Although I may be inconsistent in posting on my blog at times, I traditionally post on New Years, March 7th, my birthday (both belly button and recovery), Thanksgiving and Christmas. Remembering the past year, I am reminded to “be careful what I ask for”, because 2013 brought many lessons about trust. As I began this post, I read the post for New Year’s 2013. This is what I wrote:
A blog challenge for 2013 is to find one word to focus on through the coming year and incorporate that into your writing. I have several words that seem appropriate, but the one word that keeps coming through is trust. It isn’t something that comes naturally for me. I learned a tremendous amount about trust in 2012; some of it bad, yet much of it good. I am going to embrace the challenge and put trust into my daily life- trust in God, my friends, my family and in myself. I survived the end of the world in 2012, so welcome 2013. Let’s see what you have in store!
I began the year trying to recover from the flu, and in spite of getting the flu shot, it was my Christmas day gift. For the next few months, I would battle one round of bronchitis after the other. Breathing treatments, antibiotics, injected and oral steroids became constant companions. I would battle each round coming ever so close to victory, only to find myself pushed back into a corner once again. In May, only two days before I was to take my grandson to the live auditions for X-Factor complete with Simon Cowell and Demi Lovato, I was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia.
All of these battles with bronchitis occurred as I prepared to begin my lifelong dream of going to college. I stepped onto the College of Charleston campus in early January not sure if I would be able to survive as a college student. I can now tell you that I not only have survived, but I have done well. I have enough credits to apply as a degree student instead of a “non-traditional” student and I am only a few credits away from being a sophomore. Did I mention that I have a 3.82 GPA?
Being sick for so long took a financial toll since I wasn’t able to work during that time. The cost of COBRA for me to keep my insurance was over $500 a month, and I still had deductibles and copays. In October, the biggest financial hit came when my car blew the transmission. Being without a car for close to two months was devastating, but I managed to finish school for the semester and keep my part time job.
As summer approached, I was healthy again and was able to start a new fitness program. It was another step in learning some great ways to exercise without a gym, and it was a thought-provoking experience in learning balance. I was reminded that fitness goals and healthy living are a work in progress, not something to achieve overnight.
I managed a couple of very short trips this year. Jan, Anna, and I took a day trip to Savannah. We laughed, talked, shopped, discovered “Your Pie Pizza”, and walked all around Savannah even though it was still a bit cool that day, and had a great day. I had to take a trip, have an adventure, and see a play for my three of my classes, so a short weekend trip with Ginger, Sassy, and Jerome made getting an A on all three papers easy. Jan and I continued to have Friday adventures including doing some genealogical research, climbing an old haunted staircase in a house that was built in early 1800, and visiting a couple of library archives. We did manage to find some great food along the way, as well.
So, what does all this have to do with trust? If you look at most of last year, you may begin to see that I wasn’t able to do things for other people the way I usually do. Money, health, and time took away my ability to take care of others and do things for the people in my life. All that was left for me to give was myself. I have always been sure that “I” was not enough. Last year, I had to trust my friends and my family with my vulnerability. Every time they stayed by my side, supported me, bought me lunch, visited me, called me to make sure I was OK, took me where I needed to go, went beyond everything I expected, I thanked God for showing me what trust and love are really about.
I didn’t learn to trust anyone as a child. I didn’t understand love until I had children of my own. I did not trust God, and I was not convinced that God would or could love me. I do not believe God sends catastrophes, broken cars, financial problems, etc. into my life, but I do believe God has used all of these things to help me learn about love and trust. God continues to be patient and understanding with me.
I do not think I am going to choose a theme for 2014, but I will be writing to tell you about my year. I will give you one sneak peak at the upcoming year. The “three stooges” (we must think of a better name) are going to see JILLIAN!
I hope you all have a blessed and wonderful New Year!
This blog post is NOT about Phil Robertson, A&E, Duck Dynasty, or the controversy surrounding them. However, it was prompted by comments made by Phil from Duck Dynasty that is featured on A&E.
If you follow facebook, any news channel, or read the paper, you might have heard the huge debate going on about an interview Phil gave to GQ. He has been banned from A&E for his comments. I am not here to argue if he was right or wrong, talk about free speech, issues of race, homosexuality, or anything else. I am writing today because of what he didn’t say.
You see, I was raised by a grandmother who lived most of her adult life as a drunk, along with a variety of other sinful ways of living. When I was about 7 or so, she decided to start taking me to church. She found “religion”, and her life did change in some ways, but she was still the same person inside. She was mean-spirited and did hurtful things to those around her. She wore her religion like a street person putting on a new suit without ever showering or cleaning up. It was all for show.
She used the Bible as a weapon and as a crutch for her way of living and thinking. She would quote Scripture to prove her point, to allow her to judge others, and to control my behavior. One that she loved to throw around was, “Vengence is mine, I will repay says the Lord.” I am sure we could take time and have a long theological discussion about this verse, but I am going to bet that most of you would not interpret it the way my grandmother did. Her use of the verse was to say that God was going to get me if I did bad stuff. I was a kid who had been neglected, abandoned, and abused the first few years of my life, so I was going to have a few issues, and I (like all kids) was going to do things considered bad. I was always waiting for the Lord to punish me and I assumed anything bad that happened to me from being sick to not getting all A’s in school was vengeance being imparted to me.
You see, the thing that troubles me is when we don’t get the rest of the story. My grandmother stopped short of telling the whole story when she used scripture the way she did. I remember when Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” was released; people asked why I didn’t go see it. I had a number of reasons, but one of them was that it didn’t tell the rest of the story. The film only showed the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus. It only showed the horror of the crucifixion, but didn’t show the resurrection or talk about the things Jesus came to teach us. This is what happened with Phil’s interview. He didn’t tell the rest of the story. He only quoted verse 9 and 10 from the Corinthians passage. Verse 11 is so powerful in this passage. Can you see the difference it makes?
1 Corinthians 6:9 “9 Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Look at that list of sins! Can you see any there that you might have committed or even held in your heart? I can tell you that in my life, I have committed most of them. You see, I am a recovering alcoholic and addict. I hit bottom hard, and I don’t need to tell you the kind of life I lead for a while; you can figure it out. So, according to those first two verses, I cannot inherit the kingdom of God. That is devastating news, almost hopeless.
Yet, just look at verse 11. That is the one that wasn’t quoted by Phil or the GQ article. “And that is what some of you were.” Yes, that is what I was. “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. ” That was all done for me!
Phil also said, “But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.” I disagree. Sin is the most logical thing I understand from the Bible. There are many verses telling us that we are sinners by nature and that no one is without sin. It is from the beginning to the end. What isn’t logical is that this all powerful, omnipotent God would bother with any of us. Why not just get rid of us all and start from scratch? Instead, He did something absolutely illogical. He sent His only son to be born as a human and live this earthly life, and die for our sins.
As we celebrate Christmas next week, we remember the birth of Jesus. But, we need to remember the rest of the story. Jesus showed those he encountered the purest love and gave hope to everyone, even the worst of the sinners. He opened his heart and his arms to tax collectors, adulterers, drunkards, thieves, and more. And, that is what He asks us to do.
“I think joy and sweetness and affection are a spiritual path. We’re here to know God, to love and serve God, and to be blown away by the beauty and miracle of nature. You just have to get rid of so much baggage to be light enough to dance, to sing, to play. You don’t have time to carry grudges; you don’t have time to cling to the need to be right.”
― Anne Lamott
I have several friends on my facebook list and blog followers who may wish to debate or help me with my theological understanding of scripture. Instead, I hope they will simply read this and say a prayer for this justified, sanctified, and forgiven sinner.
In 12-step recovery programs, we are taught not to think about tomorrow. Slogans like “one day at a time” or “just today” are drummed into our brain. Another one that I hate is, “if you have one foot in tomorrow and one foot in yesterday, you are pissing all over today.” That one just never made any sense to me. I understand and acknowledge the wisdom in “one day at a time” in dealing with alcohol and drugs. There were many times in my recovery that it was one hour, one minute, or one second at a time.
However, in the real world that slogan doesn’t work. If I truly lived “one day at a time”, I would get my paycheck and buy a new big screen TV or book a mountain cabin for a week, ignoring the reality that in two weeks I have to pay rent and make a car payment. I also believe that dreams of the future are a motivation to do well today.
When I decided to write about Christmas future, I had to think about what I would really like to see. So here is a brief glimpse of some future Christmases…
In a couple of years, I will have friends and family surrounding me as I prepare to graduate from the College of Charleston.
Not long after I finish my MFA, Oprah will choose my newly published best selling book as the gift to give for Christmas.
I will visit my great grandchildren who are the most beautiful and amazing children ever to be born. I will, of course, be visiting my children and grand children as well, but we all know it will be the great grands that take center stage.
The day after Christmas, I will visit the Culpeppers (Either in Charleston or within a 4 hour drive 🙂 ) and the next week I will go to Baltimore and New York to visit my brother and some other friends as I begin my book tour.
I won’t miss my mother, my best friend-JanF, my Mama Pearl, or any of the other friends/family who have passed away nearly as much as I do now. (OK, that one isn’t really going to happen.)
I will notice that as I grow older, I learn more about the gift of Jesus and the joy of celebrating Christmas. I might just become “Jesusy” as Anne Lamott says.
I spent a great deal of life dreading the future and believing that nothing good would ever happen to me. I was always waiting for the next bad thing. I have learned that the next bad thing is going to happen no matter what; it happens to everyone. It’s called life. I have also learned that the next amazing thing is going to happen as well. Sometimes, the next amazing thing comes as a result of that next bad thing that happened.
Anne Lamott said in one of her blog posts, ” We religious nuts say, ‘I no longer know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future’.” Of course, I can’t really predict the future, but I can dream. I no longer see my future thought the eyes of nightmares. So, I will continue to dream about my future Christmases celebrating the birth of the One who holds the future.
It is close to midnight on Sunday night and I am sitting in an empty office room. During the day, the room is filled with volunteers and staff talking on phones and with each other. But, at night there is only one person covering the phones, and tonight it is me. I work for local hotline crisis center. I have done this for over 13 years now. We talk to people who are in pain, hurt, scared, angry, lost, and sometimes suicidal.
I chose this work because without a line just like this one, I might not be here today. In March of 1987, I made a call to a local crisis line because I wanted to die. I thought I could no longer handle the pain and guilt that ruled my life. I felt that God had long since given up on me, as had everyone else. A wonderful woman spent a long time on the phone with me that night and kept me safe until morning. In my post on Christmas past, I shared some of the things that lead me to that night.
Just the other day I was talking with my friend Jan, and I was shocked to hear that she had never seen “A Wonderful Life.” This is the movie when life takes a devastating turn for Jimmy Stuart, so he stands on a bridge thinking that his wife, their young children, and others he loves will be better off with him dead. He is contemplating suicide when a guardian angel named Clarence comes to his rescue. Clarence shows him what life would be like if he was never born. Stuart’s character comes to realize the impact his life has had on all those in his life, and realizes that he does indeed, have a “wonderful life.”
As I prepare to share this Christmas with my family and friends, I wonder what might have happened if I had succeed that night. I would have missed an amazing life, and the opportunity to share my hope and faith with others. I wouldn’t be here for this Christmas. This year, I will spend time with my church family as we host several services leading up to the Christmas Eve candle light service. I will spend time with my friends Anna, Jan and her kids. Christmas day, I will be blessed to share the day with both of my children, their spouses, and my three amazing grandchildren. If I had succeeded that night, I would never have known the joy of sharing my life with all of them.
I won’t be able to buy gifts as I did last year. I had the most fun shopping last year, but some financial setbacks including a bout with pneumonia in spring and having my car breakdown beyond repair, make it impossible to give the way I did last year. I have been fortunate to find a car I can afford with some serious budget cuts. I have made peace with the situation and believe that Christmas will still be special this year.
Christmas this year will be about sharing special times with those I love and care about the most.It will be remembering the true gift of Christmas was the gift of Jesus It will be enjoying the sounds of Christmas music and singing along to carols as I drive down the road. It will be finding those special small gifts to give to others. I love seeing the Christmas cards and greeting on facebook from all those in my life. Phone calls with people I should talk to more often will add to the holiday excitement. I will of course eat too much chocolate and other baked goods, in spite of Anna telling me how much sugar, gluten, and other harmful things fill my plate. I promise to listen more after the first of the year.
When Christmas day is over and everyone heads to bed, I will log into a computer, pull out my headset, and cover the crisis hotline. Maybe, I will talk to someone who feels lost and alone this Christmas. Whenever I talk to someone like that, I remember the night I made that call and the person on the line that gave me hope. I think of the life I have today, and like Stuart’s character I can say, “It is a wonderful life. “
My childhood memories are scattered in pieces across my mind. While I have some of my own memories, others come from the stories told by family members or friends. For a long time, many of the pieces didn’t make sense, but letters, pictures, and stories helped put the snippets into a more complete picture
From what I learned, my first Christmas was spent with my parents at my father’s parents farm in West Va. We lived with them for the first few months. My mother had just turned 17 and my father was barely 20. After the holidays, they moved back home to Charleston to live in the projects in downtown Charleston. My father was in the Navy and gone for weeks at a time. When he came home, he would drink and there would be fights…verbal and physical. As I got older, I would be in the mix. My mother taught me to hide under a table. The next few Christmases included bringing two more abusive alcoholics (Mother’s parents) into the mix. The Christmas before my 4th birthday, my mother played out a plan that included leaving and separating my brother and me between grandparents.
My parents were in and out of my life. Holidays, particularly Christmas brought dreams and wishes that my mother or my father would somehow miss me enough to come and see me. I do remember many times looking out the window and hoping. Any time I heard a car, I would look to see if it might be one of them; it never was.
My grandmother found “religion” when I was about 7. Christmas meant going to church service at midnight Christmas Eve and coming home to my drunken grandfather. When we got home, I could open one gift under the ugly silver tree with revolving color wheel with a manager scene carefully placed underneath. Gifts were practical for the most part, with one “frivolous” gift like a doll or bike. The only present I cared about was the one my mother would send me. Later, I discovered many phone calls and gifts were never received because of my Grandmother’s intervention.
Christmas finally took on new meaning when I had children of my own. The greatest joy I had was finding gifts for them, yet because of our own financial problems, I often wasn’t able to give them all they wanted. They didn’t seem to care. They loved the tree and decorations. They always took part in the Christmas music and scenes at church. My husband’s parents were so very generous with gifts for the kids and they always had what they wanted, even if I couldn’t give it.
All of that changed, when I started drinking and in time, became a full-blown alcoholic. In the fall of 1986, my husband took custody of my kids, and I was left with visitation only. The pain and heartbreak was overwhelming. December of 1986, I made the decision to move to Baltimore to try to find a better job and get my life together in order to provide a home for children and get them back. But alcoholics can’t move away from themselves. That Christmas, I was able to get gifts and send them back home to the kids, but I drank everyday to numb the pain of their loss. During the next 3 and 1/2 months, I drank and drugged daily, put myself in dangerous places with dangerous people, and lost all hope. I wondered if my children watched out the window to see if I was coming that Christmas, even though they knew, just as I did, that it wasn’t going to happen.
I got sober in April of 1987. My husband told the kids they could come and stay with me for Christmas if I could get them to Baltimore. I didn’t have a car and he knew I didn’t have the money to fly them there. Jan F. told me to pray and talk to my support group and just “let go and let God.” I hated her telling me those thing, but I learned to trust her. I did what she said.
Two weeks before Christmas, a friend invited me to lunch. She pulled out two round trip airline tickets for my kids. She told me that she drank away her chance to ever have children and wanted to help me get mine back. That weekend, we had our Christmas party at work. My coworkers, who had watched me drink myself almost to death and now watched me in recovery, gave me an envelope with $100.00 cash and a $100 gift card to a grocery store and another to Penny’s. That Christmas gave me hope and helped me believe that perhaps God hadn’t given up on me.
It took over 20 years before I would be in a church at Christmas. I wonder if God watched out of the window sometimes to see I was going to come back . Even though I found a new relationship with God and Jesus, I struggled with the idea of church. I started visiting a few churches and a couple of years ago found a church home. Last Christmas, I attended all of the Christmas services and found a new appreciation for Christmas. There was one service that touched my heart. It was the Blue Christmas service. You can read about it here in an article that my friend Jan wrote about that night. It has been a long journey.
In a day or so, I will share more about my Christmas “Present” and then shortly after that Christmas “Future.”
What does Luke Bryan have to do with “Must Be Present To Win?” Those who know me won’t be surprised when I explain. This post is obviously about winning. Jan and I were in the car the other day and I mentioned that I was really getting tired of the song, “Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner.”
“I don’t think I know that song? Who sings it?’ I was confused by her response since she is a county music fan and knows all the current songs.
I tried to sing a piece, but she still had no idea about the song. I decided to Google it and let her listen to the chorus, so that she would be terribly embarrassed when she realized she knew the song. I found it and played the snippet of the song I found. I then discovered that the song is That’s My Kind of Night by Luke Bryan. Here are the lyrics:
‘Floatin’ down the Flint River/catch us up a little catfish dinner/gonna sound like a winner, winner.” So, I had it almost right. And, she did know the song, of course. I still haven’t lived that one down.
On a more serious note, two years ago I attended a day conference here in Charleston presented by Google. As a surprise, they donated two newly released Samsung Galaxy Android Tablets. The first was given away at noon and the second at the closing session of the day. I had an appointment that couldn’t be changed, so I left just as the last half hour of the session started.
When I left my appointment I had several text messages and a couple of phone calls telling me that my name had been drawn to win the tablet. HOWEVER, YOU MUST BE PRESENT TO WIN! As you can see, I am not over it still.
You may know that it has been a rough few weeks. Several things are going on, but primarily I am struggling because my car died. Living in Charleston (very little public transportation), tying to go to school and work, and do all the other things I do is now a true challenge. I have cried, screamed, and prayed a lot- trust me!
Yesterday, I received a call from the local pharmacy where I fill my prescriptions. They announced that there had a been a drawing from all the people who used the online refill email last month, and I was the winner. My prize is two tickets valued at $20.00 each to a trolley tour around Summerville on what is known as the Sweet Tea Trail. While it isn’t a Samsung Tablet, I did win. As odd as it many sound, that phone call changed my mood. I didn’t do anything to earn this prize nor do I really deserve it. I won simply because I did what I needed to do.
I began to think that life is like winning both of those prizes-you must be present to win. If I choose to withdraw and be miserable or simply focus on the negative because I don’t have a car…or money…or my own home…you get the idea, then I lose. I can’t enjoy those things that make life worth living…family…friends…laughter…you get the idea.
Being present simply means getting out of bed each day, doing the next right thing, being part of the lives of the people I love, laughing out loud, acting like a kid, working, going to school, helping where and when I can, having faith that God is present in my life no matter what the circumstances, and praying. Some days I am going to be more present than others; we all have those days when we need to retreat and regroup. We might even need to cry sometimes. A friend told me that everyone has a bad day; you just don’t want it turn into bad weeks and months.
Today, I have been present. I got up early because I didn’t sleep well, but used the extra time to get a few things done. I went to school with all of my assignments for the day complete. I met my friends for lunch. We talked and laughed and just enjoyed hanging out. Right now I am supposed to be working on ten short summaries of essays for one class and critiquing three stories for another. Instead, I decided to write this blog post, first. (Please don’t tell on me!) I doubt I will have chicken or catfish for supper today, but all in all, I would say I was a winner.
I saw this picture/statement on a facebook post from an organization that works with families and individuals facing challenges of mental illness. Often, we read these simple statements, smile and say, “Oh, isn’t that sweet,” without really thinking about the message. What I read in this statement is, “Suffer in silence, don’t ask for help, and God forbid, don’t tell anyone!”
I was raised with that philosophy. Tears and fears indicated lack of faith in God. Accepting help was a sign of weakness and asking for help was a sign of a failure. Accepting help made you a slave to the one who gave the help. In my family, there were definitely strings attached to accepting help and in some cases ropes or chains.
Fighting battles no one knows about was a way of life as a child. I learned to cry in private or not cry at all. I learned that God didn’t like little girls who were afraid. Adults who abuse children make sure the children don’t tell anyone or ask for help. Depression, anxiety, fear were all from the devil, so there was no help other than perfect obedience and faith. Seeking mental health help was admitting that your faith was weak.
I grew up strong…according to the definition in the quote here. I learned to always put myself last. I almost died because I was so strong. I was 35 years old before I learned to ask for help. Walking into a room of people when you are disheveled, hung over, and smelling like alcohol (not because you were drinking right then, but the smell coming from your pores and breath), and looking at people through squinted red eyes makes it difficult not to ask for help. Yet, I didn’t ask for help or want help from anyone. A wonderful therapist and 12 step programs taught me to ask and accept help. I am 62 now and still find asking or accepting help a challenge.
I also know that friends and family who love and care about you want to help. It gives them joy and pleasure. When I offer help to someone, I get so much from the experience. At the same time, when I offer help to someone and they refuse it, I feel as if they don’t trust me or feel connected enough to accept what I offer. When I don’t ask for help or refuse to accept help, I do that same thing to others.
PAUSE…I was going to go into a rather lengthy theological and philosophical discussion, however, I think I will leave that to the philosophers and preachers.
The past year has put me in a place where I have needed help. At times, I reached out and asked for it and in other cases, it was offered without petition. It is still a challenge to admit that I need help sometimes. Pride and ego are powerful adversaries. I am a work in progress. I do not want to “smile through the pain, cry all alone, and fight in silence.” I don’t want to be “strong” any more.
I’ve heard the phrase “there’s a light at the end of the tunnel” expressed in several ways. I once heard, “the light at the end of the tunnel is a train coming right at you.” Another explanation is that there is a way out of the darkness or through the challenges. On Tuesday, I was floundering and felt that I couldn’t even begin to find my way to the tunnel. At one point I was sitting on a bench outside at my college, crying and feeling very alone. Let me back up and tell you what happened.
Sunday, we went to the Corn Maze. Jan and her kids rode with me, and as we were headed home I heard a beep. I thought it was my car telling me it wanted gas, but as I looked at the dash I realized my check engine light was on. The car was still running normally and all the gauges seemed fine. We laughed because the last time my car broke down, Jan was in the car with me. The next morning I drove to an appointment and called the car dealership to make an appointment for my oil change and have them check the light. As I started the car when I was leaving, the check engine light went out. I was so excited. I called my daughter and my friends proclaiming that my car was healed.
I drove on toward my work and I pulled off the interstate into the exit lane. Before I could get to the top, the car made some chugging noises and jerked a couple of times. As I rolled towards the light, I heard a pop and a puff of white smoke came out of my car like a smoke signal from an old western. The engine was running, but none of the gears worked. Soon the tow truck was taking my car to the dealership. Let’s just say that my experience with the service department was not a good one that day. They gave me a ride home and promised to look at the car as soon as possible.
I have been going to a local park and ride to get to my college classes this semester, so my daughter gave me a ride to the bus stop the next morning. I finished my first class and saw that the dealership had called. I called them back on the way to my next class. The news wasn’t good. The transmission would need to be replaced or rebuilt. The estimate was $3800. The blue book value of my car in good condition is about $2800. I dont’ have $3800 to repair it or enough to replace it since I could only sell it for about $800 at best. I still have to come up with $130 for the diagnostic labor to get it out of the dealership, plus a tow truck. All of that to say, I no longer have a running vehicle.
This is where the sitting on a bench alone in the middle of school campus and crying comes in. Some very kind maintenance people working outside that day came to check on me, offered me coffee, a ride home, smiles, and wishes for a better day. I called my daughter and she helped me realize that this was not the end of the world. She assured me that she and her husband would be there to assist until I could figure out the next step. She was caring but wouldn’t let me give up on school and work. I have been without my car for 5 days now. I miss my car; I loved that car.
Yet, I haven’t missed work or school. I have everything I need. I have a place to live and money to pay my bills. My daughter has been strong for me and is working with me to use her car when she doesn’t need it. Her husband is changing his schedule a bit to drop me off and pick up at the bus stop on school days. My 16 year old grandson gave me a hug, told me he loved me, and asked if I wanted to use his car…his very special car that he loves. They have all encouraged me been there for me. My son has offered his help. He found a program that may be able to get my car on the road. He made the contact and is helping get the information and paper work.
My friend Jan, came today and picked me up for Friday adventure day. Funny thing happened on the way to adventure day; we went to the store, came out, and her car wouldn’t start. True Story! We found a nice man dressed in camouflage, driving a big truck, with jumper cables and he was able to get the car started. We spent about an hour getting a new battery with a very talkative, somewhat clumsy sales person, who installed the battery. We then rushed to pick up her children from school. They smiled and told me they had missed seeing me. Jan has encouraged me and checked in on me all week, in spite of a busy work week and activities.
My friend Sonia and another friend Erica have offered me their cars when they don’t need them and rides to work. Lindy has emailed, texted and offered encouragement. Other friends have offered ideas, let me know they are praying for me, and that I am not alone.
Yes, I don’t have a car in a world that requires a car to survive, particularity in a city with very little transportation options. I have no idea how or when I will be able to get my repaired or get another vehicle. Yes, I could get a car loan..maybe. I don’t really make enough money to qualify for a loan, but if I could find one, I couldn’t afford the payments. Yes, I do know this for a fact. Like all of my other friends, I am looking at Christmas coming very quickly and I need to put every dollar aside that I can for this car. I don’t know what I will be able to offer others this year and that makes me sad.
Yet, I am grateful and know that I am blessed. I have fairly good health for a woman my age. My mind is sharp (don’t ask my close friends about that) and I am fulfilling my dream of going to school. I love going to school more than I have ever loved anything I have done and I have a 3.82 GPA so far. Most importantly, I have family and friends that I trust and know in my heart love and care about me. There were times in my life that I couldn’t say that. While I may not be able to even find the tunnel right now, maybe I dont’ have to find it. And car or no car, maybe, just maybe, I am finding another way to get to where I need to be with the help of those people in my life.
A couple of years ago, I was driving on a busy four-lane highway to my church. This is a road where no one slows down for anything. People pass and bounce from lane to lane without the benefit of blinkers or common sense. There are many traffic lights, and I have come to believe that there is a prize for running the yellow light, even if it means being in the intersection after the light turns red.
As I made my way to church, suddenly the tail lights on the cars ahead of me turned red as cars in both lanes came to a sudden stop. I didn’t see anything ahead. In a few moments, I saw what looked like the front of a broken shopping cart coming across the line of cars. I watched closely and soon realized it was a broken walker with a very old man pushing it across the highway. He walked so slowly that I was not sure how he got into the road at all since traffic is usually constant. He had only one good arm; the other seemed to be at an angle as if he had an injury or perhaps the remnants of a stroke. He walked with a bit of a limp, as well. The walker had front wheels, but there were no wheels on the back. He made it past the cars and reached the safety of the grass median. However, the grassy area seemed to make it harder for him to push and maneuver.
I worked in the field of human services, and I heard stories of broken lives every day.My heart ached as a watched his broken body push the feeble walker. There was no expression in his eyes or face. It appeared that his spirit was broken as badly as his body. As the cars began to move, I had a battle raging in my head. I wanted more than anything to pull my car into the grass and see if I could help him. The logical side of my brain wondered how in the world I could help. What if he was violent? What if he was mentally ill and didn’t understand my gesture or offer of help? What if he was ill and I was exposed? Would I offer him a ride? What would I say?
I pulled into a parking lot for a moment to think. I fought tears as I wondered if this man had family or food or a place to stay. I certainly had nothing I could offer him. My finances were already limited without trying to help someone else. Maybe I could go back and just say a kind word to him. The logical side of my mind asked what good that would do. Sure, go and say, “Hi, I saw you struggling to get across the road. I don’t have any way to help you but just wanted to say Howdy!”
In the end, I didn’t turn around. I don’t know why this man touched me the way he did. I did say a prayer for him. I believe in the power of prayer. There have been times I felt so very broken and prayed for someone to reach out to me. I am so grateful that people took time to pray for me, talk to me, and help me. I don’t know the life journey of the man I saw. I don’t know if he had friends or family or anyone to help him in his brokenness. All I did for him that day was pray. It wasn’t enough.
Matthew West’s song “Do Something” encourages us to take the time to do something for others:
I Said, “God, why don’t You do something?” He said, “I did, yeah, I created you”
I watched as Nik Wallenda walked on a 2-inch-thick steel cable, 1,500 feet above the river on the Navajo Nation near the Grand Canyon without a harness or a safety net. I can’t count how many times I held my breath when the wind blew or he would seem unsure of the next steps. My friend and I texted as we watched, wondering how much longer it would until he would reach safety on the other side. The faces of those on either side of the tightrope were filled with apprehension and concern. While viewers watched around the world, many questioned his reasoning for taking on something so dangerous without the aid of some type of safety device.
I think most of us have felt that we were walking a “tightrope” at some point in our lives. That’s where I am right now. One year ago, in July, I took those first steps out onto my tightrope. I walked out in full confidence that I was prepared in every way for the journey. I believed this was the path I was supposed to take. I had a harness and a safety net in place. I was afraid, but most things in life don’t come without some risk and willingness to follow an unknown path.
The thing is, once you are out on that rope, looking back can cause you to falter or even fall. You have to focus on each step and keep moving toward safety on the other side. When I stepped out, I couldn’t really see the other side. I just knew I couldn’t stay on the edge of the cliff any longer. Somewhere along the way, I lost my harness and my safety net. I am out in the middle of the tightrope today, and I still can’t see the other side. Things I had planned didn’t go the way I believed they would go. John Lennon’s song says, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
The part time job I counted on fell through and a second part time job did the same. Several months of being ill ended in a short visit to the hospital. Medical costs, paying for COBRA (health insurance), unexpected bills and car repairs depleted the savings that would take me until mid October when I would begin collecting Social Security Retirement. For the first time in more years than I can count, I am without health insurance. Safety net and harness are gone.
This morning I had the oil changed in my car. The service person came out to tell me that my windshield wipers were separating and I needed new ones. They would be happy to replace them for me. I asked how much it would cost. He shrugged and said, “Not very much at all. It would only be about $30.” I forced a smile and explained that I couldn’t afford that right now. I stopped at the grocery store and spent a long time trying to decide what I could afford to buy today. I am trying to eat healthy foods, but Twinkies and canned foods loaded with sodium are much less expensive. A friend invited me to meet them at the water park today. I had to say no. I came home and tried to figure out how to budget for the rest of the month since I have car taxes and a parking ticket to pay. Just as a sideline, the parking ticket was very unjust but that will be another blog post. I wonder if I will be able to afford my books when college classes start back mid-August.
Long ago, I promised myself that I would never be in a place like this again. My friend JanF. was filled with wonderful saying. She would remind me to “never say never because if you do, life will surely teach you a lesson about that. ” Much like Nik Wallenda, I have people in my life who question my decision to step out on the tightrope. They are the ones who believe I won’t make it to the other side and they are waiting to be able to say, “We told you so. ” Like Nik Wallenda, I pray and believe that God is going to protect me and be with me throughout the journey. And like Nik Wallenda, people ask, “How can you ask God to help you when you put yourself out on the tightrope?”
I sometimes say the same things to myself. Yet, I am very grateful to now have a job. It is part-time with no benefits (at least for now), but it is helping me maneuver this tightrope. I am blessed to have family and friends who are cheering me on. My daughter and her husband have opened their home and allowed me to share it with them. My health is good, for now. Someone is helping me with a plan to get my medications at a cost I can afford. Right now, my car is running well with the exception of the windshield wipers. Perhaps the tears I cry from time to time help keep the tightrope free of dust and debris, just as Nik “spat on his hands and rubbed it on the sole of his shoe for grip” when the cable gathered dust.” Nik carried a 43 pound balancing pole. Faith and prayer have become my balancing pole.
Maybe I was wrong in saying that I have no safety net or harness. When the ones I had in place failed, it seems God provided new ones. His may be much stronger and better than the ones I counted on to protect me. I can’t let fear stop me from moving forward, one step at a time. Nik talked about an earpiece that allowed his father to talk to him and encourage him as he walked across the tightrope. I don’t have an earpiece, but if I listen closely, I can hear God talk to me and encourage me. What better harness or safety net is there than that?