This week as I was cleaning and going through a stack of papers, I came across May Lee’s final report card for the 1st time. I walked to the calendar hanging in the pantry (I still have paper calendars. I will defend this choice to the death) and counted back the days to the last day of school. A week and a half had passed since the report card had come home, and all I can say is that is about right. A week and a half is a good measure of how far behind I was with life by the end of the school year, and I think we should all just be grateful that it wasn’t a larger spread than that. I am slowly catching up now that summer is here.
Spring Cleaning in this house has been more about creating lasting organization than anything else, so it has taken awhile to yield visible results, which can be discouraging at times. In fact, most of the time, it has been much more visually messy than it was before the organization process started. But this week I experienced a real sign of progress: I can now close my closet doors. In fact, they now stay closed, like, all the time. What a lovely experience!
As I finished working in the closet, I timidly held the knobs and gently pulled the doors to. When they met in the middle, I just stood there for a minute, mentally putting the former closet chaos behind me and letting the peace of new order really sink in.
A memory came in that moment. A memory of married life and an actively addicted husband who became so anxiety-ridden one night that he shot out of bed and closed the closet doors because “demons were in there”. In the morning, despite the fresh light of day, he would again request that the closet doors stay closed, relaying some story about demons coming through the closet. I remember looking at him and seeing on his face how completely convinced he was of the fact that demons had been in that closet and also thinking that I hadn’t seen his face look that sober in a very long time. Then I turned and looked at our closet. A black chef coat, a white chef coat, a pair of cargo pants, and a few of my dresses were hanging there. I remember feeling like they appeared remarkably unspectacular for playing host to demons, if that were in fact the case.
Thinking back, I don’t think I have ever closed a closet door since our split. I don’t know if there is any spiritual significance to that, or if it is simply a good measure of how deep my stubbornness can run. He always had to have the closet doors closed, so I’m going to leave each and every last one open from now until eternity. A picture of emotional maturity, I am.
Maybe that is why I smiled as that memory began to fade and my eyes refocused on the closed doors of my newly organized closet. His demons don’t live in my closet anymore, nor do they live in my mind and manifest in my behaviors of closing or not closing the closet doors. I’ve reclaimed my own closet territory, and he holds no more influence there.
I wonder what other household structure or appliance is next up on the batting order of unexpected exorcisms? I feel I should be more prepared if this is going to be “a thing”. Perhaps I should be gathering some sage and essential oils….
Shaking Hands with God
Tropical Storm Alberto made landfall this week, and do you know where he decided to land? He came right up the beach access that was MY beach access when I lived in Florida.
Tropical storm Isaac came through when I was living there. Schools were closed and work was cancelled, so we walked down that very access to the beach. I remember the feeling of complete awe, watching an angry ocean churn up the most remarkable things and deposit them on the beach. Among other things, we came across a whole section of beach covered with starfish bearing the marks of being pushed from the safety of the sandbars to the beach by the storm surge. We tried to put a couple of them back in the ocean, but the ocean just kept spitting them back out onto the sand.
We walked past a giant tree and wondered where on earth it came from, how long it had been in the ocean, and what would happen to it now. I remember feeling the constant push of the wind and thinking the sensation matched the pressure in my heart. If only I had understood what that meant at the time.
About 2 years earlier, on a beach in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I stood and watched the outer bands of Hurricane Earl push waves against the pier to the south of us. I remember the lights looked so lonely in the foggy dimness that comes with storms. I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband was spinning out, and a category 2 hurricane was coming ashore.
To this day, I struggle for words to express the deep, deep love I feel when I think of these memories of the beach and these storms. When I share the memory with people, I try to persuade them to go to the beach during a tropical storm. Put it on your bucket list. (And please use your good sense.)
When I watched the footage of Alberto coming up my beach access, my mind immediately went to calculating the distance and time from here to there, because I wanted to be there. I wanted to be in it. When there is a storm coming, my first instinct is to run to the beach and meet God there. I cannot think of any other time I have witnessed His power like when my eyes have seen the spirit of the ocean and the wind change like they do when a storm is coming ashore.
Since Alberto, a deep longing to go home to the beach has taken up residence in my chest. My child is languishing with the same unmet desire. Being born and raised at the beach for the 1st three years of her life, the love of the beach is as deeply etched into her soul as it is mine. We missed out on the beach last year, and right now, it looks like the same fate awaits us. Perhaps Alberto has reignited a desire that will see us to the beach this year after all. The need to walk out on the beach and shake hands with God is pressing.
I Told You
On Thursday night, May Lee and I went to see A Wrinkle in Time on the last night it was playing at the local discount theater. I was super excited, because it was one of my favorite books as a kid, and I thought May Lee would love not only the story but also the visual beauty of the movie.
What actually transpired can only be called a disastrous miscommunication regarding vomit. She ate an entire bag of gummy bears during the movie, then spent the last 45 minutes complaining of a stomachache. I asked about needing the bathroom, and she said no. On the way home, I glanced back and saw that she had “the look”. I again asked, and she said she didn’t feel well. I drove as fast as I could, as we were only 1 block from home at this point.
I pulled in the drive, and she immediately opened the door and puked everywhere. She looked up at me and accusingly said “I told you”. Then she leaned back over, and puked again.
I can’t even begin to describe what I was thinking and feeling, as I draped my entire body over the steering wheel. I pressed my head into it, alternating between sighing deeply and chuckling to myself.
After May Lee was cleaned up and the driveway hosed off, we had a little chat about the day and where we failed in the movie-going vomit portion of it. She reported a day of many cookies and other sweets that I was not aware of. She also let me know that she thought when I asked about the bathroom at the theater that I wasn’t going to go with her. I assured her that I would have been following close behind and that I would never send her to the bathroom alone to be ill.
We now have a well developed plan for any illness that may befall either of us in a public place. I feel like the day it actually goes down and one of us takes ill, we will move will military-like precision and speed. It will be a thing a beauty. Also, May Lee has taken a vow of “no sweets” for the month of June and has already broken it many times over.
Bring Your Kid to Work Day
I declared Friday to be Bring-Your-Kid-to-Work-Day, and so that is what I did. As you know, bringing your child to work can go 1 of two ways: your child will either be a delightful presence or they will make you regret the day you were ever born. Fortunately, the former was our experience, and we had a lovely day.
In fact, my daughter and I enjoyed time doing activities we never get to do together at home. This was due, in part, to the fact that the internet was down all day at the office, severely limiting how much work I could actually do. Being stood up by my clients was the other factor providing time for us to do things like play Upwords, draw together, and organize the art supplies. I can’t remember the last time my daughter and I had that amount of uninterrupted time to just sit and play a game in it’s entirety without some other event or chore pushing us for time.
Once I was done seeing the clients that did come to their appointments, May Lee and I went to lunch at a local place that was recommended to us. We played more games as we waited for our food. After lunch, we went to the local Wal-Mart and loaded up on summer toys and necessities. Then, we checked back in at the office to see if the internet had been restored, which it had not.
After finishing up the work day, we changed into bathing suits and prepared to head to the lake. This is when I discovered that my tried and true bathing suit was no longer true. I have been making changes in the way I eat and exercise, and I knew that my weight hadn’t done the “yo-yo” thing in a long time. Clearly, what I failed to realize is how much my body had changed, but this fact was now shockingly evident as the top of my tankini refused to stay up and kept threatening to slide all the way off.
I had not thought to pack 2 bathing suits, as I had packed the “never fail” bathing suit. I stood there, not understanding this new reality but understanding that I needed to come up with a solution. The pieces I had packed already didn’t really match, but they fit correctly (so I thought), so I had to wear them. But in order to keep the tankini top in place, I had to add the additional layer of my gray t-shirt, tied up in a knot just above my waist to keep it out of the water.
After driving the hour back home, I was able to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror while donning this swim get-up, and I laughed out loud when I saw what it looked like in real life. It explained a lot of the looks I was getting as we played in the lake. Oh well! We had a good time!
Also, I’m choosing to spend at least a few days living in denial that bathing suit shopping is now completely unavoidable. I need to be in the right state of mind and emotional space for that undertaking.
Saturday Morning Bliss
It is now Saturday, and May Lee and I are fresh-spirited after the good night of sleep that swimming and time in the sun always brings. Spending all of our free time yesterday at the lake meant that we had no food in the house this morning, so for breakfast May Lee ate PBJ and I ate the last hot dog remaining from our backyard campout rolled up in a leftover pancake. I think that is a good measure of how far I have fallen off the meal-planning wagon.
In fact, “good measure” is a phrase that has shown up a few times in this recap of our week. Good Measure is also the name of our local health foods store, so perhaps this whole thing is word of prophecy exhorting me to higher planes of getting my life together that do not include leftover campout food wrapped in stale pancake. I wonder if they also sell sage and essential oils. This could be a one stop shop for all kinds of health and healing!
Each morning as I drive across town to drop my child off at school, we pass through the streets that wind around the university that I attended and graduated from many moons ago. The semester has been winding down, and finals are being given. Each day we pass by, there are fewer cars in the parking lots and noticeably more vehicles parked curbside as fathers load them up with overflowing laundry baskets of college accoutrements.
As I take in the scene each morning, images of my own white Jeep Wrangler parked at the same curbs flash through my mind. This time of year, it would also get packed full of overflowing laundry baskets of random items, because I have never professed to pack well for anything. Or unpack well, for that matter.
Those memories have collected over the course of the week, continually triggered by the sight of dorm rooms being packed up and high school seniors in cap and gown and by the stories I’ve heard people sharing about plans for summer trips or summer jobs. The air is buzzing with heavy-hearted, sentimental good-byes and the anxiety that major life transitions and milestones bring. It’s also electric with excitement and anticipation of the promise of new beginnings, new adventures, and new freedoms.
Wide-open space was what I was looking for when I packed up my Jeep about this time 17 years ago. If memory serves, it was also the song I belted out right along with the Dixie Chicks as I drove that Jeep from Tennessee to Colorado that summer. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I belted that song out, either. My little white Jeep with Wrangler scrawled down the side in purple and teal had a gray soft top, so whether I was singing or talking, I was always competing with the flapping of vinyl fabric going 70 miles per hour.
At my current age, I would opt for the hard top. Standard transmission would also be selected for such a road trip. At 20, however, I was thrilled with a manual transmission and a soft top, and all I can say is that it made Kansas a more memorable experience. What Kansas lacked in scenery to entertain my eyes, it more than made up for with wind noise in my ears.
I arrived in Colorado not knowing a single soul. Through word of mouth, I heard about different jobs and applied for them, getting hired on to do housekeeping for the summer. I got set up with a cabin to rent and a roommate to share it with, not knowing a single thing about either one of them. The roommate turned out to be a blessing from God, and the cabin we affectionately referred to as “the shack”. The toilet was essentially inside of the shower, if that paints any kind of picture. I was there alone for the first several days, when the ancient fuse blew inside of the ancient fuse box and the hot-water heater decided not to work. For the first time since hatching this grand idea to escape to the mountains, I paused that night to wonder what I had gotten myself into as I took an icy shower in a cabin without heat.
Some might say it was an omen for the trials that would come shortly thereafter, or attribute it as a sign from God that I should have turned my tail around and gone back home where I belonged. But I don’t think it was.
I think it was more like growing pains with the initial jolts and shocks that come with moving into a startling, new reality that a whole host of family and close friends have tried to shield a young person from, while simultaneously trying to prepare him or her for life inside of it. But those efforts can only fall short, even with the best of intentions, because those lessons can only be learned independently. That work has to be done outside of the familiar, the comfortable, and the safe, which is a lesson I’m still learning to this day. It is also why I believe that every good “coming of age” story begins with a road trip.
So much about that time and that summer was and is beautiful. The day trips, scenery, experiences, and life-long friendships are all etched into the fabric of my being, and I love every single one of those memories. Still, there are aspects to it that are dark and ugly, and frankly, they continue to have an affect on my ability to live my present-day life. Perhaps that is why those memories are visiting me again and at this time. Recently, I’ve begun doing the work of examining all the pieces of my story by bringing a whole heart, wise mind, sensitive spirit, and gentle strength to a round table in order to view it with eyes wide open until I can truthfully call each piece beautiful.
Once I am able to do that, I can safely and lovingly bring those things back inside myself and live peacefully with them. I have tried many other ways to reconcile my experiences, but this is the only way that I’ve found that ends with me being more like a complete person. Otherwise, these dark, jagged memories continue to dangle off of me like uncultivated tendrils, getting tangled up on things as I pass through life, causing me to trip, sometimes falling all the way down.
The pruning process can be painful and messy, and the result may still be somewhat of a mess, but it is a beautiful mess and a much more peaceful me. So, I am going to practice welcoming the memories as they come each morning as we drive through campus, until all the cars are gone and the students have moved on to whatever is next. I’m going to practice telling the truth about them until I can call them beautiful and bring them inside. I’ll practice pruning off the dead ends slowly and gently, and maybe by the end of the summer, something more deeply human will have taken shape.
The holidays have been hard this year. In reality, they have been hard for many years, but this year I am self-aware enough to realize that I am struggling, to understand why I am struggling, and to roll with it rather than get confused and worked into a tizzy about it. My mantra this year has been “I officially hate the holidays, but I will continue to wear my snowman socks in full faith that one year I will enjoy all of this again”.
I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the holidays can be a wee bit of a trigger for those that are in active addiction. So, having lived through many a holiday season with an active user has dampened my ability to experience the wonder and joy of this blessed season.
I actually understand that to be the reason for my holiday blues this year, but in years past, I have been confused by it and spiraled out into weird behaviors that seemed like coping but really only made things worse. Even with this year’s self-awareness, I found myself responding to things with more of an edge than I intended to have. I intended to have no edge at all in the things I have said, but the Grinch still found his way into my words or tone.
Despite all the grumpitude (the word we use in my house for grumpy with a side of attitude), the newfound self-awareness also let me really see the long view of my life. I have been able to understand how completely chaotic and awful things were years ago, how much better things are now, how much better I AM now, how I have really changed in about a million microscopic ways that make the pace seem slow, how much work is left to do on myself, and still how far there is to travel.
But having the ability to see the long view keeps me grounded in reality. Honestly, it is where my hope lives. Trauma has kept me shortsighted and focused only on survival for a very long time. To finally be free of it to the point of being able to see a future again is a huge deal. To have hope again is a blessing beyond words.
If you believe in spiritual warfare, then you will understand that this newfound hope has been under attack. I wish I could tell you that I have handled it like a warrior champion, but mostly I’ve learned that I need a thicker skin.
A few weeks ago, I received feedback along the lines of my “inconsistency, lack of structure, and chaos” is the reason for all my troubles and all my family’s troubles. I attempted to explain the trauma history and the progress made, but as is often the case, I was treated like I was making excuses and subsequently dismissed.
I chewed on this feedback for a long time, because there is truth to it. I know that healing from trauma takes time, and therefore, the chaos is still present even if it is there to a lesser degree. As I chewed on it, I recognized a pattern in my personality: nothing will light a fire in me like the opportunity to prove that I have been misjudged. I decided to recognize the huge gap in this person’s perspective of my life. This person only saw where I am now and clearly was not interested in learning about where I came from or how far I have come. I was not going to receive validation for the hell I had already conquered from this person, so I gave that validation to myself. And I used the fire ignited by the feedback to simply move myself farther along the path of self-improvement that I was already working on.
Then yesterday, as I was shopping for a few things to spruce up and help organize our house, my daughter started lighting into me. She has taken to lecturing me about how I should behave, and these conversations have often ended with me issuing one of the clichés of motherhood: “because I am the mother” or “because I said so”. But this time, she said something that was a true knife to the heart, because it was clear that she was repeating something that she had heard from someone else. She ended her little rant with “you need to start acting like a real grown-up”.
Having been somewhat prepped for this by my last experience with negative feedback, I chewed on this for only a few hours rather than a few weeks. Again, I have to remind myself that only I know where I have been, where I am now, and where I am going. I cannot expect everyone to see, understand, or validate my experience. All I can do is keep on going and doing the next right thing, understanding that the people who want to know the truth about me will stick around long enough to figure it out.
But, none of that did anything to satisfy my ever growing concern about the 2 worlds my little family lives in and how it is influencing my child. I often think about how different my daughter’s experiences would be if we were really living a life that was congruent with our resources and circumstances.
My daughter goes to a private school that I will never be able to pay for. She is surrounded by dual-income families with high-paying, professional jobs that have many more resources than I do. She spends her afternoons, play dates, and birthday parties in homes much bigger, newer, and nicer than our home. She has and is developing expectations of me and of our life based what she sees all around her. When she returns to our home and to the limited time and financial resources of the single parent, I do not measure up. And in her child-like honesty, she lets me know it.
It begs the question, would my daughter have a greater appreciation of me if we were surrounded by families that looked more like our family? If she attended a public school and was immersed in a community where everyone, much like her own mother, was creatively using their limited resources to put together a life for their kids, would she have a different perspective of what “a real grown up is”? Would she be more grateful and hard-working instead of demanding and entitled if she saw that there were a whole lot of other parents holding life together with their teeth and fingernails?
I don’t have any answers for any of these questions. Maybe I just needed to vent, because the pressure in this culture to live up to THE CHILD’S expectations is REAL. When did that insanity happen?! And I don’t want to sound ungrateful, because I know full well that we are supremely blessed by the people in our lives and the school my daughter attends, and I do not take that for granted even a little bit. Certainly, I don’t want to deprive my child of anything that is beneficial to her development. Yet, the truth remains that our reality is very different than the life we lead, and it is setting up some serious future conflicts between my daughter and I.
I’m really not railing at the problems in our culture, community, or families; I am railing at my own participation in what I know to be the less-than-healthy parts of our world. I have fed into “entitlement culture” as much as the next girl. But I have also come to a place in my life where I accept the fact that there is nothing in my life or happening in my life that I have not allowed. I have also accepted the slowness of the pace of my recovery in a world that keeps telling me that I’m not doing enough fast enough. Having lost the majority of my possessions to trauma, I no longer place any sentiment in things and am truly content with living simply. My child, on the other hand, is another story. My point being, I have accepted the fact that my life is going to look different to the majority of people and that I will always be doing battle with the ways people perceive me to be counter-cultural or “a little bit off”. I’m ok with that.
Needless to say, if a fire was ignited in me with the first feedback, then the second feedback has fueled that fire into an inferno. Things are going to change in this family. I can’t yet say how or when, but I know through prayer, the answers will come.
It’s Saturday morning, and I am wrapped up tight in a blanket, because it is finally chilly outside! I’m enjoying the peace of the morning, and my stomach is full of butterflies. I’m excited for May Lee to wake up, because if she is feeling well enough, we are going to go hiking this morning.
The ebb and flow of parenting can produce enormous swings, can’t it? Last weekend, I was out of energy and in need of a break. This Saturday, my senses are tingling with anticipation and my soul is singing as I listen to the birds chirping. I am excited for the day. I am excited to go on an adventure with my daughter.
While summer has stubbornly refused to give way to fall, there has been a real change of seasons in my life and in the life of this little family. After much resistance on my part, the Good Lord finally had His way and the events on my schedule have been drastically reduced. Even when I say yes and put things on my calendar, I’ll be on the phone calling in cancellations the very next week.
I have finally recognized and given into the fact that I am in a season of simplicity. This is not a season that I would choose to be in voluntarily, because I operate at peak performance when there is enough on my schedule to keep me in consistent activity. When my schedule has prolonged periods of nothingness, that is when the danger happens. The danger being boredom, depression, low energy, low activity, and a complete feeling of apathy. Thus, all the bad habits come out of the shadows with their bogus promises to “make it all better”.
To give into a season of simplicity felt really risky to me, and I fought it. The Lord and I have been going round and round on this one. I realize now that He has been doing work in me over time that would make a season of simplicity enjoyable and not dangerous. He has been leading me to this season so that I may rest and know that He is Good, He is God, and so that I may have an opportunity to slow down and really feel the change He has made in me.
Being able to experience that internal change in my external world is only going to make me stronger. It is going to take my trust in Him to a deeper level. Fear and anxiety will be driven out of my life to an even greater degree. I don’t expect a season of simplicity to be completely comfortable, but by the end of it, I know that I will be in closer relationship with my God and that is a joy beyond compare.
Well, since my baby girl just woke up, it is time for me to shut this down and get to living it. It is time for May Lee and me to get out there and enjoy God’s beautiful world. Happy Saturday, y’all! Get out there and take some Godly risks of your own!
If I had remained married, today would have been my anniversary. This day has become like the New Year’s holiday to me, because I tend to reflect deeply about the time that has passed and the time that lies before me. I do not set goals like I may choose to do for a New Year, and I guess this is where my holiday analogy would move toward Thanksgiving. On this day, I find myself so very, very thankful and deeply humbled at the redemption the Lord has brought to my life, which leads to a story that I haven’t shared with many people until this moment.
When my marriage reached the pinnacle of insanity, I dug into my Bible looking for answers. At least, I thought I was looking for answers, but I was really looking for justifications. I was using what I was reading in the Bible to prop up my own insane thinking and to justify continued efforts to ignore all the very obvious evidence that my child and I were in very real danger. I would pray for protection, for 10,000 angels to form a protective perimeter around my house, but I would not leave. I would not leave, because “God hates divorce”, “the husband is the head of the wife”, and “wives obey your husbands” (that was my ex-husband’s favorite) and all those other scriptures, not to mention all the Christian judgments that have become so deeply ingrained in some sectors of Christian culture that they are mistaken as scriptures, were perpetuating the same cycle of shame as the abuse I was enduring. I was trapped by “my faith”. My ex-husband knew it and I knew, and he exploited it for all that he could.
It was not long until I reached a place of such deep mental and emotional anguish that I cried out to God from a place so deep in my soul that I never knew it existed. And you know what, He answered me. Clear as day, He answered me with, “If you will trust me to lead you out of this, I will give it all back to you. Family, friends, everything that you’ve lost will be restored to you”. In that moment, scenes from the last year of my life flashed across my mind, and I recognized them as opportunities God had put before me to escape that I hadn’t taken.
You might think that I packed us up and hit the road right then, but I did not. Trust was not something I was in possession of at that time. My head was all messed up, and I had a long history of poor judgment to prove it. Trusting God to lead me out of that deep hole was out of the question at that time, but like Gideon and so many others, I kept asking for confirmation. I bought a little notebook at the dollar store and carried it around in my bag everywhere I went. All day long for months and months, I would write my prayers and questions for God in my notebook, and when those answers came, I wrote them in my notebook too. In this way, I started building trust with God. He started giving me small successes that helped me begin to trust my judgment again.
That process played out for a year or so, and I finally did leave. And you know what? Only 2 people threw the whole “God hates divorce” thing up at me. One of them was my ex-husband and one of them was another man who had chosen to exit my life for the entire 8 months of my divorce process, and therefore knew next to nothing about what was going on but chose to levy his opinion against me the week that my divorce was final. It makes me wonder what those 2 men have in common that out of all the people who knew the scenario, from professional counselors to preachers to close friends and family, that only those 2 men expressed eerily similar opinions that had I followed them would have kept me in danger. It begs the question: what compels us to use the Bible the way we do, much like a shield to hide our secret sins? But this I know without a doubt: everyone’s secret sin will be exposed at one point or another. All houses built on sand eventually fall. I’ve spent years crawling out of my own collapsed house of sand, learning what true repentance means, trying to show my family and friends that I understand and take full responsibility for the ways that I went wrong, and that I intend to spend every day of the rest of my life following the path that God has laid out for me.
With that being said, let’s go back to the promise God gave me the day that I stood in the bedroom of my beach duplex, face to the ceiling, crying out for relief. The best part of today is looking back and counting the ways He has been faithful to that promise over the years. The first year, I won the right to move out of state from the Florida Court. The next year, I accepted a job that would allow me to support my little family. This year, May Lee and I moved into our very own home. And that is just the “big” stuff! I see His promise answered in some small way just about every week, whether its rekindling relationships that were lost to the chaos of my marriage and divorce, new relationships that have come into my life, advances at work, being able to enjoy experiences that I never thought I would be able to have again, and being able to dust off and reignite talents that have been dormant under the heavy frost of trauma for so long.
All of those things are so very awesome, and I will admit that I am amazed and deeply humbled every time I recognize a new layer of His promise coming to fruition. But I think the best part is yet to come. Some day, when someone else’s sandcastle collapses and all their secret sin is revealed to what feels like the entire world, I’ll be there to help them dig out the way only someone who has had the same experience can. One day, my story is going to help someone else see the light at the end of the tunnel, as well as the light of the One who wants to restore everything they have lost. That will be a great day, my friends. Who knows, maybe that will be one of the experiences I’ll be sharing with you a year from today. Either way, today I trust in His promise fully. I trust the instincts and ability to use good judgment that He has restored to health within me, and I know that goodness and adventure lie ahead.
By trade, I am a therapist- the mental health kind- and I have spent many years studying, observing, and theorizing about human behavior. Since grief is an inevitable part of the human experience, it has been a theme of study and practice throughout my career. Every culture, every group, and every family has its own beliefs, rituals, and traditions surrounding loss, dying, and death, and they serve an important purpose in the survival of that group.
Grief and loss signal to a family or group that it is time to circle the wagons, to move closer together, to conserve and share resources, and to work for the benefit of the entire group. There is a kind of unity inside of grief that is not experienced during any other time. At least, that is what a healthy grieving process looks like. I think about the atmosphere of unity in grief that our country experienced during the days following September 11th with all of the amazing stories of humanity transcending one of its darkest hours with faith, resilience, and bold acts of generosity and kindness. People worked sacrificially to meet each other’s needs, because everyone knew instinctively that it was time to take care of each other. It was time to circle the wagons and people didn’t wait for instructions on what to do or worry about how others may perceive their actions, they simply acted.
September 11th was a trauma to all of us, and we are learning more and more that trauma is inter-generational. That means that even the kiddos that were born years later are subject to the repercussions of the original trauma. We know that in families, the effects of trauma often result in addictive behaviors, even several generations away from the original trauma. The addictive behaviors serve the purpose of avoiding the pain associated with trauma, and it blocks the natural and healthy process of grief and recovery.
When I look at our country today, I see unresolved trauma and a pattern of addiction. The trauma of 9/11 was so great that the stress still runs through our veins. At some point in our collective grieving process, fear was able to weave a destructive web around our hearts and minds. With each new tragedy, large or small, our collective nervous system was overwhelmed and unable to manage the heartache of a new loss. We retreated to whatever soothed us, to whatever temporarily numbed the pain. Then the next tragedy occurred and we again retreated to our self-soothing mechanisms, and this cycle has played out so many times that we don’t even need to retreat any more. At this point in the cycle of our collective addiction, there is no one left in the middle to retreat outward when tragedy strikes. Everyone is now permanently spread out, isolating in their sanctuaries of false security, and attempting to communicate with each other by shouting across the divides.
Friends, what happens when the wagons aren’t circled but are spread far and wide with no form of effective communication? The answer should make your blood run cold, because you know the cost is high and the loss of life is imminent. If we want to survive, we can no longer allow our first response to tragedy to be debates over policy. Don’t get me wrong, the social activist in me loves a good policy debate, but I truly believe that our retreat behind policy is taking the human element out of the tragedy. It is our drug, numbing the pain and heartache so we don’t have to feel it anymore.
Like everyone else, I don’t have answers or fixes for the senseless tragedies that our country continues to experience week after week, but I do know that collectively we are trauma-weary and coping in an unhealthy way. I also know that without unity we will be devoured, either by our own unhealthy pattern or by an outside force that we are now too unhealthy to defend against. It could be that those first steps toward unity may lie in allowing ourselves to grieve together once again. If we grieve together as one nation, we will not be washed away by the sadness. We will transcend as we draw closer and are able to really hear each other again.
For a period of several months during my morning quiet time, the itch to get back into writing tickled the back of my mind. God really uses that morning quiet time to put things on my heart, and He’d been pressing the writing issue quite a bit while I, in turn, was faithfully ignoring Him. All the standard objections were levied: I haven’t written in years, I have nothing to say, I don’t have the time…and so on.
In the middle of this cosmic volley of divine requests and pathetic excuses, I received an e-mail invitation to fill out a form and potentially be a part of a book launch team for Sophie Hudson’s new book, Giddy Up Eunice. I was delighted by the thought, because I love her books and it was kind of like a Gideon-and-the-fleece moment for me. “Ok Lord, you say you want me to write, so I’ll know you’re serious if I get selected for this thing.” So, I filled out the form and almost immediately forgot about the launch team, because I fill out lots of these types of forms and I have yet to win any of Dave Ramsey’s money. I did, however, make a mental note of the release date for the book, because I wasn’t missing out on that action.
Let me tell you a little bit about my journey with Sophie Hudson’s books. I cannot remember the where, when, or how of my discovery of A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet, but it was shortly after I relocated from Florida to Arkansas. May Lee and I were living in my parents’ house while recovering from divorce and the insanity that led to the divorce. I was back home but didn’t really know how to be back home. A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet brought wave after nostalgic wave of home and family history, and it really helped break the ice of being back home after a very long ordeal. It also made me laugh until I had to put the book down and wipe the tears from my eyes so that I could see to continue reading. Straight up, uncontrollable belly laughs, my friends.
If A Little Salty broke the ice around my heart while also turning my giggle box upside down, Home is Where My People Are took the thawing out to the next level. Sophie’s stories felt so familiar to me that they took me back to a time and place before all the heartache and helped me remember what having true friends and family was like, how much I was missing out on by sitting on the sidelines, and how deeply I wanted those kinds of relationships back in my life. It really renewed my motivation to start bringing down some of those emotional walls and try to genuinely engage in relationships again. And like before, Sophie had me crying both tears of laughter and tears of genuine heartfelt emotion.
Then the day arrived that I opened my e-mail and received the notice that I had in fact been chosen for the Giddy Up, Eunice launch team. At this point, God had put a name for a blog on my heart, and now He had responded to my Gideon-esque launch team fleece. So naturally, I immediately obeyed. Just kidding, I have a hard head, so what I really did was take it to my spiritual running partner who tried not to knock me over the head as she kindly stated, “I think you need to write a blog”.
Eunice arrived at my doorstep soon thereafter, and I read that thing like my life depended on it. I usually read slowly, only reading small sections at a time so that my mind can digest the content. Not so with Eunice. I couldn’t seem to put it down, and when I hit the pages where Sophie hops on her soapbox and demands that we not discount our importance and STAY IN IT, I was ugly crying. Honestly, I’m getting a little misty-eyed right now just telling you about it. Powerful stuff, ladies.
But it didn’t stop there. Oh no, the hits just kept on coming. I came to the pages where Sophie recounts all of her doubts about writing and they happened to be pretty much identical to my own fears: “what if people don’t read it? Or worse, what if people read it?! I feel icky about sharing my feelings!!!” But then Sophie’s wise friend asks her if she believes God gave her the words. When Sophie says yes, the friend lovingly commands her to trust Him with it. “YOU TRUST HIM WITH IT.” Deeply convicted doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings after reading that passage.
If A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet and Home is Where My People Are were gentle icebreakers and sweet reminders of the joys of living life, Giddy Up, Eunice was the swift kick in the rear that I needed to actually get going and make a move. The next day, I started this blog. While reading Eunice, I participated in a women’s walking/running group that ended with a 5K, I started working with my running partner to generate ideas about how to serve the women of this community, and I finally got involved with my church by volunteering in the 2nd grade.
Like all of the other books, Eunice came just when I needed her. I’ve started reading the book again and in small sections so my brain can really digest the content. This time, not only did I get a great reading experience, I got the wonderful fellowship of the ladies on the launch team. It has been a joy, and I am truly grateful for the whole experience. Now, I highly encourage each and every one of you to Giddy Up!