I got through by taking God’s hand. He was always there. I reached out in my valleys of the shadow of death. Trust was hard for me, and my life verse became Proverbs 3:5- “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your path straight.”
Though trust wasn’t always there, bit by bit I saw how deep God’s understanding was. When I lost a baby at sixteen weeks of pregnancy, I was angry and beyond sad. Every time I turned to God in sadness or anger, He would say, “I know. I understand.”
Finally, one very angry day, I ranted at him, and He kept giving that tender, “I know. I understand.”
I spat, “How can you understand? You have never lost a child!”
“Oh, honey, I have.”
At the same time He said it, I knew He had, that God had missed out on His chance to see His son marry and have children of His own, same as I had. He knew. He understood.
Trust grew in a grand leap that day. I didn’t abandon my life verse. It’s still very relevant. Others have grown in my mind, verses I cling to. One is a childhood favorite with an adult understanding. “God SO loved the world…” “So.” That word jumped out at me, increasing the depth of the verse, and with it, increasing my perception of His love.
“God SO loves me,” I repeat to myself when I’m feeling down. “God so loves the world,” I repeat when I’m angry about injustices I see. It’s freed me, not to let go of the pain. It will always be there, allowing me to feel love and empathy for those who have been through their own share of yuck, or worse yuck. It’s freed me to stop shambling zombie-like along the path God has set in front of me. It has freed me to shrug away from fear, to open my soul to beauty, to great abundance, the extravagant love of giving a broken little girl a house loaded with things which thrill her.
“The thief comes to kill and destroy, but I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” John 10:10—my new life verse. It fits so well with my fondness for helping people, helping chairs, flowers, and houses reach their potential through a bit of work and a lot of love.
The hard times keep coming, a divorce in the family, health issues, career troubles, persistent leaks, brokenness. Storms, literal and figurative, pummel our peace. Recently, storm-water washed away part of our yard, the yard we had just fixed, and fixed before that. It inspired creativity, new ways to tackle the issues battering our souls. I found myself, again, chatting aloud with God as I replaced the dirt washed away, “It’s a good thing you made people strong, stubborn, and resilient, or this would have taken me down.”
Instead, with God beside us, we rebuild, wave after wave—our yards, our houses, our families and friendships, our writing, our self-esteem and our trust—over and again, and it’s okay… good even. In the end we are stronger, tougher, closer, more tender-hearted. We are His. We are loved, and He will never leave or forsake us.
Beyond writing a variety of works, including historical fiction novels, contemporary novels, a quirky Christmas romance novella for the 2016 Mistletoe Kisses and Christmas Wishes, and Maddie Science articles for Clubhouse Magazine, I enjoy getting out in God’s wonderful world. Hiking, beach-walking and capturing bits of beauty all make me giddy. I collect rocks, cool sciency stuff, and take lots of pictures—too many, my sons say. Pictures, like writing, are my way of grabbing the beauty and mood of a moment.
My husband and I live in the Northwest and are recent empty nesters. Though we miss our guys, we are thrilled to watch them grow, change, and spread their wings. I look forward to watching my novels do the same.
Find me on Pinterest, Instagram — kathleenfreeman2509
What is the Let Resilience Arise series all about?
Elizabeth Van Tassel is a wildfire survivor who lost every possession and her home in 2007. Since that time, she’s been cultivating fiction and nonfiction projects of her own to inspire kids and adults alike with her lessons. But she’s also developed a wonderful network of amazing authors in all different genres and professions who have compelling stories to boost you or perhaps a friend you know who’s struggling with a similar challenge. Subscribe to this blog (on the home page HERE) for these articles and a monthly newsletter to come to your email or stop by again for more amazing stories. Also have your teens and tweens check out their own page and posts HERE. Want to share your story with others or have Elizabeth share hers with your group? Contact Elizabeth HERE and she’d love to discuss bringing lessons of hope and new beginnings to your group too.