Thou Shall Not…DRAFT?? (Lead me part 2)

Love and Marriage Engagement photo by Greenlight Photography

Love 
Engagement photo by Greenlight Photography

Being a child of divorce and seeing the havoc it wrecked on our family, I swore I wouldn’t do the whole “marriage thing” until I knew for sure…

So I waited to get married until I was 35. I was way past all those years of college, career choices, immaturity, and had a more seasoned view of life and what I wanted. I even married an “older man” to assure that I had made a choice for someone solid and grounded. I heard marriage was difficult and I had no illusions of that fact.

Yet, sometimes the best of intentions…

Hearing about something and EXPERIENCING that very thing are two totally different ways to learn.

Apparently I needed the EXPERIENCE.

That whole marriage thing is beyond hard. A beast. I had heard, but had no idea until I experienced it.

The best of intentions for my marriage ended in my very own divorce.

Sometimes life is like a box of chocolates?  No, I think life (and marriage) is more like a triathlon.

A challenging competition made for all shapes and sizes, ages and abilities. Whether it is the swim, bike or the run, we all have different parts we are better at. And, with all those transitions and outside factors, there is bound to be something that goes wrong.

You may have trained (or waited) for months, weeks, years, but no matter how hard or long you train, stuff of life happens—flat tires, falls, goggle malfunctions, a kick in the face during the swim, gears get tangled on your bike, wardrobe mishaps that end up rubbing you the wrong way, or maybe everything goes smoothly, but you just **BONK**

Let me set the stage. It’s just over a year ago. Summer blossoms and green trees surround us. I am now forty-something and seven lucky years of learning and life brings a second chance—a new opportunity for a great relationship with the very best of intentions.  We are newly engaged and enjoying the outdoor, Oregon weather at an amphitheater with some great friends, great wine, great music. I am holding hands with my fiancé and I look lovingly over at him.

“Aren’t they the cutest?”

We hear a voice behind us.

I glance back at where the voice was coming from and find two young ladies who look to be in their late 20’s. Their eyes are filled with envy and looking longingly at… (Not us!)– We follow their envious gaze toward what captured their attention. They happen to be admiring the love between our dear friends, with whom we are attending this concert.

It warms our hearts to watch these love-birds who truly are “the cutest!” Their love seems to overflow, not only to each other, as he pushes a strand of her blonde hair away from her eyes and while she stares into his eyes, but it overflows to everyone around them!
“Don’t they act like newlyweds?” I ask of the on-lookers from behind.

“Totally! They’re so cute. I never want to settle! I want that!” One of them oogles and nods again in our friend’s direction.

“They just celebrated their thirteenth anniversary. Three kids. And still so in love.” I tell them.

“Wow, so it can happen?” One of them asks.

We nod and look back our two friends, like we can somehow absorb some of the overflow.

I love to brag on these two who’ve been blessed with so much. I love to watch their love. I learn from them because I know what they’ve been through.

Life. And it hasn’t been a box of chocolates.

Thirteen (plus!) years of marriage—something is bound to happen! Ups and downs; victories, joys, concerts, family  time, transitions, malfunctions, mishaps, health scares, deaths in the family, betrayals, loss, words that can’t be taken back…

A great piece of advice my new fiancé and I received the night before we married came from some seasoned “love birds:”

My aunt and uncle (pulling from much experience) gave us this GEM that we pull out ALL THE TIME:

“At random times during the day or month, but at least once a month, say ‘I’m so glad I married you.’”

I got this when I came home after 2 weeks of my new marriage:

so glad I married you

Fast forward one year–

I’ve just returned to Arizona after a magical honeymoon and am ready for some girlfriend time!

Just two old friends meeting for lunch and I can hardly wait to see her. Her blond hair is now straight and longer, but every head turned and watched as she entered and joined me in a corner booth. We sit across from each other. Her smile hides something. Her shoulders are rigid, like they’ve been bearing something too long.  And, like old (and great) friends do, what troubles her doesn’t take long before it pours out of her heart, her eyes and her mouth.

“I’m sorry I’m unloading all of this on you.” She looks down at her hands fidgeting on the table. “I mean, here you are, just back from your honeymoon, and I’m dumping all this on you.”

“Well, the honeymoon IS over.” I laugh and wink at her, trying to lighten the tension that now radiates from her.

Her face is pinched with pain and discouragement weighs down the corners of her mouth, “Just wait until you’re married 14 years.”

She drops her hands and sighs, “It’s a cycle and we’re back in it.”

She has **BONKED**

“I get by with a little help from my friends…”—The Beatles

My new husband and I are no strangers to “the cycle.” We’ve each experienced divorce for ourselves and we don’t want to repeat it. EVER.  After reading this ground-breaking and insightful book-“LOVE & RESPECT” by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, we could finally put a name to and understand what ailed our prior relationships: “The Cycle.”

In essence the cycle is:

from "Love and Respect" by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs

from “Love and Respect” by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs

We desire to not repeat the mistakes of our past. So we read, we seek counseling, we tell each other, “I’m so glad I married you!” every week, we invite a power beyond ourselves into our marriage (God’s grace) and we try whatever we can to not get caught back up in “the cycle.” Yet, we know we can’t do this on our own. And when we are in the cycle (and it WILL happen—honestly it already did! ;)) we might just need some help to get out/off of it—

See the thing about this life is, like the triathlon, it’s a competition. You may at the start and swimming for your life, in the middle and pedaling your butt off, nearing the finish line and dragging your legs through the run, or you may be yelling your happy lungs out adding to the competition through your words of encouragement; we are all doing this together.

But this competition isn’t against who you think it is.

There is an opponent who is completely working against us. Our “competition” seeks to knock us down, keep us out of the race, hold us back from doing our best and trip us up. Our competition tells us we’re not good enough, fast enough, strong enough. Our opponent will laugh at us when we crash on the bike, will rub dirt in the road rash when we fall and will throw our missteps and down times back in our faces during the worst possible times.

The competition is NOT OUR SPOUSE, but it is the enemy to our spirit.

This enemy wants to steal good relationships and destroy them. (John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;”)

It is this enemy that seeks to keep couples IN the cycle.—Reminding us of harsh words, hurt feelings, or our own brokenness and destroy our relationships.

And if you’ve ever been in “the cycle,” you know how difficult it is to hop off.

merry-go-round from government auctions

Like the old school playgrounds where you are spinning on the old metal (and mental!)  merry-go-rounds (now considered too dangerous.) But when you’re spinning, you hold on for dear life because– if you let go, the centrifugal forces will whip you off, like a bullet from a gun, and who knows where you’ll land!

This cycle is not fun, and the journey of getting off of it is scary. The enemy tries really hard to keep you holding on (to the baggage, hurt, past, etc.), but the sooner you get off, the better!

And then there is HOPE.

When you’re in the competition of a triathlon, (and I have experienced this for myself!) nearly everyone cheers each other on! The abilities and age ranges are all staggered, so you don’t begin with who you are “competing against.” All throughout the event, from sidelines and from everyone in the event, people speak words of encouragement to one another and pull each other along.  There are husbands, wives, kids, parents and friends on the sidelines with all manner of signs and cowbells. It is awesome and inspiring to witness this.

It’s like everyone knows, “Hey, there is a lot that can go wrong out there, we need to stick together.”

“So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

And just as there are covenants and vows in marriage, there are rules and restrictions in triathlons. Some are common courtesy. Like during a pool swim, if someone taps your foot, you should allow them to pass. But breaking some rules (and vows!) will eliminate you from the competition.

For example, during the bike, a warning about DRAFTING—If you are caught “drafting” in the competition of a triathlon—you will be DISQUALIFIED. All that training, all that planning, the money spent, all for nothing if you DRAFT.

I’d heard this rule (and obeyed it), but I never totally understood it, until I experienced it.

“I look around and see my wonderful life
Almost perfect from the outside
In picture frames I see my beautiful wife
Always smiling
But on the inside, I can hear her saying…”

—Sanctus Real lyrics to “Lead Me”

I am not a leader.

I’ve mentioned before, my new husband and I are in the midst of training for our first triathlon together.

He is a leader.

He commands a classroom of “kids these days” every day. He’s coached cross country and track. He is a runner–He qualified four times for the Boston Marathon (ran it twice) and completed three FULL Iron Man triathlons. He has oodles of knowledge and experience in these areas. And, even though I love a good “underdog story” and watching a great come-back, when you are the one (me) always coming from behind, it can be discouraging.

And, as he “goes before me” during all our training, he believes it pulls me along. It’s a difficult place to be—behind. No matter how hard I try to feel I can never catch up; not good enough to be side-by-side, just about enough for me to psychologically **BONK**

So, when we went for our first bike ride together, I was not surprised when he pulled ahead of me.

Miles go by, I keep pedaling. The gap is still there. I pedal harder and get closer. The gap remains. It would be easy for me to make him my competition and my enemy as I struggle and struggle.

But then I experienced something awesome. As I was fighting to stay close to him and keep up, I realized something…It was actually way easier to ride behind him.

Again, hearing about something and EXPERIENCING that very thing are two totally different ways to learn.drafting

From Wikipedia:  Drafting…is a technique where two vehicles or other moving objects are caused to align in a close group reducing the overall effect of drag…, as in motor racing and cycling, drafting can significantly reduce the paceline‘s average energy expenditure required to maintain a certain speed and can also slightly reduce the energy expenditure of the lead vehicle or object.

So, I experienced “drafting.” And now I love DRAFTING. BUT, get caught doing this during competition and you will be OUT.

As I glided along behind him, I breathed easier, I began to enjoy myself and then I witnessed just another reason I am so glad I married him.

As we continued on our ride, God bless his little “leading heart;” I watched from behind as he would point down every so often. And I realized he was pointing out the jumping cholla in our path, a large stone, and a pile of broken glass or a pot hole to avoid.

“I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through their iron bars.” Isaiah 45:2

Drafting aside, I suddenly see more benefits of having a leader! Having someone to go before me—to watch out for us as we ride along and to point out road hazards that could very easily trip us up! It’s actually quite nice having someone to pull you along—(and, most likely, having someone to finish first so they can cheer you across the finish line!)

“I get by with a little help from my friends.”—The Beatles

And it was fourteen years ago, in a magnificent cathedral in Genesee, Colorado that I stood witness, cheering on my blonde friend as she swore her covenants to her partner.

Now, across the table from her, I see her competing against the enemy and I cheer her on from the sideline:

ME: “Remember that invisible force drew the two of you together when you first met and worked together?”

HER: “But that was a LOOOONG time ago.”

ME: “Remember the concert? That wasn’t that long ago. Remember how you felt that night, that whole trip?”

HER: “Yeah. But this last year has been tough.”

ME: “Remember when you discovered you had matching birthmarks? Figured you were soul mates?”

She laughs.
ME: “Remember how amazing he is with all the other residents at the Alzheimer’s care clinic every time you visit your mom?”

Her eyes fill up.

ME: “Remember how you felt on your wedding day in Genesee? The horse drawn carriage ride symbolically traveling across the bridge?”

Remember the vows?

“To have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.”

They wouldn’t have made us vow all those juxtapositions if they knew life wasn’t coming at us and going to hit us head on.

But we don’t have to do this on our own.

VOWS

A cord of three strands…

Ecclesiastes 4:12 “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

Seek wisdom from those who’ve gone before you.

You may be the one asked to pull someone else along. It may be your significant other. It may be another couple. It may be someone you were asked to “stand up for” or even someone who you don’t feel qualified to speak wisdom to.  But sooner or later, it will happen. We all can “get by” with a little help from our friends…

And remember that centrifugal force on the merry-go-round that threatened to rip you off? There is a much more formidable force within each of us that empowers us to let go of our grasp in that cycle. There is a stronghold of love that resides within each of us that we can cling to when we’ve exhausted our own abilities. That invisible force that drew you to your spouse in the first place– That is the love that God placed in your hearts. That is love that knows difficulty. That is love that endures, sacrifices, and can pull you along when you think you cannot go another step.

We ALWAYS have ONE with whom we can draft.

He is FOR us. He seeks to restore our relationships and to heal the brokenhearted.

And for every couple out there who is stuck in the cycle–

Let go of the merry-go-round and hold fast to the hope we have in the One who shows us how to forgive (seven times seventy); to the One who shows us how to love (unconditionally); and the One who has gone before us and leads the way for us.

And remember this, unlike the triathlon, in marriage and life—there are absolutely NO RULES against DRAFTING!

SOLD OUT

SOLD OUT

twinkie shelves from blogs.etruth.com

Sold out. It’s usually not a good feeling when you hear that.

You searched all over for it.

You located it.

You had to have it.

You waited for it to go on sale. Then, just as you were to retrieve your reward —

“Sorry, ma’am. We SOLD OUT.”

Nothing left.

Like the shelves of every convenience store the day after Hostess announced the end of the Twinkie.

GONE.

And such is the tendency of this world. We look for something to fill us up and realize it has the same ability to disappear as quickly as we attained it.

 

But when you leave it to God, the Master Creator, He has the power to create something from nothing.

“The Lord merely spoke and the heavens were created.” (Psalm 33:6)

“In the beginning…the earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis1:2)

And then there was sky, and dry ground, and seeds and plants, and seasons, and day, and all the fish, birds and animals, and mankind…

“So the creation of the heavens and earth and everything in them was completed.” (Genesis 2:1)

And it was good.

Not bad for 6 days work.

And don’t we all like to think we can create some pretty terrific things in our weeks? See, I think I have things figured out in my life. I love being the master creator of my “weeks” and my own little world. How I act and dress, where I work, what I do, how I spend, what I eat and who I choose to be with. Everything I accomplish — I like to take credit for.

And, there are some really cool things that we humans can “take credit for.”

 

Like the Twinkie. What a creative invention we humans came up with! Who was the genius that said, “I am turning this cake thing upside down and inside out!” They created a cake where the frosting is protected. A moist, spongy, yellow cake infused with creamy, sweet filling giving each mouthful the perfect amount of sweetness paired with cake; all wrapped up and easily enjoyed anywhere! Plus, their shelf-life guarantees you will always have the ability to enjoy them, like, almost forever. Almost.

My mom loves these things! She always has two or three boxes on the snack shelf at home. She calls them her “fountain of youth” and believes all those preservatives help keep her young. But NOTHING in this world lasts forever. Nothing.

Poof.

Nearly overnight, my mom’s shelf was bare. The Twinkie was no more. Hostess decided it’s “shelf-life” was over. Everywhere you turned, Circle K, Wal-Mart, Safeway, Piggly Wiggly and even AMAZON, the world’s largest marketplace—SOLD OUT.

Moments of accomplishment can quickly dissipate; feelings of happiness are fleeting and temporary. Stuff of this life, is just…stuff.

And, as Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working for you?”

Nothing in this world lasts forever.

Enter Jesus.

God not only created all things, He also took on flesh and lived among us. (Emmanuel translated means “God with us.”) God shows us the true example of how to live in this world and to not end up with that empty feeling.

Jesus–

“I am come so that they may have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Leave it to God to come to us, meet us where we are at and bring fullness from emptiness. He takes everything we think is right and turns it upside down and inside out.

Jesus, born in a manger.

God made human.

One innocent, murdered for all the guilty.

A King for all eternity and for all creation.

He tells us to have everything, you must lose everything about yourself. To have Jesus and life to the fullest, you must be SOLD OUT to what this world expects from you.

 

When in doubt, TRUST

When in need, GIVE

When persecuted, LOVE

When betrayed, FORGIVE

 

He says to love our enemies, even as they hate us. He asks us to extend mercy, even when we aren’t shown any. He shows us how to live in gentleness and humility even in a barbarian world. He tells us how to live everlasting when all else will fade to nothing. Give Jesus your heart, literally “selling out” to Jesus and the opposite of nothing happens.

Matthew Chapter 5 tells us:

Those who find themselves in utter desperation for Jesus will be given the Kingdom of Heaven.

The persecuted will be blessed.

The broken will be made new.

And the meek will inherit it all.

With Jesus, you will never thirst again, you will not hunger and you will have peace beyond understanding.

So, when the world has stripped your shelves bare, eaten away at every last grain you have to offer and you feel you have nothing left. That is when you experience the fullness a life with Jesus can supply.

God is our endless supply

Jesus is the Hope to fill the shelves of our hearts.

To have everything, be SOLD OUT.

And it was good.

 

WEEDS, BOUNTY and THE KILLER OF GREEN

Image

WEEDS, BOUNTY and THE KILLER OF GREEN

It was/is harvest time (depending on where you are in the world!) and this photo is the actual bounty taken from my gardening. What you see is the evidence of the extreme care, the hard work, the diligent planting, seeding, weeding, watering and toiling over that I did this year for my new garden.

It’s all relative, isn’t it?

I was overjoyed over my harvest! I can usually kill anything green just by looking at it! So, it was with trepidation that I even bought seeds, planted them and thought anything besides death would happen.

But the tools of God (sunlight, earth, rains and His power) brought forth fruits (OKAY—vegetables!) from those seeds planted!

I learned so much for next year…

What I didn’t take a picture of is the bounty that I extracted and swore to never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever again replant– THE MINT.

For all you gardeners:  laugh all you want, nod knowingly as you read on– and for those who told me—go ahead and say it, “I TOLD YOU TO NEVER PLANT MINT!!”

I learned this the hard way. Three chiropractic visits later, I can sit upright in a chair and write to you about it.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.” (Matthew 13:24)

First, for you who are intending on planting a garden—DON’T PLANT MINT (or oregano for that matter!) THEY ACT LIKE WEEDS!

After I harvested my beautiful vegetables, (took about 10 minutes), it was time to deal with the maddening mint (took the rest of the day.)

All plants, save the oregano, were overtaken by the mint. Four seemingly healthy other plants, that had been it’s good neighbors, had perished. Don’t get me wrong, I planned for this (remember—I am the killer of green,) but I couldn’t kill this green mint to save the neighborhood! As I began the removal process, I was nearly overtaken by it myself.

I tugged at stems, just to be pulled down deeper–(Think of the movie Poltergeist, when the tree comes through the window for the boy.) That insidious mint would surface for a bit, then dive down into the garden box, twist around the roots of a good plant, choke it out, root it’s self and then resurface. Like a pool of swimming piranha: up and down, around and through, over and under, until all in its wake is destruction of all other living things (again, except the oregano that held fast.)

As I was battling this beast, I had all but forgotten of the sweet victory of my other bounty.

What started out as a lovely little herb was winning the battle over my joy for the harvest.

And isn’t that how sneaky sin can be in our lives?

It starts out with an innocent thought that can quickly turn into a joy stealing, all encompassing, relationship destroying action.

After I (hopefully!) successfully removed all the mint’s massive amounts of leaves, roots, off shoots and appendages, I turned to the oregano.

I have to hand it to the oregano. Even as it witnessed the devastation of its garden box neighbors and was surrounded in the waves and torrents of mint, it held its ground.

“The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one and the enemy who sows them is the devil…The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Matthew 13:38,41)

The weird thing— it was the oregano that nearly did me in.

We battle against an enemy that came to kill, steal and destroy. (John 10:10)

Something that we could’ve handled at our full strength, can drop us to our knees and take us out when we aren’t on guard…

After dealing with the multitudes of mint, I should have known the oregano would be challenging.

I began tugging. I mean, there really wasn’t much left in the box for it to hold on to, so it should just lift right on out of that box.

I stood on the side of the garden box, both feet anchored as I put all I had into it. I hung suspended above the earth, holding to nothing but oregano. I groaned and grunted (it works for tennis players, so maybe it would help give me some gusto!)…it wouldn’t budge. I flexed and pushed, got down and tried at all angles.

I nearly gave up. Would it really be that bad to allow the oregano to hang out?

But, hadn’t I had those same thoughts about the mint?

I had to admit I needed help. I turned to the garden tools.

As dusk approached, I shoveled, chopped and dug up that oregano and piled it atop the carcass coffin of mint. I gave my apologies and condolences and went inside to cook up my bounty…and to call the chiropractor.

 “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

For whatever the weed is in your life, there is Help.

PROFESSIONAL ZUMBA DANCERS

Zumba
(“One of these things is not like the others!”)

I think something tragic happens when we try to be something we aren’t meant to be.

Actually, I KNOW it is tragic.

Take, for example, when a runner attempts something like ZUMBA.
Seriously tragic.
And, you know what they do in those dance places? They place mirrors at every turn. So, even if you could fake it in your mind that you don’t look like a puppet/marionette gone wild–on crack–there is the visual evidence slapping you in the face! It screams at your flailing arms and at every hip shake and misstep saying, “YOU WERE NOT MEANT TO BE A PROFESSIONAL ZUMBA DANCER!”
I didn’t give up; but I wanted to! (-And a few people around me wanted me to!) AND, after two days of recovery, I was actually glad I tried something new!
But, then there is my old Jr. and High school buddy, Kelly. You put her in those mirrored rooms and she blossoms like a flower in spring! Her arms are in perfect sync with the furious steps below and the hips in between, making most blush who witness the ease of her rhythm.

She was meant to dance.

(See if you can pick her out in the photo above—she has this knowing look—like, “These others shouldn’t quit their day jobs!)

It’s truly something to witness when you see someone “in their element;” pursuing a dream; excelling in their passion. Like a well orchestrated song, perfectly pulling together the individual sounds of each instrument, joining up with lyrics, rhythm, melody and it all flowing together like it was always meant to be exactly that way.
But, what when we are forced/or stuck in something that we don’t excel in? That we loathe doing day after day after day…After a while, life turns from musical harmony to a clanging cacophony of unbearable noise.

I get that there will always be things that we struggle with wanting to do–homework, paying pills, Mondays, etc.,—that’s part of life; but it shouldn’t BE your life.

We are promised something more…

“…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

And when you invite Jesus into your life and allow him to direct your path and your plans…

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20)

More than we can even imagine??!! Hmmm…I like this idea…A LOT!

As I was struggling with what to blog about this week, I realized…I LOVE to write. I am not pretending that it is easy for me to do—there are many things that get in the way (like two other jobs, laundry, eating, the voices in my head saying, “You can’t,” or “No one cares.”) But I always return to it—the desire to be at my computer, or with a note pad jotting down something that struck me during an interaction. I yearn for the spare minutes to get the “pen to paper” and I get a rush. It is almost like that marionette on crack, or probably more like the runner’s high when I feel God nudging me to write something. It often happens when I am out on a run and when I am undoubtedly at the farthest point from home!

As I write, I am smiling. My hope is that, whatever it is you spend the majority of your day doing, or dreaming of doing, that you will DO IT! –Pursue it. Don’t give up on searching for your “thing;” for what makes you blossom; the fire in your belly; the passion that you can’t get out of your mind. Try it. Don’t give up on it. Keep trying; keep searching and keep pursuing until you find it. Continually ask the Lord into your plans and, I am willing to bet on it, that “it” becomes more than you can imagine!

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

FREEDOM

anonymous freedom

anonymous freedom

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…” (John 10:10)
Have you ever been afraid? And not just afraid, but truly fearful. I’m not talking about what I will call “scary movie” fear. –Who didn’t feel this type of fear in the movie “The Exorcism?”–The original one–Linda Blair and the pea soup. Scary stuff. I’ll admit my fear in that movie. But it wasn’t the fear that paralyzes. Thinking back, I’ve really just barely touched this type of fear.
True fear.
The paralytic kind of fear in which your brain sends sudden large amounts of adrenaline to your muscles and it either moves you into heroic action—the mother lifting up the car to free her trapped child, the soldier propelling in to saving his or her comrades in the heat of battle—OR the opposite occurs and fear overpowers you–your muscles are immune to the new fuel they’ve been flooded with and they simply freeze up. Not a chilly “goose bump” freeze, but absolute loss of function. The massive pounding in your chest blasts sound waves of blood pulsating throughout your head and eardrums. Your breathing is nearly non-existent and shallow in your chest, your body poised to strike, yet no amount of will can budge the load of bricks that have become your legs. Your nearly catatonic body that has become utterly non-responsive as deadly rigormortis settles around your soul. Surely you know this by now as the “fight or flight” response. It is (or at least, it can be) life changing. It is where the proverbial “rubber meets the road.”
What will you do in those circumstances? Action or paralysis?
We all would like to think that we would experience that “hero” response and be moved to achieve something transporting us beyond our human capacity. But if you have never been in one of these situations, how do you know?
When a friend of mine told me of her sister’s experience, I realized my fear experiences, though terrifying to me at the time, only skim the surface of this “true fear” that I am referencing. My true fear experiences were ones in which I could’ve lost my life. At least that is how I felt when I was knee deep in the experience. Really, it felt like any future I conceived turned completely moot and void. Nothing but that moment mattered because I didn’t think I’d survive past it. Falling out of the two man raft in a level five rapid on the upper Animas in Colorado. In retrospect, my life seemed in jeopardy but I wasn’t as close to losing it as I thought. That hike up the tallest mountain in Arizona when I freaked. The recurring nightmares haunting each of the 40 years of my life: the dizzying vertigo, loss of control at life’s edge of whatever chasm, bridge, or ledge it might be, the accompanying nausea, paralytic muscles, brain lock, shallow breaths, heartbeats quick rabbit-like but pounding like blare drums. All of this–nothing like what she details. Nothing. –Not to spoil the ending of my true fear story, but, SPOLER ALERT– I survived! I didn’t fall off that mountain and I was pulled back to safety by an experienced guide on the Animas River. However, I did experience momentary paralysis. Frozen in that moment and left with a choice. I will never forget the experience. But it just skims above the depth of what she tells.
Back to my friend.
I use that term judiciously because I see her as so friendly that I think she’d make friends anywhere. Or, it could be that I perceive her differently. Most people in my generation are keenly aware and sensitive to what she must’ve gone through to be here in America. She doesn’t always get this reaction. She’s a U. S. citizen and 23 years my senior. My friend, choosing to be unnamed, is one of five children born into extreme poverty in a small village less than 30 miles from Saigon. As a child, she saw a war-torn Vietnam, blossoming like a fungus as incomprehensible confusion, chaos, unnecessary death and lack of compassion overtook the scenic beauty of her birthplace. To this day, upon her return visits to try to help her village and her remaining family, she still sees the devastating, flesh-eating effects of Agent Orange on the civilian population left there and the health horrors that poverty permits.
We met at a food bank where we both volunteer. Often times the bank is low on food and with no other jobs to do, there is time to chat. My friend, who retired from a nearly 25 year career at Motorola, as she learned English in her spare time, is always one of the hardest workers and rarely is involved in chat time. If she isn’t marking foods or carrying out boxes, she is mopping the floor, sweeping or cleaning out bins. Today, except for the occasional carry-out, all is done.
Time for a rare chat.
Today she proudly wears a red, white and blue embroidered touristy shirt from her most recent trip to Vietnam. She is bubbling over with conversation and telling of her bravery at the doctor’s office. Yesterday she received a cortisone injection directly into her spine to help her deal with the pain and the numbing and tingling in her knees and legs brought on from work-related injuries through her career at Motorola. Yesterday. She refused anesthesia so she could drive herself.
She pounds her chest Tarzan like, “I so brave!” and smiles her huge toothy smile. Did I mention it was just yesterday?
A huge needle, (aren’t they all?) that could actually truly paralyze if moved just millimeters in the wrong direction, was inserted into her spine while she was awake and aware. She avoided burdening anyone for a ride. She’s a master at the self-sufficiency we Americans pride ourselves on. And ready to be working at the food bank today.
“Hey, Mrs. Saigon!” Buddy, who has been around longer than any volunteer (and most human beings! *wink*wink*!) razzes her, “You’re looking quite spry this morning!”
Her big smile erupts again.
She’s been married to an American soldier now coming up on 40 years. With two children and two grandchildren, this woman has more drama in her life than in most incident reports I read from the police department’s “ripped straight from the headlines.” (Can you hear the Law and Order “bong-bong?”)
Several weeks ago she told me one of her memories while living and working in Vietnam. She worked at the Vietnamese military base located just across from the American military base. She often walked between the two. She, totally in character, made friends with many of the Americans. The Vietnamese Military Police didn’t like this.
“Feel ‘dis.” She nods at me, picks up my hand, places two of my fingers on the top of her head, just to the left of her black hair’s part-line. My fingertips register the sheen of her soft hair. She pushes down on my finger and I feel it. Rough and uneven through skin, scalp and silky hair: granite.
Unaware, while walking between the two bases, she was stoned. Not that kind; an actual stoning. Out of the blue, she felt something smack into her head. Confused, disoriented, tears stinging her eyes and in pain, she realized her own countrymen were hurling rocks at her. Bloodied, and too embarrassed to tell anyone about her pain (and too poor to do anything about it,) a quarter-sized stone is still lodged in her scalp to this day.
I felt it.
Other drama in her life story includes very unwelcoming parents-in-law. It wasn’t until ten years ago (only 30 years in to her marriage) that her in-laws, still skeptical, admitted their continuing mistrust in her relationship with their son. They believe she is using him for her “green card.” For the record: she obtained her citizenship outside of marriage and on her own. They are from a different generation that is immune to her style of cooking, refusing her food at family gatherings and refusing the overwhelming kindness in her heart, and apparently severely lacking in the compassion department for what this woman has experienced and overcome. She is proud. Their treatment of the overly compensating, foreign daughter-in-law borders on the criminal.

The Pastor of the food bank, who missed being drafted and serving in Vietnam by answering God’s call to serve those back home, asks her to delve into her experiences. Being the same age as my friend, he is very curious about her time in Vietnam and her journey to here–right now.
The three of us stand in an alcove and she diverts the focus from herself and chooses to tell us about her sister.
Both her and her sister dreamed of escaping the poverty, the confusion, and the madness of what overtook their country. She–newly enamored with a young G.I.–has been offered (through this new love) an opportunity to leave.
She takes it.
She is in the U.S. just two years and then– April 30, 1975. The day she describes as “the day the world ended.” The U.S. attacks Vietnam. Through her new connections, her military husband is willing to help her sister and sister’s entire family to come to the U.S.—The sister must simply collect her five children, her husband and, at the predetermined rendezvous point, at the designated time, there is an arrangement for them to get out for free. All can make it out. Freedom. Opportunity. A new start. A new place. No more war in your backyard. But she must choose it.
The designated time and place come and go.
My friend and her husband-to-be wait for her sister and the family at the rendezvous point. All the while, the sister is crouched low, in the dark of the dirty walls of the one room that is home for her family of seven. Paralyzed. Tears of terror escape eyes that have seen too much. The tears run down this mother’s face as a sick example. She doesn’t heed their message. Her body is frozen in the crouch. Paralyzed at the opportunity. Paralyzed about a new place. A new start. The unknown. Freedom?!?
The depth of the fear that must’ve permeated this mother’s soul as she crouched there.
Maybe true fear isn’t what I comprehend it to be. Maybe this fear is actually a more subtle enemy. Maybe true fear is simply the doubts that cloud our minds when we are about to step off a ledge into the unknown. Maybe it’s more about choices. My friend’s choice to move to a country that doesn’t understand her, mistreats her and yet, gave her opportunity and freedom to live without fear. Maybe this explains why she is so friendly. She lives without fear. She lives in the chasm of opportunity that was opened to her when she took the leap into the unknown.–To work hard, to live fully, to give unconditionally, to forgive hurts, and to live with the rocks that have been embedded in her soul. And later, to return to the fears of her birthplace as she visits her sister and family who live in an abyss of regret each day in the country of their birth. She returns to try to understand and to try to change her remaining family by giving whatever she can.
But she can’t stay long on her visits there.
“My heart bleed too much there,” she explains to the Pastor and me tilting her head to the side. Her eyes drift away from us and her brows crease in confusion.
“…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
(John 10:10)
Where does your heart bleed? Are you courageous enough to re-visit those places? Are you ready for the leap of faith or are you crouched in paralysis?