“Tomorrow,” said Mama Bear as she helped the cubs get ready for bed,“you’ll be going to the doctor for a checkup. Doctor Grizzly wants to make sure you are growing the way a healthy cub should.”
“Mommy, you left out some of the words,” said my astute four-year-old. Dang it. Her baby sister, just one year old, pulled away from nursing as if taking notes, agreeing: Yeah, Mommy!
My four-year old continued, “Don’t skip parts of the story, Mama!” She was bossy. Or what we refer to as “having leadership skills.” I was lying in bed with her just like every night, reading scads of books before launching into a playlist of my terribly singing lullabies to she and her sister. (I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, but my kids didn’t seem to mind.)
We were reading from the classic “Berenstain Bears Go to the Doctor,” and this time, I read the lines between those two sentences. “Doctor?” said Brother Bear. “We’re not sick!” “And what’s a check-up,” asked Sister Bear, a little worried.”
My daughter’s small voice sounds out the next line word-by-word “It’s. Just. What. It. Sounds. Like. Said. Mama.” She was reading already. She loved books.
When my girls were little, we would visit the library every week and come home with the maximum allowance of 15 books. We would read them all together, especially in the evenings, to wind down.
As my kids got older and could easily read along with me, their books got longer. Eventually, the books had whole chapters, and by the end of the day, I was tired. I’d read most of the books before and had in inkling of what I could leave out that wouldn’t compromise the plotline or sound like I was reading a condensed version.
That evening – like every other -I was exhausted. I was battling an illness I didn’t have a name for (and wouldn’t for another 20 years.) And I was anxious to get through the reading, do the horrible singing, and tuck them in for the night.
It’s not as if skimming a few paragraphs from “The Boxcar Children” made any difference, right?
Oh, to go back and read all the lines, little ones in my lap, where all was right with the world. To read the fifth book of the night with the same thoroughness as the first book. I would do all the character’s voices on the fifth book too. And I’d do it right.
Right now, I wish I could skip this chapter in my life. Not ALL of it – most of it is lovely. But some of it frankly sucks, and sucks badly. The world is in chaos, my body is falling apart at the seams, every single day is a battle to keep my joints from dislocating.
Every single day is a battle with chronic pain, and much like when I was a young mother putting her kids to bed, I’m exhausted. And the hardest thing going on is that so many of my dearest friends are facing catastrophic situations. Why must everything HURT? So many parts of life hurt.
But unlike the Berenstain Bears – whose issues always resolved within twenty pages and lots of colorful cartoon illustrations – there is no skipping stuff.
When I consider my life as a whole, the stuff I would have rather skipped when it was happening is the stuff that (warning: lofty platitude ahead) made me STRONGER. And oddly enough, had I everything to do again, I’d probably do it the same. But damn. What price for strength!
Had I skipped a chapter, I wouldn’t be sober from alcohol, which was robbing my very life. Had I skipped the part of the story where I came to the utter and complete end of myself, how could I become the beginning of a better version of myself. It was so ugly, my alcoholism. Going through the agony of early recovery? I thought it would kill me. I was so incredibly sick, inside and out. But had I not ridden out the withdrawals, I would have missed the best chapters of my life.
Had I skipped a chapter, I wouldn’t be married to the kindest, most wonderful man on the planet. He is my very best friend, and my personal hero. I would have been stuck in the same situation – one that I settled for because I didn’t think I deserved better.
Had I skipped a chapter, I would have continued to believe the negative things people thought about me. Worse, I would have continued to believe what I myself thought about me.
You know those children’s storybooks that let you choose your own ending? It’s kind of like that. But to know what ending to choose, you have to read the rest of the book with nothing left out. And there’s no skipping parts of the story, whether I volunteer to cooperate or not.
Here’s the truth:
Every part of the story is pivotal.
The crappy parts. Maybe especially the crappy parts. The boring parts too – they prepare you for plot twists and character development.
Skipping the hard parts mean never making mistakes, and thus, never learning from them. It robs the richness of relationships from you and stagnates your growth.
Skipping means you have to start again. Sometimes all over again. “Start again, Mommy!” my kids would say, when I cheated them out of words. It’s hard to follow a tale with incomplete information.
Likewise, life calls for starting over often. “From the top!” it will demand. Not condescendingly, but because it’s necessary to understand the story.
And yes, it is important to understand the story. It’s life.
The choices we make in the parts we’d rather skip are often the steps that afford us a happy life.
And I really hate that; because it seems like a bunch of wrenching awfulness just to get to a good thing. Right now, I’m not dealing with that so well. My anxiety tells me that if things were just different, I would be healthier. More productive. My pain tells me that I don’t care for my family to the degree I should. The struggles make me want to legit give up.
I’m learning to accept hardship as a pathway to peace, as the little-quoted sixth line of the Serenity Prayer – something I “read” to myself every single day from memory. And I NEVER skip any of the words!
Grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change. The courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace. Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that you will make all things right if I surrender to your will, so that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with you forever in the next.”
So cuddle up with yourself, read the whole story. Ride out the hard parts of life, and I will too, and together we can make a reasonably happy life without skipping the difficult stuff. Very good things germinate from very difficult circumstances.
And hey – thanks for reading my words. God loves you and so do I, friends. ❤
I attended an Indigo Girls concert with a dear friend Friday evening. We had a blast! I didn’t think I was going to able to go at all, so I was thrilled to be there. But by the time I drove back home, I was in severe pain.
Some of us chronic illness patients are in some degree of pain 24/7. I’ve had to learn to conduct life with it, love with it, laugh with it, function with it.
People have alluded that we couldn’t POSSIBLY be in THAT MUCH pain so often. A person with chronic pain couldn’t possibly get dressed every day, or enjoy a comedy, or maintain relationships in the misery of constant pain.
But we certainly cannot writhe around on the floor screaming in agony 24/7. We want to, but we can’t, because after the writhing and fit-throwing, guess what? There is STILL pain – infuriatingly, but there is also still life to be had.
I have had too many tantrums to count, over the years, and I reserve the right to have others when applicable. They can be cathartic. But it’s not a sustainable mindset.
At some point you have to stop writhing and crying. The world goes on, and so must you.
So we learn to mask, and we mask the pain constantly; because life requires us to in order to function in society. We have families to take care of, and friendships to give attention. We have chores and duties.
It’s unfair in EVERY level to all parties involved.
But I see no benefit to being Pollyanna about my health – if I’m not transparent with y’all, who does that help?
So I write about it a lot – it’s 4:30 in the morning and I have tears of frustration in my eyes, and it’s the loneliest feeling I’m the world to be in my own body right now. Writing about it releases some of the pressure in my mind.
Just in case any of my chronic pain friends are also up at 4:30 in the morning ina fetal position, fighting nausea, or just feeling alone… please know you’re not alone.
I see you, I hear you, and I love you.
Better days will come – I know because I had one Friday. Sometime I even have a few in a row!
It’s the assuredness that on another day, there will be one more day trip with My Beloved. One more awesome concert. One more beach day. One more delicious meal (when I can eat.) In other words – much like working my recovery program – it’s done one single day at a time.
Invisible illnesses exist. People who don’t look sick can be very, very sick. Always be more kind than usual to folks, please. You never know what another human is going through. Love. ❤️
If we are eternal creatures having a physical experience for an allotment of years on Earth, it begs the question:
Why have a physical experience at all? Especially with all the heartbreak and tragedy raging all around us. What’s the value in being here?
No matter how crazy life gets, I truly believe there is purpose in our being Earth-side. And I recognize that having a human experience enables us to experience things others in the spiritual realm may not.
Take chocolate, for example. Do angels eat chocolate? We do. It’s delicious.
When they hear Led Zeppelin, so they feel the music in their physical bones? We can. (And it’s like climbing a stairway to Heaven!)
We have thunderstorms so rumbly, you feel the thunder in your chest.
Literal water falls from the sky, on the regular. That’s some legit Garden of Eden stuff there.
Water is one of my favorite parts of being human. How would we appreciate the Living Water that is our Creator, had we not known the concepts of thirst and satiation?
We can climb trees that have their own intelligence, and admire flowers that God didn’t need to make so pretty, but did.
We get to host the lives of other sentient beings – little furry forever friends. We get our faces kissed with slobber, and benefit from the vibrations of a purr, and although I know pets go to Heaven, I’m grateful for their pretense in this intense world.
We have telescopes to remind us how small we are, and microscopes to show us how intricately we are put together; for we are made of divine love, and stardust.
We have books – vast volumes of human history and human frivolity, ours for the ingesting.
And we have tacos, y’all. In all the universe, we get to enjoy tacos!
Best of all, we have one another. That’s really something – relationships. Just two Earthlings who took a shine to each other and become friends for life. What? That’s crazy! And I love it.
We have such grace and grief, both; double-edged swords that clear the rubbish of human drudgery to make room for the fruits of the Spirit.
If you are living under skin and over bone, you are on a quest. Get excited.
The world – even with its trials and tragedies – is one God so loves. It’s messy and painful and sometimes I’m not sure why he loves it. but I’m certain it’s loved because look around us.
May we find love, joy, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control in our human experience.
Better yet, while we are questing, may we BE love, joy, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.
And May the angels and eternal beings on the other side cheer us on as we throw down the gauntlet, anxious with anticipation.
I was a big, fat OOPS to my family. My parents were teens who hastily got married in my mother’s advanced month of pregnancy, and divorced shortly thereafter, but in the wake of their “sinfulness,” was me. TA DAAAA!
I am from the South and born in 1969. While I was still no bigger than a baked bean in utero, I was scandalizing my entire family. My mother was ostracized to a degree and even more important: WHAT WILL THE NEIGHBORS THINK?? (I don’t know why the neighbors cared; it was just the arrival of a new fellow human.)
My grandparents got past the scandal, and scooped me up and loved me, but the extended family was not as thrilled.
I specifically remember the way one of my great-grandmothers treated me, and it was UGLY. And as I grew, it got worse. She made me feel like I tainted the whole family (like the rest of the family wasn’t batshit insane. Let’s call a spade a spade.)
I was different than the other greats and grands, because in HER mind, I wasn’t supposed to exist (never mind my parents’ shotgun wedding, I guess.) I got ass-whoopings for doing absolutely nothing.
Now my great grandmother – who I will refer to Memaw for the purposes of this article (because I’m Southern, so…) was a tough broad. She came down to Texas from Missouri via COVERED WAGON as a tween with her parents and a zillion siblings. She had the full-on Oregon Trail Experience (Texas Edition,) complete with at least one of her siblings dying of dysentery on the way. She had seen some shit. And I mean literally AND figuratively. Tragedy, toil, death.
And you’d think seeing some shit, it would have softened her heart, but no. If anything, it depleted her tolerance. Going through major trauma does one of the two things: Softens you or makes you strident, it’s always your choice.
I truly believe she felt justified in being horrible BECAUSE she was a “good Christian.” She had RIGHTEOUS ANGER on her side. And in case you don’t know, “righteous anger” can cover a multitude of issues and is in no way compatible with true GRACE.
Grace got lost in the shuffle, almost as if it was an afterthought of the gospel, and not the Gospel in whole. She never forgave me for being born, a product of “sin,” so I became the product of a world that loves a good stigma! I stood for everything that was wrong with the world to her, just by existing.
At her funeral, they used terms like “holy and blameless” when describing her in the little Baptist church she attended. A “pillar of the community!” If memory serves, she even had a Sunday School room named in her honor, because “She so loved the children.”
See this disconnect?
Now I’m not here to roast my ancestors, who I’m sure did the best they could at the time (whatever that even means.)
But I DO think maybe we take a deep dive into what makes a person a threat to the community pillars. Because this bruhaha over Drag Queens right now has me all up in my feelings.
Of course, we no longer treat children born outside of marriage poorly! It’s 2023! Surely, we don’t make others feel “less than” anymore. Surely we have evolved to BE the inclusive love to one another? Maybe we learned a thing or two. But we have a damn thing or two to learn still.
We are talking about not belonging.
We are talking about welcoming the stranger.
We are talking about the most fundamental of all human needs: Acceptance.
We are talking about the least Christ-like of Christian attitudes: Vilifying a fellow human-being who God made in his image. God is not, in fact, made in OUR image – flaky and flighty, quick to anger, with a penchant for smiting anyone different than us.
You see, the question was never did I deserve unkindness because I was born as some kind of counterfeit shadow-self of a child who was born in marriage. I deserved kindness because I was born. All humans deserve dignity and acceptance – red and yellow, black and white, we are ALL precious in his sight..
Next week, I am taking my adult daughters to a Drag Show fundraiser. I can’t wait.
Former Fundie Me would be breathing rapid-fire into a brown paper bag in order not to pass out from the shock! I would have called my future self “backslidden,” “fallen,” and worst of all, “someone who never knew Jesus in the first place.” THINK OF THE CHILDREN! I would say, tsk-tsking. To which I tell myself now, “Well, they are adults, now – pushing 30. And I am thinking of them.”
I’m thinking I want to show them that everyone deserves respect and acceptance.
And for the record, I did know Jesus in the first place. And I DO know him still. And he is the whole reason that I realized my heart didn’t only need softening. It needed OPENING.
What will the neighbors think, if you start loving people who are different than you? Would it be a “scandal” if you became an ally to the LGBTQ+ community? Would your friends say you’ve “turned,” if you changed your mind? Would your church kick you out for standing with that marginalized community?
Because they exist.
I don’t care what the neighbors think. I care what God thinks.
And at the end of the day, I finally care about what I myself THINK.
When you were a child, you weren’t allowed to exist as that very basic thing – a child. And so you didn’t know how to play without furrowed brows and anxiety for the longest time.
Look at you now, playful and free, laughing at the most juvenile humor imaginable. Look at you doing things just for the sake of FUN!
And sweet friend, I know you have suffered life-altering trauma and faced circumstances so devastating, you would have deemed it unsurvivable, had you known it was coming.
You thought, “well, I’d never be able to survive that – anything but THAT – God forbid it ever happened!”
But God didn’t forbid it.
And you’re still standing.
Remember when you let other people define you? A lifetime of stuffing your own feelings out of reverence for the OTHER person? As if you deserve no reverence for yourself?
Sisters, the Universe reveres you; surely you can do the same. Surely you can find that your worth is equal to the ones you make feel worthy.
Your own definition of you is the only opinion that matters in the least. Isn’t that ironic?
For a while, you were bitter; an undercurrent of constant anger running in the background of your ether, which is MOST “un-ladylike” of you.
Patriarchal pish-posh, I say.
Look at you now, with an open heart so cavernous as to swallow up the whole broken world into a wild love, and spit out the bitterness. You’re slaying it like a freaking LADY, and a badass one at that.
They tried to hijack your newfound happiness because misery loves company and you’ve SO over the weeping and gnashing of teeth bit. That’s hard for miserable people to accept – that you have the audacity to let things go.
Yes, now here you are. Has anyone bothered to read you the scoresheet?
You have made it through 100% of the heartbreaks, rejections, and tragedies you have EVER experienced.” That takes some doin’!
You are part of a mighty Sisterhood! Link arms with me and let’s meander through this crazy world together – a place of radical silliness, a penchant for overcoming, and self-acceptance.