Just One More

cream casket pink flowers

Such a hard, sad day.

The man stood at the lectern and read the letters the daughters had written. Then he read the husband’s and there was one central theme…

Her husband wanted just one more. One more hug. One more kiss. One more squeeze of the hand, one more fond gaze, one more time to hear her deep belly laugh. He wanted her. He wanted to be with his best friend again, even for just one more moment.

But she slipped away from him early that Sunday morning, unexpected, one moment saying she wasn’t feeling well… then gone before the paramedics could even open their bags.

Just one more.

And as I sat there in the funeral home, a dozen rows back, behind family and so many friends, I felt a surge growing in me. For as with any and every funeral I’ve ever attended — and much more as I grow older — I realize it’s just as the ones who loved them best say: You never know when you’ll be called to leave your body behind and enter eternity. And eternity is forever, whether in Heaven or in Hell.

butterfly on flower

So again it fills me to make sure those around me know, at least as far as I can show and tell them…

Tell them
Love them,
Set self ever aside, tending to
Them, loving – knowing I am
Cared for but they —
They need to know what I know:
Life never ends
Love doesn’t die;
There is one path, a
Single door, a
Narrow way.

But the Door stands wide open, the
Path bright lit, the
Way a Truth, a Life, a
Man, the one and only
Son of Man, the God-Man, and you
Know His name, His name, you know
You’ve known all your life really, that
One name that changes everything:
Jesus.

Fierce kind, not safe, no, but comforting
Life spark, blaze flame, everlasting
Love.

And when we take Him into our deepest
Place, death dies and we can’t help
But live, for death then is only
A shaking off, a dropping off
Soul springing free into forever
Spirit sunshine.

For He, this Jesus, embodies it, thin skin covers
Blaze unquenchable and I couldn’t even
Raise my eyes but He tilts my
Chin and I smile through wet eyes into bearably
Dimmed but never diminished gentle
Blaze tempered, burgeoning because love
Escapes, gushes, knocks me down to
Rise again and I gulp in the
Light, quivering as death’s
Ice fingers curl away, slip slide
Off, can’t find purchase on deathless
Life and I jump
Alive! Laugh with my bright
Big bearded Brother.

small and larger butterfly in clouds

How can I tell them? Is there a way I can impart my freedom to those who sit there with me, wiping tears, knowing she’s everywhere here but nowhere close? How can I tell those boys I rarely see except for times like these, their Mimi’s one desire is to see them laugh into her arms up there? I bow, gaze at empty helpless hands and know I don’t have to do anything for them — she already sowed in them seeds watered by her absence and their own tears today. I see strangers all around, my own mother seated next to me, all of us somewhere in death’s queue, waiting our turn to be the one in the beautiful box, the one the man at the lectern is talking about.

And I realize as I stand and gather my things at the end, what I can do is love well those left behind. I can look into their anguished eyes and give them the hug they need. I can write the letter later telling them how much their mother, his wife, meant to me. I can lift them to the Father when their teary faces shimmer in my mind.

I can look past my own busy pod life to the concentric circles around me: neighbors, acquaintances, friends, closest friends, inner circle, best best friend… and ask Father, What about them? Am I doing your work for me on their behalf? I bow my head and for the sake of the sweet lady whose laugh I’ll not hear till Heaven, I ask, again, Father who can I love today with your love? Who can I tell of your goodness? Who can I draw closer to you today?

So while I stand empty handed at death’s crushing blow, wishing for one more visit, one more deep talk, one more hand-crafted meal and just to sit and do nothing with her… I can love just one more person today. In her honor and in honor of those who have gone before, all for the glory of God and for filling His house with countless redeemed souls. And on the day I enter the gates she and so many I love joyfully entered before me, I will look for her. I will hear her laugh and follow the sound till I get another big, loving Gail hug. Oh, happy day!

little girl releasing butterfly

This Brain of Mine

black bunny white mask

I am learning to accept my brain. Ah, that cranium filler has had its share of adventures, and in the 51 years I’ve been living with it, I’ve mostly been rather hard on it.

Why?

Comparison (rarely favorable).
Expectation (often unreasonable).
And reasons I have yet to discover.

When I was a little girl I’d run and dance and sing basically everywhere I went. I was joyful, so happy being me. A favorite memory was when my mom asked me to take out the compost. Weird? Maybe, but I had a little routine I always followed, and since I got to take the compost out almost daily (our container was small and we really like fresh fruit and veggies), it’s a deep and happy memory to pull out.

little blonde girl swinging on swing

My childhood mind was so happy and free!

I’d trot out the back door, down the steps, past the little garden and the swing set, almost to the back fence, stop and sniff a pink rose on the rosebush near the compost pile. I’d fling the compost from the container, then skip back… Plopping the container by the swings, I’d sit on the seat and pump to the trees (pointing my toes at the willow branches). I’d sing old hymns at the top of my lungs (like all three verses of “Redeemed” from the green hymnbook at church), then the Alphabet Song. I’d slow down and hop off, grab the container and back to the kitchen I’d go.

I was so, so happy. But first grade I had Mrs. Stambaugh and she couldn’t stand my constant jabbering in class. Really she wasn’t unreasonable telling me to stop talking to Debbie Erlingston, my best school friend, that day. She even moved us apart, but within seconds I snuck back to Debbie’s side. Well she had it at that point. I got yelled at and brought to the front of the room, where she spanked me in front of everyone.

downward spiral

Just like that, everything inside changed…

I lost my voice that day. My brain told me if I just stayed quiet I wouldn’t get in trouble. That messing with teachers leads to humiliation.

I didn’t know why (I was too young when it happened to understand the resulting trail of fear) — but in school I barely spoke to anyone, and was terrified to talk to even the kindest teachers. When I stood outside my college adviser’s door one afternoon, belly clenched in fear, almost hyperventilating, I finally ventured a prayer before walking in… “Why am I so afraid of teachers? Of this adviser who is so kind?” Immediately I was again standing in front of all those first graders, receiving swat after swat on my rear end.

And I was both mad and scared at this revelation. What is the power of this thing holding me captive all these years later, steals my joy, and makes me tiptoe through a life I’m supposed to grab and enjoy? My mind had stored the footage and now I knew if I was going to walk in some sort of freedom I had to look at it and do some forgiving.

My mind had made all public authority figures, and usually my parents, terrifying because of one teacher on one day, in a span of maybe 10 minutes. I’m learning that traumas are like that.

I did my best to forgive Mrs. Stambaugh and get on with my life but found that ugly footage popping back into my head when I was praying during Bible Study some 20 years after my terror in the college hallway. After confessing latent lack of forgiveness for her and, surprisingly, a bit of bitterness harbored deep inside against my parents for not being as good as I thought they should have been (basically I needed to forgive them for not being God), I was — at last — free.

But as I’ve been traversing the path of therapy, more and more twisted images are surfacing.  I’m forced to acknowledge the sometimes devastating rollercoaster of my brain’s makeup, its deep-set wiring:  I have bipolar disorder. A mental illness, an unwanted superpower.

Yep I said superpower. Over the years my mind’s jerked  me to sky highs and suicidal — even psychotic — lows. I’ve been institutionalized, I’ve gone to prison. I’ve lost and gained friends. The best of them have stayed, but I grieve the lost ones, lost because I snapped at them and snapped off a good, growing friendship. I’ve produced beautiful music, poetry and prose, I’ve screamed and cried and sat catatonic. I’ve attacked those closest to me and even stabbed my husband with a kitchen knife because I thought I was dead and demon-possessed and had no choice.

woman crying, pain

So. much. pain.

It’s been a rough, rocky road. This is a cliche phrase, but springs to mind as it really does apply. I’ve hated how my mind works and begged God to just heal me! Make it all better! Take me back to that carefree girl taking out the compost and singing! Please! I’ve gone to renowned healers and been prayed over and for. And every time God has said, in His silence and whispered gentle nudge, “Acceptance is key.”

Acceptance? Why can’t I just medicate it away? Why can’t I wishful thinking it away? Why can’t I deny it, pretend I’m okay, push it away? Why can’t I finally find the magic healer to pray it away?

Because this is how I was wired from the start and if I believe Psalm 139, well God was doing the wiring. Now God could very well decide, at some point, to rewire my brain and make me — normal. But until that day, which I’m not going to count on, I choose to daily view my brain — my God-given mind — the way it is, and I choose to say:

I accept you just the way you are.
I choose to see you and to grow with you and learn how to live from — not against — my diagnosis.
I accept this is where I am and I’m getting therapy to understand the hows of this brain of mine…

And I mine for the goodness. Because God, in His amazing and unfathomable wisdom, gave me good in this gift. I experience highs many don’t know and lows many wouldn’t want in a million years. It’s been excruciating at times, even with medication to keep things more or less even keel.

But I’ve experienced creativity that makes me feel like I’m flying in the stars… and when someone speaks of being so depressed they’re not sure they want to live anymore — I get it.

Did I want it? No.
Can I make it go away? No.
Would I want to be “normal”? I don’t know. I don’t even know what that would be like.

All I know is what I have. And this curse/gift makes me run into my Daddy God’s arms every day to navigate whatever adventure each day holds — because believe me, a life with a bipolar brain is a daily adventure.  And I look into His eyes, knowing whether I live with this all my mortal days or am healed in a couple of months or not until I get to Heaven…

I am grateful for my brain, thankful for my mind.
I accept me just the way I am, right where I am.
And, mysteriously and beautifully, I find I can accept you too, just the way you are — with all your faults and flaws and unwanted physical and/or mental gifts.

Because I get it.
I’ve got plenty myself.

And, every once in a while, I get on a swing and pump my legs till I’m almost parallel to the ground, singing (if only in my heart) at the top of my lungs. My mind is little again — free! — just loving life, immersed in the moment. Enjoying it while it lasts.

back of girl on swing

Just happy right now

The Metamorphosis

Brown and furry
Caterpillar in a hurry;
Take your walk
To the shady leaf or stalk.
May no toad spy you,
May the little birds pass by you’
Spin and die,
To live again a butterfly

~ Christina G. Rosetti

 

I’ve been thinking about butterflies a lot lately.

Not the ones fluttering around, flitting from flower to flower… No, I’m thinking about the ones trapped in a chrysalis. The ones who aren’t who they were but also not who they’re going to be. The ones who are surrounded all around by a protective shell while they liquefy…

I’m thinking about the ones who are becoming who they will be.

We have all seen caterpillars. When I was a little girl I was enraptured by the tent caterpillars that occupied (and subsequently destroyed) sections of a tree in our yard. I would go out with my glass mayonnaise jar with the holes poked in the lid, and harvest a couple from the tree. I’d prop a stick in the jar and drop a few leaves in there. And I’d watch them for a few days.

caterpillar close up hairy insect

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

My mom told me, “Why do you want to keep tent caterpillars? They’re useless, they’re destructive.” I said, “I like them, I want to watch them. They’re caterpillars, Mom!”

So she sighed and indulged my fascination.

But I never stayed fascinated for long. After a couple of days I’d drop them in the yard and set the jar aside. A few days later I’d repeat the operation, but never stuck around to see what the little striped crawlies grew up to be.

In science class our teacher told us about butterflies and moths, and immediately I was glued. Then I was surprised. You see I thought when they cocooned themselves and hung from a branch maybe they shrank and then grew wings. I never knew that in the process they became, effectively, DNA soup.

dna soup

What the caterpillar once was completely died. No, it was still alive, but what it had been was unrecognizable.  According to the Scientific American in its article “How Does a Caterpillar Turn into a Butterfly?” the caterpillar in its silk cocoon (a moth) or hardened protein chrysalis (a butterfly) begins by digesting itself.

How odd. How counterintuitive — what good can come of something DIGESTING itself? Well, if it’s going to mature, it’s got to. In this mystery, certain cell groups survive and become aspects of the grown butterfly (eyes, antennae, wings, etc.). Submitting to liquefaction releases enzymes that digest all the butterfly’s existing tissues. Funny thing is, even before the process begins, certain caterpillars walk around with tiny wings inside their bodies, completely invisible from the outside. No one would know that buried in that earthbound creature is the means of flight. Now some species keep aspects of their original caterpillar form, such as muscle structures and bits of the original nervous systems. But, effectively, what emerges from that chrysalis after the set time passes is nothing like what went in.Butterfly chrysalis translucentIn the mystery inside the butterfly chrysalis, rapid-fire cell reproduction is occurring, fueled by the protein-rich DNA soup they’re in. Cells increasing a thousandfold, by the end of metamorphosis, these creatures could be named new creations.

close up of butterfly pollinating flower

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
~ II Corinthians 5:17

And what was bound to the earth spreads its wings and flies, flits, soars — sometimes traveling for miles and miles. What the caterpillar could never do, the butterfly is uniquely equipped to accomplish. And we marvel at its beauty and amazing qualities. We’d never see this coming if all we saw was the munching, crunching caterpillar, traveling over branches, eating every leaf, seedpod or flower in its way. Who would ever imagine wings on those adorable creatures? And who would even want to change a caterpillar? Aren’t they perfectly acceptable as they are? Why would we even need them to become butterflies?

Here are some fascinating facts I’ve discovered about these flying works of art:

  • There are 20,000 species throughout the world
  • They live one to nine months
  • Depending on the species, they migrate north to south, or south to north
  • Most butterflies lay their eggs on plants that will be eaten by the caterpillar when it hatches
  • They smell through their feet!
  • They are food
  • They are pollinators
  • Some adult butterfly species eat rotting fruit, carrion and other waste (acting as little trash disposers)
  • Their presence or absence is a predictor of whether an ecosystem is healthy.

And there’s so much more! But I think the most important reason we have butterflies is for God to show off His creativity and to make the world we live in breathtaking. They, like all of creation, exist to display His glory. Would any of this have happened if they had stayed caterpillars?

rainbow butterfly

And displaying God’s glory is also why we’re here. We start as tiny, helpless babies, growing in the environment into which we are born. We’re hapless inheritors of all the good, bad, and ugly our parents gave us. This, the same stuff they got, combined to form the original us. We begin in our origin stories, for better or worse, and do the best we can under the circumstances.

At some point, though, we sense a stirring deep inside. We hear our Creator’s whisper, and we respond. Some push away the Voice, sometimes for years. Some are wise and turn to Him immediately, but either way the Voice persists. At a point of decision, we realize we have the choice to say Yes and follow Him or No and walk away. When we say yes, the metamorphosis begins. If we say No, the Divine Pursuit persists.

This original Yes sparks a moving from glory to glory,  and it’s a lifelong process. Now of course all analogies break down and while the caterpillar is only once in its chrysalis, our lives progress from chrysalis to chrysalis. Our many liquefactions produce more and more of our Creator’s image, displayed more remarkably each time we crawl out.

Now unlike the butterfly, we have a choice:  stay earthbound, voracious caterpillars ever eating and never becoming anything but older and more like ourselves in our dysfunction… Or we submit to the painful process of dying to all we were before. This means lying helpless at times, cooperating with our Creator each time for however long it takes to become the divine being we were made to be: The splendid creature hiding inside all along. The glorious one who ever submits to each chrysalis time to display more and more of our Daddy’s stunning allure.

child with butterfly

You make everything glorious and I am Yours —
what does that make me? ~ David Crowder

We discover these transitional metamorphosis times are at times excruciating. The refinement often dredges up painful memories, sometimes flashing in so suddenly we are crushed, bleeding and crying out for relief. Other times we simply receive revelations, pouring liquid light into our aching hearts. In this submitting to every God-ordained change we learn what we would never know were it not for the liquefaction times, when all we knew of ourselves has passed away. This precarious, terrifying stage where we know we weren’t who we were but aren’t quite who we will be. It’s scary being soup.

And to submit to entering the chrysalis whenever Dad says it’s time.

But the good news is while we’re helpless on the inside, outside we’re surrounded by an impenetrable shell each metamorphosis time. We are completely cupped in our Daddy’s strong hands.cupped butterflyI cling to you,
and your hand keeps me safe.
~ Psalm 63:8

As we emerge all weak and quivering, drying our wings, we try our new selves on for size. Clinging to Him, we absorb living Light and strength for whatever is coming. We gaze into the beams of overwhelming Love, aware of a stirring deep inside. Excitement builds and bubbles out — we know whatever’s coming it’s going be amazing. It’s going to be impossible for who we were but totally doable for who we’ve become. We know we’re going to look back on the helpless time and say without a doubt…

It was worth it.

It always is.

And as we feel our wings dry, they begin beating in time with the breeze around us…We feel ourselves pulled from the branch where our former home hangs, shriveled.

And we take to the sky and soar!
We laugh up into our Maker’s face because the updraft is Holy Spirit wind.  And underneath are Daddy’s Everlasting Arms.

blue butterfly cloudy sky