A Light Spirit part 1

Forgiveness.  We seem to talk about the concept a lot, but still not get how delicious it feels to really live in it.  Both accepting it for ourselves, and then being able to pass it on to others.  I never quite did before, but I certainly felt as if I did.  Maybe I had a few glimmers, I don’t know.  I certainly never felt that I was totally forgiven myself.  Even though I had taught about it for years;  somehow I had never completely taken on the concept of “God remembers your sins no more” for myself.  Surely it couldn’t be that easy….

 

So, this put a little crimp  in my journey toward forgiving the driver that did this thing to me, that totally left my previous life broken and  shattered beyond repair,  Oh, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to!  I wanted to with all my heart.

 

It was neither simple, easy, nor quick.  But then, I’m coming to realize, nothing really worth having is ever easy.  Or simple.  Or without a lot of pain.  And sometimes, it seems to me, an unnecessary amount of pain, but I suppose every toddler thinks that about a loving parent sometimes.

 

 

I  now very rarely think about the other driver, and when I do, it is just to wonder how he is doing.  Weeks go by when I forget why I am like this.  But I wouldn’t have reached this level if I hadn’t forgiven that driver.  Absolutely totally, but not once and for all, unfortunately.  Every time I experience a new setback, I want to pull my forgiveness right back and  harbor my old bitterness.  It feels so good, like a stained and smelly old security blanket.  But every time, I’m getting better at this “forgiveness” thing. As a former musician, I certainly know the value of practicing a skill you want to master.

 

 

This guy T-boned my little, beautiful bright blue Cobalt. He had a stop sign, I didn’t.   I was driving, the police told me, at their best estimates, a couple of miles under the speed limit.  I never saw his big pickup truck.  For him, it’s a blind intersection.  They say he ran his stop sign at around 73 miles per hour.

 

He was taken to the hospital that night, and released a few hours later with mild injuries.

He was 19 years old, unemployed, from a small town west of our city. I spent a year teaching  at a school near there,  and the school he attended was in our conference.  I am very familiar with the type…macho young guys, driving big pickup trucks too fast, not stopping for no wussy stop signs.  This was his second accident in 18 months, and both times he had been at fault.  The first time he had caused the other car to flip, and that driver had been taken by ambulance to the hospital.

 

Kind of a poster boy for bad decisions.

 

 

 

So……those first few days I was in critical condition, people would often ask my husband “what do you know about the other driver?  What do you think is going to happen to him?”

 

 

My husband told me he would reply that he neither knew nor had the mental energy to spare for that right now, that all his thoughts and prayers and love were for me.  He had no energy for hate.  He also shared with me that he spent a lot of time with this saying, which has been attributed to many different places and peoples:  “Bitterness is like drinking poison,  then expecting the other person to die.”

 

My husband is not perfect.  He simply tries hard.  He struggled very hard during those days, weeks, months, and he still struggles sometimes.  But at first, he said, that question simply floored him.  How on earth could those people waste their time thinking about the other driver, when they knew I was hanging between life and death?  He was truly stunned by that.  And how on earth could they think he, or my kids, had any time to speculate about anyone but me in that bed in ICU, broken and battered and unrecognizable?  Every minute, every hour, every day was another crisis, another surgery, more terrible news.

 

No one knew the facts then.  How on earth would anything happening in the life of the other guy change the flurry of events surrounding me?  Or cause this not to have happened?  My high school son had to call his other three siblings and tell them to hurry, that their mom probably wouldn’t be alive when they got there.  He had to do this because his dad had to be available to talk to the surgeons.    At times like this, who on earth is thinking about retribution?

 

Fast forward days, weeks, months:  I did survive.  I even made what most would consider a miraculous recovery.  But there was a long time when my survival, and then how well I would survive, or if I would even wake up, was a huge question mark.

 

 

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know all about On With Life and the miraculous things they do there.    While I was still inpatient there, and I was recovering so quickly, one of our local TV news  stations (they had covered my initial wreck ) came out and filmed a follow-up story with my daughter and me.

 

My speech aphasia was still pretty profound, so my daughter was kind of coaching me through the interview.  I was extremely nervous, because I knew what I wanted to say, and I was really worried that I wouldn’t be able to get my planned message out.  So she was sitting on the couch right across from me, smiling at me, giving me courage  And it worked.  At that point, this injury just seemed like a big “blip” in my lovely life.  I still hadn’t grasped nearly the vast or permanent scope of all this. You see, I’m naturally positive, and I was viewing this through a completely malfunctioning  brain.

 

And I was improving at such a quick clip, so unexpectedly, that no one knew where it would start to slow.  So in my badly broken, yet optimistic brain, I was holding on to the wild dream that my school would surely have to hire a long-term sub for the rest of this school year, and probably even next year while I was working on my recovery.  But then I definitely would be BACK!!!  Playing piano, singing, teaching, even at my old school very possibly.   ANYTHING in those crazy days seemed possible.  So, of course, when I looked at the camera and said “I forgive him” and “I love him,” it was a stretch, but not too huge.  That, I knew, was what Jesus called His believers to be.  Light in this hurting world.

 

And I had never grasped the concept that I was totally forgiven myself.  I was trying to do it all by my own will.  I thought I had enough love and forgiveness for all of us, and I  truly believed  it was coming from God.

 

And then, over the next weeks, months, years, my progress slowed.And slowed.  And just kept on slowing.   What had been measured in days started taking weeks, then months, then came the advent of years with only very, very, very small changes.  Reality came crashing in.  Wave after remorseless wave.  Threatening, over and over again, to drown me in pain and memories and crushing disappointments.

 

It seemed like running endlessly up against “never” or “not like this.”  My beautiful dreams started vanishing, and the pain of perpetual disappointment was crushing.  I had been so darned optimistic, which came to seem synonymous with words like stupid to me.

I would never be at my old school district again.  I would never work full-time again.  I would very probably never work anywhere anymore again.  I am still a long, long way from ever driving, and probably will never.    Which I still think sucks.  I still can’t walk, by myself without holding onto someone or something because of my extreme balance problems. I don’t play piano anymore.  I don’t sing anymore, except sometimes a little in church.  I feel dizzy all the time, which makes me pretty nauseous all the time.  It feels like I’m always on stilts.  I can’t eat in public without very careful planning.  I have severe intestinal issues, and thank goodness I stay home most of the time.  I can’t do long car rides without severe repercussions  Much of the time, it seems to me, I’m not good for much anymore.  I can’t even manage to make a single dinner all by myself.  So…..the things I had to forgive him, and God for, were piling up.

 

And, worse of all, I felt like a total idiot.  I felt everyone else had seen me, with my talk of “I’m going to do_____” and known it would never be possible for me in any way, and just been humoring me.  That was by far the worse, and there’s still a lot of that going on in my life.

 

As each of these separate issues came to light, and my supposed “blip” in my happy life became huger and huger, forgiveness became………..more of a challenge.  This was far from temporary.  This was an extreme, total, permanent disability.  Oh, I had not bargained on this!

 

Then, a  few months after we came home, we were in church.  Our head pastor was speaking about Jesus forgiving the soldiers nailing Him to the cross while they were doing it.

 

The other driver in my accident, who I was starting to kind of be comfortable with resenting sometimes, had had no idea what was going to happen to someone as a consequence of his rash decision.  It was nothing at all like the soldiers nailing Jesus to the cross.  Why was I struggling with forgiving him still?

He had just been momentarily stupid, not mean.  I had taught dozens of boys just like him.  Would I want them to have been never forgiven for something they did when they were nineteen?

And then our pastor said these words:  “We forgive not because they deserve it, but because we do.”

 

 

 

I fell apart.  I  realized that I had felt, somehow, that by continuing to forgive this guy, that I was telling the world (and him) that I was all right with what he had done to me.  That all this was OK.  That to be that woman I had been in that previous TV interview again, when I hadn’t realized so much, when I was so much more naive, would somehow let him off the hook for everything that had happened since.  I hadn’t really intended to forgive him for quite this much.

 

 

 

 

But maybe, just maybe, the only one I was actually punishing with all this anger and rage was…..me.  I was angry at God for letting this happen to me.   For not having just taken me up to heaven when He had the chance.   I was angry with that other driver.  I was angry with me for not keeping my loving and forgiving heart.  I was so tired of all this over-thinking and and failure and just everything.

So I started my long, slow, grueling process.  I didn’t want to do this at all, and most of my prayers these months had been angry.  Which, I believe, is OK with God.  That is why we have the book of Psalms.  He understands human anger and confusion.

 

So, at first, every morning I  started with just saying “God, please help me want to talk to you nicely again,  Please help me want to be friends with You again.  And please help me want to forgive him.  Even though I still think he’s a great big creep.”

 

It was quite a few weeks before I could manage to drop the last insult.  But I did.  Off and on, and then all the time.  And it only very rarely slips back.

 

 

And after a few weeks, I started being able to add a few words, and then a few sentences, until within about six months I was able to actively pray that I would be able to forgive him and mean it.

 

And, about a year later, I started praying for God to bless him.  Not in the sense of “Please God, keep him from ever doing this to anyone again” way that I initially just ACHED to,  but just to bless him, and then I had to leave it up to God.  I think this was the most difficult step.

 

 

And I finally had to accept that God had forgiven me.  Forever.  Completely.  Something I had just never taken on board before, so that I had had only a small sense of what “I forgive him” truly meant.

 

That none of this was my fault.  All the trouble and suffering I had caused my family, and was still causing them.    Everything I had ever done in my whole, entire lifetime God had already forgiven me for.  That was the entire purpose of Jesus’s death.  All I had to do was ask, and then accept.  Which, by the way, was by far the hardest part.  And I believe it is for most people.  We are a proud bunch.  That God really saw me for who I was, good and bad, and loved the whole shebang.  Unbelievable.  That I had to be totally busted up to and practically good for nothing, to finally grasp His love.

 

 

end of Part I….

 

 

 

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Grandma Harriet

My sister-in-law’s family owns a campground in Wisconsin that we’ve been returning to frequently for nearly 18 years now. The entire surrounding area owns a huge chunk of real estate in our hearts, because of so many shared memories and funny stories.

Grandma Harriet lived in a modest house right on the shores of the lake, and we always had full permission to walk down from the campground and use the beachfront that came along with the house.    I only knew “Grandma Harriet” as a tall, lively, red-haired, former music teacher, who had been married three times (the first two husbands had died) and who would sometimes bring her accordion up to the campground and lead the sing-a-longs they used to have there on weekends.  We always got a kick out of how incredibly spunky she was…she used to get up and dance along with the song, and her current husband (who obviously adored her) was, as far we saw, almost totally silent when they were in public and just sat watching her smiling.  And then one year we heard that her husband had died, and not long afterward Grandma Harriet went too.  The family kept the house and often one of the adult children were living there, so we just kept using the beach and telling stories of Grandma Harriet to our kids.

 

And then came my accident.  At age 52,  I was naturally struggling with depression and feeling that my life was over.  I had recently come to grips with the realization that I would most likely never teach high school chorus again, or play piano at all well or so easily again.  I had most of my identity and self worth wrapped up in that.  I was determined not to be whiney or negative.  I wanted to be someone people wanted to be around, but it was just so HARD!  I kept praying about it and reading only positive things and trying to think only positive thoughts, but I was starting to lose the battle.

And then we were invited to visit the lake and stay in the house for a week with our daughter and her husband. We hadn’t dreamed of having a vacation with our financial circumstances, and with my problems, but this seemed perfect!  We quickly said “yes” and agreed on a week.

 

It was the most magical week ever.  Ever.  The bedroom we slept in had a giant picture window that opened right on the lake, and we went to sleep every night to the sound of loons, and woke up every morning to sunshine sparkling on the lake.  It must have rained sometime, but it didn’t seem like it ever mattered.  And then there were Grandma Harriet’s scrapbooks.

 

Beside the fireplace in the living room were built-in shelves holding a number of photo albums and scrapbooks.  One lazy afternoon, early in the week of our vacation, we were lying around in the living room talking about what might be in those old books.  My husband started pulling them out and looking through them.  Quite a few of them had been compiled by Harriet, and told the story of her life.  In a paraphrase of her words, ” by the time your children and grandchildren become old enough to be interested in your life, you’re not around to tell them stories.”  These books were her way of leaving a story behind so that by the time her descendants were interested enough to want to know more, the whole story would be here for them.

Turns out she was quite a girl with quite a story.  The last line in every one of the books, save one, was “This has been the best year of my life!”

 

When she and her first husband had been married over 30 years and had 2 adult children, he was fixing a gravel truck right in front of their house when it fell on him and crushed him.  She saw the whole thing happen.  That was the only year she left that line out of the book.  She wrote that she took to her bed several weeks with grief, and then one morning she heard her son and daughter in the kitchen discussing who would drive her down to Florida (she and her husband had spent winters in Florida for years).   She lay there thinking “I’m not a baby!  I can drive myself!”  and hopped out of bed and ran into the kitchen and explained that to her children.  They eventually agreed to let her try it, and so started a whole new chapter in her life.  We started seeing many more references to a group down in Florida named the “Sojourners” that was made up of snowbirds, who would have weekly meetings, socials, dinners, eat at restaurants, card games, and in every newspaper clipping and picture about the group there would be Harriet smiling somewhere.  Husband #2 she had met through this group.  He had been a widower, whose wife had been dead several years.  That marriage was a happy one and lasted quite a few years before his death.  More years went by, and then she reconnected with Clark.  He and his wife had been friends of Harriet’s and her husband years before, and the two men had hunted together.  They had lost touch through the years, but reconnected through the Sojourners Group and fell in love.  This was the husband we saw, the quiet man that just sat watching her, quietly adoring. And again, after several years, he died first.  They were all good marriages.  Because her first marriage had been so fortunate, she wasn’t at all afraid to run wholeheartedly toward the next opportunity with no hesitation, no worries about “this time it might not…”.  And so it always worked out.  Who could resist being loved by such a woman?

Harriet had a daughter with polio, she had seen her husband of over 35 years die in front of her eyes:  she had had the courage to remarry, and that had been a strong marriage, but he had died too.  She had still had the heart to risk another time and that had been another win, but he too had predeceased her:  yet at the end of her book she wrote these words which I’ll never forget:  “Life has treated me kindly.”  What a gift to another woman who feared that her life was over.  Harriet started over and over and over, and at the end wrote those words.  I’m certain that it was a God-thing that placed us in Harriet’s house with those scrapbooks and led us to them.

Our last morning, I woke up very early and walked out in the dim early light of morning.  “Harriet?”  I whispered.  “Are you here? If you are, I want to thank you so much.  I think you saved my life.”  But there was no answer, no sense of her presence.  Not that I expected there to be.  Harriet had moved on to better things.  She wasn’t the type to stick around when things were over.

 

Wind in Her Hair

There’s a picture I’ve always loved of my second daughter running, when she was just a toddler, in our side yard.  Her hair is just like white dandelion fluff, blowing back in the wind of her joyous, headlong rush,  which has always made me think that a good American Indian name for her would have been “Wind In Her Hair.”  Something about the picture just speaks to the heart of her spirit, her true identity.  She has always held a unique position in our family, and we would all be lost without her.  In so many ways, she anchors us all together.  Like me, she has always needed routine (something hard to come by in our family!), and like me, she loves reading and books.  We’re both deeply domestic, love animals (not that that particular trait is unique to us!),  but unlike me, she excels at teaching young children.  They give me the heebie-jeebies.  I love them when they’re my own, but in large groups I seem to cause them to freak out and start jumping up and down and screaming.  Before you can calmly whisper “hush up,”, she will already have them sitting quietly on the floor with their legs crossed waiting for instructions, which she will then issue in a calm. yet authoritative, voice.  It must be magic.  I definitely don’t have it.  Maybe you could have given me a room full of middle or high school age “singers” and sooner or later  I would have worked them kind of like a lion tamer, but that’s not at all the same sort of magic.  I admire that in her.

She’s not perfect – who is?  But she’s really good.  And she tries very, very hard.  Always has.  And I still see that little girl in the picture when I look into her eyes.  She’s still looking out at me.

Imperfect Parenting

76 birthday parties.  If you add together all 4 of my children’s birthdays, that’s how many total birthdays I’ve been responsible for.  I could tell you about ….. oh, maybe 4 or 5 of them that were pretty good.  We rented a coffee shop for a surprise 16th.  We had a luau themed 13th, a Scooby-Doo 5th (complete with scooby snacks), 4 little girls decorating a huge sheet cake with multi frostings and sprinkles, laser tag and pizza for 12-year-old boys.  We made a sea serpent cake, a castle cake, a carousel, dinosaur, horse ranch, heart, and a few others that were respectable.

We also have quite a few of “oh my gosh–it’s TOMORROW!” birthdays with a gift card, a purchased cheesecake, a friend invited on the fly to go…..to go….what the heck would be open tomorrow!!  We have a lot of “let’s have grandpa and grandma over and grill out” birthdays.  We have several “both mom and dad have concerts on your birthday–could we have a friend or two over in a week or so?”.

My daughters, and many of my students, are Pinterest-obsessed.  They find, and actually make, incredibly clever and decorative things.  They show me plans for Halloween costumes, birthday parties, decorations/treats/accessories that are insanely wonderful.

I’ve got to wonder, though, how much guilt can we heap on mothers these days?  How can these women have time to raise children (which is laughably demanding), earn income (which most of us do these days), and also create these Martha Stewart-worthy events for their children?

I kind of think (I’m sure this is rationalization for my shortcomings, but bear with me) that having a mom who isn’t always looking online for new ideas, who isn’t rushing you in and out of your car seat to buy hobby supplies, who doesn’t spend late nights staying up to craft some darling table favors in your party theme colors, who just possibly has time to play a game with you, who is smiling the morning of your birthday, who doesn’t care about the smears on the front door from the dog’s nose, who is just happy to be with you on this special day—maybe THAT would be something exciting for a kid!  I’m pretty sure that the parties I think were the best are not necessarily the ones the kids would pick.  Those parties were a whole lot about me–my success–my planning–my cleverness–my ability to do this well.  Not always a lot about my daughters and my sons.  They DID have some wicked fun, but usually it was during the silly things.  Laser tag was great, mostly because we all played and Mom and Dad got shot about 3x per minute during the whole game.  Grandpa and Grandma were great because they took them out to fly kites for as long as it took to get it up in the air–no hurries, no worries.

So just sit down for a minute already.  Keep it simple.  If you really dig doing all the cool decor stuff, and you have the time, then plan away.  But if you’re a schmuck like me, don’t sweat it.  Just remember to smile at them a lot.  Be happy.  Be fun.