Tuesday, September 2, 2014

An Unlikely Friendship

I have a special relationship with my mom. Not special as in unique, but special in that, as odd as it is, it is dear to me.

We talk on the phone…

A lot.

My friends tease me about it from time to time, but it’s ok. I know why they tease. I used to think the same when I was younger.

See, this is something I learned from years and years and years of listening to her and her mother.

I never understood it. They didn’t always talk long, and it wasn’t always serious; sometimes it was just a short exchange of half-gasped out sentences and head-back laughter. Other times, they’d talk for hours jumping from one topic to another: serious here, light-hearted there, I need directions to the nearest Starbucks, and can you guess what Aunt Mary-Lee did?

The things they found to talk about… Sometimes it almost seemed as if they would create an excuse to call the other one, if only for a few seconds of chatter.

I didn’t think they were that much alike. So, I couldn’t see how they could have that much to talk about, or even want to call each other every single day. Given that I wasn’t exactly close with my mom growing up, it was probably a little bit more of a stretch for me than it might have been otherwise.

When I left for school, I would not have described my mom as a “friend.” Nor would I have ever thought it would be possible to have that kind of relationship.

Then one day, her mother died. We didn’t see eye to eye on things, so I didn’t know how I would react. But, it only took a few days of being home, and it became glaringly obvious to me that she was gone.

My mom’s phone buddy didn’t call anymore.

She talked to plenty of people over those few days, but no one that could make her laugh or keep her attention like her mother could. There was no one that she spoke to with the same zeal and frequency. At that time, I distinctly remember thinking that my mother was going to be so lonely.

I had had just enough of college life that my mother was starting to become a much smarter person than I’d ever given her credit for and my old high school self was beginning to resemble something akin to a poltergeist. I felt a bit bad about the way I had treated her back then, so I decided I’d try to make it up to her. I would try to soften the blow a little in my own little way.

My plan was simple. I would try to call her every day and talk like she used to do with her mom, at least, for a while. I would sacrifice and be her phone buddy until it didn’t seem so sad and lonely. That would only take a few weeks, maybe months, right?

I didn’t tell my mom what I was doing, and after a couple of days, there wasn’t much that was new to talk about or any reason for her to come up with things to say. I think it took about a week before she got tired of hearing from me, although she never said it. To be fair, I wasn’t always the most pleasant person with which to talk. It occurred to me early on that despite my good intentions, I wasn’t helping her feel any less lonely. I was quite possibly only making her feel worse that her real buddy was gone.

It was hard to keep calling.

Still, I refused to give up. If there is one thing you can say about me, it’s that I’m stubborn. Eventually, she seemed to accept that, for some reason, this was my new thing. I was not going to quit calling. Short “hellos” and “how are you doings?” to and from work turned into hour-long conversations on the drive to school until the day just became one giant pause in the discussion that started at 5am and ended at 9pm.

It wasn’t until one of us was gone for a week and couldn’t call that I realized that those daily chats had become an important part of my life. I might have started them for her, but, at some point, I had kept calling for me.

Without realizing it, my mom had become a person that I could talk to about almost anything. My mom had become my friend.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We still got annoyed with each other, and we continued to get into arguments (we are still mother and daughter). But, it would start to feel odd if I didn’t hear from her after a few days, even if I was mad.

So, I call her, even if I have nothing to say. At those times our conversations can be summed up as a series of well choreographed sighs bracketed by a “Hello” and a “Love You.” I know before I call that’s all it will be, but it doesn’t matter. Sometimes I will call her for directions, even though I have GPS on my phone, just as an excuse to talk to her. Then there are the days we’ll chat for much longer eventually saying goodbye after having tried to hang up at least five times and two and a half hours previously.

Looking back, I think I understand a little better why my mother and her mom, who seemed to have nothing in common, would, could, and wanted to talk about everything… all the time.

It’s an odd relationship, I’ll admit. It’s something that began on the most unlikely day, but, it’s also a learned behavior. So it’s special to me, and it’s something I’m too stubborn to give up. And, honestly, why would I want to?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"How do I get through this?"

As I walk through each day I occasionally hear the phrase, "I don't know how to do this, how do I get through this?" Sometimes the words are colored by fear, desperation, or heart-wrenching sadness. And then sometimes they're hollow, void of emotion, mirroring the hole that has dug itself into the speaker's chest. Whatever the case may be, we can be sure that the person uttering these words is facing something they never imagined they would have to deal with.

I admit, I am guilty of saying these words myself. So, I can reasonably say that I understand what staring into the abyss looks like. Not that my personal hell looks anything like someone else's, each one of us is "uniquely" made, and we are each able to bear different levels of trials. However, no matter where you are in your journey, there is a point where you look around and wonder, "how do I get through this?" You might even find yourself asking someone else, someone who has gone through a similar circumstance, or someone who hasn't. The point is, when we ask that question, we're looking, not just for an answer, but a plan. We're looking for a tried and true method of how to get up the next morning, how to breath, how to walk through each day, come out on the other side, and then continue on living.

I have been, not just the asker, but also the receiver of this question. And when I was staring into those desperate eyes, there was nothing more I wanted than to be able to give an answer. The problem is; there is no answer. There is no map you can hand out that shows how to navigate this messy life. There is only do or don't. A person can take things day by day, or they can quit. And that's the answer I find myself giving, "put one foot in front of the other, step by step, one breath at a time." That's the only real 'plan' available.

You don't know what the next day is going to bring, nor does anyone else. The good news is that this plan is flexible. You don't have to move at anyone's pace but yours. And eventually, you will find yourself on the other side. No one can tell you when that will be, because in our uniqueness, no one can walk "in our footsteps." They can walk the journey by your side, but they cannot be you. They can tell you what to do if you want, but there is no guarantee that it’s the right thing because they aren't you.

Of course, this isn't the answer people are looking for. They want to know that in six months, or a year, or in some specific time-frame, if they follow these five steps, they will find themselves on the other side of this mess and able to move on. They want to know how to make the world turn back right-side up. They want everything to go back in its place, much like the sorcerer in Fantasia does after Mickey messes everything up beyond repair.

When someone asks "How do I get through this?" they are looking for a way to make life go back to normal after it's all said and done. They are asking how to face this problem and come out on the other side the same person.

The thing is, you can't. You don't get to walk through hell, and not come out different than you went in. But that’s ok. Even Jesus didn't do that. He went in carrying the sins of the world and came out without them. Change is not the end of the world.

So, can you get through this? Yes, you can. How do you do it? Put one foot in front of the other, and remember to breath. Will you come out the same? Absolutely not, but that’s ok. You may be a different person, but you will still be you. And whoever you are on the other side, God has a purpose for that person too, just like he has a purpose for who you are now.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Be Still...

I always find it interesting how I can struggle and fight God over certain things for extended periods of time, and then at other times stumble across a different thing that’s quite profound (at least to me). I had a moment like that this weekend.

As the cares of life have piled on over the course of the last few months, I’ve dealt with them in my own special way. This of course, isn’t always the best or most pleasant way for everyone involved. However, this weekend I found myself sitting on the couch of a friend.

Just sitting.

She didn’t push me to talk, and for a while I didn’t want to. All I wanted was to exist somewhere; to sit and be still. It was beautiful. Those were the most peaceful moments I have had in months. She gave me such a gift in providing that, and it was on her couch that I really began to understand God’s commandment to “be still.”

There are a couple of times in the bible God commands his people to “Be still” and “know that I am God,” to “stand in awe” of him, to “wait” for him, and to receive “rest” in him. A lot of times I feel people equate these commands with prayer, that to be still means that one must be in prayer with God (a quiet time, if you will). I don’t think that’s true. I wasn’t praying, but I felt closer to God in just sitting on a coach than I have in a long time.

In fact there are a couple of versus that I believe state just as much in different words. Psalm 37:7 calls us to “be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him…” Exodus 14:14 tell us “the Lord will fight for you; you have only to be still.” Be still and wait. That is all.

We don’t have to pray while we’re being still. We don’t need to be looking for some divine revelation. There’s no promise that we’ll understand what’s going on anyway, Job never did. We don’t need to be asking for strength; Jesus already promises us that he is our strength.

Now I’m not saying we should never pray when things get hard. I think there are certainly times where a prayer for clarification or wisdom or strength is exactly what’s needed. However, I think sometimes we default on that course of action and forget that there is also a time to just be still and quiet before the Lord. As Ecclesiastes 3 says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heaven…” Sure there is a time to pray, but note what vs. 9 says. There is also “a time to be silent.”

This verse could be interpreted in a couple different ways. The context of the verse would seem to point toward physical speech. However, there are many times in the bible where God uses the word “quite” to mean “still.” Personally, I think a case could be made for that interpretation. The point is, don’t quit praying during hard times, but remember there are situations in which we are called to a different course of action, or no action at all.

Psalm 23 talks about how the Lord our shepherd leads us to “still” waters, a place where we can rest without worry. There are other versus that associate stillness and quietness with God’s peace. I think that’s important to note because it shows us that being still is equated with being at rest and peace in God’s presence. Does that mean just sitting still in a room is going to make the pain go away? Of course not, but sometimes it will be the most comforting thing you do. It will be more comforting than anything anyone can say to you, or any prayer you can pray.

I challenge you to try to be still in God’s presence. Just to be still. When you are at a place where you don’t know what to do, when someone asks you how you feel and the only thing you can say is, “I don’t know,” try it.

I came across a psalm that I feel has great application to this idea and I will close with it.

Psalm 46
1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.[c]
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come and see what the LORD has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields[d] with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
11 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Confession by a soldier's sister

"There’s just something about a man in a uniform." What an overused phrased. It should be permanently retired. For starters, it is cliché and has worn out its welcome. What girl hasn’t heard this phrase in a movie, book, from a stranger’s lips, her friends, or even –god forbid- her own? Could we not try for something more original please? Secondly, the phrase is completely ambiguous. What kind of uniform? What is it about a man in a uniform? Does it make him look different, stand different, talk different? Does it turn him to stone? Does it make him more appealing, terrifying, ugly, powerful, or romantic? And how does a simple uniform change a person? Why not say there’s just something about a man in a fedora? But that’s just me. The truth is no one is going to retire the phrase because it’s so darn true. There is something about a man in a uniform. On Friday night, for me, it was a slap in the face.

I don’t dislike men in uniform. I think a uniform makes a man look respectable and well put together. I come from a family of men in uniform. They are proud, strong, and dependable. I love a man in a uniform. So of all people, I was the last person expecting my reaction that night.

I was attending an awards dinner meant to honor our veteran soldiers. I had just finished up a week of intense political training in Austin Texas with nearly a hundred of my peers. Morale was high despite the general exhaustion. All of us girls primped in front of our mirrors wanting to look our best –some to accept an award, some for a boy, and some because it was an excuse to look nice. I knew there would be wounded veterans present. I had come to this dinner the previous year. I had even sat with the color guard and chatted. I knew exactly what was coming and I was looking forward to it. Then, I stepped off the bus and caught my first flash of blue cloth.

I think it was shock at my own reaction that kept the tears from falling. I hadn’t realized just how much I missed my brother until right at that moment. It’s amazing how one uniform can take a person and turn them 180 degrees. I felt silly for getting choked up and angrily stuffed the tears back where they belonged. I knew I was going to have to come up with a plan or I would end up crying in front of everyone, and I hate crying in front of people.

I busied myself with making a strategy, and avoided all uniforms. I got as far as thinking I could excuse myself during the part of the ceremony where the veterans were honored and given medals. I made it no farther because just then a coordinator came up and stuffed a medal in my hand. She explained she’d been looking for me. She needed me to be one of the lucky students who got to put a medal on a veteran. I nearly melted into the floor. I tried to come up with a reasonable explanation for why I didn’t want this honor, but I’m pretty sure it came out weak and unconvincing. Instead of telling me she understood and taking the medal to someone else, she clapped me on the shoulder and said she had confidence in me. I could do it.

I looked at the medal in distaste and shoved it into my purse. I was doomed. I spent the rest of the dinner distracting myself from what was coming. I drank three cups of coffee, trying to screw up my courage. I thought about the previous year. The veterans had been older, that would help. I would just have to picture my grandfather. This was my new plan. I thought it was a good one, considering my options. God, apparently, thought it was funny. As the veterans stood to be introduced, my eyes wandered over their figures. I clapped politely, but the friend beside me wasn’t fooled. She saw the horror that filled me. These veterans weren’t old; they were young, earlier twenties. I almost handed my medal to her right then, thinking back on it now, I probably should have. I stopped myself only because as the introductions continued the grandfatherly veterans appeared.

It was our turn. Each student holding a medal stood. I made a beeline for the oldest looking veteran out there. At least, I tried- which means I wove around the circular tables, dodging chairs as quickly as I could without looking like a terrified animal. By the time I made it to the center of the room I found myself standing in front of no one and all the old guys taken. Slowly moving towards me was a man. He was bent over from the crutches in his hands. His face was proud and determined and young.

I lost it. I knew that face. I’d seen it before in many young men. I’d seen it in my brother. For one terrible moment all I could see was him struggling toward me. It was as if my nightmares had come to life. Then, my brother was gone and it was just me and the wounded veteran.

As he came to a stop in front of me, his comrade pulled out a chair for him to sit in. He looked at it in disgust and frustration. I may not have recognized that there were others in the room anymore, but he certainly did. He was aware of every gaze, every pitying thought. He knew what he looked like dragging his feet after him. He knew. For a moment I wanted to reach out and tell him it would be ok. This injury didn’t define him. But I couldn’t because all of this took only a moment, half of a shaky breath before the look turned to acceptance. His face relaxed. He politely declined it.

By the time he turned forward, I am pretty sure no amount of makeup could have redeemed me. I hated myself for crying. He looked at me with kindness. He was full of strength and peace. He wasn’t angry or frustrated anymore. He would be ok. His eyes said all of that.

I know it’s hard to believe that one look carried that much information. I am a skeptic, after all. So maybe I saw what I wanted to see. But that’s what the smile in the corners of his eyes told me, and I believed it.

I wanted to smile back and tell him how much I respected him for his strength. I didn’t want him to think my tears were for the sorry state he was in. I didn’t want him to think I pitied him. I didn’t. He was a soldier. He had chosen this life. We both knew that. But I couldn’t stop crying.

“I’m sorry.” I told him, and he knew I was referring to the tears. “I’m sorry, it’s just, you remind me of my brother.” I managed.

He smiled up at me, and in that moment I felt as if he were the kindest person I’d ever met. “It’s ok.” He answered. His voice filled with compassion, and I couldn’t help but believe him. How could I not? He understood everything.

I put the medal over his head. My fingers shook, brushing his cropped hair. Not waiting for permission I hugged him tightly. I think we were supposed to shake their hands. If it had been my brother, he’d have been upset with me. Public displays of emotion are discouraged. For once, I didn’t care. I whispered my thanks in his ear and asked him to pass the message on to his family. For all I respect our soldiers, I respect their families just as much.

I left the room quickly after that. I needed to pull myself together. I knew better than to make a spectacle like that. I was supposed to be strong. But I realized all I was at the moment was scared. That’s why I was crying. I was terrified inside and out and had been since my brother had sworn his oath.

I tried a couple of times to explain this to my friends later. They had either asked me what was wrong, or given me a hard time for falling apart. I found as I tried, that I really couldn’t explain it. I wanted to be able to say “he looked like my brother,” and have that explain everything. Only, it doesn’t. And that kind of justification tends to get sympathetic looks in reply. I realized if people were going to understand, I was going to have to come at it differently.

So here’s my confession. I get angry, a lot. I’m angry more than I am sad. I wonder why people think family have to be strong too. I didn’t get to make the choice, my soldier did, but I have to live with it every day. He didn’t ask me if I was ok with it. When I’m not angry I’m scared to death. My days and nights are filled with "what ifs." People always ask if I support our soldiers. What do you think? I have to support my soldier no matter what, how could I not? And while we're on the topic, I don’t need to prove my support by wearing it on my t-shirt or re-posting some stupid message on facebook.

When people make fun of my soldier’s job or his branch I want to yell at them. What do they know? Instead, I hold my tongue and pick my chin up a little higher. When wives of soldiers express their loneliness and terror, I want to scream. They aren’t the only person in the family who feels that way. When people ask where my soldier is stationed and the answer is not Afghanistan, Iran, or Iraq I feel guilty for being afraid. I pretend like it doesn’t bother me, but I think about my soldier all the time. I wear his old shirts for comfort, and read his letters over and over. All I want is to see him again. I hate telling people how much I miss him, because I don’t want people to think I’m being silly. I already think that myself.

So, no, I don’t want to thank a wounded veteran for his sacrifice because all I can think is that might be my brother one day. And that thought scares me to death.

I know it might be easy to get the wrong idea from what I’ve said. So I’ll say this too, I am proud of my brother. I am happy that he is doing something he loves. He looks good in that uniform. There’s just something about it. But sometimes when I see a uniform and it’s not him, it’s like a slap in the face.