Posted in Beauty For Ashes, Faith, In The News

We All Have Our 9/11: This Is Mine

I sat at the kitchen table discussing with my husband, Steve, our busy day. It was Tuesday, September 11, 2001. I asked Steve what time his meeting started. He said, nine. I turned to look at the clock behind me. It was 8:45. American Airlines flight 11 was thundering toward New York City. We were 60 seconds away from unimaginable turmoil and devastation.  

My son, DJ, was an infant. He started fussing. Intending to calm him with a video, I flipped the TV on. The image of the North Tower on fire filled the screen. First reports indicated a small commuter plane accidently crashed into the tower.  It made little sense, but how else could we explain it?  This is America.  Terror doesn’t come to our soil. Everything we thought we knew was wrong.  And what we could never imagine was bearing down on us.   

As a former EMT, my brain assessed the scene on TV, while I stood flipping through options of to save the most lives. I saw a plane on the right side of the TV screen.  I actually gave a sigh of relief.  A rescue.  They could get people off the roof.  Then it happened.

United Airlines Flight 175 plowed into the South Tower. An enormous fireball erupted.  That plane hit the building. That plane just flew into that building.  On purpose!  I couldn’t form any other thought. I don’t know how long I stood there. When the process of thought returned, I realized DJ stopped fussing the minute the TV came on.  As if his only reason for fussing was to alert me to the attack.

I left the room briefly.  When I returned, I saw a split TV screen, on one side the towers burned, on the other the Pentagon.  I gasped.  What is happening?  I felt God impress upon my heart to pray. Despondency cascaded over me.  God, I don’t even know what to pray for. I felt God’s   response. “Pray for my people I’m bringing out.” I dropped to my knees.  I intended to pray aloud.  I choked on words and just wept.

When Steve returned from his meeting, I went to our older sons’s school. Steve and I decided taking them out of school may scare them too much. The only target for terrorists in Kentucky is Fort Knox. We’re far from there.  But I wanted to be the one to explain the attack to them.  I wanted to reassure them.  Pray with them.

In the school office, the secretary called for the boys.  I did my best to explain things to them.  We prayed and when I raised my head, I realized prayer re-entered public school.  A small group of people gathered around us and bowed their heads, joining us in prayer.

Back at home, details of United Flight 93 came in.  Those passengers took back their liberty.  They voted on a plan to storm the cockpit.  Even in the face of certain death, they upheld democracy. Americans to the end.

The reaming hours of 9/11 unfolded with shock, horror, and heroism.  It was the worst day for America, but never was she more beautiful. Flags unfurled across the country. Our government sang “God Bless America” on the steps of Capitol. People flocked to churches, gave blood, and made plans to enlist in the military.  I’ve never been more proud to be American as I was on 9/11.  From the ashes we rose as one.  May God forever bless the U.S.A.  

Posted in Beauty For Ashes, Faith, The History of Me

Do Not Touch That Bible

The living room of our house was there for show not use.  My family stayed in the den so everything in the living room was off limits to me. The roll top piano to the Bible on the coffee table, they were all hands off.  For a precocious five-year-old that was an engraved invitation.

When Mom thought I was in my room I was often in the forbidden room.  I would swing the pendulum on the grandfather clock, walk my fingers silently across the piano keys, and hide inside one of the end tables.  The Bible, situated perfectly to command attention from any angle, was like a beacon flashing red, calling me to come touch.

Although I was reading above my age level the King James Bible was confusing to me. Since I couldn’t make sense of the words I perused the pictures.  There were glossy pages filled with pictures that quite frankly scared the bejeebers out of me. IMG_2294

The angels were especially frightening.  One was trying to talk a man into stabbing a little boy and another fighting with a man.  Then there was the woman trying to get a snake to bite a baby and a guy nailed to a cross. With the exception of the last, none of these were a true depiction of what was happening.  It was only what my child’s eye interpreted.  Yet, as much as they scared me I couldn’t get enough.

My visits to the living room increased so it was only a matter of time until I was caught.  When my day of reckoning came I was so engrossed in examining the details of the pictures I didn’t even hear Mom’s approach.  When finished reprimanding me I took advantage of her attention and asked about the Bible.  She seemed surprised I didn’t know what a Bible was. I wondered if she didn’t tell me how she thought I’d know.

FullSizeRender (5)None-the-less, she said the Bible was about God.  And God was always watching me to see if I minded.  If I did I could go to heaven if not I was doomed to hell.  Wait, what?  There’s some guy I can’t see but who sees me all the time?  And He is just waiting for me to mess up so He can send me to hell?  As much as that freaked me out it didn’t stop my stealthily peeks of the Bible.  It was an addiction. Scared or not, and believe me I was terrified, I could not stop returning to that Bible.

Sometime after Mom’s ill-worded God introduction, I was playing hide-and-go-seek with my friends. From my hiding spot, I looked up at the night sky and saw the shape of a man. I stood stock still too terrified to move. Without a doubt that had to be God watching me. Since I had only moments ago been looking at the Bible, when told to leave it alone, I was certain He had come to throw me into hell. I ran into my house without taking the time to tell my friends.  I felt safer with a roof over my head.

Two things happened after that night. First, a reoccurring dream started. In the dream, I was alone in a room I didn’t recognize.  A voice would call out telling me God wants to talk to me. In fear of God, I would run into another room with people.  As long as I was among these strangers God didn’t try to talk to me.

When I wasn’t dreaming that I began having a nightmare.  Mom kept a yellow light bulbFullSizeRender (6) in my closet.  At night, she would crack the closet door to allow a little light in case we had to run from Daddy.  The yellow light was soft making it easier to sleep.  In my nightmare, I was in my bed looking at that yellow bulb when suddenly these winged, grotesque looking creatures would fly out of it straight towards me.

If it wasn’t Daddy disrupting my sleep with a drunken rant, it was demon bugs flying at me, or God wanting to talk.  I was just a little girl and ill-equipped to deal with any of it.  Yet, deep within I had a firm knowing that the answers were connected to that Bible.

I don’t recall how long all of that went on.  In sheer desperation, I stopped caring about punishment for disobedience.  Instead, I snatched that Bible off the table and retreating to my room where I would examine it for hours.  Tucked between those glossy photos I found my answer; the Lord’s Prayer.

Though I didn’t understand words like hallowed and thought kingdom come was an actual place (since my Dad frequently threatened to knock me there) I knew this was my key.  Blessed with the ability to memorize quickly I had that prayer down pat in no time. Then whenever the dreams came, whether God wanted to talk or the demon bugs attacked I put an end to it by softly reciting the Lord’s Prayer. It was my first introduction to the power of prayer.

Posted in Beauty For Ashes

The Shaping of a Life

I have wonderful memories of my Papaw McLaughlin, even though he died when I was about four.  My grandparents lived in a huge farmhouse in High Bridge, KY.  He nursed any injured animal back to health.  Whether it was a squirrel who later bit him for his efforts, or an unwanted dog abandoned by cruel owners, my Papaw took care of them all.  He was a minister at the Nazarene church just a short walk down a gravel road from the house.  I have fond memories of us walking to the church and just talking.  To show my appreciation, I bought him huge sticks of the peppermint candy he so dearly loved.
When he had a stroke, I didn’t fully understand what had happened.  But even then he thought of me.  A hospital bed was moved into the living room of the house for him.  He insisted Mom put me in the bed with him.  As sick as he was, he played dolls with me for hours.  Mom warned me before visiting him that I wasn’t allowed to ask for snacks from my grandmother or to play with my Papaw.  I obeyed the rules, somewhat.  Simply asking an innocent question about some sweet treat I spied in my Granny’s kitchen got that treat placed in my hands immediately.  When Mom tried to chastise me, I would respond in my most innocent voice, “But Momma, I didn’t ask for it. Granny just gave it to me.” Score: me one, Mom zero.

But when it came to Papaw, I followed Mom’s instructions.  I wanted him to get better and take those precious walks with me.  Looking back, I think those walks meant so much because, in my world of chaos, he was the only person who took the time to focus solely on me.  I wasn’t a burden to him.  Walking to the church I had his undivided attention.  The only thing that gives me pause is I don’t remember him talking to me about Jesus.  Maybe he did, and I just didn’t hone in on that as much as I did the attention.  In all honesty, I couldn’t tell you a single thing we ever talked about but in my mind’s eye I see those walks and remember the feelings.  Knowing what I know now, I believe that some of my passion for Jesus came directly from Papaw McLaughlin.

Mom, however, would staunchly deny that.  Her vision of my Papaw, her father, was tremendously different from the doting grandfather I loved.  For someone who never lived her life according to it, my mother knew a tremendous amount of Scripture.  She always blamed her father for her lack of faith.  Which seemed odd to me because she could just as easily blame him for the faith she did have.

Mom claimed her father was verbally and physically abusive.  She told stories of how strangers would show up at the door looking for ministerial advice and he would show them kindness then close the door and abuse the family.  Not once did I ever see traces of my Daddy in my Papaw.  But I was very young.  Perhaps, he hid it from me.  Daddy certainly had the ability to morph into someone I didn’t know for complete strangers.  It was sickening.  Even thought Mom displayed signs similar to my own she seemed, at least to me, blind to them in me.

It wasn’t long after Papaw’s stroke that Mom dragged me with her to Daddy’s new apartment.  He had not returned to our house since my surgery.  He had a live-in girlfriend who with only a few words from Mom made herself scarce.  Mom told Daddy Papaw McLaughlin was not doing well.  Right then, in a rare moment of compassion, Daddy packed his stuff and left.  I’ve always wondered what in the world the girlfriend thought when she came back to find Daddy gone.  But my life was marching on and there was no time to contemplate her.

Peculiar things began happening.  Mom was suddenly leaving immediately after work and I was left in the care of Brenda and Daddy.  Brenda, I could understand.  But Daddy? Mom never left him in charge of me.  When I voiced my concerns to Brenda she let me in on the plan.  Papaw McLaughlin was dying.  Mom and her siblings were taking turns sitting up with him at night.  Mom gave Brenda money and a plan.  If Daddy flew into a drunken rage, we were to run up the wall which aligned the town branch, to a pay phone.  Brenda had the number to call Papaw Noe.  Mom instructed us not to run across the street, which was our normal safe haven, because she feared what would happen to the neighbors.  I slept with Brenda every night.  Because of that, I had the most restful nights of my life because I completely trusted her.  Brenda was twelve.

My world was suddenly different.  Daddy was different.  What a peculiar thing to associate death with peace.  Then came the night I realized I was still up and Mom was home but nowhere to be seen.  When I asked about her both Daddy and Brenda, a little too forcefully, told me she was in bed and not to bother her.  In bed?  My mother was never in bed.  I became alarmed.

The more questions I asked the more adamant Brenda and Daddy became that I should not bother her.  Me being me, I went to Mom’s bedroom.  Sure enough, she was asleep.  I woke her up and asked her why she was in bed.  Very gently, crying the entire time she told me Papaw McLaughlin had died, and she was just so sad all she wanted to do was sleep.  In all the beatings Daddy gave her, Momma never cried.  In fact, this was the first time I saw her cry.  I was not equipped to deal with it.  It is an image to this very day that remains hauntingly in the hallway of my mind and forever shaped who I would become.

Posted in Beauty For Ashes, The History of Me

Physical vs Emotional Pain

I have always had a myriad of health issues.  Within hours of my birth doctors discovered I had elliptocytosis, a blood disorder in which my red blood cells are half moon shaped rather than oval.  Since the condition is rare and the majority of sufferers have no symptoms little is known about it.  There is more information available now than in 1969 but it is still cloaked in a great deal of mystery.  Mystery that created a lot of heartache for me over the years.

Besides elliptocytosis, I was also born with partial nerve deafness.  My ears became a constant source of illness.  According to my mother, it was rare for me to go a month and not have double ear infections.  Back then there were no ear tubes to help decrease the infections nor were there hearing aids to help improve nerve deafness.  Like elliptocytosis, it was just something with which I had to learn to live.

In addition to those issues, I had trauma induced stuttering, requiring six years of speech therapy.  The trauma was evoked from the terror I had of my father.  My Dad frequently launched into screaming tirades if I was talking to my Mom and he wanted to say something.  That screaming often devolved into physical violence.  Those events were so common that I developed a fear of speaking to anyone.  The first memory of my life involves one such event.

I was three-years-old.  My Mom was cooking dinner, and I was standing in a chair next to her “helping.”  I was chatting away about the dandelions I had plucked from our yard to make a necklace for her.  Daddy came in and as was his habit poured himself a drink the moment he walked through the door.  I suppose he attempted to say something but if Mom heard him I saw no indication of it.  I certainly didn’t hear him.  All I heard was glass shattering against the wall.

The sound caused me to jump and topple from the chair.  It took me a moment to figure out Daddy had hurled his drink across the room.  In horror, I watched the amber liquid slide down the wall.  For the briefest of moments, the only sound was my own heartbeat.  I could not only hear it but feel it in my ears.  Then Daddy erupted.  He began screaming about “that damn kid” who wouldn’t “shut the hell up.”  On and one he went cussing and never calling me by name.

A chill swept over me as Mom moved me behind her.  But that put me in a corner.  With only the kitchen cabinets behind me and Daddy between me and the door, I was cut off from any escape route.  Brenda, my protector, the big sister I looked up to, wasn’t home.  I was on my own.  I could do no more than stand there and watch as my Dad grabbed Mom by her hair, dragged her across the floor and flung her like a rag doll out the back door.  I opened my mouth to scream but no sound came out.  In that instant, I lost my ability to effectively communicate with anyone outside my family and friends.  And it would be many years before it would be recovered.

It wasn’t long after that event that I had an urgent physical ailment to accompany my traumatic one.  My elliptocytosis was of the most severe form.  I had far more abnormal blood cells than I did normal and they were accumulating in my spleen.  My spleen was so enlarged that it rupturing was a certainty.  My life was in danger and my spleen had to be removed immediately.

I recall more about the incident with Daddy than I do the drama surrounding my health.  One clear memory is of Mom’s face when the doctor told her they would need to cut me from bellybutton to backbone.  It was something I heard her say several times but didn’t fully grasp.  I was far more concerned about having to remove my panties before going into surgery.  Mom and I were at the hospital with totally different mindsets.  She was on the phone crying about me being cut half in two and I was crying about losing my panties.  Finally, the nurses agreed to let me keep my panties on until I was under anesthesia.

I have two clear memories when I awoke.  The first was that the searing pain in my side made it clear why Mom was worried about my incision.  The second was that no one had put my panties back on.  They were hanging at the end of my bed and I wanted them.  For years Mom told the story of how I had complications during surgery and her first sign that I would be fine came when I asked for my panties.

After a week or so in the hospital, I was discharged.  Once at home, I learned what Brenda already knew; Daddy was gone.  He had demanded Mom leave me at the hospital and come home.  When she refused, he got himself a girlfriend and moved in with her.  Despite Brenda only being 11 years old, he left her alone then called to tell her to inform Mom and me.

Later, as adults, Brenda would tell me how painful that was for her.  She said that even though she knew I couldn’t help being sick she still resented me and that somehow she blamed me more than Daddy.  As for me, I thought the surgical pain and having my panties removed was well worth the price of getting rid of Daddy.


Posted in Beauty For Ashes, The History of Me

Seeing Me

I can see me as clearly today as I did that night. It was pouring rain pitch black. The rain was exceptionally cold or perhaps I was in a sort of shock that had me experiencing the rain at a much cooler temperature. The rain pounded relentlessly against the windows of the car. I sat alone in the backseat and my sister Brenda, who was eight years older than me, occupied the front passenger’s seat. While she had her eyes deadlocked on the front door of our house, I stared out the window in the opposite direction.

Daddy was not just a drunk. He was a mean, merciless, abusive drunk. We never knew when the whiskey would go down wrong and he would turn on us. Sometimes he didn’t. Most times he did. That particular night the drinking prompted Mom to accompany me to bed. She wasn’t the sort of mother who tucked in her children so when she took me to bed I knew what it meant.

“Sleep in your clothes and put your shoes by the bed so that you can slip your feet in them. And no matter what stay with Brenda. Don’t come back into the house.” Her instructions were unnecessary at this point. Despite not even being school aged, I knew what Daddy’s drunken rants meant. In a few hours I would be awakened by a ruckus that would be my parents literally fist fighting.

True to form, I hadn’t been asleep long when I heard it. The sound of your father slamming your mother into a wall while punching her viciously is unique. One that I can’t describe and one you should never know. I barely had enough time to roll to a sitting position and shove my feet into my shoes before Brenda filled my doorway. There were no tears or words. She simply snatched me up and ran. Mom made sure the three of us were a well-oiled machine highly skilled in escaping.

As Brenda carried me to safety she never glanced to the kitchen to see exactly what our parents were doing. But being carried with my head over her should I had an uninterrupted view of the violence. Some nights the three of us got out before Daddy threw the first punch. That would not be the case that night. Mom was taking a beating though I had no time to react to it. Mom’s mantra was no emotion, stick to the plan.

And the plan was that Mom would keep Daddy from attacking Brenda and me. Our job was to get to the car, lock all the doors except the driver’s side, start it and wait exactly five minutes. At the end of that five minutes if Mom hadn’t appeared we were to get out of the car and run across the street to our neighbor’s house. If the worst happened, Mom was badly injured or dead, and Daddy appeared I was to lock the driver’s door and Brenda would blow the horn relentlessly until someone rescued us. Under no circumstances were we to get within reaching distance of Daddy.

Once Mom made it out, she would slide into the driver’s seat of the car and off we’d go to a hotel. How long we would stay in the hotel would depend upon Daddy’s rage. Most times it was only overnight but other times it would be days weeks or months. Yet, we would no doubt return. And that fact often left me hating my mother for returning more than I did my father for drinking.

On that night, however, there would be a new addition to the routine. Through the rain, just outside my window, I saw an older version of myself. Her facial features were obscured but her hair was the same wild mass of curls I currently had. I was transfixed.

“It won’t always be this way,” she spoke to me. I blinked a couple of times thinking I was hallucinating or dreaming but Older Me remained. “There is someone who loves you and will take care of you. Be strong.” Before I could respond or at least ask Brenda if she saw Older Me, Mom exploded through the front door and Older Me was gone. Never to be seen again.

Not until I was grown and married did I recount this story. The moment was so profound and personal I wanted to be the only one special enough to know about it.  Many times later, in great fear of my father, I would try to conjure up Older Me. I never could. Yet, one very distinct message remained. Daddy wouldn’t kill me as I feared. Older Me was proof that I would live to adulthood.