Monday, May 30, 2011

Faith days and church days

I am taking a little break from my story for this next post. There's just a little something on my heart that I want to share.

My sweet college buddy Julie started a blog a while back. She was going through spiritual metamorphosis in a way... and so was I. We reconnected in a bond that is stronger today than it was back then... And she is the main reason I began this blog, to be honest. Well, her "little" blog wasn't like mine. I've been allusive. Never posting my full name, no face-bearing pictures of myself or kiddos, all the while knowing personally 12 of my 14 followers... which is now at 15, as of today, so welcome newcomer! ;)
Nope, she was all out there. And was totally exposed. Something that horrifies me.

But she was REAL. Always. And it wasn't always easy for her, on the contrary, it was painstakingly hard. But she stuck with it, proclaiming the name of Jesus, and lifting up his love and grace through it all. Inspiring. Well... she was/is in this little online contest thing I found out about through facebook, and I innocently entered my vote for her, and continued following her blog posts. What followed shocked me.

It had become a contest of faith-based blogs in which people of other faiths entered. I was oblivious at first. I only follow a few blogs, anyway and barely even have time for that. But I read her latest entry which was so thought-provoking, no matter which way you look at it. And I saw a bit of what was going on. The Pagan faith was represented along with Judaism, Islam and Christianity. There was nothing specific to the contest that said "faith in Christ" blogs. And some people weren't quite so happy with "faith" being undefined.

And Julie responded. To me, it wasn't a matter of proclaiming her faith in Jesus Christ, she's done that all along. It's the fact that she challenged me, and hopefully others, to think about the love God has for us - all of us. And that we wrestle not the flesh and blood among us. If it scares you, don't read it all, I only had time to check some of the things out, but what I found is that we as Christians (and forgive me for lumping us all in the same pot for a minute) so often sugar-coat things.

I tried to say to myself that we don't have a religion. But I went to church on Sunday. Today's not a church day, it's Monday. But what are my rituals? Did I pray and read my church-approved portion of scripture? Did I sleep in, skip it, and then feel guilty for not paying my "dues"?

I do have a personal relationship with a living God through Jesus Christ, my Savior. Just to be clear. ;) But whether I like it or not I have a religion as well. I'm kind of upset about that today. I almost wish I didn't. No churchy habitual practices so I could say that it's ONLY about a person, about my Savior. But we again tend to sugar-coat things, and I'm no different, I guess. I want it to be about one thing only, the love of God through Jesus Christ, and I pray it becomes that in my life more and more each day.

As I was reading the counter-views of other faiths I realized that it's really all true. Each view takes faith to believe, it's just what you're putting yours in. I choose Christ. And I'd do it again and again and again.

And maybe tomorrow will be a church day, maybe it won't. But it's always a faith day.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My Story Part 10... Decisions that shape our lives

Florida? Was this a joke? What was he thinking?

I don't even know if my brother ended up going to Florida - ever.
But I said no.

There had been a time in my life when I just followed his lead in everything. He's very charming, you see. Hoping of course to convince you of his bewitching personality, I'd urge you to overlook my stupidity when saying that I still bear the scars of our relationship. No, literally. Scars on my legs. He would convince me to be his beautiful assistant (seriously, that one probably works on any 10-year-old!) while he would shoot the target I was standing in front of with anything from bee bee guns to Chinese stars. Okay, maybe it was more my stupidity than his charm, but over the past few years, I had learned that I could resist his beguiling, persuasive tactics.

It was actually quite simple. I remembered dad's face. It was something that molded my character over the following years. Maybe a little more than necessary. Maybe not. God used it to shape my life, so I will try not to analyze it too much. But that broken, fragile man grieving for the loss of his firstborn was a pain I think I was blessed to witness. Maybe just because I realized then how much we were loved. Or at least I understood as much as was humanly possible for me to without being a parent then myself. It was the blessing I took away from the pain.

Brother eventually came home. He was with us for just a few months before he received a full scholarship to SMU. He was and is simply brilliant. A chip off the old block, like it or not. ;) Things were almost back to normal, and then he had to leave us again. Mom loaded all of us kids into her minivan, and we headed down to Texas. There, we left the boy who would soon be a man and we headed home - minus one. But this time it was just because that was the way it was supposed to be; the regular course of life. Nests being emptied, one by one.

And so I began my senior year of high school. It was about me and my high hopes, big dreams. I wanted to study law. I loved books and libraries. I still do. The smell, the silence, the history of who said what and why hidden behind bulwarks of leather-bound pages, mmm... intoxicating. The whole intrigue of what makes our society what it is, was so alluring to me that I couldn't help but dream that I'd have it all someday. The life of a young lawyer, able to run from our world into a world of words or dive right into the real-life clashes and trials that make this world go round, was at my fingertips.

And I saw that face once again.

I asked my daddy what he thought. Though he was not apposed to my career choice, he asked if I'd please consider going to a Bible college and studying God's law for just one year before I'd study man's. How could I refuse that argument? More and more I had learned to trust that face.

He began to write me letters during my high school days.
"Temporal benefits and blessings are like the summer flowers on a dew laden meadow -- their passing beauty can only be enjoyed for a brief moment, for when the sun beats down and the winds blow (like the trials that come into each of our lives) they do not possess the strength to stay, for theirs was an existence based on beauty instead of strength; ergo, seek to build that which will last and beauty will someday bow before steadfastness and say, 'Thou art truly worthwhile'."

He wrote... and I was safe when he spoke.

It was 1993, and I was soon to be 18. My graduation day came, and my confidant - a year my junior - was to be left behind. She was the one thing I wanted to take with me to college more than anything else, but couldn't. My summer birthday came, then August rolled around and at mom and dad's prompting, I left for Bible college, plans intact. One year. Then I'd hit the ground running.

My Story Part 9... Homes and runaways

I have often wondered if my brother had seen my dad's face that night if it would have changed his life. I know it changed mine.

As father sat on the edge of my bed, face swollen from the tears he had obviously shed hours before he disturbed my slumber; he could only mutter the words "Where is he? Do you know where he is?". I honestly had no clue. Brother had made sure of it. I would have told and he knew it.

We sat and cried. Just dad and I in that lonely room. All quiet.

The man who led his family tall and strong seemed a little smaller as his drooping shoulders left my room. I don't know if my dad ever got a wink of sleep that night. I finally drifted off, certain that brother might just be at a friend's house. Phone call after phone call was made the next morning. No one knew anything.

I'm not sure how or when, but brother called eventually letting us know that he was okay, but not coming back. No one from the school had called so mom knew he was at least attending school still.

Did she sit up late each night and wait? I think I would. All I do know is that there was a dark, heavy feeling in our home for a while. Suspicion was more prevalent than ever and tears flowed at the drop of a hat. We weren't whole. A member was missing and we could feel it, though it was seldom said.

One day while doing laundry and cleaning out brother's things, mom found an address. Brother must have scratched it on a piece of paper for his records or something. Mom knew it. Like moms have the power to do - just know. And she did. He had been found. She knew where he was.

The relationship began to mend, I guess. I was busy, mom and dad were busy with life and the two younger ones, brother was busy, and we eventually got on with life, as one does. I was still going to school and had soon gotten my first real job outside of babysitting. I was the girl behind the counter at the corner Steak and Shake . It was a rude awakening to a world of reality I had only danced around before. Here, I was engaged in its waltz. Friends, coworkers, bosses and paychecks - I still ponder the logic behind throwing a seventeen-year-old into the world of adulthood of paying bills and juggling school and job. Though it did prepare me for college and the rest of my life, isn't the "rest of my life" extremely long compared to those carefree days of youth? Some days I wish it would have lasted longer. But I'm not sorry I learned to stand on my own two feet.

It was the summer before my senior year of high school. Brother was still gone. He'd sometimes call and get me up-to-date with his happenings, but this time he called to ask me something.

"Come with me, Shel", he said. "I'm going to be an actor, I may have a modeling job lined up, something to pay the bills, and you can do it too. We'll work together, and make it big."

I loved my brother. I loved the way he always protected me. He stood up for me so many times in our lives. He charmed me into doing just about anything for him his whole life.

"Go with you?", I asked. "Where?"

"Florida. I've got big plans!"

I was stunned.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

My Story Part 8... Just trouble

I planned on writing the next two parts of my story last week. I had things in my mind that started to play out in a way that were a little too real.

Too raw.

So, I put it off. I don't know if I literally left anyone hanging... but I kind of left myself hanging. There in the year 1990 where all emotions were high and nothing seemed as if it could go anywhere but upward... But it didn't. And maybe I just didn't want to drudge through the memories of it... but to remain in its tumult is unfair to myself because we did all come through it with God's help.

So there we were. My sophomore year of high school, and I was back with my best friend whom I cherish like no other. That was the year we became inseparable. Only God knew how I would need a friend with whom I could be totally honest. Completely and utterly myself when "myself" wasn't good enough for others. When I wasn't at her house, she was at mine. Few were the days or nights we'd spend apart... well, aside from the school nights. And even then we'd somehow convince our parents to allow us to stay over sometimes. I felt safe with her. I thank God even today for the safety of her. Nothing judged, nothing expected, just open arms of love. Then. Now. Always. She truly is a picture of Christ in my life!

But the safety sometimes evaporated at her absence. Older brother was pushing the limits like never before. Sometimes I think that the reason he and my mom didn't see eye to eye on things is because they are just too much alike. Stubborn and argumentative. But limits were crossed. Brother had wielded his quick tongue and lashed at a delicate piece of my mom's heart once too much. And she took a swing. I'll never forget that day. Having to physically pull your mother and brother off each other in a brawl is something that no one should have to experience. They had pushed each other to a place where neither one was using logic.

Do you ever have moments where you replay the events in your mind's cushy cinema, body slouched, eye's wide open, gazes focused on window panes, and time passes as if you'd been absent for a few hours? I do. And it was no different that day. The scuffle had reached my bedroom door and into my sacred space. I had separated them. I sat in my room replaying not the day's events but the life and love that we had shared. I cried. How did loving sweet brother who as a toddler had not wanted to raise a finger to me when I was wailing on him - so as not to be un-gentleman-like - become the angry brother who raised his fist to not only a woman, but mother?

Brother stormed out of the house, and mom went to her room. She'd always emerge after having lost her temper. And I want to be fair here. Rarely had she ever raised a hand to us. And that day might have been in self-defense only. Was brother the one who raised a fist first? Had she slapped his sarcastic, sharp mouth first? I don't know. I wasn't there at the beginning of the argument. I do know that she had only ever slapped my mouth once. Many were the days when she would scream in frustration at this or that. She'd retract into her room for a time of remorse and reflection and then emerge in tears apologizing. So scared that she'd become a product of how she was raised, she'd crumble into a sincere weeping mess, asking forgiveness. And we'd give it to her.

But this time was different. Something changed. Things were never the same again. Maybe brother just wouldn't forgive this time. For my mother who had suffered the abuse of dishes, hangers, fists, boards, or whatever else was around, maybe there's more forgiveness allotted. I like to think so. She was so rarely anything but loving and happy, except when she wasn't. ;) Who would have guessed she had such a trying past? I doubt the onlookers had a clue.

But we were meant to learn from it. I know we did, maybe we still are. But for teenagers, the learning doesn't come easily. Brother eventually came home. He was quiet. And quiet he's not. Our house was always boisterous, loud, exciting, game-filled, and fun. But somewhere during the years of 90 and 91, it faded for a while.

Brother had started his plan. He knew that I'd try to stop him. Or that I'd tattle. And maybe I would have... okay, probably would have.

And then it happened. Plans were no more - actions settled in. I don't even remember what month it was, but I think it was toward the end of the school year, 1991. I was nearly 16. Brother was 17. We had left in the morning like any other day. Separate schools, separate schedules, separate jobs, always just meeting somewhere in the middle for a meal, or maybe at the end of the day, but always just enjoying each other's company. It was before the day of cell phones. Well, not technically. But no one carried those big chunky things around except for businessmen on TV. It wasn't odd that we'd not seen each other after a long day of school, sports and work. It wasn't even odd for the three of us kids to go to sleep without big brother home. With no way to contact him at any given moment of the day, we always just awaited his arrival.

But at 3 O'clock in the morning when my door opened waking me from a deep sleep, I knew something was wrong.

Brother was gone.

Monday, May 2, 2011

My Story Part 7... School days and trouble

I had never been in the principal's office at night. It was surreal and a bit creepy. Even when we had evening basketball games and different functions at the school at night, there was never this darkness that hovered like it did that night. The strange fact that we were at school during the hours of darkness was coupled by the feeling of being called into the principal's office with my parents. A certain doom was looming and I could feel it.

No one was cheery. We all entered and sat in a circle. I was questioned about my past experiences at other schools since my history of schools attended was now vast. I was questioned about how I viewed authority. About my salvation, oh, about most everything the board of trustees could think to ask a 13-year-old girl who was a newcomer and obviously meddling with the peace that must have been so prevalent before she arrived.

My mom stood up for me.

It was something that I will never forget. Though her bold in-your-face type personality was embarrassing when she'd tell someone off, it was comforting to know that I had someone in my corner. She hadn't flown off the handle right away, but had listened to my complaining for months, weighed the veracity of my side of the story, then just had had enough of the questioning about this "troubled teen" being so one-sided.

I learned a lot from my mom. Her statement of, "If I don't stand up for my kids, who will?", resonates with me still today. And I am proud to have a crazy, boisterous, passionate woman who lead me to believe I could overcome obstacles and criticism regardless of the source. No matter how little I appreciated it then.

Well, the school year ended much better than it began. I had new friends and had finally found a place in my school life, and the administration had to put a little more credence in my story when others were coming forward with similar complaints.

Mom felt that I was in no way vindicated, though. She and Dad had decided to pull us out of a place that wouldn't try to help us as students, and off to another school we went. It was 45 minutes away and Dad had a job not far from the school, so it worked out well.

It was my first year of high school. Wow. That was no fun. A new school, new friends, and Algebra? Ick. But we made it work. More so the friends and school part than Algebra itself. ;) I started to feel more and more comfortable and joined a singing group, and even had my first boyfriend. I was a mess. He helped me feel accepted, and just good about myself... and it had been a while. I'll never forget the sweet puppy love feelings that made the 9th grade more bearable.

But in March, we got a notice. Dad had lost his job and was behind one full month on payments, and we were asked to leave. Though we weren't technically boyfriend and girlfriend at that moment - with all the drama that surrounds teenage relationships - it was a separation hard for me at the time. But we moved on.

Into the local public school again - this time high school. My grades were good and my teachers liked me, but my locker was in the drug corner. Most sales and/or consumption of drugs happened right there in that corner, and me with my naivety, funny clothes, extremely long hair and backwardness didn't quite fit into the mix. I would pack my backpack with all six books that I'd need for the day and hope to not have to return to the lockers until the afternoon. It didn't always happen. I'd inevitably forget something! I remember sneaking through the halls after the bell had rung and jetting off to chorus class late since no one would be by the lockers at that time. My teacher would excuse me, since I never caused any trouble.

And so I finished up the last 3 tumultuous months of my first year of high school. I had loathed it, but big brother had it easier and had made more and more friends, played sports, and loved his classes. I begged mom and dad to let me go back to the old private school since said teacher had been dismissed and even new administration had taken over, while brother begged them to let him stay where he was for once.

We both got our way. Our troubles were seemingly over. It was the year of 1990 - a new decade - what could go wrong?