Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I'M (not) FINE!

I’m really hating on Ohio right now. I miss home so much. It’s such a long drive and there’s no good way to fly home because the airlines absolutely suck, are too expensive, and are just as likely to get me home 24 hours later than if I’d driven than to save me any time. I don't mean to sound petty or make light of anyone who is truly suffering physically in anyway, because I do realize how 'good' I have it, when it comes to my situation. But I want to be honest and transparent. Maybe there are other people out there going through a similar time. 

You know it’s bad when you get home from an hour long boxing class and still all you want to do is punch something.

For some reason I keep thinking back to a coach I had in high school when I was captain of a Civil Air Patrol cadet drill team training for the national competition. Part of the competition included volleyball, and that was a major weakness for our team. Our coach had a very unique style of training. A lot of it centered around developing me as a leader, which I’m thankful for now, but I hated him for it at the time, because his method meant breaking me down in front of the team in order to build me back up.

One of his favorite tactics was to play God as the volleyball ref and change the rules on us, especially when I was on the court. He would make B.S. calls, award the point to the other team when I aced a serve or repeatedly spike the ball in my face while heckling me about my inability to return a simple hit.

I usually handled it with the opposite of grace. Meltdowns in front of the team weren’t uncommon, and it was especially awkward since I was an emotionally unstable 17-year-old girl trying to lead 12 teenage boys.

One scene especially is burned in my brain, especially because I feel like I keep repeating it in life.

Coach was giving me a particularly hard time on the court, blaming me for the team’s inability to succeed, and punishing us when we did win a volley by giving the point to the other side. When a wayward spike beaned me in the face the next point, I dropped to my knees fuming. It hadn’t hurt so much as finally broken my resolve to stay calm and control my emotions. I started crying, and the guys all around me assumed I was physically hurt. They gathered around asking if I was OK, and I looked up and just screamed with rage, “I’M FINE!” The irony of the words I was saying versus what I was actually saying didn’t really sink in at the time. 

Coach told everybody to take five so I could recompose myself, which I did. And the next time he pulled a fast one on us with the rules or the reffing, I was tougher and calmer. But a little part of me hated him for the way he had played with my emotions, pushing me to my breaking point.

I feel like that’s what God’s doing right now. God only knows (literally … I have lost count) how many nights I have all but screamed from my bed asking God where He is and why I can’t feel His love. But my coach certainly didn’t love me the way I’m told God loves me. He liked me, and he saw a lot of promise in me to serve his ultimate purpose of leading the team to do well at nationals, so he did what he saw fit to groom me for that. So when I feel like God is pushing me to my breaking point – taking away the people, places and routines that I love – even if it’s to strengthen me or make me tougher under pressure, my response is resentment. Because I don’t want to be a tougher Christian. I want to experience His love, and from that be able to love Him more, and by His power love others more. I appreciated my coach's results, but I still resented his methods because they weren’t motivated by love; they were utilitarian.

If you’re worried about me, please pray for me. I'm not fine. But I'm OK, and I'm hanging on to a thread of hope that things may get better, or, to be honest, that the next 21 months will go by faster and I'll get to return home. In the meantime I am seeking help to sort out some of the devil’s lies that I know I’m believing, but it’s a constant struggle and I’m exhausted.

This is a verse that I want to make my own and recite with confidence. Maybe someday…

I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust. – Psalm 91:2.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Truth and a pack of lies fighting for my soul

There are times in life when you are slapped in the face with the alarming fact that your family … is not like other families.

Scene: Mammoth Cave National Park entrance.
Enter: Rangers doing routine driver license, registration and insurance checks; frazzled Olivia and Ruby the Corolla’s expired registration

“Ma’am, did you realize your registration expired more than a month ago?”
I crapped my pants. “No sir…” My mind is already racing to figure up the cost of getting my car towed back to Ohio and I put my forehead on my steering wheel.
The ranger looked at me gently. “Did you uh, take something today?”
I looked up. “Excuse me? Do you mean like drugs?”
“Like weed?”
“No...” I said, blindsided by the question.
“Have you ever been asked that question before?”
“Today? Or ever. Well anyway, no, never.”
“Are you meeting someone here, to get some weed?” he said it in a knowing way as if guilt was written across my forehead. Or maybe in my bloodshot eyes. Thing is, if my eyes are bloodshot that’s how you know I’m breathing. I live in a permanent state of eyestrain, and the tears of frustration I shed on my way to the park when I thought we wouldn’t be able to get a campsite added to the effect.
“OK. Do you mind if I just look around your car?” he seemed really chipper about this task, poking his flashlight around like a new med school student playing with his stethoscope.
“Yeah that’s fine,” I said, bewildered. “Do you want me to pop the trunk? You can look anywhere. Sorry it’s a mess.”

Another ranger asked me to step out of the car for a minute. I knew I was about to get busted.
“Can I ask you a couple questions?” the ranger asked, leading me away from my car as the other rangers searched it. I nodded.
“What brings you to Mammoth Cave this weekend?”

And that’s when I had that moment.

“It’s complicated,” I said.
“Is everything ok?”
“Are you sure?”
“Well not really, but maybe it will be,” I said, as tears of frustration started to choke up again. “See, I know this sounds strange. But my family is driving here from California—well, most recently from Little Rock—to meet me here for the weekend. I’m living in Dayton and I haven’t seen them in a while and they were on this road trip, see and—”
“Are they in a RV?”
“No they’re—“
“They got a big car? A hotel reservation?”
“No, see, they’re all five road tripping in a … Prius.”
He stared at me unbelieving.
“Do they at least have a tent?”
“Oh, yes sir. They’ve been doing this for the last three weeks – camping at national parks. But we kind of do vacations fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants style, so we don’t have any camping reservations or tour reservations and that’s why I’m worried because I’m afraid it’s all booked up and we won’t be able to have our vacation.”
“I see. Sometimes that works, but on a holiday weekend…”
“I know.”
He consulted with his partner a few steps away from me while I waited anxiously, noting curiously that the rangers hadn’t bothered to search my trunk. A few agonizing seconds later, they told me they’d decided to give me a verbal warning since I’d cooperated so nicely. I thanked them profusely and promised to get it updated as soon as I got back to Dayton.

I love my family. I was still weak kneed from the fright of almost losing my car when they pulled up into the parking lot and we hugged around. Fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants is exactly how we do vacations, and they’re amazing. The memories from sharing a gallon of ice cream and a bag of chips for dinner because you were too exhausted to find other options are priceless. You can’t replace that with a dozen dinner reservations.

Fortunately for this trip, there will still tours and campsites available. We had a lovely weekend, despite torrential downpours as we headed into the cave for our second tour and then the morning we left. After successfully evacuating all sleeping bags and mats from our tents, we gave up and wadded up the muddy, soaked rain flies into trash bags and headed to Owensboro for food and family with a legendary appetite a decade old.

We’d been to Owensboro, where my dad grew up and some of his family still lives, once before about 10 years ago. And we had driven eight hours in one day to spend but a few hours in this little town, but it made a big impression. Specifically, the Moonlite made a big impression. All-you-can-eat pulled pork, barbecued chicken, mutton, fried chicken and who knows what else along with an endless supply of “vegetables.” You know a restaurant is good country cooking when Mac & Cheese is a vegetable.

The famed Moonlite Cafe Inn in Owensboro, KY.

We all skimped on breakfast in anticipation of the 10-pound food baby about to be conceived. As we hugged dad’s sister and brother-in-law, Uncle Mike could hear the rumblies from our tumblies from his porch.
“Enough talking, these kids want to get to the Moonlite,” he said as the ‘my how you’ve grown’ small talk started to plant roots in the front yard and turn into a full blown conversation.

We sat in the same tables we’d sat in 10 years ago. The deja vu was crazy.
“It must be hard to work here,” I commented to the waitress filling our waters.
“It IS!” she said, as she told about how the 30 pounds she had lost before starting work there had magically reappeared six months later.

There’s not much to tell from lunch because we spent most of it listening to the smacking of lips and debating how much room was left in the tank and could a skinny mini slice of pecan pie fit in that stomach maybe just off to the side if I took some deep breaths?

You’d think we hadn’t eaten in a week.

After visiting with Aunt Maria and Uncle Mike, we found a nice Comfort Suites in town and unloaded the cars. Since it had stopped raining, we proceeded to lay out the tents, hose off the rain flies, towel them dry, and repack them. And I’ve never had more fun with such a laborious and slow task. The joy of seeing my family was contagious. We explored the brand spankin’ new riverfront with awesome playground until the rain set in again, then we came back to the hotel pool.

I spent an hour giggling with my two remaining kid-brothers in the pool as we staged the gimpy-Olympics and competed in things like Chickenstroke, Butterstruggle, Ameoba, Egyptian Bath Tub and Torpedo races, bubble-ring blowing, and finally, a reenactment of floor exercise gymnastics, underwater style, complete with soft-spoken commentary.

“Now he just needs to stick this laaanding, THERE! Beautiful…”

Also, the caves at Mammoth Cave were really awesome. As were the running trails. But the memories I’ll keep from this trip are all moments like these, where the spontaneity and laid-back nature of my family keep us open to the simplest of unexpected joys.

I stopped in Louisville to hang out with Lucy, a friend who graduated  a year ahead of me and is now in grad school. We checked out a Pie & Ice Cream shop and got apple pies for the road.

Managed to snap a picture of Cincinnati's skyline from I-75 on the way back -- that was my first time driving through the 'Nasty.

In other news, I think I’m allergic to Ohio. Callie asked me what itched. I said everything – eyes, nose, scalp, back of the neck, and my heart is itching to go back to North Carolina. I don’t think Benadryl can do anything for that last one, but it’s getting a little better with some of the crazy things I’m getting involved in.

Last week a couple sources said things that made me laugh out loud, like this one:

“I think the Siri that I got has a learning disability.”

Another source made a tentative lunch date with me, pending the outcome of my upcoming adventure involving the 27-story tower and a rope.
“Hope you can join us--assuming all goes with rappelling off the building next week.

Yep, this is the one. 

I’m constantly finding new things I like about my job. This week it was sending an email that said “Thanks, Happy snooping,” to a source. I have minions doing my work. 

I’ve joined a boxing gym. It’s awesome. I’m also running. My plan is to get in shape so I can beat you up and then run away afterwards. But nothing makes you feel more empowered than slugging a 50-pound bag after a stressful day at work.

My boxing buddy and new-to-Dayton friend Courtney getting her hands wrapped. As she pointed out, the guy's face is priceless here. 

I’ve also started tutoring at the Victory Project. Check it out here: http://www.victoryproject.org/. I have two seventh-graders, and I’m pretty overwhelmed. But it’s a great opportunity and I think it will give something for me to come up with creative ideas for.

Here are some other adventures I've had in pictures:

Dragons game with Courtney. Joey Votto was playing a rehab game, so the stadium was packed-out.

Getting lunch from a food truck downtown with Laura. Here she's updating the menu with "sold out" labels. 

Here's the first of hopefully many more lunch dates. 

Ashley hanging out with some creepy psycho convicts at the Land of Illusion haunted park in Middletown, which was quite an experience. 

Downtown Dayton Revival with Lauren and Ashley, getting excited about seeing Rusted Root, Mat Kearney and Train. 

Supporting Dayton's fledgling food trucks! 

Mat Kearney stoking the crowd. 

Mat Kearney breaking it down. 

I’m recognizing that a lot of my crazy drive to get involved with things is in response to my avoidance of alone time, and my fear of that solitude is because I depend heavily on relationships for my refuge. Without going into super heavy details, I’m in one of the darkest places I’ve ever been spiritually, but here are some thoughts I had the other day that I’ve been clinging to.

For background, I’ve been struggling with understanding everything that follows after salvation. I know I’m saved because I recognize my sin, my complete inability to overcome that sin, and Jesus’s sacrifice to pay for it all and pave the way for a relationship with God, and I’ve asked for that. But the whole idea of having a relationship with an invisible God is lost on me, even though I crave it so desperately. I’ve been reading The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis, which I think all American Christians should read, especially if they’ve never thought about the concept of spiritual warfare.

I really relate to the Psalms in a lot of things, because it seems like the authors had some really low points in their faith. But when it’s talking about enemies attacking, I always felt like that was an exaggeration of my situation. Thankfully I’m not actually surrounded by haterz with swordz, or literally hiding in a cave because the king’s army is trying to kill me. But it occurred to me as reading The Screwtape Letters that I do have an enemy – Satan – and he is always attacking me. I need God more than ever, and even though I do not feel or sense His presence, I have to believe He is with me or else I am overwhelmed with fear of Satan’s attacks. Psalm 42 continues to resonate in this dry period, especially verse five:

“Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.”

That’s kind of where I am/want to be right now. The things I know are that God is God, and He is my salvation. I don’t know anything else for sure, but I hope that “farther along [I’ll] know all about it/ farther along [I’ll] understand why,” to quote Josh Garrels from the song below, and that when this dry spell is over I will again praise God. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

All the lonely people

There are a lot of ways I could spin this post. As a journalist, I know all about bias. My previous posts have all been written with a positive filter. Today, I’m gonna try to go with honesty.
My life in Ohio looks something like this: Monday through Friday, work til 5, when I’m bursting out the door ready for a nice evening. Ride home from work jamming to a mix CD from one of my friends from home, getting a little nostalgic, then pull up to my house, and get the sinking feeling as I realize no one is home, and




Quick, turn up some music, I think. I can’t handle the silence. Get out of the house; find a source of human interaction, even if it’s just to sit on the porch watching the cars roar by in their constant muffler-removed stream. I’m a textbook definition extrovert – being alone is only OK in small doses, otherwise it is exhausting and I arrive at work the next day starved of community.
One weekend, the urge to share my life with people -- not sofas and TVs and that torture device they call Facebook, always reminding you of the life you’re missing out on somewhere – led to some rather entertaining adventures.

One Friday afternoon was one such evening. I got off work early, as I often do on Fridays, and came home to my enemy – the empty house. I had plans later in the evening, but would have felt cheated if I didn’t find something to do with my early start to the weekend.

“I’m gonna try to find some hooligans at the park to hang out with lol. Literally.” – a text I sent my friend Ashley, five minutes before I packed up my Frisbee and a water bottle and biked the quarter mile over to the nearby middle school athletic fields and neighborhood park. As I locked up my bike to the rail of the picnic shelter, I drew a considerable amount of attention from a gaggle of middle schoolers sitting at the tables.

“Hey guys … do any of you guys like to throw Frisbee?” I asked, hesitantly, suddenly extremely aware of how out of my element I was. I got a murmur of no’s and not really’s in response, as the six kids in various stages of metamorphoses into quasi-adulthood a.k.a. puberty gave me the look-over.
“Well uh, I’m new in the neighborhood and I don’t really know anyone, so I was looking for someone to throw a Frisbee around with,” I said, trying again. Noncommittal nods. I started to turn away, surveying the rest of the park, looking for more willing friends-to-be.
“You seem really cool,” said a girl with sloppy washable marker designs all over her face and arms. Ah middle school, how I don’t miss you.
I laughed. “Well thanks.”
“I knew how to throw a Frisbee once, but I forgot,” she said.
“Yeah Maddie played some – this is Maddie. And he’s Kiefer…” they introduced everyone to me and I said my name.
“My brother plays Frisbee, but he’s an asshole,” one girl said, with a laugh. I tried not to wince.
“Where’d you come from?” Kiefer asked.
“North Carolina.”
“Did you move here with your parents? Did they get work here?” he asked. 
I squirmed a little, afraid I was about to lose all credibility with these kids.
“I’m … probably a little older than … I look,” I said, not entirely sure why I was embarrassed. And yes, they were shocked when I told them I was 21.
“Man, you look about 16,” Kiefer said. I shrugged. What can you do.
“Well, if you want to throw…just let me know. I’m gonna see if those kids over there want to play,” I said, noticing a group of younger kids playing basketball.

I walked over and dropped my Frisbee and bag on the side of the court, next to the jumble of bikes dropped haphazardly at the start of the game. I asked if I could play.
“Yeah, you be on his team,” said a 12-year-old girl, pointing to an 8th grade boy. We played my favorite style of basketball – no bounds, no fouls – for a half an hour before a) I scored a point and b) someone got hurt. I offered some water, and then shot some baskets while the kids sat in the glass-shard-littered dirt.
“How old do you think he is?” Cassie, the 12-year-old, asked out of the blue.
I nailed everyone’s ages (surprise, surprise … my track record on the age guessing thing hasn’t been so good).
“Are you 20?”
“Pretty close – 21,” I said.
“Aw man, 21 is the perfect age!” She said.
…Not sure what she knows about it, but I laughed and agreed.
I soon got two of the boys interested in my Frisbee, and we threw for an hour. The younger of the two improved his throw significantly, and made fun of the way I apologized for every errant throw.
As much fun as I had throwing with the youngsters, my heart was breaking from the conversations I overheard between girls who couldn’t have been more than 14, bragging about who and where they’d done it.

Sweaty and hungry, I realized I’d whiled away two hours doing hoodrat stuff with my new friends. The boys had lost interest in tossing the disc, so I packed up and started to unlock my bike.
The middle schoolers from the shelter, scattered around the swings and the water fountain, all looked over and waved, or hollered, “You leaving?”
Despite their rough backgrounds, these kids brightened my day, and I hope to run into them at the park again.


That same weekend the socialite bug struck again. I mustered up the courage to knock on Lois’s door and invite her to get lunch with me.
“I just ate,” she said, her face falling. Then she perked up. “How about supper?”
I swallowed hard, because dinner somehow seemed like more of a commitment than lunch, but I said yes, unsure that I would still be in the right frame of mind to engage Lois on that level in four hours.
Five o’clock came and I knocked on Lois’s door again. After double and triple checking all the locks in her house, Lois followed me to my car.
“Where we going?” she asked.
“Do you like pasta?” I asked.
“Oh no. I just like real simple food. Like … Captain D, or pork tenderloin.”
I went a little white at the thought of pork tenderloin and the bill afterward. “Captain D’s it is then!”

On the way to the fried-instant-reconstituted-frozen-fish-substitute emporium, Lois told me the first of many of her heartbreaking stories, all in her unfazed yet slightly paranoid stuttering manner.
“My mom and I used to go to Captain D every Friday. Are you Catholic? We’re Catholic. We had fish on Fridays, so we’d go to Captain D. That was before Mom died. Now I haven’t been there in three years. And then we used to go to – what’s it called – oh Frisch’s, every Saturday. Mom and me. Now I hardly get out.”

My heart was melting. As was the rest of me, since Lois had mentioned on the way out she gets cold faster than anyone on the planet, and always brings a sweater, even in 80 degree weather, so the AC stayed off.
“But I can’t stand the hum-midity,” she’d say.

We came up to the counter at Captain D’s and Lois ordered from memory the exact meal she’d last had with her mom in 2009, with no regard for whether any of those items were actually on the menu.
“I know what I want; you just tell me what it costs,” she said. “And I’m getting hers too” -- pointing at me. This she repeated emphatically as I reached for my wallet.
“Aw thanks Lois,” I finally conceded.
“Well it’s just that I don’t get out much and I really ‘preciate you taking me to dinner since I don’t drive.”

I aimed for a booth by a window, but Lois stopped and surveyed the ceiling.
“Better sit in the next one,” she said, pointing to the corner. I noted the A/C vent in the ceiling and agreed, already wishing I’d brought a sweater.
We tucked in to our meals. Well, I did. Lois talked into her meal.

Through a light mist of flecks of battered fish and fries spewing from across the table I learned that a) Captain D’s is just as unappetizing as I remembered, b) Lois’s mouth works a little like the levies in New Orleans … when a hurricane-force storm of thoughts comes, the dam bursts and an unstoppable surge of words pours forth, and c) Lois is lonely, but not a complainer.
This last part I want to emulate.

Lois is alone. And she misses her mom and her dad. And she’s downright paranoid about drug trafficking in our neighborhood and her neighbor breaking into her house and stealing all her belongings. And don’t start her on that one or she’ll run out of air before she stops. But she doesn’t complain. And she was so thankful for my tiny gesture of saying hello and going to dinner.
“Am I talking too much?” she said, grabbing a breath.
“No, Lois you’re fine. I want to know about you and your life.”
“Oh good. But just let me know if I talk too much. I don’t want to bore you. I just so appreciate you getting me out of the house. Cuz I don't get out much.”
We finished up and headed home. I was a little exhausted from the effort of understanding Lois through her stutter, but what she said on her way home about took the wind out of me.
“Since 2009 to now, since my mom died, so 2009 to 2012, you’re about the only person I’ve had to talk to,” she said.


I cry myself to sleep every night because I can’t get over my loneliness and missing home, and I feel alone, but I do have some friends and I have hope that I will eventually have friends who know my soul. I can’t even put myself in Lois’s shoes, but I ache for her, and I’m thankful for the time I get to spend with her as her neighbor.