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.

Inspiration

Feeling inspiration is always great, but I want to share a little about the other meaning of the word: the drawing in of breath.

Most people take it for granted. There’s no thought required, unless you want to hold your breath or blow out birthday candles. Before I was diagnosed with asthma I never thought much about it.

As a kid I could run – and place with the fastest – in any kind of sprint or short race. But in the Presidential Fitness Challenge the 600-yard dash was my undoing. We ran five sides around a large square of grass, and I usually walked the last two or three with stitches in my sides, panting.

Though I never went to a doctor about it as a child, as an adult I developed a wheeze. Like a squeaky toy under a rocking chair. It actually took me months to finally get checked. I wanted to try all the home remedies I could before going to the doctor, but the diagnosis was exercise-induced asthma. Surprise.

The only effect on my life was occasionally using a rescue inhaler. Maybe five or ten times a year. Not hardly worth the expense of the medicine, and I’d often use it way past the expiration date since I used so little.

My personal experience with asthma attacks was one year on a women’s retreat when an older lady got to laughing too hard and had one. I was helpless. Between a few of us someone thought to run back to her room and get her inhaler, but the woman herself couldn’t speak to give us instructions. She had to concentrate so hard on moving air in and out that she couldn’t waste it on talking.

Inspiration – the drawing in of breath.

Not easy for her to do. In fact we were about to call 911 when she was finally able to pull in enough air to send it over her vocal cords and say she was feeling better.

I cannot tell you how many times over the years I’ve thought about that night. Her distress, my ignorance of what was happening to her, our panic as a group, the way that several voices at once can drown out the silence of the one who can’t speak.

We tend to listen to the voices we can hear. When they go silent, our own thoughts and sounds take over. But not always in a good way.

A couple years ago I suspected my symptoms were getting more complicated, causing muscle spasms between my ribs, and after trying several medications I decided to try an inhaled daily steroid to see if it helped.

I want to be clear about this. I decided this. I went to health care providers begging for help at figuring this out, but got no farther than, “What do you think you should do?” So I did a little googling and came up with a medicine to try, ran it by my very helpful and knowledgeable pharmacist, and picked the cheapest choice.

It seemed to work for about a year. But last fall things ramped up again, and I started into about eight months of frustration with all people medical, combined with constant sinus problems, no sense of smell or taste, increased wheezing and coughing, and the topper – asthma attacks.

My first one came on a Friday evening, and I didn’t know what was happening. I guess I expected it would be instant shortness of breath, but the reality was I started coughing up great quantities of mucus and it didn’t slow down.

I tried sipping water, used my rescue inhaler, and decided it would probably calm down by the time I got to Celebrate Recovery. But when I got there I sat in the car and texted people inside that I was having trouble breathing and was heading home. Two and a half hours later, I was finally able to breath normally.

When the second one happened I knew enough to not push myself. I sat still, I took the medicines I had, I forced myself to breath deliberately.

There is a kind of breathing that is so labored that your chest rises up from the middle from the effort of the drawing in of breath. The expiration is much easier, an afterthought of the extreme work of trying to force air into passages that are closing and filling with mucus.

I could feel this happening, I could point to it, but I couldn’t explain it verbally. So this second time my family was around and would say things like, “It sounds like you have a bad cold,” or “Do you need a drink to help clear your throat?”

Not helpful. I just have to say this. To be visibly struggling to draw in air, and have it dismissed as a sudden onset, already at maximum mucus production cold when I had NO SYMPTOMS five minutes earlier is frustrating beyond belief. I couldn’t even think of the reply I wanted to make, much less send the sounds out of my mouth. I was reduced to violently shaking my head no. And crying. Which only made it worse.

So several more have followed. I should have gone to the emergency room or an urgent care with a couple of them. I finally went to the ER the day after my worst one and was admitted. That’s a story for another day.

My point is that I understand being the person who is clueless as to what is happening to someone having an asthma attack. And now I understand being that person. Sitting in distress, whispering, “inhaler” with nobody hearing, feeling unable to stand and walk down the hall to get it myself.

And I’d like to say that what I need, what my friend all those years ago needed, was for someone to understand that I have no control over this, and that there are only a few things that will help if I can somehow tell you.

So ask: is your inhaler…? and ask all the logical places. Because I may only be able to move my head. Ask if I am able to get any air in. If I’m not, try every drug or device I have. If they don’t work, get me to someone who can help me. Don’t listen to my protests, because I’m basing it on what I see possible for me to do on my own, not on what I need.

If my lungs are closing, I’m not getting much oxygen to my brain. And it is showing in my stubbornness. And I’d much rather yell at you later, lungs full of air, for overreacting, then not be able to draw in one more breath.

Ask me why

I had the great privilege of attending Celebrate Recovery Summit East in Hendersonville, Tennessee in July, 2019. I want to tell you all so many things about it, but it’s going to take some time while I digest and process all the great stuff I learned.

So I’ll start slowly, with one of the first things I heard that resonated deeply inside me.

It was a simple question. Why?

Yes, the one my two-year old granddaughter LOVES to ask, though I’m not sure she understands what she’s saying.

The answer to that question is not, “Because I said so” or “Just because”. It’s a question that, if properly answered, needs to be thoughtfully approached.

It demands involvement, commitment even.

There are many other questions that are easier to answer. Logistical things, like when is something happening or where, how long will it last, how much does it cost, who will be in charge, who will decide which person does which job.

These are the kinds of questions I’ve been fielding as I’ve approached my church leadership about starting a Celebrate Recovery group at our church. But they aren’t the questions I think really matter.

You guessed it. That question would be “Why?”

Why, when there is a Celebrate Recovery that meets within a few miles of our building, should we let you start a whole new ministry out of our church?

Thank you so much for asking! Because, as I learned at Summit, the answers to the why questions get to the heart of the matter, cut through the busy work and touch the places people need to hear possibilities.

Why, when there are plenty of other recovery type programs out there, should we choose CR as the one we endorse?

Now we’re getting somewhere.

Why do you even think there is a need for Celebrate Recovery in our church?

Interesting question. Let me tell you what I’ve learned in the last four years as a part of Celebrate Recovery.

Those why questions, they get my heart pumping because I can see hope and healing and freedom spreading through the people I’ve come to love and think of as family with the answers.

The other questions, not so much. I can make guesses of who will lead what and when we might start this study or that promotional push, but those are all just supposes. The people I think of could easily be replaced, will be replaced as the years go by. The day and time I come up with may change to better suit the needs of the people (because there’s a better why that might need to be addressed!) In the end, those other questions matter to some extent, but they aren’t the crucial ones.

Here’s one of mine: Why did it take me almost 50 years to face my childhood abuse?

There’s a question for you! I’ve been working on this for a little over four years, and I’m finding that I will probably be facing different aspects of how my abuse has affected my life for years to come.

The answer is pretty simple, once I was willing to face it: fear. Irrational, yes. But there it is. I was afraid to say anything to my mom the one time she ever asked when I was 6, and ever after that I created my own ways of dealing with the aftermath. And it took me almost 50 years to name the fear.

From the outside, it might look like that should be that. I got it out in the open. Now I’m all better, right?

If only life were really that simple.

And I’m a strong person. I’ve always been independent and willful. I don’t cower in the face of opposition. I learned to stand up, to be seen and heard. If anyone could face fear it should be me.

But I couldn’t. So again, why?

That’s the question that took me a couple of years to truly embrace, to answer honestly.

Because I am not in control.

In fact, my life is out of control. I admit it. I cannot make anything happen that I think should happen. I can’t control the weather, the economy, politics, my kids. And I can’t control my own tendency to do the wrong thing in any given situation. It’s often the easier choice, the lazy choice, that gets me into trouble.

In facing the answer to that last why, I found freedom like I have never known before. I am not in control! And thank God, He is!

And it’s because I’ve been digging deep to answer my own why’s that I’m eager to answer those kinds of questions, because the answers are so satisfying when you see them come to life.

So let me give you some answers to the why’s. Yes, there are several CR groups that meet within a few miles of my church building. But I don’t see the people in my church attending them. There is something to be said about familiarity, and many people won’t step out of their comfort zone, even when they are in extreme pain.

Why CR as opposed to anything else? Secular programs have very similar steps, similar meetings, success at helping people get and stay sober from chemical dependencies, at least for a time. The simple, yet overwhelmingly complex answer to this is: Jesus. He makes all the difference.

Celebrate Recovery is centered around Jesus, and when I realized that I had no power to handle the things I was facing about my past, that’s when I learned that I have his power flowing through me. He is willing to take on whatever I have to face, if I ask. And that is the thing that makes CR the success that it is. Feeling the strength of Jesus in me helps me know I can face anything life throws me.

So why is there a need for Celebrate Recovery in my church? My simple answer is that I needed it. And I had to look for years before I found it. And I don’t want anyone else to waste all that time when they could be finding hope right where they are.

My church family needs CR. There are people struggling with hurts they can’t get past, hang-ups that keep them stuck where they don’t want to be, and habits that they think are going to take care of their pain, but only prolong their misery and bring sorrow to their loved ones. I know they are there. And I want them to find the healing and freedom I have found and am still finding.

So I dare you. Don’t worry about all those other details.

Ask me why.

Developing a willingness…

This week I’ve had no idea what I wanted to write about. In fact, it’s past the time I usually post my blog, and I’m just now starting to type, so we’ll see where this goes.

It’s not that there aren’t things I want to tell you, it’s that it’s better to wait until I have a clue how I feel about them before inflicting them on you!

Maybe the place I’ll start is with patience.

I was talking to my mentor today, and as the conversation flew from one topic to another, we started to see a theme running through the many things I’ve been through over the past couple weeks and the many things I’m hoping will happen soon – like yesterday.

I need patience.

In my mind I have spent lots of time working out scenarios. Not just for stories, but for my life. If this thing happens my response would be… for all kinds of situations.

So when there is something I’d like to happen, it’s already accomplished in my mind. The real world just needs to catch up to me so I can let it play out the way I’ve imagined it.

In the last few years I’ve experienced a change in that way of thinking. I’ve learned that most of the situations I would work through in my head were things that never happen, that never will happen. And even if they did, they wouldn’t play out just the way I think they would.

Because I don’t control all the variables.

So I’ve spent most of my life working out solutions to problems that don’t exist.

You’d think that would have taught me something. Like that there is a better use of the wee hours of the night than thinking through endless tragedies. Sleeping for instance.

Gradually I’m finding that I don’t follow those trains of thought down the paths of disaster like I used to. As my mentor tells me, wouldn’t it be better if I lived in the now instead of in the what ifs?

So about a year ago I learned how to stop my wild thoughts in their tracks, and ask some simple questions: What is the truth of this situation? What are the facts I can know? What good does it do me to worry about this? Why don’t I try handing it over to God and letting it go?

Not that I do that all the time, never perfectly, sometimes I have to be hit over the head again, usually by my mentor when she hears me trying to take control of the whole world because things just aren’t going the way I know they could.

Have patience, she’ll say. There is value in the waiting.

So there are things I long to tell you about. Things I am eager to do, but that are not in my power to make happen right now. So I have to wait. So do you.

Because a really good story has many components. Beginning, middle, end. The resolution of some conflicts. Triumph of good over evil. And if I start rambling about what might happen, what I’d like to do, without any real sense of how it will go when it does happen, you would miss out on some great stories.

I am waiting for many things. Mostly for God’s timing, which can seem impossibly out of reach. I want to be the kid on vacation asking, “Are we there yet?” every five minutes.

Like that kid, when I stop being so impatient and start looking around at the surroundings God has placed me in at this moment, I start seeing what I was in too much of a hurry to see before.

That the purpose of my life was never to get all the things done I’d like to do. Frankly, God doesn’t need me to do anything for him in this world. Not that he doesn’t have work he wants me to do, just that he is all sufficient without my help. He is not any more God because I am able to do some small thing for him.

Yet at the same time, before he ever created me, God had a plan far beyond anything I could imagine, in which I would receive gifts and talents and dreams from him and in some way use them to bring glory to him and love and hope to those around me.

And as I am learning to pull back on my own mental reins and see where I am more often than where I think I will someday be, I find that in the day, the moment I am in, there are things I can be doing that I never noticed before.

Like gratitude. That was an area I knew I wanted to grow in, but I kept putting it off, thinking that if I could take a weekend to think about it I could figure out how to be grateful.

But it wasn’t anything I did that brought about a healing for me in this area. It was in a therapy session I recently began going to, in which someone who knows almost nothing about me prayed over me to have a spirit of gratitude towards God.

I don’t know how that worked, but it did. I still haven’t gotten the discipline to add to my list daily, but since last week I’m up another forty items on my list to one thousand gifts, and still many more to write down when I take the time.

Just that one improvement, counting blessings instead of potential tragedies, is making a real impact in my life. Because I’m seeing that in these times of waiting, there is also time to enjoy the lull.

My mentor also pointed out that patience isn’t something we need to seek from God, it’s a gift, part of the fruit of the Spirit. Something we should be able to tap into because that very Spirit of the Living God lives inside all who believe in Jesus.

In The Message that fruit of patience means “developing a willingness to stick with things.”

Not try to get beyond, not long for them to be over and done. Stick with.

So while I’m waiting for the things I hope God has for me, I will stick with him. No matter how long this takes.

…in everything.

Months ago I told about a book I read on expressing thankfulness to God, one thousand gifts by Ann Voskamp. In fact, most of my summer last year was spent poring over the pages, marveling at Ann’s ability to see wonder in the same kind of ordinary things that have always stood out in my mind.

When I restarted this blog on Thanksgiving Day 2018, one of my intentions was to keep updating as I listed my own one thousand gifts. My plan was to start taking more notice of the common things of life as I learned to see them as the gift from God that they each are.

Well. It just hasn’t happened that way.

I expected to write at least one thing a day, one blessing, one unexpected smile, one poignant thought that came as if floating down like a leaf into my mind.

I wrote down 7 entries in the first 2 months. And 15 more in the next 8 months.

I struggle with expressing gratitude. I feel it, I just have problems acknowledging it, naming it.

This isn’t because God hasn’t blessed me beyond my wildest dreams already in my life. It has nothing to do with his goodness, his love, his grace. Pouring himself out for me, and over me, bringing so many good gifts into my life.

There is that part of me that is so independent that I want to be responsible for all the good things that happen to me. I don’t want to have to admit that I am not in control, that I can’t take care of myself, keep myself safe, protect the ones I love.

One problem with feeling in control of the good things is that I should also take responsibility for the bad that happens in my world.

I’m not good at that at all.

Is it a problem I have with God? I know I feel differently about God the Father than I do about Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I have personal relationships with each of them, and I feel much more comfortable learning from Jesus’ example in the word or listening to the prompting of the Spirit in my heart.

I have perceived God as silent, as looming over me, waiting for me to make a mistake. I have feared him and not in a good way. I have avoided looking to him for help. I have somehow mixed up in my mind who God says he is with who I have seen earthly fathers be to their children and wives.

All earthly fathers have faults, will fail us. God tells us that he doesn’t. But do I still see him through the lens of my father’s impatience, my grandpa’s neglect?

This is a work in progress, the way I see God, and I’m not where I need to be. Yet. But I’m going in the right direction.

So an interesting combination of things has brought me to a place where I am finally feeling gratitude bubbling up in me, overflowing in a way I’ve longed for. I can’t say what the straw was that broke the camel’s back, but something has opened the floodgates.

Because in just 4 short days, I added 103 gifts to my list of things I’m thankful for! Bringing me to 125.

Celebrate Recovery, going to a Christian mentor, studying Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend, reading the Bible, sitting under the preaching of my pastor, being in a care group, seeing a therapist for the first time ever, and getting to go to my second CR Summit last week.

Something has freed me to express the wonder I see around me.

I’ll tell you more about the day the walls came down another time.

Just a few days after that I was in a place of hurt and fear, sickness and uncertainty, and I had to wait to get relief. I didn’t know how things were going to go.

I was in a hospital bed, being woken through the night for different purposes, but needing to sleep despite pain and apprehension.

So I decided to pray myself to sleep. And when I started with praise, it was no surprise after the week I had just had: that list that only stopped because I ran out of time to write more blessings.

I went to sleep that night thanking God for all the ways he had worked my illness, my recent experiences, to get me to this place where I could finally get the help I’d been asking medical professionals to give me for years.

As I was woken to check vitals, I’d continue my discussion with God, but no matter how many times this happened, I never got beyond praise and thanks.

Because no matter what was going to happen in the morning, no matter what the tests were going to show, God is still good and he still loves me.

I Thessalonians 5:18 tells us, “Give thanks in everything.”

So while I’m walking through this hard place, I’m staying focused on the things that are floating down on me from God’s hand, giving me a chance to lift my face to see God’s provision instead of wallowing in my circumstances and missing the chance to count.

126. being able to breathe