No Going Back

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When I was pregnant nearly 29 years ago with my first child, I did not appear visibly pregnant. My belly was not pronounced. I never heard any of the following comments: “How many months are you? When’s the due date? How nice!”

Mid-way through my pregnancy with my son, my now ex-husband and I were on a standing-room-only crowded bus in Washington D.C. and no one offered his or her seat to me as I fumed silently, worried if the added exertion would effect my pregnancy.

My son did not take up any space in my womb, and as I now realize, he did not take up much space in the world he was not planning to stay in for too long. The end of his story was symbolized in the total of four pairs of pants that my daughter and I retrieved from his meager belongings when we traveled to his final place of residence in Kentucky.

Who knows if I did suffer the consequences of not receiving any special attention or care while I was pregnant. All I know is that Marshall was born a preemie. Strangely, the doctors never came to an agreement on his actual due date. What we did know was that he was either one, two or three months early.

As I’ve written before, he was not only born a preemie, but also with a congenital heart defect, having to undergo two surgeries, the last one an open heart surgery before his first-year birthday. I won’t go into the details of the birth itself, but I was in the hospital, lying flat on my back for six days before he was born. After the ordeal, somehow one inch of his umbilical cord accompanied me home! I stashed it in my bedroom drawer and through the years I occasionally uncovered it to marvel at life’s divine handiwork.

One more month from today marks my son’s demise two years ago when I returned his umbilical cord as well as gave him the ashes of his beloved cat Cliff. They both were shut tight inside his coffin along with some of his life’s other mementos.

As fall marches along, memories drop like acorns and thump on my head, redirecting me from the day. When I first fell in love with literature at 16, I loved the character of Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman because he was old and worn down from an unfulfilled life. It brought me great comfort and relief to know that leaves on a page confined his pain in a closed book. For me, I had uncovered my quest for the American Dream through Mr. Loman who lost faith in his American Dream, because that is when I decided to become a writer like Arthur Miller, sideswiping life’s hardships and, instead, capturing the anguish by using a pen and allowing the pen to dribble its tears. In other words, at 16, my sole objective was to become the master of my own universe.

In writing, this process works. In real life, thinking I have control over my life hurts, especially as it concerns my son. Taking me by surprise from day one as a preemie, my son never stopped surprising me with years of challenges and unexpected events. Through the years, as I worked on feature articles for travel and bridal markets and other feel-good subjects, and in my spare time on fictional stories, I glossed over the raw realities of real life and, instead, I wore my rose-colored glasses and viewed every situation like a cherry-on-top silly Hallmark movie scene. The first inkling of how horribly wrong things could actually be was when I started uncovering layers of a liar’s cake, frosted thick, that my now ex-husband started to create in 2010. I thought I got wise after that, but not wise enough. Nineteen years later on that awful November day at 1:51 p.m. two years ago, one month from now, I received the telephone call that left me bearing unspeakable pain and profound grief.

From that day forward, I realized my life full of dreams and aspirations and faith in good over evil stopped. Nothing I ever wanted would come to fruition, because I had lost one of the main characters, and you cannot fill a blank screen when the projector has died.

Everything I imagined never worked out. Instead of learning about successes, accomplishments, mental wellness and other how-to-control-your-life strategies, and themes that are directly opposite the Willy Loman stories, I wish I learned about the importance of being brave and facing the ugly side of life early on. I wish I learned that The Little Engine That Could sometimes Couldn’t. I wish I had learned and passed the lessons on to my children and helped them understand the cruel, cold realities of life will never disappear, much like the impact of mental health issues. I wish more people in life were brave and could teach us how to do it. I wish so many things.

In the “old days” I found my tribe in support groups. Now, fortunately, I find my tribe in a handful of supportive people in real life and in my blogging community. I have also gone full circle, finding another tribe in the characters I read in literature.

For instance, one of the main characters (Rill Foss/May Weathers Crandall) in Before We Were Yours by New York Times bestselling author Lisa Wingate hits the ball out of the park conveying how I feel about the consequence of expectations through Rill in the scene below that illustrates how the character finally reunites with her long-lost father and life that she has longed for ever since it was stolen from her. Wingate writes:

He gets up and heads for the door, grabbing his empty whiskey bottle on the way. A minute later, I hear him rowing off in the skiff.

I listen until he’s gone, and in the quiet that’s left after, I feel like the world is coming down around me. When I was at Mrs. Murphy’s and then the Seviers’ house, I thought if I could just get back to the Arcadia, that’d fix everything. I thought it’d fix me, but now I see I was fooling myself, just to keep on going, one day to the next.

Truth is, instead of fixing everything, the Arcadia made everything real. Camellia’s gone. Lark and Gabion are far away. Queenie’s buried in a pauper’s grave, and Briny’s heart went there with her. He’s lost his mind to whiskey, and he doesn’t want to come back.

Not even for me. Not even for Fern. We’re not enough.

My heart squeezes again.

Everything I wanted my life to be, it won’t be now. The path that brought me here is flooded over. There’s no going back.

Unlike old roofs, circumstances cannot be fixed no matter how much we are fixated on fixing them. There’s no going back. Going forward for me isn’t an option anymore. Moving along, learning to live my life under the category of pain management, scouting out the brave ones in life, that is the only way of faith I can bank on.

Faith Muscle

PS: HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my beautiful daughter this week who will turn 27 on the 21st. She is my everything and so much more! ❤️

Time Frames and Life Frames

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In the late 1990s, I attended a seminar in which a woman discussed her recently published book about her experience of working with dying AIDS patients in New York City. Most of her talk centered around the taboo topic of death in today’s world. One of the biggest mistakes we make as a society, she said, is to presume that when a loved one leaves the premises, he or she will return.

My former self would never have fathomed how the author’s profound statement would one day relate to my own life. Two years ago this past Memorial Day weekend, my son left his childhood home and went back to his home, never to return again. My memory frames his tall, broad-shouldered, 26-year-old portrait standing inside our front door. The flashback triggers feelings of sadness and loss, wet and heavy like a low pile rug drenched in pain. I cannot wring out the emotions nor erase the calm look and smile on his ginger-bearded face in those shared final moments. When he was younger, he was the spitting image of his father. Now, his uncanny resemblance to me was unmistakable. Like a baby blanket hand washed hundreds of times, he was familiar to me. Ironically, at the time I was grateful that, in many ways, my job as a mom was a proud accomplishment. He had grown up into a successful young man. Best of all, I thought, I instilled a sense of independence in him and despite a string of setbacks, he had flown the nest.

The airport shuttle bus driver, who was waiting in the driveway to transport him to the airport, beeped the horn. I followed my son outside. I paid little attention to what I took for granted as just another gifted moment. As he sat in the mini bus, I do remember feeling as if he were a young boy again and leaving on the school bus. I waved goodbye as the vehicle disappeared. A part of my former, practical self kicked in and I became focused on my engine red to-do list that was on fire in my mind because there were endless chores, obligations and responsibilities to check off. Yet, another part of me yearned for him to stay one more day and watch the town’s Memorial Day parade, the one he once loved to participate in when he was growing up where there was always a place for him. Just one more day.

I was confident in our Gorilla Heavy Duty Adhesive bond and was tricked to believe no human hands, certainly not our own, could sever it. I returned to the house alone, walked into the entranceway where my mind’s eye captured a snapshot of him towered high, emphasized by the door’s frame. Saying his final goodbye, he had stood in front of the main door with his back to where the sun sets and not far from where our road intersects with another road named Sunset Drive. The same route the driver traveled to take my son home to where he lived on Sunset Road in Kentucky, about 600 miles away. Six months later, the unimaginable happened and my life as I had known it went poof like the blank shells fired during Memorial Day parades.

How could this have happened in my miracle-filled, storied life that began thirty-five years prior when I stood at a crossroads? At that time, I was given a second chance in my life and slowly developed a life of faith. It started when, angry at religion and filled with notions of a punishing God, the 12-step program I later ascribed to taught me to believe in something other than myself. This “something” was called a higher power, and I learned that the higher power could be as random as a doorknob, but the key was, as long as it wasn’t me, it seeded a belief, and the idea of giving up my reign of control on outside circumstances helped me discover something I never experienced – inner peace.

During those years, after a rough ego-shedding start, I was grateful for my new life. My thank-you notes were action steps. Whether someone needed a car ride or a supportive phone call, I helped. I also volunteered at the local hospital’s mental health unit. I watched resilient people overcome insurmountable obstacles. Living a life of witnessing miracles, how could I not envision a bright, promising future for my one and only son? However, the string of happy tomorrows was ripped from me like perfectly healthy layers of skin. The tragedy happened 21 days after a 35-year milestone of my practicing the 12-step principles. It was a time of celebration. On that tragic day, however, I stepped on the landmine I had built out of my sugarcoated optimism, fantasies and misconceptions, and it detonated; my former self left behind in the explosion.

When I saw my son for the last time, framed in the soft cushion of his metal coffin, my new self released into his lifeless palms crowned with his slim fingers and bruised hands, my former self’s 35-year coin, a hallmark of recovery that I carried proudly for over three decades in my wallet like a medal of honor.

Now, nearly 19 months later, the minefields are cleared. I do not trip over booby-traps of overexaggerated optimism, and there are no milestone victory coins any longer in my possession. Don’t get me wrong. I am indebted to the people who helped me achieve those thirty-five years. I have not lost my inner peace. Now, though, I exist within a heavy metal grief framework. I head into my 37th year of recovery with feet flat, accepting life on life’s terms, allowing the raw reality to bite hard, but without chewing me to a pulp. I put my faith into believing that one day the barren, flat ground underneath me will be the perfect level to witness a sunrise; a luminescent horizon, a photo worth framing that makes you believe in an endless loop of miracles that make a surprise grand entrance at your front door.

Faith Muscle

To My Brother in Heaven

But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. Luke 15:32

It brings me great strength and joy to know you are in the loving arms of Jesus. Down here on earth, your arms were in the shackles of a disease that you did not want. I was four years old when I first tried to help you, but I was at a loss, wanting to contain your Niagara Falls amount of throw-up in a tiny pink cup.

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From that day forward, I felt like I trailed behind you through life, big brother, with a tiny pink plastic cup that could never contain the monster-sized remnants inside.

I won’t deny, that when you were alive, I spent a lot of time fantasizing about a replacement brother. The kind of big brother that takes you places above ground and not underground. The kind of brother who views life is lived on a rich, varied and textured terrain generous in rose-smelling opportunities. Like I told you a gazillion times, I never cared about your version of life lived in a flat-line region where the point of it all is survival.

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No doubt about it. We spent a lot of time in the mud hole: bickering, arguing and sometimes having a knock-down, drag-out fight. We landed in plenty of fox holes, too, where our prayers were “God Help!” Succinct ones, but as fervent as the long, formal prayers.

Seventeen years later, and I darn well know that if given the chance for a replacement brother or you, there is no doubt to the one I would choose. I attribute my choice to you. Underneath your disease. Underneath the monster. Buried under a mountain of hurt, you were one of the greatest men I’ve ever known. Not because you were handsome, strong, generous, compassionate, highly intuitive and intelligent and a war hero to boot, but because you knew that everything, no matter how utterly defective, stained, sinned or doomed, could root, grow and live under one condition: that it is planted in a bedrock of unconditional love.

Thank you for leaving me this bedrock of a legacy. To allow myself to be vulnerable, trust and carry the message tirelessly to those who suffer and those who need strength. Most of all, thanks for being my Angel Michael, right next to Archangel Michael, as I trudge this road of happy destiny.

Dear Big Brother in heaven, I can’t wait to see you in heaven someday. Feel your arms around me again, and see the sober twinkle in your eyes, when you radiate His love and gently whisper, “Peace.”

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

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Faith Muscle

Memorial Day …. Remembering those who spare themselves from remembering.

“The Lord is near to those who are discouraged; he saves those who have lost all hope.” –Psalm 34:18

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My brother Mike was a highly decorated Vietnam Vet. Among his medals, his highest honor was the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart with “V” for acts of valor and heroism.

From the start, God had generously gifted my brother with brilliance and qualities that made bystanders stop and stare. Unfortunately, he had experienced a rough home life. In his teenage years, solace arrived in form of alcohol that turned its thieving head, stole his free will and enslaved him for the rest of his life.

After graduating high school, he signed up for the military, hoping to escape. Little did he realize that he left the home of hell only to saunter into a corridor of despair that lead to a door of destruction and death. Serving two tours of combat, with a six-month stint at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., in between.

When he left home to Vietnam, Mike was broken in half. Upon his return home, he was a shattered man. My brother, who bore the soul of a gentle giant, with nine fingers on two hands–one lost in battle–lived a life of soul sickness and hurt, a walking PTSD statistic. Faith alluded him as if it was someone else’s shadow.

“What is the meaning of life?” I asked my older brother on numerous occasions.

His answer, short and sweet. “Survival.”

His answer flat, his macabre (Is that all there is?) slant on life apparent.

I know he believed in God, but did Mike have faith in a greater good? I do not have the answer to that question. I do know, however, between the war in Vietnam and the war he lived through in civilian life, his wounds ran deep.

Fortunately, in his later years Mike found peace in nature. In a tiny cabin alone in the woods, he found predictability in his sunflowers and vegetable gardens.

Shorty after Mike experienced a stroke, I looked into his eyes, and saw what felt like the opposite of infinite. Through my prayers and tears, that was all there was.  A few days later, at 55 years old, he finally met the peace that alluded him his entire life.

On memorial Day I especially feel his presence. I visualize him again the last time I saw him 15 years ago. Standing with his dog tall and proud like the tree behind him. I picture myself waving good-bye to him as I had on that last day, saying how I loved him, wanting so desperately to twist the emptiness out of him like a sponge and in its place sop up abundance. Goodness. Joy. Peace. Instead, I met his empty but forgiving eyes and accepted him as his own man with his own faith; knowing you cannot present faith to someone like a medal. Fortunately, if you love with faith, you will discover endurance even in the bone dry pieces of the heart.

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

true Christian faith

touched by an angel

“All there is is love!”

Love conquers all

Love conquers all

Do everything in love. ~1 Corinthians 16:14 

A bush of gray messy hair. Dusty work boots. Though he had a small frame, my friend John had a linebacker’s shoulders and a voice that could make an angel’s words sound mean.  A tough bird living a tough life, for many years he was a chronic alcoholic and as unapproachable as a rat in a gutter.

Fortunately, he did find recovery from the disease of alcoholism for nearly forty years. Don’t get me wrong, John did not travel the easy street of sober life. Demons always engaged him in battle, one in particular, an uncontrollable rage issue, threw him behind bars during his mid-sobriety.

Nonetheless, whether he was up or down, his all-around mantra was “All there is is love!”

I’ve had my own demons over these last 31 years. Though uncontrollable rage, fortunately, has not been one of them, at least not for the last 21 years, anger and resentment is another story. I have a collection of easy-to-reach injustices in the form of people, places and things. In fact, they are attractive and invade my mind dressed in fine jewelry and inflate my ego and puff me up to feel like I am PROactive and righteous; but the truth is, no matter how powerful they feel, anger and resentment undermine our lives and throw us in the chamber of darkness, cloud our vision and defeat our primary purpose(s) in life. To become stuck in destructive emotion is to kill motion. Without motion, there is no life.

Therein lay the legacy that John left me. If you are running out of faith, try Love first. Love is the pill that the pharmaceutical companies can’t compete with. Whenever I feel upset, I hear John’s words, “All there is is love!” The minute I hear those words, I breathe, feel at ease, accept. My blood pressure deflates along with my ego, and the road ahead is clear and manageable; not easy, mind you, but in the right frame of mind, gratitude unfolds its magical carpet.

Don’t get me wrong, don’t expect the uneven terrain to disappear; instead, a happy surrender means a cease fire to an unnecessary fight and only then can we allow our vision to move from the uneven terrain and, instead, shift our focus on the new flower shoots along the path.

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

touched by an angel

touched by an angel

I need a miracle

powerful prayers for miracles

prayers for healing

Today is my brother’s earthly birthday in heaven. It is his 13th one in heaven.

I have a gift for you; actually, it is only for a selected few: for the group of people (you know who you are deep inside) who are suffering from alcoholism and addiction.

I offer you the following prayer,

Dear God,

I am a good person.

  • Generous in spirit.
  • Charitable in love.
  • Genuinely selfless.

Willing to do your will, but drowning in misguided self-will. I am broken. I mistrust myself.

Please give me the willingness to unchain my ego. Courage to trust you will do all things right. Vision to see the freedom of surrender. Ability to look at my reflection in the mirror and see ONLY you and your boundless healing love and mercy.

Right now, I do not believe in me. But I believe in you.

Please give me the humility to move aside so you can pick up and rebuild my shattered self into another one of your masterpieces.

In His name, I pray.

Amen.

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!