Pain hurts

Russell Lee, 1939

March 28

Whenever I get discouraged I look at real estate on the internet. Sometimes, it perks me up to dream.

I’ve been doing this since 2001 when we began planning our move from Southern California to Tacoma, Washington.

But it quickly became an escape. A few minutes of dreaming that easily turns into hours.

It’s the house of possibilities that always intrigues me — the worn out old house on a big lot (I used to dream of farming, but my garden failures have made me see reason on that). Broken windows and weed covered garden beds catch my eye.  I dream that my life would be so much better if I lived there. And I would be a better person.

This week, I haven’t just been looking. I’ve found the gem of all gems: a little 1920’s Craftsman on a half acre lot. I’ve driven by. I’ve walked around the property and dreamed. And now I’m researching renovation costs . . . and I am fairly certain my extreme renovation skills and knowledge are not up to par.

Yeah. It’s been a rough week.

* * * * *

Today is my Grandparents’ 69th wedding anniversary. Grandpa arrived home from a week in the hospital yesterday and now he has hospice care. Sixty-nine years of marriage.

Grandpa, Grandma, and mom

Some people don’t know their grandparents very well. Or didn’t get to. I have been blessed to have all of my grandparents, and even a great grandparent, well into adulthood. I can’t imagine what my life would have been without them.

I’ve learned so much from my grandparents. I could write a book.

We lived with my grandparents a few times going to and from the other side of the world. And in college, when my parents were still a world away, Grandpa and Grandma Dow’s home was my home.

My Grandpa is 90 now. And I can hear his voice from years ago in my head. His wonderful, hearty chuckle. The silly voice reserved for talking to Grandma when he wanted something. And his serious voice that made you feel like you should take notes.

I recall knowing more about insurance, real estate and investments than anyone in my class. I probably knew the words “location, location, location” before I could subtract.

I remember I thought my Grandparents were millionaires because my Grandpa was into stock. I told people I was related to Dow Chemical and that my Grandpa owned the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Hmm.

By the time I was finished with the 6thgrade, I knew every song from the 1950’s. Every song worth knowing, that is. They had one of those multi-record collections of greatest hits. And Grandpa and Grandma loved to listen to them.

As he’s gotten older, and great-grandchildren have taken our places at their dining room table and the lectures on money and career have been replaced by stories of the days gone by. Of a swim to Catalina Island with his brother. Of his father the professional baseball player (at our last visit, my boys read every one of the newspaper clippings he had, reliving games from eighty years ago). Of the Great Depression. Of the South Pacific. Of what he would do if he won the lottery. And of what a wonderful woman he was married to. Our visits were just never long enough.

* * * *

I’ve been browsing the internet looking for that house of possibilities that will fill the void I’m feeling tonight. But it doesn’t. And really it never has. It just numbs the hurt for a while.

It’s a bad habit. A thing I turn to instead of God to make me feel better and go back to often enough for a fix that it becomes an obsession.

The older I get, the less sure I am that there are harmless distractions. When I allow myself to brine in discontentment (which is the inevitable result of looking at things I don’t have/can’t have time after time), I always end up depressed.

But I stopped tonight. Because running to real estate doesn’t make me NOT think about my Grandpa. So I decided to feel instead of escape. To write out my feelings. And now I have a headache.

Besides, if he were looking with me, I’d like to think he’d point out the enormous power lines, the state of the homes around it, and the real cost of renovating such a house. I imagine his words of wisdom. And I stop dreaming.

* * * * *

March 29

I am grieving today, along with my family. For ourselves. And for my Grandma. Grandpa made it through their 69th  wedding anniversary and left this morning for heaven.

This loss creates a deeper longing in me. Not a desire to escape through unsatisfying pastimes or addictions, but for the sufferings of the world to have an end. To desire pain-free heaven more than any house on earth.

I’ve been reading C. S. Lewis this week. The Problem of Pain. He was a very smart man. Too smart for me a lot of the time. But I ran across this quote I’ve seen often:

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world .”

Too many times, I would rather muffle the megaphone than listen to what He’s saying to me. It hurts to feel pain. I’d rather numb it. And I was really happy to read that old Clive felt the same way:

. . . All arguments in justification of suffering provoke bitter resentment against the author. You would like to know how I behave when I am experiencing pain, not writing books about it. . . I will tell you; I am a great coward. . . when I think of pain — of anxiety that gnaws like fire and loneliness that spreads out like a desert, and the heartbreaking routine of monotonous misery, or again of dull aches that blacken our whole landscape or sudden nauseating pains that knock a man’s heart out at one blow, of pains that seem already intolerable and then are suddenly increased. . . if I knew any way of escape I would crawl through sewers to find it. But what is the good of telling you about my feelings? You know them already: they are the same as yours. I am not arguing that pain is not painful. Pain hurts. That is what the word means. I am only trying to show that the old Christian doctrine of being made ‘perfect through suffering’ (Hebrews 2:10) is not incredible [unbelievable]. To prove it palatable is beyond my design. ”

C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Yes, by God’s grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone. God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation.

Hebrews 2:9 & 10

But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

I Thessalonians 4:13-14,18

If the foundations are destroyed

Walker Evans, March 1936, near Jackson MS

“Honesty is such a lonely word

everyone is so untrue

honesty is hardly ever heard

and mostly what I need from you.”

— Billy Joel

* * * * *

The path to the beach cuts through the woods near our house. At the edge of the cliffs, roots of lofty pines and cedars clinging to a wall of dirt above their fallen companions. Tree tops, immersed in sand.

We don’t often go to the beach in the winter. It’s cold. The way is muddy. . .

But in spring, we go. Carefully. Mom first. Checking the path for danger and sucking the joy out of the adventure with warnings and lectures.

We reach the sand and look back at the path we’ve descended. The wall has been cut away by waves, downpours, and the trickle of a seasonal stream. How long, I wonder, til our path is gone?

Longer than I think. That’s what I realize. I am always surprised to see the path still there, at the edge of the cliff. But the tree roots are stubborn. And erosion takes years.

* * * * *

Truth is the foundation of everything good.

 . . . of faith: I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me. . . of freedom: We hold these Truths to be self-evident . . . of justice:  swear to tell the Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth . . . 

There is beauty in Truth. Security in Truth.

And there is nothing so destructive, so undermining, so shattering as being lied to.

* * * * *

Every six months something hit. A phone call. A letter. A bounced check or seven. My first response was always anger. Lashing out about irresponsibility. Frantic fixing. And then an aching confusion . . .

I was afraid you’d be mad, he’d say. Or, I know I told you that. My mind and heart whirling, trying to be strong.

Eventually, in an effort to preserve myself from these seasons of deep pain, I would become a watchdog. Determined not to be deceived again. Protecting myself. Thinking if I spotted the lies coming, they wouldn’t hurt so bad. Driving myself crazy in a futile effort to prevent feeling crazy.

And I felt crazy. I didn’t know what to believe.

I wanted to believe it would never happen again.

* * * * *

It’s in our nature to be deceived.  So, so easily.

Eve. The serpent. An apple.

But I wasn’t the only one being deceived. Dave had bought plenty of lies himself.

The shocking truth . . .

devastated by the truth . . .

the truth hurts . . .

Lies to make Truth sound like it is an enemy that will ruin your life. That truth is to be avoided at all costs, to preserve a relationship . . . to protect ourselves. So we are afraid to reveal who we really are. Or what we’ve done.

But the pain of hearing the truth is nothing next to the revelation you’ve been deceived. Lied to for years. No, lies are the real enemy. Truth sets you free.

The pills were bad, Dave will tell you, the addiction was bad, but lying did most of the damage.

It’s true. I could handle the Truth. I couldn’t handle being lied to.

But I was too proud to admit my marriage wasn’t perfect. I allowed myself to be deceived for years and never let another person in. I dealt with deception alone.

Lies eroded me and left me unstable.

There is nothing so destructive to a relationship as lying and nothing so hard to regain as trust.

* * * * *

I need to say thank you to Dave for encouraging me to tell these things. He knows I’m writing about the lies this week and stops to say once again that he’s so sorry for the years of them.

I read my journal to him from fifteen years ago and tell him I am amazed. Because I can see so clearly now where the lies and deception began to erode our marriage.

But it doesn’t hurt to write this today, I’m no longer worried about the eroding path. I am on the beach looking back at the cliff. And my roots are clinging to something stronger than man — made of dirt, of clay. And though this world is full of seasonal streams — and sometimes floods — of lies that threaten my stability, they will not destroy me.

Because no matter how awful it may seem, the Truth heals. 

And there have been years of Truth now . . . but that is for the next post.

In the LORD I take refuge. How then can you say to me . . . .“ When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” . . . . for the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; the upright will see his face. Psalm 11

twenty years and counting

Lee, Russell, 1903-1986, photographer.There’s a little romance in playing pioneer.

Like Ma and Pa Ingalls, leaving their family in the Big Woods of Wisconsin and travelling west to settle on the prairies of Minnesota.

Pa chops down trees, hauls and hews logs, hoists them (with a little help from Ma), building a house for his family in the middle of nowhere and clearing the land for farming with the help of an ox.

Ma plants a garden, makes satisfying meals from scratch for her family, sets aside stores for the winter, keeps house and fights prairie fires.

Such a simple life . . .  I’ve dreamed about it ever since my dad read the “Little House” series to us when I was nine.

* * * * *

Dave and I got married on February 29, 1992 — twenty years ago now — and we honeymooned at Lake Tahoe, high in the Sierra Nevada.

One of our favorite stops was Emigrant Gap from which you can see Donner Summit. Such a romantic vista . . . a great spot for pictures . . . and the  scene of the worst possible horrors of pioneer life.

The charming childhood stories fade briefly there as reality hits: Pioneer life was hard and terrible.

And I would never have made it.

The Donner Party story is notorious, disturbing, and morbidly fascinating. And  yet, if you look closer there is a painful, beautiful picture of survival.

James Reed, banished from the party before they were fatally trapped in the mountains, barely made it to Sutter’s Fort alive and then hiked back into the mountains — a treacherous 7 day journey — TWICE to rescue all of his starving family and their remaining travelling companions.

Margaret, his wife, was only 32 at the time. She endured four months of that winter alone, caring for her children and elderly mother, fighting for survival among people who most likely blamed her husband — who not only had made bad route choices but had also murdered one of the party — for their predicament.

Those months stranded in the mountains must have seemed an eternity.

An unimaginable nightmare: snow, starvation, death, cannibalism . . . rescue at last — and then an agonizing decision for Margaret and James to leave two of their small children behind for the next relief party.

Half the Donner party died. Margaret and James Reed and their children were one of only two families to make it through the journey to California intact.

There have been many studies over the years attempting to determine why some survived the months stranded in the deep snow and some didn’t, but this family defies the odds. And some believe they may have been the only ones to not resort to cannibalism.

Maybe the Reeds had more body fat.

Maybe the separation from her husband gave Margaret determination to see him again.

Maybe they had hidden stores of food.

To me, it doesn’t really matter. The point is, they survived by the hand of Providence.

I wonder how many weary pioneer women heading to California after 1847 said to themselves, If Margaret Reed can do it, so can I . . .

And I wonder how many men chose to follow James Reed’s example of perseverance. Unwilling to let his family die, he didn’t give up. His family was worth the fight. He raised up relief parties of men who risked their lives for strangers.

The Reed family made it. And even rescued some people along the way.

* * * * * *

I’ve spent hours and hours searching the internet for statistics on addictions and the toll they take on a marriage. Somewhere I read that 90% of all marriages that battle with addiction end in divorce, but I haven’t been able to find it again. In other places I’ve seen that we’re four times more likely to go through divorce than anyone else. Whatever the numbers, the situation isn’t very promising.

Dave and I don’t have any special secrets to making it twenty years. Only simple words like: endurance, hope, trust, and forgiveness.

There were days, months and years when neither of us thought we’d make it. The death grip of addiction led Dave to despair of ever having victory. Loneliness and fear haunted me.

But we didn’t give up.

* * * * *

Writing about our life sometimes feels like I’m trying to trudge through snow that keeps getting deeper.

The  scars of years of dysfunction don’t disappear overnight. It’s tempting to despair. To look at the mess around me . . . in my life, in the world and just pull the covers over my head.

I feel tired. And I wonder who am I to speak about these things? I certainly don’t have life figured out.

But when I lift my eyes from my own poor feet — like last night with a few friends — I see a few foolhardy companions beside me who are just as weary and just as determined to succeed.

We remember what God has brought us through and that though we don’t know the way over the mountains, He does.

The endurance of my companions gives me hope.

* * * * *

Certainly, pioneers who came after the Reeds learned what not to do.

I think maybe if Margaret was giving advice to later pioneers she might have said, “Keep going through the valley even if it seems harder to go on . . . don’t stop or you’ll regret it . . .and never give up.”

I guess that’s how I feel about blogging about addiction. And even if it’s just learning what not to do, I hope our experience encourages others along the way.

Ours is not a charming “Little House” story. And it’s not completely written. But there is a beautiful picture if you look hard enough. And by God’s grace, it’s a good one.

We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters,  about the trouble we went through . . . We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. 2 Corinthians 1:8-9