Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Confessions of a New Year's Curmudgeon

It’s 10:30 pm on December 31st...only an hour and half until the new year. I’m not gonna lie...when it comes to New Year’s Eve, I’m somewhat of a curmudgeon. The only real joy that I derive from this holiday is saying “see you next year” to co-workers, friends, and family. (Just said it to my mom, in fact...it just never gets old). Nah, most of my New Year’s Eve celebrations are often spent the same way I spend most of the other 364 nights of the year... alone and in bed WELL before midnight. Don’t get me wrong...I had a brief and glorious run in the late 90’s early 2,000’s (thank you, Y2K) but...as a general rule, I don’t make resolutions (bah humbug). And you’ll rarely find me sipping champagne and reminiscing on the highlights (or low lights) of the previous year. Weird, right? Cause I’m a reminiscer. It’s what I do. I guess I’ve never really believed in my heart-of-hearts that life hinges on one obligatory date on the calendar. When I stand back and consider the landscape of my history...January 1st has never been a pivotal date. In fact, I find that most of the dates that have played a key role in my life’s story...usually sneak up on me and punch me in the face.

Take December 15th, 2012, for example. That was the day I fell headfirst down four concrete steps. And as I lay there on the cold garage floor, contemplating whether it was possible to break one’s butt...I learned a profound eternal truth about pain.

It was a Saturday night. I was home alone...puttering around in my ratty slippers and over sized red robe. My roommates and I like to play this awesome game called “stack-the-trash.” It’s the result of all of us (passive aggressively) trying to avoid taking out the garbage by carefully stacking our trash Jenga-style. The goal is to stack it carefully enough that the next roommate has to finally pony up and take the trash out. Yeah, I totally lost the round that night...because my single balled up Kleenex caused the whole thing to crumble like a house of cards. So, after practically standing on top of the garbage can...trying to stuff it all back into the bag, I decided to just hurl the freaking bag down into the garage and deal with it in the morning. Only after a few hearty swings...I found myself airborne, tumbling head first toward my doom.
You know in the movies when they have body chalk outlines in crazy mangled poses...like the one leg over the head kinda thing? Yeah, that’s totally how I landed. And this old body is NOT that flexible. My first thought was...well, I can’t tell you my first thought because it’s not appropriate for this medium. Suffice it to say that it hurt...a lot. My second thought was, “Dangit, I haven’t shaved my legs in like 4 days.” I just knew that eventually someone would find my body and comment on my total lack of personal hygiene.

After about 5 minutes of “you-can-do-this, Owsley” self-talk, I eventually pulled myself back up the stairs and limped to my bed. I couldn’t really tell what I had done to my body...because the pain kinda just started in my butt and radiated outward. I made a quick phone call to my parents to let them know if they didn’t hear from me in a few days...they should probably be concerned. And after swallowing some ibuprofen and putting a big ‘ol ice pack on my left cheek...I finally drifted off to sleep.

The next morning was not pretty. Especially the part where I had to pee. Did you know that peeing is especially difficult to manage with only one working butt cheek? I’ll be honest...I was really, really jealous of men in that moment. But the worst part was that I had this amazingly colorful bruise the size of a grapefruit...and because of its somewhat awkward location, I was the only one that got to witness its glory.

At this point, you’re probably wondering...what does this have to do with New Years, Owsley? (Heh. In my head, you all call me by my last name. Like we’re on a team or something.)

Well, it was really the 3rd thought I had while lying on the garage floor that eventually turned my heart toward an eternal truth. Because as my face was pressed up against the cold concrete...I thought to myself, “Yes, this hurts like a son of a biscuit...but at least I’m not dry heaving into a plastic bag.”

In fact, I found myself telling people that throughout the week. The first few days were pretty brutal...I walked like a 90 year old woman and groaned like a dying bull moose every time I had to sit down or stand up. But all the while, I slapped a smile on my face and said...”Hey, I’ll take pain over nausea any day.” About a week later, as I sat on my bed puking my guts out...I actually thought, “Hey, at least I’m actually vomiting and not just dry heaving.”     Really? I mean, the "it could be worse" game is appropriate on some days...especially when I'm on the path toward self-pity.  But where's the line between trying to keep a stiff upper lip and acknowledging that sometimes life isn't ok? 

I think this a sad commentary on my heart’s predisposition to prefer one type of suffering over another. It made me think of all the people who remain in pain...because they feel that on some twisted, cosmic measuring stick...their pain could be worse. I’m not talking about hang nail kind of pain. I’m talking about the shame that we hold on to because we prefer it to the pain of revealing our shame to the world. I hate that damn measuring stick, by the way. I want to lead an angry mob of torch-bearing villagers to burn it to the ground. But, I know from personal experience that some people prefer to live with the suffering for years...or even a lifetime...because we somehow believe our story isn’t worth talking about.  We just limp through life learning how to pee with one butt cheek rather than admit that we’re living with a bruise the size of Gibraltar on our heart.

December 14th, 2012...the day before my glorious fall down those infamous steps. After years of living with cancer...this was the day my friend Markelle Dumm finally got called Home to dance with the Lover of her soul. A few months ago, Markelle sent me a note saying she was proud of me for writing this blog. She said I was able to give a voice to suffering...when so many people who are suffering can’t find their voice. It makes me cry even typing it...because anyone who knew Markelle...knew that her life was a story of dignity and glory in the midst of extreme suffering. I’m tempted...oh so tempted...to disregard her words of encouragement because I feel like my story doesn’t measure up. And that I don’t have even a sliver of the nobility that she carried through life. Yeah, I’ve had a couple of really crappy years...but do I even have the right to lament grapefruit sized bruises and debilitating nausea? Shouldn’t I just suck it up...slap a smile on my face...and exchange spiritual platitudes of “this too shall pass” with well-wishers?

Throughout my years as a regular church attender, I have heard a lot of sermons on the story of Christ. But these days...when I read, “for unto us a child is born, to us a son is given...” do you know what I see? I see the ridiculously awesome love of a Father who knew that we needed more than salvation. I know, right? More than salvation? That's how much He loves us. He knew we needed a Savior who would free us from sin and death, yes...but He also knew that we’d need a Savior to be born and to live. Because He knew that living is sometimes the hardest part.

So, He sent us a Son who was born in the darkness of night...pursued by evil while He was still in the womb. He sent us a Son who felt pain...dusty feet...thirst...hunger and extreme suffering. He had friends and family. He knew betrayal. He knew how to survive the wilderness. He knew joy. And by sending us a Messiah who lived out the greatest story ever told, He gave us permission to tell our own stories. And if we believe...then our stories will not end in death, but rather death...will just be a part of our story.

Markelle knew that. Her life was a breathtaking testimony of faith in the midst of suffering. In her last note to me she said simply, “There is no good intellectual answer. I just know the inner certainty that I can trust God’s faithfulness and so must be faithful to receive from Him the path He has given me to go.” She knew that this path would include a painful death...and, yet, she was equally certain that her story wouldn’t end there...because her last words to me were: “I can’t wait to dance in heaven!”

It’s 11:41 p.m. now...just a few short minutes until a new year. I never cease to be amazed by the complexity and mystery of the good news found within the pages of the Gospels. Tonight I will celebrate another year full of opportunities to learn something new about my Savior. I will also celebrate the fact that most of those lessons will probably be in the midst of suffering. On the bottom of a staircase. At a funeral. With my head over yet another trash can. Or by my dad's hospital bed...as He greets the new year with a tube down his throat. But this year...this year...I will take with me a “knowing” that the greatest story ever told was written by the same Author of my story. And that a Messiah...sent by my God...destroyed the power of that blasted measuring stick by claiming dominion over every part of my story. And being transparent with my own life...butt bruises and all...brings glory and honor to the Father who created me.

So, to all of those reading this post...I hope 2013 is the year you find your voice...and the resolve to use it. I hope that you are faithful to receive the path He has given you to go...and that you accept the profound grace of a God that my friend Markelle found faithful to her very last breath. I hope that you daily rebuke the measuring stick...and give yourself permission to grieve or celebrate your story. And I hope against hope, that in 2013, you get so tired of carrying the pain...that you find the courage to drop your drawers and show someone you trust what you’ve been hiding. Because, man-oh-man, sometimes our bruises are so glorious...so beautiful...it’s a crime against the Kingdom to keep them to ourselves.

Now I must go...midnight is upon me. And in order to maintain my reputation as a certified curmudgeon, I have to have the lights out, so I can huff and puff about those dang fireworks that are keeping me awake past my bedtime.

See you next year, friends! I sure do love you.



1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing the good, the bad, and the gloriously ugly bruises. I also struggle with sharing...there are so many parents who are dealing with far worse. But, I know that God wants me to keep at it. Honestly, if I hear one more person say, "This too shall pass..." I might just walk away. Unless that person has a baby just like Adelaide. Then I *might* listen. I didn't know your friend, but everyone who did know her has told me beautiful things about her. God bless you in 2013. You are no curmudgeon. Love and hugs from the Ballews.


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