Monday, January 27, 2014

Carrying what Matters

     I thought I’d remembered everything. At least I did remember the most important thing, which was my folder with the driving directions and the latest printed copy of my testimony. I had been in touch with a Celebrate Recovery at another church to go give my testimony last Thursday. As the week went by, I didn’t do a whole lot of fretting over it because I had been busy at work and at home. I had taken the time to read over the testimony, which can be painful in some parts. I actually fixed a word or two and printed it out in a big point font to be able to read it off a podium.  
     I left work at 5pm and went home to get my stuff and change my shoes. The family was there after a visit to the Palm Springs Air Museum. I had wanted to go, but wasn’t really able to get off of work. When I was getting my binder Nathaniel came up to me and gave me a rubber bracelet, the kind that lots of people wear for various causes and beliefs. This one said
Perseverance Against All Adversity    Tuskegee Airman
     I slipped the bracelet into my pocket and thanked Nathaniel. I told him I hoped to hear all about the museum the next day. I got in my truck and left.
     The drive was uneventful until I got to Colton and the street I wanted was a one-way. I had to drive farther, turn left twice and right once to get to my street. Thankfully, I had looked at the aerial map and knew what my destination looked like. I parked my truck in front of the church and went in. I was early but there were folks there who were happy to see me.
     When the ministry leader arrived, they had a pizza dinner and let me eat for free seeing as I was their guest speaker. Before the meeting started, we had a prayer and someone asked me if I was nervous. I wasn’t. I’ve read my testimony before and I don’t have a problem speaking in front of crowds. I understand that public speaking is a common fear, but I don’t have it. I would rather address a crowd of strangers than make a phone call or deal with a gaggle of ladies in charge of the church kitchen.
     The worship started. I was feeling alright, calm. I love worship music. Then my heart skipped. I thought of something that I didn’t have. My talisman. It was a little hair loop with wooden beads. I had found it in our flat in Budapest 17 years ago and for some reason, I had it in my pocket when I bungee-jumped in 1997. So I took it with me every time I read my testimony. And tonight, I didn’t have it. So I got nervous. I don’t believe in lucky charms. That’s what I told myself. But the truth is, I believe in comfort objects. I believe in token reminders of past achievements. I had had this thing in my pocket every time before, and I felt I really needed it this time too. But it was a dozen miles away tucked in a little box with other useless items, a torn-in-half dollar bill, a few cough drops, lots of little metal things I pick up when I’m vacuuming, and a roll of cherry Life-Savers that’s at least 5 years old.
     I was without my talisman. But I hadn’t forgotten what I did have in my pocket. I got out the bracelet from Nathaniel and pulled it over my left wrist. The sharp contrast softened as soon as I did and I relaxed. Everything was okay. I reached into my man-purse, pulled out a notebook and wrote the words: forgot my talisman, but any one will do for my next blog. I really did feel like it was all okay.    
     I was surprised at how my alarm had completely vanished. This proved that it isn’t what I carry in my pocket. The hair loop thing had been with me when I was courageous and it was a good reminder that I could step out in courage and share my story. But when I didn’t need courage, just assurance, I had that too. The little rubber bracelet was from a 10 year-old who has a heart as big as a bungee jump.
When I stood up to give my testimony, I took my eyeglasses off and could not make out the faces in the crowd. I could see my printed paper in front of me and I did feel nervous. I always forget that it does settle gently on me. But I felt the bracelet on my wrist and that is what I needed.
Maybe next time I give my testimony I should not have any reminder of anything with me. But I don’t know what that will prove. As long as I remember that when I share my story, it’s not for my glorification. I am sharing what Celebrate Recovery did for me as an encouragement to others. And I am sharing what God did for me and continues to do. Regardless of what I have in my pocket or around my wrist, I won’t be without what I am there to share.

Monday, January 20, 2014

What the Next Big One won't Take Away

     I sit contentedly with at my computer. The cat is on my lap and I’m sipping coffee from my favorite coffee cup. All is right with my world. There are no troubles to face here.
In my young age, I didn’t know how to deal with my troubles well. I would sit in school, or more likely in my room at home, with my math book open in front of me. The numbers would be stacked up like torturous pillars of confusion and agony. I would stare at the math problems and not even be able to remember my basic multiplication facts. My mind would slide away from the math book and come to another place. I’m not proud of where I went, which was where I was beating up the authors of the math textbook. I would sit at my desk at home or school. The math problems would vanish and there I would be inflicting injury on the three people whose names appeared on the title page of my write-in textbook. That was how I thought I could solve my problems. And in truth, the math anxiety did go away when I ignored the math problems and went somewhere else. Why wouldn’t I think it was a good solution?
     This was about the same time that I was experiencing growing pains, both physical and emotional. Not knowing how to deal with feeling left out and lonely, I created other worlds to occupy, which I’ve talked about before. But there was something else I did too. I imagined that there was a place somewhere where people’s troubles and problems physically existed. There was a big building somewhere, kept under guard obviously. And sitting on display were little objects resembling cold remedy capsules. Each of these capsules was the physical manifestations of an individual’s troubles. And here was the great part: All I had to do was infiltrate that building and squash mine, and that would end my troubles. My life would be trouble-free. That was my solution for how to be happy.
     I don’t want to blame anyone or anything for my lack of healthy coping skills back then. And if I could go back, I don’t think I would want to change anything. My childhood fostered a hard-working imagination and it’s easy to have empathy for kids today.
     Of course today I still encounter little things that trouble me. And deep down, I hope that’s the worst that happens to me. I feel like I’ve paid my dues in the genuine pain and disaster department and nothing catastrophic ought to ever happen to me again. But I know the truth. Losing a daughter to cancer does not get my ticket punched and exempt me from further tragedy.
     I think about when I was going through the toughest times of my life and I did have good coping skills. I prayed a lot. The worse off my life was, the closer I got to God. And now that I’m kind of coasting, my prayer life can be rather lukewarm.
     Bad things happen to good people. While God does not stamp and OK on those things, He never wastes a hurt. The result of something horrible happening in my life could be that I will draw closer to Him. But I can wait for the next thing to happen, or I can choose to draw close to Him now.
So, my coffee pot broke last week. This was not the next tragic thing. But when I posted it on Facebook, not only did I get an outpouring of sympathy, but three friends offered me a coffee pot they had. This was a reminder that even when the little things happen, people are there for me.
So something might happen in my life. Like “The Big One”, the huge earthquake scientists predict will hit someday, it’s not a question of if, but of when. Southern California had a few tremblers last week and it can make me edgy. But in truth, I will never really lose what’s important.
For I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels won’t, and all the powers of hell itself cannot keep God’s love away. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow,  or where we are—high above the sky, or in the deepest ocean—nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God demonstrated by our Lord Jesus Christ when he died for us.   Romans 8:38-39 (Living Bible)

Now this morning as I drank my last cup of pour-through coffee, (my new coffee-pot arrived in the mail Saturday)I had my cat on my lap and was feeling content. Then there was a plop. The rubber on the bottom of my coffee cup fell in my lap. My favorite coffee cup that holds lots of coffee and keeps it warm with a lid and I use exclusively every morning when I write, it’s falling apart.  Another little trouble to deal with. A very little one and it’s pretty amusing that the day I get a new coffee pot, my old coffee cup begins to self-destruct. I thank God for little reminders that nothing I think I own will ever last. I just need to remember what is His will last forever.

Monday, January 13, 2014

A wet filter basket

     I was talking to Prajna last night, kind of lamenting that I had been bouncing around some blog topics in my head but never settled on anything. Lately I have liked to write a rough draft on Sunday afternoons, but was not able to yesterday. So here it was, Sunday evening and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say. I told Prajna about how little I’ve actually been thinking about blogging lately. I have been actually enjoying working on my second draft of Sidewinder.
The last time I worked on my novel was Thursday morning and I had to quit writing when 7am was rolling around and it was time to feed the animals and think about breakfast for the family. I wasn’t ready to stop. I was wishing that I could write at night like I used to. There was no quitting time then. Write ‘till I can’t. I mentioned to Prajna that maybe I could stay up late one night writing. She didn’t care for the idea and reminded me that I am rigidly fixed in routine. I almost never stay up past 11 anymore, and am usually up at 6. If I stayed up to the wee hours of the morning, I might still not sleep in, I would be tired and cranky all day, more than usual even, and everyone’s day could be ruined.
I thanked Prajna for the reminder and went out to set up the coffee pot for the next morning. A horrific surprise awaited me there. Someone had used the coffee pot that morning and not washed and dried it. With the filter basket wet, I could not put the next day’s fresh coffee into it for a delayed start the next morning. And I the filter basket is ribbed and ridged in a way that it’s impossible to hand-dry. It only takes lots of time to dry. But I was tired and didn’t want to stay up a lot later. My routine was disturbed. I felt justified in losing my mind. But I held it together. My daughter Sarah rebuked me for blustering over such a first world problem. I poured the water in the coffee pot and set aside the measured coffee for the next morning where I would have to make the effort to place the fresh coffee in the basket and push START, and then wait for several minutes while for the coffee to brew. Sarah experienced extreme amusement at my fuss and she remarked how much I loved routine too.
Last week I was sharing with a friend how much I loved my job. I love to work alone and listen to my iPod. I love the predictability, the routine. My friend listened and informed me that it wasn’t routine that I loved the most. He told me what it was that I really loved, not just about my job, but every day. I didn’t like what he told me, but it was too true to ignore.
I love control. Like the coffee pot, I set it every evening that I want coffee the next morning. When I get up, there it is waiting for me. Everything is where I left it. I don’t have to fuss, or even think hard. I don’t stress, and therefore I don’t really rely on God too much for my peace of mind.
I confessed my love for control just last November and have already forgotten it. I don’t remember how deep I delved into it last time, but I remember when I was dealing with Naomi being sick, how I flew into rages when things were not in my control. I hate to think of myself as a violent bully. And I don’t think I really was, nevertheless, I acted wrong. I know that I’ve come a long way in dealing with anger, but I still do not like to not have control of my life.
So I’m grateful that the coffee pot wasn’t in condition for me to set it up. Yes, it was nice to get my mind around a blog topic I had been working over in my head. But I was reminded, by the coffee pot and by Sarah, that I take way too much joy from having things work out the way I want them to and not enough joy from important things.
By important things, well I could go on and on about my blessings. But in addition to all of that, just 10 years ago I was still an emotional and mental wreck where nothing was stable or predictable. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to eventually laugh about my weeping over the coffee pot.
So I had to wait for the coffee to be ready and I still managed. The sun still came up and here I am. Still learning and sharing what I’ve learned. By the time the sun goes down tonight I will have dealt with minor victories and defeats. But I’m thankful I have the tools to deal with them both and loved ones who don’t tolerate my tirades.  

Monday, January 6, 2014

Admit it, they hurt.

     If you watched Sesame Street in its early days, you might remember a mail carrier lady named Molly played by Charlotte Rae.
All I really remember about her is her generic response to any greeting to how she was doing. Molly always seemed to slump, roll her eyes, and moan: “my feet hurt”.
     I thought, of course her feet hurt. She was a mail lady in a big city. (I thought it was Phoenix because it’s where KHET channel 8 broadcast from.) Poor Molly had to schlep around the city with a big old mail bag all day. No wonder her feet hurt. I felt terrible for her.
     One day Bob or Gordon or maybe Susan told Molly to try pretending her feet didn’t hurt. Just keep saying “my feet do not hurt” and keep walking. So she tried that. She stepped forward repeating the words, “my feet do not hurt” over and over. I don’t remember what happened but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t optimistic about that helping. It seemed ridicules to think that the pain would go away just by saying it wasn’t there. At a young age I grasped that, even though I didn’t know the word denial.
     It seems I had good emotional and spiritual health back then. But the years passed and I began to develop coping mechanisms to deal with life. It wasn’t long before I discovered the sweetest friend, the most comfortable place that felt safer than anywhere in the universe. It was a little world I created for me to live in. Denial. I could tell you that living in denial is like hiding under a warm blanket in bed on a freezing winter morning. Everything feels right about staying and wrong about getting out.
     The problem is that denial is unhealthy. Just like staying under that blanket, I would starve if I never came out. And in real denial, I can’t do anything productive, maintain any relationship or grow in any way by living in denial. I won’t starve, but I will stagnate.
     And I have recently been reminded another side effect of denial. It’s laborious and will suck the life from life. I should have realized it when I was so entrenched in it for so long. This is kind of where the analogy of lying under a warm blanket gets lost, because a blanket requires no effort. But living in denial actually expends a lot of energy. It’s not just trying to hold up the sky over a false world, living in a lie is just wrong. And no matter how much I thought I was okay, deep down, I knew I wasn’t. The level of anxiety that caused was exhausting.   
And while I was living in denial, those around me were aware that something was seriously wrong. Denial takes a huge toll on relationships. 
I am so thankful that I was blessed with a healthy childhood. I just knew it was wrong for Molly the Mail Lady to try to medicate her pain by denying it. I’m afraid that some kids the age I was then have already learned denial. Don’t talk about things that hurt… Pretend that didn’t happen… Family secrets… I learned denial outside the home by not coping with how the world was. But I grew to it just the same and dove deeper in as the real world failed to meet my liking.
Looking back now I don’t know how I could have done things different. I didn’t know how to cope. Neither did Molly. The poor woman’s feet were killing her and the best someone could tell her was to deny it. What do I think should have happened? Maybe the Sesame Street gang could have given her a hand. I don’t know if it’s a federal offence, but what if Big Bird and friends had gone and carried her bag for her for awhile? Maybe that would have helped. But at the very least, someone could have said: “Molly I’m so sorry your feet hurt. Thanks for doing such a good job delivering the mail around the neighborhood. Let me know if there’s anything we can do, okay? Please feel free to stop here anytime and take a rest for a spell. There will always be a cold drink in the summer and a hot one in the winter. Hang in there Molly, we love you.”
There, the pain is real and we know you’re hurting. We want to help and here’s what we will do.
Sorry, I sound self-righteous like that’s what I always do. Knowing what’s right is nothing next to doing what’s right and preaching what’s right is not much use at all. I don’t always do the right thing. But other people have helped me to step out of denial by encouraging me to go ahead and admit that the pain is real. To me, stepping out of denial was the hardest thing to do, and the most freeing.
So if you’re hurting and you know it, clap your hands. Admitting it can be the first step to healing. If you clapped, tell someone. Is it time to shake off that warm blanket and take some nourishment?