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

Take Back the Day Part 2: I’m Struggling Today

frozen rain

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.
~ Psalm 42:11

Today’s blog, coupled with Monday’s, should at least lend credence to my bi-polar diagnosis. Let’s be real, shall we? I’m not going to sugar-coat this day. My experience of this day is that it’s creating negative atmospheric pressure. In the common vernacular — it sucks. Today I am struggling with a variety of things, and no solution is presenting itself yet. I think you understand.

Today (Tuesday) began meteorologically the same as yesterday, though the temperature is climbing a bit. Same rain, rain, rain, same dullness to the day. Same, yet so different.

Today I awoke already exhausted. My mood stabilizer medication, the stuff I take at bedtime, sometimes has the unfortunate side effect of making me… restless. I’m asleep but I’m struggling with all manner of situations, some real, most an exaggerated version of whatever I was thinking about as I went to sleep. Last night I was thinking of a dance I need to learn for the play I’m in, which opens next week. So all night long I’m thinking: I need to rehearse, I need to get it down… which morphed into trying to teach a whole group of people a dance I didn’t even know myself. Added to this the irrational feature of a cast member hitting on me, which I know wouldn’t happen in real life. But as I dream in Technicolor 4-D imagery, it was certainly real to me.

I began to awaken before dawn, awake enough to realize the fight was on to solve the multi-dimensional dream problem while simultaneously fighting to set it aside and slide into a satisfying, restful sleep. I finally gave up and dragged out of bed, awake enough to pour a cup of coffee, but not enough to carry on a polite conversation with my Mom (or anyone else — please, please, go away, I can’t adult yet!). Awake enough to taste in my coffee that the half-gallon of half-and-half I bought yesterday was already a bit off (seriously? the expiration date is DECEMBER 11th). Sheesh.

Pondering all of this and the fact that my truck’s dashboard was beginning to sparkle,  warning lights one-by-one popping up as I drove home from play practice last night. And the fact that arriving home I rolled to a stop, a dead battery shutting off those lights in one fatal blink.

Thus began today. On top of that, while nursing my off-coffee, I peered inside to see my emotions: a dark, roiling mess. Now this isn’t unusual for me. I have bi-polar disorder, so my insides often don’t know which way to go on a given morning. I often have to spend the first part of every day sorting them into piles and dealing with them on a bit-by-bit basis. Today, though, it felt like too much. Added to that, a dear friend pointed out that my many vehicle frustrations likely stem from unresolved relationship issues with my husband. And I need to shake the sand off my ostrich head and face them. And there’s more, so many unresolved, amorphous issues pressed down by busyness, popping up like submerged beach balls.

So what did I do with this lovely mash-up? Yep, I grabbed my mug, trudged back upstairs, plopped on the bed, pressed my little owl plushie to my chest and cried. I curled up in Daddy God’s lap and just turned on the tear faucet full-blast, ugly crying, emptying out.

And I decided to (wo)man my laptop, following up my happy Monday Pollyanna-ish blog with this very real, raw, sucky day blog. Because some days are like that. Today I just want to scream, all the possible negatives sticking to me like the black blobs on Mr. Incredible.

mr incredible black blobs

I don’t want to face any of the stuff of this day. I want to curl up in a blanket fort, but I don’t want to bother building it. I want to hide in a Netflix binge-fest. I want to self-medicate and push it all away.  I wish I could push it all away forever. To somehow live as a perpetually carefree four year-old, nothing on my mind but my dolls and my funny made-up stories, my toys and yummy snacks.

But I know that even with a necessary break I’ll have to face all the stuff. All of it. What can I do to face it in a healthy way? Jesus, how did you face all your crap-hitting-the-fan days?

All at once I see You in a darkened grove, just You alone among the olive trees, just You crying out your heart with our Daddy. I see You shaking Your fist at the destroyed, toxic chaos Adam and Eve unleashed on Your perfect world, the horror and futility of it all. I see you raw and real, crying out, saying, ” Father if You don’t do something about this, if You don’t help, if You don’t go back out into that mess with me, I will fall apart! I can’t do this — I just can’t!”

And I see gentle hands stretch from the clouds, light beams spiking through, illuminating dark spaces. I see our Dad reach down and scoop You up. Scoop me up. I see Him, face intent, his eyes knowing it all, empathy a cloud around us — such tender love! I hear deep, soothing tones, “My child, I know. I see you, I see your pain. I see your slumped shoulders, your eyes misty, forlorn. I see discouragement radiate from you. Ah, my child You know something? I never meant for you to do any of this alone. It IS too much for you to face. Lean into me, let go, drop into Me. You are enough for all of this because of one thing:

I am enough, little one. I AM enough. And I live in you. You never go anywhere, face anything, without Me.”

And I feel hope trickle in. I don’t have to have all the answers right now.  But I know His record. I remember sitting hopeless  four and a half years ago in a prison cell, my charges screaming death, hopelessness, futility to me. I remember light spears spiking all around me, showing me what I could only see with eyes bigger than mine. Showing me that somehow I had to hang on, that if it would get better it had to be God’s intervention. Nothing more, nothing less. In a moment I see the ribbon of my life, spots caught in flashes of Him coming through for me, again and again.

I still feel trembly confusion today, tears so close to the surface, unnamed, as-yet unknown pain turbulent in my belly. But I turn my chin up, look into my sweet Father’s face, Lion of Judah arrayed in light and love, all-sufficient, all-love. I know beyond knowledge He really is enough. And I take the next breath, do the next thing. It will work out. I know deep below all the chaos, the Truth, my Jesus, holds me close. He is my shield, my wisdom, my It’s gonna be ok.

817da1c5eab714fbe8f8bbc05db21fb1--narnia-lucy-aslan-and-lucy

And in my tears I find I’m smiling, if only a little. On days like this, when the best case scenario is slogging through, I remember I have strong hip boots, I have sunlight on my face, a light-pierced cloud above my head, while the cold rain still pours all around.

It’s gonna be all right. It really is. Deep down I know it’s true. And it’s okay if my emotions take a while to get there.