I did not recognize her. I quickly opened the medicine cabinet to hide my reflection. Surely I saved one of those Sephora wrinkle cream samples. Preferably one that also treats adult acne, champagne hangovers, and cheap substitutes for God. I shut the cabinet and refocused my eyes in the mirror. In the movie soundtrack of my life, this is most definitely where I cue Michael Jackson’s, “Man in the Mirror.” It would be an all out ‘Ally McBeal’ moment in my bathroom.
“I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and then make that
I removed what remained of my mascara from the evening before and begged that just once my medicine cabinet mirror would take on the power of Alice’s Looking Glass and allow me to step through it. ‘Wonderland’ please. Not wander-land.
In the story I am telling, it is just shy of five months that my sweet daddy took his own life. There are days and hours filled with great hope, love, and joy from the three decades we shared on this Earth. There are countless times where I have felt God ‘s divine Hand and loving Holy Spirit give me that “peace that passeth all understanding.” This is not one of those days.
“God, where are you?,” I scream. “I am so sick of this shit. Everyday seems to be a new challenge or obstacle I am expected to ‘bravely overcome.’ Well, I can only play Mandisa’s “Overcomer” on my iTunes so much, Lord. Your gospel tells me my identity is in You alone, and I really believe it is. So why do I stand here, feeling like my life has been stolen from me? The job I grew to love and cherish for seven years vanished and in an instant was replaced with the horrific task of closing a 30+ year practice. Hours and days filled with telling people their beloved dentist is dead. This is a sick joke God….My mom is trying God. She found her eighth grade sweetheart lifeless, Lord! Cut her a break. Heal her years of physical pain. I know You do miracles, so damnit why can’t you just help us? I promise this would be a great time “show off” Your skills….. And really, You feel like this is a good time to make me aware, yet again, of how I am a complete failure in the world of love and dating? Geez. I know I suck at it God. I know I push people away. I don’t want to be that way, and I truly felt like I was making progress and submitting to YOUR timing and YOUR will, then this?! The one man whom I trusted my entire life, who loved me unconditionally, and so beautifully reflected the way You love Your children left me in this way?!!! WTF!? Yep, I said WTF?! Oh yeah, dating is going to be a real treat now. I can see it now: mixers at Patrick B. Harris and Marshall Pickens Psychiatric Hospitals. (And to think God, I prayed to You last summer as I began penning my first book, for more ‘material.’ Well, You knocked it out of the park there! I have been writing more than ever! I should have been more specific, however. I was not planning on changing genres.)….. I know I should be thankful—gosh, I have so much to be grateful for, but I don’t want to write in my GRATITUDE journal! Screw my natural Pollyanna bend in life! I am broken. BROKEN!!!!”
….in the movie version of my life, I dramatically, but perfectly wipe away a single tear and reapply my lip gloss. It wouldn’t be as cute to slump down on the dusty floor and blow my nose repeatedly as Taylor Swift plays in the background. (Not that’s how it went down at all.)
My gratitude does run deep for music. That has not changed and if I were journaling my blessings , I would list ‘Music’ every. single. day. It has a healing and comforting power that is hard to match. A friend of mine has chosen the word “intentional” to theme her 2015 year. She wants the choices she makes and the way she spends her time to be thoughtful, meaningful, and truly life giving. And this intentional living runs across career, relationships, and even how social time is spent. This unique time in my own life has provided my usual ‘routine girl’ self to do things I would have never considered. When I learned that one of my favorite musical duos, “Shovels and Rope,” was playing Asheville at 9pm(meaning they probably would not grace the stage till 10pm) on a Tuesday evening, I bought a ticket. Intentionally. (If you have known me for more than six months, you probably know that my meal times and bed times are more consistent of an elderly person than a single woman in her 30s.)
I saw the duo play live for the first time just one month before dad passed. Their new album, ‘Swimmin Time,’ was days from release and they introduced a few songs to the audience. Their grit and honesty along with their sweat and enthusiasm captivated me:
“When the devil is all around and got you crawling on the ground
On your hands and your knees with an apple in your mouth
You will know how far you'll go to make your peace with god
I got wasted and I sat around the fire all day
See if I could find someone to make love to
I barely even noticed how the fibers did tear away
From the fabric of my being
I’m going down a long road, maybe it's the wrong road
But either way I gotta find my way back home again…”
They opened their Asheville set with lyrics that transported me right back in front of my medicine cabinet mirror. (I guess I did have an Alice moment after all.) She sang,
“I’ve got to find a better coping mechanism
I’m falling apart, disintegrating in the schism
Is it a show or is it realism
Lost and found and then I was locked up in a prison
I better find a more suitable solution
Before I reach the most predictable conclusion
To be the victim of my personal delusion
Just to find that I’ve been living an illusion
They say there’s just no substitute for the real thing
The kind of chemical that can make your whole body sing
You can take the needle and shove it in your vein
And call it medication to alleviate you pain”
Who was I fooling? Had I been trying to convince myself that I was ‘just fine.’ I mean I was whizzing right through those ‘grief stages’ and happy to pass on my ‘wisdom.’ Ha! In the early days after dad’s passing, God was all I had, so He was all I needed. I actually turned to the REAL thing, because in His grace and mercy, that is all I saw. As the world kept on spinning, and social media reminded me that there were still cute babies, funny Buzz Feed quizzes, and ignorant and offensive people somehow still in the gene pool, I wandered, unknowingly into the dark. I think when we feel like we are “fine” is the devil’s prime time for deception. There he is with that apple. My ‘coping mechanism’ may not be a needle, but it’s still a cheap substitute for the REAL thing. It has taken many forms, actually. Late night online shopping, attention from men, eh…the late night doughnut run has made a comeback….and mimosas. Now these things in and of themselves are not ‘bad things’, please do not misunderstand. But, if I am using them to fulfill me, then I will not only be left empty, but still very broken. They are very cheap gods, my friends.
But when they do not satisfy, you are left, in the middle of a music venue in Asheville, NC, feeling God’s grace and love in a new and powerful way. The show ended and the house lights came up. I felt the darkness in my own heart lifting. My pastor Tim, talked to us Sunday about our desire to go back to our old self even though we have been justified. He reminded us, so lovingly, of God’s perfect, sacrificial, and saving love for us. It is a ‘renewing of the mind’ that must occur as we preach the gospel to ourselves daily.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)”
You see, He had not left me. He has not left you. We are not going to “get it” perfectly because if we did, we would not need Him. It’s a continual process of learning to live how He sees us: our new selves.
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)”
I think it is essential, though, to live in the LIGHT. We cannot hide our struggles, our doubts, and our anger in the confines of a bathroom. Life is meant to be shared with one another so we can encourage and spur one another on. Who wants fake anyway? We are all struggling, so let’s take off the lip gloss and wrinkle cream for once. Last night I sat among friends who walk in the Light and across the restaurant from another group of friends who do the same. Their lives are not perfect, no. And their lives are filled with trials and sin as well. But their openness and vulnerability is undeniable. I have heard that the five people you spend the most time with are what you will be like in five years. I am grateful for friends who press into me, inspire me, and remind me that God does His best work with beautiful messes like us. Carry on sweet friends, and next time we look in our mirrors, may we see the precious child of God that Jesus sees.
“Jesus, sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood
Ode to grace, how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be
And let Thy goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here's my heart, Lord, take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above”