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.

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.

New; my word for 2019

She was a purple Giant. My first bicycle wasn’t huge, Giant was the brand. As an Old Order Mennonite girl, my transportation options were the family horse and buggy, walking, or a used bike from the family stockpile. But at thirteen I got my very first, very own, brand new bike. 

I rode barefoot on long summer evenings to neighborhood softball games in cow pastures, to the river for a swim, to friend’s houses for outdoor sleepovers. I rode in bitter winter with long socks and boots, layers of coats, scarves, and hoods, my hands and thighs numb-frozen when I finally made it to youth basketball games or back home late evenings. 

As the fifth of seven children raised by a single mother, new wasn’t something I was used to. Mom would sew us new dresses, we would occasionally get a new bonnet, and sometimes new shoes, but anything new felt wildly exciting.

New. My word for 2019 has felt slow in coming, but this three-letter gem has become engraved on my heart as the first weeks of the year progress. 

New: not existing before; made, introduced, or discovered recently or now for the first time. 

After three years of what has felt like a “fiery furnace” for our family, it feels like we are on the cusp of something new, something wildly exciting! 

New: my memoir, readying for publication, from the girl whose roles and rules were rigidly defined in childhood, but whose pen and paper secretly realized a much larger story.

New: stepping out in faith into a paid position as executive director of the non-profit my husband and I started in memory of our daughter after working ten years as a volunteer, from the girl who was told women cannot lead. 

New: training for my first half-marathon, from the girl who always before said, “If you see me running you should run too, because something scary is chasing me.”

New: release from a myriad of voices imposing the weight of the world on my shoulders, from the girl who carried far too weighty baggage in childhood. 

New: intentionally setting aside family time, from the girl who has worn too many hats, (not literally, can too many hats be a real thing literally?) 

New is palpitating, coursing through my being, daring me to step forward into the places I am being called, fondly remembering the girl I was, inviting me to become. And that new bicycle I got for my thirteenth birthday? It still carries me today, twenty-eight years later, reminding me this “new” I’m stepping into has the potential to carry me further than I ever imagined. 

Cornucopia

Deep autumn air

Finagles through window seams

Invigorating my soul from sleep

Cradled by feather pillows

And fleece blankets

Loves sleep-dreaming around me

Rain forest coffee beans

Party in my thalamus

Crimson pomegranate seeds

Plink into the bowl

Dark wheat bread lies rustic in it’s basket

Tasting of sunshine, rain, and wind

Wood-stove’s heat warms toes and floors

Mocha dog, comforting, protecting nearby

Morning moves over the Blue Ridge

Breaking the quiet stillness of dawn

My day, only beginning

And just like that my cornucopia

Overflows

Bursts goodness

From the million little joys

That fill my life

Writing Mama

5:30 am

Releasing words

On blank page

Husband stirs, coughs,

Releases his own gas

Into the atmosphere

Cats scratch hungrily at the door

Dogs want scratched too, by me

Baby calls for mama

Another needs covers

The third isn’t sure

He can go back to sleep

Just like that my quiet space,

My blank page

Is gobbled up

By the humans and animals I love

The words stay stuck

Inside my head

For one more day

Humor, havoc, heartache, and harmony

An peak into the cadence of our lives.

Why yes, yes there ARE bright pink plastic tablecloths duct taped to my mostly faithful mini van currently parked in the grass of our front yard.

We spent part of the weekend going back and forth to my brother’s camp. After spending a few hours there Saturday, the children and I returned to clean up for my niece’s goodbye party. She left for basic training this weekend to become an Army mechanic.

I was cooking pasta for a salad to contribute to her goodbye meal, when quarter-sized rain drops began to pelt the window. I bolted to the van for the keys I had placed in the cup holder, but alas, they were nowhere to be seen. I remembered the girls lingering briefly in the van when we got home, and our 2-year-old took immediate responsibility for the missing keys. Except that she had no idea where she’d put them!

I pilfered through trash inside and out, scoured the van, rummaged my pocketbook (which deserves it’s own real estate in a blog), all while buckets of rain poured into the open van windows. It’s here I sheepishly admit we only have one set of keys, so we were up the creek if you get my drift.

We missed my niece’s goodbye party. My husband came home from working on our townhouse we are prepping to sell and my mom came to watch the children so we could go get a vehicle from my husband’s car lot to drive in the meantime. As heartbroken as I was to miss the goodbye party, I could only be so frustrated with our adorable little daughter, and I literally laugh out loud every time I see those pink tablecloths on the van. (New keys are on the way today!)

I received a call last week to provide the message for a worship service for the Mid Atlantic Burn Camp’s thirtieth reunion. I was honored to be a small part of this amazing outreach, and once I had confirmed my availability, gave them a yes. But availability for an hour on a Sunday morning, doesn’t factor in preparation, so in between focusing on time with family and other events, I found myself writing the message at midnight Saturday!

Regardless of my personal circumstances demanding attention elsewhere, we had a lovely time together Sunday morning.

A highlight of the Labor Day Weekend was our 7-year-old daughter and I running our first 5K together! I’ve been running all summer. She is bouncy and always active, but hadn’t trained for running. We wanted to participate in this particular event because it was in memory of a young girl who died of cancer and provides scholarships for a summer camp.

As we started running, I encouraged her to pace herself and let me know at any time if she needed to walk. She ran 3.13 miles in 34:32 and placing first in her age group! She would have shaved minutes off her time of she hadn’t stayed behind with me! That time together with my daughter for such a meaningful cause was euphoric.

This weekend also included addressing bullying in various forms, a doctor visit for one of our children, last minute babysitting a toddler overnight, two terrible accidents involving people we care deeply about, “a paint project” by our youngest, and birthday party planning for our son this week, among other things.

Among the general excitement and busyness for the coming months is an incredible opportunity for me to spend a weekend with the lovely Helena Clare Pittman for a memoir writing retreat! I’ve been busy writing and preparing to make the most of this opportunity.

I’m always grateful for your interaction here, even when my posts are sporadic. My writing and readership community are like the friends who, regardless of how much time passes between interactions, we pick right back up where we left off.

We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect. Anais Nin

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. Sylvia Plath

If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. Toni Morrison

Veins

As I child, I noticed mom’s hands

Worn from labors of farming and gardening

I pushed in her blue veins

And laughed as they filled again

They looked so different than my smooth soft hands

Now that I am Mom

My hands too, are worn from labors

I hold my young daughter

She laughs as she manipulates my blue veins