Thursday, June 14, 2012

Overcoming Fear - A Marathon Not a Sprint

There's a reason I'm not Martha Stewart or Ree Drummond. I can't live up to their magazine perfect examples. If I had a behind-the-scenes crew, I'd be done now too. I'd like to blame it on those two divas of design who probably hijacked my missing crew. In reality, I can't.

I could blame it on ADHD too, but I think the doctor would bust that rouse in short order. My dirty little secret is simple. I don't want to start. I just want to be done. I want the pretty magazine picture of a rehabbed life without the grime and inconvenience in between.

Cabinet doors have haunted me for a year now. No matter how many times I go to sleep and wake up, they are still there mocking me. Telling me what a failure I am because I gave up in mid-stream. What about you fraidy cat, does failure mock you very time you look in the mirror?

There are lots of reasons my project came to a screeching halt when I was in the midst of a frenzy of completion. Mostly, I felt defeated. Discouraging words do that to you. They suck the vigor out of your desire and the vision out of your plan. 

 Words took root. Before I knew it, my feet and heart were rooted to the ground. I shoved the doors into a corner and ignored them. Ignorance is bliss if you can ignore what you don't want to see. Ignorant bliss will only last so long. Take it from me.

I've decided to grab the paint stick by the handle and get busy with it during our summer break. My brain is willing again, but my body is in revolt. When my body gets with the program, my heart abandons me because my brain says I can't possibly overcome the obstacles between me and the finish line. I'm at war with myself as usual.

I'm my own worst enemy until I sit up and decide to be my own best friend. What about you, fraidy cat? Holla! I am learning to forge ahead even if failure might be around the corner. I'd rather fail while trying than fail because I sat frozen with fear and let life unwind around me. You have to know me to know what a victory I've won.

 Here's the thing about overcoming fear: it's a project of marathon proportions. You can't defeat it without facing obstacles. For fraidy cats like me, obstacles are often the death knell of desire. I want to kill the cat quickly. I want to sprint to the finish line triumphant not fall across it gasping for water.

This morning, my brain darted from one idea to another like a hummingbird between morning glories. I must overcome the obstacle of space to complete this door project. Space is sorely limited, and we have to live in the space while I'm working. Obstacles everywhere.

The challenge of space is enough to make the sprinter in me give up. I don't want to slow down and figure out a system, I want to get started and run with the job till it's done. Even if I lose sleep and don't eat. I want to run the project like a sprint when the reality resembles a marathon. My brain began to work feverishly as I tried to figure out how to finish in a hurry. In a sprint.

An unexpected thunderclap of insight arrested me. I looked outside to see if it was my brain or an approaching storm. I know it's not rocket science, but when you've run scared all your life, it might as well be. It was as if Jesus wrapped his arms around me and said, “Oh, my little sprinter, slow down and enjoy the journey. You can stop running now, fraidy cat.”

Ain't that crazy? I slowed down to a complete stop for an entire year, so how could I not be in a hurry now that I've started again? But, the message was clear: It's o.k. for this project to be about the restful pursuit of accomplishment vs the fevered rush for perfect completion.

Whatever I would get done today would be more than I finished in a year now. I set up my convoluted assembly line and filled door knob holes in the doors. While the wood glue dried, I went outside and wrestled with the ivy that is trying to engulf my porch. There's more to do on both projects tonight but less than there was this morning.

I spent the day hot, grimy, thirsty, and doing battle with wasps. (If I had to guess, I'd say they were ticked off about the wasp-cousin I killed on that same deck last weekend when he stung me.) I had grit in my eyes, bugs in my hair, and glasses so caked in sweat and filth that I could hardly see. Neither Martha nor Ree would be caught dead looking like that, so I'm not posting my pics either. I can see blackmail coming with my eyes blindfolded.

The path to overcoming fear is fraught with obstacles, grit, and grime. It's a marathon not a sprint. The process is not magazine cover pretty. When it's all said and done, it sure beats letting life unwind around us because we were too afraid to live it. 'Nuff said? 

 Courtesy B. Creasy 2010

 Love you long and strong, but you knew that already, didn't you?

Ecclesiastes 9: 10 (ERV)Every time you find work to do, do it the best you can. In the grave there is no work. There is no thinking, no knowledge, and there is no wisdom. And we are all going to the place of death.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What Does Love Look Like

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Have you seen the picture on Facebook of the older couple walking hand in hand with their backs to the camera? It had some pithy saying about enduring love. Yesterday, a new one popped up on my screen.

This new picture was of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip. The photographer of the 1st had no idea the 2nd would ever meld with his, perhaps. Yet, both images stared up at me together. The twinkling eyes in both captivated me.

I looked back again and again. Respect, playfulness, and tenderness mingled together in those two glances frozen in time. The same twinkle 60 years apart undimmed by time or circumstance. If you looked closely, you'd almost feel you had invaded their privacy so intimate were the images.

If you have been in a lonely, complicated marriage, looking too long could prove painful. You know, the same kind of pain you feel when someone posts a chatty update about date night when you no longer remember if you ever had a date night? You feel the pain and look away before you bleed.
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

If you've walked a long way with me now, you know how hard we have fought to survive. Our energy to do battle waxes and wanes, but we keep working toward a common goal: survival as a couple. Not surprisingly, images like those make me do some soul-searching. What does love look like?

There are days I tell myself love looks like his hard day's work despite a a double ear infection, bleeding ears, and diminished hearing. I tell myself love looks like staying up all night with sick kids but making sure he has a decent lunch for work and hot meal in the evening. I tell myself love looks like hard work without much hope of reward.
Some days, love looks like one more decision to keep on patching a broken relationship because he has not given up even when I wanted to. Love looks like a lot of hard work when what I yearn for is the picturesque implication of a stress free relationship. Love is work more often that it is feeling.
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

As if he doesn't have enough with which to cope, the doctors have determined they may know why he has been increasingly unable to fight off simple infections. Increasingly potent doses of antibiotics for increasingly longer periods of time have been less and less effective. Now we have an answer to the question we've been asking for 14 years. We just don't know if we've found the cure.

I woke up every time I turned over last night. Apprehension is not my friend. Today is 'Iday #2', and we have all four been apprehensive. We fear infusion day followed  by side effect days. If you've ever known someone going thru chemo, you get what we fear. After his reaction last time, they are tweaking things. Yet, we are walking thru the valley of the unknown. Will this work? Is it worth it? Will it have been worth if it doesn't work? What will we do if it doesn't?

I talked with the nurse as she hooked up his IV. As I spoke of his years of declining health and my inability to sleep for fretting over his next few days, her eyes seemed to grow a little misty. “You know, some don't care like you do.” She seemed to refer to other spouses she's seen come and go over the years. Despite our pain, perhaps she sees something different in us. Maybe even something we don't see in ourselves?

Courtesy M. Horrocks
I fretted for fear I am a high maintenance patient's wife with all my fraidy cat drama. I don't want to wear her out the way this enemy has worn us out. I fear I have already. I want to run away to the marriage with a picturesque implication of a stress free environment. Today, it is nowhere in sight.

The camera of my mind sees another image mixing with the 2 Facebook images. My Dad sits by the ICU bed while we wait for the funeral home to carry my mom away for the last time. At 83, he has come to the hospital for 58 days straight. In his eyes, I see the look I saw in Queen Elizabeth's as she carried on with her Diamond Jubilee while the Prince lay, as the Brits say, in hospital. In my heart, I know that's what love looks like.

The IV bag empties slowly into his body. He sleeps for now. He sleeps the sleep of a man whose body is exhausted from trying to live. He is only 47-years-old. I am glad because I know he may not sleep as well for a few days. I sit and type, fussing and fuming over each little word, filling the time thinking about pictures of love.
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

A tear slips down my cheek, and I hope the nurse will not need to check his vitals before I collect myself. I see the old couple walking away from the camera, hand in hand. I see the young and old Queen and Prince whose gazes are filled with devotion. I see my Dad spending his last few moments with the vessel that carried my mom on her earthly journey. I hope.

I hope that when the nurse returns and looks at me, she will see what I saw in all those pictures I remember now. I hope she will look at me and know what love looked like.

Love you long and strong fraidy cat. Love you most in the hard places when you wonder what love looks like. If you know someone whose life is full of hurt, fear, or pain, tell them you know a place where they are safe. Invite them in from the cold? 

Courtesy B. Creasy - 2010
Colossians 3:12 - 14 (The Message)
So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

Monday, June 4, 2012

An A+ in Failure

Picture courtesy A. Squires and family
I thought I was alone in my misery. I could hide behind the computer screen and disguise my pain. Ignorance is bliss when others are in the dark. If you know what I mean. 

Any hope I had of maintaining a status quo evaporated when I read her status update: “In desperate need of prayer.” She spoke volumes without saying much at all. 

I collapsed like a Lego tower while reading my pain between her lines. By focusing on her pain and praying for her unknown crisis, I distracted myself. 

I imagined her pain wasn't as bad as my own. In a moment of selfishness, I hoped it was worse. Anything to make me feel better.

Hours ticked away while I waited for an update. When it came, I was not relieved. Her confession sailed out of the screen and into my heart as surely as a marksman's arrow meeting its aim. She could not keep up with all life is throwing at her. She felt like a failure.
Courtesy D. Scott

I dropped my cyber-mask. “Oh, you? Me too!” One brave confession led to others. Stronger hearts reached out to comfort weary ones. Bandaids for the soul appeared via the magic of cyberspace. If only the comfort would last forever.

Night turned to day before I was through sleeping. Truth is: I'm never through sleeping anymore. Maybe I'm reverting to a 2nd childhood with days and nights confused? 

Sleep is the easier choice because I am always running from the to do list I never make. I never make it because it will be written proof of how often and how big I fail.

I never make the list, but I always keep a tally in my head. I feel my shortcomings before my eyes are open each morning. I will never be who I want to be or accomplish what I want to accomplish. Why even begin to try again given how far behind I am?

I turned the shower on and let the water run over me wishing the old me would wash away. I don't have the energy to cry out much anymore, so a whimper had to do. 

“Hello, God? Fix me? Make today better than yesterday?” If I signed up, I doubt the Army could help me be all that I want to be. If God can't fix me, the Army sure can't.

Courtesy A. Hughes
The yard needs to be mowed. The back forty looks like a tropical rainforest again this summer. Let's don't talk about shrubs that need trimming. I don’t qualify for an episode of hoarders, but clutter has the upper hand right now. 

Who am I kidding? It most always has the upper hand. 

The kitchen. Is still. In process. The bathroom wallpaper I started stripping the night before I broke my leg 2 yrs ago? You get the picture. 

The taunting voice echoed in my soul, “Psst! Failure. Failure. Failure. You can only manage the minimum it takes to get by. F-a-i-l-u-r-e.”

As despair taunted me, an echo filled my soul:

No, my child, you are not the airbrushed model on the magazine cover. You are not the thin, beautiful blogging homeschool mom with a dozen kids and home business on the side. You are not the famously published author with legions of fans. 

Every day you hold up the measuring stick the world offers and find yourself wanting. Your eyes are filled with the taunting implications of perfection around you.

What you can't see is the reality behind those airbrushed images. You've bought the lie of Facebook success stories, Pinterest wonderlands, Twitter feeds, and magazine covers. The lies that say, “This is what success looks like.”
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

No one pins a picture of wakeful nights spent with a hurting child. How do you pin hours of tears shed after sleep overcame his pain. No one videos the reality of hard fought battles in the trenches of long division for YOU TUBE. Who tweets an Instagram of homelessness? Images captured in the gritty reality of ICU don't tell the tale of death's knock at your door. Yet, these have been the 'pins' of your life. These and more.

Don't you see? I see you. I see you in the trenches. I see you fighting to survive one more day: one more fever, one more broken heart, one more setback, one more disappointment, one more assault to who I say you are in me. I see your perfection even if you don't.

I didn't say I was looking for the fastest, snazziest runner. I am looking for the one who will finish the race. You got up today. You ministered to family and friends around you. You are doing what I have called you to do. Only I have a 'pin' for days spent surviving in the trenches of your life.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Oh, fraidy cat, I don't know the fear that chases you today. I do know most everyone is running to keep up with images of perfection permeating our world. 

He sees you. He sees the hard fought victories in sleepless nights. He sees the loneliness a 'pin' cannot describe. He sees the guilt when an A+ in Failure mocks you from the pinboard of your life.

He looks at us and sees the sacrifice of his son. In that sacrifice, he redeemed and redeems the failures that haunt us. On the Pinterest boards of eternity, he sees you on the one labeled 'Perfection'. 

Underneath the board is an A+ whose url links back to all the things he saw when no one else was looking. Love you long and strong. So does he.

2 Timothy 4:7 (Amplified Bible)
I have fought the good (worthy, honorable, and noble) fight, I have finished the race, I have kept (firmly held) the faith.