Friday, December 30, 2011

Out With the Old and....

Pecos, NM 2011
If I think about last January too hard, the sharp pain that follows takes my breath away. No one came to wave a magic wand. Pieces of life still threaten to reduce me to tears if I allow them. This week I realized that I wanted to cry but couldn't. I decided I've been sucker punched so many times that tears no longer come. Either that or I'm just plain too life-weary to work up the energy required. 
Thankfully, those moments come with much less frequency these days. If you had asked me on December 31st of 2010 where I'd be today, I'd have told you in a fetal position like I was then. The darkness seemed too dark to ever outrun. The last decade had left me too exhausted to run. I am so thankful for the changes that have occurred in the last 12 months.

If you had told me I'd have a blog that had merited almost 20K unique visits in only 7 months, I'd have thought you were smoking something illegal. But here we are, and how amazing are the results. Some pivotal relationships have been healed as a result of this blog. The foundation for healing grew as the blog met with increasing 'success'. That success enabled others to see me through different eyes. Respect and excitement replaced derision and scorn.
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

I realize success is relative given the size of cyberspace and the fact that some viral YouTube offerings get millions of hits. I do not think more highly of myself than I ought. My modest 'success' was enough to set relationships on a road to healing and for that I am thankful.

With that foundation in place, events of the last few weeks have fostered continued healing. An individual whose scorn had driven me to the brink of myself walked through some difficult times. That experience enabled the individual to see me in a more positive and accurate light. 

As does not often happen in my life, the individual with whom I had experienced significant stress came to me and admitted the damage done as well as the source of our stress. I already understood the source and had given grace despite the pain that almost immobilized me. While the imprint of the experience still affects me, I am bathed in relief as the relationship that was broken continues to blossom with healing.
Pecos, NM 2011

So many times in my life, I've had to take difficult stands in difficult situations with difficult people about difficult things. Many times, I've done so all alone. Rather than feeling supported and appreciated, I have experienced criticism and ostracism. It has not been fun.

It seems as if I was saddled with blame deserved by the ones whose wrong doing I stood against. It is a heroic thing to take a stand that others will not take. Sadly, heroes are not always appreciated for their valor. The healing now taking place affords me a bit of comfort for all the times I stood alone and lonely. It gives me strength to keep on standing even tho' my legs have grown weak and wobbly from the effort.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
In years past, I have hated to see the new year come. Something about knowing I would be another year older and life another year shorter made me sad. This year, I am relieved. I am relieved to say goodbye to things that have held me down, pushed me back, and made me feel as if I was the odd man out. I am ready to embrace what is  ahead and reach for a future I never envisioned last year this time.

I grew up in a home where the only goals involved getting through today and doing the same thing again tomorrow. I had imagined I would escape that history as an adult. I grew up, married, and realized that life presented one challenge after another making the attainment of even simple goals unpredictable. Over time, my goal became the same as the family in which I grew up: survival for today and the strength to survive again tomorrow.

Tonight, I take a deep cleansing breath. For the 1st time in my life, I feel as if I can combine my 'I did it list' with a list of goals I want to accomplish. I don't mind telling you....putting that thought into writing almost gives me a heart attack from the fear that grips me. What if I fail? What if I get so uppity as to set a goal only to find it taunts me by staying just out of reach? What if I don't try at all? 

Ready or Not, Here I Come.....

I tell myself that I do not have to let my 'take no prisoners', Type A personality defeat me. Rome was not built in a day. My new life will be built brick by brick and day by day. The challenge will be in learning to pace myself so that I do not burn out. I am ready. I am a fraidy cat. Hear me roar. Meow. 


Isaiah 43: 18-19 (New American Standard)
Do not call to mind the former things, Or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, Rivers in the desert.
Courtesy B. Creasy

2 Corinthians 5:17 (New American Standard)
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Santa and the Tricycle Rider

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

Perhaps distracted by bitter cold settling down out of the mountains, the Christmas shoppers scurried on past as the little girl danced back and forth from one foot to the other. One wonders what they might have thought had they understood. This shopper might have read her as impatient. That one might have smiled while remembering  her own children needing a public restroom when none was in sight.

Mamma? Mamma! MAMMA! Can I? Can I, please?”

The mother's brow knit with perplexed concern. It was against their family value system. On another day, she would have answered in the negative and prodded the little ball of agitation on in hopes the request would soon be forgotten amid the haste of the day. If you could ask her all these years later, she might not remember why she relented. The truth is she really didn't think she was relenting when she answered with a challenge meant as a deterrent.

Hopeless Optimist
They locked eyes. If ONLY the request was for the nearest public restroom. The mom shrugged. “Ok. BUT. You have to cross the street by yourself,” came the battle cry meant to stop the dancing dervish in her tracks.

The little girl spun on her heel and marched to the curb faltering only a bit if at all. She was, after all, the tricycle rider extraordinaire. She was familiar with roadways. Today, there was nary a dump truck in sight to foil her plan. She gulped and looked both ways just as she'd been taught. The object of her affection was too close to let a little thing like a main thoroughfare stand in her way.

On the courthouse square was a sight too regal for mortal eyes to behold. In truth, it was probably not much more than the shell of an old timey outhouse that had been retrofitted for the season. But, to a little girl whose eyes beheld magic all around, the splendor implied was enough to fill her tiny eyes with matchless wonder. And hope.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
She gave a short glance over her shoulder and pushed off the curb without looking back. Her trotting steps kept her ahead of the fear of crossing the road alone. She was breathless more from excitement and anticipation than effort by the time she reached his house. Hansel and Gretel's house of candy and gingerbread could not have been any more splendid.

Santa's helper invited her in as a requisite jolly laugh filled up the space within and spilled out the door to greet her. In truth, she took a deep breath to still her anxious heart. Her young head told her tiny heart it was the bravest thing she'd ever done to cross that road and defy the family rules. Yes, she'd done it with permission. Permission did not change facts. In her house, Santa was just a story with which other families toyed.

There might be hell to pay for her little act of permitted anarchy. Still in all, on that cold day so long ago and far away, it seemed worth the risk. She hopped up on his lap trembling from the terror of both him and of what she had done. How could she have grown up to be a fraidy cat?

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
His eyes twinkled just like the story said. Until he began to fight back tears. “Well, little girl, what's your name, and what can I do for you today?” He smelled of stale, but not unpleasant, pipe tobacco.

Mister, listen? I know you are not Santa. I know he is just a story. Don't worry. I don't tell the kids who believe because I don't want to ruin it for them. If you don't mind, I just wanna pretend. For just a few minutes. I wanna pretend you are real. Will you let me do that?”

His eyes widened and darkened. He nodded his head in agreement. You could see he sized her up quickly as a pragmatist and a realist who needed a break from reality. She had actually asked for something he could provide. He was in on the caper without a 2nd thought.

Courtesy M. Horrocks
Santa, I don't have a chimney, but I guess you can figure your way around that if you can figure out how to get around the world in 24 hours. I don't want much. I'd like a baby doll for my baby sister. I'd like some clothes and a record player for my brother. I'd like some tools for my Dad and a new coat for my mom. I know you can't do a thing in the world about that, but thank you for letting me pretend.”

His eyes were wet and shiny. “Honey, do you want anything for yourself?” he asked.

The upturned baby face nodded negatively and gave a little, wise laugh. “No. And even if I did, you couldn't do a thing about it. But, you've done enough. Thank you, Sir. Merry Christmas.”

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
He reached down into the bowl at his elbow and handed her 3 pieces of candy. “Here you go. One for you AND your brother and sister. Have a Merry Christmas, Darling. Santa won't forget you.” He ho-ho-hoed again as she climbed down out of his lap and exited his fairy tale house. This time his laugh rang hollow as if he had given away some of his energy during the transaction that had just occurred.

He promised not to forget me. A promise I am sure he did not keep given the volume of children who visited his house thru the years. I, however, thought of him again this year as I do every year. I closed my eyes and could see Santa's house adorning town square sitting on its perch amid the towering sycamore trees. I could see the glint of tears beginning to form in his eyes as I talked. My heart raced in tandem with the little girl heart headed for an unknown future.

It was a singular act of courage and one I never repeated again. Even today I love to linger and watch the interaction between Santa and children wherever retailers let him set up shop. I watch and remember the gift I was given. I walked into his house a hopeless optimist and came out with an even stronger conviction. No mater what, I would choose hope, optimism, and, yes, every once in a while, even a bit of self-made magic. Even if it scared me to death.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
A new year is upon us. Choose hope, optimism, and – once in a while – even a little self-made magic. Even if it scares you to death, fraidy cat. Love you long and strong. Come back soon, and bring a friend?

Romans 15: 13 (English Standard Version)
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dear God? (Update of 12/21/11)

Courtesy D. Horrocks

Many of you have been exceedingly kind to pass word along regarding my close friend's family adoption journey. I am now free to share that when they adopted 2 boys and a little girl from Liberia, the little girl arrived in a life threatening battle with Tuberculosis. As you know, that disease affects the lungs. However, if not treated appropriately, it can migrate to the bones. In this case, it had done so and caused serious malformation of her spinal column.

The damage was so severe that her spinal cord should have been severed before she arrived to live with her US family. She had major surgery within the first few months in the states. The surgery required that she be operated on from prone and supine positions during a very, very long day. She was in the hospital for most of 2 months, was in a wheelchair, and wore a 'halo' while her spine fused in place. 
She survived to thrive and has met all her developmental milestones. She has been in a wedding. She's made trips to Maine with her family where they play in the lake and tromp around in the woods. She is as irrepressible as her life journey indicates. 
Courtesy D. Horrocks
I have permission to share an edited note which I received today regarding her current medical challenge. If you have been kind enough to share her story via Facebook, email, etc, I ask that you would again do so when you see this update. In this Christmas season, may you all be blessed for your ongoing prayers for her family of 8 as they face another monumental challenge. Here is my little friend's story in her mom's own words:

We are trusting that God will move through those that call his name great. We are trusting that he will come to our aid for our strength is growing weak. Almost three weeks ago, our daughter came to my bedroom and showed me a large mass on her neck. We called our doctor who said bring her in Monday morning. When he saw the lump, he told me thought it may be her Tuberculosis coming back. 
He ordered a CT scan for the following day which ruled out Lymphoma but not Tuberculosis. We then went to a specialist who also thought it was re-emerging TB. He sent us to a Pediatric Infectious Disease specialist for a two hour appointment. More bloodwork and xrays followed with several diagnoses in mind to rule out. 

Courtesy D. Horrocks
They decided to start treating for TB while we awaiting a formal diagnosis to get ahead of things if it was, in fact, TB. We breathed a sigh of relief and made plans to alter our family routines till she responded to treatment. 

Thursday of that week, we got the wonderful word that her chest xray was clear with NO signs of TB in her lungs. That news meant that, even if she was in early stage active TB, she was NOT contagious. This welcome news meant she could go out in public and masks were not needed for our family or the general public when around her. 
Courtesy D. Horrocks
However, her lump started getting bigger over last weekend. She noticed it. I noticed it. My heart was thudding in my stomach through Saturday and Sunday.

We took a family outing to celebrate the news that she was not contagious. Despite the rainy weather, we sloshed around at Happy Cow farm. We bought eggnog, drank chocolate milk, and arrived home at 4PM. Dr. Johnson called me at 4:05PM. 
The blood work that has been approved since 2005 to test for TB came back positive. He said they were shocked as they had been more inclined to think she had Cat Scratch Fever vs TB. There is an outside chance that these results represent a false positive. While the doctors are hopeful, they also know we are probably dealing with a re-emergence of TB. 
He was meeting with the pediatric surgeons just after our call to consult on a plan for our little angel. They have two options:
  1. They will surgically remove the node for a biopsy which will render a definitive answer. If it's TB, he thinks they can get it all out at that time of the biopsy.
  2. He described a more intricate biopsy using radiation. Frankly, I missed most of his explanation in this regard because of the sum total of his news. The lump is in a bad place. They hate to operate on it. Among other concerns, the surgery could affect her facial nerves. Her beautiful face. Her beautiful, grace filled smile.
Courtesy D. Horrocks
I asked him if this would be before the end of the year. "Oh yes." he said.

I asked him if he meant THIS week. "Oh yes." he said.

Surgery would be overnight. Biopsy option would be all day, but outpatient.


I know this fact is hard to understand. I asked him for reassurance twice. Twice he said, “No, no, no. Her Xray was clear. NO TB IN HER LUNGS. She is NOT contagious to your family or anyone outside your family.”

Please trust us. Please trust the doctors. Please do not shun us. We need the body of Christ now more than ever. I am seriously drained. I cry in the bathtub so the kids can't see. I am scared. This child has been through so much medically. We knew this was a tough road when we adopted her. It's not about us or our finances, time, etc....It's about me looking into her eyes once again and telling her she needs to be cut open – once more. It's about adding one more scar to the many scars that litter her body already.

Courtesy D. Horrocks
So, God. It's me Denise. I'm waiting here for you. You love me, yes. You love my little girl, yes. You created her. You knew we – weak, broken, leaky, ugly vessels that we are – would be her parents. I am, in the words of my Alabama friend, going to be banging on your gates for you to restore my little cup of cocoa. She loves you. She loves me. I'm waiting here for you. With my hands, lifted high.

For it's you, we adore............ and we sing hallelu...hallelujah. Waiting here for you.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Fraidy Cat Gifts in a Fraidy Cat World

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Oh, this fraidy cat world is a hurtin' kinda world. Facebook status updates tell the tales. The media reminds us that holiday depression is rampant. The holiday season makes us that much more aware of what we know the other 48 or so weeks of the year. Life is hard. It feels harder this week, that's for sure.

God's word is clear. In this life, we will have trouble. This time of year, we all feel that trouble, whether as a momentary inconvenience or a life altering change, much more acutely. We glitz life up with lights, packages wrapped in pretty paper, and inflatable yard ornaments. The effort manages to balance the harshness of life with the illusion of a carefree holiday full of magic and wonder. At least for a while.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
What makes the season festive with a kind of glow that will not fade when the decorations come down? Son #1 and I have wished we could be one of the Kmart Secret Santa's this week and plop down the $$ to pay off someone's layaway. I'm deeply humbled that I have helped raise a man with a heart like that. I wish we could, but in truth, those acts of kindness will fade in time. Money does buy happiness, but then it has to be bought again and again.

As I thought about our Secret Santa desire today, I realized that the things which mean the most to me are free and easy to share. They are worth the investment because they last for a lifetime if applied correctly. They will not be outgrown, broken, or forgotten when the newer, fancier versions come out. If I tell you what they are, will you pass them on?

Tonight, I give you laughter. Laughter is a gift that grows exponentially once given. When I make you laugh, my gift increases the chance that you will, in turn, share the gift of laughter with others. If you make me laugh, I remember that gift and laugh again each time I revisit the memory.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
The principle is so simple Einstein or Newton or somebody should have made it a scientific law. They didn't, so I had to. Fraidy Cat's Exponential Law of Laughter. Apply it freely because it's free. It grows every time you wrap it up and pass it on to others.

I give you the gift of grace. My fellas will tell you that if we are ever annoyed in traffic, I will almost always say, “Give the driver grace. Perhaps it is a senior too frail to be driving but too far from family and without any other choice. Perhaps it is a sick mom distracted by sicker children. Perhaps it is a traveler or someone new in town who is unfamiliar with traffic patterns or street names.”

I've said it so often that I am now the punch line of many traffic jokes. In this hurry-scurry world, we all need grace. Unless we give it, we will never receive it because there will be none left in this every-man-for-himself world we live in today. Make the world a gentler kinder place. You will find that you make your way back home a more peaceful person because you did. I promise. It works every time.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I am proud of my boys. Rarely do you see young men rush to hold a door for moms with young children in strollers or seniors whose steps have faltered. Even Son #2 is growing more and more accomplished at these simple acts of kindness now that I have made it our lifestyle.

Give the gift of an open door this week and teach your children, boys and girls whether young or old, to honor those around them by extending just such a gesture. You'll be amazed at the reactions you get, I promise. As a society, we do so little to care for each other that folks are shocked when someone does. They are shocked, and then they smile. Another exponential interaction takes place. It's true.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I hope my blog has served as a gift of encouragement these last 7 months. During our daily prayers, Son #2 and I pray for the ability to be an encourager within our homes and when we are out and about in the world. The world is such a discouraging place these days. Every single one of us needs to know someone notices us enough to encourage us. Don't wait to receive it. Look for people and places to offer it. You'd be amazed how much the world changes when you are looking for ways to offer an encouraging hand or word.

Laughter, grace, and encouragement: those commodities are as valuable and rare today as were the gold, frankincense, and myrrh carried by the wise men in search of the newborn king. Oh, how I wish them for you tonight. May you be both the giver and receiver in this fraidy cat world.

Courtesy B. Creasy
Love you long and strong fraidy cat. I'm so glad you came. Christmas just would not be the same without you. Jesus gave the gift that continues to give more than 2,000 years after he came to give it. May the gifts of grace, laughter, and encouragement you offer in this season last far longer than the trinkets waiting under your tree today. None of the 'things' under your tree will last into eternity. The lives you touch will be the only things you take into eternity to with you. Remember that truth as you give grace, laughter, and encouragement in the days ahead. 

1 Thessalonians 5:11a (English Standard Version)
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up....

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Exquisite Tears

I cupped my chin in my hand to prevent my mouth from gaping wide open. The aerobic effort to hide my state of incredulity at her words left my heart racing. We were genteel southern women. I knew my manners. My hand pressed my chin harder into my jawline. I fought the urge to roll my imaginary set of inner eyeballs in secret derision.

Southern sweet tea would have seemed hard candy sour compared to her. A soft, feathery voice slipped out of perfectly bowed lips. Her lilting speech reeked of well-practiced affectation. She was the kind of girl for whom antique fainting couches existed. I was crass by comparison. I smiled and nodded as she droned on in that syrupy way meant to punctuate the intensity of her spiritual devotion. I'd never be THAT sweet nor THAT spiritual. Sigh.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
It was the season of Advent. Holidays brought out the weepy in her. Truthfully, everything brought out the weepy in her. Life had already battered me enough that not a lot reduced me to tears. Except maybe having to endure much more of this little window into her world. I was captivated and repulsed at once. Maybe there was a tiny little piece of me that wished I was her. Or wished I had her southern sweet tea kinda life.

I had given birth within the previous year. Altho' God created the process of childbirth to include something akin to amnesia, thus enabling any woman to sign up for a 2nd trip to the delivery suite, my amnesia had not quite kicked in. I remembered. Fraidy cat that I am, I had opted OUT of natural childbirth. She, of course, had panted and focused and chanted her way perfectly through the most perfect of multiple natural deliveries.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
She began to glow as she recounted her birthing experiences and then asserted, “I don't think Mary had a bit of pain from birthing our Savior. I think it was such a joy to bring forth the long awaited Messiah that any pain she felt was swallowed up in the knowledge of her role in history.” I sat up sharply and squirmed a bit at my own memories of waiting on the doctor of wonder drugs to hook me up and ease my pain. It's a wonder I didn't crack my teeth from the force of holding my jaw clenched shut.

In what would have been considered the sedate amount of 'southern time', I let her comment hang in the air while she awaited my response. It was an act worthy of an Oscar on my mantle. I wanted to explode with the intensity of my digressing opinion. I tried to match her polished poise lest I appear as crass as I felt.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I had not yet lost faith in my good God nor been compelled to go searching for him. Yet, even then, it was apparent that she had an easy, trusting nature. She was that cheerleader kind of girl whom God would scoop up in his lap to love on while I pandered at his feet waiting for my turn. If my turn ever came.

Really, “I asked, “Really? She was traveling on the back of an animal while 9 months pregnant, maybe even in labor, and you think she didn't have pain? Oh, Girl, I don't think God handed her some supernatural IV epidural. I think she felt everything I felt if not more. I had the comfort and ease of a modern, well staffed delivery room. She had a caravan ride between her and a stable filled with farm animals. No. I think her birthing experience and mine weren't all that different.”

My companion sniffed a bit, dismayed but too genteel to tell me how pathetic I was given my inability to catch the fire of her Advent glow. Doing what genteel southern women do, we agreed to disagree and delicately changed the subject.....before the hair pulling started. Bless our heart, honey.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Many years later I thought of her when Son #2 made his unexpected way into the world. I was again waiting on the doctor of wonder drugs to deliver my epidural. Balancing on the newest of birthing gadgets, a stability ball, I worked my way through yet another contraction. It was not Advent, but I had an epiphany. The motion reminded me of the few times I had ridden a pony.

My mind slipped seamlessly from the sway of the stability ball to the sway of the pony ride to Mary swaying back and forth on the beast of burden that carried her into destiny and beyond into the echoes of history. The magic of the stability ball helped me cope for just a little while longer. As the pain intensified and I became fretful in advance of the doctor's arrival, I wondered if the swaying journey eased Mary's pain up to a point. I wondered at what point she cried out and wished for an end to the pain. I wondered how it would be to endure the pain of delivery knowing the child she carried was destined to suffer for humankind.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
It is Advent again. As Christmas approaches, I remember both the conversation and my stability ball epiphany. Historians tell us Mary was young enough to be on a modern version of an MTV show about unwed teen pregnancies. Her story was just about as sordid unless you understood how it began and who set it in motion. I wonder how she coped. I wonder how her faith and hope remained secure despite the sensitivity of her situation in her day and time.
I see her on the back of the donkey wondering how much longer, how much farther, how much more pain before it would be over. Her suffering was, perhaps, different than mine. She suffered exquisite pain to bear an exquisite gift for someone she never knew: me. Before I know it, something exquisite happens. Tears flow down my cheeks. Exquisite tears. 
Luke 2: 4-7 (NIV)
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Taking the Blinders Off (and All That Scary Stuff)

Courtesy D. Scott

I was a traitor in motion. To the outside world looking in, that statement would sound ludicrous. If you'd grown up in an environment of Christian fundamentalism, however, you'd have seen me on the move and cry, “Traitor walking!”

I was the kinda person you'd run from like your hair was on fire. I was the kinda person who betrayed her inner fraidy cat and made a break for spiritual freedom. I staked my claim on the necessity to experience finding God for myself. And I call myself a fraidy cat?

In looking back, I'd think my declaration of independence would have encouraged a lot of folks. You know – the ones who said Grandpa's religious experience wasn't my one way ticket to Heaven. For all my day dreaming in church when I was small, I guess I heard that message loud and clear! My decision created tension, disappointment, and dismay among the ones I least wanted to cause pain. In the end, I had to choose my need over their happiness.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
It took a while. One Sunday AM, I sneaked into a huge and vibrant congregation that was the exact opposite of the ones in which I had been raised. I felt conspicuous. Having come from a place where congregations were very small, I had yet to learn that the bigger they are the more invisible you are. It felt like every eye in the place was trained on me. “Yep. She's a traitor in our midst,” I could hear them concluding.

I squeezed into a spot on the pew between folks I'd never seen before. I was lost and alone. Everyone seemed to know someone. Smiles, waves, hugs, chit-chat surrounded me. The outsider. The traitor. I sank down lower into the pew wondering how many times in one life I could lose my mind. What HAD I been thinking to get so uppity to darken the door of that place.

Courtesy and in Loving Memory of Christina Jones Hooker
When I tell you that I literally fought with myself to keep from jumping up and running OUT of the big, red doors of that church, I am understating the intensity of my inner conflict. I chewed the inside of my jaw until it almost bled fighting back the tears that threatened to overspill my lids. “God, if I can get out of here without crying,” I thought, “I'll never do this to myself again. I promise.” 
I began to edge forward on the pew wondering how I'd make amends to the 153 people between me and the aisle that I'd have to step over to escape. Ok. It was more like 8 or 9, but my vision doubled and then kept going haywire on an exponential basis as my fear mounted. In the exact instant that I was about to launch for freedom, the music started.

 Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I was simply transfixed. As if knowing I had come needing a shot of fortitude, the orchestra was on stage that Sunday morning. I thought I must have died and gone to Heaven. It was enough to quiet my thoughts and make me forget my plan to run. In what seemed like seconds, the pastor announced his text.

G.R.O.A.N. For a gal who'd been in church since the 3rd day of life, I felt as if I had been invited to the 1st day of preschool Sunday School. I could quote his passage backward in Pig-Latin. “Tell me something I DON'T know, Preach.” I thought with derision. To my profound amazement, he did.

Lots of times when I sit down to write, I think about that fella and how he wove his sermons into literature-like works of art. I wish I could tell a story the way he shared his sermons. I'd die happy.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
That first day, he made me feel as if he yanked blinders off my eyes so that I could see the world in all its glory for the first time. In the middle of that big, high fallutin, high church kinda church, I sat silent and transfixed while big ole tears slipped down my cheeks.

In story teller's cadence he wove his way thru the Beatitudes. Blessed are the poor, the ones who mourn, the meek, and on he went. Over the course of my life, I had come to understand those verses as describing different types of Christians. As he unfolded the story, each verse portrayed increasing maturity in the walk of faith.
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

BAM! The horizon I had fought to level all those years snapped into final focus. I no longer had to tilt my head to 45 degrees or 90 degrees to try and make the world make sense.

Dear God,” I whispered, “I've been in church ALL my life. Why has no one explained you to me like this before? If you are real and really out there, if you care any at all about my existence, I want you to know....I want a piece of that action. No...I want it all. All of it.

I recognize and mourn my poverty of spirit. Please give me meekness and a hunger and thirst for righteousness. Enable me to grow into mercy and purity of heart. Give me the ability to be a peacemaker. Strengthen me to endure persecution for my willingness to be transparent about you and me. I want it ALL. Please.......”

Well, hello, fraidy cat! You back again? I sure am glad. Ponder on these words tonight. They marked the beginning of my journey to find the good God with the flawless plan. Maybe it would be a good starting place for you too? See you soon. And, that's an order. ;-)

Matthew 5: 3-10 (NIV)
Courtesy B. Creasy
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A New Horizon in Sight

Reformed Fraidy Cat

I was a train wreck waiting to happen. Hah! Some of my friends are chuckling at that statement and dying to tell you I'm always a train wreck in progress. My train wrecks are now, perhaps, more complicated and sophisticated. That's about all that has changed. Look in the mirror. I'm not that different from you. Or someone you know. We'll pretend it's our little secret, Ok?

Up to now I've been comfortable telling my sorry tale. Much of it contains elements to which everyone can relate: marriage challenges, childhood abuse, financial strains, learning disabilities, health crises, etc. What's not to resonate about that stuff? You read and think of yourself or someone you know. Voila! I've gotcha snared in my crafty little writer's trap. Ta-DAH. It's magic when it works well.

Who YOU calling a Fraidy Cat?
Few of you grew up like I did or were close friends with someone who shares my experiences. You can't identify with the process of growing up in my kind of fishbowl – the preacher's house. Even those of you who did might not be able to relate to the unique way we navigated that lifestyle. I hesitate to give you the flavor for fear you'll shake your head wondering how it can be true. Alien girl, she is, you'll think.

Despite the divergence in our life experiences, the sum total is the same. We reach a point when we have to decide one way or the other what we are going to do with God. Will we accept the good Creator God who offered up his only son to reconcile us to himself? Or, will we decide that the universe began with a cataclysmic bang which launched us into an accidental universe without a grand plan for any of us? Are we, then the gods of our own destiny adrift in a sea of creative chaos? Distilled to purest form, those are the ultimate questions in life.

Wouldn't you follow her anywhere?
When I was about 30, I realized I had been so busy loving God for everyone else that I had no idea what it was to love him for myself. My relationship with God was wrapped up in priming the pump that would spur the saints and sinners in our flock to deeper communion with God. 

I had grown up hearing adults opine that Grandpa's religion and salvation would not be an automatic bus ticket into the gates of heaven. Faith is not passed down via a last will and testament and automatically transferred from one generation to the next. It is personal and individual. Made sense to me. Didn't apply to me. WHEW! Whew until age 30, and then G.U.L.P.

I was after all the good kid who had been in church since the 3rd day of my life. From early childhood, I was told that I was part of a 'ministering family'. In that family, we all had a job to do. I was proud as punch to do mine. Especially when I was promoted to the position of what I now consider 'pump primer'.

Little Shoulders. Big Job.
Did you ever see an evangelistic crusade sponsored by the Rev. Billy Graham? Remember how Dr. Graham would offer the audience an opportunity to express faith in Christ by coming to the front of his venue for a time of prayer and counseling? Sinners and saints alike were invited to come on down and let the prayer counselors know the need so that folks could pray together.

It may come as a surprise to you, but in lots of Christian churches all over the world, that same rite goes on week after week. The service ends with what is referred to as the 'altar call'. It is a time for those in need to share in a season of prayer. The proud day came when I was mature enough to be assigned my special job.

The organ would begin the soft strains of some heart-rending theme like Dr. Graham's oft used “Just As I Am”. The offer of a season of prayer would go out. Saint or sinner – the altar was there for those who wanted to share in the fellowship of corporate prayer. During those sensitive moments, it was my job to watch the podium like an eagle for 'the sign'. It was secret code.

The tip of my father's finger would extend just enough beyond the lectern that only one looking for it would see it. I was the only one looking. I knew that was my sign. Time for me to move out into the aisle and toward the prayer altar. I mean....even God's word says the little child shall lead them, so who in their right and prayerful mind would resist following a little child down to pray? 
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Was it any wonder then that, at the ripe old age of around 30, I stumbled upon a confusing realization. I had learned to love God for everyone around me. In reality, I had no idea if he loved me or how to love him back. I had no idea if he was really real. In that moment, my soul-vision cleared to 20-20. True story.

What about you, fraidy cat? When you are all alone surrounded by nothing but quiet, do you find yourself wondering? What is my purpose in life? Is this all there is? Is there REALLY a loving God with a good plan? If there is, I am even on his radar? How can I tell anyone how confused I am because I'm supposed to have all the answers? What would people think if they knew all I had was questions?

Welcome home, fraidy cat. I'm in search of my good God with the good plan. All fraidy cats are welcome here. Spread the word. If you don't tell them, how in the world are the others gonna find us way out here in Cyberlandia? Love you long and strong. See you soon. 
Courtesy B. Creasy
As the Psalm 42: 1 
(Word English Bible)deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants after you, God. 
Psalm 84: 2 (American KJV)
My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh cries out for the living God.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I Can See Clearly Now (Pt. 3)

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I was acutely aware that something was wrong with my soul-vision. I made my conviction known when I refused the rite of Believer's Baptism at age 12. I pondered it at 16 when my best friend and I agreed together that there had 'to be more to it' than what we had seen up to then. 

I staked my claim on my right to find the truth for myself when I up and moved out of state and away from everyone I knew at age 24. By then, my folks had figured out there was no preacher-boy in my future. If not that, then surely just to keep me in their fold of faith would have been some success. 

Mom and I explored my new town. She had eagle eyes in focus for my new church home away from home. Bless her heart. She found it. It was but ½ mile from my new apartment. At her insistence, we stopped in to make a courtesy call on the pastor. He and I sized each other up, and each knew ours was no long term relationship. 

My mom was further elated to find that the man and his family not only lived in my apartment complex, our units faced each other. Praise the Lord and pass the spiritual ammunition! I was as good as saved from danger in her book. What good news she had to go home and tell Daddy.

Courtesy A. Squires
Later that day, the frustration in me rose to a fever pitch as we stared one another down. Like most teenage girls, the time had come that the stresses and strains of life had impacted my mom's ability to tolerate me. You'd think she'd be happy that I wasn't drinking, doing drugs, or sleeping around. She was. She was just unhappy with my refusal to hop on the pre-conceived family band wagon.

She was also very, very nervous. My spiritual restlessness was, perhaps, more challenging to her than if I had been flagrantly rebellious. Before she slipped away, she had the grace to admit that my way had not, in the end, been so bad. Ultimately, our paths diverged, but she could see the depth of my faith and my impact on others struggling to find faith. She made her peace with me even if it may have remained a begrudging one.

Wedding Day
Not that day. No. That day she realized parental control was slipping away and with it me. She was afraid that my refusal to march in lockstep with them would make them look like failures before their peers and parishioners. If I didn't give them the ultimate vote of confidence in supporting their ministry choices, why would anyone else? That was the bottom line. My support would validate their life choices. Plain and sadly simple tho' it was.

Why can't you be like THEM?” she demanded as she referred to the 3 blonde bombshell daughters of one of dad's peers. They'd all gone to Bible college and married the preacher boys. They were living her dream for me. Her dream was my nightmare. The rock and hard place I was in nearly broke me. In its own way, it did.

I had been locked and loaded for a while. Hesitant to let fly the ammunition I'd been amassing since I was 12 lest I reveal the divergence between us. I suppose her greatest fear was that I would be stained by the sinners with which I might interact and drift father from the safety of her fold. Hence, the need to get me committed to that new church family before she left.

Courtesy A. Hughes
I was about to disabuse her of that notion. My words erupted. “Daddy CHOSE his job. He was hired to be the preacher. NOT ME. Look around you. Which ONE of my friends goes to work with their daddy? NONE of them. Why should I be consigned to the role you have picked out for me because of his vocational choice? My friends don't go to work with their Dad. I was not 'called into the ministry'. Dad was. It's his job. Not mine.”

I began to tick off a prepared list of friends and their fathers' careers. Only 1 friend had followed a parent into the same career. She had not seen that evidence coming. Her mouth opened and closed. I shoulda been a lawyer. I drew a line in the sand that day. I never crossed it once I drew it.

I don't mind telling you that choice has not been an easy one. Lots of times it has been down right lonely. I guess one reason I don't freak slam out when Son #2 expresses a desire for navy blue hair and rub on tattoos may be that I know what it feels like to march to the beat of a hidden drummer.

Work in Progress
As much as I wrestle with my good God and understanding his plan, I know he finishes what he starts. He's in that process with me. I see the process at work in my wanna be navy blue haired, tattooed metal head. It's a good thing. Sometimes scary. Always good. I don't have to be in total control all the time about everything. Because the God who created him IS.

My poor mom and dad. I wonder how much easier their lives would have been if they had grasped that same sense of life? That it was ok to let go and breathe. It was ok to let God do what he was doing without being afraid of the outcome. The validity of their faith did not depend on me. It was rich and strong and did not need my validation.

Hey, fraidy cat, are you wrestling with your soul-vision always twisting and turning your head to see the horizon for what and where it truly is? Cause, if you are...that is often a scary, scary process. You are not alone. I'm going in search of my good God, the one who created me with a unique purpose. You're coming too, aren't you? See you soon.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Romans 8:15-16 (Amplified Bible)
For [the Spirit which] you have now received [is] not a spirit of slavery to put you once more in bondage to fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption [the Spirit producing sonship] in [the bliss of] which we cry, Abba (Father)! Father!The Spirit Himself [thus] testifies together with our own spirit, [assuring us] that we are children of God.

1 John 4:18 (Amplified Bible)
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
There is no fear in love [dread does not exist], but full-grown (complete, perfect) love [a]turns fear out of doors and expels every trace of terror! For fear [b]brings with it the thought of punishment, and [so] he who is afraid has not reached the full maturity of love [is not yet grown into love's complete perfection].