The Tornado is Coming!
I feel it.
There’s a violent tornado and it’s headed my way—-I can feel its wind lapping against my face, threatening to knock me off balance. In my head, the tornado is made up of birthday parties, gifts to buy and wrap, sleepover schedules to make out, games that must be creative to invent daily, thousands of pieces of paper, classes, writing a new book, the worry over a banner I need for the tour that has not arrived yet in the mail—what if it’s not here in time?–, commitments, books, speeches, the “I Love Lucy” performance with my sister that I’m terrified I’m going to totally forget about, PowerPoint Presentations, invoices that need sending out, giveaways that need to be initiated, a million doctors’ appointments, mundane things like grocery lists and a thousand dollars for gasoline, phone calls, expected lunches with friends I’ve not seen in ages and…. and this one sentence could go on for centuries, trying to list all the things that are left for me to do this month alone. The checklist in my head keeps getting longer and longer and I’m…. I’m feeling a bit of pressure.
I’m good under pressure. Really, that’s actually when I thrive. I just buckle down and pretty much attack any to-do list like there’s no tomorrow. I don’t know the meaning of the word “procrastinate.” And yet—last night, instead of setting up the next giveaway or planning the birthday sleepover schedule, do you know what I did? I watched a show on television, which I never, ever do. And when the two hour show went off, I took a hot bath with candles and stayed in it until I was in danger of falling asleep. When I got out, I tried reading a few news articles from the Times and other newspapers. One was about how this little girl, who’s 4, was recently raped and her family can’t get the police to do anything about it even though her attacker was caught red handed in the act by a neighbor. I read that article and my heart, it just dropped. Against my better judgement, I then scrolled on down and read another article about Darfur. Midway through that article, my heart didn’t just drop—it flat out rebelled. I was pretty sure that if I read one more word, I’d have a nervous breakdown. So I stopped. I should have gone to sleep, but I don’t like sleep, so instead I managed to pull out my laptop and get the newsletter for my Wednesday night class completed. One thing of a million checked off that mental list in my head. I should have been relieved—the newsletter is done, and will be ready to send after class Wednesday night. But instead of being relieved, I was just tired—-and maybe just a little pessimistic. I mean, one thing is great, but there’s still 999 more things left to do.
The two major things I’m worried about are my daughter’s birthday and the tour.
My daughter turns 7 this week. She is one of two lights in my life. As much as writing means to me, it does not even begin to compare to what Alight has brought into my life. When she laughs, everything is made perfect. She only turns seven once. What if there’s something she really wants that I don’t know about? Are there enough balloons for her—she LOVES balloons? Will any of her friends be able to come to the party? What if the answer is no—I used to dread my birthday because of the distinct probability of no one coming? What if it’s just too cold to do the adventure I have planned for her and which she would love—what if it rains? Most of all, how can I make sure, with one hundred percent certainty, that she feels loved, adored and completely special on that day? Birthdays are designed to foster confidence but how do you spark a genuine belief in someone else?
The tour is coming up.
And I am super excited. I have a gut feeling that this tour is going to change my life—-maybe not professionally but personally. I am looking forward to the people I will meet. I have prayed for guidance and wisdom and protection. Everything inside of me is humbled and grateful and amazed at this opportunity. But I am nervous as I’ll get out, too. I’ve never “preformed” my writings before. I’ve read them, but never to music, never with a literal spotlight shining on me. And never in a room full of people who have been affected by violence and abuse. I mean, yes, there have been survivors in the room with me as I’ve read—but I didn’t know that at the time. This—this tour is designed to attract those in need. What if I say something that hurts someone? What if I don’t say something I should? What if I break down on stage and just start crying, a distinct possibility if ever there was one?
This morning came. After finally falling into a fitful sleep around 3:15, I woke up at 6:30. I just laid in the bed, wide awake, staring at the ceiling. I didn’t want to get up. And that thought scared me because it was a warning sign that, instead of living, I wanted to hide again. I haven’t hidden from anything in a long time. So I took a deep breath and I got up. As I dressed for church, I kept thinking about Isaiah. I’ve been re-reading that book lately, with a concordance, and I’ve made lots of marks on the pages of that beloved book. The thing that most came to mind, though, was how, when he was given the vision of God, Isaiah felt overcome with incompetence. An angel actually used a coal that was so hot even the angel had to grasp it with tongs to touch Isaiah’s lips. That had to have hurt. But Isaiah doesn’t mention the pain. So, either God made it not hurt or the magnitude of what Isaiah was feeling was greater than the pain of the live coal. He was standing before God and he didn’t jump up and down for joy about this—instead, all he could think about was how undeserving he was. Similar emotions happened to John and others who were allowed such visions. Strangely, this passage comforted me today by reminding me that I’m not supposed to do it alone—and I don’t have to. God is faithful—He was faithful to Isaiah, even when He gave him a difficult “mission, and He was faithful to every other prophet or disciple in the Bible. He never abandoned anyone—-then or now. And that means He’s with me. And if He’s with me, then everything that needs to be accomplished will get done.
My oldest daughter’s name is Breathe. You’d be amazed at how many people call her “Breath” when they are first introduced to her—it’s as though they don’t recognize the word breathe. But then she’ll smile and say, “No, no. BREATHE, like you breathe in and out. BREATHE.” When I was thinking of that word for her name, I thought about how easy it is for me to take on more than I can handle—-I’ve been doing that for as long as I can remember. It’s a habit I can’t seem to break. And I thought about how, in the grand scheme of things, even those decisions and concerns that seem so monumental, most everything is tiny. In a year’s time, it won’t really matter what you did or did not get accomplished today, as long as you love those you are around and try, to the best of your ability, to live in God’s ways. As long as you do those two things—nothing else is really that important. And sometimes, taking a deep breath in and releasing it slowly really does help to remind of that.
The truth is I love my daughter. And she knows I love her because I tell her, and I show her, 365 days of the year. While I hope it won’t be the case, if she happens to lack a present she’s secretly dying for on her birthday, it won’t matter in the long run because she’ll be celebrated as a person in as grand of a way as I can manage—and that will make her feel special. She’ll be given lots of hugs and kisses and, rain or shine, she’ll bloom in the presence of a mother who would offer her very life for her in a heartbeat. She’ll feel cherished in the presence of those, like her sister and grandmother, who think she’s just about the most special, newly turned seven year old in the world. How many balloons she has feels important because I want her to be surrounded by things she loves—but, in the grand scheme of things, the day after her birthday, she’ll not remember how many balloons there were or were not but she will remember whether or not she felt loved.
And the tour…. the tour was orchestrated by God and nothing He orchestrates turns out wrong. I’m nervous about it because I don’t want to feel ashamed in front of others and there’s always a great fear of rejection. I’m nervous about it because I don’t want anything I’ve written or anything I say to cause others pain or discomfort. But I have to be true to my heart and if I feel compelled or led to speak something, or to write something, then I have to believe there’s a reason…. even if the reason is simply to aid in my own personal healing. I hope my banner comes in time because having visual aids makes me feel more prepared… but, if there’s a delay and it doesn’t reach me in time, then that will give me more of a reason to believe in the speech and PowerPoint presentation I’ve prepared. I have to believe that props aren’t necessary, for truth, no matter how simply it is said, is more powerful and effective than any visual aid.
Overwhelm is originally from the Middle Ages, and literally means, “to cover over.” I’d been looking at this rest of this month and feeling covered by a super-huge fear of failure. But today, my girls and I went to the park to feed some ducks. We enjoyed the feel of the warm sunshine on our faces after surviving the Arctic deep freeze of last week. I slipped off my shoes because I was suddenly over come with the desire to feel the grass. It was soft and cold and alive. My mother’s half-sister died Friday night. She was only 47. I didn’t really know her—-to be honest with you, I don’t really know any of my extended family, not a one—but I thought about her on our way to church this morning. She had two daughters—-what they remember the most, I’d wager, of their mother is that she loved them. One day, sooner than I want to think about right now, I will be on my deathbed and, at that moment, not a single word I’ve ever written will matter. What will matter is the touch of my daughters’ hands in mine, the words I love you and timeless comfort of such verses as Isaiah 41:13, 55:12 and John 3:16.
The world is spinning on its axis right now. I can’t stop it from spinning. But it’s not spinning any faster this month than it was two months ago. I feel the debris of the tornado as it gets closer and closer to me but I don’t have to hide under the covers because I’m going to remember that the tornado won’t sweep me up as long as I keep my priorities straight and my feet on the ground.
We breathe in, breathe out.