Sunday, July 31, 2011

Lost in Translation During the Clash of the Titans

The titans of pop culture have names that change depending upon the decades in which you grew up. They used to be Ward, June, Wally, the Beav, Andy, Barney, Aunt Bea, Betty Jo, Bobbie Jo, Billy Jo, Kate, Uncle Joe, Oliver, Lisa, Hazel, Mr. B (George), Dorothy, Harold, Jed, Jethro, Ellie May, and Granny.  They came from places like  Petticoat Junction Green Acres, Hooterville, and Mayberry.  Lucy and Desi slept in twin beds. The "Gaaah-laaaay" uttered by the wide-eyed and innocent Ellie May was the closest thing you'd hear to a cuss word no matter how many hours you watched in a row. Life wasn't as simple as they made it look. Yet, the innocence of the times, people, and places depicted made you feel safer and happier for having spent time sharing their world.

Unlike kids of today, we spent our days outside even when it was hot enough to fry an egg on an asphalt parking lot. In the 'olden' days the only air conditioning was outside under trees. A breeze on a 98F day could make you shiver. We occupied ourselves vs depending on a variety of battery and electronically driven gizmos and gadgets to do it for us. My bike was an army jeep, a horse, or a police car all in the span of 20 minutes even as late as my 6th grade year. Families and neighbors chatted on porches or under shade trees while snapping beans or shelling peas.  Kids said, 'Yes ma'am," and "No, sir," and acted like it when your back was turned because they knew another adult would care enough to be watching.

My family didn't even have a TV until I was a tween-ager. Books came alive with as much intensity as one of Steven Speilberg's 3D movies when flashlights lit the pages. If you mom caught on to your flashlight caper and you were lucky enough to be situated well, you could draw back the curtain and continue to read by street light. I blame my middle-aged eyes on the nights the streetlight was my flashlight. Beverly Clearly, Patricia St. John, and Gertrude Warner with all their cohorts wove simple tales that kept me awake till the end of the book without troubling my dreams. The children who lived between the covers of those books were innocent, resourceful, and respectful. 

I was born on the cusp of change. I don't for a minute want you to think I'm against progress. It's just that, sometimes, I wonder: at what cost has progress come? The buzz started out in whispers little more than rumors.  Back in the day, it was the closest thing to the frenzy that grew in response to the news Oprah was abandoning us. Chad Everette, as Dr. Gannon on Medical Center, was going to utter the first 'D' word ever spoken during prime time TV.  There was collective shock, outrage, and protest.  Yet, we all tuned in to see if it was true. And, it was. It wasn't too long after that when I was aware of my 1st exposure to a feminine hygiene commercial.  The rest, as they say is history.

I don't mind telling you that I found it all fairly invigorating in some ways. I was woman. They told me all this change was about enabling me to roar. I never burned a bra, but I can remember news accounts of protests where it happened. That makes me slightly younger than the age of suffragettes, I guess! By the time I graduated college, women could envision and obtain careers other than teaching and nursing.  That, as my nemesis, Martha would say, "is a good thing."

And we have the Hilton and Kardashian sisters, The Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons families, as well as teen moms on MTV who rival bratty brides on Bridezilla.  Don't get me wrong, I am not sitting on some high-fallutin high horse. I grew quite fond of Kelly Osbourne during her Dancing With the Stars transformation even tho' I never watched the show.  Cable news told me all I needed to know in snippets here and there. I appreciate growth and change when I see it. My sense of her is that of a young lady who has turned her life around. Anyone would agree it was a feat given what she's dealt with in her life.  Yet, nothing about today's media titans leaves me feeling better for having spent time in their presence.  Frankly, a lot of times, I want a brain bath and reassurance that the world will be a better place tomorrow despite the vapid selfishness depicted in today's media circuses.

How far we've come and yet how much we've lost.  I recently attended a movie that was supposed to be suitable for early teens.  I didn't hear the 'D' word.  That might have been preferable since the 'F-bomb' was dropped in one scene while a character openly smoked dope in another.  Prime time commercials tout the advantages of intimacy enhancers and bemoan the intricacies of erectile dysfunction.  Little boys and girls can enter the names of  'potty' words and be transported thru the magic of the internet into a world of pornography so vile that the imagines will remain forever seared in their minds.

Young women celebrate their empowerment even as they celebrate the freedom to 'hook up' in relationships designated 'friends with benefits'.  Young men and young women flail in confusion over the value of being fully male or fully female.  Even as we celebrate our empowerment, we watch the stories of senseless slaughter because one person does not value the lives of others.

I wonder...did empowerment lead to slavery? Was what we gained worth what we lost in the process of our empowerment? Something was lost in translation:

Mad Penguin Creative
There is a God. He created you. He does care about the minutia of your life. You were created for a wonderful and unique purpose that you alone can fulfill. The God who created you will watch over you and enable you to complete the purpose for which you were created.  Even tho' life sometimes hurts, none of those hurts cancel out these truths.

Ephesians 2:10
 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Carol Anne Wright Swett 2011

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Place Where Life Changes in an Instant

It's almost funny now.  In those relatively uncomplicated days before I fell, I was often seized by a sense of pending deja vu. Yea, I know. That doesn't make a lick of sense as we say in the south. I guess God was trying to tell me something? I could feel him hovering near every step I took. It was a precious time.  I had folded my resources around me, my encouraging books and my multiple versions of the Bible, and nestled in their blanketing comfort.  Even tho' God had not sent the cavalry over the hill at the last moment in 2003, I still hoped he might dispatch them this time. 

I wasn't sure where my good God was taking us, but surely we had seen the worst outside of imminent death.  There was still a chance I could be God's cheerleader and would tell the story I had envisioned. My city was groaning under the stress of unemployment. The traffic on perpetually busy streets dried up. The roadways were often so deserted that I would reflect back to the start of the Persian Gulf War or the night after 9/11. I would find myself uneasy about what I'd find on the 'breaking news' when I got home.  It was only more news about unemployment.  We'd escaped by the skin of our teeth. Surely we'd still find a way to be the poster family for restoration after total loss. Surely, I'd be able to comfort other wives who were now looking down the barrel of a loaded economic gun?

A series of events unfolded in the community around me that summer after Jeff moved. All of them involved sudden and unexpected change.  I left home to run errands. On the way home, I noted that a house 2 blocks from mine had burned to the ground in the interim. Later that day, I posted a Facebook status update reflecting the chilling effect.  It went something like, "I went about my day as usual, thinking that today would be just like yesterday. So did a neighbor.  Life changed in an instant. Their house burned down. We go on as if today will be the same as tomorrow...and then life changes in an instant."  If I had to guess, I'd say I had about 10 of those 'life changed in an instant' moments as Facebook updates in the days just prior to my fall. God's funny sometimes, isn't he? Yea.. Ha-ha.

When the boys and I gathered at night after Jeff had moved ahead of us to Tennessee, I'd often tell God how mindful I was of his protection. I'd note with awed humility that none of us had even  broken a bone, other than my father and grandfather, that I could recall. Ain't that almost funny? Ignorance is bliss as long as you don't know what you don't know.

I could sense the fragility of life and the serendipity of circumstance every day as my summer of uncertainty unfolded into an autumn of despair. The irony of my oft given thanks was not lost on me as the EMS van wound its route to the hospital. After I posted last night, I remembered more of the conversation my hand-holding paramedic and I had.  I told him about my good God and how I wasn't so sure anymore that he had good plans for my little family of 4.  I told him he left my broken heart and spirit laying in the mud, but I didn't ask him to go back and get it.  Guess that was one ride he maybe won't forget?

The Physical Therapist took one look at me on crutches the day after surgery and ordered a walker.  I told you...pain meds and I don't mix.  I saw the orthopedic surgeon's eyebrows lift as I hopped past him down the hallway.  He didn't have to say it. I could read it on his face. He didn't think I had it in me.  I had no choice. I had a 3-level house and a helpmate living 6 hrs away who would be home about 48 hours every 2 weeks.

I hobbled on my one leg telling myself with every step that there were thousands of women all over this country facing far worse with husbands in a war zone dodging bullets. I might have lost my good God, but I wasn't going to be a wimpy whiner about it.  No matter what I was facing, I had it easier than they did.  Ok... I wasn't going to be a weeping, wimpy whiner until late at night when it was just me, the television, and the chasm in my soul that used to hold my heart.

The cheerleader in me would tell me to get up and get one of my safety nets. I couldn't even bring myself to turn my head toward the bookcase that held them all.  I wasn't mad at God.  I wasn't feeling rebellious. I just felt utterly lost, utterly abandoned, and utterly empty.  Emptiness as dark as the far off corner of space overwhelmed me. I had been big and brave for 10 years. I just didn't have anymore to give toward that effort, I guess.

My boys, my sister, my BFF who presided over breakfast, and I began to learn systems and approaches that would make life easier.  The 1st trip up to shower and back down took over 2 hours as we figured out what we were doing.  By the end of the gauntlet, we had it down to 40 minutes or less. I'll spare you the arduous details, but naps soon followed the shower for the 1st 3 weeks or so.  Physical therapy x2 per week gave me a reason to get out of the house. We got brave enough to go to Target and roll me around.  Once, we even did Walmart.  In a few weeks, I was getting the coffee ready for my breakfast BFF after unloading the dishwasher and sweeping the kitchen floor.  I am woman hear me  roar....meow.

I thought a lot about quad and paraplegics. I thought alot about babies in strollers.  I told myself life could be worse. And, even tho' my head fully acknowledged that fact, my heart was unimpressed.  Well, it would have been if I had had one anymore.  All I had was emptiness. As good as it was to have everyone helping me, I did not have the one person I wanted most of all.  He was 6 hours away through no fault of his own and lucky to be there to boot.  We sucked it up and kept on keeping on doing what we both had to do.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Occasionally, I'd try to tell God about the inequity of it all.  Through all of Jeff's health crises, he'd had me there to lean on, to depend on.  For the 1st time in our marriage, I was as needful, if not more, and he was not there. On his quick trips home, he seemed lost and left behind, grasping to come up to speed with the processes we had developed in his absence.  "God, we'd just gotten back on both feet. We had just escaped the monster in the shadows. We were just feeling married for the first time in our marriage.  Now we are more and more like 2 ships passing in the night again.  What kind of good God are you?"  Only silence filled the air.

My 4 week post-op visit loomed large in my mind.  If I were a drowning swimmer, it would have been a flotation device. My anxiety increased exponentially as the day approached. The morning had gone smoothly, and we were in the car ready to go.  Only, the car would not go.  Our house sits on a downgrade with a steep driveway. We were trapped at the bottom of the hill.  When I tell you it was a pure miracle that my sister resurrected that thing, you can't appreciate the truth of the statement. By the time she got the van to lurch and then bolt like a rocket out of the drive, I was screaming and begging my absent God to PLEASE just let me get to that doctor's office. Once the sobs and screams began, they wouldn't stop.  I told him that I needed my husband for days just like this one.  I begged him to let my husband come home since I couldn't go to him for months on end yet.  It was horrible.  I don't know how my sister endured it.  Even today, I can hardly bare to remember.  I cried till I had dry heaves.  I screamed till I was hoarse.  I wondered where God was and if he could hear me.  Desperation is an ugly thing when you think you are all alone without your good God to run to. 

And mask is off.. Have I scared you as much as you would scare me if you took yours off? This world is a scary place where life changes in an instant.  It is a scary place where truth, as well as right and wrong, have become relative.  It is a scary place where neighbors barely wave much less know each other.  It is a scary place where 12-year-olds commit suicide and 27-year-old rock stars die too soon because of demons they couldn't escape.  I'm afraid that if we don't find a way to drop our masks and stick together, there isn't much hope for any of us.

Thanks for being brave enough to come back again.  I hope you brought a friend. If you know someone whose soul is hoarse from crying and whose tears now only produce dry heaves, maybe you could tell them you've found a place to call home? Tell them it is for those who are tired of explaining the chasm where their hearts used to be.

Genesis 32: 28,30(NIV)
28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel,because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Broken Heart Even the BeeGees Can't Mend

If you've been visiting me for a while, you've heard a thing or 2 about how 'dangerous' I am on anesthesia.  IV morphine apparently has as impressive an effect as well. I remember little of the next 2 weeks.  Quick snatches here and there emerge from time to time.  Before I was loaded onto the EMS van, I made sure that my sister would take my then 6th grader and see to it that he finished his schoolwork for that day.  I remember telling Son #1 that he should go on to classes as there was nothing else he could to for me. What a hero he and his brother had been that morning.  He finally relented and tried to collect himself enough to be a college freshman the rest of that day.  I will always fear that I destroyed what was left of his 1st semester of college. Maybe my inner fraidy cat rules the roost on that one?

 Once the IV took effect, I began to shake violently and continued to do so for several hours. The paramedic apologetically asked could he do anything for me when I cried out in pain. I asked him to hold my hand.  I remember I kept saying, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry..." to no one in particular.  I guess I had said it a bazillion times because he finally asked me why.  I told him that we couldn't afford the expense or inconvenience of what I had just done and that I couldn't believe I had been that careless. I know I managed to see to Son #2's school work in the days between the fall and the surgery that would put enough hardware  in my leg to guarantee my reserved spot in a TSA body scanner.  I guess the rest was like labor. I forgot it as soon as it was over.  I am sure that drug induced ignorance is bliss in this case.

They patched me up and sent me home to await surgery on October 30th. The otherworldly sobbing began.  I remember sleeping.  I was vaguely aware that my husband got home from Tennessee, but it was as if he was a dream. I remember knowing he was there. I remember knowing he took me home from the hospital after surgery and headed back to our new, never to be home, in Tennessee. Other than that, I'm clueless.

A few weeks ago, Son #1 and I were reflecting back over that day and that week.  He said, "Mamma, I've never seen you cry like that. You cried and you cried and you cried. I don't just mean you cried. I mean you BABY cried....just like a little baby. You'd doze off for a while and then wake to insist you had to call Becca. We'd tell you that she had been there, and you'd talked to her. You'd dose off and wake again only to have to be reassured again."

 It's been almost 2 years.  I can look back at those early days with a little objectivity now. Not much, but some.  I'll tell you about that 'baby cry'.  I think the IV pain killers, and the oral ones that followed, opened the flood gates of my wounded soul.  All the stress that I had held back between 1999 and 2009 finally had a way of escape. I wasn't crying out of the pain of a broken leg as much as I was crying out of the pain of a broken heart and spirit. When I could finally get to a window to look out at the scene of the 'crime', I couldn't. It was months before I could bring myself to stare out at the spot because I knew my broken heart was out there still waiting to be reclaimed.

The Becca I had asked for over and over again had rushed dinner over to my family that night.  She was the 1st of an army of friends who put food on our table 3-4 times a week for 7.5 weeks.  Their thoughtfulness extended to Jeff even tho' he was 6 hrs away. When he came home every 2 weeks, we had frozen 'TV dinner' type meals for him to take back to his new home. It wasn't a fresh out of our own oven home cooked meal, but it would have to do for a family living in 2 states. And, it was beyond what we deserved or could have hoped for.

One of my BFF's, Sally, came 2-3 mornings a week to bring breakfast and coffee from our 2nd level down to the 1st where I lived for most of a month.  She has Rheumatoid Arthritis and came even when her condition flared and damp, cold weather heightened the flare. My sister was there every single weekday from October 27th until Dec 22nd. She helped me make the arduous trip up 2 flights of stairs so that I could shower.  When I could joke a little bit again, we'd laugh about me having bat wings of steel that could be registered as lethal weapons before my ordeal was over. Another group of friends came twice and cleaned a bit. My boys were doing ok in that regard, but you know how it don't clean like a mom does. My brother helped keep Son #2 occupied as did another BFF, Anne and her boys. Our next door neighbor mowed our lawn when she mowed hers.  All in all, it took an army to make up for my careless, hasty decision to go where I had told everyman not to go.

Looking back, the faithfulness of those folks still amazes me.  My head knows they were God's hands extended and that their blessing upon my family was incalculable.  I often told myself my situation was temporary. I would walk again.  It would be 6 months before I stood alone on my own 2 feet, but I would walk again. Maybe, just maybe I'd run up the stairs again.  Funny, after I had mowed our 3/4 of an acre the day before I fell, I had spent a lot of time patting myself on the back for being such a tough old broad.  Son #1 said, " know what they say...pride go-eth before a fall." Sigh...apparently, the saying, "From your lips to God's ears" also applies when we least expect or want.

Even tho' my head knew all these lovely and true things about my friends being God's hands extended, my heart...was not in the game anymore. I looked at my bookcase full of treasured books by Elizabeth George, Kay Arthur, Beth Moore, Donna Partow and all the others.  I looked at my multiple translations of the Bible.  I couldn't bear to look for long. I could no more make my way to that bookcase using my walker than I could get out of the house without help. I have never, never felt so lonely, forlorn, and abandoned in all my life.

The cheerleader in me was scathing.  She poked. She prodded. She cajoled. She sermonized.  She berated. I was numb, and her words had no effect.  I had lost my heart and my good God, and I not only didn't know where or how to look for them, I couldn't even work up the gumption to try.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
"God, we had just started over. We were finally free of the monster that had hidden in the shadows of our marriage all these years.  We had a home to call our own again. For the 1st time in our marriage, we had the ability to work together as a team to fix it up. Now he lives there, and I live here.  How can we recreate a marriage that never was living in 2 states? What are you doing to me? To us? What have WE done to you to deserve this? What are we too stubborn to learn?  Why do we need a post-test? I'm so tired of being the flannel board story of faith in everyone else's life. Do you hear me? I'm tired.  If you are out there, you are going to have to come find me. I've looked and looked and looked for you, but you won't let me find you. Have I ever been anyone to you? I wanted to be your chiefest cheerleader -- the one that could tell everyone you would restore all that you had taken away when your time was right. Why can't THAT be the story I tell instead of this sorry tale?"

What about you, fraidy cat?  Where is/was your breaking point? Everyone has one, I think.  I used to think my life was so weird that no one could understand. Then, I went to the writer's conference and heard stories that make mine pale.  In fact, a former runner up to Miss America told how her own brother-in-law had shot at her only a short while before the conference in 2010.  Hah! I didn't get the chance to meet her, but I didn't have to. I knew she'd 'get me' in a skinny minute. Another keynote speaker told us, "As a writer, I don't have crises, I have anecdotes."  Lord knows, I've got a million of  'em, I feel like.  I am humbled that you keep coming back to share them.  Some days you come in droves. Some days you come in a trickle. But come, you do. And, I thank you for it.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I'm writing my way back to God.  I hope before I'm done, we will all know something about him that we can't even imagine now.  In fact, I'm desperately depending on it.  I want my heart'll keep writing. See you tomorrow?

Ezekiel 36:26  (KJV c. 1769)
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

What's a Cheerleader to do With a Broken Heart

where I lost my heart and the wrestling match began
One of my BFF's and I were enjoying a night out. The laughter was flowing freely before we opened the door to the eatery. We collected our order on auto-pilot not missing a beat in our game of 'catch up'. Sitting down at the table we agreed that I'd bless the food. We were the kind of friends that sealed the deal with a nod – no words required.

When we'd met a few years before, her sadness was so great that if she referred to prayer, she'd just say, “P-word.” That was her signal that she needed prayer. She was in the midst of her own “Mamma, Don't Pray, “ days feeling as if her prayers brought more pain any time she dared utter one. In fact, she wouldn't even utter the word 'pray' in any form when we met. The tables were turning now. She heartily and frequently encouraged me that she was praying for me. The same words had now begun to stick in my throat. I still tried to be God's cheerleader, but I didn't shake my pom-pom's much anymore. I was hanging on for my dear spiritual life by bloody fingernails.

This particular day, however, I was buoyed by our laughter and easily launched into a traditional pre-meal blessing. All went well until it was time for the A-men: “Ok. Talk to ya later....” I ended the prayer and looked up to continue our gab fest without missing a beat. I registered a micro-expression on her face. It was just large enough to catch my attention so that I stopped mid-way of my 2nd or 3rd post-prayer sentence. “Did...did I just say....?”

At that point, she exploded in laughter, threw her napkin up in the air and said, “ did...You didn't say, 'A-men.' You said, 'talk to ya later.' I thought, goodness! I know they are on good terms, but that's...that's a whole lot closer than even I imagined!” We laughed; we laughed till we cried. That incident became a part of our mutual folklore.We'll laugh about it every time one of us says, “talk to ya later.” We'll laugh about it every time food needs blessing.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
How did a girl who was so close to God that she ended a prayer with, “Talk to you later...” end up having to write her way back to him? How did it happen to me? I know what happened, but I don't know why I ran out of steam as it were. Cheerleaders never lose their perk, right? Or, have I just not really known what goes on behind a cheerleader's mask? Can someone tell me how a cheerleader keeps on cheering when she loses heart?

The rain had begun to come down in a fine mist. I could choose to go straight down the hill in the back yard on the grass. I could choose to go along the brow of the hill. Part of the brow was absent of grass and littered with rocks, acorns, and sweet gum balls. I had often cautioned anyone in our back yard, “Stay off the brow-a-that hill!” To me, it looked like an accident waiting to happen. Ha! Yea...I guess the great American novel writer would call that an example of foreshadowing if not an outright premonition.

Feeling the urgency to get the mower in out of the rain and make my way on to the milk run, I set out straight along the forbidden brow of the hill. As I went, I berated myself. Step 1 on my right leg: Why are you doing this? You tell EVERYONE to avoid this area. Step 2 on my left leg: What are you doing? What are you thinking? Step 3: Oh, dear Lord, NO! NO! NO! NO!

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
My brain went into that life-flashes-before-your-eyes hyper-speed, and my thoughts came more quickly than a super hero's. My ankle rolled outward as I launched into a 360 degree flip. I knew my leg was broken before I hit the ground. I did not know it was broken on both sides of my ankle nor that the smaller long bone running from my ankle to knee was also broken about 1/3 of the way up.

In the space of that roll, I thought a bazillion things, and I thought them all at God:
Why? I live in a tri-level. My husband lives SIX hours away. What am I going to do? I have told you I have taken all I can take in the last 10 years. What part of 'all' don't you get? This is 'all'. I quit. I just quit. I can't do more than I've done to cling to you all this time. If you want me, you are going to have to come and find me because I've looked and looked and looked for you. Where are you? WHY? Do you SEE me? I can't chase you anymore. I'm done. I'm all alone, and I know it.”

I sat in the mist on the scree that peppered the hill I told everyone to stay off of watching the dirt begin to turn to mud. I tried to work my way back up the hill on my behind and hands. I quickly realized that tho' the skin was not broken, I would have to hold a bone in place. At first I thought, “Oh, good! Will is home studying. They will realize something's up. No. They think I'm at the grocery store. I could lay here for an hour.” I began to call and then scream and then bellow. Nausea welled over me, and I knew I was slipping into shock. No neighbors could see me if anyone was even home. No dogs barked alarm at my cries. The house was shut up tight with no windows open.

Finally, 2 wide-eyed boys came busting out the back door. “My leg is broken. Get your cell phones.” I directed son #1 to call the ambulance and son #2 to call my brother thinking he was only a mile away at my parents'. Once those calls were made, I began to think thru what needed to be done next and calmly dispatched directions. “Get my keys, phone, and license off the front seat of the van. Get my insurance card. I can't swallow anything, but get me some water to rinse my mouth. I'll rinse and spit. Get a blanket. “ I had operated on auto-pilot for so many years I guess I didn't know how to do anything else even tho' dry heaves began to overwhelm me.

Even as I clicked thru my EMS is on the way to do list, I wrestled with God. “You know I can't take anymore. I know no one is dying. I know it is not something hideous like cancer. I know I am not a leper in China. But, I'm just too tired to take anymore now. We had just caught our breath. We had just 'remarried' and begun to taste restoration. Now I'm in a house I can't sell with a husband who is 6 hrs away. I sure won't be moving now. What part of 'I can't take anymore' don't you get?”
After too many minutes and several phone calls to 911, my EMS ride appeared. Finally, I began to cry. Not as hard as I would, but the tears began to come. As they got me to the gurney and up my long hill, I knew they had only picked up my body. My heart was on that hill looking for the good God with whom I had just begun the wrestling match of my life. If I thought the last 10 years had been a challenge. I had no idea what the next year was preparing for me. 
Oh anybody out there? Where does a cheerleader go when she's lost her pep. Especially if that cheerleader is a life long fraidy cat? Life can be so lonely behind our masks. How long has it been since you took yours off? If you did, would you scare me as much as I scare you without mine? I've said it before. I'll say it again. If you know a fraidy cat or someone whom life has overwhelmed, bring them back with you tomorrow? Tell them you've found a place where fraidy cats can take off their masks and rest a while? I hope we will all be glad you did.
Love you long and strong. See you soon?

Genesis 32: 28,30(NIV)
28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel,because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I Wish I'd Left My Heart in San Francisco

We quickly embraced the idea of the move to TN and enjoyed a giddy celebration meal with our boys. News was that Jeff's new company would send him to France, Poland, and maybe Germany. We might even live in France at some point in the future. If I hadn't been a fraidy cat, allergic to passports and all, it would have been a homeschooler's dream come true. What an education!

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I took a lot of huge gulps of water but made a mental note that I probably could use something a good deal stronger! I sang the re-invented version of my Willie Neslon theme song, put my head down, and decided I'd go inter-continental when the time came. I figured I'd pass out from hyperventilating before fear killed me. Even then, I knew my inner self wanted to suffocate the fraidy cat that has haunted me most all my days. Good a time as ever to slay the dragon-cat. Long in the tooth as I was even then, I was running out of borrowed time for such a lofty undertaking.

The mover came and did an audit to determine the size truck we'd need to beam us into our future. The home inspector came and sized up our house with good bones. We knew it was going to be tight since it had been a no down payment loan. We weren't sure, frankly, exactly how it would work this time. We'd always moved with a hefty amount of principal attached to our name before. Those days of being the darling of the real estate industry were long over. We'd shrug and say, “Tomorrow will take care of itself. We survived! YEA! GOD!” 

Two realtors came – one of the company's choice and one of ours. We made hurried explanations of how the bones needed new paint and new carpet. We pointed out that the good bones had outweighed the cosmetic stuff that needed doing when we had moved in 9 months prior. Both individuals seemed a bit more nervous than I recalled realtors seeming when we sold any of the last 5 houses we'd owned. Hmmm....

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
We picked thru the employment contract knowing that those 'no down' deals had dissipated with the economic earthquake. Hey, we'd survived! It would work out. Our realtor of choice came back with a friend who was an appraiser. I think that's what they said he was. We gathered in the entry hall. They coughed and stuttered and stubbed at the floor with their toes. They had a hard time making eye contact. I smelled blood in the water...and I was the chum. Deja vu starts feeling real familiar after a while. Pun intended.

With all the moving we'd done, I had developed a hobby, real estate. About every realtor we'd ever worked with asked me why I didn't get my license. I figured once the boys were old enough, I would. I figured out how to use public information to run my own comps when my folks bought the house a mile from us. I was within $3,000.00 of what their realtor came up with. We went with my numbers, and they got the house. I had a sense about these things. I watched those fellas looking like they were bugs run thru with mounting pins.

Jeff said, “Something's wrong?”

I said, “We are under water (a term meaning you owe more than the house is worth). How bad is it?”

Shock registered on their faces as they glanced at each other. The realtor asked how we knew. “It's a hobby...look...we've already talked with the bank and have worked out a short sale or deed in lieu of foreclosure if that doesn't work. We had already let go of the house in our minds. What you are saying is less shocking than if we were losing it. We'll figure out something.“

The 2 men let out long, slow sighs of relief. The cohort spoke up. “At least you two had an idea. About everybody we talk to these days expects to make the profit they would have made last year this time. We are spending our time telling them what we were going to tell you. Only, they are clueless. At least you all had a clue.” Then, I noticed, really noticed for the first time. Those fellas looked like they had been beat to a pulp emotionally. It was hard enough to hear the news. I couldn't imagine being the one to deliver the news to unsuspecting folks like us who had a house they needed to unload quickly. I couldn't help but feel sorrier for them in that moment than I did for me. They left as we all agreed that things might pick up in a few months, and we'd try again. Hahhahahahahaha as they say on facebook.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
$30,000.00. Our house with good bones had lost that much in equity in 9 months. Every dime of it hurt since we had moved in the month before the crash with no down payment. Time to regroup. We survived. We'd figure out plan B. Yea, God. Jeff spent a lot of time communicating with his new company. In any other economic climate, their hiring package would have been like wining a Powerball lottery to a modest, just getting back on our feet again, family like ours. It was a dream come true that seemed surreal. Or, it would have been if reality had not been more surreal.

We were, again, a statistic. I heard about us on the news almost every night. The good news was Jeff did have a job. We decided to rent the house here and rent one up there. Our older son had opted to attend his 1st year of college in town but would move in with my folks. That would be good. They'd have a younger person coming and going daily. Yea, God! Plan B would work. We'd lose a lot of those perky moving benefits as renters vs buyers, but we'd survived. Whew! I could still be the cheerleader!

Unbelievably, the numbers again started looking really dicey. It boiled down to our losing money on the rental plan. Rental rates had plummeted along with the real estate market. Who knew? Not us. No, we wouldn't go in the hole as much as if Jeff were unemployed. However, when you have only one credit card, you can't afford to go in the hole any. We began to feel like dogs chasing our tails. We went round and round trying to figure out how to make income match outgo if we rented in both towns.

Surreal. We snagged a job in the worst economy since the great depression. Not any job. A dream job with benefits to die for. Ok...we'll take the job even if we can't have all those fancy-schmancy benefits. Who cares. We will be together. But, how do we keep going in the hole every month? We wrestled with the dilemma from June thru mid-October. We decided to go for broke as we were going to go broke one way or the other it seemed. We found a wonderful homeschooling family with lots of little kids to fill up our house with good bones. They had experience rehabbing homes and were happy to do the painting we would not get to do. They were coming over on Wednesday the 28th of October, 2009 to ink the deal. YEA! GOD! On the road again...on the road again...I just can't wait to get on the road again....

I mowed grass on Monday as rain was expected on Tuesday. I'm OCD about not moving the mower back into our workshop till it has cooled some. Early Tuesday the 27th, I told my just turned 19-year-old college freshman that I was heading to the grocery store to get milk. I'd be back in a few. He was home studying for test. I had time. He had skipped a class to study. What a fateful decision.

I plopped my keys, phone, license, and debit card on the front seat of the van. I glanced down the back yard at my freshly cut grass and realized the mower was still parked in front of the workshop. ERGH! The rain was starting. No problem, I'd run down and put it away. I will never know why I took the path I took. Being a good Presbyterian, I'd have to say it was Providence. Sigh. I had no idea that I was going to fall. I had no idea that when the EMS squad picked me up to head for the hospital, we'd leave my heart behind in the rain and mud.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Whispers on the Wind

Who made you who you are? What people and influences molded and shaped you? What memories resonate in both the pivotal and mundane moments of your life? Somehow, I always find myself waxing sentimental, if not downright ecclesiastical, on Sundays. This week my sense of sentimentality has been heightened. We have begun the 2nd year without my mom. Her eldest sister spent several days in the hospital this week. The airwaves have been flooded with the news of a pop idol's untimely death at 27 and the senseless massacre of more than 80 young people at a youth camp in Norway.

I suppose I'm an anthropologist, sociologist, or abnormal psychologist at heart because I'm a news hound who thinks about societal trends and impacts on an almost daily basis. Somehow, as I mulled over the connections between a homegrown Norwegian terrorist and a forever lost British singing sensation, my life story and theirs superimposed themselves. I wondered. Who made them who they were? What people and influences molded and shaped them? What memories resonated in pivotal and mundane moments of their lives. Did anyone tell them, “You are fearfully and wonderfully made by a creator God who designed you with a distinct purpose that only you alone can fulfill in this world?”

I worked alone in my kitchen today getting ready to serve a traditional Southern Sunday meal: beef roast, watermelon, peaches, green beans, and fried squash. (Yea, in case you were wondering, we did eat those now 'world famous' green beans.) Shhhhhh...listen real close now. Be real still. If you listen hard enough, you can hear it. The noise transcends the memories of my mom, my sister, and me as we worked with seamless perfection in preparation for other Sunday meals of long ago and far away. I started out thinking about us. Before I knew it, I heard the others who came before us.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Shhh....hush now. Hear it? Those are the echoes of other noises – now almost so faint as to be beyond detection. If I open my ears really wide, I can still hear the droning hum of the saw mill across the street. Give me that over a fan any day for white noise by which to sleep. A breeze gently lifts the corners of the kitchen curtains as the screen door slams repeatedly – bam, bam, bam-slam. “Don't let that door slam!” comes the call. The newfangled venetian blinds bump the window frames ever so slightly as the breeze continues its appointed rounds.

You can trace the arrival of the family by the tap-tap-tap of Sunday-go-to-meeting high heeled shoes making their way across the house. Voices begin to fill the rooms as hungry little children clamor, “How much longer till lunch?” The house is already awash in scents that have spilled out the open windows and across the street to the neighborhood church. Thanks to the summer breeze, mouths started to water as soon as congregants spilled out into the church yard.

The troupe assembles, and the dance begins. The women move about the kitchen in well-drilled precision. Little has to be said as decades of routine kick in. Some unknown caller of the dance seems to direct the frenzy. There are questions and laughter and staccato-ed directions. Antsy cousins, fueled by all the sitting still required for Sunday-go-to-meeting decorum, wander in and out under foot to be shooed away until it's time to assemble at the “Children's table” in the kitchen. Oh, the longing for graduation day to the dining room and the center of the grown-up action.

For just a brief, magical moment in time, the breeze came and lifted the curtain of life transporting me back to the place I became who I am today. The 5 women were there, my Mammaw and her girls. In reality, there were probably not many times that my mom and her 3 sisters' families were under one roof. That's ok. I'll take it as it came today and hold onto it as long as I can.

It was a simpler time before women burned their bra's, and television commercials lauded the advances of feminine hygiene and testosterone boosters. No one had heard of terrorism. IBM had not yet come to mean “I've Been Moved” to company employees. In fact, IBM may just have been a twinkle in some prehistoric nerd's eye. All these women did was live the life that was put before them. They did it without fanfare or glory. They often did it in hazy rooms filled with the overwhelming vapor of chemicals used to insure the perfect 'permanent wave' in each other's hair. It's a wonder any of us survived the exposure to tell about it. But, boy, didn't they look fine?

And, I am older than they were then. We blinked our eyes, and time went on to places we could never have seen or imagined. I carry on the dance in a kitchen of my own, sad that I do not have a troupe with which to dance. Buoyed by the memories of the days they taught me all I know without ever uttering a word of instruction.

I remember “Sister” who was, I think, one of the first people that gave me to know I could make other people laugh. I never got to see her enough and always left her presence feeling stronger and more sure of who I was. She made me see myself as more than I felt I was. I can still see her face light up as she begins to laugh. I feel like magic, and the performer in me is born again and again.

Then, there is Pearl. Her family knew hard times but never seemed to keep that from enabling them to find a way to laugh. They have grown up to be a family as singularly knit as any I have ever seen. You know without asking that they have each other's backs. “Don't mess with Texas” doesn't even hold a candle to how you'd better not mess with them. In a day when families don't remember what it is like to have roots, her family's roots are firmly planted in the soil she plowed.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Gail. LOL. The youngest who could weld some magical power I am yet to understand. We jokingly call her “Saint Gail the Divine” because as my mom became more frail, she also became childishly obstinate. All we had to do to get her to cooperate was to tell her that, “Gail thinks it is a good idea,” and ,VOILA, instant cooperation. Sometimes, in desperation, we'd even call and say, “Call Mamma and tell her _______.” You see, hearing it out the mouth of 'the saint' carried more clout than hearing it second-hand. I guess you could say she is a self made woman. She was the first real career woman I knew other than a nurse twice her age. Mamma often said I was as tenacious as Gail. If only. I hope. She raised 2 boys mostly as a single parent in the days before every other marriage ended in divorce. They don't have tattoos or do drugs. They have good jobs and families. They have made their momma proud, I think. I wonder if they know how proud they should be of her?

Then, there was Mamma who knew a thing or two about tenacity. As an adult I often described her to friends in this way, “Above the water line, you never see her ruffled. Below the water line, she is paddling like hell to stay afloat. (Sorry, just seemed to fit.) She graduated from college the same year as my sister. She held her first real job at age 40 and worked till she was 70 or more. She went to church and played the piano the same day she tore her right bicep muscle. She took in strangers off the street for the night and is remembered by retired missionaries and pastors for her singular hospitality to road weary servants of the Lord.

The dance of life continues on. The breeze of time moves us forward. I know whose imprint I carry. I wonder. In the days to come, whose life curtain will lift to carry the echo of me into the days ahead? Will I have made someone braver? Will I have helped someone see that they are more than they ever saw themselves as being? Will I have imprinted anyone else with tenacity? Will they know that they are funnier and more resilient because of me? Will anyone know that they are fearfully and wonderfully made by a creator God who gave them breath in order to fulfill a special place in this world that only they can fill?

Shhhh...listen real close. Can you hear it?

James 4:14 (NIV)
You do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Agony. The Ecstasy. The Cabana Boys.

I was having all kinds of inspiration about what I was going to write tonight just enjoying the daylights outta myself. I was feeling 'purtee' smug, I was. Take that smug and raise it exponentially because I was getting ahead on tomorrow's lunchtime chores. I had a bowl of beans, fresh from the farmer's market, all washed and snapped and ready to cook for Sunday lunch. I had a mess of squash (Southern speak for enough to feed 5), also from the farmer's market, washed, sliced, and ready for tomorrow. I am wo-man,hear me ROAR! Ok..I'm a fraidy cat – MEOW.

You know that sniff Barney Fife of Mayberry used to let out when he was particularly smug and self-satisfied? I had it down to a fine science by the time I bagged those squash. I could see the end of my tunnel for today. I was a mere 5 heavenly minutes from retiring to my derriere to pretend I was eating bon-bons while watching cabana boys. Yep, that was my plan, and I was rejoicing at the idea of sticking to it.

I flipped the switch on the disposal in the next to the last move before I could indulge in my nightly ritual of hot chocolate. Yes, I know it is so hot that Satan wants his weather back. I've seen the sign on Facebook. However, NOTHING gets between me and a nightly cup of hot chocolate...not even global warming. Not even my CHILDREN. They learned early in life that if they reached for 'the cup', they'd draw back a nub. I'll lay down my life for them. I just won't give up my habit. Not that I need rehab or anything. I'll consider that when I'm ready to SELL my children for Hershey's cocoa. I mean...when I'm ready to sell BOTH of them at once. Short of that threshold, I deny having a problem. But, I digress.

I was the Proverbs woman to my sink disposal which was acting as my servant-girl. I was the master of my domain. (I'm a liberated woman, ya know.) It was chugging away while I wiped up counters. I was reaching a point of internal harmonic convergence and could feel words getting ready to drip from my fingers onto the keyboard. I was antsy to start writing. Those cabana boys would have to wait. I turned to flip off my servant-machine.

In an nano-second, I realized that the disposal had stopped following orders, and water was backing up into the sink. Along with debris from shelling all those green beans. In the next nano-second, the sink began to vibrate in a way that I knew was NOT harmonic convergence with me and my impulse to write the #1 best blog post in the universe tonight. Before I could blink, water began spewing out from under my sink with the force of a fire hydrant turned on to cool down city slickers in a heat wave like the one we had this week.

Remember, I am in the midst of the great, time sucking renovation from insanity-land. So, I have no cabinet doors on that side of the kitchen. Meaning...all that water was streaming at the speed of the space shuttle from one side of the kitchen to the other. There was one obstacle in the way of that jetted spray. ME! One of them cabana boys might as well have shoved me into a pool I was so wet. I like that version much better than what was happening to me. I'm old, but I'm not dead.

I let out a yelp that resulted in 2 of my 3 testosterone units running from opposite corners of the house to observe the action. I want you to know one thing. Slapstick on TV is a lot funnier than plumbing crises in your own kitchen at 10p on Saturday night when you are 5” from enjoying virtual bon-bons and cabana boys. Sigh...the life I live.

Thank heavens my fellas are fairly handy with tools and mop rags. We got the cabinet cleaned out, a fan hooked up to dry the wood, and the floor mopped up. My husband sat in the now dry floor and muttered to himself about the logistics and physics of how I managed to pull off such an impressive feat. I realized I was shaking like a leaf from the shock of being hosed down by green bean effluent. I also realized I needed a bath to recover from my spa treatment of ground up green bean shells and strings. Hmm....wait a minute.!

(Note to self—research market for green bean pulp as an anti-aging spa treatment. Measure turkey neck in the AM to see if yours has tightened up any from tonight's saturation. Also, check cellulite in case you've just discovered the new miracle treatment for that too! This could be a happy accident!)

I came wandering back downstairs about the time the man who promised to love me, honor me, and clean up plumbing explosions at 10P on Saturday nights for me had begun to button up the disaster scene. I was still shaking and in NO MOOD to entertain you people tonight. Know what I mean? Gone was all that inspiration. My harmonic convergence had been interrupted, and I was not getting my mojo back tonight no matter how much ya'll sweet talked me. Or bribed me with cheap chocolate.

I wobbled down to the family room still shaky-kneed from the suddenness of my disaster and collapsed in my recliner. Lord-ee, what I wouldn't have given for a bon-bon and cabana boy. It's a shame that real life doesn't include one of those holodecks from Star Trek, so I could fill my own prescription!

I decided to take one last swoop through cyberspace before I called it a night. I was so exhausted I momentarily thought about forgoing my hot chocolate. I flipped on the computer and caught up with whose been doing what while I nearly drowned myself tonight. Thank ya'll for noticing that I was in crisis, by the way. I was feeling decidedly anti-social, and for once decided to keep my warped sense of humor to myself. I opted not to comment to anyone. Don't everyone thank me at once.

Last I had checked my blog, I was sitting on 4976 visits and had been sitting there for 6 torturous hours. I was so glad everyone but me had a life today with places to go, people to see, and things to do. Ok, I was really happy for ya'll till I looked like the Jolly Green Giant. After that, it was every man for himself

Sigh...that magic 5,000th visit as going to have to wait till ya'll came back from wherever ya'll go at about 6p on Friday night till about 9P on Sunday night. I had resigned myself to having to be patient with ya'll because that's the kind of wonderful person I am. It's ok. I'm getting used to it. Really. It doesn't affect me at all. I mean, I don't think anyone notices the tic I develop about 6P on Saturdays because it usually disappears by about 10P on Sunday. My 2 therapists on retainer and my counselor tell me it is nothing to worry about. And, I trust them to tell me the truth.

I sank down into the comfort of my lovey chair and got ready to lick my wounds. Then my eyes registered my blog status page. While I had been engaged in the great plumbing vs green bean wars, you peeps had been busy! I had jumped from 4976 to 5025 blog visits!!!!! Wha???? Whooo??? How???? Wha?????


Who needs cabana boys? Who needs bon-bons? Who needs hot cho... wait...let's don't get too carried away! I love ya'll and all...but....

Life. I guess it is all about the agony and the ecstasy. Thanks to you guys, I got to experience one right after the other tonight. Thank you for every time you asked a friend to follow my blog. Thank you for every time you chose to hit the 'share' button on your facebook link. Thank you for every time you emailed the blog link to a friend. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. You have meant the world to me this last 2 months and 5,000+ clicks. I know a lot of you came by accident and kept on moving. I know some of you came a few times and moved on. But, some of you....some of you found a place to call home. I'm glad you came to stay a spell. I mean...what kinda loser would I be if all I had was virtual cabana boys? ;-)

Love you long. Love you strong. Friady cats rule. See ya tomorrow? Meow.......

Friday, July 22, 2011

Deja Vu All Over Again

“Is anyone at work in a whirl?” I tried not to stutter.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
It was either a Monday or Tuesday. I really can't remember now. I just remember that I had flipped the news on and noted that the stock market had taken an odd tumble. It rallied a bit. Didn't matter. I'd seen the handwriting on the wall...or rather on the brand spanking new, no down payment mortgage. I figured Jeff would be laid off before the 1st payment was due. I also figured he didn't know it yet. He's that kind of worker bee. He has intense focus. He ignores office gossip. That has gotten easier now that his repeated respiratory infections have robbed him of a lot of his hearing. Even when he could hear normally, he was all about the work and never much about the small talk especially the water cooler gossip. After 19 years as his pipeline to news, I knew he would have heard nary a word re what was happening on Wall Street that morning.

“Yea, I've heard a few folks bemoaning something about 401K's. Is the stock market doing something weird? Is something up?” Chuckle. We hadn't had a 401K since 2002, so ignorance was bliss till my call.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
By lunch the next day, it was apparent that the tumble was not a glitch. It was post 9/11 all over again and maybe even with a vengeance. My hand hovered over the phone. I didn't want to know, but I did. I finally gave in and called his desk. He had just been given an important assignment on a huge project. It could be a real feather in his cap. He had been faithful in small things for years. This might be that 'big' thing God would bless him with for his faithfulness on behalf of his employer.

“Hey, how are things up there. Have they canceled your project yet?” I figured it wasn't if...just when. I'd been through this slaughter before.

“NO!” Jeff sounded stunned. “They told us to go ahead full steam.” I knew it was too good to be true. The next day he called back about lunch time. “Guess what....?

“They canceled the project.” Note the absence of a question mark. I didn't have to ask. “Who have they laid off?”

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
He noted that he had seen a brand new hire, only on staff a week, carrying boxes out to his car. Last in first out. Others would follow in droves. I squeezed my eyes shut to block out what I saw coming for us and for all the other families out there. I did the math. I knew that this new house with my name on the deed would belong to the bank again before I had lived in it a year.

I put my game face on. I pumped my heart as God's chiefest cheerleader into high gear. I told myself that my loving, good God would NOT leave me flapping in the wind again. He most surely would not do it just as we had gotten back on our own 2 feet. As much as I wanted him to use me to encourage others, this time would finally be mine. I would seize my dream on his behalf. I had done my time in the valley of shadows. Now as other people experienced unemployment with all its fears and adjustments, I could step in the gap and say, “You will live through this time. You will start over. There will be life again. You may lose much, but in the end it will all have been worth it.” I could be the poster girl and tour guide for anyone's trip through unemployment now. Ha! Boy, was I fooled.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I knew I was going to need to be steadied. I began to study on how to bolster myself for what was coming. Looking back, I don't know what I could have done differently. I was constantly turning my battle plan over in my mind. Walking into the grocery store, I passed the spinner of inspirational books. My 2 fav's at the time were Elizabeth George and Donna Partow. Out jumped George's book, Following God's Path Through Your Trials. I thought, “A-ha! This will be my suit of kryptonite! With this resource, my cheerleader's heart for God, and my life experience, I'll be unstoppable.” I could just see myself riding the tsunami wave of unemployment about to sweep over our country. Surely God would not sweep us away with the wave. After all, we'd done our 3 years after 9/11. Ha!

I came home and gathered my safety net. I had my 3 Bibles, each in a different translation. I had my 3 books: Becoming a Vessel God Can Use (Partow), A Place of Grace (Hunt), and my latest acquisition from the grocery store. I was all set. Come and get me now, life!

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Hey! How good Presbyterian Providential! We'd just bought a house with good bones. My living room would seat about 17...more if we got real friendly. I had a screened porch and deck to take advantage of the pleasant fall days for mentoring and ministering as the recession deepened and affected more families. I was so excited I could barely contain myself. All those years, all those tears would finally have a purpose as I gathered other hurting women under my wing to assure them that there would be life again. I could look at them in all sanctimonious sincerity and say, “God is Good. All the time.”

Let me tell you something, sometimes ignorance is not bliss. I just didn't know how ignorant I was. I had a nagging sense of deja vu all over again. I didn't have the heart to crack the lid on that new, jointly purchased, bucket of paint. I didn't open the boxes of pictures to hang them on the wall. I told myself I'd hang pics as I painted rooms. Myself knew better. I wasn't hanging pics to turn around and take them down again. No sir. Been there done that and was too poor from it to have a t-shirt to brag about it. Still, it sounded better to lie to myself about painting first. You know, having a cheerleader for God heart and all.

Poland 2009
You can know what Chinese water torture is without a drop of water ever hitting your head. That is what life is like when you sit and wait for the other shoe to drop as you watch co-workers sadly, angrily box up their life and go home not knowing what they will do next. At first, the news was good. Men would leave but end up with other work right here at home within a week or so. Next thing you know, word was they had been laid off there too. A few headed to other parts of the country. Maybe they were one of the lucky ones that made it out unscathed. I'm not sure.

Jeff's office had been a place full of life where the men seemed to respect and care for each other and show it via the good -natured ribbing that punctuated their work days. Rapidly, it became like the visiting rooms of a mortuary as friends said goodbye to friends. Those left behind endured survivor's guilt and didn't know what to say to the other doomed survivors. Those pushed out the door earlier felt anger. “Why me and not one of them?”

I can hardly breathe even now, 3 years later, when I remember. We had not met a lot of those men, the boys and I, but they were like family to us. They had laughed together, and we had laughed at their laughter almost every night at the dinner table. I had hoped despite the stupidity of it, that Jeff would retire with that company. Consulting engineering companies don't retire folks anymore. I'm sure they'd love to, but the economy will never allow that again, I guess.

Summer became fall, and the holidays approached. There would be no joy in our new house on that first Christmas. We kept up our attitudes but the look in all 4 pairs of eyes told the story. We could see the buzzards circling, and their orbits got lower with each revolution. The holidays became January, and Jeff got the call. February. That was all the time we had to prepare, but it was so much more than so many folks got. Yea, GOD!

Then, he got another call. He had scored an interview. They had an offer. We didn't have to think twice. It was here at home. We could keep our new house with good bones. I could be the poster girl! YEA, GOD! The phone rang again. We thought it was Jeff's new company with a start date. It was the company. There would be no start date. They had just lost 2 large contracts. Not only would they not be able to hire Jeff, they were laying off now too. Before it was over, you couldn't sling a dead cat in my town without hitting an engineer looking for work.

Jeff called the mortgage company. We knew the drill. By heart. There would be no bankruptcy this time as we still had the scarlet 13 on our heads till 2011. We had just gotten back on our feet. Rather than being able to last years as we had done after 9/11, it would be months. He gave them the date that we'd make our last payment. He told them we'd surrender the deed in lieu of foreclosure if they were willing. They asked us to attempt a short sale. We agreed.
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

I was so numb that I was cold all the time. Or maybe I was so cold that I was numb all the time. This time, there was no voice while I vacuumed. There was just silence and emptiness. I went to work trying to find work and found out that most of those 'now hiring' signs around town really meant 'we will take your app, but we aren't hiring now and won't be for a while'. It was 2001-2005 all over again. Even tho' this go round God had not said, “Be still. Nothing you can do will fix anything, “ nothing I could do fixed anything. Even when friends referred me on to their own employers, I couldn't get the time of day from anyone.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
My aging parents lived only a mile from us and would need us more and more care and help. Still, we faced the facts that we would again be rolling stones. We prepared to hit the road. Jeff scored interviews in just about every state in the southeast. A lot of them ended up in face to face interviews. I traveled to some that seemed more hopeful. We'd land on our feet. Yea, God. Maybe I wasn't able to find work because he'd have work that would require a move. Yea, God. Recruiters would tell him his post-interview feedback was great. Somehow, they always picked a 'local candidate'. Sure sign that Jeff had been a hoop HR had jumped through to prove they had been fair in their pick of a local. He never had a chance. They had wasted our time and wearied our hearts.

We rolled into Chattanooga, TN tired, frustrated, and jaded. We figured it was just another dead end. I'd think it is fair to say that Chattanooga is a hard-scrabble mountain town whose city center is morphing into an undiscovered gem. I was smitten. Jeff loved all he heard about the company and everything about the interview. The commute was kinda complicated, but I could get to my parents on a hard half day's drive. The freedom of homeschooling would allow us to pack our books and stay for a week at a time if need be. It sure beat all the other places that had been a day's drive or more. Yea, God.

We had made the last house payment we could make in May. I had reconnected with friends from the 90's whom we had lost contact with during tthe year prior to the layoff. Horrified at hearing all we had navigated in the years we had lost touch, they sent word, “You won't lose a 2nd house if we can help it.” They made good on that lofty promise. They made our June house payment. Jeff would start work again just in time to make the July payment. YEA, GOD!

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
“On the road again. On the road again. The life I love is making new, old friends, and I can't wait to get on the road again.” I took liberty with the Willie Nelson ballad and posted my facebook status declaring our survival and impending move. I really was going to get to be the girl that wrote the book on how to survive starting all over again. Really, I was. If you had asked me then if what I would really write was a blog about how I am having to write my way back to know the drill. I'd have asked you what medicinal herb you had been smoking.

I'm still trying to figure out why God has done what he has done. Just as much why he left some things undone. Suffering is relative. Deprivation is relative. Fear is relative. We've added a new saying to our litany that began with, “This situation is not permanent. No one is dying. Death is permanent. This is not. We will be ok.” After my son went to China in 2008, he came home with a whole new bird's eye view. Some days as my world continued to crumble, he'd say, “Mom, what we have is relative. We are not lepers in China.” And, I knew in my rational head that he was 100% right. But for the grace of God, I was not a leper in China. But, in my heart, I felt like a leper. I just wasn't in China.

Courtesy B. Creasy
Oh, fraidy cats, thank you for dropping by today. If you know someone who is struggling because of unemployment, health issues, learning disabilities, broken dreams, lost purposes, or faintness of heart for any reason, would you tell them you've found a place to call home? Bring 'em back with you tomorrow? I'm not sure where we are going, but I think it will be a lot less lonely and a lot more fun if we go together. I'm looking for my good God. The one that I thought I knew. I fell. When I did, my gyroscope went all wonky. I haven't been able to find my way ever since. Thanks for cheering me on. Every time I see your click, I know you are saying, “Go, friady cat, GO!” Love ya long. Love ya strong. See you soon?

Psalm 9:10
“Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you.” (NLT)