Wile E. Coyote, Simon Peter & Me: A Christmas Story

[Note: This is a long one! And it’s not for everyone; in fact, it may only be for my own edification. Just know that while this post may appear to be a snapshot of discouragement, it’s actually about the ashes from which I anticipate beauty. To paraphrase Rumi, this is my descent from which I plan to rise.]

If you grew up in the Warner Brothers generation, your first physics lesson probably came from Wile E. Coyote. You are not bound by the law of gravity unless and until you look down. Then you crash. Simon Peter combined this lesson with a more powerful – and  authentic – lesson in faith when he took Jesus’s invitation to step out of the boat and walk on water in the midst of a raging and terrifying sea storm. Gravity is a bear if you take your eyes off the One who created the earth & its natural laws and start to look around. Then you get wet.

And me? For as long as I can remember, I believed that I was holding my world in balance, everything held in place by two other laws: The law of motion and the law of cause & effect.  If I did this, then this would happen, and as long as everything kept moving along, everything was fine. I truly believed I could keep myself safe by maintaining careful control over everything.

I need that!

  • Say the right things and be seen as bright, competent & clever; always offer to help, and I’d be liked.
  • Keep all the bills paid on time and in full because that’s what responsible grown-ups do.
  • Make sure the family has food to eat, and they stay healthy and happy.
  • Work harder than everyone else at work and be rewarded with respect, raises, better opportunities and preference.
  • Above all…Don’t make a mistake!

However, I’ve been in the process of having any of the identification or security I thought I had ripped and stripped away from me.

Old Hag by TurnerMohan on DeviantArtTo be brutally honest, I am a 55 year old woman who stands 5′ 1″ and weighs about 225 lbs. Both of my knees are in great pain, so I waddle. I also lose my balance easily, so my gait is unsure and cautious. When I’m tired, excited or frustrated, my speech is slurred. My left shoulder, being dislocated, fails to fill out my clothes the way it once did, so it’s not unusual for my shirt to be nearly falling off my shoulder. I seldom notice my bra strap showing because I’m busy trying to stay focused and on task. The hair on the top of my head is so thin that there’s as much skin showing as there is hair, but I finally gave up wearing wigs because they insinuated a deeper shame than my thin hair did. And in the last few months, I’ve lost two crowns – both of which are right up front.

I am not attractive to look at. And some days I feel a deep sympathy for anyone who has to look at me. (Not really, but pretty much.) I’ve given up my driver’s license in the best interest of everyone because my brain and body don’t work they used to.

I wonder what people see when they look at me. Do they see a woman who’s had too much to drink staggering through the store? Or perhaps a “special needs” woman who needs to hold someone’s hand? I’m confident they don’t see an intelligent, clever woman whose wit puts others at ease and makes them laugh. I’m sure they don’t see a woman in pain who’s absolutely terrified of falling. I do know they no longer see a woman who is quick to flash a wide open smile at a total stranger because it just bubbles up out of her spirit.

I’ve whined, complained and explained so much of this in previous posts. It would be simple enough to say I have been a big baby, but in all fairness I don’t think I’m all that different than most people. In the past 12 months, I’ve dealt with a lot of unknowns that, quite frankly, I can’t even Google. If I can’t Google it, I can’t research it. If I can’t research it (for at least 36 days in a row until 2 am each day), I can’t understand it. If I can’t understand it, I can’t control it. And if I can’t control it, I am vulnerable. 

I can’t bear to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is a sure opening for pain, fear and discomfort. And I am no match for pain, fear and discomfort. This last year has changed me more than any other year.

So now, I have to reset my idea of who I am. Who is LaRonda now?

Festival oder eine Person zu erinnern oder um zu akzeptieren @ 宁馨 郁金香 éI know the answer is that I am a beloved child of El Roi, the God who sees me. I know I am loved by a Father who is merciful and gracious and who longs to bless me for his glory. I know that when my Father looks at me, he doesn’t see a short, fat, toothless woman who can’t walk straight; he sees the child he formed in my crazy mother’s womb, a child he chose before I could choose him, a child who now stands before him covered in the purifying, sacrificial blood of his son, Jesus Christ, redeemed and his.

That should be enough, shouldn’t it?   

But it’s not. What I know and what I feel are often mutually exclusive. I need to feel affirmation, appreciation and affection.

I can’t be the only one who didn’t get those things from their family or had them kept away from them as a means of punishment and control or had them horribly perverted.

I can’t be the only one who bartered herself for attention or affection, hoping to be “picked” by anyone, even if it was closing time at the bar and I was the last girl standing, feeling like the last kid left to be picked for a miserable game of dodgeball. Again.

I can’t be the only one who wanted a baby, thinking that if no one could love her, she’d give birth to someone who would love her – because that child wouldn’t know any better – for a few years at least.

At 32 years old, I was still hoping for a man who would keep me. I wasn’t delusional enough to expect love. I would be content with someone who would just help me make sure my needs and the needs of my daughter were met – shelter, food, clothing and – eventually – wifi. In turn, I would do a good job of making sure we had groceries in the fridge, all the bills were taken care of, and I didn’t embarrass him among the people he knew. That’s when God gave me John. And since God always seemed to know what he was doing, then I figured John would keep me, and I would secure my position by doing for him everything that needed to be done.

For 22 years, I’d genuinely thought that was the arrangement. Then God’s renovation project came along. I came to the end of 2019 worn down and tired, as was John. Everything we thought we had – decent insurance, acceptable health, enough money at the end of the month, a secure relationship – all fell away bit by bit. 

Just after the middle of December, our “Night before Christmas” looked like this:

  • My husband had a $55 bonus and some rebates from Menards.
  • His weekly paycheck was half of what we were expecting because he didn’t get paid for Thanksgiving after all.
  • I didn’t know if I was even getting a bonus.
  • We had no savings account.
  • We had no credit left, and we couldn’t have afforded higher or additional payments even if we did.
  • We had already advanced our checking reserve in full.
  • And we hadn’t gotten anything for our daughters yet.

This is EXACTLY how I feel sometimes_ Why is creativity so exhausting_I was looking at our balance and the carefully maintained Excel spreadsheet that listed our bills, due dates, monthly payments due and balances (you thought I was kidding about control, huh?). When there was no reconciliation to be found, I turned everything off.

In utter defeat, I turned to John and admitted, “I can’t.”

“Can’t what?”

“I can’t do anything. I can’t pay this bill. I can’t find a way to get the money to pay it. I can’t tell you how we’re going to buy anything you can’t get with $55 cash and Menards rebates to give to our girls for Christmas. By the way, Santa’s off the payroll so you’re getting nothing, and all I want for Christmas is some Xanax.”

I’d like to say a Christmas miracle happened that night as the miserly old neighbor drove 12 miles in the moonlit snow on a sled that was full of food and gifts for our starving family, but it’s not true:

  • Our neighbor is just next door, so it would have been silly for him to drive 12 miles simply for the sake of a good story. 
  • It wasn’t snowing – which was uncharacteristic of southern Minnesota.
  • The only thing our neighbor has ever blessed us with is the excess leaves that Mother Nature (that’s what we call his trusty leaf blower) happened to leave in our yard. A yard with no tree. 
  • We were far from starving, unless not having enough dip for the chips counted.
  • Our daughters are 18 and 27 years old. They each have their own jobs and can buy what they want for themselves. As could we, and we had; hence, some of our debt.
  • None of us even needed anything!

So now that it’s too late for me to say, “Long story, short”, follow me down the spiral  recap (because I obviously like bullet-pointed lists):

  • Big changes in 2019
  • History of low self-esteem with a crumbling facade
  • Hopelessly low expectations of a marriage
  • Dismal pre-Christmas/year-end
  • I CAN’T!
  • Wile E. Coyote and Simon Peter

So…the laws of nature! Wile E. Coyote looked down and fell. Peter looked around and began to sink. And I made the mistake of looking in. I’d counted and recounted all the things that had gone wrong that year ad nauseum! I was terrified of losing what little grip or control I had on things. And I crumbled.

The Whaa-ambulance came to a sudden, screeching stop at year’s end, and everything that wasn’t tied down was hurled forward into the new year. In the stress of the mess, I questioned everything – my life, my job, my marriage. I looked to find what had gone so wrong – so I could make sure it never happened again. After sorting through the debris, labeling and cross-referencing it, I came to this irrefutable (and most obvious to me) conclusion: It was clearly my husband’s fault! 

I’d gone to a lot of effort to create a nice family letter, and I’d asked him to do one simple thing – just address the envelopes. But he didn’t do that. I how our marriage had lasted as long as it had because I couldn’t rely on him to do anything I asked. Ever! Furthermore, if he didn’t want to help me, we each may as well go to our own metaphorical corners and JUST EAT WORMS!! (Except it was nastier – a lot more Dr. Phil than SNL.)

But I submit that there may have been a Christmas miracle in there after all.

After the curtain closed on my personal drama, I sat down with my husband. I explained to him that I didn’t think I had ever asked for much from him and that all I’d ever expected from him was to keep me, not walk away from me, and meet the most basic of my needs – like addressing 10 envelopes! Then I asked him what he had expected from our marriage. John simply said, “I just wanted someone who would love me.”

I thought that was a pretty stupid thing to say! Hadn’t I taken care of him? 

I had, actually. If it needed to be paid, organized, remembered or resolved, I had probably been the one to take care of it. I’d handled the lion’s share of anything done in the kitchen. To be fair, I cannot take credit for any cleaning! But God revealed to me over the next few days that the one thing I hadn’t done is love my husband. John had given me what he needed – love – yet he was so afraid of not meeting my standards and he had a such a stronghold of anxiety that he wasn’t as confident as I was at doing. And I needed some doing. What’s more, I realized that every single day that John had told me he loved me over the past 22 years, those three words had been lost in translation because I really didn’t understand love for the sake of love.

It’s time for some changes, I think. It’s time to let go of so many of the beliefs I adopted early in life, beliefs that once served as strong survival skills but have been keeping me from enjoying what’s been mine all along. I am lovable and loved – by my husband, my two daughters, my friends and a gracious Father. It time to take comfort and joy in that love. No more keeping score.

SPILLING YOUR GUTS 101

Houses are often used as analogies to lives. I think if my life, my personality, were personified as a house, that house would be similar to the famous Winchester house.

Allow me to demonstrate.

Isn’t this a lovely home?

w h outside

Oh! It’s a bit bigger than it looks, isn’t it?

w h from top

OK. Now, that’s just wrong!

w h inside

See what I mean?

Since I started blogging over a year ago, I’ve thought a lot about what I want to accomplish through my writing. I have offered to put any talent I may have into the hands of the God who can make donkeys talk. But even before that, God’s been in the process of stripping away all those things I don’t need and all the clutter I was never supposed to have, all to reveal me to myself the way my Father intended me to be when he formed me in my mother’s womb.

And you know what? The debris crew has a lot of work to do!

I have felt defective for many of my 50+ years – anywhere from ‘not quite good enough’ to ‘how do you even function?!‘ But I always maintained that a fresh coat of cheerful paint, an attractive wreath on the front door and some bright flowers along the front walk would be good enough to keep up the facade. The KEEP OUT signs managed to keep most people on the sidewalk. Sure, sometimes that fresh coat of paint covered some rust that should have been removed, but I was always afraid that the rust was the only thing holding things together.

A few years ago, our water main broke and we had water slowly and steadily seeping into the basement. The repair was as extensive as it was expensive, and in the end our little half-lot had a section measuring approximately 6′ wide by 8′ long by 8′ deep gouged out of its soil and we had a $4,200 bill. A large lilac bush was also removed in the process, leaving our small deck to sink a few inches on the right side. What was left was an ugly scar through our front yard. To make things worse, we live on a street favored by walkers and joggers. The huge pumpkin vine we’d had growing out of the middle of our yard a few years earlier was at least intriguing, but that’s a whole other story! This was just plain ugly! And absolutely everyone could see it.

A couple of years before that, something very similar happened. This time, though, it was physical. I’d had an emergency open-heart surgery to repair my ascending aorta. Long story, short, I blew a hole in my ascending aorta and could have/should have died. Trust me, it was kind of a big deal, and I’m excited to tell you about it – maybe even in the next post – because it was pretty amazing and key to my current restoration project.

scars tatoosAnyway, I now have a long jagged scar down the middle of my chest. There’s about one inch in the middle of the scar that is now thin and nearly invisible. Below that, the scar is stretched to nearly a half-inch wide and very, very light in color. But at the top – the part that shows above the neckline of all my clothes – is a two-inch long, half-inch wide red scar. It, too, is just plain ugly. And everyone can see it!

So why are these two things so significant to me? Why do they embarrass me? Because for the first time in my life, I couldn’t keep the surface of the water still. I was unable to control and manage the damage. More important, I couldn’t hide it.

MAD HATTER 2-17Now, most people would look at a surgery like mine and be glad they’d survived it. And they’d look at the lawn and deck and know it’s just a part of being a homeowner. But not me. All I could think was that now everyone could see how “defective” I was. It was almost as if my ‘ick’ has pressed the seams, busted the stitching and poured out for everyone to gawk at in disgust. And I was embarrassed and ashamed.

That is what you’d call pathological thinking. Or just plain mad!

You’d be right.

The night of my open-heart surgery, God did something amazing and transformational. And it seems he’s been working over-time since then to apply enough pressure to my seams to push out and bring to light all the crap I’ve protected and tried to keep hidden from view. Every time something new oozes out and I’m frantically trying to shove it all back in, my loving Father invites me to look at it – really look at it – in the light and decide if I honestly want to keep it…or if it might be time to let it go.

It hasn’t been easy to watch parts of me being removed. These are things by which I can no longer define myself. My signature was once beautiful and flowing. I enjoyed public speaking and community theater. I walked sharply and confidently. I went where I wanted, when I wanted. I could push myself just a little bit further if I had to.

Since my surgery, I’ve had poor balance and waddle to adjust for it. I’ve fallen quite a few times; the most recent resulting in a permanently dislocated shoulder. I can’t even Google that! My speech isn’t as clear as it once was, and when I’m excited or tired I slur more noticeably. I know for a fact that some people have thought I was drunk. I’ve had up driving. My handwriting that was once confident and legible is now carefully written, sometimes illegible, and no longer resembles my previously smooth handwriting. I miss my signature the most. I tire very easily and have a poorer memory.

And yet, I still put in a full week as an insurance agent!

I’ve been clipped, stripped and limited. But God’s not stopping there because he knows I’d feel completely broken, defeated and hopeless, which is where I already was the night of my surgery.

When I chip a front tooth, God tells me, “Shush. That tooth doesn’t define you.”

When my husband – the poor man – doesn’t seem to appreciate me the way I want him to, I hear God admonish, “Don’t look to him for your value. He may love you, but I’m the one who gives you value.”

When our bank account doesn’t line up with our bills, he reminds me, “Money isn’t a problem for me.”

When I feel flawed and ashamed, he says, “Lift your head, Child.”

And when I feel hopeless and don’t know who I am, he whispers, “Come here. You’re mine, and I will never leave you. You are so loved!

The world, and especially he who is in the world, have had over 50 years to do their worst to bring me to condemnation, but I am in the middle of a restoration! And I simply can’t bring home this point better than C. S. Lewis:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

“Yet as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua 24:15 (MEV)

Now, excuse me. I think I just saw Miley talking to the demolition team and I’m a little concerned!

CAREFUL! THAT’S STILL TENDER.

I know I haven’t posted anything for awhile. I’ve been busy and a bit under the weather, but the greater fact is that I’ve been hovering around a thought and can’t seem to find a place to grab hold of and land with. It’s not so much that I can’t find anything to write about. I have too much! And entire posts are beautifully composed in my head between one o’clock and three o’clock in the morning; by sunrise, it’s nothing but wisps of disconnected words. So it’s time to put something on paper and start…something…anything.

I’ll start here, because it’s where I seem to keep returning to:

A few months ago, I read Lysa TerKeurst’s post, “What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do,” and found a single sentence that I’ve meditated on every day since:

“We have to stop the bleeding from the deepest wound.”

Every. Single. Day! I’ve held this thought in my hand, turning it over, feeling it’s texture, weight and shape with my fingers. I’ve carried it in my pocket so I could just touch it once in a while. I’ve sat it on my desk at work so I could glance at it between emails. I’ve laid it on a shelf at home so I can look at it in a different light during the day. Sometimes, I think I’m looking for something that really isn’t there. Other times, I am certain I’ll find treasure in it.

A couple of weeks ago, though, I saw something! I was struggling with something in my marriage that has come up often enough in the past 22 years to really get on my last nerve. (No naming, no shaming, no details. You can fill in your own blanks!) The important things to know are:

  1. My husband did “his thing.”
  2. I reacted doing “my thing.” (Maybe it was the other way around or simultaneous, I don’t know!)
  3. We survived it.

But somewhere in the middle of it, I had some insight into Lysa’s charge. I realized I was ferociously protecting what may be my deepest wound. Alarms were being triggered and my greatest fears were at full attention, ready to protect that wound:

  1. I am terrified of not having control, especially if it means my only hope is in someone I’m not sure I can trust to be as strong as I need them to be. (This actually includes everyone I know. Because I have some serious trust issues!)
  2. I am terrified of asking for help because it would hurt too much to be denied or it might cost too much to accept help.
  3. I am terrified of finding out that I am, after all, truly alone and insignificant. Even worse, feeling the shame of daring to believe I could be loved.

Now, understand that these fears are always there, just under the surface, ready at a moment’s notice. So they’re nothing new. And any wound I have – from the most superficial scratch to the deepest gaping wound – is always there. But most of the time, I’m so busy trying to stand still  and steady as every feeling, every anxiety storms around me that I simply allow it and wait until it’s over.

I passively let it happen and wait for it to be over. I always have.

I’ve been in therapy off and on since I was 21, and I’m pretty well aware of what my “issues” are. The fact remains that I have felt powerless to do anything about it because at the very core, I have always and only seen myself as inherently unlovable. It’s like having a shirt that is so infused with a stench that no amount of Febreeze, vinegar, tomato juice or harsh chemicals can remove the smell.

you can't go backWhich brings me to today. I’m in my 50’s and have lived my life as a defective mother, wife, employee, friend. Not that I’ve been especially bad at these roles. I just haven’t been as good at them as I’d like to have been. I feel like I’ve cheated those I’ve lived with and myself. So therapy seemed like the appropriate action plan because, you see, I was defective. I was damaged. I didn’t work right. I needed to be fixed.

How did I know? Because shame was the sweater I wore to keep me warm. I spent most of the first 21 years of my life being reminded that I was optional. The person on whom I depended for food, clothes and shelter reminded me regularly that if I didn’t like it, I could leave.

I knew she was mentally “off”. And as I grew older, I came to see just how crazy it was to live in agreement with a woman who was mentally ill. Even crazier was that ultimately I was agreeing with a mentally ill woman who was dead!

What I’m unraveling now is the fact that I thought I had only two options:

  1. Be the person my mentally ill mother said I was, or
  2. Don’t be the person my mentally ill mother said I was, although I had no idea what that looked like.

But now I know that I was missing an option:

3. Be the person God created me to be.

And this option comes with an instruction manual and a love letter!

1df2fa83d020d50c90e390b7d79e1d68Believe me when I say that I do not want to write in the blood from my deepest wound. I want you to know that if you’ve been misused or abused, I know it hurts. But I want more than anything to write from the other side of pain. I desperately want to turn to you and say, “It is possible! You can get here from there. And it’s so much better here where grace abounds and mercy is freely given!”

But here’s the thing: I’m not on the other side yet. I’m writing this journey in “real time.” After all these years, I’m ready to be healthy. I want to be whole. And I don’t care if I have scars…as long as I can stop the bleeding from my deepest wound.

 

STEPPING OUT IN FAITH, IN STYLE!

On September 19th, I posted A New Thing, a preface of sorts to the direction I hoped to move in, a direction I felt God was calling to move in. I was still feeling pretty excited on September 21st. That day I was reading a few articles online when I noticed some really pretty dresses being advertised. Now I’m not a fancy dresser at all, but I like the idea of wearing something pretty and feeling pretty in it. I even have a board on Pinterest called ‘Things I’d Like to Feel Pretty In’. And that’s the closest I’ve ever gotten – thinking about feeling (not even being) pretty. And a lot of it is tied to how I was raised – like wearing a garage sale maternity top when I was 9 because it was “big”. Even so, when I dress for my office job, it’s in ‘work clothes’ because I plan to work hard and need to be comfortable more than I need to feel ‘fluffy.’

Anyway…It was a few minutes later that I clicked on a devotional about stepping out in faith, and this is a screenshot of what I saw:step out dressThe first dress is the one I’d shown my husband about 20 minutes earlier as one I especially liked. Finding this combination of article and advertisement really funny, I then posted the screenshot and this comment to Facebook:

I clicked on a link to read a devotional on stepping out in faith. Thanks to another link I’d looked at earlier, I saw that there were ways I could step out in faith looking pretty doggone good! (FYI: My favorite is the first dress and I wear a 3X. Just sayin’!) 😂

Not long after, a friend of mine replied, telling me, “Well get your walking shoes on. The dress will arrive in 10 days at your home!” (Of course, I cried!)

fc61fb67da2412164cb01972f689935bThe dress arrived yesterday, and it’s beautiful!

And I’m glad it came yesterday because every day from September 22nd to yesterday, I’ve felt unbearably hopeless and helpless. The sense of personal failure is overwhelming, and my personal mantra seems to be, “I can’t.”

I have so very much to learn about being a child of God and just what my Father is – and isn’t. His Word assures me that he doesn’t intend for me to feel afraid or without hope. I know that he doesn’t expect me to carry the load by myself. I think he’s very happy to see me in a pretty dress. And just to be sure I know he’s paying attention, 30 minutes after I freed my dress from its shipping constraints, I opened an email from Chicken Soup for the Soul notifying me that a story I submitted is in the final considerations for publication.

My Father sees me. He knows me. He loves me. Even when I wonder where he is.

And I have a pretty strong suspicion that he likes to see me smile!

6076d31c4d3038f8eba9de45a3857a97

 

A NEW THING

I have always had a passion for sharing what I knew and what I thought. Anytime, anywhere. Usually without invitation. And that seemed to be a problem for my teachers. All of my teachers. From First Grade through my senior year of high school. (I don’t think anyone noticed in Kindergarten because none of us had much self-control then.) But I still have the quarterly report cards that pointed out, “LaRonda talks too much in class.” When this came up in a conversation with a college professor, she said, “Well…we don’t have report cards in college.”

The thing is, I was never talking about how ugly I thought Heather’s dress was or how I couldn’t decide if I wanted to marry Shaun Cassidy or Leif Garret. I was almost always making comments on the lesson the teacher was teaching us – at that precise moment, unfortunately.

Equally unfortunate is the fact that the teachers never seemed to understand that. They seem to have thought I was talking about silly girl things and simply being a distracting nuisance when, in fact, I was only being a distracting nuisance. I’m realizing now that it was my way of learning and actually actively engaging in my education. It was how I learned best, and I had the grades to prove it. I just didn’t realize that no one else in the room worked that way, and I was making education and educating harder for them.

But because everyone believed the problem was that I talked too much in class, that became a source of shame and insecurity for me. To this day, my husband and I will go home after a Bible study, and I’ll say to him, “I talked too much again, didn’t I?” Sometimes I feel enough shame that tears come to my eyes (just as they are now by simply mentioning it).

What I’m getting at is this: I have an inherent passion to share my thoughts, and back in 2011 I thought blogging would be a great way to do that. If no one cared to know what I thought, they simply didn’t need to read what I wrote. But I had no direction, no substantial focus, so I quit.

Then in 2018, Maggie thought it would be fun to do a dual blog in which we would follow up each Bible study with her take on it as a daughter/teen, and I would share my thoughts as a mother/”mature” woman. I thought that sounded exciting, so the next Sunday night I blew off the dust on my old blog site and wrote down my thoughts on the Bible study. I kept waiting for Maggie to join me as I continued to find things to write about. I’m still waiting.

Eventually, I decided to change the name of my blog since I was obviously going to write about what I was learning about God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. I’d finally found a direction, a substantial focus. However, I have recently felt “committed” to “righteous writing”, and I’m no preacher. I’ve also learned that I absolutely treasure feedback because that’s when a conversation can begin. (I’m not foolish enough to suggest that there’s no emotional satisfaction, too. I enjoy encouraging comments, and I’m grateful I don’t have enough followers to say mean things. And I doubt there are many who don’t feel the same need for acceptance and fear of rejection.) One day, I hope I can genuinely say, “All glory goes to he who gave me this gift. None of it is me.”

Which brings me to this post. I have a story to tell. We all do. I’ve long thought that my story was about the pain I felt growing up with a mentally ill mother who was often quite cruel; the difficulty I had in my 20’s trying to meet so many unmet needs in a healthy way – and failing miserably; the challenge of acting “normal” in a world that had no idea that I only understood over-achievement to avoid being punished, all the while feeling inherently defective and unlovable; and taking 16 years to believe that my husband and children loved me “just because” and weren’t going to suddenly tell me they were just trying to be nice all these years, but the truth is they never loved me.

Most important, it took me this long to learn that my Father is nothing like my mother. And that is what I believe my story is. My story is God’s story; I’m simply a character in a story that reveals his nature.

I’m equally aware that I’m not the only one out here who has been abused, misused and lied to about who they are. Even the best-intentioned parents will manage to smudge God’s picture of who his children are. I also know there are others who have survived against the odds – literally. Some of us have experienced things that most of us couldn’t conceive or process even if we knew the story; and we’ll seldom hear the story. In fact, you’d be surprised at who you work with who’s grown up in truly damaging homes. Some of them may even be the friends you think you know. Chances are, they work very hard to make sure you never discover their secret.

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But the only story I can tell is my own. And perhaps someone can see that they’re not alone, their abuse and misuse was not their fault, their Father loves them very much, they are enough and they are lovable. I’m not talking Stuart Smalley stuff. (Yes. Yes, that is former Minnesota Senator, Al Franken, on Saturday Night Live. My state also elected Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura as governor, so…). No, I’m talking about discovering who we were born to be and finally living like the child of God that we are, rather than the child of                      _     we were told we were.

bloomingTo be honest, it’s scary for me to consider being vulnerable; but for the most part, those readers – who are fortunately small in number right now – will either not read what I write or will likely be very gracious. Those readers who are part of my church family and only think they know me, well…I don’t know what to tell ya! 🙂 Those readers who I know peripherally, I guess a more intimate introduction is imminent, huh? (I love a good alliteration!) Just understand that this has nothing to do with getting pity. Although there’s still some pain when someone accidentally and unknowingly bumps into an old wound that hasn’t quite healed or has very recently been re-injured, I know I’m loved and safe now. This is intended to be a story of healing – how and from what God is healing me.

I guess we’ll see what happens! By the way, the other thing my mother read on every single report card was “She is not living up to her potential.” Perhaps I can do something about that. I may be over 50, but some of my teachers also said I was just a late bloomer.

LINE!

I don’t know how professional stage actors do things, but when I was in high school and community theater, there was one day we feared the most of all rehearsal days. We knew from the very first day of rehearsal that the day would come when we would be “off book”. This was the day our scripts were taken from our sweaty, tight fists and we were no longer allowed their comfort. It was usually a true wake-up call for me.

Too often, I’d be right there in the center of the stage, my fellow actors around me, everyone where they were supposed to be when a horrid silence fell over the auditorium. Someone had forgotten their line. I’d look to see who it was. All the eyes and tired faces looking at me hinted that it was probably me. And it was. So I scrambled for my next line, standing there like Winnie the Pooh with “Think. Think. Think.” running through my mind. Nothing! So I faced my embarrassment and did the only thing I could do.

“Line!” I called out. That was my white flag of surrender to whomever was in charge of prompting me. And I was always prompted and carried on a bit longer.

Lately, I feel as if I could call “Line!” as often as I want and there would be no answer.

I don’t know if I can’t hear the prompt, if it’s my turn to simply improvise for a bit, or if the next part of the script isn’t available yet, although it has been written. In any case, I don’t know what to say or do next. In fact, I feel much like I did when I only had a small walk-on part and waited long stretches of time backstage, waiting for my entrance and quick exit. Just waiting. Killing time. Not especially paying attention.

Psalm 81:10 (NIV) says: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.”

If you’ve been reading this blog for long, you know that I write longer posts than others. Just imagine how much more I relish the ease and immediacy of talking! I never thought I’d not know what to say. The thing is, I have a lot to say, but I’m learning that not everything needs to be said, or even said by me.

I’m certain I have a story to tell, but the trick now is to tell God’s story in which I am but a character, rather than to simply tell my story. God is doing a great work in me, and sometimes it’s more painful than other times. Currently, I feel like I’m being stripped down to what I am at my core, with God removing all the things he never intended to cover me. It’s a bit scary, this unveiling.

So I wait for my next line. I wait for God’s direction. I wait for him to fill my mouth with his story.

 

 

THAT ONE TIME WHEN I DIDN’T DIE

I love TED Talks! As in anyone-who-says-they-enjoy-TED Talks-is-automatically-my-new-best-friend kind of love. And, no, the poor souls never see it coming. This morning, this 16-minute talk showed up in Twitter and I’ve been excited to share it all day long!!

The title reminded me of my friend who celebrated his first birthday after surviving necrotizing faciitis (flesh-eating bacteria) as his I Didn’t Die birthday. And it reminded me of so many of my fellow survivors in the Aortic Dissection Support Group on Facebook. I hadn’t expected to hear so many of my own thoughts come out of someone else’s mouth.

On the other hand, I wasn’t surprised that someone else had those thoughts. Suleika Jaouad gave voice to an idea that I’ve been pondering. In the years since I survived my ascending aortic dissection, I have noticed that I have as much in common with cancer survivors as I do with dissection survivors. I also have a lot in common with people who have dealt with break-ups, being relieved of job responsibilities and the key to the employee entrance, financial losses, etc. You can add whatever you want to the list.

These are the 9 things I’ve noticed so far:

  1. You are not alone. Everyone has either already endured a struggle or will eventually endure a struggle. No one finishes without at least one, and some people should probably just get their own punch card.
  2. Any loss is still a loss, any pain is still pain, and no one else gets to determine how big, bad or scary your struggle is.
  3. More often than not, you weren’t asked if it was okay with you. No, you didn’t get a vote. Yes, you get to clean up the collateral damage.
  4. Surviving wasn’t necessarily a matter of being a warrior. Let’s face it – it’s intuitive for us to do what we can to not die, and everyone around us from family to physicians is doing everything to help us survive. That being said, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to work your guts out getting to the other side.
  5. These things can change you in ways you may not be able to articulate. In fact, you may not want to share your thoughts at the risk of sounding ungrateful, because…
  6. Your new life might suck. (I’m no angel, but this blog hardly seems the right place for a word that may offend some. So I apologize for any offense, but maintain that this is the most appropriate inappropriate word I can think of.) But honestly, “new normal” is a phrase only used when the change in your life is no picnic, right?
  7. You are not the only one who went through it and came out on the other side a changed person. Your friends and family (and even your coworkers) are now the friends and family (and coworkers) of the person who survived. They have a “new normal” to adjust to as well.
  8. Your recovery doesn’t have to be pretty or polished to be progress.
  9. Finally, the biggest lie you may ever believe is that you’re the only one. Your story, statistics and survival may certainly be unique, but…See #1 again.

That’s it. That’s all I have right now. No confetti, pep talk or words of wisdom to end this post. But while you’re here, feel free to share something you think might help someone else not feel quite so alone.

Oh, you are so loved!

A MILLION PIECES

I haven’t written for awhile because I haven’t known what to say.

I feel broken. I feel defective. I feel confused.

I’ve been in the process of healing, of recovering, most of my life. And just when I’d gotten so far in healing emotionally, I’ve needed to recover physically. And I think I’ve had enough.

The thing about recovering and healing is that it’s always a partner to pain or illness. If you’re “getting better”, then you weren’t well. The unfortunate truth is that we don’t get to choose, do we?

By the time my family got home last night, I’d decided that I deserved pity. Pity and potato chips. (Don’t judge me! This was my pity party.)

I’d spent the week making a mental checklist of all the things I couldn’t do any more since I’d fallen and ruined my shoulder two months ago. And I got bonus points for the fact that I will most likely never be able to do anything on the list again. I had begun to see myself as broken. But I’d found this photo of a sunset reflected in a broken mirror. “Ah!” I mused. “Perhaps if that mirror can reflect beauty in spite of its brokenness, so can I.” (I know, right! Even I’m gagging.)

I considered doing my own rendition of a phoenix. But I really didn’t feel like rising from the ashes. Honestly, I was far more inclined to wallow in the ashes. At my best, I might have lain on my back and made ash angels, buy I’m unable to straighten out my left arm enough to manage even that!

Seriously, though, this “new normal” stuff stinks! And it seems that the only time you hear about someone’s “new normal” is when life hands them a cruddy plot twist. I haven’t researched where or when this phrase originated, but I have a feeling it was first used by a doctor who couldn’t fix someone or make them feel better and had no idea what to say. It would have been unprofessional to say, “Gee, you’re one really unfortunate person.” So they said, “This is your new normal now. You’ll learn to adjust.”

And most people do. They have no other option, really. At least not a good option. Their family adjusts, too, because this is now their “new normal”.

When you think about it, though, isn’t your life just one “new normal” after another? My daughter will have graduated this time next year. Her father and I will navigate the new normal of sending our baby out into the world, and she’ll work out the grown-up details of her new normal. My marriage to my husband almost 23 years ago was a pretty big new normal. Every new job was a new normal. Bringing a child into the world was a new normal.

So what we really have is a lifetime of constant new normal’s. And they all fall on a continuum between tears of unspeakable joy to tears of unspeakable despair. But God is there for all of it. None of it comes as a surprise to him. The hard part for most of us is not knowing why. “Why me?”

It is just as reasonable to ask, “Why not me?” The day after my pity party, I learned that a man who was less than two weeks from retiring when a car failed to stop at the stop sign. and hit the car he was a passenger in. He was less than two weeks from retiring. Chances are his wife had a Honey Do list waiting for him. He’s now beginning his retirement as a quadriplegic. That’s not a new normal that I think I could handle, and that humbles me.

Last night, my search for some inspirational words lead me to a video that I hadn’t planned to watch – because it was about miracles instead of a miry pit. It, too, shushed my whiny thoughts. It’s worth the five minutes you’ll spend listening to it.

Here in southern Minnesota, people are quick to say, “It could be worse.” Well, it could be better, too, don’tcha know.

I have no idea how to wrap this up. I guess – for me anyway – it comes down to two words. But God. I don’t understand…but God does. I don’t know how I’m going to get through this…but God does. I can’t find the good…but God can.

It’s easy to feel alone…but God is with me, even if I don’t feel him.

 

WHAT ARE THE ODDS?

I had intended this post to follow another one I’d posted, but I couldn’t choose between But Wait! There’s More (since I’d neglected to tell you what my Crap of the Month for April was and it’s now May) or Maybe He’s Just Moving the Pieces (since I’m pretty sure God’s quite done with me yet).

I think challenges can run a continuum from an eye-rolling UGH! to an agonizing, life-or-death matter for which there are no words, only tears. So whey say things like “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and “Fall seven times, get up eight”, it’s important to remember that challenges are relative, and you are allowed to rise on your own schedule, at your own pace. You can cover yourself in bubble wrap, with mascara running down your face, or you can put on a suit and tie looking like nothing ever happened. You can share your story with anyone you know (or even not know!) on social media or you can choose to never share it. However you do it, it may be awhile before you’re able to get up again, and even longer before you are as strong as you were, much less stronger. And “new normal” is baloney! (Just sayin’.)

The bottom line is this:

  • It’s your challenge, and no one has the right to say when you should be “over it”.
  • It’s your challenge, and no one as the right to tell you how much it should hurt.
  • It’s your challenge, and you are not required to minimize it because someone “has it worse” than you.

So April’s Crap of the Month: on the last Wednesday of March I fell, fractured the glenoid fossa – pretty much the cupped socket into which the the top of the shoulder rests. (And the irony is that I fell just as I was calculating the odds of falling a second time at this very convenience store! Yes. I had fallen here about two years earlier.)

At first, it was so painful that the kind men who had come to help me may have wondered if my vocabulary was limited to only four-letter words that began with the letter F – one was “fine”, the other was not. By Friday, it felt better. It hurt, but it wasn’t horrible. At least not until 4:00 am on the following Monday. That’s when I got out of bed to pick up something I’d knocked off my night stand and dislocated my shoulder. Now it hurt!

A follow-up x-ray was enough to warrant a referral to a specialist. I really didn’t understand why no one in town could handle a painful shoulder. Even if it required surgery, I thought surely it should have been managed locally.

Nine days later, the specialist explained the problem. The fracture I had wasn’t very common and surgery wouldn’t guarantee that my shoulder wouldn’t dislocate again. Furthermore, based on my medical history, I wouldn’t survive the operation. The treatment plan, then? We do nothing.

Seriously? Nothing?

Apparently so. Of all the glenoid fractures I could have had, there was only a 0.1% chance that it would be the type I had. Which explained the referral to the specialist. It also meant that my shoulder will remain dislocated while it wears away a new area in which to settle. The pain should lessen, but it will continue to be limited in its mobility, reach and strength.

OK. That explained why surgery wouldn’t help, but I didn’t understand how it could be dangerous. So bear with me as I tell you a bit about my “medical history” that eliminated that option.

On July 26, 2013, I was flown to Abbott Northwestern for an emergency open-heart surgery, during which my body temperature was significantly lowered and I was on heart-lung bypass for nearly 9 hours. I’d had an ascending aortic dissection, which is what actor John Ritter died of during the filming of the TV show “8 Simple Rules”. The simplest way I can explain it is this: the aorta is how blood gets where it needs to go in your heart. It has three layers. When you have an aneurysm (which I apparently had), the wall of the aorta is weakened. On the particular evening, my aorta was weakened and I blew a hole through all three walls. That’s when the blood that should have been going into my heart went wherever it wanted to go.

The incidence of any aortic dissection occurs once per 10,000 patients admitted to the hospital; approximately 2,000 new cases are reported each year in the United States. Now, there are different types of aortic dissection. Approximately 65% are in the ascending aorta, like mine was. Of those, patients who undergo surgical treatment – like I was fortunate to receive – have a 30% mortality rate.  Of those 70% who survive, the quality of life differs greatly, ranging from getting back to the gym to dealing with chronic issues.

I’m one of those left with chronic issues, including slurred speech, short-term memory retention, labored handwriting that was no longer “mine”, an awkward gait, poor dexterity, poor balance, and compromised driving skills – none of which can be explained by neurologists, most of which have not been bad enough to make working a 40-hour work week impossible, all of which have really pissed me off for over five years because it’s frustrating and I look and sound like I’m drunk. There hasn’t been one single day since July 26, 2013, that I haven’t experienced pain of some sort.

So…I have a tendency to fall backward. And although I’ve had a few bumps and bruises, none of those falls had been a real issue until the one I had in March.

497e9528820d0a5a025c2c83fc8d4a82My medical history reminds me of the theme song from the Laverne and Shirley show:

Give us any chance, we’ll take it
Read us any rule, we’ll break it

But not always in a good way. I have a fair record of experiencing the statistically unlikely. So while most people listen to the first half of the warnings in a medication commercial, I listen through to the very end – because that is where I’ll be.

I blame my mother. She’s the one who gave me a name that wouldn’t be found on anything you could buy in a store. Even today, no one can have a Coke with LaRonda!

Here’s the thing, though: God’s specialty is in limited probabilities and impossibilities. The aortic dissection I survived is normally discovered during an autopsy. The fracture?There is apparently no protocol for treatment because there haven’t been enough to gather information from.

I’m not enjoying any of this. I miss doing community theater. I miss spending the day shopping. I miss driving over 20 miles an hour and leaving the city limits behind the wheel. And right now, I really, really miss being able to type with two hands. But as they say here in Minnesota, it could be worse!

I haven’t shared this for pity. I’ve shared it as a sort of introduction to me. I’ve shared it so there’s some context when you read my posts. I’ve shared it so you can understand the ashes God leaves behind when He makes something beautiful from the things that happened against the odds. I have to believe God will use this.

When I began blogging a year ago, my initial plan was to help people who struggled with the idea that they were loved always and anyway by a God who was nothing like any of the people in their life who’d made them believe they were unlovable. If I choose to believe that the universe is out to screw me, then I have no hope.

What I am choosing to believe is that a very loving God is showing me that there is nothing so statistically unlikely that He cannot manage, and that whatever happens, I can be 100% certain that He’s absolutely got this. He knows He will never leave me nor forsake me.  I’m the one who needs no know it.

 

ARE WE THERE YET?

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and I think that’s possible…eventually. But they don’t talk about the ass-whippin’ that “doesn’t kill you” in the first place, do they? They don’t talk about what it cost you or what it took to recover. They don’t talk about how it changed you or the scars or the collateral damage it left behind. They don’t talk about the humiliation you felt when it kicked you one last time and left you lying there, exhausted.

Right now, I’m angry and confused. For the first time in my life, I’ve taken a few hits and not given up on my faith in a loving God whom I still believe has a good plan for my life. And I think that’s a big part of my anger and confusion. I don’t understand why I seem to keep getting knocked down.

Let me explain myself first. I know that other people have problems.  I know that it could be worse. I don’t ask why me because I know the answer is why not me. What I want you to understand is that what I survived almost six years ago was statistically unlikely to survive. But I did. And recently, I suffered an injury that is statistically unlikely to happen. Both began simply. Both have changed me significantly. And I have no doubt that I’ve been firmly in God’s hands through it all.

cs-lewis-quote-were-not-necessarily-doubting-that-god-will-do-theI guess what I really want to know is, “Are we there yet?”

I’m tired of healing, recovering, being told there are no explanations.

I feel like God’s has been very persistent in making sure the only answer to any of my questions is him and him alone. But what scares me is this: If what I’ve gone through hasn’t gotten me where God wants me to be, how bad does it to be to get me there?