Words set free. . .

True north. . . .

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In the past I have found it a challenge to stay on course with the writing. There are so many things that distract me. People that I love, situations that I worry about, housework to be done, a love of cooking, my fulltime job–I could go on.

These are the same things that distract me from a really disciplined prayer life. Sometimes my prayers are interrupted by random thoughts. Sometimes I just can’t seem to focus. That’s why I often write my prayers in a journal. Writing keeps my prayers on course. (My kids are going to be overwhelmed with the old steamer trunk full of my prayer journals when I pass on!)

I think of Steffie’s comments when Daniel was circling the drain in his depression and addiction. “He’s just so lost, Mom,” she said all too often. We all tried to pull him back on course, with prayers and, when he would listen,  words, but he had lost sight of his true north. The true north that I am talking about is not a constellation or a point on a compass. It is keeping one’s heart and mind focused on Jesus Christ. “Abide in me,” Jesus said. How faithfully am I abiding in Christ? How faithfully are you? I know that failing to abide in the Lord is the path to ruin. I know that losing sight of our spiritual North Star is a dangerous thing, leaving us open to negative thoughts and bad decisions and Satan’s attacks.

Since I recommitted my life as a writer to Jesus’ cause, the words have come easier, more freely, and more purposefully. So far, the magnetic pull of my true north remains strong.  Each and every time I press the keys of this keyboard and watch the words appear on the screen, my heart is full of hope that someone out there needs those words, those thoughts, in order to experience a refill of hope, peace, comfort, and strength to persevere in the walk of faith.

Please know that each time I press “publish” for a post, I am wondering if it’s good enough, real enough, true enough to touch someone’s heart. Thank you for letting me share my journey with you.

Words set free…..

In the eye of the storm…………

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We know a lot about storms where I live. Judsonia, Arkansas was “blown away”, as we locals describe it, on March 21, 1952. I was not quite 2 years old at the time and living in Indiana, so I obviously have no personal recollection of the tornado. However, the family I married into lived through and lost their eldest son in the process. They are all indelibly marked by this event.

Judsonia is a town of underground storm shelters and “safe rooms”. I recently was blessed to hear Ryan Stevenson’s rendition of the Christian praise song, “Eye of the Storm”. It made me think about how life is a passage of “weathering” various storms. What storm have you been through? What storm are you going through? Are you surviving? Is the storm defeating you? What is the answer to weathering the storm victoriously? The answer to a “life storm” cannot be found in a storm shelter or safe room or retreat from life. Stevenson sings it to us in the lyrics of the above mentioned recording. I highly recommend it.

I began to think about the various storms I have survived. Divorce. Miscarriage. Loss of a son to suicide. Completing nursing degrees (Bachelor’s and Master’s) while supporting and caring for children as a single parent. Career choices and challenges and confrontations. Financial issues. Physical ailments. Depression. Caring for elderly parents. Estrangement from siblings, some resolved and some not. A child suffering from alcohol addiction and mental illness (she is surviving, thank God). Sharing the pain of the patients I help care for as they are confronted with life-changing health events and, for some, the ultimate passage, death. Experiencing the ups and downs of life in a church family made up of believers who still have human qualities–no, congregational life is not always united and sublime. I have worried about these all of things, and, often, tried to “fix” things within my own capabilities, generally unsucessfully.

Because I do not have all the answers. God does. And, in my humanity, I forget to yield to his solutions, thinking arrogantly that I could do it better? Really?

What storms are you facing? Depression? Anxiety? Addiction (in all its forms–alcohol, illicit drugs, prescription drugs, nicotine)? Maybe it’s an eating disorder–obesity, bulemia, anorexia. Perhaps you have been tormented by thoughts of suicide.

Perhaps you and your family have been challenged by war–a family member serving in the military as we speak. Or perhaps one lost to you forever in war’s vicious violence. Or perhaps one disfigured, maimed, angry, traumatized, suicidal because of the horrors witnessed.

Maybe your family is dysfunctional. Maybe you have been the victim of abuse. Maybe you are raising grandchildren or great-grandchildren because their parents cannot parent. Maybe you are a victim of domestic violence.

You might be just overwhelmed by the multiplicity of stressors you are experiencing daily. For some, like me, that might mean relegating your creativity and dreams and self-expression to some deep, dark place, (your “storm shelter”) where they have waited, dusty and neglected, longing to be once more brought into the light.

Perhaps burned-out describes your work performance. Perhaps cynical describes your outlook. Perhaps for you the glass is always half-empty, never half-full, and you do realize it falls on you to wash that darn glass. Perhaps you have let the fire of your faith burn down to cold ashes and do not know how to rekindle it.

Step 1: Listen to Stevenson’s song. It has a really nice beat, folks! It will lift your spirits and refresh your soul.

Step 2: Get out the Good Book (you, know, the Holy Bible) and take a look. Some of my faves: Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7     And Jesus’s words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” John 14:1      So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  Isaiah 41: 10    “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:14     And, finally, Psalm 46:10a: “Be still and know that I am God.”     (All from NIV) The Bible is a treasure chest full of guidance, peace, comfort, encouragement, courage.

Step 3: Open the window of your heart to let God’s peace come in. Open your ears to hear His whisper of hope and encouragement. Open your voice in thanksgiving and praise. And open your very self to a life of faithful perseverance, not in your strength, but in His. Open your mind to the thought that you can fulfill God’s calling and plan for your life, even through the storms.

That’s what I’ve chosen to do, by setting my words free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sisterhood……..

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Since my last blog I’ve been thinking a lot, appreciating all those who said it helped their grief to read about mine. I guess I’m being a bit feminist, but it inspired in me the notion to consider all the “sisterhoods” we women inhabit. The picture above, circa 1978, records the three married female students in the Beta class of the Carr School of Nursing at Harding University. We were “sisters” in the journey to complete our education as baccalaureate prepared registered nurses. We studied together, laughed together, cried together, doubted we would ever finish together. We are still dear long-distance friends.

Then I think about my sisters in Christ. Believers bonded together by a common faith in Jesus Christ and followers of his teachings. Prayer partners, prayer warriors, teachers, mentors. We comfort and encourage each other. The elderly model Christian womanhood for the younger and the younger for the even younger. Then, suddenly, at some point comes the realization that we have reached the age of being the “core” of the local church, as elderly saints pass the mantle of leadership to us.

Of course, there are biological sisters. I have none. But I have a beloved sister-in-law who would do anything for me. She has always welcomed me into the family as true family, not just some interloper that she tolerates because her brother (thank the Lord) loves me! She is one of the most gracious, kind, thoughtful, compassionate, and hard-working individuals that I have ever known.

There is the sisterhood of nursing. We share a special bond, one of seeking to heal and comfort, protect and advocate for our patients. (People say “clients” now, but that just seems wrong–we are caregivers and they are patients!) Our humor is sometimes more than a little dark. We can spot manipulation from a hall away. We work as partners with the medical caregivers who share in our goal of helping people work through the reality of healing or face the inevitable death of this body. We cry together when we see suffering that we cannot “fix”, and we grieve together when the loss of some newborn or child or dear nursing colleague or “special” patient dies. We are a special sisterhood, seeing life both at its beginning and its end, privilege to the most private moments of our patients’ lives.

We mustn’t forget the sisterhood of friendship. Life would be such a drag without it!Friends laugh together, have fun together, commiserate with each other, support each other, acknowledge each other as special people in their world. Our lives would be forlorn and lonely existences without our friends. There are lifelong friends, like the two pictured above (I am the one on the far right.) Months may go by without a word, but the conversation seems to pick up just where it left off with each text or call or, strange concept, handwritten note. I am grateful to have multiple sisterhoods of friends–work friends, church friends, old school friends, forever friends.

Most of the comments I have received on my last blog belong to a special sisterhood–the sisterhood of loss of a loved one.  There are many “focus” groups within this sisterhood. Some have lost children–fatal illness, tragic accident, suicide, accidental overdose. Many have lost husbands, that life partner, love of one’s life, that made one whole, but now left behind as the lone part of the pair that should have lasted forever.Some have lost parents–cancer, heart disease, the many maladies that tear down our bodies. Some losses have come in the very aged, a slow, drawn out, wasting away. Some have come in the form of dementia that robs one of the loved one’s self, while their body lives on. Some losses are sudden, striking without warning, totally unexpected–accidental or sudden death. Some have lost siblings, the quality of the relationship filling one either with happy memories of childhood together or sadness over bonds broken by some foolish misunderstanding, stubbornness, or neglect and time wasted.

I guess (hope, strive, long) to belong to the sisterhood of writers. The ones for whom therapy comes in the form of the written word. We have to record our thoughts and share them in some format, sometimes to entertain, sometimes to comfort, sometimes to just share our humanity with the unseen reader world. We long to connect with the reader, to stimulate a response, to open a window into ourselves as we express our thoughts.

I wonder, female readers, how many of these sisterhoods find you in their roster? I’d love to hear about more sisterhoods, because I’m sure many others are out there, living, breathing entities that make life more bearable. And we are blessed to have them.

 

Letter to Dan…….

 

DSCN0699Dear Daniel,

I’m really having a hard time with this blog, because it’s been nearly a year since I did much writing. It’s like your death redefined my life. I am now the mother of a child who committed suicide. It’s not a pretty definition. You were so very proud when I published that little novel! Since your death, I’ve written hardly anything. I think it’s time for that to change.

You know, losing you was a terrible experience, made all the more painful because you didn’t “pass away” quietly or die from some horrible illness or tragic accident. You chose to leave us, on your terms, your time. That has made this whole experience so much more hurtful, I think. Sometimes I’ve been just plain mad. How dare you hurt us like this? How selfish of you, thinking only of your personal pain and not thinking of our survivor pain.

I know, you didn’t realize, weren’t thinking. You were in such a deep, dark hole of depression and dismay, not knowing how to beat the addiction to methamphetamine, not having enough courage to own up to your mental illness, recognizing the hurt that you were causing the wife that you loved, the child you adored, and the grandchild that you felt you would never be good enough for. You had truly, as your loving wife explained, “lost your way.”

You are not forgotten. Steffie loves you still-she chose and designed your gravestone, and it is so much what you would have chosen. She even included your logo on the vase. As we drive by the cemetery each Sunday morning, I feel tears threatening. How I would love to see you and comfort you and make things better! Your brother misses you, particularly when he has some “project” to do, like jack-hammering concrete floor to fix a leak. And your little sister has been changed by your loss. She, previously so filled with the desire to escape her depression, now says openly that she would “never” hurt the family like you did. I am grateful, because I don’t think I could survive losing another child through suicide. Being a survivor of suicide is, indeed, a label one never wants to wear.

I think of you every day, son. I wear a necklace with your name on it in remembrance. It gives me comfort. Although I miss you with every inch of my being, I at last know that you are safe and at rest in our Heavenly Father’s arms. And, through it all, my faith is ever stronger. God is good. His love, grace, and mercy are enough to see us through the darkest of days. I only wish you had remembered those truths from your early years. Perhaps, then, you would have never chosen to leave.

Rest in peace, son.

Your loving mother

 

The art of healing…….

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As a medical professional, I have long known that assisting others with physical healing involves both science and art. Evidence based medicine, the “science” of it is the gold standard for modern healthcare. But,
— the art of being truly “present” with the patient,
— the art of having insight into what motivates that individual,
–the art of relating to the person with sensitivity, empathy, and compassion,
all have a critical role in achieving good outcomes.

A few weeks after my son’s suicide, I serendipitously encountered a fellow writer at a conference. We met in the prayer room as she prayed with me in my grief. I left the conference with a gifted book, authored by this dear lady who had taken the time to share in my sorrow. She signed the title page, “Hemmed in Hope! Cynthia”. Little did I know how that book would speak to me in the weeks to come.

Cynthia Ruchti’s  Tattered and Mended–the Art of Healing the Wounded Soul (Abingdon Press, 2015) helped me to reframe the pain and loss that has changed my life forever. She eloquently compares the process of healing souls tattered by tragedies, choices, and traumas to the art of reclaiming and restoring various treasures. As I read each chapter, I found myself drawn into the understanding that God can use even the worst that life on this earth brings to us, mending us into stronger and more centered souls.

Cynthia describes the restoration of two-hundred year old Japanese garments through the techniques of sashiko and boro. As I read of the art of quilt restoration and discarded copper recycled into works of art, I began to believe that I could survive this loss and not be defeated. She writes of tapestries restored, fine arts reclaimed, stained glass recovered, antique dolls redeemed, and broken furniture refurbished. Throughout are two themes: that broken hearts are not to be viewed as unfixable and, thus, left to a miserable existence instead of joyful life in Christ, and that the tattered and mended soul can become a thing of greater beauty and worth than the original.

I still struggle to know how my loss will ever result in something of beauty and worth. I know that since it has occurred, I am ever more sensitive to the multitudes of parents who have lost children and the many survivors of suicide in this world. And, I am thankful for gifted and inspired writers like Cynthia who invest time and talent and effort into offering a new perspective for those of us who feel we have suffered the most unimaginable pain and loss this life can offer. I pray that someday I can help bring similar healing and hope to others.

Happy Birthday, Dan……

Dan

Dear Daniel,

Today would have been your 42nd birthday if your life had not ended so tragically. We miss you. Last evening we had a sort of pre-birthday party for you. Your wife, parents, siblings, aunt, uncles, nephew, and cousins were here, along with a few special friends–Todd and Benny and Jeff. Kerri sent her good wishes, as did Linda and Laura.

Remember the sky lantern you sent up for Robby after his death? We did the same for you. There were eleven of them, all white. One got stuck in a tree–Steffie thought you would find that funny. It harmlessly burned itself out. There was the slightest north wind, and we watched them as they (finally) went out of sight. Then we gathered in the house to share memories. They were good ones. Continue reading “Happy Birthday, Dan……”

The door. . . . .

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See this door? It is a steel, triple-locked, standard door required for a “safe room” which meets government codes to provide a refuge during tornadoes. It is also the door to our home office and gun safe. The floor, ceiling, and walls of this room are all concrete. Living in Arkansas, a part of “tornado alley”, the construction of this room when we built our home seemed wise. It does provide a sense of security when the weather radio sounds or all local TV programming is preempted with blow-by-blow (no pun intended) descriptions of the paths of dangerous storms approaching our area.

However, I need to use the door as an illustration. I have posted infrequently on this site for the past several months. My most recent post was on August 31, just days after my son committed suicide. Ironically, the post that preceded it (posted in July), referenced a conversation with him in which he was reminding me of my neglect of this blog. I wish it had been a longer conversation. The experts call this feeling I have survivors’ guilt. I just call it regret–regret that I lost him before I lost him. His illness and addiction effectively divorced him from his family, locking him away as securely as the safe room door.

But, there’s more to the door analogy. Because I go through each day–working, cooking, going to church, doing laundry, attending our grandson’s football games, being “social”–doing all these things with the door to my denial and anger and grief securely shut and locked. I think. Yet, at the most odd and inopportune times, that door swings spontaneously open, and my mind is filled with the last images of Daniel. A silent scream of disbelief echoes through my head. My heart fills to bursting with the ache of his absence and the effort of drawing in breath is magnified a hundred times. My body is suddenly crushed by the weight of this loss. And a cloud of sadness envelops me.

Sometimes I am able to cry. Sometimes I am simply overwhelmed and sit in a daze wondering how I got to this place in life. But always, eventually, I, piece by piece, bury those images, silence that scream, tell my heart to keep beating, breathe deeply, and drag my heavy self with its cloud of sadness surrounding me (think Pigpen’s cloud of dirt in a Peanuts’ comic), to that sturdy door with it’s triple dead-bolt locks. I shove all that denial and anger and guilt and grief inside and click by click by click lock all those locks, lean against the secured door, and pray that someday it will remain closed, knowing full well that it won’t.

In truth, I wouldn’t want it to. Because somehow I know that repeating this process is a part of healing the hole in my heart. A card I received observed that I have “a hole in my heart that cannot be fixed by any cardiologist or thoracic surgeon”. I treasure that card because it so perfectly describes the loss that I feel. I now am the mother of two living children and one deceased child. The remnants of the place where Daniel lived will always be there, but, by the grace of God, I know that it will someday bleed less, hurt less, and, ultimately, scar over, so that I can once again not fight with the door.