Wednesday, November 30, 2011

To Live Again...After Living in Limbo (Pt. 1)


Poland 2009
I woke up one day and felt as if concrete was hardening around my legs. Every step seemed more laborious than the one before. I wondered how long I could keep walking. If I kept moving, perhaps I could stay ahead of the process. If I stopped, I was doomed. I don't think I'd make a pretty statue.

Of course, when you have little children with respiratory issues, there are days you don't consider slowing down. You ping-pong back and forth between who needs what med next and whether the nebulizer parts have been sanitized for the next breathing treatment. Combine that urgency with a sick husband who has even more breathing crises than the boys. You quickly become a whirling dervish.

Upon awakening one day, you find that you are alone and awash in a sea of autistic-ly enhanced testosterone. Only then do you begin to understand why your life has always been....not something with which your friends can identify. The chaos finally makes sense even if the realization doesn't nourish the loneliness creeping into your soul.

All Grown Up
Life keeps happening and before you know it, you are trying to create normalcy for children whose lives have been turned upside down in a borrowed/shared home that is anything but normal. Imagine those realities with all the myriad of others sandwiched in between. It would take your breath way if you had any left to steal.

I can take you to the spot on the road where I felt myself shut down and default to zombie mode. Was it already 18 months ago that we endured the mean season of death and dying? It is only now, all these months later, that I see clearly: my 1st step toward being a zombie was when I began to live in limbo.

Psychologists will tell you that people are divided between actors and reactors. I am sure my early life experience predisposed me to the latter category. I am also sure that I spent most of my early adult years trying to outrun that predisposition. Then life caught up with me.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I made the best laid plans over and over only to have someone waken with 106F temp at 4:30am. True story. Needless to say, after endless days of plan altering diversions, I stopped trying to plan ahead. I started reacting and taking each day as it came. I'm not sure that I could do anything differently if I had it to do all over again. I was less and less able live the role of an actor and lived more and more like a reactor.

I suppose you could think of homelessness as limbo. I certainly did a lot of waiting for that season to end. Yet, I was always moving forward because the boys and their schooling required that I do so. I guess I stayed busy hoping to forget where I was and why I was there. I stayed busy to make the time pass in hopes that the season would pass more quickly. When it was over, I was in limbo. I see that now.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
In my case, it turns out limbo was a state of mind not the absence of motion. Depression? Check yes. Anxious? Check yes. It was both situational and appropriate even on the days it was paralyzing. Homelessness does that too you. When life returned to the new normal and my situational moods lifted, something deep inside me remained in limbo. My soul? My hopes? My dreams? My motivation? I don't know. I'm percolating on that question. Maybe you will too?

Looking back, I do not know why these 2 things affected me. They were, however, a 1-2 punch. I think my stress bucket was full, and I had absorbed all that I could. I had always planned our curriculum 2 years in advance. Son #1 was entering 9th grade. His books were all stacked and ready. I realized the stack was a book short. No history.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I froze. I was 2 years late making the decision. I realized that those intervening 2 years had been swallowed up as our former life disappeared while my husband fought to live. It's a wonder I had made any plans and amazing that only one thing had fallen thru the cracks. Still, I froze. Oh, we found the curriculum. It was geography. It was OVERKILL. One of my biggest regrets of his 11.5 years of home-schooling. He slogged through it but got far more out of research he did on his own.

Within days of my realization and resulting, uncharacteristic indecision, I got some news that shattered me. Privately. Secretly. Indescribably. It shouldn't have. I suppose the news wielded such power because I could no longer absorb stress of any kind. If I heard it today, I'd raise an eyebrow and forget about it by bedtime.

Courtesy and in Loving Memory of Christina Jones Hooker
What about you fraidy cat? Ever wake up one day and feel as tho' you are living in limbo at the mercy of concrete hardening around your ankles? Ever wake up and realize you feel totally unprepared for what comes next? Did you ever get some news that impacted you in an irrational way that you cannot explain?

I see you. Nodding your heads yes. Hear that? It's me...sighing with relief. I'm not alone. Maybe then, you'll come back tomorrow and bring a friend? The cat's out of the bag, you know. This place in cyberspace is a safe place for fraidy cats to come in out of the cold.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Psalm 37:39 (American King James version)
But the salvation of the righteous is of the LORD: he is their strength in the time of trouble.



Nahum 1:7 (American King James version)
The LORD is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knows them that trust in him.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Deuteronomy 7:9 (American King James version)
Know therefore that the LORD your God, he is God, the faithful God, which keeps covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations;


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Long and Winding Road


Courtesy M. Horrock
For decades, flames of destruction smoldered in the attic of their marriage. She couldn't tell you which single event sent the flames bursting thru the roof of her soul. In that instant, however, the framework of their life collapsed with singular finality.

Not willing to accept failure after over two decades of investment, she launched a full tilt assault rivaling the work of a brigade of fire fighters. Secular and Christian counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and educational therapists joined ranks in an effort to douse the flames. The fire kept burning till the day came that there was no other option. It was already over. The paperwork was all that remained.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
The fat lady, as they say, is about to sing. The court date is on the horizon. Yet, the phone rang twice in the last day. Once again he has voiced an unwavering determination to make amends for his reprehensible behavior. His words are impotent because of the potency of his behavior. It is a song and dance she has witnessed before. He has pledged unwavering loyalty to her and then almost immediately sought the consolations of others. He is blind to the futility and emptiness of words negated by callous indifference.

He is unwilling to believe the truth contained in the years of evidence trailing behind him. He is, in his own estimation, the Teflon man. Nothing will stick because his righteousness endows him with a special exemption. He hides behind grace while ignoring the definition of repentance. He fails to see his righteousness as but filthy rags. The Righteous Creator before whom he pledged his vows watches even when he thinks no one sees. 
he is clothed
 
When your words whisper one reality and your behavior trumpets another, you create a self-portrait that reveals your inner reality. Despite your efforts to mask who you are, your painting speaks for itself. You may fool yourself all of the time and tell yourself you have fooled the world. The time will come, however, when your charade will collapse around you leaving you naked before the world...and your God. 

The emperor will declare that he is clothed in the beautiful raiment of righteous intent. Alas, the crowd around him will shriek with laughter and incredulity. He will become the punch line of a joke he did not hear himself telling.

He has found yet another sure fire system and counselor who will be the magic pill. The pill will fortify him to the task of undoing the destruction he has wrecked upon his wife and children. She has heard it all before. She tells him so. Her attitude now speaks as resolutely as his behavior has all these years, “See you in court. Have a nice day.”

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
She has moved on alone trusting in a good God with a good plan even tho' the future is frightening and uncertain. He has surrounded himself in a sea of comforting sycophants who murmur and coo and fawn. In the end, they will not be sufficient to remedy his looming pain. The quiet will come. He will have only himself to blame.

We sat together struggling thru math today, Son #2 and I, as my friend's marriage wound further toward its bitter end. He looked up at me as exasperation filled his heart and leaked out thru his mouth. “Why does this have to be so hard. Can't you just show me a short cut?”

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
As I pondered the question and a way to ease my son's frustration, I realized he spoke for all of us, including the husband who torched his marriage and the life of his family. “Show me the shortcut. Don't make me work hard. I don't want to be frustrated. I don't want to have to work at life. I don't want to shoulder the responsibility of the task before me. Show me the shortcut to get out of here!”

Sadly, my friend's husband will never understand that in looking for the easy life, he sacrificed the rewarding one. He has thrown away an investment portfolio far more valuable than Warren Buffet's 401K or Roth IRA.

This journey in search of my good God is arduous and long. There is no shortcut that will ease my frustration or pain. I wake up every day and make a new choice. Will I spend the day picking thru the rubble of our life trying to fit the pieces back together again? Will I give up? The choice is mine. Is it the ultimate act of faith that, again today, I chose to dig thru the rubble. The road is long, winding, and all uphill. If you look for me tomorrow, that is where I'll be. See you there?
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

                                        Prov 23:6-8 (ESV)
Do not eat the bread of a selfish man or desire his delicacies, for he is like one who is inwardly calculating. “Eat and drink!” he says to you, but his heart is not with you. You will vomit up the morsels you have eaten and waste your pleasant words.

Jeremiah 5: 3(NAS)
O LORD, do not Your eyes look for truth? You have smitten them, But they did not weaken; You have consumed them, But they refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; They have refused to repent.

Courtesy B. Creasy

Proverbs 27:22(NIV)
Though you grind a fool in a mortar, grinding him like grain with a pestle, you will not remove his folly from him.



Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Torn Between Two Lovers

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creat
Her efforts at teaching me the fine art of hand tying bows would, in the end, be for naught. Her hands created a masterpiece every few minutes. My efforts came in stops and starts. Her bows were uniform and masterful. Mine were.....quickly unraveled so that I could try again. And again. And...I pretty much gave up by the 3rd attempt.

Conversation flowed as furiously as the fluid motion of her fingers. We were like butterflies flitting around in a garden of conversation as we touched lightly upon first one topic and then another. Until, that is, I stumbled upon a trap I didn't see coming.

I don't recall the specific concern to which I referred just that I was praying for something specific. Her gaze had remained steadfastly locked on her work until that moment. The motion ceased. I looked up to see if someone had thrown a wrench in her gears because of the abrupt end to her labor.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
She stared me down with a perplexed and troubled look. In the age old manner that teachers speak to errant children, she said, “Prayer doesn't change things. Don't you know...it changes people. Prayer changes the one who prays..not the circumstances for which we pray.”

Thus it was I became aware of yet another issue that divides the spiritual hearts of men who name the name of Christ as Savior. I was into my 3rd decade of life and had been inhabiting the halls of Christendom since my 3rd day of life. How had I not gotten such an important memo?

Being as how I'm not a theologian and all, that great divide still makes my head hurt. Especially here in the buckle of what we Americans call the Bible Belt where there is a church on every street corner, prayer has been elevated to an art form. There are probably a bazillion books on how and what to pray. You can pay big money to go to conferences on prayer if you are so inclined.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Imma tell you the truth, with all the experts on TV, in the bookstore, and in the pulpit to tell me about prayer, I still struggle with that conversation of 20+ years ago. My family would tell you that I pray. A lot. In our homeless days, if our wheels were rolling, I was praying. I haven't changed much in the last 6 years in that regard. And yet, I still find myself wondering, “If prayer doesn't have any effect on my circumstance, why pray?”

Frankly speaking, there are days I don't wanna change anymore. I've been thru enough life changing circumstances in the last decade. I'd like to stay the same for a while and let circumstances change. Know what I mean? Especially this week. We've faced some stuff this week. Things that have left me awake in the night as I agonized with God over what to do and how to react.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I found myself thinking, “I really, really want to see God act on our behalf in a way that my sons will see their God as a God of action who intervenes on behalf of his children. It's fine and dandy if he uses the circumstances of life to grow our faith, but can't he do so by affecting the circumstances too?” Is that too much to ask after all we've been through?

I am torn between 2 lovers and both are named prayer. I do not know how to reconcile this thing we were called to do when Jesus taught his disciples how to pray. I can understand that as we pray, a Holy God can perfect our prayers and prepare us for the outcome he knows is on the path ahead of us. As we pray, he changes our hearts. Our actions and desires follow. I get it. It ain't rocket science.

I am the fraidy cat daughter of Abraham, tho. In my humanness, I also have a longing need to see a chain of events that lets me know God heard my prayer. I long to see circumstances evolve in a way that allows me to connect those dots as well. Don't tell me about how the Children of Israel had all that and still doubted. I got that memo in Sunday School. I'm looking for a deeper answer than that.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Earlier this week, my husband turned to me and said, “I am afraid.” It is not a comment he makes often. So, you take notice when he does. He said, “God did not protect me when I was young and could not protect myself. He stood by and let what happened happen. He stood by when I was sick and let us lose our home. How do I know I can trust him now?” I had no answer, but I understood the question.

Somedays, I feel like a length of ribbon. My lovingly hand-tied prayers are awkward and uneven. They unravel only to be reconstructed in hopes they will come together with craftsman-like perfection. Unlike my foray into ribbon tying, I'm still trying 20 years later. How 'bout you?

                                    
                                                        Hebrews 4:16
Courtesy B. Creays
Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

Romans 8:26 
(International Standard Version)
In the same way, the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, since we do not know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words,

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Holiday High Wire Acts

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

I am on a platform looking out at a tightrope arching into thin air.  As much as I'd like to go back, the past is filled with unresolved history that shadows every step I take and every breath I breathe. I do not delude myself into believing that a 2nd chance would bring resolution. The rest of the year, I can ignore the pressure filling my chest. Some days, I can even pretend it is not there.

As the holidays approach I can no longer maintain ignorant bliss. Every step into the future feels more and more like a circus high wire act.  When ignorance was bliss, I thought the tightrope would involve managing multiple schedules between the homes of multiple family branches. As an adult, I felt sorry for friends with step-families who did the exhausting jig required to keep 4 or more sides of an immediate family appeased. Ignorance is bliss when your dance has only begun.

I feel the mean girl in me fighting to get out. The movie can't hold a candle the the pain my mean girl wants to share. I want to flip the switch. I know I can unleash the kind of chaos that was introduced into our lives before we were even us. The vengeful one in me wants to stir up trouble for the ones that have troubled us.

I take a deep breath and tell myself it is a calming one. “The chaos breathed into our lives by others has been enough,” I tell myself. “I owe it to my survivor to keep myself in hand rather than increase his pain by wrecking more havoc upon chaos.” I breathe deeply to calm my ragged breathing. I will not do to others what was done to us. So, why do I fight this internal battle yet again?

I know now why my finger hovers above the computer keys as my Facebook friends count off their thankful things. I could not even bring myself to offer a 'sacrifice of praise' even tho' it felt blasphemous to withhold mine given the state of perpetual blessing in which I live. It makes sense now that I know.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I cannot do it because I am holding my raggedy breath. I am waiting to see if we get through the next 6 weeks or so unscathed. I don't know why I spend anytime wondering. We won't. The question is, rather, how bad will the damage be? Every year, I tell myself it will be better. We are used to our necessary boundaries. We feel safer for them. Surely, muscle memory will strengthen us to the task.

I tell myself I feel calmer. Until, that is, another stress rears its head. My cup of stress was already full. The balance of surface tension is overwhelmed. In trying to cope with yet one more crisis, the agony in my soul-cup sloshes out in messy waves around my kitchen. My reaction was autonomic. My soul told me it was time to fight or fly. I could do neither. Or so, I thought.

August 2011
I lashed out before I realized what I was doing. The damage was done; my reaction seemed senseless because it was. The damnable monster in the shadows reached out through me and reminded us that we are not really free. I am exhausted.

I hear distant voices saying, “Forgive.” They had not walked with us through the door of the room labeled 'horror'. They had not walked with us in the silent darkness of a marriage robbed of life before it had even begun. They had no idea the energy it took to live to fight another day. Their forgiveness required that we look away and hope the horror would disappear if we ignored it long enough. We chose life...such as it is. I am reminded of the cost every year this time.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
How easy it would have been to take them up on their offer. As the airwaves saturate with one holiday feel good movie after another, I want the picture perfect post card family that always reconciles as the final beats of the movie fade away. I want my life to be scripted just that way. I want the life that was taken from me. I want the monster to pay. The mean girl in me cannot stand it even one more holiday.

I always wanted a house full of family and friends. My ear strains to hear the doorbell ring. My nose twitches in expectation of smells so holiday bright they come in technicolor scents. I wanted a place that was safe and warm to shelter the weary and faint of heart from the cold realities of life.

Today, I again grieved the loss of a post card family suitable for filming. I grieved the loss of the head cheerleader I always thought I'd be. I grieved the slower pace and emptier space my life entails because it is not sufficient to fill my heart and home this year.

Christmas 2008
And then...it hit me. Every time one of you clicks on the link to this blog, my virtual doorbell rings. I am there saying, “Welcome home. Come, get out of the cold. Sit a spell. Let's celebrate. Let's celebrate that even tho' we are walking wounded, we have lived to fight another day.”

I have invited you to a feast for the soul. I have not made promises I couldn't keep as I've struggled to find my good God with the good plan again. And yet, you come and keep coming. I hope you feel you've found a place to come in from the cold. I hope you leave here strengthened to fight another day. 

Courtesy B. Creasy
You have strengthened me. You have strengthened the fabric of our family. You have confirmed that despite our solitary walk, we do not walk alone. For that I am eternally.......thankful. 

Ephesians 6:12 (Amplified Bible)
For we are not wrestling with flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the despotisms, against the powers, against [the master spirits who are] the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spirit forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) sphere.



 
1 John 4:4(American Standard Version)
Ye are of God, my little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.

Friday, November 18, 2011

It's a Family Affair

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

We were navigating tricky water, my friend and I. I had gravitated to and embraced renewed faith in the Creator God of the Holy Bible. She remained a resolute agnostic. For lesser friends with weaker ties, the resulting chasm might have separated us for life. Almost 25 years later, I am limp with relief as I think of the 'what ifs' that did not come to pass.

We were waxing, as we did so often in our youth, philosophical. She turned to me with pained eyes said, “You Christians! You and your club. You are so exclusive...like there's some secret password the rest of us mere mortals have to find to gain admittance. Then, you keep changing it, so we can't.” Despite the look in her eyes, her words bubbled out with laughter as melodious as a brook. No harm, no foul.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
In another time or place or with another person, I might have felt insulted. I might have pulled away suddenly as if to escape words delivered with a slap. I felt no need for self-protection. I only felt sadness that anyone, anywhere could perceive the faith I had embraced as presenting with the arrogance she described.

The conversation carried us along to a place of deeper, not lesser, friendship. Life carried us apart, but we remained, and remain, sisters of the heart. In her own time and place, she embraced my faith. Hers were the words that strengthened me to endure as the life I knew evaporated. She was the one that reminded me of the core of my faith. The note would arrive with a verse of scripture attached. I marveled as I remembered the day I feared my faith would cost me a friend.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
By then, I was, myself, being schooled in the reality she had described that cold, gray day so many years before. I was the one on the outside looking in. I was the one trying to find the secret password that would allow admittance into a group that would not quite chase me off even as they would not really let me in.

I blamed it on our chaotic circumstance. If encroaching poverty was a social cancer, those in 'the club' of faith seemed fearful that it was contagious. I was a carrier. Oh, if only it were that simple. We sneaked back to our hometown under the cover of darkness so that no one would see our stain of disgrace. We found another community of faith. We flew under the radar for 3 years before we felt safe enough to make our presence known.

It seemed safe because we were on the mend. We existed on financial paper again. The scarlet Chapter 13 on our foreheads was less and less visible. Maybe now, we'd be granted membership in 'the club' of Christendom again. Alas, in my efforts to find my role in that new community, I often felt as tho' I was Don Quixote flinging myself at windmills such was the futility of my efforts.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Beaten and exhausted, I finally gave up and walked away. I had been part of organized religion since I was 3 days old. How had it come to this lonely, singular decision? Moreover...how could I make the decision and not a single soul seem to care? I could hear my friend's words ringing in my ears. I finally understood the harsh reality of looking for the password that could never be obtained.

I don't have the answer yet today nor am I ready to search again for my unique place in an organized community of faith. I remain, however, resolute in one conviction. Within true Christendom, there is a family you cannot deny and that will not deny you come what may.

Despite my loneliness for a church family to call my own, I can tell you that my family of faith grows ever larger. It extends as far as Australia where a friend I met thru this blog gave Son #1 a 2nd family while he was so far away. Our mutual and foundational faith enlarged our hearts so that we could each 'take a chance' on strangers who live their lives a day apart.

Is it lunch time yet?
Neither distance nor time hampers the bonds of this family. Only a week ago, my phone rang. A chuckling voice on the other end asked, “Is this....?” and she said my name. I squealed with laughter as her name erupted from my lips. Twelve years and 3 states evaporated. It was as if we had just seen each other only the day before.

We spoke again today. Our lives are messy and fractured. The reasons are not even closely related. And yet, neither of us have to explain it to the other. In a life where faith is lived transparently, pain knows pain on a 1st name basis. Words are not required. Laughter gave us each a reprieve from our harsh realities. It was the same laughter we had laughed all those years ago.

Courtesy A. Squires
We made plans to meet for lunch sooner rather than later. Even nailing down the time and date fostered laughter. We paused before we hung up. “Anne,” I said, “I want you to know...finding you again...it is a gift. I feel as tho' someone has just handed me a precious gift. I'm so thankful. I've missed you so much. I love you guys. I do.”

I heard the shyness I have noted so often in the lilt of her voice even as a giggle again punctuated her words. “I love you too.”

When faith is real and transparency is not just a trendy, feel good counterfeit we pretend to exercise, there is no ever changing password. Pain understands pain and requires no explanations or excuses. It's a fraidy cat world. Everyone needs a place to come in from the cold. Welcome home, fraidy cat. Welcome home. 
Welcome Home Fraidy Cat


Proverbs 18:18 (New Living Translation)
There are "friends" who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

'Wrasslin' With Reality


1960
The little old man sat with his hands on his knees and so far forward on the chair that it seemed a hair trigger would spring at any moment and propel him up and forward. His eyes were glued to the action on the screen. A smile engulfed his whole face wrinkling the brow above impossibly widened eyes. He rocked back and forth just a bit adding to the sense that he might shoot up off the sofa with shocking speed.

The action on the screen unfolded. Back then, we called it 'wrasslin'' so as not to confuse it with the collegiate sport my cousin participated in – wrestling. Not like you could confuse the 2. As the combatants waged their battle from round to round, the little old man would almost squeal, “Git him...git him!” and then look over at us with a reassuring nod to say, “It's real, you know, it's real.”

Paul Harvey would love to step in here and tell you the 'rest of the story'. It is enough to leave you stupefied at the power of the human mind and heart when it comes to the reality we embrace. You see, that wrestling cousin had grown into a career in law enforcement. In that capacity, he often worked security in a civic arena where 'wrasslin' matches were staged.

Courtesy A. Hughes
To his pure delight, my cousin was able to take the little old man, our beloved Pappaw, to see wrasslin' heroes in the flesh. They went early enough to allow a behind the scenes look at the world of Saturday afternoon TV wrasslin'. My cousin mistakenly thought he could disabuse our grandfather of his firmly held conviction that all the action was genuine and spontaneous. I laugh out loud now at the memory of my cousin's optimistic determination.

The angry dynamos of the ring where gentle giants as they embraced their aged fan with humor and dignity. They showed him some of their best moves along with how they'd set the move up during the actual match. One of the stars even told Pappaw that, when the time came, he'd look over and give Pappaw a secret signal. With that signal, Pappaw would know they were about to pull off a stunt designed to launch the crowd into a frenzy. The kind of frenzy that would launch an old man off his chair and into a delighted dance of glee.

Wanna know a secret? Even tho' Pappaw had been schooled in the ways of wrasslin' events staged for TV ratings, he remained firm in his conviction that 'wrasslin' was real' till the day he died. He believed in spite of the fact that the the concrete reality of those staged events had been explained to and demonstrated for him. He believed even tho' he had been included in the inside jokes while sitting at ringside.

Sometimes we kids would gently tease, “Awww...Pappaw. You know it's not real. They told you so and showed you how they do it.” He'd shake his head negatively and reassure us again that not a single moment of the unfolding events was staged. He believed....because he wanted to. In those moments before the television screen, he could suspend reality and enter into an alternate reality of his own choosing.

I've thought about my Pappaw and his love of wrasslin' a lot this week. How often do we choose to ignore the obvious and reach instead for a make believe reality. We do so because it will make life more colorful, more satisfying, or easier to digest. The end, we tell ourselves, justifies the means.

Courtesy A. Squires
There is a glance in the break room at work that holds just a little too long. The promised reality seems so much more restful and fulfilling than the sink full of dishes and feverish kids waiting at the end of the day.

The overpriced handbags beckon from the voluminous sale catalogs this time of year. We accept the lie that we can pay with plastic now and erase the damage early next year. We suspend the truth we know for the truth we'd rather believe.

Three more cookies won't hurt if we spend 10 minutes more on the treadmill. OUCH. One more glimpse at that compelling image we hide in the dark to view after everyone else is asleep won't hurt because it will be the last time we look. Our kids won't hurt over the foolish mistakes we make because we will be happier people if we succumb to our selfish desires for one more pill, one more drink, one more hit.

Courtesy Tracy M. Green
At the end of the day, we look at the world around us and wonder: where do all the broken, lonely people come from? And as we look away because it hurts too much, we whisper to ourselves, “Wrasslin' is real...it is...it's real....”

Proverbs 20:17 (Amplified Bible)
Food gained by deceit is sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth will be filled with gravel.

Courtesy B. Creasy
Proverbs 23:6-8 (English Standard Version)
Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy; do not desire his delicacies, for he is like one who is inwardly calculating. “Eat and drink!” he says to you, but his heart is not with you. You will vomit up the morsels that you have eaten, and waste your pleasant words.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pirates in the Mist, A Siren's Song, and Me

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Given the mist almost too thick to see through, the bones scattered around, and Jack Black's wide-open eyes, you knew nothing good was asunder. Sirens lurked in the water. Legend had it that both their beauty and song were enough to kill a man. The rich appeal was enough to make many a man risk life and limb to possess them.

If you've seen the movie, you know the sirens appeared as mermaids of translucent, shimmering beauty. Until they revealed themselves for what they were and looked more like underfed piranhas intent on their first big meal in a decade or so. The battle became one of life and death as the greedy men became believers in the warnings they'd heard.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Son #1 and I were talking about life, the universe, and lots of things. Re-entry into his old world has been fraught with challenges. He's been ready to abandon ship and take off for the wild blue yonder again. I told you so. Once given the freedom to fly, no one feels good being tethered to the earth again. “Why,” he asked, “does life have to be like this? It wasn't like this in Australia. Things were calm and peaceful not one drama after another!”

Oh, Obi-wan....where is Yoda when you need him? I let his frustration come rushing out waiting until it was my turn. How do you let the young ones down easy? How can you tell them the truth without breaking their spirit? I smiled a wan smile and did my best.

Life is messy. The only reason it wasn't messy 'down under' is because you didn't carry your life with you. In a funny way, you had an intermission from life. You had huge responsibilities to the client corporation. Yet, you were far enough from home that the normal cares of life got lost in the fog and mist.” Then, I reminded him of some days at the office when tensions ran high. He had been immune because the source of the tensions didn't concern him. Good job – if you can get it!

Pecos, NM 2011
I long to escape to a land that would paint reality with the picturesque implication of a stress free environment brush. I get a glimpse when I visit a place like New Mexico. Surely, if we moved there, life would be grand. Until...the mountain temperature plummeted and the winds begin to howl. Then, I would long for the sandy shores of some tropical retreat. Until...the clouds of a Cat 5 hurricane began to build as winds began to build. The winds of life are messy. They follow us no matter where we go.

When we are riding along, my husband and I will muse about how the places we pass look like the kinds of places you'd want to stay. I laugh. “Just the picturesque implication of a stress free environment,” I say. “We'd be the same people when we got here...with the same stresses and strains. When we blew in on the winds of chaos, we'd pull down the real estate value instantly.”

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Such is the call of the siren's song. “Psst. Here. Come over here! Life'll be better over here!” The spotless future taunts us every time we catch a fleeting glimpse. The beauty is almost translucent. We strain harder thru the mist in hopes we can catch up before it's too late.

In a world where commercialism and instantaneous gratification sing to us several times an hour, there is always a siren in the mist. Stoking our fires of discontent. Prodding us to want more. Whetting our desire to get more with less effort.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Where is the perfect curriculum that will frustrate our homeschooled kids the least and require the least preparation on our part? Where is the spouse that will do more and require less? Where is the diet or supplement that will negate habits, metabolism, and biology? Where is the school that will require as little of us as possible but educate our children well enough to compete in a global economy? Where are the people that will fill the churches with spotless parents whose flawless children don't present messes that have to be cleaned up in the process of learning, living and growing. Where is the government that will be all and do all relieving its people of personal responsibility? Where, oh where, is the siren in the mist?

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
The siren's sweet call is enough to drive a man mad. The cottony dampness of restlessness, discontent, and aimlessness breeds endless searching for the next, newest, best thing. Before we know it, our greed overcomes us and that which we desire possesses us. The translucent beauty that beckons has become the emaciated piranha that threatens to devour us. Our searching and hoping leaves us as drained and weary as if we'd been in battle with the pirates trying to escape the trap of the sirens in the midst. God rest our weary souls from sirens in the mist.

Matthew 11:30 (Amplified Bible)
For My yoke is wholesome (useful, good--not harsh, hard, sharp, or pressing, but comfortable, gracious, and pleasant), and My burden is light and easy to be borne.
Courtesy B. Creasy

1 John 5:3 (Amplified Bible)
For the [true] love of God is this: that we do His commands [keep His ordinances and are mindful of His precepts and teaching]. And these orders of His are not irksome (burdensome, oppressive, or grievous).

Saturday, November 12, 2011

"Dear Old People...."


Courtesy M. Horrocks
It was one of those rare times. I was fully present in my own moment rather than being preoccupied by the moments of others. Lucky for me, I was in no hurry. Any other passerby might not have slowed long enough to notice the white haired lady going through the motions of her day. If taking note, you might have choked back a feeling of pedestrian walkway rage while brushing past her on your way to who knows where.

Even tho' both her advancing years and ambling pace suggested the time had come, no trace of stooping shoulders broke her regal carriage. I would soon learn that her conversations mirrored both her pace and bearing.

Courtesy A. Huges
The air was heavy with uncertainty as we gathered around the conference table. Chit-chat flowed in grudging spurts while total strangers with a common goal searched for mutual rhythm. The perfunctory get-to-know-you banter unfolded. She made her presence known in the same deliberate manner with which she walked. Her words were measured and slow; her demeanor was regal and composed.

In another place, she might have been chosen foreman of the jury but not because she was pushy, flashy, or loud. Persistence would have been the winning attribute. Conversations followed her unspoken directive alhto' she seemed unaware that she had become the de facto director of the table.

Some began to shift uncomfortably as they waited for polite openings that would allow other bits of conversation. When those attempts faltered, the assembled began to offer muttered regrets. One by one, they shuffled off to meet the next obligation of the day. I remained waiting – altho' for what I did not know.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Eventually, her stream of consciousness dialog stuttered to a halt. She sat staring out into space lost in a world that only she could see. I waited till her unflinching gaze returned again to me. The shadow of a sag danced around her impeccably straight shoulders. “I feel.....as if I am growing...no....I am obsolete,” she sighed as a forlorn smile that never reached her eyes flickered and died away. 
 
The comment surprised us both. I sat groping for the politically correct thing to say. I smiled back. With the same sense of tortured resignation that she had spoken, I replied, “Yes. It happens before we know it. We rush through life trying to get it all done. Then, we wake up one day and realize it is time to step aside and let the younger ones take over. I have wondered who I want to be when I grow up. Now I realize I'm almost out of time.....”

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
In other bits of conversation, she had revealed details about a confusing life filled with painful circumstances. Even in her advanced years, she had not given up on trying to rearrange the chaos of life into something meaningful. Thus it was that our partnership was sealed. We sat in silent companionship feeling the things that the heart cannot find words to say.

I rushed to lunch the next day hoping to snag just the right seat. I settled in beside her eager for yesterday's pattern to repeat itself. I could not contain myself and breathlessly forged into one of the awkward silences that fall over tables of strangers gathered for large meetings. Without ceremony, I blurted, “I'd like you to know something. No one is obsolete when they have a heart like yours.”

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Her eyebrows lifted in genuine surprise. Others at the table listened more closely than before. “Yesterday you told us about the way you host lunches for young mothers and children. In my experience, seniors often feel as if they are 'done' with that season. It's hard to get senior volunteers for church nurseries much less have them invite a young family home. I can speak to how invaluable you are to lonely young women whose husbands have busy careers and whose families are far away. You will never be obsolete as long as you tackle the messy business of caring for young families. They may not think to tell you, so I will....thank you. Thank you for what you do for them.”

Her impassive expression melted away as the sunshine of an unguarded smile warmed her face. She sat and let my words sink in as if unaccustomed to being noticed much less affirmed. Again we sat in silent companionship knowing there were no words to say what the heart could only feel. I clasped her hand for a moment and said a silent prayer that I would do just as she has in the days to come.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
My friends used to chuckle at the poem “Warning: When I am Old, I Shall Wear Purple”. Even tho' we were still young enough that our purple wearing days seemed far removed, I shuddered while they chuckled.

A few days ago, I chuckled when a Facebook status update began, “Dear Old People....” and concluded with the cheeky young fella's wish that folks his grandparent's age not slow him down in traffic. Ignorance is bliss when you do not see the future coming. By the time you do, you will wonder how you became the one with the plodding gait and the hesitant hand at the wheel of the car.

When I am old, I shall invite the young ones and their mothers over to play...and ask that they wear purple. I will look off into space and see a time and place that only I can see. I will remember the friend I met in passing and hope that she remembers me. I will hope that on a day when I feel invisible and obsolete, I will be as brave as she has been.

Courtesy B. Creasy


Psalm 71:18 (American King James Version)
Now also when I am old and gray headed, O God, forsake me not; until I have showed your strength to this generation, and your power to every one that is to come.