Where’d You Go?

One day, I realized that I was invisible.

The Situation

Getting married, having babies, gaining a considerable amount of weight, and crawling way up into church culture, brings all the elements of human invisibility together for many women. It did for me. I watched myself fade into a vapor, and I was powerless to stop it.

We rarely vanish all at once. It starts with smaller sub-groups within one’s circle of influence. Marriage makes us immediately invisible to a certain group. Having children drops one off of several party guest lists. Excessive weight gain cancels us out of all respectable summer activities, at least the ones that don’t involve children. Church culture is more of a safe haven than a contributor to invisibility, but there’s a certain amount of social stigma, there.

For a long time, most of my human interactions consisted of people  wanting me to do things for them, so I decided to make that work for me. I cleaned houses, professionally, for over ten years. Invisibility is a real plus when scuttling around behind people, picking up after them for cash.

There were good times. My kids seemed happy, so, okay. We were making reasonable bank, and everyone was warm and fed, so I counted myself blessed. As long as everyone was taken care of, being invisible wasn’t that bad.

Then came middle age, the biggest eraser of them all. By the time I was thirty-eight, I was well on my way to nothing. At forty-two, I vanished altogether.

Invisibility Checklist:

  • All of sudden, my whole life is wrong. Life is tough when nobody can see you.
  • Who owns these horrible clothes in my closet? Invisible people pay little regard to personal appearance.
  • I can’t stop over-reacting to everything. When nobody listens, one tends to shout.
  • I struggle with feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy. Nothing plus nothing equals nothing.
  • Occasionally, I have bouts (seasons) of intense anxiety. When others can’t see you, they walk all over you which is very stressful.

There’s little worse than unsolicited invisibility.

Don’t Stop Believin’

Your crazy, crazy brain tells you all kinds of foolishness when it’s being knocked about by wildly fluctuating levels of estrogen. Don’t listen to any of it. Fix your eyes on the horizon and avoid greasy food. Never walk too close to busy traffic. Being invisible, they’ll run right over you and never even know it. Always take a friend, hopefully, one who can still be seen by the general populace: young, attractive, wealthy, athletic, educated, big hair, pet dog, something like that.

Funnel your hysteria into a positive endeavor. I went to college. Ever since then, I’ve been somewhat visible. It’s probably just a confidence thing, right? That’s what I want to believe, anyway. Whenever I speak, people will now acknowledge me, listen to me, engage me intelligently, stuff like that. Poof! I’m visible again. Go figure.

I’m not saying college is the answer for everybody, but it was a big part of my solution. I’m definitely not saying that I’ve fought like a beast through all of this, or that I’m totally proud of how I’ve handled it, so far. I wish. But it sure feels good to walk through a crowded parking lot by myself.

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More Than a Feeling

A strange thing has been happening in the American Christian Church. Well, not that strange, it’s been coming on for so long, now, we should be quite accustomed to it: emotional-experience-based worship.

Settle down everybody.

My family is–or has been, more or less–Baptist. My ancestors are deeply southern, hailing from Arkansas, Tennessee, and the Carolinas (as far as I know). Church has always been a big part of my life.

After a stint of adolescent disobedience, I married and was ushered into the Charismatic Renewal of the 1980s and 90s. Friends, when it was good, it was great, and when it was bad, it truly sucked.

My first exposure was the New International Version of Christian scripture, the NIV translation of the Bible that is so popular, these days. As much as I love Elizabethan English, the NIV brought God’s word to me in a language I could connect with on a deeper level. Of course, I began attending a charismatic church. We dropped that designation quickly, becoming known as a “nondenominational” church. Sometimes I wonder if that was an innocuous sounding attempt to distance ourselves from the lunatic fringe.

But, I loved it. Church was like a party, and our leaders were enthusiastic to make it so (Jean Luc Picard flashback). We usually met in homes, instead of the church building, during the week, and we came together on Sundays to “celebrate.” This was very different from the austere worship of my childhood church days. Oh, and “worship” in the Baptist church means the entire formal church service. In nondenominational church, “worship” means the music part of the service.

The Cult of Entertainment

We find ourselves in a society that is addicted to diversion. We feel deprived if we cannot find something to do or say or stream or eat or play or visit every moment of our lives. Increasingly, we interact with social media more than we interact with living, breathing, human faces. We consume products and entertainment at a staggering pace. I don’t know, maybe the church got tired of waiting for God to do it, or maybe we rationalized becoming part of this ridiculous game show so we could help Him grow His church, because He clearly needs our capital campaigns and tithing pep rallies. Those and probably a thousand other well-meant intentions got us here.

Where Are We?

In attempting to out-brand each other in our commercial culture, a weird metamorphosis has taken place in the American Church. Worship has become a business. And the business of the church, by and large, is to peddle emotional experiences to an increasingly immature and desensitized audience. I personally know a pastor who arranged for an adult lion to be brought on stage during a youth service. But it takes a lot to hold the attention of teenagers these days, right?

Here’s the Good News

That ship ain’t gonna sail for much longer, and good riddance. It looks like the show is over, brothers and sisters, and it’s time to step out of the boat, because she’s going down. Christ will return SOON for His Bride, and I know she will be radiant, powerful, and pure. Such a change can only come through fire (persecution and suffering–Connie, don’t say that!) and a sober heart of repentance. We know from His word that the hard times are coming, even upon us at this very moment. Brands, concerts, conferences, and missionary shock-trips to Africa won’t be enough to keep us afloat in these turbulent times. Get ready to jump ship, meet the whale, pray, and wait for further instructions.

How’s Your Heart?

Five years ago, today, I was having the worst day of my life.

In a desperate attempt to save my marriage, I may have contributed to its demise. College seemed like the answer. School was a place where I could go to feel like I was actually good at something. With a degree, I could get a job that didn’t involve cleaning someone else’s house or raising someone else’s kids. My husband could finally take a breather and find something that would make him feel smart, too.

How very wrong I was.

Five years ago, today, I learned that my husband was in love with somebody else. If you’ve ever been standing in those shoes, you know what a shoe-full of poop feels like. The stink of loneliness and despair can linger interminably. There’s a reason divorce is considered by many to be worse than the death of a spouse. If somebody’s dead, you don’t have the torment of interacting with each other, after the fact. I’m not saying that I wish death on anybody, I’m just saying that, of the two options, death is more final and less drawn-out (like torture). If somebody’s dead, the other can reminisce fondly, later, after the horror has subsided.

But divorce brings out the ugly you can never forget.

Five years ago, today, I was at the end of my rope. One of the worst things I could imagine actually occurred, but I lived to tell the tale. Sure, my heart breaks each time I think of my disillusioned sons. Sometimes, I don’t put up a Christmas tree. I miss the people I used to call “family.” There’s just too many sad aspects to recount. But we’re all okay. We survived it. Life is that way, and my life has been a good one.

I’ve wondered many times why God let this happen, especially when His Word says He hates divorce.

Things happen because things happen. Taken in context, the second chapter of Malachi warns if you dis your wife, the consequence is the divine cold shoulder. Sneaking around with another person, while you’re married, squarely falls into this category, I think. If God ever goes silent on me, like, the hardcore vacuum of “I’m praying but nobody’s listening” kind of silent, I honestly don’t know what I would do to regain His heart. Examining my own heart would be a good starting place. But God’s love never fails, so there’s hope for the inconstant.

Five years ago, today, it seemed like the end of the world, but it wasn’t. It was the beginning of something new. The Hound of Heaven is always dogging me toward His purposes. Whatever sorrow, whatever pain, whatever loss overtakes me in this life, I am encouraged and comforted that Abba has been, and will be, faithful through it all.

Yule Survive

Christmas- YES

Everybody smile!
  • watch Miracle on 34th Street–the original, please
  • and Elf 
  • drive around looking at lights and other cool stuff
  • bake
  • kiss Mr. Murphy, mistletoe or no
  • put rum in my eggnog
  • spend extra time with people I love
  • meet and greet some new people
  • Embarrass my nieces and nephews (my own children are now immune)
  • laugh really hard

Christmas- NO

Really cute gifts lose their cuteness when you’re crafting handmade candy boxes until the wee hours.
  • buy all the things
  • worry
  • go to functions I don’t like
  • pretend that I’m happy all the time 
  • feel obligated about silly things that don’t matter
  • chastise myself for not sending cards
  • discuss politics
  • engage in complicated (needless) posturing behaviors

REMEMBER!

Answer all condemnation-laced questions with: “I don’t know.” It is so much easier than trying to explain. 

Examples: 

  •  “Why didn’t you put up a tree this year?
  • “Have you finished your shopping?”
  • “Yuck! You really like fruitcake?”
  • “What’s in this dressing?”
  • “But I thought you were bringing the Ambrosia Salad.”

Better yet, silence. Just stand there and smile, then ask them where their kids are. 

Image result for wreath cartoon drawing

Always Dogs

Okay, so my first pet memories are of cats. We had a cat who put her kittens in my baby bed every night. It felt safe to her, I guess. Cats are weird. My grandparents had several chihuahua dogs, but they were kind of grumpy around little kids, so I shrugged it off and tortured them, anyway. There was also a Siberian Husky that was either run over or stolen. I was very young at the time, so that particular concern must have rated incredibly low on my list of terrifying things. If the incident in question had been more terrifying, it probably would have left a deeper impression. That was my early childhood: basically, running and screaming from one terrifying thing to the next.

When we moved to Dickson county, we had all kinds of dogs . . . and cats and chickens and cows and horses. That was when I had my Always Dog, the dog of my childhood, the friend who watched me grow up and loved me, even when I was the worst. She was something of a shorter-haired collie mix. She was black all over except for a white spot on her chest. My grandfather called her “Black Gal.” Yeah, it’s super racist sounding. I was a little kid in the 1970s deep south, okay? Cut me some slack. Anyway, she seemed to live forever, maybe because she wasn’t that much younger than me. When Black Gal died, I was devastated; my childhood was over. There was no reason for me to come home, anymore. I moved into my first apartment the following spring.

When my kids were little, I lived with them through their Always Dogs: Jack and Gracie. Jack was kind of an awful dog, the sort of dog you love because if you don’t, no one else will. Gracie was his younger sister from a different litter. He was a rat terrier, and she was a terrier/chihuahua mix. Jackie had something of a personality disorder which made him, forever, a work in progress, but Gracie was the sweetest little thing. When Jack died, she grieved for him under my grandfather’s bench for months. After our family fell apart, I brought her with me to Nashville where she lived for a year and a half before going to sleep. Letting go of Gracie was terrifically hard for me. She was the last tie to the family I never had.

Now that the Always Dogs have all gone to doggie heaven, I can’t seem to make myself want another one. The new dog will either fall short of the beloved memories of dogs past, or it will become the greatest of all dogs, the great dog love of my life. In both of these scenarios, I appear to be the loser. Either I’m stuck with another love-challenge for a decade or so, or I will end up mourning myself to death over incredo-pooch. There is a third option:

The dog in question could outlive me.

This is definitely a new card on the table of pet ownership. Saying good-bye isn’t my favorite thing. In fact, I’ve become quite artful at dodging the disagreeable practice, altogether. If a good-bye is in our future, and you suddenly don’t see me so much, it’s because I detest good-byes and all the emotional protocol that goes with them. Why can’t we just pretend we’re going on vacation, or something?

With a dog, this is impossible, unless you don’t have a soul. Abandonment is never an option. Dogs don’t understand: “It’s not you; it’s me.” So, in my world, saying good-bye to a dog means somebody’s dying. What if the next dog good-bye is the one where the dog wonders, “Where’d that old lady go?” What if I’m the one who doesn’t come home from the trip to the doctor?

For questions such as these, my usual response is somewhat hedonistic. Life is for living, and living involves loving, and loving is painful. BUT the pain is always worth the loving, and life isn’t life without love. Mr. Murphy says I think too much, but I’m a writer and that’s what writers do. We watch, and we think, and we shape the world to suit our stories. We overthink everything, and then we toss it all in the trash to start over. Starting over is what I’m into, right now, so maybe it’s time to think about getting a dog.

Finding You

I looked everywhere, but I could not find my great-grandmother’s wedding ring. Sentimentality skates dangerously close to hoarding, too close for me to get overly involved with ‘things,’ but this was different. This is part of who I am.

Edward and Louisa Deaton, ca. who knows?

It’s a little sad that I don’t know more about these people, but they are my forbears, part of the genetic pool from which I sprang upon an unsuspecting world.

Louisa (called ‘Loo-eye-zer’) Deaton is my mother’s father’s mother. Say that three times real fast. She had eight children, a conservative number for turn-of-the-century Arkansas. You know you come from the impoverished, rural South when all the old family pictures are of frowning people standing in a dirt yard. Compared to the people in the rest of my old picture  collection, these two actually look uptown. I guess they were headed to church–or a funeral.

The realization hit me, something like a year ago, that I hadn’t seen the ring in a while. I was sure I had put it in an old, old jewelry box. I have two of them. Again, the history on these two objects is a mystery to me, as well.

I know, I KNOW I emptied BOTH jewelry boxes, went through old bags and purses, and anything else that might hold my little treasures, but nada. I grieved in my heart and moved on.

Sigh.

Look at them, the ghosts of country people past; look how disgusted and disappointed they are:

What’s up with all the white shoes? It must have been a thing. Apparently, bras were out of style.

Nah, they looked like that, anyway. Hey! I see some grass, there.

You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friends’ noses. No, that’s not how it goes. Wait, okay, you can pick your friends, and you can pick your family, hang on, you can’t pick your family . . .

Nevermind.

What I’m trying to say is, your family is your family. Love ’em or leave ’em, they’re a part of you, whether you like it, or not. Maybe they embarrass you. Maybe they don’t like you, very much. Maybe they wear white shoes and go freestyle. If you don’t love those people, you stand a giant chance of wandering around for the rest of your life, trying to figure out who you are. To me, that’s a lot of time wasted, time that could be spent loving and living and learning and giving. I made a little rhyme.

Of course, these people were long gone before I was even born, but I have pieces of them: keepsakes, stories, pictures, and DNA.

Two nights ago, I remembered the lost ring, so I thought I would look one more time. Guess what?

I don’t know how I overlooked it, but it was right there in that jewelry box, all along. Go figure. It’s a beat up little number, a poor woman’s ring, but it means the world to me. It’s thin and worn and misshapen from plowing, sewing, scrubbing, and raising eight children on practically nothing. It was a part of her, and she is a part of me. Sure, it’s just a ‘thing,’ but it connects me to who I am, and where I came from. I’m an American writer, straight from the dirt-yard, white-shoes, no-bra-wearing South.

Who are you?

Sleepy Time

Remember sleep? I do.

As a small child, I had nightmares. The world was big and scary, and I was a very little girl; monsters were everywhere. Like all little kids, I didn’t want to go to bed. This changed when I hit puberty.

For many of us, sleeping past noon during the teenage years is far from unusual. Medical experts tell us that teens need at least nine hours of sleep because generating strange, new body hair, engaging in extreme risk-taking behaviors, and interacting with peers through painful insecurity is exhausting.

The child-rearing years are especially brutal. During the reproductive moment, we love sleep; we pray for sleep; we crave rest, but there is none. I remember telling my mother, around this time, about a dream I had in which I was sooo tired, but there was nowhere to lie down, except a broken lawn chair in the middle of a crowded room. She laughed before telling me that my dream probably meant I had no rest and no privacy. She was right.

Then the kids grow up, the circus leaves town, and bedtime comes back for the weary, but guess what? Now I’m in my late forties and sleep becomes a myth. No worries; I’ll just go to college. Nobody sleeps in college. I can make this work. Sure, sure, but when college is over and grad school becomes a no-go, then what?

Most mornings, I wake up around three a.m., give or take thirty minutes. Maybe I’ll go the bathroom . . . again. Maybe I’ll lie there thinking of blog posts, work pitches, family, sewing, or any of the thousand-and-one things marching around, tossing beads to the crowd from the guilt parade in my head.

This is not insomnia. I know people with insomnia; this is different. This is not me stumbling around from lack of sleep. This is me becoming an old woman who doesn’t need the same amount of sleep she once needed, long ago. I seem to operate just fine on about five to six hours. Weird.

Weird and Getting Weirder

I love my bed. Wait, lemme rephrase: I used to love my bed. Now my bed is a place of sleep fail. The strangest part of this bizarre dynamic is the fact that I start falling asleep around seven-thirty to eight o’clock at night. By eight-thirty, I’m more-or-less gone.

Yet, come three in the morning, all systems are flickering online.

First, the bathroom for the umpteenth time. Then, the hotness; did I mention the hotness? I’m freezing all the way to the bathroom and back, I get under the covers, and now I’m burning in the deepest realms of hormone hell. Anything that touches anything is suddenly coated in sweat. Good times.

Next, the sinus shifting and throat clearing, signalling the arousal of the ventilation system. After honking my nose (and attending to other lovelies), Mission Control is fully operational and the brain is engaged in the day’s to-do list. At this point, it’s over. Might as well fire up the coffee pot and check emails.

Coming Attractions

I begin to wonder how this is going to turn out. Will I wake up earlier and earlier in the mornings, only to fall asleep earlier in the evenings? If this keeps up, I could actually get an extra day, here and there. If my days continue to shorten, why not? I might even gain a whole week every few months, right?

Making lemonade out of life’s lemons (or catching what rest I can get on a broken lawn chair) is what I do. If this isn’t working so well, maybe that will work better. Adaptation is far more productive than ritual. Sure, I would love to sleep a solid eight and work a solid sixteen, but that’s not what’s happening, right now. Life does what it wants, and it’s a lot bigger than me and my sleep schedule.

So, staying up late is not in my skill set, anymore. Nothing good happens after midnight, anyway. Besides, sleeping less is kind of cool. Waking up early gives me time to read, write, and pray. Change isn’t necessarily bad, just different.

Maybe I like it. I can like it, if I want to.