We need to help each other

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My Bella on the last day of her life.

The other day I was having a conversation with a friend. She has a dog she rescued from a shelter in March 2014. Elsa is a pit bull, and at the time my friend adopted her, she had missing and broken teeth. Why she was in this shape was unknown, although the vet at the shelter suggested it might have been to make her a more cooperative breeder. Regardless, Elsa needed a loving home. She had been given only one day to live before being euthanized when a friend told Keri about her, and Keri decided to rescue Elsa. Keri does not have a lot in the way of resources herself. She is on SSI and goes without a lot of things. But she was willing to love Elsa and share what she does have. She has provided for Elsa, feeding her, getting her shots and medical care, and being a good, loving mom to this dog.

Recently, however, it was discovered that Elsa has a mammary tumor. The surgery for this was quoted at $2,000, which Keri didn’t have. So Keri’s daughter started a GoFundMe for Elsa, to try to raise the money needed. This cause has really struck home with me, because I had a chocolate lab who died in 2013 from a mammary tumor. Bella’s had spread so quickly, it was something like a month between when we first discovered a bump to when she had to be put to sleep, because the cancer had spread to her lungs and she was no longer able to breathe.

Keri has done her due diligence with the mammary tumor. She not only got a quote from her own vet, but she traveled to Oakland to the East Bay SPCA because she had been told they offered financial assistance for veterinary care. They did quote a lower price than the vet, for more services, and did give Keri a discount because of her income. But the SPCA had asked for ex-rays from Elsa’s vet to show that the tumor had not spread, and they also did an exam, for which Elsa’s mom had to pay more money. Also they don’t take Care Credit, which had promised Keri $500 credit towards the surgery. So between the extra costs and the loss of a resource, Keri was left once again without enough funds.

What has amazed me is how difficult it has been to raise this money through GoFundMe. Just myself, I have posted it on my Facebook a good half dozen times. Over 13 days, a total of only $650 has been raised. “It’s my fault,” Elsa’s mom said to me a few days ago. “I should never have got a dog when I am on SSI.”

How heartbreaking is that? Had Keri not been willing to adopt Elsa, she would have died. Elsa needed Keri, and perhaps Keri needed Elsa also. Keri has been willing to give from what she has to meet all of Elsa’s needs until now. She has not been neglected. As Keri said, she has been lucky, because none of her dogs have had problems like this, and most don’t, most of the time.

When something unexpected like this comes up, we ought to be able to help one another. Those of us who don’t have a lot should not be afraid to take responsibility for a pet, because we should all have each other’s backs.

In fact, we should have each other’s backs whatever the need is. If all us poor people got together and looked out for one another, life would be so much better. Best of all, we would not have to be afraid, because we would know that we were never alone, that there was always someone there who would want to help us.

This isn’t the first time I have tried to help people raise funds in times of need, so I guess I am not really shocked at how difficult it is to do this. For Elsa, in 13 days, only $650 has been raised. With the expenses of the new exams, and the discounted fees charged by the SPCA due to Keri’s income, Elsa needs a total of $1400 raised for the surgery and biopsy, or an additional $750.

This is not that much. I have 1,363 friends on Facebook, many of whom are ardent animal lovers, so this should have been a slam dunk. But it hasn’t been. So I thought perhaps if I wrote it out, if people could understand Elsa’s story, and Keri’s, they might feel more comfortable about helping with this cause. The thing is, it doesn’t take long for this kind of cancer to spread. On Bella’s last day, she was unable to get comfortable, because she was having so much trouble breathing. We propped pillows and blankets so she could lean on them instead of trying to lie down. We fanned the air in front of her face so she could feel that there was air there, because that seemed to comfort her. In the evening, the whole family gathered to say goodbye, and a friend came to our house and put her to sleep.

It was too late to save Bella, but I want to help save Elsa. I don’t want her to die, and I don’t want Keri to be forced to grieve the loss of a dog simply because she didn’t have the money to pay for treatment. So I am asking you, please, please help.

Please. Go to Elsa’s GoFundMe Page and give a little, or give a lot if you can. Please help save this dog’s life. Please help one of your fellow human beings. If you have ever loved a dog, you know how she feels.

And to everyone who has helped, or who will help, thank you.

UPDATE: Within hours of this posting, all the funds necessary for Elsa’s surgery have been donated. I thank you, thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I hope to be able to post a follow-up with photos of a happy and healthy Elsa. 

Unstuck in time

imageI was babysitting my four month old grandson yesterday, and he was intently observing me eat a scone. I told him, not long now and you will be able to eat scones, too. But when I said that, I realized something. He has no concept of ever being able to eat a scone himself.

To little Theo, life is static. What is now is forever. He has no concept of the fact that he will one day be able to sit unassisted, that he will learn to crawl and then walk, to eat and drink. He has no idea that he is destined to become one of us, a grown up. As far as he is concerned, he is just going to be this cute little lump that desires to do so much but whose strength and coordination aren’t quite up to the task yet.

This, of course, made me think of us. Or of me, anyway. I have recognized my own tendency to get stuck in time for ages now. How things are is how they will always be. But in fact, life is ever changing, and tomorrow we might be something, somewhere, that we would never have imagined. The one thing we can count on is that we won’t be exactly where we are today. We change. The world changes around us. With some intention, we can, should, always be moving forward, upward.

We forget that too often. I forget that. Just because I can only crawl today, that doesn’t mean that tomorrow I won’t be walking, or running, leaping, jumping, dancing.

Oh Lord, I hope so.

Let me love

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Part of my daily Bible reading is from a schedule that my church follows. This morning I was supposed to read 1 Corinthians 12, but for some reason I got carried away and kept right on going into chapter 13. Now this is a beautiful chapter, for sure, one of the most beautiful in the Bible. You will find it on posters and greeting cards, coffee cups and plaques. It is regularly read at weddings. And as a result, it has become kind of … well, boring. How many times have I come to this chapter in the Bible and thought, oh no, not again. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging symbol … blah blah blah.” Then what did I do, skim over it? Because I read it this morning, and I can’t believe that I have ever laid eyes on these words without them making their place deep in my heart. And yet I know they haven’t, because they don’t seem to have made a dent in my behavior, or my consciousness of my behavior.

(4) Love is patient and kind; does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant (5) or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; (6) it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. (7) Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

1 Corinthians 13

I had to confess this morning to committing all the “nots” listed here, frequently and with gusto. The good parts, well, I have some of them as well. Bearing, believing, hoping, enduring, yeah I can do that. But not always without dipping into the pool of resentment, or more to the point, not always without feeling like I should be resentful. The world kind of teaches that these days. Or maybe I am misunderstanding something? Especially as women, we don’t want to be doormats. We want to be strong women!

Well, I think it takes a lot more strength to keep on loving, to keep on giving. It takes a hugely strong character to not be envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, irritable or resentful. Or a gossip.

I believe the greatest relationship killer in the word is defensiveness. I can see it so clearly in others. We love each other. We know we love each other. I know you love me, and you know I love you. So why can’t we look for the love in the words spoken to us? Why on earth would I act as though you are out to attack me all the time? Most of the time, those who love us are not attacking us with their words. We just for some stupid reason choose to filter them through this net of, what, self-hatred? We are defensive, so we feel attacked, so we get angry, and then we actually do attack. Then the other person feels (is) attacked, gets defensive, and attacks back. How can relationships survive this kind of thing? Too often they can’t. These incidents build up like poison in the system if they are allowed to continue. And most of the time, no offense was ever even implied to begin with. It’s amazing how we can create offense out of nothing.

If only we could put the above verses into action in our lives. If we love fully and genuinely, without malice, without envy, boasting, arrogance or resentment (i.e., defensiveness!)…. If we learn to receive love instead of being irritable and looking to use the words of those who love us to justify our irritability….

Some people may be naturally like this. I am not one of them. I don’t think it would even be possible to be like this without a supernatural assist from the Lord. So that is exactly what I am praying for.

Lord, let me love!

Tired of wandering (my Testimony)

imageIn my last blog, I posted a photo of my tattoo of the Tolkien quote, “Not all (those) who wander are lost.” This has been a theme in my life because of the fact that I have been a spiritual wanderer.

I am a Christian. I was first called to this faith when I was a child, being raised in a non-religious household. I was about nine years old when I insisted that my parents take me to church. My mother took me to visit a number of churches before deciding on one. I favored the little Foursquare Gospel church we visited, but my mother chose one that was as non-religious as possible. I didn’t end up getting much out of it, but I would pick up the pew Bibles and try to read them. I was a pretty smart kid. I’d read the Bronte sisters by that point in my life, and within a couple of years I would have polished off the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time. But that book, the Bible, was completely closed to me, beyond my comprehension. It was King James, of course, and let’s face it, it was not the kind of literary style I was accustomed to as a budding literary elitist and future English major. Nor did it help that my exposure consisted of a few minutes of stolen reading while sitting in a Sunday church service. My dad was in the Air Force and was soon after transferred from Southern California to Alaska, where no attempt was made to continue church attendance, since it hadn’t actually ended up fulfilling the need I’d felt.

Over the following years, I occasionally made a friend whose family attended church. I went to various activities, even a church summer camp, but didn’t learn much. The closest I came was when I worked in the nursery at a Vacation Bible School, and I sensed something going on which I again didn’t quite understand, and since I was there only to change diapers and hold babies I didn’t actually get to hear it.

When I was in high school, Jesus Christ Superstar was popular. I never saw the show, but I listened to the album, and through it something was added to my desire to know and understand Christianity, and that was Christ himself. As I listened to this music, I started to fall in love with Jesus.

A few years later I was married in a small Catholic church, where I requested that I be given instruction in the faith. It was a very small church with no formal instruction available, so I just had some meetings with the priest. He told me if I wanted to know about the church, I should start by reading the Book of Acts, since that was its birthplace. He referred me to the Jerusalem Bible, a modern language translation, and I was hooked!

The church I attended was part of the charismatic movement that was spreading through Catholicism at that time, with folk masses filled with guitars and singing and the movement of the Spirit. This was an environment never found again in a Catholic church, and I eventually moved away from the Catholicism, but this was where I first found my faith, in the pages of the Bible and the movement of the Spirit.

In all my life, not a single person had ever “witnessed” to me. Although I went on to hear and learn plenty, my salvation grew out of a personal love relationship with this Lord who had been calling to me for so long. Soon after, I found my way into the Assemblies of God, and I think it’s kind of funny that many years later, I ended up in the Foursquare churches, which had appealed to me so much when I was a child. Who knows how much sooner I might have come to know the One I was seeking had my mother allowed me to choose then?

It was 1974 when I first came to know the Lord, 42 long years ago. Over the course of those years, I have wandered many times, for many different reasons. I have wandered because I made wrong choices. Let’s go ahead and use the appropriate word, which is sin. I made some life choices that I knew were contrary to God’s will, so I quit talking to him, but these were brief separations. My faith stood up amazingly well in those early years, and I always returned, sorrowful over the break in our relationship. In recent years, my wanderings have been different. They have been just plain breakdowns in faith.

Michaela’s kidnapping….

I have said many times that my daughter’s kidnapping has not been the cause of my problems with my faith. I can tell you all about how “all things work together for good,” as it says in Romans 8:28. I can’t tell you that it really balances the scale in my heart, but I can compile a list of gifts Michaela has given me, and God has given me, even in this tragedy, and there are even a few people out there whose lives seem to have been impacted positively because of what Michaela and I have gone through. These are things that I know in my head. But is it a coincidence that the big, huge blowouts in faith seem to have come on the heels of the big, huge blowouts in my life brought about because of Michaela’s kidnapping?

Although I’d been on short wanderings before, the first really big one came a year after Michaela was kidnapped. In that year, when what I’d really needed was to grow closer to God, I had not. I’d prayed mightily in the time immediately after Michaela was kidnapped, but, well, it hadn’t worked, had it? So I turned to relying on myself and those nice people who came to actively help Michaela. I prayed less and less, attended church not at all. I became caught up in the world and its efforts to help me find my daughter, and gradually I just left my faith behind.

I mightily, vehemently, viciously turned against God. I was never able to shed my belief in the fact of a spiritual aspect to existence, but I could never call it God. I could not even say the word “God.” If I had to, for some reason, I literally said, “the G word.” I was just so furiously angry. I recognized that anger in other parts of my life, like my desire to smash dishes on cement (I actually did this, but only once). With God, I didn’t recognize it. I think I felt betrayed, but somehow didn’t relate God’s failure to save my daughter to that betrayal. I had the nascent understanding of some greater purpose in what had happened to Michaela. It was completely unconnected with “God” in my mind, however. With God, I just felt duped, and angry.

My mother’s death….

This was a long, long break. It lasted from late 1989 until early 2004, and I would never have believed I could ever return to my faith from where I’d wandered. On October 10, 2003, however, my mother had a near-fatal accident. It was just a fall in her home, but she fractured her ribs and punctured her lung, and because she had advanced emphysema, it was hit or miss whether she would survive. (By the way, she had a Life Alert pendant. If she hadn’t had that she would have died alone on her living room floor. If you have an elderly or infirm relative who insists on living alone, you really should consider this.)

I’d known for a long time my mother’s death was not far off. I just might have been able to accept it, if it weren’t for the fact that my mother was not herself. It turned out to be due to a mineral imbalance, but once the breathing tube was removed, my normally gentile British mother had to be restrained because she was combative with the nurses. She was delusional, calling out to people who weren’t there. She was completely unavailable to me. If my mother was to die, I could not bear for it to be like that. If she was going to leave this world, I wanted to be able to say goodbye to my mother.

It was a perfect storm of circumstances that actually brought me to prayer. I was sitting in the visitor’s lounge on the CCU unit at the time. Somehow, despite the 15 years in which I had entertained almost every spiritual possibility except “God,” it was not to any of those other beliefs I turned. It was to God, without any doubt in my mind as to who that was. “God,” I said through my tears, “I know it has been a long time since we talked, but I am asking you to please, please heal my mother.” I didn’t make any promises, like if you heal my mother I will believe in you. I suppose the belief was implied in the prayer, but in my mind it was still kind of a stab in the dark rather than a commitment. But I did add on at the end, “And, well, since I am asking you to listen to me, if you have anything you want to say to me in return, I will hear you out.” It was about as honest as I could get there.

My mother was healed, amazingly. She went from the hospital, to some wonderful after care, to an independent living situation. We had a good year together. We visited, and I helped her with housekeeping and personal care. She was on oxygen, and used a wheelchair, but at least once a week we went out shopping and to lunch together, often taking my younger daughter along.

I, of course, completely forgot about my prayers for my mother. I was wrapped up in her recovery, caring for her, and just going on with life. It did not even occur to me that God had answered my prayers. The medical profession and my mother’s own body had been responsible for the healing, and I didn’t really need much other explanation.

A few months later, however, I started to notice something that I can only characterize as a tap on the shoulder from God. I had, after all, promised that if he had anything to say to me I’d listen, and he was speaking. I kept pushing it away, shrugging it off. I literally said, “No, no, I don’t want to go. I don’t want to be a Christian. I believe in gay marriage.” Well, God didn’t address that issue, but he did keep tapping on my shoulder. He did keep filling my heart with this desire for himself. There are not many days or places I can remember in my spiritual life, but I do remember the date and the place where I turned my life back over to God. It was on John Drive in Castro Valley. I was on my way home and was driving past one of the larger churches in town. I had been arguing with God about whether or not I wanted to believe in him. The date was January 24, 2004, Michaela’s 25th birthday. It suddenly flashed through my mind that Michaela had been a Christian. If she had died, and I wanted to see her again, she would be with this God whose love I was fighting. I pulled up to a stop sign, and that is where I gave my life back to the Lord.

It was revolutionary! It was like a light went on in my heart! It had been many years, but I was still a pretty angry person, and suddenly my anger was replaced by this great joy! I remember, silly as it sounds, that I started wearing lipstick, because somehow I wanted the light and joy I felt on the inside to show on the outside. I felt like wearing a silly grin all the time! Dumb, for sure, but that’s how I felt.

My mother died a few months later. It has stood as one of the signs God has given me that his hand was in what happened, that mother died on October 10, 2004, one year to the day from the accident that had drawn me back to God. It was as though it was a confirmation that God had said, “Okay. I will give you one more year with your mother.” It had been a good year.

At the end, I had spent three days sitting at my mother’s bedside as her body slowly shut down and she prepared to leave this world. I held her hand and wept so many tears over it that I knew she would have been afraid to leave me. She’d spoken of it before, had even tried to steer me towards substitute mothers (as if there could ever be such a thing!), because she was concerned about me being left alone after she was gone. She was primarily unconscious, but it was painfully obvious that her mouth was drying out, and the nurses would not let me apply moisturizer, because for some reason they had thought it wise to put the oxygen tube in her mouth because she was breathing through her mouth, and the moisturizer is apparently flammable when combined with oxygen. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to tell them then that was stupid, that if she was dying she didn’t need the oxygen. She needed comfort. But up until the end, I didn’t really believe in her death, so I kept quiet.

Finally, however, I knew how uncomfortable she must be, so I took her her hand again, and I told her that I didn’t want her to suffer anymore, that she didn’t need to worry about me, because she would always be with me in my heart, so she could go if she wanted to. I sat down by her bedside and started working on one of her crossword puzzle books. It was a matter of just a few minutes when I sensed a change in the room. It had become quiet. My mother’s raspy breathing had stopped. I had thought losing my mother would be easy compared to losing my daughter, but it wasn’t. I was bowled over by the force of my grief.

Nevertheless, I went on from there to enjoy years of a robust and buoyant faith. Those years were some of the best in my walk with God. I just believed. I did not doubt. I attended a great church, and so many times I remember being moved to tears by the worship. My son also began attending the church when he was in early high school, and by the time he graduated from high school he was working with the youth pastors and was on a path to becoming a youth pastor himself. I would sit in church, a few rows behind my son and his friends. He had grown to be 6’3″ by this time, and I would marvel at those little baby hands I had held, how they had become such huge man hands, and how they were held up in praise to God. And that too made me weep.

Jaycee Dugard and Michaela….

I would have thought my faith was too strong for me to be able to fall again. But five years later, I did fall. Is it a coincidence that this fall occurred immediately after Michaela’s case had so deeply impacted my life and my heart again?

In August 2009, Jaycee Dugard, who had been missing for eighteen years, had been found, alive. She had been kidnapped in Lake Tahoe, some 200 miles from where Michaela had been kidnapped. There had been enough similarities in the two cases, including some similarities in descriptions of the kidnappers, some shared suspects, and in the similarity in appearance between the two girls, that the cases had always been linked. The latter, the similarity in appearance, had always kept Jaycee at the forefront in my own heart.

On the day she was found, my husband woke me up at 5:30 in the morning. “Do you know who Jaycee Dugard is?” he asked. “She was found alive.” I immediately leaped up. It was too much to be a coincidence! Jaycee had been kidnapped in Lake Tahoe, but she had been found right here in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Michaela had been kidnapped. And there had been enough cases of missing children being found together (often as a result of the kidnapper taking a second child) that it was a scenario that lived in my heart. “We have to paint the kitchen before Michaela comes home,” I said!

It was not just in my head that this possibility lived, that Philip Garrido, who had kidnapped Jaycee, had also kidnapped Michaela. Stories swirled. Jaycee had been found with her two daughters, living in a second, hidden yard behind the Garridos house. Neighbors, however, claimed to have seen five girls back there, not three. Naturally, I jumped to the conclusion that Michaela must have been one of the other two. Our police department was on board with this as well. Once the local authorities had gone in and completed their investigation into Jaycee’s immediate case, our police department moved in, bringing their RV’s, setting up camp, spending a week on location, actually tearing down all the buildings in the back of the property, sifting through everything there looking for a sign of Michaela’s presence.

I spent much of my time out there as well. And when I wasn’t out there, I was being besieged by media. Jaycee had been well sheltered and was not talking to anybody, but this was such a huge story it demanded coverage, so once Hayward PD started their investigation on the Garrido property, the worldwide media turned its attention to Michaela. The media coverage Michaela had received after her kidnapping had been huge, but I think this was even bigger. Given how the world had shrunk in the intervening years, it spread far and wide.

I became physically exhausted. I spent many days in Antioch at the Garrido property, enduring a long drive through hellish commute traffic to get there, and brutal, dusty heat once there. The media had its own campground on location, with lots of calls for interviews on site. In addition, I was constantly being asked to appear on morning news shows in New York, which involved being picked up at my home at some atrocious hour between 2 and 3 a.m., and driven to a studio in San Francisco, generally arriving at a building that was locked and closed and having to find a way in. Then I’d be asked to return in the evening for one of the later news shows. It was not an option to say no. In the event that Michaela had not been taken by the Garridos, she was still missing, and the best hope in the world to find a missing child is the media.

What was even more difficult than the hours and the lack of sleep was the fact that I was being asked essentially the same questions, over and over and over again, morning, noon and night, day in and day out, and I was having to answer them each time as though it was the first time. Glassy eyed from exhaustion, having given everything I had in me, I had to give it again. I could not give in to rote repetition. I could not say, as I really wanted to, “I just answered that question and I can’t answer it again.” I had to force myself to feel it again, and again, and again.

Towards the end of the search of the Garrido property, after all the building had been torn down and the detritus had been hauled away, cadaver dogs were brought in to search, and they hit on several possible burial sites. By this time my hope of finding Michaela alive had faded. Apparently Jaycee knew nothing of her. Nothing had been found on the property to indicate that Michaela had been there. But there might be burial sites. I remember the day they were excavating, being overcome with this feeling that if Michaela was buried there, I wanted to be there if they found her. If she had been hidden beneath the earth for all those many years, I wanted to be there when the sun first touched her once again. In my mind I could see a little skeleton lying in a grave, and I was overcome with this vision, and a desire to throw myself into that grave and hold that little skeleton in my arms, and weep and weep and weep.

Human remains were found at the site, but I didn’t get to see them. They weren’t thought to be Michaela’s, and they turned out to be from an old Indian burial ground. Michaela was not there. She was not there alive. She was not there dead.

And life returned to normal. I returned to work on a regular basis, fortunately only three days a week. But I had fallen into the deepest, darkest depression I have ever known. There were times when I felt I just could not breathe. I’d have to leave the office and just walk around the block, walking so slowly, with each step not certain I’d be able to take the next one, my limbs feeling as though they were filled with wet cement.

The next great fall

One day during this period, I woke up in the morning and suddenly, for no particular reason, my faith just did not make sense anymore. It did not make sense that everything that existed was created by a supernatural being. It did not make sense that we should have to accept the story of the life and death of one man in order to be accepted by God. It just didn’t make sense, and I tossed it off quickly.

My son, Robbie, was still strong in his faith at that time. He was initially pretty dismayed at my decisions, and questioned me about it. I remember kind of laughing off his questions. But I also remember feeling really disturbed by the idea that he might be impacted by my lack of faith. Even then I wondered at this. If I really believed that God was not real, that Christianity was not true, then why on earth would I want my son to follow that faith? But I remember actually crying over the possibility of him losing his faith as a result of me losing mine.

And that is what happened, quite soon after. My son will tell you that his fall from faith had nothing at all to do with mine, but I know that is not true. I know there were other things that were involved in his fall, but I also believe that if I had not opened the door, he would have stood firm instead of falling through it. And it has broken my heart just as much as I feared it would, a long, deep, aching hurt. Honestly, I believe he will return to his faith, because it is my experience that once you belong to God, he may let you wander, but he will call you back. My son scoffs at this, and says some pretty brutal things about Christianity.  And they disturb me, but they shouldn’t. They are the same things I myself have said.

Called back again!

My wandering after the Jaycee investigation lasted about four years. Nothing special really happened this time, no near death experiences. If you were ever to visit my home, you would probably be struck by my love for Bibles. Apart from The Bible, I love Bibles, different translations, different versions, different bindings. I have piles of them. There was one that I found particularly attractive, nice soft faux leather binding, engraved cross on the cover, and engraved scripture verse on the back cover. I left it out on the table because it was pretty. Then one day I picked it up, and said, “You are such a nice Bible.” I opened it at random and found myself reading Hosea chapter 11.

(1) When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. (2) The more they were called, the more they went away… (3) Yet it was I who taught Eprhaim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. (4) I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, andI became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them…. (7) My people are bent on turning away from me….

(8) How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?… My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.

(10) They shall go after the Lord; he will roar like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west; (11) they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria, and I will return them to their homes.

As generally happens when God speaks to me, it took a beat, and then it lit up in my heart. I was Ephraim. I was called, and I went away. I was bent on turning away. But God did not want to give me up. He loved me still! He was calling me back! This word slowly made its way in my heart, and if I returned trembling, it was trembling with that joy that made its home in my innermost being, the same joy I had felt when I had returned on Michaela’s birthday so long before.

Stumbling, falling faith

Since then I have been stumbling through my life of faith. It should come as no surprise that after having spent years angry, vilifying God and everything to do with Christianity, arguing with passion against it, that those things have made a home in me. In addition, my children are now grown, all of them. None of them are Christians. A couple of them don’t really have strong opinions one way or the other at this point, but a couple others are pretty rabid atheists. When I first returned to the Lord this time, I was hit with a lot of criticism, and some personal attacks on my intelligence. That has kind of faded over time, and as I have struggled with my own faith, have fallen and got up, brushed myself off, it has been accepted with love and kindness, but never without disagreement. My own voices, and the voices of my children and other critics, play in the back of my mind. When I read the Bible, or Christian literature, I hear the questions and accusations that I myself would have brought a few years ago. It has been very hard to find peace from these voices.

But here is the difference. They are not driving me away. I question, I suffer, my faith falters, and I may step away for a minute, I may not move forward on the path God has set before me, but I don’t actually leave it. I ask questions, sometimes I ask them too loudly, or too stridently, but I long for answers, and I pray for faith when my faith is weak. All the while I am doing this, of course, the voices tell me that this is just an indication that deep inside I know none of this is true, and sometimes that is hard to fight off. But I do. Somewhere deep inside the voice of God keeps calling to me, and I have made the choice to follow that voice even when it is an uphill trudge.

The church, for better or worse

The thing is, I am a blabbermouth. I have a Facebook that I have somehow come to consider a friend and confidant! Yikes! I have a couple of blogs that I keep. And I have had a habit of posting every time I have a question or a doubt or an opinion. Honestly, part of what I’m doing when I do that is looking for someone to give me answers. The net effect, however, seems to have been to stick labels on myself. Weak, lukewarm, double-minded, all those things the Bible warns us not to be, and I have managed to alienate a few people. I have also been questioned about the impact my blogging and posting has on others, meaning that I may cause others to lose their faith, or not to embrace it. I hope that is not the case. Once a pastor told me that all the people whose faith I admired most had asked the same questions I had at some point. Well, I don’t know if this is true or not, because if they do, they haven’t asked me, and they are wise enough not to put it on the internet.

But if it is true, perhaps my blabbing might be able to help someone? It helped me to think that others had the same questions and had managed to remain faithful anyway, so maybe if I say this out loud it might help someone else? In this world where faith is attacked more often than it is supported, how can we not be susceptible to questions? And there are no really satisfying answers. I’ve read the apologetics, and there is some interesting stuff there. Honestly, it is helpful to confirm an already existing faith, but it is not likely to convince someone who does not want to believe. This should not come as a surprise. The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians:

(18) For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Paul continues:

(22) For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, (23) but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, (24) but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

There is that word again: called. That’s what I have felt, from my childhood, called to this faith. It is as real as anything else. I have seen signs, but I can dismiss them. I have learned wisdom, but it can be argued against. In the end, it’s the tap on the shoulder, the call. I know it, too, can be ignored, resisted, or go unrecognized at first. But it is something I really can’t deny.

Well, I see we are approaching deep theological waters again here, and this blog has already gone over 5,000 words. It’s not my purpose here to school the unbeliever, or explain God.

Tired of wandering…

My purpose is only this, to express that I have grown tired of this wandering. There will always be endless questions, and an endless number of people to pose them. I spent years as a paralegal, in which it was my job to craft legal arguments and support them in a way that they could not be refuted. I have taught on child safety, and in the process I have wracked my brain trying to think of every possible dangerous scenario a child might face and the proper response to them. This is the way my mind works. Find all the holes, fill all the gaps. To not be able to do that gives me the heebie jeebies. But in this case, I have to acknowledge that I can’t. Nobody can.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

If we could see it, wrap it and tie it up with a nice bow, it would not be faith.

Now I’m going to be honest with you. While I am battling with these voices in my head, one of the things they tell me is, “If you believe this stuff, this person or that person is going to think you are stupid and they won’t like you or respect you.” And I hate to admit it, but that actually has influence over me. I want to be liked. I want to be loved. I want to be respected. When I first returned to the Lord, someone I dearly love told me that she didn’t even feel like she could talk to me anymore, that I wasn’t the same person, that she felt like I’d lost several IQ points. You know, that hurt. We have moved past that now, but I think it became one of those things that sticks in the heart.

I think people might find it hard to believe, but I am insecure in this area. I can express my opinions on politics with great gusto and I don’t care whatsoever if people disagree with me. Well, no I do care, but only because I think they should agree with me. :/ But regarding my faith, I tend to be reticent. I want to please people. And this is wrong.

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10

Then there is John chapter 12, which is one of those parts of the Bible I would read and say, “Oh those people are so stupid,” when actually if I look in my heart I see that I am prone to making the very same stupid mistake:

(42) Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; (43) for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.

I believe. Should I walk away, cast off or even question my belief because I fear what people will say, particularly when most of those people are really not even important in my life?

Am I worried about appearing stupid, or am I worried about being stupid?

It has all made me weary. I’m tired of being pushed and pulled, and I’m just not going to allow it anymore. Instead I am going to affirm my faith in Jesus as my Lord, and commit to a life of service so deep that there is no room to turn around, no room to fall. It’s not that I will never have questions, but I choose to live peacefully with those questions until such time as God provides an answer, if he chooses to do so. There is one thing that is certain, and that is that I will never in this lifetime know or understand everything, and I don’t need to. I just need to have faith.

All scripture quotes are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV) translation of the Bible.

Recommended resources:

Crazy Love by Francis Chan. I have described God as relentless myself, as does Francis Chan in this no nonsense, no apologies book.

Stuck

 

image

Still ’round the corner there may wait a new road or secret gate
And though I oft have passed them by
The day will come at last when I
Will take the hidden paths that run
West of the moon, east of the sun

JRR Tolkien

For those who don’t know, I am in the habit of having JRR Tolkien quotes tattooed on me. I got my first one shortly after my 60th birthday, “Deep roots are not reached by the frost.” This, of course, was a reference to age, and my presumed/desired/hoped for ability to escape the less desirable aspects of it. My second Tolkien quote is pictured above, “Not all who wander are lost.” For the Tolkien purists, yes, I know that the word “those” is left out of the quote. This quote accompanies an already existing tattoo of a cross on my arm, the very first tattoo I ever got. Of course, it refers to my wandering soul, and also to the fact that God always brings me back to the path. Now, the quote above is speaking to me, about the new road, the secret gate, and I am trying to figure out if there is a place on my body I can put it.

What is important, though, is not that I am thinking about getting a tattoo. What is important is that this quote is speaking to me because lately I have felt abso-frickin-lutely stuck. Paralyzed even.

I have been diagnosed with PTSD enough times by enough different professionals that I am beginning to accept the diagnosis. The PTSD stems from my daughter’s still unresolved kidnapping 27 years ago, but also from some other things in my life that I might talk about one day but don’t want to right now. I think spending 27 years wondering if my daughter is dead or alive, and trying to reach out to her just in case it is the latter, is probably sufficient for anybody to understand. The thing is, I can’t completely understand it myself. And that is the crux of the problem.

I have realized recently that my imagination has been turned off. I read somewhere that anxiety is a misuse of imagination, and that makes sense. That is the initial thing that occurred to me, because goodness knows I have suffered from enough anxiety in my life. Turn off imagination, turn off anxiety, right? It took a little longer for me to see the real truth of the matter, though. Of course it did, because it always takes longer to see something to which you have closed your eyes. And that is the dark, dark place my imagination wanders to when I think about my daughter. From that first horrendous night after she was taken up to today, what might have happened to her, what might be happening to her, how might she be suffering. Nobody kidnaps a nine-year old girl to be adopted by a nice, childless family. They only kidnap them for nefarious purposes of one sort of another.

There is nothing worse in the world than for your child to be suffering, and to be unable to do anything about it. In my imagination, this lives every day, has lived every day for the last 27 years, 4 months, and 17 days. Of course this had to be turned off, or I would not have had PTSD. I would have been a complete, drooling basket case. If I had known the truth, if I had known she was no longer alive, I would have been able to imagine the terrible things she had endured, I would be able to imagine that she was no longer suffering in the present, that she was at peace, and maybe, just maybe, I would have been able to be at peace also. Maybe. But that’s not the case, and unless I close my eyes and squeeze them tight, a whole entire lifetime of suffering for my child fills my head and my heart. It is not something I could survive. And this, or course, is totally apart from the fact that her case is still active, that we will get leads, that things still happen … often with the speed of molasses flowing uphill. This has happened several times just in the last few years, and it is probably what caused the final shut down, because the months I have spent waiting for resolution of these leads, with my imagination sparking around its edges, were just plain torture.

With my imagination, my creativity has taken a nose dive. You know those coloring books for adults, the ones that are supposed to help calm you and bring you peace? Yeah, I can’t do those. I tried, and I got so stressed out over what dang colors to put where, it made me feel as though I was going to crawl out of my skin. Then I wanted to draw something, so I got a book of drawing paper and some pencils. The book is still blank. I got a journaling Bible, with room in the margins to write or draw. I write.

But it’s all gone beyond that now. Now I have come to feel paralyzed. My roots have gone so deep, maybe the frost can’t reach them, but neither can the light. Dozens of intentions pass through my head, things to do, from the smallest to the greatest, but nothing gets done. Things just seem too difficult, from picking up the phone to make an appointment, to going to the store. I have dozens of books here that I want to read, but I have trouble getting them read because I can’t decide which one to pick up.

There is a concept that has been part of me since college at least, and probably before, and that is the Road of Life. Just keep moving, keep on the road, and you will get to your destination (your destiny), that place that you are meant to reach, where you can become the best you that you can be, can accomplish what you came into the world to accomplish. It is the Road cycle of poems in Tolkien that calls to me. Life as a journey. Life is a journey. How could I be so far along it now, and still be wandering in the wilderness?

I am not going anywhere. I am sitting here, paralyzed. I feel the cement in my limbs that keeps me from moving, from stepping forward, from reaching out. And time is just passing by. Soon another day has ended. I have done nothing. I have gone nowhere. I have not put one foot in front of the other. I am no closer to the end of the wilderness.

And that is not what I want, not what I have ever wanted. I want to shake myself by the shoulders and say, “Hey! New road! Secret gate! Hidden paths! Get moving!”

Except for my mother, who died in her seventies of emphysema, all the women on both sides of my family have lived into their nineties. I have a long way to go yet, if I don’t allow this paralysis to kill me, literally or figuratively, either of which is a real possibility. I have not accomplished what I want to accomplish. I have got to break free.

If you would like to read more about my missing daughter, please visit my website at http://www.dearmichaela.com. 

Thanks always, for your prayers.