Monday, July 30, 2012

The Talisman in my Pocket

I don’t consider myself superstitious at all. But last Friday night when I gave my testimony, I was more anxious that I thought I would be. Before going over to church, I went quietly into my room. I opened one of the many containers I have containing various objects from my past and found a little hair-band with four wooden beads. That was what I wanted. I slipped it into my pocket.
     I couldn’t figure out why I was as anxious as I was. I had taught lessons at Celebrate Recovery, made announcements and prayed in front of the group. What was reading my testimony getting me worked up about? And was there mojo in this little hair band?
Flashback 15 years ago:
I am walking to a carnival set up in an empty park in Budapest. Then I see the bungee jump. There is a crane taking folks up about 50 meters and they jump off. I ask nicely if I can do the bungee jump. (Just the previous night I’d had a dream of flying.) Prajna says yes. The little Hungarian language I know gets me a ticket. The operators tell me to take my coat off. I feel in my pockets for anything loose and hand my keys and wallet to Prajna. I also feel the hair ribbon. I don’t remember where it came from. It may have been in our flat when we moved in. Naomi likes to play with it and for some reason it’s in my pocket so I keep it there.  I take off my boots, get strapped into a harness and the crane takes me up… and up. I look down on the tops of the 12 floor apartment buildings. I see the Danube. Then the men tell me “okay”. My stocking feet toes are hanging over the side and I look down on a huge expanse of empty space. The ground is a long way down. Suddenly I’m terrified. The men wait patiently. I realize that standing there trying to steel myself won’t do anything but slow this down. I paid to jump, and the thrill is not only in the jump, but in this frightening first step. Then I am jumping. The air is rushing around me everywhere and I am soaring, falling, then bouncing. Then it’s done and as the crane descends, I hang upside down for a minute and begin to get my bearings back. People help me to my feet. Other than the clothes on my back, the only item I had on me was the little hair band with the four beads.
     As I was walking over to church I thought about the hair band. I didn’t really believe in lucky charms. I do, however, have an unhealthy attachment to the past sometimes. Was I convincing myself that if I could jump of a crane platform 50 meters above Budapest then I could read a 15 minute testimony to people I’m learning to trust? Yes, maybe I was.
     I had another talisman for a long time. It was a long chain like a keychain with the dog-tags Prajna wore in the Air Force. Along with her dog tags was a tiny medic-alert bracelet that had belonged to Naomi. I used to wear this chain all the time until it snapped once when I was working construction. After that I hung it from the rearview mirror of my truck. I didn’t think about this chain until I was already at church. I wondered why I didn’t consider that as a comfort object.
     The chain with Naomi’s medic-alert was just an object of memory. The beads were with me when I overcame the natural human instinct to not step off a precipice into nothing. What I was doing that night felt more like that than anything else. At the meeting, people prayed for me. They played some of my favorite songs before I got up and spoke. I felt encouraged. It was like helpful workers, even if they didn’t speak the same language as me, knowing that I was afraid and being cool with that. 
     When I delivered my testimony, I kept my eyes on my paper in front of me. Usually when I teach, I make eye contact. It was just different.
     When I was done speaking, people clapped and I got handshakes and hugs. It was like being helped back to my feet. It had been scary and a bit of a thrill too. Of course I could have done it without the talisman in my pocket. It had no powers. It just reminded me that I once I took a risk and came out alive and standing, albeit with help. Could I have done it without the help and support of others, including Prajna? No.
     And part of my recovery in this program is admitting that. The fact that I never considered an old chain to carry, one that only reminded me of her and not what I had overcome, that was a good step too.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Roll away the Stone

     Writing is therapeutic for me. It’s a healthy escape from reality, if there is such a thing. Over the past several months I have been working on something a little different than anything I’ve ever written. I’ve been writing my testimony for Celebrate Recovery.
     One of the 12 steps in this Christ-Centered recovery program involves writing out an inventory of my life. And it’s definitely a healing thing to write out one’s life and look at it all. For someone like me who lived in denial for so long, to start writing about my life with no façade in the way started to bring out things. As I wrote and read what I wrote I began to see connections and patterns of self-destructive behavior and their origins. I was supposed to do this inventory when I did the 12 steps for the first time a few years ago but didn’t fully get it. Only now as I’m writing my testimony is it all working for me. It really is like putting together a puzzle and suddenly seeing the big picture of my life. I’m seeing not only what I’ve done in my life, but what God has done.
     Before I was a writer I still made up stories. Then there came a time in my life when I started to avoid the real world and live more in my made-up worlds. I created worlds with my toy cars and spaceships. Back then toy spaceships weren’t sold in stores. I used hairbrushes, bottle caps, and other items that looked right. One might think that a robust imagination was healthy, but not how I used it. Not only did I make up stories, I convinced myself that I was an alien from another planet. Instead of trying to get along in the real world, I watched the skies and waited for my people to come and take me home. Living outside of the real world carried over into my adult life. It was dormant for years until crisis took the forefront of everything and I fell right back into denial of reality.
     Saved to my laptop right now is every word of this entry so far. (I hit the save icon often, sometimes with every sip of coffee.) But there are also folders of fiction stories, two of which are almost novel-length. They are created out of my imagination. Also saved is the testimony I’ve been working on for months. I rarely plan and outline writing the way I did with this. And since I called it completed two months ago, I have gone back and revised and polished it. This Friday I am reading it aloud at the Celebrate Recovery meeting.
     I don’t know how I could have written this testimony without practicing some vulnerability here on my blog. Some weeks I get somewhat personal. My testimony does too.
But that openness is a small thing compared to the healing I’ve experienced in taking the time to write my testimony out and see the pieces put together.  I have shared a bit about how four years ago I was in a bad way. I was entrenched in self-destructive behavior, living in denial and spiritually dead. I was just walking around refusing help. Jesus could have come up and offered to help raise me up and I would have told him no. I would have said that I wasn’t deserving of any help and besides, there would be an awful stench if my problems were exposed to the world. But somehow (people must have been praying for me) it happened anyway. The stone was rolled away.
I didn’t realize most of this until very recently when I started writing it all out. I think I might have been aware somehow of how blessed I was, but there are some astounding things I finally grasped. I will share it Friday night and put into my blog too someday.
I don’t like ending my blog posts with an entreaty like a homework request. But there are a few things I want to mention.
First, anyone can come and hear my testimony Friday night if they want to. I am thankful to so many people for quietly believing in me and being with me before I started the healing. I don’t know how else to thank them all.
 My second item up for bid is just me saying what works for me. Not just journaling or writing, even though anybody can do that too. But there is so much brokenness out there and there is healing. If I learned anything in my recovery it’s that I can’t do it alone. But it works. I’m getting better.
Thanks for letting me share.

     Celebrate Recovery meets at Yucaipa Christian Church every Monday and Friday at 7:00 p.m.  12954 Bryant Street, Yucaipa


Monday, July 16, 2012

What Time Takes and Leaves

     “I miss them at that age,” I said more than once this past week.  I don’t know what I was thinking except a very narrow-minded, rose-colored memory that little kids are just a joy.  Not that I don’t mind having an 18, 15, 13, 10 and 9 year old, not at all. But this past week I spent time with friends who had younger kids including a six and three year old. They loved being read to and I could throw them in the air without hurting myself. Later in the week I even held a one year-old and she loved being lifted up and down, but then wanted her mom back.
     It’s all good. My kids did very well the 14 hour drive from Yucaipa to Medford last Monday and the two 8 hour drives later that week. I haven’t forgotten past road trips with more frequent rest-stops, crying, tantrums and the high maintenance of the younger children. I think that while there are fond memories of the very young kids, they are definitely easier to travel with as they get older. The real challenge in my life as I’m this age is to accept the things I cannot change, like the fact that I have three teenagers and the ones who are not teenagers don’t need to be read to as often as before.
     It was heart-warming to see all the younger children at the Faux Family reunion. We do it every two years. Not too many years ago we were the parents with some of the youngest kids. Now there are even younger ones. Of the Faux Family, I am one of the youngest grandchildren. My kids are the great-grandchildren and one family has a great-great grandchild. Every two years I see my cousins and aunts and uncles have aged and how much the kids have grown.
Time inevitably rolls forward sapping strength and adding years to us all. I don’t know if I should start worrying about not seeing some folks at the next family reunion in two years. But it’s encouraging to see new faces each year. Not only are new children but also new spouses added in. Time doesn’t just take as it moves on, it also adds.
I’m still a little tired from the drive yesterday. I had an idea as to what to write about and it sort of went its own way and this being a writing exercise, I like to just let that happen.
It’s nice having a big family that all shares grandparents. I wanted to share that when I was considering what to write. But I know that not everyone has a family, big or small or nice. Well before our family reunion we visited friends so close that we call them family. Up until recently most of my kids thought we were related because of our use of the Hawaiian Style, calabash “auntie and uncle” titles. But there is no blood relation. We are just that close. And I realized that if someone doesn’t have a real family they can call their own, there is hope that they could at least have another family or just close friend that they can call that.    
That was the point I thought about driving down Interstate 5 yesterday. But today is the first day after vacation and I go back to work tomorrow. I’m still kind of tired from the drive and the change in routine all last week. My blog this week is sporadic and confused. If it makes any difference, I’ve got my next one in mind. But for today, I’m going to try to re-acclimate and appreciate the kids I have. I’m glad their mine and someday I’m sure I’ll miss them at this age.


Monday, July 2, 2012

Two in the Morning Sensitivity

     It was a little before two in the morning when Prajna nudged me.  I know that nudge.  I wasn’t snoring and she wasn’t having one of those dreams where a shark is chasing her with a firearm. This nudge meant only one thing.  I listened at the open bedroom window and heard it too.  The alarm was going off at church. 
     One of my jobs as custodian and keeper of the keys at Yucaipa Christian Church involves answering the alarm during off hours.  The audible alarm sounds just like a car alarm with a  steady downward chirp.  I don’t have to get up to answer it very often, sometimes it's quiet for months.  Every time I have responded to it, there has never been a break in. It is always a motion sensor and most often in the same area. 
     I am prepared to respond to the alarm.  I keep a pair of socks in my boots and have some old loose-fitting clothes that I can pull on over whatever I’m sleeping in.  I was able to get dressed and grab my keys take my flashlight and pull on my long black coat, get into the golf cart and be over at the church in less than four minutes. 
     To me, a flashlight is my friend.  I carry the biggest MagLight® available.  I also always wear my long black coat.  If there is ever trouble, I want to have that on.  Of course I have never encountered a bad guy.  The only people I’ve ever met up with are the local police.  The alarm company calls them first, then me.  Last time I called them first and then almost missed when another operator was trying to call me.  So now I wait.  I had circled the building and saw no sign of an intruder.  The alarm cut off after four minutes and my phone rang as I got to the front door of the building.  I have a special ringtone just for the alarm company that’s the fire station klaxon from the old TV show Emergency!  The alarm company told me what had set off the alarm, and it was a single motion sensor.  If there was someone in the building there would have been a door alarm and more than one motion sensor.  I told the operator to please call off the police, which I do every time it’s clear there is no break-in.
     I checked all around the inside of the church, re-set the alarm and went home.  I got into bed and my side was still a little warm. It was just after two in the morning.  I felt awake, but relaxed. This had happened before, I would go back to sleep and blog about the ambulance and the crossing guard in the morning.
     But there is something sinister about two o’clock in the morning.  The “what if’s” start to appear.  What if my truck’s electrical system is completely fried? What if one of our chickens is eating the some of the eggs before we gather them? What if my laptop crashes? What if terrorists explode a nuclear weapon in Los Angeles? What if my cat runs away again? What if my children make bad choices? What if one of us gets cancer?
     I stayed awake for what seemed like an hour or more. I was barely asleep when Prajna twitched and I woke up.  The alarm was going off again.
     I was a lot more clumsy getting dressed this time.  I couldn’t figure out how to get my pants on and disturbed Prajna shaking the bed.  As I got my phone it rang the klaxon.  I fumbled to open it right-side up and greeted the operator.  It was the same sensor and I asked them to call off the police again. 
     Over at the church I walked through the sanctuary. It felt odd that I had been in there just over 12 hours previously.  It had been bright and full of people. We sang some great worship songs.  The room had been alive.  Now it was quiescent. Worship folders were here and there.  The room looked larger and even more empty than when I clean it mid-week.  I looked long and hard at the offending motion sensor.  There were no spider’s webs near it.  But shining my flashlight I saw some other cobwebs nearby that I had to get with a Swiffer® duster when I was at work.  But I didn't see anything that could have triggered it.  This had happened to another motion sensor in the building a few months ago.  Here is something about motion sensors: When they get old, they become extra-sensitive.  And it seems mostly in the middle of the night they become afraid that any little thing might happen and they sound the alarm. 
     I re-programmed the building’s alarm to by-pass this particular sensor and I will make a note to have it looked at.  Back at home I still had trouble sleeping and when I finally did sleep I dreamed that I was wandering around church answering the alarm but also trying to be nice to people who happened to be there without reserving the rooms.  
     I don’t think it’s my old age (okay I’m only 45) that makes me fret at two in the morning.  To be sure, being a parent can do that and sometimes I wish there was a bypass code that just shut off the extra-sensitive parts of me.  Actually there are such things that do that and they’re called crutches, addictive behaviors and bad habits.  That motion sensor is there to keep the building safe and needs to be in working order.  We can’t have it inactive.  I can’t do anything to by-pass the “what-ifs” that hit at two o’clock in the morning.  At least when the sun comes up the world looks less scary.