The Importance of Now

Since Sarah got sick, I have been asked the following questions many times, “How is Sarah doing? How are you doing? How are the girls doing?” It’s very hard to know how to answer because the answer is so complicated. The feelings are so mixed, and they change so rapidly, that it is hard at any one moment to say exactly how we are. Each day is like a roller coaster: moments where I know that everything is going to be fine, moments where I am afraid.

In the moments when I am afraid, I try to remember the blessedness, the priceless beauty of NOW. I try to really hug and really feel my children’s arms around me. I take time to rub in the kisses planted on my cheek. I look in my children’s eyes and listen to their words. Together, we try to really experience the world around us–the rustle of wind through the trees, the warmth of the sun on our faces, the cold splash of the creek on our feet, the ever-changing colors of the sky, singing our favorite songs together at the top of our lungs in the car, and moments like these…

Sarah acting silly with her sisters before a clinic visit.

Sarah acting silly with her sisters before a clinic visit.

These are the things we can know NOW.

Recently, I have heard many stories of loss–some have lost loved ones to cancer, others to car accidents, and others in other ways–it reminds me that tomorrow is never guaranteed. Therefore, it is important to be present in the moments that we have. No material goods or success we may achieve is more important than this–being fully aware and fully alive NOW. It is not easy to achieve. It takes practice, and it requires resistance to the many ways our culture tries to distract us.

So, my answer to the question, “How are you? How is Sarah? How are the girls?” is that today, NOW, we are good. We are together, and we are laughing and drawing and playing and loving each other the best we know how. And for this moment, that’s what matters most.

The Wolf

If you had been dressed in my grandmother’s nightgown,
I might have realized that your mouth could
swallow me whole in one big gulp, 
that if I took one step closer, I would disappear.
.
Had you been dressed like a sheep,
I might have noticed something not-quite-right,
like an aversion to grass, or a glint in your eyes 
of desire for consuming human souls.
.
But you came dressed like Superman,
breathing forceful words of deliverance,
with white-hot vision that cracked open my soul
and laid a feast bare before you.
 .
I should have seen the death behind
your facade of selflessness–
but your hunger for me
looked like love.
 

Poem Prompt Day 2: Postcard Poem

The View from Here

An unrelenting sun bakes

wind-swept sand into extremes

of hunger and thirst.

Manna falls and I am blessed

into moving forward,

the story of my past obliterated

in the hope of a new dawn.

……………………………………………………………….

This poem was written in response to a prompt from Robert Lee Brewer at http://blog.writersdigest.com/poeticasides for the 2011 April Poem-A-Day Challenge.

Thoughts on Freezing and Thawing

Today, January 26th, marks one year since I left my life and husband in Denver and moved back to the city of my birth.  I call it the day that my world fell apart, which is true, but what I didn’t know then (and would never have acknowledged) was that it was also the beginning of a new world for me–a world where God has been so near and so present that, even though I feel like I am walking through a tundra, I also feel like I am being healed and put back together as a whole human being.

For many years, I lived with a frozen soul.  Like the Narnia that was ruled by the White Witch, I lived in a spiritual place where it was “always winter but never Christmas.”  I think that being frozen is different from being numb, because when you are numb you are incapable of feeling.  I was capable of feeling, but all that I was feeling was pain: unending hurt and misery.  This constant pain caused a layer of ice to form over my soul so that even when there were moments of happiness, they were unable to penetrate and give me any relief.

Freezing was my method of surviving. By freezing, I could put on a smile, dress up, dress up my children and pretend (even to myself) that everything was just fine. The frozen layer kept all of my pain and frustration hidden. I did such a good job of this, that some people even wished they could have a life like mine. When I heard this, my stomach would turn. But I believed that if I could keep up the pretense, I could keep everything together.

But one year ago, it all fell apart.  I believed, at the time, that I had been buried under an avalanche.  The truth is, it was really the first crack in my frozen exterior.  Over the past year, under the love of my Savior (And I really know what His Name means), I have gently thawed.  More and more of the real me is being exposed.

Nowadays, I make no pretense of having it all together.  Being a single mom of four young girls six and under won’t allow for that.  My girls show up at church some days in the clothes they wore to bed and their hair only minimally combed.  They run around, out of my grasp, out of control, and gathering them in is like trying to corral wild horses.  Some days I am able to get a little make-up on; some days I don’t.  There is just no way for me to look like I have it all together.  Most days I am thankful to God that He has me in this position.

Because I can no longer focus on my appearance, I feel like I am much more focused on what truly matters.  The more I thaw, the more I am able to enjoy my girls.  In the last few months, we have had moments of deep-belly laughing that have been cathartic for all of us.  We didn’t laugh much before.  Perhaps we were all frozen.

A frozen life is not what I want for them or for myself.  I don’t believe that God wants us to live that way either.  Psalm 104 describes a Creator who made earth for our enjoyment: “He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for men to cultivate–bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.” (vv. 14-15)  This place where His face shines upon us only becomes real when we get real, when we allow the truth of who we are to break out and flow through and bless ourselves and the ones we love.

So this year I say, let winter do its worst.  I will still be warm, resting in the arms of the One who loves me best.

Hitting Bottom

I know the exact day that I hit bottom: January 26, 2010.  That’s the day that I boarded a plane in Denver, Colorado with my three, soon-to-be-four children and landed in Greenville, South Carolina, to live with my dad and his wife.  The problem was not returning to my birthplace.  The problem was why and how I was returning. 

In November of last year, I was fired from my high-paying job, the job that was supporting our family.  Since we had been living paycheck-to-paycheck, we were not prepared for this kind of disaster and were soon behind on everything.  My husband refused to look for a job (he had been staying at home with the kids), and I wasn’t having luck finding anything.  Three weeks later, much to my surprise, I found out that I was pregnant–even though I was on birth control!!

There were days that we didn’t have enough to eat.  I had to call friends to get money for groceries, and then in January, we got a court notice for eviction.  I was at my wit’s end.  I had found a part-time teaching position, but it wouldn’t begin until the end of January, and I didn’t have the money to pay for the gas for the 40-minute drive to work.  My husband still refused to go to work; I was staring possible homelessness in the face.  When my husband wouldn’t even help me try to find shelter for our family in the event that we were evicted, I saw no choice but to accept my dad’s offer to come to Greenville temporarily while we got on our feet. 

What humiliation!  I had worked since I was 16; supported myself since I was 20.  I had rarely needed help to get done what I wanted to do.  Now, at 40 years old, with almost four children, I was penniless and homeless and a mental, emotional, and spiritual wreck.  I was utterly dependent and felt completely helpless, especially as it became clear not long after my arrival that my husband intended making our separation permanent.  Everything was gone:  my career, my marriage, my finances.  All my girls and I had were the clothes and few toys that we could bring on the plane.

For me, this was rock bottom. 

When you hit bottom, there are really only two choices:  stay there and wallow in the mess of stuff that has accumulated over the years, or look up to God so that He can pull you out.  I have chosen to look up, and God has been miraculously faithful.  He has provided and continues to provide for every need.  He has revealed Himself to me in new ways that are deepening and enriching my daily walk with Him, while exposing the areas in my heart that need transformation.  I will never be the same again!  Praise Him!

But looking up from rock bottom is hard, because it makes you face your pain.  Facing it and everything that it reveals about who you are is so much harder than running.  I am better at running than at staying, but He has brought me to a very still place, where, one rung of the ladder at a time, He is bringing me into a new life of abundance.

The Art of Public Discussion

Dictionary.com defines discussion as “an act or instance of discussing; consideration or examination by argument, comment, etc., esp. to explore solutions; informal debate.”  In this day and age of talk show showdowns and social networking commentary, this definition sounds old-fashioned, quaint.  I must admit that, to me, it also sounds really wonderful!

Perhaps I have been reading too many news article comments lately, but I really do find them irritating.  Often, the comments are ill-informed, one-sided, and prejudicial.  While the Internet has provided a great forum for an expression of public opinion, too often I find that the opinions expressed are superficial and show very little knowledge of the subject that they are commenting on.  In the grand scheme of things, it may not seem to really matter, but as it becomes more and more a part of everyday life, I think that the impact of continually taking critical standpoints rather than engaging in thoughtful and intelligent discussion creates and maintains a divisiveness and judgmentalism that keeps our country at a standstill.

We have many tough issues facing our country at this point in time.  It seems, however, that most people, rather than engage in fruitful discussion about them, wants to take a hypercritical stand, point fingers and blame the other side.  The attitude seems to be, “I don’t care what you on the other side have to say.  This is my viewpoint, and I’m sticking to it–come hell or high water!”

I wonder what debate in this country would look like, if it were truly a consideration of the other’s point of view and knowledge, an examination of what would really work best in a situation, and then talking about each other’s ideas until we arrived at a solution.   Anyone up for a great discussion?

Hope in this Season of Advent

The tree is up; my girls have placed the decorations all along the bottom of the tree; we’ve been to see Santa, and Max Lucado’s The Fruitcake Christmas now has daily showings.  The Christmas Season has definitely arrived at the Okala household. 

In watching the simple joy of my girls in all of the preparations for the season, I have been convicted of how much I have let anxiety and fear take away from the delight of living in the present moment.  I look back on the previous year and, in addition to wondering where the year has gone, I am wondering why I remember so little of what I have done.  How little time I have spent deepening my relationship with God and being present for my family.  I have gotten lost in the hustle and bustle of day-to-day living and difficult circumstances. 

I was really struck by these words written by Dennis Bratcher in his reflection on Advent (www.crivoice.org/cyadvent.html):

 “If our hope is only in our circumstances, as we define them to be good or as we want them to be to make us happy, we will always be disappointed.  That is why we hope , not in circumstances, but in God.”

These words hit me hard, because they made me realize how much time I have spent praying to God about changing our circumstances rather than asking Him for His will in our lives.  I have been asking for the circumstances that I think will make me feel happy and secure.  I keep thinking that if we could just get a little further ahead, have a little bit nicer place to live and no financial uncertainties then I will be able to focus on my walk with God.  My priorities have truly been upside down, and that explains a lot of the ups and downs of the past year.

What does it look like to truly place my hope in God and not in my circumstances?  This is the big question that I will be exploring during this Advent Season.  I will look at the prophecies of the Old Testament about Christ’s coming, the story of Jesus in the New Testament, and prophecies about His second coming.  May He be glorified!