Sunday, March 27, 2016

Walking on Water

     When I was ten-years-old, my parents separated and divorced.  A couple years later, my dad remarried to a kind woman named Shelia.  Weekends were spent at Dad's while the rest of the time I lived at my mom's.  Three or four years after the divorce, Mom, who had full custody of me, filed to receive more money for child support.  The storm that was brewing frightened and depressed me, but I prayed to God to prepare me.  His answer saved my life.
     I got out of the shower one evening and was drying off.  Outside the bathroom I could hear Mom screaming but could not make out her words.  I decided she was scolding our mischievous cat, Willow.  Having brushed my teeth and put on my nightclothes, I proceeded to Mom's room and asked her, "Were you yelling at Willow?"
     "No," Mom said; she went on to explain that she was talking to Dad on the phone.  She had filed for more child support money, and if the courts allowed her the raise, Dad would sue for custody.  "And I'm not letting him take you away from me," Mom said reaching her arms out to hug me.  
     I told her goodnight and went to my room.  I put on Audio Adrenaline and soaked in the lyrics: "If I keep my eyes on Jesus, I can walk on water...."  That night I clung to my teddy bear, Rumples, and cried myself to sleep.
     In the months following, I walked around with my eyes to the floor and my heart crying out to God.  Every night after reading my Bible I prayed, "God, please prepare me for the storm that is coming."  Often I listened to the same Audio Adrenaline song I had played the night of the phone call.  The words of the song encouraged me to keep reaching out to God:  "If I keep my eyes on Jesus, I can walk on water...."
     One Saturday I had gone out with Shelia and my stepbrother Jonathan.  We pulled up to the driveway, and Shelia grabbed the mail.  Sitting in the front seat, I could see an envelope from social services in Shelia's lap.  I knew that envelope held my fate within it.  Once in the garage, Shelia ripped into the envelope, read the letter's contents, looked at me and said, "I'm sorry, Stephanie.  We're suing for custody."
     I sat still so as not lose my composure.  I then proceeded to my downstairs bedroom.  Grabbing a coffee table-picture book of Great Britain, I took it upstairs and engrossed myself in the pictures.  The beautiful photographs of green rolling hills, sparkling lakes, and cobblestone roads were of a land far away from my misery.  I wanted to jump into the pictures and escape from the decision I would have to make.  Because I was older than twelve, I could decide if I wanted my mom or my dad to have custody of me.  I never had to choose between my parents before, but now that Dad was threatening to sue for custody, I had to pick which parent I "loved more."
     Dad finally arrived home.  Shelia took him into their bedroom to tell him the news.  Filled with dread, I sat on a chair in the living room staring at a photograph of a wooded path in the Great Britain book, focusing hard on the image:  Standing on the golden path, I stroked the rich green leaves with my outstretched fingers; I allowed the sun to embrace me in its warm arms and the stillness of the air to wade within my soul.  I longed to walk down the path, but alas, I could not because it was, after all, just a picture.
     Dad gravely came into the room with Shelia right behind.  While taking a seat on the coffee table, he asked me to sit across from him on the couch.  I picked up my shoes, which were lying beside the chair, and, with the book in hand, moved to the couch.  He looked at me seriously and asked, "Stephanie, what do you want?"
     The truth slid from my mouth.  "I don't know," I said.  Hunching my shoulders, I began to weep.  The Great Britain book lay open on my lap to the picture of the wooded path.  Why can't I be there? I wondered.  Though my tears trickled onto the book, they did not affect the sun-kissed scene.
     After letting me cry for a few minutes, Dad allowed me to escape to my room.  So I gathered up my shoes, closed my book, and ran downstairs to my room.  I shut the bedroom door behind me and flipped on the light.  The items in my arms fell to the ground as I looked around in desperation for something that would end my pain.  I wanted to rid myself of the pain and darken my eyes to this miserable world forever.  At that moment, as my eyes dashed around the room, I heard a still, soft voice whisper into my ear, "I will not give you anything you can't handle."  As soon as I heard the Voice, I knew I would be okay because God was with me.  Never again have I had any notions to take myself from this world.
     Dad did not sue for custody.  Instead my parents both went for joint custody so that I would not have to choose.  There have been many times that I have wanted to escape from a situation into a different land where I thought peace dwelt, but peace does not dwell anywhere on this earth unless God is there, and peace cannot be found in taking one's life.  Peace can only be found under the shadow of God's accepting wings that cover me whenever I cry out to Jesus.  If I keep my eyes on Jesus I can walk on water.
     That night may have gone much differently had I not prepared for battle by praying.  And I would not have prayed as I did had I not been saved; in other words, had I not said, "Jesus, I believe I'm a sinner and that you died on the cross for my sins; I believe that after you died, you rose from the grave and are alive."  That's all being saved is -- believing.  No good deeds, good works, right words, whatever involved.  Just believe.
     I was saved at a youth retreat earlier that year, but it was a moment in my life that almost didn't happen.  I had gone up to the front of the auditorium with a friend, Kelly and her friend Lauren (*not their real names).  In church speak, this is the "altar call" -- the time after the sermon to go up to the front and pray.  The speaker asked all those who had come up to the front to go into a separate room; our youth leaders would meet us there to speak with us about whatever brought us to the front.  
     My friend Kelly and I went to the same church; Lauren had come with a different church.  I sat on a couch in the other room with Kelly and Lauren, and Lauren's youth leader came up and was speaking with Kelly and Lauren; I was sitting on the end listening.  My youth leader, Jerry Burks (that is his real name; go give him a pat on the back or a big ol' hug) saw me sitting alone, pulled me aside, and prayed the -- more church speak -- "sinner's prayer."  The sinner's prayer is the "Jesus, I believe" prayer I've typed two paragraphs up.
      My God is Elohim, the Creator, and he is in control.  He worked everything together so that Jesus would die on the cross, be dead for three days, and then BOOM he's alive.  He has authority over Death itself.  And this same Elohim worked everything together so that I would go to that youth retreat and have Jerry Burks for a youth pastor and come to know Jesus so I would cry out to him and not be dead in a gutter somewhere right now, but instead sitting here and typing this.  And the road goes ever on and on....

P.S. Click here for the Audio Adrenaline song I listened to over and over throughout that difficult time in my life.  I wrote a letter to the band about how this song got me through a tough time, and they were kind enough to respond with a personal postcard.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Ginnie & Sebastian: May 15, age 28

Ginnie & Sebastian, the first chapter: CLICK HERE
CLICK HERE for the previous chapter of Ginnie & Sebastian

May 15, age 28

"Goodnight, my someone/ Goodnight, my love."
-- Meredith Willson

     Another wedding.  It was a…wedding.  I don’t know.  They’re all the same to me.  I’ve heard it said many times:  A girl’s wedding day is the most important day of her life.
     Oh really?
     Not me.  It’s all the days after the wedding day that I look forward to:  the smiles, the hugs, the tears, the cuddles, the apologies, the fights – the fight.  Please, my someone, come along so we can shape each other into better people.
     That’s all I want.
     But all these weddings:  this is starting to get ridiculous.  Ruth married Nicholas today, and all I could think was “Gee, it was just yesterday I was getting paid to babysit her.” 
     Not that it’s easy finding someone.  
     Although, the way my mother talks, finding my future husband is as easy as going to the dealership and selecting a new car.  When I saw my father at Christmas, it was more of the same:  “When are you going to find a guy to hitch yourself to?  Amelia” – his drip of a stepdaughter – “found someone to take care of her.”  And in walks Amelia with a basketball belly.  Oh, and pregnant too.  He put his arm around her Burberry cashmere-clad shoulder and kissed her temple.  “Yep.  Proud of my girl.”
     And moving on.
     I had a crush on Luke Chambers in high school and got over it before we even graduated.  But Annie, one of my best friends from high school, did not get over her own secret crush that she’d harbored for those same four years.  Annie and Luke married just before senior year of college.  Little Mallory is five and just started kindergarten.
     College held no prospects, and the summer after senior year, both my other two friends from high school, Erin and Kendall, were married to their respective boyfriends.
     With all these weddings, is it possible there is someone left for me?
     It’s not like I don’t know any guys. 
     There’s my friend Chris, but he’s married to Christine.  Chris’ cousin August, another dear friend of mine, has been with Liz since they were in middle school.
     August and Chris tried to set me up with Mark, whom they’d known in college.  Mark could not find one thing about me that interested him, and the feeling was mutual.
     One recent night after dinner at Chris and Christine’s, I’d confessed to what “my type” is.
     Christine kept her bottle of red wine next to her glass.  Not sure why she'd bothered with the glass at all, but she only indulges like that once in a while.  
     Chris nursed his Newcastle, and I my soda.  (I hate the taste of alcohol.)
     Christine used Chris' lap for a footstool.  My feet rested on the edge of her seat.
     And I watched them: how they ebbed and flowed.
     “You two make me happy,” I said.
     Christine snorted into her wineglass.  Chris chuckled and wiped off the wine that had splashed onto his wife’s nose.
     “Sorry,” I said.  “Just a little blue tonight.”
     “Whatever happened to that guy up in Maine?” Chris said.  “What’s his name – Gary, George, Craig?”
     “Greg?  Ha.  I’ve no idea.”  My insides clinched.  I pulled my knees to my chest.
     “Who was Greg?”  Christine said.
     “Some guy.”
     “She met this guy online.  Went up to Maine to meet him in person.  He was a lawyer or something, right?”
     “Really?  And then what happened?”
     “We had a magical three days, but by the fourth day, the ‘spark’ was gone.  So nothing.” 
     I sipped my soda.
     “Well, if Mark didn’t do it for ya,” Chris said, “and neither did this Greg guy, what does?”
     I pursed my lips and stared up at the ceiling pretending that I had to think about the answer and that I hadn’t been itching to tell someone.
     “I don’t know.”  I tried to check the embarrassed grin that threatened to surface, sure that Chris would catch it.  I breathed in an attempt to swallow the smile.  “Someone who brings out the best in me.  A good man.  Someone who finds himself better for knowing me.”
     “Who is he?”  I knew Chris would have caught the grin.
     “Sorry, GW, but Chris is taken.”  Christine eyed her lover warmly.
     “’He’ isn’t anybody yet.”
     Chris leaned forward.  The terd.  “Who?”
     I put my feet on the floor and hunched over my soda can.
     “G double-u.”  He poked my arm.  I released a dark blaze on him.  “Who?” he said unfazed.
     “A guy I knew.  Long time ago.”
     “Oh?” Chris teased.  “And have we," he indicated himself and Christine, "met this Romeo?”
     “I don’t know.  I haven’t seen him in twenty-some years.  Not since I was six.”
     Christine leaned her elbows on the table and cradled her chin.  “If you’re looking for young, why don’t you troll the nearby college campus?  Plenty of hot, young blood there.” A cheeky smile crawled across her face.
     I laughed softly.  “I suppose it’s more the idea of this guy.”
     “What?” Chris said.  “You’re so weird.”
     “Quiet, love.  I want to hear the story.  Tell us the story, GW.”
     I stared at the table again.  My cheeks were warm.  “There’s not really a story.  Just a kid I knew in elementary school.  Sometimes people picked on me; I was a little shy then.”
     Chris snorted.  “What's changed?”  Christine and I both rewarded his snarky remark with a frown.  He rolled his eyes.  “Women.  Go on, Miss Wood.”
     “At recess, he always nominated me to be the princess in whatever game we were playing.  And, I don’t know.  He was really into castles and knights and swords and stuff, and I kind of liked that stuff too.  Just, I think, if ever I’m to marry someone…it would be him; well, my idea of him.”
     “Aw.  What happened to him?”
     “Didn’t come back second grade.”
     Christine’s eyes opened in alarm.
     I laughed.  “He moved.”
     “What was his name?” Chris said.
     I slid my tongue along the thin ridges and firm grooves of the roof of my mouth.  Suddenly my tongue stuck like I’d eaten peanut butter.  I couldn’t push the name past my lips.  Christine and Chris stared at me for an eternity.
     Finally I said it.  “Sebastian Haepst.”
     “Ginnie Haepst.”  Chris stroked his scratchy chin with his fingers.  “Hm, could work.”
     “But then you wouldn’t be GW anymore,” Christine said.
     “Why not?  You use your maiden name for your middle name.  Lots of women do.”
     “When you say it out loud,” I said, “it is kind of missing that little pizzazz.  I’d miss the ring of Ginnie B. Wood.”
     “What’s your middle name?” Christine said.
     “Ginnie Beatrice Wood,” Chris said still stroking his chin.
     I laughed.  “What are you doing?”
     Christine grabbed his stroking hand and held it.
     “I think I’d hyphenate it,” I said.  “Ginnie B. Wood-Haepst.”  My nerve endings tingled and my stomach somersaulted.
     “So if ever you were to marry someone,” Chris said, “it would be Sebastian Haepst.”

CLICK HERE for the next Ginnie & Sebastian chapter

Ginnie & Sebastian: September 23, age 26

For Ginnie & Sebastian, chapter 1 CLICK HERE

September 23, age 26

"I tried to be brave but I hid in the dark/ I sat in that cave and I prayed for a spark/ To light up all the pain that remained in my heart/ And the rain kept falling."
-- Andrew Peterson

     It has been a long darkness.  Having taken a twisted refuge in a house made of fog, I have finally stepped out into the sunlight.  Looking back at my year of being maudlin, the shadows take shapes, but they are whisked away before any of the forms are sensible.
     I’ve decided to keep a diary of sorts.  Get things in writing.  Get the fug-creating thoughts that zoom around my mind down on paper. 
     It’s not living that I hate, but working in an office, day after day, doing the same needed yet tedious tasks.  Doing the same thing every day.  There was high school, college, and….  No more “grown up” jobs.  In fact, no more working at all except when I need money.
     I can't think right now.  I can't think what else to write.

CLICK HERE for the next chapter of Ginnie & Sebastian

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Praising God for His Faithfulness and Goodness

     I need to write of God's goodness and faithfulness towards me this past week and a half.
     First though, a little background information: I've recently concluded the studies Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby and Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study Girl by Lysa TerKeurst, and from both of these I have gained a new perspective on God and my relationship with him.  The Holy Spirit has revealed two of his plans for me.  The first is that I've been reserved to be a good wife to a good man (all of which is a whole other story in and of itself).  The second is a more immediate plan -- to be less self-centered, and with God's help and grace, I've been trying to do this.  Specifically, I've been praying Colossians 3:12 for myself, that I would clothe myself in tenderhearted mercy (compassion), gentleness, kindness, humility and patience.
     And now for the preface: since I've moved into my new place, I've been feeling a little blue -- not full on depression, but the outskirts of it.  It was only today I realized that these blues are just some silly demons trying to get in the way of God's plan.  But my God is bigger and stronger, and he is mighty.
     God is mighty, and he is faithful.

     She and I haven't actually met yet in person, but I've discovered that my downstairs neighbor is thoughtful and kind.  Receiving thoughtfulness and kindess from people I hardly know, I always view as God's kindness to me.
      I haven't been feeling social and have not wanted to be around people or meet people I don't know the past several days, but Sunday a couple who sat behind me at church service introduced themselves.  I wouldn't count this as a blessing except for the beauty of hindsight -- it might have been God trying to keep me from hiding out in my lovely, little shell for too long.
      Another one on the "I haven't been feeling social" list: I have a friend trying to put together a little do, and God made me brave enough to help out by calling a couple people.  (Forgive me if I'm stereotyping, but I feel only introverts will truly understand what a big deal this one is.)
     I've been attending a women's Bible study with a friend.  My friend was unable to attend today because she was needed in childcare.  I still went -- dude, I need to get out of the house!  As the minutes ticked by, I kind of wanted to be there less and less, which was due to a few factors: I had missed breakfast because I'd stayed in bed too long, so I was hungry, which, for me, equals cranky; I scheduled a much-needed grocery shopping trip for after Bible study, which I wasn't looking forward to; and I was just generally tired and still a bit gloomy.  After study, I ended up finagling an invitation to lunch out of these two nice sisters.  Well, they invited me, but I feel like I maybe manipulated the situation -- I didn't, I just feel like I did.  However it happened, their invitation was an answer to prayers, even one answer I hadn't asked for.
     And that answer I hadn't asked for -- God's been giving me that answer a lot today.  I'm not writing here what that specific answer is -- what's important is that it's an answer to a request I'd never made.  Something God just did. It's an answer I'm uncomfortable accepting.  I suppose this is what it means to "clothe yourself in...humility" (Col. 3:12) because I'm having to set aside my pride and allow someone else to be a blessing in my life.
     God reveals his plan to the individual (e.g. for me to be less self-centered) and then provides that individual with the gifts, talents, opportunities, etc. to obey him.

"Great is Thy faithfulness, O God, my Father.  There is no shadow of turning with Thee.  Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not; as Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be."

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

You Are Not Alone

To anyone out there currently battling depression in any form or who has in the past struggled with this, I want you to know: I feel for you; I understand.  I've fought with depression on and off for the past twenty years.  

I've fought the inexpressible and un-explainable.  I've been through the "There is absolutely nothing wrong, yet it feels like everything is wrong."  I've been through the fog.  

I've been through the times where I would make an excellent spy because I could turn everything off -- all the feelings, all moral conscience -- and be hollow inside.  Turning everything off became something of an escape from feeling so angry or tired or sad or just the fight within my being; it was scary going there to that hollow place because I didn't know if I would have someone to drag me back and remind me who I am.    

I've been through the "Can I not just focus on making it through today, people?" and through the "If I can make it through the next hour, I'm good."  I've been through times where I wondered what would happen if I decided to stay in bed all day ignoring all responsibility and days where I didn't really care if anything got done:  feeding myself, washing dishes, being friendly to the bank teller.  I've fought through the "I feel like such a burden."  I know how hard it is to tell people, people you're close to, how you feel because you're not really sure how you feel or why you feel that way, and honestly, there's not much they can do about it to make you feel better.  

The worst question in the world during all of these days:  "How are you?"  Really?  I have to lie and say "I'm fine" again because explaining how I am would take too long and would exhaust me when I'm already exhausted and you wouldn't understand anyway so there's nothing you can do about it and do you really care?  

Or is all that just me?

I learned how to rely on what I knew and ignore how I felt.  This in itself has brought problems.  One went something like this: click here.  There were the battles within myself to force myself to "do things" and when I didn't, I  hated myself.  "Why do you feel bad.  There's absolutely no reason for you to feel bad, Stephanie.  Just stop.  Just be happy, for Pete's sake."  Back and forth I would argue with myself about what I knew to be true and what I felt to be true.  This flows into a second problem that has surfaced in my relationships, in particular my relationship with Jesus. I have so much head knowledge of him, which is what I clung to -- all I had to cling to -- many times to keep from turning away from the light to live in the darkness, but now there is a disconnect  between head knowledge and heart knowledge that he and I are working to bridge.

In another post I'll tell you how King Jesus kept my head above the waves so that I wouldn't drown (i.e. if I didn't know and believe in Jesus, I would probably be dead by now -- literally), but for now, I just want you to know -- you are not alone.  This is me holding out my hand to you:  you are not alone.  

Click here for a wonderful depiction of what it's like to go through depression.  There is swearing, but it's a humorous and honest look at something some humans struggle through.  When I read it for the first time, I thought, "It's nice knowing I'm not the only one."