Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I'm cutting through the dark night on a highway I've traveled down hundreds of times before. It's a way I know by heart, or so I think. A phone call from an old friend, distractions from the back seat, and I'm cruising through the memories of times gone by without even looking at the signs, lost in my thoughts and the music. I start to point something out to my son, a story from the past, and I realize this is not the town I thought it was, and suddenly nothing looks familiar. Suddenly I am seeing the signs, incongruous signs for Lake Somerville and Caldwell. This is not the highway I know, and with a rush of clarity, I remember the right turn I was supposed to make God only knows how many miles ago. I call the friend whose house I am on the way to for her to talk me through which turn to take out of this town. Ironically, two GPS receivers sit idly next to me on the passenger seat (they only work if you turn them on, see....).
So I make a turn, and now I'm on another highway, the unexpected highway, the highway that used to take me to San Marcos, and the horse of my heart, but now I am hoping is taking me back to the highway I was supposed to be on this whole time. I'm not really sure where I am anymore, but somehow I'm okay with it all, because I'm tuned into classical music and the concentration of calm. It's all about the journey, and I am just trying to enjoy it without worrying about where it's going to end up.
Except that my friend is expecting me, and I make the night more of a comedy of errors when I try to make it her house from memory and not off the directions. At any rate, I'm an hour behind anticipated arrival when I finally pull up at her house.

She welcomes me in with a smile anyways, and after some discomfort trying to to get the children off to bed, I join her and her husband at the kitchen table. Everything in their house flows in neat, orderly lines. Abstract art hangs from boldly painted walls, staring down at bantam futon furniture. Classical music flows from unseen speakers, settling us into "serenity now".
I sit across from D., who is stirring a cup of tea, and her husband G., who is sketching with charcoal over an etched drawing, lines moving every which way but somehow connecting to a coherent whole. I begin our catching-up conversation with an explanation, a redirection of parenting skill attempts based on the premise that I have to become more self reliant, learn to be mother and father both, because the father is not coming back, or at least not in the ways that it was before.

Each explanation begs another explanation, and we go back further and further, to explain the demise of this relationship that wasn't meant to be. I pose questions, questions directed to G., questions as if I am questioning myself, but I'm not, really, It's almost like I want him to agree with me on this thing, which is "the thing that is not love", showing them the scars as if I need to prove my pain to them. They get it. I ask G what it would be like if he was across the world from his wife, and he looks at her like it pains him to even think of it. "And if you were, would you want to write to her? To talk to her? Would you miss her?" Of course, of course, but it would never come to that. D has her hand on his leg, and he looks up from his sketches to meet my eyes, and then look at hers as he gives his answers. She listens to him with half a face turned towards him, smiling softly. I draw on my own experiences, asking him if he would make the same choices as this man did, and yet knowing the answer was no, before I even asked.
So then we're done talking about 'what is not", now we move on to talking about "what is". I've had enough of the darkness, and I move on to the light. I tell them about hope, and about yearning, and I ask them if they ever felt like that, do they understand what that is. I ask them questions about how these things start out. It seems like it's been so long for me, or maybe that I've never felt like this before. I explain what I am feeling now, and ask them if they ever felt this way. G looks up at me and meets my eyes, and they both kind of smile and start to tell me the story of their beginning, a story I have never heard the whole of. She starts to talk about a note he left on her car, about six months of letters back and forth, of a picture of him she could look at and hold in her hands.
"This was in the old days," G. teased, "before Facebook profile pics. Back when we had like real pictures, you know. Remember those things?"
So I ask them questions about how these things start out. It seems like it's been so long for me, or maybe that I've never felt like this before. They identify with what I am explaining, nodding and giving each other knowing looks. Then G explains it better, the beginning of knowing.
"At first, you discover each other's intrinsic qualities, those little things you have in common. And those things begin to take on a life of their own. Then there's the inside jokes, which also begin to take on a life of their own. They build on each other, until you've got this whole...thing going on that's bigger than all of that." He gestures, a hand flowing up into the air. I get it, and I also see from them, from the way they are together, what that looks like as it grows.
Then it's late, and we retire. In the morning, D and I talk as she prepares her day's lunch in the kitchen. She tells me about a radio program that morning talking about a book that reminded her of our conversation last night, and about how sometimes the things that happen to us that are sad, or bad, are really there to help us appreciate the good, and the light, that much more. It's something I have heard a few times, a few different ways, over the past couple of months.
In the end, she gives me some direction on how to get to what I need to get this morning, a map of sorts, outlining some stops along the way. She leaves for work, and I begin preparing to leave. As I went to get the children ready, I saw a picture from their wedding. It was the most beautiful scene I had ever seen. They were standing by a window that looked out on a rainforest, somewhere exotic, like perhaps Madagascar, and it was just the two of them and the minister. She was so beautiful, and they looked at each other with adoration. It made me smile, remembering her as the Prom Queen, and G teasing us about our alleged dorkiness.
I drive off to the next stage of my journey, thinking, thinking about pictures and maps and directions, and how sometimes we have to take the wrong way before we see the signs that are pointing us in the right direction, to the road of light and better days ahead.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Every Sunday, it's the same struggle. Two kids who don't want to go to church are scrubbed, dressed, and sent out to the car, always at the last minute. No matter what time I get started, we always seem to be leaving right when we are supposed to get there. Realistically, we are always about ten minutes late - the amount of time it would take me to get the youngest situated in some kind of other activity besides sitting next to me in service, struggling to sit still and be quiet. So there we are, and there we struggle.
Every Sunday, it's the same thing. It's the struggle with him to keep his mouth from running, a million little disturbances, the occasional dirty looks from people around us. Luckily, I think, we have choices between two services, and this one I always choose, because it's not nearly as quiet of a service as the other one, not nearly as serious, so not nearly as high of a penalty. If I had my choice between the two, I would choose the other - the other service going on next door is more mentally engaging, whereas this one, the contemporary service, is more emotionally based. There is always something about it, though, that makes me feel God at a heart level, instead of a head level, and this week, it was no exception.
There is live music, and colors swirling, and darkness inside the heart of the church, and pictures projected on to twin screens on either side of the stage, the words to the songs running over them. This week, it started with a picture of light streaming through the open canopy of a forest, a place where God exists to me. I was feeling it, not thinking it. A woman onstage was talking about her decision on a particular song we were to sing, talking about how her life was so full of all these distractions, and finally, when she came to ask God to reveal to her what music she should chose, and sought his counsel on the other issues, the answer was that He had been waiting for her this whole time, just waiting for her to start leaning on him already. And with this revelation, she chose Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) , a modern twist on an old hymn. I always loved this song, but this day, I was being moved by the words.
Clips from a movie about the Last Supper rolled across the twin screens as this week's Scripture was played from a recording that reverberated throughout the sanctuary. The minister began his sermon, a time that is usually the most challenging with the children, mostly the youngest one. Today, it was the usual struggle again, the constant whispering between us, his requests for toys or potty breaks, my admonishments, attempts to engage him in coloring, the questioning myself on if other well-intended people are right, if he is too young for this and I should just make sure he is in the nursery during this, or in the little church choir upstairs, but always the guilt of pushing him into something away from me when all week I spent away from him at work, the desire to show him how I live my faith, how I want it to be for him, the expectations I have versus the reality of taking a three year old to church services that he can't understand. The difference this time, though, was how I felt about it. My heart was so much lighter than it has been in the past, dealing with this same problem, and I say a silent prayer to God, thanking him for bringing that light back into my life, for chasing the darkness away.
I am only catching snatches of the sermon, which is exasperating me, because I really want to absorb it today, and some of what Brian is saying is speaking to me. In fact, he is kind of talking about some of what I've been thinking about, about the struggle, and how we are to deal with it, questioning if we allowed ourselves to be defined by the struggle, or transcend it. "Some of us here are dealing with pain, dealing with past abusive relationships, dealing with dark times, and what God wants is for us to not be defined by that, but defined by this instead", and he gestures to the breaking of bread and the spilling of wine, of the sacrifice of the Lamb. He is talking about Passover, and the marking of the doors with sheep's blood, and the gift of people's presence in our lives, and my mind is rolling.
Then we break for communion, and all these thoughts spill out when I dip the bread into the wine, and take my place on my knees to pray after. I lift my heart up to God, and I am thanking him for the light he has placed in my life, for leading me out of the desert, for transforming my heart the past months, for all the gifts He has brought to me, for His presence most of all. I am weeping with gratitude for this God, who saved/ a wretch like me.
And wretch I was, so darn miserable and aching inside before. I think about that today, think about how on other Sundays just like this, I would go home from church crying, and spend the day trying to lift myself out of this depression. Some of that darkness was from the struggle of trying to manage these two heathen children on my own, but my attitude is different now. I used to wish someone was there to help me, to reach out for someone to lean on, but I've gotten past that, on to the realization that I have to do it myself. Sometimes I feel like no one's really there for me, but all that begats self reliance. I have to do it on my own, because it's not fair to ask anyone else to help carry this load, and that's part of my transformation. Sometimes getting what you need is to stop needing it, and learn how to do without. That's what we've been doing, with the eventual goal of being more complete without, to be more complete for.
Anyway, this day I walk outside of the service with these thoughts, and also the other thought that today was different, because the main thing that keeps me coming back to this place is the connections I have to it - my friends - but today I saw none of those connections. Right as I was thinking that, though, I saw one, and he is just who I wanted to see, after all.
Of all the people I have met through this church, Rich is the one I value the most. His name seems to suit him, in spiritual terms. In fact, he's the one who got me to start coming here in the first place, and after I got to know him, I saw why. Rich is a "fisher of men", a sheperd drawing in the lost sheep. He fired me up with the same enthusiasm, and we used to feed off each other, watching the flock from the back pew, seeing who was new, then almost pushing each other to go round them up, inroduce ourselves, invite them to our small group, which eventually got so big it splintered into many other small groups. Now, Rich and I aren't in the same small group anymore, and so we pass each other in the halls, and even in his house, since my kids are there every Thursday night, but we rarely have a chance to sit down and talk.
Today, as luck would have it, the person sitting by him had just left, and I claimed the spot. He was all worn out from giving blood, and as we sat, people kept stopping to talk to him, to thank him for giving his blood, as if he was part of Christ himself. I joked with him about the state of his heart, had it been drained dry, but knowing Rich, it never would be. As I joked, he caught my eye, noting the tears. Nothing much passes by Rich, and I knew I didn't have to tell him anything, but I wanted to. I told him some of what has been in my heart lately, about the transformation of spirit, of God's presence working in my life, about my struggles.
"It sounds like you've been beating yourself up pretty good, " he said, when I lamented about God "smoting my eye", about my failure to get myself out of a bad situation, about how it was finally time to see the signs in front of me. "I'm going to tell you something...for later. This might not help you right now, but I want you to think about it." He told me about the ghosts of exgirlfriends past, and how even though some of those experiences were bad and painful, in the end, he didn't regret any of it, because it got him to where he was today. He gestured to my kids, the older one who was practicing Tae Kwon Do poses in the hallway, the younger one who flashed us a brilliant smile. "And you got these two out of it, which is something you will never regret."
We talked some more. I told him I felt like everyone was judging me for these struggles I had with the youngest, how I felt eyes on me all the time. "If anyone IS watching you," he said, "It's with sympathy, not judgement. They probably remember what it is like to have small children, and have sympathy, or perhaps are thanking God they aren't there anymore." He gave me some real practical advice on my struggles with the heathens in church, a solution no one had ever suggested, but made perfect sense. "Man, I have missed you," he said. "You always had something deep to say, some intelligent remark, some profound statement to make. I'm sad that we aren't in the same group anymore."
Today, though, I thought it was him that was the profound one, the one who cut down to the heart of the pressing questions, and gave me the gift of clarity, and made me feel like the woe and strife of my past life did have a purpose, something I kind of knew but I guess needed to hear again. His idea for next Sunday, too, gave me hope.
Sometimes things do turn around. Maybe God was just waiting for me to be ready, for me to come and lean on him a little, and all those things I wanted, he just laid them at my feet, like a reward for the well-intended.

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the hope and the love are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought,
So the darkness shall be the light and the stillness the dancing.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Crisp Saturday morning. I'm standing with some friends, half stretching and half talking. Thousands mill around us, various versions of running apparel. It makes me think of my father, who picked me up this morning all snub-nosed with "You're gonna run in that?"
My father is always tied to my memories of running: feelings of adoration as we watched him from the streetside during marathons, running along next to him during my junior high years, or him on a bike next to me, coaching me as I ran. Memories of riding my bike alongside him, as he went on long runs, admiring the musculature of his thighs, thick and crab-like. My father was a strong man, and took physical fitness seriously. He was there at my first race, a mile in length, when I was maybe twelve. He was there at the end of my first cross country race when I was thirteen. For a long time I remembered my dad as being somewhere in the shadows, but this was the place he was at, the place of races.
Today it's race day, and I am not really sure I prepared well for this. I had the one decent run with C at the neighborhood track, but I was relying on my time with Britney to get me through. I wasn't even really thinking about it this morning, though, as I was having a heart to heart with a girl pal. We found our place where we thought we might be, time wise. I remembered to stretch my calves, always the tightness that would slow me down in a race. We heard the jubilant sounds of the first race kicking off. Then the line moved up. We moved up.
"We're going now," she says to me, as both of us are getting our Ipods on. I thought about the last time I did this race, with my sister. I didn't have any music that time, just our conversation. This would be good, I thought.
I had no idea, though, how that was gonna work out for me. If I had known, I would have lined myself up in a different spot. For very quickly, as we got into it, I turned to my friend. "This is the wrong tempo," I said. "Do you mind if I go?"
"Go on," she waved me on. And I took off, at the intensity I was dancing at those late nights in my living room.
The problem was, I couldn't go as fast as I wanted. There were too many people around. People all around me, moving next to me, people streetside. Too many people all up in my business. This was an obstacle I had to get around. I began a little game of thread-the-needle. The focus became finding the opening, finding the time to slip between bodies in motion.
I started to worry a little about what the people streetside were seeing. I don't know why that was even bothering me. It reminded me of my self consciousness dancing in my living room, a silly idea to even worry about what you looked like when you were alone. So I decided to deal with it the way I dealt with it then. Block it out. Put your blinders on. Come in deeper. Get inside my mind.
So I went in there, to this place inside where it was just my mind, and the music. In my mind, I always decided to be the star. I just decided to run with it. The problem is, I still couldn't run fast enough. I could only go as fast as opportunity presented itself. There were a whole lot of people in my way, too many people, too many obstacles. Gimme more, gimme more...I was ready to go.
I thought about how different this was from last time I did this race, remembered points along the route where my sister had been wanking out, wanting to walk. Finally, at one point, she broke. If I keep it up, I'm gonna be sick, she moaned. "I got to GO!" Go on, she waved at me, head down, defeated. I was stronger than that. This day, I thought about that race and wished I hadn't have stayed with her the whole time before that moment. I was stronger than that, so I should have just rolled with it.
Right after I passed the memory of this, I caught up with S, my best girl pal at work. There was hilarious girl drama this week about this race between her and our doc, who was also doing the race. S had left her a long time ago. I was full of it when I came up beside her, bumping her hip and messing around with her. "Let's go, girl!" I urged. She gave me an annoyed look, huffing with exertion. She was pushing it already. I tried keeping at her speed for a while, seeing if I could push the right buttons in her to make it a race already. We grabbed some water, walked a minute, tried to decided whether this was going to work out for us. I was willing to give her a chance, provided she could keep up.
The problem now was that we were coming up near the finish. I always got excited at the finish. We're not pacing it, we're racing it, I thought, as I neared the final turns. S wasn't feeling it, but I decided I didn't care. I had let too many others set the pace, this time I was gonna fly at my own speed and not feel a bit bad about it. I was tired of being held back.
And so I let it fly, and I didn't give a damn what anyone thought, not the people I was leaving behind, not the ones who were in my way, not the ones standing with cameras at the finish or those who were at the sidelines with bells and whistles. In the end, it was just me, racing to the finish line.

And my dad was there at the end, waiting to take me home.