Explanation

michelle-in-front-of-yonahI probably never should have pushed the publish button at 3:00 a.m. I do not usually share these kinds of deep places…until after the fact.  My usual pattern is to pull away and sit in silence, waiting for the sun to come up and the lesson to make itself known.   But this time, I know that isolating myself is not healthy.  Hence, my lament last week went public. Don’t you hate it when people put vague but heart wrenching stuff out there, but never explain it?  I do.  It caused quite a stir and I learned two things from it.

  1. I have a multitude of people who love me. I did not intend to scare anyone with my post. (Bill called it my suicide note…I promise it was NOT.) I rarely publish the hard places publicly because of this very thing.  However, the calls and notes I received have brought a measure of healing along with the acknowledgement there are people I can call when I am in a painful place.
  2. There are many, many people who are hurting. Along with exposing my pain, I unknowingly exposed the pain of others who have/are walking in difficult places. They reached out with compassion, not trying to fix it for me, but just holding space to allow me to feel.  Only those who have walked in brokenness can fully grasp what it means to have someone who gets it. Thank you.

Grief is an odd companion.  There are stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  I have found, in my life, that these stages are not linear, rather they jump around like frogs in a rainstorm.  Just when I think I have found acceptance, tears reappear.  Or when I know I am no longer in denial, I find another area that has been hiding in the corners of my heart.  Recently, a confluence of circumstances triggered some pain I thought was long ago dealt with.  I would have said I had full acceptance of this loss, but in reality, I was in denial.  Funny how that works.

It seems going back is my way forward these days.  Unresolved pain, from the TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) days 29 years ago, is washing over me like the waves at the sea.  I walked the stormy beach last week in Fl. and watched waves crash over and over again like an aching metaphor of TBI life. The ancient pain festered and cried out reminders that there is still unfinished business of the heart back there which is effecting me, even now.  It is like an onion, that is peeled back one layer at a time until the core is all that is left, and like cutting an onion, the tears flow unchecked and uninvited.  Long past days of survival cry out to be heard from the depths where they have lived stuffed for years.  Loss unimaginable refuses to be relegated once again to the back burner, and so every event brings pain gushing forth to overflowing.  A movie rips the scab off of wounds currently tender.  A change in plans undoes me.  No one gets it.  I don’t even get it.  But I am in pieces, and all I know is that it is like beating my head against a wall over and over again. I want to curl up in the fetal position and cry for days.  All the prayers in the world cannot bring back what was lost to us on that day so many years ago.  All the cheerful-look-on-the-bright-side words cannot change what I am dealing with, even though I appreciate them and I wish they could.

Sarah Bessy, one of my favorite authors, put it this way,

“All of this has reminded me of how trauma sometimes sleeps in our souls, too. We can carry our trauma – whether it’s betrayal or hurt or abuse or loss or something else entirely – for a long time before it surfaces. Often it is when we feel we’re making progress that we discover reawakened old pain and then we have to deal with that now, too. I talk to a lot of people who have what we might call soul trauma. Sometimes they are so grateful to be alive that they feel it’s wrong to admit that they’re still hurt, that some days are harder than others, that they need help. They survived – the rest is details, right? But I’ve learned along with these brave souls that God is in the details.”

Soul trauma. It is a time for me to grieve the details.  A time to try to find the illusive acceptance which seems always just out of reach.  Somehow to let go of the shattered dreams, to stop trying to glue things together, and to recognize our lives are impaired. I cannot explain what it is like to see your barely recognizable husband tied to a hospital bed. I cannot describe days of bedside vigil praying that he would live only to wonder why I prayed that way, when he awakened as a strangely different person.  I cannot define the feeling of teaching him how to walk, eat, and dress himself again. No one can understand what it is like to live 30 years trying to regain your dreams, only to realize they are unattainable. The frustration, the heartache of watching the man you love, try so very hard to recover all that he lost, on one day, in one minute. Walking beside him for years and watching the struggle that is so very real every day. We have lived with the residual issues of a damaged frontal lobe from the day of the accident till now.  My charming, gregarious, fun-loving, hilarious husband is too wonderful for words, but he has some limitations.  TBI is a stealer of stability, and I hate it for that.  Jobs come and go, and because of the frequency of that fact, they are also hard for him to find.  There is no understanding of how many friends fall by the wayside, how many jobs slip through the fingers, how many attempts it takes to do the most basic things like making decisions, or remembering where you put your stuff.  Unless you have done so, you cannot know what it is like to live in a before and after world.

Nevertheless, there is a fierce love which does not give up.  It is deeply rooted in stubbornness and tenacity, and we have it…have always had it, through TBI, miscarriage, cancer, fire, illness/death of a parent, and surgeries.  Nothing bonds hearts together like shared trauma. Our relationship is like steel. But recently a straw broke my camel’s back and my brittle heart is fragile. The contrast between past and present is difficult to reconcile. I seem to have a foot in each. The NOW part of me struggles with a faltering faith that is shaken to the core. Going around the same jobless mountain, back in survival mode yet again. The PAST part of me knows that holding on to God is the only way through the tough stuff. The broken part of me sits down and cries, “Where are you God?”  The part who has walked through hellish times before knows he is never far.

I am like a child having a temper tantrum because I do not get what I want. The grief is in realizing I will not get it. Meanwhile, God waits quietly for me to cry myself out. All I know is that he might be waiting a while, because nearly 30 years of survival mode has pushed me to the brink. All the pent up, buried, painful grief I have silenced for years is demanding to be heard.  I have people who listen and guide me in these kind of times. My family has carried me so many times, we would not have survived without them. There are others who have walked along side us for years and know just what to say and how to pray.  I do not want it to sound as if I am not grateful for my life…I am.  I have been blessed beyond measure, I am just very tired.

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Janette

As a child growing up I remember when my Great Aunt Janette would visit from Florida. I don’t guess I really knew much about her when I was little, I only knew I liked her. She was fun and small, less than five feet tall, and that put her somewhere between me and the grown-ups. She didn’t come around very often, so when she did it was a real treat. I remember she hugged me very tightly, smiled all the time, and talked very loudly. When I grew up and she didn’t, I began to understand that she was different in some way. I learned that when she was very young a fever caused damage to her brain which left her in a perpetual childlike state. To me, that seemed a wonderful thing.
She took to my dad, and therefore to me…all of us really. In fact, I don’t know anyone that she didn’t take to. I remember teaching my kids how to brace for one of her hugs, so she wouldn’t knock them over. One of her favorite things to do was sit on the front porch in Clayton and swing. I would sit next to her and we would talk about anything and everything and nothing. She was more than honest in that childlike way that imparts simple wisdom unaware. Her eyes sparkled always, like she was lit up from the inside. She was perpetually joyful and ageless. Her memory for details was amazing. As far back as I can remember she looked the same. Shortly cropped hair. Tiny hands and feet. Her arms wrapped around my waist to give me hugs. A smile that lit up a room, and a personality to go with it. Spunky. A bundle of energy. They say dynamite comes in small packages, and she was evidence to the truth of that statement.
Janette died today at the age of 83. Being the youngest she is the last of the sisters to go. Though I didn’t see her often in the last years, it seems odd to think that she got old. I guess I just pictured her living forever young. It is hard for me to identify her impact on my life. I don’t think I would have connected my love for the mentally challenged with my love for Janette until this moment. Being a house parent several years ago for adults like her seemed a perfectly timed job opportunity, not a tribute to my aunt. Yet as I reflect on her life and how it touched mine I see that her influence runs deeper than I knew. I see now that my work with autistic, downs and other challenged children and adults most likely stemmed from my early memories of a four-foot tall fireball…named Janette. She taught me not to be afraid of people who were different than me. She taught me communication does not have to be hard, and that being respectful and kind leads to joy that cannot be stolen. She, and her lessons, will be missed.

Love Song

I was awakened this morning with a quickening in my spirit. It was not a voice exactly, but more of an anticipation deep inside of me. I have been wanting to try my new knee out on the longer, more difficult terrain of Raven Cliffs, but for some reason it hasn’t worked out for anyone to come along. Today, even after it was apparent I would have to go solo, I knew I would go anyway. It had to be today.
One foot onto the trail and I heard a love song. Really it was more of a feeling that was surging around me. It was as if I was being drawn down the trail, deeper and deeper by the Lord. I can only say that though the weather was perfect and I had the trail to myself, it was more than that. The eyes of my heart could sense him just up ahead, like an invisible game of catch me if you can. Moving quickly, I tried to catch up to him. Just around each bend in the trail I felt as if he had stopped to let me catch up to him, only to move on ahead of me just as I arrived where he was. However, his song surrounded me and at each place he had waited for me I could hear it clearly. The water was both treble and bass…high gurgling of the stream and the low thunder of the falls. The birds carried the melody. My quiet footfalls were the rhythm. The wind had the trees dancing, but only at the very tops, which created a heavenly swishing like angels’ wings. It gave me butterflies, and chill bumps all at the same time. I caught myself smiling at this delightfully strange walk. My senses were heightened. I watched and listened for any movement around me. Every detail stood out, from a distance hawk’s cry, to a snake slithering across my path. (It was a small one.) I took my time because I felt the Lord was delighting in my delight, if that makes sense. Yet, I dared not stop for fear that his presence would move on without me.
I found that my tiptoe-through-stream muscles, my balance-across-log muscles, my climb-over-boulder muscles were all in working order. This was a welcome surprise, because having not hiked this trail for nearly a year I wasn’t sure how it would go. Just being in the woods again was exhilarating. Praying as I walked, which is my habit, I told the Lord so. I thanked him for the gift of a body that can move, and I recognized that these walks of ours help to sustain me, especially when things are difficult and unclear in my life. Here I can leave the stress behind, and still contemplate. My mind clears and rests.
As I was walking, feeling myself relax into the day I came across a word. I am not even kidding, it was written in the dirt. Still having a sense of his presence just up ahead, I hesitated to stop, but curiosity won out. There were several letters written, but footprints had made all but three letters illegible. Sow. That was the word written in the dirt on the trail right in front of me. Sow… meaning to plant seed, to set something in motion, to begin, to scatter abroad, to scatter upon the earth for growth. I so love it when he does mysterious stuff like this. If I could have run I would have gone ahead at full speed, because I knew there would be more to the message. Just knew. In about a half of a mile there were more words, all of them illegible, but there was a heart drawn right there in the dirt. It was a game now and I was up and moving again. I went ahead, possibly another quarter mile before the word love appeared in the dirt at my feet. Sow love. A simple message. A directive. An action. I looked for more words along my way. There were none.
The song was loud in my ears. I made it to the place of the surround sound where two streams come together. The trail turns from the river then and around the next bend or two the gurgling water fades into the sounds of the forest. Today the moment I reached this part of the trail I noticed it. Silence…an absence of sound, which is a rare occurrence in nature. There is always SOME kind of sound. Today, there was nothing… a rest in the midst of the symphony. Then a new movement. Almost to the end of the trail, I hiked under trees, and through them. Across water and rocks. Up the Billy Goat trail to the crescendo. Tucked in between monstrous granite cliffs which tower over the landscape, are the falls which are hidden in the cleft of the rock. I found a flat rock warmed by the sun and I stretched out at the foot of the falls and listened as he sang his song over me. The rock trembled with the power of the song. I don’t know how long I was there beside the pool, but when I was refreshed from my morning of worship, I sat up. I watched the water throw itself down from the cliffs above me and my heart heard “I will hide you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with my hand. Do not be afraid. Sow love.”
You may find it odd, this walk of mine, but it is his way with me. It is his words to me that sustain me and nourish my spirit. Whether they are written in his book, or my heart or in the dirt…they are the lyrics of his love song.

The World Race

One Sunday after church, when Hannah was about 5 or 6 years old, she came to me and said, “I heard God in church today.” I was very interested in this and asked her what he said. I will never forget her response. “He said, ‘Go.’” Had it been a message on missions, or if we there was a missionary showing pictures of foreign children I might not have had the same reaction. As it was, the message had nothing to do with missions, and I was taken aback by my daughter’s words to me. Mainly because I felt them pierce my heart, and I knew that she had indeed heard God. Looking back, I feel the word was as much to prepare my heart as it was hers.
I didn’t hear another mention of it until she was in 6th grade when she approached me about a mission trip our church was taking and said, “I think I am supposed to go on the Brazil trip.” I replied, “You realize that means you will have to get on a plane, have shots, and raise money.” All of those are things she had said she would never do. She said, “If I am supposed to go I will be able to do all three.” And she did.
She has made many, many trips since then. She has graduated college with double majors in religion and anthropology. And now she feels the pull once again. Once again she is answering the call to go. She will leave in July for the World Race. If you haven’t heard of it I will tell you it is quite an adventure for the one going, a bit less so for the mom left behind. However, even as I get ready to spend the year on my knees praying for my daughter’s safety, I feel that it is exactly what she is supposed to do. She and her team will serve in 11 countries in 11 months. One month living among the poor in each country. She will carry all that she needs to live in her backpack. Like I said, quite an adventure. Here’s the link if you want to check it out. http://www.theworldrace.org/
Of course she will be raising funds for this trip of a lifetime. $15,000 to be exact. Seems like a lot of money until you factor in airfare, food, and other costs for one whole year. In order to fund her trip she will be doing numerous things…selling 31 products, visiting churches to make brief presentations, putting the need on fundraising websites, and partnering with Threads of Hope to sell handmade bracelets. I am sure there will be other sources that come up along her journey, because every faith walk she has made to this point God has provided the income. We have found that he takes care of those who lay down everything for him.
First and foremost I covet your prayers for my daughter, that God would direct each and every step as he keeps her safe in his hand. Next, if you feel the pull to help, please consider joining with her by aiding in the funding. Any of the ways listed above would help out, or a cash donation. You can message me for specifics. We have a TON of bracelets so message me for those as well. They are $2 for the round ones, and $4 for the flat ones, or 3 for $5 round, and 3 for $10 flat. They make great gifts for kids, grandkids, or anyone who loves colorful accessories. She will make half the money and send the rest back to Threads of Hope to help the families in the Philippines who make the bracelets. Most of all, thank you for your support to me as I officially become the mother of a missionary.

Jack

At our teacher training on Monday about how to teach writing we had about 10 minutes to write. I chose a childhood memory of my horse Jack…here it is.

There once was a horse girl. She collected those plastic horse models, drew pictures, and was generally fascinated with all things horse related. Her horse Jack was a black and white Pinto who was hand-delivered to her front door by Santa himself. It was the beginning of a sometimes tumultuous relationship. Jack was stubborn and mule headed. He valued doing things his way. The girl was the rider, but he was the leader. He took her for rides that included trying to knock her off by riding under low branches, or barn doors. He was desperate to free himself from the girl on his back. However, his antics backfired, because in this girl he had met his match. She was just stubborn enough and bold enough to hang on for his wild rides. She dodged the branches and door frames and was exhilarated by his speed when he broke away galloping for his freedom. Her long hair flying, she smiled at the tricks he played in order to make these gallant attempts at escape. She found a kindred heart in this horse of hers. He came to accept the girl on his back, and even like her because of the fact she herself broke free often allowing him to have his full head. They grew together in unity of heart, and their love of freedom bonded them. Over the years he learned to follow her lead because he finally understood she was a free spirit…just like him.

Simplicity

Generally, rocking, swinging, and movement have always comforted me. I have been known to frequent playgrounds in order to find a swing set, though my favorite is ALWAYS a tire swing hung from a high branch in an ancient oak tree. I am sure it has something with my need to have wind blowing through my hair and the sense of freedom I feel…almost like I am flying. When the kids were little we moved around a lot, but I always knew where the closest playground was. Beyond parks we always had a hammock in our own yard if possible. Some of my most memorable moments of my wee ones are hammock related. One specific memory comes to mind today that is particularly powerful in my current world.

When Peter was around two years old we had a daily routine. We would drop one sibling in first grade, another in kindergarten, and the third at preschool. Upon arriving home, I put him in the stroller for our morning walk around the neighborhood. I used this time to allow the Lord to bear upon my heart and teach me his ways. It was my daily walk with God…literally. After our stroll, I took Peter straight to the hammock. I was a young, sleep deprived mom and I knew the chance of a morning nap with a toddler boy was higher if there was a swinging motion involved. Okay, okay…the chance of my getting some sleep too was even higher, so I got the hammock stick to push with and we crawled in. To settle him down we played a listening game.

I would whisper, “Shhh. Listen. Do you hear that?”

And he would respond, “What is it?”

I would say, “I think it’s a squirrel.”

He would strain to hear and then he would say, “I think I hear it.”

Soon he would be listening intently for any noise…wind, birds, crickets, frogs from the pond next door…anything at all. I can still hear his little voice saying, “Mommy do you hear that? It’s a bird.” or “That’s the wind blowing. Can you hear it?” Slowly his head would drop onto my chest, and his little diapered rear would become still. He didn’t fall asleep right away. We would swing in silence just listening together for a quite a while. Soon he was breathing deeply and, with my arms around him, I drifted off into a peaceful sleep as well. Precious times. One day, we were swinging and listening as usual. He was whispering about the sounds he heard and I was adding a few of my own. His head dropped onto me as it did every day, when he suddenly said, “Shhh. What’s that?”

I said, “I don’t know. What is it?”

He said, “I hear God.”

My heart melted and I replied with tears in my eyes, “I hear him too buddy. I hear him too.”

And I did. It was one of the sweetest worship moments I have ever had. His presence was tangible. I was moved by the seeds of faith planted by God into my son’s heart. The smallness of a child spoke all the power of heaven….swinging in a hammock. A long silence of awe followed and soon we dozed into the most peaceful sleep.

The memory of that day comes back to me from time to time, like today. I have learned that when things are difficult, pulling back and being still is critical for me to hear God. I can rush around, try to fix everything myself. I can worry and fret over the lot life has dished out. I can feel all alone. But when I want relief, true calm and rest I must remember that I hear him best when I am listening quietly. It is as if he waits for me to stop my frantic work and sit. When I am doing all I can, he doesn’t move on my behalf, because I am moving on my behalf. Once I sit. I hear. I see. He moves…with compassion…towards me. I simply watch…and wait. I am like the child resting my head on my father’s chest. With his heart beating in my ears, I hear God. He rocks me and holds me. He shares his heart, and I can perceive it despite all that rails against him in my world. Despite circumstances and difficulties, I pull away and into his arms. I am comforted there, and I am never alone because his presence rests with me. Always…when I humbly remember the simplicity of a child.

Longing

I love winter. Southern winter that is. I love the snow, the cold, the wind. All of it. However, in Georgia winter never lasts more than a few days at a time. I feel sure that if I lived somewhere where snow stayed on the ground for more than two days, or where it was below freezing for weeks at a time I would have other opinions. But as it stands I am a southern girl who loves the few flakes we get each year.

I also love the fact that I live somewhere that has four seasons. Each one is distinct and remarkable. But sometimes, like lately, I wish for one season while still in another. It seems that this winter has been particularly drab. Gray, bland, and devoid of color. Not much snow to speak of, more cold rain than anything. It has been a lot, even for a rain-lover like me. So today I took action. I pulled out my Bath and Body Works Wild Honeysuckle body lotion. I couldn’t help myself…I just wanted a whiff of sunshine. The smell is heavenly, and while it isn’t quite the real thing, it is the closest I can get for now. If I close my eyes I can see the little pale yellow flowers spilling over fences, and climbing over rocks. I can hear the bees buzzing around to gather the sweet nectar. I can taste the droplets of delight on my tongue. For a moment, it is early summer.

I quickly decide that I can make it summer all day by smoothing the lotion over my skin. I practically bathe in it while I am still warm just out of the shower. The mirror is still steamy, which replicates the humidity of a southern summer beautifully. You may think me crazy, but it worked. Gave me a pep in my step all day. If you passed me floating in my fragrant cloud and felt a sudden rise in your heart rate you might have a love of honeysuckle too…and a longing for summer. Feel free to stop me for a whiff anytime. 🙂

You Can Save Lives

One of the most asked questions a cancer patient hears after being diagnosed is “What can I do for you?” or “How can I help?” There is the usual, bring a meal, or take the kids to soccer, and of course pray. But friends cannot go through chemo for you, nor can they sit in the doctor’s office for you. Really, other than the practical stuff there isn’t much they can do. Until now.
The American Cancer Society is enrolling people in a study called the Cancer Prevention Study-3 (CPS-3). It is a nationwide long term study for people between the ages of 30-65 who have never had cancer. There is a long term commitment of 20-30 years, but before you baulk at that number let me tell you what is required. Sign up. Show up for a 20 minute appointment where they will give you a survey, take a small amount of blood, measure you, and have you sign a consent form. After that, they send you a survey once every two years. No more blood work. No more visits. Just answer the questions via email and you are done. The questions are about medications, family history, lifestyle and other behaviors. The goal of the survey is to better understand the genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that cause or prevent cancer. The greater goal is to save lives of your family members and friends. It is the answer to the question “What can I do to help?”
They are currently enrolling in Gainesville and scheduling appointments at NEGA medical center for April 23rd and 24th. If you are interested you can get more information at http://www.cps3gainesville.com or call 888-604-5888. If you live somewhere other than the Gainesville area you can still participate in your state by going to the American Cancer Society website and finding your region.

Message in the Mirror

I don’t remember when I started writing messages on mirrors. I think it must’ve been a graduation, or maybe a birthday. I did it to make the recipient feel special and celebrated. It grew from there to include Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day, Alive Days, Interview Days, Test Days, Just Because I Love You Days, and just about any other day where a message of love needed to be delivered. It isn’t so much about the message itself as it is about the affection behind the message. I have restrained myself from putting “to do lists,” or reminders of any kind because that would defeat the purpose. The notes are my way of saying you matter to me. You are important and loved…my way to say, never forget that I care for you. My kids have probably outgrown my little messages, but I write them anyway, because it is the heart behind the words that matters most.

It occurs to me on this day, Valentine’s Day, that God also sends messages of love. He sends them through his word and he writes them on our hearts. He whispers them in our ears. They have the same purpose, to reflect on the relationship. To show his genuine affection for us. He says, “You matter to me. You are important and loved. Never forget that I care for you my Beloved.” We may think we have outgrown his words of love to us. We may not even recognize them anymore, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t give them. It is his heart to pour them out whether we are aware of his affection for us or not. If you watch for him and listen, you will find his amazing love for you expressed, on Valentine’s Day and every day through his messages. You only have to look in the mirror to see what is formed in you, and reflected there…his image. Beloved he wants you to see what he sees. His beauty shining out of your eyes. He has sent you a message in the mirror.

Daffodils

Daffodils are the first flowers of spring. This year I saw my first ones in January! Only in Georgia, with our crazy weather would the flowers be confused as to what season it is. Now that it is February their yellow faces are gathered in fields and along roadsides, fully awake and poised for spring. I only hope that a cold snap doesn’t kill them since they decided to show up early this year.
When I saw the first ones of the season I couldn’t help but think of Louise. Daffodils were one of her favorite flowers. Second only to Sunflowers. Her hatred of winter is a well known fact. She did not like the cold, nor the drab landscape of browns and grays. She felt that the deadness of winter was depressing. Even in the beauty of a newly fallen snow once the pictures were taken, and she had sledded with the kids a few runs down the hill, she was ready for it to be gone. So when the first daffodil peeked its head out of the monotone ground it was cause for celebration. It meant that spring was indeed on its way, which would be followed by summer…her favorite season. I can see her clap with excitement, as she adds a spring to her step. It seems that just a little tad of yellow could chase her blues away.
In her enthusiasm she would run to the nursery and start buying flowers to put out. For many years she jumped the gun and the freeze ruined her work. To her, it seemed as if there was no rhyme or reason to the planting, until one particular year, when she visited a local nursery to purchase some flowers to plant. She asked the old farmer how to know when the time is right.
He said, “Ma’am, look at that mountain over there and tell me what you see.”
She said, “An ugly brown mountain.”
“That’s right. See the green around the base of the mountain? When that gets all the way to the top, then you plant.”
She waited, and though it liked to killed her, it worked. She didn’t lose one plant that year. Another year, she told me, the green was almost to the top of the mountain. It was very close, so she figured close enough. (She wasn’t usually a very patient person.) She planted; there was a freak spring snow that killed everything. After that she stuck by the old farmer’s advice. But the yellow faces were the light at the end of the dark, winter tunnel. Once they opened up, Louise’s face brightened in unison with theirs. All it took was one daffodil for the transformation to begin.