I’d rather be wrong

Recently, one of my friends reached out to me to inform me that she’d been viciously attacked by her boyfriend (now ex). She described the bruises, and she admitted she felt scared for her life.

“You were right about him.”

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

In the pit of my gut, I winced.

There was a time when I reveled in being right… being right during factual debates, being right at work, being right regarding hot, controversial topics, and being right about you, your life, and your decisions. I thought I knew best for everyone and made sure they knew it.

Over the course of the past decade, I’ve hesitantly accepted that I don’t even know what’s best for myself. I’m rarely right. But for years, I lived in denial, made terrible choices which affected many people, and suffered. I’ve stopped playing God and have turned my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand Him.

A childhood friend killed herself a few years ago after battling depression and enduring domestic abuse. Two years before, I’d reached out to share my experience with similar problems and offered the solutions which had worked for me.

“It’s okay. I’ll be fine. I’m just worried about him.”

Another childhood friend died last year in a sketchy incident involving drugs. One year prior, I’d hugged him desperately in tears at a funeral. I begged him to get himself into a 12-step recovery program. I told him I thought he might not make it otherwise.

“Oh, don’t worry about me. I’m doing fine. I haven’t done anything in months.” Alcohol emanated from his pores.

A woman I know and love came to me and shared about her marital struggles. I shared my experience and encouraged her to seek help and concoct a plan for starting a new life for herself. She stayed for another year. Her eyes are still dead.

Being right is the worst feeling in the world now.

If there’s any time I’d prefer to be wrong, it’s when I’m watching someone I love die. But recovery tells me the path to serenity is simple, but not easy. I wish there were an easier, softer way. But I haven’t found one.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

I want to see people I love live. I want them to feel deep-down, unshakable peace and serenity. I want them to laugh. I want them to sleep at night. I want them to focus on the solution and not the problem.

I want gratitude to overwhelm them and cause them to weep without shame every single day.

It’s not for those who need it. It’s for those who want it.

And God, I want it.

Being a mom: it’s hard, y’all

Today’s post is the first in what I hope to be a series of post by friends and guest contibutors on the topic of Mother’s Day and all things related. Big thanks to my guest writer today, blogger and former Arkansan Kambri Davidson, who now lives a more glamorous life with her husband Drew in New Orleans. Be sure to check out Kambri’s blog or follow her on Instagram @kambridavidson & @kambris_closet. 

NKL5I’ve wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember. I’ve always daydreamed about holding babies, having toddlers running through my house, and hearing tiny mouths call me “Mom.” Now that I’m old enough and am in a position where children are actually a possibility for my husband and me, I’m absolutely terrified of raising children. I think a lot of people think being a mom is a lot easier than it actually is. I know I used to. My mom makes it look easy, but man, sometimes I don’t know how she does it.

NKL1Between my sister and me, my mom has had her hands beyond full. I went through a period when I never wanted to be around my mom. I was rude to her, ignored her, and used her only when I needed money or wanted her to buy me something. I honestly cannot imagine how badly I must have hurt her. Kids are mean. I was mean. And yet she still wanted to be my friend. She still loved me and cared for me.

NKL8A couple of years ago, my sister was having a really rough time. She was in an abusive relationship, an alcoholic, a heavy smoker, doing drugs, and wanted nothing to do with my mom, my dad, or me. I can remember where I was every time I got a phone call from one of my parents telling me that my sister was back in the hospital for overdosing. My feelings, these wounds she was creating, would callous and callous until I wanted nothing to do with her. I loved her, yes, but I hated everything she was doing and didn’t want her to communicate with me at all. I built up so much anger against her. My parents didn’t. My parents loved her, were there for her, forgave her, welcomed her, and encouraged her to get better.

3328I’m not telling you any of this to scare you. I’m telling you so you know a few of the obstacles my mom has had to put up with over the past 26 years. Regardless of the situation in front of her, she asks God for help. She leans on Him. She is kind, even when people are unkind to her. She listens, even when you don’t want to talk. She supports whatever decisions my sister and I make. THAT is why we love celebrating Mother’s Day; to celebrate my mom, Karen Grace Campbell, for every moment she has been there for her daughters, for showing us what a mother should be like.

NKL3So, happy Mother’s Day, Mom! I love you!

PS: My sister is now married to the love of her life and has been sober for over TWO YEARS! Jesus is good, y’all! Oh, also, I am no longer a jerk. My mom, my sister, and me are all BFF’s now!

The golden ticket essay

*One of my students, Jared Tickner, in Comp II this semester gave me permission to share this essay with all of you. This is his first essay for the semester; I read it after reading a stack of other essays that were good essays but didn’t quite measure up in one way or another. Some of the essays contained interesting content and fit the assignment criteria (write a 2-3 page essay explaining your core beliefs and how those beliefs impact your daily choices) but fell short in the grammar, style, and mechanics departments, or were more polished grammatically but somewhat boring or unorganized. I kept looking for my “golden ticket” essay–a real winner in each category. 

Then I read the opening line of Jared’s essay. I was hooked. I literally stepped out into the hallway and did a happy dance and announced that I’d found my golden ticket. I’m sure my fellow faculty members were thrilled by my discovery :). The essay isn’t flawless, but it’s beautifully written and impacted me upon reading it. 

Thankfully Jared agreed to allow me to share this essay with all of you. Thank you, Jared, for your honesty and the sharing of your gift of writing. As my former professor (and wonderful poet), Andrea Hollander, used to always say, “Keep writing!”

 

I saw my first murder when I was four years old. I don’t remember much about my childhood, but I remember that. I grew up in a town of 100,000 people in central California. My family tree is not one that would be considered ideal. I come from a long line of addicts and abusers. I am the only male in my immediate family who has not been to prison; therefore, I never had any good examples when I was growing up. I did, however, have plenty of bad examples. I never noticed just how abnormal my life was when I was a child. I never expected or strived to be different from anybody else, but what I’ve come to understand is that I am not ashamed by anything that I have done or anything that I have been witness to. The events of my past have shaped me into the man who I am today. I am not proud of some of the things that I have done in order to survive, but I am not ashamed of any of my actions either. I was physically abused by my father, and I watched my brothers quite literally attempt to kill each other.

I was fifteen years old the first time that I realized that I was destined to be a failure in life. My father had come to visit me for the first time in five years (he had been in prison). I was excited because I was old enough to attempt to get into his head and try to understand why he made the decisions that he had. I had gone through a multitude of questions that day while I was waiting for him to come over. When he finally showed up, he said hello to me and then ignored me for the rest of the time that he was there. My father chose to sit outside with my half-brother and talk to him. I could not understand why he didn’t want me, why he chose my brother who wasn’t even his biological son. I had never felt more unimportant in my life, and it made me angry. I decided on that day that I was going to accomplish everything in life that he wanted and failed at. That was the day that I began to live my life for all of the wrong reasons. That was the day that I chose to let my inner rage control me, instead of me controlling my inner rage.

In November of 2005, I lost my ability to know love. That month, my grandmother died, and I felt my sense of normalcy die with her. My grandmother is the women who truly raised me. I lived with my mother, but I spent all day with my grandmother. My brother was born with a very rare bone disease in his left leg, and he had to have it amputated when he was eight years old. My mother spent the majority of her time in San Francisco with him. When she wasn’t at the hospital with him, she was at work. When my brother was a teenager and into his early twenties, he made life hell for all of us. He had been addicted to morphine since he was eight years old and spent the majority of his time fighting, drinking, doing drugs or stealing my mother’s car. Due to his misgivings, he received all of the attention which I perceived as love. The only person who ever showed me unconditional love was my grandmother, and once she passed away, I felt alone. At this point, I felt wronged by my family. I had never been in trouble; I had never done a fifth of the things my brothers did, and yet all of the love went to them. I now understand that my mother did the best she could, but at that time, it just made me hate the world. My trust issues come from this time in my life. I felt that I couldn’t trust those closest to me because I was not appreciated. I had nobody left to turn to for help, so I turned to prescription pills.

Being addicted to pain pills is what changed my life. I was numbed to all of the outside world. I did not care about anything, and it was amazing. All of that changed on January 9, 2008. My fiancé at the time left me and took my one year-old son across the country. It was the first time I openly wept since I was a toddler. As my depression grew, I sank deeper and deeper into my vice until one day I put a loaded nine millimeter pistol into my mouth and pulled the trigger.

It did not fire. Something greater kept me alive that day, and I started to realize that I have a purpose in this life. I dropped the gun and cried even harder. I then looked in the mirror and decided I was no longer going to accept the stigma that comes with my last name. I stopped taking the pills, I stopped drowning in self-pity, and I started looking for my purpose in life. The thing I believe in is that nothing can guide me down a path that I don’t want to walk. I am the creator of my own destiny, and I refuse to accept anything but redemption and success.

The most influential and guiding force in my life is my past. I am now able to reflect on the way I grew up and let all of the hate go. I am a better man than my father, and I have the ability to raise my children to better understand their emotions. My goal in life is to give my children every opportunity I had to sacrifice for. They will not grow up in a home where they are scared to go to sleep at night. My greatest fear is that my children will grow to be like me and not want to look at themselves in the mirror. That is a fear that will not come to fruition. I am no longer going to be part of a broken chain. I am starting a new chain with my family, and I will be the strongest link. I will raise my children to be confident and curious.

They will be loved, and they will know it.

–By Jared Tickner

 

Day 25: Dear Need

Day 25 in the Dear Gratitude project is submitted by yours truly :).

Dear Need,

I first remember meeting you, Need, when my father fell from his heroic platform in my mind. Grappling with drug addiction, he stood in our living room in Augusta, Kansas, in 1984, and admitted that he had fallen for Caroline. I remember my mom crying, scorching, angry tears spilling over, commanding him to explain himself to his four daughters. He tried to. And then he left.

And I didn’t shed a tear, although I was surrounded by four emotionally distraught females.

My dad, circa 1984, who I've grown to love again

My dad, circa 1984, who I’ve grown to love again

I didn’t know then how much I needed a daddy and how much the lack of having one would alter my path in life. I didn’t know that, as Naomi Shihab Nye claims in her poem The Traveling Onion, “It is right that tears fall for something small and forgotten.” I didn’t know these things, but I would learn them later. Because of you, Need, I spent years trying to replace my dad with insufficient substitutes. I can’t say that I’m proud of that, but I know that you, Need, are often something I can’t even detect in myself—but God can. Thanks to you, Need, I eventually found a Father. Thank you, Need, for leading me to create a path of destruction uglier and more harmful than the mess left behind in Wichita after a tornado. Seeing myself realistically finally led me to accept and love my dad again.

Need, you became a part of our daily family life. We needed food, clothing, and shelter, our little family of five, a single mom with four daughters under the age of seven. You, Need, introduced us to welfare. You acquainted us with embarrassment and shame. You moved us into a trailer park. You are the reason I cried for an entire afternoon because I did not have a denim skirt to wear to my friend’s birthday party, and you are the reason my mom could not purchase one, even though she wanted to.

But you, Need, are also the reason that my mom went back to college and pursued a career in dental hygiene, something she is still passionate about. You are part of the reason that I studied so hard to try to obtain a scholarship myself. You are the one to thank for the circumstances that led to my mom becoming best friends with Kay Egan, a woman with a gigantic golden heart. You’re to thank for the chance to grow up with near-cousins and to be loved by near-grandparents, for the chance to climb trees, explore barns, and ride tractors. You, Need, are who taught me that I’m no better than anyone else. That people in poverty aren’t always stuck in the mud as a result of poor choices. Thank you for making it impossible for my mom to take care of us on her own. If she’d been able to, I wouldn’t have received countless gifts of kindness and selflessness, like my Sunday School teacher in first grade who offered to pay for me to learn gymnastics, which is still my favorite sport.

Kay and John Egan, 2000

Kay and John Egan, 2000

Need, I could choose to hate you. But I don’t. I’m thankful for your place in my life, even today. I’m thankful for the irritability and negativity that rises up in me when I don’t focus on the Solution. That need prompts me to change. I’m thankful for the times when I have to spend less and save more. This keeps me humble and dependent on the Giver. I’m thankful for the times when I can’t make my daughter feel better and for the times when I can’t figure out how to get her to eat more, nurse less, or go to sleep. It keeps me from attaining parental perfection, and that leads me to accept help and input from my Wise Dad who knows my child better than I do. I’m thankful for my own powerlessness and lack of ability to manage every situation solely.  This keeps my egotistical, self-righteous self from bragging and annoying everyone I meet, and it keeps me coming back for help from the Ultimate Guru.

I need you, Need, to get me to gratitude.

I need Need to get me to God.

 

Never say never

At the homestead, 2011

At the homestead, 2011

I’ve said NEVER about plenty of things.
And eaten my words plenty of times, too.

“I will NEVER get divorced.”

Done. Twice.

“I am NEVER going to be one of those people who moves back to the middle of nowhere as an adult!”

Done. Here.

“I’m never going to date another alcoholic or addict, EVER!”

Done. Remarried one. Subsequently divorced him.

“I am NEVER going to wear leggings. Gross.”

At my friend's infamous Festivus party, 2011

At my friend’s infamous Festivus party, 2011

All right, maybe I came close to holding true to this one, but I did don a sweet pair of leggings with the ugliest Christmas sweater EVER a few years ago.

When it comes to saying “never” these days, I try to catch myself and rephrase things.

“I can’t say I will NEVER have another baby, but I’m leaning that direction.”

Our daughter's christening, 2013

Our daughter’s christening, 2013

 

“I won’t say I will NEVER join another Baptist church, but I’m pretty happy attending our Methodist church right now.”

“I won’t say I will NEVER teach again. But I’d rather work as a waitress than teach again.”

Well. This has proven false.

I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to put my recently earned Master’s degree to work and to teach one course this fall at our local community college. Not only am I glad to be able to use my degree, but I’m excited about TEACHING. I can’t wait to wade through the text and create my syllabus, incorporating things I’ve learned and ideas I’ve mulled over the past few weeks. I look forward to being on campus, even for a few hours a week, and helping students in some small way to better themselves and prepare themselves for the world of work that lies ahead.

My first experience as a teacher left a bad taste in my mouth. I taught, as my second job out of college, as a high school teacher (teaching English and Religion/Philosophy) at a private high school in an affluent area of the city. I was the third teacher that year–and I started in the middle of September. That probably should have raised a red flag, but it didn’t. I was naïve and assumed that teaching there would be easier because the students would certainly be better behaved due to their upbringing. And the Christian environment would be really supportive, encouraging, and positive.

I do keep in touch with many of my students. And I built some great relationships with many of them. If I could have stayed inside the four walls of my classroom without any interruptions from the outside world–namely parents and administration–I think I might have stuck with it. But that didn’t happen.

I received a handwritten letter from a student threatening to bring a gun to campus after my first month teaching because said student was failing my course and wasn’t thrilled about it. The principal blew it off and suggested I change her grade so she would have fewer worries about graduating. I was not wise enough at that point in my life to simply report the incident to the police, so I just moved on. Countless parents scheduled conferences with me to voice their concerns about my zero-tolerance policy regarding cheating and plagiarism. Couldn’t I be a little more forgiving and overlook those things? When I sent students to the office or reprimanded them, they were often sent immediately back to my classroom, receiving no consequences for their actions.

I wasn’t a perfect teacher, but I tried my best to stick it out (and I did, for a year) for the sake of the students, who were a year away from heading to college, to improve their writing and reading and critical thinking skills. I knew that what I was doing would prepare them for what they would encounter in college. But dealing with the lack of support from parents and administration proved too stressful for me. I opted out of contract renewal in May and went back to working with emotionally disturbed teenagers. Believe it or not, the environment at that facility was much more supportive, encouraging, and positive. And I felt the students truly appreciated my efforts to help them.

After that negative experience with teaching, I vowed to avoid teaching at all costs. And yet I continued to find myself in work environments and volunteer situations that demanded that I lead or teach. I led support groups for sexual assault victims. I taught summer courses for high school students as part of a grant-funded program. I led workshops for college students when I worked in career services. I created curriculum for training employees at multiple job sites. I led Bible studies for students.

And now I find myself preparing to teach college students.

One of the wisest women I know repeatedly tells me that “always and never are God’s words.”

She is right. I NEVER know what my future holds because I do not hold it.

God does.

And He ALWAYS knows what’s best. And I won’t say NEVER, but it’s rarely what I had planned :).

Day 28–The best he could

I’m very thankful to the guest writers who participated in the “28 days of love” project this month. It’s been inspiring to read about the various ways love and gratitude coincide in so many very different people’s lives. I had guest writers lined up every day, but a few people weren’t able to write their posts, and it left me wondering what to do about today’s post, the last of the series.

I have a nice generic piece about gratitude sitting in front of me on my desk that I thought about posting. It’s very well-written , but when I sat down to post it, something gave me pause. It was that same nagging feeling I get when I know something isn’t right or when God is trying to get my attention in that mysterious, silent way of His. So I took my hands off the keyboard, folded them in my lap for a moment, and said a very short prayer.

“God, if there’s something else you want me to write about, let me know right now.”

He answered.

With my dad, probably taken the year my parents got divorced

With my dad, probably taken the year my parents got divorced

“Your dad.”

Then I wished I hadn’t asked.

It’s not easy to write about. It never has been.

Once I attended a poetry workshop at Lyon College by my former professor, Andrea Hollander Budy, and a visiting writer, Peter Abbs, whose beautiful, smooth recitations still echo in my ears when I read his poetry seven years later.

One of our assignments was to write a poem, in similar fashion to one of his, about gifts we’d received from someone significant in our lives. I wrote about my mom and all the ways she’d impacted me. I know the poem hides in the recesses of a maroon binder in the bottom of a storage box in our quilting house next door, but I don’t have the time to find it today. Each stanza begins, “From my mother” and then lists a gift I’ve received from her, namely lessons and principles she has passed on to me.

The last stanza, which has haunted me since writing it, is about my father.

“From my father,

nothing

worth having

or wanting.”

When I read the poem aloud after listening to beautiful odes to wonderful people by the other aspiring poets at the workshop, Peter Abbs had the reaction I always shoot for when writing last lines to poems.

“Hmmmm.”

What heavy words I’d written.

Sadly, they were true.

My father has nine biological children. He is currently raising one of them. The others were raised by their mothers or other generous people without financial support. He was consumed with other things. Drugs, namely.

Favorite softball season ever, with my dad as assistant coach

Favorite softball season ever, with my dad as assistant coach

My father is an addict. His addiction has led him to make countless poor decisions, hurtful decisions, which have cost him his relationships with almost all of his children and most of his grandchildren, not to mention the mothers of his children, his friends, and his other family members. During his periods of sobriety, he is brilliant, hilarious, animated, inspiring, loving, and thoughtful. During the periods when he is ravaged by addiction, he is not.

About five years ago, my father faced legal consequences for his addiction-related actions. He began attending 12-step meetings, and it changed his life. At the same time, I was working the steps in my own 12-step program for family members and loved ones of alcoholics. I reached the point of making a list of people I needed to make amends to. My father fell into the category of “maybe never,” meaning I knew I owed him an amends, but I was not ready yet, and I might never be.

God decided to move my dad up on the list, though. I began to feel that nagging feeling about making amends to my father. I called him on my way home from a meeting one night and managed to choke out the words.

“Dad, I need to make an amends to you. I have hated you my whole life for what you have done and haven’t done for me and my sisters. I hated you for the way you treated my mom. I want you to know I forgive you, and I know you have an addiction, and please let me know if there’s something I can do to make it up to you.”

Silence.

Then words wet with tears came through.

“You don’t need to do anything for me. I owe you an amends.”

So that day, in 2008, we made mutual amends to one another. For the first time in my life, I felt completely at peace with my father. Well into my late 20s, I had no desire to attempt to form some warm and fuzzy father-daughter bond with him. That seemed unrealistic. But I felt good knowing that we’d cleared the air between us, and we occasionally talked on the phone, and it wasn’t as awkward as it had been my whole life. When I said “I love you,” I meant it. I no longer felt forced to say “I love you” to someone who I felt had not demonstrated real love to me.

Things changed. My dad’s addiction got the best of him again. He served a prison sentence. He willingly placed his two youngest children in the care of other people. And the little girl in me felt her head drop in disappointment. It seemed the same old story just picked up where it had left off.

Today, I choose to refrain from contacting my father, and he knows why. But I see things a little differently today than I used to.

In my heart, thanks to my own spiritual growth and work in my recovery program, I’ve written a new closing stanza to that heavy poem.

“From my father,

four sisters and four brothers.

A shining memory of gifts

wrapped in aluminum foil

under a miniature Christmas tree.

A moment of complete

safety on the back of his Harley,

eyes closed, hugging him close

at five years old.

The most fun I’ve ever had

playing softball.

A dozen roses at 29,

the card reading, ‘Daddy loves you.’

From my father,

the best love

he could give

at the time

with what he had.”

The most meaningful bouquet I've ever received

The most meaningful bouquet I’ve ever received

 

Hope fills holes

Yesterday, a friend and I baked our little hearts out in preparation for my husband’s birthday celebration. While we cored apples and blended spices, we talked about what’s going on in our lives . . .  pregnancy woes, impending birth of my daughter, financial issues, relationships with family members, and our unique struggles with letting go and letting God.

She struggles to let go of an addiction to a substance; I struggle to let go of my obsession to keep all my ducks in a row. At the core of our struggles, we’re both seeking to fill holes inside of us.

Ultimately, neither of us have completely surrendered ourselves to God in these matters, although we’re both working on it and making progress daily.

I told my friend that I’d been praying for her a few days earlier, and as I contemplated her struggle as well as my own, God brought to mind the fact that we were both feebly attempting to fill holes or meet needs in our lives.

The problem is that we seek to fill holes and meet needs that are meant to be filled and met by God. Tragically, or comically (depending on my perspective that day), I can look back and identify many moments in my life when I sought to fill countless holes this way. Like pits of quicksand, my efforts to fill the holes were useless. It wasn’t that I lacked willpower, effort, or passion.

I was just busy trying to fill holes that weren’t mine to fill.

I was taking on a God-sized job, and I wasn’t God.

Today I deal with holes and needs quite differently. While I must still daily lay aside my own controlling nature and lack of trust, I’m learning more and more to put down my shovel and allow God to fill the holes in my life instead. But how did I come to the conclusion that God could be trusted with these holes and these needs? Trial and error. The more I tried to fill the holes and meet the needs myself, the more I realized that my way wasn’t working well. I needed a new solution to an old problem.

Thankfully, by taking actions until my feelings followed, I learned to trust God. I started by giving him the tiny holes to fill up; after all, if He screwed up, I wouldn’t be that far behind in my work and could pick up where He left off. But He didn’t let me down. He met my needs and filled the holes in ways I’d never thought possible. Each time I saw Him successfully accomplish a task I’d relentlessly attempted to complete (in vain), my faith was strengthened. My trust in Him grew. And I began to hope that He would do it again.

And He did, again and again.

This morning, as I read Psalm 25, I noticed the themes of trust and hope recurring in the passage.

“I trust in You; do not let me be put to shame.” Psalms 25:2

“My hope is in You all day long.” Psalms 25:5

“My hope, Lord, is in You.” Psalms 25:21

I’m grateful that as I read these words today, they weren’t just words on a page. They echo the resounding faith that has welled up in me over the past few years. Because I stepped back, dropped my shovel, and allowed God to fill the holes in my heart and my life, I actually have hope that He’ll continue to do the same, for me and for people I love, if we can just stop digging.