Heroes?

I met someone recently, a former Marine, who went to war in Iraq.  Twice.

His experiences have shaken me.  They are resting on my mind, and I cannot stop thinking about them.  They’re not haunting me, but they are echoing.  My mind keeps hearing, and seeing, what he shared.

“I am not a hero,” he told me.

He hates when people call him a hero.

“The soldiers who didn’t make it back are the heroes,” he said.

That statement alone has shown me how brave he is, and how brave every soldier is.  It always surprises me when I thank a soldier for his or her service, and I receive this response: “Just doing my job.”

The former Marine I spoke with told me that, after a while, the rockets and mortars that were being launched at them, constantly, became the expectation.  He, somehow, was able to accept that it might be his time, with every rocket that landed.  Until then, he said, he would just keep doing what he was “supposed to do.”  Search for survivors, treat  them on scene, or carry them to where they could be airlifted to the medical hospital, and help as many of his brothers and sisters as he could.

To me, that is a hero.

He told me about the time he anticipated death.  He heard a loud thud, he hit the ground, closed his eyes, and waited… but the rocket that was inches away from him never detonated.

As I listened, I grew more and more interested, intrigued, impressed, and amazed.

I was shocked that he survived, and even more shocked that he was telling ME about his experiences.

He had no idea how fortunate I felt to be sitting there, listening intently, visualizing every detail.

I just wanted to share this, since it has affected me in such a tremendous way.

I hope to hear more stories, and if given permission, I’ll share them as well.

Breaking free

I’ve been told recently, by two people whom I value, that you cannot release someone from your anger if you are not ready and willing to reconcile the relationship.  I passionately disagreed with both of them.  Here is why… I refuse.

I refuse to open my heart to the hurt that would come rushing in if the relationship was allowed back in.  The Hoover Dam would burst, and the pain would drown me.

I know this sounds dramatic, so I will elaborate.

Every year, for forty three years, I have attempted to make sense of this.  Yes, even as an infant, it was confusing to me.  I do not have evidence of hearing the yelling or feeling the pain from inside my mother’s womb, but I will argue that I remember.

If there was joy, it was temporary.  The main emotion was fear.

We were slaves to it.  It controlled us.  It became us.

Never knowing what to expect, we tiptoed.  We pleased.  We became who he wanted us to be.  Until who he wanted us to be changed.  And then, the new expectation, and then it changed again.

As I write this, I finally see it as a disease.  I see that he was controlled by an unknown.  He knew what he wanted us to be, and how he wanted us to act, and what he needed to do to control us.  And then, it changed.  So, he demanded new actions, and new expectations.  And then, it changed again.

One day, when my mom found courage within us, the three of us, she escaped.  We were free from the daily tirade.

At first, everything was good.  He seemed to have released his anger during the week, before we visited.  He taught me how to ride my bike before the party, before the drinking.  Or maybe he was drinking?  He moved to a house on the lake, where I fished on the dock, rode go-carts, snowmobiles, played with our new pretend kitchen upstairs, went for boat rides, and had big parties.  It felt normal.  Every other weekend.

I fell in the lake once.  I was rocking back and forth on a fold up canvas stool, sitting on the dock.  It folded me up, and I fell in.  That was the closest I’ve ever come to dying.  As I was sinking, and then floating, but not floating up fast enough, running out of air, seeing the surface but realizing it was too far… I saw my grandpa’s hand reaching down toward me.  Somehow, I reached my hand up and we made contact.  He had polio, and a prosthetic leg.  He acted quickly, when he saw me fall in (even though he was nowhere near the dock).  He laid down on the dock and reached down into the water.  He must’ve prayed too, because it was truly a miracle – that he saw me fall, that he got there in time, and that he was strong enough to yank me out of the water and onto the dock.  I don’t remember what happened next.  I just see his face and his arm and his hand, vividly – as if I am still under the water, waiting to be rescued.

We moved soon after that.  To a house out in the country.  I received my first spanking there, because I touched the wood stove, on accident.  I was forced to eat whatever was served (even liver and onions), and…  I got sick.  I hated the weekends.  I hated the anger. I hated the fear.

I found some courage once, to refuse to go.  I was told that if I didn’t change my mind that I must not love him.  That I wasn’t his daughter.  That I hurt him.  I changed my mind.

I missed my friends’ birthday parties so that I could be his daughter.

I became someone else.  Someone who wanted  to be accepted as his daughter.

I grew up thinking that this was normal.  To become the person that someone else wants you to be.  To avoid the guilt trips, and the pain.

I didn’t realize how much it hurt to set myself aside so that I could be accepted.  Set aside everything I wanted, to be called his daughter.

The details are blurry from age 8 to age 18.  Blurry, or numb maybe.  I didn’t really feel any emotions.  I just jumped through the hoops, and tried to meet the ever-changing expectations.

I accumulated identities.  None of them mine.  Just whoever I thought I was supposed to be.

We stopped talking a few times, when things would escalate and the person I was trying to be just wasn’t good enough, one too many times.

And then…

I became someone else.  The me I was always meant to be.  I found my identity.

I no longer wanted to be anyone else, for anyone else.

I broke free.

So, that is why I refuse.  I refuse to reconcile.

I refuse to be the person I would have to become all over again, in order to meet the ever changing expectations.  I would have to go back through everything I’ve been through, endlessly in order to please him.  I refuse.

Instead, I release him.  And all of the identities that he created for me.

The Hoover Dam can burst, and I will not drown.

I am the me I was meant to be.

 

Harshest critic

I hit a wall.

My toes, and my nose, also smashed into the wall, daily.

The path I kept taking, no matter where I entered, ended back at the same wall.

Frustrated, I spoke to myself, (to my harshest critic), and asked her why she is taking me to the same path, that ends at the same wall.

“You aren’t worthy,” she said.

“You have done horrible things,” she said.

“You don’t deserve to find it,” she said.

I closed my eyes.  I tried to see beyond the harsh words that I spoke to myself.

I found myself in an overgrown garden, weeds everywhere.  I pulled on one weed.. the roots were deep.  I yanked harder… the weed stubbornly released itself from the ground.

I heard the roots screaming at me as they left the ground.   They repeated what my harshest critic said.

“Unworthy, horrible, undeserving.”

Their voices grew softer as the roots left the earth.  Softer and softer, until they faded completely.

I continued to pull the weeds from the overgrown garden.  Each weed, each yanked root, set me free.

My harshest critic was quieted.  Finally.

I looked around, at what used to be the overgrown garden, and saw a new path.

I took one step onto the new path, leery of what might lie ahead, and leery of the wall hitting me in the nose.

It felt different this time.

My harshest critic was…. REALLY gone? 

Instead of “you are unworthy, you have done horrible things, and you are undeserving,” I heard “You are victorious!, you are free!, and you are loved!”

The new words felt like being wrapped up in a warm, soft, fluffy blanket while skipping along with all of my favorite people holding hands and smiling at each other.

I still can’t see the whole path, and I don’t know if I’ll reach another wall, but I am choosing to trust.

I will keep moving forward with my warm, soft, fluffy blanket, and favorite people by my side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

a bridge

Today, it felt like I took that last step, off the bridge.  I looked back, at all of the beams that made up the bridge that I’ve been walking across.

When I placed my foot on the first beam, I was 22. Young, free, and ready to take on the world. I was in college, learning, and loving the knowledge that was pouring in. I didn’t even realize that I was on a bridge.

Moving forward, a few more beams, I graduated from college, got married, had my first child.

I stood on the edge of the bridge at this point. I looked back, often. Everything happened so quickly. I kept trying to figure out how I got there. I relied on myself to take the next steps. I fell a few times, and relied on myself again, to get back up.

Another child, a few more years of marriage, a few more beams under foot, exhausted.

We moved an hour away from our family and friends so that his commute to work would be less stressful. We met new friends, but I drove back to regain comfort every weekend.

I never looked up. I just kept waking alone. I thought I had to be strong for my kids.

More beams, more years of marriage, two more children.

The bridge suddenly gave out.

I was hanging on, barely, fingers slipping, while my children were clinging to me.

Instead of crying out for help, I climbed back up, and walked back the way I came. My children were still clinging to me. They were afraid to let go.

We lived with my parents during the divorce. We were still on the bridge, going the wrong way, crossing the same beam over and over, feeling stuck in one place, for several years.

I was so tired, and they were so heavy.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I see it now as I’m looking back at the completed bridge. It was being repaired, as we stood there, holding on to each other. The planks were being reset before us. Stronger.

I also didn’t know who was carrying me the next several planks in the right direction.

We bought a house. They started letting go of me. They started to breathe on their own. They started becoming their own.

I watched them run, jump, even skip ahead of me at times, on the bridge. I cherished their laughter. It made an imprint on my heart, and remained in my ears.

They reached the end of the bridge, leapt off, looked back at me, smiled, waved, and ran into their future.

I was alone.

For the first time in ten years, I looked up.

Instantly, my feet moved forward. Plank by plank, they found their way. Fear was behind me.

I felt a presence, daily, walking alongside me. I felt a love I never knew. I felt an embrace that gave me the strength to move forward, toward the end of the bridge.

I looked back, often, and I saw peace.

I took that last step off the bridge today.

I left the pain behind, and I decided to never let go of the arms that carried me across the broken planks.

 

 

Step up to the plate

Life requires us to be ready, at all times, for all the curve balls that life throws at us.

Life requires us to step up to the plate.

Life requires our “A game.”

When I became a single mom, I hid out in the dug out for a year.  I felt ill equipped.  I felt defeated.  I didn’t want to play, and I didn’t know I had an “A game.”

My mom went up to bat for me that year.  She hit every curve ball, ran the bases, and hit home runs with my kids in mind.

She pushed me to get back up, get out of the dug out, and play the game.  She encouraged me to just do what I could, for now, until I was ready for more.  She held me up until then.  She took care of my kids until then.

She knew I had what it took to get back in the game.

When that day came, she handed me the bat.  She smiled that unique smile that held so much love that it felt like a waterfall.  She believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself.

I took the bat, stepped up to the plate, and swung.

I got that job, and bought that house, and eventually, became that mom.  The mom who could look at my kids the same way my mom looked at me.  The mom whose heart swelled just by looking at her kids.  The mom who would do anything, including taking all the curve balls, for her kids, for as long as it takes.

The “plate” that used to be intimidating, and overwhelming, is now a mere white square.

I’m on the plate, because of my mom, ready to swing.

Making home runs.

Holding the bat for my kids, preparing them daily, for the moment when they’ll be ready to do the same.

Be ready at all times, for the curve balls.

Believe in people when they aren’t able to see the plate.

Hand them the bat when they are ready.

Step up to the plate.

 

 

Immortal

Mortal bodies. Some people believe that this is it. When they die, there is nothing afterwards. They walk around in their mortal bodies fearing the end. They attempt to live full lives in order to make it all worth it, and to absorb as much from life as possible. They hope, near the end, if they know it’s coming, that they’ve done enough, seen it all, lived well. They have no hope of anything after death.

Others have received a gift. A sacrifice was necessary for the gift to be received. The sacrifice that requested their sacrifice. The gift requires that the gift receiver believes that the sacrifice was for him/her, and that news of that gift is shared.

When the news of the gift is shared, it spreads like a wildfire.

Inside the gift is hope, unconditional love that never ends, and an immortal life. The gift receiver will never die, he/she becomes immortal. The gift receiver also has an ability to speak directly to, and hear from, the gift giver. The gift is free, paid for.

As any gift giver would, this gift giver expects gratitude, and a continued relationship. No one wants to give a gift just to have the receiver say “yea thanks” and walk away.

Immortal life, hope, and an unconditional love that never ends… How could anyone just walk away saying “yea thanks!”?

I received the gift. I wore it like my very own superhero costume. At first, I was flying around, sharing the news that I received it. I felt really special about it, and wanted everyone to know, so they could get their own gift!

Surprisingly, some people didn’t want it. Many people thought I was crazy.

I took off the costume. I hid it. I still knew about the gift I received, and I still believed it most of the time, but I wasn’t excited about it anymore. I lost hope.

The gift giver kept walking beside me, offering hope again. Never giving up.

I started feeling like I did before I received the gift. I walked around with my head down. I didn’t see anything exciting about life. I expected people to provide what only the gift could. I longed for the gift.

As soon as I said those words, in my thoughts, I felt the costume on me. The gift giver must’ve been right next to me, waiting. Never leaving. Endlessly loving.

Most days since then, I feel immortal. Most days, I’m thankful. Most days I have a relationship with the gift giver. Most days, I keep the costume on.

As soon as I take off the costume, I lose hope. Without the costume, I resort to my old ways. Foolishly, I allow my life to get ugly before I realize that I forgot about the gift. Sometimes this process happens several times a day!

The best part is, that the gift giver never asks for the gift back.

Hope, unconditional love, and immortal life.

What could I have done?

This week, I was reminded of something I saw when I was 22, and wish I hadn’t. More than not wanting to see it, I wish I could go back and change what I didn’t do.

I worked in a treatment center for troubled teens.  I wanted to save them from the world that hurt them.  I wanted to erase the pain that attached itself to their souls.  It overtook them, and they walked around, drowning. I was young and naive. I thought I could change things.

Saturday night was movie night.  Instead of watching good movies, where  evil loses, the center would let the teens choose.  They chose movies about homicides, drugs, and desperation. How did this make sense to ANYONE? Advocating for what was right, my pleas were dismissed.  Standing strong, as strong as I could at 22 in this darkness, I stayed, and kept trying.  Unfortunately, I grew weary too quickly, and I gave up too soon.  I walked away, affected, scarred. Each one of their names is in my mind, their lives, their pain.  Forever. It felt like I let them down.

Moving on, a new job, another facility.  This time I only last two days.  Instead of being there for them, I walked away, again.  It was just too much.  I was just too young. There was just too much pain.

If I could go back, I would.  To the moments with the teens.  I would give them hope.  I would be strong, to help them through their pain.  I wouldn’t have given up on them.

All grown up now, I realize that pain is everywhere. Sadness. Heartache.  Loss.

We can’t escape it.

Until… the day it’s over.

We have a promise.  Hope.

The sadness, heartache, and pain are all just temporary.  This world is temporary.

When I think about the teens, I try not to see them where I left them.  I try to see them somewhere greater, somewhere that healing took place, somewhere that they found hope.

If we are all here, each one for a uniquely specific purpose, and we seek to fulfill that purpose, we have a mission.  We must look past the pain – acknowledge that it is there, and that it somehow has a purpose, but don’t allow it to devour or overtake us.

We must ask for guidance, and listen for it, eyes wide open.