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.

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