Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Back Where We Began

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

And now, we are back almost where began with my post of 6/10/11. Much to my amazement, folks have kept coming back for more despite the Lemony Snicket nature of my tale! I envisioned that I would use this vehicle to tell you about other folks whose lives had presented almost insurmountable challenges. In fact, I started out doing so! I wanted to tell you about fraidy cats who had conquered their inner most fears and struggles and become people they'd never dreamed of. I'd hoped to spice it up once a week or so with some hilarious tidbit about the foibles of life since laughter is good medicine. I even managed to hit a few home runs with that effort according to my blog traffic stats. Well, you know..home runs for me...not as compared to Ree-You-Know-Who-Drummond.

Instead, I ended up feeling as tho' I needed to write my way back to God before I continued telling you other stories. As I look back on that decision, I think about a study of politics that my son and I did during his high school years. The author of the curriculum said that, when you read something political, you need to understand the person who is writing. What is the author's philosophy and bias, etc.? I'm guessing that need is equally, if not more, acute when you read a faith-based blog about folks who endure challenge and overcome. If you don't understand my breadth of experience, how can you understand the perspective from which I write?

So, now you know about my challenges as well as my struggles to reconcile those in light of my faith in a loving God with a good plan. Not a day has passed that I don't tell myself this blog was the single most ridiculous idea I've ever had and that I'll NEVER write another post again. That includes right now tonight as I type in case you wonder!

Without fail, every time I resolve to pull the plug on myself, creatively speaking that is, the unexpected happens. One of you kindly leaves a comment that lets me know my story resonates in your heart. Maybe I get an email or a new follower signs on via Google or Networked Blogs. Sometimes you inbox me to tell me you've asked others to join the fraidy cat experience. Lo and behold, they do! Gracious!

Often, when I least expect it and can't figure out exactly why it happens, someone courageously hits 'share' on their facebook wall under my blog link or gives me a thumbs up. Consequently, I can watch stats and see evidence that my blog is traveling far and wide in the cyber-universe. Ok..again..far and wide for ME not as compared to Ree-You-Know-Who Drummond. I know where I am on the food chain. (If I forget, my 14-year-old thinks it's his sworn duty to remind me that you are all here by accident! Don't think I'll go getting a big head any time soon!)

When the blog begins to travel with velocity, I watch in stunned amazement. It's as if the blog bounces around like a ball in a pinball machine increasing my visitor count as it does. Do you wonder what my reaction is? I say a prayer that my words will impact someone who is hurting and who feels alone in that pain.

There are days I know that I can write 'real pretty'. In fact, I'm sometimes shocked at what comes out of my fingers onto this screen. But, even on the days I think I've written the most inspired words I'll ever live to write, it won't mean a thing to me unless I've warmed someone's day. Especially if that person is hurting and feeling as if no one can possibly understand his/her sense of isolation.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I was never more sure of that perspective until a few days ago when I learned of the untimely and sudden death of one of my heroes. Yes, I still can't write those words without tears welling up. He wrote for boys and young men, but he had a profound impact on this fraidy cat as she shared his wisdom with her sons.

Only 2 days after I learned Bob Schulz was gone, Isaac and I read a chapter in his book, Boyhood and Beyond. The book was published in 2004 when he had but a few years left to live before his death at age 57. (I am 53 in case you wondered!) He wrote, “I thought about the future and wondered if I would live to have gray hair. And if I did, what things would I want to tell the next generation about God's strength?” (p. 130)

Oh, my, my, my! You can imagine that for this fraidy cat daughter of Abraham, who feels as if God has sidelined her and kicked her off even the injured reserved list for his cheerleading squad, those words were just about my undoing.

The talking heads who tell you all about the path to blog success tell you early on that having a poorly defined purpose for your blog is the kiss of death. I've struggled with that one as I've meandered down this path to where we are going. I've asked myself: if writing my way back to God is my purpose, who on God's green earth is going to care besides me and him? Some days, I've asked myself if even HE cares!

Tonight, if I were drawing up a mission statement, it might look like this:
  1. To write my way back to God.
  2. To do so in such a way that those coming behind me would say, “I wanna know her God because anyone with a cheerleader like that must be someone I want on my team."

Thank you for wandering over to this invisible corner of the cyber-universe. No matter what brought you here tonight or how many times you've come by to visit, you honor me. This world is a busy one. So many things are clamoring for your time. In that chaos, you chose me to share part of your day. WOW. Who knows, maybe before we are through, I'll have written my way back to God and discovered that I really am a writer after all. You? Maybe you will say, “I wanna know her God and have him on MY team.”

Love you long and strong. See you soon. I'll keep coming back if you will.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What in the World is God Up To?

Courtesy Christina Jones Hooker
After that weekend conference, I limped back into the counselor's office, emotionally speaking, and told her how bewildered I was at my response to the lady in the skybox kitchenette. She smiled, nodded, and didn't look one bit as horrified as I felt. In fact, she told me with due gentleness that I had behaved in a tenaciously faithful way. In her assessment, there was not a hypocritical bone in my body. We talked about Hebrews 11:1 (Bible in Basic English):

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the sign that the things not seen are true.”

It was hard for me to hear those words much less apply them to what I had done. I still wrestle with myself over that chain of events. I wonder what happened to that broken lady. Why did I act as I did even tho' I felt as estranged from God as I felt? Did she begin to turn her life around? Does she look back and remember the day and the shared prayer? If so, does she feel a lift in her spirit? Does she remember it as a point of change in her life? Was I just one more person in a litany of them who had done what they could but whose efforts could not match the epic pain she was enduring?

Wanna know what I wonder most of all? Given that there were 10's of thousands of women in that auditorium, what are the ODDS of that meeting being happenstance? In all that crowd, I ended up sitting with 2 women from a teeny-tiny town most people have never heard of that just 'happened' to be the hometown of my college friend. And, they KNEW her. Chance? No...I think not. What about you? It's almost enough to give a fraidy cat a heart attack, isn't it?
Courtesy Christina Jones Hooker

My pain was so much less than hers, relatively speaking. Yet, the nature of my losses uniquely equipped me to identify and empathize with her on a moment's notice and without much explanation. I felt the same loss of identity that haunted her even tho' the root causes were different. I God's bigger plan, were my pain and loss for the purpose of equipping me for those kinds of encounters? OUCH.

Well, now, how in the WORLD can that be? I've spent most of the last 3 years adjusting to the fact that God had no intention of putting me to work for a useful purpose in his big plan. Yet, somehow in the midst of some of my darkest weeks, he had allowed me to fall in beside someone walking in the darkness of life and, for a few brief moments, just walk. Fraidy cats that stick together get a lot farther a lot faster, doncha think? 
Tonight, a full year later, I wonder if I will ever understand what God is up to in my life. See weary as I am, I do still believe that he has a plan. The cheerleader in me just won't give up. I am left to rest on a simple thought. is not the word because I find my present state anything but restful. Nevertheless, I have to accept that these words are true:
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

Isaiah 58: 8-9 (Bible in Basic English)
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, or your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

If you've ever watched a professional wrestling match on TV, you know they just aren't pretty. I don't care how big their muscles are or how flashy their spandex is designed to be. That's just some ugly stuff going on up in that ring...even if it is all mostly make believe. (Shhh! My Pappaw, God rest his soul, is probably up in Heaven trying to convince Jesus himself that it is ALL real. I don't want him to hear I'm not a believer anymore, laugh out loud!)

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Way I see it, life is like a big ole wrestling match. Thing isn't professionally produced with choreographed moves for the audience's entertainment. It is absent the hype and the pseudo-glamour. On any given day, UGLY can walk right into your life unannounced like it belongs and challenge you to the wrestling match of your life. Before you know what has hit you, you wonder who you are. You'll even wonder if you ever really were who you thought you were. You might even wonder if you believe what you believe you believe you believe. You wonder if life will ever be right again. If it hasn't happened to you yet, my guess is you've lived a charmed life and/or you aren't very old.

Courtesy Christina Jones Hooker
I reckon if you've come to this corner of cyberspace and stayed more than a few minutes, you either know whereof I write...or you care about the people who do. I thank you for your kind compliment in joining me in my journey as I write my way back to God. I'm sure hoping he'll find me quickly because I really do want to know what he's up to. Don't you? Come back again soon and maybe bring a friend or two? See you soon, ok? I might even wear Spandex and a cape. ;-)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Faith vs Hypocrisy - part 2

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Ever walked a tightrope without taking your feet off the ground? Sheesh! I had just watched umpteen thousand smiley faced women file out of that auditorium. I prayed it was just me and the cleaning crew left. Having waited so long to leave, I was afraid they were going to come throw me out and report me as a homeless squatter. Surely, I had waited long enough to be alone. Well, if I was the prettier girl with the fancier blog (no...I'm not mentioning the name Ree Drummond here but you know who I mean),
I'd have turned around and had that fancy schmancy sky box all to myself. But, NOOOOO!

I wanted to: Roll. MY. Eyes. (Don't you just love that Facebook has made it ok to write like that and throw grammatical convention to the wind when the situation calls for it?) There they were all rocked back in 'my' private kitchenette like they had no place to go and plenty of time to get there...all 2 of 'em. I choked back the desire to let out an exasperated huff as I rolled my eyes because I remembered where I was. For all I knew, those fine ladies were my husband's bosses' wives. Shoot. For all I knew, they were above him in the management food chain and WERE his bosses! So, I smiled, made my sweety-pie face, and put on the southern charm. Just in case.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Hey! How ya'll?” I chirped 3 octaves above my norm. “Don't ya'll just hate fightin' with awl that traffic after sumin' like this conference? Ya'll mind if I sit a spell and wait for stuff to finish clearing out? I thought I'd write a little bit while I kill time?”

Of the pair, one was obviously the 'line leader' and nodded her assent. It was then I noticed that the quieter lady was fighting to hold back tears. (To be fair, I had also noted her state earlier in the day but averted my eyes and minded my OWN business.) Awkward, as my kids would say. I had enough trouble of my own. I didn't need or want to know her story. But, you know how southern women are? I was doomed as soon as I turned around and locked eyes with them. Shoot! Shoot!! Shoot!!!

Don't ask me now how it got started because I was scared to death to open my mouth lest I be outed as the imposter I was. I was an other-worldy alien in a world of Jesus freaks trying to figure out what happened to the girl who had always tried to be his head cheerleader. I guess it is my mamma's fault. She never met anyone that she didn't ask in the 1st 5 minutes: 1) “Where do you go to church?” and 2) “Do you love Jesus?” She also taught me to respect anyone older than me and anyone in uniform. 
These ladies were older. Given my advancing years, that is a smaller segment of the population than it used to be. Mind you, I noted that fact and found myself even MORE irked than when I realized I was not alone. Anyway, I minded my manners and started making the appropriate mouth noises for the occasion. It must be in the genes.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I really fought not to say ANYTHING and just bury my head in my notebook. Instead I said, “Where ya'll from? Ya'll work for the company? My! Isn't this box somethin'!” Lord have mercy! They were from some po-dunk town about an hour from the convention center. If I told you, you wouldn't even know how to find it on the map. Me? Roll. My. Eyes.

Not only did I KNOW where it was, I found myself explodin', “Do ya'll know Eulalia Smith (*named changed to protect the innocent)? She's from ya'll's hometown and was my next door neighbor in college. Why, I was just thinking about her the other day because she is one of my all time personal heroes!”

Now, you might have guessed I was as syrupy as southern sweet tea as I spoke, and I was. But, I'm a tell you the truth, I meant every word of my admiration for her. She single-handedly gave me a higher bar to aim for in my early 20's. You can imagine that news was all it took for tongues to come loose at all the root-hinges. Next thing I knew, the quieter, more reserved lady was a boo-hooing. Her life story was pouring out like I was her long lost best friend capable of fixing every thing that had ever gone wrong in her life.

I didn't need her to tell me pain is relative, but her story merited flannel board figures in a Sunday school class. As shattered as I was, I was rock steady on my feet by comparison. She had just been discharged from one of many admissions to the very psych hospital where I had worked so many years ago. The one I feared I might end up in on the other side of the admissions desk!

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
As her history and admission would have recorded it, her precipitating events were the discovery that her husband of 20 some odd years had been unfaithful for many, many years. Within a couple months of that horrifying discovery, her talented, successful, handsome, popular 16-year-old son had committed suicide and left no note. He was home alone with his pre-teen sister while the mom and older sister had gone to the grocery store. Her family had once been pillars of the church and business community and quite prominent in their small town. I stared in the eyes of someone who could write my book entitled, “Who in the World Am I Now and Was I Ever Who I Thought I Was” with subtitle, “God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?”

I steeled myself to remain emotionally distant as she poured out how isolated she felt. She explained how her church family couldn't understand nor go the distance required for her to recover. After many years absence, she had only recently begun to attend again. The 'line leader' was one of the few that had reached out to her upon her return. The others, I guess, had been fraidy cats. What she had might be catching if they got too close?

Her family was in shambles. Her former husband had married the object of his illicit affection. Her remaining 2 children couldn't understand why, after 10 years, she had not moved on past the pain of betrayal and loss. As hard as they were trying to forge a relationship, they could not bear her struggles. To be fair to the kids, they probably needed a mom who was present in the moment for them and found her too consumed with her own grief to register theirs adequately. I'm no Dr. Phil, so that's just my guess after listening to her story. All I know is she knew my pain and had experienced it to the 3rd exponent. She'd get the fraidy cat in me if I told her.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
She paused in her woe and looked at me expectantly to see if I would reject her pain or the character of it. It was clear she was used to knee jerk responses from people who had 'a word' for her. She was poised to take it like a woman. If not that, she expected me to say, “God is good....AAAAAAAALLLLLLL the time...” in my most insufferably sanctimonious voice and then sing “Alleluia” stretched out to 3 paragraphs of syllables. Ha! She didn't know who she was messing with: Her Royal Highness, Queen of the Fraidy Cats.

I let the silence hang there for a bit while I wagered how big a hypocrite they would indict me as being if I did what I knew to do. My inner set of eyeballs rolled around in disgust with me. “Yea, they gone be REAAAAL impressed onc't they know all 'bout how strong yo' faith is Missy Miss. Whatcha gone say now?” I arm wrestled with myself. “How can I encourage someone like her when I'm here as an imposter?” I slammed my mental opponent down on the buzzer and declared the match over. I told myself what I was about to do was an ultimate act of faith and a victory over my pain vs the act of a divine hypocrite.

Ma'am? I know a bit about being lined up in front of the Christian firing squad. We Christians have spiritual ADD and can rarely hold on with folks to the end of the story God is writing. I'm so sorry for your loss and for the pain you've endured. I'm sorry for the further pain you have endured at the hands of those who ran out of patience. If you'd allow me, I'd love the privilege of praying with you before we all make our ways home. May I?”

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
You could hear a pin drop but for the sound of her subdued weeping. Because I knew what a hypocrite I was, I asked God to perfect my imperfect prayers on her behalf thru the ministry of his Holy Spirit. Honestly, that is about all I remember of my prayer because I was so acutely aware of how horrified they might be if they knew who was praying and what my story was. I dreaded opening my eyes after the 'Amen' for fear the Holy Spirit had instead given them the 411 about you-know-who while I prayed.

The 3 of us took a collective deep breath and sat in silence together licking our collective wounds. Line Leader spoke up and said, “I think...I think you must be an angel...I've never...I've never heard anyone pray like that, and I've been in church my whole life.” (I started to ask if she'd been in an infant seat on the piano bench while her Mamma played the piano by day 3 of her life.)

The Broken One looked at me thru tear glistened eyes and said, “No one HAS every prayed for me like that. I've never heard that kind of understanding in anyone's prayers. Who are you?”

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I took another deep breath and smiled a hurt and broken smile silently chastising myself for my hypocrisy. “I am simply someone who understands great loss. I understand that no one can really grasp the depth of your loss. In the span of a few weeks, you lost your identity as a wife, mother, member of the church, member of the community, and daughter of God. You had no time to recover from one blow before another hit. If you have not endured it, you cannot understand it no matter how much someone explains it. It takes one who has experienced great loss to understand it without explanation. Unfortunately, I fit that definition. And now, if you will excuse me, I believe I'll begin to make my way home. I hope you will look back on today and remember it as a turning point in your life. I will remember you and pray for that reality.”

I quietly slipped out of the sky box wondering who the angel had been that them?

2 Corinthians 1: 3-4
(Bible in Basic English) Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

Genesis 28:16 (Bible in Basic English)
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Faith vs Hypocrisy on the Wrestling Mat of Life

I listened carefully even tho' nothing said really canceled out the look with which those powerful words had been delivered. Negotiations followed the words. Territory was staked and terms agreed upon. I found no comfort in coming home. I have just become accustomed to doing the next thing when I am completely and utterly numb. So, I did.

I went through the motions, but every move I made was tentative and hesitant. I stopped talking. Those of you who know me probably roll your eyes and wonder how that was possible. I actually counted my sentences. Once I had used 4 with any of my 3 testosterone units, I stopped talking. It seemed any more conversation than that initiated by me affected them like chalk squeaking on a chalkbaord. Hours and hours of silence filled this house as everyone navigated to the farthest corners possible. I was back, but I was not home. Far as I could tell, there was no such place for me. I wondered if  there ever really had been.

I found myself less and less able to move about in the community. I had become a rather proficient couponer. Not one of those you see on TV, but I'd cut our grocery bill in half. The only place I went that was not required for son #2's school schedule was the grocery store. My  90 minute coupon trips became European shopping. I'd run in and grab what we needed urgently on that particular day. I'm sure I looked like some contestant on a game show where you get to keep all you have in your buggy after 5 minutes of shopping. I scurried home as fast as I could. I might as well have been a zombie once I got there.

The 1st Christmas without my mom arrived. We were all quiet, the 8 of us. We were together and aware how much had changed in the previous 7 months. It was as if we were afraid to make too much noise or celebrate with reverie. I looked back with profound thankfulness as I remembered how I had hobbled around on the walker doing my part to make her last Christmas meal one she would enjoy.

I wondered if there would ever be anything but dead, dull silence in my life and in my heart again. I remembered how only a few years before, I had sighed with happiness, utterly content and utterly aware that I had everything I had ever wanted despite all we had lost. I had no idea what was coming. Ignorance is bliss when you don't understand how many ways monsters in the shadows can keep on launching terror attacks.

Winter settled in with ferocity. The world, it seemed, was growing as cold as my heart – even here in the deep south. I sat and waited for the next thing to do. Jeff told me he'd gotten me tickets to a women's conference. The headline speakers were noted Christian women. I was indifferent. He pushed a little was box seats in his company's private box. It was a coup that he had snagged 2 of them. I called around. As I suspected, everyone that I would have wanted to spend time with was booked on such late notice.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
It dawned on me. I really didn't want to be with anyone. The extrovert in me was still missing in action, and I really didn't care one tiny bit. Good riddance. I had figured out that, if those awful words about me were true, I needed to stay as far away from people as I could lest they understand what a wreck of a wasted human being I was.  Occasionally, I thought, "What if it is not true? What if the things I've been told about me over the last year is not true? What if the lady in the dentist office was right about me and not the 3 people closer to me than anyone else in the world? What then?" If then, I couldn't keep living with people who disdained me so completely that I disdained myself. Could I?

The box filled up with chatty women. I smiled as required and then minded my own business hoping the box would not fill up. Gone were the days when I would try to get to know someone new. The friendly girl in the dentist’s office was a memory in my rear-view mirror. She was hiding in terror for fear others might see her for what she really was...whatever she was, it surely couldn't be good, could it? 

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I sat like an observer come down from outer space whose mission it was to observe this unfamiliar new planet. In the past, I would have laughed at the right places and become misty eyed with a sense of increasing faith at others. Now I just sat and watched without really listening. If God didn't show up on a 7th floor ICU ward, I doubted he'd show up in the middle of thousands of women all abuzz over being free from the routine of life for a few hours.

It ended for me as it began. I was a stranger in a strange land. I had been physically homeless, and now I felt emotionally homeless. No rush to go back to where I didn't feel as if I belonged. So, I sat watching the thousands of faces empty out of the auditorium. I watched them go and wondered, “Does anyone in this place feel as lost and alone as I do? Did anyone else come and go wondering if and when they will ever fit into God's big plan again?”

I had my notebook. I turned to the private kitchenette behind the boxed seats hoping it had emptied out as well. My heart sank. I was still not alone. I wanted to be alone to write. Why did they have to linger as well? There are days still that I wonder...why would God choose me for a divine encounter when I was the one wrestling with him? How do you explain what happens when faith meets hypocrisy in the wrestling matches of life?

Psalm 139: 7-12
Where shall I go from your spirit? or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend up into heaven, you are there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall your hand lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yes, the darkness hides not from you; but the night shines as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to you.

Genesis 32:28
And he said, Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel: for in your fight with God and with men you have overcome.

Genesis 28:16
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it."

Friday, August 26, 2011

Into the Eye Wall of the Storm

I'd spent a lot of time thinking about my life during the long weeks while my leg knit those 3 fractured bones back together. So, by the time my life caught fire, I had already considered the empty nest looming ahead in just a few years. I had concluded that I needed to reinvent myself. But, then, didn't every mother facing an empty nest and every worker bee facing retirement? I worked that reality over in my heart and head day after day and night after night while I waited to walk again. “What do I want to be when I grow up?”

I wondered what I wanted to be and had a whole long list of possibilities I could cross off. I'll tell you a secret if you come real close and promise you won't tell a soul. I don't say this out loud – ever, so I'm just going to whisper it. When no one was looking or listening and I couldn't swallow back the idea any longer, one dream slipped out over and over again. I wanted to be …. well …. uh… a ...uh...sigh....a...writer... Gosh. It hurts to even say it, so don't tell anybody I said so, OK?

The more I considered my failures, the more I figured I could rule out that dream that wouldn't leave me alone. In fact, the more the idea seemed like pure lunacy. When those words sailed in on that look the day my family imploded, I was sure that I was such a pathetic failure that I never wanted to try to do another thing in my life. My body kept breathing, but if it had required thought on my part, I'd be cold and dead in the ground over a year by now. I guess God gave us an autonomic nervous system for a reason.

One by one my ideas about who I was and what I was to do with myself had crumbled in the long 2 years since we moved into the new house that God pulled out of a hat. I had given up on being the one to tell folks that God was a good God who had restored us to a better life after he allowed us to lose everything. Yea, we had a roof over our heads and a paycheck in the bank. But, we sure were anything but restored. My dreams of a restored marriage had flamed out in an explosion that would have made the guys on Myth Busters stand back in silent awe. My relationship with my boys echoed the stresses and strains of the broken relationship with their Dad. I wondered how they could loathe me given how much of me I had sacrificed or put on hold so that their interests came first.

I sat alone in the quiet and again turned over puzzle pieces of my life. I told myself the situation was temporary and that I'd dig out from this latest trauma just as I had all the others. I looked at the mirror and knew....there was no going back from this one. I might recover, but I'd never be the same.

'm one of those extroverts they tell you about when they say we are energized by contact with people. Exhibit A: the lady in the dentist office who spoke to me for 5 minutes and then asked if she could hug me in parting. Now, as I sat in the quiet, there was not a soul on earth I wanted to talk to. I'd slip home every morning after Jeff would leave for work but before my college son needed to leave for class. I'd complete the academic work I needed to do for Son #2. Then, I'd slip away again to the quiet. Sometimes I rode toward the mountains, but I was as vacant as a human can be and still not have a wreck. The only thing I could think was, “I am nothing. I am no one. Who am I now? If I have failed at the 3 things I have exhausted myself trying to be for the last 24 years, who have I ever really been?”

Charlie Daniels fiddle chased me every where I went and every step I took, “Fire on the mountain. RUN. BOY. RUN.” The only problem was I had been running my whole life, and I had not one step left in me much less the energy to run. I stopped looking for God because I had become so used to the quiet. I mean, if he didn't show up in my dying mamma's hospital room, why in the world would he show up in the middle of my life as big a mess as I was?

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
He might show up for someone fact, in my experience, he usually did...but I wasn't one of the chosen ones. You know the type....the prettier cheerleader who has an easier story to tell. The ones who can intone, “I have a word for you...” and give everyone chills up their spine while they lean close to see what it will be. Or the ones who say, “God. Is. Good. All. The. Time.” with such ecclesiastical conviction that you nod your head enthusiastically even if what you really wanna go is, “Say whaaaa?”

At the end of that week of solitude, the phone rang. The voice on the other end was flat and scared. “Can we talk?” Ain't nothing more deadly than a word that comes sailing in on a look. From where I sat, there wasn't a word left to say. Didn't matter what got said, I'd finally seen the truth in his eyes. Words wouldn't dress up the truth anymore...not even if a counselor helped. I had given everything I had to give for over 20 years. I was so empty, there wasn't even an extrovert left inside me fighting to get back out.

There's a hurricane bearing down on 3 of my old 'hometowns' tonight. When the sun shines again after the storm, folks will assess the damage and figure out how to start over with whatever the storm has left behind. I know a little bit about how that feels. I'm still assessing the damage from the disasters that have overwhelmed my family of 4 over and over since 1999. I'm still trying to piece together what the God of the wind and the waves has in mind for what is left of me now. 
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
What about you fraidy cat? Maybe you hide your storms better than me. Maybe you even do a good job of hiding them from yourself. Have you convinced yourself and all those around you that you are high and dry behind that mask of yours? But, when the world quiets down, and you can't run from yourself realize you can't run much longer.

Welcome home. When you are in this place, you are safe. You don't have to explain a thing. I don't have 'a word' for you that is going to make you feel like I am your moral and spiritual superior. And, while I am still convinced that God's plan is good, I'm gonna be the last one to tell you that I feel good about it all the time. I'm writing my way back to God...and I'm hoping that he will find me as I do. Thank you for coming along on my journey. Maybe come back tomorrow and bring a friend? It sure feels less scary when friady cats stick together.

Micah 7:8 (Bible in Basic English)
Do not be glad because of my sorrow, O my hater: after my fall I will be lifted up; when I am seated in the dark, the Lord will be a light to me.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Me, Charlie Daniels, and the Fire on the Mountain

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

I drove west knowing I would lose the race. Looking back on my state, I can only describe it as the same way I felt in the hours and days after 9/11. Remember the feeling? We all knew the world has just changed in an indescribable way and were not sure exactly what it all meant. We just knew it wasn't good. I had a sense that the monster in the shadows had launched a terror attack into my life and that the damage of this strike would be irrevocable. Some monsters are like a gift that keep on giving, and there is no return policy that I'm aware of as of yet.

I was in another state when I realized I could not make it all the way to Colorado on one tank of gas. I didn't even know how to find the friend I was headed for. I figured I'd just keep driving till I found her crazy as that was. But, as usual, I was too fiscally responsible to whip out my credit card, pump more gas, and keep on going. Someone had to be the adult, and as usual, I pulled the short straw.

I pulled over in a parking lot and watched the sun fade over the mountain. As the mountain peak caught in a blaze of sun-setting fire, the voice that had filled my head on the ICU ward returned. Charlie Daniel's fiddle screamed thru the synapses of my brain, “Fire on the mountain, run, Boy, run....”

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Oh, how I wanted to run and keep on running till no one knew my name, and I could start over again as someone else. How could I go on being me if all I had just been told was true really was? How could I go on if all that were true in addition to all I had always feared was true? “Fire on the mountain, run, Boy, run.....”

Slowly, it dawned on me that my parents' home sat waiting. With some sense of defeat, I drove back the way I'd come, every mile taking me deeper into the darkness of that night. I walked in and felt the silence of an empty house and an emptier soul. It was the kind of silence that announces it has been empty for a while and that the life has drained out of it never to return. Me and that house had a lot in common.

So, the house and I sat silent and empty and alone. For once in my life, there was no 'next thing' to do except sit. I thought maybe God might see my pitiful state and whisper that he was there then and had been as well on those long ICU days and nights. You know, head cheerleaders don't go down easy. I still wanted God to show up even if it would seem a day late and dollar short. S'cuse the clich̩. My ears throbbed with the silence. I waited. The throbbing in my ears filled the room. I realized it was my heart beating it's worn out, broken in two thu-dump, thu-dump, thu-dump. When I awoke, I was sitting up on the sofa Рstill dressed for my trip to nowhere in particular.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I had a job to do. I returned home to school my child so that the state couldn't object to our educational choices. As soon as I could, I quietly slipped out the door and back to the silence. I sat in the quiet and looked back over the last 12 torturous years. Where had I gone wrong? What had I done? What should I have done? Was everything I had devoted myself to worth anything in the end anyway? The 3 people closest to me had each taken turns in the last year telling me in no uncertain terms that it wasn't. The last salvo had come from the most powerful person in my life humanly speaking. The look in his eye...more than the words....told me all I needed to know.

God had made it plain that I was not his head cheerleader and that he didn't even need me on the injured reserved list. My sons and I had no relationship left to speak of. Beyond functional services I provided as a necessity of their day to day life, they could take me or leave me...and they opted for the latter most of the time. My roll as a mentor and organizer in the homeschool community had diminished as my older one moved on to college. At the same time, that community was becoming more sophisticated and sure of themselves. They didn't need dinosaurs like me to lean on anymore. I had lost my sense of community and no longer even tried to find that 'church family' kind of feeling. No one really seemed to miss me. To tell you the truth, I didn't miss them much either except on Sunday. Then, I didn't miss 'them'. I only missed the hope of what I thought they ought to be.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Everything I had ever wanted to be or that had meant anything to me was slipping away. had slipped away. When those words came sailing in on that look, they confirmed my worst fears. In no uncertain terms, the look told me that I was the root of all I had lost even before the words spit out across the room like cannon balls. I sat and listened to the words boom and crash around in the silence as they replayed over and over again. In counterpoint, memories came crashing back to refute the awful allegations hurled at me in those awful moments.

I saw a stranger at the dentist's office. I couldn't hear us speak now, but I could see the dance of conversation between strangers play out. I knew I had said something to encourage her. I knew I had affirmed that there was a God who did care about the minutia of our lives. I saw her rise to go to her exam only to double back when she reached the door to the exam suites. The audio snapped on as she approached me hesitantly, “May I hug you? I think you and I might have been good friends if life allowed. I want to thank you for what you've done to lighten my day.” I rose and she hugged me awkwardly. She disappeared beyond the door,and I never saw her again.

I found myself thinking, “I didn't dream that. It really happened. If I am THAT person...the kind of person that total strangers respond to in such a spontaneous way, how can I be the person the 3 of them have said I am these last few months?”
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Fire on the mountain, run, Boy, run....” I sat and the silence that surrounded me gave me to know I had died on the inside even tho' I had been valiantly fighting for so long to survive. “Fire on the mountain, run, Boy, run.....”

Daniel 2:22 (Bible in Basic English)
He is the unveiler of deep and secret things: he has knowledge of what is in the dark, and the light has its living-place with him.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Darkness Comes Calling

She always comes when I least expect it, but somehow I've learned to forgo surprise at her arrival. The last time she made her presence known, I heard a screen door slam and almost looked up to see her coming just a-flyin'. If I closed my eyes real tight, I could have seen her damp curls shakin' as they formed an indignant crown framing her navy blue eyes.

I had been driving down the road minding my own business. It was all I could do to keep from pulling over because I knew she was going to slip away before I got a-hold of her and pulled her close. She had come to give me a gift. Before she slipped away, I had the framework for “I Love You Do You Love Me. Check Yes No.”

I don't know what it is about the weather, but somehow the weather works its way on me just as powerfully as does she. And sometimes, the 2 of them work hand in hand like they did today. It's eerie almost how my bones feel the future comin' on. I can feel it in the changes of the shadows on the ground and the lift in the breeze when it whispers in the trees. These days of the year, even my eyes feel change coming as the glare on the passing windshields shifts.

Mad Penguin Creative
Maybe it is because one of my earliest memories involves the slam of a screen door before sunrise. It seemed as if that noise was an alarm clock for the birds because shortly thereafter, they went to chirping and cheeping loud enough to make every worm in 3 counties go into the witness protection program. I'd snuggle down under the light covers required at the time. Before I'd drift off into the last hours of childhood slumber, the TV would come on. I'd hear the weatherman prepare the farmers, fisherman, and shrimpers for the coming day. Last thing thru my ears was the coastal tide schedule. Next thing I'd know, I could smell eggs frying in the pan and the sun was up.

I'm guessing that the rhythm of my life became so closely connected to the rhythm of the seasons and weather because of those moments when the voices rocked me from wakefulness to sleep. I think that's how salt water got in my veins and took up residence. Nothing heals me quicker than the sound of an ocean wave. Nothing is more tantalizing to my soul than that last step before you top the dune and hearing will become seeing.

Mad Penguin Creative
I guess it should have been no surprise then that she came back today. Only this time the little girl voice and curly mop of hair had been replaced by an older, wiser, less rambunctious visitor. I think I knew she was coming as soon as I stepped out the door. The breeze lifted the way it does when September is snorting and pawing and ready for the starter gun to sound. There's something about that first breeze when it hits my skin. I feel it and know, maybe before you do, that the spell of summer heat has been broken. Don't matter how many days of Indian Summer are ahead. Those days are just a tease. Summer done gone a-fore you wiped the last sweat off yo' brow.

See. That's how it happens. Before I know it, her voice is in my head, and the way I think stops being the way I think and starts being what she has come to say. She don't talk like me. She's not sure where she's from. She's got salt water in her veins but mountain borned wisdom in her soul. Her words come out all mountain-y too. All day long I fought with my duties because I just wanted to sit and listen.

She sounded weary today. Weary and wise and resigned. I strained to catch a glimpse of the porch she was resting on because I could hear the just so creak of a rocking chair and knew she was barely rocking at all. Rocking and thinking and ready to talk.

Humph. Words. Ain't no way 'round it. Ain't no more powerful weapon on God's creation. All them talk about Gaddafi and his weapons stash on the Tee Vee. Don't them fancy talking folks know he don't hold no candle to words. Only thing wounds more mortal than words is a word come sailing in on a look.”

I sighed a deep sigh. Some because I don't like that first wind of fall. The only redeeming quality about fall I can think of is that I can indulge my favorite hobby of raking leaves. Mostly, I sighed because I knew a thing or 2 about a word that comes sailing in on a look.

When Jeff came home from that fancy job he'd left behind because we were out of options for moving, I thought God had closed a door and opened a window. (To be true, I hate that cliché. In a loving Christian way, of course.) I was so bent over double from the stress of that year what with my fall, my recovery, and my mom's decline and death, that it took me a couple of months to raise up and see the truth.

As my heart began to wake up from its protective hibernation, it dawned on me that the man I'd promised to love and endure with till the end was not himself. He was angry. Who wouldn't be. He was sick every single day, and the doctors couldn't tell us why. He'd just made a super hero choice and opted for his family over the best job he'd had in his life. We were up to our eyeballs, again, in the only debt we could bear because of medical debt and the strain of maintaining our home and his apartment for a year. A lesser man would have opted for hard liquor chased down by something harder. 
He was soldering on, but just like the boys and me, he was at the end of his rope. He was also much more the man whose office door I had dared not approach during the years the locust ate before we filed Chapter 13. The man I remarried had finally, really disappeared completely. If anything he wasn't just the old one, he was even MORE of the old one. To be fair, we were all pretty wiped out from the 10 year strain of never regaining our footings. I think I heard Dr. Phil call it 'reflexive biting' one time. He said folks under great stress, who are cooped up together for too long, eventually turn on each other. I think...I think we might be in the picture dictionary as the example given for that term based on what happened next.

Mad Penguin Creative
The stresses and strains of his year away had fractured the boys and me. We were tense with each other. It was hard to believe we'd ever been friendly really. On this particular day, the tectonic plates of our lives shifted just like we'd had a 5.9 earthquake. Emotions were at a fever pitch, and we collectively lost it. We couldn't kick God, so we flailed out at each other...all 4 of us. It was about as bad as anything could get without the police rolling up to investigate. Wasn't the day to look to us for a spiritual road map, that's for sure.

There was a lull in the action, and he turned his eyes on me. I don't even have to close my eyes to see it now. In all the years, in all the pain, in all the loss, I'd never seen that unguarded, completely honest look. I didn't have to hear the words to know the meaning. The words came anyway. The vehemence of the truthful emotion sucked all the air out of my lungs. Had I not still been somewhat numb from the weeks in ICU, I think I would have collapsed in a heap. As it was, I stood and absorbed the verbal blows. Physical blows would have been easier to recover from; I am almost sure.

And, in those awful, hideous moments, I knew that I would never be the same. I knew that God was as far from me as he had ever been. In that comfortless void, I also knew that my husband had finally, completely told the ugly truth about his feelings toward me. Even now, my breathing is ragged just from the strain of knowing what I know.

Mad Penguin Creative
In those few moments, every thing I had hoped I was or had ever hoped to be died. All that was left of me was a shell. The slow destruction that had been approaching for 11 long years was final. When my world stopped shaking and the 4 of us sought safety in 4 far corners of the house, I quietly packed a few days worth of clothing. I had no place to go but knew for certain that I had no place left to be that was safe. I eased out of the house and was gone before anyone knew I had headed off into the night. I headed toward the setting sun trying to outrun the darkness clamoring to devour my soul. 

Daniel 2:22 (Bible in Basic English)
He is the unveiler of deep and secret things: he has knowledge of what is in the dark, and the light has its living-place with him.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What Forest Gump Forgot to Tell You

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I bet you heard Forrest Gump opine that life is like a box of chocolates, didn't ya? Well, I think he was wrong. I think life is more like an earthquake. I didn't think too much about that till today. Guess you heard about it. The earth around here shook for a while. Actually, even tho' it was not all that earthshaking, it went on a little too long for my comfort. Now that the novelty of it has worn off, I'd just as soon not feel that again.

One of my friends suggested it wasn't really an earthquake...just me, the fraidy cat, shaking with fear about something. Funny thing, about the time she said that, I had realized I was on the verge of having a mild panic attack. The thoughts of 'what if' had just begun to filter into the tail end of my day. Thankfully, her comment made me laugh and broke the spell as it were. I guess I owe her a box of chocolates. But, I digress.

After I quit laughing, I started thinking about how folks in such a close area had experienced the tremors in such different ways. Friends on one block were completely oblivious while some on the next heard a loud BANG followed by shaking. Son #1 thought our washer was off balance. I thought he had suddenly taken up Zumba in the privacy of his room. One friend's cabinet doors opened and closed while she grabbed the fishbowl before it crashed to the floor. At my husband's chemical plant, machinery caused vibrations are so common that most didn't even stop their work to note the occasion even tho' they felt the tremors.

As I watched the Facebook status threads burst into a frenzy of reporting, I realized there were as many different experiences and reactions as there were people. One phenomenon reverberated up and down the east coast of the US in limitless ways. I guess it isn't all that profound an observation, but isn't that just like life? One event has the power to impact many, many people. Yet, everyone feels the effects differently.

I've had a lot of reason to think about the earthquakes of life this last 10 days or so. I've been up close and personal with the monster in the shadows of our life. Or rather, I've been confronted with the sticky tentacles which thread in and out and up and down in our life because of the legacy the monster left behind. If you were sitting here beside me, you could hear me groan softly as I type these words. I never thought I'd have writer's block, but the stress has been utterly draining. Even words fail me now. That's saying a lot for someone who is never at a loss for them.

From the outside looking in, I can see the devastation left behind by the monster. To you, the fault lines would be invisible, but I can trace them with my eyes closed. The monster has affected my husband and our family. The monster has robbed us of who we could have been even tho' we have survived far beyond what others might have in our shoes. We continue to mount a valiant struggle to live beyond the trauma. And yet, we are never quite free.

There are others who bear unique scars as well. While we are never completely free, they remain totally imprisoned and unable to reach out for help in a constructive way. So deep is the pain that denial, avoidance, and control are the only ways to cope. I fear the end result may be disaster if help does not come quickly enough. It seems death is literally at the prison door. It's enough to make a fraidy cat tremble.

As I talked with Jeff about the situation, we wondered why he had the resilience to reach out, and keep reaching out, for help until he could tell the truth. Why was he able to when others equally affected were not?

He noted a pattern of reaching out for help with one hand while simultaneously pushing help away with the other. His voice dropped to a whisper, “Yea, I'm real good at reaching out with one hand while I push someone away with the other.” I was afraid to breathe too deeply lest I scare the truth away. It was the first time he had been able to verbalize his tendency to do so. Every time I almost give up, there is reason to hope again and to keep on going even when logic may tell me to give up.

The earthquake in our lives, and the monster who triggered it, has gone unnoticed by some and unacknowledged by others. There are those who are angry because we chose to confront the truth head on and won't back down. Some deny, some avoid, others do damage control. Our lives are bound together by the commonality of experience and pushed apart by the way each individual copes with the aftermath of our earthquake. 

Our best hope is that one day, somehow, our courage will empower those still imprisoned to reach out for help in constructive ways. We can only hope that help comes before it is too late. Tonight, the fraidy cat in me can only groan softly, “Even so, Lord, let it be....”
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Isaiah 54:10 
Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed," says the LORD, who has compassion on you.