The Fire

Aren’t we all our most reflective selves at the end of a year? Everywhere we turn, folks are remembering and reviewing and resolving.  Certain markers in life cause us all to pull back and allow ourselves a broader view of the space in which we circulate.  We can count on a new year to be one of those.

All I know to do with my writing is be honest.  And there is a reason my writing has been a bit, well, constipated for the last ten months.  I have been exhausted beyond words.  About that many months ago, I quit a job I loved because things there got a bit awkward, and thank goodness I did because, though I didn’t know it at the time, my year was about to launch into a realm of busy-ness and difficulty that makes me grateful I didn’t see it coming.

This isn’t a poor-me post.  Before you quit reading because you don’t want to hear me complain about circumstances that sound ridiculous in the re-telling, just know that much.  Nope, I have nothing to complain about.  But if I could take you through all the shiny pictures on my phone from this last year, you’d see pictures of smiles and travels and guests and stunning scenery and grandbabies and all kinds of adventures.  And if you saw a picture of my heart, it would look super-glued and scotch-taped and sore and pushing through to create an outward smile.

Never in my life have I had an entire year of hard.  Up until this one, I’ve had years where I looked back and thought “Wow, there was a hard part in there!” but 2018 was more like, “Every single memory has a tainted backstory.” And not just for me, but for our whole family! Throughout this year, I didn’t find myself feeling sad, I felt myself having to power through as all the things around me that I held dear felt like they were crumbling and nothing I knew was secure — but One.

First a little story.  In the last three years, I have found a new hobby and you could NOT have convinced me that my animal-loving heart or my warmth-loving body would ever in a gajillion years enjoy suiting up in winter gear every day as fall turns to frigid winter and using various weapons to try to shoot a deer.  I’d have laughed at you.  But I found a new side of myself as Alison, the sitter-and-waiter.  And Alison, the harvester of beautiful organic meat.  And Alison, the defender of does — because if you didn’t know it before today, bucks are jerks.  I’m talking raping murderers of fawns, and mean as sin.  So I only shoot the big, mean ones.  Or attempt to.  And in the meantime, I visit with squirrels and birds, snowshoe hares, and beautiful does and fawns and the occasional wolf or bear.  I hone my eyesight to see every movement.  I settle into the woods and into my new instincts and train myself to sit so very still and listen and not fill every moment with busy-ness and plans and noise.  It is a process.  A long process.  And I’m super proud of it.  Two years ago, I shot my first deer.  It changed me.  I did a THING! and it impressed the heck out of myself and just about everyone who knows me.  (insert chuckle)  I didn’t enjoy the taking of a life.  BUT, I appreciated greatly the sacrifice that was given to nourish my family.  And, dang it, my shot through iron sites at 80+ yards that dropped a buck immediately was stinking impressive, if I do say so myself.

So this year, after having been skunked last year, the pressure was on.  We had a fabulous apple year meaning our orchards were bringing in some serious hoofed traffic. HUGE bucks were on our game cams.  Even before I could be out there for bow season, we were studying patterns and tracks and racks, and I was naming the boys I wanted to harvest.  Chocolate Rain and Mr. Big were my goals.  I was out in my stand most of bow season and almost every single day of rifle season — sometimes twice a day.  I literally didn’t go anywhere for almost a month except my deer stand.  I was so committed and ready.  I saw so many does, I couldn’t even count them.  So many fawns became my unknowing pets.  I knew who hung out with whom.  I knew which apples they liked best.  I knew what the sound of a little buck crunching his food sounded like and could hear and sense in an uncanny way, the approach of a deer.  I won’t tell you all the stories except that one day, I did shoot my beautiful buck.  And tracked him with my sweet man and eventually my son who came to help.  It was a good kill shot, but he ran far and fast and by the time he collapsed, our also-hunting neighbor found him and collected him (if you are him, and you read this, you’re welcome).  By dark, we had exhausted ourselves in the deep snow and dark and trudged up and down and far and wide in all our gear with our guns to a point of exhaustion I’ve only known a few times in my life with absolutely nothing to show for it.  When the four hunters in the family were done with the season and no one had gotten a deer for all our efforts and time and struggles, I found myself saying to God (because you talk to Him extra in the quiet), “Seems like it would have been easy to send me my big buck!  I tried so hard! What in the world?!  Can you just let me know why this had to be so hard?”

And like a thought-bubble of words that pinged around my head, I knew these words, “Was it enough that I found you faithful?”

Imagine my slack-jawed mouth shutting.

This year, a couple low points had me feeling like a failure as a parent in a brand new way, had me sobbing in physical pain that I haven’t known before, had me spent emotionally to a point I couldn’t describe, had me begging God to heal my daughter as she struggled to want to survive through a long battle for her health — she crawled into her Momma’s lap, a fragile wisp of herself with her bones protruding through her skin and pressed her ear to my heart as I held her in a way I hadn’t since she was tiny.  My sweet man and I had to trust God for basics and look to Him for answers in brand new ways this year — a battle between questioning every choice we’d made to get to this point, and choosing to stand and hold our ground.  We’ve stood for our family and our own mental health as never before — brand new and awful battles.

We gathered our family for the last few hours of 2018 to begin a new and not-so-new tradition.  We started our evening with lots of food and fellowship as always.  We took communion together as part of our tradition.  Then, we took a look back on our collective year.  The level of pain in each of my childrens’ and sweet man’s eyes and we tried to, each and all, find the good parts was a bit much.  And for Miss Merry Sunshine here, it was unusual to be the one who couldn’t come up with one solid, beautiful untainted memory of my own.  And then at the end of everyone else’s recollections, I found it.

At the worst of things, December 19th, 2018 my family said, ENOUGH!!  One of my children called an impromptu meeting at my son’s house and though it was late and we’d all had a long day and some of us had to travel almost two hours to get there, we all worshiped and prepared our hearts to storm some spiritual gates.   We arrived and settled the babies down and gathered in his kitchen and literally linked arms and began praising.  We had gone from despair that day to all-eyes-up.  We cast off everything ugly.  We claimed health and supernatural peace.  We anointed each other with oil and prayed for specific needs.  We broke spiritual chains, and prepared ourselves for a new beginning.  God met us there as we’ve never known before.  He heard His kids needing Him.  He surrounded and uplifted and strengthened and restored and healed.  And let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like watching your grown children anoint their father with oil and pray over him.

Since 2010 when we took our big journey into the unknown, we began marking moments with altars. So on New Year’s Eve, we met and had prepared a giant altar behind the barn and went out there in a blizzard.  We gathered with words written on paper that needed to burn.  And as a family, we put it all to death.  All of it is done.

During the heat of my battle this year, a new and dear friend of mine gave me words that  have resonated in a way, I’ll cling to for the rest of my days.  She reminded me that when three men went into the blazing furnace as they stood firm for what they knew, that the only things that burned in that inferno were the things which had bound them.  Just let that sit there.

fire 2

I had things that bound me this year — things I didn’t even realize were stuck on me.  I had folks to forgive and ask forgiveness from.  I had some pride in my *rightest* way of doing things.  I had misplaced security in things that weren’t secure at all.

As each of these layers were revealed to me, I had a responsibility to dig in, gear up, be still, sit in the quiet, study my surroundings, train myself to know what is real and what is dangerous, be willing to take risks, be brave, stand in what I know, use the weapons I have, and know that at the end of it all, all that matters is if He finds me faithful.  It is enough.

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A Pile of Ashes

This didn’t happen so I could document it here.  Believe it or not, there are so many things I don’t share. 🙂  Intensely personal things are not for the interwebs, in my humble opinion.

However, God and I have this sort of deal.  He does these amazing things and sometimes, even months later, asks me to tell whomever will listen about how capable He is to make miracles happen.  You’ve read my stories of healing.  You’ve heard me tell of miracles.  I’ve let you know that my past wasn’t too pretty, and tried to tell how He turns every bit around in His way and in His time.

This is the story of my ultimate heart-healing completely orchestrated by One.  I’m going to tell it just like I’ve told a couple of my closest friends, and let you see the beauty in the ashes for yourself.

It all began one lovely summer day last July with a motorcycle ride with my son.  One in which I launched myself from my bike, head-over-handlebars into the woods and ended up unconscious and a bit wounded.  The concussion that I acquired left me more than a little foggy for awhile and though most of it faded, what lasted several weeks was my confusion about time.  Things like how long ago events took place or what day of the week it was took me too long to process.  This is relevant to the story because when I drove a couple hours away to the airport to pick up my friend from the airport ON THE WRONG DAY!!!! it sets up my story.

I really prefer to not dwell in the past which is precisely the reason it’s taken me seven months to tell this tale. You see, I had made great strides in healing from my childhood and thought I was doing pretty well, but I lived in a land in my mind where ugly lies had become my truth.  I felt like every time I looked in the mirror, or made a simple mistake, or pretty much breathed, the damage from years of ugly words spoken to me or the lack of love I experienced voiced themselves to me as self-hatred.  It was oppressive.  It was constant.  I put a great face on things, but inwardly, I was suffering greatly.  Sadly, it became my normal, and as it grew, it became harder and harder to live in a place of forgiveness specifically toward my mother.  I realize that a lot of folks with beautiful mothers simply cannot relate to the idea of a mother who doesn’t love, but that is a reality for some of us and the early damage is extraordinary and because I knew only one other person in the world who could relate, I felt very isolated and lost.  One day, somehow, I came across a book (I still have no idea how I ever found it) that was titled Mothers Who Can’t Love — a healing guide for daughters and, though I have rarely been able to finish a non-fiction book, I bought it and began devouring it.  Never in my life had I had anyone put into words what I had been feeling my entire life.  All the things I thought I had exaggerated in my mind were in print.  Other women had walked this path!!!!  There was hope for me to move on and I read and read, highlighting almost every page…until I got to the second half where things were about to get real — fast.  The author set up exercises for working through the pain and moving into a place of healing. I saw one and shut the book.  Ain’t nobody got time for that!  NO way!!!

Less than  a week later, I’m far from home, in a hotel with nothing but time on my hands and a set-aside 24 hours until I can pick my friend up from her flight.  Coincidence?  No way.  I bought a journal and pen.  I got dinner and breakfast and brought them to my hotel room and put on my comfy pants.

And then I balked.  And stalled.  And pouted.  It felt like facing a giant with nothing but a slingshot.  I was so alone in this and I wasn’t sure I had the courage to turn around and look at the nasty thing which had hidden under my bed for my entire life.

So I did what anyone would do and opened Facebook instead.  And there I scrolled and stalled.  But wouldn’t you know, God can even nudge you when you’re hiding on Facebook because there someone had posted a song by my favorite artist and though that song had no meaning for me at that moment, I was excited to buy his new album!  Song one plays.  I’m a puddle on the floor.  The words were written for me for that moment.  Song two, song three.  I’m gone.  My Daddy was singing over me (Zeph. 3:17) — inviting me into His arms to heal.

I began my exercises.  I journaled.  I sobbed.  I wrote out my pain.  I ended up in the bathtub broken and weeping.  I found myself working through things I didn’t know I had buried in the deepest places.  I forgave.  I closed chapters.  I literally had a funeral for the mother I would never have and had one dead daisy I found in my bag as the symbol of that memorial.  Song after song played from different artists that ministered to my heart audibly all evening long.

ashesI slept some, and the next day ended up buying a balloon, a lighter, and a marker and drove myself to a cliff overlooking the lake that is my peaceful place.  Alone, in the rain, I burnt all the ugly words.  I released my truth and purpose written on a helium vehicle and sent it sailing far far away where maybe some other daughter needs to see her value.  I just dug it all up once and for all and let it all go.  And I set my phone up to take this picture to mark the moment of my freedom.

balloon

freedom

And when I looked down, there was one LIVE daisy growing at my feet.  The only flower in sight.

daisy

It’s a nice story, right?  Not particularly.  It was absolutely gut-wrenching and scary.  The author of the book recommends a counselor to walk through this stuff with a person.  I didn’t have that, but I had a divine appointment with One Who had seen it all and arranged a healing meeting with just me and Him.  And let me tell you, I am a changed person.  I wish you could see the difference in my mind.  I wish I could have let you hear the before and the after.  It’s like someone bleached the ugly and left me white and clean.  All of the self-doubt and ugliness is like it was never there.  I know it sounds too good to be true — I would be thinking the same thing.  But I’m telling you, I was healed from the inside out.  Yes, my stuff still happened, but it’s all so vague in my mind, it’s like a faded Polaroid where you can hardly make out the details.  The memories are there, but they are unattached to pain.

So many of us bury our hurts.  Daily, we numb out with substance or busy-ness, or just stuffing stuff so deep we are sure it can’t find us.  But like a leaky tire, we know it will catch up at some point.  I had a friend recently tell me that she just hasn’t grieved.  She knows it’s there but she can’t look at it.  Yes.  That is a real truth.  Who has time to peek under the bed and call that monster out?

You do, friend.  You don’t have to be walking wounded.  There is healing and grace to cover that pain.  There is One Who longs to bear your burden (Psalm 68:19) and take it for you because you are so very loved (…casting all your cares [all your anxieties, all your worries, and all your concerns once and for all] on Him for He cares for you [with deepest affection and watches over you very carefully] – 1 Peter 5:7 AMP).

We aren’t meant to suffer through our days — they are, after all, so very short.  There is hope and there is healing waiting for you.  If you can relate, if you know it’s time to flip that bed and face that monster, may I encourage you to do so.  Call someone you trust who can hold your hand and walk you through.  Ask for help.  But first, call on the name of One big enough to rescue you. (“No one who trusts God like this — heart and soul — will ever regret it.  It’s exactly the same no matter what a person’s religious background may be: the God for all of us, acting the same incredibly generous way to everyone who calls out for help. Everyone who calls, ‘Help, God!’ gets help.” — Romans 10:11-13)

He’s waiting.