This is my story of the last year, told in six parts. Paragraphs in italics are my dreams, and the dated snippets come directly from my daily journal. I trust my family to forgive me for all that I've shared, because I can't tell this story without including the heart parts … and some of them are raw, and hard to swallow.
sifting the ashes
We got the house tidied up from the whirlwind move that left things all over the place and drawers half emptied. We decided that yes we were taking the camper with us to the beach, so there was an epic sort and removal of the majority of the things and projects the boys (well, Fynn mostly) had flung all over the basement and any other surface that wasn't already covered. A daunting detangle in a space that had been in flux for weeks, and barely kept functional as it was. I also started to get glimpses of how much I'd buried that might start coming to the surface if I dared to relax, and worried a wee bit about that. To top it off, the weather was bitterly cold, and in attempts to empty our black tank before leaving we discovered the valve was frozen. Trying to thaw it with a space heater blew a fuse. I gave up. Our camper isn't built for winter use so the tanks are not heated, and we'd been doing everything we could to keep them from freezing and cracking. We finally pulled out from between the snowbanks on Thursday afternoon, staggering with tiredness, cold, and a dawning elation at being pointed towards the beach and Michael's family.
Two Days on the Road : one freezing night at a truck stop pointed into the 5° air blowing at 20mph and leaving the truck running all night to power the furnace, one frozen and cracked sewer hose, one night in a WV campground that was miraculously open, one warm bourbon at the empty campground's non-empty bar, one tire changed for a couple of ladies stranded with their trailer, one late night arrival, one backing up of a very long driveway with the camper, one cozy tuck in between two huge beach houses, many hugs of welcome.
Seven Days Together : one solo sit in the hot tub, one girls afternoon out, one CodeNames tournament, two family game shows, one beach photo session, two personal breakdowns, four ducks consumed, six fantastic meals that the women didn't have anything to do with, one forging demonstration, 14 life updates given, every day filled to the brim with intensity.
Seven Days Home : one caravan to Raleigh, one fantastic pizza joint, two lovely days with Uncle Dick and Aunt Judy, three days in a familiar state park, one set of taxes almost finished, one lovely Fynn Fort, one night in a free riverside campground on WV land George Washington used to own, one speed bump at 30 mph, one smashed litterbox, one epic camper mess, one long gearing up to return to work, one safe arrival back at 2nd Ave.
We dragged ourselves back to work; emptying the house one box at a time, visiting at Park Ave (the new abode), celebrating Paul's birthday, sitting with Mom on Sunday mornings, and starting to pick away at the overall renovations on the old house. The lists were daunting. Michael spent his days on working on the house, and his nights on communicating with family over some subjects kindled by the time together. I'd assumed for years that Michael and I would be the ones dealing with the cleanout and fixup of 2nd Ave, and Dad had confirmed that in the fall when the decision was made to move them into Stephen and Rene's place. I love working with Michael, and we'd both been looking forward to this for months. So why were we having trouble getting up to full steam ahead?
The cumulative weight of the first six months in Chicago wasn't entirely lifted in the two weeks we'd been gone. I'd barely scratched the surface of anything emotional to be honest, and had come back to more adjustments, endless decisions of how to get rid of things, a preoccupied husband, and a daunting list of things to accomplish. There were more social opportunities now, which were lovely, but we both struggled. Part of the difficulty was due to the transition from a tightly structured schedule as to my responsibilities to Mom and Dad (pre vacation) to a family life with a day job (post vacation), and the resulting re-negotiations of how decisions were made, balanced, and executed. The focus was no longer so narrow, and the emergence from tunnel vision a bit blinding.
We finally found a working groove, got going on spacking and sanding and painting, and Michael's brother Nathan showed up to join the fray, bringing his very welcome electrical and plumbing expertise to the stack of lists now living on the dining room table. The lists that were partly buried under a dish of keys, piles of things to go to Park Ave, envelopes of photos to sort, boxed up teacups to mail, and things to get Dad's input on the next time he stopped by. We sailed jerkily through the next month and I struggled with some resentment at sharing Michael as my work partner, and deep sadness at old issues rearing their heads.
March 1 / Stephen to Mom … “Mom, you raised three little pigs …” Mom “No, I certainly did no…!” … her most coherent response in months!
March 2 / Dreamed I was watching and caring for Grambie
The Sunday mornings I usually spent with Mom were delightful and quiet. Most often just the two of us, though sometimes Michael came along. I came to fully appreciate the changes in our relationship that had come about during her care, and really enjoy the closeness. She wasn't super responsive, but still reacted to things with her eyes and the very occasional word, picked up and ate small snacks with her increasingly gnarled fingers, and listened to stories and music. I'd tell her things, and assume that she knew exactly what I meant. The painful truth was that as fiercely as I'd loved my Grambie (Dad's Mom) during her life, I hadn't felt that same fierceness for my own Mom until the last six months. It made quiet time with her all the sweeter.
March 3 / Dreamed about an eight-ish year old girl, a “princess”, being driven down a road in a cart, surveying. She saw groups of women in funny handmade green suits walking across fields. The princess character sees them. Freezes for a second, then resumes the ride but is changed. The ladies see her and are a bit wary, but are not threatened.
Being back in Addison, working in the house I grew up in, and temporarily in a very similar social circle to the one in my teens and 20's, was a bit of a mind flip. I'm no longer the same person I was in those years, the one who believed that other people had a right to judge everything we had, did, and wore, because a good bit of our income was based on donations from folks wanting to help out Bible Truth Publishers, where my Dad worked (and still does). I felt I had to always be useful, helpful, and an example to others of a holy and modest Christian. I had to help my family be worthy of the charity that we accepted.
I built that self image on my “approval ratings”, and so never wanted to disappoint anyone, especially not my father. I wanted to be all the things I was supposed to, but the internal dichotomy grew between the image I tried to project, and the person I was covering up in the process. I grew roots of worthlessness and unworthiness, because I could never live up to the standards I set for myself, or felt were being set for me. I tried to be more liked, more loyal, more humble. I also got somewhat proud of how unworthy I was, though I labeled it as piety at the time.
I believe my identity now, at 48, is closer to the 7-year-old who moved to Chicago in 1978 than I've been for nearly 40 years. That girl was confident, rather outgoing, self-assured, happy, and a bit wary of change. She didn't have a self-image to live up to, but knew who she was, and didn't shy away from it. The shift really started to take hold last spring.
A few months before we came to Chicago, I had a dream. It was triggered by having a friend help me dig up the unworthy/worthless roots, which set off a cascading realization as to where so many of my defaults came from. My identity was not rooted in who I was born to be, it was based on what other people thought of me. A slippery slope for sure, and one that I'd scrabbled on for most of my life. I knew in my heart that my true freedom is being unafraid, confident in knowing that I'm loved and approved of by the God who made me (thanks to Jesus), and that love is a gift I was born to share. Divorcing myself from the deep need for my fellow humans' approval was daunting though, and I had to have a little help in getting the process started.
I dreamed that I was in a slowly moving and loosely knit group of people, no known destination or purpose or scenery. Only person I knew was Michael, and I didn't see him but knew he was there. I became aware of a slight warmth and fullness growing in my abdomen, and realized it was pooling blood ... and that I was internally bleeding and it was going to kill me. There was no distress or pain, just curiosity and a sense of very limited time left. I rather enjoyed the feeling, mostly out of curiosity, but also found the warm belly to be comfortable. I thought almost idly of heaven, and thought That Will be Nice, but didn't focus on it.
I started to feel like maybe there were some people I should talk to before I died, and had an itch to call my parents. I don't know if I did or not, nor do I remember any words being spoken at all, but the feeling passed. Possibly because I realized the end was coming soon. I had a more urgent desire to talk to my cousin, and Michael helped me find a room off to the side somewhere where there was a desk and access to a phone somehow. I just made it in the room and into a chair, but could feel my life ebbing away. I had to acknowledge that I didn't have the strength to call and talk, and felt very slightly agitated about that.
I don't remember dying, the dream just ended there, and shifted into a different one in which I ran into a couple more people that I thought I should contact. What came clear to me was that the blood of Christ was filling me up to the point that the false identity (worthless and unworthy) that I'd been building on had to die. I had to be reborn, in my heart and my actions, as nothing more than a child of God, no strings attached. It left me feeling light, strong, and peaceful. I was still drying the wings of this newfound freedom when we got to Chicago in August, and I dove back into the bosom of my birth family.
That's a lot of navel-gazing digression, but I had to lay it out to get to my point. Diving in and being very quickly handed the reins of responsibility, by my Dad, for something I'd never expected to have to do, and then not getting one single iota of judgment from him for any decision that I made, most of which directly affected the life and well-being of the most precious-to-him human on earth? It was my father, and my Father, saying to me that if you do this for me, and for her, and for love, that is all that matters. I do not condemn you, shun you, or judge you as unworthy for any decision that you make. I just love you. There will be gold too. Oh yes, there will be gold. It's not about earning approval at all. It's just about doing the good that's put in front of me, with everything I've got, and trusting the results to God. What immense relief I find in that, and stronger wings too.
As John Prine puts it …
Well I'm thinking I'm knowing that I gotta be going
You know I hate to say so long.
It gives me an ocean of mixed up emotion
I'll have to work it out in a song.
Well I'm leaving a lot for the little I got
But you know a lot a little will do
And if you give me your love
I'll let it shine up above
And light my way back home to you.
Cause you got gold
Gold inside of you
Cause you got gold
Gold inside of you
Well I got some
Gold inside me too