Friday, September 5, 2014

The Tale of the Blind Man




I think most people would agree with me when I say that children are wonderful things.  They bring out joy we forgot existed in some of the smallest of occurrences, and they are never afraid to lovingly point out our faults and reduce us to a healthy dose of humility.  The honesty with which they navigate this world is a wonder to behold, but it is rather difficult to obtain or even maintain once you reach adulthood.  By that time, it seems we become shackled with societal norms and etiquette, and life loses its once precious simplicity.  I find myself often "baiting" my children with questions, just to see where their logic lies, just to glimpse -even for a mere moment- what the world looks like through their eyes.

And today was no exception.

Today, I was blessed with the rare ability to pick my children up from school, and enjoy some extra time with them that I normally don't get during my usual work week.  So there we were, driving down the road, telling each other about our perspective days.  Hayden, my youngest, is definitely the comedian in our little family, and he was making us all laugh.  He was spinning this yarn, and when he finally approached his punchline, it unfortunately flew straight over my head.  When I told him I didn't get it, he patiently explained it to me in slow, small words (which I always find amusing... it's that, "Geez, Mom.  Let me spell it out for you" tone).

Having understood the reference, I remarked, "I see, said the blind man."

Now this is a phrase that I know my family has passed around more times than I can count, as have many families, I'm sure, that were raised in the Christian faith.  My boys, however, weren't raised in the Christian faith.  I've waffled between spiritual ideologies so much in their short lifespan, that they know of God, they know the importance it is to love Him and have Him in their lives, but outside of those basic principles, they really don't have a frame of reference for the ways of God and the miracles He's performed.

So as you can imagine, my little Hayden (and Gabriel, too!), were quite confused by my statement.

"I don't get that pun, Mom," Hayden said.

Gabe, always being very astute, said, "I don't think it's a pun, Hayden.  I think it's a statement?"

"Haven't you ever heard the story of Jesus and the Blind Man?" I asked, knowing full well that they had been to church enough to at least hear that iconic bible story once, but to my dismay, they had absolutely no idea what I was talking about.

So it was that at 4:30 in the afternoon on a warm Friday, I found myself conveying the story of Jesus and the miracle of how He made the blind man see.  Hayden, bless his little heart, was still confused, though Gabriel said he understood.  So Hayden, patting my arm reassuringly, said, "Mom, you're just not very good at telling some stories.  It's okay."  Not exactly something an aspiring writer wants to hear from her offspring.

I tell this tale with a remarkable amount of embarrassment and regret.  Despite your choosing of faith, there are certain oral traditions that every parent passes down to their little ones.  Some read Bible Stories, some read Dr. Seuss, and some are clever enough to invent their own.  I realized in that moment just how, in a race to assure that our livelihood was adequate, I had missed so many opportunities to share the simple things with my children.  By being blinded by my own ambition down the long road to mediocre, I had, in effect, blinded my own children to the very traditions that I had built my foundations upon.  Foundations that I have for too long taken for granted.

I am so thankful that is never too late.  I am so thankful that late is definitely better than never.  And I am eager to slow down, take joy in the simple things, and show my children what I know, rather than worry about whether or not I'm making enough money to keep them comfortable and happy.

Do not educate your child to be rich. Educate him to be happy. So when he grows up, he‘ll know the value of things, not the price. — Unknown

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Dream, The Book, and The Picture

It started with a dream, then a book, and then a picture.

My relationship with God has been a turbulent one my whole life, but especially after my Mom’s death.  I was angry at Him for letting her die, for not having the doctors do more to save her, for taking her away from me.  I felt like so much could have been done to make her well and I felt like so much hadn't been done and that she’d been failed by the team that was around her.  I wondered where God was if He cared so much, and if we prayed so much, why those prayers weren't answered.  I’d already watched saints rally around my grandmother and watched her die a horrible death to cancer, and I was incensed that this had occurred to my mother, as well.  What was the purpose of serving God if He didn't listen and didn't act?

I stood in the humidity at my mother’s burial and just stared at that cold casket that held the remains of my mother.  It was there that I had decided that that was it with God.  I was done.  I wasn't going to go there again because I was so tired of being duped.  That was the only way I could explain it, and obstinate as I was, no one could change my mind.

My father had asked me multiple times to go to church with him, and each time I refused.  He was gentlemanly about it… never pushed, but I made my stance pretty clear.  I wasn't interested.  So when he sheepishly came over to my house and asked if I would attend Easter service, it surprised me that I actually agreed.  I felt like it was important to him, and being a key holiday that you’re supposed to spend with your family, I felt like it was imperative that I show support for my Dad and be there for him as he faced his first Easter without Mom.

What changed me wasn't the service, though it was pretty powerful.  I wept openly at the music service, but that’s because music has always had that power over me.  The preacher’s sermon was compelling and beautiful.  In the end, I was glad I had gone, but when Dad mentioned something about coming again the following Sunday, I faltered.  I've been burned by churches too many times, by church congregations.  Both my children and I have been met with judgment and the duplicity of people at church.  I wasn't eager to run headlong into that again.  I gave him a shrug and said that I was interested in attending church, but I’d yet to find a church that really felt like home.  Sweet man that he is, he left it at that and we said perhaps we needed to explore different churches together.

The rest of that day went pretty much like every other Sunday… full of chores and relaxing and hanging with my boys.  There was no electricity in the air, no fanfare.  I emphasize the normalcy of this day because it’s important that you understand that what came next was completely unexpected, and the most wonderful and needed thing.

I had gone to bed late, and crawled under the covers with my youngest beside me.  I always sleep light, so when I woke up at 4:00 am, I didn't think too much about it.  When I went back to sleep, however, I had the most life changing dream.

I dreamed that I was sleeping in my childhood bed at my parents’ house, and I reached up my hand and brushed against another hand.  For some, this might have freaked them out, and I honestly remember thinking that I was surprised that that skin felt familiar.  It was my mom’s skin.  I looked up, and sure enough, there she was.  She still had a splint on her hand, but she was lying in bed next to me.  What struck me most was how gorgeous and young she looked.  With thick pale brown hair falling past her shoulders, her green eyes were wide and happy, and she grinned at me.  She was clad in a long, simple white dress, and her skin glowed.  When I say it glowed, I don’t mean unnaturally, but there was just this luminescence of bronze, and her skin shimmered.  I remember looking at it and thinking that it was so cool, but attributing it to the star light.

I sat up beside her and said, “Mom, the next time you come to see me, I want to see you how you are now.  Not with splints on your hands.”  She moved up her leg, and adjusted herself to look at me better, “How many times do you think my coming to visit you is normal?” she laughed, and I shrugged and said, “I don’t know.  I've never done this before.”  And then I commenced to talk to her.  I told her how angry I’d been after she died, I told her about how angry I’d been about so many things.  But what marked me the most was that I felt like we spent so much of our time arguing.  “We wasted so much time,” I said, and she just looked at me.  Shortly after that, she got up to leave, just as I was forming the words, “I’m sorry.”  I remember thinking as I awoke please don’t go, and when I looked at the clock again it was 4:15 am.

It was 15 short minutes, but the realness of that dream, or that vision as my father and I call it, will remain burned in my mind and heart forever.  What was miraculous was the feeling I had after that dream.  I sat up and cried, feeling the most wonderful peace I've had in longer than I can remember, and I felt a small voice speak to my spirit that if I wanted to see her again, I really needed to get my life right with God.  The voice wasn't rebuking, it wasn't judging, it was just a matter of fact truth that I had to stop running from what God has had planned for me since my inception.

I have gone over that dream again and again in my mind since it’s occurred, and I feel there are several important things about my mother that I have to explain.  First, my mother was in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the neck down for over 30 of my 35 years.  This is why I was so accustomed to seeing her with a splint on her hand, and why seeing her leg moving when she adjusted herself should have sent me shouting or screaming in joy.  Seeing her bronzed glow instead of the sallow, barely breathing figure that she was before she died should have broken me down into tears at the knowledge that she was in heaven, and very, very well taken care of.  I believe I was just so overwhelmed and so excited to see her again and to talk to my best friend, that nothing else registered.

Now for the book.  



My Dad had bought me a copy of Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo a couple of weeks prior to that dream, but I’d never read it.  When I told him about my dream, tears came to his eyes, and he asked if I’d read that book yet.  I told him I hadn't, and he insisted that I needed to read that book.  The book is an easy read, so I was able to read it in one Saturday, but everything that I read in that book spoke to me on a deep level, because how that little boy described the people he saw in heaven was exactly like I’d seen Mom in my dream.  I didn't see wings, but the heavenly glow, the white apparel, the peaceful demeanor were all dead on.

For my father, this marked the difference between it being a dream and a visitation.  In his mind, he believes that mom came down to check on her baby girl.  I think perhaps the reason why is clear.  If I was ever going to believe in the things of God again, I had to know that my mom was okay.  Seeing her like that showed me a side of the spiritual that I’d never thought of.  Heaven and its glories were mere bedtime stories.  Something that glimpses of came to other people, certainly not to skeptical and dubious me.  I think God wanted me to see that she was not only okay, but that she was happy, glowing, whole, and changed.

As an added measure to this tale, my grandparents gave me pictures of my mother for Christmas… a lot of old photos of mom from when she had been a baby up through her teenage years.  I hadn't looked at them because honestly it was too painful.  But cleaning house just yesterday, I found that book of photos, and felt like I could probably look through them without being reduced to a ball of tears.  I was so happy that I could look at the smiling and beautiful child and young woman she was and smile instead of cry.  It had taken me over a half year to get past that grief, so for me it was a testament to how much my heart had healed from her loss.  While sifting through these old photos, I came across one picture that stopped me dead in my tracks.  Luckily my grandmother had labeled the back of picture: a snapshot of Mom when she was 16 back in 1973.  What struck me most was not only that this is exactly how I saw her in my dream, but that it was also a photo I’d never seen before.  The familiarity of her image could have only come from that indescribable dream.



The weeks following have been life changing for me.  I know I've used that word over and over again, but it’s the only way to illustrate it.  I feel like for just 15 minutes a piece of heaven was allowed to come visit me in the form of my very best friend in the entire world, and with it came the realization that not only is heaven very real, but so are all things spiritual that accompany that.  I have no doubt that my mother is there right now alongside my grandmother and great-grandparents.  And the urgency with which my spirit has been infused that I have got to get things right and be busy about His business is something that I can’t describe. 

I don’t want to be preachy.  That’s not the intent of this blog entry.  It’s just a fraction of a glimpse at something that has changed my life in such a magnificent way that only God could have accomplished, and it was something that I felt like I needed to share.

For Easter, I got the rare gift of being able to spend a beautiful holiday with all of my family.  It’s something I’ll never forget as long as I live, and it’s an opportunity that I thank God for.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Rubberbanding

I usually try to keep to positive things on here, but I decided this go around, I wanted to be real.  I wanted to explore those recesses of my mind that I generally keep hidden away.

I think there's something very therapeutic about confession to your loved ones.  When you shine light into those dark corners, you find something you never thought you ever would: support, love, and encouragement.

So, here goes.

I have an addiction.  I've battled it my entire life.  Before I can even remember.  Some people nay-say this addiction and like to pretend like it's not as detrimental as it is, but it's very real to me, and it's a war that I wage every single day.

I'm addicted to food.

This isn't just a momentary thing that endures because I ate too much popcorn.  This is a debilitating disease wherein I have to fight not to cram a million things into my mouth as quickly as I can in one sitting.  And I fight this... every. single. day.

At my worst, I would consume 4000-5000 calories a day.  I didn't think anything about eating an entire pizza, scarfing an entire pie in one day, or eating 2/3 of the cookie dough I was supposed to bake up for the boys' snacks that week.  And this is just the tip of the iceberg.  It doesn't stop there, and it would never stop there.  I was never full unless I was sick.  And it continued until I really became sick in May of 2013.

I began getting dizzy for no apparent reason.  I suffered a horrible panic attack in late May and noticed ever since then, that the dizziness recurred.  This wasn't the diagnosed pleurisy that the doctor said it was.  This was something different.  

I went through round after round of tests.  I checked my heart.  I checked my gall bladder.  I checked everything that I could think of that was making my chest hurt and making me so dizzy.  I would be sick for hours on end, and the only way to combat it was to lie down.  This was serious business, and it was beginning to affect my daily living.

That's when they found the fatty liver.

Long story short, when I ate fatty foods (which was every single meal), I would become ill for two to three hours afterward.  Walking a block was nigh impossible.  And having tipped the scale at 410 lbs, I realized that either I was going to continue on this path and die a ridiculously early death, or I was going to have to start taking care of myself so I could take care of the people that meant most to me.

So, this should be easy, right?  Eat less, exercise more.  It was a simple prescription.  But I found I couldn't do it.  Not long term.  I did really well for about four months.  Had nearly lost 50 lbs.  But then Mom died, and suddenly I fell back into bad habits.  I've been struggling ever since.  That made me realize just how much my eating disorder had nothing to do with food.  I was feeding the pain and anxiety I've lived with for 35 years.

So here I am again.  Rubberbanding.  Doing really well, and then relapsing again.  The difference is that I keep picking myself back up.  Keep trying.  The more and more I learn about this addiction, the more I learn about the lies that accompany it.  The more I learn about the ways I constantly sabotage and hurt myself and why I do that in the first place.

I'm not looking for sympathy.  I've no one to blame but myself.  It's no one's fault but mine.  But I'm beginning the long road to recovery.  The long road to being clean.  And it's a hard road.  It's definitely not something that will occur overnight, and I -- in my immediate gratification seeking self -- am learning what it means to be patient.  What it means to wait, to work the program, and to actually reach out and ask for help from others.

Today is day one for me again.  

And I'll keep battling this beast until I finally win.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Positivity



The power of positive thought…

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about my thought processes.  I once deemed myself an optimistic person, but I have found that life can jade you.  Struggles, obstacles, they tend to make you dubious of good circumstances after a while.  Eventually one finds one’s self consistently waiting for that proverbial shoe to drop.

And that is a miserable way to live life.

Does it keep one cautious?  Yes.  Does it keep one guarded?  Yes.  But whether or not we intend for these bad occurrences to befall, they will happen regardless.  What exactly is the harm of being positive about your position?  Being unprepared can cause disappointment?  From what I’ve seen in my short lifetime, life is riddled with disappointment, but it’s no reason to draw up walls and shut potential relationships and opportunities out.

The Dalai Lama once said, “In order to carry a positive action we must develop here a positive vision.”

I read this to mean that before we can start living a positive life, before we can start reaping what we sow, we have to first change our thinking.  We have to change our thought patterns about people, places, and situations.  In order to dispel the darkness there has to be some cognizance of light.  In order to see the silver lining in the clouds, you have to first begin looking for it.

What would happen if instead of cowering in the corner, waiting for evils to ensue, we met each possibility with acceptance and tolerance?  What would happen if we threw wide our arms and welcomed whatever came?  The positive circumstances bring blessings.  The negative circumstances bring wisdom, which is still, too, a blessing.  So what exactly is “bad” here?  And why do we need to hide ourselves away from it?

It is an epiphany that I’ve had that I’ve lived a good portion of my adult life entirely wrong.

It is something that I look forward to changing.