Friday, March 9, 2012

Race

It is cold. There is a faded blanket of thick clouds. I am eleven. My brother is seven. My mother is somewhere we can't even find as she clenches our hands. It is just the three of us now as we one-by-one place roses over the deep mahogany. I can almost see our reflections in its smooth wooden surface as I wonder how shiny can hurt so bad. I hear voices that sound are speaking to me, but cannot open my mouth. The dam that is the ache of my jaw will not allow it. I cannot breath. Everything towers over me so I am able to slip unseen and peek into the hole in the earth that is now my father's home. The sound of dirt slowly enclosing my daddy feels like knives piercing my heart.

I never forgot that sound. The smell of flower bouquets still turns my stomach. Embedded in my memory is an itchy dress and black patent-leather shoes that carry me over to the coffin as the adults part like the Red Sea. They stare at me with pinched, solemn expressions that reveal their confusion over whether or not to intervene. The platform makes it so it is just the right height. I am so close to his face I can see every detail; his waxen skin with sweetly shut eyes. I see his lips sewn together like a rag doll and bravely take in as much as I can. I do not want to forget him. I do not want him to go. I am not confused. I know what death means, but what I don't know is how much this event will shape the rest of my life.

My adolescent years were tumultuous at best. Our little family tip-toed around my father's absence as my shell-shocked mother gripped tightly to her grief. Life was a live bomb field for me and my brother as we blindly traversed our new life as emotional orphans. We were given everything we needed and more, but were afraid to love each other. Love for us was like a raging bonfire and we stood back, each in our own way, for fear of getting scorched. The habit of that desperation does not leave without making its mark.

So, I've been through what I've been through. We all have. We all have that dark hole inside of us filled with either junk or light. It may be a divorce, or a death, or just something horrible someone said to you years ago. It does not matter. What matters is how we handle it. Do we choose to burst through the finish line, or do we choose to hide amongst the wreckage? Hold your hands up. Flash through that tape at the end of the race. Let something bigger than yourself take those deep holes, turn them upside down and make them majestic mountains of grace, mercy and redemption. I don't even think you need shoes.

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We are what we think

My program starts. I can almost taste the clean smell of the ice. It's just me out there in my red sequined dress. The blades of my skates cut through crisply as I push off to start my routine for this competition. I've been ice-skating now for four years. I'm good, but not great. I work very hard, and get up at the crack of dawn to do so. I prepare for my first jump, glide into it and lift-off with my toe-pick. I spin, land...and fall. It's like I just decided to sit down and have some tea. Humiliated I pick myself up, swipe the ice from my rear and continue. From what I remember, I did this a lot.

I think about this now. How I prepared, attempted, completed, then seemingly just gave up. I think about the defeatist mind-set I must've had at the time to not be able to stand up and move on to the next thing. Maybe I had a bad morning, maybe my laces were loose, maybe I got dizzy. No, I was too overwhelmed. I just didn't believe I could do it. So, I didn't.

It's unfortunate that many adults walk around with this ingrained believe. And, for most of us, we are not even aware that we do it. We never finish that grad school application. We make excuses and put off singing at church. We never take that first step to write the great American novel. I'll do it tomorrow. I don't have time. What difference will it make? These are the things we tell ourselves all the while not realizing that we are what we think. If we don't think we can do it, it won't happen.

This brings me around to a story about Peter in the bible. It is early morning and he has been fishing all night. There is no success. There are no fish. He has come up to shore, cleaned his equipment and is ready to sit down to nurse his disappointment. Jesus is near the shore teaching. He has so many around him that the beach begins to crowd so he asks Peter if he may use his boat as a platform. When Jesus is finished, he tells Peter to take his boat back out. Peter is tired and wet. The last thing he wants to do is go back out there. It just won't work. There are no fish. Something in Peter is moved, however, and he relents. They cast the nets and 153 fish later, they are back on shore eating a feast that Jesus prepared.

There must have been something, however small, in Peter that had hope. The mustard seed. That's all we need. We don't have to believe we can finish the novel, we just have to start the first paragraph. We don't have to think about how to plan our medical practice, we just have to click on "apply now." We don't have to think about cleaning out the basement, we just have to go get that first black trash bag. Just a step. A baby step that will take us in the right direction, then, your higher power do the rest. He just wants to see if we are willing. Willingness, to him, is like a big empty basket. One which he would like to fill for you to overflowing. Going from overwhelmed to overflowing is all in our heads. Be brave. Believe. And, remember, as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Blue Bicycle

The family legend goes something like this. I am five years old perusing a garage sale down the street from my Decatur  home. I replay it in my mind, adding or deleting scenes like an editor, so this time it's like this. I see this wondrous two-wheeled blue bike; big white triangle seat with handlebars like a mustache. The rust all over it is of no consequence. I want it. The woman lazily reclined in a frayed aluminum lawn chair eyes me slowly. I am silent as a child gently contorting herself into the final hiding spot, lungs still as the dead, squelching her giggles. I stare at the bike. I will have it. It is my first recollection of having that feeling of stubborn determination that will eventually be my downfall, and my deliverance. A heavy iron fan clicks in the background as the woman wipes sweat off her brow. She lumbers over to me, seemingly amused at my fascination. "You know, it's only a quarter, sweetie," she says. I turn abruptly and race home only to be met with the worst thing a little girl can hear. No. My orange and blue-striped socks fall as I run back to the late afternoon  scene. Oh! Don't let it be gone! I see a man rolling the bike toward a garage while the woman absentmindedly folds her chair. I panic. The sight of this little blonde girl in pigtails with tears streaming down her face must have worked. "Ed," she says, "I don't think we have room for that anymore, but I think someone else does." I give her a snaggle-toothed grin as I timidly approach my prize. I hear, "Go ahead, honey. It's yours," as she assigns me precious hold of the white plastic handles. I look at her. She looks at me. The man yells from his post, "Child, you know how to ride that big bike?" I straddle between the faded bars, hop on the seat and push off as I yell, "No!"

I think about this event in my life. I hold it close. I am so grateful I made it through the past four challenging years. Too much money. Success. Ego. Selfishness. Ungratefulness. Loss. Addiction. Need I say more? You never thought it would've happened to this honor student, elementary school teacher, prized daughter, true friend, once loyal wife. But, I lost it all. I cannot think about the past now, it has burned itself out, along with all of the bridges. I cannot even think about what's on either side of me; the current state of my life. All I can do is move forward. Straight. "All forward!" as we said guiding on that beautiful Tennessee river. I must trust. I do know that everything has it's purpose. Everything falls on everything else like set-up dominoes. And, if you take any of those dominoes out...it just stops.

I want to reach out. Pick others up off their dirty floors. Those floors that soon turn to mud. Look around, learn that what you have is greater than what you want. Be grateful. Find that little child inside with such a deep yearning for something. Hold on to that desire, and make it yours. Courageously hop in between those faded, rusty bars and ride off into the sunset on your big blue bike.

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