Michael the Archangel

Black eye, 3rd day

A chance meeting through the friend of a friend. Our eyes met across a crowded room (OK, there were about five of us and it was on the corner of Pier Avenue and 1st Street). Soon  we became the perfect little hippie couple. But at the end of it all, three years later, I would feel as if I had gone completely mad. It would take a decade to fight my way back from a pit of despair so deep that I still wonder how I survived it at all. And oddly enough, it the madness would start the night of a Tupperware party. But I digress.

I thought he was gorgeous (they always seem to be gorgeous).  Michael. I thought of him as Michael the Archangel. He was poetic and spiritual. He was calming. He was smart. He took over the parts of my life that I couldn’t seem to manage on my own. Everyone around us seemed to be as drawn to him as I was. My Svengali.

He talked me into moving away, making the break from Los Angeles and most of my friends and family. Technically still a teenager, moving away made me feel like a grown-up, striking out on my own. Only I wasn’t alone. I was with Michael the Archangel.

The first time it happened we were walking down the street talking. The conversation seemed to be going well enough, although I had been feeling more and more uncomfortable with the topics he brought up. Lately he had been telling me about his foray into white magic. At times he didn’t make any sense at all. At other times, I felt a definite darkness in my spirit, as if someone had turned off the lights.

“Do you believe in reincarnation?” he asked. It seemed like an innocent enough question. I didn’t sense the set-up. But I already knew I had better say, “yes,” when I knew that’s what he wanted to hear, so I did. “Well, I’m Jesus Christ reincarnated.” My breath caught in my throat, and I stopped and turned to face him.

“Yeah, right,” I said.

I didn’t even see it coming, that explosion of pain and blackness. My face went numb and I thought my eye had popped out of its socket. I screamed. Horrified, I tried to run, but he caught up to me and pulled me by my blouse. I thought someone would have had to hear my scream and the crack when his fist landed on my face. I hoped someone would come out of their house and rescue me, but the silence, other than the barking of a dog, was deafening. Suddenly, a beautiful sunny summer day turned gray.

“I ran into the kitchen cupboard,” I later lied to my friends.They just stared at my face and turned away. I wanted them to sense I was lying, confront me with it, and demand an explanation. I wanted someone to take charge and hide my son and me somewhere safe.  But no one did, and I kept silent, and I was 360 miles away from home.

Once you tell your first lie, the first time you lie for him, you are in it with him, and then you are lost.

Anita Shreve, Strange Fits of Passion

There was calm after that storm but it was just the eye of the hurricane. One night soon after, I was beaten while the soundtrack of “A Clockwork Orange” played in the background. I was left with lumps all over my head that were covered by my hair. I ran to a friend’s but she didn’t believe I had been hurt at all because my face looked fine. Resigned, I went back home.

I tried to spend most days taking my son to the park or long walks downtown, anything to keep us away from home as much as possible. Every so often we stopped and I watched  while he gathered his “collections.” Later, as I sorted our laundry, I pulled these treasures out of his pockets; stones and leaves, and the olives that fell from the trees on our street. I felt so proud to be his mom, but I was filled with shame at the situation I had put us in.  Somehow, I had to get us out of there; somehow I had to save us.

I was pregnant again and leaving seemed out of the question. There was no way my parents would take me in again and all my friends were Michael’s as well. I felt trapped and alone.

I was awakened one night to find the police in my living room. A friend had called them after Michael slit his wrists and smeared his blood all over the walls, throughout the house. The police coaxed him off of our property by telling him the neighbors wanted to ask him a question, and took him to the hospital. It took me until dawn to wash the walls before my son woke up and saw it.

One day some new friends in fancy cars began coming by with freebies. They made Michael feel as if they would do anything for him…best buddies. Michael began using heroin. I came home one day from a walk with my son and heard voices in the room I was fixing up for the new baby. I found them there, sitting cross-legged in a circle on the floor, handing each other a syringe. A drop of blood marred the brand new crisp white of the Winnie the Pooh rug they were sitting on. I fled to the garage, blood pounding in my ears. I stooped forward, and tried to catch my breath, hands on my swelled belly.  I suddenly knew what it was like to want to kill someone with my bare hands. And I began planning our escape in earnest.

The next morning, I casually mentioned how fun it would be to move away, to begin again; to be closer to our parents and friends. Maybe after the baby is born. A “do-over” of sorts. Michael seemed taken with the idea.

But, another year of hell followed me like an angry bee, sometimes stinging me, sometimes leaving me alone, but always buzzing around, too close, keeping me on my toes. A constant stream of adrenaline released into my bloodstream, attempting to keep me safe.  The trouble was, there was no where to flee…not yet.

That Big Expanse of Sky Called Montana

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image15372074

Adventure had never been a part of my life. While some of my childhood friends had come home from trips to the World’s Fair or from far away mystery places like “back east” to see their grandparents, my only claim to fame was that we had stayed at the Motel Fresno (located in farming country in Fresno, California) six years in a row.  It was a halfway point between Los Angeles, where we lived, and Oakland, where my grandmother resided, so my parents and my grandmother met there each summer. And it had a great bar.  My parents could get pleasantly drunk while hanging out at the pool, watching us kids get blistery sunburns the first day out.

So, when Tom asked me to marry him and move to Montana, you can bet I was ready for an adventure. Tom described Montana to me the weeks before he left to start a new job there.

“It’s a land full of mountains, rivers, streams, and waterfalls.  And there’s animals, almost everywhere you look.  Bears and deer, antelope and elk, moose and mountain goats, everywhere! And the sky, well you can breathe in that huge expanse of sky all day long.” So I packed up my meager belongings and flew out to Montana that June.  And he was right about Montana. I’ve seen all those animals and more, sometimes all in one day. I’ve fly-fished those rivers and streams, watched eagles dive for fish on a sunny summer day, while wearing waders in the middle of a premier trout stream, and I’ve viewed some spectacular waterfalls.

Tom had bought a house for us on a street that sounded intriguing to me…Upper Miller Creek Road. He told me to always call it “Upper Miller Crick” if anyone wanted to know where I lived. Me, being me, refused, and I’ve said “creek” when I mean “creek,” for the last nineteen years, but I digress.

Tom and I were both a little skittish about getting married. We had only dated for eight months, and I knew less about Tom than he knew about me.  I only knew that I was going to commit the rest of my life to him unless one of four things happened, and he knew what those four things were. On his part, most of what he knew about me was the stuff I told him early on when I was trying to scare him away.

Tom and I were staying in a campground for a few days until the house closed and the inhabitants moved out, which was supposed to be on Wednesday of that week.  Since Tom had to travel about four hours north for his new job, it was up to me to take some of our things over to the new house and meet Tom there in a couple of days.  I got up early, grabbed a cup of coffee to tide me over, and headed over to my new home. When I arrived, I saw that boxes and furniture filled the two-car garage from floor to rafters, and people were running in and out of the house carrying lamps, boxes, and more pieces of furniture to a rental truck.

Disappointed, I drove past.  It was legally our house as of that day and it didn’t look like they were in any hurry to vacate.  I also noticed that the gorgeous ¾ acre bright green lawn was now yellow and parched. Apparently once it was sold they decided they wouldn’t bother spending any more money on water. My stomach dropped, thinking about Tom and what he would say about this. I had never seen him angry, but I figured there had to be a temper hidden down in there somewhere. All men get angry easily, right?

I didn’t have a cell phone back then, and I knew Tom would be calling me on the phone we had already hooked up in the new house. I was in a new town, two states away from my home, family, and friends. I did not know one soul there, and I felt frightened, alone, and intimidated. I could not go to that house until those people were gone.

So, several times during that long day I drove back up Upper Miller Creek Road to peek at my new home. Each time, people were still there, carrying boxes and furniture to the rental truck. I explored the town, and finally, I decided to kill some time by taking myself to the movies.

Once the movie let out, I climbed back up Upper Miller Creek Road one more time, unsure of what I would do if they were still there.  It was six o’clock at night now, getting dark, and I was sure Tom had been trying to call me all day.

As I rounded the last curve and saw the empty driveway, I let out let out a sigh of relief. I drove up my new driveway and ran up to the house, used my new key to turn the lock, and opened the door. I did a quick glance around but then headed straight to our new phone.  I saw the light was blinking on the phone telling me there were six messages. As I listened to each one, I heard Tom’s voice sounding more and more worried. The sixth message sounded frantic. “If I don’t hear from you in fifteen minutes or so I’m going to drive back to Missoula,” he said.

I dialed the phone with shaking fingers. I knew how angry he would be. Who wouldn’t be angry? I probably did something stupid. I deserved his wrath. I should have marched into “my” house and told those people to hurry up and leave! I should have demanded to use my phone and let Tom know what was going on. Of course he’ll be mad…and he should be. Leave it up to me to cause a problem.

“Hello Tom? What happened was…” I reiterated the story, hoping he wasn’t regretting trusting me with something that should have been so easy.

“Oh, I’m so sorry that happened,” he said. “You must have felt so worried that you couldn’t call me and tell me what was going on. How about if I come pick you up and you can stay up here with me. We’ll drive down to the new house together in a couple of days.”

It’s been almost nineteen years since that first day in my new home in Montana. Over and over again, Tom has proven himself to be that kind, gentle man who was willing to drive four hours to come get me just so I’d be more comfortable. He has taught me more about God’s unconditional love than anyone I have ever known. And he’s never ever done one of the four things. Ah, I can finally breathe, and that big expanse of sky is a great place to catch your breath.

Learning to Fly on My Own

God gives every bird its food, but he does not throw it into the nest.

-Josiah Gilbert Holland

Learning to Fly

Learning to Fly

My mother had been dead for four months. I had become the matriarch of our family in one fell swoop.  At only 34-years-old, I felt alone on the planet. I had finally gotten my independence from an alcoholic, unfaithful husband, but my dependent nature clung to me like soot after a fire.  I wanted to wash it off, but a residue remained, leaving me longing for someone…anyone.

As I worked the microfiche machine at my desk at work, searching through other people’s family stories, I yearned to be part of a family and have a story of my own. I issued birth, death, and marriage certificates for other families daily. Performing marriage ceremonies seemed to feed my loneliness even more, leaving me empty and vulnerable.

I was working at the vital records counter in the county clerk’s office, listening to the good-natured chirping between my co-workers. Suddenly, everyone stopped talking.  The only sound in the large room came from the overhead fans and the rustling of paperwork on the desks near the open door.  Curious, I glanced up from the microfiche machine.

At first I thought everyone else recognized a movie star I had not seen before. Now I noticed all eyes were on me.  I fumbled around with the switches on the machine and walked up to the counter.

“May I help you?”  I looked up.  Our eyes met.  “Hey, I think I know you,” I smiled.

“I doubt it,” he said, dripping with sarcasm.  I took a step back.

“Well, I mean I think I’ve seen you.  Do you go to church?”  Wow…what was I doing?

He glanced up quickly, seeming to see me for the first time.

“Yeah,” he said, sounding a little friendlier.

I helped him with his paperwork, trying not to stare at him.  After he left, several of the women standing close by tittered and made little comments about his gorgeous good looks.  I was thinking about how I could sit nearby him at the next church service and try to catch his eye again.

Within two weeks he had volunteered to head a committee of men who would help me get my newly rented home ready for move-in.  It needed paint, some electrical work, and the carpet ripped out, and he was handy.   He came over every day, bending, stooping, and reaching.   I admired all 6’4” of him in all of his various positions.  He talked about the Lord constantly, incessantly in fact.  I tried to admire this, but it felt off and more than a little odd.

One day, coming back from running errands together, I asked him for a hug (sneaky strategy, huh?).  He sat there for several moments, not moving, not speaking, his eyes closed.  My stomach lurched.  I wondered if I had just made some terrible faux pas.  He reached over and hugged me so hard it hurt and whispered,  “The Lord told me I could.”

At first we found ways to spend time together without really calling it a date.  It was important to him that we went about this the “right” way for the Lord.   Nearing Christmas, we made a plan together (I thought) to take my children to get a Christmas tree.  My kids and I got up early.  They were clearly excited as we scrambled around the house, getting ready for the big day. Then we waited.  And we waited.  He didn’t show up.  He didn’t call.  Finally, I called him.

“Hi, what are you up to?” I feigned cheer.  “I thought we were going to take the kids to get a Christmas tree together?”

“You sound exactly like my ex-wife!”

My breath caught in my throat and my eyes widened as I tried to process what I just heard.  A sound came out of my mouth, but instead of forming a word, I slammed the receiver down on the cradle.  I began to hyperventilate.  It felt like something was being ripped away from me. The kids and I remained home for the day while I wrestled with my anxiety.  We were disappointed, and I felt totally confused…like I had just met Mr. Hyde.

Of course his next phone call smoothed away all my fears.  He was just tired, busy, something had happened at work that had upset him, he was sorry, and he’d make it right.

One night we double-dated with another couple.  He had planned the evening around dinner at a sushi bar and then it would be off to the Sycamore Mineral Springs Spa in Avila Beach, California, one of the most romantic places for a date.  Each oak barrel tub is separated enough from the others for maximum privacy.  Little lights line the dark paths winding up the hill through a sycamore grove.  I was looking forward to showing off my new bathing suit I bought, just for this occasion.  When I saw the truck drive up, I ran out to greet my friends. I opened the passenger door, jumped in, shut the door, and turned to smile.

“Don’t slam my door like that!” he glared.  Everyone went silent.  “Sorry, I didn’t mean to.”  My face reddened, but I struggled to normalize the request in my mind.  Of course he needs to make sure I don’t slam his door.  It’s a new truck.  I worked hard in the next minutes to pretend I didn’t notice his anger in front of our friends.  It was clear they were as surprised as I was.

We ended up having a wonderful time and I let myself relax.  But my mind began to compartmentalize my experiences.  One part held fear, caution, and lots of confusion.  The other part held the picture of the six foot, four inch, romantic man with the movie star looks.  He had a good job; he was handy around the house and good with money.  He was a gourmet cook and loved to grow orchids.  And he was a super spiritual version of what was on my top 10 list.  He was everything a good Christian woman should want, right?

It seemed like every woman in the church, single and married alike was riveted on my relationship with this mysterious man.  I was suddenly catapulted into a type of churchy celebrity status.  For the first time in my life I had something that others wanted too.  Other single women approached him, and asked him out for coffee or for lunch.  He turned them down and I felt pride that he had chosen me over so many others from our large church.  Only I never felt I had a firm grip.  My stomach began to do a play by play of events and I ended up in the doctor’s office almost weekly after being diagnosed with colitis. My feelings were on hyper alert.  Is this what love is?

The next time we argued, he told me he was just tired, busy, something had happened at work that had upset him, he was sorry, and he’d make it right. And besides, I had pushed a button of his, and if I just had not done that, this would never have happened.  I would have to try not to do that.

He planned beautiful, romantic dates at the best restaurants, including roses and wine, and ending with long walks on the beach.  He drove me up to the mountaintop late one afternoon.  He brought a quilt, champagne and flutes, and smoked salmon and cheddar cheese, and spread them on the ground.  He helped me out of the truck and gently wrapped a blanket around my shoulders.  We sat and ate and talked until dark.   He tipped my chin up towards the sky and whispered, “Just wait.”  Soon, a trail of light blazed across the sky.  Then another.  Then another.  Then he kissed me.  I flung my doubts out to the sky and let them disappear into the black ink.

Our relationship became a series of conflicts, retreats and pursuits, the pattern repeating itself over and over.  I believed the only way to bring a stop to my insecurity was to marry him.  I was sure my own fears about his love were what were causing problems.  I believed it would be good for my son to have a strong male figure in his life.

The night we got back from our honeymoon was a turning point.  Now that we were married, Mr. Hyde quit playing hide and seek and decided to stay for dinner.  I felt helpless for several minutes while I listened to him bully my children about helping.  They weren’t doing anything right.  The silverware didn’t go the way they put it on the table.  They weren’t fast enough and dinner was getting cold!  He looked at them as if they were stupid.  They became quiet, and nervous, giving each other sideward glances.

“I sure hope you are listening to the Holy Spirit right now.” I said.  He glanced down and seemed embarrassed.  My chest swelled a little.  I had stepped in and taken care of it, just like that!  I am a good mother.

Soon, none of us were doing anything right.  Nothing happened without his approval.  If it wasn’t originally his idea, the answer was “no.”  If he said yes, he would change his mind at the last minute.  My friends could come over when he said they could.  They came less and less.  My sister could visit, but she walked on eggshells and spent time crying in the guest room.  He always answered the phone on first ring, screening all our calls.  He wouldn’t let my teenage daughter lock the bathroom door.

Then we were battling over how to cook ground beef or when to start a load of laundry.  He was disgusted when I didn’t know to put two slices of cheese on a grilled cheese sandwich, so he threw it in the trash.  I began to filter everything I did or said around what the consequences would look like.  What would he say if he knew I thought this, said that, or did this other thing? What would he do?  Mostly I knew what he would do, and it wasn’t pleasant.

At times I escaped by hiding in the tree house in our backyard.  I took long walks or I got in my car and drove to a nearby gas station and cried to a friend from the payphone.  My anxiety attacks and depression worsened and I needed medication.  My children were miserable.  I started calling some friends to see if we could come stay with them for a while and no one could help.  I began stashing change from the market in a shoe along with a spare set of keys.  I ordered a credit card in my own name.  I knew I had made another stupid, stupid mistake, and I felt ashamed.  I stopped looking into my friend’s eyes when I went to church.  I lied to everyone.  I’m fine, how are you?

My church family and pastor seemed to turn their eyes away, as if they couldn’t stand to watch the train wreck happen.  No one called; no one came to help. The church counselors knew I had bruises, but by this time his charisma and charm had landed him a position on staff at the church. They believed him when he told them I was out of control.  Many times I drove onto the freeway and just screamed out to God in desperation.  But I didn’t believe I deserved his help.  After all, I had done this…with eyes wide open.

Finally, I was ready.  I called my husband and asked to meet in the middle of a parking lot at the shopping center.  With others around for protection, I told him I was divorcing him. It had been two and a half years of pure hell.  I was a shell of who I had been starting to become.  Thin, hollow-eyed, defeated.  I was filled with guilt over what I had allowed to happen to my children and myself.  I believed God was so disappointed in me that he had turned his back altogether.  In one month’s time I had managed to lose a husband, my home, my car, and my job. It was my third divorce.  I was wrecked.

So I did what I did best.  I ran.  There’s a story in the Bible about a concubine of Abraham’s.  Her name was Hagar.  She gave birth to Ishmael, before Abraham’s wife had her own son, Isaac.  In Sarah’s jealously, she mistreated Hagar to the point of desperation.  Hagar ran out to the desert with her son, alone, and seeming without friend or protector.

I thought of her as I ran out to my own desert, away from church, friends, family.  I ran empty-handed. And then, just like God met Hagar in the desert, God met me there too.  He picked me up and carried me like a wounded little bird in a cardboard box.  He was gentle, tender, giving me little sips of water.  He slowly restored my spirit and eventually, he restored everything I had lost.

And then he began to teach me how to fly on my own.

 

 

 

 

 

The Cage Door Swings

English: Monarch butterflies

English: Monarch butterflies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With my husband gone, I had to think about options.  I had not been able to work in about twelve years.  What had started out as simple panic attacks had turned into agoraphobia and raging, suicidal depression with psychotic features, all of which had been exacerbated by grief and despair.  My condition had improved somewhat over the years, but the stress of a marriage on the skids had taken its toll, and now I had a divorce to contend with.

I had never lived alone, and I was frightened.  On top of it all, my mother had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer and was dying.  Once she was gone, I would become the professed matriarch of our tiny family.  Even at thirty-four years old, I felt like an orphan.  I went to a well-respected church counselor at my large church for guidance.

“Linda, you need to move out of that house (the house I had rented with my husband, and could no longer afford on my own).  You need to get out, even if it’s to move into the housing projects.  You need to get a job…any kind of job, right now…this week!”

My mind reeled with this information.  I pictured it all…me moving into a dangerous neighborhood, raising my children around drug addicts and thieves.  The best job I could get with no skills was at a fast food restaurant.   I knew I could end up with a crazy ever-changing work schedule.  My youngest child was four-years-old.  What would I do with my children while I worked?  How would I ever better my life?  I would never get out, never be able to get an education.  I would be trapped in poverty forever.

I woke each morning with these thoughts replaying over and over in my mind. But this advice came from the church counselor, and I believed she wouldn’t be in the position she had on staff at our church if she weren’t thought of as someone who was wise, who heard from God.  Fear gnawed at me like a dog on a meat bone.

One day I mentioned what she had told me to my pastor’s wife.

“She doesn’t have to live it, does she?” she said softly.

Shock and joy hit me simultaneously.  Simple words and it was as if a cage door just flew open and let me out.  I didn’t have to blindly obey the church counselor?  I won’t bring the wrath of God down on my life?  I can actually think for myself?  What a concept.  Simple, and yet I was forever changed.

One morning, I was staring into the bathroom mirror, hurriedly applying make-up.  I had nowhere to go, really.  I was deep in thought about my future.  Where would we be in two years?  Where would we be in five?  I had no skills, no education.  How would I provide for my children?  Where would we go?  What will we do?

As if God were standing right next to me, I sensed a strong voice interrupting my reverie.  “I’m not asking you to live five years from now.  I’m only asking you to live today.”  My mascara wand stopped mid-stroke.  My eyes widened as I stared back at my reflection.  It was as if I was having an out of body experience and I suddenly found myself once again standing in front of my bathroom mirror.  I only have to live through today?

Over the next few days, ideas danced around my head like butterflies flitting through a flower garden.  My first step was to sign myself up for six secretarial courses at the local community college.   It was challenging.  I fought through panic attacks and depression so deep I felt I was drowning, but I took a deep breath after each hour-long class and forged on.

One night I had a dream.  I lay in a huge mahogany four-poster bed with a beautiful white spread over me.  In this dream, I awoke to find my mother silently approaching.  She was wearing a long white nightgown. She sat on the edge of the bed, threw her arms around me, and began to sob.  I felt helpless, but I comforted her as best I could.  I awoke with a start, and lay there thinking about her.

Back in Los Angeles, she was very ill, having suffered several rounds of chemotherapy.  Her cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, and a particularly large tumor in the back of her neck had twisted her face.  I spent as much time as I could running down to Los Angeles to see her, but my younger sister was there taking care of her, and she insisted I do not uproot the children, knowing her time was short.  My heart broke for her.

One weekend I drove down to be with her to spend the night in her smoke-filled bachelor apartment.  As soon as I got there, I began to have the familiar sensation of panic.  This was unknown territory.  My heart had ached for my mother’s love for as long as I could remember.  I had never reconciled many things that had happened between us.  She had never expressed her love for me, never held me, had never bought me a “Hallmark moment” card.  She was not an affectionate person.  She was emotionally closed off, and guarded herself carefully.

But I loved her desperately.  Watching her suffer was torture.  I arrived at the apartment and sat down on her couch.  Immediately she came over and sat down next to me, put her arms around me, and began to sob. It was as if someone hit the play button.   The dream I had three months before appeared in my mind as if it were playing on a movie screen.  I stiffened, but I sensed the presence of God in the room and I tried to breathe into the moment. I held my mother, patting her back softly.

“Why did God give me cancer?” my mom asked me.  I fumbled for words.

“He didn’t give you cancer, mom.  He loves you more than you could ever imagine.  We get these diseases because we live in a fallen, toxic world, and we don’t always take the best care of ourselves.”

She asked me more questions about God, about his love, about how she could know him. I asked her if I could pray for her.  I was treading very lightly.  I felt I was on holy ground but it was shaky and I was afraid I could blow it.

“Please,” she whispered.

Those next few moments were the most beautiful and pain-filled moments my mother and I ever spent together.  It was like a precious gift had been wrapped up for us and left on the doorstep of our hearts.

What happened next will surprise you.  Picture me in a black robe, holding an open book, and saying the words, “Dearly beloved…”  Stay tuned.

In the Well with Tolstoy

edvard munch - the scream  1893

edvard munch – the scream 1893 (Photo credit: oddsock)

My brother’s suicide left me feeling as if I had been pushed over an emotional cliff, arms flailing as my body hit the jagged edges of rock outcroppings on the way down. The suicide of my father felt like I had been tied to the front of a runaway train that broke away from the tracks and headed over the edge going 110 miles per hour.  I hit bottom and lay there, stunned, and unable to move.

Slowly, I rolled onto my back, exposing my belly like a trusting cat. But it wasn’t that I trusted, it was that I no longer cared.  Hurt me if you want to, kill me if you must, just get it over with.  The God I knew had broken me, but there was no supervisor above him to take him to task.  In a small, dark corner of my mind, I thought there may be a hell worse than the one I was in, so I got up and kept moving, and spoke to no one about how I really felt about any of it.

My father’s suicide coincided with a time when churches all over America were chatting it up big time about the end of the world.  Author Hal Lindsey was pushing his theory that the planet was headed for disaster very soon. He had written a best-selling book and a film, aptly titled The Late Great Planet Earth.  Another lovely end of the world scenario was published under the title, The Jupiter Effect, a best-selling book by John Gribbin, Ph.D, and Stephen Plagemann (1974) that predicted that an alignment of the planets of the solar system would create a number of catastrophes, including a great earthquake in my area of the country.  This was supposed to take place in eight years.  I was sitting on death row without the right to an appeal.

In response to all this, pastors hurriedly began studying and teaching the Book of Revelation, readying the flock for the Great Tribulation.  A conversation amongst believers hardly took place without the mention that time was short. The solid rock became shifting shale. I smiled as I sat in on a conversation about the fruitlessness of getting a living room re-carpeted (considering we were all about to die) but the tentacles of fear and sadness crept over and around me, squeezing the very breath from my lungs.  My therapist added “with psychotic features” to my major depression diagnosis.  I began “seeing” bushes dying, stairways crumbling, as if I could see the end of the world taking place before my very eyes.  God had pushed the “fast-forward” button.

The God I loved and trusted became the God I feared.  This God had some bizarre plan for mankind that culminated in the “rapture of the church” and the “Mark of the Beast.”  I observed those around me.  I could not figure out how those who knew that this horror was on our very doorstep could go on living as before.  Why weren’t they on their knees day and night, or snatching poor souls off street corners and away from death’s grip?  I literally could not figure it out.  It never occurred to me that they did not believe what they were saying.

I found myself a member of a club to which I no longer wanted to belong.  I tried to ignore the leader, become invisible in the crowd.  I had become afraid of Him.  I politely listened to the others, but one of us was crazy, and I was pretty sure it had to be me.

My pastor tried to help me.  He was the voice of reason.  I sequestered myself in my house, not daring to come out and face the zombie apocalypse.  I asked question after question but the thoughts in my mind were tangled, like a rubber band ball.  Trying to untangle them was exhausting, and I began to lose the ability to keep a thought in my mind for more than one or two seconds.

He had compelling reasons why I should not succumb to the hysteria of the moment, but his words were like vapor, slipping through my fingers and away.  So I made him write all the good thoughts down…the ones that gave me hope that the zombies out in the street had it wrong, had come out too soon.

I was coming to a crisis of faith.  I read My Confession, by Tolstoy, and I identified with his plight.  I was precariously close to releasing my grip on the branch in Tolstoy’s well.  I may as well let go of my grip and sacrifice myself to the dragons below than wait for the mice to gnaw through it.

Once in awhile I would have a thought, and to quote Tolstoy himself, “life rose within me.”  Then, like my hallucinations, the thought would melt away and I’d be left with nothing but a desire for death.  Over and over this happened.  I suffered from circuitry overload, and thoughts continued to disintegrate as fast as they would come.

One day, a spark of hope lasted longer than usual.  I realized that in all my railing against God, I had never felt his presence more sweetly.  In all my anger and confusion, I had not succeeded in pushing him away.  The opposite was true.  Instead of allowing me to turn my back and walk away, he seemed to be relentlessly pursuing me.  The hallucinations began to melt away along with the block of ice surrounding my heart.  A cloak had been gently placed around my shoulders, and it felt a lot like love.  My heart and mind began to heal. I had walked through the valley of the shadow and survived.  Now it was time to stop awhile and rest by the stream, and then pick up my pack and keep moving.

Without knowing what I am and why I am here, life is impossible.

~ Leo Tolstoy