The Great Do Over

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One of the best rules of childhood is the Rule of Do Over. No matter what game we were playing or what crazy competition we had going on, when things didn’t go down quite the way we’d planned, the Do Over could be invoked by anyone at anytime.

Sometimes it was immediate.
“No fair, my shoe came untied! Do Over! Everybody back to the big tree. We’ll race again. Ready. Set. GO!”

Other times it was delayed.
“Chris just rode her bike into a telephone pole. Do Over next weekend!”

True story, having just learned to ride a bicycle, I came flying down the hill on my bike in a practice run for a race against the neighborhood boys, lost control and slammed face first into a telephone pole. I knocked out two teeth, and scraped myself up really good. So the bike race ended up delayed until the following weekend and I rode my little heart out despite the bruises, bandaids, and missing teeth.

Somewhere along the line though, we all grow up. The rule of the Do Over is cast aside and everything we do is FOREVER and EVER. God help you if you screw up the FOREVER stuff because at that point, you’ve royally screwed up your life beyond all hope of redemption.

Or have you?

I used to think so. The string of mistakes that started at 19 snowballed out of control until, at 34, after living with the fallout from those mistakes, I finally slammed on the brakes and took my life back. Sounds great doesn’t it? Yeah, well, it wasn’t. Not then anyway.

I stood there with all the busted up pieces of my hopes, my dreams, the what-might-have-beens, the what-I-wanteds, and all those jagged pieces were tangled up in pain, hurt, fear, confusion, and disappointment. The people around me were full of ideas of what I could or should do next. And me? I couldn’t move without some broken shard or another cutting even more deeply and by that point, I had had quite enough of being hurt. The oft-repeated question from my therapist was, “But what do you want?” I had no answer. All I could do was make it abundantly clear that I would not make a move until I was damn good and ready. What direction that move might take was too far ahead to even think about. All I wanted was to get through any given day without feeling like I was going to come apart at the seams.

That was seven years ago and while on the outside, things may look very much the same – same job, same car, same living situation, – on the inside, everything has changed.

Deacon Ron’s favorite question for me from the very beginning has always been: “So what are you and God up to?” If you’ve been reading my posts for any length of time, you know what a wild ride that has been. My relationship with God has been stormy for years. Patience is not my virtue. Trust, more precisely – the lack thereof, is my biggest issue. God has the distinct advantage of having time – as in all of the time or better yet, being beyond all time. Thusly, He’s perfectly content to wait out my little temper tantrums. Little by little, as I’ve stopped – okay maybe not stopped – allow me to rephrase – as I’ve cut down on yelling at Him and started listening to Him, a path forward has been presented, one I had caught a glimpse of at 19.

And my response is quite simple: “Are You freaking crazy?!”

But it kept coming up so I finally said, “Okay. But if You really want me to pursue this, I have a lot of things in my in my way:
The RA
My age
The fear
The time away from the kids
Did I mention the fear?
If You want me to do this, You’re going to have to take care of this stuff because I can’t. It’s all beyond my control.”

Well apparently God wants me to do this because instead of seeing this as a list of obstacles, He’s treated it like a Honey Do list and just started crossing things off one by one.

My RA went into a nasty flare around the time I was on the Cape back in March. My friend, who has the gift of healing, offered to pray with me when I got home. As he prayed with me, the pain in my hands lessened and by the next day it was gone entirely. My vision, which had slipped badly, returned to normal overnight. The RA has been in remission since the first week of April. With my somewhat baffled doctor’s approval, I’ve stopped taking all of my RA medications and I feel the best I have in fifteen years.

I no longer wake up feeling like I’m 80. That has taken some getting used to, but in a good way. I find I’m no longer afraid to make plans beyond this week because I’m not worried about whether or not I’ll feel well enough to keep them. The freedom in that is bigger than anything I can put into words.

My kids aren’t little anymore. I find myself with two rapidly maturing and increasingly independent young men. While they still aren’t thrilled if I spend time away from home, they aren’t quite as panicky about it as they used to be. Again the word that comes to mind is freedom. I cherish the time I have with them. Yes – even when they’re beating the crap out of each other. But to know I can leave them for a few hours and their world won’t stop spinning is a huge weight off my shoulders.

Over the past few months, I started to notice something else was missing. The Gremlin. That bastard hasn’t been jabbering at me. And it’s not like I suddenly have some newfound ability to tune him out. He just shut up. Completely. He’s not gone. But he’s silent. And the fear that he wielded so well in his diatribes has been replaced by quiet and peace.

Huge things were being crossed off my list of impossibles in a ridiculously short span of time. Then I came home one Saturday to find the Fairfield County Catholic waiting for me with a huge front page add for Sacred Heart University. My next step had quite literally shown up on my kitchen table. I took a deep breath and took it before I could chicken out. I called and started the process to return to school part-time in pursuit of my bachelors degree in theology and religious studies.

When I walked out of the admissions office after being enrolled as a returning student, I did the happy dance all the way to my car and then burst into tears.

You see there was one other thing I hadn’t dared to list off to God:
This way was open to me at 19 and I didn’t take it. Therefore it was closed, locked, bolted, bricked over and never to be spoken of ever again.

The reasons I gave for not taking it then depended on how much I was beating up on myself at any given time. Those reasons ranged from I stormed away from God in a fit of rage, was an emotional basket-case or was just plain flat too weak to handle it. All of which have some degree of truth in them and none of which I really wanted to face. But in order to do this now, I had to.

The past few weeks, this has been pretty much all God and I have talked about. Or more accurately, I rambled on and on while He waited, infinitely and maddeningly patient, until I ran out of words. Then when I could finally be quiet, the answer came.

“What made you think you were supposed to do this then? You weren’t ready then. I wasn’t done with you yet.”

Could it really be so simple? That all this time I’d spent kicking myself – with plenty of help from The Gremlin – that there’d been absolutely no reason to? My life has been one hell of a rollercoaster ride and the life experience I will carry into my classes now will bring far greater meaning to them than my 19 year-old self could have ever imagined.

Like that long ago bike race, I needed a little time to recover after my wreck but here I am, at 41, invoking the Rule of Do Over, taking a path I was shown at 19 and have been preparing for ever since.

The Inkwell and The Author

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My younger son is commonly referred to as an old soul. Wise beyond his years and insightful, he often leaves me at a loss for words. A classic introvert, he can be exceptionally quiet when he’s around ‘outsiders’ but at home or with people he’s very comfortable with, he rarely stops talking. His mind moves so fast and in so many directions at once, making the most obscure references and tenuous connections. The other day, I questioned how he could possibly be working on his writing homework whilst he was talking nonstop. Without so much as a pause to to gather his thoughts, he replied, ‘You know how an old-fashioned quill pen needed to be dipped in an inkwell before it could write anything? Well, talking about stuff is the inkwell that I need to dip my mind in before I can write.’

I have to remind myself sometimes that he’s only eleven. But age aside, he makes an interesting point.

I have a standing breakfast date with God, or as my friend often refers to Him, the Author of Life. I’ve so fallen in love with that term. I guess it’s the writer in me. I can relate to the Author and Creator. Every morning I go to the beach near my house, even if it’s only for a few minutes between dropping the kids off at school and heading into work. I need that time away from the house, outside and away from the household racket of the phone ringing, the dog barking, and the erratic noises of the boys’ video games. I need time away from the Wi-Fi and the draw of multiple conversations on social media. But in the past ten days, our standing date has scrapped seven mornings. Snow and ice made it too dangerous to drive the five miles to the beach. Extreme cold made it too miserable and even dangerous to be there.

See it’s so much more than just the quiet time that I need. I, being a pen in His hand, have an inkwell that I need to be dipped into before I can be used to write anything. It’s the presence of the Author Himself that I need to be dipped in, soaked in and saturated by. But there are times, like these past ten days, when I get dulled from too much time away. I don’t stop to take the breaks that I need to allow Him to sharpen me and dip me again.

I was beyond thrilled this morning that it was neither brutally cold nor dangerous to drive. The beach that was crystal clear but frozen solid on Wednesday was now draped in thick fog with a stiff breeze and stormy waters. This is my perfect New England beach trifecta. I lost all track of time and despite my hands going numb, I stayed. I fed my usual band of seagulls. I stood ankle-deep in the surf, salt spray in my face and breathed in the power and grace that surrounded me. There are no words for the sense of wonder and awe that fills me in those moments. It’s then that I find myself so rapt that I let my defenses slip. For a few moments, I see a reflection of that the same power and grace within me.

And then I cringe. Why do I cringe?

Because I fear that if I let myself recognize that grace clearly within myself then He may write more into my story than I feel I’m ready or willing to accept. But today, just as that fear rose up, my entire band of seagulls took off en masse, gliding into the wind like so many little kites and I felt my defenses slip again. And in that moment I realized something else.

This story of me is still being written and what I’m afraid of today I may laugh at someday.

To Still The Stones

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It had been one of those weeks when all I wanted to do was change my name, crawl under a rock to hide or most preferably: BOTH. Fridays are my freelance days. I work from home, on my own schedule, and sometimes that means disappearing to find a couple hours of quiet. Quiet was definitely in dangerously short supply by the end of this week. For the first time in long time, I walked out towards Stratford Point. Being a weekday and a bit on the chilly side, I had the entire beach to myself. I had been hoping to get my favorite spot below the lighthouse but the tide was up and my last quarter mile was completely under water. I found myself out of beach at the foot of a massive concrete retaining wall, the base of which was buttressed by large boulders. It was a perfect place to finally sit and rest.

I had nowhere else I needed to be and had shaken off the stress of the week on my walk out there. I listened to the waves crashing at my feet and felt the sunlight wrap around me. The nagging Gremlin voice in my head, for once, had been completely silenced. The immensity of that gift is beyond words.

That stretch of beach has a vast array of large stones scattered about. Often times in the summer, I bring my sons down to this part of the beach around sunset and this past summer we started experimenting with balancing stones. Being boys, they were rather fond of balancing them for the sole purpose of knocking them down again by throwing baseball-sized rocks at the towers. It could be a painful experience for anyone caught in the crossfire. As I sat there, it suddenly occurred to me that I had never come down to balance stones on my own. I could actually take my time finding the perfect stones and balance them as high as I chose without worrying about the boys accidentally stoning each other while my back was turned. That was too good to pass up.

I started out with a few smaller towers but they kept shifting and falling. I decided to work with larger stones, some weighing at least 20 pounds or more. But again, as the tower rose, the stones would shift and fall. I learned the hard way, as I seem to learn nearly everything, that trying to catch large, falling stones is a really, really dumb thing to do. Frustrated, I retreated to my spot on the boulders, rubbing my smashed fingers, knowing they’d be black and blue later. I love mechanical puzzles and I have a wicked competitive streak. I often time myself with a new puzzle, then try to beat my best time with each consecutive attempt. That was the way I had approached the stones. I had tried to build higher, faster, concentrating not on each stone but on an image of what the end result would be. That was why I had failed.

Balancing stones requires patience, not exactly my strongest virtue. I knew I needed to try it again. Slowly, this time. As I balanced the first stone on its pointed end, something happened that I had never noticed before, a vibration in my hands that stopped as the stone settled into place. With each subsequent stone, I felt the same vibration and I could feel if the stone would balance or fall. More than that, I could feel when the lower stones were about to shift out of balance. Sometimes that meant discarding one stone in favor of another so as not to topple the entire tower.

Stop.
Breathe.
Wait for the stone to be still.
Only then could I let go.
The end result was impossibly balanced.

Many of the towers I’ve built in my life went up too fast or on shaky stones. Except in life, when I tried to catch what I should have let fall, I smashed far more than my fingers. As C.S. Lewis said, ‘Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn. By God, do you learn.’ And I have learned. I feel the vibrations as it seems it may be time to discard one stone in favor of another and I know I need to wait for the stillness before I can let go. I have no idea what the final result will be, but I know that somehow it will be impossibly balanced.

I Hate Moving

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I hate moving. No. Really. I HATE moving. Every time I’ve had to move, I swear by all that’s holy that I will NEVER move again. Ever. I’m up to seven moves now. You’d think I’d give it up and accept the changes. Well, you would unless you really know me. In that case, you just smile and let me rave for awhile, knowing that when the time comes, I’ll suck it up and do it anyway.

Moving from Ridgewood, New Jersey to Overland Park, Kansas was the first time I moved. I was 9. We left everything familiar behind and traded it in for extremes. No more four seasons. It was hot, 107 hot, or it was cold, -25 cold. Thunderstorms meant tornado sirens. We didn’t get snow. We got ice storms that lasted three or four days. Bugs? Try the flying roaches, the massive swarms of little green bugs on the ceiling every single night or the 2-inch long cicada killer wasps – note that 2 inches doesn’t include the massive stinger- and I am deathly afraid of bees. That was three long years and all I wanted was to go HOME, back to Jersey where I belonged, where nobody made fun of my accent and where nature wasn’t hellbent on killing me.

Then we moved to Stratford, Connecticut. Not where I wanted to be but it was closer to home and thank God, it wasn’t Kansas anymore. Over the last 28 years I’ve bounced around western Connecticut a bit. Stratford, Milford, Derby, West Haven, back to Milford, and finally back to Stratford. Every move has been the Never Ever Again move.

The idea that I would one day go home to Ridgewood was one I had to let go of one finger at a time. I still go back to visit and every time, it has been a bittersweet reminder that Jersey isn’t home anymore. I can’t say exactly when I finally gave up altogether and accepted that Stratford is where I belong, only that I finally did.

Almost every morning for the last seven years, I’ve been at the beach, even if it’s only for five minutes. I need it. I live for summer vacation when my mornings are free until 9 and I can spend a few hours there before diving headlong into my day. This is my beach, come rain, shine, wind, snow and storms. These are my seagulls. Yes, I’ve named them. Yes, I can tell them apart. And yes, I know you probably think I’m crazy. No, I don’t care.

Funny thing about the water, even at it’s most calm, it’s always moving. I suppose in some ways so am I. See, I make all the same protests about moving spiritually that I make about moving physically: I am staying right here. Moving hurts. I’m not moving again. You can’t make me. Fast forward a year or so: Wait, how’d I get here?! When did that happen?! That’s it. No more. I’m staying right here!

Yes, I am walking, talking proof that God is eternally patient.

I know when I get within sight of the water, my soul explodes outward. It’s a gift. It’s a gift I wouldn’t have received had I gotten what I so desperately wanted, which was to go back. The beach has served as a metaphor for my life over the years, even before I really noticed it. As I’ve changed, so has my beach. I’ve seen sandbars come and go. I’ve seen even the biggest boulders moved by the water. I’ve seen reinforced concrete walls fall down and I see the folly of rebuilding them.

You’d think seeing all this, I’d quit digging in my heels and accept the inevitable movements in my life. Well, you would unless you really know me. In that case, you’ll just smile and let me rave for awhile, knowing that when the time comes, I’ll suck it up and move forward anyway.