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Reclaiming Territory

Just past daybreak, a week after I posted “Steaming Mad” on this blog, I return to the same sidewalks I once slammed down in red-hot rage. Now I walk purposely, confidently, head held high, my face delighting in the warming rays of the sun. It’s finally winter in Florida, if only for a day, and to ward off the morning chill I’m bundled in jacket and gloves. I normally eschew hats but this morning a cozy knit cap warms me and conceals “The Beast” – my sproingy, contrary, bed head hair. Thirty-five degrees is cold, whether it’s Denver or Tampa, and I’m grateful for my mountain girl togs. A cool breeze brushes my face and I feel alive, juicy.

I start my walk next to the apartment building I lived in so long ago, and follow the path I once tore through, this time in peace, this time in prayer. I notice trees that seem to have tripled in size since I last passed by them; they canopy the sidewalks with dew covered leaves. Palm trees rattle their fronds and I’m reminded of the polite applause of Quaking Aspens when wind whispers through branches. The caw of ravens, the peculiar warble of Sandhill Cranes, the trill of Marsh Wrens fill the air. Slow moving cars maneuver through parking lots while workers tend shrubs and fences and light posts. I’m the only walker this early morning; I have the footpath to myself and I’m glad for the solitude.

I feel bold and fresh as I rebuke bad memories, dark bodings, the ghosts of “before” that threaten my current gladness. “You don’t own me! You don’t define me”, I proclaim to the past. I declare victory over past offenses – those inflicted on me and those I perpetrated – and choose forgiveness over rightness. Forgiveness erases the power of former pain; I am effervescent. I pronounce words of grace and joy and love over my life. I give thanks to God for delivering me through the darkness and bringing me into this present light and freedom.

This prayer walk batters down the last vestiges of strongholds that aim to keep me hampered and hogtied to what was. “What was” has passed and I am a new creation. I reclaim the territory where fear-filled decisions, half-baked beliefs, and chasing after false idols dragged me down into a pit of despair. Life didn’t turn out how I dreamed and planned and plotted it would be, should be. Now I am free to reimagine my future, dream a new dream, plot a new course. And I’ve gained this: patience, perseverance, and fortitude. I am this, too: God-reliant. God didn’t see fit to orchestrate a “happily-ever-after” life for me but He did abide with me, never leaving me nor forsaking me. I’m following Him fast forward into my future.

I round the last curve back into the apartment complex, past the pond with sparkling fountain, past clubhouse and pool and our old garage. I’ve walked just over two miles and I am invigorated, ripe with perspiration, and eager for “next”. From the bushes near the fence line, I catch a flash of red – a cardinal, a perfectly brilliant male cardinal. It’s been ever so long since I’ve seen one and I’m overjoyed with God’s good and perfect timing. Cardinals are my sign from God that He is with me. He was and He is and He will be. Glory be!

Steaming Mad

I’m a steamer, hurling my body down the rough concrete sidewalks encircling the apartment complex. “Splat splat splat” my bare feet trammel the path, the sound bush-league to my visceral, inexhaustible rage. I’m explosive, TNT, fire in the hole ungodly angry. Piston-armed, battering ram headed, I’m sailor cursing the ground I walk. Around and around I storm the neighborhood till bloody footed I mince up the stairs to our shanty space, wasted by frenzy, breath spent and wispy, tearless sorrow my countenance.

Such was my life. I’d set sail, pounding that pavement, after shrilling “You’ve been drinking!” “No I haven’t,” roared the reeking-of-vodka madman, emptying his pockets of there’s-nothing-to-see-here eye drops and breath mints. Vodka, imbibed in sufficient quantities does have an odor, a greasy, gaseous, volatile stench, a sharp I-hate-myself funk. Accused booms in a god-like voice, “You’re no kind of wife” and I wail “just kill me now, God. I’m done. It’s over. I can’t do this anymore!” But God didn’t and I did. Until I couldn’t anymore.

Memories assail me. I am stonewalled, paralyzed by the specter of nine years in this torrid, tawdry town. I escaped, once and for all, from here, from that, from him, and now, staying just yards from there, I am manacled and bludgeoned with flashbacks. I’ve unwittingly donned a ratty old bathrobe embroidered “Misery” and I’m sucked down, down, down into moldy, sun-bleached, putrid remembrances. Hours pass, days disappear, no rhythm, no meaning, no plans. Breathe in breathe out. Take a shower for crying out loud! What is today? I forget food, medicine, plans, purpose. Who am I?

Shake it off Missy! Lay it all aside. That was then, not now. Remember me? The girl who went skydiving, gleefully encountered bears, drove cross-country in a 5-speed dream? The autodidactic, award-winning interior decorator, dead aim shooter, giver of life (3 times and by surgery, no less)? An overcomer of aortic aneurysm, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, bleeding breasts and broken spine? An ovaries-to-the-wall adventurer, a scared-to-death-but-going-all-out-anyway person? Come on woman! Remember thy self!

Memories won’t kill me. Memories can’t kill me. Memories CAN’T kill me.

I can do this. I’m steaming mad for life, for a life lived to the fullest. I’m rolling on!

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, NKJV)

I Got Gumption!

Bravery is gumption, a shrewd intent to defy possible ghastly outcomes. Bravery is getting in the Cessna, not walking out of it. Exiting the plane when it’s in a nosedive is actuated survivorship – no bravery required just get off the plane now. No guts needed when falling uncontrolled, uncontrollably through pale, thin space. With screams and prayers and screaming prayers – “Oh God oh God oh God I don’t want to die yet God” – I torched through the air through the baby blue sky through puff ball clouds past birds on a high hot wire and over the top of a suddenly-there house. I was slamming towards dirt at breakneck speed. Silence erupted around me in the final seconds before meeting earth. I glanced above through the burning center hole of a once perfectly domed parachute and then down at the patch of vegetable garden looming larger and spikier below me. And then I saw a tree. One tree in a three-square-mile radius and my chute found it and latched onto it like a baby clinging to Daddy’s ankle, begging him not to go away. My parachute hugged and wrapped and wound itself to the only tree in sight and broke my near-death fall.

Bravery isn’t how I go now: alone in Old Sue on a 6,000+ mile trip across the country, living on the kindness of kith and kin, eating their soup of human goodness, resting my head on plush pillows of love. Bravery is that I go at all, that I get on a Cessna and live. That I leave my old, broken-down life, desert my endlessly hopeless bullet-ridden bowl of fragmentary dreams is gumption.

Twice in my life I was saved by a tree: a parachute-attracting oak in the middle of a nowhere corn field, and the Tree my Jesus hung on, died on for me. In a discordant rhapsody I have been squandering my life. So now I’ve quit the dead-end pursuit of happily-ever-after, a life pursued in a dream warped trance.

I rested so long in too little, content for scraps and bones thrown in dark corners. My sinew and marrow grew lazy with the fat of nothingness and sluggish me rose up finally from a deep, deep sleep of pervasive lethargy. No prince to kiss me awake and alive, just the call of Purpose and Meaning curling its fragrance beneath my nostrils and rousing me from drugged depths. “You’re wasting your life and your minutes and your breath. Find your heart! Get some gumption, girl”, whispered kind, merciful God. And so I did.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.
Proverbs 13:12 (NLT)

Happy New Year!

The Great Couch Surfing Adventure 2016, by the numbers:

8 weeks

6,384 miles

$431.07 for gas (average fill-up $23.39)

16 states: Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Washington DC, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida

93 great folks I spent time with (not including my former classmates at our 40th high school reunion)

22 host homes (and only one couch so far)

1 beach side resort stay

21 dogs, 23 cats, 6 chickens, 1 rooster, and 1 horse

5 special church services (Thanksgiving and Christmas!)

3 savory crab cake meals (plus crab soup!)

9 Philly-style soft pretzels (I hate you WaWa. No I don’t. I love you. Truly. Thank you for the pretzels. Amen.)

10 pounds gained

2016 is running on fumes – as I write this there are only 7 hours, 14 minutes until the ball drops in Times Square in New York City. While this year dribbles out like the spittle down my chin after dental surgery, I count blessings and inspect scars and bruises.

Thirty years of a hard scrabble marriage came to a screeching halt back in April when I announced my intention to file for divorce and my husband simply said “okay”. No drama. No tears. No cussing or yelling or gnashing of teeth. No finger pointing, neck wringing, hyperventilating or bottle rockets bursting in air. Just “okay”. The dead acceptance of my declaration left me stunned, rendered me mute. Oh I had a speech ready, but the wind was sucked from my sails as I swallowed my words, nodded my head, and thought to myself, “It’s true. You’re not wanted.” Mr. X asked me the next day if I was relieved. I was insulted. I had poured everything, all of me into our marriage – most notably in the past seven years since our great and glorious reunion of 2009 – but Mr. X had given up a long time ago. I am nothing if not persistent and I resented his glib question. The following day I asked him if he was relieved: “Yes. Yes I am” was his thoughtful, ready reply. And so a proverbial dead horse was spared a beating and I moved on.

Blessings – I’ve had a lot: a bone density scan in May revealed my osteoporosis was reversed; working at Signal Mountain Lodge in the Grand Teton National Park (again, after six long years away!); new friends; new adventures; and finally precious time with family and friends. I’ve had a once-in-my-lifetime opportunity to visit loved ones near and far and across the decades. My friends are my family. While I may be homeless and roaming the country in Old Sue for a spell, I am never without a place to rest my head, fill my tummy, and feel the loving embrace of true and abiding friendship.

The Great Couch Surfing Adventure of 2016 will roll into 2017 with excursions here and there and beyond but for now I’m in one place for a spell. I’m signing up for tap dance lessons next week. I will dance into my future, God willing.

Must Be Willing to Touch Fish

I read an employment posting on coolworks.com for the Red Salmon Cannery in Alaska that pronounced an important job requirement right up front: “Must Be Willing to Touch Fish”. This made me chuckle for days. But of course! If you’re gonna work in a fish processing plant, you’re gonna have to touch fish! It gave me pause, though. How many things do I desire to do or be or have that I have not considered the cost of?

This is the life I have chosen for now: traveling writer. Just as I must be willing to touch fish if I was going to work in a cannery, I must be willing to do certain things to sustain this way of life. I must maintain my car if I’m going to be traversing the country in Old Sue. I must consider that I’ll be sleeping in strange beds, dealing with tricky shower faucets, and abiding by the house rules of each host. Most importantly, I must always recognize that I’m inserting myself into whatever morass of familial and/or marital daily living my hosts may be enmeshed in and be willing to adapt.

By my mere presence, I’m imposing on the friends and family I stay with to place their day-to-day existence in suspended animation, disturbing and disrupting the ebb and flow of dialog and duties, all without malice on my part. A home, inhabited by one or many, breathes the circulated air of domesticity, be it bliss or bitterness, and a visitor can unsettle the status quo. My spirit is sensitive to the needs of others just as I am learning to take care of myself, and I’m reaching for balance to live gracefully and graciously, but above all, to guard my heart for it is the wellspring of life. It is a tricky position to stand in: being a good guest while taking good care of myself. To be helpful but not codependent. To be engaged but not so much that I neglect my quiet time with God.

I want to be a good steward of my resources, gifts, and talents but how do I do this while living this nomadic existence? I try to save and spend wisely; I tithe from all that I receive. I cook or clean or organize for my hosts (when they allow me) as my way of giving back. And I write whenever, wherever I can – in the wee hours of the morning while others sleep, or perched on the side of a bed when I’m alone in the drowsy quiet of an afternoon. I write in the car while on an errand or during a roadside break in my travels. I write at kitchen tables, on backyard benches, or curled up on couches.

And what do I want? I’ve purged possessions and given up my home. Now I want experiences and travel and time – time for writing and praying and giving thanks. I want to learn and grow and explore. I want to nurture my relationships and build new ones. I want to be closer to God. I can’t do these things if I’m risk-averse, if I’m unwilling to “touch fish” and enter into the unknown future with all that I am. So I’m forging ahead and what Ralph said is true – “Life is a journey, not a destination”. Thanks, Emerson!

And just for the record: I’d never work in a cannery precisely because I can’t stand touching fish.

Dog Love

I am overwhelmed by Dog Love! I had no idea so many wonderful canines would become part of my Great Couch Surfing Adventure. One of my (very few) sorrows in choosing this new life has been leaving my Dixie Noodle behind. In a parallel, phantasmagoric, tabloid-channeling otherworld, Dixie and I would have been mountain-climbing, ballroom-dancing, motor speedway-racing best friends. The Noodle Doodle spent more time with me in our Colorado slice of heaven than any other living being and she knew my every mood and next move. She is charming and endearing and utterly adorable. I love her, don’t you know?! When I stayed with my friends Starin and Leo (friends two doors down from my (ex-) home in Pine), they invited Dixie, along with our other neighbors to brunch at their house the morning after my arrival in Colorado. I was getting dressed in the guest room when Dixie was brought over. I opened the door and saw her eating a biscuit in the living room and called out to her. She whipped her head up and around and looked at me in surprise and joyous astonishment, then bounded over to greet me with unbridled adoration. After a thorough sniff-over, she returned to her biscuit and then stuck to me like glue for the next couple of hours. When it was time for me to leave, I asked Leo to take her home so she wouldn’t see me leave her (again). We project so many human characteristics on our pets, especially our dogs. And well we should. Dogs are loyal, transparently loving, and eager to please. Dixie Noodle is no exception.

In my travels so far I’ve been turned to mush in the face of Dog Love from Lily Short, Chaz and Clover Franco, Murphy Fischer, Floyd Mansfield, Gordon and Shaggy Reinker, and Bella Smith. I celebrate them all. They, too, have enriched my experience.

With a grateful nod to the purr-fectly sweet cats in my travels (Jack and Al Morris, Polly Mansfield, and Maverick Davidson), and to Skipper Watkins, my friend Cheryl’s beautiful horse, we would all do well to aspire to manifest the unconditional love it appears only dogs are capable of giving. This wild, unchained, merciful fidelity is the kind of love God has for me – and you. No matter how far away I stray, no matter how much I mess up, God lavishes His unrestricted love on me. And I am prancing paws, wagging whipping thumping tail, slobbering gooey mush in the presence of God Love.

I Ain’t No Saint

My marriage was in shambles in 2000 as we prepared to move from Maryland to Florida where my husband was going to be an integral part of a new business. He promised me riches beyond our wildest dreams but I was angry and bitter and vicious. I didn’t want to move. I was comfortable. I was content. Not in our marriage but in all other aspects of my life. By moving, I was giving up family and friends, community, church, and my own business, all in exchange for maybe-success. I told myself, “Fine. I’ll go. He’ll succeed in this new endeavor and then I’ll divorce him. I’d rather be a rich divorced woman than a poor one.”

The business failed. And so did the next one. Our marriage disintegrated as my bitterness and anger mushroomed like a nuclear bomb. I was cold and stolid. I ranted and raged. I nagged and scolded and demeaned my husband. God was not pleased and He let me know. I remember begging God to change my husband and distinctly heard, “You’re the one who needs to change, Missy.” Oh! The injustice! “What do you mean I have to change?”, I asked Him. God not-so-gently pointed out my defects: bitterness and unforgiveness. Now I railed against God. I argued and debated and rebuffed His admonitions. But God is God and He had His way with me. Ever so slowly I got it. Unforgiveness is poison to our hearts. Bitterness sinks its roots into our souls and eats us alive. I needed to detox. I needed to be in rehab; a serious, cellular-level reformation needed to take place in my life. I surrendered. “Fine. I’d rather be all You meant for me to be than to live my life this way any longer.” Reformation took a long time and great effort with much backsliding. I forgave. I softened. I yielded. I changed.

In the end, our marriage failed anyway but not for lack of trying on my part. Looking back, I know my anger and relentless bitterness was a cover for fear. I feared being poor (been there, lived that), and I feared being alone (I’d never been alone). I was afraid I couldn’t live without a man in my life, without someone to take care of me. So here I am sixteen years after the move to Florida, thirty-one years after we said “I do”. Alone. Man-less. And I’m okay. I can do this now because the One who called me to change is with me always – I’ll never be alone – and I am rich beyond all measure. I am rich with love and friendship, gratitude and joy. I have forgiven myself and others, as God has forgiven me, and freedom is mine. Now look at me! I am couch-surfing across the country, for crying out loud. Fancy that!

Counting My Blessings

I’ve spoken so much of loss in this blog (have you read my previous posts?!). In full representation of who I am and what I have, the truth is my life is full of dear friends and family members. I am humbled and blessed by my wealth. Visiting them has been a balm to my soul. They are my blessings.

There are my lovely girlfriends in Colorado – all were first neighbors, then treasures: Susan, Starin, and Libby (and their equally dear husbands, Michael, Leo and Julian). I also had precious time with my son Matthew and his sweet wife, Patty, while in Colorado.

From Colorado I drove to Kansas City, Missouri to the home of Linda and her sister Sandra. Linda, Sister of My Heart – the woman who traveled great distances over the years to be present at the birth of each of my children, the death of my husband, my subsequent remarriage, the graduation of each child, and who has been with me in spirit through all of my challenges, joyous events and each and every heartache. I wish for everyone I know to have a Linda in their life.

In Ohio I had a joyous reunion with my beautiful niece Becki. My sister Debbie has been gone nearly eleven years now but her humor and beauty and sweetness live on in her daughter Becki. Pure happiness to be in her presence. Bonus to (finally) meet her husband, Russ.

In Delaware, my home during my middle and high school years (and a bit beyond), I stayed with Andy and Kay Kelleher, my former father- and mother-in-law. I enjoyed a trip down memory lane when they took me to their cottage on the Eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay. So many cherished memories were made there in Hazelmoor.

I attended my 40th high school reunion in Delaware – a true blast from the past seeing old friends and making merry. How did we get this old?! Dinner and lunch dates abounded – Dee Kelleher and Jimmy Kelleher and Diane Clifford Smith – all visits too short but sweet nonetheless. I was welcomed with open arms by Sandy Fischer, the first friend I made when I moved to Delaware back in the day. Years have passed but never the love. What a gracious, caring hostess and friend to this hobo! Her husband Patrick whipped up a dinner of comfort and care. My heart and my stomach thank you both. And Laura! My crazy, darling friend from college and beyond. Talk about love and loyalty, Laura Morris represents both. I was lucky enough to visit her twice. My final visit in Delaware was with another high school friend. Lori treated me like visiting royalty, fed and watered me very well, shared her delightful dog Floyd with me, and even set me loose in her kitchen so I could cook dinner one night – chicken piccata!

Without my friends, I would be lost. They love me even when I mess up and support me even if they don’t share my vision. Best of all, my friends know “love” is an action verb, not just a word, and all along my journey they have all shown me love by their acts of kindness and care. I am blessed indeed.

Fences

The snow fences I pass while driving through Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska are no longer a mystery to me. The first time I saw them I was passing through Wyoming on a cross-country trip in the mid-1990’s and I was baffled. I saw short sections of stand-alone wooden fencing, roughly 4′ high by 100′ in length. “Surely the cattle would find their way around the ends of the fence sections and escape”, I thought. How odd that the fence wasn’t one continuous barrier between ranch and roadway. I know now that these structures are used to prevent snowdrift formation and reduce blowing snow on highways, hence the name “snow fence”.

As I traveled the Western states last month and saw those lonesome, intriguing structures, I thought of my own fences, my boundaries and barriers. It took me years to accept that I had the God-given right to construct boundaries against those who had or would harm me, and longer still to actually install my fences. It’s been a process for me, a costly one at that. This past spring I had prayed for God to remove toxic people from my life – those people who took me for granted, who took advantage of me and my grace-filled heart, those who didn’t treat me as a beloved child of God, and people who had truly wounded me. As He revealed truth to me, I (haltingly, painfully, sadly) let go of these people, releasing them to God.

I’ve lost so much this year: relationships ended, friendships gone, marriage over. I have gained so much more though: freedom, independence, and opportunity to grow and explore and blossom. Adventures and new experiences are mine for the making. I’ve taken down fear-filled fences that blocked my oyster-world future and installed boundaries against all who would hold me down or back. It’s as scary as driving through a blizzard in a Wyoming winter, but I’m doing it, by the grace and strength of God.

Wild Ride

Speeding East across Wyoming the mountains flatten out, losing some of their grandeur but never enough to dim my desire to remain in them. Changing direction, I head South into Colorado and I’m awed at the beauty before me. Trees! Everywhere trees! My eyes are relieved of the dusty red and brown high desert of the last several hours as I whip past them now: clumps of trees resplendent in fall colors of red and gold and tawny yellow; forests of pines and conifers and spruce; solitary sentinels of willow and cottonwood trees sprouting from ancient boulders. The road curves and twists, rises and falls as I ride Nature’s roller coaster toward Denver. I miss the turn the GPS directs me to take and, barely slowing my car, I execute a risky u-turn in the middle of the highway and slam onto a dirt road into a rush of oncoming pick-up trucks. The road humps and bumps old Sue and I around and I taste the metallic blood of my bitten cheek. My adrenaline pounds and I holler “yahoo” and finally slow down as I round a curve and slide part way into a ditch. I’m cowgirl without a horse and I feel electrified by life.

I’m leaving my beloved Rocky Mountains behind and heading off into a wide-open life of uncertainty. I’m making this new life up as I go. I’ve got an emergency roadside kit in the back of the station wagon, a first-aid kit in the glove box along with actual gloves and bear spray (because you never know!), a huge bag of snacks and a case of bottled water. Most of my earthly belongings crowd ‘round me in the car, my past, present and future: old photos, blank journals waiting for my every thought, winter and summer clothes, pillows and comforter for my next bed, touches of my once-upon-a-time home. I’ve got the Ten Commandments memorized, the Golden Rule emblazoned on my heart, and reminders of God’s faithfulness in me and beneath me and all around me. My seatbelt is on…this will be a bumpy ride.