Friday, October 23, 2020

The Eighth Year

Eight years ago I paced alone throughout a house wondering where my daughters were. An inquisitive 3-year old boy as my shadow. I remember feeling so utterly alone. 

I called their phones.

I sent texts.

I posted on Facebook.

I called my sister.

I called the police.

I called my mom.

I drove to the church.

I called the police again.

I walked in circles.

I panicked.

I prayed.

I answered the door.

And my world went dark.

I broke down.

I broke apart.

I broke empty.

I broke completely.

I broke alone.

Then I lifted my head and let God in.

There has been countess blessings and so much incredible joy from sweet friends and absolute strangers! So much goodness! My heart swells just thinking of it all! The Avery House in Haiti. The 19 Days. The Avery Step You Take 5K. To this day I still meet people who say, "wait - are you Avery's mom?" Her story and her love for Christ has reached the hearts of people from all over. How could this be possible except for such a good, good God? 

And I have experienced the deepest cuts of betrayal. Endured active deceit, the abuse of alcohol, adultery's humiliating sting. I live now with my parents, struggle financially after achieving debt-free status, and go to sleep wondering why grieving a child wasn't enough for me.

Yet every morning, through the grace of God, I rise to a world filled with beauty beyond words. Avery's memory and God's Word tells me to love. Love deep. And I will continue to do just that. To the stranger, to the neighbor, to the friend, to the lonely, to the unknown. I will continue to do my part to throw good into the world, to make others laugh, to feel included, to feel heard, to come to recognize they are not alone but that God is with them if you just let Him in - because I do not know what pit they're clawing their way out of. This world is filled with far too many hard things. 

If I have learned anything from Avery's death it's this:

(1) God is good. Always.

(2) You have a finite amount of time on this earth. Find out who you are supposed to be - and be brave enough to own it.

(3) Kindness matters and has its place in all things. Especially the ugly and difficult.

These past eight years have produced the greatest growth and the most amount of fruit in me. There have been times when I wanted to tap out, call uncle, roll over and go to sleep and never wake up. I look back and realize I am so far from where I was the day before Avery died and that movement in me was absolutely needed. Every second of my suffering God has taken and produced something wonderful for His Kingdom. I will praise Him even when I can barely catch my breath. I will praise Him even when I feel shattered and destroyed. Satan will not have me because I belong to God and God alone.

Eight years without. Yet every single day God is showing me how good He is to me. Sending me support, encouragement, friendship through the incredible people he placed in my life and brought just when I needed it most. Eight years and I have never been alone.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Missing Pieces

I have this theory that every one of us is born with missing pieces of our soul. 

Throughout our lives we pick up different pieces - experiences, relationships, careers, hobbies - in the hopes that the piece fits and we become one step closer to whole.

But sometimes we pick up pieces where the shape fits but it is obvious when we look at the color and pattern that it isn't supposed to belong there.

I think it's especially this way with mental illness and addiction. There are so many shapes that match but they aren't right. In fact, if you leave them in place, you'll never be able to complete your soul. 

Alcohol to take the edge off. Getting drunk by 4pm on a Tuesday. Hooking up with people you don't actually care for just because you're lonely or bored or, truthfully, just desperate to fill that empty spot. Smoking marijuana, snorting cocaine, popping oxycontin, xanax, ativan. Inappropriate behavior that hurts innocent people who didn't even know you a month ago. Forgetting your responsibilities. Disappointing loved ones. But the desire to fill that empty hole with anything you can shove in there takes priority over treating others with respect. With treating yourself with respect.

It takes an incredibly brave person to admit a piece needs to be removed. 

It takes courage to say I cannot do this anymore.

It takes every ounce of strength to ask for help getting rid of it.

It is not for the faint of heart to admit that when we look in the mirror we don't even recognize the person staring back. 

That things got out of control and you can't even recount how it happened. 

That everything you worked hard for in the past six years completely crumbled and was destroyed within three months. 

And that you have to start over. 


Just like you started over the last time. 

And the time before that.

But it's not just chemical addiction that can take us seriously off track. Some people are so scared of dealing with the holes in their soul that they fill it with things that look good but are taken to the extreme... like exercising. That's a good thing, right? But when you're working out so much and so often that you're unable to nurture friendships or get enough sleep or attend family gatherings it's time to acknowledge it isn't the right piece.

Some people like taking care of others. And that is a super noble thing to do. But when your worth is wrapped up in doing everything for your children or your spouse or your boyfriend/girlfriend a red flag is being raised. You cannot change someone. You might be able to influence them but you have no control over whether or not they want to change to be the way you want them to be.

Relationships that are toxic but you don't know how to get out.

Jobs you hate but are convinced this is the best you can do.

The landlord raising the rent again but you feel guilty leaving because they're so nice to you and you know they need the extra income. 

Gym memberships you just keep paying on because admitting you don't even like going to the gym makes your feel like a loser. 

Look, we all have hurts, habits and hang ups that try to convince us to keep the ill-fitting pieces in our soul but we also know deep down that we aren't meant to live this way: incomplete. Uncomfortable. Feel less than we deserve.

If you're ready to start over and take a step to a new kind of freedom - whether it's your first time or your thirtieth - give Celebrate Recovery a try. Just enter Celebrate Recovery and your city or town in your search bar and find a meeting near you. Most likely, you'll be able to find several meeting places around you throughout the week. Go to however many you need to go to for however long you need to go. I promise it will be one of the most welcoming places you will ever go. And they'll help you take out the pieces that need to be removed and you'll start finding the ones that are supposed to be yours. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

The Package

The other day a package, sent to me, from me, was delivered to my home.
Except I didn’t actually send myself anything.
So I had no idea what it was or who would send it or why they would.
Inside was an anonymous note referencing Avery and The 19 Days and I’m not including the note because the sender went through great lengths to remain anonymous and therefore I’m respecting that and no one will be able to scrutinize the handwriting.
Because it isn’t really about trying to figure out who sent it.
It’s about allowing yourself to just feel loved and cared for. In this case, allowing myself to just feel loved and cared for.
Because the truth is, I’ve been craving that for a long time. Years and years, really. And I kind of forgot what it was like - to just receive.
To just accept.
To just think about how someone, somewhere, thought about me and said, “I think she’d like this.” So they took out their money and purchased something that was perfect for me when they could have bought something that was perfect for them or perfect for anyone else in their life. And then they went to the post office and purchased a package to send it in and then paid for next day shipping in order to have it delivered to me.
Do you know how great it feels to be considered next day shipping worthy? Because I do. And it feels really amazing.
And on top of everything, this person essentially made certain that I had absolutely no obligation other than to simply receive and enjoy. I have no name to send a thank you card to. I have no name to reciprocate. I have nothing... except for this gift that was given to me.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, expected of me in return.
Except to receive and enjoy. And to know that somewhere, someone believes I’m pretty wonderful.
And that makes me feel pretty dang incredible.
So much so, I can't wait to do this to some other unsuspecting soul.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

In the Desert

I think we need to talk about the desert. Real talk.

As a Christian, we've heard this story a thousand times. The Israelites, God's Chosen People - special, marked, loved, cared for - were exiled into the desert where, although not ideal, God took care of them. We learned how daily God performed miracles just for them! He made manna (bread) fall from the sky so they could eat and he brought water out of a rock to quench their thirst!

But they weren't thrilled about it.

They whined. They complained. They felt they deserved more. They forgot to say thank you.

And, as every good Christian girl and boy does, we reacted in shock! How could they not see their God providing for them?! How could they be so ungrateful? How could they lose faith in their great and holy Father? How could they forget who He was and how much He loved them?

We would never act like that! We would learn from them! We would not let down our God with our short memories of who He is and what He promises to His people! We would be better than the Isrealites, we promised.

Friends, we haven't even been in the desert for 40 days. (That was the amount of time Jesus spent in the desert. Remember? He went without food and water and he was completely isolated except for the presence of the enemy. Literally.)

You guys! How can we be the light of the church during such a time as this if we're posting our complaints about how we shouldn't have to spend all this time teaching kids and doing school work? How it's ridiculous that restaurants are closed? Or complaining about how we haven't had a good night out with friends in ages. Or how unfair it is that our family doesn't get to go on the vacation we booked before a global pandemic thwarted our plans?

How can we convince others that God will provide for them if we can't see how God is providing for us right now?

How are we showing how great our God is when we spend more time arguing and defending politics than we do sharing God's grace and mercies of the day?

How do we share God's love and light and faithfulness and goodness and wonderfulness and powerfulness and beauty and greatness when all we're doing is whining that we deserve more than the pitiful manna piling up around our feet?

We're moving - whether we realize it our not. Our thoughts, our words, the habits we're forming - they're either moving us closer to God or closer to the enemy. 

We're not sitting still through this. We're moving - whether we realize it our not. Our thoughts, our words, the habits we're forming - they're either moving us closer to God or closer to the enemy. And it's all our choice. All our doing. All our decision making. And most of us can't even see how far away from God we've actually become.

This is our desert. And why not? What makes us so special that we wouldn't have a challenge? It's not the way of our people; of God's people. God has never disillusioned us. He told us straight out that our lives here would not be easy.

John 16:33 (NIV) tells us what Jesus said. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

The Message describes it like this: "I've told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace." Are we showing the world how at peace with God we truly are? Do we feel unshakable and assured through our faith in God? Or are we filled with worry and fear and doubt?

How many stories have been passed down through the generations, how many scriptures have been shared, how many Sunday School lessons and church sermons have illustrated the fact that God's way is not easy - but that he HAS a Promised Land in store for us!

That he never leaves our side.
That He's with us in the battle.
That we're not forgotten.
That He will give us the strength we need to endure for one more day.

As Christians, our greatest battle isn't COVID-19. It isn't being laid off. It isn't the dwindling check book and the empty pantry. It isn't hours of school work battles around the kitchen table. Our greatest struggle is with our patience in God and our gratitude to God.

We're not forgotten by God. But we have been forgetting Him.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Leading Me.

Based on evidence from radiometric age-dating of meteorite material, the earth is about 4.543 billion years old.

I am 46. By this point in my life I have slept away at least 15-years, but it's actually probably closer to twenty. If I remain healthy, I have about thirty good years left, but I still have to sleep.

If I were to be honest, I would admit I have spent the majority of my life in a state of reaction to someone or something else. I am not exactly known as a trailblazer or a leader. I will happily pass the leadership baton to someone else and let them decide what my life should look like. Where should we eat? You decide. Where should we vacation? You pick. What should holidays look like? I guess I'll just deal with whatever you come up with.

I have always had these grand plans to pick up and move to someplace quaint and quirky, fall in love with a man who was much more level-headed and rational than I, and have a bunch of kids that would be the pride of my heart. I'd know everyone in town and would get my coffee at the same diner every morning. In my dreams, I'm always someplace south. (Also, I drink coffee in my dreams which I do not ever do in real life.) But instead of making choices that would lead me down the path to that quaint and quirky town, I hopped in the car of the first boy who paid attention to me and ended up going nowhere but staying here trying to raise babies alone.

I often picture myself hiking alone, invigorated, soul-filled, balanced, but nature scares me. I used to run long distance throughout the trails in the DNR land at the back edge of our property. Nothing but my breath and the sound of my feet crunching leaves and small sticks. I loved every step of it! Then there was this crazy encounter with a fox that took me immediately and forever off those trails.

I have always done whatever I had to do to get by. To get from the step I was at to the very next step. Conservatively move from job to job to get to the top paying one with the best benefits. Buy the car that makes the most sense. Purchase the sofa that's on sale even though it's not the one I really wanted.

So, I think I'm going to switch things up in 2020. Instead of watching my life waltz by with each passing day and trying to follow it around, I'm going to be intentional about where I step and what decisions I make. It's about time I lead instead of waiting to be asked to go out on the dance floor.

It's going to be hard for me. It goes against some really bad, ingrained habits. But I'm going to try it.

This year, I'm going to learn how to lead me.

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Accidental Veteran

I'm on the front page of the base newspaper, a bulky Kevlar helmet on my head, even clunkier military issued glasses on my face, frozen in time next to a 4-star general.

I'm showing him the results of my target practice. He's smiling, proudly. All the bullet holes in a tight circle in the center. I look bored.

It was raining.

I was woken up extra early, before any of the others. Placed on an old school bus painted drab brown-green. Or maybe it was green-brown. It was so long ago. It's hard to remember the details.

I sit directly behind the driver. Alone. I didn't know who I was with. I didn't ask. They didn't offer.

We drove in the dark. Stopped. Exited.

I stood waiting with two other strangers dressed the same as me. Someone pointed. The three of us, strangers to each other, walked away.

I found the perfect spot up on the wooded hill. Covered in camouflaged face paint - the most make up I'd ever wear on my face, covered my body in tree branches and leaves. Waiting in the wide open where no one could see me.

Dark can hide the shape but can never hide the sound. They thought they were so good, and maybe they were... but they weren't silent.

If you quiet your mind and slow the beat of your heart you can hear everything you need to.

The stranger-sergeant low-crawled, angry-advanced screaming directly in my ear: at least let them get halfway way up the goddamn hill, private! I still feel the sting of his spit on my face just under my right eye.

Isn't that what we were supposed to be doing? Playing pretend so they could do the real thing? Who was going to tell them that when they left they wouldn't even make it halfway up the hill?

Yelling. Lights. Banging. Bunks toppling over with the sleepers still in them. Get up! Get up! Get up!

Night drill. We flooded a concrete bunker in silence. And waited. Waited for what seemed like forever in the frozen night air. If there was light, maybe I could see my breath. 

Suddenly, chaos from all sides. We scramble over the too-tall bunker wall into a make believe hell. 

Artillery lights the sky, explosions next to our bodies, wriggling on our backs through puddles, all we had to do is get through.

But one body stayed under the barbed wire. It was no longer make believe. Two drill sergeants drag him out. They said it was a heart condition. But it was just supposed to be pretend.

Of the young men and women I did life with, only one was gung-ho. One. He knew all the insignia, all the generals, all the history. He wanted to be there with every fiber of his being. Planned for this moment in time since he was seven or eight. He bored us to tears and connected with no one. 

The rest? The overwhelming majority?

We were there by accident.

The misfits. The ones who knew they didn't fit in and just wanted to disappear. They could slip away and collect a pay check. Finally a win.

Kids who couldn't, wouldn't hack it in school. 

Kids with families so messed up the military looked easy.

One told us about growing up poor in the south. Her daddy was too mean to the other kids. He was too nice to her. She just didn't want him to touch her anymore. She knew if she left she was never coming back. But she didn't have anywhere to run to. Here she had a bed and meals. So what if she had to learn how to properly clean herself after a chemical attack. She'd been scrubbing her skin raw since she was thirteen. 

Another, in and out of foster care. She couldn't tell us how many. Shoot, all the places and the faces ran together. This wasn't the first time she had to share a room with people she wouldn't bother getting to know.

The girl taking a 4-year detour. She never wanted to learn how to wire a land mine. She wanted to learn how to write a lesson plan for third graders.

Baby-faced Elias who knew no other way to escape Watts. He had a better chance for survival in Desert Storm. Watts would definitely kill him. It had already taken his brother, his uncle and his favorite cousin. 

Selfies. Before they were a thing and before you could delete the
 entire thing if you all looked ridiculous and do a do-over.
There was this thing after boot camp - a graduation of sorts where family could fly in, take pictures, tell you how amazing you are, take you out to a fancy restaurant. The majority of the recruits had no one come. They went back to the barracks. Became their own family.

Me? Well, the unromantic explanation is I flunked out of college. I had already been disappointing my parents for the majority of my existence, so there was no use trying to go back down that route again. I was working part-time at a gas station; hardly enough to pay any rent. I didn't know what to do with my life and there was some sort of recruiting station in town. I walked in and signed up. It was that thought out. I needed a place to live and a job. Two birds, one stone. Done.

For a long time I didn't consider myself a veteran. I was a cocky young kid who had failed and just needed a place to go. The military took me in. I have a copy of my DD 214 but have never cashed in any of my long-ago promised benefits. I never used my GI Bill to go to finish school because somewhere along the line society convinced me that I wasn't "veteran enough." I was never deployed overseas, never saw combat, never killed anyone in action. I was in the very first class the Army offered Automated Logistical Specialist training. I graduated second in my class. We learned how to keep track of inventory on a computer. That hardly seems like a reason to benefit from a VA Loan.

Let's be honest, compared to Gung-Ho Military Guru Guy, the rest of our squad was pretty, well, basic.

But with age comes wisdom. And here's what I know now:

Those misfits? Those escape artists? Those family-less? They are brave. They are courageous. They saw real-life combat in a way many of us take for granted. They choose to put our country first, even if it is because it's their last resort.

So, as we're going around celebrating our loved ones who wore the uniform: the ones we have a plethora of pictures of and love letters from; the ones we finally received the phone call from; the ones with the funny stories about how their Drill Sergeant embarrassed them for getting your care package with the chocolate chip cookies and the card sprayed with perfume... think about the others.

Think about the soldiers who go through the entirety of basic training ang AIT without a single letter received nor a single phone call to make.

Think about the soldiers who stay on base when it's a holiday because they never had the benefit of a family.

Think about the soldiers who recognize the irony of ensuring you have a safe life to live because they had to escape their dangerous one.

Think about the accidental veteran. The one who never once saw themselves as a soldier but somehow ended up there.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Meeting My Dad for the First Time

Growing up, I avoided my dad whenever I could. I'd slink around corners and sit quietly in rooms wanting nothing more than to stay undetected. I'd avoid looking him in the eyes or speaking directly to him, preferring someone else to do the talking while I observed from a safe distance.

I was scared of my dad. Deathly afraid at whatever outburst was about to erupt. My dad was impatient, short-tempered, angry. He saved his best self for his friends. I got the just stay out of his way and don't make him mad. 

The most common words from my Dad were shut up, be quiet, and don't make me come up there. I could relax when my Dad wasn't home. My stomach would turn into a tight ball of nerves the second I heard the sound of gravel crunching under tires coming up the drive.

I was fourteen years old when I learned my father was an alcoholic. I knew he always had a can of beer in his hand while mowing the lawn, but alcohol was not kept in our home. (Except for a bottle of peach schnapps hidden away in the back of a tall cabinet in the kitchen that my older sister made my brother drink after he got lost in a blizzard walking up to the house when the school bus dropped him off, but that's a different story.)

Suddenly kids at school were laughing about how they saw my dad stop at an intersection downtown and get out of his car to grab a couple cans of beer from the trunk. I realized the impulsive decision to buy a horse (with pygmy goat companion) wasn't because he was artistic and saw the world in a different light, it was because he was drunk and made stupid decisions without consulting his spouse. His rantings about politics and government were not informed, they were paranoid. When he told me I was stupid and wouldn't amount to anything it wasn't because he was just too tired from working all those long hours, it was because he was mean when he drank.

My father was what one would consider a functioning alcoholic. He went to work and worked hard. He paid his bills, made sure his family ate. He kept the yard looking nice and had gardens others were jealous of. He washed and waxed the cars by hand, making sure each tire held the right pressure and the oil was regularly changed.

My Dad mowed the yard after he got home from his job at the local factory, would watch some television and fall asleep on the calico print furniture in the living room. I never understood how he was capable of startling awake the second I tried to turn the channel, yelling I was watching that! When things got really stressful, and my mom took on a second shift job leaving my dad in charge, I hung out in the laundry room. It was as far opposite from the living room as possible.

He took us kids to the driving range so he could hit shag balls while we walked up and down ditch lines trying to see who could find the most golf balls. Some people were lousy shots. Not my dad. He won trophies and people asked his advice on how to improve their swing.

But then he'd have a few.

There are far too many stories of what happened when Dad had a few. I can laugh now but I couldn't then. To be honest, I couldn't for a whole lot of years after I moved out. Like I said, he saved his best for others. We got the worst of him.

One hundred and thirty-three days ago, my Dad almost died. He started bleeding out - the result of years of drinking, ulcers, and a previous stroke which required blood thinners... the bleeding wouldn't stop. Three transfusions later and a wicked bout with withdrawal, I watched as he relearned how to sit up, stand, and eventually walk again. His vision is permanently destroyed.

But something new bloomed.

I was meeting my Dad for the first time. I was meeting the real him. The sober him. The one with focus. The one who remembers. The one who can hold a conversation, rather than repeating the same thing over and over.

I've learned that his sister Rhonda makes the best lemon meringue pie ever and that he thinks there's something wrong with people who don't like lemon meringue pie.

I've learned that he tried so hard to get his dad to stop smoking. He actually tried smoking once. Never again.

I've learned that in his early twenties he worked on a bridge construction crew, traveling about Australia fixing bridges. He told me that's why he never wanted to go camping. After having to live it, who would want to do that for fun? His favorite jobs were ones where they could reach running water in a creek or river below. Those made the best showers.

I've learned that when he was about 17-years old (he guesses) he was driving a tractor down the road and saw lightning strike a tree about 200-yards in front of him. It filled him with a powerful fear and reverence for lightning. You won't catch him outside in a storm. Nope. He's too scared of lightning because he's seen first-hand what it can do.

I've learned that when he was about 9 or 10 years old he desperately wanted a bicycle but knew they could never afford it. He went to the garbage dump scavaging for bits and pieces of thrown away bikes, took them all apart and created a new bike. He painted it blue. He loved that bike.

I've learned about people who have hurt him. A teacher. An in-law. A guy at work. All reiterating the same message... that he would never amount to anything. He wants to find that old teacher, pull up in a spot free, paid-off car and say you were wrong.

I've learned that he was the first one of all his friends to buy a car. A Datsun. Up and down the coast they'd fly! But he always asked his friends to pay for gas. That was the deal. They used his car; he used their gas.

I've learned that times got tough. Too tough. He had to park the Datsun, cover her up, and ride his bike to and from work because he couldn't afford the gas. But he did it because that's what you do... you find a way to keep going.

I've learned more about him in these past 133 days than I have in the past 45 years. And I could be angry about that.

I could stomp and pout and rail against him: it's too late! Do you even know what it was like living with you? Never able to make you happy? Or proud? 

I could hold a grudge: no. You don't get to come in at the end and expect me to clap and cheer because you're finally doing something you should've done forty years ago.

I could choose to be stubborn and refuse a relationship with him -- but I'd be the one missing out. I've been wishing and wanting my dad to stop drinking since I figured it out when I was fourteen and now that time is here. Only self-centered, spoiled people choose bitterness because they got the gift they asked for... but aren't happy with when they got it.

I finally get a chance to meet my sober dad. My children finally get a chance to meet their sober Papa. We finally get a chance to care and encourage and find happiness with each other and I am not going to squander the time I have been given just because I don't think this happened soon enough for me. And I am certainly not going to be the one who shows the world that I'm holding a grudge at someone who is finally trying to do things right.

We most definitely still do not share the same views politically or religiously, and sometimes he just gets on my nerves like any other person might, but that's okay because he's my father. And I'm learning that I actually like who he is. I don't avoid him anymore.

Avery absolutely loved her Papa. 

I don't think my Dad knew what to do with Avery...
but I know Avery knew exactly how to love my Dad.

The Eighth Year

Eight years ago I paced alone throughout a house wondering where my daughters were. An inquisitive 3-year old boy as my shadow. I remember f...