Friday, March 20, 2009


There is a poem I have been familiar with since junior high, maybe even grade school. It was in a text book somewhere along the way: “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. For some reason, it permeated my brain and stuck with me. Not word for word, but the key lines and the meaning I find in it.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow weed,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

By Robert Frost, 1915

I always wanted to do something exceptional, something different from the norm. To pave the way for others. To leave a legacy. I felt like I was made for something really big and unique. I think all of us feel this way at some point. But most people follow the path of least resistance, out of obligation. Life and duty smothers the fires of our hearts, until we forget what the fire was about and what it felt like.

I cannot say that I have lived an exceptional life or have exceptional accomplishments to gloat about. I’m actually very hum-drum, very vanilla (and a little nutty). I have still not done anything I’m exceptionally proud of. But I am plagued with curiosity, and have left the beaten path many times to examine the brush, animals, and aromas that cannot be found on the trails. Each time, I enjoyed the freedom and chose not to return to my old path, but found a new one to connect with. And so, my life has been full of changes—good and bad. My life would have been simpler had I never left the path, but I’m afraid I would have died of boredom. I have invited some heartache and frustrations with my curiosity and my own impatience. In all, however, I don’t regret the risks I’ve taken.
I like to think I've taken the road less travelled, and it has made all the difference in who I am and how I've grown.

Per Garth Brooks, “…Life is not tried it is merely survived when you’re standing outside the fire.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Alabaster Boxes and Mantles

Around 1993, a church I was attending had a resident prophet, Bro. C.L. Moore. That term always turns heads, because not everyone buys into modern day prophecy. But this was an evangelical, non-denom. He had an amazing gift.

We had a young adults meeting once, and he came. At the time I was about 21, and he was in his 80’s. He talked about how being single was our chance to really allow God to be our mate.

Blah, blah, blah. I didn’t want to hear that, when I wanted someone to share my bills, take out the trash, change my flat tires, and cook me dinner.

But then he started telling us , one by one, about ourselves. When he came to me he said, “You have a mantle of a missionary on you.”

( Insert cascading violins.)

My sister was always the pretty one, the smart one, the future minister, the one who would travel the world and who would do great things for God. I was the red-headed step child, so to speak. I was younger and was skipped over (at least in my own mind). But here, someone told me that God had a call for me that was wonderful. My heart immediately filled with joy at the thought of God bestowing such a title to me. I had grand visions of Africa, India, feeding the poor, sacrificing in the name of Jesus, martyring my life away. (All of these thoughts occurred within about a 3 second period). Tina wasn’t the only one God cared about after all!

He continued: “But, not all missionaries go overseas you know. We have plenty of people who need our help in our own back yards.”

(Insert the sound of the needle ripping across the LP and killing all music.)

“You will be as a gentle, quiet stream that flows through peoples’ lives. They won’t even realize you are there, affecting them as you do.”

Say what? I'm going to be a missionary to the Christian nation of the United States of America? Who ever heard of that?

At least I had a mantle on me, right? At least God acknowledged me, right? Another time a lady told me that I was an alabaster box that God would break open, and the perfume of my spirit would fill those around me with God’s aroma. Hmm. That sounded cooler. I can handle the fancy box of perfume better than being a stream.

Oh, how I completely missed the point!

I always secretly held onto that dream of being a missionary overseas. Until the reality of life slapped me in the face. You know the drill---marriage, debt, student loans, dogs, mortgages, insurance. And the desire to be a traveling missionary faded. It just wasn’t in the cards. But a local missionary? Not me. I don’t like people enough.

And now, I’m 36, and looking back at my life. Maybe there was truth in those prophecies. I know I have affected people. I know I’ve managed to touch some lives. But I also know that I’m not amazing enough to affect anyone myself. I’m snide, I’m sarcastic, I’m moody, I’m easily offended, I’m messy, I’m impatient, and I’m very, very guarded. Does that sound like a person who has a positive effect on people? Maybe that’s why God has chosen to give me this “mantle.” There’s no way I’ve been able to help people with my charm. It’s been God’s charm. God’s love. God’s lure. There’s no real doubt here that it’s God, because I couldn’t do it on my own

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My version of faith

Walking into a new church for the first time is daunting. I am not the most social person, so I usually go hoping to be unnoticed. I never want to be plagued with fake niceties. When I was married, and soon to be divorced, I found myself longing for that church connection again. I had been out of church for a long time. My husband was Catholic, and I had offered to convert. He said it wasn’t necessary—he never attended mass and didn’t think it was that big of a deal. So I didn’t, slightly relieved. When my husband announced he wasn’t sure he ever loved me, 1-1/2 years after our marriage, 2 ½ years after moving in together, and 4 years after we first met, I was in shock. I was hurt. I felt abandoned, even though we still lived in the same home.

I was raised nondenominational. I knew I wouldn’t find the same belief system, but I wanted something fairly similar. I also didn’t want to drive across the DFW metroplex. I found a church near me. So one Sunday, I told my husband, “I’m going to church. You can come with me if you want.” “No.” I knew the answer, but I was scared to go alone. My stomach was already in knots at the thought of going into a church alone.

I put on my dress and heels—Sunday garb—and headed to the massive church I had selected to attend. I arrived, and sat in the car. Scared. Stomach churning. I was here. Now all I had to do was get out of the car. I sat there, and finally forced myself to get out. I selected a seat in the back, and tried to look calm. I wanted to run home to safety. So many people were around me, and they all seemed to know each other. It compounded how alone I was. I was afraid for someone to talk to me; I didn’t want to cry, but I didn’t want to fake a smile either. A lady sat next to me and asked, “Are you new?” I nodded. “Are you married?” “I’m going through a divorce.” I choked back the tears. “I’m so sorry. Well, it’s good to have you.” Thank God she kept it simple!

As the worship began, I bawled. I knew God had never abandoned me, but I knew I had abandoned him. And yet, he was still by my side. Just waiting for me--sitting shiva--to ask for his help. And I did.

I wish I could say that God saved my marriage because of my pleas. But Todd’s heart had already been set—he wanted his freedom for his own reasons that I will never know. Maybe he was cheating. Maybe he was never as devoted to the idea of marriage as I was. Lots of maybes that no longer matter. What does matter is that I took that step. I walked into church, alone. I had already been crying out to God. But being a well-churched girl growing up, I longed for that connection that you find in church. To me, church is a reminder to keep God close. In my mind, I needed to make that step to show him I wanted him as much—actually more—than I wanted my husband.

I only attended twice. My marriage dissolved quickly. I went to my mom’s church in Tulsa, and they had a special song that they sang. It was a song I had heard many times growing up, but it suddenly had meaning to me for the first time. I bawled from the depths of my soul, because I had never imagined such a deep valley could exist. And people would say, “Oh, just have faith. Just pray. Just believe in God to heal your marriage.” Those are hollow words if you haven’t been through a divorce.

You may recognize the song:

Life Is Easy, When Your Up On The Mountain
and You've Got Peace Of Mind
like You've Never Known
but Then Things Change
And Your Down In The Valley
don't Lose Hope For Your Never Alone
for The God On The Mountain Is Still God In The Valley
when Things Go Wrong He'll Make Them Right
and The God Of The Good Times, Is Still God Of The Bad Times
and The God Of The Day Is Still God Of The Night
you Talk Of Faith When Your Up On The Mountain
oh, But The Talk Comes So Easy when Life's At Its Best
but Its Down In The Valley Of Trials And Temptations
that's Where Faith Is Really Put To The Test

Just because you go through crap in life, doesn’t mean God has abandoned you. He’s still there. Just because people trivialize your pain and say, “Just give it to God” as they smile and go back to their picture-perfect lives, doesn’t mean that God doesn’t understand your pain. Faith isn’t putting on a smile and pretending it’s all OK—that’s denial. Sometimes it’s just living life. It’s just praying. It’s just trusting that you will be OK in the next 10 years or so and sticking it out to see the end result. Faith is a minute by minute acknowledgement that I cannot control everything, and admitting I’m scared, and asking for God’s help, and trudging along with the resolve that no matter what happens, I’m gonna stick it out. Because I know that God has my best at heart.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pillars & Meadows

Oh, the solitude of home, the simplicity of life with dogs, and the serenity of my blanket.

I am overwhelmed. I get this way from time to time. I get very selfish and anxious and testy. I struggle with the balance of giving myself but also saving a little bit of myself back. I mentally commit to so many things in my mind, and when my physical world cannot live up to my mental commitments, I feel like a failure.

My job is stressful. I have a lot of bosses. I have a lot of random duties. I like it, because I tend to get bored very easily. There is a certain level of security in having so many responsibilities. There is an excitement with new ones. But the truth is, I get overwhelmed from the pressure of it. And I get overwhelmed from the pressure of life—bills, the recession, the family health problems, and obligations. Every now and then, I just get . . . . . . . overwhelmed.

These are the times I find it hard to be social. I find it hard to be the person I want to be. Because I just want to hide and lay low and weather the storm. I know it will pass. I know things will change. Age and time have shown this to be true. But it’s being a lone pillar that wears me out. I’m standing alone.

Through the wind.

Through the rain.

Through the blazing heat.

Through the fires and tornadoes.

If I fall, I fall alone. So I don’t allow myself to fall. And if I show the cracks in my structure, I could be a target for bored vandals. So I stand strong. Hiding the soft, sandy interior underneath the solid surface of stone and mortar.

And every now and then, I become emotionally spent. I find myself in a state of shock, where little by little, different parts of me shut down. I know it’s a safety mechanism in my brain. It’s a way to keep going by conserving energy.

I’m sure most adults feel this way. After years of weathering life, we are thankful for what we’ve overcome, but also tenuous about what we have yet to endure. We bellow “how much longer?” to an invisible God. But magically, we endure. And the storms pass. And we find ourselves walking through a meadow with sunshine warming our backs to counter the coolness of a hearty breeze.

I’m waiting for my meadow.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

God Bless Teachers

When I was 14—about to turn 15--I was a sophomore and had just entered high school. I had been battling depression for 5 years. Change sent me into a frenzy of anxiety, so entering a new school was terrifying. I had chills and a slight fever my first day. I knew myself well enough to know that I wasn’t truly sick—I was scared. This is when life scared me. Public places scared me. Crowds scared me. New things scared me.

I sat in my first hour English class, Miss Pilkington. She was brash. She laid out the rules, the curriculum, the expectations. She gave the correct pronunciation of her name, “Pil-KING-ton, not Pilkinton. If you cannot pronounce it correctly, do not say my name.” She wasn't kidding, as she pursed her lips and gazed across the room to make sure we all heard it. Great, I surmised, this is going to be hell for 9-1/2 months.

Turns out, Miss Pilkington was stoic and guarded, but she had a heart for her students.
I specifically remember one day, out of nowhere, she told the class, “If you ever need to talk, I will listen. My mother tried to commit suicide and I’ve been through a lot.” Did anyone take her up on that? I don’t know. Surely not me, because I was still deciphering my depression. I thought I had a birth defect or a curse or a punishment from God looming over me. I had not pinpointed my problem as anxiety or depression at this time. I just knew I was . . . . “different”. But the idea that such a disciplined and demanding teacher threw out such a personal story and plea, stopped me in my tracks. I liked her after that. I felt a connection to her, even though I never sought her counsel.

One day, she presented a class exercise that sent groans across the room. She handed out a piece of paper from her note pad to every student. The paper was very small—about 2” by 3”-- with a drawing of a mouse at the top. Written on the back of the paper was an individual’s name that was in the class. Our assignment? Write a compliment about that person—anonymously—on the inside. How random is that? So, we all slowly looked around the room, wrote our compliments, and turned them in. Who knew it would be so hard. The next day, she returned them so we could read what others had to say about us. I opened mine, and I held my breath. I knew what the compliment would be, and I knew it was going to be shallow. I had few friends, and didn’t open up well. No one knew me well enough in this class to give a good compliment. I opened it, and sure enough it was the typical, “You have pretty hair”. Blah! But underneath the anonymous peer’s handwriting was also a compliment that Miss Pilkington had written. “You have a great speaking voice. You would be good in plays.” We each walked away that day with 2 compliments. One from a peer, and one from a mentor. What brought on such an assignment, I will never know.

Me a good speaker? My voice cracks. My tone is more monotone than interesting. I lose my train of thought too easily. How could I be a good speaker? Had I ever spoken in class? Only when called upon. Wow. That compliment was a boost. I kept that paper in my wallet for 10 years until I finally lost it.

As I went through college, I found that nearly all of my senior classes required a presentation. I hated speaking in public. But I always hearkened back to that note. If Miss Pilkington thinks I can speak well, then I can do this! And I always did.

In 2000, I sent her a letter. That was 10 years after high school graduation. I thanked her for the compliment. I explained that my emotional state was frail at the time, and the comment about her mother was comforting. No one knew the mental war that was in my head daily, the thoughts of suicide, the anxiety, the hopelessness. But even more beautiful was the compliment, which I still carried with me. Something so small made a huge impact.

I lost the paper immediately after writing that letter. I looked everywhere for it, but it just vanished. A month later, I received a reply from her. She said it was always good to hear that she made a difference in someone’s life, and usually you never know if you did. You just hope.

Since I lose everything that I touch, I am amazed I kept that paper for so long. Maybe it stayed with me as a reminder to thank such an influential person. Maybe she truly needed her own compliment at the moment she received it. And since I accomplished the goal, the paper was no longer necessary.