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Humble Pie

After the long haul up to the tip top row of the coliseum, her lungs could no longer escape the collapse of her inhaled repression as she forged through the crowd, eyes lowered, with those tired old mean skates dangling in her right hand. Her left hand she had delegated for the ominous toil of constantly wiping her cheeks free of tears. She was defeated, and hopeless, and all that she had hoped for and worked on so diligently, so tirelessly had been lost in that one fleeting moment of careless failure. One bad decision by someone else had landed her smack dab in the middle of her first major crossroads at 12 years old. She couldn’t handle any more.

She thought back, her thoughts raced forward and backward in increments of years and days and minutes all at once. This felt like life passing – and dying – before her very eyes. This is what it felt like to wake up in the middle of a beautiful dream only to realize that it could never, would never happen.

Not only would her dad never be alive again, but her dream had died too. Just now. In the moment of one dropped foot on her figure circle of promise. This is it,  she said to herself. There is no point in trying anymore. I’m done.

And just like that, in the glaring light of Regionals competition – the 2nd biggest event of the year – it was over. Other skaters made their way, one by one, to the figure circles. Each of them confident and manicured. Each of them wearing the same wheels they had practiced in, the same moves they had auditioned, the same postures they had rehearsed. Their was applauding, and hugging, and congratulating, and she could see all of that from her high purch of self-made isolation. She could see their chances, and she could see her lack. 

Everything left her. Even chances left her. She was certain she had been cursed into exclusion.

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Skating Story

Lacing up.

The boot shot up to the bottom fold of my calf muscle and clung to the plate and wheels by bolts, but when I laced up, these funky skates became my very own superpower. I may have been alone at home. I may have felt small and insignificant as a sprouting 9 year old, but these skates acted as my security blanket that also happened to double as my cape. With them on, I could go places. I could move faster, stand taller, and do jumps and spins that lifted me and empowered me into being an extraordinary being. Not everyone could do what I could do.

Of course, it didn’t start out that way. There were probably very few skaters with less natural talent than me. I wasn’t born into it. I wasn’t born to skate. I wasn’t built for it. I had more curves. I was bulkier, and my legs were short – but strong. All I knew was that when I started on this journey, 3 long years ago, I couldn’t keep me feet beneath my body long enough to flee from the side wall. I felt just like a slimy scaley oversized fish flailing about on a sheet of ice. But that didn’t stop me from wanting to be a gracefully, flowing, flowering skating princess. Every fiber of my being wanted it, and so it would be.

I worked hard, listened to everything my coaches told me to do – begrudgingly at times – but still. I knew what had to be done, and I did it, no matter how many times I fell. No matter how many times I lost, and came in 25th out of 25. I knew someday, it would all pay off. I just had to want it badly enough. That’s what my coach told me, day after day, practice after grueling practice. And while my more talented friends cut-up and bantered their way through, I remained focused on becoming great. 

Practices were quiet. I remember soft piano music playing over the speakers, the doors open to the springtime morning air, and Saturday mornings with their promise of freedom and whispers of innocent surrenders. I remember being in the moment, lost in concentration. For hours on end. The smells of polyurethane and wood floors, the gluey-inky smell of skate polish and sweat, the smoky 1980s air, because nobody knew second hand smoke was not the most glorious thing for skater lungs.  I remember the aches of muscle fatigue, and walking out into the 40 degree air wearing nothing but a skating dress, hose, and flourescent orange jelly shoes. I remember my first win, and I remember the last loss. But what I most remember is that I was surrounded by support – my skating family was everything, and my belief in working through your limitations became the most crucial lesson I could’ve possibly learned to live THIS life.

The Mid-Life Crisis

She sits alone in the dark at 40. Her fingers -sore from stitching, but she takes such pride in her beautiful creations. She can make anything beautiful with her hands as if the Creator himself worked through her. She feels a little older each day, but her heart – oh her heart – is young and so full sometimes that it becomes heavy with worry. How to raise these two boys without their father. How to make ends meet without her other half. She may have taken care of him as the Cancer grew. She may have tended to his every need, and gotten up with him through all hours of the night, pleading with him to just sleep. She may have prayed more than anyone ever knew, that he could just feel good again, that he could just be okay. But the day he died, a piece of her died along with him. And now she’s here with the weight of the world, with two loving boys. And they’re a couple of hands full, and she’s a big heart full of determination. She loves Christ, and that Son will see her through.

A half a lifetime later, another mother sits alone in the dark at 40. Her mind is strong and resilient. She’s made hard decisions along the way, but her young business is just beginning to blossom in the midst of her turbulent home life. Everything her mind and heart touches turns to gold, as if the Creator himself painted it that way Himself. She doesn’t just make it, she thrives. Her spirit is bold and courageous beyond measure. How to raise this daughter without her father. How to keep her safe and protected. How to nurture her in the same way her father once did when he was healthy – when they were two peas in a ripe old pod. She may have tended to his every need, and gotten up with him through all hours of the night, pleading with him to just sleep. Pleading with him that he didn’t really need to get dressed and get driven around the Smokies. She had a small company to run in the morning, afterall. She may have prayed more than anyone could have imagined, and journaled, and then prayed some more. She wanted him to watch their daughter grow, because it’s all he said he was staying alive to do. But she knew he didn’t have long without kidneys, with one leg, and with the Diabetis eating away at his organs – one by one. But the day he died, a piece of her died along with him. And now she’s here with the weight of the world squarely upon her shoulders, and one 11 year old daughter. But she loves Christ, and has always leaned upon Him. That Son will see her through.

Again, a half a lifetime later, and I’m the mother who sits alone in the dark at 40. My hands are busy typing, but nowhere as busy as my mind. I don’t have the sewing skill of my grandmother, or the business mindset of my mother, but I’ve also made some hard decisions along the way. I have tools, resources, legacies. I am equipped with the strength to carry on, because they did. And while I’ll never be able to create like my mamaw, or be as financially successful as my mother, I learned the best skill on earth from both of them – the superpower of being a solo mom. While my oldest son still has a wonderful Father and stepmom in his life, my youngest does not. I didn’t know at the time, but 40 would be the last we would hear from Ethan’s dad. At least so far, a year later. And while I am up for the challenge, I must admit that I am deeply saddened by the disease that has taken this amazing dad from our child. I know my mom and mamaw felt much the same way, and I understand both of them now more than ever because of my own journey. I know now, as they did. A piece of me died the day he made his hard choice. And now I’m here, with the weight of the world on my shoulders, and one son with an absent father. But I love Christ, and follow him.That Son will see us through.

Disconnected

Very few aspects of my life have remained stable, but hiking is one of the few. The older I grow, the more connected I feel with nature. On my annual birthday hike, I spent the entire four hours without earbuds, without social media, and without ‘notifications’. For the most part, there weren’t that many other hikers on the trail, and there were no noises aside from the tree frogs, flies, and the occasional chipmunk. 

When I hike, the world of people disappears entirely, and in fact – when I come across other hikers – I’m almost always shocked out of my quiet world and frightened. Although most people would not describe me as an introvert, I very much am. Don’t get me wrong, admittedly, I love people. I love hearing their stories, listening to their curiosities and the wonderful bonding and connection that happens when walls disappear and true spirits are revealed. Oftentimes that’s not the experienece, but even a good banter & humor, like laughing from the gut, laughter spewing from the nostrils kind of humor takes over and there’s a similar bond through pure comedy and sarcasm. I love that too.

But when the world is quiet, and it’s just me and the trees, and roots jutting up out of the earth, testing my balance – when there are butterflies directing my path and turtles underfoot testing my agility and focus, the world is small and huge all at once. And I am enough. There is no competition. There is no failure. There are no unkind words traversing my mind, telling me I’m not thin enough or smart enough or strong enough. There is only me

The trees,

The nature,

And we are enough. We were all created by the Creator himself, and no one here has any ill intent. No one here is dishonest. You get what you see. You see what you get. There are zero expectations, and the only real hope is that I make it back down the mountain before the heel blister becomes unbearable. If my grandmother hiked this same mountain on her 41st birthday, it would’ve looked much the same. There is no technology, no construction, no ‘progress’, no innovations. Nature is simple and, while it also changes, it is strong and tempered and well adjusted to those changes because well…it’s had many rodeos, and ‘knows’ what to expect. 

There is something to be said about the first auburn leaves of Fall peeping through in mis-September. That tree doesn’t concern itself with beauty or whether or not I notice such beauty. It’s just doing it’s thing, unaware of the awe it induces in this over-zealous and dramatic nature girl. And that’s true beauty. Truly, something I’m unsure if I will ever know or possess. 

In a perfect world, in my heaven on earth, my brain- my thoughts- would stop that endless comparison between ‘me’ and ‘they’ where ‘they’ always win. They are always happier, fitter, thinner, more successful, more loving, smarter, and more together. I’m not sure where that all began, but I can tell you for a fact that those thoughts – or agreements – run deep in me. When I actually get to know people, and they become my friends, I generally see them as even. more beuatiful no matter what, because the more transparent you are, the more you are like nature in my eyes. 

So we all need to disconnect from time to time, in whatever form that takes for each of us. We need to go to that place that allows us to simply be – imperfect, flawed, sometimes mindless, other times spuradic and neurotic – but whatever we are, we just are. Because that is where we find God. That is where the newborn version of ourselves meets the older version, and everything in between in inconsequential. 

If you are that person who can calm those thoughts and keep them linear and organized, you are a superhero in my eyes. Even though I have meditated daily for at least 2 years, this is not my strong suit. But what quieting the mind does do for me is that it somehow STILL resets my mind and adjusts my mood and attitude, because meditating is much like hiking in the sense that the outside world grows quiet and it’s just me and my thoughts.

So I challenge you to disconnect. Quiet the world. Listen to what’s going on in your own head, with your own thoughts. You’re probably not going to solve the problem of world hunger, and wars, and political unrest, but you will solve the problem of being a scatter brained human struggling with all of the things that are absolutely useless, like competition and comparison. No one else is you. And you are enough. Like the flowers, and trees, and turtles, you are your own special version of creation. Connect with the noise that is you, and connect with the spirit who created you. Perfectly. 

Judy July

The day we said goodbye, on Tuesday July 30th @ 12:22 pm was the worst day of my life. We surrounded you, touching you, saying the Lord’s Prayer, just as you had wanted. I was at the head of the table, hovering above your face, watching your soul depart with your last breath. I couldn’t imagine life without you in it. I hadn’t yet thought about how you wouldn’t be here to guide me anymore, about how you wouldn’t be at the other end of my phone, or how you would no longer be popping into the office unannounced with some new idea on how to grow the business. I hadn’t yet thought of how my boys would no longer have their grandma Judy, or how our garage sale Saturdays had finally come to a bitter end.

Yet you had asked me, beforehand – for weeks, to be your ‘hero’, and talk everyone else into accepting your end. So I did, but somehow these four years later, I have not accepted it. Maybe I never will. Because your voice still steers my every direction even more loudly than it did in life. Don’t get me wrong. I have no regrets besides the fact that you left far too early. I was one of the lucky ones who got to be there at your end, and comfort you until you didn’t know any better. I got to joke with you about what you would wear to your ‘big day’, and paint your nails for your own funeral before you went into Hospice. Oh, and that Hospice, that has recently closed.

And yes, life has gone on, and a million changes have happened since your departure because your courage – well, you passed that on to me. That is the best inheritance a daughter could ask for, especially a daughter who struggled with decisions her whole life. Mom. You were not just the glue that held everything together, you were the heart. You pumped us all full of gratitude and zest for life. You made us all want to leap out of bed in the morning and take on the world (I mean, after those dreadful teenaged years). I will never stop being grateful for your life, because you not only gave me life, but you taught me how to live it. I will forever be in your shadow, living to make you proud, because in the end – I understand that you made me who I am today, and you will forever be my greatest blessing.

To my Church

Dear Church,

I was raised to believe in you, believe in your promises and in your grace. I was raised to believe that the direct route to God was through Christ, and through you. I committed to you, and committed my children to you. But I need a divorce.

In order to marry my second time, I had to absolve my first marriage. My first marriage happened first without you, but my husband decided he wanted to be a part of this, and so we married under your shadow and through your promised. But we had to divorce, because he wanted to kill me.

And so we did. We divorced. When our child was less than three, we annulled our marriage. He married another and I was engaged, and it was the right thing to do.

When that marriage also failed, because he chose drugs, I knew that my Faith life was being challenged directly.

Now that I am engaged again, I feel the need to take a stand against you. Not against God, and not against Christ, but against my Church. The Church that has always protected me, now feels more like a threat, and something that has isolated me from it’s comfort and love and solace.

I have been disowned. My 2nd husband is AWOL and there is no way of absolving that marriage. Even though my future husband is ‘all in’ with the idea of conversion, I know that it’s an impossibility. And that is okay.

At some point, we must surrender and realize that every closed door is an opportunity to something more, somewhere closer to where we are meant to land. So it is. And so it is.

So while I love everything you have been in my life, I must say farewell, and understand that THIS is what was meant for me and my journey. To have my Faith tested so directly, and feel only closer to my God, somehow that makes it all make sense. And I know that this is where I am meant to land – finding our own way without the direction of my mother, but with the Faith and guidance of My God.

Left Behind

I remember being 7 years old, in flanel footed pajamas, with a Dorothy Hamill haircut – blonde version – and a big half-toothless grin. I remember that it was well past bedtime, maybe even as late as eleven, when I stood there peaking around the living room corner, just watching. 

At that moment, I wanted to be all grown up so badly I could almost taste the freedom. I didn’t want a bedtime. I didn’t want to go to school. I wanted a job because then I could go to McDonald’s for lunch and drink that yucky coffee stuff all day OR I could eat as many french fries as my paycheck would buy. Whatever, right? I mean being a grown-up meant everything. No limits. No rules. Nobody telling me what to do.

I remember also that my parents caught me watching. There they were with their friends, having a late play date, just sitting around playing cards and laughing with not a care in the world. There was nothing wrong with that, and certainly nothing I couldn’t also do if only I could join. For the most part, my parents were super cool like that. They would catch me up, and let me join in, no matter what time. I didn’t really play cards. I mostly just liked listening to everybody’s stories. By myself, I was a shy little bird, but with people I trusted – like my parents – I had social super powers and could always transform into the life of the party. 

I ate that feeling for breakfast, or at least I wanted to. I loved being a part, and loved not feeling that I was missing out. 

At slumber parties, I was the last one to fall asleep, and the first awake before the sun. I was terrified that I would awaken with shaving cream all over my face or toothpaste between my toes if I even dozed off for a minute. So I didn’t. Plain and simple, just like that, I didn’t sleep. 

Some things never change. I still fear being left out. I still dread missing out on the fun, but I especially hate missing out on good conversation. I still eavesdrop in restaurants because of that, and still have a hard time focusing on just one conversation in social situations. I mean, what if I learn something, or have something really funny to add? That would be just terrible not to be in the right place at the right time. And the right place is always where conversations are happening, right?

Then again, maybe not. I don’t know. Conversations can become fights or confrontations, so they’re not always positive. I get that too. The thing is, I think that being an only makes us want to a part of something even more than folks with siblings. I think we have an intrinsic desire to be a part of something more than ourselves, no matter how much we enjoy our alone time. Then again, maybe this is an only/ orphan thing? I don’t know. Really I don’t. But I do know that I never eat lunch at McDonald’s or eat as many fries (or any really). I do drink the heck out of some coffee though, because I still want to be the last one down.

Only As alone

As onlies, we pride ourselves on being able to cope with life solo. The truth is that we can’t, at least not in healthy ways. We need something more, just as everyone needs something more. More importantly, and more accurately, we need someone more. Everyone does. I don’t care if you have siblings or parents or even grandparents there with you fighting the good fight, you need someone more. God is that someone more. 

We were not created to go through this life alone. It’s much too difficult, much too lonely to go it alone. Your friends won’t always get you. Your parents won’t always get you. Your significant other won’t always get you. But you will always be accompanied by your creator, our creator. He does not abandon, even though it feels that way, even though you have pain and questions and doubt. There is a method to His madness, and who the heck are we to question such madness.

No matter how many deaths I’ve been dealt, one thing I never fully give up on is God and His love for me. If he didn’t love me, I wouldn’t exist, neither would any of those wonderful beings I’ve loved and lost. He didn’t ‘take them away’ as punishment. Living with God is the opposite of punishment. Yet if we don’t have faith, those of us left behind view this world as punishment. Faith allows us to see that we are left behind for a REASON greater than ourselves.

So as you lay your head down tonight, remember to thank Him for the opportunity of gracing one more soul with his goodness, of blessing one more loved one with his Truth and Mercy. Let us see that this life isn’t about us, but about something so much greater than we can fathom. That is God’s Love and Mercy and Grace.

Empathy

It started this week, with the introduction of a special needs child into my son’s daycare. To be fair, my son is 9 and he’s trained in karate. I don’t worry much about him physically because I have seen him defend himself better than I could defend myself. But when I drop him off into a different room at his daycare on winter break because one of his teachers is quarantined off in a larger room with the newest child because she is having a meltdown, I am forced to take pause.

I don’t know anything about this child other than the fact that she is new to his aftercare and she has special needs. But what I see is a drink spilled all over the floor, the dress-up stand toppled over, and her one-on-one teacher and this child herself thrown into their own war at 8:00 am.

We couldn’t enter the room. My son had to go into the peaceful room with all the regulars. Still, my heart went out immediately to the special needs girl, her mom, the teacher, and my son who has only been taught empathy.

When my child came home bragging about his new best friend in 3rd grade, telling me about how he was ‘special’ and how sweet and endearing he was, my heart melted. When the same child tried to reconcile me with my own best friend over our summer vacation, my heart melted as well.

He is a sweetheart. Despite the fact that his dad isn’t around. Despite the fact that he could be very angry with the world right now. Despite the fact that, coming from a broken marriage, he is supposed to be a wreck. 

I am blessed.

Why?

I will take no credit.

My son as been partially raised by his older brother who has just turned 16. His heart, his sympathy, his sensitivity, he got it all from his brother, and he is amazing. They both are. People want to say that I’ve done an incredible job by myself, but in truth, I am blessed. Completely and totally blessed.

No matter what happens in my life, I will never want for anything more than that. Two sons with hearts, compassion, and sensitivity enough to accept differences, strive to be better, and enthusiasm for humanity. It’s rare in this world, and I am blessed to be an observer and a receiver. I don’t know that I deserve it, but they make me believe. In miracles.

My Own 2 Ft.

Strong. This is how people I don’t live with have described me lately.

Interesting really. It’s the opposite of how I’ve felt. Or maybe it’s ironic? It just depends on the mood I guess, or whether you’re with the coffee gang or the party animals.

My oldest son told me that ‘strong’ is what people see when they look at me. All 4′ 11 1/2″ of me. They see someone who is steadfast and firm in the face of sorrow and tragedy. I see me as someone who acts best in roles that are the hardest to play. Don’t put me at a poker table. Don’t ask me to cover for you with a mutual friend. I suck at lying. I suck at acting. But when the poo hits the big-ass fan, something weird takes over me and carries me on his big-ass shoulders. 

I know. This isn’t how we envision footprints.

This is how I live it. This is how we live it.

Miracles aren’t always slap-you-in-the-face-with-a-big-burning-bush sorts. Sometimes they’re of the everyday wake up with a new sense of purpose types. We’re not standing on our own 2 feet then. We’re standing on something much bigger. Sturdier. Something we can’t touch, but something that can pick us up and carry us through.

‘That’s my footprints’ we think.  ‘I carry myself’, we think. 

True Faith, true character, true living comes from crawling in the dark, tears leaping from our bagged eyes, and just when we think we can’t take another stride, we find ourselves. Running out into the light that we never knew was there in the first place. Running with direction instead of running with scissors. Because we are carried after all. Two feet, one head, and millions of prayers along the way.