Filing Cabinet Finds: Part 1

In my garage stands a filing cabinet that has remained closed for over three years, but a few weeks ago on a sunny, Saturday afternoon, I opened the drawers, one at a time to inspect the contents– to sort the items to keep from those to recycle or donate.

Three years ago every item I shoved into this cabinet carried something sacred that would scream betrayal or spray guilt if I did not keep it. Yet, I’ve learned that when you allow yourself time to process, to heal, to seek God’s guidance and counsel, you discover that items in a filing cabinet won’t mend the shattered soul or honor his memory.

With a quick prayer for focus and rationale thought, I delved into the dusty cabinet drawers that now forever contain my Daddy’s scent and sense. From old work boots and t-shirts, birthday cards, Bible study notes, notebooks and folders and more, I exhumed all of it.

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Consequently, this sunny Saturday afternoon project moved me a few rungs higher on the ladder of healing, and by God’s grace and perfect timing, I found treasures of wisdom and creativity from my Daddy.

 

Part 1 of the treasures and wisdom found in the cabinet consisted of a draft titled “Food for Thought” and a final copy without a title. My Daddy wrote this during his time in prison–a short but transformative period in his life when he earned his GED, learned hard lessons about family, friends, and foes and found Jesus Christ. The first draft of this piece read like a fill-in-the-blank and may have been an exercise he did in “class.” No matter how the sentences and phrases came to life on my Daddy’s notebook paper, the inspirational and chilling words remain filing cabinet items to keep.

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by Gene Drennan circa 1978-1980

the most expensive indulgence:  hate

the greatest trouble maker:  one who takes too much

the cheapest, stupidest and easiest thing to do:  find fault

the greatest stumbling block:  egotism

the most ridiculous asset:  pride

the worst bankrupt:  the soul that has lost its enthusiasm

the cleverest man:  one who always does what he thinks is right

the most dangerous person:  liar

the most disagreeable person:  the complainer

the best teacher:  one who makes you want to learn

the meanest feeling of which any human being is capable:  feeling bad at another’s success

the greatest need:  Common Sense

the greatest puzzle:  Life

the greatest mystery:  Death

the greatest thought:  God

the greatest thing, bar none, in all the world:  Love

the greatest sin:  Fear

the biggest fool:  the boy who will not go to school

the most agreeable companion:  one who would not have you any different from what you are

the best town:  where you succeed

the greatest bore:  one who will not come to the point

a still greater bore:  one who keeps talking after he has made his point

the great deceiver:  one who deceives himself

the greatest invention of the devil:  war

the greatest secret of production:  saving waste

the best work:  what you like

the best play:  work

the greatest comfort:  the knowledge that you have done your work well

the greatest mistake:  giving up

 

 

 

One-hour Delay

It’s a one-hour delay for students

A meeting time for teachers

topic unknown. acronym foreign

THEN

She speaks

in a weighted tone filled with cold examples and questioning statistics

BLIND SIGHTED.

I’m stuck

in this room. surrounded on all sides.

It’s my job so I must stay.

Yet, that hole in my heart widens while my lungs tighten.

the Topic of the Year–speakers, faculty meetings, news stories

the buzz word for a few

a piecing memory for my tattered mind and healing heart

As the clamp on my soul tightens, she says I’m a victim.

I prefer Victor. Child of God. Redeemed.

Breathe.

Don’t make eye contact.

Focus.

Tune her out.

Stay. This is a test.

Role Play she says. Seriously?

No. I will not. I can not.

I did this. I tried that.

He’s still gone.

8 a.m. and the test, the torture concludes

under a cloud of anxiety

Quietly. Quickly. I escape.

to my room where his picture greets me and His Word soothes me

Breathe.

Dear God, help me.

Friends robed in compassion enter

1, 2, 3

They embrace me and grant me my release, my sobs

THEN

it’s time to teach

to pull myself up, wrap myself in His strength and do what He’s called me to do

and so I taught

and when the work day ended, I drove home

exhausted by the incarcerated emotion and surrender

After three years, I still feel the weight and brokenness of his absence

but I choose to exchange it for peace and growth and wisdom

For it is only by His grace,

that my shattered soul shines through the scar tissue of my healing heart

 

 

 

 

 

Buy a t-shirt and re-post.

So I bought the shirt because I knew I should, would feel guilty if I didn’t. Then, I logged onto FB and saw all these posts asking me to re-post so people know I’m listening.

Suicide Awareness. IMG_2162

Apparently, Sept. 22 is the one day we humans are to stop and show awareness for this act that creates a tornado of despair, shock, and complete and utter disruption of the soul. On this day, Sept. 22, we are to stop and buy t-shirts and re-post messages to let people know we are here, we are listening, and there’s an 800 number to call.

I truly don’t mean to sound cynical, but I did listen. I listened almost every single day. I called almost every single day. I visited as often as I could. I loved. I prayed. I wept. And I did all these things over and over, and it wasn’t enough.

He pulled the trigger despite my efforts. Despite my love. Despite my prayers. Despite my calls and visits. Despite my listening. He soaked in physical pain and mental anguish everyday, despite my efforts.

He slowly, unknowingly fell in love with Depression, and she had Her way. She robbed him of peace, of all he knew to be true. She robbed him of direction, of purpose, and he got lost in the rabbit hole, and I say to you today, on Sept 22, my listening, my loving, my talking and visiting and doing, served as a futile match to Her.

So today, I continue to honor my Daddy and continue to stay in the Word so as not to get lost in unfounded guilt and anger, because I do not blame my Daddy. For in my mind, Depression pulled the trigger, and I will continue on this journey of healing and will practice not blaming myself, for by the grace of God, all will be well.

All will be well, and I will continue to listen and to love for all those who need it and for all those who can still see the light from the bottom of the rabbit hole. For these people and for my Daddy, my best friend, I will continue to listen.

“7649 Linton Road”

by Angela St.Clair

Beauty beckons
the dirt road
lost in towering trees
Cobwebs and dust decorate
displaying the intricate art
of the mansion from a dream
Birds talk. Leaves whistle.
Wasps warn.
as the music distracts
Musty dampness lingers
while the day’s sweat ignites comfort
PEACE befalls
the anxiety-laden longing
Why
How
What If
only sadness knows
but JOY conquers

Changed. Humbled. Inspired.

As I sit in my air-conditioned house and reflect on the week, I am changed. I am humbled. I am inspired. This past week, I joined my daughter’s youth group on their IMG_7974mission trip to Nashville, TN.

I wasn’t supposed to be on this trip, but a friend on mine asked me to fill in for her because of a family matter.

There are no coincidences, people. God knows exactly what He is doing, and He knew I would say “yes,” because I rarely say, “no.”

So, I dropped off my daughter on Sunday and joined the group myself on Tuesday. The main purpose of this trip was to host a Vacation Bible School in a poverty-stricken apartment complex, and my task was to handle the Imagination Station.

The first day, my two teenage helpers and I painted faces and arms and hands, all the while trying to relay the message that IMG_7968God doesn’t care what we look like. He created us and love us no matter what.

I must say the kids loved the paint, but I am not sure the message resonated over the noise of the little plastic containers holding a rainbow. We did it, though. We made it through 4 rotations of Imagination Station.

Dear God, please let us make a difference. Please speak through me, act through me so that I can be the witness you would have me be.

After lunch, it was reading time, and my new friend JaSona picked me to be her partner.

Amazement squashed pre-judgment, and this young, bristly 7th grader read to me with pride and joy and like her life depended on it. She told me she loved to read but didn’t have any chapter books of her own, and when I asked her if I could mail her some, her face dropped. “No,” she said, “because we will probably be moving.”

After reading and a rousing game of 9-square, we left for the day, but there was more to do under a bridge.

Every single Tuesday–rain, shine, or snow–volunteers converge under the Jefferson Bridge to feed the homeless and provide praise and a message. I’m not sure our kids from their middle-class, suburban communities were prepared for this experience, so “Baptism by Fire” it was.

Apparently, I wasn’t quite ready either because I as stood where I was told to stand, waiting in the assembly line of “food deliverers,” the Spirit seemed to envelope me with empathy and love and sadness and emotions I cannot put into words.

As I tried to mask the ocean filling my eyes, my daughter came over to me and said, “Mom, are you crying?” I quietly told her, “yes,” and she smiled and chuckled. She and my oldest daughter have a running joke about my sentimentality.

However, this was different, and I couldn’t explain it to her right then because we needed to focus on serving and following instructions, doing our part.

It was there under that bridge, though, with the dust of the gravel swirling around us and the barrage of traffic zooming above us that I felt like everyone–like the homeless, some even with children in tow, like our teenagers, possibly frightened and confused, like the apartment complex kids fighting for daily survival, like my Daddy in his last moments of life.

The change, the humbling, the inspiration was pouring over me, and I knew I was here for a reason. It wasn’t for my friend who needed me to fill in. It was for me, for I needed this to continue my journey, to continue my growth, to strengthen my resolve.

After we finished serving plates, we joined our guests under the bridge for the message. As I surveyed the seats, looking for my daughter MJ, I heard our mission leader James’ words, “Go sit down by someone and talk to them.”

I found one open seat, in the back, at the end of the row, by a man named Andrew, and in between the preaching and singing, and my stomach of butterflies, I talked to him.

He shared how he has battled mental illness his entire life, making it difficult to hold down a job, but he did have a place to stay for now. I told him I would add him to my prayers, and he thanked me.

I wanted to say more. I wanted to pray with him right there under that bridge, but I wasn’t bold enough to ask. I wasn’t bold enough to ignore my rule-following, polite nature and pray for this man in the moment because it might interrupt the preaching and he might say “no.”

And so, when the singing and preaching and praying was over, I told this man Andrew it was nice meeting him and offered him my hand. He seemed so surprised but offered his back, and we both shook with firmness and compassion.

As Wednesday greeted us, we started our day with devotion, specifically 1 John, and I reminded myself before setting off on day two of imagination station that He who is in me is greater than he who is in this world,  and that God is love and I am to love all people.

This was a perfect reminder for our experiment today–a bottle with vinegar, a balloon, and baking soda. When the baking soda inside the balloon reacts with the vinegar, an explosion in the bottle happens causing the balloon to fill with air.

JaSona, my 7th grade friend, showed up again with the same clothes and the same paint on her skin from yesterday,IMG_7924 but it didn’t matter. She showed up, and she hung at my side most of the day–except when she had her 6-month-old baby sister hanging on her hip.

We all “passed the baby” the rest of the week so that JaSona could have her own experience and take a break from being “sister-mom.”

As for the experiment, the kids loved it, and they even seemed to embrace the message: No matter how bitter or dirty or angry or hurt you are, when you allow God’s love to fill you, an explosion happens! Only you can choose how much Love you allow inside of you.

I reminded the kids that this same effect–this explosion–is also possible when you allow the opposite of Love to fill you, except this is explosion will be filled with hate and destruction and hurt and pain.

The last day of our mission trip started again with 1 John and the reminder that our faith–if we commit to it– can overcome this world filled with angst, inequality, and loss.

On the way to the apartment complex–with a few kids, including my own, and a leader in my car–Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” came over the radio. If you know me, then you know the volume within my vehicle quickly increased!

IMG_7880JT and our entire car–including the college-student leader Turner who says he’s introverted–belted out the lyrics and danced in our buckled seats. Since the tune was still going, I passed the apartment complex and pulled over in an abandoned gas station to get out of my restraint and “dance, dance, dance,” and I heard my MJ say, “This is my mom,” and it made me beam even brighter.

You see, we were now all armed–on our last day–with a “little sunshine in our pocket” and a “song in our feet, ” and we couldn’t stop the feeling! We needed this. I needed this, and I heard God in my heart remind me to keep His sunshine shining, to keep His song alive, to dance and love and never abandon the feeling with which He has infused me.

At the Imagination Station on this last day, we introduced oil and water and food coloring. As we added oil to the water, the kids quickly saw that they did not mix, that the oil sat on top of the water.

We explained the scientific reason for this but also introduced Adam and Eve and how making wrong choices can separate us for God’s love.

Then, the kids picked colors to add to their oil and water that was together but still separate. They noticed how the color dropped straight through the bottom, through the oil and through the water.

We told them to tightly put the lids on their bottles and shake, shake, shake!

Despite wrong choices separating us from God, He is always there, and if we ask for His love and forgiveness, He will fill our lives with color, color that can penetrate any separation of oil and water, good and bad, hate and love.

When our VBS activities were over, we left to prepare for our return which would involve a block party for the families of the complex, complete with games, a slip and slide, music, food and fun.

At the block party, one of the girls fell on the slip and slide and screamed in pain. No one could get ahold of her mom; she wasn’t there. It shocked me back to my childhood when no one was there for me, so I chose to stay with this girl–even though she did have an adult show up for her.

I stayed, and I prayed–silently and then quietly out loud.

When the adult left for a time and before the ambulance arrived, I stayed on my knees but put my forehead to this girl’s forehead and my hand on her face. I talked to her through her sobs and told her to give her pain and fear to God, that He will take it. He will make all of this better.

The ambulance came, and I later learned that this girl who fell on the slip and slide is okay. Thank you, God.

Some would say she didn’t need to go to hospital, that she was fine and was over-exaggerating or just scared. This all may be true, but I choose to believe that this young teenager–with no parent to comfort her when she fell–will remember God’s comfort. It may not be today or tomorrow. It may be 2 years from now when she’s alone again and hurt and remembers that she is never alone.

Once the ambulance drove away, my new friend James and I commenced rolling up the plastic of the slip and slide. I remember James–perhaps to be a gentleman– hollering to one of the teenage boys to help him put the plastic into the dumpster. I told James that I was already dirty so why couldn’t I do it. He looked at my arms covered in the wet, muddy grass from rolling up the plastic, and he said ok.

In this final hour or so at this block party in this apartment complex filled with its one-bedroom apartments beyond code capacity, I remind myself that I need to get dirty more often. I need to ask my own community what I can do right in my own backyard to get dirty.

For you see, after I spent the week with church family and other mothers’ children, I remind myself that serving them a burger at the end and going home to my charmed life is not enough. I am thankful for this experience and commit to doing more.

Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all yMJ readingour ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your path.”

 

His Suicide. My Journey.

If you opened up my chest, I’m sure you would see cracks and scar tissue from my shattered heart, and if you could touch my soul, I am convinced you would experience the ache that still longs for his presence. However, if you could sit next to my faith, I believe you would experience the warm embrace of Light, healing, and growth.

You see, two years ago on the evening of May 24, 2014, my Daddy (I’m a southern girl) committed suicide. In fighting through my grief, I’ve come to know deep in my soul that the man who pulled the trigger and robbed his daughter of her Daddy–her best friend, her mentor–was not my Daddy.

That man was one who was alone in his once beautiful mind, a mind that had become a playground of torture and pain, both physical and emotional. That man was one who became lost in the rabbit hole of anger and sadness. That man was one he himself did not want to be but felt shackled to the exhaustion of being.

How did this man, my Daddy, become this other man? For you see, My Daddy was a man of God. He was honorable and disciplined and spent his life helping people. Even before he became a Christian in his mid-twenties, he helped people.

What I know is that my Daddy was broken as a child, but he did not let that stop him. I know that he became a man before experiencing the joy of being a child, but he kept living. I know that he spent time on the dark side until he found the Light.

Once infused with that Light, he walked the walk, and talked the talk. . . until his physical body started failing him. My Daddy was a carpenter and a gear-head and jack of all trades, and all of these things took a toll on his body, but it was his heart that stopped us in our tracks in 2008.

The doctors said he had a valve that needed repaired immediately, and so they did. Yet, his entire sternum fell apart, and they had to build him a titanium sternum. He would have to learn how to breathe differently and move differently, live differently.

So, after a month-long stay in the hospital including a rebuild, many debridements and being dropped by the hospital staff, he returned home to heal, to his home that he built with his own hands–his home that God showed him in his dreams, his castle here on Earth until he received his mansion on streets of gold.

The problem with sending him home to heal was that those all-knowing doctors sent him home with a life-long sentence to prescription pain medication, medication that is a billion dollar industry, medication that provokes depression and requires no counseling–only “piss tests” and pill counting–medication that is so addictive that recently the government has been forced to acknowledge the devilish concoctions and publish a report that says such.

Bottom line: this “medication” is turning loved ones into souls boiling with emotions that have no escape. This “medication” is killing people every single day and leaving families and friends lost, confused, angry, and broken.

I wish I had realized how things were going to change. I wish I had been more aware early on. I wish I had injected myself more into Daddy’s recovery after surgery, but I was playing my role as daughter instead of being my Daddy’s advocate.

I wish. I wish. Wishes, though, don’t mean a thing unless you turn them into prayers. I was praying, but I didn’t even know what to pray. I just wanted God to make my Daddy better. I felt like Daddy was the modern-day Job from the Bible, and I didn’t understand why God was putting Daddy through all of this– and the “all of this” became so much more. It became a spiraling staircase to nowhere, until it became a bullet inside a gun, held by the man inside my Daddy’s body.

What I know now is what I’ve always known but never truly put into practice and given my all to. The truth is in each experience. Each experience has a purpose, a lesson. Since my Daddy’s suicide, I have walked through all of the emotions–anguish, guilt, anger, pity, longing, and on and on, and I still walk in many of those emotions today.

However, with those emotions, I choose to honor my Daddy and my God by being a better person, being a better witness, diving into the Word on a daily basis and praying with power and expectation for understanding and application. It has taken awhile to get my wits about me, and I can’t say that I can make any sense of suicide, but I can and I will make my Daddy’s life AND his suicide matter.

Even though I am not sure what this exactly looks like yet, I do know it means being still and listening, seeking direction, and taking action. With that said, I will not let my anguish and anger lead to apathy or destruction.

My Daddy taught me to think before speaking, to be humble, observant, and kind, and so I will honor him and the wisdom God gave him and the grace God gives me everyday to walk the path He’s made for me.

Furthermore, through my spiritual journey and growth, I am learning to replace the “question marks” and “exclamation points” of Daddy’s suicide, with a “period.” I am striving to find peace in the “period” because there truly are things in this world that will never make sense.

Once I can fully acknowledge and accept that all “why’s” don’t get answered and all “screams” don’t get acknowledged, it is then that I will be able to move forward with passion and purpose and press on to that high calling.

“Pressing on” sometimes happens in baby steps–especially when working through such grief, and last year on May 24, the first year without Daddy, my siblings and I buried his ashes on his land and planted a pine tree.

This year, I will add a bench next to the tree and the memorial stone my classmates gave me, and I will declare that I will be the difference God wants me to be in this world, and if that difference means taking on the vicious, destructive cycle of pain “management,” then bring it on!

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.

White Spaces

Despite my Kentucky Baptist upbringing and my barefoot baptism in the muddy river that kisses the small country park in Cadiz, I joined a methodist church years ago because it was a church that my husband would attend. I thought it important that we church together, but years have past and our daughter is now 9, and we need more, more than the obese Methodist pastor who tells great stories on Sunday mornings but fails to follow through when a young impressionable girl proclaims Christ lives in her heart.

So, two weeks ago, Molly Jane had her friend Alyssa spend the night, and on Sunday morning, my husband went Methodist and we went rogue and attended Alyssa’s church,  a Mega church that could probably house 20,000. For this reason alone, my husband would not come with us. “It’s too big.” And that’s that.

After signing my MJ into the computer and walking her what seemed a quarter mile away to her Sunday class, I join Alyssa’s parents in the balcony and fall into the sweet music of the spirit that surrounds this stadium congregation.

After the singing, this new pastor from Texas walked out onto the stage in his jeans and sweater and began telling the story of Ester. Ester, I know the name, but in all my years of attending church, reading the Bible, and memorizing the key verses, I do not recall Ester and her story. As Pastor Jeff explained, though, it’s all about the white spaces and what we choose to do during this space. Will we fret, will we scream, will we sob, will we ignore, or will we trust and wait and make the best of the unknown?

It all just clicked while I sat in the balcony with my friend and her husband. I am in a white space and have been for quite some time. Perhaps this white space would have ended long ago, but my actions, my fighting the space, and screaming and crying on the inside while in this space has prolonged my visit.

How simple. The journey is about the white spaces. Don’t fight them. Embrace them. Curl up with them and listen and wait and learn and grow–all the while knowing that someone else is sharing your same space and choosing chaos or peace.

And the joy is believing that when the white space ends, the clarity begins, one way or another, whether you like it or not. It’s all about you, though, and if you are patient and grateful, you will see the clarity as an increment of your destiny, your path, your answers.

Be ready and accepting. The next white space, the next opportunity for pause and enlightenment, is happening right now.