PTSD

What does PTSD feel like? What causes it?

I remember first finding out about my husband’s arrest, then slowly learning of the betrayals, addiction, and complete destruction of our family. I felt very much like Alice in Wonderland . I would dream and cry upon waking to find that my life was real and the dream was only wishful thinking. The PTSD came on as a result of the nature of the secret lies, the public arrest and media coverage, and the fact that I was married to someone for twenty-five years that suddenly became a stranger to me.

Suddenly my world no longer made sense.

I felt like everything was unreal.  The trauma was palpable and unnerving. I walked around in a daze for hours and days and then weeks and finally it felt like years. I had to numb my heart and mind or it would not recover. The very first full day after no sleep….I cried like there was no tomorrow. I couldn’t even breathe.

I completely lost my ability to think clearly for a while. I couldn’t do simple math, and my memory came at a very labored price. I forgot simple things like names, phone numbers, and history stories that I teach. I had to read each story five minutes before I would teach it for that first year. I had to make lists for myself in every area and carry them around so I wouldn’t forget to pay bills….cook dinner….do laundry….water the plants….get gas…..and breathe!

I was able to function…talk…dress…and even teach if I didn’t have to use my memory. But anything complex became a horrible struggle. I have NEVER felt so stupid in my life. Sometimes I would just cry at night….my heart broken over the fact that I had forgotten how to spell a simple word like awful…..or couldn’t remember the name of a colleague in the hallway that day.

I would also see things out of the corners of my eyes that were not really there. I would jump at the slightest sound. Trusting anyone felt like it took the strength of Hercules…..and just desiring to eat was a conscious choice I had to make. I was weepy,  and yet prone to days when I could muster no feelings at all.

I j umped at roaches and would see them crawling in my peripheral vision. My heart would tremble and my body would go into fight or flight at the slightest stress. The slightest trigger could make me cry for hours.  I remember someone sharing a song with me….and the lyrics made me cry for hours. I would watch a movie and have to cry…..see a commercial and totally be triggered by the women……..I remember going into Publix for the first time after I had learned everything….and being completely overwhelmed by the feeling that everyone knew….and some of the women might have met up with my husband. It was completely unnerving and disheartening. Feelings of intense hopelessness and worthlessness would flood over me seemingly out of nowhere. I was in very real danger of closing up my heart and never opening the door to my emotions ever again.

I remember my saving grace was teaching. I would walk into the classroom and could immediately feel almost normal. I could be the Leslie I used to be in front of the children. I could run my classroom and take field trips and forget that I was this broken woman in my other areas of life.

There are days now when I am able to be strong. I can believe that the world will be a good place and I have worth. But there are still times when the PTSD will return briefly. My heart will falter. Something will trigger an emotion or a memory, and I will feel so alone or so unable to move forward. My whole sense of time goes off kilter….five minutes can seem like five days. I lose the ability to think for awhile. I cannot plan. I cannot execute my plans. I simply have to hold on emotionally and try not to drop out the bottom of the black hole. This week it was returning to a pizza joint. I went there with my ex-husband….pizza night….anniversary dinners…take out. Sitting there in the restaurant, I could feel the wall…the numb….the dizzy feeling of all the emotions crowding around. I couldn’t be comfortable, and I just wanted to run out. It is crazy. I know when it is happening….and can look back and see what I should have done…..but in the moment….I am not able to deal with all those emotions. I will become numb.

Sometimes during this time, I will write. I often will try to do something that has beauty attached to it…..music, art, poetry, reading……a wonderful movie.

I try to pray or read scripture but often….I am immobilized and unable to do anything but feel like a scared rabbit in the grass being hunted by a giant war eagle.

Today it is not as bad as it has been in the past but it is there occasionally. I feel the tremble. I feel the fear. I feel the spinning that could go out of control.

Time seems to be lingering and hopeless. I cannot seem to trust that Good and Perfect gifts come from my Father. I cannot seem to believe fully that I am lovable and that someday I will feel loved again.

I am trying but my mind keeps getting stuck on what I do wrong in relationships. I have been up since three am and I need sleep. I have not been able to eat much and my heart is aching. I am longing again….longing for someone to hold my hand…..someone to see me…someone trustworthy to come into this mess and help walk me out. I am beating myself up….hearing the words that tell me I am not enough.

These and ten million more thoughts cross my mind and make it difficult to even breathe.

I have been in touch with a wonderful woman, Laurie Hall. She wrote a book called: An Affair of the Mind, which I read two years ago. She has walked this road and had some wisdom for me. She said:

Your fear of trusting anyone is very normal.  PTSD is also very normal when you’ve had this kind of trauma.  I lived with PTSD for over 20 years.  It was awful: self-condemning thoughts,
panic and anxiety, that would come out of nowhere and torture me.  I have finally found peace from that.  

Try this: when you go to bed each night, remind yourself that God is present with you and loving you and then repeat, “I let the love wash over me, I let, I let it be.”  Keep repeating this until you feel the love.

Then, repeat “I let the peace wash over me, I let, I let it be”.  Keep repeating until you feel the peace.
It was so good to just hear that all this is normal….that I am not just so broken in a way that cannot ever be fixed. It is so comforting to know that this is not something I am just making up in my head. I forget that broken places can take on normal ebbs and flows and others can help guide you through them. I am not broken because I did something wrong. I am not experiencing something strange…..I am experiencing something known and that gives me hope.
I can begin to use God’s word to fight this battle. I can begin to strengthen my mind and my spirit along with my heart. God does not fail us. When He says the truth shall set you free….He means it.
So I intend to work hard to gain freedom over this PTSD….these feelings of hopelessness…panic….anxiety….worthlessness….they will pass. I can identify them and feel them coming…..and I can fight them in the power of Christ’s love. I am so very grateful to Laurie Hall for speaking into this situation….and Barbara Steffens and Leslie Vernick for their powerful books as well….three women who are valiantly fighting for the hearts and minds of women (and men) who have been scarred by someone else’s sexual addiction.

God come for me in these moments. Help me to release control, breathe  your vision into my life, and walk forward making beauty out of these ashes. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder……PTSD…..

Come Lord Jesus…..create in me …..Patience, Trust,  and Self-Control …a reordering of my mind!  PTSC……a much more pleasant way to spend a morning! Take even my mind and make it yours today!

Plenty of Fish

I just spent some time looking through a website for dating….Plenty of Fish.  I heard about it while having coffee with someone. I am laughing and horrified and so aware that I am feeling like a high school girl all over again….you know….the one who walks down the hallway carrying her books….carrying her dreams in her head….carrying her hurts in her heart…..wanting someone to see her but terrified of rejection. THAT girl!

I cannot believe we have come to this. We put up some pictures of ourselves….some look professionally done and others look like the person doesn’t know how to take a good picture……We write what we consider to be a witty opening….”Will You Be My Valentine? Are you Looking for Me? A Cutie with a Booty” (that one made me laugh out loud!

Then we fill out all the statistics about ourselves….5’8″ tall….brown eyes….desire a woman between 34-47…..looking for someone honest, caring, compassionate, and sexy!

Wow! I am reading through these and the fear is sky high! I see men that look absolutely crazy….others who look great but sound absolutely crazy…..some that look lost….a divorced, shy man who has young kids and admits that they are just getting by and things are tough because of the divorce….another that says he has a brain injury and is so lonely…..another who looks so arrogant…..and another that has posted close ups of his biceps and every picture shows off his chiseled physique.

My mind is spinning….I cannot make myself sign up. Online seems like an irrational place….a place where people go to pretend they are real people…a place where we go to look through shop windows and try to find someone in two dimensions when real people exist in three. How on earth could I click on someone’s profile and invite them to a cup of coffee? I would not sleep every night before the coffee. I would have to have my friends do a complete background check…fingerprints would be great, and then I would need three references and would need to find someone that I know that actually knows this person and their story! I would have to find someone from my area, and I would have to actually find someone who knows them first and could introduce us in person……perhaps dating sites need to be like LinkedIn….where you can see how you are connected to people…..then you could date within a real life realm….if everyone in your Facebook or LinkedIn or Pinterest…or Google circles who was single would show up…and it would tell you who you know that knows this person….then a dinner could be arranged…..a background check could be done….their story could be shared and there wouldn’t  be flipping out ……worrying that this stranger was not really who they claim to be!

How on earth could I trust someone to tell me the truth about who they are?

And that is the reality….I think online dating just sets it right up there in front of my eyes….on the screen….I am seeing my ex! I see him in every profile….

I remember sitting at lunch with someone who was telling me their story. She was telling me some very tough things about her ex-husband and she stopped a minute and looked at me….”But if you met him….you would think he was wonderful! You would think he was one of the nicest guys you had ever met!”

That stopped me in my tracks.

It made me think about people and their stories. How will I move into a place of trust? God this is scary! I know that for me…online dating can probably never happen….my story is of such a horrible online betrayal……I know for others online dating has led to wonderful marriages….my own dad found his wife online, and they are very happy. I have heard stories of lots of women who find  online dates and have met wonderful people.

I am the one broken…..and I can see that now. I just need to quit beating myself up over it and realize that for me….God will provide a different way because He knows my heart. He knows what I need.  I need to continue to live into “Try less and trust more!” So online dating is really no different in the end. Someone can deceive you in person as well as online. I am well aware of that!

There are plenty of fish in the sea….I am still trying to figure out how to trust just one of them someday.

Cracks Filled with Gold

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Oh my gosh……

It happened!

I had a whole day where I had simple….every day joy!

I got up…..made breakfast….enjoyed the conversations with the girl driving to school…..

taught…..

….ate food that tasted amazing….

….read an email about a trip to China that is being planned……

Enjoyed my colleagues and saw an old friend….

….talked on the phone for a couple of hours….asked thoughtful questions and heard myself say things like “I have had more people do great acts of kindness for me in the past four years than I can count.”

….I sat there realizing that My God made not just a way…..but a way strewn with beauty and grace and lovely people to come and hold me together when life was falling apart!

I sat there in my bathroom on the floor talking and hearing my life spill out over the phone and realized………

IT IS GOOD!

I looked over Facebook…and saw friends’ and lovely daughter’s posts that touched my heart!

……cried on the treadmill for just a bit…..

…and then….. headed off to bed with a heart that is….less afraid….less broken….less lonely….

Headed to bed with a heart full of thanks….full of wonder….full of hope for the future……

I think I am healing!

I think this is where the broken cracks are beginning to fill up with gold.

This is where I am beginning to see that perhaps….just perhaps…..I will not cry forever in grief…..instead….I can cry for joy….for the hurts I feel deep in my heart….for sadness…..for a child being killed in a war-torn village…..for hunger and homelessness….and for all the things that move my heart now to tears.

I can have days where I feel things…..and feel them deeply……

And I can remember all that was……. and not fall into a fear that there is nothing left for me.

I am still becoming…

But today….almost five years later…….

I actually held joy in my hands….my heart….my mind…. for the first time in a looooong time…. for almost a whole 24 hours.

Sigh…….

I love this messy….difficult….beautiful….cracks filling with gold life that God has given me.

Hellish Hurricanes

Monster

My heart is grieving for a friend today! Her heart is broken, and she is wondering if she will ever feel loved. I know how her heart feels.

Memories Do Grow Sweeter

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I saw a title for Ann Voscamp’s book this evening….Unwrapping the Greatest Gift of All…..It made me think deeply as I was unpacking the Christmas boxes.

I am putting up the Christmas Tree…..tomorrow marks the beginning of the new church year…..Advent. It is a very lovely season. It is full of contemplation and remembrance along with anticipation and hopefulness. I remember the first coming of the baby….the Savior King in a lowly manger…..and I also look forward to His coming again….as a mighty Warrior King!

And each Christmas I get to remember…..I choose to remember even though it hurts sometimes. I remember the first Christmas in the tiny apartment. I remember the tree and the excitement because we were both working pretty good jobs. We actually had enough to buy the relatives presents. I remember agreeing to forgo presents for each other to save money. I cheated. I bought him a small gift. I just cannot keep promises like that.

I remember the first Christmas after our first baby…..the rental house…..the lack of money and the homemade presents that year.

I remember the Christmas on the hill….the magical Christmas Eve snow blizzard and the wide-eyed little girls opening the French doors to reveal presents under a tree. There was the rocking horse that took until the wee hours of the morning to put together and then the snowball fight out in the backyard.

I recall the Christmas in the valley……the Christmas Tree farm and the magical sleigh ride out to chop it down. The way that tree didn’t quite fit in that tiny living room still makes me laugh….but we stuffed it in and decorated it in lights and ornaments.

There is the collection of ornaments that were growing yearly….as we started a tradition of buying each girl a matching ornament every year so they would have a collection of memories to start their own tree when they were married someday.

I remember so many things….the dinners…..the Santa hat……the different presents that I carefully chose and wrapped and kept secret. Each year the memories got sweeter, and I refuse to let them be diminished one bit!

I realized this year as I started to hang all the ornaments that the girls made in each grade….second grade trees……first grade compliment books…..ornaments we made with Mike and Ruby……ornaments the grandparents gave to us…..I began to realize that I chose the better path. I didn’t get a sports car…..or freedom…..or someone to worship me…..or anyone to make me feel fulfilled and fixed and dangerous….or powerful. I didn’t get to have my dream fantasy of a husband that would adore me and take care of me in sickness and in health……but I got to keep all the memories and the lovely memory makers!

In C.S. Lewis’ book Out of the Silent Planet…..his characters the Hnau only do things once….then they live off of the memories which get sweeter as time goes by. I feel like that is a reality in life for me. I love my memories in places. I love that each girl was born once….and then that story grows sweeter every passing day….every time I get to tell the story it is better and richer and deeper. Each girl was only in first grade once and now the stories of that are so sweet….they can hardly be contained in this one heart.

But I get to keep the memories …….all of them. I have the ornaments and the girls and the years that he is missing. I get the birthdays and the weddings….the talks late at night and in the car riding home from everywhere. I get the Thanksgivings and the Christmases both in the past and the present and the future. My path is strewn with goodness and mercy and love, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything! Not for a man…..who would make me feel like a million dollars for one night…….not for money….or fame….or self-satisfaction or self-gratification! Nothing could make me sell these memories, and nothing is comparable to the sweetness they gain each time I open that Christmas box and pull them out again from their dusty sleep.

Tonight I am thankful. I am thankful that I am left with these memories and nothing can ever make them less sweet. The story of his choices in those memories doesn’t diminish them. I can now tell his story alongside this story and see the truth, and it doesn’t make me run from those memories. I can see his part and still feel the beauty from all the goodness that truly was there in those moments. Sure there are places that will make me cry…..the woman with the red hair……the conversations that I now know were happening….the hook ups….the ugly, ugly addiction that was eating his very soul…….BUT……I also get to keep the memories of the family gathered around the dinner table because it was real to me. I get to keep the memories of waking up and seeing their little faces opening their stockings because I was fully present and fully enjoying my life at those times. I wasn’t wishing I was somewhere else and with someone else. I was loving my life and loving the people in it.

I love memories! I love that each year I am building stronger memories and a future that is brighter and more happy, genuine and vulnerable. I LOVE my life….all of it……

Some choices make all the difference in the world!

God help me choose You and Your way above all else. Help me to walk in a way that allows my heart to unwrap the greatest gift each year knowing that the mundane, daily choice to love is the only lasting treasure that I have. Help me to continually choose it even when it doesn’t feel good….or right….or easy….or fun. Make my heart remember to tell the story so the memory can get sweeter…..You came and saved me. You walked with me through the valley of the shadow of death…..You made a way when there was no way…..You made my heart Yours, and I never want to forget that!

Being Strong

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Being strong is difficult….

It is terrifying and lousy and difficult and scary and just plain hard on my heart. Being strong is something I have been for a terrifying amount of time. I look back and see just how strong my little heart had to be….in the times when I felt so alone while growing up….a three year old….a seven year old…..a ten year old….a sixteen year old….navigating a world in which I trusted no one. I didn’t have someone else who was strong for me. I felt as though in my world…..I had to keep myself safe and manage and be strong or it would all fall apart. Was this reality? I don’t know.

There were certainly elements of that reality…..there were consequences for speaking up….for falling apart….for not being strong and I wasn’t going to face them. I had watched others face them and I determined in my little sinful heart that this girl was going to be strong enough to face anything….on her own….and not need any of those things in order to be happy or fulfilled. I became like Cinderella….the great tutor in my life. She became my role model….crazy as it is….her story felt warm and secure. I could be safe if I just served and was kind and didn’t rock the boat. I would give and give and out give any takers…..and stay kind so my heart wouldn’t become like the wicked step mother’s in the story. I didn’t want to hate and become bitter. I wanted to love…..and be loved…..so if I couldn’t be loved….if that was out of my control…..then I would just love in the only way that worked….I would serve and be kind.

Today….being strong means being the mom….being the one to take the hurts and hear the pain and stand even when everything feels like it is falling apart….but there is a price to pay for strong…..I feel alone. I get to cry after everyone has gone to bed….after supper has been made…some nights I even get the dishes done. I get to teach and pour out and hear about homework and try to listen to the stories of the hurts…..pour the wine and let the girl pour out her fears and hurts and memories which are still ripping apart her heart. I get to face the grieving and face the demons and face the past…..alone….because he is not here being the father he could have chosen to be. I get to face their fears and hurts and broken hearts with a Heavenly Father….to hold my heart and my life…..

But some nights….I really just want a strong and loving man……..someone who could hang on to my heart while it breaks and listen to my fears and be strong enough to let me cry in his arms and strong enough to know that he cannot fix this….he can only enter in and walk alongside me.

Some nights I just need to sit in the tub and cry…..the aching sobs that come from deep in my chest….because my dang chest is bursting open and my heart aches and aches and aches…..and nothing seems right and good and beautiful.

Some nights I need to be held and have someone stroke my hair and rub my back…..because they see the pain and know they cannot fix it….but they can sit beside me as I crash like a wave……and they won’t fall apart with me….but will pick up my pieces and tuck them into bed afterward….kiss my forehead and tell me they love me in spite of the tears….

Some days I don’t have anything left with which to serve anyone at the end of a night…..and I fear that I will never have any more….that somehow I am empty and lost and never going to see flowers and beauty or feel light and happy and free again.

I fear that I am walking through hell and there is no end to it.

Other days, I can see beauty everywhere, and I cannot get enough of serving. I cannot give enough away, and I love everything about my life.

But tonight…..it hurts to even breathe. The ache is there, and I miss feeling joy…….feeling happy and carefree…..feeling like a 16-year-old girl with a life ahead chock full of possibilities……

I miss having closeness with someone I completely trust…. …..

I see that my broken is so completely broken that there is no going back.

I know people die from broken hearts…I just never thought it felt like this.

God only you can glue this back together. I am alone and dying for your touch. Please help me find the way out of this. Help me see where the light falls on the path and where to walk. Help me to find my heart and find my needs and my feelings and myself….in You! I am lost but you see me. I am blind but you give sight. I am alone….but never out of Your presence. My reality is not reality…..because You love me and always are with me. Lord….help me see Your reality because tonight mine sucks!

I Have Been to a Funeral

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I have been to a funeral.

Luckily….it was a sweet, difficult, fun, painful, glorious time.

I connected with some family that I have not had an opportunity to see or talk to…..because of the devastation of divorce, hatred, and distance…….wounds that could not be surmounted by a young    fair-haired….fair-hearted girl.

I stood in the room….watching them all remember…..watching them all recall the many memories….of being together…of building lives that were connected. There were stories of my brothers…stories of my sisters…….stories of birthdays…Christmases…..baby showers….babysitting…….and family get-togethers for milestones like anniversaries and sixtieth birthday reunions…..

I stood there like an outsider….because I was an outsider.

I have no memories. I have no connection…..YET!

I decided that this funeral was a way to start…. …..how loving of him… how loving that my brother gave me a gift……even in his leaving….he opened a way for me to connect….this brother who started calling….who played tennis because he wanted connection….who loved even through the distance and divorce and devastation. He was released from his trials….but gave me the gift of connection as I walk through mine.

 A pastor from my father’s church spoke. His eulogy was beautiful. It was the most beautiful, simple presentation of the gospel that I have heard at a funeral.

What will we do when it is our time to die? When we get the news….the revelation that our days are ending…..what will our response be? Will we fall at the feet of Jesus? Will we long to be taken into His arms and His family? I think for my brother….it was a homecoming…..a final acceptance of all the parts of him that are beloved!

My sister and I visited my father’s church on Sunday following the funeral. It was beautiful….and unexpected. This is a man who grew up Catholic…..rich in tradition….rich in symbolism…..rich in mystery….but this church has none of that. It was music and a message. A Good message…..and music that many of my high school hard rocker fans would have loved! There was a sense that this community is trying to be a light in a small town….a place where they can have vulnerability and reach out into the wider world with the message of hope found in the Gospel.

I loved it.

I realize that for me…..I love tradition…..I love having grown up Catholic. One of the many things my mother did right…..she kept us in church….in CCD classes to learn our faith. It is quite clarifying in my heart to look back and see just how profoundly that tradition formed me. I was suffused in goodness, truth, and beauty….wrapped in mystery and symbols. Yes….there were difficult people….a priest that glared when I dropped my host….a priest that sold an annulment….a nun who rapped my knuckles for forgetting my book…..who used harsh words to make me feel small.

But there were far more beautiful people….a priest that with his Bible, grey hair, sandals and spectacles talked to me about Christ in such a winsome convincing way that I could not help but feel I had stepped into the presence of a saint…..a couple of gentle nuns who were loving and kind. They made me feel safe and loved. There was the priest in college who talked to me about owning my faith apart from the strict law-abiding that was being asked of me elsewhere…..there was the priest in the Anglican church who preached a sermon on Abba Father that rocked my world…..and the priests at my current church who walk out a faith and shepherding in a way I have never seen before. So….I count my faith as one of the most treasured parts of me….and I thank my mother for instilling it in me even when her life was falling apart.

I went to a funeral….and I came away with what feels like a larger family.

Life is strange.

You just never know what good God has for you…..He is always surprising me….always calling me to trust more……and to try less.

Thank you John! I cannot wait to see you again!

Just Because He Loves Her and Keeps His Promises!

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Today there were some absolutely glorious moments.

I was on a field trip with my fifth graders. It was just the seventh time I’ve had the opportunity to go to St Augustine.

I tell the story every year…..I see the faces of the students and hear their gasps as I leave them on a cliff hanger one day…… only to draw them in again the next in order to reach their hearts and minds with history’s lessons.

So I already love my job…..but some days are more glorious than others.

Today….I received  a rare treat. I had the opportunity to ride with a parent……someone quite unknown to me because I haven’t had the opportunity to spend two whole uninterrupted hours asking them questions.They opened their life, and I received quite a beautiful  story.

This man and woman are quite rare and beautiful! When I saw them in the light of Christ’s love….I realized just how glorious they are!

I doubt this person even thinks her story is extraordinary or beautiful…..I’l bet they both just see it as plain and unexciting….mundane and rather small.

This beautiful woman plans things…..beautiful things….vacation things…..for her sweet little family. They have been treated to years  of wonderful vacations with themes.. One year was English Literature year. They read Peter Pan…..Beatrix Potter……and a whole host of English Literature for a year and then…..spent a summer in England waking through the places from the stories: King Arthur’s castles and Peter Rabbit’s gardens and everywhere she could think of that would bring those stories to life.

Wow! What a gift.

The next trip she is planning is around history studies. The family is reading American History books. They will travel to places from this history timeline and stay at a farm and work the land and on and on the story went…..

I was amazed! So many beautiful memories…such careful thoughtful planning…..what a great idea!

Then she told me a little more of her story. She grew up with a family that didn’t have the means to travel. Her husband grew up in a family that traveled the world…..and when this man wooed her heart……he made her a promise…..He would fill her passport.

And he has.

It was clear to me in this story that her heart has been captured by this man. He is her hero.

Then….she told one more story….the one that made me cry.

This man promised to marry her every five years.

So every five years…..he arranges a wedding ceremony…..it doesn’t have to be intricate….or elaborate…..but it has been at times…..and then he takes her on another honeymoon……

um….that one made my heart hurt.

Do you mean to tell me that there is a man who desires to demonstrate his undying love in tangible ways every five years…..and he has kept that promise…..even after the kids…..and after years of living and getting to know one woman?

You meant to tell me there is a man who thinks his wife is worthy……of being loved….cherished….honored….protected ……..and wooed….over and over and over?

It makes me cry just thinking about that. I couldn’t wrap my mind around that….a wedding ceremony in a 300 year old castle……in a gorgeous garden in another state…….and……..in a little wayside church…..

Just because he loves her and keeps his promises.

All Hallow’s Eve….All Saints and All Souls

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I know today is Halloween…but contemplating all the people I have met in the last year, makes me think more about the next two days and the family celebrations quickly coming in the months ahead.

I remember one particular celebration at my friend’s house last year. She is so selfless and open and always…..always…extending her arms outward to embrace those around her. She decided that last year……at Thanksgiving….she would host families from her church and families from across the globe. I was privileged to be one of those families.

Thanksgiving is a wonderful day!

 I love that in the past I made it a tradition that my girls look forward to….my  girls have memories of the house smelling good as the food was cooking….the special desserts we would share…..the potatoes and crescent rolls….and the funny little crafts I would make them do when they were little. There were walks and funny little cards sometimes;they like that they have a history!

Today I got to share these girls and my friends….and got to share my Thanksgiving history…with new souls that, it would seem at first glance, are so different than me.   I learned a new story….an Iranian story. It was fascinating sitting with a proud papa and momma….their son…. and his roommate from UCF. These students are here studying engineering and learning about our culture. They have learned that we Americans are people….people that love our families and our friends….we eat good food….we go to school….we know our history….and we are a lot like them. As they talked with me…I learned that they love having a deep, rich history….Ali’s father could not have been more proud to tell me about the Persepolis, the history of Persia, the beauty of his country, and the love he has for his family and his people.

It was perfectly enchanting to sit with this mother and watch her beam as her son talked about his nephew….how he misses his sisters and their cooking….and to see her proudly showing off her family with her iPhone photo album. Her soft eyes glowing…as she adjusted her head covering….and drank her tea. She is no different than any mother here….she loves her husband and her family. Her children are so special to her and her grandson….the videos of his birthday look like some I might have taken…..we are just mothers. She has things to teach me….she is so gracious…standing to meet people and give them a small hug…..politely accepting or declining offers of tea and food…..listening closely as others speak….and

It was so sweet to see the lovely concern her son had for his mother…he got her plate and offered to get more food for her….he kissed her on the cheek….he was polite and caring of his mother….everything I would desire from a son if I had one. We are no different this woman and I….

And the father….he was a good father…so clearly proud of his son. He listened to my questions…. taught me of his people so gladly……and then….in a moment of silence…noticed the host frying the turkey and wandered over for some conversation about cooking meat….man to man….two men….different cultures….but so much the same. This could have been any two men anywhere….giving each other pointers on how to cook meat.

 I was enchanted.

Later he showed me the flip flops the hostess had given him to wear when he removed his shoes out of politeness. He was laughing as he showed me his feet sticking out the back. It was funny to see him shuffling around….but he needed something to keep his socks clean and it had been provided. He was clearly enjoying his venture into the American home.

We sat over dinner….sampling each other’s dishes….asking more questions….Where would you like to travel in the world?…….What was difficult to get used to here in the US? …..What would we need to get used to in your country?

There were funny conversation errors….celery/salary….big difference in meaning…..lower/lawyer/liar….they all sound like the same word coming from a foreigner….we laughed for a long time about his sister the liar (lawyer)….then I taught them how to pronounce it correctly….and we laughed some more. Then they spoke Persian for us…it is a beautiful language…so rich….. and we talked about the words in our language with Persian roots…brother, father, mother, daughter……and algorithms…..fascinating things were happening!

I had the pleasure of hearing their take on the Land of Adventure (Islands of Adventure) and roller coasters ridden for the first time….”Oh God let me live” Hahahaha! And then the shock as the dog brushed their legs….and they explained that they don’t have indoor pets…and dogs are not safe always over there….Did we know they were descended from wolves? They got to know the dogs and even fed them scraps and petted them. By the end of the night…even language couldn’t keep us from enjoying one another.

As the evening was coming to a close I was wondering how to politely suggest a group picture…not wanting to seem like a tourist….or step on any toes….but then Mohsen and Ali asked us if it would be ok if we could gather for a group picture….this was after they asked us if they could take their place cards….the hand print turkeys with their names written on them…..as a souvenir…a keepsake so they could always remember this night. We smiled…Yes! A Photo!

Their mother gathered us around, and we took some shots….then we all enjoyed dessert…their first pumpkin pie…..I had to explain why pumpkin pie….and what exactly this pie had in it….and then they tasted it. Mmmmmm apparently even Muslim’s from Iran love pumpkin pie. They even shared some of their desserts with us….fruit carpet (leather) and pistachios, cashews and almonds drenched in turmeric. Everything was so good…I loved their desserts because they were all citrus tasting and tangy. I LOVE lemon and everything was lemony and tart. So GOOD!

As we sat around the dinner table….Ali’s dad took the floor…he thanked us for our hospitality….he thanked us for so much kindness….and he wanted us all to know that they wanted us to come experience their hospitality…here in Orlando while they are here…..in the coming days….and anytime we would like if we would come to his country. He would proudly host us….we need not worry about any expenses….he would host us and show us around the historical sites….teach us about all the beauty of his country….and cook for us…we could be his honored guests!

I would take him up in a heartbeat! I would love to learn more about these lovely people and the world in which they live!

I love Thanksgiving. And tonight, I am thanking God for all of his beauty….this beautiful family…so different and yet so similar to my own. I am thanking him for his gentle nudge….for me to open my eyes to the world around me…this wide and wild place that He created…all the people he created….all the cultures….all the languages….all the histories…He is the God of love and He is calling me to love more and more wildly!

Thank you, God for far exceeding my expectations for Thanksgiving. I will not lie. I had some fears around meeting these new friends. I didn’t know if I could be loving and open and able to love people so different than me. But you are a God who allows us to see more and more of YOU in others. I see your love and hospitality in these people. I see your rich love of family. I see your desire that I move out of my comfort zone and begin to care about my brothers and sisters wherever they may be here on this earth. People in other places are hurting…places as far away as across the world and as far away as across the street. Thank you, God that you are moving my heart to begin loving all your people…the ones who look just like me…and the ones who don’t……those who believe just like me….and those who do not….those who have the same history as me and those with histories so different but no less rich and no less valid than my own. God, you are so glorious….to have made so much and love so many…..I cannot begin to comprehend the depth and breadth of your love! Thank you for giving me just a glimpse tonight…sitting across the table….from four souls that you created and you gave yourself for…..give me your eyes as I begin to walk out in faith……take my heart wherever you want it to go!

 

John

229

How can I begin to collect the memories?

How can I begin to recognize and account for the impact of this person on my life and how much my heart desired to love him more?

I find myself contemplating my brother…..a brother that I knew and grew up with as a little girl…..who I saw once as a teen…..whom I reconnected with as a forty-six year old woman…..who talked with me  in the last four years more than in my whole life before.

I recall the accident…I was so young…..that is the defining moment of my memories. This young man…..crashed on his motorcycle. I remember trying to process my feelings back in fourth grade. My brother….the one I thought looked a lot like me…..was in the hospital fighting for his life. I don’t even recall the details of the accident. I only heard about it….through my mother. He was not living with my mom and my sisters and brother and me. He lived across town having grown up with his father and older brother in another household.

 He was a mystery to me….but I loved him none the less. He was my brother……

I recall crying in class and not even fully knowing why the emotions were so overwhelming. We did not talk about this at home. I suddenly needed to cry and my heart hurt.

Later after I had moved away….I remember missing him. He had made a recovery from that accident. My little girl heart was happy to know that he was better and would make it.

As I grew….I never outgrew my longing for the brothers that I knew….but didn’t get to know. I had three…..all of them older….all of them different….all of them were missing pieces of my heart.

I saw them each in my mind….the oldest was a mountain in my little girl mind. He was strong and rugged; he looked so much like my father. The second was more poetic. He was more like me….it seemed in my little girl mind anyway….that he had a soft spot for me. The third….the one I lived with the longest….was always in my mind kind and smart and handsome. These brothers….were always terribly missed…..terribly loved….terribly absent.

This second brother…….he was the kind who would seek you out and play tennis with you when you returned to Bradford at seventeen……just for an afternoon….to remind you that you were loved and missed.

This second would call me and talk about his faith….tell me about his heart…..remind me that he was thinking of me.

I remember his last phone call….the way he was wishing he could come to Florida…..he had a new car. He wanted to make the drive and visit me and my sisters. He desired to connect….to be present…..to know us better and love us better.

I will miss this brother again….more than ever. I have no more opportunities to connect right now. I have to wait until I see him as he really is! I have to wait until my God finally and completely makes this relationship right and completely open and vulnerable…..

But tonight…..my little girl heart is so sad. The tears are so difficult. I am crying out for what was stolen. This broken world….other people’s broken colliding with sisters and brothers who just wanted to learn to be a family and love one another without the mar of selfishness and sin……

My heart is grieving….because it is finally able to grieve. Finally after a lifetime of holding all the feelings deep inside and pretending that nothing could reach my heart……it is able to feel, and what it feels is grief…..the kind that makes you unable to breathe properly because your heart is broken.

So I will grieve and remember and then allow the hope to sneak into my heart.

 I will see this brother again. I will finally get to know him as my heart desires. I will be able to thank him for that game of tennis during a weekend that was so bleak and terrible and difficult that I blocked most of it out until later in life. I will thank him for those conversations. I will tell him finally….that I love him and that he will always be my brother….that nothing he can or cannot accomplish….nothing he can say or forgets to say…..nothing can separate him from this kind of love…..the love my God has given me for him is stronger than any human love….it is eternal.

John is finally home….and I know….I just know….he is waiting for me so that when it is my turn to come….he will be there to meet me at the gates and walk me home.

So What!!!!!!

snowglobes

Musing over Facebook and the wonderful people who donated to a cause close to my heart today……

There are so many kindhearted people in the world. It is too much to take in some days.

But one particular entry made me pause….it was only a first letter in a name, and I didn’t know who had donated. I am like a cat in some ways…a squirrel in others….so my cat nature made me search and get inquisitive….I had to look around and play with the information I had, but finally I found the donor. She is a lovely, beautiful woman with a family and a story. I am sure her life has not been perfect…..but it is perfectly beautiful from my vantage point.

I sit here and stare at her photos…..you know….the ones on Facebook that look perfect. Oh…life is never all roses I am sure….but I see a confident  woman who knows she is loved. Her husband is a good man….I have known them since I was just starting out in life. I remember a few times in college…..sitting in my dorm room or hers helping her study for an exam…sharing sorority activities and generally just watching her life a little. I remember her gorgeous wedding…the family….the traditions….the dancing and happiness around it. I have loved seeing her children on Facebook and watching her story unfold. Her story is beautiful. Her husband has been in her life for a VERY long time….longer than any other couple I know.

They seem…….solid. They seem like salt of the earth.

They are one of a few couples from college that I keep up with…..who seem like salt of the earth……who just make me cry every time I see them. ….not from sadness exactly….more like from a place of deep hurt and woundedness…….but also joy. They restore that feeling that there are men of valor and honor who love their wives and families completely. I know I could be wrong and completely have on rose colored glasses…..but I don’t think so here. My intuition tells me that these couples are real….and forever…..and more in love every day……because they have chosen to love faithfully even when it was difficult and messy and hard and seemed like no one else in the world could.

But it does make my heart so sad right now.

I sit here looking at the picture of what my heart desired. I see what  I will never have. I can never have that picture of my family….the one where the father of my children…..the husband who loved me since tenth grade…..the man who would forsake all others and love me because I was worth it….standing next to me after 25 or 30 or 50 years of marriage. I will never feel that sense of being known since I was young and silly and innocent.  I don’t get to have that story any longer….and I loved that story even when it was difficult.

I didn’t know…….. that the difficult was because the story was fake…….that his heart was not here……that my eyes were blind.

I am not saying I will never feel loved or never find love….even a love that is greater than the love that man and I were able to scrape together.

But I can never be THAT woman. The one with a story so sweet……so lovely….so unbroken.

And it hurts my heart.

It makes me cry.

I am now the woman with a story like countless millions of other women…….the woman with a black mark…..a tear in the fabric of her soul…..a heart that needs mending……and the woman who stops and has moments when nothing will ever seem to be possible again.

I am the woman….like so many others…who sits alone at night and often cries and has to take stock of the pieces that are lying there on the floor……I have to gather them again……see if there is even enough of them left to build something new out of…….and carefully wrap them up in something so that they won’t shatter into dust before morning.

I am now the woman who wakes up and puts on the brave face to face the world because underneath…..there is a story that feels so difficult to bear. I am that one who averts her eyes when women talk about their wonderful husbands because I am about to enter into a memory and that will break my heart.

I am the one who gets closer and closer to the holidays and wishes them to be over more and more…..because it feels so empty at times….watching all the stories scroll across Facebook and knowing that mine will never be light and easy, and  I will never be the one hearkening back to all those early days and early memories in an unbroken chain of sweetness that simply floods my soul with light.

Instead….I cannot look back….I have to turn away……the memories were not that sweet and the ones that were…..I have to filter because if I didn’t…..I wouldn’t be able to function. I have to figure out where the truth was and where the lie was and put new memories on top of old memories so my heart and eyes will never be blind again.

Instead…..I am building new places….new adventures….new memories. I am getting stronger and stronger…..

But nothing will ever remove the fact that I am forever a woman whose story has taken a dark turn for the worst……whose story  has  places that feel like a cliff…..a sharp, jagged edge…..a place where you could toss yourself in and keep falling and falling until you hit the bottom.

I have to choose to walk away from the edge and keep walking away from that edge until I find another mountain to climb.

This morning….I will walk away.

So what that I don’t have an unbroken story!

I will have a mended story.

I will have a story knit out of tears and laughter and pain and joy.

I will take these broken memories and soon…someday…..compare them with whole, wonderful, loving memories….authentic memories….not built on deceit and lies.

I will build a story of triumph and glorious light…..a story of giving with my whole heart….and having a voice so strong that my very soul shines out of it.

I am not defeated…..I am not done or complete or even a woman scorned…..

I am simply a woman in transition…..who is learning to sit and grieve and cry and feel and be….

And in being….in listening…..in silence and contemplation….God is coming and filling me anew….rebuilding those fragments…..tiny piece by tiny piece…..and this morning…I get the feeling that even if He takes until eternity to mend this….

I will be made whole. There is no doubt.

I simply need to continue allowing my heart to feel and express and reach out. It is connecting with wonderful, lovely people like my Facebook friend….my college friends…..my high school friends…my church friends….my school friends….my blog friends……and my family…..my lovely daughters…..

Through all these relationships…..my heart is being remade.

Thank you friends….for reaching in to me….even when I cannot reach out to you. Thank you for having gloriously beautiful, messy, real, vulnerable lives…..even when mine feels flat and small.

God….thank you for the gift of tears and grieving. Thank you for the gift of families who are real and vibrant and loving. Thank you for Autumn and weddings and daughters with birthdays and people to worship with on Sundays. Thank you for school fundraisers and pine cones and pumpkins and Schooners. Thank you for food and shelter and paintings and everything else that is running through my brain. Help me to continue to focus on the thankful parts and let the painful parts wash away in the tears. Help me to see what was real and allow the parts that were not to be forgotten and have no hold on my life. As I pray for all the women I have heard stories from….help their hearts to grieve and heal and become beautiful pieces of art in your hands.

Father…..help us to love in a world so broken that love often feels like this.

A Bull in a China Shop

KODAK Digital Still Camera

How can I get curious about this instead of beating myself up?

I totally messed up a discussion I wanted very badly not to mess up. I totally said everything wrong…..I said everything I should not have said and probably said everything that made it more difficult for the person I was trying to reach to hear me at all.

Why is it only in looking back that we see the folly of our ways? Why didn’t God give me more wisdom and more patience and more knowledge and more humility?

I see now that it was a lack of humility….a rush to make someone see what I was observing instead of guiding and asking and gathering information.

It is not the first time I have experienced this concept this week.

It is the third time…..

I have not been feeling well lately. I have been coughing and feeling very tired and worried that perhaps all this is something serious just like any normal human being might. What isn’t normal is that I have to worry that perhaps I was exposed to some horrible disease or pathogen unknowingly through the deceit of another…….I have to worry that something has been silently in my body working against my health for years unbeknownst to me because of the cowardice or evil or selfishness of someone I trusted and loved…..all that adds a layer of anger to my worry that simmers under the surface.

So when I screw up…..I immediately start to spin….in my head…..

What if everything goes horribly wrong?

What can I do to fix it?

What can I do to make sure I never mess up again?

What can I do to help the other person see the problem as I do?

And I find a part of me always believes I am right….correct…..justified completely in my thinking……

Until I reflect and step back and begin to get curious about what is going on in my heart. Only then can some humility begin to enter and begin to soften my hard heart. I can begin to see where wisdom would have said things differently and where my hardness of heart caused someone else pain…..even when and if I am right.

I saw this happen in a conversation about wanting to try a new approach to eating healthy……I was like a bull in a china shop. Ugh!

I saw this in a parent conference…….I was not listening as much as I should have. Ugh!

I saw this in a conversation with a friend about some websites I was finding interesting. Ugh!

Suddenly I am swamped by visions of myself that seem so clear and powerful and ………UGLY!

I had to step back and allow that I am ugly in quite a few places still. I am hard-hearted and unable to consider others before myself much of the time.

I am very much like a fifth grader.

I desire to please the Teacher, but there are just days…..moments….lessons…..when I cannot or choose not to slow down and consider quietly and humbly that I might be wrong or that I might be making hasty judgments.

I get afraid….and that makes me do things that might hurt someone even when I desire to be loving and kind.

Ugh!

Being human is difficult. Being a human who is so far from perfect is even more difficult.

I begin to wonder why God takes the time to walk with me at all.

I have to look at myself the same way I look at my fifth graders……through the lens of what I will become and what God has made glorious inside of me….instead of through the lens of what I am now and what is broken inside of me.

God is giving me an opportunity to begin to face the things no one in relationship has had opportunity or desire to shape and mold and call out of me…

….my sin.

God is giving me the opportunity to face some of the fears I have had around needing things….around being perfect….around having emotions….and around making mistakes…..and it is difficult and messy and painful.

Every day it seems I do something that I have questioned in someone else…..and I am having light bulbs flash in my head….”Oh…that is how that person felt about me when I felt like that to them….” “Oh…..this is the same fear that person was having when they said that to me.”Oh….wow….that is how judgmental a conversation like that felt when I spewed all over…..

Growing up and growing independent after a 25 year marriage is painful work……I don’t like it. I am too much like a toddler stamping my feet and looking up at my Father shouting….”NO!”  and  “WHY?” with grubby hands and a tear-stained face.

But God is showing me that I will grow up….and I will be made strong enough to have emotions and make mistakes and not be perfect……….. and someone….a friend……my family….or a husband….may someday even be treated to a display of the real me….unfiltered to the point that I would later have to apologize……

UGH!

What a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day that had lovely, beautiful and life-giving moments in it……

Or was it a wonderful, beautiful, life-giving day that had horrible, no good, very bad moments in it?

a life in process, beauty all around us, and finding our place in the world

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