Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Terror by Night

Friendly Warning: This post contains sensitive material.

It’s a complex emotion. Fear.

We all have a relationship with it. Lately I’ve been pondering it. Wrestling with it. Analyzing it. Trying various methods of combatting it. And sometimes giving in to it.

Fear can be good. Adrenaline helps you react in threatening situations. It aids in self-protection. But the fear I struggle with now is the bad kind, the kind of anxiety that paralyzes me and keeps me awake at night. In order to fight this type of fear, I’ve been remembering God’s faithfulness throughout my life. This approach has taken me back to a time when I said, quite confidently, I had met the other side of fear.

If I think about that night, really think about it, I remember the burst of energy, the clarity that took over my mind, and the surprise I felt when I realized that the barrel of a gun was cold, not hot, as I expected it to be when I reached out to push it away.

I was fourteen years old. My little brother was nine.

We headed into the Pocono Mountains that day with our oldest brother, a wise and strong 23-year-old medical student. We stopped at a Park Office. There we discovered that Bruce Lake, the area we were planning to backpack, was not open for overnight camping. Looking at the map, Steven mentioned another place we could go, but it was a longer hike and I groaned inwardly. Perhaps I even protested. Ever the adventurer in those days, I wanted to have a fun time in the woods the easy way. We decided to go to Bruce Lake anyway. To stick to our original plan.

Steven pulled his car off the road near the trailhead and locked it up. We loaded our packs onto our backs and began hiking. We had a leisurely walk through the woods to our campsite.
My younger brother and I had been backpacking one time previously with Steven. That time our parents had tagged along. This trip seemed similar. Easy hike in. Beautiful Pennsylvania woodland. A clearing in the forest.

We arrived in plenty of time to set up camp. We cooked dinner over the fire. Then we watched as Steven suspended our bag of food in a tree. We swam in the lake as the sun dropped low in the sky.

We sat by the fire in the dark and Steven read from the Bible. Psalm 91.

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him I will trust.”
Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler
And from the perilous pestilence.
He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
And ten thousand at your right hand;
But it shall not come near you.
Only with your eyes shall you look,
And see the reward of the wicked.
Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place,
No evil shall befall you,
Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling;
For He shall give His angels charge over you,
To keep you in all your ways.
In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.
You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra,
The young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.
“Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him;
I will set him on high, because he has known My name.
He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him,
And show him My salvation.”

I don’t think I really paid attention to the scripture. I sat there, looking at the campfire and not listening. As I fell asleep in the tent, next to my brothers, worn out from sun and fresh air, I didn’t have any premonition of how I would live out the words of that Psalm before morning.

“Get out of the tent! Park Ranger!”

The voice woke us suddenly. My brother cursed. Guilt flooded my soul. We’d been caught. We shouldn’t have camped here.

Steven unzipped the tent and peered out. “Are you really a ranger?”

“Fuck no!” the man said. “Get out of the tent. Both of you!”

“There are three of us,” Steven said.

We stumbled out of the tent into the clearing, confused but wide-awake.

The man who stood in front of us was dressed in dark clothes, wearing a ski mask, and holding a long gun.

“Take your clothes off!” he ordered.

We obediently stripped to our underclothes while he rambled on, his voice rising and falling in an angry cadence. Slowly we began to understand what was going on. We weren’t supposed to be there. He was looking for a drug drop-off.

“Did you hear any low-flying planes?” he asked.

We shook our heads, watching him thrash around in the bushes, searching, turning back to yell at us every few moments. When he was satisfied that what he was looking for was not there, he came back to us.

“You!” he pointed to my little brother. “Come with me!”

He followed him to a nearby tree, where the man pulled out a pair of handcuffs, wrapped his arms around the tree and cuffed his wrists. He took Steven a few paces to the other side of the clearing and cuffed him to another tree. Then he turned to me. I followed him meekly, but my heart pounded. I knew we were going further than we needed to. We passed tree after tree as he led me into the woods, away from my brothers. Where we’d be alone.

Then he turned to me.

“No!” I screamed. “Don’t touch me!”

I ran back through the woods, back towards the clearing, stumbling over roots and stones.

A gunshot shattered the night air.

“Jesus!” I screamed. “Jesus, help me!”
I veered off the path into the thick undergrowth. Twigs grabbed at me, thorns dug into my shins. Steven yelled—telling me to run, begging God to deliver us.

I stumbled out of the woods into the path again and my assailant was upon me, standing over me with the gun.

“Do you want to die?” he yelled, pointing the gun at me. “Do you want to die?”

“No!” Though the scent of gunfire was still heavy in the air, the gunmetal was cold as I pushed the barrel down. I got up and ran over to Steven. Clung to him, as though he could shield me from the bullets, or from the rapist.

Steven couldn’t. But if you were there that night, you would have seen it for yourself. How the name of Jesus changed our kidnapper from belligerent and angry to meek and accommodating. He was different. As though we had frightened him. He still had his gun, but he no longer had the power. We had a Greater Power.

In the end he tied our hands with rope and left us. He told us we could untie ourselves when he fired his gun from a safe distance. He didn’t want us to follow him.

I wasn’t afraid when I pushed the gun away. Or, maybe I was afraid, but the adrenaline coursing through me took over.

I told my best friend afterwards, “I’d rather be shot than raped.”

I wonder about that. As a mother, I’m pretty sure the reverse would be true now. Perhaps it was the Holy Spirit guiding me, protecting me, telling me the right thing to do. I know deep in my soul God protected us. We might be dead if He hadn’t. At best, I would have been raped as a young teenager. And the aftermath would have been much worse. Maybe I would have recovered. Do we ever really recover? Or do we just learn to live with the scars?
It was bad enough as it was. When I said there is another side to fear, I was thinking of the courage to do what had to be done. The knowledge that if the worst happened, I would enter eternity and that would be good, not bad. But I think I’m forgetting the fear that began afterwards. As we walked back to Steven’s car in the dark—the longest hike I’ve ever taken. When we realized his car window was shattered, his wallet stolen, our address in the hands of the man who’d warned us not to tell the police. When we reached home and my mother greeted us with sobs that wracked her body like nothing I’d ever heard. When we went camping at a safe family campground a few weeks later and my little brother and I kept waking up in terror. The first time our parents left the two of us alone and our other big brother came home unexpectedly. We were in the process of dialing 911 when we realized who it was.

Fear settled in. But over the next few years, I somehow learned to turn it over and recognize the protection we’d been granted. To be grateful. To wonder what I’d been spared for. Surely there was a purpose I was meant to fulfill on this earth. I looked for it. And I slowly stopped being afraid. For the most part.

What helps me now is to remind myself of God’s love. He watched over me as a 14-year-old in the woods that night. He hasn’t forgotten me now. His plan is still in place. If something bad happens, He’ll help me through it or usher me to the other side. His plan will ultimately end well. He goes before me and will be with me. His words about me ring true.

She shall call upon Me, and I will answer her;
I will be with her in trouble;
I will deliver her and honor her.
With long life I will satisfy her,

And show her My salvation.”

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Sunday, March 6, 2016

What I'm Into: February 2016

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know we had a rough start to 2016. I’m still struggling and grieving, but also making progress and embracing joy. 

It’s been a long time since I’ve linked up with Leigh Kramer for “What I’m Into.” February was a busy month for us, so it seemed like a good way to catch you up on our crazy life. 

What I’ve been reading . . .

I closed 2015 without meeting my paltry goal of reading 40 books last year. This was bitterly disappointing. As a writer and an English major, I love reading, but I am not a fast reader and at this stage of my life, fitting it into my days can be an insurmountable challenge. However, I’m determined to make reading a priority, so I made the same goal of 40 books for 2016 and hit the ground running. 

One thing I love about being a parent is getting to read so many great books with my kids! We got Adrian The Chronicles of Narnia series for Christmas. My dad read them to me as a kid in order of publication, beginning with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. But Adrian’s set orders them chronologically, so we began with The Magician’s Nephew. Camilla, Adrian, and I loved this book! As soon as we started it, I could feel myself relishing the depth of meaning in the story and the rich language Lewis used. It was deliciously satisfying! We read the whole book before Camilla went back to school in January. Then it was hard to find time to read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe because she insisted we not read it without her! We had a bit of a drive last Saturday, to visit a granite yard and procure some Craig’s List finds (more on that later), so we were able to finish Book Two.I’m always struck by the way C.S. Lewis described Aslan. He just seemed to get it. This is my Jesus. 
But as for Aslan himself, the Beavers and the children didn’t know what to do or say when they saw him. People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time. If the children had ever thought so, they were cured of it now. For when they tried to look at Aslan’s face they just caught a glimpse of the golden mane and the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes; and then they found they couldn’t look at him and went all trembly.
Suffice it to say that reading about the triumph of the Witch to my family was nothing short of a deeply moving spiritual experience. When we reluctantly came to the end of that book, Adrian immediately commenced begging until I finally gave in and started reading The Horse and his Boy. I always thought Prince Caspian was next, so I feel a bit disoriented, but the kids are enjoying it so much that I’m just rolling with it!

For Adrian’s homeschool curriculum, we’re currently reading Little House in the Big Woods, another childhood favorite of mine. Adrian is a little disappointed that all the kids are girls, but there’s enough woodsy fun that it’s keeping him interested. And I’m surprised to be noticing new things myself, even though I just read it to Camilla a few years ago.

On my own, I read TheLost Wife by Alyson Richman. I enjoyed it, although I was thoroughly frustrated with the heroine more than once. Also, as I mentioned in my anxietypost, I just can’t take one more World War II novel. I get too sad and worried about this world we live in. 

Back to childhood favorites, I had never read Caddie Woodlawn myself, but a friend told me several times that Camilla makes her think of Caddie—minus the red hair, I guess. Thinking it would be more lighthearted than a WWII novel, I finally picked up a copy at the library. I’m having trouble getting into it. But Camilla borrowed it from me and is enjoying it immensely!

I’m about halfway through Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin. I heard her speaking to Tsh Oxenreider on The Simple Show and I was very intrigued by her philosophy of “Four Tendencies.” She believes people respond to expectations in one of four different ways and understanding this about ourselves could help us stick to our good habits. There’s so much to say about this. If you’re interested, you can read more about the Four Tendencies and take a quiz to find out your tendency here. If you’re not interested, just skip the rest of this paragraph. Deal? I thought I was an Obliger at first, but Todd helped me see that I’m actually a Questioner. That made me happy because I didn’t want to be an Obliger (nobody does). I was not at all surprised that Todd is an Upholder. That’s a lot of fun to live with, folks! Although Rubin is a bit didactic at times (she’s an Upholder, too!), I’m finding the book helpful and hoping to put a lot of her strategies into practice. At least, the ones I truly believe will work for me! (That's my Questioner coming out.) 

What I’ve been doing . . .

Friends, I am officially the mother of two busy, school-aged children with activities and a toddler who still needs to nap. Can I just tell you, I’m exhausted these days! I’m not sure how other moms do it, but this stage is very difficult for my introverted, highly-sensitive self. I loved the preschool stage and I loved naptime then! I remember sitting quietly with a book and a cup of coffee while the baby napped and the three-year-old had quiet time. (Maybe that only happened once, but I still remember it!) Right now we have activities almost every day of the week. Evangeline often skips her nap entirely, or grabs a quick one in the car and I have to wake her up before she’s fully rested. We don’t even get the weekends off! On Sundays we have play practice right after church. I’m finding it challenging, to say the least. Especially during weeks like this, when Todd is traveling for work. He came home Friday, thank the Lord! But the stress caught up to me in the form of a nasty cold. Grrr! Things should slow down a bit after Easter. We won’t have ski club and the play will be over. Phew!

In the midst of this busy season, we are also remodeling our kitchen! Because that won’t be stressful or anything. This is the explanation for the granite yard visit last Saturday. People, I know these are first world problems. I really do. But it’s where I’m living, at the moment. I’m doing my best to keep it in perspective and be grateful for the blessings we have, while also taking a step back here and there so I don’t lose my mind with a crazy busy schedule. I have to remind myself that I am not called to be one of the moms to whom I’m comparing myself. I’m called to be me and God isn’t asking me to live up to some ethereal standard concocted by Pinterest. 

I’ll close by sharing about a really wonderful time we had in February. Todd and I went away to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. Our actual anniversary was in December, but in February we finally had a chance to slip away for a long weekend skiing Whiteface and staying in Lake Placid. In spite of somewhat icy conditions, we had a great time skiing together and a relaxing time away. It had been more than three years since the two of us went away together sans children and after about 30 hours, I stopped worrying about the kids. Drat that anxiety! It was a good exercise for me to go away and come home to find that they were all perfectly fine. Sometimes I think I need to control everything, but I actually need to relax and let go a little bit. This trip was a welcome reminder of that.

What I'm Into

Friday, January 29, 2016

Saying Good-Bye . . .

I have a memory of my friend Laurie . . . We are sitting on a set of bleachers together, warm sunshine pouring down on us. She tells me the story of her husband proposing. He’s out there in front of us, playing softball on the same team as my fiancĂ©. I notice her engagement ring. I’m noticing everyone’s engagement rings these days because mine is so new. We are both full of light and love. We are young. So young.

I knew her first as a fellow church member and friend. She and her husband went hiking with us. They came to our wedding. I went to her baby shower when she was expecting her son.

Months later, I told her it looked like she’d lost the baby weight and she turned around and whispered, “I’m pregnant again!”

I saw how thrilled she was to have a baby girl then—someone with whom to do her nails and shop for bling.

A few years after that, she sat in front of us in church and said she loved the baby noises my infant girl made during the service.

She was full of New England sass and never ran out of words. Words of wisdom and humor. She never ran out of love either.

I watched her become our pastor. And lead us closer to Jesus. Fearlessly. Rallying her people and pushing us to be everything He was asking us to be. Drawing us closer in the safety of shared community.

It was the summer of 2012 and she’d been given a death sentence.

Stage Four Cancer. We cried and prayed.

Somehow, miraculously, by the Grace of God, the cancer receded. She claimed the healing she knew He’d worked in her body. We breathed a sigh of relief. Pastor Laurie moved on to bigger and better things and our community splintered apart. Not completely. We all still loved each other, but we weren’t together every Wednesday night as we had been. And Pastor Laurie was busy. She was redeeming her time. And it turned out to be short.

I found out early this month that she was in the hospital. Someone said the cancer was back. But we didn’t know much more than that. It sounded like they were still expecting the best. I texted her, sending her love and prayers. I didn’t want to be a nuisance. I heard she came home and I signed up to take her a meal. I bought the ingredients, got an aluminum pan to use for the stuffed shells. I thought the last thing she needed to worry about was returning a dish to me.

I finally delivered that meal this past Tuesday night. The date I’d signed up for ended up being the day of her funeral.

We went to the viewing. We went to the funeral, the cemetery, the funeral dinner. But nothing tore my heart out like taking that meal to her husband and children. Standing in her kitchen, looking at those three faces and knowing that nothing I say or do will make it better. Saying nothing because what is there left to say?

Here is dinner. Please be well. Now I’m going to run away and cry all the way home.

I know Pastor Laurie is okay. She’s better than she ever was here. But the pain and the ache and the absence . . . the gaping hole she left behind is so vacant. I can’t imagine what could fill it. Her presence was so large and so unique. Only a good God, who loves us and has reasons we can’t begin to comprehend, can fill the emptiness.

So I just keep praying. Not for myself. Though I miss her, I know this cross is so much greater for her family. I pray for them. That somehow, the ache will ease, hearts will heal, and the sun will shine again.

Friday, January 15, 2016

A Fresh Start

The beginning of a new year is always a little anticlimactic for me. I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way. The season I perceive as our busiest comes to a close. I spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s relaxing, reading, hanging out with family. We don’t have an externally imposed structure to our days. I get the added bonus of having my birthday that week, so I feel kind of entitled to the break. As I look ahead to the New Year, I think it’s going to be different. I see myself becoming more organized, fitting more into my days, suddenly being able to pull off things I’ve struggled with for years.

This year, I told myself I was not going to make resolutions at all. I was going to choose one word for 2016. I knew what that word was because my sister-in-law had used it to describe her husband, my brother. We were talking about finding time to read and she said my brother is very intentional about reading (and about other things, too).

“That’s it,” I thought. “I’m going to be intentional with my time this year.”

Enter 2016. I lay on the couch, practically asleep, as 2015 drew to a close. I kept thinking I should go to bed, but I didn’t. My two big kids stayed up to ring in the New Year for the first time ever. And I watched the ball drop wishing I were cozy in bed already. Does that sound intentional?

Ah well, there’s always tomorrow.

My intention for this year, however, was not being unable to control my anxiety. I had my doubts about letting the kids stay up to watch Times Square, partly because I was a nervous about something horrible happening on live television. I’ve pretty much been expecting something horrible to happen every day for the past few weeks. 

I’ve also been wrestling with my blog, not knowing what to write about. I have plenty of ideas, but when I try to put them on the computer screen, the words fizzle out before I even get started.

Yesterday morning it hit me. I could write about my battle with anxiety. That’s what has me in this blogging rut. That’s what’s muddling my mind. Spoiling my best intentions. I could make a clean start by coming clean.

I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for many years. It’s always worse after big life events. Marriage. The birth of each of my children. I wrote about it a little bit in Evangeline’s birth story because that pregnancy in particular was fraught with anxiety. I finally turned (back) to medication when Eva was a baby. It helped. But last spring I weaned off Zoloft because I was concerned about the side effects. I seemed to be doing well without it. But since November, since global events have triggered our collective adrenaline, I’ve found my fight-or-flight response consistently at the ready. I think the distraction of our Christmas celebration kept it under wraps for a while.

But now . . . it’s been a rough two weeks. I’m scared. I am very afraid quite often. And it sucks because I am so blessed. I have three beautiful, healthy children. A husband most women would kill for. I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from. I know we’ll be warm this winter, no matter how low the mercury drops. My life is good. Really, really good.

But I am riddled with fear that disaster lies around the next bend.

I don’t want to paint the picture bleaker than it is. I am not constantly afraid. I am handling it. Jesus is my lifeline. Perhaps that’s why I’m allowed this thorn for now. I am relying on God. I cling to scripture. Yesterday my worship station on Pandora played all. day. long.

I’m going to be more intentional about self-care. I’m doing the “Go-to-Bed Challenge” with Beth Ricci. I’m realizing I don’t need to keep up with all the “breaking news.” In my situation, it may be better if I don’t. Also, in the past year, I read three novels set during World War II. (Two of them in the past month!) Although they were good books, and we ought never to forget the horrors of the Holocaust, I’m not sure spending all that time in that era helped my state of mind. I’m going to find something more uplifting to read next.

So, if anyone is still reading my blog, there’s the scoop. I don’t want to live this way. I want to have the joy and peace we’re supposed to have in Christ. Lately, the moments I’ve grasped them have been fleeting. If you’ve had similar issues, let me know in the comments. If you have suggestions for dealing with it, please share.

And by all means, say a prayer.