[I'm way behind on posting things to my blog, but I'm going to attempt to do better. I've been feeling a real pull to writing some creative things lately...mostly because some pretty big things have gone on lately; things that have made me think a lot about life and faith and our journey and family and all those good signs of life...so I'm going to be writing more "essay" type pieces. Also, November happens to be Family Stories month and I've got some ideas for that. I also, of course, need to post some pictures of Halloween, and football, and school, and other events/activities going on lately.
But, for the time being, here's something instead. It's something I wrote several weeks ago, after dealing with the loss of three dear, dear, dear friends. They were a beautiful, vibrant family...Greg, Karen, and 17-year-old Malorie...who died in a tragic carbon monoxide accident. We miss them so much and are still dealing with the loss. Thank goodness, though, we have such wonderful memories. And thank goodness I have something I can lean on as we get through it...and any hard times that life throws at us. Love you all, and will see you again soon. I promise!]
A couple of years ago, as I approached the eve of my 40th birthday, I decided to tackle some of the tasks I had sadly ignored for the first half of my life.
Regrets, untraveled trips, untried foods, fears.
At the bottom of my list, because (let’s be honest) I wanted to tackle this thing as much as I’d want to tackle a linebacker, I had written, “Ride a rollercoaster.”
Two years later, the closest I’ve come to crossing this item off my list is riding the Goofy Rollercoaster at Walt Disney World.
But, and this is the great thing about turning 40 (or 50, or 60, or 70, I hear)—I’m okay with that.
While I tried Indian food for the first time, and reconnected with childhood friends, and walked barefoot in the Atlantic, and lay under the stars with my husband, I left that one item empty. Even though I was given the opportunity several times (and had to live with the disappointed look in my three daughters’ eyes; “Come on, Mom, don’t be afraid. Once you get on it, it is SO much fun”), I just couldn’t make myself strap into what I like to affectionately call the steel trap of impending doom.
It makes my head spin, my mouth dry, and my stomach lurch just to think about it.
That doesn’t mean, though, that I wasn’t willing to twist the rules around a little bit—to try a faux version of a “real” roller coaster. (Anything to fulfill my fortysomething wanderlust, and still not have to actually get higher than 20 feet off the ground.)
I decided that I was game to try the aforementioned coaster in Orlando. Even though it’s labeled a “family” coaster and even my 6-year-old was riding it, my husband and girls were all equally shocked when I said I was going to give it a whirl.
“For real?” they all said in unison, and then laughed that laugh you reserve for old people who’ve descended into dementia or for that child with no coordination who decides to learn how to ice skate.
I rolled my eyes, as if I couldn’t believe that they’d doubt me, but then questioned my bravery when I saw how fast it appeared to go around the corners. (At this point, I began to draft my letter of complaint in my mind: “What is this theme park trying to pull over on all of us? This can’t be safe for little children.”) Then I gathered every ounce of courage and loaded into that goofily-decorated car, holding onto little Sydney’s hand; she, for her part, smiled and said it would be all right, Momma.
Our older girls sat behind us and began offering me Roller Coaster Tips 101.
Be sure and keep your eyes open.
It’s not really that high.
And the kicker, from Delaney: “Let go, and it’s so much more fun.”
Is she insane, I thought? Let go of this thing while it’s hurtling through space? No, thank you. I’ll just hold on tightly for dear life.
For the record, I did the exact opposite of what they advised. I closed my eyes; I yelled that “I. Told. You. I. Don’t. Like. Heights”; I gripped hard; I cursed my husband (and the inventors of the theme park) as we dove around the corner.
As I reflected later on the experience, though, I realized that—while I will never overcome my fears of roller coasters (even the little ones; and I’m totally okay with that)—Delaney’s words of advice are actually quite close to the definition I would give if someone would ask me how I am living my life of faith.
If there’s one thing we humans all tend to share it’s the notion that we can do it pretty well on our own. We are capable. We are strong. We are in control.
I’ve seen it with each of my daughters at each phases of their lives. At two, they pushed my hands away as I tried to turn the pages of their toddler book; “I do it, Momma.” As teenagers, they pride themselves on driving themselves, fending for themselves, discovering for themselves. And that’s natural, of course, because we all have done it. And we all still do it.
Most vividly in my encounters with God have been those where I heard that voice in my ear and in my heart saying, “Give it up, Cheryl. You don’t have to do this by yourself. Let me be a part of what’s going on.”
That voice came to me close to twenty years ago, as I saw myself become—out of the blue, hurtled into the wind–a single Mom to a sweet, blue-eyed, very dependent one-year-old. I cried out to God in fear so many times that my voice became hoarse from the effort. Until one night (I can still remember the spot on the road, right there at a speed bump down the street from my parents’ house) when God said, “Let go of the fear, and let Me help you with McKenna.”
That voice came to me several years ago, as I discovered a strange lumpy-like knot below my stomach. As soon as I felt it, my overactive imagination went into overdrive. Cancer, surgery, “oh no, what will my kids do without me?” rumbled through my brain and, when none of my regular doctors could figure out what was going on (even after ultrasounds and all sorts of poking and prodding), the overdrive went into maximum drive. Amidst the crazy talk in my brain, God interrupted and said, “Calm down, Cheryl, and let go of this. Give it to me and I’ll take care of it, one way or another.” (I listened to the voice and something-so-simple-as-a-hernia was later discovered as the culprit.)
That voice came to me just a few short weeks ago, when a strange, hard-to-believe accident took three dear friends from our world. Comfort came in many forms. Our memories of the father, mother, and daughter were filled with music, and laughter (side-splitting laughter, in many cases), and silliness, and smiles, and jokes, and playfulness (and, my personal favorite, moments on a well-loved beach). Our common friendships. Our beautiful church family. Our knowledge that they gripped their faith tightly.
But, still, the sadness and the worry and the unflinching pull of grief took ahold of us. I saw it especially in the young people around us—teenagers who were dealing with the loss of a vibrant 17-year-old. The answers, in those times, are harder to come by. And, so naturally, you hold tighter to your tears and your tissues and your trepidations.
After things had quieted down on the day our friends were buried and children were back at home watching television and texting friends and eating pizza (normal things, as much as possible), I went back to the cemetery. It was, in the physical sense, the most beautiful day I’d seen in a long time. A Southern afternoon that only reached 75 degrees, no cloud in the sky, the wind blowing ever-so-lightly.
I went and sat down on the ground not far from the pulled-up ground and the pile of accumulated flowers. Then I lay down. Then I looked up into the bright, cloudless sky and I felt God say to me yet again, “Here we are, Cheryl, and you’re trying to handle this on your own. Let me carry it for you for a little while.” And, with that warmth radiating down onto my face, I knew that the admonishment was true once again.
That same voice comes to me everyday, as I struggle through much more mundane moments.
I look for a lost set of car keys. I struggle with how to discipline. I get mad at my husband. I feel inadequate. I get frustrated because I’m somewhere late again. I worry about someone close to me. I let circumstances take control of me.. And in the midst of those everyday things, I do my best to find the solutions; until I realize that my best isn’t good enough. I have to let go again.
On that day at Disney World, after getting off the coaster, we traipsed around the park holding hands and smiling big smiles. My daughters were proud of their Mom who could be so brave, and I felt a little bit lighter in my step.
Sure, I had my eyes closed the whole time. And I screamed like a little girl. And everyone around was much braver than me. But I made the attempt.
And so is life.
I scream and cry and let it all out. I close my eyes sometimes, because I’m afraid of what’s around the corner. And I oftentimes think that everyone else is doing a much better job than me.
The good news is, I’m not stuck on that goofy roller coaster. The good news is that I can get up every morning, grip on tight, but then…Let Go.