Another One Slipped Through

I was at the grocery store the other day when I was surprised to be welcomed by a young man sitting by the door. He was a greeter for the store and was surprisingly young and attractive. He looked like he should have been working in a trendy shop at the mall instead of sitting in the corner of a grocery store surrounded by carts and holiday fliers.

But when he opened his mouth, it was clear that he was different. He talked to my son about his dragon toy and how much he liked the movie, “How to Train Your Dragon” and was clearly not just being kind to my young son. There was something less developed about him, less sophisticated than a man his age should have been.

Immediately I felt twinges of fear and sadness for him.

In a world that is always looking out for number one, people like this are often overlooked or ostracized.

Then I thought of how many kids I knew in my teen years that needed a buddy and some that desperately needed professional help. I thought of kids I spend time with every Sunday at church or have met at camps that are clearly struggling but don’t have the skills or support to deal with life and end up repelling the friends they need with their anger and brooding.

And now, I think of the Sandy Hook massacre. From Columbine to now, these tragedies have continued to crash upon us like a relentlessly whipping wave, each rushing wave pulling back only to gather more strength and more fury to sweep away more innocent lives.

Whatever you feel about gun control or mental illness, I think we can all agree that this world is hurting.

While I understand the need for creating laws and procedures to protect our citizens, no law no matter how complete or perfect will heal a hurting soul.

These horrific events should be a wakeup call to people everywhere, especially Christians. To not just surround and protect your own with love, but to be on the lookout for others that need help and encouragement.  As Christians, we must be a safety net for those teetering on the edge and the hand that swiftly grasps those about to fall into the cracks.

We need to tirelessly pursue others with the message of the love of Jesus and His saving grace. We must show that God desires wholeness – body, mind and soul.  And above all we must share our hope: we are not doomed to destruction and defeat because Jesus has conquered it all.

Let us be quick to respond to others with genuine friendship and pray for God to move our hearts with true compassion for those around us. Let our words be saturated in godly love and intention before it’s too late. Let’s not wait until the hurt is so deep that our words can’t be heard over wailing grief.


Goody-Two-Shoes Got Pregnant: Portrait of a Christian Girl

I was nineteen and unmarried when I got pregnant with my daughter. As people in church began to find out that I was pregnant, there was one reaction in particular that I’ll never forget.

“Wow! Goody-two-shoes got pregnant! I never thought you had it in you,” was the almost impressed reply.

I really think this response summarized what a lot of people were thinking: I may have been self-controlled and pious on the outside, but based on this recent news, I was probably just a wild child waiting to be loosed. They probably assumed I was one of those “still waters run deep” cases where no one really ought to be surprised if they were paying any attention.

But nothing could have been further from the truth. I wasn’t attention-seeking, wild, promiscuous, or even in love. Nothing that was the typical titillating fodder of church gossip could explain why a nice christian girl like me with apparently sincere beliefs would end up falling so hard and so publically.

When I look back at what took me to that point of throwing caution and my convictions to the wind, I remember some growing feelings:

I was exhausted. My dad died halfway through my sophomore year in high school. Only one week after my dad’s funeral I dove into thirty grueling months of zero hour, after school classes, summer school, some evening classes at the community college and even piano lessons. I had to complete four years of school in just two and a half because I was homeschooled while dad was sick. I needed to help take care of my baby sisters. And I needed to spend every possible minute that I had left with my dad. I had a lot to catch up on and very little sleep to keep me going.

I was alone. I had friends and family, but I was alone with my feelings. I didn’t have anyone I could share my sadness, frustrations, fears or secrets with that understood or had the maturity to support me through what I was experiencing. Not willing to be the party-pooper or a “burden” to anyone, I kept most of my feelings to myself.

I was numb. Three and a half years of watching your father writhe in pain and lose his mind will do that to you. Seeing my mother lose weight, sleep and the love of her life to the soundtrack of crying babies that ached for her but had to settle for me will wring tears dry. Then there were all my own fears and hurts that scraped across my heart so many times that any feeling was lost to survival.

No one just throws away their life, their beliefs, their dreams and goals freely with both hands. It’s wrenched from them. Wrestled away, not in one instance, but over time by insecurity, betrayal, pain, confusion, fear, loss; and then one day you just can’t fight back anymore and you give it all away.

Then you’re left with nothing and you want something. You want to feel alive even if it’s all wrong. It’s in that vulnerable state that you do and accept things you wouldn’t have before.

And indeed, a lot of things went wrong, not all of them my fault. I let myself get buried in my pain when I should have been reaching out for help. I chose to be led by my needs and not my God. I made bad decisions. But I also really needed people to surround me with persistent friendship, support and prayer; to remind me when I was too tired to think that I was loved and my God was able to meet all my needs.

We are not meant to live or struggle alone. God created family, friendship, love. Jesus had disciples, and even God is a triune being. Never miss an opportunity to feed, comfort, support, love, listen, protect or befriend. Your presence can make a difference in someone’s life. Your kindness could be the strength someone needs to claw out of the rubble and clasp God’s hand.

Angie D 6/7/12 ©

Celebrate Loss and Remember Your Roots: 16 Years Without Dad

I was recently pretty offended. And I’m not an easily offended person. I tend to let rude comments and behavior just roll right off so I was kind of surprised at myself.

I mentioned to someone that my husband was frustrated with a contractor that so far hasn’t shown up for their scheduled meetings. Additionally, since no one but the contractor can speak English at this particular site, my husband wasn’t able to do anything while there.

I expected to get some sympathetic commiserating about how inconsiderate some people are with others’ time.

Instead, it set off a whirlwind of venting about the appalling number of people in America who don’t speak English. She then ranted about a time she was at the gym and a couple of women were speaking their foreign “jibber-jabber” in public. Her harsh tone and words made it clear that their foreignness was indecent and should have been hidden away.

Being a first-generation American child of Spanish-speaking parents, this really bothered me. It was hurtful on so many levels; she had no idea how many groups of people she devalued in one fell swoop.

I did my best to be diplomatic and respectfully replied that English is difficult for many to learn. I left it at that and keep my irritation to myself. I have been thinking about this awkward exchange for the last couple of days.

She couldn’t grasp nor did the thought enter her mind how hard it would be to completely uproot from your native country, language and culture to live in a foreign one. They weren’t doing anything rude or suspect. Those women just may have been enjoying a small piece of home when they were speaking their native tongue.

Apparently, she has forgotten her own roots; maybe doesn’t even know them. In any case, those insensitive words made me think of how easy it can be to dismiss someone when you don’t relate to them.

As I sorted out my feelings about why this really got to me, my thoughts kept leading me back to my dad.

Maybe it’s because today marks sixteen years since he died of cancer – I’ve lived half of my life without him now. Among the many cherished memories I repeat in my mind, I also replay the difficult ones. Even the ones that make me cry; these too are savored in their own way.

I don’t believe in clinging to the past and refusing to heal. But I don’t want to ever forget where I come from or where I’ve been and put so much distance between me and my past that I forget what it’s like to hurt, be an outsider, and in need.

I don’t want to forget what it was like to listen to my dad tell us crazy stories in Spanish about his dogs “Rebelde” and “Sin Calzones” and become impatient with the store clerk that is struggling to help me because English isn’t his first language.

I don’t want to forget how thin and weak cancer left him. How hard it was for my dad to be carried and dressed by his own children and know that after the baby was fed and tucked in for the night, he would be wrapped and swaddled next. I pray I never dishonor these memories by responding to need as simply giving to charity rather than contributing to dignity.

And I hope to never block out the wild-haired, tear-stained mess that was my four-year-old sister the day our dad died. Sitting alone on her bed, her agonizing cries for daddy pierced the air. Over and over she screamed for him, voice breaking from the screeches that scraped her throat.

She screamed for all of us – it was like hearing the full-throated wail of my own heart.

It tears me up even now, but I don’t want to forget how fierce pain and loss can be and neglect to show compassion when someone is hurting.

I go back to the day my dad died many times. It might seem odd or macabre to post the anniversary of someone’s death on Facebook, or take some time to settle into the grief again after so long, but for me, it’s to keep his memory close and my touch soft. Remembering my roots, both physical and spiritual is not just about being in tune with the people around me but to be ready for whatever God has for me.

Angie D 1/28/12 ©

A Dose of Pain

When it comes to pain, I think most of us want it to have an explanation or a sensible purpose. At times, we glorify it as the bread and inspiration of the starving artist. In other instances we rationalize it as the logical and well-deserved consequence of idiotic behavior. Or sometimes we accept it like a dreaded routine immunization; just the necessary and proper dosage of discomfort to keep us from serious trouble in the future. As though pain should always make sense and have a reasonable ceiling.

But most of us have experienced or know someone that has experienced pain that makes no sense at all and causes us to feel like some unlucky lab rat chosen for a battery of deranged experiments.

I know it’s not rational, but I have often felt like I have received my lifetime allowance of pain and that I shouldn’t have to endure any more. Though I cling to the biblical principle that trials will refine me, I must admit that my natural inclination is to be left as I am, even if it’s a little rough around the edges.

I don’t believe that God is in heaven twirling his mustache thinking up all kinds of maniacal and complicated ways to fabricate difficult life lessons for us to learn from. But I do believe that there are times we aren’t spared pain so we can watch him work wonders from our twisted mess and grow in our faith.

I haven’t had it as bad as some, but I’ve had some pretty tough experiences:

I was a fat little kid that felt so ugly and insecure that I didn’t learn to swim because wearing a bathing suit was so humiliating. All I could think of was how exposed I felt. I knew all the skinny little kids in my class would be staring at the black hair on my thunderous legs and the lolling mound that was my belly.

Later, when I was sixteen, my father died of cancer. I was homeschooled during the three years that he was ill so our family could be together. This meant I had lots of credits to catch up on when I returned to school. I had to cram four years of school into two and a half, so my high school experience included zero hour, after school and summer school classes – without breaks. Grief, plain and simple, was a setback to my cracked-out schedule. The only viable option was to push through the pain, so I was back in school just a few days after his funeral.

Then after high school I was involved with a guy that cheated on me numerous times………That’s all I’m going to say about that.

There are so many more pathetic stories I could share, unfortunately.

Am I a masochist that enjoys reliving the relics of my most painful moments? No, but these memories remind me of where I’ve been and the many hurts that Jesus has healed in my life. I don’t want to forget my past and pretend that I’ve lived a spotless, simple life. I want to revel in the breath-taking wonder of how Jesus could take the tangled mess that was my life and create something fluid and beautiful.

I have had many painful times in my life that made me feel singled out and left me wondering what the point was. I still don’t know why some people suffer great losses and others seem to go through life unscathed. I think that pain is just a fact of life and is not bound to a merit system or swayed by notions of justice or mercy; it just is what it is.

One thing I am certain of is this: if the pain I went through was what it had to take to get me to where I am now, then it was worth it. Not because I found my strength or realized my mettle, but because I finally saw Jesus for what he is: my champion.

Jesus took my pitiable story and gave me a testimony. My confidence is found in Christ, not in what others think of me. My dad is dead and gone, but my Heavenly Father is alive forever and will never leave me or forsake me. Men are fickle, but Jesus is forever faithful. He forgives our sins, heals our pain, takes us just as we are and creates something amazing. Though our sins are erased from his memory, not a single moment is removed from our history but is remade because he truly works all things out, even pain, for the good of those who love him.

Angie 9/9/10 ©

Bittersweet Sixteen

My youngest sister recently celebrated her sixteenth birthday and she has come a long way these last sixteen years. She has become a beautiful, extremely talented and very sweet young woman. But as a young child, my little sister was a hellion. My siblings and I used to call her “The Spawn of Satan” because of her noisy tantrums, cold angry stare and her vindictive behavior. She was the most difficult child I have ever met.

Perhaps the circumstances she was born into were to blame – my father had been living with cancer for six months when my mother found out she was pregnant. He then died when my sister was only eighteen months old. So maybe her evil behavior and fits of anger were her infantile display of grief and feelings of disenfranchisement. Whatever it was, she had the ability to suck energy and patience from even the most saintly person.

She was no one-trick pony, however, and was quite versatile. She not only had a talent for volume, she also had a knack for sneaking away and stealthily wrecking havoc wherever she pleased.

While we were getting ready on the morning of my dad’s funeral, my little sister pounced on the opportunity to get into trouble. She took a whole jar of Vicks vaporub and smeared it into her hair and then slapped some across my mom’s bedroom walls. It was a mere fifteen minutes before we had to leave and we were washing Vicks off the walls and out of her hair. Mom tended to my other little sisters while my brother and I took turns holding the shrieking toddler’s head in the kitchen sink and shampooing out the greasy balm. Four washings and her hair was still slick, her head probably sizzling in the sharp January air.

Being fifteen years older than my sister, I have countless stories, but I’ll spare her any further embarrassment. Needless to say, she is no longer a beastly child, but a joy to be around.

I have her to thank for so many memories, many being of my dad’s final days. Her ornery and spiteful nature actually made it impossible to not remember her and what was happening during that time.

So as I was watching my sister and her friends sing karaoke and devour a tower of cupcakes at her birthday bash, I couldn’t help but think of the stark contrast of my own “sweet sixteen”. There were no balloons or pink frosted cupcakes, and definitely no party.

My dad, who was given only six months to live, had been sick with cancer for over two years by the time my sixteenth birthday came. That year was a year of milestone birthdays for our family. My father turned forty in the spring, my baby sister turned one in the summer, and with the fall came my sixteenth birthday. But I don’t remember any one of us having a party to celebrate, we were all so tired.

It was on the day of my birthday that my father’s fragile condition took a turn for the worst and we called his nurse. After a quick evaluation, the nurse immediately called an ambulance and told my family to say our last goodbyes and prepare for him to die.

I can still see her standing at the top of our stairs giving us these dreaded instructions. The ugly chandelier hung behind her in our stairwell like a ball of radioactive light, slowly killing everything in the wake of its sickly yellow glow. Like a reluctant angel of death, she stood in the dull haze that coated her sandy hair and aging body.

My father didn’t die that day, but his cancer picked up speed and he began to deteriorate as rapidly as my baby sister was growing. Before that day, he was usually coherent and he was only changed physically for the most part. But now, he was delirious or catatonic, not even a trace of what he once was.

This has always made me sad, more for my dad than my sister. Though they lived in the same house, I don’t think either of them realized the other existed. She was so little when he died and he was bedridden and unresponsive long before then, so she never really knew him.

But my father…..I can’t imagine what it must have been like for him to have so few memories of her and then to feel them fading away… know that he would soon become as helpless as his youngest child. His cancer crippled and weakened him early on so he couldn’t even attend her birth. Hers was the only birth out of the five of us kids that my dad didn’t witness and it broke his heart.

Though his time with her was brief, I know she was precious to him because we were all precious to him. He was a great father, a loving husband to my mother, and I know he loved God with all of his heart. Of all the things I am thankful for that I learned from my dad, it’s the love and faithfulness of God. My dad’s great love for us was simply a demonstration of the generous love that God had shown him.

I firmly believe that God truly does work everything out for a reason, even if He keeps it to himself. I feel like this is especially so when it comes to my sister. Watching her grow up reminds me, that God can cause life, blessing and love to grow even when surrounded by death and negativity. He always gives us glimpses of hope for the future and if we choose to look back and remember, we’ll see that He gave us reason to hope all along.

Angie 7/29/10 ©

  • I believe in Jesus, loving people, living fully and creating good things. Whether it's art, food or finding solutions, I am always in "creative mode". With this blog I hope to encourage and help others to live in whatever "mode" God has called them to.

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