Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Missing Puzzle Piece - Homeless Pt. 8

From 2001-2005 I had blindly trusted my good God with a good plan. I wasn't, however, all Mother Theresa about it. As the days ground on and the life that we had depended on to define us slipped away, I wrestled with God. Let me tell you, I could give any WWE star a run for his money. Many a time on the 6 mile ride thru the country to the grocery store, I screamed at God. I am sure dozens of cows no longer give milk given how many I must have traumatized with my desperate entreaties.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creations
On one particularly bitter day, I reflected on how God had 'told' me the house was already gone, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. The question was not if we would lose it..only how long it would take. Well, there had been another part to that encounter. My soul resonated with this message: “What is coming will hurt. Let me do what I must do. There is a work I have to do in Jeff's life. When I have finished, what I am allowing will all make sense. Until then, be still. Be still.”

I jammed down on the accelerator hoping no public safety vehicle was in a 3 county radius. The screams would have made those of natural childbirth seem like a Top 40 tune. 

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING? I can understand working in Jeff's life. But, if you have something HUGE to do, why do the children have to suffer to get the job done? You are GOD! Do you have to slaughter their lives in the process of doing what you are doing? WHY!” And, I went on from there. It was not pretty. Mother Theresa would not have been impressed.
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creations

So, in the spring of our new, post-Chapter 13 life, I still wrestled with my good God and his good plan.I spent the next few days after that 2nd counseling encounter as I had spent so many in the years before-numbly doing the next thing. On one level, it was such a relief to be normal again that I was happy as the proverbial clan. On a deeper level, I was always mentally moving puzzle pieces around on the game board of life. I could have solved a Rubik's cube more easily. I don't even try those anymore! I inwardly grieved the end of the dreams I had dreamed for 17 long years and let hope slip away. I steeled myself to accept the next 9 yrs of indentured labor. Hey, I'd done 17 yrs! I was 2/3 the way thru my term! I could make life pleasant now that we had one again. I'd take the perks and mitigate the rest.

I thought a lot about the Old Testament story of Jacob who worked 7yrs to marry Rachel and was deceived into marrying her older sister Leah (Genesis 29) first. We can get all philosophical here about modern day women's issues or literal vs figurative Biblical stances. Punt that for now. There is another blog out there for that purpose, I'm sure. For now, hear me: I identified a lot with Leah, the burdensome one. She always knew she was the joy-stealer. Can you imagine how often she felt alone and unloved?

Jeff came to me a few days after that 2nd counseling session. He was pale and on the verge of clammy. “I just sent a note to the counselor. Here's your copy. You think you know me. You don't know me. I'm a monster. After you read these pages, if you want me to, I'll pack and go. You don't have to deal with me anymore....” He poked a few sheets of paper toward me.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creations
I looked at him dazed and confused wondering what new tsunami was bearing down on me. “Dear Lord God in Heaven! Have I not done enough? Been thru enough?” What made the offering even more perplexing was my business partner's loathe of writing. One upbeat year, he had come to me and announced that he was going to do a Christmas letter to go with our cards. Five nights later, he came to me dejected and drained. “I give up. You do it. I just can't write stuff like this.” He had managed to eek out 5 dismal lines. So, to be handed 3 sheets of single spaced text.....ominous.

We went in the bedroom and closed the door. I stood reading. He sat on the edge of the bed waiting on my verdict. In the 1st 2 paragraphs, I knew part of the answer to what God had prepared me for 5 yrs earlier. In a land long ago and far away, I had worked at a psych hospital...yes WORKED! My patients were 5-12 YO boys whose behavior was so troubled that their school districts had helped facilitate their inpatient admissions. Over the years that I had come to know my husband's childhood history, I had come to observe his life from a clinical distance. I had often thumbed the pages of his 'chart' while rearranging those puzzle pieces that never fit. I kept wondering why, with all the things he told me, one last detail seemed to be missing. One final insult that had forever changed who he was. With all the other things he told me, it seemed a sure bet he would have trusted me with this detail. When it never surfaced, I breathed a sigh of relief, “Thank you, God. At least you spared him this one last indignity.” And then, I thanked God that he had grown up to be a responsible, productive human being who was a loving father and good provider. He should have been in jail, on drugs, or dead.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creations
The long searched for puzzle piece fell out of those single-spaced pages and onto the table of my life. My knees crumpled, and I hit the floor near his feet. I looked up with tears streaming down my face. I sobbed. “You are not a monster. You are a hero. Something monstrous happened to you. But someone else's sin does not make you a monster. You are a hero because you have survived and overcome. This all makes sense. Every miserable detail of our bone crunching-ly difficult marriage makes sense. You are forgiven. You are forgiven. You have NO DEBT in my heart. All these years, I kept adding up all the details wondering where this one was hiding. I had hoped with all my heart you had been spared. It all makes sense. And, if I had not worked at the hospital, I might never have been prepared to understand this information. But, I get it. I get it. You are forgiven. When is your next counseling session?”

And, over the next 3 hours, I watched the man I had known for 18 years change before my eyes. Decades, maybe centuries, of grief that had edged his face disappeared. I felt as if I was watching a mummy unwrap before my eyes. He grew younger and younger as relief washed over him. His always dull, dead eyes began to flicker with life.

Suddenly it hit me. “But, I don't understand. This is counselor #10. Why did this information not POUR out of your mouth with #1? How could you hold this burden in since you were a little boy?”

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creations
He answered softly, and his answer made sense. Then, he stunned me. “If we had not been homeless...if we had not lived where we lived, I'm not sure the truth would have ever come out. Watching you day in and day out cope with what you coped with...having you observe dynamics during those days and label them for me as what they were....I could never have had the courage to speak out until you gave me a voice.”

God tapped me on the shoulder,. His voice thundered into my heart thru memories of those tortured drives down cow pasture lined roads. “You took all these days in this horrible valley of life to bring Jeff to the point of truth telling. The truth has set you both free. I kept my word.” 

Phillipians 1:6 (Bible in Basic English)
"For I am certain of this very thing, that he by whom the good work was started in you will make it complete till the day of Jesus Christ."

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Puzzle Pieces Fall Into Place - Homeless Pt 7

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creations
The weeks came and went. Sooner than I would have believed, it seemed the 6 yrs of destruction behind us faded into near oblivion. The only reminder was the paycheck to paycheck reminder from the Master in Equity garnishing our wages. It was a pittance...less than $50.00. In fact, had our 'repayment plan' been any smaller, we would have been forced to file Chptr 7 instead of 13.

We could have filed either. Our attorney asked repeatedly, “Don't you want to take the easy way out? If you file Chptr 7, the pain will be over as soon as you walk out of court.” Chapter 13 would be the gift that kept on giving for 4 years.

No,” Jeff had declared. “Let's honor the debts we have.” Yea...all 2 of them. The payoff on our mortgage and 1 credit card that carried less than 6K in medical debt. The little we'd pay each month would cover the court costs and pay our attorney for 4 yrs. In reality, our creditors had gotten what they were going to get. All 2 of them.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I bit my tongue. I took deep gasping breaths. I looked at the attorney and asked, “When it is all said and done and we get to the other side of this nightmare, is anyone really going to care which one we filed?”

No, no one really will....” My inner jaw bled. I took deeper breaths willing Jeff to opt for the easy way out. He was resolute. We signed on the dotted line. Little did we know how fateful those strokes of the pen would be less than 5 yrs later.

Despite that monthly reminder of the life we had left behind, we did begin to rebuild. The new rental home was almost geographically at the mid-point between Jeff's doctors and his office. Those became the 2 most important destinations in our life it seemed. He had recovered enough to return to work but could never work in a paper mill again because of his twitchy lungs and constant respiratory infections.

The boys became even more immersed in the homeschool community. I was happily thriving with friends everywhere I went...even the grocery store and doctor's office. In fact, we began to realize that we were happier than we had ever been with the overall state of our lives.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
We were as happy as roommates could be. I had surrendered to the realization that my marriage was all it was going to be. I had accepted that the man to whom I would be the intriguing younger woman would be roughly the age of a great-great-grandfather. There really would be no starting over for me. Life was what it was, so it was just as well I make the best of it. And, I did.

Jeff came and went to his counselor. No matter the overtime at work. No matter the hours he had to make up for missed work, he went to counseling without me twice a month every month. There were times I probed gently trying to ascertain what was taking place in that private enclave. I gave up as the answers were non-committal and uninformative. Fall became winter which gave way to early spring. Our new life was almost a year old.

Jeff came in one afternoon and leaned against the kitchen sink. He cleared his throat. This noise was not his usual respiratory related cough. It was an anxious cough. “ counselor...uh...he wants to...uh..he wants to know...uh...he would like you to come to the next session. If you think you..uh..could do that?”

I stared out the kitchen window inwardly rolling my eyes in disgust. A minute became 2 or 3. Finally, I reluctantly said, “ have not missed an appointment for 6 months. I guess the least I could do is go once. When do I need to be there?”

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
As luck would have it, the very first appointment Jeff ever missed was my first one. He called from the office rather flustered. “I just found out! I have to leave within the hour to go on a client visit out of state. I'm coming home to pack. I called the counseling office. They said you could come without me if you will.”

I called and confirmed that my visit in Jeff's absence was agreeable. Even so, when I actually showed up, the counselor seemed bemused...almost puzzled. I could tell by his demeanor that he was not prepared for whatever he was seeing. Perhaps my head should be spinning on my shoulders? I had wondered what they had talked about for the entire 6 months. My suspicion quickly settled on a suspected topic: me. And, apparently, I had not fared so well.

The counselor started tentatively asking me to dump out the box of puzzle pieces I had been trying to piece together for 17 yrs. I obliged. I quickly realized that he was more perplexed by the minute. If he had expected my pieces to match up with any that he had been sorting thru for so many months before meeting me, he was coming up short. My pieces and Jeff's pieces didn't even seem to come from the same box.

Realizing his dilemma, I began to list bullet point questions. “Have you been informed regarding __________?” I quickly detailed bone crushing circumstances that would have ended many other marriages in record time. Before I was done, he was sitting back in his chair on the verge of slack-jawed with shock. “I assumed as much. You didn't know any of this..not one shred, did you?”

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
He admitted that he had not and went on to say he had come to feel he had reached an impasse with Jeff. In fact, asking me to come in was his last step before telling Jeff they had accomplished about all they could. Now, he realized how little he had come to know or understand Jeff despite his earnest and forthright efforts. I agreed to come back one more time when Jeff returned to town.

I said little to Jeff about my experience. Like him, I opted for the safety of silence. The second visit,the joint one, the counselor addressed Jeff's less than forthright sharing of information. He asked Jeff to affirm that truthfulness of my bullet list. He did so without flinching. The counselor agreed to keep seeing us. We drove home in silence.

Springtime was exploding in our new little 'hood. Our first spring in our new life. We sat in the driveway in silence. The technicolor riot of blooming flowers, trees, and shrubs all around us were lost on me. Looking out the car window, I might as well have been looking at the screen of an old back and white TV with poor reception. The world was flat and devoid of color.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I've chased you for 17 yrs. I'm not chasing you anymore. I get it. We've been over for so long. I'm so tired. I'm just not chasing you any more. I wish you luck with this guy, but I'm not going back. I'm not angry. I don't hate you. I just get it. I could chase you for another 17 yrs and still not catch you. If you loved me, you would have been spilling your guts telling the truth for the last 6 months. I don't know what you have been saying, but none of it has been about what has really mattered. We'll get the boys thru school. I've hung on this long. I can last 9 more years. That's all this will be about anymore.”

I got out of the car and walked in the house committed to 9 more years all alone in a marriage. 

Jeremiah 39:18 (ESV)
For I will surely save you, and you shall not fall by the sword, but you shall have your life as a prize of war, because you have put your trust in me, declares the LORD.'"

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Remembering Who We Never Were -- Homeless Pt 6

Even now, 6 yrs later, I grow numb when sudden news of someone else's crisis plunges me back into the darkness. When it happens, I no longer panic. It's just my old, newly named friend, 'traumatic stress reaction', reminding me that the past is always there. The sense of numbness that paralyzes my heart slithers along my spine upon viewing a simple status update on Facebook. I see the veiled allusion to a life Tsunami, and I know.  Behind those matter of fact words, a heart cries out in confusion and pain too raw and fresh to describe in detail.  I find myself falling into step beside the one whose suffering has erupted like a frenzied volcano. No words are needed. I just walk.

As far as I feel from God these days, I know this reaction is, in part, that sense of comforting others with the same comfort we ourselves have been comforted (2 Cor. 1: 3-4). No one has to tell you how to do it. It's like giving birth. Once you've walked the walk, you just know how to fall into step. You also know that trying to say anything is fruitless. There is a peaceful solace in knowing that it is ok to walk in tandem without trying to give answers or frivolous consolations. You've been there. You know there are times that no answers are sufficient to stem the flow of blood from a broken heart. The process is unavoidable even for Christians who believe in a loving God that constantly watches over his suffering children. The only thing you can do is hunker down and live thru the process...or walk with someone else while they do.

I had bled every day for 6 yrs from the time Jeff got sick until the new landlord said he'd take a chance on our sorry butts and condescend to let us rent from him.  Yea, he was more diplomatic than that. Behind the mouth noise I knew he felt he had to make, I also knew what he was thinking. And, that was pretty much it!

We set about to figure out who we were even as the shock of our long awaited and sudden change of circumstances left us reeling. One phone call changed our lives, but it took a while for us to accept the change as real. Stress is stress whether it is good or bad.  I could feel our long knotted up nerves begin to unknot.  We moved along tentatively stopping to check the ends of our ropes. We realized that in the years that lay behind, some of our ropes had frayed beyond repair.

I realized I felt like an invisible nobody.  In our country, so much of who we are is defined by who we look like on paper or what we possess. What we had left had been in storage for 2 yrs. Our cars were no longer trendy, and they'd have to last at least 3 more years. On paper, we were failures whom no one dared do business with. Even if we had wanted to 'do business', the officer of the court held us in tow until July of 2008. Without the court's express permission, we would be in contempt of court to do anything but pay cash as we went. Even tho' we'd never been 'credit hounds', that reality was a chain around our souls. That bondage was the price we paid for failing.

I could tell myself all day long that we had always been good stewards. So good, in fact, that it had taken the buzzards 3 yrs to pick our bones clean. But, now we looked just like every other yuppie out there who couldn't delay gratification. Why, I wondered, had I deprived myself of so much in the interest of fiscal responsibility to end up like this? An invisible nobody.  All those extra payments I had scraped together to pay on the interest of the house the bank gave to someone else for a pittance of what we owed on it – for what?  How many spa treatments could I have enjoyed in the moment while I was living for the reward of compound interest derived tomorrow.

I thought all those things in the shadows of my heart. In the light of day, I told myself and my boys that God had a plan. It was a good plan. He had just kick-started the good part of that plan into motion.  We began to revel in our privacy. I became the kind of mom who no longer expected her kids to do chores. It was so amazing to have my own house to do chores in again that I didn't want to share the joy. (Yea, I was one sick puppy! I got over that little dip into insanity, trust me!) We spent an hour every night talking as a family about our list of 'thankful things'. We had made it out of the valley of the shadows.  We were survivors!

We immersed ourselves into the normalcy of life and began to accept that the locust had eaten their fill and moved on to other still green pastures. And yet, there was a hollowness at our core. The sense permeated my days. It was as if our souls had been robbed by some soul eating zombies that had left only shells of people to go thru the motions of life. We were  a pretty picture of hope borne out of despair. We might as well have been a carefully stitched representation of the picturesque implication of a stress free life. We were pretty on the public side.  The mass of chaotically knotted thread ends on the back of that framed masterpiece would have been closer to the truth.

Ours had been a hard marriage complicated by dynamics that had perplexed and puzzled me for 16 yrs. I had spent countless hours rearranging the puzzle pieces of our lives together. I was always trying to make our journey as a couple make sense. There always seemed to be a piece missing as if we'd come from the marriage factory an incomplete, defective kit.

We had been thru nine marriage counselors in 16 yrs. We would, frankly, have been divorced but for one thing...we were too broke to hire the lawyers to seal our fate. We were out of the valley of shadows, but the light purely revealed that we were strangers. We lived as housemates sharing chores and responsibilities but none of the perks of the vows we took all those years before. I had once heard being single was not nearly as lonely as being lonely in a marriage. If that phrase was defined in a picture dictionary, I would have been the poster girl.

One sad, lonely day, my marriage cum business partner turned to me and said, “I've made an appointment with a counselor. Will you go?” I looked at him thru zombie dead eyes and said, “If the first 9 didn't fix us, this one won't either. You go if you want. I'm done.” And, he did. Every other week for the next 6 months, he did.

Oh my. Like I said a few posts ago, we had no idea how much deeper the shadows could get. Like I said on my 'about me' page, I've been thru enough that the fraidy cat in me is well acquainted with the fraidy cat in you. This is hard work. I don't blame you if you don't come back. I hope you will. I hope when you do, you will bring a friend. Fraidy cats rule, but only if they stick together.

To ready part one of our story, click here: Writing My Way Back to God

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Fraidy Cat Prepares for an Empty Nest

Don't let anybody kid you. The empty nest thing - you start prepping for it the day you let the first one check the mail or park the trash on the street. You don't successfully navigate that step till you cut the rope you tied around the child's waist to tether him/her to the front door. 

Depending on who you are, it's all uphill from there. Meaning as a parent you spend most of your life walking uphill both ways while barefoot in the snow. (Southern speak dictionary available upon request.)

I know I'm a different breed. I figure it is my job on this earth to set my kids free to live bigger and broader than I was allowed to live at their ages.  That process started the 1st day of Son #1's K5 experience.

At the time, I had taken a solemn oath that I would NEVER (*interject sniff of superiority*) become one of those weird homeschooling moms that wore Birkenstocks with denim skirts, used homemade deodorant, and ate only homegrown organic vegan.

The collective K5 mom roar began in early July. Moms anticipated the dreaded first day. Most pictured a day of tears, fears, and jarring encounters as arms were pried lose from waistlines. Those were the mental imagines of  principals ushering moms out of Muffins for Moms while insisting the event did not last till the dismissal bell at 2:30p.

I always wondered if my little clutch of friends eyed me suspiciously because I was eerily quiet during these pre-game sniff-fests. My future looked rosy. 

Instead of fears and tears, I anticipated hours at the gym followed by a few chores to justify my husband paying me to be a stay at home mom. I figured I'd followed up with some well deserved bon-bons and a book or talk show. The only thing I saw myself missing was a pool complete with cabana boys!

When the day came,  I tried not to dance as I took the obligatory 1st day of K5 picture. His K5 teacher was a dream. The classroom was awash in fairy tale themed props complete with a floor to ceiling beanstalk and Jack's leg dangling from the ceiling.

Courtesy M. Horrocks
I worshiped the ground that woman walked on. Even still, I hugged my brave fella goodbye, wished him a good day, and turned on my heel before he could see any glimmer of doubt on my face about what I was getting us into.

I figured I could do one of two things. I could set that kid free to live with my confidence, or I could forever tether him to my front door with my doubt.

Homeschool friends know how to Par-tay! 
I never saw it coming. I denied I'd ever do it. No one was more shocked than me when we began homeschooling mid-way through first grade. I have yet to wear Birkenstocks, have been told by really sweet friends to lose the denim skirt, and have never used homemade deodorant.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should report that I am moving my family toward a real food diet and have even flirted with the idea of paleo. Even tho' we came home to school, I never stopped seeing my role as that of facilitator toward the front door and right on out into the big wide world.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Over the years, there have been plenty of crossroads complete with gut-busting choices. One choice would have kept my child cloistered and tethered to the front doorknob of our home. The other would set him free to fly.

Despite having been told my sons have learning issues which would affect social interactions, I continued to look for ways to equip them to live larger than I was encouraged to live and to live more successfully than the doctors who evaluated them predicted.

I agonized when the church van pulled away to take son #1 on his 1st and 2nd Middle School ski trips. 

I was an old hand at how hard it was to set him free to fly when he went on a High School summer mission trip to inner city Atlanta. It was, however, still no easier when he spent a week in his mid-teens doing inner city housing rehab in coastal South Carolina.

I got really good at one part of the process, I think. I got really good at NEVER letting him see me flinch. We always reminded him we were as close as the phone if anything or anybody seemed amiss. 

Other than that, we never hesitated until after the wheels had turned enough revolutions to have him safely out of sight. Then, my heart sighed as I wondered, “What have I DONE?”

Yep. Yep. Ask me about socialization. 
We must have done something right because this kid with all the 'social' complications of his LD entertained a group of almost eighty at his 17th birthday party. Take that all you doctors that told us how life was supposed to be for a kid with his diagnosis.

 He graciously extended the invites to his friends and their families. Homeschooled kids don't get the memo that they must only invite kids their own ages to big events in their lives. I present the pictures as exhibit #1 if ever unknowing prey wanders into my 'but what does a homeschooler do about socilization' trap?

A year later, Son #1 surpassed his fraidy cat mom. A passport took him on his first airplane flight all the way to China and back. I'm clearly allergic to post 9/11 flying and even more clearly allergic to passports. Therefore, you know I was gratified that I had given this son of a fraidy cat wings to fly - literally.

Courtesy H. Wills - 2011
Two years later, he accepted a consulting job in Australia and flew solo to a country where his only contacts, apart from business, were blog friends who lived a four hour flight from Brisbane. He celebrated his 21st birthday in the company of strangers a week after he arrived.

As I write this post, my head is full of those memories tonight because we put Son #2 on this 1st bus to camp today. He's had a lot more to deal with in regard to bullies than his older brother did. So, he left us with emotions that are as raw as sunburned skin.

Prayers, Tears, and Fears for Parents in a Fraidy Cat World
We are hoping he has a week of respite away from his tormentors. We are hoping the week will refresh him socially and spiritually. The camp staff has assured us they are on top of it. We are giving them a chance to put their actions where their words are.

The jury is out as I wonder yet again, "What have we done?"

And me? Today I did what I always have done. I hugged him long and strong. I told him to go make me proud. I affirmed the incredible chance he had to go where he was going. I reminded him we were as close as a phone call if anyone or thing seemed amiss.

I blinked . . . 
Then, I pointed him toward the door and watched as he walked to the car with his Dad and world traveling brother.  My men going off to face the world as a team.

I'm a fraidy cat. I don't fly. My kids? One day...they will soar right out of my nest and into the world I tried my best to prepare them for. And then, I'm going to go sit by a pool, eat bon-bons, and watch the cabana boys. Yea...that's my story. And, I'm sticking to it.

. . . and they were grown. 
Come back tomorrow and bring a friend? I think I can face Part 6 of my story as I write my way back to God. Thanks for your patience as I grope my way in the dark. I'm not nearly as a-skeert as I was now that I know I'm not alone. I see your clicks on my page and I hear you say,  "Go, Fraidy Cat, go!" So, if anyone asks, remember to tell them: Fraidy cats rule!

To read more about my parenting and homeschooling adventures, you might enjoy:

Fraidy Cat Parenting in a Fraidy Cat World

Mamma, Don't Pray

The Gentle Art of Kamikaze Parenting

Psalm 112: 1,2 (Amplified Bible)

Praise the Lord! (Hallelujah!) Blessed (happy, fortunate, to be envied) is the man who fears (reveres and worships) the Lord, who delights greatly in His commandments. His [spiritual] offspring shall be mighty upon earth; the generation of the upright shall be blessed.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Fraidy Cat VS the Endodontist

rubber gloves,  bright lights...what--no rubber hoses?
I love my dentist.  He must love me because he has kept me on as a patient even tho' I'm sure they must have to re-upholster their chair arms every time I darken the office door. They probably think I am part cat-woman and have retractable claws given the damage I do holding on for dear life till they are done with  my annual inspection and tune up. I'm probably the reason dentists employ the use of gas, but for personal reasons that have nothing to do with rehab or a 12-step program, I avoid that stuff.  Being the fraidy cat that I am, I would belly up to the inhalation mask any old day but for one tiny little thing that I have not lived down in 30 years.

Roughly 30 yrs ago, they juiced me up good to get me thru oral surgery for wisdom teeth extraction.  Just before I sauntered off to la-la land, the oral surgeon walked in. Oh, my mercy! I could tell that, behind that mask, he was a tall drink of water (Southern speak = a hottie).  You understand I was not in control of my faculties?  I had probably already signed in blood that I would not make any important decisions or sign any life altering papers in the next 2 days. I don't recall them signing any to say my pre-op secrets were safe with them.  I've always wondered......

Oh! My, MY mercy, I looked up into his baby blues and said, "Are you married because if you aren't, I'm going to ask you out...."

When he said, "Yes," he was married, I snapped my fingers and said, "Geez, all the good ones are married." I then looked up at the ceiling and apprised the fella that if they were in need of the AC vent, someone better grab it because it was slip sliding away out the door. I tell myself that I'm long since forgotten and that I was not one of the more colorful patients of his career.  Nonetheless, that should have been enough to dissuade me from the use of gas for medical procedures. 

But, NOOOO!  I celebrated my 50th birthday with that cursed and obligatory colonoscopy.  I had practiced subliminal suggestion for a week before by telling myself that while I was under the influence, I would speak ONLY of real estate. I mean...what kind of trouble can you get into talking about that subject?  Well, my plan did not work.  I was sleeping deliciously when I became vaguely but urgently aware that I was on my belly being rocked back and forth from side to side.  I heard some stranger talking to some stranger person who was gently assuring me that he was my husband. Hah! What'd he take me for--a suggestible lunatic?

The lady had a firm grip on my shoulders and was practicing some kind of weird post-colonoscopy chiropractic cleanse. She said something like, "Don't worry. We see this all the time.  It just takes a while to get the air expelled that we introduce during the procedure."

I was ILL.  I was taking the BEST nap of my LIFE...and those 2 chatterboxes were about to nudge me into consciousness.  According to the stranger that I promised to love, honor, and obey on every other leap year, I raised up as much as I could and said, "Why don't you people LEAVE ME ALONE?  I never get to go ANYWHERE or do ANYTHING, and now that I finally have, you won't let me enjoy myself!"  (Have I mentioned I don't get off the farm...I mean out of the house...much?)

Apparently, I nodded off for a microsecond and then finished them off with, "And don't worry about any gas I need to expel, I come from a world champion line of censored (but roughly begins w/ 'p--t' and ends with 'ers')."  Let me tell you, that was NOT my Mamma's proudest moment given the fact that we owned stock in Lifeguard at the rate she used it washing out our mouths during childhood. I think I can rest my case now re the use of gas for my medical procedures?

I shoulda kept right on walking....really....
I would have loved some today. My dentist recently informed me that I had graduated up in the world of dentistry and was going to get to go to see his pal the endodontist.  He patted my arm knowingly and promised to send me to someone who'd understand my inner fraidy cat self. I honestly think when he patted my arm,  he was just trying to check the state of the arm on my exam chair.

Today got here, and I was my usual fraidy cat self. It was bad enough that I got lost in my own home town and a 20" ride took 45".  I had to be talked in by the front office like they were running a ground traffic control center.  I muttered some cover story about my husband having just had surgery hoping they'd take pity on me.

I entered the door to the sound of rubber gloves being snapped and the words, " can take her on  back. YIPPEEE! I wondered if they had matching rubber hoses back there too! I tried not to imagine a pack of salivating wolves, but my hands started to quake on the walk to 'the room'.  I guess Dr. M had forewarned them because Dr. N immediately started telling me about what to expect in that quiet, calming  way of people who got a master's degree in hypnosis. I am sure dentists have to take a course or 2 in surreptitious hypnosis just because of people like me.

To make it all the more fun, they had a prospective dental student in for the day to observe. I agreed to his presence figuring I could make him my partner in blog-crime by getting him to snap some lovely pictures mid way thru.  I felt I should do something like foam at the mouth to convince him that dentistry was NOT his calling.  So, I launched my campaign to nudge him in to something kinder and gentler like, oh, I don't know--sword throwing maybe.  I guess I made the doc nervous 'cause as soon as he shot me up good, he snatched that kid out of the room to some safer corner of the office.

I was sitting there waiting on my face to grow numb and blow up like he had just implanted a coconut when I discovered an escape route! I could still turn back! I had to go to the bathroom! One of his kind assistants walked me around the corner. I'm thinking given my successfully demonstrated command of directions, she probably had ulterior motives for walking me all the way there. Once she was sure I knew which door was mine, she left me alone to ponder my immediate future.

I had a HUGE urge to just keep on walking right down the hall and out the front door. There was a clear shot between me and victory.  The only thing that made me abort the plan was that I had heard stories of people in need of a root canal yanking out their own teeth with a set of pliers while waiting for their appointment. There was that and the fact that the prospective dental student had a bird's eye view of the hallway. He looked like the kind of kid that would have ratted me out on U-tube. And..there's enough about me out there already...or will be when I get it edited.

So, given that I didn't want to go out in public drooling on myself without a reasonable explanation,  I decided to stay put and endure.  Just about the time I reached the drooling point, Dr. Sunshine came back in the door and told me it was going to hurt him more than it was going to hurt me. Or at least....I think that is what he said. I think it is what he should have said since that is what my mamma always said when she was about to begin delivering an old fashioned whoopin'. The truth of the Southern gospel is it ALWAYS hurt me more than it hurt my mamma, so you can see where I'm going here, can't you?

Me--on anesthesia...see why I don't do gas?
It was over in about 30". I survived. They even gave me a bite sized Hershey Bar on the way out the door.  What a joint!  The most I've ever gotten before was floss, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and mouthwash.  Oh, wait! I forgot about that hypnosis thing.  Do I smell a chocolate laden plot in which I was rendered helpless by hypnosis? 

Chocolate>sugar>decay>cavity>filling>potential root canal some day in the future>referal from dentist back to endodontist>job security. Ha! It's a good thing I didn't opt for the gas today! I saw that plot coming a mile away.  Still in all...the chocolate was good.  Scuse me...gotta go wash the chocolate drool off my shirt.  I really shouldn't have eaten it IN the parking lot right after the procedure while my mouth was still numb!

(With much thanks to Drs. Jason McKowsky and Christopher S. Noel and all their wonderful staffers for enduring a fraidy cat like me!)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Fraidy Cat Gets a Message

Courtesy Aly Huges
I'm sitting here at the hospital waiting while my husband has surgery. I'm wondering how in the world I can keep going with a story that is indescribably hard to write. The fraidy cat in me is lecturing me. That coward is telling me that not a single soul really cares what I have to say. Furthermore, there is no discernible reason for me to do anything other than close up shop and forget my 2.5+K hits ever happened. Courtesy hits...that's what they are. Either that or complete accidents. My 2nd born is right. People clicked over here by accident, stayed about 10 seconds, and moved on never intending to come back.

If that isn't enough, I'm a sorry excuse for a writer. I'm verbose. Line edits get by me because I usually post in the wee, wee hours. Adverbs are my best friend. Dangling participles hide where I least expect them so that you can mock me from afar. You get the drift. I'm |this| far from abandoning ship and leaving you on lifeboats to get by without me. Would you notice?

I stopped looking at the blank page tormenting me and clicked over to facebook hoping for some mindless distraction. It was either that or solitaire. I chose the lesser of evils. Apparently, everyone was at the beach, pool, water park, or sleeping in because my wall feed was as dead as a doornail. I stared at the screen willing someone to wake up and give me something to do other than write a blog post. A status update posted from a friend. Are you ready for this because I wasn't:

Sometimes God redeems your story by surrounding you with people who need to hear your past so it doesn't become their future.” (J. Cuff )

Hah! Did you know I'm Presbyterian? And any GOOD Presbyterian would tell you that comment did NOT pop up on my wall feed by accident. No Sirreee! They'd tell you that was Providence. A post card from God to me via my friend, Colleen. The fraidy cat in me calls it 'coincidence'.

birthdays were all the sweeter
You know that God and I have been in a wrestling match for well over a year now, don't you? So, that comment hit me like a bombshell. It sums up where the rubber hits my road. For the life of me, I cannot understand where I fit it God's big plan. From where I stand, it's like he always brushes me aside in favor of the prettier, more talented girl with the less complicated life. All the while, I'm standing there with my arms outstretched saying, “Is it my turn now? Can I have my turn in our lap?” How in the WORLD will my story ever be redeemed...and WHEN for Jimmeny sakes?

We made it thru the years the locust ate from 2001-2005. We began the tentative journey toward putting our lives back together. I was sure, I mean really, really sure that God was going to restore us to a better place than we had been before everything fell apart. I was sure he was going to do that, so I could comfort my boys and say, “See, God really was watching. He really did care. He really does refresh and replenish what he strips away when his time is right.” He was going to redeem our story by allowing me to tell you and you and you about what happened and how we were healed of all the war wounds we had sustained even as we were being as obedient as we knew how to be.
birthday picnic for our then 17YO

God had different plans. He did not consult me when he made them. So, here we are now, arm wrestling while you watch. Sigh. I'm so tired. I'm tired of cheering a God I don't understand. I heard you gasp in shock. Don't worry, I've already told him. He's not shocked. In fact, I had been telling him for a while that I was about to break- that I'd had all I could stand. He kept saying, “ THINK so, do you...? Let me show you what I think about that conviction of yours.” And, slowly event stacked on top of event until I found myself flip flopping 360 degrees down a hill with a leg that had just snapped in 3 places. In mid-fall, as I was facing the rain saturated sky, I said, “What part don't you get? I told you I can't take anymore...and this is the anymore I can't take. I'm done. I don't know who you are anymore. Maybe I never did....”

But, I'm getting ahead of myself here. I need to back up and tell you about the time it seemed life was going to return to a new and better normal than our little family of 4 had ever known before. I wasn't going to. I really wasn't. I had decided you all like me much better when we are laughing hilariously over my determination to  conquer technology or my renovation induced ADD. So, I was going to become the Erma Bombeck of the blogosphere. Take THAT fraidy cat!

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
You can blame my change of heart on Colleen. I was sitting here in the waiting room thinking surely I could find some black, macabre humor among the folks that populate this place today. In fact, one of my other friends, Cindy, walked up and laughed because they couldn't find us anywhere on the OR schedule. Then, they realized my husband was scheduled to be at the OR center and the hospital on the same day at the same time for the same surgery. She said, “Oh...I can't wait to see this blog post!” My wheels had already started spinning. I was so relieved. I could be the funny girl, and you'd love me because I was funny and irreverent and hip and cool and carefree. I might not have the picturesque implication of a stress free life, but for a few minutes every day, I could pretend that my life is as lovely as Ree Drummond's.

Courtesy B. Creasy
Then, Colleen dropped that bombshell, and here we are. I don't know what life situation defines your fraidy cat today. I keep telling myself I'm not the only fraidy cat out there. Maybe you were like me today – arm wrestling with God because the puzzle pieces of your life are scattered across God's table in a disarray that you cannot get organized to save you. Maybe, just maybe, whether we believe it or see it right now, God has surrounded us with people who are walking with us thru life so that our past will not become their future. Today, I made a choice. The fraidy cat in me did not win. I hope that sent the fraidy cat in youa really scary message. Friady cats RULE! Come back tomorrow. Defeat the frady cat and come back. Bring a friend or 2, ya hear? 

Psalm 119: 16-17 (NIV)
May my cry come before you O Lord; give me understanding according to your word. May my supplication come before you; deliver me according to your promise.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Wanderers No More -- Homeless Part 5

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
The  journey started on May 15, 2001 and seemed to take a new direction in November of 2004.  We had lived with family since August of 2003. Jeff had been working at a home improvement store for 8 months, but it took half his salary to keep our medical insurance intact. I woke every day wondering how many more days I would live in limbo all the while creating an atmosphere for my boys that indicated life was good. Surely, a good God was watching over us. I kept assuring them that the details of his good plan were coming together even if he was the only one aware of that process.  I did what mothers do. I kept putting one foot in front of the other.  In truth,  I had begun to believe that we would become one of the chronically homeless.

It was the holiday season - our 3rd in limbo. HR departments move slowly during the holidays. We had given up hope of hearing from any engineering firm until at least the 2nd week of January 2005. The phone rang.  A company in Raleigh wanted to know if Jeff would come to work. Two weeks later, he was an engineer again.  We felt a curious sense of relief and survivor's guilt as he explained his departure to his fellow workers at the store.

The job was, in engineering lingo, 'contract' meaning he would be employed only as long as they needed him.  It could be a week or 10 years.  We wrestled with the decision of where to live.  The boys were calm and  settled in a vibrant, cohesive homeschool community.  Was it worth uprooting them for a job that could be over in weeks?  My mother-in-law was continuing to deteriorate.  It would be good for her and the boys to have more time together. I kept the house running so my father-in-law could attend to her more closely. By the time we had the money in reserve to rent a place to live, we had decided it was better for Jeff to commute on the weekends while we remained 'at home' w/ family and friends.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
It was, not to be cliche, the best of times and worst of times.  We knew there might be a new beginning in sight. The comfort level in our home away from home was becoming increasingly stressful.  Gradually, Jeff got his 'work legs' under him again and stopped expecting the contract to end every day.  I began to look at rental homes.  I bore the disdain of landlords who heard the words Chapter 13 and dismissed me with a sniff of disdain. I continued to try and be invisible by erasing any evidence of our presence at Jeff's folks from common areas of the house any time we left to go elsewhere.

I had been generally aware that his family had not been the most peaceful when he was growing up.  Over the months we were there, concrete realities replaced the general impressions.  Best behavior gave way to transparency.  In good situations, our situation would have become mutually trying.  The situation was far from good.

It became apparent to us that things had to change and the quicker the better.  We could no longer allow our sons to be exposed to the harsh realities present on a daily basis.  We began to commute each week between my sister's home and my in-law's home.  We were never at my in-laws unless Jeff was present. It meant I packed up our life every Sunday and Thursday.  I kept putting one foot in front of the other. 

One landlord finally listened to our story and asked for 5 references.  He checked all 5 spending a minimum of 30" to 60" talking with each of them.  He called.  "I've spoken to everyone.  To a person they reported the same things. That you have helped these families in times of crisis and sacrificed to do so.  Something bad has happened to you.  I am going to trust you. When can you move in?"   The last weekend of April 2005 found us settling into a lovely home on a quiet street.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I had not realized how exhausted we were until we closed the door of our new home and closed out the world. The boys, even our notoriously early riser, slept till well after 11a  for days after  we were back in a house with our own stuff around us.  It was like Christmas unpacking things we had not seen in almost 2 yrs.  In retrospect, I realize that my younger one missed many of the books that I had read to our older one.  We read oodles of library books, but those special memories were not the same.  In those few months, he had outgrown all the books I had treasured and waited to read to him when the time came. The time had come and gone because life did not stop while we were a statistic of invisible homelessness. I mourned the lost memories of a childhood fractured by wandering like nomads. 

I sat with the boys while we enumerated our 'thankful things'.  We breathed deeply allowing the tension built up during months on the run to dissipate. The phone rang again.  Jeff quietly asked, "How do you feel about my coming home?"  My gingerly tethered tranquility evaporated.

I looked at the ceiling and silently mouthed, "OH GOD! Do not tell me they've yanked his contract! We just signed a 12 mo lease..."  I choked back the panic while saying, "How do you feel about it?" 

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
He let a long, slow chuckle slip out.  "I got a call from a company in Greenville.  They want me to start in 10 days."  Curiously, the location of the new office put our new home geographically square in the middle of the commute between his employer and his doctor.  Our sojourn as wanderers was officially coming to an end. Jeff was coming home. 

Homelessness creates a unique set of fraidy cat fears.  I'm not sure you ever outrun them once you've earned them. Your fraidy cat probably has a different name and triggers.  No matter. It takes a fraidy cat to understand one.  Thanks for walking with me while I go about the work of evicting mine.  Hope you'll come back and visit again.  Life is lonely.  We all need to feel needed.  I need you. I hope you need me.....

Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12  (NIV)
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work; If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of 3 strands is not quickly broken.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Message From the Night Shift

The first few weeks of meeting with my counselor, I couldn't get thru a session without sobbing and asking for reassurance that I wasn't just totally crazy.  The details of the last 12 years had taken their toll.  My helper finally said, "I've been so worried about you.  You are not crazy.  Your life has been crazy-making, but you are not crazy.  In fact, I can't think of a single client I've worked with that can identify with your story. Some people would understand one part, some another. But, I fail to remember a single person I've dealt with that can say they have had everything on their plate that you have.  Not one. It is no wonder you feel as if folks can't understand you or your situation.  They can't because they can't absorb the totality of it."

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Then, she quietly and  kindly explained that if I had exhibited only 2 more symptoms, I'd qualify as a PTSD patient.  I recoiled. Me? Have something in common with someone coming back from a combat zone? She showed me the diagnostic criteria. I broke out in a cold sweat....not a good sign if you are hoping to refute a PTSD-related diagnosis. Oh, MY! The signs and symptoms of 'traumatic stress reaction' seemed hauntingly familiar.  Say like...if I had written them myself.

So, there it was. I was totally broken. I had, my helper insisted, to learn to take care of me for a change, or there would not be a me left to take care of.   The news settled in around me like a cold fog--at once both numbing me and filling me with a bone cracking cold.

She asked me what I thought about the book . "Surely," she said, "You have been laboring on the night shift. One who has not labored there has no idea what it is like to be a night shift laborer. It can feel incredibly lonely. It is easy to feel loved by God when you draw the day shift assignments of life. Not so much when it is cold and dark with no light in sight. You have never had time to recover from one thing when the next one erupts.  You have no margin left. Any stress makes your bucket slosh over.  You are spent."

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
My stranglehold on composure ruptured, and the fountains erupted again. "Here's what I'll tell you I know about that book!  I get it! I told God:

I give up! I get it! You don't have any use for me and don't want to use me to do whatever it is you are doing in that grand plan of yours to help a hurting world. I get it. You don't need me! I've always wanted to be part of your plan, but I finally get it. There's nothing I can do for you. So, I GIVE UP!

That is what I know about what I read in that book!" I exclaimed. If I could have, I would have curled up in a fetal position of defeat.

She let my raw emotion ebb.  She did what Job's friends did when they got it right. She sat with me in solitude and let me grieve my losses.  She didn't cluck and assure me I was wrong. She didn't chide me because of my lack of faith.  She didn't try to cheer-lead me into claiming some greater glory that was not mine to claim that day. She sat with me in solitude allowing me to be broken by the trauma and chaos that had unfolded between 1999 and 2011.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Then, she began to nudge, prod, and gently insist that I do what I've always wanted to do.  Write.  "Don't come back to see me," she teasingly threatened, "unless you have applied for a scholarship to the writer's conference."  And the rest, as they say, is history. Here I am writing. Writing my way back to God, I hope.

If you are cold and lonely and have been on the night shift so long that you have forgotten what the sun is like, I'm your girl. I get it. You don't even have to groan much less give me a well crafted paragraph. I get it.  Sometimes on the darkest, coldest nights, I'd say, "God, I can't even pray anymore.  Please let someone out there who knows me remember to pray for me...."

During these days that I feel I am wrestling with God, and sometimes man, I still can't pray a lot. On those days, I do pray one thing, "God..somewhere out there today is someone who feels forgotten and alone in the cold and dark of the night shift.  I can't pray for me, but I am praying for them.  Even tho' I don't know who they are to call a name...I am praying for them. Somehow...let him or her know it...let them know and feel the power of my prayer for them today."  If that was for your fraidy cat...I mean it...every single word and every time I say it. 

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
We are about half way into our journey thru the circumstances that have delivered me to the place I am tonight.  If you'll come back, I'll tell you the last half. And, in the process, I hope we will figure out something about God that we didn't know before.

Psalm 91: 14-16
"Because he loves me," says the Lord, "I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation."