Back on the Steps

I sat on the steps in the jail pod and silently begged God to let me die. All means of doing so myself had been removed. I huddled in anguish,  shrouded in the utter devastation that had become my life. I was told my case would never go beyond the investigation, then never beyond the initial charges. When a plea deal was offered, I was advised to reject it, no way would a jury convict. But they did and I sat in jail, awaiting transfer to prison, the nightmare that had begun almost 2 years before culminating in separation from my children for 2 1/2 years. I was told I would be able to see them immediately, another falsehood. It would be six months before the prosecutor completed the paperwork allowing my transfer, a vengeful act to increase my punishment. I sat on those steps and begged God to let me die. Excruciating heartache suffocating me, I could no longer breathe on my own. I didn’t want air to fill my lungs. I rejected food, I wanted no nourishment, my soul felt already dead. I just wanted my body to follow suit. Alone on the steps when all of the other women housed in the pod with me had left for the one hour recreation time, beseeching a God that had surely already forsaken me, I cried out.

My children were 2 1/2 and 5 at the time. I had sang them to sleep each night. I never wanted anything more than to be a mother. No longer able to smell their sweet breath, to feel silky hair glide through my fingers, hear the tinkling melody of little voices, know the weight of a lap immediately filled when I finally sat down, I wanted to escape my body. My senses were empty without children to give them meaning. I had no use for me, without the role of mom. I wanted out. I knew my suffering, I could only allow in tiny fragments of thought about those of my babies before I struggled to hold onto my sanity. What if I just let go?  A God who would allow this all to go so horribly wrong surely could just help me finish the job, just end this now. But He didn’t. He met me on the steps, the lowest place I have ever been and lifted me up. He broke through my anguished pleadings with intrusive images of the footsteps poem. I sought to push it away, arguing with God that I was done, there was nothing left in me, I couldn’t stand, let alone walk. The story kept pushing through, remembering how Jesus carried the person when they couldn’t walk. God told me I was still worth carrying. He was carrying my babies as well.

I don’t remember rising from the steps. There was no miraculous healing. I struggled minute by minute to survive. Somehow I did survive, I took the next bit of air in. I read the Bible that was given by some church group that visits prisoners.  I cherished the time an older woman from the community was allowed into the pod to do a study with anyone willing. She was a reminder of kindness and hope, she was the face of Jesus when I couldn’t find Him anywhere around me. Other bits of light began to appear as community members wrote to me, holding my family in prayers. I never had a day without mail, faith in action as strangers made time to tell me I had value still, I wasn’t forgotten and I wasn’t being judged by all, negating the message I received outside of mail call.  I was a lightening rod for many guards who favored the punishment aspect of incarceration. I didn’t fit in with the general demographic of the other women, I had a Master’s degree, I was married, had a home, other inmates didn’t like outsiders.   Yet angels appeared in the form of correctional officers as well. Intervention by CO’s allowed me to have a job that kept me away from the fray and moved to housing that fit my temperament but not my classification, both actions that protected my time and person. These angels were sent by God, they were Jesus carrying me when I couldn’t walk.

Finally I was freed, we rebuilt our life. Reunified, our time was more precious, never taken for granted. We loved deeply, openly. I gave up all of me to be mom again, the sweetest name ever I was called. I thought our horror was behind us, we still had struggles ahead. Addiction and pregnancy during Arrow’s teen years challenged us all, but we battled and united together. We stayed together. Hours and hours of laughter filled our home, if not riches, if not fancy belongings. A high school trip abroad, college, an extra car all found a place in a budget that barely covered the house. I thanked God faithfully for my blessings, these children, and for picking me up from those steps. We no longer had to subsist minute by minute, we were fully alive.

I didn’t expect to ever be separated from my children again. I knew they would grow up, go out into the world but I imagined we would stay connected as they moved into their own lives. Arrow and I have mostly managed this, never out of touch for long, the string between us stretches rather thin sometimes but has not yet snapped in two. My sweet Stella though, gone. I feel many days like I am back on those steps, aching for my girl. I no longer am begging God to die, yet I plead with Him to intercede. How can we have survived that horrific time only now to be ripped apart, by choice.  Once again, I can’t get to her. I am locked away from her or she is locked away from me. I dream of her, I wake with a longing so deep I know Jesus will have to carry me through the day if I am to rise from my bed. I know angels appear in the form of friends who ask me to walk or give me nuggets of news they have gleaned. Minute by minute I survive until one day I can live fully again. I know Jesus will carry me today. I just wish He didn’t have to.

Bible, Next Edition

Sitting in my small group study last night, listening to the responses to the question, “Is the Bible to be taken literally or figuratively?” , I drifted off into my own imaginings.  Understanding that the Bible is a collection of stories, written as inspired by God, the tales  passed from family to family, clan to clan, tribe to tribe before ever making it onto a scroll, I swing towards mostly taking in the greater lesson.  I read the words and allow God to do the interpretation at any given time. I put most of my stock in the “Jesus said” parts, figuring I can’t go wrong there.

Of particular interest is all the stories of big sinners whom God found purpose for in His kingdom. These are my people. This is my story. I hear it said often that the Bible is the Living Word. What I don’t hear is that we are living out the next chapter, the next installment. During class I began to imagine the next edition of the Bible, the one that is gleaned from our Facebook posts, our twitter feeds, our Instagram pictures. What if that tells future generations how we walked, stumbled, got up again in choosing to follow God? What if someone gathered our ITunes, Pandora or Spotify playlists as Psalms, would these be the songs we sing to the Lord?  Who are the prophets of our time, false and true, who do we follow and how do we know which are which? We have conventional wisdom, changing with the wind, is that our Proverbs?  Is what we are living out worthy of saving for our children’s children? Will they learn from us, grow in hope, gain wisdom from our choices? Will they find inspiration from our struggles and the way we turned to God in the darkness or only see that we wandered without looking for the Light?

I began to see that I AM the next chapter of the Bible. I have the advantage of reading the current guidebook but must remember that others are reading my life the same way and will do so in the future. I am and will be judged on my ability to seek God in all things. My everyday choices will tell those who come after me whether my story is of one of a Pharisee or a good Samaritan, a Judas or a Peter, a blind sinner named Lisa or Lisa, God’s humble servant, filled with sin but covered in grace. I am living out Bible 2.0, the next edition. How it is written is up to me.

Jesus Freaks, Where Are You?

Years ago as my extended family gathered around my table for dinner, we had a heated discussion about the upcoming election. As the sole Democrat in the group, my lone voice was a lightening rod, the gang enjoyed my discomfort. I am often the odd one out in our family, values a bit to the left. They still eat with me. Jokes and barbs were passed with the bowls of mashed potatoes, and salad, platter of meat. While my candidate was not so respected at my table, my view was allowed and so was theirs. We all knew that whoever won, our country was still going to go on, maybe not exactly as we would wish, but imminent danger did not lurk. We trusted the process, the ability to share our opinions and the basic morality of the men who had reached this point. As a family of Christians who had begun the meal in prayer, we knew who we were called to be. We expected to be united regardless of the outcome, we understood our role in the political process. Prayerfully selecting the next leader, prayerfully supporting that leader, continuing the work Jesus asked of us.

My anxiety over this election season is growing by the hour. My family no longer debates with me, having abandoned their party at the presidential level. We are all dumbfounded, wondering where our fellow Christians are. Serious discourse has been replaced by lies, bullying, fear-mongering and violence-inciting hate. Jesus freaks, where are you? How can one narcissistic man mislead so many intelligent people, cause them to forget who they are? I struggle to not lose respect for my fallen brothers and sisters, I try to remember to pray that we all make it through this without a wall not just at our border but between us all. This is the work of the devil, spreading evil amongst believers, turning them away from the Word.

One man who has divided our country, spews lies and refuses to be accountable to those very words, who blames others, how did he amass so much power? Charisma, maybe? Timing? Finding the chink in the armors of the Democratic and Republican contenders alike, he managed to lift himself as the savior, the one who understands the needs of the little guy. He asked that we ignore what we see and feel and follow him. Don’t listen closely to what he says, stay away from reason and what we know, follow him. I know why he scares me, I have met his kind. I have suffered at his hands, have watched as an extremely intelligent young woman got pulled away and trapped by lies and misdirection. I lost my daughter to a narcissist just like him, a dangerous man who blames others, is explosive with his anger, is never ever wrong. There is no heathy discussion with him, we don’t share values like forgiveness and grace. He has built a wall. His hand on the button, he exploded our family with just one nuclear launch. We all sit in the devastation, wondering how we missed his rise to power, how we let him divide us. We can’t vote him out, wondering if his term will ever expire, we are left to pray to our God, the only one who can rescue us all from this horror.

Being estranged from my daughter is the most painful experience of my life. Being estranged from out allies around the world is even scarier. We have a guide book to tell us how to vote, how to proceed. What would Jesus have us do? Pass more potatoes, feed more hungry people. Invite more kids to the table and teach them to respect the voices of all who are speaking. Prayerfully, fervently beseech God for direction, ask if we need more hate in our world or if He really means that love your neighbor stuff. The future of our family depends on it.

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I am a Psalm

I want to be like Paul, preaching with conviction, able to sacrifice everything because I know, just know the truth. I want to be able to put aside my needs, let go of my own concerns and worries, trust all of those to God, get on with the work of His kingdom. Wanting is not enough. Rather, I am more of a psalms woman, one day lamenting, the next shouting out my joy for all the world. I am a psalm, when I grow up I want to be a gospel. I worry that I am running out of time, that I am stuck in my ways, that I am never going to get there. I can’t even seem to move to the wisdom of proverbs.

I have heard that those who convert to anything are more passionate than those who were raised in that particular thing. Making the conscious choice seems to be the key. Paul had a run in with Jesus that he couldn’t deny, he chose not to anyway. He decided to change his entire life, what an embarrassing about face that must have been, if he had cared. I justify my “Un-Paulness” by imaging that God infused a bit of Himself that day, giving an otherworldly power to Paul. Something I lack, if only I had that extra spark, had been hit by the zap of God to cure my blindness. Alas, having grown up in the faith, I have always been able to see.

The truth that God only took away what was blocking Saul from seeing, allowed him to truly SEE is some honesty I try to avoid. I wear my blinders and go about my days, lamenting, yearning, crying out to my Lord. I lift up my joys, give credit to God, I know His hand is at work. Stuck in the raging emotions of the psalms, I forget that I can uncover my eyes at any time. I can choose to be all in, I can make the leap like Paul. Instead I stumble, bump into the obstacles in my life, fall down and scrape my knees. My arms stay straight in front of me, reaching to find walls, stability, looking for something to hold on to. This blindness doesn’t allow my arms to ever open wide to the side, a posture of trust and welcoming, a stance of complete submission.

Plum and I often wrap a bandana around one of us, the other leads through the room. We follow the other’s voice, try to avoid stubbed toes, cracked heads as we wander about. He thinks it is funny to trick me, his commands often a bit slow as I head for disaster. I pretend horror, anger as I bonk into tables. I shout gladness when I reach the promised land of a safe chair. I am forced to peek a bit to ensure lamps stay upright. I lead him to the couch and soft areas, then of course cover him in pillows. I think he peeks as well. Being in the dark and trusting an ornery guide is certainly not safe. We each trust ourselves more. He thinks we are playing a game, I know we are simulating my life.

I cry out that I cannot see, I bemoan that I am lost, I ask for answers. I am stuck in the Psalms, raging emotions ruling my soul. I don’t know if I will ever stop bumping into my life, if I will ever really turn it all over to God. Jesus still walks with me, listens to my own psalms, holds my hand up the stairs. Maybe one day I will be more of a gospel girl. Today I am still crying out under my blinders. After all, Paul was called to travel and preach but not to parent. He never was called to be a mom. The only way I can survive that calling is to keep the bandana on, feel my way, peek out when I am unsure. I listen for God’s voice to lead me, avoiding the sharp edges, as I head for the promised land.

 

Photo credit to Pastor Pat Sleeth, who has done his share of bonking into things but figured out how to find the Light.

 

Financial Advice from Plum

Plum wanted to download a new game on my iPad, I said no. He said please, I said no. I  explained that he already has many games to play, they cost money which is in short supply right now, I saw no reason to add one. His pleas continued as he touted the supreme advantages of this one, the ultimate game. He offered to delete other ones. Finally I told him that if he wanted to spend his money on it that would be fine. I was not spending any more of mine on games. That usually settles the discussion. He never wants to spend his money, his piggy bank only accepts deposits. In fact a spare coin laying around the house doesn’t lay neglected long if Plum is here. Birthday money goes in, chore money, all pushed through the little slot.

I have used a fining system to curb some behavior, charging a nickel for each time he hollered, “FINE” at me. I don’t enjoy being yelled at, espousing the philosophy that the only time you should holler in your home is if there is a fire.  Once I added a financial value to his sassy mouth, it ended.  I value respect, he values his nickels. The little business man in him decided to charge me for inappropriate behavior, 3 nickels since I am an adult and should know better. I have to be careful what I teach this child. Fortunately I have only had to pay up once.

I thought asking him to dig into his riches would be enough to stop the conversation, instead he asked me to look to see how much the game costs. $4.99, a fortune for a child who doesn’t want to give up $.05. Aha, I won, I reveled in my wisdom, my amazing handling of this situation. Those rare moments of getting it right with a child, the orchestra strikes up, standing on the stage of the 1,000 seat theater, all the lights trained on me as I accept the award for Outstanding Parent. Oh it felt great. The sound of little feet  racing up the stairs broke through my dreaming. He was already gone and back, waving a fiver at me, before I could catch my breath. Nothing left to do but download the game as the band slunk away, the lights snapped off, the award ripped from my grasp.

Later during bath time, some of our best chatting time, I asked if he thought the game was a good investment. He stood by his purchase. He said he saves his money for things he really wants, not all the things that tug at his brain.  He ignores those. He is a wise child. I could hear the band playing, this boy gets the award for financial responsibility at almost 6, one he could teach many adults. The game is a battling one, it insults my peace seeking soul. As he regaled me in tales of all his exploits, I inquired whether he wouldn’t be more successful if he just made friends with all the villagers, the creatures? Shaking his head, with the voice of an old soul, he chuckled and replied “Oh gran, why do you have such a sweet heart?”

We learn from each other, this child and I. The lessons I think I am teaching bear fruit later, rarely in the moment. I am smart enough to grab the nuggets of his knowledge as they appear. He is the ultimate award, his sweet voice the only music I ever need. He brings light, he brings joy, he sneaks coins. This round goes to Plum, thank goodness we don’t keep score. As a grandma I have to restrain myself from sneaking the fiver back into his bank. As his most trusted adult, I know I can’t. Anyway, his birthday is just around the corner. Grandmas always give birthday cards containing a five dollar bill, right?

Waiting by the Water

The only thing tougher than sitting in my own wasteland is watching someone I love sit in theirs. I have wandered the deserts, been stuck in the sand, covered in grit, thirsting for water that was just out of reach. Paralyzed, lost, no longer trusting my instincts, the oasis ahead could be just another mirage. Staying in the desert is sure death, I have been close before. Sweaty, exhausted, unable to wander another step, I stopped, just stopped. This is when the river appeared, the goodness of cool refreshing water washing over me, the force of the stream removing grains of sand from my eyes, from my ears. Carried along by the current, I could rest. Glorious blue water, life sustaining moisture, now I could see life again, feel hope as I bobbed along. Croaking frogs, skittering insects, luscious green grass, surrounded by living, I was no longer searching for my own life. Out of the wasteland, found, rescued, washed free, renewed, I vow to never go again towards those sandy places. Still, I sometimes find myself a bit too far from the river, I can hear the wind howling as it blows the dunes. I know to turn around, danger lurks there. What to do then when my loved ones can’t find their way out?

I hate seeing my family struggle when I can so clearly see the way out. I see the water, call to them from the riverbank. My guidance ignored, unheard, sand is consuming them. Left watching from the shore, a witness to their struggle, I cannot share my water until they reach for it. Frustration mounts, it is so easy, just turn this way, hear me, stop choosing the desert, come to the water. I forget though exactly how hard it is to ignore my own will to wander, to ruminate, to wallow in my nothingness, searching for answers in all the wrong places. I walk until exhaustion forces me to kneel. Why do would it be easier for my family? They can’t learn from my journey any more than I have learned from the 40 years my ancestors spent wandering. How painful it must have been for my Father to watch.

Time in the desert hurts. I don’t want my family to hurt, I want them to feel refreshed, to play in the cool water, listen to giggles as they splashing about. I want to rush ahead to joy, they are still in sorrow, aching in the emptiness of the after, not believing it is really a time of before. Hurry, hurry, over here to the river, I find myself shouting encouragingly. I think it sounds more like impatience, criticism that they can no longer find their own way, to their granule encrusted ears. I kick my feet in the water, splashes demonstrating how rejuvenating it is over here on the river edge. They hear me mocking them, judging their struggle. The desert changes my words, distorts my message. I long for them to come and play, to drink deeply, to know the water is so close. They have to discover for themselves.

Watching, waiting, lonely without them to frolic in the spray, I can’t save them, I also have to be careful not to get too close, pulled back into the desert myself. The distance between us feels likes forever, how long before the crescendo  f waterfalls guides them to me? I yearn for shared joy, laughter filling the air, delight as the sun warms us but doesn’t burn.

Unable to speed the wanderings, the seeking, of those I love, my soul waits, begs the One who guided me home to show the way. “Now, quickly, please, I miss them so, ” I plead. “Look around child, you don’t swim alone. The river is brimming with others.”  Yes, now I see friends also in the river, some seeming to have just arrived, particles of sand still  evident as they emerge from the first immersion, dunking under again, again, drinking in the glory. Others have been here longer, contentedly floating along. I notice also that wives are here without husbands, children are playing without parents. I don’t see whole families playing, parents keep looking over their shoulders, just as I do. I see now we are all waiting for someone to join us.

Water poured out in the heat of the desert quickly evaporates. I realize the truth, each has to accept the offer, has to stop to drink slowly, carefully, give in to the Guide who holds the canteen.  I will  play in the river today, celebrate joys, laugh with the family around me. One day soon we will splash together.

Forced Shutdown

Sometimes my screen gets stuck, my hard drive seems frozen. Having learned that by just pushing command +R my window will refresh, clear whatever was bogging down my progress, I am mostly only a click away from a fresh start. If things have really gone badly, I may have to do a full shutdown. I can never remember the commands to force my laptop to close out everything and take a few minutes to rest. Silently cursing myself for not writing the steps down, knowing that when I need them most I am unable to research them, I have to pull out a different device. Searching for directions, simple steps to take that will restore communication with my computer, why can’t I just remember those? Why don’t I have those on a sticky note above my desk, why do I make it unnecessarily hard on myself in times of real trouble? Thank God my phone only requires a couple of clicks to show me the answers I need, still these are extra clicks.

I trick myself with crazy scenarios. What if I got in the “Cash Cab” and had to answer the question, “How do you restore a frozen Mac?” Bah!  Done for, kicked out at the next light.  What if all I had to do was answer that question and I the genie would give me 3 wishes?  Poof, goodbye genie. What if my life depended on my ability to correctly supply the answer?  Poof, goodbye Lisa. Damn, why didn’t I decide this was valuable information, treat it with reverence, know big things could come if only I would pay attention to the commands that lead to correction when things go awry.  Alas, I don’t see many cabs around town, Uber has taken over. While I collect bottles, the only thing that ever emerges is a stray moth when I dust.  My life does though depend on remembering the steps towards restoration, not with my Mac but with my Maker.

The inevitability of finding myself stuck, frozen, not communing well with God,  while part of the human condition, is not something I am proud of at my age. I would like that to be something I lost in upgrading to my new model, not included in this year’s features. When I start freezing, sometimes a simple refresh will do: time with my faith community, a walk with Janet, some creating time with my small group. Whew, up and running again. Restored. Other times I have failed to do the back-ups needed, taken the precautions that might stave off the stuckness. Without daily communication with God,  without dedication to preserving our rightness together, I risk my heartdrive.

I truly wish I had the discipline to start each day clarifying the state of my soul, getting tune-up by and with God. Instead I crash into my day, until my day crashes on me. Or freezes me, sticks me alone in a chair wondering why I didn’t anticipate the cold?  Wishing for the sticky note with the quick clicks to get me back on track, the shortcuts to restoration, I am left with the actual work of talking to God, listening to Him, emptying my soul. Restoring is more intensive than maintenance, requires greater accountability, a deeper analysis of the system, finding all the bugs, exploring old files that can be purged. Lord knows I am not tech savvy, I am not a very methodical Methodist, this is work for me.

Yet maybe this is just how I work best with God, a complete shutdown followed by a glorious restart. I move faster, my colors are more vivid, I stop running through every old memory at each startup. Those other devices that I turn to when I am shut out? Sometimes that is a glass of wine, reruns of 30 Rock or the West Wing, sometimes it is angry imaginings not fit for publication. Sometimes devices just become vices.  More and more often though I turn to my faith community. I don’t find the shortcuts I want but wisdom love grace warmth help me defrost. A renewal begins, a page refresh. I don’t know if God its frustrated with me, wishes I did more regular maintenance but I trust He delights in our shutdown time together. I trust that He created me, He knows how I am wired. I am the 64 model, with dings and dents, a slow old hard drive, a scratched screen. His grace makes me new, He installs the updates, He is my domain master. That really is all I need,  forever on the sticky note of my soul. Shift+J+E+S+U+S.