res·ur·rec·tion: the act of rising from the dead or returning to life.
Sunday, April 24, 2011 – Easter morning
Flowering of the Cross Ceremony,
Royal Lane Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas
If you were there on Easter morning, you’ve already heard my Memo to God. I’d written it only hours before getting a call asking me to share my own “resurrection” story at that ceremony. I didn’t write it to read in public, it just worked out that way. I tried to get my pastor to tell me if he thought I should use it for my talk, but he (wisely) refused to give me an answer. “Go with your gut,” he said. As it turns out, he knew what he was doing. He’d read the memo and knew this was deeply personal to me. He also knew I feared getting up in front of a crowd of people I still wasn’t sure would understand what I was talking about. My fear, as usual, was that I’d give them the reason they needed to push me aside. Hey, I said I’m better – not well! At any rate, I decided my gut was telling me to give it a shot.
I was shaking before I even left the house that morning. I wanted to believe that these people knew me well enough, liked me well enough, to accept me as I am – slightly folded, stapled, spindled, and mutilated. Could I really show them what they’d allowed into their church? Was I just asking to be ostracized all over again? I’d been through that already. I left the church because of it, right? Was I really willing to test my newfound, rather shaky faith in the human race? Apparently, I decided I was ready.
The Memo to God is a piece of inspired writing. No, I don’t mean I sat taking dictation from God one morning. No, I don’t mean I think it’s a great work of art. I’m arrogant, but even I have some limits. No, I mean the memo came to me in a matter of under an hour and asked to be written. Its inspiration was an overwhelming sense of gratitude for what my life has become. In another segment I’m working on right now, I wrote this line, “When I finally was able to get to a place where I was willing to peek out a little from behind the walls I’d built, I found people there who had been waiting to see me for years.” When I wrote that line, I cried. When I reread that line, I cried. It’s a mixture of pain, relief, and awe that I could have survived so many years unable to see.
I, of course, opened my talk with a few funny lines. It’s an old trick, a diversion. Keep them laughing and maybe they won’t notice how damaged you really are. It’s hard to stop that, though I’m learning to use it more and more just because it’s fun now rather than as a way to hide. I rarely looked up. In fact, Tom told me I spent the entire time speaking into my tie. How lucky for me that I had a microphone clipped to my tie. The talk was filmed and there’s a very good view of the top of my balding head.
At any rate and without any further ado, this is my own resurrection story.
I don’t remember knowing why I had to leave you in order to come into this world, but I know you were there to hold my hand as I slipped from one world into the next and I trusted your decision.
When I was three, well, bad things were happening, God. But I remembered that you were there. I don’t recall thinking I’d been abandoned.
When I was six, well, bad things were still happening but you gave me a piano teacher and a safe place to be for an hour a week where I was accepted as I was. Seven years, one week at a time. And I remembered you were there, holding me in your arms.
When I was eight, God, I heard you calling to me. I was pretty sure you wanted me to go into the ministry or perhaps become a missionary. And I wanted that, God, I did. But things seemed to continue to take wrong turns.
When I was twelve, well, the bad things just seemed to get worse. I seem to remember being told I was an abomination. I didn’t want to believe that but, well, you know, they kept telling me that. I still remembered you were there but was beginning to be convinced I was a disappointment to you. But I still remembered.
By the time I was seventeen, God, I was pretty sure the world had left me by the roadside to die. I remembered that they’d told me you were there, but I wasn’t sure I actually remembered you. If you were there, I was pretty sure you had simply abandoned me, also. At any rate, I was convinced you didn’t remember me. And I walked away alone. The alcohol I’d just discovered helped me to not remember.
By the time I was eighteen, God, I tried to end it all. For reasons you already know, I saw my life was over. It seems stupid now, but was all too real at the time. Another failure, God. I couldn’t even get dying right.
When I was twenty-six, my brother was murdered. I’d been doing it on my own for at least nine years already and was sure I could handle a little more pain, a little more fear with no problem. I found that more alcohol helped keep me distracted from my own life. I had no idea who I was and was pretty sure I no longer wanted to know.
When I was twenty-eight – well, you remember what happened, God. And I wanted to die again. No, I mean more than most days. I already lived so much in the world I’d created in my head, I could ignore any responsibility I might have for any of my actions. I didn’t call out to you, God. I no longer thought you cared.
When I was twenty-nine, you sent yet another guardian angel into my life. Looking back, I know there were many before. I pretended I didn’t remember, but I knew this one would stay through all the insanity I could create. And he stayed, even though I just kept creating the insanity. And I didn’t remember for many more years.
When I was forty-nine, God, my father died and my world crumbled. Well, you know what I mean. I had no conscious idea my life had been crumbling for decades. Each year began to vie for the position of “worst year of my life”. I was stunned to react this way to his death. The alcohol had long since stopped being able to push away the bad images in my head but it was the only solution I had left. I began to plot my own death again with a vengeance. The alcohol hadn’t worked nearly quickly enough. That same year I was told I needed to give up that solution. But they also told me I’d need to find a power greater than myself and I didn’t want to do that. What possible power could be greater than me? Who was going to protect me if I gave up that job? Who was really going to love me? Once again, a guardian angel was placed in front of me. He told me I could use a group of others as a power greater than myself and I accepted that I might be able to do that. They told me I seemed very angry. I didn’t know what they were talking about. But I humored them and stay around for a while.
When I was fifty, God, I put down the alcohol. In fact, it was one year to the day after my father died. What I remembered of you simply made me angry. Okay, angrier. Yes, I finally admitted I might be just a little angry about my life. But I’d spent almost every day of that life trying to be whomever others needed me to be just so I could try to feel safe. Know what? That pretty much never worked. Well, I’m sure you already knew that. After all, you sent me a multitude of guardian angels over the years to help me stay around long enough to finally be able to see. It’s hard to see, God, when you refuse to see. I think that may have been part of the problem.
It’s almost three years ago now, God, that bad things happened again. At least this time I accepted responsibility for my actions. Why do I continue to try to sabotage myself? You could have stopped me, right? But, then, you sent another guardian angel my way who helped me begin to be willing to remember the little boy who remembered you. He also wanted to try to convince me those things happened to me, not because of me. That sure was hard to believe, God. I admit I was pretty scared. And I wasn’t the only one frightened. After all, I’d tried to look at the bad things several times over the years. Each attempt ended in another failure and a lot more alcohol. Each time it meant more years of hurting myself and others. I was so very tired of hurting people, God.
So what happened then? Well, you sent me an entire church filled with guardian angels! They helped me remember I was your child. Yes, I was still pretty angry but that began to melt away. I started to see myself a little the way they seemed to see me. And, finally, I really remembered you. I stepped back and realized that you had been there all along. It could have been much easier, I think, if I’d just remembered earlier. But, you know, God, you just don’t know sometimes until you know.
My mother died this past year, God. Well, of course you already know that. But you know the difference for me? This time I didn’t feel abandoned by her death. This time I celebrated a life well lived with my mother. This time I was actually present for my mother. She always knew I was your child and tried to remind me of that over the years. But, see, I was a little angry with her and didn’t want to hear what she had to say. It was old stuff, God, from way back there. But when I built those walls so many years ago, all that anger and fear got stuck in there with me. And when you can no longer see beyond the walls, it seems the view is normal. It’s dark, but it’s the only view I could see for far too long.
Sorry, God, I guess this ran on a little longer than I originally intended. I guess your definition of a memo might be a little different from mine. Still, you know me better than anyone else, myself in particular. You know I tend to go on and on. I like to think it’s one of the things you love most about me.
I think what I wanted to say was, “thank you”. Thank you for every one of the days of my life. My definition of “good” has changed. It no longer means I expect never to be hurt. After all, relationships will always involve the possibility of hurt. It means I don’t ever have to do it alone because you are there always. Without the risk, though, there’s very little chance of allowing anyone close enough to love me or for me to love them back. That’s a very lonely place to be, God.
So, what’s next, God? It seems my calendar is pretty open for the next . . . well, obviously I don’t know how much “next” there will be for me. All I know is I’m here and ready to try to do what needs to be next.
just one of your kids,
I finished with a little humor to lighten the mood a bit and a word of thanks for being welcomed so warmly into their midst. What I heard from those sitting in front of me as I finished was “Amen.”
Yes, Amen. I’m finally home again.