Nine Months, One Lifetime, Part 5

Therapy was occurring about every two weeks. The therapist cancelled an appointment because she was sick. I learned that there were no concessions to that two-week margin. Once an appointment was cancelled, I was rescheduled out another two weeks. It seemed remiss to me that an entire month would pass between appointments, but despite my incomprehension, I assumed that to be the framework of therapy. I always had this inner urgency that I needed to hurry up, move through finding the answers to my struggles, and move along back into my ‘normal’ life, fixed and wiser.

I finished the book Codependent No More, handing in all written activities. I read about being oppressed, depressed, and repressed. I read about owning my feelings, feeling my feelings, and dealing with my feelings. I read snippets about living in isolation, fear of intimacy, people-pleasing, detaching, anger, getting honest with myself, setting goals, boundaries, limitations, communicating clearly, expectations, and forgiveness, forgiveness being familiar from my biblical beliefs, so I thought. I could truly see pieces of myself in these ideologies, but that was it – pieces of a puzzle scattered about with no concept of the true picture. I was anticipatory for the day the therapist would begin diving into deep discussion about the book and the written activities I had completed. I truly thought this was one grand psychology book. I did not realize this book was merely skipping stones across the open waters of a much deeper abyss.   

Yet, over the next few months, the therapist gave precedence to other topics. I anticipated after talking about the inequity in the division of labor within our household that we would move into discussing my husband’s past. Not yet! The next topic up for discussion was my family and the distant, quiet separation. She asked what was the source of the conflict- I did not know. She asked if this had occurred in the past – yes, several times. She asked if I had any explanation for each occurrence – I did not exactly know for sure, but certainly had my speculations. We discussed several presumptions, but I had nothing conclusive. However, I definitely felt that mixed into the recipe, my niece had become the pawn for their control and power. I felt she was used as a weapon against me. I explained that I had developed a very close bond with my niece; because my husband and I did not have children, in my heart, she was the closest thing I would ever experience; and I absolutely unconditionally loved her before she took her first breath. I shared with her a history of gut-wrenching experiences that were beyond sad to me, but I was empty of explanations. I told her I was weary of punishing silence, weary of walking on eggshells, weary of being talked about behind my back, weary of being criticized for my weight, weary of trying to make amends and falling back into the same pit time and time again. The therapist seemed to listen with what I thought was empathy and concern. All of a sudden, she said, “Why do you keep going back? You do not need them. You do not have to be a victim. Separate yourself from them and have nothing to do with them. Why deal with the distress and constant games. Walk away!”

Not once had it ever occurred to me that I could make a choice to abandon my family. Now truthfully, we were a hot cauldron constantly stirring of dysfunction, but I could think of no supporting scripture to support such action. Yet, a phenomenon was quickly occurring that I had no knowledge of until many years later. My inner children became attached to this therapist. They hung on every word she spoke. I had become a marionette in the hands of a crafty puppeteer. I had zero comprehension of this happening. I fell under her control, influence, and manipulations seamlessly. She held the rods and strings to my life and I danced. Because of my psychological ignorance, I fell vulnerable to believing the therapist had my best interest at heart. It never crossed my mind to question her authority or advice. Though it never really settled well in my spirit, I chose to detach (is not that also what the book talked about) and leave my family behind. I resolved in my heart to believe that separating me from my family was the right choice.

Now I truly consider myself a spiritual, intelligent, and discerning person. I could have never imagined that I would fall prey to the processes and persuasions of a therapist with ulterior motives. Her style was subtle and insidious. At the end of one session, she nonchalantly said to me going out the door, “We are going to be best friends when all of this is over.” I half smiled like a surprised deer in headlights and walked away. The drive home was filled with mingled imaginations of being her friend and hanging out together to thoughts of “she’s just saying that,” and “she’s just trying to be nice.” Still, I was flattered and drawn into the web. This time, the bait was bigger – now she actually wanted to be my friend. I ate the bait and the lure hooked my jaw. The predator had picked up my scent!

To be continued…

Love you, mean it!

Nine Months, One Lifetime, Part 1

Ever consider the domino effect where every choice we make represents a domino? Sometimes I imagine my entire life as a series of dominoes falling and colliding and intersecting with a forward push successively creating momentum or lethargy depending on extraneous factors with each topple. Every single day is a series of choices. All of life is a cycle of choices. There are spiritual choices, personal preference choices, obvious choices, random choices, informed choices, uninformed choices, impulsive choices, compromising choices, sacrificial choices, long-term choices, emotional choices, moral choices, physical choices, financial choices, health choices, food choices, charitable choices, educational choices, career choices, transportation choices, relationship choices,  etc. Many choices are seamless, not even recognizing them as choices; they become reflexive behaviors. It is possible that one choice could fit into several of these categories. Every category contains good or bad options, pros and cons, accordingly. At the end of the day, a week, a month, a year, a lifetime, I believe it is the uninformed, ignorant choices (whatever category) which lead us into the darkest pits and deepest valleys – the choice you revisit in your mind and so wish you could take back; the choice you make in pure inexperience and unfamiliarity; the choice you make innocently fully believing it to be the right choice; the choice you make trusting God for good outcomes – the dominoes that fall on detonation sensors. I believe it is these choices that God uses to bring Him glory; to discipline us; to mold us like clay in His hands; to endure a long and painful process to purge out the dross and impurities like refined precious metals under heat; to lead and direct us to new places and understanding for our good; to discipline us to His highest value rendering wisdom, knowledge, and understanding; and ultimately to help others along their journey. Trust me, until eternity when “I shall know fully, even as I am fully known,” on this earth I may never fully know God’s purposes and reasons for allowing things to occur, but I now trust Him more.

I would like to share a personal experience, which actually began February 10, 2005 – one ignorant quiet choice to reach out for help, one unsuspecting private phone call to establish a new patient appointment that set off a drastic flash lightning chain reaction of events that haunts me to this day! I actually sometimes ask God, “Why did we have to do it this way?” I pray He will use it for His greater purposes. My first post will be preliminary accounts of happenings prior to this date, which will help give you an understanding of the events preceding my choice. I pray sharing this true story helps someone; gives someone wisdom and insight; and perhaps disrupts potential choices that need clear discernment – maybe that someone is just me! I will share this in parts.

I was in my fifteenth year of marriage still trying to navigate a complex web of marital dynamics stemming from two incredibly shattered people becoming one with all bets against our survival. We were only aware of one atomic bomb of my husbands that spewed debris, soot, and smoke all over us while dating. We spent over a decade of married life weaving in, over, around, and through the wreckage, consequences of choices he had made prior to marriage and on occasion, we still encounter a tiny burning ember that we more skillfully extinguish. After we were married, the rubble and plume of smoke from his explosion engulfed our existence, at times choking the life out of me. During our tumultuous, peculiar dating life, he was in the throngs of a ferocious battle I could not comprehend or understand. I had little clue about the size of the crater this explosion had created, but I did know I was teetering on the edge of a level of crazy I barely survived. I was aware of the framework, but I had no idea of the actual ugly images in the picture. Once I became conscious of a few images, I began piecing more and more together and throughout the ordeal became codependent, making every attempt to rescue him from the clutches of this monster and keep everything a secret. His plume of smoke was so wide, high, and thick that it blinded me to myself. I thought all our problems were because of him. I was normal; I had no problems; I was fine! There was nothing wrong with me. Truly, it is a heavy story of God’s redemption in his life; it is a heavy story of how I lost pieces of myself in the midst of his story. I was well equipped for the mission after years and years of my own buried and repressed life, yet I did not count the cost of my own personal damage until much later. I was an expert at suffering, survival, and denial!

Another atomic bomb that unknowingly flattened me on a level I denied was infertility. At no time while we were dating had we talked about having children. I loved little babies and little kids, but growing up I was not ‘in’ to babysitting, except for a select two. My mother consistently lined up babysitting jobs for me with people I did not know, for weekends, for summers, for evenings. I was ill equipped; I did not know what to do with these children; I had never learned to play, though I had no cognition of that for years and years. At a pre-marital exam, my physician (a great Christian physician whom I respected and loved) brought up contraceptives. He explained everything to me. I was not keen on the idea of taking a pill, but I also knew I/we were not prepared in any way, shape, or form to raise a child in the debris field, soot, and smoke we were currently living within. And always placing myself as the one responsible, I began birth control three months prior to our marriage without a blip on my radar that my husband could have taken measures. We gave no thought to not having children; we were just living life. However, our mothers were not shy in making their desires known. My mother boldly asked deliberately and consistently. His mother would never ask, but instead on multiple visits be crocheting baby booties, baby blankets, and baby jackets with a faint smile on her face as if I were giving birth the next day. We did take note of these things, but again were in agreement, in the wake of everything, it was not time. Around a year and nine months, I no longer wanted to take birth control, we were not totally prepared for children, but heard from friends ‘you are never fully ready.’ We decided I would stop taking the birth control and let nature take its course. Three months later, at another physical, my same doctor brought up having children and pregnancy. I explained to him that I discontinued birth control three months prior. He looks at me quizzically and suggests I get some preliminary infertility testing. It was a world I knew nothing of, but because I am a rule follower, I am present and accounted for at all procedures. Everything is normal. The physician then suggests my husband get checked. Against his every desire, he too follows through with his testing. It is a late summer afternoon. I hear the phone ringing as I am putting the key in to unlock the door. My husband is not home yet. I rush to the phone, “Hello.” It is our physician (kind of a fatherly figure to me) with a solemn tone. He says, “Hello Dee, this is doctor…, are you sitting down.” It all took me back for a minute, as I was not accustomed to him actually calling me; I thought something must have happened to my husband. I sat down and said, “Yes.” He tells me he got my husband’s fertility test results and that we only have a 2% chance of pregnancy. Nonchalantly I say, “OK” as if I had lost a dollar, no big deal. He inquired if I was OK. I said, “Sure, I’m fine.” He hung on the line as if waiting for some reaction of which I had none; I was blank; I was fine. When my husband arrived home, I shared the news with him like telling him the mail had just arrived. It was as if neither of us felt anything, no disappointment, no sadness, nothing. That was it, case closed. This was a loud bomb that I never heard go off, leaving destruction that I never saw for years.

My mother passed away January 20, 1994 from metastasized lung cancer. I never shed a tear – her first cancer diagnosis in December 1987, July 1992 when she phoned to tell me the cancer had returned, first chemo treatment, when she called me at work crying because her hair was falling out, every time she called me on the phone crying, multiple trips rushing 300 miles home; two sleepless weeks at the hospital as she lay dying; at the funeral; or thereafter. This too was an explosion of magnitude proportions leaving debris, smoke, and soot all over my life. I went through the motions managing her treatments, pain, and death as if it were spilled milk. The only residue I carried home was guilt, guilt, and more guilt; consistently wondering if she was OK; hoarding all her belongings for her return; nightmares; and weariness that dredged me like an anchor. But, after being gone for two weeks, I immediately began running forward at a pace that dwarfed the roadrunner. Inwardly, the emptiness and melancholy were escalating, but I was still able to outrun the emotions without recognizing or identifying that was what I was doing. It was my normal; I was fine! I did not know anything about grieving. It was my normal; I was fine! Yet outwardly, I began putting on pound after pound of weight, swelling to an all-time high of 460 pounds. I had no idea food was a coping mechanism that I used my entire life to fill the emptiness within and comfort my painful emotions. You see, psychology, mental illness, depression, anxiety, panic, insomnia, trauma, abuse, PTSD, neglect, abandonment, attachment disorder, etc. were not part of my vocabulary or knowledge. I was not educated in this field. These were my every day normal; nothing was wrong with me! I was independent, successful, and needed no one. I lived under THE mantra, “I’m fine.” Other than the embarrassing morbid obesity, amazingly, I presented an outward level of surpassing normalcy, I had everything together, all was well, I was fine. Inwardly, I had more secrets than a ‘secret keeper’ and I figured out any way possible to keep the secrets a secret from even myself. It is pretty tricky how the mind splinters, divides, and compartmentalizes information removing it from your awareness.

September 5, 1998 my maternal grandmother passed away quietly alone in her home. Another story for another day. We rushed there for the funeral, spent a day helping go through some of her possessions, rushed home with a few mementos in tow, and back to the grind without emotion. It was my normal; I was fine!

Sometime in 2004, another detonation of crushing decibels was released. My family has been riddled with friction, disagreements, narcissism, anger and rage, prolonged silences, passive-aggressive silent punishments, unsettled disputes swept under the rug, cruel actions, gossip and judgments passed down, hurts, wounds, and shredded relationships. I am not pointing the finger at anyone except myself, nor is this the storyline to delve into that world, and nor am I here to break this down for analysis. We are a dysfunctional, fractured people in constant need of forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration – that continual atonement! At this particular time, I once again found myself cast out into that world of dark silence with zero contact. I do not know the exact root that caused the seven years of separation, but this time I made a choice that I would no longer go crawling back with my tail between my legs, offering apologies for unknown actions, groveling to regain a standing in their good graces. I stepped away not knowing I was looking down the barrel of seven plus years of silence and separation. It was tragic. It was years of isolated aftershocks. I felt like an orphan. It was like scraping the skin off your knuckle having a constant sting. It was crushing and yet it was an all too familiar place; I was fine. I am just going to leave this here. For me, sharing the story of my family is like having a Viking reach in and rip your heart out with their bare hands.

I was a severe workaholic at work and home, which I learned as a coping mechanism to outrun and deny any ounce of emotion. Though I changed jobs four times of my own choice, I excelled at surpassing standards, cranking out work beyond imagination, and working overtime – often going in a 6 am and working until 6 pm, working a double plus shift at the end of each month from 6 am until 2 am the next morning, or going to work at 7 am on a Friday and not leaving until 3 am Saturday only to go back in after church on Sunday, then back to the regular work week on Monday. At home, I managed ALL affairs, and I do mean ALL. In silence, we fell into these roles. For years I just did anything and everything; if I saw it needed to be done, I did it. I was hyper-vigilant, hyper-responsible, hyper-organized, hyper-meticulous, hyper-clean, hyper-whatever. I lived at a pace unsurpassed by Hermes. That was my normal; there was nothing wrong with me; I was fine! As time progressed, I began to see that I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders and my husband was whistling off to work happy as a lark without a care in the world. He was fulfilled. Now I gave the appearance of unbelievable stability, dependability, super employee, church pianist, served in various roles in the church, and happy, yet on the inside, I was empty. My entire life I carried a measure of melancholy that steadily increased like a growing stock market price. We began to have a few tussles, but I had crippling fear that his past would resurface at the scent of conflict or disagreement. I chose to remain silent.

My body was letting me know it was under extreme duress!  May 1985, April 1992, and December 1998 I was in the ER for heart palpitations and chest tightness – all three visits diagnosed as benign. March 2003 I visited my doctor for heart palpitations and chest tightness. He administered a stress test – diagnosed benign. Not one person spoke anything about anxiety. I now find that bizarre. September 1993 through May 1994 my thyroid levels began functioning at 170%. Specialists could do nothing to slow it down except radioactive iodine treatment. There was never a root diagnosis – no goiter, no virus, no cancer – nothing! August 1996 another ER visit for a 104-degree fever with delirium. They thought it to be a kidney infection, but nothing was ever confirmed. May 2000 and July 2004 broke my right foot, twice in different bones. Except for the ER visits, I went through all follow-up appointments, testing and procedures alone, including fertility. No emotions; I did not need anybody; that was my normal; I was fine!

I praise God for His enduring love, grace, mercy, and presence in my life.

To be continued…
Love you, mean it!

Crosses to Carry

Raise your hand if you have burdens you bear. It does not matter if those burdens are permanent or temporary, heavy or light, exposed or hidden, or even perhaps you are driving with your eyes closed, trust me, eventually you will crash! Come on, raise those hands, we ALL have our crosses to bear in this life. Some crosses are unchangeable and interminable. Some crosses are an adversity lasting an indeterminate, but limited amount of time. Some crosses are things that ‘happen to us’ causing severe ripple effects throughout our entire lifespan. Some crosses are consequences from conscious or ignorant choices made. Some crosses are life, redefining moments that establish a time marker of before and after where life breaks forever, you are now stumbling through an unfamiliar dense forest, and your life story is instantly getting re-written; life will never be the same.  Now that all of your hands are finally raised, you ALL can put your hands down now.

If we put together an impromptu list of crosses people bear, I imagine it would be a scroll stretching out unfathomable miles and truthfully still would never be all-encompassing.  I have my truly unbelievable ‘stuff’ to me, but I know every single person on the face of this earth has their personal story filled with hardships. I wish I had an anonymous PO Box to receive anonymous stories from willing people about their adversities. I think it would be quite therapeutic and safe to unload a portion of that weight. Whatever your crosses and however you define them, at times the pills seem too hard to swallow. To me I can feel like Sisyphus pushing that boulder up that steep hill; sometimes I would like to let go of that boulder and just let it steamroller over me. Crosses equal suffering! Suffering equals grief, pain, agony, anguish, despair, temptations, trials, and tribulations. I have had times when I felt like I simply could not tolerate my constant-never-ending-at-times-desperate struggling.  

For me, I did not exactly win the “Wonderful Parenting, Happy Childhood” lottery. Life was MESSED up!!! Nevertheless, I drove through life with my eyes closed. Externally, I gave the appearance of all together, life was a bed of roses – clean, pruned, good job, faithful employee, bills paid, nice clothes, friends, attend church and served, practiced personal spiritual disciplines, warm and cozy tidy meticulous home (all things said in no certain order,) the only external red flashing beacon of light giving off urgent warning signals was my ever-increasing weight. I was over-qualified at surviving, recovering, and denying and onward I raced through my inner obstacle course. On the inside, I was MESSED up! Weedy vines began choking out and killing my roses! Those vines intertwined around everything; they were killer vines invading and smothering my landscape. Yet, I was merrily speeding through life with my eyes closed at a high rate of speed. I did not even realize these vines had suction cupped and attached themselves to every piece of me, until eventually, I crashed. In reality, I was being internally strangulated by choking vines; I was being attacked by rose thorns causing injurious deep scrapes and cuts; I was slowly fading and dying. I carried crosses labeled spiritual, physical, gender, marital, financial, bankruptcy, loss of house, moving, friendships, family, financial, employment, disability, death, mental issues, therapeutic abuse, medical nightmares, insomnia, buried feelings of emptiness, loneliness, resentment, shame, PTSD, etc. – all symptomatic seepage from my internal brokenness.  I was fighting a fierce battle of survival, trust me I had an extreme arsenal of weapons acquired in childhood where I learned how to survive. Eventually, profound despair, exhaustion, and hopelessness turned into a daily crusade of desperately wanting to take my own life. I would sit at work on the third floor, thinking about going down to the vacant first floor restroom and slashing my wrists. I would think about OD’ing on pills. The abyss kept getting deeper and darker the further my mind slipped into searching for an escape hatch.

This is just a mere glimpse at the tip of my iceberg; it is the unseen mass below the surface that truly needed to be worked at chipping away. It takes a whole lot of courage to choose life; it takes a brave soul to look at what lies beneath the surface. It seems the holidays and winter months can capitalize on my weaknesses, even though I have gained many coping skills. I know that I am not alone. There are oh so very many who suffer during this joyous season – sadness, loneliness, estrangement, anxiety, stress, sleep disturbances, fatigue, isolating and social withdrawal, loss of interest in activities, depression, PTSD, grief, tearfulness, financial constraints, fear, shame, perfectionism, frustration, irritability, fixating on the past, physical ailments, aches, and pains, etc. These too are symptoms of floating icebergs. It takes bold audacity to drill down inside those frozen parts and take a hard long forward look at what is actually causing behavioral and symptomatic manifestations of deeper causes. It is hard work! It is hard to get gut wrenching honest with yourself and begin identifying your junk. And, it is even harder to implement the life-long changes in order to stop the hemorrhaging. There is always a different way to manage carrying our crosses. Now, I am no authority or professional, and quite honestly am still in recovery, but we have been able to cut away some of the vines, remove some of the thorns, I am breathing a little better these days, and definitely I am not suicidal.

I don’t begin to know or pretend to know what cross you are bearing; I don’t know if it is a thorn in the flesh, a death, a divorce, a sick child, someone terminally ill, mental illness, personal injury or illness, addiction, family issues, troubles at work, change in work status, less than favorable custody arrangement, financial decline, foreclosure, change in residence, school, or church, betrayal, loss of trust, loss of safety, violated, crime, imprisonment, a bad hair day, or hell on earth. Here is what I do know. There is ALWAYS hope, there is always something to be thankful for, and there are acts of service we can do for others to switch our focus!!  I do not mean denial; I mean concentrating on good things. Your situation might not change tomorrow, next week, a month, or a year from now, but there is hope and something to find gratitude for in the midst. You may spend a lifetime praying for something that will never be and at times, it makes your heart so painfully sad that you recoil from life for a bit, lick your wounds, and slowly emerge with renewed hope. Press the reset button and do a good deed for someone else. Somehow, find gratitude and bless someone else. You may spend a lifetime battling an addiction – rising and falling, rising and falling, time after time hoping this time will be victory at last. Do not give up hope! Extend grace and mercy to yourself. Stand up, brush yourself off, and try again! You may be carrying a hidden grief so heavy and painful that at times you are drowning and suffocating. Do not let hope slide away. Look around for even a miniscule something to be thankful for and spread a little joy somewhere. Whatever your cross, keep hope alive, find gratitude in the waiting, and grasp that little mustard seed of faith. Miracles happen everyday!

I want to share a writing by someone anonymous to me:

THE MIRACLE OF CHRISTMAS

The whole Christmas story is full of miracles. 

I personally find them hard to comprehend. 

It makes no sense. 

How could the infinite eternal God become a baby? 

Not only how, but also why? 

Why would He choose to be born to peasant parents? 

Why would He empty Himself of every advantage of His divine nature? 

Why would He choose to become a servant and become obedient to death?

even death on a cross? 

Why to sinners like us did He do it?

It is because of his all-encompassing love.

I cannot explain it, but I believe it.

I thank God for sending His Son to an imperfect world. 

To a world that celebrates the spirit of consumerism

Where Christmas comes from shopping lists, catalogs, and the almighty credit card.

I pray God delivers us from empty cheer and season’s greetings born of obligation. 

I hope He delivers us from all the social events that supposedly honor Jesus. 

Surely, Christmas is supposed to be more than packages, paper, bows, silver bells, Frosty, Rudolph and all his reindeer friends.

You see the true spirit of Christmas cannot be found in a store window or in a Christmas carol.

Christmas is not giving bigger and better so we can get bigger and better.

You cannot count Christmas by the number of decorations you use.

We cannot even count Christmas by the number of manger scenes and stars we have on the tree. 

In fact, we cannot even count Christmas by the number of verses we memorize. 

I pray God would grant us the true spirit of Christmas:

Generosity of heart and the love, which caused Christ to wrap Himself in the garments of our humanity.

I pray God shows us the true meaning of Christmas and affirms our worth apart from what we have or what we do.

For reasons which only His Holy love can explain, God gave Christ to become one of us and to suffer the consequences of our sin.

This Holiday season as we’re in the middle of singing carols, baking cookies, decorating our homes and opening our gifts

remember to leave room for CHRIST.   

“For unto us was born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord.” 

“And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Prince of Peace, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father.”

As we celebrate Christ’s entrance into the world, let us try to make our world a little better.

Mend a quarrel

Call a friend

Seek out a forgotten friend

Do random acts of kindness

Give compliments, encouragement, and appreciation

Do not be critical of others

Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust

Write a letter

Send cards of kindness

Share some treasure

Cook dinner together

Bake something and take it to a neighbor

Pay for someone else

Let others go first

Give a soft answer

Say ‘Thank You’

Encourage one another

Be loyal in word and deed

Keep a promise

Listen

Love unconditionally

Apologize if you are wrong

Try to understand and show acceptance

Disregard envy

Be joyful

Express your gratitude

Welcome a stranger

Invite a friend for hot chocolate

Gladden the heart of a child

If you’ve wronged someone, fix it

If you think you’ve wronged someone, fix it

Forgive

Go outdoors and take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of this earth

Make a difference

I am not talking about the other person

I am talking about you; you are the one that can make the difference.

It starts with you.                    

At Christmas, we tend to believe all things are possible.

“The wrong shall fail, the right prevail.”

Sin can be forgiven.

Broken relationships can be restored.

Hearts can be healed.

Try to make your little corner of the world a better place!

To those who believe:

EMMANUEL, GOD WITH US!

Anonymous

Glad tidings of joy!

Merry Christmas!

Love you, meant it!

Crayons, Pencils, Chalk, and Paint

Six different stories from six different characters living very different lives.

I would say I am not an art connoisseur, but I have a number of artists and cartoonists that peak my interest. For me, art is not a passing glimpse. I like knowing the title of the piece; I appreciate thoroughly taking in the scene, composition, looking for little nuances, looking for the artist’s consistent flavor and flare, and wondering how a particular piece impacts the viewer or personally reflects the artist’s intentions. At times, if I look at a piece long enough, an internal dialogue can emerge. I value art content that is ‘clean,’ light-hearted, and simplistic, yet is the artist’s deeper effort to convey a message without saying a word. I think that is what I love about art; it speaks a personal language and interpretation. I have discovered many artists piddling around on Pinterest. Pascal Campion is one artist that draws my attention. He is a prolific French-American illustrator, animator, and storyteller, developing over 4,000 images. I enjoy looking at his art and style. His works are a language of conventional family life speckled with intimacy and universal experiences. I experience the content in subjective emotional layers; I feel the images; my spirit is drawn into his depictions. His website gives an excellent synopsis of his life:  https://gallerypascal.com/pages/about-us.  Though I do not own any, he has a number of books published. He also has a current Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/pascalcampionart/    
And, Pinterest is spattered with his works.

On occasion, I will share an artist or a piece that I have found noteworthy, appealing, inspiring, fascinating or thought-provoking to me; and maybe, I will allow some vulnerability to share my feelings or impressions.

Love you, mean it!

Are We There Yet?

The countdown is on! My husband has a mere six working days before he takes his annual vacation. We are in that anticipatory pre-vacation mode. You know that place; like the dog watching out the window, hearing the car door shut, becoming filled with giddiness, and prancing and wagging its tail waiting for it’s human to come inside. Every year at the beginning of October, we begin frolicking about in eager expectation of the last week. We begin to loosen up. That carefree spirit starts to emerge. We certainly do not want to rush October because it is our favorite month, but that precious last week is sacred. At quitting time on that last day of work, my husband runs out of his office and drives off like a lone wolf into the dark of night, destination home. We celebrate our anniversary that week. We celebrate his birthday that week. We celebrate the crisp air and beautiful colors of autumn that week. We celebrate being together, attending the Men and Boys’ Choir first performance of the season at the local catholic cathedral, long drives with no objective or purpose, road trips, visiting a bookstore, staying up late, sleeping in, hibernating a day or two, lighter moods and laughter, and rest. There are always a few “to do’s,” but the rush of time slows, schedules mainly cease, pressures release, anxieties temper, and a calming peace lightens our hearts. We become like eagles flying high, soaring on unseen air currents.

We have never been “vacationers.” We used to spend a night here or there, but have never traveled to far off destinations. Age, pets, and finances make us predominantly “staycationers.”  And, honestly, we have come to prefer and enjoy it that way. We share a deep friendship wherever we find ourselves. We love gut-splitting laughter, times of quietness, and the simpler things of life. Home is our refuge, a sanctuary of serenity, a haven of contentment. Certainly, life’s heartaches, struggles, and cares do not dissipate, but we place them on the back burner as a respite from the storms. As the few old quotes state from Gone with the Wind, “Fiddle-Dee-Dee, I’ll think about it tomorrow,”  “After all tomorrow is another day,” and “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”  So, hats off and cheers to our fast approaching, passionately welcome “staycation!” Our tails are wagging! Are we there yet?

Love you, mean it!

Home Before Five

My mother’s due date is to be the makings for a New Year’s Day celebration or there about, but even at birth, I take the road less traveled; in desperation, I draw my first breath one month late. I am purple from head to toe, having difficulty breathing, and my skin is pealing from being in the womb too long. My mother tells me in that day, they did not induce labor; they allowed life to happen naturally. Her labor did not progress; it was prolonged with exceptional pain. Laughing, she tells me she screamed quite loud throughout the entire ordeal, annoying the staff, the doctor, and probably the entire labor and delivery wing. Ultimately, she rips the curtains off the hospital window. She says the doctor strongly urges them never to have any more children. Because I am struggling to survive (the story of my life,) my mother does not hold me. The medical staff work on me as she says she prays, “God, please let her live. If you let her live, I’ll give her to you.” My mother tells me that my father took one look at me and says, “She’s an ugly little shit!” So, near dying, one wants to give me away to God and the other thinks I am ugly! Let’s get this late New Year’s party started!

My brother is a little over two and half upon my arrival. He has been an only child, grandchild, and nephew his entire short life thus far. Naturally, all dote upon him. I am told he is full of life, always on the go, in to everything, very active, all boy, and always hungry. In the pictures I have, he is one cute little boy with brown naturally curly ringlets of hair! When I begin talking, I call him “Bubby” and he calls me “Sissy.”

One Easter, for some insane reason, my aunt brings us each live little yellow baby ducks. Now, we do not live on a farm; we are city folk. What pray tell are we going to do with ducks in the city in a small yard? My brother wants to see if they can swim. He goes out to the garage; I follow him. He gets out a five-gallon bucket. He fills the five-gallon bucket with water from the garden hose. He goes back indoors and gets the baby ducks. He places the baby ducks into the five-gallon bucket of water. We are standing over the five-gallon bucket watching these baby ducks trying to swim for their very lives. The baby ducks do not know how to swim; they gurgle to the bottom of the five-gallon bucket and drown.

My brother loves playing with matches and fire. Where and how that began is a mystery to me. Again, my aunt for some insane reason, buys my brother a white Styrofoam life-size surf board and lifesaver ring. We do not live near water. We do not own a pool, other than a little plastic yard pool in which these items do not even fit. They are useless to my brother other than futile folly. I am unclear how my brother has a book of matches, but outside at the corner of the house, he begins breaking off little bits of the surfboard and ring, setting a match under the pieces, and watching them melt. I vividly recall standing aside watching the melting with great intrigue. He runs out of matches in his matchbook and asks me to go inside and get more matches out of the drawer. I do. He continues melting Styrofoam as a black soot mark begins accumulating on the corner of the house. My mother comes home, rounds the corner, and I literally think my brother’s death date has arrived. Her wrath swoops down upon him like a typhoon. Now, I strongly believe in proper discipline, rules, boundaries, consequences, punishment fitting the crime, etc., but corporal punishment  and ear- splitting vocals cause grave life-long trauma to a child.

Frequently, I hear my mother and father say, “We have to break his spirit!” Before I am five, who knows what that cognitively means, but visually and audibly that meant watching my mother turn into a category five hurricane with rantings and screaming at decibels beyond the Krakatoa Eruption of 1883 chasing after a little boy. Now my brother says he probably deserved everything he ever got, but harsh physical spankings and cruel punishment equate to abuse and I refuse to define it by any other term! How about they take responsibility for safeguarding access to matches and such, playing with him rather than leaving him up to his own mischievous wiles, and seeking out participation in constructive activities, which they had no interest in doing throughout our entire childhood. They wanted him contained and controlled by punishment and sought measures to “break his spirit” not considering they were breaking much more than his spirit – his self-esteem, his belief and joy in who he was as a little boy, changing his internal chemistry into someone he was not created to be, and emotionally creating defiance, anger,  and rebelliousness. They did not break his spirit, they altered and wounded his spirit.

My father is rarely home. He works three jobs. One I know, he scrubs, buffs, and polishes floors at night in an office building. A couple times, he brings the buffer home to do our floors. We get to sit on the buffer for a ride as he swirls the machine all around the room. His main employment is working for the grounds department at the state university. He enjoys that job and does it for his entire career, working countless hours in the winter plowing snow around the clock. A co-worker of his plays Santa at Christmas and travels about the town visiting little children at their homes. My father arranges for him to drop in for a visit to see my brother and me during a few Christmas seasons. Santa boisterously emerges through the front door shouting, “HoHoHo!” I run for the bedroom, but my brave brother goes right up to Santa, sits on his lap, and tells him everything he wants for Christmas. I keep my distance, peeking around the corner to see. I am still given a little netted stocking filled with candy. One Christmas we get bicycles. Mine, of course, has training wheels. We do not stay long, but in the snow, my father takes us to the school playground to ride our new bikes. Before I am five, I gravitate toward my father. He really does not have much of a clue about me as my mother keeps a solid grip on my life. In his absence, he thinks my mother takes care of everything for the kids. However, he certainly gives his two cents about doctors and dentists. My mother is not to take us to the dentist while we have baby teeth. He thinks that is a waste of money. We do not see the dentist. I am given a toothbrush, shown where the toothpaste is, and how to put the toothpaste on the brush, but I am not taught how to brush my teeth.

My mother tells me I was a sickly child. My nose dripped constantly. I struggled with severe constipation to the point she says she was frequently checking and administering some type of medication from the doctor. I have chronic earaches. Apparently, my mother hears of an old wives’ tale that suggests if she heats dry salt up in a pan on the stovetop, puts it in a baby sock, and places it on the child’s ear, it will draw out the pain. I beg for salt socks regularly. Did it draw out the pain? Who can say, but it is comforting and soothing quietly lying down on the couch with my hot salt socks pressed into my ears. I have migraine headaches, primarily on Sunday afternoons, that pierce my skull, throbbing and pulsating with a rhythm of a bass drum. She speaks to the doctor and gets another type of medication. I yearn for the isolation of a quiet dark room to lie down and let the pulsating subside. My mother tells me I was an angel sent from heaven. She tells me I never cry. She says I sleep all the time. She says she flicks the bottom of my feet to wake me up to eat. She tells me mostly she props a bottle up for me to drink in the crib and walks away, only to find the partially drank bottle somewhere on the floor. She tells me my brother wants me to come outside and play with him, but I am just a baby, so he decides to bring in a bucket of dirt and proceeds to pour it in my face. She says I nearly suffocated, turns me upside down to get me breathing, and has a terrible time getting all the dirt out of my eyes, ears, nose, and throat. She tells me I do not like to be held except for my paternal grandmother. She tells me that I do not talk. She says it is because my brother speaks for me. She decides to send my brother to my grandparents for a week and somehow forces me to speak. My speech is abnormal; I talk like Elmer Fudd for a couple years. I remember my mom and aunt mimicking my speech and words. It feels like they are making fun of me and laughing at me.

My mother tells me when I am able to sit up by myself without tipping over, many days she sits me in the middle of the dining room floor surrounded by toys and goes off to take a one to two hour nap. She says that I never move or cry; I sit there until she returns. I actually have a foggy memory of a few of those times.

At age three and four, I begin to have some of my own clear memories. My mother loved to watch, I Love Lucy in the mornings. Many mornings she sits me down beside her with a basket of laundry and teaches me how to fold washcloths and dishtowels – perfectly, while watching I Love Lucy. If it is not perfect, we start all over again as she watches The Price Is Right and The Young and the Restless. I eventually learn how to fold all the laundry – perfectly. In the afternoons, she takes a nap and begins giving me a choice. I can either take a nap or stand on a chair at the kitchen sink washing the dishes. I no longer want to take naps and always choose to wash dishes. By age four, I am a master class laundry folder and dishwasher – with perfection.

Now I am unclear of my naughty behaviors, but I am very clear on spankings. My mother spanks me; I do not cry. My mother spanks me again; I do not cry. My mother becomes infuriated and spanks me again; I do not cry. My brother tells me it became laughable to her. I remember this escapade a couple times. She is out to break me as well.  

I have no recollection of being played with, other than by my brother. Before I was born, I believe an uncle built my brother a super large roofed sandbox that stray cats used as their litter box, and a swing set was erected in the side yard. I want to say I was three. My brother and I are playing on the swing set. He pushes the swing sideways at me, gashing my forehead open. My mother rushes me to the ER where I am stitched up, not crying, all the while asking for my dad. I have no memories of sitting in laps, being read to, being told ‘I love you’, or any of those warm safe and secure feelings.

The doctor decides to remove my tonsils and adenoids. My mother decides that my brother will have the same procedures done at the same time. It is summer. We are confined to house arrest in the mornings and limited activities in the side yard for a short bit in the afternoons. We each wear ice cuffs around our necks for a few days; we each drink pink medicine. My earaches cease and my speech clears up. I am five.

Love you, mean it!

In Celebration of Grandparents, Part Two

June 23, 1969 at 7:50 am, my grandma passes away at the hospital. I am five. It is my brother’s birthday. What a mingling of joy and sorrow!

When I envision the events, it appears as a macular vulnerability zone, the peripheral edges are cloudy, but I can focus in on a few snapshots. That morning, we are all at their house. I am sitting at the kitchen table as a flurry of activity swirls about. My aunt emerges from the bedroom somewhat hysterical repeatedly saying, “She’s throwing up black bile…”  My brother and I are removed from the house, taken to my other grandmother’s home. I am told that when my grandma passed away, my father sat on the edge of her hospital bed holding her, rocking back and forth, crying. I have a vague glimpse of the funeral home. I am standing alone beside a chair way back from the coffin, watching guests filter through. My brother and I are not allowed to go to the graveside and are taken to my other grandmother’s home. My parents pick us up late afternoon and take us home. We do not talk about ‘it.’ We do not cry. My mother tells me years later that our lives changed forever that day. About one week later, I startle awake in the middle of the night, begin walking around; I am incoherent making blood curdling screams. My mother is shaking me violently demanding to know what is wrong. I am five. I have no idea. I stop and go back to sleep. The next day I overhear my mother tell someone that she thinks it was a reaction to my grandmother dying.    

Even though I am only five, I love my grandma and I know she loves me! She hugs me, she sits really close to me, she spends time with me, she cares about my well-being and safety, and they are always happy to see me; I feel warmly welcomed into their home! I have a few cherished memories.

When I am six months old, they tell me I traveled all over out west on vacation with the entire family, visiting states such as Utah, Mexico, Oklahoma, Nevada, Colorado, California, etc. On that trip, my grandma buys me a little doll made of pink seashells. That doll sits in my bedroom for years and years. One day the glue holding the shells together begins to crumble from age. The shell doll joints are compromised and collapses into a pile of pink shells. I put those pink shells in a brown paper bag, pack them away in a chest, and every now and again get them out in remembrance. Many years ago, my husband and I are looking through a tote of memento. He picks up the brown paper bag, opens it, and pours the contents onto the bed. Not knowing what they are, he busts laughing asking me why I keep a pile of old pink seashells in a brown paper bag. We are bursting with hilarity. With my stomach aching from laughter and a mixture of joyful sentimental tears in my eyes, I explain the contents of my package to him. He knows it is much more than a year’s worn brown paper bag of old pink seashells. My grandma breezes by that day and I would like to believe she was laughing right along with us!

My mother drops me off once or twice a week at my grandparents for them to babysit. Grandma is always busying herself about the house doing something. And, I tag behind wanting to help her with whatever she is doing. Of course, it is not about what she was doing, it is about being with her. She always cooks a noon meal. My grandfather comes home at noon from doing his carpentry work to eat. I love being with them; it feels safe. After lunch, she does the dishes. When I am there, she places a kitchen chair right next to her at the sink, gives me a dishtowel, and I stand on that chair drying the dishes as she washes. Now remember, she is blind from the diabetes, but she continues to manage all the household chores. My mother tells me she would get down on her hands and knees with a 2 x 4 to scrub the floors, moving the 2 x 4 as she scrubbed, using the edge of that 2 x 4 as the indicator of where she was going. My mother also tells me that my grandmother continued to do laundry and iron despite the imperfections. I think my grandmother is amazing!

Many afternoons, when the dishes are done, my grandma hauls out the crayons and coloring books. This is my favorite time! I sit really close nestled by her side at the kitchen table coloring pages together. She often remarks, “Mine sure doesn’t look very good. I’m sorry I cannot see to stay in the lines.” And, I say, “It’s OK grandma, yours looks pretty.” Truthfully, my coloring is rather pathetic! It was not really about coloring, it was about spending time with her. I never saw her as blind, I think because she lived life as though she could see, with a few amenities that I never noticed.

Sometimes my brother is there. My grandmother keeps two skateboards on the porch for us to ride up and down the front sidewalk. My brother heads out the front door with me in tow, my grandmother telling us to be careful and not let the metal wheels run over our little fingers. We never stand on the skateboards to ride; we sit on them, push off the pavement with our hands, then hold on to the base as we speed down the incline of the sidewalk. My brother is a daredevil, but if he is doing something, certainly I am, too! And, we never run over our little fingers with the wheels!

Once a week my mother washes and sets my grandmother’s hair. My grandmother always uses Prell Shampoo and Dippity Do! The smell of Prell Shampoo and Dippity Do are forever locked away in my olfactory glands. Several years ago, my husband and I are visiting some friends, and on their kitchen countertop sits a bottle of Prell Shampoo. I literally do a double take! I immediately pick it up, open the bottle, and inhale a huge whiff. My grandma breezes by just for a split second.

Their house actually has two separate front doors. One door leads out to the porch where my grandfather can be found in the late afternoon or evenings quietly watching time pass. I want to go out there to sit with him, but there is a scary barrier between me and the front porch – a little black polka-dotted ceramic pug dog! Sometimes I forget about the little black polka-dotted ceramic pug dog and head that way because I want to sit with my grandpa on the porch. But, every time I see it sitting in the corner by the door, that dog utterly terrifies me into an immobile phobia. Funniest thing, no one knows of my phobia over this non-living tangible object. Somehow, I have personified this little dog; I fear he will attack me. When I come to my senses, I scurry out of that room, go out the other door, and make my way to the front porch where my grandfather welcomes me. I wonder what happened to that dog.

Here is where I think the root of my phobia lies. My grandparents live next door to a younger couple who have a little boy named Todd. He is about one year younger than me. On rare occasion, we play together. Now my mother has built a relationship with the mom because of course she is toting her Avon wares. My mother learns about the mean, ferocious German shepherd named Bullet that resides in their back yard. Apparently, Mr. Bullet has severely attacked a number of people and the officials have a close watch, as his life will be exterminated if one more person is attacked. They keep him secluded in the back yard behind a solid six-foot wooden fence that no eye can see through. I am forbidden to step foot in the back yard, and further prohibited to get anywhere near the fence. For some reason, I think that applies to Todd as well.  Now I have never laid eyes on this beast. One day, Todd and I are playing on the front sidewalk. Todd’s dad is mowing the back yard. He comes out of the gate telling Todd that he wants him to come in the back yard and help him pick up lawn clippings. Todd enters the forbidden zone!  The gate remains open and I watch him walk across the back lawn. Nothing is happening. Perhaps I could help pick up grass clippings as well. There is no dog attacking Todd. There is no dog barking. Maybe Bullet does not really exist. I peek into the forbidden zone from the open gate. I see no dog anywhere. I begin to walk gently across the grass into the forbidden zone with keen vigilance. I get about ten steps in when out of this doghouse shoots a Bullet in pursuit of none other than me. I let out a blood-curdling piercing scream, turn, and take off running about the speed of light. I am inches from the open gate when Bullet chomps down twice on my right butt cheek! I am bitten and bleeding through my shorts. It is a miracle that savage brute did not eat me alive! Now I have zero memory until I recall laying on my stomach under the brilliant lights on a table in the ER, not crying a drop, getting my butt stitched up, and asking over and over again, “Where’s my dad?” For days, I am afraid to sit down, have a bowel movement, run, or do any activity that might rip my butt open. I have cynophobia for many years. Bullet was not exterminated due to my injuries, but months later, he got loose and literally tore the stomach out of a man walking down the street. Bullet’s life ended that day. My grandmother carried much guilt over this incident because she heard me scream, but was unable to get to me because of her vision. It is all good grandma; I did not follow the rules!

At Christmas, when I am four, I get a tiny pretty wrapped box. Everyone is watching me open this gift. I remove the lid and see cotton squares. I confiscate the cotton from the box and squealed with delight, “Oooo, just what I wanted, cotton for my baby” being very thankful for my grandmother’s thoughtfulness. Everyone starts laughing, but I do not understand. My aunt takes the box and shows me that inside is a silver heart necklace with tiny different colored rhinestones around the edge. I have a picture of me wearing that necklace. And guess what? I still have the necklace 51 years later stored away in a little cedar box in my closet in mint condition along with her wristwatch. I take it out every now and again. My grandma breezes by for a split second.

A couple years ago, I am visiting with my aunt, asking her all kinds of questions about the family line. We talk about my grandma for just a bit. My aunt says to me, “You are just like her! You have her same spirit!” For me, it was a huge honor to consider that I carry a piece of my grandma forward in this world. Now I do not have diabetes and I am not blind, but these are matters of the heart. I think she breezed by that day and smiled. I walk out of my aunt’s house on a little cloud.

You see one day, the heavens will part and be rolled back as a scroll, and although Jesus will be waiting to welcome me home, I’d like to believe that grandma will be standing there waiting to welcome me into her new home. In eternity, when time shall be no more, I want to hug her, sit really close to her, hold her hands, and tell her how much I love her. On occasion, I think about her and wonder what my life could have been with her alive; maybe my life would not have changed forever that day.

Love you, mean it!

In Celebration of Grandparents, Part One

About a year and half after the end of World War I, in the spring of 1921, on a Wednesday, a little baby girl was born in Centertown, Kentucky, a little protestant town northeast of Lexington. Life happened amidst coal mines; prohibition, bootleggers, and moonshiners; the rise of the mob, mafia, and gangsters – most notably Al Capone, John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, Machine Gun Kelly, and Ma Barker; women gaining the right to vote; Time Magazine first publication; the first Winter Olympics in the Alps; Hoover being appointed to lead the FBI; the Great Mississippi River flood; Charles Lindbergh making his first non-stop transatlantic flight; the beginning work on Mount Rushmore; Amelia Earhart being the first woman to fly over the Atlantic; JC Penney opening their first store in Delaware; the great stock market crash and subsequent Great Depression; the Dust Bowl; the construction of the Empire State Building; Bird’s Eye inventing frozen foods; Nevada legalizing gambling; Babe Ruth; and the book release of Gone With the Wind. This is a macro world picture of life during that time. Life on a micro level reveals that her real mother passed away during the childbirth of her younger sister, her sister lived. My great grandfather remarried, having four more children, including a set of twin girls. I have a few shabby pictures of her family – one picture of her grandparents, one picture of her real parents, and one picture of her real father and stepmother. I also have a picture of the front of the home where these six children grew up. I am told they could look through the cracks of the wood floor planks and see the ground; I am told it could get quite cold in the winter. They kept the fires burning with timber from the land. They slept on featherbeds and under feather blankets, cleaned clothes on a washboard and hung them outside on the clothesline to dry, and harvested the garden and canned much food for winter. In my mind, I get a hint of the Walton’s on a much smaller scale – faith in God, attending the protestant church on Sundays, singing hymns, saved and baptized in the river, playing with siblings, deeply loved, together working hard as a family living this life they had been given. In her mid-teens, my grandmother and her real sister move to my hometown. With little time to breathe, she meets my grandfather. He recently moved there from Paynesville, Kentucky with marginal education and means, looking for work. I am told, his grandfather, which would be my great great grandfather was the richest man in Mead County, Kentucky owning countless acres of land. When he died, the land was split up into parcels and given as an inheritance to various family members, my grandfather included. My grandparents marry in 1939 when she is 18.  She came with southern hospitality and deep Baptist roots. She overflowed a gentle nurturing spirit; kept a neat, clean, tidy home; cooked meals morning, noon, and night; and enjoyed spending much time with her family, as all the siblings, hers and his, slowly relocated to where they lived.  In 1940, she gives birth to a daughter, my aunt, and in 1941, she gives birth to a son, my dad. They rent a very small, one bedroom house. My grandmother takes in laundry and ironing for the property owner.  I am told they were in good standing with the property owner. The property owner actually lived next door in a large two-story home. My grandfather faithfully pays rent on time, completes carpentry work on both houses, and grooms the lawns. He finds favor with the property owner. When the property owner passes away, they move into the big house as renters at first, and eventually they are offered to purchase the properties at a fair, reasonable price because of my grandparent’s faithfulness and hard work. When my grandfather acquires the properties, he becomes the property manager and in turn begins renting out the little house and the upstairs of the big house, which has a separate stairwell entry from the back. Oh how I remember these places! Now my grandfather is illiterate; he has never learned to read or write. I do not recall his oppression and struggles, but I am told he carried much fear and shame as he encountered obstacles – employment hurdles; quality of life concerns such as driving tests, his inability to read street signs, names on buildings, mail, medication instructions, follow written instructions, write his name or anything for that matter. He is dependent upon my grandmother, my aunt, or my father. I am told he was a good provider and conscientious about paying bills on time. He actually works at a local dairy farm when times are about manual labor –  feeding cows, milking cows, filling milk pails or aluminum milk cans, and loading them for transport on a horse-drawn wagon. When dairy production becomes regulated, labeling requirements catapulte my grandfather into a frenzy because he cannot read the labels. He brings the new labels to my father and like flashcards, they work on visual recognition of which labels meant what. My grandfather is able to remain at the dairy for a season, but his illiteracy becomes his demise. I imagine it grieved him terribly. I faintly recall a tutor being hired to teach him how to read, but he does not have the self-assurance or patience and quits. Subsequently, he becomes a self-employed carpenter. Between rental properties and the carpentry business, he actually does well. My grandmother supplements their income by taking in laundry and ironing, working at a local canning company, working for a US TV manufacturer, and eventually working ten years for a local internationally known candy company. At some point in her life, my grandmother acquires diabetes. I do not know if it is Type I, Type II, or gestational, but what I do know is that my grandfather administers daily insulin shots to her. However, the progression of the disease seizes her eyesight. This is about the time I am born. I will write further on my relationship with my grandparents, but I pause here because the real truth is that every single person has a family history and every single person has their own story within that history. I feel like I am on a precipice overlooking a lovely landscape that I have never seen. When we share our history; when we share our story; when we invite others to enter into our story; when we open up to vulnerability; when we expose the dark secrets to light; when we reach past our inhibitions, shame, anxieties, and fears; when we reach down deep and dig in the messy, complicated, and imperfect to touch the pain, sorrow, heartaches, losses, failures, mistakes, hopes, and dreams; when we are willing to authentically speak our truth; we begin to break down barriers and stigmas; we become connected by tiny threads, we become a community. I am on the margins of considering that here is where we learn the truth about the immeasurable, steadfast, unfailing, unconditional love of God. Love you, mean it! +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ God’s Everlasting Love, Romans 8:31-39 “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Book: The Little Way of Ruthie Leming by Rod Dreher

A friend loaned me this book with high accolades. I would rather not say how long ago she passed it my way, but I am seeing her tomorrow and was determined to finish reading it. I am typically reading multiple books at the same time, but of late have been trying to dwindle down those numbers.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The book summary on the jacket cover reads:

When his little sister Ruthie Leming was diagnosed at age 40 with a virulent form of cancer, cosmopolitan journalist Rod Dreher was touched by the way the community he had left behind – St Francisville, Louisiana (pop. 1,700) – rallied around her. On visits home during her illness, he was afforded glimpses of a world he had turned his back on as a teenager.

A concert at the town sports park, dubbed Leming Aid, raised $43,000 to help Ruthie, a local schoolteacher, and her husband, Mike, an Iraq war veteran pay their medical bills. At the event an old friend pulled the author aside, pointed to the crowd of people there to support his sister and said, “This is how it is supposed to be. This is what folks do for each other.”

Dreher was also struck by the grace and courage his sister displayed in the face of death. Back home for Ruthie’s funeral, Dreher began to wonder whether the commonplace life Ruthie led in Louisiana was in fact a path to hidden grandeur, even spiritual greatness, concealed within the modest life of a mother and teacher.

To explore this revelation, Dreher and his wife, Julie, decided to leave Philadelphia and move back to his hometown. There he would help with family responsibilities, be there for Ruthie’s girls, and raise his three children amid the rituals that had defined his family for five generations – Mardi Gras, LSU football games, and deer hunting. As David Brooks poignantly described the move in his New York Times column, Dreher and his wife “Decided to accept the limitations of small-town life in exchange for the privilege of being a part of a community.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

For me, the book started out slow, perhaps that is why I felt like I was dragging it around. However, the book does depict very real issues. Sibling rivalry is a current running throughout the pages. I could not understand Ruthie’s opposition and misperceptions she held against her brother for choosing to pursue his dreams beyond the small Louisiana Parish. Her resentment toward Rod strangulated the potential warm relationship they could have shared and placed undue awkwardness on the family system. Clearly, this was in sharp contrast to the relationships she maintained with her husband and children, the community, the church, and her professional peers. These two contrasts blur her true character for me. I wonder if the author’s rearview mirror was rose colored in an attempt to honor his sister’s life, tempered with trying to bring understanding and closure for him.

The issues of cancer and the far-reaching effects on everyone involved are sad, but West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana showed true value of community. Ruthie seemed to manage her fate with grace. The story does lead the reader to ask questions about what really matters in this life. Her story brings in a little focus on how faith in Christ helps sustain a strength, perseverance, and peace beyond understanding.

I felt half of the book dealt with Rod’s life (the author and brother.) I wonder if the book was away for him to probe and workout his personal life decisions. From an early age, his heart leaned toward escaping the small town. He wanted to pursue bigger opportunities that were not possible if he remained in a small community. He had a constant wrestling inside over his choices of leaving home, which religion he would align with, employment, and cities to live in, a constant mental struggle reconciling his life inclinations.  I got the impression that he grappled with giving himself permission to have his own unique identity and preferences. A point of interest to me was Rod’s spiritual life. I felt a true spirit in pursuit of God. He began as a Methodist in the tradition of his family, but soon ventured into Roman Catholicism, finally establishing himself in Eastern Orthodoxy. Despite these transitions, I sensed a true reverence for God.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

A few quotes from the book:

“She was just kind of magical. She saw something good in everybody, even as a child.”

 “There was something particular about Mam and Paw that made our house a center of community. They did not have a lot of money, but there was always room for more at our table. People dropped by constantly, and stayed for dinner—and sometimes into the night, even during the week. They wanted to be around Mam and Paw, who were boundlessly hospitable.”

“There has to be balance. Not everyone is meant to stay—or to stay away—forever. There are seasons in the lives of persons and of families. Our responsibility, both to ourselves and to each other, is to seek harmony within the limits of what we are given—and to give each other grace.”

“Contemporary culture encourages us to make islands of ourselves for the sake of self-fulfillment, of career advancement, of entertainment, of diversion, and all the demands of the sovereign self. When suffering and death come for you–and it will–you want to be in a place where you know, and are known. You want–no, you need–to be able to say, as Mike did, “We’re leaning, but we’re leaning on each other.”