Monthly Archives: June 2014

Taking a break from church. AKA: Stop the Aspartame!

I’ve wanted to say most of these things for a while now, but I don’t for obvious reasons. A person doesn’t just go write what they feel about things like religion, politics, or vaccinations without realizing the very real affects that will take place immediately henceforth.

However, the thing I find most intriguing about this topic is that, while many Christians seem to be quick in posting links to their favorite pet sermon about why everyone should be going to church on Sunday, they don’t seem to have any real idea as to why so many of us are choosing not to. They make their best stab at it by posting something that largely feels like condemnation and the accusal of apostasy rather than just asking us why we, people with obvious spiritual life, are doing what we’re doing.

My theory is that they don’t really quite want to know. It’s like the woman who feels a lump in her breast and dutifully has it screened for cancer but then avoids her results with a certain fervor. “Do you want to know or don’t you?” Because if you want to know, I will tell you some very uncomfortable truth. If you have the gonads to take it, I’ll fill you in. But if you don’t – if you just want us to hear about how miserable we are for not putting on our pretty clothes and sitting in the pews for sixty minutes each week – then I would recommend you not offer the commentary and pre-packaged links to sterile arguments made by Facebook-famous pastors. It really only tells us that you really do not want to know.

But if you do, read on… with caution.

And as a disclaimer, please remember that you are reading “how I feel”. There is no “right” or “wrong” in what is below because it is the 100% accurate feeling of me. Of Heather. It’s not a book or a theory. It’s my thoughts and feeling. It’s not for you to try to dissuade me from. These are my observations and the way life feels in this pair of shoes.

So: read with care… and interject with even more care. Don’t tell me where I’m wrong and how your church is different. The test came back. We have cancer. Let’s face the results and start a treatment plan.

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About four years ago, I made some fairly extreme changes to my diet. Nothing processed, nothing refined, all whole, all clean. As time has passed since then, I’ve continued to tweak and add or remove as my body tells me that it really likes or dislikes something. I’ve sought out local farmers for my meat, and we don’t eat really anything that is conventionally raised anymore. I went on this quest because my health was failing and no one could really figure out why. At first, it was a diagnosis of food intolerances that triggered the change, but as time went on, the thing that made me continue to press on and learn more and more and make more and more changes was that, the longer I went without fake food, the better I felt. Things that had plagued me my whole life, simply disappeared. The eczema on my right foot that I’ve had as long as I can remember. The dark circles under my eyes that doctors have told me was “just genetic”. The brain fog. The lethargy. The mood swings. The thin hair. The belly fat. The constant headaches. The burning, aching stomach. The list goes on and on.

I found that the further I got away from anything artificial, the more things in my body began working as they were designed. And further, the more I delved into the world of healing with food, I not only saw bad symptoms disappear, I saw them reverse. Patchy skin was replaced with soft, young, beautiful skin. Thin, dull hair turned thick and shiny and soft. Constant indigestion turned into a calm belly. Headaches went away and my mind sharpened.

Living this way in the good ole USA is actually harder than one might think. So long as I’m eating from my own kitchen and pantries, it’s easy-peasy-lemon-squeasy. But the second I venture out, eating suddenly becomes really tricky. “Hmm, if I eat that, my head will hurt, but if I eat that my stomach will hurt.” Even still, after four years, it’s almost a guarantee that if I eat at someone else’s house or eat at a restaurant – even a good one – I will feel pretty crappy for the rest of the day.

I’ve discovered that the worst offender of all is artificial sweeteners. Boy oh boy do these little obnoxious freaks mess with my system. And why wouldn’t they? After all, they are neurotoxins. They are supposed to mess with me.

It used to be that I not only enjoyed, I actually needed the false high of artificial foods and sweeteners. My food was bland otherwise, and I had no “energy”. I put that word in quotes because I discovered that what was masquerading as energy really was not at all. Once I started cleaning my body out and discovered real true energy, I realized that what I’d been experiencing before was a hopped up feeling of synthetic, manufactured hyperactivity. Real energy is less up and down. Real energy is very calm. Real energy does not crash a few hours later or get shaky when a meal isn’t on hand every two hours. Real energy is steady and peaceful and rich.

Sure, there really is something about a big juicy fried chicken sandwich from a fast food joint. I mean, my taste buds go completely nuts. It’s intoxicating actually. One bite sets off an avalanche of desire for more and more bites even long after I’ve become satisfied and full. I’ve heard it called “food with no brakes”, and I believe that is about the most accurate way of describing it. Pop, coffee, fast food, pasta, bread, candy. It all does the same thing. It feels soooo good when I’m eating it that I can’t even help myself. I think I’m in heaven. I think that I just want more and more and more. But as time passes, not only do I have headaches and stomach pains, beneath my skin is a seriously malnourished girl. And it’s only a matter of time before that malnourishment shows up past my skin

But when I stick to eating rich foods that were grown and raised the right way, my body sings the praises of that nourishment. When I persist long enough, the receptors in my brain that long for the hyper stimulation of fake food are turned off and my body wants, nay craves, the calm peace of whole, healthy food. No additives, no stimulants, nothing to make me want to eat and eat and eat. Nothing messing with any of my senses. Just good ole nourishment. Healthy and rich and delicious.

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Almost exactly two years ago, I decided I needed a break from church proper. And if you’re like me, you’re wondering why on earth I’d say “church proper” and then not capitalize the word “church. It’s because I made up my own little way of identifying the difference between “little ‘c’ church” and “big ‘C’ Church”.

“Little ‘c’ church” is that thing that Christians do on Sunday morning. It’s the building. It’s the place. It’s the pretty clothes and the hands raised high. It’s the vacant listeners while one person talks. It’s the cutting edge sermons and perfectly choreographed “worship” time – as if somehow the words “worship” and “singing” have anything to do with one another.

“Big ‘C’ Church” is that body that we who have died in Christ have joined ourselves with. It is not a place. It is not dressed up and fancy. There is no Aveda hand soap in the bathroom or flat screen tv in the sanctuary at “Big ‘C’ Church” because “Big ‘C’ Church” isn’t a place. It’s an organism. A living breathing people. A priesthood. An elected people who are all joined together in the replacement death of the One we call by many Names. We are not a some-thing or a some-place. We are a some-one.

When I decided to take a hiatus from “little ‘c’ church”, I did so without any noise or attention called to it. In fact, I don’t think I actually talked to anyone other than my husband about it for the first full year off. The people who have noted it since have often done so in ways that lead me to believe that they think that by not visiting a “little ‘c’ church”, somehow I stopped being part of the “Big ‘C’ Church”. Which is actually kind of silly considering that I can’t just quit being a part of that. Nor do the two give some sort of “proof of life” in the other. Just because a person attends “little ‘c’ church”, that is not evidence that they are a part of the “Big ‘C’ Church”. And just because someone is a part of the organism of believers commonly referred to as The Church, that does not mean that they will necessarily attend or regularly visit the small ‘c’ counterpart. And when I say counterpart, know that I mean it in name only. The two are as different as different can be. Sometimes Big ‘C’ people are found at little ‘c’, but sometimes not so much. And vice versa. The two have an annoying commonality in the fact that they go by the same name. Oh homonym, you are such a little stinker. Confusing us all with your same spellings and different meanings.

Leaving little ‘c’ has absolutely nothing to do with a hatred of or displeasure toward Big ‘C’, though, if I’m being honest, I must admit that I find a lot of displeasing people at little ‘c’. The kind that judge and the kind that really think they are quite spiritual. The ones now days that find “thinking outside the box” to be especially trendy are the worst. I even heard a sermon once about how Esther never really was a “Christian” (another tricky word that gets misused often). I found myself especially irked that the only person allowed to talk right then was the person at the pulpit. Because, ya know, I’ve studied Esther pretty deeply, and I think his “outside of the box” idea was hogwash. And if I could have, I would have spoken up and asked a question or two. If for no other purpose than to wake the living dead all over the sanctuary who were now writing Esther off as an apostate or something all because Big Man Up Front said so. I mean, I don’t really think anyone went home and tore that one apart like we’re supposed to. I don’t think a meeting followed wherein the Greatly Concerned sat said Big Man Up Front down and told him a thing ‘er two about dear old Esther. Nope, he cast them a worm and a worm they did eat. And no one thought another thing about it. Their chair was occupied, but the more important part of them was totally vacant.

It’s the same sort of vacancy I saw across the crowd during “worship” (ugh – I will have to pass over the urge to talk about that one). The very specific “church dance”, the swaying hand clap, the hands raised high with palms seeming to be asking to be filled. I can’t say that I feel completely right writing it off as ritual only, but one does not need a degree in rocket science or any other aeronautic specialty to see at least some falseness and cognitive absence in the group. It’s not that raising the hands or clapping or dancing in a certain Sunday-morning-approved way is bad. Not at all. I just find myself wondering about the mind inside the swaying body. Are you awake? Because if you just heard the bit about Esther and all you had was an earnest head nod, methinks thou be sleeping.

The plate passes and we put the money in. But where does the money go? I answered that question one Sunday morning about a year before my departure from little ‘c’. The sermon was another that was meant to be outside of the box, intellectual, and edgy. The rise and fall of the speaker’s voice in perfect synchronization with its intended moving of emotion made me wonder how many times these lines had been recited in the bathroom mirror over the past seven days to get each pitch just perfect. I mean, how does that work? I get it that it’s “public speaking”, but when did sermon delivery become an art form? Just tell me the truth plain and simple. Then let me poke my holes – like we are told to do – and then let me go home. Don’t mess with my senses. Don’t add music while you are praying. “I Surrender All” feels less hyperactive and manufactured when it’s the calm stirring of the Holy Spirit within me than the carefully calculated instrumental interlude during offering.

Anyway, back to what I was saying. I was thinking to myself what an impressive structure the ceiling of this monster sanctuary is. Having spent just a small bit of time in the world of construction right after high school, I know more than the average about building such a monstrosity. I really loved how aesthetically pleasing it is with all the gorgeous beams and enormous fans. Then there was the cutting edge lighting and sound system, all intricately put into place without even so much as one cord dangling. The infrastructure of probably a million, billion wires were all tucked safely away from my eyes.

The massive movie screen fit comfortably in the secrecy of its little shell, only coming out when it was time to watch something that would likely move my senses and get me to write checks.

The chairs – hundreds and hundreds of them – were comfortable. I mean, really comfortable. Nothing wrong with that, right? Well, nothing’s wrong with that until you ask yourself what they did with an entire church full of pews when they remodeled to this interior designer’s masterpiece. I’ve heard that a pew goes for about a grand. And I’m pretty good at mental math. Sooooo….. hmm. Yeah, not cool. And here I thought my tithe was dutifully going to the poor and to give salary to the Big Man Up Front.

Don’t get me wrong, I know all about business. I know all about what it takes to keep a corporation going. The dollars and cents that no one sees. What business does not struggle under the weight of its payroll burden? This isn’t news to me. But when I face that fact, I feel another fact pushing up against my brain just begging, nay demanding, to be asked. Since when did little ‘c’ become corporate? Since when did sharing the good news become something that required such ornate displays of modern wealth? Why such waste? Why such extravagance? Am I the only one who thinks that the idea of pastors in Escalades is a little disgusting? Haven’t we maybe strayed a bit far from the idea of one man dying for all? Haven’t we gotten a bit off track? When each minute of the weekly 60 spent in this room is perfectly choreographed – from the music playing when I sit down to the songs selected for “worship” to the rise and fall of the rehearsed sermon, I leave with all senses tingling. And this, I believe, is the intended response.

How many times have you heard a fellow Christian say, “Man, that was just what I needed,” or “Whew, it’s been quite a week, I’ve got to get myself to church.”

Why? Because the Holy Spirit who abides within you and goes with you wherever you go and is with you when you sleep and when you wake is not enough to instruct you through your difficulty and fill you in your emptiness?

If church – little ‘c’ church – was a little less… well, aspartame-y, would we all be clamoring for our weekly dose of “feel good”? I don’t think so. If little ‘c’ church was a little closer to what it was meant to be, I don’t think it would be the master soul-mover that it is.

And here’s the deal: I don’t think it’s supposed to be!!!!

Keep your artificial sweeteners, please. Do not “rock my soul” during worship. Worship is not a song. And even if it were, is it something that would likely be accompanied by drums and an electric guitar and a row of the church’s best singers? Or would it be a little less – oh, I dunno, artificially sweet?

And the sermon. When can I tell you that I do indeed believe that Esther was a Christian? Do I need to set a meeting for that? Or could we discuss it together as a congregation as we were meant to? Could we dialogue together and together rightly divide the word of truth? Because a lot of what you’re saying isn’t truth, and I’m afraid we just won’t get to the truth if we don’t all put our heads together and find it.

From sermon to song, from building to budget, the little ‘c’ church these days is filled with artificial sweetening. Things put in place with utter intention to be sure we leave 60 minutes later thinking that the “moving” we feel in us is the Holy Spirit and not just the masterfully woven-together production that just took place. I mean, come on, if you can have the same “knock my socks off” feeling after a rock concert, aren’t we smart enough to ask ourselves if something has gone awry?

I do not intend to continue my hiatus from “little ‘c’ church” till Kingdom Come. In fact, I’ve even said recently that I think I’m close to the other side of what I set out to do when I left in the first place. Much like my departure from the world of the Standard American Diet (appropriately acrostic’d SAD), my break from “little ‘c’ church” has calmed my senses and helped me return to the food that my soul truly craves. The food that is not infused with flavor enhancers meant to make me think that my walk with God is something that even should feel like fireworks and rockets every day.

I have remembered the ebb and flow of just plain, clean union with Jesus. With no gonging cymbals or fancy decoration, what is left is just relationship. Just the personhood of Him and the personhood of me. Just my need. Just his sufficiency. No loud guitars. No completely ridiculous or erroneous sermons taught to minds that have been put on auto-pilot. No offering plate passed and filled to pay the bills of our waste and extravagance. Just one Man who died in my place, who saved me not only from His absence after my physical life is over, but saved me also here and now, from the pain and chains of my sin and from the sadness and losses of life. I do not desire the crutches of an aspartame-infused Sunday morning experience anymore. I’ve retrained my taste buds.

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When I was a kid, my parents got rid of our tv. This meant a couple of things. #1. We were forced to use our own brains to think and be creative. #2. Our attention spans were longer than average. #3. Whenever a screen of any kind made its way in our line of vision, we would stand there, mouths agape, like mind-controlled fools.

It was just sooooo much stimulation. SOOOO much over activity. When a person is accustomed to calm senses and natural peace, being exposed to television can be somewhat alarming. Much like flavor enhanced food, it draws you in powerfully and tells you to keep consuming without abandon.

I believe that current, 21st century, “little ‘c’ church” can be likened to something similar. When the writer of Hebrews warned us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together with other Believers, I do not think he envisioned steel stringed guitars, wasteful luxury, choreographed sermons, or music selected to tantalize our senses. Just an honest, clean gathering of those who are joined by the death of Jesus is probably what he had in mind. A mutual desire to read and study God’s word. To live with each other and for each other. To not try to go it on our own.

I still have a lot of figuring out to do about what “little ‘c’ church” SHOULD look like, but I’ve landed square and solid on what it should NOT look like.

And I do not think the answer is to leave it. Even though I needed that for a while, to regain my own footing, to sort through my beliefs about “little ‘c’ church” and its purpose, to reevaluate my own ability to sort through the teachings of a human and hold them up against the absolute truth of Scripture, it isn’t a permanent departure.

“Big ‘C’ People” do meet in “little ‘c’ buildings”. And that does not need to change. But I do think that we will continue to alienate our own at alarming rates while proving ourselves utterly useless to those outside our fold if we keep on with the aspartame. I think it’s one thing to realize that the outside world hates us because we are doing the right thing. If they hate us because we’re being miserable, wasteful, judgmental, gossiping, slandering, two-faced, illegitimate replicas of Jesus, there isn’t a whole lot of glory or comfort in that.

There are a thousand more things that are wanting to be said on this topic. Things about our witness to the world around us and what true evangelism is and should look like. Things about the rampant moral decay of our Christian leaders in America – proven by sex scandal after sex scandal in the “Big ‘C’ Church”. Things about proper dissection of God’s word rather than the Big Guy Up Front. Things about the need to “assemble together”, but maybe not the need to mortgage our gathering place. Things about the pattern of decline that we see plainly taking place almost every time a church decides it needs a bigger building. Things about Escalade driving pastors and gossiping parishioners.

But that’s another blog… or hundred.

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From now on, everyone in this house stands on their own two feet. AKA: Personal Responsibility

I don’t remember the first time or place I heard the line. It might have been in sessions with Keith or maybe one of the zillion books he had me read that year. It might have been on the radio or at AA. All I know is that it was so revolutionary to me that the phrase itself has become a mantra in my life helping me make on-the-spot decisions when I’m in a hard moment and guiding me while I make the much larger, more important life decisions as they arise.

“From now on, everyone in this house stands on their own two feet.”

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Ever since my earliest existence, what I have known through and through is a world where cause and effect and consequence and boundaries do not exist.

This person acts up, and that person pays.
This person makes a mess, and that person cleans it up.
This person breaks; that person fixes.

I grew up in the home of an ACOA. That stands for Adult Child of an Alcoholic. I learned that when I was in AA in my early thirties. Up until then, I thought that alcoholism entered my world when Brian started drinking in the late 90’s. But by the time my life had hit absolute rock bottom, and I found myself sitting in the shattered, bloody mess of its ruins, I had the grand realization that alcoholism and all of its patterns and behaviors had been coursing through my veins since the day I was born.

Alcoholism, like most traits, passes through our generations like the color of our hair and eyes, our height and shape, and our demeanor and temperament.

Alcoholism begets alcoholism.

The actual substance itself sometimes skips a generation, but the behaviors and tendencies do not. And for the second generation that grew up “dry”, with those behaviors and tendencies woven into them since their time began, by the time they are able to do so, their hands typically find their way to a bottle. Either that, or they are an alcoholic magnet; attracting a drinker to themselves like bees to honey.

There is a difference between “dry” and “sober”. While both indicate the lack of a substance being abused (or better stated, a “break” in substance abuse), the “dry” alcoholic has put the bottle down (normally temporarily) but still perpetuates the behaviors, while “sober” indicates that bottom has been reached, repentance has occurred, rehabilitation has happened and been successful, and a new life has begun.

I grew up in a “dry” home. There was no alcohol, but alcoholism still reigned.

By the time I was in my late teens and early twenties, I was like a sweet little alcoholic’s-dream-flower filled with just the right sort of honey just waiting to attract my very own substance abuser so I could perpetuate what I’d seen and known my whole life.

I’ve had the opportunity more than once to see this truth face to face: when a person lives in chains long enough, they not only stop desiring freedom, they go a step further and find comfort and safety in their chains. In fact, left alone long enough, they become a total martyr and think themselves “godly” and self-sacrificing for not acting, saying “no”, or leaving when really, they should have.

This was me.

Part of what kept us together was that I really did adore him. The other part was the glory. The vain, selfish sensation that I was what was holding him together. The full knowledge that I was his rescuer, his hero, his savior. If I walked away, I knew there would be a good long while before he could ever stand up again if he ever could at all.

Part of what drove me was the love in me that did not want to see him fall. And another part of me did not see or recognize till all was past that the plain honest truth was that for as much as he was addicted to the substance of alcohol, I was addicted to the process of rescuing him.

This is what a codependent is.
“Co-addict” would be a better word.
We were partners in addiction. Both of us helping and enabling the other to become sicker and sicker, more and more addicted.

This became abundantly clear to me the first time he had a girlfriend. The unfaithfulness didn’t hurt me nearly as much as the idea that she was now filling my shoes and being his rescuer. When he made a mess, he’d found a new little cleaner to make it all better for him. And this touched the inside of my soul and lit me on fire in the same way that taking the bottle away would have done for him.

But really, the problem, at the heart, was not that I wanted to keep him locked in this horrible state of addiction. Anyone who knew me back then knew how desperately I wanted his freedom. It was that I really feared that if I walked away, he would simply die. And because I wanted him to make it to the other side more than I even wanted to be alive, I just kept rescuing, I just kept enabling, I just kept being his savior.

It’s hard for me to tell these stories because they are hard and painful truths. They are difficult wounds to sort. The retelling of them makes me feel like a human washcloth being painfully wrung out. I don’t like remembering them. But more intense than that pain is that thing in me that so wants the bad to be used for good. And I know that the only thing left to do in order to accomplish that is to tell the stories. I already did all the sorting. I already gave my blood and tears. I already went through it. All that is left now to bring it full circle is to tell the stories of what I found while on that dark road.

I found that when you truly love someone, you demand that they stand on their own two feet. I found that allowing another adult to lean on you – not for a season, but as a lifestyle – is selfish and, at best, misguided.

“Standing on your own two feet” means taking responsibility for yourself. It means that no one gets a free pass to misbehave because I will be there to fix it when it’s broken. It means that when “life” (or other four-letter words) happens, we stand up to face it. It means we do not cower behind another person and demand rescue when it is in our power to act. It means: act instead of react. It means that I take full responsibility for where and what my life has come to be. And further, I take full responsibility for moving my life to where it ought to be. It means the refusal to be owned by the thoughts and actions of others toward me. To have an inner solidarity that cannot be shaken by outside attack or arrows flung at me from life, from enemies, and worst of all, from friends or family.

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Keith often told me that if you want to find true insanity, you needn’t go to the local psyche ward or halls filled with padded rooms. You just need to visit the home of an alcoholic. All rules of life that normally govern the real world do not apply there. And that is the true definition of insanity. A place where sanity is not to be found.

The conditioning of 30+ years of living in a world where sanity was not to be found and the normal rules of life did not apply left me ripe and ready to repeat the scenario. I’ve often said that I hated my childhood so much that I went out and made my own duplicate copy.

But what is it that I hated so much? Was it that I was completely unloved? No, because I wasn’t. Was it that I was afraid? Yes, but there was more. Was it that we pulled ourselves away from the rest of functioning society and lived in total isolation? That was part of it, but not the most important thing.

What I hated was that no one was standing on their own two feet. When dad abused, no one held him accountable. When mom was abused, she looked for rescue and never ever found her own feet to stand on. When fights broke out, it became the responsibility of the child to protect the parent. It was us – me – who made the calls to 911. It was us – the kids – who got up and fought for survival. It was me who quit school before I graduated to provide for my parent rather than the other way around. We were a bunch of people all precariously and dangerously forced to lean on one another. Not a one of us had solid feet under us and therefore, we were helplessly dependent on one another. And not in a good way.

If just one parent could have found their feet, it would have taught us all to find ours. If just one act of true heroism would have happened, we little ducklings would have all followed. But it didn’t, and therefore we did not. And the cycle still carries on today in the unfinished business of things two to three decades old.

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When life throws you lemons, make lemonade. Which of us has not heard that line before? We have all heard it, but most of us don’t really know what it means.

In short, it means, “From now on, everyone in this house stands on their own two feet.” It means, “Life turns out best for those who make the best of how life turns out.” It means, I take full responsibility for me and for where my life has come to be, and I, not someone else, will act in a way that brings me life and freedom and health and peace. It means that the feet beneath me and the inner life I have developed within me is strong enough to withstand the blows from the outside world so that, when I am hurt, betrayed, treated with disloyalty, lied about, taken advantage of, spoken ill of, left, abandoned, or wronged in any way, the feet beneath me provide enough stability for me to stay standing. And not standing the way a dead man stands right before he falls. Standing in the way a soldier, equipped for the battle, stands in the midst of pain and attack.

Standing on your own two feet means the solid understanding of where you start and where you end. What is yours and what is not. What things you are responsible for – your attitude, your health, the roof over your head, your half of any relationship equation, and your response to the hurts and wiles of life. And what things you are not – the attitudes, health, provisions, and responses of others.

When people do not stand on their own two feet, abuse runs rampant.
When people do not stand on their own two feet, a topple is always only one attack away.
When people do not stand on their own two feet, dysfunction reigns.
When people do not stand on their own two feet, they seek to give responsibility for where their life has come to be to someone else.

– It’s my ex-husband’s fault.
– It’s my dad’s fault.
– It’s my mom’s fault.
– It’s my neighbor’s fault.
– It’s my friend’s fault.
– It’s my boss’s fault.
– It’s everyone’s fault but mine.

And since it’s not my fault, I do not need to be the one to fix it. Therefore, I will sit here and wait for a rescue. In fact, I might spend decades praying for and crying out for rescue rather than asserting myself and discovering that the rescue is right here for me, if only I rise up to meet it.

With two feet beneath you, those lines change to this:

When people stand on their own two feet, abusers flee.
When people stand on their own two feet, obstacles are overcome.
When people stand on their own two feet, health returns.
When people stand on their own two feet, difficulty has a way of resolving and the “other side” eventually shows up.

– My ex-husband hurt me, but I had a great role in the perfectly-matched dysfunction we created. And I will be assertive in ridding myself of those things in me that took me to where I was when that relationship was my reality.
– My dad grew up in great difficulty and was not a perfect parent himself, but I choose to forgive and learn great lessons from what was lacking in my childhood.
– My mom grew up without a mother and one could never calculate the difference that has made. I choose to look over her errors and take them on as my own personal homework, acting and living in a way that tendencies and behaviors passed to me stop here and are not handed down again.
– My neighbor has a story of her own to tell. A story I do not know. And while I will take action to hold healthy boundaries with her so that we might live in peace, I will also extend grace for the broken places in her that are unknown to me so that I might be a part of her healing and not another well-aimed hit at her soul.
– My friend hurt me deeply and I see that the sum of my baggage added to her baggage is dysfunction and hurt. I will be friendly to all; friends with few. I can offer peace by taking responsibility for my automatic responses to her wounds and see that we are better off away from one another.

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Taking responsibility for yourself and standing on your own two feet is the utter refusal to shift blame. The utter acceptance that, while unfair things happen, I am still at the helm of my ship and no one else occupies that seat unless I get up out of it and allow them, and only a coward asks someone else to navigate their ship through rough waters. It means that, while I might occasionally need to lean on someone for support, the story of my life is that of a person with two solid feet beneath them, not someone who leaned, bent, and laid down their entire life.

It is the acceptance that bad things happen and sometimes they simply need to be left alone and allowed to be. The understanding that sometimes another person might make a mess that we should not clean up for them. The wisdom to see that any time I fix someone else, I should plan to do it again and again and again. And that if I truly loved them, I would act on their behalf only in a way that enables them to stand up on their own two feet rather than allowing them to continue to lean on, bend over, and lay down.

I love you enough to not buy your alcohol.
I love you enough to demand that you get a job and learn to take care of yourself.
I am smart enough to know that my help will only hurt you because I am programming you to not help yourself.

I take responsibility for where my life has come to be, and I will not, no matter how hard someone tries, take responsibility for them, for their responses, for their feelings, for their thoughts, for their attitudes, for their mistakes, for their failures, for their desires, for their misperceptions, for the unpleasant things in their life that they do not want to face and handle on their own two feet.

Standing on your own two feet is your ultimate declaration of independence.

I got me here, and I can get me out.
This might not be fair, as life often isn’t, but I am not a helpless passenger.
This causes me pain, therefore I remove myself.
I do not like mustard potato salad, therefore I do not scoop it onto my plate.
I might be down, but I will not stay here waiting for someone to rescue me.
I will not allow myself into being pressured to take responsibility for another adult who refuses to stand on their own two feet.

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Friendly to all/Friends with few. AKA: The Church Potluck

For most of my life I’ve had an uncanny knack for attracting the very sort of person that drives me nuts.

The boundary pusher.
The manipulator.
The backstabber
The liar.

The neighbor who wouldn’t respect my property, the boss who played games, the friend who was disloyal.

Or there were the people who infantilized me… “caretakers” with a bit of an ego push.  They liked to dominate me and make me feel like their child.

I was that stereotypical person who hated drama that always seemed to be in the middle of it.

I’d look around at other people and see that not everyone attracted such obnoxious nonsense into their lives, yet this mess was non-stop for me.

In fact, I used to be sort of enthralled by people who are functional.

How on earth do you do that? You know what I mean? The way you just handled that WITHOUT getting walked on? The way you just walked away from that drama, and it didn’t follow you? The way you interacted with that jerk in a way that made them stop being a jerk for a moment? Please teach me your ways, Obi Wan.

I have a pretty good idea of how I like to be treated. I mean, we all do, right? Most of us know instinctually what feels good to us and what feels bad to us. We even know the varying degrees of intensity from “I love being treated like this,” to “Yeah, I could do without this” to “Holy Moses – please leave my life at once”.

The trouble with me is that when I was young, I learned to shut off those really handy outward signs of dislike. I stopped letting it show in my face and in my body language when something hurt me or upset me. So, instead of informing people pretty clearly of how they were making me feel, a very awkward, sideways, upside down message came out that could be interpreted in a way that someone might think that I either really loved what they just did, I didn’t even notice it, or, at worst, I only very mildly disapproved.

For years, I labored at getting good at showing an outward register of pain. I think I have progressed, but all in all, this is the way I was formed, so there isn’t a whole lot I can do to create an honest-to-God, instantaneous, sincere response to being offended other than to live with coping mechanisms and taught behavior…. which is very very differently than the instinctual behavior.

Anyone who has heard any of my stories knows that once upon a time a kindly old man named Keith spent a year with me in intensive counseling. I consider him to be the man who saved my life. If my life were a plotted timeline or if there was an aerial view of The Life and Times of Heather, you would see a long consistent line of feet print that was heading a very certain direction for most of my life. And then you would see a pause and a redirection. That pause happened when Keith came into my life.   He spun me on my heels and sent me off in nearly the opposite direction. I’ve been trekking along that path for seven years now, gaining ground and making up for lost time.

Three to four hours a week, we worked through my lifetime of dysfunction. A lot of what he told me was, at the time, pretty hard to hear and even harder to try to put into motion, but thankfully, I kept a detailed journal of notes from our time together and have used it a thousand times since then as a guide when I can’t remember the way.

He always told me that one day I would finally have enough of being treated badly. I would finally just get plain ole angry enough to make the necessary changes so that this constant bleed of bad relationships stopped needing so many bandages… and sometimes tourniquets.

When it all finally hit the fan for me, the situation wasn’t anything special or spectacular. I’d just finally had enough.

I pulled out my journal and started leafing through page after page of handwritten notes that covered pages from top to bottom, margins and sides. No open space was left. There was just so much that needed changing that I could barely contain it on paper. But there it was… the keys to my change. The change I needed. The one I put off for over 30 years.

In my notes, I came across a simple story Keith had told me about his childhood. I never asked if it was a real story or maybe a made-up story that told the lesson so well that it worked better if it was told as though it was real. Regardless, this is the lesson he shared with me.

He explained that as a young child, the churches in his small town would gather annually for a large church potluck. Because everyone knew everyone else, there was a certain sense of obligation to take at least a bite or two of everything. I mean, no one wanted to find that their dish had been untouched and unwanted at this big affair, so it was seen as one’s duty to scoop piles onto their plates of even the things you’d rather not eat.

He told me that there was this one specific potato salad that was always brought by the same woman. To say “no” to her potato salad was to bring certain chastisement upon one’s self. And to make matters worse, she might even find you and put it on your plate for you if you managed to escape it while in line.

Apparently there are serial potato salad pushers in this world. Who knew, right?

Anyway, he never liked her potato salad. He liked the kind without the mustard. Plus, hers was the only one that made his stomach hurt.

Year after year, he would dutifully eat the mustard salad to appease the Potato Lady. He wasn’t doing it because he liked it. He wasn’t doing it because he wanted to eat it. He was doing it because the bellyache and the displeased palate were easier to deal with than the cranky old woman.

And isn’t that just about how it goes? We would rather deal with being walked on than to face the hot displeasure that accompanies the first time you say “no” to someone who is accustomed to as many free passes over you as they like. We would rather deal with being treated in ways that make us feel miserable than to go through the nerve-wracking job of expressing ourselves honestly, standing up for ourselves, and establishing a good, solid “no”.

Finally he learned that if he was dumb enough to keep scooping salad onto his plate that he did not like and that made him feel sick, it was his own darn fault when he was feeling bad. No one was gonna feel sorry for him and any pity parties he threw for himself were only thrown to help him sidestep this very important, very grown up way of living.

You see, we all bring a dish to the table. And we all get to choose what dishes we want to eat from at the table. You might bring something I don’t like, but it’s up to me to choose whether or not I’m going to keep scooping it onto my plate. If what you bring to the table makes my stomach hurt or makes me feel angry, hurt, used, unloved, or betrayed, it’s me who is the fool if I keep taking “helpings” of what you have to offer.

I have learned that there is no honor or special blessing that comes from not allowing others to know and see how they truly make us feel. For me, this does not necessarily mean that I am going to sit down, spell it out, and make a bulleted list of offenses. If your potato salad is filled with yucky mustard and it makes me vomit, I’m just not going to put it on my plate anymore. Plain and simple. I won’t come across the potluck lawn yelling at you for bringing your nasty concoction, but I also won’t knowingly eat something that makes me sick just so you won’t have to face the fact that what you bring to the table might need some reevaluation. And when you come around with your Serial Potato Salad Pusher Spoon trying to force it onto me, I will say “No thank you. I already filled my plate with what I want.”

Friendly to all; Friends with few.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hard lessons for the chronically-boundary-challenged person.
Also known as: New Rules to Live By

– Now, I say yes when I mean yes and no when I mean no. Even if it’s hard. “No is a complete sentence.”
– Now, I say “ouch” when it hurts.
– Now, I do not cry over people who will not cry over me.
– Now, I tell people about me but I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve and tell everyone all of my business. When it’s appropriate, I practice being evasive.
– Now, I do not seek to be best friends with everyone. I am selective on who I allow into my trust.
– Now, I understand that true mercy and true patience does not cause damage to another person, so if my mercy and patience is causing damage, it’s probably not mercy and patience after all. It’s probably that I’m a coward who doesn’t want to go to the great lengths of establishing a “no”.
– Now, I am not needy, helpless, or vulnerable. Now, I act. Now, I assert myself.
– Now, I don’t mind if people dislike me. I no longer grovel until their displeasure subsides. I no longer offer kindness as a way to appease.
– Now, I no longer stand between a person and their natural consequences. Though it might cause me pain to watch them suffer for their actions, I know that ultimately, cause-and-effect is our most gentle and most effective teacher.
– Now, I do not punish with a silent treatment. I gather my wits and approach the person with my cause and seek to have a conversation. I do not compromise. Even if I am not heard, I do not compromise. Remaining true to myself is more important than getting someone to treat me the way I think I ought to be treated.
– Now, I do not cover for people.
– Now, I only live with and live in community with people who stand on their own two feet – that is, people who hold themselves accountable for their own actions. I say “no” every time someone tries to get me to accept responsibility for their actions, their emotions, or their feelings.
– Now, I understand that what people say, think, and feel about me is none of my business… that it tells me far more about them than it ever could tell me about myself.
– Now, I have a breaking point. I know when to say “enough is enough”.
– Now, I am not convinced of someone’s love because simply they have spoken it to me. They must show it to me. If their actions are selfish and hateful and hurtful, yet their words are repeated apologies and glorious statements about good intentions, I will remember that actions are more telling than words. “Do not say “I love you”, show me.”
– Now, I am not so hard on myself that I demand total elimination of all my shortcomings.
– Now, I know what I want, I ask for what I want, and I show how I really feel.
– Now, I draw lines and abide by them.
– Now, I refuse to live in fear.
– Now, I no longer hand out permission slips for others to harm me.
– Now, I no longer harm myself.

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I am full of new beginnings…

“Many a time, I have been stricken to the earth, but the earth is full of strength which I take to my heart.  I have been defeated again and again, but there is something within me which is never defeated; for I am full of new beginnings.”

~ Don Marquis

inspirational-photo

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June 13, 2014 · 10:09 am

To Show up and Be there: AKA The One that Made All the Difference

I can’t.
That’s completely impossible.
You don’t understand what it’s like to be who I am. I have four babies. They are all young. We need that change, but that’s just too much. It’s too big. It’s too impossible. I won’t be able to feed them.

What will happen if you don’t?

I know, I know. But still. Can you ask me for something more… doable?

No. If you want my help, I ask hard things.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Keith was my psychologist during the worst months of my life. He asked me questions I could not answer and demanded change that was greater than I thought I was capable of. He did not need to be there for me. I could not afford him. I had no money. But he chose to help me – a total stranger – just for the sake of being help. He was, as I’ve said many times, the one man who made all the difference for me.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

How much time do I have?

Thirty days.

THIRTY DAYS??? First you ask me to do the impossible. Then you ask me to do it in thirty days. I haven’t had a job since before my oldest was born and my youngest is barely past newborn stage. I don’t have support anywhere. Friends, family, church. Nothing. I’m on my own in this. Once the kids are all in school, I can maybe try my hardest to do this, but now? Totally can’t make it happen.

Heather, your house is on fire. Everyone is asleep in their beds. You smell the fire. You see the fire. Does this not cause you alarm? Does this not waken some ferocity inside of you? If you can’t find the courage to do what you need to do to hopefully save Brian’s life by causing such a stir that he is forced into some positive action, do it for your children. They are down to one parent now. You must not, you cannot fail them. And if you plan to, the most loving thing you could do for them would be to walk them right in to social services tomorrow and give them up so that someone else can do for them what you two won’t.

Get up.
Act.
Do something.
It might not be the rightest thing, but do something.

Get out.
Get a job.
Find a way.
A new home.
A new life.
A new community.
Dedicate yourself to getting them and yourself as far from the poisonous world of alcoholism as you can.

But I love him.

You don’t really love him if you aren’t willing to risk losing him to keep him from an early casket. He is drinking himself to death in front of your eyes. Your house is on fire, and all you’re doing is throwing buckets of water at it. Wake the sleeping people and move them out. If Brian will come, it will save his life. If he won’t, so be it. Those children need you.

I have no money.

Oh Heather, money is the least of your concerns. What you need will come to you. What you want, you’ll need to go out and get. But money you will have. Courage. Courage is what you don’t have that you will need.

Can I have more time?

No you can’t. Because if you can’t do what you need to do in thirty days – if you can’t move heaven and earth to pull your babies from a burning house – no amount of time will be enough. You have thirty days. I will continue to help you and guide you and show you were to walk and how to keep pushing forward but only if I see outrageous courage from you.

Step off the cliff.
He will catch you.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I have discovered that great things only happen for people who are willing to take great risks. Once I found my “happy ever after”, people tried to tell me that I had it easy, and that if their “impossible” would have been as doable as mine, they too would have left. They too would have done what they needed to do.

But they saw only the finished clips where all the edits had been made and the end of the story was only three paragraphs away. They never saw the sheer terror of stepping off the side of a cliff with absolutely nothing to catch me. They never saw that every step was totally unlit. They only heard me recount the story when it was over.

If my roller coaster were that safe, of course I’d have taken a ride.

I found the house. In thirty days. Less actually. The move was awful as all moves are. This one was worse because I did it alone. Not one box was moved by arms other than my own. I was exhausted emotionally and physically. I was still living on Brian’s income, but his decline was happening fast, so I knew the clock was ticking.

There are many ways to tell the story of these months. There are many gems I scooped out of the dirty earth as I made my way through the worst journey of my life. I could never tell them all in one telling of the story. The gem on my mind today is the remembrance of the people who showed up for me.

Mostly strangers, some distant friends. Never the people you would have expected. The people you would have expected to show up actually disappeared. I’ve often wondered if that was something God intentionally did so that I’d have to find the courage that I did. It would not have been a very scary road if I’d had someone to lean on.   But there was no one. It took months to still that scream inside of me for someone else to walk this road with, but when it came – the surrender and acceptance – it was sweet and calm.

The pain was literally intolerable. Before then, I had no idea that enough emotional trauma can actually cause your body to physically ache. I know now that I was going through a nervous breakdown, but then, all I knew was that every moment of my life felt like I was set on fire. Every tiny inch of my being throbbed in pain. Inside and out.

There were times when I faced situations that, with just the smallest bit of help, would have been completely surmountable. But with only me, my resources, and my efforts, they quickly became Mt Everests.

Three stories sit in my mind with more prominence than the rest. Moments of desperate need. Moments when some unexpected person showed up and made all the difference.

One of those situations was when I desperately needed a vehicle. I finished the move to my new house over Christmas break and had four days into the New Year to find a way to get my son to school across town. We were out of the bussing territory, and it was too far to walk in a cold Minooka, IL winter. I offered to pay people, but no one would help. It was too far. Too much wear and tear on their car. Not enough free time to help.

That night, I lay in bed alone talking to God as had become my moment-by-moment constant. Angry tears slid down my face.

Didn’t You tell me You’d do this with me? That if father, mother, friend, and everyone turned away, You’d be there? Didn’t You say You’d be the Father to the fatherless and the Husband to the one who’d been abandoned by her husband? Then where the heck are You? It’s so small. I just need to get my boy to school. In the scope of what I’m trying to accomplish here – saving their lives – this is so insignificant and petty. Yet no one will help. Do You not hear me? Do You not see me? Will You not help?

I hear you.
I see you.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I fell asleep and was woken many times that night with the calm assurance that my plight had been made known. I did not have any idea how this little “impossible” was going to work out, but I made the conscious choice that I would not give up on my first battle. I’d find a way. I’d find resources I did not know I had.

I dug down deep and found that little tiny spark that said, “I can. I don’t know how, but I can.”

I refused to believe I was alone. Because I was not. He was with me.

The next morning, a friend I’d met only once told me that a group of her friends had chipped in together to make a car fund for me. It wasn’t going to be enough for the whole thing, but it would make a really good down payment. Another acquaintance that I barely knew called from Arizona to help me search online for the right vehicle.

Many small favors all piled into one life enabling event.

Someone showed up.

And it made all the difference.

I went to bed the next night with a new mini van in my driveway. The next morning, I drove my son to school. Not a person in Minooka, IL had any idea of any greater story other than that yesterday Heather Dyer had no car and today she did. But I knew. I knew that someone decided to show up. Somewhere, somehow, my little cry in the silence of the night made its way to the ears of One who loves me much more than I can still comprehend. And He answered. He did not use the people that were right there. The people that would have made perfect sense. The people that should have showed up. But someone showed up just the same. What was a small act of kindness to them fixed my second “impossible”.

That car meant more to me than wheels to take my son to school. It meant that I was not alone. Sure, the familiar faces that I so desperately wanted to trust and lean on were pitifully failing their duty, but I was not totally alone. My plea had been heard. His eyes were upon me. He’d taken pity on me. And if that was the only thing I had, that was more than enough.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The minivan that brought with it so much hope and so much proof of Help had sat in my driveway for about four months now. My feet were quite dirty from the journey I was on. Caked in mud and sadness, depression was spreading its ugly spell over me. Every day seemed like the one before. As a person who is waiting for death, everything blended into everything else leaving no clear distinction of days and movement and life.

On my son’s 8th birthday, his dad walked out halfway through his birthday party. I knew something was wrong this time. I mean, wronger than usual. I barely made it through the party. When the last guest left, I locked my front door and put the kids to bed instinctively knowing that a tornado was directly in my path and there was no way around it.

I called and asked him to come talk. He told me that night that he did not love us anymore and that, though he didn’t want to hurt us, he was moving out and not coming back. Truthfully, the moving out part wasn’t as painful as the sentence that lead to it. He was already gone. Often staying with friends from the bar who were strangers to me, I barely saw him anyway. It was the finality in his decision to stop loving us that brought the house down with it.

What I feared most was indeed going to happen. I feared that by causing such a stir, rather than rousing him into purposeful action, it would only help him plunge further into his deep darkness.

The alcohol had turned to drugs and young bartenders were his closest friends. He made a point to let me know he’d joined a gym. He lost weight. He changed his hair and his clothes. He called when he got arrested with his third DUI, but other than that, I was not something he thought about nor were the children.

The desperation I felt made my hands shake twenty four, seven. A constant jitter. A constant nausea. I read books about how to get your husband to come home. I played the games just right and did everything I was supposed to do. It worked five times. Fives times he came back home and moved in with us. Five times, he confessed and stopped and ended bad relationships. Five times, he gave me the hope that all would be well.

But each time he came home, he left again. Five times he left. Five times he took my fragmented mind and heart and shook them till the pieces flew.

Eventually, he cut me off financially.

I had discovered new levels of heartache since the incident with the minivan, but I had forgotten the feeling of wondering how to feed them.

I was already midway through an angry eviction of the house I was renting, selling appliances, clothing, and anything of value to keep food in the pantry. I’ve made the solid observation that life as a single mom is set up for sure doom. When childcare costs three times more than what you can possibly earn, there is a certain inefficiency in any strides toward self sufficiency that you make.

I knew I was going to need to move again, but I did not know where. I was behind on my car payment, so I kept it hidden in the garage and tried to keep the door shut all the time. A girl that broke and desperate does all she can to keep the one thing she needs most safe from repossession.

I really needed someone to show up again. I really needed some help. Nothing earth shattering, but this time, my needs were even greater than the time before.

And once again, I found my daily talks with God turning into pleas of desperation. A place to live. A job. To find a way to keep my car. A new world. A new life. To make it to the other side in one piece.   As I came more and more to terms with Brian’s choice to remove me from his life, it was as though the more that light turned off, the stronger a different one blazed. I was hungry for safety. I was thirsty for health. I wanted to give those things to my kids more than I wanted to be alive. But there were always little mountains laying in my path, keeping me anchored to my “impossibles”.

A car.
A house.
Food.
Money.
A job.
Emotional support.
Medical attention.
Counseling.

The list of things I would need to make it through grew and grew as my list of resources continually shrunk.

By now, I’d already been “graciously” asked to find another church home. And by “gracious”, of course, I mean “politically correct”, because that sort of request is anything but gracious.

The day she showed up for me, I was sitting in the living room I’d recently painted a bright whimsical blue. I found out later that when people use bright whimsical colors in their house painting, it often means they are fighting off death. How accidentally apropos of me.

I sat in an IKEA chair that was the color of blood when it comes into contact with oxygen. The stack of papers in front of me were home listings from many different parts of the country. I knew it was time to leave, but I did not know where to go.

North Carolina?
Iowa?
Texas?
Back to Georgia

Anywhere but here was fair game.

And I was looking everywhere. I had several job leads and several home leads, but none of them in the same place.

My rope has always been a long one, but when it has been mostly used up, and I’m nearing the end of it, I can become a fairly explosive bundle of nerves.

I dropped my head back in exasperation and let the tears fall. Learning to cry freely was a new talent of mine. It was a talent forced upon me by painful circumstance, but it was healing and freeing nonetheless. I’d spent the first three decades of my life suppressing those tears, so I had plenty to let loose.

The phone in my hand began to ring. I looked at it. The blasted thing that was still hot from use, but not as hot as my ear. To answer or to not?

I answered.

The voice on the other end of the line told me that she wasn’t fully aware of all the details of my situation, but she knew enough to know I needed help. She and her husband happened to be buying a house much bigger than what they would need until they had children, and if I wanted a place to lay my head and house my children for a year while I tried to become gainfully employed enough to stand on my own two feet, they’d be ready for me in three months.

When she hung up, I distinctly remember that the phone fell out of my hand and smashed on the ground. I can still hear the sound of the plastic battery holder falling off.

That was all I needed.  Someone showed up.
And that made all the difference.

To them, it seemed like the natural thing to do. Nothing overwhelming. Nothing even worth blogging about.
But to me, it was as though someone built a bridge across my most impossible ravine, allowing me to continue on my journey.

But that wasn’t the only problem knocking at my door.
Later that week, I received the other knock.  Literally. It was a towing company who’d come to take the car. I was woefully behind on my payments, and they’d given me more time than they usually would.

I begged for their patience.
They demanded that I open the garage door.

Knowing at least enough to be dangerous, I told them that they’d have to come back with a warrant from the Sheriff.

“No problem, lady. We do this all time time.” told me that they meant business.

I walked to the family room. The kids were already in bed for the night. I laid down on the floor with my face in the carpet.

How completely awful.
How completely ridiculous.
How completely ironic.

You give me a place to go, but then I lose the thing that will take me there.
I can’t exactly walk to Minnesota, ya know.

I see you.
I hear you.
I know.
Be calm.

These words spoken to me had become familiar ones. They did not always bring with them the promise that my obstacle would be removed or that my husband would come home or that my shattered world would suddenly be fixed. They were not words of promise that everything would be ok.   Just words that when the worst happened, it would not happen to me alone. When the waters went over my head, He’d be there with me. When life consumed me and ate me alive, He would endure the pain with me.

They brought no promise that I would not lose my car, but they did bring stillness. The reminder that He saw and He knew. That He was still on the Throne no matter what happened. Because, you see, it is better that way. It is better that He could and doesn’t. People normally see it the other way. Fists to the sky, they scream bloody murder asking why these bad things happened to good people and how a God who says He loves them could let this awful thing happen to them. Or they are of the other variety who refuse to face reality.  They live in a Sunday School world filled with Sunday School answers meant to satisfy Sunday School minds of children in adult bodies who are not big enough to face the hard questions of life.

I’d seen enough to know that the “why” doesn’t always get answered, sometimes the good guy doesn’t even get to finish, and life is pretty damn unfair if you want to know the truth. But reducing those events to an equation that says either God must not care or He must be impotent is shortsighted and driven by fear not by real experience of Him. It really is better that He can and doesn’t than that He be a benign spectator cheering us on when things are going well and sitting helplessly by in the bleachers when things have gone awry.

I woke several hours later to realize that I’d cried myself to sleep again. The carpet beneath my face was wet and stunk like wet carpet does. I peeled myself off the floor and made my way to bed. I paused as I walked past the front door.

They didn’t come back. I wonder if they forgot or got called somewhere else. But for one more night, I still have wheels. I hope something amazing will happen tomorrow.

The heart of an indomitable person says things like that.

The worst is knocking at my door, but I’ll find a way. I won’t take it laying down. I might be beaten to a bloody pulp already, but gosh darn it, there’s still some ferocity left in me. It might be deep down, but I’m willing to dig.

The next morning, I walked to the mail to find a one thousand dollar check waiting for me. I’d never met the girl. She knew me online and that was all. Said she meant to send it weeks ago.

I don’t think I can adequately tell you what it feels like to have your back pressed so hard against the wall that you can feel pieces of your spine starting to separate, and then, ever so suddenly – in an instant – feel something pull you up and away from it. I suppose it would be like having already taken your last breath as you are drowning, feeling your lungs already begin to fill, and knowing that the intense pain you are going to need to feel for the next minute or two is so awful that it will kill you – and then suddenly being jerked to the surface by a stranger’s hand.

Someone showed up.
Someone saw me drowning.
It wasn’t my best friend. It wasn’t my parent. It wasn’t my pastor or anyone who really knew me. But she saw enough and did what she could.

I cashed that check. I kept my car. That car drove me to Minnesota a few short months later and was the thing that made it all possible. It was one of a thousand stepping stones precariously placed along my journey to help me step over my impossibles and keep moving forward.

If even one of those stones had not been there, if even one person who showed up had decided not to, I could not have made it. Sometimes, they showed up and solved a real problem like a house or a car or a job. And sometimes, they showed up to remind me that though I felt alone, I never was. My Companion was not a person. My Companion was the One who saw me. Who heard me. The people He used were fairly removed from my life, but for an instant, He told them to show up for me. And they did.

And it made all the difference.

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Yesterday, I was in line at the grocery store with a cart of groceries, a growling belly, and an earache. My line was moving slowly, so I slid down a few to a shorter one. The woman in front of me was one I’d run into several times while making my way through the aisles. I was a bit annoyed with her because her kids were all over the place and noisy and always blocking the way. And I was hungry and my ear hurt. Not ideal conditions for me to be especially compassionate.

As I pulled my cart up behind her, I saw in her face that she regretted needing to see me again. I gave her a soft smile hoping she would forgive me for being impatient with her little spawn while trying to sack up some broccoli.

I could see she was tired. Her baby was crying. The other two were begging incessantly for candy.

Why do grocers do that to us? Is it a conspiracy against mothers? They put the candy and pop at their eye level at the very end of your shopping trip. When you’re most tired, most aggravated, and most ready to sell your children to the first person on the street who would promise them a happy home.

The mere sight of this poisonous confection turns them into even more demonic shopping partners.
The candy sometimes taunts them into screaming fits and full body tantrums.

All four of them were sorta pudgy. From her groceries, I could tell that mom was making a valiant effort for eating better. The pop was all diet and the chips were the “fat free” kind. I felt bad for her for a minute. There’s nothing worse than spinning your wheels when you’re trying to do good for your family but your information is lacking.

“Now honey, you know that we are trying to only have candy once a week. I am buying you this flavored water drink instead. Remember how much you liked it last time?”

I saw it happen in my mind before it actually happened. And when it did, I realized that I must indeed have telepathy because it happened exactly as I imagined it was going to.

Uh oh. Here it comes.
And come it did.
Whew.
Yells and screams. Body on the floor. The baby in the cart who had just cried herself to sleep is jolted awake by big brother’s tantrum and now trying to be an even decibel match to his volume.

Her face was flushed. She was both mad and embarrassed and trying to hide it all with sugar sweet words to her son. I knew full well the boy’s hide was in some serious danger once they were in the privacy of their own car.

Which one of us hasn’t been there?
I fear many children have met ill-fated deaths after such grocery shopping trips. I’ve managed to keep mine alive, but only barely.

I wished for a moment that I’d been kinder to her when her kids were driving me crazy in the store. Would it have been too much to slow down and let them be annoying? Would it have been too much to just smile?

I was softened a bit.

“I’m sorry ma’am, but these drinks aren’t covered by your food stamps.”

My ears went on fire. I scanned the cashier’s head for horns. Surely this person is devil born. How dare they say something like that loud enough for others to hear? Do they not know? They should be put to death. Immediately.

I know this situation.

I know what it’s like to stand in the grocery line with the last bit of your dignity hanging on by the tiniest of threads when some idiotic teenage cashier utters the words “food stamps” loud enough for the whole line of people to hear.

The shame is unmistakable.

She wasn’t one of those people who swipe their free money card for necessitates with a second set of groceries that included smokes, booze, and fun stuff that all betray the fact that they needed my free tax dollars about as much as they needed a hole in their heads. No. She was me. The me from a few years ago.

And it only got worse.

As I feigned interest in the latest news about Kate Middleton blaring from the pages of People magazine, I overheard her speaking in hushed tones to the cashier about how to properly use the formula coupons.

“Please scan the coupons first before you scan the formula. That’s how it has to be done.”

But did the clueless individual listen to her? No. Not so much.

I wanted to buy the umbrella that was hanging right there by the candy pleading for a last minute purchase and put it over her head. I thought we could both hide out under there while the cashier announced over the intercom that WIC assistance was needed at Aisle 9. I thought maybe she’d feel better if the whole world did not need to see her blushing face. I mean, they were already judging her for her pudgy, temper-tantrum-throwing children. It’s just insult to injury that they now get to judge her for being poor too. I mean, you wouldn’t have known otherwise. She clearly took care of herself and her kids. They were clean and dressed nice. Her hair was neat and put in its proper place. Other than this naughty little bit of condemning plastic in her wallet, she would be completely socially acceptable. Well, except her kids. But most moms know what that’s all about.

Maybe I was overreacting for her. I wanted to cry for her. I could feel it. The other people in the line looking at her. I guess society has very little love and patience for someone who is down and out and leaning on some assistance while they get their feet back under them.

After the kerfuffle was over, her flavored water drinks sat there like sad little puppies that almost got a new home, unclaimed.  Her kids were throwing even bigger fits than they were when they found out they could not have candy.

Maybe she was not in as dire of need as my mind immediately imagined her to be. Maybe I was just acting out of a sense of wanting to right some of the times when it would have meant the world if someone would have showed up for me.

I slid a gift card to the cashier and asked her to load some money on it as quickly as possible. As she finished bagging the last of her groceries, I zipped over and slid it into her hands. She was already crying before I got there. She paused for a moment and sorta hid behind me, which is kinda hard to do because I’m only 5’2”. After a rush of unabashed tears found their way to her blouse, I gave her a quick promise that times will get better and one day this will all be a memory. She gave me a half hug and a tight hand squeeze and said, “Wow thanks. That made all the difference.”

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Will you be there for someone?
Will you show up?

Be the one that made all the difference for someone at least once in your life.
Or maybe many times in your life.

Maybe you’ll be asked to share your house like my friend Johanna did.
Maybe you’ll be asked to share your thousand dollars like my friend Christy did.
Maybe you’ll be asked to slide a gift card into the hand of a single mom so that for just one time, she can buy groceries without the anxious dread of wondering whether the cashier will screw up her order and need to shout those yucky words over the intercom.

Maybe you offer your time and love to someone who would otherwise be alone.
Maybe you stand up for someone who is being spoken ill of behind their back.
Maybe you help someone who has back-stabbed you once upon a time.

Showing up does not always cost money.
But it does makes all the difference.

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