Burning brakes and fall fun

Last week I set aside this day to take the kiddos on a fall color drive and hike. We set out this morning with no real plan in mind other than starting at Reddish Knob, a high mountain lookout I frequented in my youth.

After enjoying some time on top of the mountain, we decided to try a road I thought would take us to Sugar Grove, WV.

This will be fun, I thought, no rules for the day except to have fun. No GPS. I can always get us “un-lost.”

What I didn’t anticipate was cooking the brakes on our aged van. We laughed at chipmunks running across the road, marveled at the reds, oranges, yellows, rusts, and greens, enjoyed the deer and a moss-covered rock, but as we continued down the steep winding road, I started smelling the brakes. Then I noticed they weren’t responding much when I applied pressure.

Make this out to be NO BIG DEAL for the sake of the children, I thought as I stopped in the middle of the road sandwiched between two blind curves. There wasn’t a place to pull off.

I turned on the hazard lights and told the kids the van needed to rest. By this time the whole interior smelled of burning rubber. I allowed them to get out and play by the side of the road. I tried calling my husband, but there was no cell service. I wanted to be sure if I let them rest I would be safe to continue. After about a half hour of not being able to reach him and no one driving by, I decided we would try again.

I geared down this time, and we inched our way around a few more corners. I assured them if we had to drive into the ditch to stop, we would still be okay because we were going so slowly. I saw a pull off and decided to give the brakes a longer rest. We spread a blanket on the ground and had some lunch.

I heard a vehicle coming up the mountain and flagged down the pickup truck. The young man said we were down the steepest part. Just one more switchback, a few sharp curves, and the road would level out.

I got the kids and the dogs back in the van, feeling confident we could navigate without incident. Thanks be to God, we did.

We found the Trading Post in Sugar Grove, and the elderly gentleman behind the counter welcomed the children with a smile and a cow tail candy. We visited a while. His son is postmaster at the other end of the building. His daughter lives and works within six miles of our house. I asked if they had a restroom.

No, he said, but see that church across the street. The basement door’s open. Go in and turn right. You’ll find what you need there.

To the delight of our daughters, the church was “glittery!” It was covered in pieces of broken glass. I marveled at the metaphor of brokenness shining in the light of the sun.

We drove another twenty miles to hike the Confederate Breastworks Trail, knowing it was manageable for all levels of dogs and children while also getting us closer home.

After the hike, we decided to surprise Dad at work. He kept wondering why he hadn’t heard a peep from us, he said. I was glad I couldn’t reach him when I tried and that I was able to guide us through the brake debacle without alarming (and especially without harming!) the children.

Besides a lovely day enjoying the majesty of an Allegheny autumn, I felt my lately-crumbling confidence grow ever so slightly from working through a scary situation without help nearby. Well, except the most important help.

Animal Antics

Just short of 5 am, I find myself hostage to two felines. One climbs onto the covers next to me and stares into my soul with his big green eyes, daring me to see how ravished he is. The other bounces from night stand to dresser, knocking things down with his paws, angry at the injustice of waiting to be let outdoors.

I snap my fingers at them, wanting to take back some kind of power, but nothing doing. They’re in complete control. If they continue their shenanigans they awaken the wildlings, and somehow they seem to enjoy knowing that.

Defeated, I climb out of bed and give in to their commands. Mr. Bow Tie, his criminal name, follows me to the food container outside to be sure I’m following orders. They inhale three small bites and lick their paws like that fills the void that had created the cavernous hole in their stomachs, thus hailing their hostage from slumber.

I sigh and sink into my chair, relieved their demands have been met and I can have some morning quiet time, but alas, their accomplice arrives. Tiptoeing and grunting from the top of the stairs is “Skippy Jo Jane,” (her criminal name.) The relentless Chauweenie, helpless in her own right, demands I assist her with her morning constitution and fill her bowls as well. All the while, my fearless guard dog sleeps placidly nearby.

The hostage situation comes to a peaceful end, and the household is still once again. I’d better get to my quiet time before a whole new set of occupants need assistance.

#heldhostagebycats #pethostage #asyouwish

Bouncy prayers, anxiety, and choosing to believe

“Don’t get suspicious,” our 8-year-old daughter said as she casually disclosed her jaw pain. She was prepared for my anxiety. We’ve already buried one daughter and this one had a two-year span of chronic health issues that left me teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown. After a mostly problem-free summer, she started with new symptoms weekly for the past few months.

I don’t know how to suppress fear that tastes metallic and releases chemical pheromones through my arm pits that make me smell like a fetid mammal, but I know every time our daughter starts having chronic symptoms, that fear pounces like the demon it is.

I’ve had occasional generalized anxiety, but all my centering and grounding and Scripture-reciting escape me when this kind of fear clutches my chest. I try to hide it from my children, but they can sense the change in my voice and demeanor. It’s as if they watch my body turn to jelly.

Then I feel guilty, because I’m a Believer and I’m supposed to pray prayers of faith, to trust in God’s goodness. But here’s the thing, I don’t trust God to answer my prayers anymore. Not always, anyway. And not the way I want Him too. I only trust that He is with me in whatever lies ahead.

I learned God wasn’t a Wish-King when my 6-year-old self begged Him to bring my Daddy home, but he never came. Or when I begged Him to let my daughter live and she died anyway.

I learned God sometimes answers prayers when my teenaged brother was riding his bicycle and was hit by a car, causing traumatic brain injury and coma. Doctors said if he survived, he would be in a vegetative state his entire life, but instead he’s a college graduate and has a wonderful family and career. I learned God sometimes answers prayer the following year on that same brother’s birthday. Mom was on her bicycle and was hit by a car. She received life-saving pints of her own blood she’d recently donated.

I’m not privy to the naïveté of saying, “It will all work out, we just have to trust God’s best for us,” when my idea of best and His seem vastly different. But I have known His nearness in suffering and His presence in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. I pray the prayer of the father in the Gospel of Mark when he asked Jesus if it be possible to heal his son. Jesus said, if it’s possible? All things are possible if you believe. And the father cried, “I believe, Lord help my unbelief.”

Faith doesn’t come natural to me anymore, at least not in the sense of answered prayers. I have to choose to believe. And I can believe, because I know that ultimately I am held. And though I suffer various trials, my faith is being refined into something far more precious than gold. Though I do not always see or feel Him, I love Him.

We sit again in the pediatrician’s office, and the doctor says we might want to run some labs. I hold my little girl as they draw six tubes of blood from her skinny arm. She goes limp. Loses her color. Gets sick. I tell her she’s going to be okay while fear screams suffering and death in my head. I can’t stop the racing thoughts. It’s the same day my Daddy, who came back into my life as a young adult, gets an “aggressive lymphoma” diagnosis. Only two weeks after my 24-year-old cousin died.

I ask others to pray for us because my prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling. I hope for my daughter and weep for my daddy and battle fear that holds me captive. I fight guilt that tells me if I really believed, I wouldn’t be so scared. I am weary. I am tired. I am worn.

When the pediatrician’s phone number shows on my caller ID, I mumble hello around the cotton that seems to fill my mouth.

“How are you,” she asks.

“I don’t know,” I say breathlessly, “tell me how I am.”

“You’re good,” she replies. “We’re still waiting on some results, but most of the big scary things have been ruled out.”

There’s evidence of inflammation, but the remaining results we get next week might help guide us to answers. We’ll keep digging. My body feels like jelly again, this time from relief.

Like sinking into my favorite yellow arm chair, I fall into the lap of Perfect Love that casts out fear. This, this is a sensation I want to last. And in the moment, I’m thankful for a faith I can feel.

Double Vision

We’ve had the blessing of healthy children this year. Agents and publishers interested in multiple of my works. I’ve stepped away from my nonprofit and ministry work to homeschool our children. We’re reveling in the delight of longer snuggled mornings, less rigid schedules, and discovering how all elements of life and education are interwoven.

Autumn is kissing the Blue Ridge with a kaleidoscope of oranges, reds, yellows, and browns. We’re loving sweater weather, s’mores, spiced coffee, hot cocoa, cousin sleepovers, fire pits, and friends. Joys and highs and blessings untold.

This year has also come with death, five significant people in my life since May, spanning from aged to young. Two vernal loved ones are being treated for ugly heartrending diagnoses and another young-to-me is being tested for words I can’t make myself utter. Beyond my immediate circle of family and friends, there’s even more suffering, parents scream-praying for children to live, children reeling without parents. End of treatment. No more clinical trials. Hopelessness that prompts unthinkable actions. Familial, social, political, and spiritual unrest.

My anxiety resurfaced, forcing recognition in the form of physical symptoms, more medical tests, and eventually, treatment for the root cause. Grief, sorrows, and depths of despair.

Driving home from church the other night, I turned on my Rich Mullins playlist, hoping his folksy voice and thought-provoking lyrics would quicken my heart for things eternal. First to play was, “Here in America,” where Mullins describes God’s creativity in natural beauty around the world. Tucked in the chorus are the words, there’s so much beauty around us for just two eyes to see, But everywhere I go I’m looking…”

That’s what I need, I thought, more eyes to see more beauty.

But if I had extra eyes to see more beauty, wouldn’t I also witness that much more suffering?

Living with our hearts and eyes wide open means truly seeing the beautiful and the ugly, indescribable joy and unimaginable sorrow.

I can’t carry it all, I cried. I never intended you to, I heard.

 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 NASB.

I settle into the truth of these words and pray for grace to release my grasp on all I cannot hold. I wrestle with the paradox of being a believer in Absolute Truth who lives with questions. One who hopes against hope to avoid suffering, while knowing the presence and peace of God in the midst of it.

God uses the words of Ann Voskamp to remind me that “Those who long to see miracles, see everyday miracles everywhere.”

“Live like God is a genie in a bottle, and we become like angry drunks.

Live like God is king on a throne, and we become intoxicated with awe,” Voskamp writes.

Again, Rich Mullins sings prayers I cannot speak. “…hold me Jesus cause I’m shaking like a leaf. You have been King of my glory. Won’t You be my Prince of Peace.”

Whether beholding beauty I cannot describe or suffering I cannot utter, a warm blanket of Grace is there to envelop. Abiding Peace that IN all things, God never leaves, never forsakes, never abandons. And if my arms are raised, praising or questioning, my head bowed in reverence or sorrow, my body shaking in joy or rage, I’m held in His Everlasting Arms.

Be THOU my vision, oh Lord of my heart.