Sunday, February 01, 2015

Rack'em up, knock'em down

"We live in a take-down culture. And it's not just about proving them wrong, you also have to have more fun than them." - Taylor Swift
Like her music or not, the kid makes a crucially valid point. It isn't enough for someone to succeed. Their every flaw, mistake, and even any awkward move must be picked apart, until their accomplishments pale in comparison to their missteps.

Is it any wonder so many people feel unworthy of their own breath?

I used to squirm ashamedly beneath the weight of the ugly words and the cold stares, and when it got to be too much I'd have to find some hiding place. I'd escape to a new neighborhood, a new town, or a new love. I'd drown in the distractions until the memories drifted to the surface to gasp for air, and then I'd float away again on my sailboat made of anchors.

It never got worse, because really, nothing is ever worse than the faded cries of lost little hearts. Oh, my heart, with the cracks that only got deeper by the day. The nights I would allow the crevices to rip another chunk of my soul from my chest, lying on the floor in a pile of agony, begging and pleading to a God I didn't believe could possibly believe in me anymore. And then the tears would dry, but the soul never truly healed. Lungs can't breathe oxygen from a vacuum, and dead things can't be healed.

I didn't want to heal.

I wanted to be shredded to ribbons by white-hot knives, feeling every millisecond of the searing pain, just as I'd heard in that trembling, small voice on the phone. I wanted the pain to swallow me whole, and to never feel the breath of hope whispering in my ear. I didn't deserve it. I deserved the empty, cavernous void I'd built myself.

Except that sometimes I wanted out.

So I'd climb, but only halfheartedly believing the chains would break. Then the tug. I'd look down and see the shackles, and instead of putting up a fight, I'd convince myself it would be best to let them be. The chains were stronger, looping through the iron rings of self-hatred, embedded in crumbling concrete walls that dripped with desolation.

Little lights would shine, but when the flames were weak they'd only blow out and their wicks disintegrated, destroying the hope of ever being re-lit. When the flames were strong, they'd light the way for a little while, providing some warmth. Eventually, though, toxic flames will singe and burn and leave scars. So for a while, I began to try to grow in the dim light drifting through the cracks around the door. But few flowers bloom at twilight.

What I hadn't expected was that the roof would be so permeable. It began as something to pass the time: I'd poke a few holes, and a few stars would shine happen to shine through. Those few twinkles of light would encourage me to poke a few more. Soon, a skylight. Not long afterward, the roof began to crumble, and those small little voices were in my ears again. Only now they're not small anymore. And they're the music of angels in my ears.

Sometimes I'm afraid of being buried under the weight of falling debris of wasted past memories. Sometimes the scrape my cheek, or graze my side. But though the cell is still there, it's at least as big as an amphitheater, with a clear view of the sky all around. I suspect I'll climb out eventually, once I've rebuilt the steps to the door.

But outside the door, that's where the light truly changes, and the trees take over the crumbling paths with thirsty roots and fill the sky with shimmering leaves that reflect the sun.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Building bridges

The ones who didn't know your strength thought the black, oily beast who tore out your insides would end you. But as he crouched over you, ripping and shredding your insides, you fought. You fought so hard it hurt to breathe. Because that sickening beast wanted the very thing that gave you reason to keep breathing - more precious than jewels or gold, and this monster was tearing it away, pulling it apart and throwing it like leftover scraps. But these pieces of you are worth so much more than anyone could ever know.  Still, he gutted you and threw you into the black swampy water while you gasped for breath.

He thought you'd die. He thought you were weak.  He's clever, but he was wrong.

You still had enough to hold onto to want to keep going. And you still had faith. So you stood on the slippery rocks to keep your head above the black, murky water for as long as you could. You'd slip sometimes, choking on the slimy sludge, but always managed to keep breathing.

Sometimes someone would come along to watch. Others would reach a hand for you to hold for a little while, some pulling away because the water scared them. Some left because your fight scared them. Some came to watch you drown. But you didn't.

Eventually you were able to build a raft. It was leaky and slick, but it floated. So you held on tight, guarding what you had left, but you still missed those other pieces of you the beast tore away long ago. The empty spaces scream with pain. 

Then, miraculously, you find your way out of the swamp and into open water.  And you find enough odds and ends to build a boat. Though you can't quite tell if it's a big boat, or if it will even float, but it's ok. Because it's a gift, and it's hope. And if it floats, that boat will rival any yacht in the ocean. And maybe when it does you'll find your missing pieces.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Counting Blessings

Yesterday was tough. Bad news, hard time with the little ones, arthritis in my back acting up, and financial crud from single parenting. It all adds up, and it had boiled over for me.

On top of it all, I had to go to the grocery store.  So I dragged my two youngest to the local market, trudged up and down the aisles, trying not to burst into tears in public.

When we had everything we needed, I went to the only open lane and began simultaneously unloading the cart and trying to corral the kids.

The cashier was a young man about the same age as my second oldest, about 17 or 18.  As he began scanning our items, he asked the kids how much they thought it would be. He turned it into a game, and the kids were happy to play along. He ended up keeping them occupied until the groceries were bagged and we were on our way.

That young man had no idea how much weight he lifted from my shoulders with that one simple gesture.

It hit me today that I was so busy complaining yesterday that I neglected to remember to praise the blessings, too.  That needed to be rectified!

Today after work I went back to the store and asked to speak with a manager. I told him vaguely about the stress I'd been under and how much the cashier's actions had relieved so much of that stress. Turns out, that manager and the young man he employs really needed the uplift from the compliment, too.

No matter how stressed you are, or what's going on in your life, be sure to acknowledge the good things in the middle of your mess.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Why Sweetpeas and Sour Apples?

"If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.” ― Frederick Douglass
The other day I sat in the kitchen of a couple who leads a local ministry that helps fix cars for people who can’t afford expensive mechanics’ labor rates. We’d been discussing struggles, and how some people seem to go through so many more than others.
How does that seem fair? Why does God seem to favor some people over others?
The man’s wife told me a story about their trip to Napa Valley, California. She told me how she’d expected the landscape to be full and lush, just like we see in all the romantic movies. Instead, the scenery was dry and the vines looked brittle. She asked the vintner if this was a bad year. The man explained that though other vineyards might prefer the lush expanses of overloaded grapevines, the wine produced is lower quality. He has found in through experience that the best wines come from the most stressed grapes.

"I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” - John 15:5

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