Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Thrill of Hope--Jeremiah, Part 1

One April evening in 2017 we reached for your Mama and Daddy’s hands and led them into the stillness of an empty sanctuary. At an altar we prayed for you; we prayed for you to come, prayed for God to create you.

The sanctuary walls bowed and bulged as we prayed, the longing filling up the hollowness—the hollowness of the yearning transformed into a hallowedness, a sacred place of waiting and preparation. Of learning to trust and believe and have faith even when every month indicators reminded your parents that you were not yet. The waiting continued. Longing and hope stretched to half a year, three quarters of a year. A year. We continued to pray. Continued to ask. Ever waiting.
But waiting, honest waiting is never passive. And the wait God instigates is never futile or fruitless. His wait is never a killing of time. No, with God it’s always a filling of time to bring about the fullness of time. At just the right time God sent your Mama and Daddy a son.

One night your mama and her sisters and their mama gathered to eat. We gathered because we needed each other—needed the familiarity and the deep-seeded love that is present in us, even when is obscured or invisible. The currents of that night we erratic—thrumming with something we could not name. We sat down with our tin trays of barbecue and fried pickles and the let’s-get-situated commenced. But I looked up at your Mama’s face and beheld something I had not seen in her before—not fully.

At the moment I could not discern it. I could not put a name on this countenance of her face. This night was a girl’s night, a partial surprise in the middle of a hard month of winter and events—when all is cold and barren and hibernating. I looked up and in walked your Daddy. He’s a big man, but you do not hear his footsteps; he walks easy.

My heart rate bumped up for his presence was an indication of something out of the ordinary. The men in our lives rarely interrupt the gathering of us. He sat down. The expectancy on our faces, palpable. Even now, I can remember time slowing; I did not count the seconds, but instead the moments as we stared at your Mama and Daddy.

Years ago we awaited the advent of Atlas, and I didn’t realize this glorious expansion would happen again and again—this advent of children into our lives. Awaited. Anticipated. Prayed-for-children.

So when the words, the announcement, danced out of your mama that you were coming—we sat and stared. And we started to cry, the cry of joy, of elation, of hope, of breath released.

The restaurant receded to a backdrop; we forgot those around us, unknown people privy to the event beginning in us. Later I wondered if they pondered the unfolding at our table.
Your father’s face—so full of pride and joy. He beamed his low steady light, arms already encompassing your mama already protecting.

I ugly-cried at that table, overwhelmed with this holy gratefulness. My arm lifted, lifted up into the air electric and permeated with something akin to fire. My hand splayed forth, a silent witness to the miracle of you, to the glory of God.

Jeremiah, your name means Jehovah is exalted. And that is exactly what we did when we learned of you.

Much later, one morning Gran and I joined your mama and daddy, and we gazed at a screen, and you appeared. Bigger than life. Your little face, pressed and hidden inside your mama’s frame, was achingly sweet and visibly distinct. We watched your heartbeat (and ours beat faster), all four chambers pumping. The whooshing of your waters grew loud in the room. Your fingers grasped and opened. And you swallowed and turned your head. The grayscale images on the screen held your grandmothers in awe. Her first, my fourth. And yet, we both fell in love, perhaps at the same moment. Suddenly Jeremiah was more than an idea or a stretch in your mama’s rounded belly. And we both wept (you’ll quickly learn we cry a lot).

And again my arm shot into the air—a witness to the reality of Psalm 139. God knit you together in your mama’s womb. You were fearfully and wonderfully made. At that moment I understood that you were called before you were born. Called as a witness that prayers and hopes are answered.
In some way. In some time. In some how.

Your very existence, the coming of you, Jeremiah, increased your Noni’s faith. In you there is this quiet testimony that the God of the Universe does bend down to hear us; he hears the desires of our hearts. And he remembers.

Your arrival in all senses for everyone was labor. Your mama and daddy labored the hardest together, one flesh breathing and working for your emergence into this world. The grandmothers and aunts and uncles labored in the waiting room. We (especially me) labored to be patient, to exercise some self-control of being over-anxious. Each time the door opened every head pivoted to see who emerged. (This seemed like Deja-vu for some of us did the same when your cousins arrived). In the first fifteen hours, we did not recognize the people who came through the door; they were not of our tribe, our village. And we had to sit back down in our minds, return to a place of waiting. I must confess I was impatient, concern for your mama weighed heavy in me. It’s an interesting address to live at as a mother and a grandmother.

But at last, your daddy came to us—his face a subdued version of Moses’.  He lit from within, and everyone crowded him and hammered him with questions and hugs and tears. I know we overwhelmed him, but he handled it as he does most things with grace and ease and an infinite amount of patience. He held the same look as he did in the restaurant when they announced your coming, but now this look was greater, deeper, and it held even more awe.

He led the grandparents back to you. Walked us into the quiet space where your mama held you. And our world expanded. The borders of our hearts pushed back to encompass the enormity of you. These two families bonded before by marriage and friendship were now connected by blood—you.

The convergence of all that we are merged in you, Jeremiah. And when your mama handed you to me, I felt it. I felt the connective threads pull tightly, drawing us into something far greater than ourselves. I looked down into your tiny face—this merging of the grace of God—and saw for a split second the man you would become and how proud I would be. 

For a stretched moment I saw the family tree put forth another shoot. Another witness. Another beautiful child to remind us that there is hope.

Gran and Jeremiah

Noni and Jeremiah

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Out of the Land of Shadows, Part 3

But the Word of God in me opened. His word sustained me. Religious cliché? No, just the simple truth.

I was a year out from the epicenter of the origins of the depression. All this while, I moved through life. Teaching. Working. Churching. Life moved and unfolded continually around me.

Perhaps, you ask what the origins were.

In 2015, a perfect storm collided, intersected in my life.  Two events of extreme elation and devastating loss occurred within two months of the other.

In August, Westbow Press published my first book Growing Room: For Life in Tight Places.  I remember the day my author’s copy arrived in the mail. My husband and I stood in the break room of work, and I cried into his chest, the book clutched between us—my top bucket list wish held between two covers.  In September, my local library held a book signing event for me. I sat at the desk and signed the inside of book covers. A hundred people talked to me, spoke to me, bought my book, and shared with me. My local and hometown newspapers shared my story. Messages poured into my social feed. I was humbled. Undone by the response. Still am.

In October, Steve and I went to Gatlinburg to celebrate—a hand-holding, sharing ice cream, kissing on the streets kind of weekend. After a couple of days in the heart of the town, we went to bed exhausted. In the middle of the night, my phone rang. The perfect storm arrived unannounced and unpredicted. Two fronts collided. My only brother, eighteen years younger than me, had been killed in a car crash.

How do I write from here? I’ve led you into a series, and many will dismiss the subsequent posts because they are heavy and quite frankly, depressing. But this is the geography of depression. And for me, because it was mild to moderate I still functioned.

 I write because I know many struggle as I did. I share because others need to know they are not alone. They are not isolated in their darkness. They are not excommunicated from the community of faith because this entity has a daily appointment.

Many beautiful, faithful, committed Followers of Christ inwardly battle the creeping fog and the pressing dusk. I know; I’ve talked with you. In my living room, through text, through email, through Facebook messages, in cafes, and in the aisles of grocery stores. I’ve heard the laments, the cries, the anger, and the frustration. I’ve heard it vented and whispered.

I know where you are. Where you abide right now. I know.

Many, if not all, have experienced a perfect storm in your life of one kind or another—a collision, and the fallout, the debris, the consequences, and the chaos loom. A clear path or way through to the other side is not visible.   And everything inside you seems to be breaking into splinters and shards, and you’re being cut and wounded by your own brokenness. There’s a slow leak of life-blood, a hidden hemorrhaging. You are plugging the holes of the dam with your own fingers.

And you’re (I, we) are crying, “How long, Lord? How much more can I take? How many more bad things will happen. How many more hard situations will we face? How long will you wait, O God? Where are you?” We whisper these questions inside our souls where no one can hear them. Breathe them quietly so no one can point out that our faith is weak or that we doubt or offer us flat platitudes when we are bailing out the water in our boat in the middle of the whipping storm. 

But, my Friends, there is hope.

A precious friend told me to convey this truth to another friend recently. She said, “Tell her there is hope.”

There is hope. An anchor.

An anchor that will hold in the fiercest and wildest of storms, and we will get to the other side.

Out of the Land of Shadows, Part 4—The Other Side is coming.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Out of the Land of Shadow, Part 2

But the fact that I felt almost nothing during this time alerted me to something being amiss.

Something amiss, yes. But this alarm, this wake-up call, pierced through the dusk settled on me like dust on a long-forgotten corner table.

During the episode of my burnt fingers, awareness spread like light moving across the morning sky, but the light was faint. I recognized this geography, this terrain—I dwelt here once before, and I knew the action I needed to take to return to myself.

I knew my first task. I needed to identify the triggers, the origins. Could I trace them? Could I follow the thread through my labyrinth mind?

I tried.

My fingers healed long before my soul did, but my index and middle fingers remained tender, sensitive to heat and cold. And a numbness stayed in the center of my fingers’ first digits.  One numb circle persisted as the rest of the flesh quickened.

During the late winter and early spring of 2016, my husband and I planned a bucket list trip. For twenty years or more I planned this itinerary in my head. My husband tells a story of one afternoon when we gathered around my computer and scrolled through images of Ireland. I rattled on and on about the places I wanted to visit: to set my feet down on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher, to enter into the long path way of Newgrange, and to climb the stairs of Skellig Michael. Later, after we married, my husband shared with me that as he watched me in this virtual tour, he kept saying in his head, “Then let’s go. Let’s just get married now and go.” Little did I know, right?

But as we prepared for Ireland, a battle waged in me; the depression, the dusk, created a reluctance in me to go on this once-in-a-lifetime sojourn. I waffled. But I knew I needed to push through the hesitancy. We planned and planned and planned some more. Sadly, I struggled with my lack of desire and enthusiasm. I found or created every excuse I possibly could to cancel and not go. But my husband, the steady anchor, would not allow me to cancel. He deflated every problem I presented.

We came home with memories, three thousand photographs, and treasures.

With our return, more of the darkness lifted and thinned, but I remained weak, fatigued, and weary. Jesus’ words, “Come to me all you who are weary, and I will give you rest,” applied now directly to me. The toll I paid depression was in emotional and spiritual exhaustion. Some people might call it burn-out, but I am not sure this is an accurate description. The flame still burned though faint and low. I was tired.

My Father knew I was tired. The good good Father knew what I needed. He knows his children.

For thirty-plus years, the Father had been hiding his word in my heart. His Spirit planted holy words deep in the soil of me, and those seeds, long-dormant, sprang to life. Pieces of Scripture long forgotten returned to my memory and leafed out in me. I grasped his words, and the stalks of them became my lifeline. Please understand this: my Bible remained closed most of the time. The books that littered every available surface of my home went unread.

But the Word of God in me opened. His word sustained me. Religious cliché? No, just the simple truth.

Please come back for Part 3.