Thursday, June 25, 2015

Of Mice and Mold

C.S. Lewis told me that I'm a mere player on the stage -that the REAL me exists outside of the stage -in the darkened wings and the unseen balconies, and that I can't tap into The Real Me until my part is finished, until I've washed off the stage make-up and hung up the costume... in short: until I die.

This makes absolute sense to me because I feel The Real Me at certain sacred times in my life, and each time I do, I find a sense of home that feels even more HOME than the four walls that house me right now. 
Writing does it to me -leaves me with a sense of other-worldliness that feels more like visiting a departed twin I've never met rather than an alien encounter.
Certain songs will transport me to my "other" home, remind me that I'm still playing my part on stage and that there's a wide world waiting in the wings and beyond.
But surely, PRAYER is my biggest, fattest surest freest ticket to my Homeland, to Father and Mother.

Prayer has been my golden ticket in these last years.  I always pick up a ONE WAY ticket, fully intending to never leave God's presence, but something always, always pulls me back to the bright draw of the stage lights.
God knows how I can't let go of that stage.  Even when we're together, it seems like all I can talk about is The Play.  I'm consumed with it.
He knows all about The Play.
He wrote it.  He produces it.  He is the audience, the crew, the set designer.  Alpha and Omega!

I ask Him questions, and sometimes He replies.  Sometimes He raises His eyebrow and sometimes He just smiles while I work out answers for myself.

I'm doing a scene right now titled, "Of Mice and Mold."It's really pretty grotesque.

It hold the familiar old plot line of health issues, one that I can't seem to shake.  Maybe my character plays the part well?  I don't know.  This is something I ask Father when I happen to buy a well-intentioned "one way" ticket. 

The set looks something like a blue-collar rental, adorned with antiques and dirty clothes.  There's a baby painting her own fingernails, a young boy and girl arguing over who called whose imaginary friend stupid, and Me.  Me is wearing my LEAST favorite costume: work clothes.  I'm curled up in the comfiest chair.
There's a television show on in the background, a nearly empty milk carton in the fridge and leftovers on the counter that have grown some fascinating mounds of mold.
And as I sit with a heating pad on my side, hoping to quell the pain roaring from under my right rib and calm the nausea that comes in dreaded waves, a mouse scurries around the edge of the stage.

I want to care, but I'm too tired.  I'm SO tired.

I find that in previous acts, I've had to let go of expectations in my marriage.  I've had to leave my 50th anniversary bash and dreams of grey-haired front porch hand-holding in the hands of The Playwright.
THAT was hard.
I yelled into the blackness of the audience at that point.
"You expect me to go along with this?" My hair curled, my body toned and able, my make-up as pristine as was in my power to procure.
It was my DIVA moment, The Diva Scene.

Of Mice and Mold is unfolding in what feels like YEARS away from The Diva Scene.  I'm not sassy and stamping my feet.  At this point, I'm looked less plucky and more sucky, defeated and tired.

"It's been 5 years," I whisper to the footlights because I know The Director well enough by now to know that HE WILL HEAR ME even if I don't yell, even if I don't stamp, even if I don't speak at all, "and still.  I am being asked to give more of my future.  I am being asked to give all.  I don't know if I can."

Can I surrender my ENTIRE future to God?  Can I trust Him with my health and my kids and my bank account?
With the mice?
I haven't even mentioned the mold!

These are the questions I put at His feet on my Prayer Train visits.
His answers are always so pure and delicious. 
"Stop worrying about The Play, Alicia," He closes His eyes to match my closed eyes, "And let Me."
His calming words make the mice and mold feel like distant pebbles in my shoes -the kind I kick out in an instant. I remember that The Play is a blip on the radar.  It's so easy to forget, so easy to get wrapped up in my lines, the set, the banter.

At that moment, the Real Alicia and The Real Father touch souls so intimately and deeply that I can't imagine ever opening my eyes and breaking our connection.  In that moment, God knows my deepest longings to live a life filled with Mother Teresa's charity, C.S. Lewis' wisdom, and Erma Bombeck's humor.  He knows my shame, my strength, my fears and my hopes.  It is the most vulnerable love I know. I am completely exposed, yet all around me is insurmountable support.

It is Heaven on Earth.
And I CLING to it right up until the mouse scurries across from stage right, and then my eyes fly open.  I'm back.

The Plot floods my mind: get the nail polish away from the baby, keep the chocolate from the dog. Put the fighting children outside, and don't forget to eat even if everything makes me sick.  Do I have any bleach?  Can I make it to the store?  Does anyone have any clean clothes?

My serenity is threatened constantly on stage -maintained only by the heavenly hangover that comes when I access my Real Me, my True Home.
I remember today is just today, and my only job is to be as present as I can be in it for God has a new act around every corner.
The great tragedies only come when I spend my time trying to predict and manage the upcoming acts -to grieve over my mistakes in the acts I left behind.  I try to balance every scene all at once instead of simply playing the one at hand and leaving the managing and writing to God.

Tonight, I touched The Real Me.
This makes the impending tomorrow easier. Though the mold will grow and the mice will somehow find their way from the barn to my home and the pain in my body will insist on playing it's own shadowy part... I remember the Play is just The Play.

And God, who is within and without, knows me very, very well.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Five Years

The other night, I was reading back to 2010 on my family blog. I was only interested in fun old pictures and stories about my kids, but I was reminded of something else:

In December of 2010, I hit my rock bottom. It's been almost five years!

It was shocking to see the differences between Alicia v.2010 and Alicia v.2015.
Physically, I ache for what's happened. In five years, I've aged fifteen years. The stress has taken so much out of me. There's worry lines where there used to be supple skin. My eyes look old, showing the wear and tear recovery takes. I ached for the younger version of me. Only five years ago, I looked so fresh. Today I sit with inflammation and ulcers, I've had my gall bladder and tonsils removed due to inflammation. My hair has thinned considerably and I have gained ten stress pounds from trauma alone.
This is hard for me to sit with.

As I read the words I wrote, I could see a stark change internally as well. My worries and concerns were surface. I worried endlessly about things that were outside of my realm of control. I didn't know myself at all.

As I read the words I wrote, I remembered how I felt when I wrote them. I remembered my insatiable appetite for external validation, for approval from others.
I had a much larger blog following in those years. People wanted to read about my shiny life, about my funny kids and the nice things Danny did during the honeymoon phase of his addiction cycle.
I blogged almost daily.

Today my number of readers has decreased. I blog when I can, when I feel I should either for journaling purposes or because I feel I absolutely MUST... As if God has something He'd like for me to get out of my soul and onto cyber paper.
I do this without thought of disapproval whereas before I sought strictly for approval. This means I've upset people, made them unhappy with what I've chosen to write about on my blog.
So that's progress.

I've traded shiny for tarnish.
I'm okay with that.

I used to believe that really living meant people knowing who I was, admiring me for what I had to offer.
Now I feel that really living means moving to a small house off the beaten path and admiring what God has to offer.

James Allen has said that Christ's tomb isn't something found on foreign soil... It's a deeply personal metaphor existing within. As we roll away the stone of selfishness from our souls, Christ himself is awoken within. His light and light come forth from inside of us. His resurrection has never been a single event. It is a commonplace miracle brought forth usually through excruciating life events: death, betrayal, grief, loss, trauma...
These events offer us a ticket to Christ's resurrection, a chance to REALLY begin to live.

Does this means my worry lines will disappear? That my ulcers will never again send me to my sickbed?
It does mean, though, that I'm finally living. It does mean that I'm seeking Christ instead of Self. I'm not doing it perfectly, but there's a sort of beauty in that fact as well.

"Suppose a person who knew nothing about salt. You give him a pinch to taste and he experiences a particular strong taste.  You then tell him that people in your country use salt in all their cookery. Might he not reply. 'In that case, I suppose all your dishes taste exactly the same: because the taste of that stuff you have just given me is so strong that it will kill the taste of everything else.' But you and I know that the real effect of salt is exactly the opposite. So far from killing the taste of the egg and the tripe and the cabbage, it actually brings it out...
It is something like that with Christ and us. The more we get what we now call 'ourselves' out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. There is so much of Him that millions and millions of "little Christ's", all different, will still be too few to express Him fully. He made them all. He invented -as an author invents characters in a novel -all the different men that you and I were intended to be. In that sense our real selves are all waiting for us in Him. It is no good trying to 'be ourselves' without Him... It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personaity, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own. ...
But there must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away "blindly" so to speak. Christ will indeed give you a real personality: but you must not go to Him for the sake of that. As long as your own personality is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all. The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. The real, new self (which is Christ's and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him."
~CS Lewis 

Beautiful words.
And so my real, new self emerges... Physically beaten but emotionally and spiritually enlightened. Awareness abounds in my brand new soul and my aging, aching joints alike.

One day at a time I will surrender to God and find myself. And those days will stack themselves neatly into years, and those years will be looked back upon as lived fully: joyfully, painfully... But fully.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Third Person

Inside of my marriage there is a personage, and that personage IS the marriage.

When I was first married, I was smitten with it.  I'd spent months in preparation -reading magazines (because there was no Pinterest in '04) and dreaming up JUST WHAT KIND OF MARRIAGE I WOULD HAVE.  My wedding seemed so far away and so close, my emotions climbed all sorts of scales I didn't know existed.  Suddenly everyone around me looked married or engaged and all the world existed ONLY for that purpose.
Those early days were bliss and laughter, movies and sleeping in.
But the older the marriage got, I started noticing a few things that were off.  I wondered if other marriages were off too, if maybe my marriage was actually completely normal.
I sometimes fantasized about asking other newlyweds about the hidden, intimate parts of their marriage, just so I could know if my marriage was okay.  I WANTED to believe it was okay... but I had nothing to compare it to.
I read books about marriage.  I held my marriage up to the marital situations in the books and wondered if my marriage needed more books?  or less books?
Surely not counseling.  Because only REALLY SICK MARRIAGES need counseling.  And ours -though maybe MAYBE off a little LITTLE -was most definitely not grouped into the "really sick" category.  In that, I was certain.  Stiffed, starched collar certain.

The years paced on, and as they did I found out that our marriage was most definitely off.  I found I had no voice, or maybe I did and was petrified to use it?  The capable young woman I once was became replaced with a fear-ridden woman who asked for permission about most everything.
I watched other marriages around me and realized that the women had these incredible voices that they used to spend money on household things without asking permission and their husbands were okay with it -proud of them, even!  I watched them buy clothes for their family and make decisions like it was the most natural thing in the world.

Watching it all go down around me, I realized -YES -the problem was ME.  I needed to make decisions more and better!  I needed to be more and better!  I bought MORE BOOKS!

And when the books failed me and when my advice-sources failed me (I'm looking at you, Google), I grabbed my marriage and I took it to the hospital.  I put it in bed. I cared for it carefully, worried about it by night.
When I'd ask my husband if he were interested in coming to the hospital with me, he insisted that our marriage didn't need THAT kind of help.  So I'd watch him from the window of the hospital room.
No one knew how sick the marriage was.
I had a few healthy friends who I allowed in the hospital room.  In a hushed voice, I'd tell them the truth.  I'd tell them honestly about my marriage.
My therapist assured me that I was in the right place.  I was definitely in the right place.
My sponsor assured me that I was in the right place.
But it felt REALLY wrong without Danny.

What a watch-keep I kept, ever lonely, ever longing.  I couldn't listen to music without wanting to break something.  I felt beauty and beautiful things were made for happier, healthier people and white, sterilized life was all I deserved.
I existed in that life for my marriage.  It didn't respond to treatment.  If anything, it only became worse.
I held out hope, as I'd always been taught.
Those who were allowed into my room said the same thing, "It's going to get worse before it gets better.  I'm so sorry."
I felt deflated but strappingly hopeful.  I was capable of hard things.  I grit my teeth.  I oiled my knuckles.

But just as my external environment had let me down, so did my own capabilities.  My books let me down easy.  It was easy to blame them and hate them for not giving desired results.  But when I couldn't give me desired results?  THAT IS PAIN.
I left the hospital and went to the prettiest place I know of: the graveyard.  I sat on a bench that somehow landed in view of BOTH my great-grandmothers' graves and I cried.

I didn't walk back into the hospital room with my marriage.  I couldn't.  The entire room reeked of stale hope, fool-hearty aspirations.

I simply went to my husband and told him, "I'm done." It wasn't within me to sit with a dying patient anymore.  I had taken all I could.
To my utter and complete surprise, he panicked, turned and RAN to the hospital.  I was at an utter loss -I had assumed he wasn't invested in the marriage.  But he took my place.  He breathed in the stale hope while I built an ice castle on the side of a hill and uncovered my super powers... and let them go.

I took my wedding ring off. I meditated.  I wrote.  I ate a lot of stuff I shouldn't have.  I cried.  I prayed.  I burned.  I redecorated.  I laughed.  I talked a lot.  I made new friends.  I connected with old friends.  I ordered a ukulele. 

My husband would visit sometimes.  He kept me updated on the marriage, though I had lost interest.  At times, a spark of hope would bounce around in my chest cavity just long enough for me to detect and wreck it.
No hope.
Hope is not safe.
"Walls," I would tell my chest cavity as I set plaster in the hole the spark left, "Walls are safe."

Still.  Every visit from my husband brought more sparks, and my plaster supply ran lower all the time.
Still.  Hope proved to be a strong-willed invisible creature with the power to overwhelm cynicism.  It was -as it's sparks so easily proved -downright fiery.

In my castle on the hill, I found Jesus.  At first, Jesus was all mush and cush -total and complete and unconditional love.  But I noticed He came with a few rules that weren't totally mush.  And as I read about Him and walked with Him, I realized that Jesus is a little scary because He is assertive about my salvation and I have NO IDEA how to handle assertive people.  They scare me.  And Jesus was very scary.
I found hope to be exactly like Jesus -because really?  Hope and Jesus are one in the same.
And they are -in a word -fierce.

Jesus walked with me as I left the ice castle.  He walked with me down the hill.  He walked with me into the hospital room.

I was glad He was there.  I needed Him for the shock.
I mean, my marriage WAS THERE.  But it looked all... different.
I decided to stick around and discover what the different meant, but I resolved that if the patient were different than so ought the room to be.
Windows were flung open, color was added to every white wall.  I opened the door and banned any hushed voicing.

And that's where I am right now.
In that room, trying to reacquaint myself with my marriage.

Some people stop by to visit who don't understand how sick the marriage is or what it's been through and they have all the answers.
"Don't torture yourself," they say, "take it off life support or take it home but STOP torturing yourself."
Those people don't get to come back and visit.
"I've been in this room," some guests will say, "Just remember who you are.  Be as gentle to yourself as you are true."  Those people get VIP treatment.
Jesus comes every time I ask Him to.
He is still fierce and loving, still the most masculine man I've ever met -still the most fascinating.  Still my favorite guest.
Some professionals come.  Some neighbors come.  The kids come, the eldest aware of the sick patient.  The middle child aware of the snacks on the table.  The toddler a bundle of bliss and energy to every guest she touches -including the patient.
Some well-meaning guest try to shuffle visitors past our door, telling them it's none of their business, it's a "behind closed doors" situation... they take our pain personally and try -in a way they view as compassionate and a way I understand well because I've been there -to control what they can.
I have to ask them to leave. I point to #5 on the board where I've written the rules.

1) Be honest
2) Be loving
3) Be true
4) Hug
5) No hushed voices

My patient is healing.
Because I am healing.
Because Danny is healing.
But not before.

It really IS The Third Person, saddled with hopes, dreams and love.  I mourn for it, as I have departed friends.  I sacrifice for it.  I pray for it, fast for it, invest in it, cry myself to sleep over it.

It is as real to me.  It is almost tangible.

Even Jesus died for it as He did for me, as He did for Danny.
And if I hold Christ close WHILE Danny holds Christ close, there is hope for the marriage.

And just as a mother sits over the bed of her sick child, just as a husband refuses to leave the room of his comatose wife, SO WILL WE STAY.
Because hope.
With our hands enfolded in Christ's, hope springs forth -lighting the entire room aflame.

Take THAT off life support?  You must be mad.
This refining fire is MINE.
With Christ, I will stride forward each day -one day at a time -and I will stay the course, knowing that Christ will never fail me.

Never, no never.
Should Danny choose to let go, I know Christ never shall.

Corrie Ten Boom says, "I have learned to hold all things loosely, so God will not have to pry them out of my hand."

So I endevour daily to hand my will, my husband and my marriage to Christ. They are safer there.

I am safer there too.
The flames of Christ's hope encircle me, and I am secure.