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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Put your behind in your past…

At least that’s what Pumbaa said.

Man, I sure know a few of us that need to turn our heads forward sometimes.  I honestly wonder how we get around at all with our eyes firmly fixed on what is behind! You’ll notice that I am including myself in the mix.  It’s a pattern I can quickly fall into if I’m not careful.  It’s the pain.  It’s always what hurts that keeps us turned the wrong way.

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We have a ridiculously fat, old cat named Rhetta.  She is embarrassingly large — so large, in fact, that she can no longer wash her own back and has mats that form in her fur.  We call them dreads so as not to make her feel ashamed.  We feed each of our cats the same amount of food per day.  Rhetta, however, is sneaky and discovered the dog food years ago, and helped herself a bit too often.  She is also scared of everything.  She’s been kind of a nasty personality for years now.  You just never know when you’ll get bitten — even if she seems pleasant.  She HATES the other pets and prefers her dark, little corner of the world where she hides and growls and spits at anyone who gets too close.  We think the addition of each pet and each life change (including the 12 hour drive to a new home a few years ago) really messed with her.  She just seems broken.  We just love her and shave her back now and then and try to get her through.  Sad, isn’t it?  She just can’t step out of what hurt her into enjoying even a little bit of life.

I look around and realize we all have things that scarred and tried to break us.  Tricky mommy and daddy issues, folks who promised to love us and didn’t follow through, physical and emotional abuse, folks who pointed out our flaws and created ugly thoughts that seem to stay on repeat, the loss of someone we loved deeply, insecurity…this list could go on ad infinitum.

No one is immune.  But some have found a way to move on.  Have you noticed that?  Some folks seem to take it stride or heal faster or something.

As I’ve looked around with this in mind, I realize that folks tend to use their pain to either justify their behavior or as a catalyst to change.  Yeah, that’s tough stuff, but if we’re being honest, we know it’s true.  Either we repeat patterns or we break the chains.

I have cross-country skied since I was three years old.  It has always been just for fun and I’m too out of shape now to want to let anyone see me trudge/glide along.  I had stopped for decades and recently came back to it thanks to my kids and their gift of equipment.  Then some stupid health stuff gave me excuses to sit instead of ski.  My husband got me out the other day and in the middle of a winter weather advisory, we went for a walk/ski together.  We got about 16 inches of fresh snow that day.  The plows couldn’t keep up, and since we live in the middle of absolute nowhere that was no surprise.  Our area is mountainous.  I was on the last day of one of the worst colds I’ve ever had and had been coughing ridiculously for days.  Perfect set-up to get back into things.  Haha.

A half mile in, huffing and puffing, I had a decision to make.  I could turn around and go home (which sounded mighty good).  Or, I could commit to the next three legs of equal length and make *the square* which would bring me back to my driveway.  The square consists of huge inclines and I was already sucking some serious wind.  But darn it, I wanted to have proven it to myself that I could do it.  So I committed.unblazed trail

I've got this

halfway

{I had to document it with photos because I could just feel my thoughts brewing as my lungs burned!}

This journey we are on is daunting!  Pitfalls and mountains and the overwhelming-ness of it all can make us just want to go back to somewhere safe and easy!  Sometimes, we gloss over the pain of our past and live there emotionally just to not have to face what is in our front view!  Often, it’s just too hard to breathe where the path hasn’t been broken for us, and we quit and take off our gear and camp out.  I get it!  I’ve done it!

But the past has passed!!!  It’s just our catalyst to a great story!  It’s not a dwelling place or a camp or a place we even want to stay!  The mystery, the beauty is in the new trail!

The triumph is in only the glance back where we see our tracks and rejoice in the accomplishment!  When we see that there was always at least One Who walked alongside us, cheering us on!  When we get a new story — a renewed sense of victory and hope.

a glance back

No one wants to continue to hear my sad stories.  I have a million.  They’re getting old though, and it feels just like stench at this point.  Those stories are just my stepping stones into who I stepped up to be.  Yes, they hurt, but I worked hard to survive and I am determined to look forward to the new, unblazed, fresh and beautiful path into who I am now — despite and because of those obstacles!

I glance back only to be thankful for how far I’ve come.  I refuse to trip over them any longer.

Anyone with me?