In the Wake of the Valley

I actually wrote this some time ago, but find myself wading through these emotions…again…in the face of another challenge of change. It’s curious that change, instability and loss–no matter what the cause–evoke such similar emotions. Be it a death, a move, a deployment, an addiction, a fear, unmeasured loss, an illness, we humans are so predictable–our God is not.

But then, perhaps He is. God tells us over and over that He is the same yesterday, today and forever. A little known verse, in a little known book, Hosea 6:3 speaks of God’s constancy. Find hope:

“Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”

I’m staring down the muzzle of a move—another move. I’m married to a career military officer and this pluck-up-and-go routine is becoming familiar, though never easier.

Swamped and drowning under a load of pending stress, I fled to the only place I know for comfort—my back porch, Bible straddling my knees and my journal opened, pen poised. I flipped to Psalm 16, my go-to passage for transient times. I needed to hear God remind me that my only good is found in Him, that I have chosen Him as my portion and cup and that the shape of my life is pleasant. My inheritance is beautiful.

Those words help to put in perspective the loss of one home, the seeding of another. They warm me from the inside, calling to mind the fresh beauties that God has unearthed in each place we’ve lived.

In North Carolina, He introduced me to the first best friend I’ve ever had. Then, He seasoned my life with a few more, a vibrant church body, a fun job, three years of firsts. When He led us to Georgia, He pressed my soul more deeply into Him than I had experienced before. I felt pressed down under a weight of loneliness, the seed of my life sinking heavily into fertile soil.

Next, He led us to Washington. Exquisite! In the northwest, God brought me my second best-friend of all time. He colored the horizon deep blue every morning and punctuated it with Mount Rainier, glowing effervescent pink. He fed me with Honeycrisp apples, fresh, flaky salmon and blood-red wine. He tightened the bonds of my marriage and snipped the frayed ends in that relationship. He taught me to write there. In Washington, I worked at a busy Starbucks and everyday, He peppered my hours with smiles, momentary confidences and encouraging winks.

After that, God led us to Virginia, barely outside the bustle of the beltway. Full circle, He walked my best friends across my path again. He opened the first window to give me a peek at what He intends as the hallmark of my life—He blessed my pen and my page. He swept me quickly through a church body where He cultivated leadership skills and deep humility through failure.

And then He brought us here. I’m in Georgia again, and again staring down the muzzle of of a move. I understand the boundaries; I see the pleasant places where God has led me. I am overjoyed to know that God is all my good, He is my refuge and preservation. But my heart still aches. Goodbyes still hurt. The stab of loneliness that lingers for a while in each new location can for a moment feel like shadow of death.

Psalm 23 also talks about the places God leads us. David opens with peace, following his Lord beside quiet water, green pastures and in paths of righteousness. Suddenly, there’s a sharp turn. Though David still follows the Good Shepherd, he finds himself in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

I wonder if that was a valley filled with loneliness as he dodged the pursuit of King Saul who was bent on David’s demise. I wonder if it was a valley filled with fatigue, tired of defending himself, tired of living on the run. Whatever it was, it broke his heart.

As we keep reading, David staggers out of the valley. While there, he found protection in God’s rod and staff—used to continually guide and direct even in the darkest of places. In that terrible place, David remained confident of God’s election, expressed as God anointed his head with oil. And on the other side? As David walked out of the shadows, the cast of his own shadow breaking with the foreboding one behind him, goodness and mercy flowed after him.

I folded my journal, the page still blank and stared at the pretty little, yellow-topped weeds in my backyard. I have walked through shadowy valleys before. Reflecting on each, I can see the wake of goodness and mercy widening behind me.

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What Will I Do If I Ever Grow Up?

Kylie trudges along on her back, scooting her bald spot across the carpet, rubbing away the downy baby fuzz. Her mom watches carefully, shielding the corner of the hearth with her body.

For six months, every day has been a new beginning. From the first breach of the womb, to the first explosive diaper, the first bath, the first trip to the nursery. What will she be when she grows up? Glimpses backwards at photos of Mom and Dad spur expectations for the future.

But I make no plans. I’m still wondering what I will be when I grow up. What will I do with the rest of my life?

My husband is in the Army. When I pledged myself to him, ten years ago, I could only see two years down our timeline. Those same two years have traced a loop five times. And I still wonder, what will I be when I grow up?

I have unpacked a new home in four states. Each time it felt like getting my own room for the very first time; childhood swept over me from behind.

Barely tall enough to ride a roller coaster, I wanted to be brave. Four plain walls to paint any color I wished. The first night in my new room, I woke up fumbling for the bathroom and walked straight into the closet. I lay awake for hours, keenly aware of new creaks and groans exhaled by the walls. I am still that way, grown up.

In state number three, unpacking felt like Christmas. Excitement buzzed between my husband and me as we pulled brown paper packages from crudely labeled boxes. With each subsequent move, there was even a “first Christmas” ornament.

Pulling out of my driveway and yielding at an unfamiliar intersection was learning to walk all over again. Round-abouts posed threats similar to trying to roller skate the day after my first baby step. I got lost and confused, cars buzzed by me at grownup speeds. Every landmark looked the same, like being surrounded by dozens of adult knees, all clad in denim.

My heart cringes with sympathy for those poor families sent overseas. I struggle to simply learn my new city’s slang. Once, I ventured a comment about the civil war in a coffee shop in southern Georgia. I was nearly run out of town on a rail, unaware that it was really “the war of northern aggression.” I do my best to mimic the vernacular of the natives; I am often rewarded by chuckles and a lesson in diction.

Crossing the stage at my alma mater, I believed I was done with new school jitters. Now, bi-annually, I subject myself to that same drama as I search for a new church and gym. I try to walk confidently down crowded halls, pretending I know where I’m going. I don’t want to be singled out as the new girl and introduced to the women’s ministry leader or the locally famous personal trainer.

I stalk bulletin boards, scanning them for post-its about groups, clubs and classes where I can show up anonymously and make friends on my own terms. I wonder how I should dress for the worship service? Is this a casual khaki environment or your mother’s Sunday best?

Perhaps the greatest challenge of each new home, is finding a new hairdresser. That decision alone has the power to effect every first impression. A highlighting mistake or failed permanent out weighs the worst “baby’s first haircut.” Even a bowl cut or months of unexplained baldness pale in comparison to green hair. The effects of my worst experience lingered through the next move.

My life feels like a broken record. No steady career lengthens my resume. Few accolades for community service can be garnered in 24 months. By the time I’ve mastered these rudimentary skills it’s time to leave again.

Kylie is almost walking now. Things that were once experiments are now old habits. Soon she will say, “Momma,” and then graduate to big-girl words like, “dog,” and, “Mississippi.” That is the way life is supposed to be: you scale the step ladder, climb the tree, and one day the corporate ladder.

Me? I am still wondering what I will do when I grow up.

The Lonely Lie

Friday, I promised to talk about familial lies.  My only point of reference is my own family, so Friday has potential to be painfully revealing.

Familial lies spread like weeds through the generations.  They are parasitic weeds that choke the life out a family tree.  If they don’t kill it, they at least suck away the nutrients and leave the tree languishing thirstily in the sunlight’s scorching truth.

I am facing being abandoned…again.  Sue is moving.  Because my husband is active duty military we move frequently and on the years we don’t move, most of our friends do.  I have lost some friends to motherhood.  We are still close, but the dynamics change when a new little life demands more than all of her attention.  I am not lonely all the time, and I am certainly not alone.  But, mix alone and lonely together and you know how I feel.

Jesus is the only source of comfort.  So I took my loneliness to Him.  “Jesus, show me why I feel so lonely.  Show me where this feeling comes from and tell me the truth.”

As I prayed I began to see the unlikely source of my pain.  I started being afraid of abandonment when I was two.  I am the oldest of three sisters.  With each birth, I was automatically bumped in my position in the family.  Suddenly there was one more little one with baser needs than I had.  It was not my parents’ intention.  I was loved and included.  But deep inside I took my position as the oldest very seriously and little by little I became less of Mommy and Daddy’s little girl.

I was home schooled for nine years.  In that time the close knit group that we formed with several other families, scattered to the four winds.  In high school, I followed anorexia down a deadly path.  I ended up hospitalized twice for a total of 6 months.  Each time, my peers went on without me.

Now, my husband and I move every 2-3 years.  Most of our friends move with their own military assignments.  More than once, my husband has deployed for a year at a time.

Expendable.  That’s how I feel.  Every time I am displaced, the waters of life flow over like a busy stream bed – filling in all the cracks and spaces where I once was.

I heard the Lord say, “That is the lie.

“All my paths are steadfast love and faithfulness – from of old.  I tire of nothing and no one.  You are not alone.  But you will feel that way sometimes.  Writing is a gift that I have given you, so that you can enjoy being alone.”

(See Ps. 25)