Constricted

So to give a little more information about my adventures with asthma (or what I did this summer!), let me take you back to July. I was finishing up my first clinical trial, and for some reason right at the tail end of it I had a pretty bad attack.

For me an attack usually starts with coughing, the coughing is productive and doesn’t let up, and it progresses to wheezing as my lungs get congested with mucus and at the same time the air passages swell, making the space for air to move smaller and smaller.

I lose the ability to talk.

So I have several hours of time spent focusing on my breathing.

I can’t read, play games, even concentrating on tv is too much to expect. I recline or lie down and try to slowly bring air in and out.

The place my mind goes during an attack is a new landscape for me. I’m aware of things immediately around me, but I can’t focus on any of them. Sometimes other people’s voices come through clearly, but I can’t respond.

I’m thinking about how I can’t think too deeply about anything, and I get distracted by my own wheezing, losing even that pitiful train of thought.

I know I’m getting better when the fuzziness of the world around me starts to clear, a sharpness returns like a camera lens that was a little out of adjustment. Only I thought it was clear.

I’ve had mild asthma for years, and never had to do more than use my rescue inhaler once every few months, usually after exercise or going out in very cold or humid air. My “normal” triggers.

But last November I got what I thought was a cold that I couldn’t shake. It settled in my sinuses and nothing I did seemed to help. Meanwhile I lost my sense of smell and taste, started each morning blowing my nose and using a dozen tissues, and lost my voice quite often.

In January I began my adventures with asthma attacks. It wasn’t until after the first one was over that it occurred to me what it was.

I have a really high pain tolerance, and so I was determined to just get back to normal breathing. Even though that took 2 1/2 hours with the first attack, I stubbornly didn’t consider it to be serious.

In February I had a second one. Then in March and April I got help at urgent care, finally getting two courses of antibiotics, which helped not only my sinuses to clear, but also started getting rid of junk in my lungs!

I felt so much better! I had high hopes of spending lots of time piddling in my garden areas this summer.

Then in May I had my third attack. It was on a hot day, humid air, and I had stopped at my daughter’s to plant some flowers I’d gotten her for Mother’s Day.

So much for spending time gardening.

I was very cautious in June, staying inside in air conditioning as much as possible, very aware of my activity and surroundings.

My first clinical trial began in June and it seemed to go well. I was using a better drug than my usual, and I was ready to switch when the trial ended.

But right before my last office visit in early July I had my fourth attack.

This was not part of my plans. I was set to finish the trial that Monday, and leave for five days in Nashville at CR’s Summit East on Tuesday. I had the good meds packed and ready to travel, and I was determined to not let myself get too stressed or tired, hoping to avoid more attacks.

Then a long car ride from Ohio to Tennessee, walking on hills, temps in the upper 90’s, and humidity of about 90%.

And lots of walking at Summit.

I found myself experiencing pain deep in my calves and had a toe swollen and discolored. And a strange feeling of constriction in the middle of my chest.

Despite my physical ailments, I was having a great time. I settled in that first night and started adding to my list I’m keeping of one thousand gifts from God that I can be thankful for. Over the next four days I wrote down 103 different blessings.

I was feeling such thankfulness to God for getting me to Summit, where I was immersed in an atmosphere of pure gratitude and awe of all God has done in all of our lives, me and the 3,000+ others attending, that I couldn’t do anything but give praise.

Yes, my friends were concerned. We discussed whether I should get checked out at a hospital. The words pulmonary embolism were thought and spoken, as were deep vein thrombosis and concern about the chest feeling being one of those odd woman signs of a heart attack.

I prayed about it and really felt I was going to be ok. My breathing was not bad. I carried all my meds with me and used them as needed. I let the rest of our group go off without me and stayed put close to my workshops.

It made for a lot of time with God and it was all good.

On the ride home I got a call from my husband. He and two of our kids had been in a car accident in a parking lot. They were a little banged up from being t-boned, and the van had probably received a death blow.

So no stress for the last four hours of the drive!

When I got home we headed out to get some dinner.

And even on the way there I was starting to cough.

By the time our food came I had progressed to wheezing. And nausea. My husband and I left then to head home, where the attack continued and was worse than any other, adding in vomiting and sweating and shaking.

And when my husband asked if I needed to go to the emergency room, I shook my head no. Because I couldn’t imagine being able to make the effort to walk out to the car to drive there. So I toughed it out. Again.

The next morning, Sunday, I made it until the last of three points in our pastor’s sermon before the constriction in my chest and my shallow breathing made me sure that I was headed to the hospital after service.

I got the lecture about how people actually die during asthma attacks. How the pain in my legs and chest could be the things I’d already thought of.

And I got my first nebulizer treatment.

Truly sweet relief.

Lots of really good things happened that day and into the next, as I was admitted to the hospital and they ran several different tests.

I found out I have great veins in my legs. My heart is perfect. My lungs had no nodes or nodules that would be symptomatic of lung cancer, and no embolism.

The only thing wrong was that asthma had filled my lungs with thick, sticky mucus that I needed to be able to get rid of.

Just like I’d been saying for years.

So a course of steroids and antibiotics, the nebulizer sent home with me, and otherwise a clean bill of health.

I will tell you another time how that knowledge has affected me.

Three attacks total in July, and three more in September brought the total to nine over nine months, the most serious one I wrote about a couple weeks ago.

And then a breakthrough. While brainstorming with my asthma doctor we figured out the culprit. Aleve. Which I’d taken for pain before most of my worst attacks.

So now I’m hoping to only talk about asthma attacks in retrospect.

Because I never want to feel that constricted ever again.

Exhaling

The last time I wrote about my daughter’s first foster baby it was about the day she had to hand her over to case workers to be placed in another home.

Last year this time, Baby A and Big Brother were adopted into that family, finding their forever home.

And after more than a year and a half of not seeing her, our whole family was invited to the adoption party! We were over the moon with excitement!

The day the official adoption proceedings at the courthouse happened was the day before my husband’s and my 33rd anniversary, and the party came a few days later. I don’t even remember celebrating our own milestone, I was so ecstatic that we were going to see Baby A, now almost 2 years old, with Big Brother and their new family.

We joyfully picked out presents for them all, looked back through the pictures on our phones from those brief two months we had the pleasure of helping care for this child, and ticked off the minutes until the day came.

As we drove out to their town I tried not to analyze my feelings. I was nervous (not normal for me), but I didn’t want to think about it then. I’d wait until later to dig into the reasons.

My daughter and Baby B had gone to Baby A’s first birthday party almost a year earlier, and we had been greatly reassured to hear our girl was surrounded by people who loved her and her older brother. And even more pleased to hear how Baby A remembered my daughter, the mother who cared for her in those first months.

It had certainly eased my mind.

And now I could see with my own eyes how our little girl was doing.

Then we arrived. As we expected there was a nice crowd of friends and family come to celebrate. We were welcomed in and introduced to a number of people and the names were all a blur.

I was trying not to look for her.

It was wonderful to see Big Brother, who we had the pleasure of meeting the day Baby A left our family to join with him in this one. He had made an impression on us then, and it was a delight to watch him playing and interacting with so many people. And he was still a sharp dresser!

We saw where the food was laid out, listened as our daughter and Baby A’s mom caught up on their girls’ milestones, getting our bearings.

And I knew she was there somewhere.

Then her Nana came alongside me and asked if I wanted to go see her.

I have to say one of the surprising things to me was the sense of honor I felt was being given to us as Baby A’s first family. In the grand scheme of things we were a part of her life for only two short months. This family had been dealing with the day-to-day sickness, allergies, temper tantrums, and mischief of the nineteen months that followed.

And also all the smiles and cuddles.

But even a year later I am still awed and humbled by the respect and thankfulness Baby A and Big Brother’s new family showed us all.

Nana pointed to where Baby A was eating in her high chair at the back of the garage. And all by myself I walked over to her.

I took in the same high hairline and beautiful rounded forehead I had kissed and nuzzled many times.

We were both wearing purple. I had loved to dress her in purple as it looked so good next to her rich, light brown skin.

She looked like herself, and my heart was so full I wasn’t sure I could stand it without yelling out loud or breaking down in tears, either of which would probably scare her.

I started talking in a low voice, saying some of the same things I used to say to her as an infant. I knew I was repeating myself a little, but I didn’t want to speak things unfamiliar to her, to us.

She stilled.

She was looking at her food, and she stopped moving, stopped doing anything.

Except listening.

To my voice.

She lifted her face and our eyes met.

I was bent over to be closer to her height, and that put us face to face.

I kept talking as I saw recognition come over her features.

A look of pure love.

And Nana asking if I wanted to hold her. Yes! Yes!!

I picked her up and it seemed like right away I was surrounded by my husband and kids, everyone wanting to see and touch and hold.

And it was okay to hand her over to my husband, her Papa, because it was hitting me that I had been living as if with my breath held all these long months.

I did not realize the fear until that moment. The fear that she wouldn’t remember me. Gone in the sparkle of that first look that passed between us.

There was lots of smiling and laughing, eating good food, Baby B at 18 months old toddling around clinging to my legs and wanting up in between playing with Baby A and Big Brother and the other kids.

As time got closer to when we needed to leave, Baby A’s family wanted to get some pictures of all of us with their girl, so we gathered across the street in a big grassy area. My daughter picked her up, someone else held Baby B, and we all smiled like crazy.

And when we were done, Baby A came over to me and I knelt down and let her look through newborn pictures of herself on my phone as I told her about them. She was amazed that I had pictures of us together, the same ones that are in a scrapbook she has.

Then we walked hand in hand with others back to the house, and she wrapped herself around my leg. I picked her up and she draped herself around my shoulders, this great big girl filling up my heart just like she did as a tiny infant.

As she nestled into my neck I sang the first verse of “Baby Mine” that I used to sing as I held and rocked her.

And she fell asleep.

Her family was a little surprised. They said she was hard to get down for a nap, but to me it was just like those early days.

They offered to take her off my hands. But I was willing to hold that child until I collapsed if I could! I did eventually take her into the house and sit down with her, but this knowing was like something I’d expect to feel in heaven.

She knew me. And I knew her.

And love always wins.

Not Finished with Me Yet

Last Thursday I almost died.

Literally.

I’m still gathering all the pieces of why I didn’t, and I want to capture for you my perspective on what I hope is a one-time occurrence.

(For some background you could check out my post “Inspiration” from August 8, 2019.)

I’m really big on gaining knowledge and understanding. So when my asthma and allergies (still unnamed) started ramping up and causing attacks, I went into research mode. I made an appointment with a pulmonologist, but it was almost two months away. So I responded to a Facebook post about an asthma clinical trial, and found my asthma and allergy doctors instead.

Since then I’ve participated in two clinical trials designed to test generics of an effective asthma drug that makes it more affordable to do what should come naturally.

Breathe.

So in a two week time I had already had two serious asthma attacks: one after visiting a very musty used-book store, another that woke me up coughing and choking in the wee hours of the morning.

That second one got me thinking that I needed a better strategy of how to communicate that I was having trouble. I was alone in the family room to use my nebulizer for an albuterol treatment at 4am, taking my phone in case the distress didn’t let up. But my husband’s phone charges overnight in that room, so it would be down to my teenagers or 911 if I couldn’t walk and breathe at the same time to get help.

I freely admit I have control issues. Four and a half years of Celebrate Recovery have gotten me to the point where I can clearly see my problems, but I still don’t want to admit that I need help.

I don’t want to be powerless.

Seriously, I have been in places where I had no control over what was being done to me, and as a girl I decided I would do my best to control everything I could to make sure nothing bad happened to me again.

Yet Thursday night I had almost no control over what was happening to me.

Just the day before my third attack in two weeks, I met with my mentor, who I hadn’t seen for a month, and we talked about my need to have a written and easily communicated way to let my family know what I needed. So while working Thursday, my mind was on doing this, making a list from the most drastic to least invasive things to do for me or ask me about.

In my controlling mind I never wanted to entertain the idea of needing to call 911. That was for people who couldn’t analyze their own situation and be proactive about doing for themselves all they could.

Joke’s on me.

My niece, a firefighter and EMT, will give me a look next time I see her, but on my list was to ask her what to expect if I ever needed to call for emergency help. Because I like to work it out in my head before it ever happens.

Someone else was doing the working out, way better than I ever could.

Simple things like me feeling inspired to clean the garage. Okay, boss the teenagers around to get the garage cleaned. This happened a few weeks ago after moving Middle Son into college, when I was feeling the need to clear out the staging area in the house, and do the every-ten-year garage purging. It wasn’t completely cleared, but in organized piles at least.

I just want to park inside it this winter.

And getting stocked up on my regular asthma meds for when the current trial ended, something I would normally wait to spend the money on.

Way farther back, two and half years ago, Baby Girl had taken the classes and gotten certified for adult and infant CPR training. Though she had never had occasion to use it, she wanted the knowledge and confidence it gave her to work with young children in many areas of her life.

Let’s go farther, to 8-year old me, who was learning to use a riding mower and wanted to hear herself sing over the noise. And who was almost drowned by a neighbor boy in our pool, so I decided to learn to breathe deeply and be able to hold my breath for long periods calmly. Who loved to be onstage and belt out lines or songs, no cheating with microphones. Who toughed out labor every time with no help from drugs.

Just breathing deeply.

So when very suddenly Thursday evening I went from laughing over pictures of a cake I’d had delivered to Middle Son at school, to not feeling right, to labored breathing, sweating, feeling a little nauseated, all the pieces (much more than I could ever list) from my whole life’s story came together in some of the hardest words I’ve ever said.

I need help. Call an ambulance.

I guess I’m not shocked this didn’t register. After all, I’m the one who handles these kinds of things. Because nobody else can (Ha! My deluded mind talking again.)

But as I stumbled back into the chair by my nebulizer and with shaking hands broke open a vial and poured it in, I heard my husband making the call.

My ears quit working. I couldn’t make out all the words. I could see my younger daughter trying to catch my eye, saying something I couldn’t understand. I barked out a few one-word orders on the exhales, but I couldn’t stand not having the little push of air helping with my feeble inspirations.

I was hardly breathing. In only a couple of minutes.

And several more passing while the ambulance rushed from five miles straight up the road.

There was no white light at the end of a tunnel. My whole life didn’t “flash before my eyes”. I don’t think I was that close to death. But then again, what do I know? Why do I try to minimize the seriousness of those moments?

The reality is, if the EMT’s hadn’t gotten there quickly, I probably wouldn’t be writing this.

There was a lot of activity going on around me. Kids rushing out to make sure the garage was wide open and shoving those piles farther out of the way. Moving one of the cars so vehicles could pull close to the house. Clearing laundry baskets and shoes out of the floor and away from the door so there was clear access.

Me begging wordlessly for another vial of albuterol, frustrated at how long it took me to communicate what I needed. (Should have gotten that plan down in writing.)

And the overriding need to breathe.

Out is possible. It’s a relaxing, a release, as little as it may be it didn’t take much effort.

But inspiration…

I didn’t fully understand what I was talking about until Thursday night, when every thought, every bit of my will was focused on moving that magnificent muscle, my well-developed diaphragm, and feeling a pitifully small whiff of air making it’s way into my wheezing, mucus-filled, inflamed, closed-up lungs.

There were suddenly strangers, one kneeling beside my chair talking in my ear, others carrying things, holding things up, putting things on my face and in my veins, asking questions I couldn’t answer.

The voice by my ear telling me to hold just a quick second before breathing out, to get the medicine in.

I’m just as sure as I can be that it’s like Luke described it: “Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God…”

Not the people, don’t misunderstand me. There was a battle going on in that room that was far beyond the working of my labored lungs. There was an eternal question that was being answered:

Who is in control here?

It wasn’t me.

In fact, I fought some of the things they wanted to do. I couldn’t stand the mask (they said it was like a CPAP, so that’s out for me in the future), but I wanted the oxygen and aerosol drugs it was providing so they let me hold it as close as I could. When they couldn’t get a clear oxygen reading, I heard something like 84%, they talked about intubating, and I motioned the kids to leave the room for a bit. Thankfully they didn’t need to do that.

The hardest part was hearing them ask questions I knew the answers to, but couldn’t speak.

Yet within an hour and a half of getting to the hospital I was talking to everyone and walking out on my own two feet.

Two days later Baby Girl (who is 16 and my hero right now) shared what she had been trying to tell me. She had her CPR manual out and was preparing herself mentally to be able to break her mother’s ribs if I went unconscious before the ambulance arrived and she needed to keep my heart beating. Because she is the only one in the house trained to do that.

And in the emergency room I learned that the EMT who took charge of me is also a nurse at the hospital we wanted to go to. He knew exactly what they would do, and did all he could ahead to avoid any delays in my care.

My family rushed madly to gather things I might need if I were admitted, let our grown kids know the situation, reached out to our church, got there quickly to be with me, though I was pretty unaware of my surroundings for a while.

The next day I canceled work and appointments, let myself be chauffeured to get more meds and run necessary errands, and was able to go to Celebrate Recovery.

I got there late because I’d run off without my phone and had to turn back. Got caught by a train, and after arriving during worship had three people I needed to talk to before I paid attention to the song.

And then I looked up to the screen and I got my answer.

“From life’s first cry, til final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.”

Thank you, Jesus, that you have not yet let me reach my final breath!

Getting Justice

I’m a person who really likes justice.

Seeing someone who has been wronged restored, and the person responsible held accountable for their harmful actions.

Someone working hard all their life and finally receiving recognition and gratitude for their efforts.

I like it when good triumphs over evil.

Especially when I’m the one receiving justice.

It was a sweet day a few months ago when Words with Friends started giving recognition for all kinds of achievements. Milestones based on numbers of times doing all kinds of things.

All of a sudden the 7 years of otherwise wasted time I had invested in playing Words with Friends were vindicated by my sudden designation as “achievement level 8” with more obscure statistics racked up than a baseball player!

Who knew someone was keeping records?

All those little victories were being counted up, kept track of, and finally revealed for the whole world to see. Well, ok, probably just the handful of people I play. If they had absolutely nothing better to do with their time than look up my achievements.

I guess if I want to someday look through them all…then at least one person will know how great I am at spelling words.

Back to justice.

Statistics are impersonal. They count quantity, but don’t define quality.

Before I got into recovery I wanted certain people to pay for what they had done to me. I wanted to help identify them as abusers, lead the investigation into who else they may have victimized, round them up and let us all have our day in court to testify or defend, and let the facts be heard and acknowledged and above all else, let justice be done.

For little girl me who didn’t have a voice or words to tell.

Because wouldn’t me getting justice make up for all those years of denial and shame and guilt and self-protection?

I considered becoming a lawyer for several years so that I could bring about justice for others. And in doing so I know I would have been trying to somehow bring restitution to myself.

But do I apply that same zeal to the people I have wronged? When I realize I’ve done something that hurt someone else in some way, am I eager to apologize and make amends as quickly as possible?

And what about those long ago sins against others that I would rather forget, but that maybe they have never been able to? How could I ever bring the same justice to each of them?

Do I want the same brand of justice that I would measure out to others applied to me?

Because if you were to number the things I’ve done wrong, keep the statistics of the nasty attitudes, the condescension, the biting words, betrayals and lies and manipulations, that would be a list I wouldn’t want anyone to ever see.

But the thing is, God knows all of it. All of me. The tiny bit of good that makes it through the selfish and evil parts. And amongst the good he knows the secret delight of the occasional selfless, loving act.

Mercy undoes me. When I started to face my own guilt, truly deserved guilt, and saw the mercy God has shown me, it changed me.

One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was to forgive my abusers.

And there is no way I could have fully done that on my own. Because in my mind, I would never get the justice I deserved if I gave them forgiveness they never admitted they needed.

There’s a verse that undoes me every time I really take it in.

Romans 5:8: but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Where is the justice in that? That even when I had no clue that I needed to be rescued, that I needed forgiveness, Jesus paid for my sin.

If God pursues me like this, if he forgives me and decides that because of Jesus’ death on the cross, I don’t have to make restitution, I don’t have to pay for my crimes, then what does that mean for me?

How can I demand justice from other people?

Because when I look only at the cold hard facts, my abusers may deserve to suffer the consequences of their sins against me. But when I turn it around on myself, I would want mercy.

I came to a place a year or so into recovery where not only had I been able to forgive them, God gave me the desire to pray for their healing and salvation.

It had been impossible for me to take that step on my own. I had genuinely forgiven, which to me meant that I no longer wanted to see them suffer for what they had done to me. But was I willing for them to ever feel the same joy and peace I have in my relationship with Jesus?

Could I really, truly, let them off the hook?

Not long after that I had occasion to see several of my abusers all together. They were, each and every one of them, broken, depressed, anxious, hopeless.

And I realized that was the justice I had dreamed of for all those years.

I no longer felt the need to pursue it. Not for me. Because of how much they seemed to have paid for it throughout their lives.

I was so thankful God had replaced my heart of stone with a heart of flesh that could feel compassion for these people.

Just the other day a dear friend, a brother to me truly, gave me the gift of a few minutes conversation, just catching up. Warm hugs, true love felt and expressed.

The thing is, he knew me when. When I was not interested in God’s plans for my life. When I was living for my own pleasure and plans, selfishly pursuing what I wanted.

And he’s known me ever since. And he still loves me.

If a friend can choose to forget and move beyond the bad they know we are capable of, how much more gracious is God when he throws our sins as far as the east is from the west?

So I do love justice. But not my kind. God’s kind.

Someday in heaven I may meet my abusers.

Because God doesn’t want anyone to perish. He’d rather everyone came to repentance.

And that’s the justice I pray for them now.

Willow Summer

I’ve been hibernating inside air conditioned buildings for most of this summer, because I’ve found the heat and humidity are triggers for my asthma. Even walking from car to building can put me in distress.

Sitting out on our deck has not been possible on very many days, and in just a few more, summer will officially be over, another year we never got the tiki torches lit so we could laze into the night relatively bug free.

As a girl there was a birch tree in our yard that I loved to climb, mainly because it was the only one I could, and I spent hours wedged against the trunk, peeling the bark and watching the bugs busily doing whatever bugs do all day.

In the evenings we would catch lightning bugs, and yes, put them in jars to make our own night lights. We had no qualms about squishing their lit ends around our wrists and fingers to make glowing bracelets and rings. Our own primitive version of glow sticks.

We had lots of trees in our yards, and I had learned how to mow using a push mower for trimming and the riding mower for the biggest part of the lawn. We had front, back, middle and barn yards, and odds and ends of patches that connected them all to maintain every week. They each had their own feel, their distinct character, and I’m sure we all had our favorites to mow over the years.

Mine was the middle yard. It was the only one with no building to work around, although there were lots of trees, bushes around the bottom of our U-shaped driveway, and peonies lining the edge of the paved half.

I had claimed the birch tree as my own, but secretly my desire was to someday climb the huge weeping willow and sit inside its hairlike strings of leaves.

I don’t know much about willow trees, but ours was always getting struck by lightning. It was located close to the road, lower than the pavement that was reach up a steep ditch bank. The poles for the power lines were spaced out across our property parallel to the road, and the branches of some of the trees had grown up among the dipping lengths of wire.

I didn’t know much about electricity, but I knew it was a big deal the weekend my dad and most of the men in our neighborhood decided it was time to cut down the huge willow before it fell in a storm and took out the power lines that supplied the whole neighborhood. Lightning had left long scars from top to bottom, killing some limbs, knocking others to the ground over the years.

So armed with coils of rope, ladders, a few helmets, heavy gloves and work boots, they divided the tasks and went to work tying ropes to branches and then a whole gang pulling on the ropes as the saw bit through a branch, the wielder himself secured to the trunk.

We watched in excitement as one by one those huge branches were cut free of the trunk, and with loud and somewhat panicked yells the crew on the ground would lean into their ropes to pull the cracking, falling limbs free of the electric lines, warning all to look out and get out of the way.

The deconstruction of a tree that had probably been there for over a hundred years took only days. The big drama of the curtains of leaves dropping to ground they had just been shading happened within a few hours.

And then our fun began.

Because even though we could see there would be lots of work for us ahead, we knew we had days, maybe weeks, that those huge branches would lay in piles covering much of the middle yard.

I remember spending as much time as I could among those reclining limbs. I was a pioneer finding raw materials to make my own shelter, weaving lengths of willow leaves together to make baskets or clothes. I had all the sticks I could want to stand up in long fence lines, defining my territory. My siblings were sent out to play in the debris as well I’m sure, but I remember loving the times I spent alone letting my imagination take me back in time and across the world to places I’d only read about.

There were miniature quarries where the dirt was chunked out, sod and all, as a branch had dug into the ground when it hit. The blocks of clay-like soil became cups and bowls to use in my makeshift hut or teepee or cabin, depending upon what character I wanted to be that day.

I remember the smell of the newly cut willow. The closest I could come to describing it was that it reminded me of the smell of a watermelon rind. A clean, green smell that was very pleasing to me. I could sit for hours just smelling the dampness in the center of the branches, reading a book or writing a story about all the adventures I could see myself having.

It was probably weeks I had to be Robinson Crusoe, or more likely Swiss Family Robinson, and even the boy who lived on his own in My Side of the Mountain. I played out adventures to my heart’s content as summer calmed down into fall. I took bigger branches and rode them around like horses or motorcycles or airplanes.

I could never understand why everyone didn’t like sitting in the grass letting their mind take them to fantastic places.

The day came when Dad began to instruct us on where he wanted us to drag the smaller branches. He was taking another weekend to cut them apart a little, and we would need to drag them back to his chopping block to get cut into firewood. The leaves had finally died, the great bulk of their tangled strands reduced to crumbling whips.

Slowly my hidey holes were uncovered, one by one. The rooms in my many dwellings exposed as we pulled one long wall after another over by the chicken barn where the logs would be stored for coming winters.

And finally the tedious job we normally did after any windy or stormy day: picking up the sticks that would damage the mower blades. And I was brought back through time to the present, the reality that I didn’t want to mow over sticks taking over the storyline in my mind.

But in the winter evenings that followed, when I would go out to have my arms stacked high with split lengths of wood, I would bury my nose in them the whole way to the fireplace, getting a whiff of that clean summer watery smell, once again a pioneer intent on holding off the cold for one more night.

No Adequate Words

I really don’t feel qualified to talk about September 11, 2001.

I’m not a first responder, I’m not military, I didn’t have a family member or close friend who died or was physically harmed in the tragedy.

I don’t want to dissect the backgrounds: national, political or religious, of any of the perpetrators.

Yet I have my own story, just like everyone old enough to remember that day.

For over a year our local library had been closed for remodeling, and we had our calendar marked for the grand reopening: September 11, 2001.

At the time my children were 12, 10, 2 and 20 months. We were all eager to get back into our comfortable space with room to play and explore as well as read.

The library was set to open on a Tuesday. As a homeschool field trip we got up early and tried to be there when the doors opened at 9am.

We got there just a few minutes late.

Of course the kids were excited to see fresh toys. The older kids agreed to play with the toddlers in the children’s section while I took a quick walk around the library, scoping out the new arrangement.

Nobody looked concerned until I got to the new seating areas by a large flat-screen tv. They were broadcasting CNN.

Another homeschooling mom I knew happened to be sitting on a chair watching the unfolding horror. She immediately asked if I had heard the news.

No, what’s happening?

A second plane just hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.

A second plane?

Her eyes were glued to the screen, and when she stopped talking her lips continued to move in silent prayer.

We both tried to make sense of what we saw happening over and over in front of our eyes.

The North Tower had been hit at 8:46:40, the plane staying intact, looking like a toy shoved through a lego building.

The second plane had just crashed into the South Tower at 9:03:00, about the time we were pulling in to the parking lot. It was like seeing it happen in real time, the camera feed being played over and over again.

The second plane broke apart, and I kept watching pieces falling away, landing blocks from the tower.

The visual I remember most from New York, after the unfathomable fact of seeing two planes hit the Twin Towers again and again, was the street shots. The living, mesomorphic, billows of cloudlike darkness composed of who knew what. Dust, ash, the air displaced by the towers when they each fell over the next two hours.

And people racing the solid wall of gray filling the streets between the buildings.

It was like a scene from a bad horror movie. Except the horror was real.

I couldn’t sit and stare numbly at the screen for much longer, though I needed time to process what my eyes were seeing.

I only knew I didn’t want my kids to see this happening.

Once that realization hit me, I made a bee-line for my children. I’m sure they could see the shock on my face, hear the gravity in my voice when I told them to stay on the children’s side of the library today, that we would look at the rest of it later.

While they played, I sat on the new window seat a little apart from them and tried to contact my husband by phone. We communicated the basics.

Did you hear?

I saw.

Where are you now?

At the library.

I’m coming.

And within minutes he was there.

We took turns watching the events unfolding.

We saw living nightmares, things we never want to see again. Things that had not happened on American soil in this magnitude in our lifetimes.

Confusing footage of a plane crashing into the Pentagon. What? Another plane? It was hard to keep straight which disaster site they were showing.

I was watching the live footage as the South Tower collapsed.

How does anyone get past the trauma? I know now, eighteen years later, I won’t ever forget the images. I’ve watched the movies and relived the experiences, the North Tower falling, the Pentagon on fire.

But my memories are nothing, worthless, compared to those of the people who survived. And though there have been remarkable, miraculous stories of rescues, I cannot imagine how hard it is to wake up every day knowing things, having memories, that are too hard to even speak of.

We didn’t know what, how, or how much to tell our kids. The little ones wouldn’t understand it, but the older ones needed to know.

This event would change the world they were growing up in more than any other single day in their short lives.

I don’t remember now if we told them in the library or while walking down the street to a local restaurant to grab some lunch. But we had to give them the facts, and we tried to shield them from the images, but they were everywhere over the coming weeks.

The details about Flight 93 crashing in Pennsylvania were murkier. In a rural area with no abundance of cameras around to record it’s end, the pieced-together stories of this flight came to light much later, and contained more human elements with phone calls recalled and recordings of some communications.

These were the stories we emphasised when talking to our kids, the courageous people who joined together to keep worse things from happening.

That day our lunch was eaten half-heartedly. Our life temporarily became one of hibernating at home.

The unheard-of step of shutting down US airspace happened at 9:45am and lasted until September 13. Government buildings, landmarks, and many other places closed their doors for a while.

No one knew what was going on or what to expect next.

I remember the oppressive uncertainty more than anything else. And the quiet.

We closed in around our little family. My husband only serviced emergency calls for a few days. We lived on food we had in the house, not wanting to even visit the grocery store. We made a dent in the dusty Y2K supplies.

But the eeriest thing was the silence.

We live in the flight pattern of our local airport in Northwest Ohio. The path that Flight 93 would have continued on if it hadn’t turned back toward Pennsylvania.

We didn’t learn until years later that it actually made it almost over us before it was forced to head back east and south.

And for the next couple days I couldn’t sleep because of the silence.

Except for the military jets from our local air force unit.

They made me feel at the same time in imminent danger, and reassuringly safe.

Each of my kids have their own memories. More the feel of things for the younger two, the images for the older ones.

My own memories from childhood held their share of tragedies: President Kennedy assassinated in Dallas, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders also gunned down. Individuals targeted.

But 9/11 was different. The target wasn’t specific people. It was our nation as a whole, hit at strategic points that affected every person living in the United States at the time, no matter how far away or how close to the actual events.

It is the kind of day I hope my now grown children will never have to live through and explain to their own children.

Because there really are no adequate words.

Finding nourishment

Did you ever have a hero as a child?

A real person you aspired to be like?

I did.

I think about her often. In fact, I was just telling my younger daughter about her very recently, because hers is the standard to which I compare every female voice. Then this weekend, at family camp, the speaker mentioned my hero.

As a girl, singing or listening to music made chores easier. Like mowing the lawn.

I enjoyed this task, because I tried to sing louder than the trucks on our busy road to hear myself while riding the mower. I learned to project my voice and sing loudly by 10 or 11 years old. My favorite go-to songs were by Karen Carpenter.

In my family we all sang, both in church and at gospel “sings” in our area, where Dad brought in southern gospel quartets.

My older sister sang soprano, and I took the alto part. But I loved belting out the lead when I could, and I gravitated toward songs sung in a lower voice.

That’s where Karen Carpenter excelled.

If you have never listened to her voice, please do. She and her brother Richard were a duo, The Carpenters, and she was also the drummer.

Man! Another reason to admire her.

In fifth grade I was offered free drum lessons and a drum kit to practice on. I was excited to tell my parents about the offer, but they said no. Band concerts were on Wednesdays, and we couldn’t miss prayer meeting. So no. With no discussion.

I could have been just like Karen Carpenter – drumming and singing.

And when the lawn was covered with ice and snow, I slide around on the frozen “lake” in our middle yard, singing “Close to You” or “We’ve Only Just Begun” while imagining I was Peggy Fleming skating in the winter Olympics.

The thing I loved the most about Karen’s voice was how rich it sounded. It was low, like mine, and I could easily follow along. In fact, it helped me develop the lower parts of my vocal range because I wanted my voice to be as full and expressive as hers.

She could hold notes out with such feeling and purity. I wanted to sound just like her.

Because to me she was sure and confident. Her songs spoke of love and longing and fulfillment.

Of course I cannot know the whole truth about Karen’s story. She isn’t around to tell it. And there are different versions depending on the source.

But it is a fact that her life ended way too early. It was February 4, 1983 when her heart gave out after struggling for years with a disease that no one knew much about at that time.

Anorexia nervosa.

I remember learning of it when it happened. Outside of deaths of family members and friends, her passing probably affected me more than anyone else’s up to that time in my life.

I struggled to understand how it could have happened, how a woman who seemed so beautiful in all she did in her public career could have ever thought she was not good enough as she was.

And the hard part was that there was little known about eating disorders at that time. But it did prompt people to learn, and learn quickly, much more about it.

Soon after her death there was an attempt to educate the public about these new threats to the health of young people, anorexia and bulimia.

Except it isn’t always the young. Men as well as women are affected. And like many things that used to be hushed and covered over, it turns out there are way more people with eating disorders than I ever would have believed, living through those days of first learning it existed.

I’ve read things about Karen Carpenter since then, and while I can’t say with any certainty what led to her obsession with her body image, it seems there was something lacking in her life, something she was looking for. Some say she was seeking love and acceptance.

When she died in 1983, I was 21 years old and seeking love and acceptance myself. It was one of the worst periods of my life. A deep pit I had dug for myself, living a life I chose, making a mess of my friendships and family relationships, refusing to listen to guidance, existing only for my own pleasure and plans.

When I heard Karen Carpenter had died I was devastated.

Her songs gave me hope that the relationship I was in could someday be “it”, while my heart knew all along that it wasn’t. My musical tastes had become much more turbulent than her ballads, but I wanted to believe her fairy tale stories of true love.

At family camp last weekend, our speaker talked about Karen’s struggles right before he dove in to a part of scripture that tells us to devour God’s word, to consume it and be nourished by it and take it in and get everything you can out of it.

Just like food.

When Karen Carpenter died, she was 32 years old. She had developed heart problems that resulted from being severely malnourished.

She had lost the ability to take in and get nourishment from food.

I don’t pretend to understand what went through her mind. I’m reading a book right now that is helping me explore it, Overthrow by Jennene Eklund.

I can tell you that at the time she died, I was in a spiritual state similar to her physical state. I was unwilling and unable to take in anything nourishing from God during that dark time. I was not living the faith I had once claimed, in fact I had turned my back on much of it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was at a crisis point of my own.

Over the next year or so, I knew of several young women who were struggling with anorexia or bulimia. And the boyfriend I thought might be “it” broke up with me. I was devastated.

And suddenly not eating seemed the way to become whatever it was he thought I was missing.

I went on a starvation diet and lost about 50 pounds in a few weeks time. I knew I was in trouble when I found myself retching up water outside of church one Sunday morning, because that was all I’d had for days, yet my stomach wouldn’t keep it down.

Thankfully my parents were able to coax me to start eating again, even though I would only agree to broiled fish with mustard since it had almost no calories, and an occasional poached egg cooked with no fat.

And in my spiritual life, as I got over the loss of the relationship, I saw that the “it” I really needed was a better love, a fuller acceptance than I could ever get from another person.

I needed the love of God.

I cried out to him, and he answered, right away, with no hesitation.

I wish, I so deeply hope, that Karen did the same, and that she was able to find the love of God that answers every plea for help.

Summer Memories

It’s the night before I usually post and I haven’t written anything yet. And I’m tired. So no deep thoughts, just highlights from summer vacations through the years.

As a girl I could count on going to North Carolina for about a week every summer. All our extended family was centered there, and it was usually the only time we got to see them. We packed in visiting as many of them as possible, ate lots of good food, created our own versions of a southern accent, and played with our cousins from dawn til dusk.

Far fewer were the actual family vacations we ever took.

Just like in my childhood, we have taken the occasional special trip for a long weekend, but grander plans are few and far between.

I have jumbled memories as a child of going on three big family vacations. In no particular order, the first of the big three that I always think of was a trip to Mackinac Island. I had no idea until many years later how far from home we traveled – half the distance of going to North Carolina!

If I’m connecting the right memories with this trip, we started driving north and stopped for the night at one of those drive up to the door motor inns. There was an old metal swing set, like in our backyard, and a sandbox in the courtyard surrounded by the u-shaped drive. We played outside until dark, and then we went down the road to a drive-in theater and watched movies late into the night for the first time.

The next day we must have driven over the famous bridge, though I don’t remember that part. We took a ferry to Mackinac. There were no cars allowed. They had horses and buggies and bikes.

We walked all over the place, and rented bikes for a while. I remember my older sister going ahead of me down a long hill that ended at the water of the great lakes, and I thought for sure she was going so fast she was going to sail right off the dock into the cold waves.

I’m sure we ate at least one meal on the island, and got taffy and fudge, but I don’t remember if we slept there or took the ferry back at night. There would have been at least one more night on the road, no reservations, just stopping when Dad got tired and there was a flashing vacancy sign.

I’ve held onto the free feeling of that trip my whole life. For once there weren’t meetings or church services to plan around. We could go where we liked. Dad could smoke openly. We could be filthy dirty and not worry about being clean before we climbed into bed, our head full of the adventures of the day.

Even now I love the days we can be aimless like that. Countless times we’ve set off just to be together, the kids demanding to know what we had planned, and my answer: we’re going wherever the wind blows us.

They don’t seem to like it, to crave it like I do.

A second vacation we took to Myrtle Beach. This one had to be planned a little farther in advance to secure a room in a hotel on the beach. We stayed high up in a suite that seemed bigger than the downstairs of our house.

We swam and dove into the waves of the Atlantic, not even conscious of any danger other than the undertow. This was before “Jaws”. I loved collecting shells and pretty rocks, and I could spend hours in the sand and water. I couldn’t get enough of the waves knocking me around.

One of my favorite parts was the outdoor shower at the top of the beach. I’d rinse off as much of the ocean and beach as I could, then go through a gate to the pool for more water time. I was always the first in and the last to get drug back up to the room.

I don’t remember how old I was, but I was young enough to not be embarrassed carrying my shell collection around the hotel in a personal hygiene bag from the bathroom.

There was some sort of carnival going on, maybe it was seasonal for the summer, and we walked around it at night when we couldn’t be on the beach, swooping up and over the ferris wheel, glimpsing the lights reflecting off the waves beyond the buildings.

We ate seafood and lazed around the room at night, everyone reading books or watching tv, feeling like millionaires at the top of the world.

That trip didn’t create my love for the sound of water, the feel of moving in it, salt or fresh, but it cemented it as one of my favorite things to do.

The third adventure was when I was a teenager, and the highlight was visiting Williamsburg, VA. There we really enjoyed the seafood! We toured some restored settlements, and since I loved history and stories, my imagination was filled with the sights and sounds.

Historic Williamsburg made me wonder where exactly my ancestors landed, and whether I had any native American blood in me as I always suspected. In the role playing that went on all around us, I could imagine myself as many of the characters, and I felt I would have loved living in those long ago days.

To this day I still want a fireplace I could stand in, with swinging arms to move huge cast iron pots over and off of the wood fire, cooking gallons of stew for whoever the wind blows in through the hand hewn door of the cabin.

It occurs to me that each of these vacations were to places people thought were worth visiting. But I can’t give you many facts about them.

I’d much rather remember the feelings of sharing the experience with the people I loved most.

Freedom to and from

When I hear the same thing from several directions in my life my ears perk up, because it’s often God trying to get through to me.

Today it’s the concept of freedom.

I have been working through the things my therapist and I have brought to light, because I have to analyze things in several ways to really get it.

I’ve always been a very tactile person, and visual. And aural. And vocal. I suppose if I could smell and taste an idea that would be perfect

Ideally I would be able to fully see and hear, while at the same time restating out loud and writing down complete thoughts as they come to me. And drawing beautiful pictures to illustrate. (That part is in my dreams.) The result would be both a complete restating of what I got out of the experience, as well as an impression of what it all meant that I am willing to alter as I gain more understanding of the facts.

Free thinking.

I guess that would be one way to define the way my mind works. I let my thoughts go in different directions, and try to glean from them the best ideas, leaving the inferior ones behind. Free to pick and choose the ones that best support whatever I am coming to think about any topic.

So the topic of freedom keeps coming up.

The first condition I’ve uncovered in my therapy is that I have lived in a state of persistent paralysis. One way to describe this is that it’s like the common dream where you are in a situation and helpless to do whatever it is you need to do: scream, fight, run, whatever would get you out of the conflict you are in to safety.

Years ago when Switchfoot released “Dare You to Move” it resonated with me, though at the time I didn’t connect how paralyzed I really felt. In many many areas of my life there were so many things I longed to do that I could imagine in intricate detail, but when it came time to step out and do, well, I was stuck.

I’m still in the process of working through this, and true to who I am, I am examining this revelation in lots of ways. One of them is to search out what the Bible has to say about being paralyzed. One passage that came up doesn’t use the word, but encompasses the idea:

For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Galatians 5:14 (The Message)

Self-interest vs. free spirit.

If there are any two words I would have used to describe myself for most of my life, it would be those: free spirit.

By which I would mean not tied down to any one activity or course of action, versatile and able to go with the flow of life, willing to change things up to suit the current circumstances.

In my mind I am this free spirit. But the reason I think of myself this way is because by allowing myself an out, I am able to protect myself from situations that are threatening or uncomfortable.

In other words, I’m free to walk away whenever I feel like it. Which is another way of saying, I’ve really been about keeping myself safe for most of my life.

And that doesn’t feel like freedom to me, because for many years I’ve been on guard, waiting for the times I’ll need to walk away to keep from getting hurt.

Galatians says my self-interest is in direct opposition to the free spirit. So what does that mean?

So another source I look to for help in figuring things out is The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. I regularly read through this, taking about a year, as I often have to reread one sentence a dozen times to let it sink in.

And today I read a passage about how the enemy can’t always use bad circumstances to draw us away from God, because God often does his most important work in us while we are going through trials. In this paragraph is this:

” One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself – creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His.”

(That was two sentences. See what I mean?)

If I’m reading this correctly, Lewis is saying that service to God is perfect freedom, because the person’s will freely conforms to God’s will for them.

In this sense, freedom means a giving up of my own self-determination to let God decide what is best for me. And by giving up my rights to myself, God gives me life full and overflowing with his love and goodness.

So back to Galatians. A free spirit (and I still love that phrase, love that it’s in the Bible!) really means a person who is so sure that God is able to do beyond what they can ask or imagine, that they live giving up their own plans daily to let God work out his plan through them.

What I’m starting to see, with the persistent paralysis of my life, is a woman who has been anything but free. And as my impotence is falling away from me, I’m finding I don’t have to stay stuck in old patterns of thinking.

There is a truly free spirit inside of me that has been biding her time, waiting to be allowed the luxury of resting in the knowledge that God has a good plan for me, and I need to let him bring it about.

I don’t have to do this on my own.

The Direction of Upright

I’ve started seeing a therapist.

I’ve wanted to for a long time, and a couple months ago I finally decided it was the right time.

And to give a little more background, I have also been meeting for the past year with a mentor, a Christian woman, through a unique local ministry that provides this service for free.

I feel like a totally different person than the woman I was when I first walked in to Journey of the Heart last July, looking for perspective. Over this past year I’ve learned to step back and look at day to day situations in light of the truth instead of through my emotions.

I’ve learned a lot about boundaries. How I didn’t grow up with many firm ones, and why I never learned how to set them in many areas of my life. I started setting them and experienced great peace in being able to say no.

I learned to respond instead of reacting. I began to make decisions based on what I was really willing and able to do instead of what others wanted me to do. I learned to not make excuses for taking care of myself.

Which felt really weird after so many years of putting everyone else first.

I think the timing of all this has been good for me and my family. My youngest is now sixteen, so as young adults I think they all benefited from my not doing as much for them. They now take care of more of their own things, which will help them as they transition to school or apartments.

Not to mention that after more than thirty years as a mom, I have my own things I’ve been looking forward to doing.

Probably the most significant change is that I have a mentor who faithfully turns my face back to God. Pretty much every time we meet she reminds me to ask for God’s input before I make any decision, and to search the Bible for direction.

I welcome the reminders to do the first thing first.

You would think that after having a relationship with Jesus for most of my life, that would be the most natural thing to do. Yet it isn’t.

So after almost a year of being mentored, there were things we had talked about that I felt a need to go into more deeply with someone trained to help a person know how to deal with their thoughts and feelings.

It was time to look for a therapist.

As with finding my mentor, God brought forward the right information at the right time. Even though the people giving me advice didn’t have all the facts clear, I ended up finding a Christian therapist that is helping me find freedom from things that have held me captive since childhood.

I’ll tell you a little about the therapy, but it really is different in the experience than in the description. And you can look up the description if you are interested in knowing more about it. I feel people like me, who are ready to dive in and tackle whatever issues come up benefit a lot from this therapy.

Splankna Therapy, according to the website at Splankna Therapy Institute ‘is the first Christian protocol for mind-body psychology.’ What happens in the practice of the Splankna Protocol is that I (mind, body, heart, spirit) tell my therapist where my body is holding on to the emotions that resulted from traumatic situations in my life. In isolating them she figures out what emotions or situations are keeping me stuck in reliving old hurts instead of healing and moving on.

The most satisfying part for me is that I pray and release the hold these things have had on me, and my therapist also prays healing over me.

It sounded like hooey to me. Bunk. Rubbish. Nonsense.

Then I tried it. And after only three visits I’m noticing real changes in the way I do life.

I have been able to name things that have held me back, put me on the wrong track, distracted me from my goals for most of my life. I have experienced NOT falling back into the same patterns of self-defense and control that have become second nature to me.

I have had revelations of lies I have believed, and been floored that I ever would have listened to them in the first place. And I have been able to call them lies and let the father of lies know that he doesn’t have a hold on me any more in that area.

I don’t know how long I will continue, but I am excited to be freed from more of my self-inflicted chains. I have tried to control my life, my environment, my safety and well-being since I was six years old, and I am so ready to hand it back to God, who is the only one who knows what my next steps should be.

Both of these ventures, being mentored and going to a therapist, flow out of the last four years of Celebrate Recovery. I now deal, one day at a time, with my hurts, hang-ups and habits; I identify my character flaws, my faults and shortcomings and ask God to remove them from me; I learn to recognize when I’m doing something hurtful and make amends more quickly; as I am hurt again I make the choice to forgive before letting the wrong fester into a much bigger wound than it needs to be. And most surprising, I have become willing to ask for help.

A neat thing has been happening with my therapist. She prays over me before we start, and she prays again when we are finished. And in her prayers, God puts thoughts in her mind, words to say, that are uniquely meaningful to me.

At our last session she prayed that I would be in line with the plumb line.

My whole life I have loved plumb lines. You pull them out and they are covered with purple chalk, and a weight hangs at the end and when you hold it up it hangs down and gives you a true straight up and down direction. If it’s against a wall, someone is holding the top and someone secures the weight when it’s hanging straight, and plucks the string to leave a straight line to orient to.

And in my life, I am seeking to find the plumb line that shows me I am oriented to God’s plan for me.

My therapy is showing me how I have not let the weight determine the direction of the line, how I have pulled it out in the directions I wanted it to go, snapped it and left a crooked, skewed chalk line that I have followed blindly.

I so much need there to be a strong hand holding my life line, and I need to see where God means for it to go, unaffected by the circumstances of my past and present. I need to see the direction of upright.