Itch

It’s summer, and that should mean sunshine, sand, water, and fun. Here in the Mid-Ohio Valley, it just means water. It seems like it’s been raining for months. Oh, wait, it has been raining for months. There have been only a few days of sunshine sprinkled between the showers, and they typically last just long enough to allow the grass and weeds to grow. And grow they do — it’s almost like they’re straining for the light.

Do you know what else will grow quickly if given ample amounts of moisture and a little bit of sun? Poison ivy. Go ahead, ask me how I know. I’ve had a nasty rash on the side of my neck and face for about a week now. I’ve had poison ivy before, but this one wins the prize for worst ever. It was so bad that the pharmacy tech and pharmacist at Rite Aid both kind of recoiled in horror when I asked what over-the-counter treatment they recommended. The suggestion? Get thyself to a doctor, woman. Stat. So I did. I received a steroid shot, a steroid prescription, and some strong antihistamines, and fortunately they began working immediately. My neck still looks like I spilled boiling water on it, but the discomfort has been greatly reduced.

It’s been kind of a weird week. Actually, it’s been kind of a weird season. And I mean that in regard to the weather, yes, but also about some things I’m working through in my personal life. My dad continues to struggle with his health. The radiation treatment he received for the colorectal cancer last fall caused some pretty serious damage to his bladder, and consequently, his kidneys, too. It’s been really hard on him, and my mom, too, but I’m so proud of the way they’ve been able to weather this storm. I absolutely hate that they’re dealing with this, but am grateful for the ways it has pulled our family closer together. He’s having a procedure next Wednesday that we’re hoping provides some answers and relief, and any prayers you can offer would be appreciated.

I’m also a little sad that a dear friend and neighbor will soon be moving away. (Okay, she’s only moving like six miles away, but in a short while she won’t be just two doors down and I’m having some feeeeelings about that.) She came into my life in the weirdest and best of ways right when I needed her, and she’s helped pull me through some of the toughest moments of my life. I’m going to miss being able to just pop over when I need a hug, a laugh, or to borrow her carpet shampooer. I keep threatening to move into one of the closets at her new house (if Harry Potter can live in a cupboard so can I), but we can’t figure out how I’m also going to keep a dog and cat in there with me, so I guess I have to stay at my house. For now.

The weirdest part of this summer (so far) happened late last week when I received word that my ex-husband is moving out of state. I was startled but not surprised as he’s always had a bit of wanderlust, and I have to admit that it’s something that I had hoped would happen. I’ve come quite a long way in healing from the divorce, but this is a small town and I was always anxious about running into him or his new wife at the grocery store or the mall. That happened twice, and while everything was fine, those situations are never comfortable — for anyone. It’s a relief to know that I can move about town without flinching at every passing motorcycle or having to scan every store and restaurant I enter.

Last week I wrote about how fear has held me back in many aspects of my life. I also said I’m working to move beyond fear, which is why I’m writing about this at all. The details of that phone conversation didn’t quite add up, but that story is not mine to share. I wish them peace and happiness as they begin a new chapter of their lives in a new place. I can’t say, however, that I haven’t been rattled by this news. At first, as I mentioned, I was relieved, and maybe even a little proud of how I handled the conversation. The more I thought about it, though, the more I felt. I felt all sorts of things, and that’s why I’m talking about it. It helps to write and to share, and most of all I hope that by doing so I can help someone else who may be going through the same thing.

As you would imagine, hearing from someone from the past brings back a lot of memories, good and bad. I did my best to let myself just embrace the emotions as they came — my face was already a hideous mess from the poison ivy, what’s a few tears, right? I finally let myself listen to a few old favorite songs from that era that I’d previously always skipped over when they popped up on iTunes. And I processed the feelings of sadness, guilt and regret that anyone — regardless of blame, regardless of circumstance — experiences when they go through things like this. I remarked to my friend (same one mentioned above) that somehow I felt like I’d been left all over again. Logically, I know that isn’t the case. Once the judge signed the paperwork, our ties to each other were severed. But he was the one who brought me here, to this place I now call home, and I have to admit that it feels really strange to be here by myself. Not alone, because I was given the best friends and support system in the entire world, but still sort of on my own.

Fortunately, my friend is very wise, and she reminded me that divorce is a loss, and losses have a way of making you grieve. If this had been a death, there would be pain and sorrow, joyful memories, and growth toward the future. A divorce is no different, really, except for that element of choice. There will be grief, and while the magnitude definitely lessens over time, there will still be moments of heartache. Am I sad that my marriage ended? Of course I am. Can I see now that it was for the best? Absolutely. But even the best things can hurt sometimes.

I’ve written a lot of words already, so bless you if you’re still reading. I promise I’m getting to my point. Through this experience of the past few days, there’s been one thing that keeps surfacing in my mind and in my heart:

Do not look back.

These are the words God spoke to Lot and his family as they were fleeing Sodom and Gomorrah. They are the words He spoke through Isaiah, telling Israel to “remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:18-19). And they also describe the message Jesus gave the rich young ruler in Matthew 19, who went away sad because he was unwilling to put aside his wealth — I’d also say identity — in order to follow Christ. It was his unwillingness to let go that prevented him from receiving more than he could have ever imagined.

What is it that makes us want to cling so tightly to the past? Recent events have what seems like half this country ready to suit up in blue and gray uniforms, grab the nearest musket and re-fight a battle that should have been — and was — settled more than a century ago. There have been entire books written on workplace dynamics and how to push beyond the “that’s how we’ve always done it” attitude. Look at the story of God’s deliverance of the Hebrews. He rescued them from captivity, but the moment things got tough, they grumbled and wished they could go back to being slaves.

Why do we do this?

Because it’s familiar, and we are comfortable with familiar even when it hurts. Even when it’s not right. Even when we know that more, better, is just around the corner. And sometimes it just feels good to wallow for a little bit.

I think we are afraid of letting go of the past because it means letting go of who we think we are. We hang onto old symbols because, we say, they represent our heritage, and we should honor our heritage. And that’s true – we need to remember where we came from, because doing so allows us to appreciate the work it takes to change. Remembering the past makes us thankful for the present and gives us hope for the future. But who we are now is far more important that who we were then. Time doesn’t exist so we can simply remain the same. Time moves forward and gives us experiences so we can grow and become better. Our memories and history are there to remind us of how far we’ve come.

I’ve allowed myself to visit the past during these last few days, but it’s time now to set my gaze again on the road ahead. Just like the poison ivy rash, I have to stop scratching the itch. Scratching offers temporary relief, but it doesn’t help or expedite the healing. Over time, the redness will fade, the stares will cease, and I’ll feel normal again. In the meantime, I aim to destroy that vine in my yard. Gasoline, RoundUp, whatever it takes. It has to go.

Maybe I’ll plant something new in its place.

Advertisements

Renewal

A few weeks ago I received a notice that my domain name for this site would be expiring soon and to keep it I needed to update my credit card information.

I didn’t immediately jump to action. I haven’t written much here lately, and wasn’t sure I wanted to continue. The nagging voices of self doubt penetrated my mind, making me wonder if I really had anything of value to say, or if anyone other than the loyal few would even be interested. I write about my life (boring!), and my opinion on current events (minefield!) and topics related to faith and spirituality. On the latter, I often have viewpoints that contradict what those in the mainstream believe, and it’s often a very lonely place. Social media has demonstrated that it’s difficult to have constructive conversation with people with whom you disagree, and I have always wanted this to be a place where people could thoughtfully and safely discuss a variety of issues. My hesitance to provide yet another space on the web for people to sling hurtful words has kept me from writing about a lot of things — and that’s sad. Not because I think my opinions are better or that the world desperately needs to hear my voice (lol), but because no one should be silenced by fear.

The more I considered what to do about that renewal notice, the more I thought about fear and the effect it’s had on my life. Fear (and a touch of ye olde inferiority complex) prevented me from taking chances as a kid. I didn’t play Little League baseball because I was afraid of being laughed at if I wasn’t good at it. I skipped the fourth grade county spelling bee because I was afraid of standing in front of all those people. I didn’t date in high school because my fragile heart was afraid of rejection. I avoided many of the nightlife and social scenes in college, smugly telling myself it was because I wanted to focus on my studies and keep my morality in tact — but really I feared not fitting in, not knowing how to navigate that world. I could have traveled the world, worked at awesome internships, made more friends … but that silly, self-righteous girl I was was terrified of stretching beyond the limits of comfort. Don’t misunderstand — those years brought memories and friendships I deeply cherish, and I wouldn’t trade those for anything. I just wonder what my life would have been like had I challenged myself more — or at all.

I’ve had a lot of catching up to do in the past couple of years. If you’ve read here before or know me in real life, you know that I got divorced two and a half years ago. It probably sounds cliche, but that event has so far been the most defining experience of my life. Through it, I learned what it meant to push beyond the limits (not because I wanted to, but because I had to). I learned that no matter what happens, I’m going to be okay. That whatever challenge is before me, I can overcome it. And that sometimes, the worst things that happen to us can also be the best.

I know these things, and yet still find myself battling against fear, and doubting God’s perfect provision. It’s always been my dream to have a family, and each passing day is a reminder that neither time nor age ever slow down. I worry myself to sleep sometimes wondering if the choices I made in the past have prevented me from having a happy future. Lately I’ve been working really hard to accept that perhaps God has a different plan for me, and to discern what that may be. Don’t let the televangelists fool you — it’s exhausting, confusing, difficult work. I have no idea of the outcome, but I do believe it’s worth the effort.

But the biggest fear that’s kept me from writing? Being labeled a hypocrite. There are people from my past who may — or may not, who knows, I don’t keep track of that stuff — read the words I post here. Some of them have seen me at my absolute worst, and have been on the receiving end of some extremely hurtful words and actions. There were many awful things that happened to me during my marriage and its demise and though I do not acknowledge them as “okay,” I have forgiven them and accepted them as part of my story.

But part of my story is also acknowledging the things I did wrong, too, and believe me, there were plenty. Mostly reactionary and founded upon fear, insecurity and immaturity, but wrong nonetheless. I know my words caused harm. I was scared senseless back in those days, and like a wounded dog lashes out at those even trying to help, many times hurt people … well, they hurt people. I do not wish for present circumstances to change, but if there’s one thing I do wish it’s that I could go back and handle some of those situations differently, and with a head held higher. And I sincerely hope that those I hurt have been able to move on in happiness, have grown through their own self-reflection, and have experienced the freedom that comes from forgiveness — not for my sake, but for their own.

I’ve been afraid to talk about forgiveness. I’ve been afraid to share my thoughts about God and about the ways in which Jesus completely wrecks and saves my life every. single. day. Just a few years ago, none of these things really mattered to me. I kept God at arm’s length because his expectations of me didn’t fit with my plan and frankly, I didn’t see much good in a lot of the people proclaiming his name. Christians got on my nerves (spoiler alert: they still do). This journey into deeper faith has often been a struggle, but at every turn I am reminded that I am not who I once was. My past, my pain, my scars — they are still with me, but they do not define me. I am a new creation.

I don’t think that makes me a hypocrite.

I think that makes me transformed.

Last month, blogger Micah J. Murray wrote a piece that’s been on my mind ever since I read it. I encourage you to check it out for yourself, but I wanted to share a section that I particularly loved. Micah describes a video of a dog on a boat in a river. He writes:

A wave crashed over the front of the boat, and the terrified dog landed in the water — whether he jumped or was swept over, I’m not sure. Probably both. But the moment he splashed to the surface, his human reached into the water, fished him out of danger, and set him back in the front of the boat.

I am that dog. This is my relationship with faith, with church, with Jesus. Every time I am swept overboard, every time I leave the church, every time I lose my faith, God grabs me and puts me back in the boat.

All my fear and flailing and honest searching and hopeless swearing ultimately have very little to do with my staying.

Jesus can’t seem to lose me.

I’ll make more mistakes; you can bet on that. I’ll have more sleepless nights, more questions, more doubts. I’ll probably even hurt more feelings, though I’d really like to avoid that one. People past and present may look at my life and my words and judge what they think doesn’t measure up. That’s okay. Faith is messy and hard, and none of us is perfect.

But I can tell you one thing — I’m in the boat.

And there is zero room left for fear.