Nine Lives (Minus Five)

Her name was Mittens, appropriately bestowed on her in recognition of her four little white paws that perfectly decorated her otherwise black body.  She was my roommate while I was in graduate school, my furry little companion in what was a large, drafty and often lonely apartment.  Mittens was a bit of a funny little creature and developed some strange habits during our time together.  One of these oddities was her love of jumping into the refrigerator whenever I opened it.  There was plenty of room for her to jump right in, as I was, after all, a graduate student and had little to no time to ever cook a meal.  My fridge was empty, bar a few liquids on the top shelf.  

This particular day, I must have had an unusual amount of time on my hands, as I was embarking on the lofty goal of making mashed potatoes for dinner.  That said, I’m ashamed to admit, I had to make a call home to get a walk through of the recipe(?)  I picked up the phone, dialed home, walked over to the fridge to grab something out, noticed Mittens jump in and then shut the door and proceeded to enjoy a long conversation with my parents. My boyfriend at the time (husband now) was sitting at the kitchen table engrossed in his engineering studies and suddenly wondered why he hadn’t had a visual of Mittens in the last fifteen minutes or so.  He broached the subject of her disappearance with me and I, in horror, ran over to the fridge, opened the door and out she popped.  Cue boyfriend shaking his head and rolling his eyes.  Whoops.  Nine lives, minus one.

The little fur-ball also endured a few falls and her survival of the first is proof positive that cats always land on their feet.  Mittens used to love sitting in an open window.  She would perch herself right on the sill and lean her chubby body against the screen.  I thought it rather funny one afternoon when I noticed the screen missing from one of the second floor windows.  It took me a minute to sort it out, but once I realized what it all meant, I proceeded to run through the house screaming that Mittens had fallen out the window (I never did handle stressful situations well).  Mom and I ran outside to see the screen lying on the ground, but no Mittens.  It wasn’t long before we heard her cries from far up in a tree in which she fled out of fear and shock from her ordeal.  Poor thing.  Nine lives, minus two.

The second fall wasn’t quite as terrifying, but does merit mention.  Mittens was, for the most part, an indoor cat.  I was moving around a lot at that time and was afraid she would get lost with the change in surroundings.  I did take her outside for walks, but kept her on a harness for fear of her running off.  This particular day I was letting her enjoy the fresh air out on the deck.  She had her harness on and was tied to the railing.  (I feel it necessary to mention that her harness was not a leash around her neck, but rather went around her whole body).  Curiosity got the best of her and she decided she just had to see what was on the other side.  She sauntered right off the edge of the deck and was left swinging in the air until I reached over and grabbed her.  Silly cat.   Nine lives, minus three.

The loss of her fourth life was one of those things I just didn’t think I had worry about with a cat.  I had left my water glass out on the table and Mittens jumped up and stuck her head right in.  The glass was tall and slender and her head was, well, not.  I found her flailing her furry head around in an effort to remove the glass that was suctioned around her little face. We got her out and she didn’t seem any worse for the wear.  I however, was.  Nine lives, minus four.

Ok, one last story.  At this point you may be questioning why on earth I ever decided it was a good idea to have children.  Fair enough, however there are two sides to every story and I’m standing firm in my claim that Mittens was unusually curious and not the sharpest tool in the shed.  I can’t be entirely to blame for her more unfortunate experiences.

That said, the last of my stories pairs Mitten’s lack of prudence with her wonderment of the dancing golden light on the kitchen table.  She decided to investigate and, it wasn’t until I questioned the source of the smell of burning plastic in my apartment that I rescued her from searing all of her whiskers right off.  By the time I grabbed her away from the candle, I actually saw one of her whiskers curling right up as the heat snaked its way to her little pink nose.  Seriously Mittens?  Nine lives, minus five.

There have been plenty of times in my life where I’ve failed to land on my feet, so to speak.  And curiosity definitely has its way of snaking into my life and resulting in less than intelligent decisions.  Perhaps you can relate?  There is ample opportunity to fall victim to our more selfish culture and waste away our days perched on the windowsill, content in our chosen ignorance.  It’s so tempting to choose comfort over service, entertainment over quiet time in prayer, indulgence over sacrifice, gossip over truth, opinions over understanding, self over others.  Before we know it, the screen gives way and we are falling from grace.

While we may not have the physical dexterity and finesse to survive a fall to the ground, we do have a ticket to another chance at life.  Jesus bought us that ticket when He laid down His life on the cross.  The gates of Heaven are opened to us and the promise of redemption is ours to keep.  The celebration of Easter is the celebration of new life.  It places before us the ultimate goal and reminds us what this life is all about; the falls, the suffering, the work; Jesus makes sense of all of it for us.  

No matter how many times we fall, no matter how many times we take the wrong path or our curiosity gets the better of us, Jesus is waiting to pull us up and out of whatever trouble we have landed in.  It’s amazing really.  All we have to do is open our hearts to His love, honor the guidance He provides for us and we are promised to be made new again in a life that is better than we can even dream.  

We had some fun adventures together, Mittens and me.  All in all, I humbly submit that five out of nine ain’t so bad.  

He has risen, Alleluia


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Climbing Out

I was volunteering with my daughter’s class during their designated library time.  Mary was sitting on the floor with her classmates listening to the librarian read them a story. She had several of her fingers lodged in her mouth, chewing away in an attempt to sooth the new adult teeth fighting for room in her already overcrowded gums.  I watched as she proceeded to take her tiny soaked hands out of her mouth, drag them across the carpet in front of her to dry them off and immediately shove them right back in, this time undoubtedly with countless germs along for the ride.  While this scene would have once sent me into panic mode, I sat still and simply prayed, “into your hands, Lord”.  

It’s a prayer I say often and is one of immense freedom for me.  I can now acknowledge that, while what Mary did was gross and may expose her to germs, I can not possibly be in control of her every move, nor does God expect or ask me to be.  What I can always be in control of is recognizing that, by continually placing my children in God’s hands, they will be taken care of.  The clouds have parted and the gift of clear discernment is once again my own.  The paralyzing fear that once kept me from living the joy around me has dissipated and logic and reason are mine to claim.

Healing is a beautiful thing and it would certainly make for an easy life if everyone who suffered from anxiety could follow the same simple formula to find their own. Unfortunately, like anything else, there are a lot of moving pieces when it comes to climbing out of what can feel like a bottomless pit.  Everyone’s path will be different and mine wasn’t necessarily straight and entirely easy to maneuver.  It is true, however, that God never gives you more than you can handle.  After much reflection on those few years when my anxiety was at it’s worst, I see all the hidden gifts that God provided to keep me faithful and trusting in His eventual answer to my prayer.

My husband and best friend was life vest number one.  I’m certain there were times when he wondered what exactly had happened to the woman he once knew and questioned whether or not we would ever truly enjoy this life and family we had worked so hard to build.  He’s a man of his word, however, and  he gave both me and God his word to love me through sickness and health.  And he never wavered from that promise.  He quietly and prayerfully worked to understand where I was at and what I was going through and supported me day in and day out,  from one fear to the next. He’s simply a beautiful soul and I have immense respect and the deepest gratitude for the sincerity of friendship and love he offers me every day.

I’ve always felt that there is no coincidence in life when it comes to one’s friends.  Rather, I do believe that each and every person you call a friend has a distinct purpose in your life. And I love to marvel at the thought of God smiling at the exact moment you meet one friend or another, thinking to himself, “ah, good.  now my plan is set in motion.”  During the worst of my anxiety, I had two friends that offered me what no one else could; genuine understanding.  They themselves were living with anxiety and, although it manifested itself differently in their lives, we understood one another in a way that was simply impossible for someone who didn’t live it, day after tiring, frustrating day.  We could call one another at a moment’s notice to talk through one fear or an other.  Tears, anger, shame; no words were even necessary between us to know exactly where the other was at.  Thinking of them, and the many other women I have since met that have lived with anxiety for too long, is a big piece of what compelled me to share my story.  It is so important for people to know that they are not alone in their struggles and I am personally amazed (and saddened) at the number of people I have connected with that understand anxiety on a deeply personal level.

Remember the name of the man who was asked, or perhaps more appropriately, ordered to help carry Jesus’ cross when he couldn’t go on?  Me neither.  But Google reminds us it was Simon, Simon of Cyrene.  My husband, my parents and sisters and my friends were all my Simon.  They weren’t necessarily asked to help me.  They never had any warning that this might be a piece of what they would have to do to love me.  The anxiety demanded they step in and they did, wholeheartedly.  They picked up the cross with me and we walked together until I was ready to lay it down and let God take over.  

There was a piece to the healing that surprised me and took me off guard.  Oddly enough, I can remember the exact moment when the feeling of shame overcame me and brought me to tears.  I was in my bedroom one morning making the bed and listening to my boys play happily in the other room.  It was one of those moments when my heart just swelled and I was overcome with the love that I have for them.  In that instant, I saw them for the innocent and precious little beings that they are and I was all at one wrapped in this cloak of guilt and shame, stitched together by all the times I hadn’t been that free-spirited, play-in-the-dirt mother I so wanted to be for them.  It was a hard reality to swallow.  I would never get those moments back.  The times they wanted to sit on the floor with all the other kids, push the button on the elevator, play outside unencumbered by my rules and regulations.  The more it became clear to me how illogical my behavior had been, the harder it was to forgive myself.  It was yet another layer to the healing and forced me to pull back my pride and live in the humility that was necessary to move forward.

A few weeks ago we took a trip to the Tampa Zoo as part of a vacation in Florida.  It’s hard to describe the joy I felt watching our youngest truly “live” the day.  She was fascinated with the world around her and I made no hesitation in allowing her to experience every piece of it.  She pet the sting rays, fed mr giraffe, rode the merry-go-round five times and even surprised us by riding a toddler-sized roller-coaster all on her own.  I literally gave myself a headache from smiling for the better part of the day.  Living a life free of the anxiety is a gift I do not take for granted.  I am always acutely aware of the many things I do throughout the day that used to be very difficult for me.

In the end, anxiety will always be a part of me, and I’m ok with that.  The memories of the worst of it, the gratitude for those that helped me through it and the awareness each and every day of the freedom I now enjoy has all been a part of shaping who I am and who I can be for others who are trying to understand it all and find their own healing.  I find myself stronger as a result of the cross, humbled by God’s mercy, enlightened by His wisdom and forever protected in His limitless love.