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Memories of the Future

Which way do I go? What do I do? Time is rushing past me at the speed of light! The noise is too much to bear, I can’t even hear my own cries of despair! Make it stop! Lead me. Someone please, I’m begging and pleading, lead me to safety! Who am I? Where did I come from? Where did I go?

Silence. Pure and simple silence. Velvet blackness suffocating the crisp night air. A child’s laughter. Wait! That’s my children’s laughter. Old, wrinkled and grey. The pitter patter of tiny feet, echoing rainbows flicker all around. Angels and demons fight a raging war. I am but a breath, a collection of warm misty droplets, clinging on the abyss of the unknown.

A School Bus Trigger

I said, “I love you” as she bounded out the door.  I stood and watched the way her hair bobbed as each foot bounced off the ground. In her right hand she gripped the big blue book-bag that she didn’t have time to slip on.  I wondered if she had responded to my words as she closed in on the big yellow bus, if she had I hadn’t heard her.  The darkened hole of the door swallowed her up and I smiled as I imagined the bus driver looking in the mirror, waiting for everyone to be seated before he closed the door and drove off.

The squeal and rumble of the bus drifted away, or maybe it was my mind that drifted first.

It was a brisk April morning and I was sitting at the little table on our tiny back porch.  I was attempting to freeze the moment in time.  I paid close attention, and with pen to paper I captured the details of my reality the best I was able.  The cool air, the chirping birds, the brightening of the sky, along with the distant sound of kids jabbering and laughing as they waited for the school bus.

I was pregnant.  Twenty-nine years old, and pregnant.

I was nervous.  No, I was scared.  But at that moment, as the sounds of the children filled the morning air, I had a vision of the future.  The nine months of pregnancy and early stages of childhood development escaped me.  One day I would have a kid.  My kid would be getting on a school bus.

I pushed the door firmly until it clicked and sealed out the cold.  My future is here.  The pregnancy, newborn baby and toddler are days of my past.  I have a little girl now.  A little girl who goes to school.

Where’s the family?

Lately I’ve been internally stressing over losing a lot of my family members, the most difficult being my dad.  Sure, it hurts to lose a loved one.  But that’s not where I’m coming from.  The emptiness of the loss is one thing, but having a chunk of your family core removed from your life by the age of 34 is another thing.

When growing up my family visited my grandparents (my step mom’s family) every single weekend.  Even after I left home I’d still go for lunch on Sunday quite often.  Sunday after Sunday was filled with family conversation, laughter and bonding.  Thanksgiving & Christmas day were always spent at Nana and Grandpa’s as well.  Those memories are warm and even somewhat magical.

My nana passed away when I was in my early 20’s, roughly 8 years ago.  The family came together more to support my grandpa and eventually life took over and became normal again.  Sundays even grew some due to the kids forming relationships, getting married and I even had the first grandchild.

At the time McKenzie was born my step mom and dad were going through a divorce after being married for 20 years.  I knew life was going to be different, I just had no clue how much different.  When my dad died it left a gaping hole where a grandpa should be.  I still look at my kids and my eyes fill with tears, my dad should have had a chance to know them.  They should have had years of memories of him picking at them, being silly with them and loving them.  It seems so unfair.

Less than a year after I lost my dad my grandmother went to join him in Heaven.  She had been in a nursing home for some time.  She had dementia and I didn’t visit because I (selfishly) wanted my memories of her to be those of her knowing who I was.  Her passing didn’t effect me as strongly as losing my nana and my daddy did.

Just recently, while I was on a family vacation in Florida, I got a call that my grandpa had died.  After discussing it with Tony we decided to finish our last day and a half of vacation and come home as scheduled.  I hated having to miss my grandpa’s funeral.

There were consequences for the decision my husband and I made.  My step mom wasn’t happy that I missed her daddy’s funeral.  It’s been a little over a month and I’m praying that one day our relationship will be restored and that I will be forgiven for the choice that was made.

Now what? 

The foundation of my life isn’t just crumbling, it’s virtually gone.  

My children are only two and four.  I never thought I’d be the “beginning” point to my kid’s lives.  What I knew growing up (multiple grandparents and was even lucky enough to have multiple parents) my kids will miss out on.  My stomach turns and my heart aches! 

I’m thankful for the family that is still here, though I wish we weren’t so estranged.  I’m also greatly thankful for those of my friends who spend massive amounts of quality time with my kids and love them as if their own family, it helps to make up for what’s lacking. 

Most of all I’m thankful that I live a life dedicated to the Lord.  I know He’ll provide and our lives will be fulfilled.  Even though it feels like all I’ve ever known is slipping away my kids are experiencing their own “all I’ve ever known” and they will live satisfying lives.  God is all the family any of us need!

I have a 3 1/2 half year old daughter who has been putting my authority to the test this last month, or so.  I get ignored and argued with over almost everything these days.  When asking things of her I’ve approached her in numerous ways.  I’ve tried pleading, threatening to take away toys, promising rewards, offering money, screaming out of frustration, time out in her room, and I’ve even attempted to sit and talk with her about what I’m wanting out of her.

Her stubbornness, and refusal to obey me, winds up getting her in trouble on a daily basis.  As a new parent I am not always sure what the appropriate punishment for the crime should be.  Not to mention it’s slim pickings.  There’s time out, spankings or empty threats.  At least that’s the three we wind up choosing from.

Not to wind up starting some “how to raise your child properly” forum I’m going to go ahead and get to point I came to make.

While weighing out different options for punishment, and for prevention of circumstances, I somehow found myself thinking about how we are not punished (on earth) by God.  We will face him on judgement day and all of our wrongs will be exposed and accounted for.

My imagination took hold of these thoughts and had me feeling rather thankful that we, as parents, don’t have to do the same with our children.  Our love (from the flesh heart) would erase all wrong doings the moment we were face to face with our offspring, no longer emotionally connected to the moments that once held so much importance.

How people would turn out, with no consequences to their actions, is another thought to be considered.

At the same time that I’m thankful we’re not waiting to judge our children for the accumulated wrongs they’ve committed I’m also grateful that God doesn’t punish us each time we sin.  It’s almost comical, the way I imagine we’d be punished. 

I see myself running across an ipod left behind on a park bench.  I eye it and look around to see if I might spot the owner; I have good intentions you know.  No luck, so I pick it up with the thought of seeking out who it belongs to.  A voice inside my head is assuring me that I’m doing the right thing, as if in a silent argument.  I slip it in my pocket as I walk off.  “Really,” the voice in my head continues to argue, “I AM looking for the person who left it.”  (Two verbal warnings from God have now been given)  The sky starts to darken and I haven’t noticed anyone who appeared to have been searching for a lost ipod.  Well, at least I tried.  If I didn’t take it then someone else would have picked it up, and they probably would have grabbed it for themselves, not to give it back.  I start making a mental playlist for my new toy as I walk down the sidewalk heading home.  The next thing I know I’m on the ground eating the concrete.  What just happened?!

Yeah, I think I’ll pass on being popped by God, thanks anyway!

Perpetually in Training

It wasn’t that long ago that life was simple.  I had a small place in Acworth that I shared with my live-in boyfriend.  I put in my 8 hours a day processing bulk mail for a printing company.  (Yep, I’m the girl that was helping to create, and produce, junk mail!)  And, since there weren’t any kids in the picture, I had a lot of free time on my hands.  Life was easy; wake up, work, eat, sleep and play.  

The guy I was seeing, at that time, was a pretty decent pool player.  So more often than not you’d find me in a pool hall supporting him while he was gambling, or fighting for the win in a tournament.  Early in the relationship I realized that I would have to start playing pool if I wanted to actually spend time with him.  Now I don’t mean racking up a game of 8-ball and wildly shooting at balls then claiming whatever drops.  I’m talking about the serious game.  Where you call your shots, run balls and play to win!

I chose to give up the laid back atmosphere where I’d knock balls around for fun to be able to focus on becoming a pool player.   A few minor pointers, such as: chalk up prior to every shot, spread your feet enough to give you a solid stance and don’t hold the cue with a death grip, got me started.  After grasping the concept I was allowed to learn more.  I wasn’t exposed to it all at once.  I had to show application of what I had been taught and spend time adjusting to the changes first. 

Once I got my stance, grip and aim under control then I was introduced to how to apply english to the ball.  Center english is the norm, top helps you follow through and bottom causes the cue ball to stop upon contact with the object ball.  Next was english with speed.  Example: Apply bottom english with just a quick snap of the wrist (lots of luck, and patience, to you while learning this one!) and the ball will reverse itself, rolling backwards, after making contact with the object ball.  Lastly is how to use english to play position on the table. 

In a game of 9-ball you play in numerical order, sinking the 9 for a win.  It does no good to be able to run 4 or 5 balls then be forced to hand the game over to your opponent, the odds are in his favor when that happens!  Position play is the most critical part of the game, and one of the hardest things to learn!

Every new thing I learned required minor changes to my stance, grip and aim.  I can remember standing at the table thinking, ‘ok.. stance is stable, not crouching too much, left arm is solid, right arm is loose.. concentrate.. my head is aligned with my stick, bottom left english, medium speed.. ok, take a few practice strokes… concentrate… the shaft is free of debris, I’ve chalked… concentrate..’  All of that just to make a single shot!

With a lot of practice, persistence, determination and knowledge from the experienced I was able to get better.  There were times I’d lose interest and phases where I’d just be off, but I kept trying and continued to learn.  Once I got the hang of it, and was playing in tournaments and in league, I started enjoying playing more than I ever had before.  There was a goal to be met which gave the game meaning.

I view my Christian life to be a lot like learning the game of pool.  My laid back way of life slowly began transforming.  The changes in the beginning were minor adjustments that got me started in the right direction.

First I started going to church on Sundays, then made it a point to attend Wednesday nights as well.  Next was to join the church, start volunteering and give more consideration to the way I acted in my day to day life. 

Exposure to the Bible caused me to be more aware of my actions and how I treated people.  My awareness of my attitude allowed me to make wiser decisions, such as to go to counseling with Tony after one too many arguments.  We only needed one session to agree that it was time to make it right before God, and we got married a few months later.   

Every change I apply to my way of living  is followed up with more advice and knowledge that must be put into application.  Each day is begun with a conscious effort.  And I must concentrate at all times, while giving myself constant reminders of the way I need to be with my attitude and my actions. 

Only a few days ago I was thinking to myself, ‘I go to church, am working on praying daily, committed to reading the Bible, volunteering in multiple areas, have put forgiveness into practice, need to work on love- especially my enemies (lots of luck, and patience, while learning this one!), started a Bible study… need to make my husband my number one priority, second to God… Whaaaat?!’   

At one point in time I was questioning how in the world I would ever be able to hit a measley pool ball while having to focus on so many different details.  Now I’m questioning on how to get through one day that requires all of the minor details to be put into place to make it go the way it should. 

Since being in my christian walk for a while I notice that I’m enjoying life a lot more than I ever have.  There’s now a goal to be met, which gives it meaning!

When I was younger I was intimidated by the people in my church.  The men in their 3 piece suits, accented with cuff links and tie tacks.  Their shoes freshly polished, all nice and shiny.  The women dolled up in frilly dresses decorated with lace and ribbons.  Their hair primped and teased, locked in place with gels and hairspray.  Everyone clutching Bibles and singing hymns, straight faced and attentive.

These were Godly people.  They read the word of God, prayed, did volunteer work, were missionaries, believed highly in evangelism and would never be found anywhere but Church every time the doors were open.  They were “holier than thou”.

I did not grow up in church.  I attended only when I went to visit my mom, which I promptly stopped doing as soon as I turned 18.  I could never measure up to the expectations I felt I was being exposed to. 

It was thirteen years after accepting Jesus Christ as my savior before I decided to start going to church on my own.  Thirteen long years of sinning against God after vowing that I was going to live for Him, and getting baptized to wash away the life I had lived prior to accepting salvation.

I broke commandment after commandment.  I took the Lord’s name in vain, didn’t honor my mother and father, stole and lied.  (3rd, 5th, 8th & 9th) I was jealous and desired the things other people had.  (10th)  I turned to a different religion (if that’s what you want to call it), for a brief period of time, which had me believing that Jesus was capable of using 100% of his brain and was trying to show others how to do the same.  (1st or 2nd; not sure)  I shared intimacy with other men while involved in committed relationships, which isn’t the true meaning of adultery but how thin, exactly, is the dividing line?  Either way I was involved in premarital sex.

The church I started attending didn’t lash out in judgement, not even when I got pregnant prior to marriage.  The people I started getting to know all had splotches in their pasts, no one made me feel inferior.  Even the pastors comment, while preaching, that they struggle with the same flesh desires that I have. 

Going to church, and living for God, isn’t anything close to the mental picture I had painted myself from my childhood memories.  Everyone sins and no one sin is more punishable than another.  I am not loved less than anyone else in God’s eyes.  I’m no longer intimidated!

God has a plan for all of us and he will still use us for his good, no matter how much wrong you think you’ve done.  Take Saul, for example.

Saul was threatening to murder Jesus’ disciples.  Jesus confronts him, temporarily blinds him and sends him to the city to wait for further instruction.  While Saul is waiting Jesus calls on Ananias, a disciple that was in the city.  Jesus commands Ananias to go lay hands on Saul to restore his sight.  But Ananais questions Jesus, using the knowledge he has about the things Saul had done and planned to do.

15But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”  Acts 9:14 (NIV)

Not a “simple” liar, thief or adulterer, no, a murder was God’s chosen one!

If that’s the case then I have no doubts that God will use me as well.

God answers prayers

Last week, August 3, marks a year since dad went into the hospital.  He was found face down and unconscious.  He had fallen the night before and no one had known for almost 24 hours.  He was rushed to the ER in an ambulance.

For four long days we watched his chest rise and fall erratically as a ventilator did his breathing for him.  Doctors and nurses pointed out how the open wounds (bed sores) on his body weren’t healing.  There was no hope to be found in the updates they would share with us.  His blood pressure was low, his oxygen levels were low and his kidney’s weren’t producing urine.  His body was infested with infection and there was a 3″ x 3″ mass in his neck that they believed to be cancer.  His prognosis was grim.

Lacking in options, and heeding the advice we were given, we decided it was time to say our goodbyes. 

Four of his six children, ranging in ages from nineteen to thirty-two, and his two sisters joined together in the waiting room to share stories.  There were tears and there was laughter but mostly there was an underlying fear of the unknown.

Many things contributed to my dad’s condition.  Around 2000 the company he worked for (most of my life) moved to South Carolina.  Shortly after he got cancer of the mouth and throat.  He also dealt with diabetes and neuropathy.  While struggling with his medical conditions he also struggled to find another job.  So when my step mom requested a divorce in 2005 he felt his life spiraling out of control and began threatening suicide.

He was involuntarily admitted to an institution then got released to live with me in January of 2006.  His divorce was finalized in February.  By the end of March his health had declined and he wound up in the hospital.  They treated his sepsis, brought his blood sugar down, got his pneumonia cleared up and he was out a month later.

After applying for disability, and getting denied, he gave up on taking his medications, saying he couldn’t afford them.  He was depressed and still showed a great interest in dying.  For the next year it was something he mentioned  quite often.

Hatred towards his ex-wife’s new mate consumed him.  The things that were said to my younger siblings about their mother and her new boyfriend caused tension and resulted in broken relationships.  He completely pushed his teenage daughter to the point where she no longer spoke to him.  He began to pity himself and believed his kids didn’t care about, or love, him.

In February of 2008 he moved into a little apartment suite that was built onto the back of someones house.  I was prepared for him to write me out of his life based on his negative attitude towards everyone else.  Luckily he didn’t, and I held on to hope that maybe he’d find the desire to start rebuilding his life.  Depression and anger lingered though, as hard we tried we couldn’t help him envision a brighter future.

No matter how deeply it hurt to think he would be gone forever everyone agreed that it was what he would ask of us, if he could.

My prayers changed.  I no longer begged God to give him another chance at life so he might find his happiness one day.  I swallowed all my selfish wants and prayed for whatever was to happen to be God’s will.  I prayed that if he hadn’t been saved that he please have one last opportunity to do so.  I prayed that we might have peace to get through the difficult times.  Then I held my father’s hand and told him that I loved him.  I let him know that he could go if he felt it was time.  And I told my daddy goodbye.

Overnight the situation changed.  I got a call from my sister saying that dad was awake, and the ventilator had been removed.  His kidneys had started producing urine.  Best of all what was thought to be cancer wound up being a  big mass of infection.  The spot on his neck had opened up on its own (no one had wanted to touch it) and started oozing.  Although his vital signs were still reading poorly he was recovering!!  The entire staff was taken by surprise and dad was labeled a miracle survivor!

We later found out that he’d suffered a stroke, on top of everything else.  He was hard to understand when he spoke and he had to have therapy. 

He got transfered to the Veteran’s Hospital by the end of August and it didn’t take long for his goofy nature to return.  Day after day he was confined to his bed.  He lost the ability to use his left hand and it took him a while to gain enough strength to even be able to move his own body weight around. 

Over time we started noticing that something was different.  His demeanor appeared to have changed.  Despite the fact that he was concerned about how his medical bills would be paid, and wondered where he’d live when he was released there was a noticeable difference in how he treated people.  When it was brought to his attention he blew it off and stated that it was us (his kids) that were treating him differently.

His negative personality virtually disappeared.  He tended to be more understanding in situations that would have normally set him off.  He let go of things that he would have held a grudge against in the past.  He made amends with all of his kids, especially my sister who had nothing to do with him for such a long period of time.  He also got his ex wife, and her new husband, candy on Valentine’s Day when they’d brought my youngest sister up to see him.  After that he began talking to them both on the phone, along with the rest of the family.     

By the time he was able to start getting around on his own again, getting in and out of bed and using a wheelchair, the doctors found a mass on his heart.  When given the choice to be operated on, or not, he had opted out.  Then, on his own free will, he went and spoke to the chaplain.  He asked her if he had an option for a surgery that could save his life and he decided against if God would look at it as suicide.  That impressed me.  Dad wasn’t a church goer, nor did he have much of a religious outlook in day to day life.  Even after she shared her belief of it not being considered taking your own life, he wound up deciding that he should do all he could to live for his children.  This was a first for him.  He had finally chosen wanting life verses wishing to die!!

The doctors disregarded his decision and told him he was too weak to have the surgery.  They gave him six months to live. 

Roughly a month later infection hit my dad hard.  He suffered another stroke, went into septic shock, his blood pressure dropped, he got bronchitis and his kidneys stopped functioning; the doctors advised us that it was time to let him go.  Even though his symptoms were the same as they had been prior they didn’t do as much as had been done before to try and get him better.  We were informed the infection was caused by MRSA (a staff infection) that they’d been trying to fight (with the strongest antibiotics they had) for months and hadn’t been successful.  Not to mention the mass on the heart, he would never be strong enough for the operation and we’d never know what it was.

For a few days we spent time talking to him.  On the Friday before he died we were filled with an incredible amount of false hope.  He woke up with strength he didn’t have the day before.  His kidneys had produced some urine, he was requesting nurses by name and had even tried writing something on paper.  When my sister and I left to go speak to the doctors I didn’t realize I would never see him awake again. 

He went into a comatose state and the following Wed, at 9:05 pm, he took his last breath.  Tony and my aunt were by his side during his last hours of life.

I can’t quit missing my dad.  I think of him every day.  Tears fill my eyes when I think of how my kids will never know him and he won’t be around to watch them grow up.  I miss taking to him on the phone and sharing the close relationship we’ve had all of my life. 

To be completely honest I couldn’t ask for anything more.  God answered our prayers.  My dad could have, and probably should have, died in August.  Instead God allowed him to have seven more months to live.  During that time relationships were mended, broken hearts were healed, outlooks on life were changed and we got to spend that much more time with him.

When talking to the chaplain, during one of my visits, she told me he’d come to see her more times than he told us about.  I believe my dad was allowed his last opportunity to find his salvation!

Thank you, God, for answering prayers!!