It was Addie Zierman who inspired me to write my stories. You see, after reading her memoir “When we were on Fire”, I sent a message to A friend complaining about the lack of “real drama” in the book. Sure, Addie had tied one on a couple times, but that’s nothing compared to my life’s debacles. I jokingly bragged to My friend that the chapters in my memoir would be much more scandalous and worthy of page turning. Since I had been…
- Fundamentalist Sunday School Super Star
- Bible Camp Staffer
- Excommunicted Sinner
- Hindu Bride
- Infertile Yuppie
- Sex in the City Lifestyle
- match.com success story
- Failed Entrepreneur
- Middle aged, Midwestern Mom
- Volunteers and goes to book club
- – someone I struggle to relate to
When I typed out the list, I realized for the first time, that my life’s chapters were pretty entertaining. So I started to type them out. One chapter at a time. I limited myself to 500 words per chapter, to make it more of a writing challenge. Over the course of 12 months I had written 85 chapters.
Today I will read one of my darker stories. But, I promise I will share my “sparkly, happy epilogue” with you afterwards, so you won’t leave here depressed.
Dad blinked his eyes and slowly looked around. He recognized where he was – in his church’s nursing home. For he had spent many hours there, whether, visiting my great aunts and uncles on Sunday afternoons after church, singing hymns on Monday nights, or simply ministering to the widows and widowers, like his King James Bible commanded him to. Dad blinked again and looked over at me, and then noticed he was wearing a bib and had a cup of bland soup on the table in front of him. In that lucid moment he realized he was a resident of the nursing home. In that instant he remembered he was a widower. And in his last lucid moment he asked “She’s gone, isn’t she?”. I choked out “Yes. She’s gone.” “Well then, I want to lay down. I want to go to bed” he said as the tears silently fell down his cheeks.
Ten days later I was sitting once again in front row of a crowded sanctuary. Once again, I was surrounded by 100s of our friends and family. Once again, I was listening to acapella hymns, once again, the consoling ministers preached about the plan of salvation. See, only two months prior, we had buried my mother who had also died from cancer.
But my father’s funeral was different. In addition to feeling the familiar grief and sadness, there were subtle twinges of pride. I was inwardly congratulating myself on my victory. With dad’s death, I had won. I had won the decades long battle of wills. It was a fight to the death, and I was still alive! I did not back down. I did not give in. I did not “give my heart to Jesus” despite their repeated overt and covert attempts to convince me to do so. I didn’t cave to make their final days peaceful. I denied them of the one thing they desired the most. That made me the winner. I wanted to jump on the pulpit and hold my hard fought trophy over my head for everyone to see. I was the winner.
What I failed to see was that the trophy I had won was my cold, dead heart. Fade to Black.
Sorry. I know. Cringeworthy. We all have shameful stories that we’d rather forget. Nevertheless write down. Nevertheless speak out loud to a room full of people. It was confronting my dark stories, like this one, that I unexpectedly uncovered life’s greatest truth. Let me tell you how.
Several years after my parents death s We had started to attend Imago, something I could have never done while my parents were alive. I came in every Sunday with a boulder on my shoulder and itching for a fight. One Sunday back on Arcadia, Charlie encouraged us to wrestle with God. And for someone who was itching for a fight…Bring it! My wresting took the form of writing “Suggestions for Jesus” My suggestions were good, bad and downright ugly. After 50 days of writing suggestions for Jesus I was ready to throw in the towel on wrestling, Imago and everything.
I decided to tell my parents about my failed wrestling exercise. I wanted to let them know that I tried, but failed. Subconciously I think I want hear them say once more from beyond the grave “Just give your heart to Jesus, Susie” so that I could blow up and project my anger back onto them. It was a sunny afternoon at the cemetery. I took of my sandals and laid down on the green grass between them, prepared to break their heart yet again.
But before a thought formed in my head…I was miraculously transported to eternity. I was floating in a space and place of undescribable safety and peace. I can’t explain the experience with words. But I can tell you the cryptic voice over narration my parents said while I was in this blissful state.
Susan, THIS, THIS Love. This is the love we could never express while we were incarnate. But THIS, THIS Love is how we feel for you. We Love you. There is no bad part of you, there is no good part of you, there is just This Love. You are just THIS Love. It is all there is. Susan, live your life. Susan, wrestle. Susan, find This Love.
As you can imagine, knowing that my parents loved me and forgave me was amazing. To know they were cheering me on was incredible. Our reconciliation, to be a prodigal, even after their death, was miraculous and life changing.
It was in the writing of my memoirs – something that I approached as simply a whim, not a spiritual exercise- that I realized the more important message my parents had shared. The message of This Love (perhaps you can understand it better by replacing that phrase with the term God, Jesus or Universe).
By reviewing my stories, like the story of my fathers death, MY destructive thought and behavior patterns became quite obvious when I saw them popping up in chapter after chapter. But what was less obvious was another pattern…at the end of every chapter in the Gospel of Susan, whether the chapter was cringeworthy, heartbreaking, outrageous, or mundane there was always consistent invisible footnote written from THIS Love that said “I love you. This chapter is perfect. I can work with this. I can get you where you need to be. Let’s go.” And then the next cringeworthy, heartbreaking, outrageous, or mundane story happened. This pattern repeated Over and over. And ‘This Love’ Moved my life forward in the most unbelievable and genius of ways to where I am today. Today I am finally someone who recognizes ‘This Loves’ tenacity, patience and gentleness as it moves in my current life. Though a series of slow baby steps I began to see “This Love” in profound and miraculous ways. I felt it in the bear hug of a drug addict at our Summer Picnic, I saw in the piercing gaze of a crippled man in Honduras, I hear it in my daughters’ giggles, I see it with every sunrise, sunset, and most clearly in the beauty of the moon’s ever waxing and waning. “This Love” is everywhere! I’ve seen it! I see it now.
I’m now to the point where I know when I don’t see it. I’m now aware of the times when I choose to see the world through my old eyes of fear or judgement or my personal favorite lenses, indifference. And yet in spite of my vision failures, This Love continues to pour in me, around me and through me just as it has always done. Even as it did when I silently cheered at my father’s funeral.
Every day I ask to see the world through the eyes of “This Love”. Everyday I ask ” Where would you have me go? What would you have me do? What would you have me say, and to whom? I want to see This Love”. And everyday I hear a silent reply “Susan, I love you. Today is perfect. I can work with this. I can get you where you need to be. Let’s go.”
So as we enter 2016, may you look back at your stories and discover the breadcrumb trail left by “This Love”. I know you’ll find it. Or better yet, in this year, look for This Love in every minute, every now. It’s alway there. In you. Around you. It surrounds you. No matter how cringeworthy, heartbreaking, outrageous, or mundane your moments are, This Love will continue to whisper to us all. “I love you. This situation is perfect. I can work with this. I can get you where you need to be. Let’s go.”