Scary Things

Photo on 3-2-13 at 5.12 PM #2

It’s Halloween and people all over are having fun with spooky movies, candy, scary stories and creative costumes. Others, are, perhaps, uncomfortable with all of this, some feeling it is perhaps an embrace of evil, demonic, even Satanic forces.

I am not going to tell anyone what to believe about it, but I have my own opinions. I tend to be a middle-of-the-road person on a lot of topics, and this is one. I believe there is value in exploring our fears in safe ways. When I was young, I loved scary stories, the soap opera Dark Shadows, and movies like Frankenstein. I don’t think anyone in my family actually understands why, nor did I, until I was older. It was a form of catharsis for me to do something that scared me, to express my fears and overcome them. After having watched or read something that was scary, I remember I felt lighter, cleaner, happier. There was so much that scared me as a child, and because I was the oldest child, I felt like I was supposed to have been brave, but I didn’t feel brave at all. I was ashamed of being afraid and so I often did what I could to hide my fears from anyone. Watching spooky stories was a way for me to safely express my fears and feeling stronger for having dealt with them.

That said, I did experience a lot of oppression from fear as a child, terrorized by descriptions of Satan that I heard at church, and from my family. I had recurring nightmares about this Prince of Darkness living in my basement. I lay awake at night, afraid to sleep, and saw every shadow as a potential demonic presence. This was extremely unhealthy and I suffered quite a bit from physical ailments related to not sleeping and being so frightened that I had to take medicine for a nervous stomach and was tested for anemia due to listlessness.

Because of this, there are certain types of scary subjects that I avoid if I can. And, I do believe there are some folks who are too obsessed with the macabre and paranormal. Many of those people are Christians, unfortunately. They become so obsessed with sensational stories of Satanism, exorcisms, demonic activity and such that they lose sight of who is in charge, and where their hope lies. I honestly had to work hard to restructure my thinking in this regard, to remember that God is on my side and I have nothing to fear. As a child, however, I had different ways of coping, because I wasn’t mature enough to realize what I needed to do, and because adults around me seemed to talk about them too much. So, I did what I had to do to process my fears.

That’s why scary stories became useful to me. They helped me deal with things in a controlled environment. It’s why I love story-telling in the first place. There are ways to embrace truth, open up to new ideas and graces, and understand others that a person like me can only find in works of fiction.

So, tonight, on Halloween, I have my treats sitting in a pumpkin bowl next to a ceramic lit pumpkin and a scarecrow, and I am wearing a moose on my head hoping to get a few little ghouls and goblins at my door before I settle in for a spooky good tale. Happy Halloween everyone!

Sandblasted

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I just read a quote from Johnny Cash about grief and it spurred the urge to write. The Man in Black is still inspiring. The quote said, “There is no way around grief and loss: you can dodge all you want, but sooner or later you just have to go into it, through it, and, hopefully come out the other side. The world you find there will NEVER be the same as the world you left.”

When I read that last sentence, my heart immediately said, “True!” It is through this pain of grief, the worst I have ever felt, that my heart, life, soul and mind feel as if it has shed a lot of garbage that I used to think was important. I liken it to a sandblaster, where intense pain has stripped away everything I didn’t need, though, I have not arrived yet, I am still a work in progress. When the intensity of grief hits you hard it hurts and you’re not sure there will be anything left behind, any part of you that isn’t washed away. But, there it is. Somehow you come out with more clarity and you let go of junk.

Since my daughter’s death, I have become a keener seeker of truth, hungry for a God I can live with, one unhindered by restrictions, one free to carry me all the way to the throne of grace and deliver me there with love. I will not say I am somehow now the knower of all things. I also cannot honestly say I am through grief and now burst forth as a champion example of overcoming. There are still times when I just want to hold Amber’s body next to mine, like we used to do when we cuddled. I want to look into her big, beautiful eyes and see that love there, that was so full of joy, so free from judgement, so completely honest. But, as I imagine those times, I know that they are not over. I will look into those eyes again, and in my heart and mind, I still am gazing into those windows to heaven.

A lot of my friends and family probably don’t recognize me anymore. I have changed quite a bit, at least it feels like it. I no longer worry that God disapproves of me. Boy, that used to be a real cloud over my life for so long. I know He loves me, the real me, not the one that tries to do and say everything just right. He loves the me who honks at the guy in front of me for sitting there when he has a green arrow. He loves the me that gets stomach knots when I think of stepping out on faith and trying something new. He loves the me who backs into friend’s cars in the driveway. He also loves the me with the searching mind, who refuses to shut the door on friends because they think differently than I do, who loves the people he loves, even tattooed Wiccans, rock and roll atheist chicks, and lesbian married couples who pour their hearts out to me. I see God in them too, and He is not frowning at them or me. He welcomes them and loves them just as much as he loves me.

God started my education before the grief came, but boy, did the pain of loss sear into me the lessons I had been learning. The thing that Amber taught me, and that grief confirmed, is that the trappings do not matter. The differences do not matter. They are not insurmountable obstacles to God. In fact, they are signs of His creativity in creating people. They are beautiful differences and I embrace them with all my heart. Whatever God has in store for my friends, I am sure that it is something good, loving and real. I no longer worry every second about whether they are going to go to hell when they die. I release them into His loving care and know that He cares for them more than I do. I will share my life with them, and hope they will see that love and take it when they need it, but I won’t ever force it on them. He can speak to them in ways I have no idea about. I can listen to him when he says, “Do not be afraid.” I am free and I don’t, and won’t care if I please everyone in the process of living.

That is another thing that I am learning to let go of — the drive to try to please everyone. I don’t know why it has taken me 54 years to finally realize that this is impossible. For as much as it seems that I am bragging about all I have learned, I am really pretty slow in some areas.

I do not love grief. I don’t like it at all, in fact. But, you can either collapse under it, or fight like hell to get through it. I hang onto the hem of Jesus’ robe for dear life, sometimes, it feels like. There have been many times when I have wanted to give up. And, there will probably be many more. But, I am trusting God to carry me through to the other side, and someday, all of this pain will have been worth it. My body may not be in shape, but my soul will probably be pretty buff after all is said and done.