Healing from the Hurt of a Friend

Since “heal” is my word of the year, I want to keep exploring this theme in my life and notice where it shows up. One instance of healing from hurt in a relationship where I wrestled with how to experience peace over it came to mind today. I’m reading a book by the author Donald Miller called Scary Close:  Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy. I always spend time stopping and ruminating on the concepts an author expounds upon when I’m reading non-fiction, and this book provides plenty of those stop-and-ponder moments.

The relationship–and the hurt within it–that surfaced in my mind today lived and died about 9 years ago. When I was pregnant with Woodrow, and Mike had I had newly returned from our year in New Zealand, my friend Anne invited me to join a women’s Bible study she’d begun leading. Through that group of women, I met and befriended an older woman we’ll call Alma (because that isn’t her name). Her children were all grown and married, and she had several grandchildren, whereas I was just beginning my journey into motherhood. Even so, we had much in common, with some particular family relationships and challenges therein.

After the Bible study ended–and I’d birthed Woodrow and begun to establish life as a mother to a newborn–I thought about Alma and wanted to spend more time with her. So, several months after the Bible study group had thrown me a surprise baby shower during my first pregnancy, I called Alma and asked if we could get together and visit. I wanted the influence of an experienced, mature woman, growing in her faith and relationships, in my life. She was keen to meet up, as glad as I was to spend time together.

Over the next year or so, we met several times, sometimes over meals–once at her house, where we shared cinnamon rolls and prayed together. We talked about meaningful and personal parts of life. Then, about the time I got pregnant with Garfield, some things in my life started to crumble. Mike and I were in counseling, and I was hurting. In fact, I’d felt blindsided by most of what was causing the hurt, and I realized it would get worse before it could get better. So I reached out to Alma–I wanted her input and her advice. I wanted to lay it all on the table and ask, “What do you think?”

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We talked on the phone, and we got together for a meal at Panera. I remember her treating me to dinner that night and asking if I wanted onions on my bagel sandwich–she didn’t know, she said, because she wasn’t sure I’d prefer eating onions while pregnant. Throughout these conversations, Alma expressed thanks that I trusted her with difficult and burdensome struggles. She said she was humbled that I would turn to her for insight. I knew Alma had much to offer, and she seemed grateful to be able to share her life experience.

After a few times meeting together–which was sometimes a feat to accomplish, given her work schedule and my caring for a toddler–she urged me to email her with news about how I was doing, how she could pray for me. I hesitated at first, thinking much would get lost in an email conversation. But after she encouraged me twice to do that, I took her up on it, thinking this would help fill in the cracks between the times we could meet face to face.

One night, I wrote a message to her, explaining some of what I had been processing and going further in-depth with some questions she’d asked me previously. A day or so later, Alma responded with a three-sentence reply, barely addressing what I’d mentioned. She concluded with, “Let me know when you want to get together again.” I felt surprised and unsure how to respond. I suppose if I want to see Alma again, the onus is on me, I thought.

My personal life became more confusing and painful, and we had a miscarriage scare with Garfield, and still I didn’t hear from Alma (not that she knew about the near-miscarriage, since we hadn’t talked). At some point, I realized we hadn’t spoken or visited with each other in months. I wondered what had happened, and I felt discarded. Did I miss something? Had she not actually been as eager for the friendship as she’d seemed to indicate? I wondered.

As I continued to wade through the chaos of life, thoughts of Alma faded to the background. I assumed the friendship had run its course–that maybe God had allowed her to be in my life for a time, maybe to help hold me up as I limped along for a bit, but that the season of friendship with Alma was finished. Then, one day about 5 months after our last email exchange, I saw a message from her–another 3-sentence message. “I’ve come to collect my Worst Friend award. Ha, ha,” was how it opened. It concluded with something along the lines of “hope you’re OK” and “maybe we can catch up sometime.”

If Alma had never written that message at all, if I’d continued assuming we’d simply gone our separate ways, I would have been fine. But her breezy, casual paragraph–with her “worst friend” quip–wounded me to the quick. I think it actually left me breathless for a moment. A day or two later, I still hadn’t responded, because I’d been thinking about what to do. Then I realized I wasn’t going to write back. True, I hadn’t called her or asked for a time to meet up during those months of silence. But I’d taken her at her word, poured my heart out via email as she’d suggested, then felt brushed off and ignored–by the person who earlier had been so grateful for my trust and vulnerability.

pin cushion with pins

Telling somebody “If you need me, give me a holler” is in an entirely different orbit than showing up in a person’s life and declaring “I knew you needed me, so I came.” I didn’t think Alma and I had anything to share anymore; I just didn’t think there was much friendship left. So I left her message unanswered.

Over the years, I have come to extend grace to her in my heart and mind–understanding that we all fall short of loving unconditionally, and certainly I’ve let down friends myself at times. I wish her well, and I’ve prayed for her on occasion, particularly in those times when I felt I struggled most to forgive her. But in certain moments, I’ve doubted myself about not responding to her last email, about not giving her another chance–even though I’m convinced (both then and now) it was a healthy boundary for me to set, even if others would have handled it differently.

Today, though, God revealed something else:  the peace in what I DIDN’T do. I didn’t get back in touch with her so I could punish her for rejecting me. I didn’t pretend to keep the friendship alive so I could make sure she paid back a debt she owed. I didn’t string her along with the promise of forgiveness if she were sorry enough.

toys-on-pallet

In what I DIDN’T do, I find peace, even resolution. I forgave Alma, let her off the hook, and said good-bye to a friendship that I realized didn’t have any life left in it. I haven’t seen Alma in almost a decade, but wherever she is, I hope she’s well and experiencing healing of her own.

How Not Complaining Gave Me Better Understanding

For Lent, we decided as a family to fast from complaining–and we chose not only to give up something but also to add something during the season of Lent. We elected to add acts of kindness. As you can imagine, at least one person in the family fails almost daily in the giving up of complaining. But therein lies the value of choosing to ‘sacrifice’ this habit for Lent:  We know that we can’t be good enough in our own strength, our own power, to uphold our own standard of goodness (much less God’s standard). So as we slip and stumble, we’re reminded of our need for Christ. Of our need for the gospel. Of our need for the gospel EVERY SINGLE DAY.

smiley-face

But recognizing that we ARE fasting from complaining helps to make me at least more intentional about noticing when I do it and about kicking it to the curb when I catch myself at it.

This past Sunday afternoon, on a glorious and bright and sunny day, we took the boys to a lake with Woodrow’s kayak and their fishing gear. I took my workout plan and found a shady spot to do my crunches, squats, Russian twists, and the rest, while Mike watched the boys play around with the kayak mostly near the shore.

A massive, well-attended dog park sits next to the park with the pier and the lake where our family spent time that day. Dog owners bring their pets to the dog park here to run and play; they even have a bit of lake shore set aside for their enjoyment. All this is separated from the lake park (called Lake Baldwin Park) by a fence. The fence even extends several feet out into the water, and the place across from the multi-acre dog park–where the boys paddled in the kayak and fished off the pier–is marked with a sign reading “No Dogs Beyond This Point.”

Almost every time we visit this lake park, we see dog owners bring their pets right out onto the pier, past the sign informing them not to bring their dogs to that area. The dog park has its own entrance, so there’s no need for the owners to walk their dogs on or near the pier. Sometimes these dogs startle my children while the boys dangle fish hooks in the water, but the dogs are usually on leashes, and I typically don’t say anything to the owners about it.

This past Sunday, however, we encountered a different situation with a dog and her owner. The man dropped his dog off at the dog park and then walked over to the lake park, to the pier, and stood on it while yelling at his dog across the fence. He wanted her to swim around the fence that stretched out into the water and make her way over to him on the pier. He tried to get her to swim around to him over and over. She didn’t seem to understand the command. Eventually, he went back inside the dog park to retrieve her. Then he brought her with him back to the lake park, to the side of the lake NOT designated as a dog park. He took her off her leash, letting her run freely.

And run she did, round and round. She ran around him; she ran around me; she ran around the pier and into the water. At one point, Garfield turned around while sitting in the kayak to see a large dog running full speed toward where he sat in the water. I called out to him that it was OK. But it wasn’t OK with me. 

During the time the dog ran wildly around the lake park, the dog owner kept calling to his dog. It was clear he’d lost control, although I could tell by the tone of his voice that he didn’t want it to sound that way. When I tried to reassure Garfield that it was OK, he heard me and answered, “Oh, she won’t bite; she just wants to run.” I didn’t respond to him, but I could see how exasperated he was getting with the dog. He seemed to be the kind of person who wanted to give the appearance of having things under control, of being IN control. It seemed to matter to this man that the handful of people at the lake saw him as a guy who could get things done, as somebody who certainly wouldn’t be bested by his dog.

We got ready to leave just a few minutes after this man finally wrangled the dog and got her back on the leash. As I walked over to Mike (from where I’d been exercising), I considered venting about this irresponsible dog owner. Which is a bit of a pet peeve for me, y’all. But I believe God prompted me to hold my tongue; there was no reason at this point to comment on the situation. So I chose not to say anything–not to complain.

But I thought about this occurrence at Lake Baldwin Park over the next couple of days. I thought about this man, not just about what he did that bothered me or frightened my children, but about him. And I concluded that he was embarrassed. He was embarrassed that his dog had gotten the better of him–and in front of other people at that. All his bravado, his very calculated nonchalance, was to cover up his embarrassment. His fear of not being seen as the person he wanted to portray to the world, even to strangers.

And instead of feeling annoyed by him, I felt some compassion for him. I also realized that most (all?) of us struggle with this to some degree:  fear of being exposed, of being found out, of not being seen as the pulled-together and competent and capable people we want others to know we are so that we can be assured of being accepted and wanted.

When I think about all this, my heart feels freed up to extend more grace to this man. And just think–perhaps none of that would have been possible if I’d complained.

On the Loss That Makes Me Feel Officially Old

At lunch time today, I pulled food from the fridge and discovered the bag of peppers in the vegetable crisper that my grandfather had given us the last time we’d seen him alive. I had forgotten about those peppers, and now most are shriveled. I don’t know how I’ll manage to throw them out. And even if we ate them–all of them–they’d still be gone, and then there would be no more evidence I could hold in my hands of his gardening prowess.

Papa died on Valentine’s Day, and we left the next day–a Wednesday–for Lucedale, Mississippi, where I was born, raised, where my parents and grandmother still live. The boys and I were in the throes of making our annual heart-shaped Valentine’s cake when I heard the news from Mama. The strawberries that we typically used to decorate the edges of the heart cake had sold out, so we had to substitute fresh raspberries instead.

heart-on-branch

Papa had not been ill; although he was 90 years old, he was in good health. His death during a heart catheterization–a diagnostic procedure–shocked us all. I had known Papa was undergoing the heart cath at the hospital; and even when I felt a faint sense of worry, I told myself that he wouldn’t die during a process meant to determine how well his heart was working.

I close my eyes and see my 2 brothers and 7 male cousins laboring to carry Papa’s casket to his grave on February 17, a chilly, sunny day. This feels like the beginning of the end of everything good. I told my husband, my sister, Nothing will ever be the same. I also told my husband:  You know this is going to keep on happening, right? At some point, my grandmother, your parents, my parents…There’s a line in the Tom Petty song ‘Learning to Fly’ that goes like this:  “The good old days may not return.”

We packed up the heart-shaped cake and put it in the freezer and spent the next several days following Valentine’s Day in Lucedale. Leaving my mother and my Nanny when my husband and sons and I loaded into our van to drive home was one of the most agonizing things I’ve ever done. We are so many hundreds of miles away; I want to be with them, to grieve with them and to help them if I could.

On the way home to Orlando last Saturday, I asked Garfield if he needed to get a drink of water. He responded, “No, I still have my tea from Nanny and Papa’s.” Nanny and Papa’s. It wrecked me. 

Papa always gave me money for good grades growing up, a quarter for every A on my report card. Sometimes he would hand us rolls of quarters; I often used those to do laundry during college. In first grade, Nanny and Papa took me–just me–to what is now called Ray’s Tri-County  Auction. We sat in the back and ate hamburgers from the concession stand, and Papa bought me a beautiful doll with black hair and a long red dress covered in lace.

In fourth grade, I misplaced my lavender New Balance tennis shoes (some folks outside the South call them ‘sneakers’). I didn’t find them for several weeks. During that time, I wore the lovely, dark brown cowboy boots that Papa had bought for me at our local farm co-op. They had just the right amount of heel, in my ten-year-old’s opinion. I wore them with everything, everyday, including a pink track suit with the legs stuffed down in the boots. One day during P.E. that year, our class actually did exercises instead of simply playing around the school yard. The P.E. coach herded us into the gym, and we ran laps. I ran laps–in my boots. Not surprisingly, I slipped and fell on the hardwood floor but got back up right away. I kept running.

Papa had nicknames for all his grandchildren–mine was Pumpkin. Always, it was Pumpkin. Papa served as the sheriff of our county for 24 years, and I remember many hot summer nights at political rallies, passing out flyers urging people to vote for Papa, wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the words “Re-elect Howell Sheriff.”

At Papa’s funeral, I heard a man say to Nanny–Papa’s widow–as he leaned down to hug her, “He was my friend.” I discovered last week that Papa liked to play 2 old gospel songs in his sheriff’s office:  One Day at a Time and I’ll Fly Away. He would even call in to the local radio station and ask for those songs to be played.

flowers-with-stems

He lied about his age at 16 and joined the army, serving during WWII. My husband used to ask Papa questions about this time of his life, and Papa told us many stories. In one, he explained how he and the other men with him who’d landed in Japan wanted to flesh out their MRE’s, so they cooked Japanese eggplants and added them to the army-issued meals. Papa laughed when he said that this just ruined the MRE’s. He also jumped out of airplanes. And he built fences as a side business. Two of my cousins, one of my brothers, and I used to play “Dukes of Hazard” in the back of Papa’s fence-building pick-up truck.

Papa looked to me like a cross between Jimmy Stewart and the TV sheriff Andy Griffith, and he was married to my grandmother for 67 years. And there is no way I could possibly write enough about him; there aren’t sufficient words.

I am shattered and gutted. My eyes burn from the tears I’ve shed, and my head hurts from the tears I’ve not shed. I do grieve with hope, because I’m confident I’ll see Papa again. But right now, I’m just grieving, and I’m exceedingly thankful that God gives me the grace to accept that.

Life Lesson Through Parenting: Calvin’s Clip

This week, the online platform of Live with Heart and Soul magazine published a guest blog post I’d written. Like so many–MANY–lessons I learn in life these days, this post centers around one I gleaned from parenting my two boys. The events that I share in this post took place a few years ago, but re-reading it this week brought not only the experience but also the lesson back to mind. It’s a good concept to ponder as we grow in our faith.

You can find the post hereand the title is “Calvin’s Clip.” FYI, Calvin is the one I call Garfield on my blog. He’s now 8 years old and rarely shoves things between his teeth anymore. Woodrow put a piece of plastic in his ear at age 4–to save it for later, he solemnly told me at the time I discovered it–and that DID result in a tense trip to the pediatrician. Hopefully those days are behind us.

socks-and-flip-flops
Calvin’s feet:  This is how we dress for cold weather in Florida.

You can also find the link to “Calvin’s Clip” by clicking on the “Featured In” button down below, on the bottom of this page. However you get to it, I hope it ministers to you. Thanks, as always, for reading. I love sharing about my life in this little corner of the world, and I always welcome your feedback.

New Day, New Mercies

When my great friend Lynn and I talk on the phone, our conversations usually last an hour–at least. In one of our recent talks, Lynn told me a story that her pastor related to their congregation at church one day.

He shared how he sometimes wakes up his young son early in the morning, while the sky is still dark. Together, they sit and watch the sun rise. As light begins to dawn, this father points to the rising sun and asks his child, What is that? The little boy answers his father, “New mercies. That’s new mercies.”

On the night Lynn told me this story she’d heard in church, I had called her because I felt down and discouraged and needed to share my burdens. As I pictured a little boy confidently answering his father, as they watched the sun rise together, that the start of a new day signified God’s new mercies, I came undone. I sobbed.

oxalils-in-dish

There are days when I feel I must surely tax God’s mercies, His patience, His grace. As if there couldn’t possibly be more of it left over for the next day, too. In those moments, I live not like an adopted child of the Heavenly Father, not like a daughter of the King, but like an orphan.

An orphan, assuming she must scrap and grasp for what she needs, grab and hold tight to whatever she can reach that might fill the empty cup of her heart. An orphan who lives out of a belief that she must prove herself–and her worth–instead of resting in the love of the One who has secured her identity as a much-loved child.

It’s exhausting, living that way. Thinking that I’m all on my own and must resolve my problems on my own. Thinking that I must find life on my own, often by insisting that I be acknowledged by others, demanding that I be understood. I hate being misunderstood–don’t we all?–and hate having my motives, my heart, misjudged by others. I must make them understand me! I sometimes think, as if being understood will set me free. Or make me feel as though I belong.

But I cannot control another person’s thoughts about me, my heart, my motives. There’s no life to be found there–and if there were, it would only be shifting sand.

There’s no rest in the life of an orphan. Rest comes to the child who’s been brought into God’s family, to the one who can lay down at night, with her bruised and weary heart, trusting that her Father will indeed provide everything she needs for life. Everything she needs for a new day.

Trusting that, each day–regardless of what has come before–there will be new mercies.

Lamentations 3:22-23 (NIV)

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

My 2017 Word of the Year: Heal

Although the month of January is almost over, I’m just getting around to sharing about my word of the year for 2017. Late last fall, I felt the word “heal” tug at me, call to me. And it is one of my favorite words, although that’s not why I landed on this word as my word of the year. I chose “heal” because I need it. To experience it, to receive it.

I want God to minister to me, and when He does that, I imagine it as healing.

One of the verses that came to mind in connection with my word of the year is Jeremiah 17:14, “Heal me, LORD, and I will be healed; save me, and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.” I remember discussing this Scripture in a Bible study years ago, when Woodrow was a toddler. One of the other women there commented that, when God does the healing, it will be done completely.

That healing occurs over a lifetime, I think, happening at deeper levels as we grow. In 2013, I read a hugely important book called Irregular People. In it, the author (Joyce Landorf Heatherley) explains that there won’t be just one healing in us. God will work healing in me over and over, going more and more deeply. So I can keep my painful hurts as “infection-free” as possible, she wrote.

When I contemplate healing, I think of healing from and healing for. There’s a constant need to heal from wrong thinking about God’s character and about myself, from doubt of His goodness or mercy. But specifically, I’m thinking about healing from disappointment and grief–situations out of my control that have brought hurt.

broken-bee-box

I also feel the weight of pain from circumstances I at least had a hand in creating. I’ve known for years that I’m motivated by need, but I’ve sometimes found myself in places God didn’t intend for me because I didn’t listen to His voice about which needs I should join Him in meeting. As you can imagine, this can be draining. My offering to volunteer as a Cub Scout leader for a second year falls into that category, and I communicated in December that I’d begin transitioning out of that role. An end-of-year application of my 2016 word of the year “less,” as in doing less volunteer work.

I envision this year, 2017, as a kind of new journey, one of better listening. Listening to the Lord. I want to heal by listening, and I want to heal for listening. So this journey will start slowly, necessarily quietly. I don’t think Jesus should be expected to speak to me against background noise. He’s allowed to be as quiet as He’d like as He waits for me to get silent so I can hear better. The LORD is my portion; therefore, I will wait for Him…we read in Lamentations 3. Because I do believe this journey will involve not only listening, but actions and changes as well. I need to listen so I can understand and then act. I need to listen so I can know Jesus better.

believe-sidewalk

About the situations out of my control that have broken my heart–and I do mean broken my heart? I read in a novel recently–The Awakening of Miss Prim, an unexpectedly fascinating story–about the heart-change of the main character, Prudencia:  Her pain had been replaced by a serene inner sadness. To me, this sounds a great deal like acceptance. I’m healing toward greater acceptance, and I have been for years. I also want more of that healing.

We read a good bit these days about self-care. I’m planning to give attention to taking care of myself so that God can take care of me–so He can heal me.

He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:3

That’s My Name (Don’t Wear It Out)

I marked my 43rd birthday this past week. No birthday cake this time, which was more than fine, since we had not one but TWO left-over cakes from the Cub Scout Father/Son bake-off of the same week. {We have 2 sons; thus, we submitted 2 cakes to the contest, with lots of green icing representing grass.} For my 11th birthday, I requested a cake with peanut butter and jelly icing–and that’s exactly what I got, a plain yellow cake with a mixture of peanut butter and Mama’s homemade jelly smeared over the top and sides. Delightful!

Unlike other holidays, birthdays represent a time when we celebrate an individual. We hear people refer to MY birthday but rarely to MY Thanksgiving or MY Flag Day. (That’s in June, in case you were wondering.) My friend Pam sent me a birthday greeting telling me she was glad I was born. On my birthday, she was thankful for ME. For who I am.

lucedale-drive-way

And who I am is Allison. When I was 10, I arrived late to the first day of Vacation Bible School. Our teacher had made name tags for us on colorful construction paper cut in the shapes of balloons. But instead of simply penning our names on the paper, she jumbled up the letters. We needed to puzzle out our names before finding the appropriate name tag.

When I arrived that morning, I saw only a few name tag balloons remaining. The one obviously intended to be mine was misspelled–it had only one L. Although I inwardly fumed over this, I quietly took the balloon and sat down.

People have been misspelling my name for as long as I can remember, and it’s an honest mistake. There are multiple varieties of “Allison.” Earlier this year, a cashier asked my name, and after I told her, she asked if I spelled it A-L-I-C-E-N. As a little girl, I sometimes got called “Alice in Wonderland,” which made me even more irate than the one-L spelling. Her name is ALICE, not ALLISON, I would insist. A neighbor in the dorm where I lived during my second year of college left a message to my roommate and me on the dry-erase board on our door; she wrote my name as Ellison.

bulbs-in-pots

Then there were people who seemed entirely unfamiliar with my name. A girl in 6th grade called me “Allen” once. People in Romania sometimes thought I had a boy’s name–it DOES end in the word “son,” and English wasn’t their first language, after all. This week, I got a receipt in the mail, and in the “received from” field was written the name Alton. Alton?!  I mean, that IS a boy’s name.

As you can see, I’ve dealt with a bit of angst over my name over the years, although I have relaxed about it considerably. Even the “Alton” just makes me chuckle.

On Christmas Eve, on our way to Mississippi, we stopped at a gargantuan Bass Pro Shop at the edge of Alabama to give our boys a treat (and a chance for us all to stretch our legs). Wandering around while they perused fishing lures, I spotted a display of charm bracelets featuring names. I found several with my own name on them. I didn’t wish to buy one, but I was struck by the fact that each of these bracelets held the spelling of MY version of Allison. In lavender, orchid, and navy blue.

Others may get my name wrong (even in mail that arrives on my birthday); some may spell it in such a way that I wouldn’t even recognize it as belonging to me. But Jesus, the One whom John Wesley calls the Lover of my soul, knows my name; He knows ME. On my birthday and every day.

The gatekeeper opens the gate for him [the shepherd], and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  John 10:3